• Trump Administration Announce Troop Drawdown
• We Have a (Second) Vaccine
• Democrats Headed Back to the Drawing Board on Messaging
• The Right-Wing Media Bubble Is about to Get More Complicated
• Nudity Less of a Problem in Philadelphia than Feared
• The Biden Cabinet: Secretary of Defense
As we noted yesterday, Donald Trump's efforts to keep his job through use of the court system are not going well. There is the problem of having two cooks (Rudy Giuliani and David Bossie) both stirring the pot. And then there is the fact that the legal firms the Trump campaign has engaged are getting skittish, because they don't want "they helped destroy American democracy" to become part of their reputations. Finally, there is the small matter that the cases themselves (with one small exception) keep collapsing, either swatted aside by judges, or so full of holes they don't even make it into court.
Things did not improve on Monday. To start, four more lawsuits fell apart, one each in Georgia, Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. In each case, the suit asserted the existence of massive voter fraud, conceded that there was no proof at the time of filing, but promised that proof would be forthcoming in the form of "expert" reports. Those reports never materialized, and so the suits are now dead.
Meanwhile, attorneys continue to run for the hills. The most significant case in Pennsylvania, currently before U.S. District Court Judge Matthew Brann, seeks to stop Pennsylvania from certifying its results. That case has already been picked up and dropped by several lawyers. Last week, the firm Porter, Wright, Morris & Arthur jumped ship and were replaced by two lawyers from Texas, John Scott and Douglas Hughes, and one from Philadelphia, Linda Kerns. Well, on Monday, Scott, Hughes, and Kerns all withdrew from the case, and were replaced by Harrisburg-based lawyer and conservative talk radio host Marc Scaringi. Scaringi asked for more time to prep for the hearing, which is scheduled for today. The Judge was having none of that, and said that Scaringi's decision to wait until 7:40 p.m. Monday to join the case is his problem, and not the court's.
And finally, as we've noted previously, Trump can have a recount in Wisconsin if he wants one, with no lawsuits required. However, because the margin between Trump and Joe Biden there (0.6%) is greater than 0.25%, then by the terms of state law the Trump campaign has to foot the bill. And on Monday, the Badger State advised Team Trump of the cost: $7.9 million, payable in advance. It seems improbable that the President will blow nearly $8 million on a hopeless cause. But, if the campaign chooses to decline the offer, it raises questions about how serious this whole recount business really is. After all, if Trump announces—in effect—that a margin of 0.6% is too large to plausibly be overcome, then what does that say about the 1.1% margin in Pennsylvania or the 2.6% margin in Michigan?
Of course, the purpose of Trump's legal "strategy," such as it is, was never really to win a bunch of pie in the sky lawsuits. It was to drag the process out, and to create enough uncertainty to throw the election to the House of Representatives. That is clearly not going to happen. We're less than two weeks removed from Election Day, and the legal effort is already on life support. Just as important, perhaps, is that fewer and fewer Republicans are willing to play along with the plan. Given the worsening pandemic, not to mention Monday's military developments (see below), it is getting dangerous, both politically and literally, to entertain the notion that Trump might just remain president.
Consequently, the list of defectors is growing. Trump's National Security Adviser, Robert O'Brien, conceded on Monday that it looks like Biden is a winner, and promised that his team will do everything in their power to ensure an orderly transition. Similarly, more and more Republican Senators have taken to referring to Biden as the "likely winner" or as the "president-elect," including John Cornyn (TX), Kevin Cramer (ND), Marco Rubio (FL), Mike Rounds (SD), and Jim Risch (ID). Add those folks to the half-dozen senators who had already acknowledged Biden, and the President has lost more than 20% of the Senate Republican caucus.
In short, checkmate is imminent. The only question is how long it takes the President to admit that. (Z)
Speaking of behaviors that are inconsistent with remaining in office beyond Jan. 20, the Pentagon—newly purged of those who might push back against the President—has advised commanders in Afghanistan and Iraq to prepare for another drawdown of troops. Reportedly, sometime this week, Donald Trump will order the approximately 4,500 US troops in Afghanistan and 3,000 troops in Iraq to be reduced down to 2,500 in each location.
