Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Candidate Trump, Tweeting After Dark

Getting ready for first “official” campaign rally in Orlando Tuesday night, POTUS tweets his greatest hits in overnight storm.

My take: The threatened deportation of illegal immigrants; an attack on a Fox poll showing him losing to Bernie Sanders and other Democrats; a celebration of his crowd size; a denunciation of “Fake News” and the New York Times; wonderment at the failure of Hillary Clinton to pay a bigger price for the handling of her emails as Secretary of State; a written chant of “No Obstruction, No Collusion” (the final two tweeted after midnight) – this is how the incumbent set the table late Monday night and early Tuesday morning on his favorite social media platform.

Read two choice paragraphs from this essential read in the Washington Post about the Trump re-election effort:

“[Trump] advisers said conversations have begun on how to attribute some of the country’s economic successes more to the president — and to make the election less of a referendum on the president’s behavior. They have grown frustrated that polls consistently show that a majority believe the country is on the right track economically, and they feel secure, but Trump’s numbers remain mired at 40 percent or below.”

“’The election has to be about something other than the president’s behavior, or we lose,’ one campaign adviser said. But the advisers said no efforts have been made to intervene because they would be useless.”

Most political pros would say “Donald Trump’s Tweeting After Dark” is not going to put him on the path to victory.  But even Trump’s most determined adversaries (actually: ESPECIALLY Trump’s most determined adversaries) have to acknowledge that such behavior worked for him in his improbable victory four years ago.

Kicking things off in Florida with a giant stadium rally, along with Vice President Pence and a full complement of members of his 2016 campaign team, is both a show of strength (none of the Democratic candidates could pull of a rally this big and garner so much media attention) and weakness (Trump is starting things off by playing defense in a red-leaning state he must win for re-election; imagine if this rally were in Macomb County, Michigan, or Green Bay, Wisconsin.).

Peter Baker in the New York Times looks at Trump’s place in American society and the stakes for re-election. It is a strong tone poem that you should read.

The Wall Street Journal has a very good piece on how Trump won Florida in 2016 and what he is doing to try to make sure he takes it again.

Three important indications of the state of play to watch for this evening:

1. How much does Trump deliver remarks that actually enhance his chances of winning, and how much does he just play to the crowd in the room and his own rhetorical whims?

2. How much unannotated live coverage does the event get on MSNBC and CNN?

3. How well-honed are his attacks on his Democratic rivals?

Ladies and Gentlemen, It’s the Economy

The Washington Post rounds up all the reasons to be bearish on investment, GDP, etc as USA rounds the corner into 2020.

My take: There is a massive difference for Trump’s prospects for re-election if he is running next year with growth closer to 2.5% (or higher) than 1.5% (or lower).  Democrats must run now preparing for the higher figure, but if it is towards the lower end, Trump loses not just his primary talking point, but his flexibility to pursue trade wars and other policies that burnish his “strength” brand but create too much short-term economic chaos for the taste of American business decision makers.

Biden: I’ve Raised More Than $20 Million

Frontrunner tells Gotham City fat cat contributors that he has already attracted 360,000 donors, with an average contribution of $55

My take: Biden has never been a strong fundraiser before, so this metric demonstrates as clearly as anything else that he has slid comfortably and unambiguously into the frontrunner slot.  But his rivals point out that Jeb Bush had a huge money edge four years ago and that could not save his candidacy. 

Earlier, Biden told an anti-poverty group that he would compete in Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, and Florida if he wins the nomination.

What Biden needs more than money: a message that satisfies restive progressives concerned he isn’t The One, in part because he says he will work with Senate Republicans if elected.

Top sports story: Braves win their 10th in 11 games, NL East lead stretches to 3 games

ESPN

Top business story: Despite Tanker attacks, Saudis push for OPEC production cuts

Wall Street Journal

Top entertainment story: Woody Harrelson to play Timothy Leary in “The Most Dangerous Man in America

Deadline

Big Four

Nevada

Nevada’s attorney general files a wide-ranging opioid lawsuit.


