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Political Wire logo Lincoln Project Co-Founder Resigns Amid Scandals
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Lindsey Graham’s Call Part of Georgia Election Probe
Trump Refused McCarthy’s Request to Call Off Rioters
Olson Won’t Support Those Who Don’t Vote to Convict
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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Send in the Clowns
      •  What's Next for the Republicans?
      •  It Will Be a Taxing Year for Trump
      •  Former Republican Officials Consider Forming Center-Right Party
      •  Biden Administration Grapples with COVID-19
      •  Biden Administration Also Grapples with Clemency
      •  Diplomatic Unity?

Send in the Clowns

All right, that headline is a little judgmental. However, with their several-standard-deviations-below-average performance earlier this week, we think that Donald Trump's impeachment lawyers, Bruce Castor and David Schoen, earned it. They will try to redeem themselves today, with the Democratic House impeachment managers having concluded their presentation yesterday.

Although the impeachment managers had up to 8 hours to present the final portion of their case, they used a little less than half of that. They summarized what has already been said, of course, while also emphasizing three key points, some of them new or semi-new:

  1. Trump's Behavior: Much of Wednesday's presentation, and some of Tuesday's, was devoted to what Donald Trump did before, during, and after the riots. However, the impeachment managers added a couple new wrinkles on Thursday. Most notably, they dwelled on a call from Trump to Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-AL), while the riot was underway, in which the Senator advised the then-president that then-VP Mike Pence had to be evacuated. In other words, observed Democrats, Trump certainly knew at that point how serious the riot was. And yet, he did nothing to restore peace for at least another hour.

  2. It Could Happen Again: In a related point, the impeachment managers observed that Trump has never apologized for his role in the insurrection or, for that matter, admitted that he lost the election. The Democrats argued that if The Donald is not punished, it will enable future attempts to overturn election results. In fact, they said, it could well allow Trump himself to do it again. Undoubtedly, though the impeachment managers did not say so explicitly, they are aware of all the op-eds and memes going around right now that point out that Vladimir Lenin's first insurrection was not successful, nor was Adolf Hitler's. And the managers know that the 100 senators are aware of those op-eds and memes, too.

  3. National Security: Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX) mostly focused his portion of the remarks on a question that has gotten very little play so far, namely the security implications of all of this. He noted that several of the rioters broke into congressional offices in hopes of finding intel to sell to the Russians or other foreign adversaries. He did not note, but again he and the senators are surely aware, that if Pence had been overcome, the rioters might have gotten their hands on the nuclear football that was traveling with him. That information would not be usable to launch an attack, but the Russians would pay good rubles to get their hands on it to gain deeper insight into the United States' nuclear arsenal.

And so, that is where the blue team left it. Naturally, there is not the slightest indication that any GOP senator has changed their mind about voting for acquittal.

Today, Team Trump will take its turn. Luckily for Castor and Schoen, they have the world's easiest task in front of them for half a dozen reasons:

  1. Expectations are so low after Tuesday's fiasco, they can't help but exceed them.

  2. They've had additional time to prepare, motivated by the knowledge that they screwed up on Tuesday.

  3. This isn't a courtroom, and they don't have to present a cohesive and internally consistent case under the watchful eye of a judge. They can take an "everything but the kitchen sink" approach, and then let the jurors and the right-wing media choose which bits and pieces they want to latch on to.

  4. You don't need to "win" jurors back if you didn't lose them while the prosecution presented their case.

  5. Even if Trump did lose a few senators, 67 votes to convict is an enormous number.

  6. Many of the senators have grown bored, and aren't really paying attention anymore.

Ultimately, Castor and Schoen are primarily interested in an audience of one, in hopes of making sure their legal bills are paid. Unfortunately for them, they could perform like Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird, and they'll still get stiffed for any fees they did not collect up front.

Incidentally, in case there is any doubt that most of the Republican senators are still in the bag for Trump, Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Ted Cruz (R-TX), and Mike Lee (R-UT) stopped by the Capitol office that Castor and Schoen are using in order to plan today's presentation. "We were discussing their strategy for tomorrow and we were sharing our thoughts in terms of where the argument was and where it should go," explained Cruz. In a normal trial, just a visit between three jurors and the defense counselors—to say nothing of a discussion of strategy—would be enough to trigger a mistrial. In Washington, it's just business as usual. Many of the senators, with those three being the worst perpetrators (perpetraitors?), but not the only ones, are not even paying lip service to being impartial or to waiting until the evidence is heard to reach their conclusions.

