Saturday, November 16, 2019

DISTILLATIONS

The perfect distillation of what happened in the impeachment investigation on Friday:

“The former United States ambassador to Ukraine told the House impeachment inquiry on Friday that she felt threatened by President Trump and ‘shocked, appalled, devastated’ that he vilified her in a call with another foreign leader, as Mr. Trump attacked her in real time on Twitter, drawing a stern warning about witness intimidation from Democrats….

“The official, David Holmes — who worked for Ms. Yovanovitch in Kiev — overheard Mr. Sondland telling Mr. Trump that President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine ‘loves your ass,’ and would conduct the investigations and do ‘anything you ask him to.’”

My take: IF House Republicans and Fox News ultimately provide the permission structure for Senate Republicans to vote to convict the president, history will record Friday as a big moment in that process. That was a Top Five All-Time Impussive, Self-Destructive, Out-of-Control Trump Tweet.  Make no mistake: congressional Republicans, even most Trump uber loyalists, did not enjoy Friday one bit.

****

The perfect distillation of why Friday’s events probably won’t lead House Republicans and Fox News to provide the permission structure for Senate Republicans to vote to convict the president (courtesy of the Wall Street Journal editorial board):

“After the first week of public hearings, we are left more or less where we were before. Democrats are exposing details of Mr. Trump’s Keystone Kops diplomacy that was stymied by internal Administration opposition. Mr. Trump committed another own-goal Friday when he used Twitter to attack former U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch as she was testifying. He should take Bill Clinton’s advice that the best impeachment defense is to do your job as President.

“Americans should by all means consider all this in their voting calculations next year. But on the public evidence to date, there was no crime, much less bribery, that warrants ousting a President months before Election Day.”

My take: No matter how Donald Trump conducts himself during the impeachment process or what is revealed about his actions regarding Ukraine, the right is going to almost certainly rally around the anti-conviction arguments that are by now all-too- familiar (“dumb and improper but not worth removing him in an election year when Ukraine got its aid”) because public opinion is unlikely to change enought to make impeachment seem truly bipartisan.

****

The perfect distillation of why Friday’s events don’t mean a thing to all the president’s women and men:

“Attorney General William Barr said Friday that President Donald Trump’s political opponents have pursued a ‘scorched earth, no-holds-barred resistance; meant to ‘sabotage; his presidency.

“’The pursuit of scores of investigations and an avalanche of subpoenas is meant to incapacitate’ the administration, Barr said in a biting address to the conservative Federalist Society.”

“‘I’m concerned that the deck has become stacked against the executive,’  he said. ‘There’s this knee-jerk tendency to see the legislative and judicial branches as the good guys protecting the people from a rapacious would-be autocrat.’”

My take: It is possible to believe simultaneously that 70% (or more) of what Barr says is true and also that the president committed acts regarding Ukraine that are patently impeachable. In fact, that is likely the secret position of Mitt Romney, Nikki Haley, Mitch McConnell, Tom Cole, Barney Frank, Claire McCaskill, Bill Clinton, Condoleezza Rice, 85% of Bush 43 donors, and 480 out of 500 members of the Gang of 500.

****

The perfect distillation of the conviction of Roger Stone on all counts:

“Mr. Stone, 67, was convicted in federal court of seven felonies for obstructing the congressional inquiry, lying to investigators under oath and trying to block the testimony of a witness whose account would have exposed his lies. Jurors deliberated for a little over seven hours before convicting him on all counts. Together, the charges carry a maximum prison term of 50 years.”

“In a last-minute bid for salvation, prosecutors said, Mr. Stone appealed to Mr. Trump for a pardon on Thursday, using a right-wing conspiracy theorist who runs the website Infowars as his proxy. Mr. Trump attacked the guilty verdict against Mr. Stone in a tweet on Friday but made no mention of a pardon.”

My take: Even the closest students in the world of the Trump/Stone relationship don’t really understand what exists between the two men or how often they communicated during the 2016 election cycle.  Stone’s delight in being a larger-than-life fictional character is going to change when he realizes he faces spending a significant portion of the rest of his life in prison. How both Stone and Trump deal with that truth is both unknowable and vital to writing the history of the next six months.

****

The perfect distillation of why smart Democrats remain deeply concerned that Donald Trump will win reelection, as told in my book “How to Beat Trump”:

Speaking Friday night to the progressive donor group the Democracy Alliance, Barack Obama waded ankle deep into the concerns shared by all Obamas and all Clintons and the Bloomberg and the Patrick:  

“We also have to be rooted in reality and the fact that voters, including the Democratic voters and certainly persuadable independents or even moderate Republicans are not driven by the same views that are reflected on certain, you know, left-leaning Twitter feeds. Or the activist wing of our party.”

“This is still a country that is less revolutionary than it is interested in improvement. They like seeing things improved. But the average American doesn’t think that we have to completely tear down the system and remake it. And I think it’s important for us not to lose sight of that.”

My take: It remains impossible to overstate the quiet and extreme concern about the prospect of losing to Donald Trump of Speaker Pelosi, Senator Schumer, the Democratic donor class, and even many of the liberals who populate the Democracy Alliance. To a person, they believe that Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and Pete Buttigieg probably can’t win a general election, Joe Biden probably can’t win the nomination, and no other electable moderate will be in a position to stop Warren or Sanders after the New Hampshire primary. They also all realize that saying or doing anything more overt than the halting, coded words of Barack Obama will likely backfire and only serve to make it more likely that Warren or Sanders will be the nominee. 

****

The perfect distillation of why the Democratic establishment agrees with Team Trump that Warren will be easy to paint as so left she’s left America:

Three (3!) Wall Street Journal headlines in one day (one news story and two op ed page pieces) going after the Bay Stater on her stances:

“Elizabeth Warren’s Tax Plan Would Bring Rates Over 100% for Some”

“Warren Loves ‘Billionaire Tears’”

“Beware Warren’s ‘Madisonian’ Plan for Public Education”

My take: Team Warren continues to wear these attacks as a badge of honor.  That makes Brad Parscale laugh and David Plouffe cry (and Parscale doesn’t laugh much and Plouffe doesn’t cry much).