There are three reasons that this is a bad idea. First, it will make it more difficult for the U.S. to achieve what it's trying to achieve in that part of the world, at a time when the Taliban and al Qaeda are working together with particular efficacy. Second, the smaller that the detachment of troops becomes, the more likely they are to turn into sitting ducks, and to be overrun by a large contingent of hostiles.
Third, and most importantly, is that even if drawing down the troops is a desirable outcome, drawing them down now is very poor timing. The transition between presidential administrations is invariably the most tenuous time for national security, and thus the time when the bad guys are most likely to act out. That undoubtedly becomes even more true when the outgoing administration is refusing to cooperate with the incoming one. And so, anything that introduces additional uncertainty, like withdrawing multiple thousands of troops, is to be avoided.
Once the news broke, members of the Senate howled in protest—the Republican ones. "A rapid withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan now would hurt our allies and delight the people who wish us harm," said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). "The concern would be it would turn into a Saigon-type of situation where it would fall very quickly and then our ability to conduct operations against terrorist elements in the region could be compromised," added Marco Rubio. "You can't simply unilaterally draw down troops," opined Mike Rounds. You will notice that two of those three appear on the list (see above) of Republican senators who have began referring to Joe Biden as "President-elect Biden" on Monday. Clearly, Trump is not helping himself in terms of keeping his party unified behind him.
So what is Trump doing? He's had years to give an order like this, and yet he's waited until now to actually do it. Surely that is not a coincidence. We have no insider information, as there haven't been any leaks from the White House yet, but here are our two theories: (1) He wants to create an "accomplishment" to build his post-presidential media career and/or his 2024 run upon, or (2) He wants to create as many messes as possible on his way out the door, so as to make life hard for Joe Biden. If either, or both, are right, it's yet another case of Trump being willing to put American lives at risk in service of his own needs. (Z)
Last week, in search of some combination of glory/profit, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla announced that his firm, working in partnership with its German partner BioNTech, has developed a COVID-19 vaccine that appears to be 90% effective. Barring setbacks, they hope to request emergency approval from the FDA at the end of November.
Bourla surely suspected—or more likely had specific intelligence confirming—that some of his competitors were also very close to the finish line. And that turns out to be the case, as Moderna announced on Monday that it too has a working vaccine. Theirs appears to be 94.5% effective and, perhaps more importantly, does not require the ultra-low storage temperatures that Pfizer's vaccine does. The Moderna vaccine can be stored at minus 20 degrees Celsius (minus 4 Fahrenheit), which is within the reach of all medical-grade freezers, while the Pfizer vaccine requires minus 75 degrees Celsius (minus 103 Fahrenheit), which is only within the reach of very specialized freezers that would be found (at the moment) only in very large hospitals and in some labs. On top of all this, the Moderna vaccine can keep for 30 days under normal refrigeration and up to 6 months in a proper freezer, while Pfizer's is good for a considerably shorter time (as little as 5 days).
Since there has never been anything like this before, we really have no idea how this will play out, politically. Certainly, conspiratorial Republican claims that this was all a hoax that would disappear on Nov. 4 have gone up in smoke (though, as CNN reports, some COVID-19 victims go to their graves denying the existence of the disease). Beyond that, the growth in new cases (160,000 more yesterday, and 187,000 more the day prior), and the deaths of more than 1,000 Americans nearly every day, will presumably give Joe Biden cover for strong preventative measures (though many state governors are beating him to the punch).
As to the vaccines, neither Biden nor Donald Trump really deserves credit, since they had nothing to do with Pfizer's work, and since Trump had only a bit more to do with Moderna's (unlike Pfizer, Moderna was part of Operation Warp Speed). That said, Trump supporters are very good at giving him every bit of credit that he's due, and then multiplying that by ten. On the other hand, low-information voters tend to credit whomever is in the White House for whatever happens on their watch, whether it makes sense or not (the same thing happens with the economy). And the vaccination program, when it is implemented, will largely be undertaken while Biden is president. So, he could be the one who is celebrated for vanquishing COVID-19. We shall have to wait and see what happens. (Z)
There is, it would seem, a civil war brewing on the Democratic side of the aisle. Consider these headlines:
- Morning Consult: The Democratic Civil War Is Just Starting
- CNBC: Now, it's the Democrats facing a civil war
- Business Insider: The Democratic Party descends into 'civil war'
- The Atlantic: The Civil War Within the Democratic Party
- The Guardian (UK): Civil war has broken out inside the Democratic party
- The New Yorker: The Democratic Civil War Is Getting Nasty
That is just a selection; we could easily have added another dozen articles to the list.