Speaking with reporters late Thursday, Schoen said that he and Castor expect to take only four hours (or so) today, and then to rest their case. Pretty much everyone, Democrat and Republican, does not want to call witnesses or introduce additional evidence. So, they will presumably have that discussion and vote on Saturday, and then move right on to the acquittal vote. The whole thing should be over in time for "Saturday Night Live" to savage it in this week's episode. (Z)

What's Next for the Republicans?

Soon, the impeachment will be in the rear-view mirror for the GOP. That doesn't mean that the story is over, though, or that life is going to get any easier for the red team. In fact, the old aphorism "out of the frying pan, into the fire" seems an apropos descriptor.

To start with, Donald Trump is eagerly planning his second annual post-impeachment victory lap. He doesn't have Twitter anymore, but he's going to be all over the right-wing media claiming total vindication. More significantly, he's going to spend plenty of time on his favorite sport, namely score-settling. He and his advisers see a silver lining in the impeachment, namely that it helped identify "traitors" in the Republican Party. And so, Trump & Co. are going to do everything they can to make impeachment-supporting Republicans feel the pain, and also to recruit primary opponents to challenge those folks from the right.

Meanwhile, for those Republicans who opposed impeachment, life will be easier in the short term. But most of them are going to have to face voters in 2022 and/or 2024, and they are going to have to account for their position on the insurrection. It won't matter much for Republicans in deep-red districts/states, but for those in pink, purple, and light blue districts/states, they are going to need to find an answer to that line of attack. Already they are trying out a bunch of possibilities:

  • The impeachment was not constitutional!
  • Trump was exercising his First Amendment rights!
  • Trump cannot be held responsible for what the mob did!
  • This was a political witch hunt!
  • Let's not re-litigate the past!

GOP members are not using the last line yet, because the trial isn't in the past yet, but expect that to become a popular one. Since 2016, when Kellyanne Conway used that construction, it's been a popular line with GOP pooh-bahs up and down the line. Like the time after the first impeachment that then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said it was inappropriate to re-litigate the 2016 election, and then promptly got to work on trying to dismantle Obamacare again.

We do not have a crystal ball—we're not Zoltar or Larry Sabato, after all—so we have no idea how well these excuses will play with voters in 2022 and 2024. What we can predict, with confidence, is that the Democrats' commercials are going to be brutal. (Z)

It Will Be a Taxing Year for Trump

When it comes to federal taxes, Donald Trump famously did not pay the piper for many years, though he may be about to do so now. He's got a couple of issues looming on the back burner that will move to the front burner not too long after the impeachment trial concludes.

To start, there is the small matter of the $72.9 million refund the IRS issued to Trump in 2010. The agency is pondering, in view of subsequent information that has come to light, whether some or all of that was not justified. If they decide that the former president was not entitled to that money, they will order him to pay it back...with interest. Should they hit him for the whole sum, the bill would come to about $100 million. As Steven M. Rosenthal, the expert quoted in the linked story, helpfully points out: "This is real money." Needless to say, The Donald doesn't have the cash, given that his business empire has gone down the tubes and he has nearly $400 million in loans coming due. He is undoubtedly hoping that IRS Commissioner Charles P. Rettig, whom Trump appointed, and whose term runs through 2022, puts his thumb on the scale. Maybe Rettig will, although he'd be risking his own neck if he did. Rettig seems to understand that. In a congressional hearing in 2019, Rettig said: "We are a bureau of the Treasury. We are supervised by Treasury." The implication here is that the call is up to Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen and he will do whatever she decides.

The other problem is that the House Ways and Means Committee still wants Trump's tax returns, and the lawsuit filed by Chair Richard Neal (D-MA) is reaching its denouement. A judge has given the Biden administration until Mar. 3 to decide whether or not to comply with the request. That basically puts the ball in Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen's court. It's hard to believe that she, or Joe Biden, will want to shield Trump's tax returns. If they do decide that, though, then the courts could very well step in and order them released anyhow. It's not exactly clear what Neal might do with them that would be adverse to Trump, though serious embarrassment is certainly a possibility as details become public.