****

The perfect distillation of why Kamala Harris’ presidential campaign has so far not lived up to the promise of her announcement event:

This Politico headline atop a post-mortem obit: 

“‘No discipline. No plan. No strategy.’: Kamala Harris campaign in meltdown”

My take: It is too early to write Harris off — let the votes decide. But the simple explanation of what has happened to her so far is that she failed to leverage one of the three parts of the virtuous cycle (good press coverage) into significant progress in the other two (higher poll numbers and powerhouse fundraising).  Harris’ campaign has been sending out donor solicitation emails suggesting that this failure has occurred because the media is biased against her. The candidate surely knows that that is not the cause of her troubles. But I wonder if she knows in her head the real explanation.

*****

Top sports story: Browns’ Myles Garrett suspended indefinitely; Steelers’ Maurkice Pouncey gets 3-game ban 

ESPN

Top business story: Stocks Breeze to Records as Trade Hopes Cover Up Economic Gloom

Bloomberg

Top entertainment story: Rage Against the Big Machine: What’s Driving the Taylor Swift Showdown

Variety

Friday, November 15, 2019


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THE FRITTATA NEWS CYCLE

Pegged to Friday’s second day of open House impeachment hearings with Marie Yovanovitch slated to start around 9am ET, take in these two essential reading pieces from conservatives who care about the health of the American right and/but are no great supporters of Donald Trump:

*Peggy Noonan thinks the first hearing went well for the Democrats because the witnesses were highly credible and the Republican members don’t have a clue about how to conduct themselves.

*John Podhoretz thinks the first hearing went horribly for the Democrats because the witnesses and the Democratic members spent too much time criticizing Trump’s Ukraine policies rather than describing his offenses in a way that would convince more of the American people that he should be impeached.

My take: Read them both and decide who you think is more right.

****

GOOD FOR DEMOCRATS/BAD FOR REPUBLICANS

Washington Post: Speaker Pelosi used her vast stores of credibility with the media to frame President Trump’s actions as a high crime.

Washington Post: A career OMB official is ready to break ranks with his colleagues and testify about the hold up of military aid to Ukraine, the weakest link in the White House’s defense.

Bloomberg: “Rudy Giuliani… is being investigated by federal prosecutors for possible campaign finance violations and a failure to register as a foreign agent as part of an active investigation into his financial dealings, according to three U.S. officials.”

The Guardian: Rudy is still doing loosey goosey media interviews.

New York Times: Barack Obama is sagely telling Democratic presidential candidates to “Campaign outside your political base, stay true to your beliefs and keep beating Mr. Trump in front of mind.”

My take: The impeachment process (with all its sideshows) is keeping Democrats from focusing on the very smart advice the nation’s 44th president is giving his party mates about how to beat Trump.

****

GOOD FOR REPUBLICANS/BAD FOR DEMOCRATS

Reuters: “But as the first day of the historic proceedings riveted Washington and dominated cable news, interviews with residents in two of the states likely to help decide the winner of next year’s presidential election suggested voters on both sides had already made up their minds.”

New York Times: Mitch McConnell continues to bamboozle the media and cleverly play the expectations game about the length of a Senate impeachment trial.

Washington Post: Lots of third party presidential candidates are in the mix, opening the door for Trump to win reelection with less than 50% of the vote.

My take: The massive bet made by 99% of Republican elected officials to tie their political fortunes entirely to the fate and performance of President Trump is now in danger of sending them down the drain.

****

TBD

Politico: Trump is turning to more traditional presidential events and a more traditional style (straight from the Bill Clinton impeachment playbook) to try to stabilize the ship.

Politico: On Trump’s Louisiana event, “At just under an hour and 10 minutes, Thursday’s rally was one of his shortest in months, and he hardly ever raised his voice or introduced new insults.”

Roll Call: Trump has put a lot on the line ahead of Saturday’s Louisiana gubernatorial election.

New York Times: Deval Patrick’s campaign (meant to save the party from a Warren or Sanders nomination) could help Warren or Sanders win the nomination.

ABC News: Bernie says AOC will play a big role if he wins.

Politico: Centrist House Democrats are pushing Speaker Pelosi to allow a vote on the new North American trade deal, as Pelosi herself says an agreement is in sight.

Wall Street Journal: Larry Kudlow says a U.S.-China trade agreement is in sight.

Washington Post: The president is going to the Supreme Court to keep his tax returns hidden, raising major issues of executive power.

New York Times: Michael Bloomberg’s potential presidential campaign gets a taste of the scrutiny that would come with a run, starting with a look at his past inappropriate statements about women.

Jon Meacham, Walter Isaacson and Evan Thomas: “To be sure, the establishment has been far from perfect, its fall from preeminence more than partly self-inflicted. Elite education and conventional expertise don’t guarantee good results….”

David Brooks: “Let me tell you a secret. The public buildings of Washington are filled with very good people working hard for low pay and the public good…. I’m impressed by the quality, professionalism and basic goodness of the people there.”

My take: If Meacham, Isaacson, and Thomas are hazy on the question of whether the establishment is a good thing with a bright future, then nobody knows nothing about nothing.

****

Twinkies cereal is finally happening.

My take: Given the number of cereals available at your typical Kroger’s, it defies logic and American history that this took so long.

****

Big Four

New Hampshire

Patrick strikes moderate tone in N.H. as he launches late 2020 bid for White House.

Joe Walsh files to challenge Trump in N.H.

Nevada

Bernie Sanders working to win moderates, Latinos in Nevada.

Fresh into 2020 race, Deval Patrick to speak in Las Vegas on Sunday.

South Carolina

Sanders campaign replaces South Carolina state director.

****

Top sports story: Three ejected after nasty brawl tarnishes end of Steelers-Browns

ESPN

Top business story: Cigarette smoking rate hit record low last year as more people quit

CNBC

Top entertainment story: TV Ratings: Fox News, ABC Draw Big Impeachment Numbers

Variety

Thursday, November 14, 2019


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THE EVIDENCE AND MITCH MCCONNELL

At around 8pm ET tonight, the subject of impeachment hearings, Donald J. Trump, “delivers remarks at a Keep America Great Rally” inBossier City, Louisiana, ahead of Saturday’s gubernatorial runoff and while the House prepares for the next public impeachment hearing on Friday.