South Carolina

Former VP Biden says he’ll win South Carolina in the 2020 election.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Coming Attractions

Who Is the “Biden Alternative”?

Expect Buttigieg to have a big fundraising quarter.

My take: This weekend’s New York Times story is essential reading for understanding how smartly Mayor Pete has turned his first-quarter momentum into bankable dollars.  The piece focuses on Wall Street money, but Buttigieg continues to be a strong grassroots raiser as well.

With Biden still riding high, no one else can today plausibly argue they have a path to the Democratic nomination.  But the establishment will be looking for an alternative if Biden falls, in part to stop Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren from winning a majority of delegates. 

Kamala Harris is well positioned to win the Biden-alternative sweepstakes as well.  Who will raise more overall in the second-quarter, Harris or Buttigieg? That is one of the most important questions in the Democratic nomination battle right now.

Pelosi Continues to Hold off Impeachment

Speaker’s iron hand remains strong.

My take: This Washington Post story, also essential reading, chronicles Pelosi’s methods for bending the caucus to her will.  With the House’s Democratic first-termers still largely opposed to opening formal impeachment proceedings, the Speaker is determined to keep the focus on health care and not the Mueller report.  If Pelosi can make it to summer holding off impeachment, she is probably home free.

Speaking of Health Care…

The New York Times says Trump wants to put out a new plan.

My take: Republican congressional leaders don’t want the White House to give the Democrats a pre-election target to shoot at on an issue of great strength for the opposition. Nothing would make Pelosi happier than to have a Trump health care plan to unify her caucus and to take at least some of the focus away from the single-payer plans being offered by some of her party’s presidential candidates. 

Don’t Expect Progress Anytime Soon

Wilbur Ross plays down the prospect of imminent China trade deal in Wall Street Journal interview; congressional leaders of both parties blame Mick Mulvaney for lack of movement on budget, debt ceiling talks.

My take: Trump is consumed with re-election; Pelosi is consumed with beating Trump for re-election; Trump and Pelosi are on horrible terms; Trump’s tariffs so far haven’t given him the leverage over China he needs for a deal; the Chinese are now distracted by Hong Kong; voters think Washington is dysfunctional; voters aren’t demanding action on the debt or deficit; every day is one day closer to Election Day, making serious policy action more difficult.

So if you are wagering, bet on “no action” over “action” when it comes to DC.

Except that the debt ceiling has to be raised and the budget spending caps probably have to be lifted. Political physics demand that there will eventually be a budget deal, but things are going to be sprawling and ugly, with many twists and turns, before those things happen.

Big Four

Iowa

Sen. Joni Ernst criticizes tariffs but links her race to President Trump’s re-election.

Terry Branstad, in Iowa court, says he didn’t discriminate when he cut gay official’s pay.

Pete Buttigieg says being gay is ‘not the only thing that defines me’.

New Hampshire

Gillibrand says her path to a 2020 victory goes through New Hampshire.

Medical marijuana bills advance to governor’s desk.

Independent redistricting panel bill sent to governor.

South Carolina

22 candidates. 4,400 pounds of fish. Clyburn preps for epic ‘World Famous’ fish fry.

Key takeaways from Beto O’Rourke’s visit to Greenville and South Carolina.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Trump Tries to Climb Out of the Dirt

POTUS in damage control mode after saying he would take Russian election help.

My take: The president’s remarks will likely go down in history as among his most outrageous and controversial from his term.  Really, they are some of the most remarkable things any incumbent president has said in modern times. Although many Republicans on Capitol Hill uncharacteristically broke openly with Trump, they are in fact significantly more troubled by them privately than what their public comments suggested.  That almost certainly includes Mitch McConnell, even as the leader defended Trump on Fox over the comments.

Politico wrote no fewer than eight stories about what Trump said.  The statements are sure to dominate the news at least through the Sunday shows.

Trump’s bizarre tweets trying to defend himself by invoking his meetings with officials in the UK and the hard White House spin were acknowledgments that what the president said was beyond just problematic.

