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Trump Praises Van Drew for Leaving ‘Deranged’ Democrats
50 Troops Suffered Brain Injuries in Iran Strike
West Virginia Governor Urges Virginia Counties to Secede
McConnell Doesn’t Have the Votes to Block Witnesses
Feinstein Creates Confusion Over Her Verdict

Trump Defense Hit with a Lightning Bolton

Donald Trump's legal team put on the first full day of its "defense" on Monday. And we put that term in quotations because, as a "throw in everything but the kitchen sink" mishmash of finger-pointing, falsehoods, and fantasy, it was barely cohesive enough to qualify as such. However, the real story is that, on the day that the President's version of events was finally supposed to take center stage, the headlines were dominated by a jilted former underling.

We'll start with the defense. We're far from the only people to be disdainful of what Team Trump is peddling; here are a dozen critical assessments from across the political spectrum:

Why is it difficult to take Trump's defense seriously? We'll organize our answer into four Ds (consider it an homage to the President's academic record):

  • Distractions: This weekend, a reader wrote in with a letter comparing the President's legal strategy to the Chewbacca Defense, which is a satirical comment on defense-by-distraction from the show "South Park." It's an apt parallel, as the defenders of Trump—all the way back to the first House hearings on impeachment—have built their case on a foundation of red herring. On Monday, as several of the headlines above suggest, Team Trump fed the audience a steady diet of Biden, with a side of Obama. The behavior of those folks, regardless of how problematic (and there's no evidence it was problematic at all), has virtually nothing to do with the question of abuse of power, and nothing to do with obstruction of Congress.

  • Dishonesty: On Saturday, the President's lawyers made a habit of trampling on the truth. That continued Monday, most obviously repeating all manner of false claims about what the House impeachment inquiry did, and did not, try to do. In addition, lawyer Jane Raskin made the obviously counterfactual argument that Rudy Giuliani was "just a minor player, that shiny object designed to distract you" in this whole Ukraine situation.

  • Dissembling: Or, to put it another way, gross hypocrisy. Alan Dershowitz has been quite guilty of this, arguing loudly (including on Monday) that you can't impeach a president unless an actual crime is committed. Not only does that run contrary to virtually every other legal scholar's opinion, it runs contrary to the view that Dershowitz himself expressed up until roughly 15 minutes before the impeachment trial began. That said, Tuesday's prize for utter shamelessness goes to one Kenneth Starr, who lamented that, by virtue of there having been three presidential impeachments or near-impeachments in the last 50 years, the United States has entered an "age of impeachment." That is like Martin Scorsese complaining that, in the last 50 years, the United States has entered an "age of violent gangster movies."

  • Dissonance: In a real trial, the defense picks a theory and goes with it. For example, they might argue "you have accused the wrong person of murder," or they might argue, "yes, my client killed the decedent, but it was justifiable homicide." What they can't get away with is, "you've accused the wrong person, and in any case, the killing was justified." In other words, you can't have it both ways. However, that is what Team Trump is doing here. Sometimes they argue that anyone and everyone is lying, which apparently means that an extremely long list of people, including many that Trump himself hired—John Bolton, Lev Parnas, Bill Taylor, Gordon Sondland, etc.—is conspiring against him. And sometimes they argue that even if things happened as alleged, and these folks are telling the truth, it wasn't an abuse of power.

Indeed, the president's defense is so clumsy and ham-fisted that Berkeley-trained lawyer and satirist Teri Kanefield put this "Bogus Defense Bingo" together:

It's a 5x5 card, with items such as 
'It's all hearsay,' 'They got the aid,' 'Obama did it,' and 'The House should have gone to court.'

This card was supposed to cover Monday and Tuesday, although by the end of the day on Monday, she had crossed off all but #13 and #23. Incidentally, she's put together an explanation for why she thinks each of these defenses is "bogus" here.

There was one subject that the presidential defense did not bring up, though: former NSA John Bolton. The leaks from his book came so late in the weekend that they undoubtedly had little time to prepare any sort of response or rebuttal. And beyond that, what response or rebuttal is there? That he imagined it all? That he made it up to sell books?