My take: I watched the Wednesday hearing and have read more than sixty stories about the proceedings and the reaction to what happened, and here is what I think.

House Democrats staged managed the hearing very well, with witnesses who came off as credible; sharp and dignified questioning; and a piece of alleged new news (the purported July 26 phone call between President Trump and Gordon Sondland) that the media uniformly treated as factual in every respect, even though it was denied by the White House.

****

House Republicans were largely panned, such as by the Washington Post:

“Republicans, meanwhile, defended the president with a strategy that at times seemed scattershot and disorganized….

“Republican counsel Stephen R. Castor also got off to a slow start as he tried to get the witnesses to testify that Ukraine had a corruption problem…. GOP commentators on Twitter criticized Castor, saying it was unclear where he was going with his questions.”

Still, given the weak hand House Republicans have on the facts and with the media, they did not do a disastrous job if their goals are to stay unified and establish a record for their Senate colleagues to hang their hats on. Which are their goals.

****

The non-Trump media described the alleged Trump-Sondland call with words such as “previously undisclosed,” building it up as a “bombshell”; largely praised the Democrats; and explicitly or implicitly accepted the argument that Donald Trump committed impeachable offenses.

****

The American people appeared to be dug into their pre-hearing positions and not glued to the hearing coverage, as per the New York Times:

“It was not clear that minds were changed. Certainly they were not inside the room, and most likely not elsewhere on Capitol Hill, where Republicans and Democrats were locked into their positions long ago. Nor were there any immediate signs that the hearing penetrated the general public. While major television networks broke into regular programming to carry it live, there was little sense of a riveted country putting everything aside to watch à la Watergate.”

That is what I found when I called Re-Pete’s Saloon & Grill in Black River Falls, Wisconsin during lunchtime to ask if the spot’s televisions were tuned into the Beltway action:

Me: Do you have the impeachment hearings on the TVs there?

Guy from Re-Pete’s: The what? No, we do sports stuff.

****

Senate Republicans, well, they are in a profound way the group that matters most in this saga.  The actions and thoughts of House Democrats, House Republicans, the media, and the American people will all play a role in determining how Mitch McConnell’s flock will deal with the impeachment hot potato when it comes over from the House, but, let’s be honest, the Leader will decide a lot on his own, in consultation with his fellow Republican senators and the White House.

McConnell’s public words Wednesday and the exclusive reporting from the Washington Post suggest the majority is planning on a full trial that will last roughly from early January into mid-February or slightly beyond, because of some combination of not wanting to be seen as short-circuiting the process and of wanting to mess with the Iowa and New Hampshire plans of Democratic presidential candidates who also happen to be sitting United States senators.

Despite that reporting, I advise you not to rule out a Senate process that looks like this: robust opening statements from both sides, in which Democrats are asked to present their best case, after which McConnell gets 50 other Republican senators to agree that even if the Democrats’ impeachment managers proved their case in full, the votes would not be there to convict, leading to a successful motion to end the trial.

****

2020

Deval Patrick, expected to announce his candidacy today, will apparently beat Mike Bloomberg into the race. 

My take: Patrick is neither famous nor a billionaire.  If he had been in the contest from the start, he would have been a formidable entry.  He is a talented pol, and/but not so charismatic or vision-filled that he can be expected to instantly capture the hearts of early-state voters or Internet donors, making it extremely unlikely that he will appear on a debate stage anytime soon. 

Whether Bloomberg runs or not, it is easy to see Patrick being a factor in this process, but I can see one and only one scenario under which he is the nominee: Biden is out of the race after Iowa or New Hampshire and the establishment in full (including Team Obama) rallies around Patrick (instead of Buttigieg, Klobuchar, Bloomberg, or anyone else) in order to stop Warren and Sanders from being the nominee. 

****

Elizabeth Warren is quadrupling down on her war with the wealthy with a new, limited engagement TV ad continuing her joust with the billionaires.

My take: Here’s a group that it is pretty hard to find very many members of – Biden supporters who think Warren can win a general election.  Warren thinks she can, of course, and she is apparently not the least bit interested in convincing the type of people who support Biden that she is right.

****

Keep an eye on Hong Kong, as things heat up again on the streets.

The latest news is here.

****

Top sports story: Astros’ Justin Verlander wins second career AL Cy Young Award

ESPN

Top business story: Obamacare early sign-ups drop 20% as Trump-backed lawsuit challenges constitutionality

CNBC

Top entertainment story: Robert Pattinson and Jennifer Lopez on Batman, ‘Hustlers’ and ‘The Lighthouse’

Variety

Wednesday, November 13, 2019


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ANTICIPATION

What is predictable:

*The Democrats on the committee will act solemnly and pretend they haven’t made up their minds about impeachment.

*The initial questioning by the Democratic staff investigator will make everyone (everyone but members of the House) wonder why smart staffers don’t do more of the questioning at congressional hearings.

*The Republicans on the committee will have a game plan that will be 3/5th as clever and effective as they think it is.  This will include looking for the first available opportunity to create a partisan food fight, in the hopes of getting normal Americans to think “this whole thing is just a partisan food fight.”  And it will include deploying all manner of defenses of the president, including suggesting bias or overreach by witnesses.

*Democrats, who have practiced for how to defuse Republican efforts to obstruct and distract, won’t be able to limit the impact of the hijinks as much as they believe or hope.

*President Trump will tweet about and/or call any committee Republican who seems to have an effective moment.

*Speaker Pelosi will look at the performance of Chairman Schiff and be reminded, yet again, why she remains worried about Chairman Nadler.

*Always-Trumper Republican senators will say they are too busy to pay attention to the hearings, so that they can’t comment, but that the hearings are a sham.  Potentially wobbly Republican senators will say that they can’t comment because they could be jurors in a Senate trial.

*Commentators, anchors, and journalists on MSNBC and CNN will treat every syllable uttered by a Democrat and every anti-Trump syllable uttered by a witness as not just the gospel truth but a revelation that is 1/3 biblical, 1/3 worthy of the Founders, and 1/3 Nancy Drew/Ellery Queen. (Link for younger readers only.)