It would be nice to think that there would be consequences for Trump for this.  It makes impeachment incrementally more likely.  It adds to the private incredulity Senate Republicans have about the president’s character and political smarts.  Let’s see if the public engages on the matter.

Strong Op-Ed in Favor of Impeachment

Clinton, Obama adviser Todd Stern pens powerful case that Pelosi is wrong.

Another Sign of Warren Rise

California poll puts her above home state’s Harris.

My take: We are seeing a tipping point in real time in the Democratic nomination race. The chief animating question for the field is no longer, “How do we bring Joe Biden down to earth?” (although that is still a strong number two).  The main question now is, “How do we slow down Elizabeth Warren?” 

With the other women candidates failing to break out (the significance of Harris’ weak standing in that Cally poll and her potential fundraising struggles are not to be understated), Sanders’ poll numbers stalled, and Buttigieg still looking to build broader support, Warren continues to demonstrate polling, media, issue, and fundraising strength that makes her the undisputed momentum candidate right now.

On the current trajectory, it is not impossible that Warren could rise enough to create the impression that the contest is effectively a two-person race by the fall.  That isn’t a prediction, but it is now a real prospect. The other candidates in the field have to decide if they should continue to focus on Biden, or switch their focus to Warren.

The right choice isn’t clear.  Right now, Warren’s rise is good for Biden; for one thing, it helps him coalesce support from the establishment, which largely doesn’t want her to become the nominee. If she rises any higher, we will reach another tipping point and her ascent will be dangerous enough for Biden that he might be the one who has to go after the Massachusetts Senator.

Biden Did Not Have a Good Thursday

Abortion video, Beto attack previews frontrunner’s future.

My take: The former VP is going to face more of what he got as the week closed: opposition research drops (a 2006 video showing him talking about his skepticism of abortion rights is problematic) and aggressive attacks from his Democratic rivals (O’Rourke openly assailing Biden as a man of the past on “Morning Joe” crosses a dangerous tripwire). 

Team Biden and the candidate himself continue to do an effective job staying above the fray, and the media surprisingly continues to minimize the coverage of these types of developments.  But the day is almost certainly coming when Biden will be on-camera facing a crucible moment.

Top sports story: Raptors win in 6, Kawhi wins his second Finals MVP 

ESPN

Top business story: Stocks drop as Middle East tensions rise

Wall Street Journal

Top entertainment story: Taylor Swift releases a pro-GLAAD single and details about her upcoming album

Pitchfork

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Warren Rising Over Sanders

My take: As of now, Warren’s ceiling looks higher than Sanders’, and Biden would likely have a tougher time for a variety of reasons besting the Massachusetts Senator in a two-person race than he would beating her Vermont colleague.  Will there come a day when Biden might have to go negative on Warren? There is a real possibility of that now.  What material the former VP would choose to use, and how effective (and/or dangerous) such a move would be, are very much TBD.  Despite Biden’s claim that he plans to run a positive campaign, does he have an opposition research shop, and is that shop looking into Warren’s record and background?

Trump Would Take Oppo From Norway

My take: This is one of the all-time great “Trump has changed almost every imaginable standard” moments of the last four years.

Hicks to Testify in Private to House Committee

My take: Records will be broken for biggest Hill stakeout ever; potential to also break the record for “fastest leak ever” after her appearance next week.

Howard Schultz’s Bad Back Delays Presidential Decision

My take: Democrats need breaks to beat the incumbent. Biden’s strong start puts even more pressure on the Starbucks big to stay out of the contest – or be known for ever more as the person who re-elected Donald Trump.

Read This Dan Henninger Wall Street Journal Column

My take: His conclusion is something every Democrat who wants to win back the White House should consider: “Donald Trump has a catlike sense for the deep cultural unease this post-Obama coalition creates among many millions of voters. It is the one variable Mr. Biden won’t be able to fix from now until Election Day.”  Henninger knows a very special breed of cat, apparently. 

Blues Win Stanley Cup…Finally

My take: St Louis is truly one of the great sports cities in America.  Now they just need real pizza.