Anyhow, in view of the fact that the Party lost seats in the House (when they were expected to gain), and they also failed to recapture the Senate (despite being favored to do so), there are many members of the blue team who are out for blood. Many share the view of Reps. Elissa Slotkin (D-MI) and Abigail Spanberger (D-VA), who feel that the Democrats' messaging has gotten flabby and undisciplined, and that—with the party in the thrall of the progressive wing—it is now poorly attuned to the worldview of "heartland" voters. Others are angry that there was not enough pushback against wild conspiracy theories like QAnon, complaining that "we're not some demonic cult." Consequently, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and other pooh-bahs said on Monday that they would look to "sharpen" the Democratic message prior to the 2022 midterms. So, problem solved, right? After all, now that the issue has been identified, it should surely be eminently fixable.
Maybe not so much. The Democrats, under current circumstances, are always going to have a tougher time "getting on the same page" than the Republicans will. There are at least half a dozen major reasons:
- Size: The Democratic Party is considerably larger than the Republican Party; if we include
independents that lean one direction or the other, there are something like 130 million Democratic/Democratic-leaning
voters as opposed to 100 million Republican/Republican-leaning voters. It is a lot harder to speak to the needs of 130
million people than to speak to the needs of 100 million.
- Diversity: The Democratic coalition is also more diverse, culturally and ideologically,
with the result being that different elected members need to occupy very different places on the political spectrum.
Consider the gap between the most right-wing GOP senator (probably Jim Inhofe R-OK) and the most moderate GOP senator
(probably Lisa Murkowski, R-AK). Then consider the gap between the most left-wing Democratic senator (probably Bernie
Sanders, I-VT, or Elizabeth Warren, D-MA) and the most moderate Democratic senator (probably Joe Manchin, D-WV). Surely
the Democratic gap is much greater. And so it's true that it would be political suicide for Slotkin to campaign
on Black Lives Matter and "defund the police." But it is equally true that Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) would
not get far if she spent all her time talking about prescription drug prices, strengthening national security, and
shoring up people's 401(k)s.
- Single-issue Voters: As a general rule, Republican voters are more willing to swallow hard
and vote for a candidate if that candidate is "right" on one or two key issues, even if that candidate is very wrong in
other ways. And the Republicans have done very well at identifying key issues that keep their coalition happy and
unified, including abortion, gay marriage/culture wars stuff, and gun ownership. Democratic voters are much less likely
to cast their ballots based on just one or two issues. And even if they were, one struggles to think of an issue that
80% or 90% of Democrats feel strongly about and are in agreement upon. The Party's signature issue these days is health
care, and while most members agree that issue is very important, they are strongly divided on the next step, whether
it's an Obamacare expansion, or Medicare for All, or something even more radical.
- Alternative Facts: Similarly, today's Republican voters have proven to be considerably
more willing to accept "alternative facts"—lies, distortions, conspiracy theories, and the like. Do we really
imagine, for example, that QAnon only caught on because nobody thought to point out to millions of believers that
Democrats are not, in fact, pedophilic Satan worshipers? When people are willing to believe just about anything nasty
about their perceived opponents, regardless of how nonsensical it is, that is difficult—if not impossible—to
push back against.
- Dirty Tricks: As an adjunct to the previous point, the reason that some Democrats were
hurt this cycle by "defund the police" and Black Lives Matter and Antifa and socialism was not because of AOC or the
Squad or Sanders (who are, at most, useful symbols). No, they were hurt by these things because the Republican Party has
a finely tuned propaganda apparatus that smears all Democrats as wild-eyed, raving, loony communists/socialists
who are personally connected to whatever the left-wing outrage du jour is (Antifa, or ACORN, or the Gay Liberation
Front, or Black Power, or the Civil Rights Movement, or the Soviet Union, or whatever). The GOP has been doing this,
with great success, for more than 75 years. Recall, for example, which party included Joseph McCarthy as a member, and
which party's members he was in the habit of pointing the finger at.