*Commentators (minus one) and (some) anchors on Fox News Channel will treat every syllable uttered by a Republican and every pro-Trump syllable uttered by a witness as not just the gospel truth but a revelation that is 1/3 biblical, 1/3 worthy of the Founders, and 1/3 Perry Mason.

*New York Times and Washington Post reporters will spend the day tweeting things that unambiguously violate their papers’ policies on social media use, and no one will stop them.

*The most biased and anti-Trump coverage of all will come from ostensibly non-partisan media reporters.

What you really want to know:

*Do the witnesses come across as compelling, believable, non-partisan, non-Deep State heroes, or something else?

*How big a voice does Andrew Napolitano get in Fox’s impeachment coverage?

*Are the TVs at Re-Pete’s Saloon & Grille tuned into the impeachment hearings during the lunch hour today, with the audio up, and are the patrons paying attention?

Re-Pete’s is located at 300 Gebhardt Road, in Black River Falls, Wisconsin, the county seat of Jackson County, which voted Obama 57%/Romney 42% in 2012 and Trump 53%/Clinton 42% in 2016.

Re-Pete’s

Adorning the regular menu at Re-Pete’s is the phrase “Water is Free, Too Bad the Beer Isn’t!” — and the words above the fish selections are “Catch & Release into the Grease!”

The place’s website prominently features this paragraph: “It’s almost time to break out the blaze orange! Welcome back to all you hunters. I know by the time you get out of the woods and all cleaned up, the last thing you want to do is cook a meal and do dishes. Why not let us handle those chores for you! We serve until 10 P.M.” 

And they have a separate “Gluten Friendly Menu.”

My take: If the patrons of Re-Pete’s are glued to the hearings, the Democrats have a very strong chance of making their public case to the American people.  If those same patrons aren’t even watching, Nancy Pelosi’s long-standing concern that impeaching Donald Trump will help re-elect him could well end up being realized.

****

ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN (ALL MEN IN THIS CASE)

*Rudy Giuliani has an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, calmly (for Rudy) laying out the core of the defense of his “client.”

My take: Rudy is still the president’s lawyer and, for now, apparently, isn’t going anywhere.

****

*John Bolton gave a private speech to a hedge fund that will blow your mind, including suggesting the president’s policy on Turkey seems guided by financial motives.

My take: It is unlikely that Bolton’s publisher wants him to give away the goods before his book comes out. And/but Bolton clearly has a lot more to tell than what was in this teaser speech.

****

*Mick Mulvaney has job lock, because the president’s advisers say now is not a good time to get rid of the acting chief of staff.

My take: This is a very believable story!  Not emphasized in the piece (which suggests Mulvaney could be ousted at the first available moment, maybe before the end of the year): Who would take the job at this point?

****

*The Washington Post says Lev and Igor talked Ukraine with the president at a long-ago donor dinner.

My take: Not a full-on game changer, but another thread in the very rich tapestry about which books will be written some day.

****

*The president will be with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the White House today from about noon to 4pm, including a press conference scheduled for just after 3pm.

My take: On any other day, this would be a huge story, given how controversial Turkey’s behavior has been of late and how much congressional opposition there is to this visit.

****

*Alleged leaked emails from White House aide Stephen Miller suggests he promoted and associated with some very hateful groups and ideas.

My take: On any other day, this would be a huge story, given how controversial and powerful Miller is and how incendiary these emails are.

****

2020

A new Iowa poll has Pete Buttigieg in first, but the Big 4 are all bunched up at the top, with no one else close.

My take: This is a big psychological boost for the mayor and his supporters, including on the finance side. But the bigger point for now is this: any of Buttigieg, Warren, Biden, or Sanders could finish first in both Iowa and New Hampshire. That would quickly take the crazy-quilt nomination fight from chaos to clarity in a big hurry. I’m not predicting that will happen – especially given New Hampshire voters’ history of repudiating Iowa’s results much more often than they have validated the Hawkeye State outcome – but it could.

****

Top sports story: LSU atop CFP; Georgia beats out Alabama for No. 4

ESPN

Top business story: Global Pollution Is Rising Again and Won’t Peak Before 2040

Bloomberg

Top entertainment story: Disney is betting big on nostalgia for Disney+ launch

CNBC

Tuesday, November 12, 2019


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ON THE ONE HAND AND THE OTHER
 

At noon today in Gotham City, President Trump is slated to give remarks to the Economic Club of New York. 

My take: On the one hand, the president is going to talk about the economy; on the other hand, no one thinks this address will win much coverage or that the president will keep on this message for very long (a/k/a even for today).

This is the kind of speech a typical incumbent president facing reelection gives. Get out the teleprompter, put distractions aside, pick a place and time ostensibly guaranteed to garner lots of media coverage, and get the politico-media and real worlds focused on an economy that is working for many (but not all) Americans.

But even if the president gives a, uhm, perfect speech, the chances are nil that his talk of unemployment, the stock market, deregulation, trade, and other elements of a plan for an improved economy will pull the press’ attention away from the impeachment hearings that start on Wednesday.

Still, congressional Republicans and the president’s own reelection team will be psyched if today’s speech becomes a template for at least some of the campaign trail and White House rhetoric Trump relies on to fight to keep his job, both during the impeachment process and in November, 2020.

****

IMPEACHMENT

It was Sun Tzu or Chris Lehane who said, “When facing hostile fire, it is best to have your own camp united.”

How true.  And how comically fractured is Team Trump now!

Which of these conflicts is most dangerous and most fraught:

1. Bolton vs. Mulvaney?

2. Mulvaney vs. Cipollone?

3. Trump vs. Mulvaney?

4. Haley vs. Kelly/Tillerson?

Of all the almost-too-nuts-to-believe circular firing squad stuff, this, from the New York Times is the most eye catching:

“Despite his own tenuous job status, Mr. Mulvaney has privately told associates in recent days that there is no easy way for Mr. Trump to fire him in the midst of the impeachment fight, the implication being that he knows too much about the president’s pressure campaign to force Ukraine to provide incriminating information about Democrats.”

