Sunday, September 15, 2019

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The United States is blaming Iran for drone attacks that inflicted serious damage to a pair of major Saudi Arabian oil facilities. 

In the absence of a national security adviser, President Trump seems to be letting Secretary of State Pompeo take the lead in responding.

It is an otherwise relatively slow news Sunday. 

Gleaned from news sources around the world, here’s my take on the downsides and unknowns of the attacks and their complicated aftermath.


Likely means more conflict, bloodshed, and refugee suffering in the region.

Energy prices could rise.

Could embolden both Iran and the Houthis to engage in more attacks.

Could hurt the U.S. economy directly or indirectly (with energy importers like China and Japan suffering first).

There are few obvious options to respond to Iran.

It forces the U.S. to emphasize its alliance with Saudi Arabia, at a time when the relationship is being questioned and rethought.


How quickly can the facilities be repaired?

How much of the disruption in world energy markets can be mitigated by Saudi actions?

Does this event meet the definition of an attack on American interests, necessitating a response against Iran?

What other facilities in Saudi Arabia and around the world are vulnerable to such strikes?

How much will this embolden other Iranian allies to engage in such attacks?

Will the rest of the world join the U.S. in blaming Iran?

Will the attacks convince European allies to agree to Donald Trump’s approach on dealing with Iran, centered around tougher sanctions?

What does this do to the prospect of U.S.-Iranian talks?

Will Saudi Arabia escalate its war with Yemen, or pull back?

What will this do to the Saudi-UAE relationship?


In other news:

**Maureen Dowd laments what some see as a weak Democratic presidential field, and wonders “Will the most beatable candidate in American history win twice?,” teeing up my reminder for you to pre-order my new book, “How toBeat Trump,” which answers Dowd’s existential, non-rhetorical question.

My take: Even if the Democrats had a consensus candidate who seemed to both inspire the base and be the best bet to win a general election, there would be concerns about beating the incumbent. It now appears most likely that the party will go into the new year without any broad agreement about whom to nominate and some accumulating baggage that could further weaken the field overall and, by implication, the eventual nominee.

**Wall Street Journal headline: “Resilient U.S. Growth Propels Stocks as Trade Fears Ease”

My take: Democratic presidential candidates are starting to realize that cheering for a downturn is unseemly and that their nominee needs to be prepared to win a general election even if the economy is humming along.

**Ahead of Tuesday’s Israeli elections, Trump muses about U.S.-Israel defense treaty to boost Bibi.

My take: Netanyahu is counting on an image of strength, stability, and closeness to Trump to pull out a victory.  Trump is doing everything he can to enhance his friend’s prospects.  Another milestone of the upcoming week that could roil world markets.

Top sports story: College football Power Rankings for Week 3

Top business story: Federal Reserve to Return to Stimulus Pump

Top entertainment story: Emmys: Norman Lear Becomes Oldest Winner Ever at 97
Hollywood Reporter

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Saturday, September 14, 2019

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Essential variable: The Wall Street Journal on how voters in the Big 3 states (Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin) feel about the Trump economy, and how they connect those feelings to their view of the president’s job performance.

My take: There is plenty of data in here to cheer Democrats, and the economy could of course drift into worse territory. But most Democratic strategists believe the path to victory involves getting some Trump voters to see the economy as not working for them, and this story suggests that case is not automatically there to make in some key places.


Essential reading: Peggy Noonan’s column on…..everything and everyone.

My take: I won’t try to pull highlights from this opus. There are just some Peggy Noonan columns that jam in countless vital truths that are hiding in plain sight.  This is one of those. Read the whole thing.


Essential facts (via the Wall Street Journal):

“Asked by a reporter if he would release his medical records to address concerns about his age and mental sharpness, Mr. Biden responded: ‘What the hell concerns, man? You wanna wrestle?’”

“He vowed to release his medical records after his next physical exam and ‘before there’s a first vote.’”

My take: This is a good step politically for Biden and substantively for the country.  All candidates need to show transparency on their health.  Watch to see what Team Biden counts as “medical records” – how much will they release?  PS: Even if he is being jocular, the former vice president’s propensity to physically challenge reporters is problematic for at least one of his advisers.


Essential mindmeld: Kathleen Parker (in the Washington Post) and Christopher Buskirk (in the New York Times) both say Trump won the debate and Warren is very strong.

My take: The Gang of 500 consensus about the rise and performance of Warren is quite striking.  If Biden can’t get back some of his mojo with the media, this cycle of praise for Warren is going to continue unabated, to his detriment. Not every Democrat thinks Trump won the debate, to be sure, but smart Democrats will at least read these pieces and consider if there are hard truths embedded in them.


Top sports story: College football picks, schedule: Predictions against the spread for key top 25 games in Week 3
CBS Sports

Top business story: New York Uncovers $1 Billion in Sackler Family Wire Transfers

Top entertainment story: Eddie Money, ‘Two Tickets to Paradise’ Singer, Dies at 70

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Friday, September 13, 2019

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In a Democratic presidential nomination battle as filled with as much ambiguity as life itself, Thursday’s debate was pure clarity for the media.

The Washington Post’s Dan Balz: “Biden delivered the kind of performance his supporters have been waiting for — combative when needed and in the thick of the action throughout.”

New York Times: “Mr. Biden was steadier in what was his third debate of the primary contest, rattling off statistics and parrying attacks with good cheer, though he still rambled at other moments. And despite their criticism, none of the nine other candidates onstage appeared to significantly damage his candidacy.”

