Friday, July 5, 2019


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Somewhere, Michael Deaver Smiles

Trump confounds critics by “normalizing” himself (for one night only?) with uber-presidential Fourth of July extravaganza.

My take: Every word in the president’s lyrical Thursday night speech could have been delivered by Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, or George W. Bush.

Democratic elected officials and liberals (including liberal journalists who pretend they aren’t liberals) played right into Trump’s hands for weeks by carping about the event, anticipating that it was going to be a MAGA rally on steroids, filled with Soviet-style military hardware, egomaniacal boasting, attacks on the “fake news,” denigrating comments about progressive Democrats, and chants of “lock her up.”

Instead, the clever White House speechwriters and a highly skilled television producer (who happens to be president of the United States) flipped the script and turned Donald Trump into something he rarely has been in office: a non-partisan lover of United States history and of the best the nation’s rainbow coalition of citizens has to offer. 

The inclusion of American heroes in the audience (a la at a State of the Union address) and use of historical references were deft touches.  And I would guess the number of non-white legends mentioned by Trump was probably not an accident.

It was clear even before the speech that Democrats were making a huge mistake carping about the president’s wanting to celebrate the Fourth of July with taxpayer funds.  Trump advisors have been gleeful at all the talking heads, politician sound bites, and media coverage criticizing the president juxtaposed with Trump’s patriotic, virtual flag waving on Twitter.

The speech was so apolitical, this is the best the AP could comically do to suggest otherwise: “He largely stuck to his script, avoiding diversions into his agenda or re-election campaign. But in one exception, he vowed, ‘Very soon, we will plant the American flag on Mars,’ actually a distant goal not likely to be achieved until late in the 2020s if even then.”

If the Democrats and liberals who unwittingly aided and abetted the president’s success in scoring a political win do not learn every possible lesson about how badly they handled this, they will be letting down the tens of millions of Americans who are counting on them to make Donald Trump a one-term president.

Trump laid a trap for his critics, fully leveraging the benefits of incumbency. His critics walked right into it.  Chances are they will just do their normal thing and be angry at the president, rather than do the soul searching required to stop behaving this way in time to defeat him.  Democrats and liberals will be making a major error if they comfort themselves by saying Trump’s speech will only appeal to the base of his party.

Charlie Brown was Nostradamus compared to the Democrats and liberals who fall for this over and over again.

Beating an incumbent president is really hard. 

Team Trump just showed it knows how to both keep a secret and utilize the powers of the presidency to enhance his chances for re-election. The Democrats just showed that they have such antipathy for Donald Trump that they can’t resist falling for his tricks so thoroughly that they become characters in his self-created dramas and do his bidding.


In other news…

Team Biden Puts Harris on Defensive Over Busing

My take:  The California Senator isn’t in a full-on retreat, but the former VP’s operation has aggressively forced the press to scrutinize her wobbly position on the issue undergirding her debate moment. Harris now seems to be arguing that her only problem is with Biden’s past, not his current stance. 

The New York Times’ coverage is typical – critical but understated: “This is not the first issue on which Ms. Harris has muddled her response — she has also struggled to articulate whether she thinks private health care should be eliminated — but the California senator dismissed questions about her consistency.”

Kicker: Biden, who Democrats say needs to make his campaign about something other than electability and inevitability, tells reporters in Iowa: “I’m still way ahead.”

PS: Biden interview with Chris Cuomo on CNN Friday morning.

Bernie Recalibrates…Maybe

Politico says the Sanders campaign is happy about where things stand while still considering making some changes.  (“sharpening a new line of attack against his rivals and experimenting with different ways to connect with hard-to-reach voters …also continuing to shift from big rallies to more intimate events in the nation’s early states, such as ice cream socials and selfie lines — an acknowledgment that Sanders needs to adopt a more personal approach and participate in additional retail politicking to win.”)

My take: Sanders still has a lot of donors, volunteers, and fans.  And/but his campaign’s dismissal of the latest polls sounds like old-fashioned spin.  There is no doubt that a warmer personality would help the Vermonter’s fortunes with some voters, but many of his backers believe his mega rallies are among his most important ways to demonstrate strength and electability.

Kicker:“Very quickly,” he said, in response to a selfie request in Iowa on Thursday.

***

The Trump administration has until 2pm Friday to say how it plans to try to save the Census citizenship question, with skepticism abounding and presidential desire still riding high.