Meanwhile, there are also the state-level investigations unfolding in New York under state AG Letitia James and Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance. Both officials say that work is still in progress, but they've invested so much into this in terms of time and resources that there is simply no chance they let the matter drop. Plus, James would sure like to be the first woman and first Black person to be elected governor of New York (David Patterson succeeded to the office after Eliot Spitzer resigned). Skewering Trump would be quite helpful on that front. So, it's just a matter of time until this moves to the front burner, too. The bottom line is that it's not a great time to be the nation's most prominent tax cheat (allegedly). (Z)

Former Republican Officials Consider Forming Center-Right Party

A number of prominent Republicans of administrations and elections past, including former representative Charlie Dent, former Trump White House Director of Communications Anthony Scaramucci, and former presidential candidate Evan McMullin have held preliminary conversations about forming a new center-right political party (or faction).

In theory, forming a new third party for centrists who think that Trump is a Fascist and the Democrats are Communists sounds like a heckuva good plan. In reality, it will run into several daunting challenges:

  • Winning: The most optimistic estimate among the folks leading this conversation is that they might peel off 20% of registered Republicans. That's about 7% of all registered voters. Our staff mathematician is off tonight, but our more crude math skills suggest it is not plausible to win elections when you're getting less than 1 vote in 10. The only way the hypothetical new party could plausibly win anything is if they split the GOP vote in an anti-Trump red district, come out on top in the primary as a result, and thus were "the" Republican option in the general election.

  • Ballot Access: The Republicans and Democrats are automatically on the ballot everywhere because of past electoral success. For a new third party, it would be no small feat to jump through the hoops necessary to get on the ballot in each of the 50 states. Even the much-better-established Green and Libertarian parties struggle. In 2020, the Green Party made it in only about half the states.

  • Recruiting Candidates: It's hard work to campaign for office, and most folks don't want to do it if they have no chance of winning. That would leave the new party with mostly unknown candidates, notwithstanding the occasional retread (Jeff Flake? John Kasich?) who might be bored, and willing to tilt at some windmills.

  • Money: As the Lincoln Project has shown, there is some funding out there to be collected by a never Trump center-right political organization. But the amount that the LP has raised ($90 million) is a drop in the bucket compared to what it takes to mount successful political campaigns across the country. And most people and organizations that give money to candidates want to invest in a winner, not someone who exists as a protest vote.

In short, if the center-right Republicans try to get their own party going, the best they can hope for is to be a thorn in the side of the GOP for a few cycles, in hopes of denying the party a bunch of victories, and compelling them to purge Trump and Trumpism. Good luck keeping something like that going.

Alternatively, Dent & Co. are thinking of trying to form a faction within the Republican Party, wherein folks would remain registered as Republicans, but would take their cues from the anti-Trump leaders, and not from the Republican National Committee or the various Republican campaign committees. This would solve some of the problems above, notably ballot access. But 85% of the Republican Party still likes Trump, and that sizable group is going to collect most of the money, is going to dominate most nominations for office, and is going to attract virtually every good candidate (since that's the only path to victory).

The conclusion here, then, is this: There's virtually no chance this happens. Again, it's interesting to talk about, but the barriers to success are just too great. (Z)

Biden Administration Grapples with COVID-19

The Trump administration, staffed by many folks who were not exactly the valedictorians of their class, left plenty of messes behind for the Biden administration to clean up. Among the most pressing of those was the COVID-19 vaccination situation, wherein Team Trump did not acquire nearly as many doses as claimed, and did not do a great job of keeping track of the doses they did acquire.

Joe Biden made some big and bold announcements on this front on Thursday. To start, he said that the acquisition of another 200 million vaccine doses is now a done deal, bringing the federal government's total supply to 600 million doses. The feds don't have all the vaccines yet, but they will be delivered fairly soon, such that the President said the nation is on track to have 300 million people vaccinated by the end of July.

That's some very optimistic talk, but delivering on that promise will be no easy feat, as illustrated by the fiasco currently unfolding at CVS, Walgreens and other drug store chains. In short, the White House observed that many communities (particularly rural communities, and those with sizable numbers of people of color) do not have the hospital and medical infrastructure to properly administer tens of thousands of vaccines. However, many of those communities have outlets of one or more of the major drug store chains, which also have (most of) the necessary infrastructure to deliver vaccines en masse (since they already give flu shots, shingles vaccines, etc.). So, the thought was to send the drug stores a bunch of doses, and let them help get the job done.