New York Times: “In the end, Mr. Biden exited the stage the same way he entered it: the embattled-yet-clear front-runner, no matter if his meandering syntax and twisting verbal gymnastics sometimes failed to land clear points.”

The AP: “Unlike prior debates, where Biden struggled for words and seemed surprised by criticism from fellow Democrats, he largely delivered crisp, aggressive responses.”

Reuters: “Those expecting Joe Biden’s presidential candidacy to flame out any day now will have to keep waiting.”

Bloomberg: “Rivals eager to dislodge Joe Biden from his front-runner’s perch tried attacking him in last month’s debate and going easy on him in Thursday’s debate. Neither worked.”

The Wall Street Journal: “Mr. Biden was halting in some of responses, but largely weathered the attacks.”

Politico’s John Harris: “There was no one who clearly owned the stage and loomed obviously larger than rivals.”

Ye Olde Winners & Losers

**Biden didn’t do as well here:

Washington Post:

Winners: Warren, Buttigieg,

Losers: Castro, Harris, Yang

New York Post:

Winners: Booker, Buttigieg, Castro, Warren

Losers: Biden, Sanders, Yang, Klobuchar


Winners: Biden, O’Rourke

Losers: Castro, Warren, Yang

Rich Galen:

Winners: Biden, Booker, Buttigieg

Losers: Harris

Doug Schoen:

Winner: Biden

 Losers: Castro, Sanders

Ed Rogers:

Winners: Biden, Booker, Buttigieg, Sanders, Warren

Losers: Castro, Harris, Klobuchar, O’Rourke, Yang

My take: The frontrunner was almost universally declared the winner of a three-hour debate by the powerful media filter.  Normally, it is impossible to know if the filter has gotten it right when it comes to the reactions of real voters. In this case, the consensus is so strong, the filter creates the reality as much as it interprets it.  Biden won; Warren and Sanders are still part of the Big Three; the other seven need something big to break into the top tier.

In other news:

**Trump said Thursday that he thought the nominee would be Biden, Warren, or Sanders.

My take: Illustrating once again that the president is, on the question of who will be picked to face him, a creature of conventional wisdom.


**“Private-sector economists surveyed in recent days expect U.S. gross domestic product to expand an inflation-adjusted 2.2% this year on average, measured from the fourth quarter a year earlier. Forecasters expect economic growth will slow to 1.7% in 2020 and will be 1.9% in 2021.” (WSJ)

**Budget deficit is out of control. (CNBC)

My take: No 3% growth, no fiscal restraint = two Trump broken promises that a talented Democratic presidential nominee can definitely take advantage of.


The Wall Street Journal says China is looking to put economic issues and national security issues on two separate tracks in trade talks with the U.S, while Politico says the U.S. is going to seek a return to the macro deal terms that were close to being agreed to previously, while the New York Times says both sides are trying to lower tensions in advance of the looming talks.

My take: Déjà vu all over again, with markets and newspeople encouraged by various signs of new progress.

But incremental progress < nothing is decided until everything is decided.

Top sports story: Newton on loss: All fingers ‘pointing back to me’


Top business story: China Adds Soybeans, Pork to Tariff Exemptions Before U.S. Talks


Top entertainment story: Game of Thrones’ prequel series about the Targaryen family in development at HBO, reports say


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Thursday, September 12, 2019

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On the occasion of the DNC presidential candidate debate (3 full, slogging hours on ABC), please behold the hot-off-the-presses Wide World of News 2020 quiz:

1. The biggest current threat to Joe Biden’s chances to be the Democratic nominee is

a. Some huge verbal blunder.
b. A third-place showing in Iowa.
c. The lack of enthusiasm for his candidacy.
d. The winter release of some opposition research.

2. The biggest current threat to Kamala Harris’ chances to be the Democratic nominee is

a. A third-place showing in California.
b. The lack of a clear message.
c. The prospect of being shut out of the storylines in Iowa and New Hampshire.
d. A weak third-quarter fundraising haul that leads to mass defections to Joe Biden.

3. The single factor that best explains the rise of Elizabeth Warren is

a. Her many policy proposals.
b. Her positioning just to the right of Bernie Sanders.
c. She’s telling an American story that has history, resonance, and relevance to tens of millions of Americans.
d. The field is generally weaker than is commonly thought.

4. The lower-tier candidate about whom the Democratic establishment most often speculates could be the big surprise come February is

a. Amy Klobuchar.
b. Cory Booker.
c. Beto O’Rourke.
d. No one; the Democratic establishment has resigned itself to choosing between four of the Big Five (Biden, Warren, Harris, or Buttigieg).

5. The greatest cause of pessimism among sharp Democrats who are worried about beating Donald Trump is

a. The incumbent’s big head start.
b. The prospect of the nomination fight extending into the summer.
c. The Green Party.
d. “Open borders” and “taking health insurance away from 180 million Americans.”

6. As next summer approaches, the prospective running mate name that many smart Democrats think will be getting a lot of buzz is

a. Julian Castro.
b. Susan Rice.
c. Tammy Baldwin.
d. Michelle Obama.

7. The biggest reason to think Bernie Sanders is an undervalued stock now/still is

a. His floor in Iowa and New Hampshire might turn out to be higher than commonly thought – and high enough in this field.
b. His brand of revolution is distinct and has a lot of adherents.
c. He has finally realized that he must adapt or his candidacy will die.
d. He has a greater record of success as a presidential candidate than anyone else in this field, by a wide margin.