***

Key US government employment data will be released at 8:30am ET, as Washington Post profiles “40%” of Americans left behind while the economy grows, and as the Wall Street Journal editorial board makes the case for the Trump economy.

***

Full Southern California earthquake coverage here.

Top sports story: Joey Chesnut devours 71 hot dogs in 10 minutes for his 12th Nathan’s hot dog eating contest win
ABC 30 

Top business story: Oil prices to drop as global demand fears grow
Bloomberg

Top entertainment story: ‘Wolf Of Wall Street’ producer arrested by Malaysian anti-corruption investigators
Deadline


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Thursday, July 4, 2019


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Happy Independence Day

The non-stop Trump Show is exhausting for many and/but a hit program for his base.

On this day of celebration, the commander-in-chief is at war with:

— the Democrats, “his” Pentagon, the press, and tradition, over his 4th of July military-infused rally, which might be rained on and/or draw a crowd so small that there could be an inauguration-style embarrassment up ahead.

— “his” Senate Republicans, over his budget proposal.

— the courts, the Democrats, and liberal editorial boards, over his confusing continued pursuit of a Census citizenship question rejected by the judicial branch.

— the courts and civil liberties groups, over his immigration policies.

My take: The president will continue to take heat for all of these battles.

On the merits, criticism of his stances is perfectly justified.

The challenge for our great American institutions and traditions on this grand holiday is that we have a person in the Oval Office who has a showman’s feel for how to pick his fights — and an escape artist’s capacity to slip away from one hairy situation into another fresh one.

All you need to read are the closing paragraphs of the Washington Post’s story about tonight’s expensive DC festivities that the president has programmed with himself as the star:

The president’s advisers say Trump sees the event as a way to associate himself with the flag and patriotism, which will resonate with many Americans the way his comments criticizing National Football League players for kneeling during the national anthem did.

After wading into the anthem debate, according to two former senior administration officials speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations, Trump told his aides, “It’s a winning issue for me.”

“What are they going to say? I’m being too patriotic? I believe in America?” one official recounted Trump saying. “Give me a break.”

Asked about the event Wednesday, Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh was unapologetic. “President Trump loves this country,” Murtaugh said. “He’ll never apologize for that.”

These tactics and mindset – and the efforts to combat them — will be the story of 2020.

In other news:

Biden vs. Harris bubbles over in Iowa.

Harris busing stance is now as confusing as her position on private health insurance.

New Iowa poll suggests Biden support has collapsed.

Warren makes a sustained play for African-American support.

Top sports story: Simmons, 76ers, working through details of max contract extension
ESPN 

Top business story: U.S. manufacturing outlook falls closer to contractionary level
Wall Street Journal

Top entertainment story: Tarantino’s ‘Once Upon A Time In Hollywood’ eyes a $30 million opening weekend
Deadline

Big Four

Iowa

In Iowa, Kamala Harris says of Trump: ‘We have a predator living in the White House.’

Joe Biden on Donald Trump’s Fourth of July parade: ‘He misses the whole point’.

Buttigieg to roll out national service policy during Iowa visit, including ‘Climate Corps’.

Trump sends nearly $1 billion to Iowa farmers to help stem trade losses. It’s the second-largest amount, nationally.

To heal student ‘trauma,’ Tim Ryan wants a mental health counselor in every school.

Have a safe and sparkly holiday.


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Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Where We Are

Late Tuesday, as I was pondering national and Iowa polls showing Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren surging, and Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders falling, I got a series of text messages from a wicked smart Democrat with no horse in the field.

The messages read as follows:

“So, Bernie is dead but he doesn’t know it yet. Biden has some serious vulnerabilities. I’m downgrading him significantly.”

“What odds would you give Bernie of getting the nomination at this point?  Warren and Harris are both higher in my view.” 

“And the debate hurt Biden more than the polls are showing right now. [Harris] cut an artery and he is slowly bleeding out.” 

“KH has stepped up at impact moments (announcement / Kavanaugh/ debate).”


Let’s take these thoughts in turn and advance them:

1. Bernie is not dead, but he is in serious trouble. Warren is beating him on issues and momentum; Buttigieg outraised him in the second quarter.  Sanders’ horrid debate performance got little attention because Biden’s horrid performance had more impact on the race.  Bernie’s campaign team cannot force him to have a second act, which he needs. I overestimated his capacity to hold onto a good share of his 2016 supporters.