Actually, although the President's lawyers weren't willing to go there (at least not yet), the President himself was, tweeting: "I NEVER told John Bolton that the aid to Ukraine was tied to investigations into Democrats, including the Bidens." Even Trump doesn't really believe that, though. Before the draft of the Bolton book leaked, he and his team were planning how to celebrate his acquittal (Rally? Oval Office address? Toga Party?), but after they were forced to shift into damage control mode, and to start thinking about which witnesses they might call to rebut Bolton. As a "bonus," because the President seemingly never learns about the risks entailed in tweeting from the hip, his attack on Bolton almost certainly killed any possible chance of using executive privilege to silence the former NSA. Since Trump has now publicly commented on conversations he had with Bolton, and made claims about them, he can no longer argue that those conversations must remain secret, as he himself has already let the cat out of the bag. Oops.

And the odds are good, at this point, that Bolton will indeed testify, because GOP unity on that point is weakening. Sens. Mitt Romney (R-UT) and Susan Collins (R-ME) both signaled on Monday that they are now inclined to vote to call witnesses, while Romney also said he expects other Senators to join with him on this matter. Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-GA), in an effort to keep her (appointed) job, but also in another demonstration the Republican caucus is no longer on the same page, accused Romney of trying to "appease the left." Because if there's one thing that a very devout Mormon Republican senator from Utah needs to do, it's appease the left. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is now instructing his caucus to "keep their powder dry" on the question of calling witnesses. In other words, take no public position, because nobody knows where this is headed. That is rather different fron the marching orders McConnell gave before Bolton's book leaked, which were: "No witnesses, no how, no way."

In the end, the GOP Senators have backed themselves into quite a corner, with no particularly good way out. One option, of course, is to let Bolton testify. However, as George Conway, the prominent presidential critic and husband of Kellyanne, points out in an op-ed in the Washington Post, an appearance by him would be "devastating." Bolton knows where the bodies are buried and he is known as a voracious note taker, so he'd be in a position to blast hole after hole in the President's defense, while occupying the highest-profile stage possible. Democrats would be able to ask him lots of bad-for-Trump questions, and there's every chance of revelations that go beyond just Ukraine. On Monday, in fact, the New York Times reported that Bolton's book also outlines his concerns that the President was doing personal favors for the leaders of Turkey and China, which is a whole other ball of non-Ukraine-related wax. Further, calling Bolton would almost certainly lead to the calling of other witnesses, both pro- and anti-Trump, which would drag the whole trial out for many more weeks. It would also initiate the only chain of events that could plausibly force the senators to vote for conviction and removal.

On the other hand, refusing to allow Bolton to testify is also a problem. His book was originally set to come out shortly before the election, but now it's coming out in March. That means that whatever he has to say, including about matters beyond Ukraine, will ultimately see the light of day, and sooner rather than later. And while letting him tell his tale in the Senate chamber would give him a big platform, it would also allow the Republicans to cross examine him. If, by contrast, his first public statements are delivered on "Meet the Press" or "60 Minutes" or "The Today Show," then he'll still reach a large audience, and will not be subject to much cross examination at all. Plus, in this scenario, the GOP senators would look like collaborators who conspired to help Trump bury his crimes. In a thoughtful analysis, the Washington Post's Michael Gerson argues that this course of action is just too damaging for the Senate and its members to contemplate, observing that "tolerance for corruption is a form of corruption," and that if they allow Trump to have his way, it will permanently damage the integrity of the institution while also affirming the legitimacy of verbal intimidation as a political tactic.

And that's how it is. Tune in tomorrow for another exciting episode of "How the Impeachment Turns." (Z)

Democratic Muckety Mucks Are Scared Witless of Sanders

When it comes to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), the folks who run the Democratic Party are actually extremely nervous about two things. The first is that if Sanders gets the nomination, which is looking possible these days, given his surge in polling, that he will blow the election to Donald Trump. The second is that if they (the Democratic leadership) do anything at all to weaken Sanders, they will enrage his supporters, and cause them to stay home on Election Day, or vote for a third-party candidate (Tulsi Gabbard?), or even to vote Donald Trump (there was much more Sanders-to-Trump movement in 2016 than one might think).

The concern, of course, is that Sanders is simply too lefty for much of the electorate, and that he'll drive off moderate, independent, and NeverTrump Republican voters who might otherwise be persuaded to vote blue in 2016. The Democratic leadership also worries that his pitch essentially relies on motivating vast numbers of younger voters to get to the polls, since younger voters are notoriously unreliable when it comes to actually showing up to vote.