8. The candidate Team Trump most worries about now is

a. Biden.
b. Warren.
c. Sanders.
d. Harris.

9. The Gang of 500 thinks the Democratic nominee will be

a. Biden.
b. Warren.
c. Warren or Biden.
d. Someone else.

10. The biggest moment of Thursday’s debate will involve

a. A Biden gaffe.
b. A stronger-than-expected Biden retort to an attack.
c. Open disagreement between Warren and Sanders.
d. The moderators pressing the candidates even further to the left.

Answers: 1-b; 2-d; 3-c; 4-d; 5-d; 6-c; 7-abcd; 8-a; 9-c; 10-d.

In other news:

**Seminal moment: Joe Biden backer Ed Rendell pens a Washington post op ed calling Elizabeth Warren a “hypocrite” over her fundraising practices.

My take: This piece is a turtle on a fence post; it didn’t just get there by itself. Team Biden believes, rightly, that the media is currently not giving him and Warren equal coverage. Rendell has a history of being willing to go places rhetorically on behalf of his chosen presidential candidate that others fear to tread.  He also knows how to wield the stiletto with a light(ish) touch.  This article alone won’t change the dynamic that is frustrating the vice president’s advisers, but they know no other entity is going to even try to change the dynamic, and Biden’s chances of being the nominee are lessened incrementally every day the media attacks him and exalts Warren.

**Essential readings:

Politico on why Joe Biden’s relationship with the media is so systematically troubled.

My take: This is not a media-navel-gazing-writing-about-the-media inside story.  It is one of the most valuable articles written about the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination battle.  Yes, it is about Biden’s press coverage, driven in part by newer reporters and news organizations who don’t share Biden’s worldview or politics.  But it is also about the battle to define and control the party, about why Biden’s campaign is a lot like Hillary Clinton 2016, and about what will determine who is picked to try to defeat Donald Trump.

Tom Edsall’s important New York Times column on the centrist views of  some African American voters on key issues concludes with this line, as stark as it is true:

“Without an ingenious campaign, even widespread hatred of Trump will not be sufficient to dislodge him from the White House.”

My take: The data on African American voters is really key to understanding how the Democrats must construct a coalition to win in 2020.  But Edsall’s concluding point, which matches up with the thesis of my book, “How to Beat Trump,” is one that many Democrats are in denial about, still.

**Karl Rove says the odds are high that only Biden, Warren, and Sanders can win the nomination.

My take: Rove rightly hedges a little bit, but as a snapshot of where we are today, there is no denying his thesis is legit.  It is what makes the failure of the three candidates to engage with each other so fascinating – and the likelihood that engagement is inevitable, maybe even tonight.

**Sanders leads in fresh New Hampshire poll, with Biden second, and Warren third.

My take: See quiz question #7 above.

**Trump plans ban on flavored E-cigs.

My take:  Somewhere, Rahm Emanuel is smiling. This is a true public health crisis, and the administration is right to act. But the symbolic politics of it is something you are almost certain to hear the president tout as part of his reelection effort.  As they say in the business, this polls 80-20.

**Trump delays some China tariffs and the new NAFTA moves along.

My take: For the American economy and the president’s chances of reelection, demonstrating progress on these two pacts buys some time, but the president is going to need to consummate one (or maybe both) of these deals to have a major impact on economic growth – and to fulfill two of his core campaign pledges.

**Trump administration wins at Supreme Court on asylum rules.

My take: Rulings such as this frustrate Democrats to no end, giving a stronger hand to those who argue that the courts should be more front and center on the presidential campaign trail.

**Trump administration faces probes on actions on Alabama and storm.

My take: Some of the coverage of this long-running saga treat it lightly, but it is in fact shaping up to be a metaphor for and example of the president’s norm-busting abuse of the power of his office, aided and abetted by his pliant advisers.  It isn’t the biggest scandal of this administration, but it is far from the smallest. It will be investigated, and it should be. “The cover-up is worse than the crime” might be where this one ends up.

Top sports story: O’s’ Villar hits MLB’s record-setting 6,106th HR

Top business story: Electric truck maker Rivian lands $350 million investment from Cox Automotive

Top entertainment story: Viacom Becomes Frontrunner for Miramax Stake, Lionsgate Exits Bidding

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Wednesday, September 11, 2019

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This whole town is Groundhog Day, until it’s not, until something changes.
— Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy

Senator Murphy’s new adage is truer in the Age of Trump than it was before, and it was quite true before.

As Donald Trump, the first lady, and America observe the solemn anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks against the United States, in the current burbling news cycle, what’s new is old and what’s old is new.

**The Republican House candidate in North Carolina narrowly won, showing the party strong in rural areas and troubled in the suburbs. 

My take: Disaster averted for Republicans, but 2020 weaknesses exposed on both sides.  Trump needs to do better with suburban women to have a chance to get reelected. Democrats are playing with fire in the Big 3 (Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin) if they nominate a candidate who can’t compete for rural votes.

**Two new polls suggest trouble for the reelect.  Trump’s approval rating is down 6 points since July to 38% in an ABC News/Washington Post poll, while CNN has him with a 39% approval rating.

My take: National polls before the Democrats settle on a nominee are in most ways as relevant as a Flip UltraHD video camera.  But they do provide the mood music for restive Republicans who recognize the difference between gaining 6 points and gaining 9 points.