Thus far, things have not gone well. Since the drug stores largely do shots on a walk-up basis (Here to pick up your prescriptions? Why don't you get a flu shot while you're here?), they weren't really prepared to deal with the need to make (and enforce) a gaggle of appointments. So, getting people in, vaccinated, and out has been a wildly inefficient process thus far, with crashing websites, missed appointments, and plenty of confusion. It's still possible to iron out the wrinkles, of course, especially since Team Biden has considerably more valedictorians than Team Trump did, but the wrinkles most certainly have not been ironed out yet. (Canada is having problems too, incidentally, which means that it's certainly possible—perhaps even likely—that Canadian saboteurs are behind the American drug stores' woes.)

Another problem with the 300 million target, of course, is the anti-vaxxers. We keep pointing this out because we have never seen anything close to an answer from the Biden administration, or from anyone else, to this particular challenge. As we noted yesterday, 32% of Americans are on the fence about the vaccine, and 22% say "no way." To get to 300 million people vaccinated, it will be necessary to get all of that 32% plus a bit more than half of the 22%. Those folks might be won over by some sort of carrot ($200 "I'm vaccinated" tax rebate) or some sort of stick (if you aren't vaccinated, you are no longer eligible for a passport or a driver's license), but thus far there seems to be little attention being paid to this puzzle.

And as long as we're on the subject of handling and mishandling COVID-19, the esteemed British medical journal The Lancet published a new analysis of the mortality figures from the United States, and concluded that 40% of the nearly 500,000 deaths were avoidable with better leadership. Put another way, there are about 200,000 people who are dead, but who did not need to be. The article doesn't pin all the blame on Donald Trump, but it does say he deserves a bunch of it. So it would not be out of line to suggest that he has the blood of 50,000 or maybe 100,000 dead Americans on his hands. It speaks to the interesting peculiarities of the human mind, and of civilization, that the 6 people who died in the Capitol riots (who certainly deserve a measure of justice) got the former president impeached, while he will suffer no consequences at all (beyond losing his re-election bid) for the vastly greater number who perished from COVID-19. (Z)

Biden Administration Also Grapples with Clemency

Another mess that Team Trump left behind is that the federal prison system is badly overcrowded, particularly given the ongoing pandemic. There are 14,000 inmates who have applied for clemency, some for good reasons, others as a Hail Mary pass. Since The Donald granted clemency just 143 times, mostly to cronies or to folks suggested to him by celebrity friends, it's up to the Biden administration to separate the worthy from the unworthy among the 14,000.

Needless to say, with a sizable number of other crises on Biden's plate, this hasn't gotten much attention yet. And it could be a little while until it does. But you have to guess that Team Biden will, by the end of the year, leave Trump's four-year clemency total in the dust, probably by five or ten times as much. First, because the generally more competent folks in this White House, most of them with extensive experience in public service, will figure out how to tackle the mountain and make it into a molehill. Second, because one of Biden's political weaknesses is the leading role he took in passing the Clinton-era crime bill. Freeing a large number of (hopefully worthy) people would help a fair bit when it comes to addressing that particular Achilles heel. (Z)

Diplomatic Unity?

No, we did not forget the "Imm-" in front of "Unity" in that headline. Joe Biden promised, multiple times, that he would appoint at least one Republican to his cabinet as a reach-across-the-aisle gesture. He didn't do it, of course, unless one of his nominees is rejected and then replaced by a Republican. There were simply too many factions in the Democratic Party who needed their backs scratched in order to wedge an Elephant into the Cabinet Room.

It would appear that the White House is now considering fixing that problem, as best they can, by appointing a few prominent Republicans (anti-Trump ones, of course) to high-profile ambassadorships. At the moment, John McCain's widow Cindy McCain is being discussed as a possible appointee to the Court of St. James (U.K.), and former senator Jeff Flake, who gets his second mention in today's posting, is under consideration to be sent to South Africa. That may seem an odd choice, but he spent time in South Africa while serving on his Mormon mission, so he does have some experience with/connection to the country (and he is fluent in Afrikaans, which is basically 18th century Dutch).

We are dubious that a couple of ambassadorial picks will impress Republicans nationwide. That said, we are also dubious that a Republican Secretary of Energy or Secretary of Veterans' Affairs would have impressed them, either. However, these picks are clearly laser-focused on one state, where the Democrats will have to defend a Senate seat in 2022 and then will have to try to score another presidential victory in 2024. Given that the Arizona GOP just censured both McCain and Flake, this is a very clear play for Grand Canyon State Republicans who have become unhappy with their party. We shall see if it works, but every little bit helps. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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