Is there anything to this, or is it just the establishment showing its general hostility to candidates who are different and/or anti-establishment? Well, as it turns out, there is a way to put the matter on a numerical basis. DW-NOMINATE, which we've referenced occasionally, quantifies the positions that federal officeholders took on the bills that went before and/or passed Congress, so as to judge how liberal or conservative each person is. Although the actual scores are represented in decimal form, they're more readable if you multiply by 100. The possible range, then is -100 (further left than Karl Marx) to 0 (as centrist as can be) to 100 (further right than Benito Mussolini). Here are all of the Democratic nominees of the last 100 years, along with the frontrunners this year, excluding those folks who served only in state or municipal office (Pete Buttigieg, Adlai Stevenson, Al Smith) and so have no DW-NOMINATE score. It's sorted by how lefty the person is/was; candidates in blue won that election:

Year Candidate DW-N Score
2020 Elizabeth Warren -76.9
1972 George McGovern -57.3
2020 Bernie Sanders -52.6
1980 Jimmy Carter -50.4
1976 Jimmy Carter -50.4
1984 Walter Mondale -43.9
1996 Bill Clinton -43.8
1992 Bill Clinton -43.8
1968 Hubert H. Humphrey -39.7
1944 Franklin D. Roosevelt -36.8
1940 Franklin D. Roosevelt -36.8
1936 Franklin D. Roosevelt -36.8
1932 Franklin D. Roosevelt -36.8
2016 Hillary Clinton -36.7
1948 Harry S. Truman -36
2004 John Kerry -35.2
2012 Barack Obama -34.3
2008 Barack Obama -34.3
2000 Al Gore -32.8
2020 Joe Biden -31.4
1960 John F. Kennedy -31.1
2020 Amy Klobuchar -27.6
1924 John W. Davis -27.3
1964 Lyndon B. Johnson -24.2
1920 James M. Cox -20.7

As you can see, Sanders is definitely not in the sweet spot of the spectrum when it comes to electability (and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-MA, is even less so). The only candidate in Sanders' vicinity to win an election was Jimmy Carter, and even that was just barely, and in the midst of an economic downturn. The data also suggest that Sen. Amy Klobuchar (DFL-MN) is a tad bit too centrist; the only candidates in her vicinity to win are John F. Kennedy (who won a nail-biter) and Lyndon B. Johnson (who benefited from being the incumbent president).

We've got one other way to examine Sanders' viability, for what it's worth. Commentaries from the left side of the aisle are at least a little suspect, since most Democrats have a dog in the fight, one way or another. But how about commentaries from the right side of the aisle? Three prominent right-leaning commentators have opined on Sanders in just the last week, in fact.

The first of these is Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who used his show to opine that Sanders, though a socialist with some significant weaknesses, does present a threat to Trump, as his policy proposals appeal to Trump voters. In particular, Carlson thinks that "if Sanders pledges to forgive student loans, he'll still win many thousands of voters who went for Donald Trump last time. Debt is crushing an entire generation of Americans." Maybe so, although keep in mind that Carlson is not in the business of helping Democrats win elections, any more than Rachel Maddow is in the business of providing that service for Republicans.

And then there is the Washington Post's Jennifer Rubin, who is definitely right-leaning, but also hates Donald Trump. In a piece entitled "Bernie Sanders's Trump-like campaign is a disaster for Democrats," she argues that some of the Vermont Senator's followers embrace a slash-and-burn style of campaigning that will turn off independents and NeverTrumpers, and may even cause some Democrats to stay home on Election Day. She writes:

While he might perfunctorily chide his followers, Sanders hired one of social media's most aggressive trolls, David Sirota. Sanders cannot possibly mean to control the divisive rhetoric and animosity spewing from his camp while hiring people infamous for such conduct.

This observation, of course, is made against the backdrop of last week's attacks on Joe Biden that were far enough over the top that Sanders was compelled to apologize. And that, of course, came after a weeklong smear campaign against Warren. Undoubtedly, most Sanders supporters are fine people, and not particularly different from the supporters of any other candidate. But it's also true (and we can personally attest to this), that there is a subset among Sanders' base that is quite vicious, and that has no real corollary among the supporters of other candidates, except for the supporters of Donald Trump.