While these tiffs are catnip for the press, maybe this is more problematic for the president: at a conference, Condoleezza Rice described the events surrounding impeachment both “murky” and “deeply troubling.”

My take: The executive branch follies are important and interesting, but the impeachment process is more about the question of how well Trump can hold together congressional Republicans to oppose impeachment and removal no matter what.

One under-noticed congealing piece of conventional wisdom:  unanimous House Republican opposition on the articles of impeachment are now seen as providing substantial leverage to minimize “no” votes in the Senate, or maybe even to dismiss the case after a short trial.

So are Hill GOPers happy with how the White House is handling things or not?

On the one hand: “This impeachment trial is going to be here before the White House knows it, and they’re not even remotely prepared for it. What they need desperately is leadership to get ready, but until Mulvaney and Cipollone put aside their petty squabbles and start working together, all they’ll have is tweets.” – a “Senate GOP aide” to the Washington Post

 

On the other hand, also in the Washington Post:  “If the headlines of the past few weeks have not been enough to move congressional Republicans, however, it’s unclear what — if anything — will.”

Actually, both are true.

****

2020

In reality, what Team Trump is counting on most of all is for the Democrats’ presidential nominating process to be divisive, long, and leading the eventual pick to the far left.

On that score, it has been a bad news cycle for those Democrats worried about getting a quick, electable nominee.

A new Quinnipiac poll shows that the Big 4 in Iowa are the Big 4 in New Hampshire.

The Granite State survey has Biden 20, Warren 16, Buttigieg 15, and Sanders 14.  It is rare for either party to have Iowa and New Hampshire polls be so similar. 

That bunching up suggests it could be a long time before there is a de facto nominee.

Now word that former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick is, like Michael Bloomberg, on the cusp of entering the race.

Patrick has roughly the same rationale as Bloomberg (the Big 4 will not yield a candidate who can beat Trump), and, like Bloomberg, some huge obstacles to overcome with a late-starting campaign that offsets his strengths to some degree.

These two paragraphs from Politico will cheer the Warren-Sanders wing of the party:

“’This is coming from Wall Street. They’re terrified of Warren. And these guys would help Biden. But they’ve been in a room with him up close and they have doubts,’ the source said. ‘Deval wants this. He regrets not having done it. His wife was ill. But since then, she has gotten better. But the field has gotten worse.’

“That leaves South Carolina as Patrick’s best bet, in part because of its large African-American population. At the moment, Biden is dominant there among black voters. If Biden remains competitive in the three prior early states and Patrick campaigns hardest in South Carolina along with Harris, it sets up a scenario where the black vote could be divided, allowing the two progressives, Warren or Sanders, a better shot at winning — the exact scenario that Patrick’s backers want to avoid.”

The Washington Post story on the Patrick trial balloon has an extraordinary litany of all the opposition-research-fueled hits he will face if he enters the race, including his Bain ties, which have not served former Bay State governors well in past presidential campaigns.

As for Bloomberg, the New York Times editorial page has a one-two punch that represents either a small or large puncture in his trial balloon, depending on your view of the world.

From Paul Krugman: “But the idea that America is just waiting for a billionaire businessman to save the day by riding in on a white horse — or, actually, being driven over in a black limo — is just silly. It is, in fact, the kind of thing only a billionaire could believe.”

Seems kinda rough, eh? 

Not compared to what Charles Blow writes in the same space keying off of Bloomberg’s record on stop-and-frisk, which should be bracing for the former mayor’s largely white, male, and privileged political advisers:

“Let me plant the stake now: No black person — or Hispanic person or ally of people of color — should ever even consider voting for Michael Bloomberg in the primary.

“Just the idea of Bloomberg in the race is odious to me. And support for his candidacy incenses me. Anyone who would support Bloomberg is complicit in his terror campaign against those young black and Hispanic men — and dismissive of their pain.

“If you support Bloomberg, I want nothing to do with you. Nothing!”

My take: On the one hand, all of that should worry Democrats who are concerned about beating an elected incumbent president for only the fifth time since 1900.

But on the other hand, I would point to two other data points that should bother the worriers more.

First, even Paul Krugman has concerns, expressed in his column on Bloomberg, channeling Paul Gigot:

“I’m not saying that the U.S. public is necessarily ready for the likes of Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders. I worry in particular about the politics of Medicare for All, not because of the cost, but because proposing the abolition of private insurance could unnerve tens of millions of middle-class voters.”

Second, read this New York Times article on the Twitter evisceration of Chuck Schumer for his praise of Peter King and see if you think the dynamics involved make it more or less likely that the next president of the United States will be a Democrat.

****

IN OTHER NEWS

Jimmy Carter is in the hospital for an emergency brain procedure.

More tensions in Hong Kong.

The Israelis killed a senior jihadist in Gaza.

There is bipartisan unhappiness in Congress about Wednesday’s planned Trump-Erdogan meeting.

****

Big Four

Iowa

A look inside Elizabeth Warren’s systematic, methodical approach to Iowa — and her rise in the polls.

Julián Castro, in Iowa, says Iowa, New Hampshire aren’t reflective of Democrats, U.S. diversity.

New Hampshire

Trump, 2020 Dem contenders tout efforts to boost veterans.

****


Top sports story: 49ers fall to 8-1 as Seahawks squeak by with OT victory

ESPN

Top business story: Burger King to launch meatless burgers across Europe and test more Impossible burgers in the US

CNBC

Top entertainment story: Oscar Predictions 2019: Breaking Down the Early Frontrunners

Variety

Monday, November 11, 2019

PATIENCE

“Re­pub­li­cans, don’t be led into the fools trap of say­ing it was not per­fect, but is not im­peach­able. NOTH­ING WAS DONE WRONG!” – Donald Trump on Twitter

“Re­pub­li­cans started out say­ing he didn’t do it. Then he said he did it, but there is no quid pro quo. But then they said there might be [a] quid pro quo, but it’s not an im­peach­able of­fense. They are just try­ing to pro­vide enough of smoke­screen, so when the Sen­ate doesn’t con­vict they can say he shouldn’t have been im­peached in the first place.” – Bob Shrum in the Wall Street Journal

****

Despite the hysterical, instant-gratification impulses of the media, here are some things we won’t know this week:

1. Whether the House impeachment hearings will change public opinion.

2. Whether the Senate will have a full trial or vote to remove President Trump.

3. Whether Rudy Giuliani will be indicted.

4. Whether John Bolton will put forward information that mortally wounds the president.

5. Whether Joe Biden will execute a plan to revive his candidacy.

6. Whether the Democratic Party’s nominating electorate will fall in love with Mike Bloomberg.

7. Whether Mike Bloomberg will realize that the Democratic Party’s nominating electorate will not fall in love with him. (Unless the trial balloon hits him in the face and he halts his attempt – again — to be president.)
 