The president’s team of pollsters will look at this House result and these national polls and say, we need a plan to do better if we are going to win.  The president? He said this on Twitter:

“One of the greatest and most powerful weapons used by the Fake and Corrupt News Media is the phony Polling Information they put out. Many of these polls are fixed, or worked in such a way that a certain candidate will look good or bad. Internal polling looks great, the best ever!”

**With John Bolton’s sudden departure, the president will soon have a record-breaking fourth national security adviser in three years, while the meaningless debate over “fired or quit” still lingers.

My take: Classic Trump chaos move, followed by Classic Era of Trump reporting in the Washington Post on who was cheered by the ousting:

“In the wake of Bolton’s departure, a number of senior administration officials and Republicans close to the White House… offered up long lists of those who would not mourn him. They included first lady Melania Trump, Pence, Mulvaney, Pompeo, Mnuchin, countless Defense Department officials and numerous international leaders.”

That is quite a list, even for John Bolton!

**China gives a little on tariffs and Tom Friedman argues a medium-sized trade deal can be had if the president learns about the Asian concept of saving face.

My take: A deal has to happen to avoid the disastrous consequences of a trade war between the world’s two biggest economies. And/but a deal can’t happen since neither side can give in enough because of their respective domestic politics.

**Another senior Trump official, Peter Navarro, talks bullish on the passage of the USMCA North American trade pact (he puts the odds of a 2019 successful vote at 100%), and puts the onus on Speaker Pelosi to bring it to the floor.

My take: A deal has to happen to avoid disastrous consequences of trade disruption with two huge partners.  And/but a deal isn’t going to happen until Pelosi is satisfied on the substance and the politics, and we aren’t close to there yet.

**The White House is still avoiding showing its cards (because it is still shuffling the deck) on gun safety legislation.

My take: Current order of likelihood (as is the norm in the Age of Trump): no deal, small deal, big deal.

**Both parties in DC want to tackle the cost of prescription drugs.

My take: Current order of likelihood (as is the norm in the Age of Trump): no deal, small deal, big deal.

**The number of Americans without health insurance coverage rose.

My take: The bizarre situation in which a government hostile to a major law continues to administer said law is showing predictable effects. The status quo is not good for Americans and 2020 is going to produce more of a muddle, unless one party runs the table.

**And the Groundhog Day dynamic holds on the Democratic side as well.  Biden is still strong in polling and is still searching for a contrast strategy with Elizabeth WarrenBernie Sanders is still stronger than most give him credit for being.  And Kamala Harris is still getting more news coverage about the process of her campaign troubles than she is about her ideas and vision (there are at least two reasons for that).

My overall take: As a great man once said, the first three letters of “news” are n-e-w.   A lot is moving around, but the churning is only the prelude, as we wait for something actually new. Thursday’s Democratic debate in Houston could be that moment. But don’t count on it.

Top sports story:Yelich out for season after fracturing kneecap

Top business story: US companies are canceling investment into China at a faster clip, survey shows

Top entertainment story: Sean Parker Takes Minority Stake In Peter Jackson’s VFX Facility WETA Digital

Big Four

Iowa and New Hampshire

Still on: Iowa, New Hampshire won’t nix 2020 GOP contests.

New Hampshire

New Hampshire gov signs ban of oil, gas drilling off coast.

South Carolina

SC to consider abortion ban; bill faces uncertain future.

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Tuesday, September 10, 2019

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Trump: “I Don’t See It As a Bellwether”

Mike Pence, on the same day, on the same North Carolina House special election that happens Tuesday: “[It] has implications all across America.”

On this one, the president’s words are in conflict with his actions (spending election eve in the district) and the words and beliefs of everyone in the politico-media world.

If Republican Dan Bishop loses today, it doesn’t mean that the GOP is doomed in 2020. But the symbolism and reality of a loss in this district would drive a media narrative, embolden Democrats, and discourage (read: freak out) Republicans.

The stakes, per the Associated Press:

“The district has been held by the GOP since 1963. In 2016, Trump won the district by 11 percentage points. Should Bishop defeat Democrat Dan McCready, it could give Trump room to assert that he pulled Bishop over the top. If McCready prevails or Bishop wins by a whisker, it will suggest GOP erosion and raise questions about Trump’s and his party’s viability for 2020.”

“Both campaigns predict turnout to be relatively low and the result to come down to hundreds of votes, as it did in 2018.” (WSJ)

With the understandable focus on the House race, don’t overlook the message the president delivered on his own behalf last night. It was the clearest distillation of his 2020 reelection message that he has put forth so far.

In the moments that were more scripted and less stream-of-consciousness, Trump did a lot of foreshadowing.

Referencing Senator Warren and former vice president Biden, Trump unfurled the litany of taunts and issues that he hopes will make next year a referendum on his Democratic opponent, rather than on him.

Radical Democrats…your way of life is under assault..
…families….open borders….sanctuary cities… the Second Amendment….abortion….taxpayer-funded healthcare for illegal immigrants….judges…the America-hating left…socialism.

My take: There is no doubt that Trump and the Republican Party are showing weakness in this special election, regardless of the outcome. There is also no doubt that the Democratic presidential candidates would be wise to study what Trump said yesterday (to the satisfaction of his polling team) and figure out what the right responses are going to be in the general election.  Trump might not have a winning hand, but he showed a lot of his cards last night (minus the opposition research).