Durant Has Successful Surgery

My take: Get healthy and become a Knick.  And I don’t even root for the Knicks.

Top sports story: Kyrie parts ways with agent, looks to join Jay-Z’s Roc Nation

ESPN

Top business story: U.S. CEO Confidence drops to the lowest level of Trump presidency

Bloomberg

Top entertainment story: ‘Chernobyl’ sets record for HBO digital viewership

Deadline

Big Four

Iowa

Joe Biden says Democratic debate won’t offer a chance for ‘any real depth’.

“After ordering a short stack of pancakes at a local café….”

New Hampshire

Booker says he wants to win the primary ‘the traditional Granite State way’.

Nevada

Biden leads Democratic presidential candidates in Nevada poll.

Sisolak signs wage, sick leave, collective bargaining bills.

Las Vegas voter turnout third worst in 20 years.

Nevada law prevents most employers from rejecting pot-users.

South Carolina

Planned Parenthood forum on abortion drawing Dem candidates.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

What We Learned

Trump-Biden Iowa faceoff is the media template – until and unless another Democrat can change the dynamic.

My take:

Politically, Biden needs to keep up the attacks on Trump. They reinforce the polls suggesting he would trounce the incumbent in a general election matchup. (Here’s Tuesday’s Quinnipiac poll showing Biden beating Trump badly nationally.). They rally Democrats to his side.  They help him avoid engaging with his party rivals.  They allow him to hone and brandish his general election message. And they keep him foursquare in the news, while the other Democrats struggle to get major coverage.

Politically, Trump needs to keep up the attacks on Biden. They make him feel good, since he has a primal need to go after whatever he perceives as the biggest threat to him at any given time (and media coverage and polls suggest that Biden is now the one).  They rally Republicans to his side. They allow him to hone and brandish his general election message.  And, if his jibes work (as they have against most rivals in the past), they increase the chances that he can decrease the chances of Biden winning the nomination.

The press wants Trump and Biden to continue to attack each other. For most of the media, the formula is simple.  Covering two dozen Democrats is difficult and expensive; covering a one-on-one fight that includes two nationally known political brands engaging in stinging name-calling sound bites is simple TV and lead writing. The media will stay slavishly devoted to having its coverage be driven by Trump-Biden until another Democrat can force herself or himself onto the stage and into the plot. 

The challenge for Biden’s Democratic rivals: what is required to change the storyline?

The most obvious answer is to rise in the national or key state polls, but that takes a lot of hard work on the ground, and with so many candidates in the race, the math is difficult.  It will be hard to break through in the debates.  Finding a critique of Trump that is more eye-catching or dramatic than those already on offer is probably impossible.

The best bet: organize, organize, organize in Iowa.

Again, Biden wants to fight Trump. Trump wants to fight Biden. The press wants to cover the fight.  That’s a formidable Iron Triangle to bust up.

Best news of the day for Biden: He got the exact coverage he wanted, with a well-written and well-delivered critique of the incumbent’s economic record and moral fitness.  He didn’t look sleepy, sick, or particularly old. Nice shirt, too.

Worst news of the day for Biden: Per the Wall Street Journal, “Antiabortion activists heckled Mr. Biden at all of his Iowa events Tuesday after he reversed his position last week to now oppose a ban on the use of federal funds for most abortions. One protester repeatedly trailed him at the events, yelling, ‘What about the babies, Joe?’”

Anyone who has seen anti-abortion activists target a presidential candidate in Iowa know just how much of a challenge that can be for a campaign.

Per the Quad City Times:  “Mid-speech, as Biden was discussing the deadly Charlottesville protests involving white supremacists in 2017, one man rose and yelled at the former vice president over his recent change of stance on the Hyde Amendment. Other anti-abortion protesters were later ushered out of the room.”

Sanders Goes Back to Basics

In a bid to elevate his visibility, speak his heart, and ward off Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders will make the case for socialism in Wednesday speech.