8. Whether the national media will take full stock of the strengths of Elizabeth Warren’s and Bernie Sanders’ campaigns.

9. Whether the Amy Klobuchar boomlet will go boom.

10. Whether the China or North American trade deals will be reached.

My take: This is a big week. But not THE week. Take a breath.

****

Thank you to all our veterans and those serving today.

****

Top sports story: Heat suspend Dion Waiters 10 games after incident

ESPN

Top business story: CDC says it’s made a breakthrough in finding possible cause of deadly vaping illness

CNBC

Top entertainment story: ‘Midway’ Defeats ‘Doctor Sleep’ in Surprise Box Office Upset

Variety

Sunday, November 10, 2019


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EVERYTHING UPDATED

Impeachment, congressional Democrats

My take: Speaker Pelosi and Chairman Schiff have studied history (recent and less so) and believe they can run public hearings that are both substantive and a PR triumph.  The smartest element of their plan is that it is informed by the reality that in the TV age the latter matters more than the former (a lot more).

****

Impeachment, congressional Republicans

My take: Still searching for a singular, unifying defense of the president – or deciding that each of them can go with one of the various make-your-own-adventure defenses (as long as it IS a defense…).  In the meantime, House Republican efforts to change the subject in the public hearings are not going to be treated as legit by the non-Trump press, but House Republicans know that and don’t much care.

****

Trump campaign

My take: One of the many mistakes some Democrats are making in not seeing the president’s real prospects for reelection is failing to understand that he is going to get votes he didn’t get last time.  Even the Democratic chair of the Wisconsin state party says Trump will increase his vote total there.

****

Warren

My take: Her reaction to finally being in the barrel – to respond to criticism and attacks on an extremely limited and restrained basis, (if she responds at all!) – is either going to lead to her eventual downfall OR revolutionize how presidential candidates think about rapid response.

****

Sanders

My take: Based on the rousing reaction his Saturday frontal assaults on billionaire Bloomberg got on the campaign trail in Iowa, expect more more more of it, which will likely bait the billionaire into responding, which will raise Sanders buckets of money.

****

Biden

My take: His advisers and backers, including his new Super PAC, seems to think they can do the same thing over and over and get a different result – “Trump is afraid of Biden” is a tactic of decreasing effectiveness that Team Biden is using as its entire strategy.  Process messages = losing messages.

****

Buttigieg

My take: His Iowa ground game continues to grow stronger, but his campaign can’t seem to shake his coverage being dominated by, yes, process stories. Can he win African American votes: Why do his rivals dislike him? Does he eat cinnamon rolls correctly?

***

Klobuchar

My take: She has the most underrated stump speech in the Democratic field, fierce determination, and a (rare in politics) second chance to become the pundits’ and voters favored choice for those looking for a candidate younger than 70 who can win the nomination, win the general election, and govern effectively.

****

Bloomberg

My take: Some elites (but not all), even/especially conservative columnists, continue to be delighted he is running (with some skipping right over the nomination fight to muse about a Trump-Bloomberg general election), but reporters on the ground in the America with real people literally have a great deal of trouble finding a single voter interested in Bloomberg running (let alone any who say they will enthusiastically vote for him).

****

Budget deal

My take: Sometimes Congress fails to execute as the theoretical becomes the actual, but when Mitch McConnell and Nancy Pelosi both want something to happen, it generally happens. This can will be kicked down the road as far and as often as it needs to be to avoid a shutdown.

****

China trade deal

My take: At this point, many observers are overstating Trump’s desire for a deal now (he is happy to wait for next year, as long as the stock market keeps going up and farmers are not in full-blown open revolt), and understating China’s confusion about what it will take to get an agreement.

****

USMCA (a/k/a new NAFTA)

My take: Since Congress never does anything before it must, this is looking like a 2020 item if it is going to happen at all. The two key factors that will determine passage: Has the business community learned anything about its failure so far to apply sufficient pressure, and will House Democrats really let the Speaker give the president a win?

****

Top sports story: Joe Burrow, LSU might’ve just buried Alabama’s College Football Playoff hopes

Yahoo Sports

Top business story: Viral Tweet About Apple Card Leads to Goldman Sachs Probe

Bloomberg

Top entertainment story: Box Office: ‘Midway’ Surges Ahead of ‘Doctor Sleep’ With $18 Million

Variety

Saturday, November 9, 2019


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GAME DAY

3:30pm ET on CBS: #1 LSU versus #2 Alabama, both undefeated.

Donald Trump will be in Tuscaloosa for the game, Jeff Sessions is staying away.

At stake: How will the contest impact the college football national championship and control of the United States Senate? 

Game preview video.

Even Fox News wonders if the president will be booed.

My take: Why is this game not on in primetime?

****

Michael Bloomberg is a man of great accomplishment who will likely spend hundreds of millions if he runs for president and apparently thinks he can be the first person in the history of modern presidential politics to skip the early states and somehow be in the game come Super Tuesday.

Very smart Democratic strategist Bill Carrick to the Associated Press: “I don’t think you can just hopscotch around the calendar to suit your own political purposes. You skip the early states, you’re going to have a difficult time. I don’t see any evidence that strategy ever works.”

The Wall Street Journal editorial board is psyched that Bloomberg might run.  I’m sure Warren and Sanders will notice that.

Is he skipping “just” Iowa and New Hampshire or also Nevada and South Carolina too?  Most seem to think all four.