- Right-wing Media: The GOP's pro-Republican messaging, on abortion or guns or whatever, and its anti-Democratic messaging, on socialism or Antifa or the "Clinton Body Count" or whatever, has had the support of a highly effective right-wing media establishment that has been in place for nearly 40 years, from Rush Limbaugh to Pat Robertson to Fox News. There is no real equivalent for the Democratic Party.
This is not to say that the Democrats should not do a postmortem on 2020 and to figure out how they can do better. But it's not so easy, as suggested by the fact that all of the headlines at the start of this article are actually from 2016. And it's certainly not so simple as wagging a finger at the party leadership, as Slotkin and Spanberger do, and complaining that the Democrats have surrendered to the left and turned their backs on the moderates and the "heartland." Certainly, the progressive wing of the party would be surprised to learn that the Democrats, who just nominated and elected the centrist Joe Biden, are in the thrall of the far left. Similarly, if the Party decides to fight back against QAnon and other wild conspiracy theories—and with people that far gone, it may not be worthwhile—then that is a much tougher task than simply announcing, "Hey, you know, we don't actually worship Satan. Just FYI!" (Z)
For more than a decade, Fox News has been king when it comes to the right-wing media. But now, their dominance is under attack from two even more right-wing outlets, NewsMax and OAN. The relationship between Fox and some of its viewers has slowly soured over the past four years, primarily due to those occasions when the network failed to hew 100% to the Trump party line (something that often caused the President to complain on Twitter, and to direct supporters to Fox's competitors). A particular breaking point came on election night, when the channel's Arnon Mishkin had the temerity to call Arizona for Joe Biden. Since that incident, NewsMax's viewership has jumped by 1,000%, and OAN's has also risen substantially.
The key difference between Fox, on one hand, and NewsMax/OAN, on the other, is that Fox—while it abuses the concept of "opinion-based coverage" to do some really outlandish things—does have some commitment to facts, the truth, and journalism. Not a strong commitment, but some commitment. NewsMax/OAN, by contrast, are willing to tell viewers whatever they want to hear. Keep in mind that the incident that drove up these outlets' viewership, the calling of Arizona, was not only accurate, it also had no impact on the outcome of the election. Joe Biden would have won either way. But some right-wing viewers are so eager to hear the "facts" that please them, even if those facts are falsehoods, that they jumped ship on Fox, at least temporarily. At the moment, NewsMax and OAN are both reporting the comforting "news" that Donald Trump definitely won the election, and that his second term will commence on Jan. 20 of next year.
There is no doubt that Fox will remain an important player; they've already begun pivoting from Trump State Media to round-the-clock anti-Biden coverage. That worked well for them through eight years of Barack Obama, and will undoubtedly work well for them again. Beyond that, however, there are a lot of unknowns, among them:
- Will the right-wing cable media machine be as effective if sliced into two or three parts that may not always
be on the same page, or the same message?
- If Trump allies
NewsMax, as reported, and if they install Trump as talking head #1, how will that change the equation?
- Can NewsMax and/or OAN maintain their current surge, or is this just a flash in the pan? What happens, for example, when
their insistence that Trump won the election is contradicted by, you know, Joe Biden's inauguration?
- What will happen when Rush Limbaugh, the key cog in the right-wing radio media machine, is silenced by his retirement or his passing, something that is likely to happen within the next year?
It will be a very interesting story over the next few years. (Z)
No, not that kind. That kind would be tough right now, given the daily freezing or near-freezing temperatures. We mean naked ballots. There were concerns that the Democrats' hopes in the state could be derailed by some large percentage of voters forgetting to put their ballots in the internal "safety" envelope, thus invaliding them. However, in Philadelphia, the largest and bluest city in the state, only 1% of the ballots were naked.