My take: While Republicans want to paint whomever the Democrats nominate as so left they’ve left America, Sanders’ hope for taking the nomination is based on owning the socialist lane, which requires keeping Warren from winning over his supporters.  Most of the media still underestimates the support socialism has within the Democratic Party, but Sanders has a big challenge to convince the nominating electorate to choose him as their messenger.  The more Sanders talks about socialism, the more establishment figures, including donors, will come off the sidelines to support Biden as the best bet (right now) to stop both the Vermont Senator and Trump.

In other news:

Pelosi anti-impeachment stance still firm, based in part on whip count of House Democrats.

Tear gas used on protesters in Hong Kong.

Top sports story: Both managers get tossed in the Red Sox 9-5 loss to the Rangers

ESPN

Top business story: Kudlow says the U.S. will maintain 3% growth with or without a China trade deal

CNBC

Top entertainment story: Showing Disney’s power, Hulu and FX partner to purchase rights to Lionsgate films

Deadline

Big Four

Iowa

Des Moines Register

Joe Biden sidesteps media questions on abortion, Hyde Amendment in Ottumwa; answers them in Mount Pleasant.

 “’I’m not answering rope-line questions, because I don’t hear them, and they get me in trouble,’ he told a reporter in Ottumwa.”

Donald Trump touts ethanol victory in Iowa, but some leaders worry hardship waivers will undo gains.

New Hampshire

Klobuchar says she’ll beat Trump in the Midwest.

Lawmakers, governor differ on mental health funding details

Nevada

Candidate Swalwell to hold Las Vegas meeting on gun violence.

With bills, Cortez Masto targets epidemic of missing and slain indigenous women.

120 degrees in the shade?! Record-breaking, ‘dangerous’ heat wave bakes western U.S.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Trump Versus Biden

Possible general election match-up on display in Iowa Tuesday.

My take: Even though the president and the Democratic frontrunner are not expected to share any media market time in the Hawkeye State, their simultaneous presence in one of America’s premiere political spots puts pressure on both men to perform.  It is otherwise shaping up to be a slow news day, so this is the de facto main event.

Prediction: the national media will do more tire kicking of the pair than almost any real-life Iowan will.

This New York Times must-read story of the day is filled with the now-common tittle tattle from Trump aides, describing the president’s alleged simultaneous obsession with Biden, polling, and the minutiae of his own campaign AND an absurd lack of interest in important aspects of his re-election and of his presidency.

Make no mistake, right now, Trump and his campaign’s polling data see Biden as the biggest threat to creating the first defeat of an incumbent United States president in almost thirty years.

One sign of that reality, the AP curtain raises the trips by reporting that “Since March, Trump has mocked or criticized Biden on Twitter nearly 40 times.”

Trump “begins his trip in Council Bluffs to tour and speak at Southwest Iowa Renewable Energy, which produces and sells the corn-based fuel additive ethanol, before addressing an Iowa GOP dinner in Des Moines.”

Biden will start his two-day campaign swing in a section of southeast Iowa that was won by Obama-Biden but that turned Trump in 2016.  He holds a rally midday in Ottumwa.

“Outside a fundraiser in the nation’s capital on Monday night, Biden said he would ‘probably talk about [Trump]’ while in Iowa,” per ABC News

Probably.

So how are the two starting their respective Tuesdays?

Trump’s Enemies

The Internet isn’t big enough to chronicle them all, but I spy the following hot war feuds Donald Trump is currently engaged in: the Fed, Mexico, the media, the Chamber of Commerce, Nancy Pelosi, Senate Republicans, China.

My take: Forget my take. Here’s the take of a former White House aide, quoted in Politico:

“He has this insatiable need to impress people and demonstrate accomplishments and notch achievements. When he feels like he’s done something that should be recognized as a success and people are not recognizing it that way, it poses an existential threat to his sense of self — and this is what you get.”