My take: Say the only candidates left standing after the contests Bloomberg skips are Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.  Not impossible. At which point the party would have spoken about what kind of nominee it is looking for.  Would the panicked establishment then want to turn to Bloomberg to rescue them?

Yes.

Would the voters in Super Tuesday states turn to him (after months of stories about his positions that put him out of step with the very voters who chose Warren and Sanders, after months of stories of officials in the early states complaining about Bloomberg’s failure to compete, and after a month when he is completely out of the narrative)?

You tell me.

And if a more centrist candidate is alive after New Hampshire (Biden, Buttigieg, Klobuchar), would Bloomberg be able to swan in and displace them, rather than just help Warren and/or Sanders clinch the nomination by dividing the moderate vote?

You tell me.

****

More evidence, as if any were needed, that Rudy Giuliani is at the center of most everything Trump/Ukraine, from the Wall Street Journal.

My take: At some point, Donald Trump is going to have to reckon with this reality in private and then in public.  For two key reasons, distancing is unlikely to work.

****

Top sports story: LSU-Alabama, Penn State-Minnesota and college football’s monster weekend

ESPN

Top business story: Trump says he has not agreed to roll back tariffs on China, after week of trade optimism

CNBC

Top entertainment story: Vanna White Hosting ‘Wheel of Fortune’ Following Pat Sajak’s Emergency Surgery

Associated Press

Friday, November 8, 2019

GOOD LUCK

There is a small and/but “influential” group of Democratic politicians, luminaries, donors, and strategists who have done a distinctive job for weeks in keeping from public view their panic over their field of Democratic presidential candidates.

In the view of this clique, Joe Biden will finish out of the money in Iowa and New Hampshire and be done and dusted; Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are going to be finalists in the race and are both potential nominees with no chance to beat Donald Trump; and Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, Cory Booker, and Kamala Harris have next to no chance to win the nomination and, if one of them somehow did, the chances of winning a general election are actually not that good.

This secret elite faction sees a slow-motion car crash in which a crippled Biden is by February no longer the establishment’s safe harbor, impossible to prop up after New Hampshire, at which point it would be too late – with the group too disorganized and of too many minds to settle on a consensus choice quickly enough — to stop Warren or Sanders from being the nominee.

The rational act, in the view of many in this group, even some who are publicly supporting Biden, is to get someone new in the race now who could win the nomination and then defeat Trump.

This all makes perfect sense to anyone who doesn’t believe Warren, Sanders, or Buttigieg can win a general election. 

One of the members of this group, Michael Bloomberg, is now positioning himself to run for the Democratic presidential nomination.

In his phone calls with fellow travelers, such as Nevada kingmaker Harry Reid and Rhode Island Democratic governor Gina Raimondo, Bloomberg has gotten encouragement.

For all the sophisticated staff and extraordinary amount of research Bloomberg consulted before making the decision to move to run, someone forgot to ask the actual voters.

Washington Post: “It is also possible that he decides to skip the first four voting states, an unorthodox strategy that could upend the regular nominating process and place far more emphasis on the Super Tuesday contests of March 3, when the race will become more nationalized — and more expensive.”

(Mini my take: There is almost no reason to think Bloomberg, despite his wealth, could skip the first four states and be in the mix. Post-Brexit voters don’t believe billionaires deserve special treatment.)

New York Times: “A Fox News poll found in late October that Mr. Bloomberg would face more opposition than enthusiasm at the outset of a primary campaign: Presented with Mr. Bloomberg as a hypothetical entrant into the primary, 6 percent of Democratic primary voters said they would definitely support him, while 32 percent said they would never vote for him.”

(Mini my take: Bloomberg reportedly went out for supper in Manhattan last night and his fellow diners encouraged him to run. Mike Bloomberg, smart as he is, seems to think that getting encouragement from rich people in Gotham City has something to do with his chances of becoming the Democratic nominee.)

So.

My take: Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, the Obamas, the Clintons, nearly all their donors, and many DNC members are terrified of the current field.  

The supporters of Warren and Sanders are all good.  They are confident their horse will get the nomination and remake the general election electorate and viva the revolution that will chase Trump from the White House.

Many Biden supporters are worried he won’t win the nomination. Many Buttigieg supporters are worried he can’t win a general.  

Unaligned Democrats are panicked. Nearly every non-socialist consultant is extremely worried.  Again, they think after New Hampshire it will be too late to stop Warren or Sanders. There IS a legitimate question for the loud and active establishment wing of the party: How do we maneuver to get a centrist nominee who can beat Trump?

On the available evidence, Michael Bloomberg is not the answer. 

By my calculation, there is 1% chance that the former New York City mayor could win the nomination, and that is mostly because he is in the 1%, with billions to spend on a possible bid. 

There’s no research that has ever been done (including by his minions) that suggests he actually has a reasonable chance to win the nomination.  If there were, the man who is 100% convinced he is the most qualified person in the entire country to be president would have gotten into the race long ago.

In the context of trying to win the nomination, Bloomberg has no constituency, no special appeal on any issues, a record that liberals will hate, no candidate skills, and an uneven temperament.   His only big advantage —  his money – will help him make up for lost time if he decides to run, but it will also pummel him with backfire, as Teams Warren and Sanders accuse him of trying to buy the nomination. The more he spends, the more resonance the accusation will have.

The only caveat is if Bloomberg in the next few days reads the results of his trial balloon and decides to go for it, thereby forcing Biden out of the race. If Bloomberg was able to then become the consensus establishment choice, he could be the nominee. But I doubt that will happen. Why would Joe Biden be scared out of the race by Bloomberg?

On paper, Bloomberg is a horrible Iowa candidate and a good New Hampshire one.  He is unlikely to meet the requirements for getting into the upcoming debates. If he somehow made it into March, his money would make him a force in states such as California, Texas, and Florida, at a time when everyone else in the race might be broke.

Bloomberg will get gobs of coverage in the next few days. Perhaps his poll numbers will flare up, although that seems unlikely. If they DO flare up, he will be assailed from many directions. There’s no doubt that Trump doesn’t want to run against Bloomberg and would make mischief in the Democratic primary to try to stop him, just as Team Trump has done with Biden.

But it won’t just be Trump.