Since there were 350,000 votes in Philly, that means that less than 4,000 were disqualified on this basis. That's nowhere near enough to have affected the election. This could be a problem in the future, though, particularly in the absence of a broad "make sure your ballots aren't naked" campaign like we saw in 2020. It might be nice for the state legislature to step in and solve this problem, in one way or another, but don't hold your breath. (Z)
Our rundown of possible Biden cabinet secretaries continues. We are, you will recall, going in the order the departments were created. The positions we've already written up:
And now: Secretary of Defense.
- The Job: The Secretary of Defense is the primary conduit between the president, as
commander-in-chief, and the United States' vast military establishment. They advise the president on all matters
military, and supervise the Joint Chiefs of Staff; the Departments of the Army, Navy, and Air Force; 19 different
defense agencies, 9 different field offices, and 9 combat commands. The Secretary is also, by statute, a member of the
National Security Council.
- Considerations: Customarily, the Secretary of Defense is a veteran, although—in the
absence of special dispensation from Congress, as was granted to Jim Mattis—they must have been retired for at
least seven years, so as to affirm that the military establishment is under civilian control. They are also, as a
general rule, political moderates. Since the nation's population of white men has a large supply of politically moderate
veterans, that's where previous presidents have gone looking for appointees. The result is that all 27 people who have
been confirmed to the post thus far (along with the five who held the job in an acting capacity) have been white men.
Joe Biden has made clear that he's interested in breaking that trend, if possible. Whomever he appoints is going to have a big job ahead of them. They will likely be responsible for figuring out a military-aided plan to administer the COVID-19 vaccine(s) whenever they come available. They will also have to deal with whatever messes Donald Trump might have created, including those created by the drawdown that appears imminent (see above). Further, since Congress has spent money like a drunken sailor during the pandemic, and given that Republican members of Congress turn into budget hawks again the moment a Democrat takes over the White House, the new Secretary will likely have to meet these challenges with a reduced budget.
- Candidate 1, Michèle Flournoy: It is widely understood that Flournoy would have
gotten the job in 2016, had Hillary Clinton been elected, and that she is the frontrunner now. She's not a veteran, but
she is a moderate, and she has served in numerous capacities in the Pentagon over the last 30 years, most recently as
Undersecretary of Defense for Policy in the Obama administration. She has expertise in dealing with China and the Middle
East, and has been an outspoken critic of nearly all military policies and decisions implemented by the Trump
Flournoy's biggest weakness, beyond her lack of uniformed service, is that she has served on the boards of several defense contractors, most notably Booz Allen Hamilton. That said, the Senate confirmed the recently departed Mark Esper as Defense Secretary, and he wasn't just on the board of Raytheon, he was that firm's Vice President for Government Relations. So, clearly a cozy relationship with the defense industry is not, in and of itself, disqualifying.
- Candidate 2, Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL): She is also a woman and, as someone who is Asian
American, would thus smash two glass ceilings if appointed. Unlike Flournoy, Duckworth is a combat veteran, and highly
decorated to boot. Her Senate seat would not be at risk, since Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D-IL) would choose her replacement.
There are valid concerns that Duckworth is not qualified for the job, however, since she's never worked in the Pentagon. Also, she didn't do a great job in her time as Director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs (IDVA), and was accused of mismanagement of personnel and funds. That's not a good harbinger, since IDVA has just 1,200 employees and a budget of $138 million, while the Pentagon is a shade larger, with nearly 3 million employees (700,000 of them civilians) and a budget of $721.5 billion.
- Candidate 3, Jeh Johnson: He's not a woman or a veteran, but he is black, so that would
also break with past precedent, and would please the Congressional Black Caucus, which wants a Black person in at least
one of the top four jobs in the Cabinet. Like Flournoy, he has extensive DoD experience, including serving as General
Counsel of the Department of Defense. He also has Cabinet-level experience, having served as United States Secretary of
Homeland Security for four years under Barack Obama.
Johnson's first weakness, beyond the fact that Biden appears to have his heart set on picking a woman, is that he is even cozier with the defense industry than Flournoy is, with long service on the board of Lockheed Martin. Even worse, from the point of view of many Democrats, is that he was responsible for implementing and overseeing the Obama administration's harsh anti-terrorism policy (i.e., drone attacks). Further, if Biden really wants Johnson in the cabinet, the Attorney Generalship is also a pretty good fit, as is the position of Director of National Intelligence.