Biden’s Negative Coverage Befitting a Frontrunner Blooms

Post pair: conservative Mike Gerson denounces Biden’s abandonment of Hyde + liberal Richard Cohen denounces Biden’s abandonment of Hyde

Politico pair: Biden isn’t giving Iowa enough love + Biden is running an uneven, centrist campaign

My take:  It follows as naturally as “SportsCenter” comes after the end of a baseball game. Now that Biden has gone for awhile as the undisputed polling frontrunner, almost all of the negative analysis pieces, columns, and news stories are about him, and they all get much bigger play than negative stories about his Democratic rivals. 

It is, in the immortal words of former Obama campaign manager (and Delewarian) David Plouffe, Biden’s turn in the barrel, where the press scrutiny is so relentless, and on one level, so truly unfair, that the frontrunner can begin to feel under siege.

We know this is how Hillary Clinton (twice), John McCain, and Mitt Romney all felt when their nomination frontrunner status earned them withering coverage.  It got inside their heads, and became a daily source of tension both between them and their campaign teams and between the campaign teams and the media.

This is new territory both for Team Biden and for Biden himself. He’s never been the frontrunner when he has run for president. He did, however, get a lot of negative coverage in both 1988 (when it drove him out of the race) and 2008 (when he literally started his campaign on a day when an earlier interview he had done was published containing remarks seen as insulting to Barack Obama). He didn’t handle either instance super well.

Trump is battle tested for war (even if he doesn’t win nearly as often as he thinks he does). Don’t be distracted by Biden versus Trump in Iowa today.  Play the longer game: how will Biden substantively and psychologically handle his own war with the media?

This is unaccustomed terrain of late for a man who as vice president had great relationships with the press and got mostly kind coverage.

But if you keep playing the dynamic out, Trump’s on-going attacks on Biden actually help the frontrunner in two ways.

One, it builds Biden up for Democrats as the candidate apparently most feared by the incumbent, which is what the party wants to nominate. 

Two, if the enemy of my enemy is my friend, the anti-Trump media could be pushed by the president back into Biden’s arms.  Today is a possible test of that dynamic, which we all might be living with for the next seventeen months.

Politico on the Pelosi-Nadler impeachment feud.

Missouri abortion clinic stays open for now.

Top sports story: Durant tears Achilles in return, Warriors still hang on to force Game 6

AP

Top business story: Trump’s Fed hectoring only complicates Powell’s rate cut decision

Wall Street Journal

Top entertainment story: YouTube CEO apologizes to LGBTQ community, defends Crowder decision

Deadline

Big Four

Iowa

Kirsten Gillibrand is ‘glad’ Joe Biden listened and does not support Hyde Amendment

Iowa Poll: More than 3 in 4 likely Democratic caucusgoers say ‘a woman’s right to abortion’ is non-negotiable.

Bullock visits Siouxland, talks reaching the voters of Middle America.

New Hampshire

Sununu vetoes rate increase for substance abuse, mental health treatment providers.

Nevada

Southern Nevada Health District reports case of West Nile virus.

Hearing resumes before judge in Nevada pot license lawsuits.

South Carolina

Bernie Sanders’ SC campaign looks different this time. Is it different enough to win? 

Paper-based voting announced in South Carolina to replace paperless system.

Monday, June 10, 2019

The State of the Race

Biden leads, Warren moves, everyone else is looking for an opening.

My take: There are now three main possible scenarios for the Democratic presidential nomination fight.

1. Biden continues to rope-a-dope, his rivals continue to avoid effective confrontation with him, and he wins Iowa and New Hampshire in rolling to the nomination by March in relatively easy fashion.

2. Biden’s Hyde Amendment flip-flop-flip-flop performance is repeated on other issues, accompanied by opposition research drops, and all manner of Bidenesque gaffes, leading to a precipitous decline in his poll standing nationally and in the key states, allowing other candidates tbd to move up in the polls, and removing the frontrunner label from Biden’s back.

3. Biden goes into Iowa and New Hampshire as the clear frontrunner, but then loses one or both of them (or wins them only narrowly, losing the expectations game), leaving him wounded. Anyone who actually or symbolically bests Biden in one or both of those states would gain major momentum, setting up Biden’s chance at a comeback in Nevada and South Carolina – or setting up his elimination there.