2. Biden does indeed have some serious vulnerabilities, which I have written and talked about at length since before he entered the race. In fact, he hasn’t even scratched the surface on all the ways his candidacy and campaign skills are highly problematic (and not just for 2020).  His chances should indeed be downgraded significantly.  On paper, he should still be considered the frontrunner. But presidential elections are not run on paper.

3. I still give Sanders about a 14% chance of being the nominee, because he could win a bunched up Iowa and then fight his way to a plurality of the delegates.  But he is losing support from his previous demographic base, not expanding his support into the areas he was so weak in against Hillary Clinton.  Is he “deader” than Biden? He is.

4. Warren and Harris do indeed now have a better chance for the nomination than Sanders. More on that in a moment.

5. Biden IS in more peril than this round of polls suggests. He will likely soon be passed by Harris and perhaps Warren. At that point, many of the bundlers and establishment types, who were for him with as much enthusiasm as one would have for an anchovy pizza from a vending machine, will take their leave.  A campaign shakeup would be useless because the problem is not the staff (although there ARE some staff problems there). The problem is the candidate.

6. Harris DID have a great announcement event and has excelled at some Senate hearings. And Warren has had her boffo moments too. But Harris’ dealing with questions about private health insurance and about her record as a prosecutor and as California’s attorney general, and Warren’s attempt to deal with questions about her heritage, suggest we should not be too quick to jump to the conclusion that these two surging candidates will be immune from fumbles and flubs when the spotlight burns brighter/harsher. Which, after some additional momentum-fueled days of positive coverage, it most surely will.  They will both have their days (weeks?) in the barrel, and nobody (NOBODY) can say now how they will perform when their time comes.

7.  Never in the history of the Republic have two leading women presidential candidates battled it out for the nomination of either party. That would be momentous. Would they drop opposition research on each other? Attempt to cut each other down with scathing debate one-liners? Run negative ads against the other one?  Will Harris feel pressured by Warren and the base to move more to the left, or will she see an opening with Biden’s fall to become the center-left favorite?  Or can she somehow do both?

8. Can Buttigieg or anyone else crash this party?  As I wrote yesterday, Iowa is the most rational route there, but the Gang of Four, even with a weakened Biden and a weakened Sanders, are going to take up a lot of space in the Hawkeye State caucuses.  We shouldn’t rule out Mayor Pete until we see what he gets in return for spending his 2nd quarter money, and how much he raises in the 3rd quarter.  And in the spirit of eternal possibility and patience, we should hold open the chance that someone else could leapfrog over the others now at 0%-3% and get in the hunt. But it is very, very unlikely at this point.

9.  The fact that in the span of a month, the field has been scrambled so that the order of likelihood of being nominated is now (1) Harris, (2) Warren, (3) Biden, and (4) Sanders should remind us all that there are many more twists and turns coming.  There has never been a nomination contest in either party quite like this.  Humility is called for.   Even in morning tip sheets.

10. And we must all once again remember the wise words of Chairman Haley Barbour: In politics, nothing is ever as good or as bad as it seems.  Although, this morning, things are looking very bad for Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders.  The same is true for them as it is for Warren and Harris: if they want to win the nomination, they are going to have to be prepared to fight for it, smartly and relentlessly, for many months to come.


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In other news:

Government Report: Conditions on Mexican Border Are Grim

My take: We are a better country than this. Forget the politics (and there are a lot of politics on both sides).  Fix how children are being treated now. It is the only moral thing to do.

Trump Uncharacteristically Quiet About Democrats’ Border Cave

But others are talking.

Read what Barack Obama’s Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson told the Washington Post about the unanimous position of the Democratic presidential contenders from Debate 2 on immigration decriminalization:

“That is tantamount to declaring publicly that we have open borders.  That is unworkable, unwise and does not have the support of a majority of American people or the Congress, and if we had such a policy, instead of 100,000 apprehensions a month, it will be multiples of that.”

My take: The president will be saying much the same thing, more colorfully, come the general election.  The Wall Street Journal ed board has figured this out too.

Census Citizenship Question Dropped

My take: Rare decision to quit, not fight, shows some Wizard behind the Trump Oz curtain decided the politics of their quest was not smart. Find the Wizard, and we can understand why.

Trump to Hold Rally in North Carolina on Day of Mueller Hill Appearance

My take: Of course.

Trump Campaign and RNC Raise Record Coin

My take: It is important to focus on how presidential campaign money is spent at least as much as on how much is raised.  A lot of the re-elect’s cash is quietly going to general election voter modeling, giving the incumbent a huge head start. 