In other news:

**Trump scuttles Taliban talks, leaving Afghanistan policy in flux.

My take: Borrowed from the Washington Post’s David Ignatius: “In Trump’s negotiations with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un and the Afghan Taliban (and his flirtation with Iran), he wants agreements — and he wants the personal photo opportunity, too.”

**The North Koreans are asking for more nuclear negotiations and testing missiles.

My take: Undercovered lately – there cannot be a US-NoKo deal without China’s blessing, and Beijing has a pretty full plate right now.  The more Trump pushes on these diplomatic doors for a pre-November 2020 win, the less leverage he has and the emptier the cupboard is likely to appear to voters.

**A federal judge issued a national injunction against Trump administration asylum rules.

My take: Gotta note the irony that Trump brags about all the federal judges he has been able to install and/but federal judges are still probably the biggest barrier to his policy agenda.

**A trio of the many on-going investigations of the president and all his women and men: the hurricane/Alabama flap; the Turnberry/Pentagon flap; the Rudy/Ukraine flap.

My take: There is a lot for the Democrats and the media to probe.  Oversight must be conducted. But the goal has to be to find some trail of evidence that breaks through the normal tribal warfare.  Another irony: the more controversies and scandals there are, the more Trump benefits from the sheer cacophony of the whole sprawling mess.

**NBC News finds ex-Russian CIA asset hiding in plain sight in DC area.

My take: The first-day reporting on this story has been incredible. Brace yourself for more.  This onion is multilayered.

Top sports story: Lutz lifts Saints with historic career-long field goal

Top business story: FDA slams vaping company Juul for illegal marketing practices, threatens fines or seizure

Top entertainment story: Dwayne Johnson Gives Update On Kevin Hart’s Condition After Car Accident

Big Four


Bernie Sanders says he’s not ‘pandering’ as he makes first Iowa university sweep of the semester.

Democratic candidates look for edge on Iowa’s campuses.

New Hampshire

Secretary of state reports voter affidavit statistics.

South Carolina

Massive SC education overhaul bill faces another delay.

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Monday, September 9, 2019

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Pelosi for the Opposition

Until there is a presumptive Democratic presidential nominee (March at the earliest, July at the latest), Speaker Nancy Pelosi is the single most influential person in the United States in determining if Donald Trump wins reelection.

The Democratic Party is very fortunate.  As I write in my forthcoming book, “How to Beat Trump,” about Pelosi, “She has publicly demonstrated many of the traits the party’s presidential nominee will need to take on Trump, exhibiting fearlessness, humor, dignity, and focus.”

Pelosi knows Americans need lower drug prices, a healthy economy, a new trade deal with our North American neighbors, gun safety, and a united front in dealing with our adversaries around the world.

She also believes that there is no greater public responsibility she has ever faced than doing everything in her power to get a Democrat elected president in 2020.

How she manages impeachment, lawsuits against the executive branch, spending bill decisions, the USMCA negotiations, and the legislative agenda will say more about Trump’s chances than anything the presidential candidates do in Iowa, New Hampshire, or anywhere else until at least February.

The Democrats who are most confident about beating Trump are those who think that the dynamics that allowed their party to wallop the Republicans in the 2018 House elections will lead inexorably to the first defeat of an occupant of the Oval Office in almost thirty years.

For Pelosi and many strategists, those dynamics start with winning suburban voters.

There is a reason you haven’t read or heard very much about who Pelosi and other congressional leaders favor for the presidential nomination, or whom they think would be the strongest general election candidate.

They want a nominee who can inspire the base, attract swing voters, raise well north of a billion dollars, stare down Donald Trump, and provide coattails in battleground Senate and House contests.

And they (and “they” includes Pelosi) have no better idea who that person is than you do.

So all they can do is create the best legisla-politico-comms environment possible for when Nominee-Presumptive X takes the stage.

With the House and Senate coming back this week, be prepared for a lot of discussion over the coming months in Wide World of News through the prism of one question.

The question is not “What does Nancy Pelosi want?”

The question that matters most in American politics from today through the determination of a presumptive Democratic presidential nominee is this:

“What is Nancy Pelosi going to do to get what she wants?”

My take: If the Milwaukee convention is hopelessly deadlocked, Pelosi becomes the nominee.

In other news:

**Trump MAGA rallies in Fayetteville, North Carolina at 7pm tonight, ahead of Tuesday’s Republican must-win in a special House election.
Here’s a great curtain-raiser for the event.

My take: The stream of consciousness on display could give us a window into what Trump is thinking about the Democratic field, China, impeachment, the economy, and a second-term agenda.  The key to getting maximum meta data from what the president says is being able to differentiate when he is talking about something because he is worried from when he is talking about something because he is confident. You’ve got to read the tells to win.

**Mark Sanford becomes the third Republican to challenge President Trump.

My take: If one of these rivals doesn’t catch on enough to do symbolic damage to Trump in an early state, these candidacies will in fact strengthen the incumbent’s hand, allowing him to take more amped-up victory laps on the nights of primaries and caucuses.

**Here’s a perfect distillation of what the mainstream press thinks of the state of the Biden candidacy, and here’s a perfect distillation of what the smartest people in politics think about the state of the Biden candidacy.

My take: Biden likes to say he is totally different than Trump, but there is one key way they are alike.  The press and their supporters can muse all they want about the candidates changing their ways just a tad to enhance their chances of winning. These are two experienced dogs who are not going to start flaunting any new tricks.  They are who they are.