And finally, there is Richard North Patterson, writing for the anti-Trump but right-wing site The Bulwark. He is the least sanguine of this trio of conservatives about Sanders' chances. In a piece headlined "This Is How Trump Would Destroy Bernie Sanders," Patterson argues that Sanders, as a True Believer™, would not pivot to the center in the general election, something that is generally a necessity for victory. Further, while Hillary Clinton and other candidates have largely treated Sanders gently, for fear of aggravating his followers, "what Trump would dispense is Hobbesian savagery." The President would slur the Senator as a nut case, and a socialist, a Communist, someone who is un-American, and so forth. It doesn't matter if these things are true, only that some people would believe them.

Undoubtedly, Sanders could still win this thing. After all, Trump himself was unelectable right up until he wasn't. However, if the Democrats who think about these things, and the Republicans who think about these things, and the data are all somewhat bearish on his candidacy, that's at least somewhat instructive. (Z)

Which Democratic Candidate Is Being Hurt Most by Having to Be in Washington?

Iowa is a week away, and every Democratic presidential candidate is looking for every vote they can get. Of course, four of them—Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, and Michael Bennet—can't be on the campaign trail right now, because they have to be in Washington. Which of them is being hurt the most by this? It's almost certainly Klobuchar.

Klobuchar has a double problem. The first is that she's polling below the 15% threshold in Iowa statewide, which means she's in danger of getting no delegates in many (or most) precincts. The second is that she, more than the other two Democratic senators, really needs Iowa. Her case is that, as a Midwesterner herself, she can win back states like Wisconsin and Michigan that went for Trump in 2016. But if she can't win Iowa, or even make much of a dent, it throws that argument into serious question. Further, the next three states to vote are not areas of strength for her, so if she doesn't perform well in Iowa, she could endure a four-state dry stretch that renders her campaign no longer viable.

The Senator knows all of this, and is doing what she can to compensate for the fact that she has to be in Washington. She campaigned basically nonstop for 36 hours this weekend, as soon as she was able to exit the impeachment hearings. Further, she asked voters in the Hawkeye State to take mercy, since it's not her fault she can't campaign. Recent polls put her support in Iowa all over the place, as low as 6 points and as high as 13. Whether her final push will be enough to save her will depend an awful lot on which result is correct. (Z)

Supreme Court Gives Trump a Victory on Immigration

By its usual 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court sided with the Trump administration's efforts to make it harder for immigrants on welfare to acquire green cards. The SCOTUS' decision is not final; they just lifted an injunction imposed by a New York judge. As a result, at least until all appeals are heard and resolved, it will be legal for immigration officials to deny green cards to anyone deemed likely to become a "public charge."

The guidelines are vague, and leave so much room for judgment, that it's unclear exactly how many people will ultimately be affected. Maybe tens of thousands, or maybe just tens. But, of course, the real purpose is to give the President things he can brag about at rallies. There may be no wall, but at least he put his foot down with a few brown-skinned folks. Perhaps that will gladden the hearts of the base. On the other hand, maybe it will motivate the friends and relatives of the targeted folks to get to the polls and vote. As a reminder, Nevada, Arizona, Florida, and maybe Texas are all swing or swing-ish states with sizable Latino populations. (Z)

Pompeo Situation Is Turning Ugly

As we noted yesterday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is under a lot of stress right now. And, undoubtedly as a result of that, he had a meltdown on NPR over the weekend.

Outwardly, the administration has closed ranks around the Secretary. The President implied, via retweet, that NPR's federal funding may be in danger:

Meanwhile, when Pompeo makes a trip to Ukraine this week, he will do so sans NPR coverage, as he ordered that NPR diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen's press credential be revoked. Perhaps the Secretary is unfamiliar with the First Amendment to the Constitution.

Inwardly, meanwhile, Pompeo doesn't appear to be doing so well. Behind closed doors, he loses his cool on a regular basis. State Department staffers are in a state of near-rebellion, angered by his "hypocrisy" and his apparent disdain for the mission of the department and for its loyal employees. Bill Taylor, the former ambassador to Ukraine who is among the central figures of Ukrainegate, does not have a job to protect and so doesn't have to hold his tongue. So, he put into print what many of his former colleagues are thinking, blasting the Secretary for the NPR incident, and for the notion that he has no duty to answer questions about Ukraine.

Who knows where this is headed, but it certainly looks like a situation that is nearing a breaking point. And if Pompeo is called to testify before the Senate, something that is increasingly in the realm of possibility (see above), then it will add even more fuel to the conflagration.