Top sports story: USWNT outlasts England, will head to World Cup Final 
ESPN

Top business story: More than 80% of S&P 500 firms have slashed their expected earnings 
Bloomberg

Top entertainment story: Summer box office numbers continue to disappoint as companies and audiences pivot to streaming
Variety

Big Four

New Hampshire

John Delaney holds 100th presidential campaign event in N.H.


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Tuesday, July 2, 2019


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If You Read Just One Quote About the Biden-Harris Feud….

Politico: “’I think they believe that their victory hinges upon the establishment believing he’s the only candidate that can beat Trump,’ a Harris adviser said of Biden’s camp. ‘If that starts to unravel then the game is up.’”

My take: Give that quote zero Pinocchios

Under normal political physics, if Candidate A effectively attacks the frontrunner, the frontrunner is wounded — but Candidate A is not necessarily the beneficiary.  In this case, the early polling and media coverage suggest that Candidate A (Kamala Harris) is in fact benefiting, because the attack was skillfully done, sheathed in the story of Harris-as-a-young-girl, and played into the media’s current favorite Biden meme (that he’s a man out of time).

If You Want to Understand What Keeps Biden Afloat With the Establishment…

Read this Jerry Seib Wall Street Journal column.

My take: Winning the general election basically involves winning back Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Establishment Democrats and columnists believe Biden can beat the president in those three places. Until another candidate convinces the establishment Biden isn’t the only game in town in those three states, Biden will continue to win the elite electability argument.

If You Look at Just One Number in the CNN Poll Besides the Biden Drop…

The Gang of Four candidates (Biden, Harris, Warren, and Sanders) account for 68% of the total vote in a field of two dozen.

My take: There are now, barring an amazing Biden resurgence, two scenarios.  In one scenario, Biden holds onto around 20%-30% of the vote nationally and in the key states, making it very difficult for anyone to break the Gang of Four’s hold on the first tier.  Also under this scenario, Biden can stay the quasi-frontrunner, albeit a weak one, until one of the other three consistently passes him in the polls. That would require breaking his hold on certain demographic groups.

In the other scenario, Biden continues to drop.

In that second scenario, the question is begged: does the bulk of the support Biden loses go to one of the other members of the Gang of Four, or can Pete Buttigieg or someone else harvest enough of it to move into the first tier?

Under the current dynamics and math of the race, the former is more likely than the latter.  However, if you consider the $25 million that Mayor Pete raised in the second quarter, both online and via bundling, you would have to add…

If You Want to Remind Yourself About One Thing Regarding How Elections Work…

Remember that campaigning and candidates matter.

My take: Getting a big pot of money drives 36 hours of positive news coverage. Now we have to see if Team Pete can spend the money in a way that actually allows him to rise.  Biden must maintain his national footprint to stay afloat as the national frontrunner. That means he can’t camp out in the Hawkeye State.

Right now, for Buttigieg (and many of the other candidates in the race), beating Biden in Iowa is the most rational and linear way to try to win the nomination.   Watch to see who has the discipline to focus on campaigning and organizing enough in Iowa this summer to be in a position to beat or wound Biden there.  Key to recall: Biden did so poorly in Iowa in 2008 that he dropped out of the race.

If You Want to Know the Status of US-North Korea Disarmament Talks….

Read this New York Times news story and this David Ignatius’ column.

My take: Trump wants a deal; Kim wants a deal; South Korea wants a deal; Pompeo wants to get Trump what he wants; Trump’s special envoy for the negotiations, Steve Biegun, wants to use flexibility to get a deal; John Bolton will hurl his body in front of any attempt to get a deal that allows the North to maintain the development of nuclear weapons coupled with long-range missile technology. 

There is momentum towards a deal, but an agreement is still far, far away and more likely to not happen than happen.


Top sports story: Tyler Skaggs, 27-year-old Angels pitcher, dies in Texas
ESPN

Top business story: Markets lose steam as Trump threatens to open a European front in the trade war
Reuters

Top entertainment story: Taylor Swift’s battle for her masters splits the musical community
Yahoo Entertainment


Big Four

Iowa

Candidates flock to Iowa for Fourth of July celebrations after Florida debates.

In Iowa, Amy Klobuchar uses her stump speech to criticize President Trump.

Ice Cream Social(ist): Sanders visits Tuesday, opens office Wednesday.