**Looking for the seeds of Warren’s eventual potential problems? Read this paragraph embedded in a Washington Post piece about the Warren-Biden relationship:

“Warren did not directly answer the question, a tactic she continues to employ, saying the real solution is an economy where Americans are doing better.”

My take: Those who want to stop Warren from winning the nomination would be wise to get her to start answering questions on the details of her health care plan and a whole lot more. The irony is that the candidate known favorably for her specific plans is probably most vulnerable now over her lack of specificity on some key issues.

**Nearly essential reading:

Trump administration internal divisions on doing a deal with the Taliban. (Washington Post)

House Democrats still watching the calendar and dreaming of impeachment, with a newish idea floated: have the Judiciary Committee vote to impeach, but not send it the House floor. (New York Times)

China’s economic growth lower than advertised. (Wall Street Journal)

My takes: Trump’s desire to fulfill a campaign process to get the U.S. out of Afghanistan is running headlong into his desire to not be known as the president who lost Afghanistan. Pelosi is not going to let the Democrats do something the public is dead-set against. Trump still doesn’t have enough leverage over China to get the deal he wants.

Top sports story: Brady, Patriots will be unstoppable if Antonio Brown doesn’t stop them

Top business story: JP Morgan has created an index to track the effect of Trump’s tweets on financial markets: ‘Volfefe index’

Top entertainment story: Box Office: ‘It: Chapter Two’ Floats to No. 1 With $91 Million

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Sunday, September 8, 2019

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Warren Versus Biden

Since 1992, the Democrats have nominated the following people for president: Bill Clinton, Al Gore, John Kerry, Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton.

Considered by tens of millions to be “new and exciting” when they ran: Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, the only two who won the White House.

NOT considered “new and exciting” when they ran: Al Gore, John Kerry, and Hillary Clinton, the three who lost.

The same breakdown applies to the quality of “leading a movement,” which applied to Bill Clinton and Obama, but not Gore, Kerry, or Hillary Clinton.

The two Republicans who won the Oval Office during this same period – George W. Bush and Donald Trump — were considered “new and exciting” and leaders of a movement.

Joe Biden is many things, but he is NOT considered “new and exciting” by any standard, even by his staunchest supporters.  And he is never going to lead a pro-Biden movement.

As Elizabeth Warren declared and demonstrated during Saturday’s dominating performance at the New Hampshire Democratic Party assemblage, she is the new and exciting leader of a movement.

“This is how we build a movement,” Warren thundered to the delegates in a star turn that was universally reviewed as the best received of the day, including by NBC News’ keen Vaughn Hillyard, Politico, and the New York Times.

Gore, Kerry, and Hillary Clinton all beat rivals who were new and exciting leaders of movements (Bill Bradley, Howard Dean, and Bernie Sanders), and they all did it by going negative on policy against their competitors.

Joe Biden, the man who has declared his fervent opposition to Democratic circular firing squads, who has not figured out how to fit himself into today’s more progressive party, and who has never effectively deployed opposition research over the four decades he has been a presidential candidate, is very unlikely to beat Elizabeth Warren by going negative on policy.

HOWEVER: No one has ever been nominated by the Democratic Party for president or won the White House vowing to take private health insurance away from well over 100 million Americans.

No one has ever been nominated by the Democratic Party for president or won the White House without demonstrating strong support from African American voters.

And, I will say it for the umpteenth time: I have never seen a leading presidential candidate (Warren) go this many consecutive days without anything but neutral-to-positive-to-super-positive press coverage.   Some of that has been luck, but a lot of it has been the result of a strong candidate backed by a strong campaign whose message matches the moment for many.

Warren is on a roll. She will remain a political body in positive motion until she makes some huge unforced error, the press turns on her, or Biden (or his opposition research team…) stop her.

The RNC, the Trump campaign, and America Rising are all sitting on opposition research that could theoretically stop her, but you shouldn’t expect to see that until, oh, about March 22, 2020.

New and exciting versus old and familiar.

A movement versus a pledge of electability.

Glowing media coverage versus snakes-bitten media coverage.

The conventional wisdom from the start was that Biden would have a tougher time winning the nomination than he would the general election. That might still be true. 

I don’t rule out Sanders, Harris, Buttigieg, or a surprise will win the nomination.

And Biden, of course, still tops the polls.  By the numbers, Warren has to overtake Biden.

By the trajectory, Biden has to halt Warren.

What happened in Manchester yesterday was symbolic, but it was also substantive, illuminating, and, depending on how this plays out, potentially historic.

In other news:

*The new Washington Post/ABC News poll shows Biden (29%) in first nationally, Sanders (19) and Warren (18) alone filling out the first tier.  Biden continues to dominate on who Democrats thinks is the strongest to beat Trump.

My take: Another important poll showing the same stratification – the Big Three in front, with Harris and Buttigieg in a second tier, and everyone else bunched in the third tier.  On one level, a ten-point lead seems big; on another level, it could be gone in a moment.  Put another way, Biden’s lead is consistent, but it might not be durable, and a strong moment or two from Warren or Sanders could put them at the top.  The leading indicator will be if polls start showing that Warren and/or Sanders are seen as stronger candidates to beat Trump than they are now.

*Presidential candidate and Democratic Ohio congressman Tim Ryan says Biden is “declining” mentally.