If Pompeo quits fairly soon, he is probably still viable as a Senate candidate in Kansas, but it would be much better for him if he is not called as a witness at the impeachment trial, so expect him to resist that mightily. (Z)

Collins Expected to Run for Senate

In a development that is roughly as surprising as the sun rising in the east, Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA), who spent much time grandstanding during the House impeachment hearings, is planning to run for the Senate. He will target the seat that was vacated by the ailing Johnny Isakson, and that is currently occupied by Kelly Loeffler, appointed to the post by Gov. Brian Kemp (R-GA).

Given that Georgia is trending purple, and has two Republican-held Senate seats up next year, the state was already an area of concern for the GOP. Collins' entry into the race makes it more so. Obviously, he's a dyed-in-the-wool Trump loyalist who will capture the votes of the base if he's the nominee. However, that's probably not enough to get it done, as the President has a 47% approval rating and a 49% disapproval rating in the state. Kemp knows this, which is why he passed on Collins and appointed Loeffler. The Governor was hoping to stanch the hemorrhaging of suburban women voters. But now, Collins and Loeffler are both in a race to see who can tack further right (see above). A bruising primary campaign could leave the victor cash-strapped, damaged, and unable to pivot back and recapture centrist votes. Meanwhile, if Collins is the nominee—and as someone with actual political experience, unlike Loeffler, he's surely the favorite—then Kemp's attempt to solve the "women problem" goes kaput. It's not an easy time to be National Republican Senatorial Committee Chair Todd Young (R-IN). (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jan27 John Bolton Is Complicating Things for Trump....
Jan27 ...And So Is Lev Parnas
Jan27 Nadler Will Miss Part of the Impeachment Trial Due to Wife's Cancer
Jan27 Pompeo Melts Down
Jan27 Sanders Is on a Roll
Jan27 Des Moines Register Endorses Warren
Jan27 Buttigieg Appears on Fox News
Jan26 Trump Team Begins to Lay Out Its Case
Jan26 Sunday Mailbag
Jan25 Democrats Conclude their Case
Jan25 Saturday Q&A
Jan24 And the Beat Goes On
Jan24 Next Week, Trump Will Try to Change the Narrative...
Jan24 ...This Week, on the Other Hand
Jan24 Who Are the Vulnerable GOP Senators?
Jan23 Democrats Begin to Lay out Their Case
Jan23 Democrats Nix Witness Trade
Jan23 Poll: Slight Majority Wants to See Trump Removed from Office
Jan23 Poll: Sanders Moves into the Lead Nationally
Jan23 Clinton Walks Back Comment about Sanders
Jan23 Gabbard Sues Clinton
Jan23 Time to End Newspaper Endorsements?
Jan22 You Win Some, You Lose Some
Jan22 Clinton Slams Sanders
Jan22 SCOTUS Won't Hear Obamacare Case Until Next Year
Jan22 Under the Radar, Part I: A New Travel Ban
Jan22 Under the Radar, Part II: Andrew Peek
Jan22 Boy, Trump Really Is Unpopular
Jan21 McConnell Finally Reveals Impeachment Rules
Jan21 Emoluments? What Emoluments?
Jan21 About Trump's Popularity with Republicans...
Jan21 ...Which Leaves No Room for a "NeverTrump" Challenger
Jan21 And Then There's Trump's Popularity with Black Voters
Jan21 Biden Doing Well in Iowa
Jan21 Where Will the Trump Presidential Library Be?
Jan20 Battle over Impeachment Trial Witnesses Heats Up
Jan20 Trump Has His Defense Team
Jan20 Klobuchar and Yang Supporters May Be Kingmakers in Iowa
Jan20 White College-Educated Democrats Can't Make Up Their Minds
Jan20 New York Times Makes Double Endorsement
Jan20 Jayapal Endorses Sanders
Jan20 Supreme Court Meets the Electoral College
Jan19 Sunday Mailbag
Jan18 Saturday Q&A
Jan17 Impeachment Day 1 Goes Badly for Trump
Jan17 Ukraine Launches Investigation
Jan17 It Turns Out that There Were Casualties from Iranian Attack, After All
Jan17 Iowa Could Have Many Winners
Jan17 What Bloomberg's Path Looks Like
Jan17 Collins' Approval Rating Sinks Below McConnell's