- Candidate 4, Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI): If the President-elect gets cold feet, and decides
not to shake things up, then Reed is the archetypal Secretary of Defense candidate. He's a fairly moderate white
guy, and he's not only a veteran, he's a West Point grad. Like Duckworth, his replacement in the Senate would be chosen
by a Democratic governor (Gina Raimondo).
It is extremely unlikely that Biden will get cold feet, however, unless Flournoy has done something in the last four years that causes her to fail her background check. And even if she does, Reed might not want the post. Depending on how the Senate shakes out, he's in line (with a Democratic majority) to take over the Committee on Armed Services. Even if the blue team does not win the two Georgia runoffs, he might prefer to hang on until 2022 to see how things work out then.
- Candidate 5, Pete Buttigieg: This is a longshot, based primarily on the fact that he's a
veteran, and that he's pretty clearly in line for a spot somewhere in the Cabinet or the upper reaches of the Biden
That said, that's not much of a case for such an important job. Further, he's a better fit for other positions, like Veterans' Affairs. And that's before we talk about his politics, which are a little lefty by Pentagon standards.
Flournoy is such an overwhelming favorite that there are few names attached to the job, beyond the ones listed here. Expect her to get it, barring something very unexpected. And up tomorrow in this series: Attorney General. (Z)
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Nov16 Trump Is Doubling Down on Legal Action
Nov16 Trump is Setting Booby Traps for Biden
Nov16 Why Didn't Biden Do Better in Cities?
Nov16 Georgia's Recount Is 30% Done and Nothing Has Changed
Nov16 The Battle for the Georgia Suburbs Is On
Nov16 Democrats Are about to Have a Civil War
Nov16 What about 2022?
Nov16 COVID-19 Could Help Biden
Nov16 Trump Overperformed the Polls
Nov15 Sunday Mailbag
Nov14 Saturday Q&A
Nov13 What Is Trump's Endgame?
Nov13 Stealing the Election Is Not Plausible
Nov13 Don't Count on a "Normal" Inauguration
Nov13 What Happened with Latino Voters?
Nov13 McDaniel Likely to Keep Her Job
Nov13 The Pandemic Rages, Unchecked
Nov13 The Biden Cabinet: Secretary of the Treasury
Nov12 Biden Picks Chief of Staff
Nov12 Republicans Win in Alaska
Nov12 Exit Polls
Nov12 What's Going on with the Polls?
Nov12 Biden's Coalition May Not Be Stable
Nov12 Democrats Can't Win Senate Seats in Trump States
Nov12 Georgia on My Mind--Until Jan. 5, 2021 at 7 p.m.
Nov12 Stacey Abrams Raises $6 Million for the Georgia Runoffs
Nov12 Michael Cohen: Trump Will Go to Florida for Christmas--and Stay There
Nov11 ACA Looks to Be A-OK
Nov11 Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss
Nov11 The Vaccine Conspiracy Theories Are Already Flying
Nov11 Pennsylvania Got Only 10,000 Ballots after Nov. 3
Nov11 Trump's Loose Lips Could Sink Ships
Nov11 Trumps May Be Plotting Hostile Takeover of the RNC
Nov11 The Biden Cabinet: Secretary of State
Nov10 Esper Is Out
Nov10 Three GOP Lanes Are Forming
Nov10 COVID-19: The Short-Term Prognosis Is Not so Good...
Nov10 ...But the Long-Term Prognosis Is Looking Better
Nov10 COVID-19 Diaries: The Darkness Before the Light?
Nov10 Democrats Score Their First Big House Flip
Nov10 Bustos Is Done as DCCC Chair
Nov09 The Emperor Has No Coattails
Nov09 Election Takeaways
Nov09 Biden Beat Clinton in Most States
Nov09 Biden Won the Suburbs
Nov09 Biden Will Immediately Reverse Many of Trump's Policies
Nov09 The Polls Failed--Again
Nov09 Whither Trump?
Nov09 Preview of the Georgia Senate Runoffs