My take: This meme is never going to go away as long as Biden is in the race.  The most dangerous place for a candidate in the age of social media to be is when both Democrats and Republicans are hitting you on the same story line.

*Trump cancels secret meeting with Taliban leaders.

My take: Despite some gloom-and-doom analysis, this move smacks of “Trump negotiating gambit.”  The best bet is that the talks will continue, with Trump believing the U.S. now has more leverage.

*Mick Jagger went hard after Donald Trump in wide-ranging remarks.

My take: Pop star hitting Republican president is dog-bites-man, but the specificity of Jagger’s comments on Trump himself and on his policies are something to behold.

Top sports story: How the rest of the NFL is reacting to Antonio Brown joining the Patriots
Boston Globe

Top business story: China’s Trade Numbers Send More Distress Signals

Top entertainment story: Joker’ Wins Golden Lion at Venice Film Festival, Roman Polanski Takes Runner-Up Prize

Correction: In Saturday’s edition, I misspelled “too” as “to” when I meant “too.” To make such an error is too bad; at least I didn’t make two of them.

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Saturday, September 7, 2019

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Will Trump Win Again?

One of the best parts of writing Wide World of News is hearing from readers. I get a lot of fascinating emails every day from all over the country.

After soliciting views from those interested in whether the Democrats can nominate someone who can beat the incumbent, I got many interesting replies.

Rather than run excerpts from several of them, here is one reply, nearly in its entirety, from a retired veteran who lives in California.

He has voted Republican for years, but I chose this email because it gives textured voice to what I have heard from many Democrats, who worry that Donald Trump, despite his approval ratings, is the favorite to be reelected:

After watching the climate town hall and listening to every Democratic candidate speak in favor of banning fossil fuels, I gave up hope for the Democratic centrist.   Bill Clinton would win 50 states as a Republican against this crowd. 

When they don’t support nuclear, I know they aren’t serious.  If they really thought reducing carbon was life or death, nuclear is a no brainer. 

Later on, I was shocked to see even Biden is in favor of confiscating assault rifles. They won’t stop there – semi autos are next.   They may let us keep revolvers and bolt action rifles.

I first voted in 1972 for George McGovern.    Voted for Carter in 76 and Republican ever since.

This is looking like a redo of 1972.   Only thing saving the Dems is Trump is no Nixon.  If Trump would change his behavior 10%.   Quite saying stupid stuff.  Quit punching down.   Ignore Dems and tout his achievements he will win easily.   

But he probably won’t change and may win in a squeaker anyway cuz the Dems position on fossil fuels and guns and open borders.  

I want a candidate who sticks up for the little guy – or at least pretends to.   Warrens and Sanders are ok here.  Not afraid to shake things up.   Sanders or Tulsi.   Not beholden to the Permanent State or the Intelligence community.  Sanders and Tulsi.  

Not in favor of abortion after 20 weeks? No one except Trump.   Not in favor of open borders?   No one except Trump.  Not in favor of gun confiscation?  No one except Trump. 


In other news:

*“Iran has begun using arrays of advanced centrifuges to enrich uranium in violation of its 2015 nuclear deal, a spokesman said Saturday, warning that Europe has little time left to offer new terms to save the accord.”

My take: Many of the biggest problems in the world exist in large part because the United States has little or no leverage over an adversary. That is true with Russia and China, and it is way true with Iran.

*Some encouraging signs in the U.S.-China trade war.

My take: Over the next few months, there will be many news cycles where a deal looks more likely and many (more) where a deal looks impossible. The markets will overreact to both. You should wait for terms that suggest a paradigm-shifting big deal or, more likely, a face-saving, place-holding smaller deal.

*Consensus on the jobs report: “Weak August job gains signaled the U.S. labor market’s slowdown is deepening as the trade war with China takes a toll on the economy, even as some details of the report suggested a recession is far from imminent.”

My take: Status quo ante – the economy is slowing, but a recession pre-November 2020 is far from inevitable.

*The NRA-backed Republican lieutenant governor of Texas is supporting enhanced background checks for some private firearm purchases.

My take: Way too soon to know if this is a game changer, a one-off, an aberration, or something that will be walked back. But this one official taking this one position could indeed be the start of something as big as all Texas.

*Preview of Tuesday’s special North Carolina House election that has Republicans on edge.

My take: It is clear now that this is one of those special elections whose cosmic national significance is not overstated and will get a ton of media attention (especially, in this case as it should be, if the Republican loses).

*The doors have opened at the New Hampshire Democratic Party’s state convention, at which presidential candidates will speak.

My take: New Hampshire voters don’t have too many chances all cycle to hear from their presidential candidates in front of a large crowd.  It will be impossible to measure how it goes, but with activists now starting to think about choosing time, these speeches are actually extremely important.

*No virtual caucuses in Iowa and Nevada because of security concerns.

My take: Given the inability to safeguard the process, in this case in striking the balance between inclusivity and the importance of confidence in the integrity of elections, the DNC is making the right choice.

Some Biden supporters in Iowa and New Hampshire are concerned about his performance and operation.

My take: Spin all they wish that Biden can be the nominee if he loses both Iowa and New Hampshire, the former VP’s advisers need only look at history and logic to know that the chances of such a thing are de minimis.

*Another Biden problem: the right-leaning media wants his medical records.

