Tuesday, July 30, 2019

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Open Secrets

I got out of the prediction racket a long time ago.

Projections, well, projections are another matter.

Here are the reasons to believe that tonight’s Democratic presidential candidate debate will be less interesting than an Orioles-Tigers game:

(Note to non-fans of baseball: those are two boring teams.)

(Note to those thinking of watching the debate: it is on CNN at 8pm ET and includes Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, Beto O’Rourke, Marianne Williamson, Tim Ryan, John Hickenlooper, John Delaney, and Steve Bullock.)

(While you were sleeping, I read every debate preview on the Interweb, all intended to create an expectation of dramatic narratives and gripping scenarios.)

So, as I said, here are the reasons to believe that tonight’s Democratic presidential candidate debate will be less interesting than an Orioles-Tigers game:

1. The two major candidates on the stage – Warren and Sanders – are as committed to a politics of substance and seriousness (as opposed to personal attacks and one-liners as light as candy floss) as any candidates who have run for president in the last thirty years.  They also agree on most issues. Any efforts to get them to go after each other are almost certainly doomed to fail.  So we start with the reality that the only pair of candidates on stage who at this writing have a chance to be the Democratic nominee for president in 2020 will not create Biden-Harris-type pyrotechnics.

2.  The hope that the sparks come from the much-touted “moderates take on the liberals” storyline? Three reasons to think this won’t happen. First, most of the more moderate candidates on the stage are still afraid of liberal Twitter and won’t really want to take on the iconic Warren and Sanders.  Second, most of the moderate candidates on the stage are not skilled enough or charismatic enough to effectively take on the party’s lurch to the left.  And, third, most of the “moderate” candidates on the stage are actually not that moderate.

3. Neither Buttigieg nor O’Rourke has an incentive to enact the “generational mantle” battle for which the media is rooting.  There is nothing to be gained by taking down the other guy at this point.

4. Seven of the candidates on the stage combine (and I’m being generous here) for a total of 6% in national polling.  I’m very interested in hearing what Williamson, Ryan, Hickenlooper, Delaney, and Bullock have to say.  But I am guessing that the moderators and most of the reporters covering the debate will not be.  This will create an awkward and stilted dynamic throughout.

5. Republicans will tell you that no formerly credible news organization has more acute Trump Derangement Syndrome and (not the same thing) anti-Republican bias than CNN.  Yes, even more than the Washington Post and New York Times.  I won’t waste your time laying out why that will make the debate less interesting. But it will.

6. Many of the media’s debate previews look past tonight and focus on Wednesday’s faceoff, for obvious reasons.

7. There will be ten candidates on tonight’s stage sharing about two hours and none will be named “Biden.”  The only meaningful dynamic in the race right now is what or who can bring the former VP back down to the pack. That is a storyline that might be advanced on Wednesday night.  But there is no conceivable way it gets advanced tonight.

Enjoy the debate.

In other news:

Enemy of the Suburbs

Very bigly important story: The Associated Press say Trump’s behavior has turned off suburban women voters, big league.

My take:  This story will stoke a debate Democrats are having now – should their core message be about the president’s character and conduct, or should they let that take care of itself and focus on the economy?  The voter interviews that form the backbone of this piece (from industrial Midwest battlegrounds) will come as no surprise to Team Trump, which is counting on winning enough of these female voters back by pounding the eventual Democratic nominee as a cultural and economic extremist.

And/but: Moderate Democrats continue to say their presidential candidates are largely taking positions that will make it easy for the Trump campaign to pound the eventual Democratic nominee as a cultural and economic extremist.

And/but: Democratic House members who opposed Nancy Pelosi reclaiming the Speaker’s gavel now applaud her centrist focus.

Who Does This Describe?

He “stokes a grudge, immerses himself in Fox News and spews back its more right-wing content into the world”?

My take: If you guessed “Donald Trump,” you might not have to read this Washington Post tick tock story about why the president went after Congressman Cummings and Baltimore. 

But it is worth looking at, if only to learn that the White House is considering having Trump go do an event in Charm City, which staggers the mind.  Such a journey would have the support of CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC, to be sure.

Here’s some good reporting from the New York Times about White House aides:

“They privately scoffed at the idea that it was strategy rather than impulse, concluding that any political benefit he might derive by revving up his conservative, largely white base could be offset by alienating more moderate voters in the suburbs of states like Wisconsin and Michigan that he needs to win a second term.”

“Mr. Trump has told aides he sees his latest outbursts as smart strategy. The president has long been petrified of losing his base, and some aides believe he will need to maximize turnout from the voters who helped put him in the White House the first time given the highly partisan environment.”

“Several advisers said they were aghast that he was making such a target of Mr. Cummings. If anyone had tried to persuade the president of that, they were keeping it to themselves on Monday. But many advisers sounded defeated as they talked about a tweetstorm they hoped would end soon.”

Here is Senator Tim Scott’s profile-in-courage reply to Trump’s calling Cummings a “racist”:  “I don’t even know what that means. I have not responded to that because I don’t know how to respond to it.” 

It Isn’t About the Deep State

Many key Republican Senators are clearly skeptical about Trump’s intelligence chief choice.

My take: As I suggested yesterday, do not count on John Ratcliffe ever getting a vote to become the DNI.  The White House, typically, did not sound out enough Republican Senators before making this pick. There are any number of GOP members of the House of Lords who could scuttle this nomination if they decide they want the world to know that Ratcliffe isn’t the right person for the job (and that’s clearly what some of them think).

Per the New York Times: “The Trump administration has done little to vet cabinet nominees, to the frustration of many Republicans. While they have been loath to block many of Mr. Trump’s appointments, they have slow-rolled some nominations, like that of former Acting Defense Secretary Patrick M. Shanahan, who withdrew from consideration after a drawn-out review of his background and qualifications. And questions on Capitol Hill about the qualifications of two picks for the Federal Reserve effectively torpedoed them.”

Also, this line from one of a pair of Washington Post stories suggesting trouble ahead for Ratcliffe makes it clear that the Deep State is in fact in opposition: “Former officials described Trump’s plan to install Ratcliffe as a threat to the independence of the nation’s spy agencies.”

Halperin’s Fifth Rule of Washington: No group leaks more skillfully and lethally than the current members of the spook community – often via their former colleagues.

Halperin’s Ninth Rule of Washington: It is easier to kill a nominee of a president of your own party by slow-rolling it than by voting against it.

Ratcliffe and the White House have to deal with both of those realities.

Top sports story: PSG Sign Idrissa Gueye from Everton on 4-Year Contract
Bleacher Report

Top business story: Citi to Cut Hundreds of Trading Jobs in Bad Sign for Wall Street

Top entertainment story: Why Quentin Tarantino’s Films Are in Their Own League

Big Four


Federal labor board investigating charges against Bernie Sanders Iowa campaign.

Jill Biden to be in Sioux City Thursday for campaign office opening

New Hampshire

Judge blocks N.H. Medicaid work requirements.

Voter residency law in first primary state gets hearing.


Nevada Rep. Titus joins call for Trump impeachment inquiry.

Nevada lawmakers Woodhouse, Jauregui endorse Democrat Harris.

South Carolina

SC’s first female US attorney in line for promotion to federal judge post under Trump.

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