Bloomberg’s credentials (mayor of Gotham City, starting his successful business, and his extraordinary philanthropy) are just not going to mean much to primary and caucus voters. His work on climate and guns is substantial, but his issue positions are no more appealing than those of the other candidates, and in fact he is in some ways to the right of them.  What’s he going to say about taxing the rich and the Green New Deal?  Like Biden, he has lost more than a step with age. His advisers will try to devise some unique ways to market him in New Hampshire and beyond, but they are selling a product that many of the targeted consumers won’t want.

It will be interesting to see how Bloomberg fares in polling matchups with Trump. Bloomberg’s team and the man himself always overestimate how well known he is around the country.  He is a 70-something, divorced, unmarried, Jewish, short billionaire, with a history of backing stop-and-frisk, charter schools, and the rights of plutocrats.  Will he be the candidate of teachers, African Americans, labor? Seems doubtful.

Much of the media loves Bloomberg and loves new things, so he has a chance for a strong start that could encourage him to declare his candidacy. But this could also blow up on the launch pad. 

Biden is in New Hampshire today filing his candidacy papers. Let’s see how he reacts.

Bloomberg will not win the Democratic nomination based on his money or the strong support he has among people in the 10021 Zip Code.  If he becomes the nominee, it will be because he convinces millions of caucus and primary voters that they should put their children’s future in his hands. 

Good luck.

****

The Washington Post got an early copy of Anonymous’ book about Donald Trump and wrote a breathless piece about its “revelations.”

My take: The New York Times got a copy too and reviewed it:

“Anonymous has seen disturbing things. Anonymous has heard disturbing things. You, the reader, will already recognize most of what Anonymous has seen and heard as revealed in this book if you have been paying any attention to the news.”

Given the impeachment allegations, I think we can safely say that this book is not going to change any paradigms. Anonymous includes almost no specific scenes, ostensibly to hide the author’s identity. And some of the few specific allegations have been denied and lack backup.

Good luck.

****

On impeachment, there is more talk of how the House hearings will be conducted; more discussion of how quickly the Senate will get the case; more chatter about whether John Bolton will testify; more verbiage about administration witnesses who are declining to testify; and more accounts of how unhappy many in the government were with the president’s Ukraine “policy.”

What seems new today are the accounts of the circular firing squads that reportedly exist within the president’s orbit as they gear up to battle for his survival.

Bloomberg: Mulvaney versus Cipollone (with the bonus suggestion that Mitch McConnell is unhappy).

New York Times: Trump versus Barr, and Mulvaney versus Barr (although a careful read of this piece suggests a lack of backup for an extreme version of this thesis).

Washington Post: There’s some wacky notion of making Sondland, Giuliani, and Mulvaney the fall guys to protect the president.

Good luck.

Thursday, November 7, 2019


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SHOCK AND SURPRISE, PART XXXVI

The (correct) conventional wisdom from Tuesday’s election results is that Democrats have (correctly) taken heart from wins in the suburbs, including and specially around Philadelphia, while Republicans are (correctly) worried about the suburbs.

The Wall Street Journal editorial board shares this suburban view in its lead editorial, but then slips in this:

“But Mr. Trump may need Democrats to nominate an opponent whose agenda is far enough to the left to scare suburban voters who are tired of the daily melodrama of the Trump Presidency.”

The Journal is correct, except for the use of the word “may.”

My take: Neither shocking nor surprising.

****

President Trump reportedly wanted Attorney General Barr to publicly clear him of any crime connected to his July Ukraine phone call.

My take: Not surprising; would have once upon a time been shocking for a president to do something like this, but, alas, no longer.

****

Team Trump is dabbling in the dark, phony corners of Twitter to fight back against impeachment by using innuendo, lies, and base-revving.

My take: Not surprising; would have once upon a time been shocking for a president’s associates to do something like this, but, alas, no longer.

****

President Trump was more involved in Roger Stone’s Wikileaks efforts than has been previously reported.

My take: The least surprising thing of all time.

****

Rudy Giuliani has finally found some lawyers to represent him (for now) in the Justice Department’s criminal probe.

My take: Surprising, not shocking.

****

Joe Biden is fourth in another Iowa poll and now probably has a better chance of finishing fifth in the caucuses than he does of finishing first or second.

My take: Neither surprising nor shocking.

****

Leading Democratic pollster Mark Mellman has an essential reading master class column on how to accurately poll using landlines, mobile phones, and texting.

My take: Shocking that most consumers of polls and even some lesser pollsters don’t understand this.

****

In today’s edition of “Who is going after Elizabeth Warren now?”

Joe Biden, who called her an “elitist” in a radio interview.

Bill Gates, who doesn’t like her tax increase ideas.

Wall Street Journal columnist Dan Henninger, who writes, “The Warren meltdown could prove to be the Democratic left’s Chernobyl, a lasting catastrophe.”

The New York Times news pages, which runs an interactive graphic on her tax and defense spending cut ideas that could form the basis of nearly all of the RNC’s messaging in a Trump-Warren general election.

All of which is part of what led the Washington Post to write a piece questioning if the recent/current attacks on Warren are sexist or, at least, gender freighted. 

With the exception of the Gates jibe (to which Warren responded on Twitter), her campaign is consistently not engaging on the latest criticisms.

My take: Semi-shocking that all these anti-Warren men don’t realize that the nature of these attacks could help her; surprising that Team Warren seems passive, which worries some neutral Democrats when it comes to gaming out how she would deal with Trump attacks in a general election.

****

The Saudis allegedly worked improperly with Twitter employees to monitor anti-Saudi tweeters.

My take: I take back what I wrote above. THIS is the least surprising thing of all time.

****

Big Four


New Hampshire

Bennet signs up for New Hampshire primary.

In New Hampshire, Klobuchar sees hope in election results.

Castro campaign shutting down New Hampshire operations.

****

Top sports story: Joe Burrow of LSU Tigers the Heisman Trophy favorite, Kyler Murray says

ESPN

Top business story: Kohl’s, Macy’s turn to pop-up shops and Instagram-worthy displays to try to win the holidays

CNBC

Top entertainment story: Ben Affleck to Star in Robert Rodriguez’s Action Thriller ‘Hypnotic’

Variety