My take: There is a legitimate argument that Biden (and all the other candidates) should release comprehensive medical histories and current health and treatments. But the larger political point here is that Biden continues to have a much bigger target on his back from across the media spectrum than his rivals do.  This is one of the many dangerous ways his candidacy resembles Clinton ’16.

*The Wall Street Journal suggests some Kamala Harris backers are concerned that she is not firmly in the first tier: “Ms. Harris’s donors and those close to her campaign said they have been surprised by the resiliency of Mr. Biden’s support, especially among African-American voters in South Carolina, which they had seen as a state she could carry, but which has struggled to get a footing in.”

My take: Harris supporters are right to be concerned, especially if, as many speculate, her third-quarter fundraising number is not that strong. As the article says, if she continues to show signs of weakness, some of her backers might swing to Biden.

*Buttigieg begins TV ad buy in Iowa.

My take: TV spots rarely move numbers in a substantial way in the Hawkeye State, but Mayor Pete needs to get back into the first tier and going on earlier than most is a good way to leverage all that money he has.

*Essential reading: Harris and Buttigieg are fine-tuning their core messages, per the Washington Post’s Holly Bailey and Michael Scherer.

My take: Best – having your original announcement speech be your template and North Star all the way through your inaugural address. But if you can’t do that, better to change to a winning message than stick with one that doesn’t seem to be catching on.  Plus, donors demand it.  Both Harris and Buttigieg must cut off the narrative that there are now two top-tiers – and they are in the lower of the two.

*Essential reading: the attendees and dimensions of Trump MAGA rallies, by Mike Bender in the Wall Street Journal.

My take: Trump leads a movement. A Democrat who beats him is going to have to lead a movement. This piece offers some clues about both sides of the equation.

Top sports story: Nadal and Medvedev to meet in US Open final

Top business story: Fed chief Powell says trade policy is weighing on investment decisions

Top entertainment story: Felicity Huffman Tells Judge She Wanted Daughter to Have a ‘Fair Shot’

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Friday, September 6, 2019

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Latest on the storm. LINK

Latest on Brexit. LINK

Latest on Hong Kong. LINK

My Take: Trump’s Three Biggest Current Reelection Allies

In Thursday’s Wide World of News, we ran through a list of headlines that were part of a starkly bad news cycle for the president.

There are two main metrics that matter.

Can Donald Trump get anything done for his constituents in the next fourteen months? And can Donald Trump get reelected?

For all the legitimately bad news on the first front (which of course impacts the second front), the president has three main things going for him right now:

1. Read this Politico story about Team Trump’s semi-confident reelection effort.

To be sure, it contains some cautionary notes, including this extraordinary paragraph about next week’s special House election in the Tar Heel State:

“Some Trump advisers have privately acknowledged their fear that if North Carolina’s 9th District goes Democratic, so goes the presidency next November. They say both nightmare scenarios would largely be the president’s fault, and point squarely to the controversies Trump stirred this summer — including his Twitter attack against four minority progressive congresswomen, his criticism of Baltimore as a ‘rodent-infested mess’ and unsubstantiated corruption charges against its Democratic representative, Rep. Elijah Cummings, and his conflicting statements during the G-7 summit in France.”

But the story is mostly about how the Trump campaign is leveraging the benefits of incumbency in a manner that puts it well ahead of the Democrats.  I write about the real edge this gives Team Trump in “How to Beat Trump,” because this head start is an advantage that the opposition can’t diminish very much, even if the Democrats settle on a strong nominee early on.

To be sure II, all the campaign planning in the world can’t bully Trump through to reelection if the economy goes south. The latest unemployment numbers out at 8:30am ET will tell today’s incremental tale, but the longer term – say the next ten months – will fill in the more important story.

To be sure III, the media focuses much more on the prospect of recession than the possibility of sustained (but slower) growth.  The New York Times has this essential reading piece laying out all the reasons that a recession is not inevitable, even if the trade wars continue at their current level.

To be sure IV, the trade war COULD get worse, as the Washington Post’s measured and brilliant David Ignatius columnizes on Trump’s war with China, echoing Tom Friedman and others in saying that the president was right to take on Beijing, but his lack of a clear strategy to guide his twist-and-turn-and-twist tactics suggests the conflict with China (which goes beyond the economy and trade to national security and defense) could escalate substantially and in fact push the U.S. and the world into recession.

2. To be sure V, I get how abnormal and dangerous it is for an American president to go for nearly a week refusing to drop his claim that Alabama was threatened by the storm.  But the type of obsessive coverage exhibited over so-called Sharpie-gate and Donald Trump’s daily bleeps and bursts on this topic will help the president’s reelection chances.  I won’t go into detail on this today, but I am pretty sure most readers of Wide World of News will immediately understand this point and the irony involved. The news organizations that are as obsessed with this story as the president is come across to many as rooting for Trump to lose, and that obsessing and apparent rooting will work to the president’s advantage. More on this in the coming weeks and months in this space and, again, in “How to Beat Trump.”

3. To be sure VI, a strong Democratic nominee who emerges early with ample resources, an electable platform, a united party, and the skills to tangle with Donald Trump can get to 270 electoral votes.

But if my inbox is any indication, many Democrats are worried that the party is not on track for that result.  A weak general election opponent is THE main requirement that Team Trump needs to win. 

Can the Democrats settle on a strong nominee in the spring?


Have the events of this week made that more likely?

My reporting since Monday suggests smart Democrats are concerned.

To be sure VII, if you think otherwise, before you start your weekend, shoot me an email with the winning scenario.

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