Scenario (1) is pretty boring from an analysis point of view, so let’s focus on the other pair of possibilities.

Scenario (2) could actually be good for Biden. It would take some of the focus off of him in the balance of 2019, and allow him to play the Comeback Kid.  If he can fall in the fall, but not fall down, some sequence of strong performances (with, say, a solid showing in Iowa and a clear win in New Hampshire) would likely make him an even stronger frontrunner than he is now, allowing him to leave the Granite State with momentum and give him a big leg up on the nomination.  John Kerry and John McCain both won their nominations along these lines.

The question begged by that scenario and Scenario (3) is who will be the one, two, or three candidates who will be in a position to be in the narrative mix if Biden falters either in 2019 or in Iowa and New Hampshire?

Based on performance and “performance versus expectations,” only two candidates are having unambiguously strong runs at this point, besides Biden.

That would be Elizabeth Warren, who moved up in the new Des Moines Register poll (and a few other surveys), is getting under the skin of Team Sanders, continues to get positive reviews for the quality and quantity of her policy proposals and quick reactions to breaking news developments, and is said by sources to be having a solid fundraising quarter.

The other candidate still on a roll is Pete Buttigieg, who also moved up in the Iowa poll, continues to be a double threat fundraiser with both small donors and fat cats, and is generating crowd excitement with his message of generational change.

Most major polling suggests Sanders’ floor of support is lower than many thought it would be, and if Biden falters, most of his establishment support will end up somewhere else, with the former VP’s current backers looking for electability over socialism.

Kamala Harris could be the beneficiary of that, as she continues to hang on in the second tier. But she has yet to show polling growth or have the breakthrough moment required to be seen as the obvious establishment backup to Biden or a potential strong finisher in Iowa or New Hampshire.

It is an odd cycle, with so many candidates in the field and a shifted and shifting Democratic electorate, but the Iron Rule of nomination fights does not appear to be going anywhere: a win, place, or show in either Iowa or New Hampshire is almost certainly going to be required for someone to have a chance to win the right to face Donald Trump.

As for the other twenty candidates in the race, Sunday’s cattle call in Iowa proved what we already knew: it is humanly and practically next to impossible to break out in a field this big, with so much similarity between so many of the prospects. That will be true in the early formal debates as well.

Based on polling, organization, demographics, and the dynamics of this particular race, today, only Biden, Sanders, Warren, and Buttigieg are positioned to win or place in the first two states. That, of course, could change between now and February.

But it is going to be super challenging for all the rest to get there, unless Scenario 1 occurs.  So one big question is, if Biden falls, where does his vote go?

And, another: if Biden does not fall, can any of the current second-tier candidates turn the contest into a two-person race coming out of New Hampshire?

And, finally, can anyone besides Sanders, Warren, Buttigieg, and Harris break into the second tier in time to build fundraising and voter momentum?

It is notable that in a field of two dozen candidates, the trajectory of the race for the foreseeable future depends on the performance and prospects of just one of the candidates – Joe Biden, whose primary objective is to make nice with the other Democrats, stay above the fray, and focus on Trump.  But that is where we are right now.

Top sports story: Rask, Bruins force Blues into a Game 7
ESPN

Top business story: Chinese exporters dodge tariffs with fake ‘Made-In-Vietnam’ labels
Bloomberg

Top entertainment story: ‘Dark Phoenix’ flops with the worst debut in ‘X-Men’ franchise history
Variety

Big Four

Iowa

Iowa Poll: Joe Biden leads, followed by Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg.

Defeating Donald Trump is the top priority for likely Democratic caucus participants.

New Hampshire

Climate change emerging as a top issue for 2020 Dems.

Nevada

US attorney in Nevada says pot prosecutions not top priority.

South Carolina

Kamala Harris says prosecutor past will help defeat Trump at SC keynote.

Wrecking ball or breath of fresh air? How Dick Harpootlian is shaking up the State House.