Kim Reynolds: ‘I won’t be the governor to’ legalize marijuana in Iowa.


New Hampshire

Law expands protections for juvenile sex-trafficking victims.


Nevada

New Nevada law restores right to vote for ex-felons.


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Monday, July 1, 2019

The To-Do Lists

Donald Trump

1. Back time from the State of the Union speech and the Iowa caucuses to produce budget and China trade deals that goose the economy.

2. Get a clean foreign policy victory…..somewhere.

3. Be as sophisticated as Nancy Pelosi is about the 2020 implications of no major bipartisan deal making (besides on the must-do budget/debt ceiling/spending caps).

4. Identify someone in the administration who can make a deal on the must-do budget/debt ceiling/spending caps with Pelosi, Mitch McConnell, Chuck Schumer, and (most difficult of all) yourself.

Nancy Pelosi

1. Decide how you will grapple with the implications for the US economy and your donors if the Canada-Mexico trade deal goes down.

2. Get back in sync with Schumer on how to handle legislation to avoid splitting Democrats and making Trump’s re-election more likely.

3. Figure out what you can do to protect your vulnerable members from having to answer on issues such as decriminalizing entry into the USA and offering health insurance for those already here illegally.

4. Use your influence to increase the prospects that the Democrats nominate the most liberal electable person for president.

Kamala Harris

1. Ride the wave at top speed for as long as you can; go places you have not gone before; be surprising.

2. Find the low-hanging fruit of current Biden supporters you can poach, whose defections will be catnip for the media until further notice.

3. Focus almost as much on expectation-setting for Iowa to make sure you are part of the story headed to New Hampshire as you do on winning delegates in Iowa.

4. Be ready to explain the results of the next California statewide poll.

 Joe Biden

1. Recognize that too many around you aren’t being honest about how bad things are.

2. Accept that there’s a difference between acting like the nomination is in hand and acting like you know you have to fight every day, in every way, to win it.

3. Surrender to the reality that the world has changed since 1996; the establishment can’t save you the way it saved Bob Dole.

4. Ask yourself, again, why Barack Obama didn’t support your running for president four years ago.

Essential reading: Hunter Biden talks about addiction and a lot more to the New Yorker.


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Forget the Photo Op

This New York Times North Korea news analysis with the David Sanger byline suggests the real question is, will Trump and Kim accept a bargain that is less than grand?

My take: The US is apparently willing to consider dropping its insistence on full military surrender before any sanctions relief.  Now, Trump critics in both parties will seemingly get what they want – working level talks about just what concessions from North Korea will be required to produce a deal that will make the world safer, and NoKo richer.

That step won’t have an immediate impact on anything, but the parallel move with China – restarting trade talks at the staff level via some goal post moving and mutual concessions – is producing the expected boost to markets, which crave a big deal that eases tensions between the world’s two biggest economies.

Only the cliché works in these two cases: the devil is indeed in the details.

The Move Left and Electability

Essential reading Washington Post news story suggests concern in some quarters that the super progressive policies of most Democratic presidential candidates will boost Trump’s chances of getting re-elected.

My take: The left, and most of their leading White House hopefuls, decry conservative columnists who argue that moving away from the center plays right into the president’s re-election hands.  History, Democrats’ sweeping House wins in 2018, and this reported article suggest otherwise.

Top sports story: Knicks didn’t want to offer Durant a max contract

ESPN

Top business story: Global stocks and Yuan rally as trade war truce relieves markets

Wall Street Journal

Top entertainment story: Disney looks to break ‘Avatar’ B.O. record with ‘Endgame’ rerelease

Deadline


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Friday, June 28, 2019

About Last Night

“Kamala Harris had a moment that was two hours long.” — Van Jones

My take:

*The other candidates aren’t the least bit afraid of Joe Biden.

*Kamala Harris will be a major factor in every debate she is in going forward; the other candidates are now on notice that they need to prep specifically for her.

*The five things that will follow from Harris’ performance: she will have an online fundraising boom; many establishment figures who have doubts about Biden will now look at/to her; her confidence will snowball; the press interest in her campaign will be sky high for the foreseeable future; get ready for some floated opposition research from other Democrats and from Team Trump.

*Amidst the praise for Harris’ star turn, her position on private insurance is now a blur again.  Republicans noticed.

*People whose judgment I trust said Biden looked strong; people whose judgment I trust said Biden looked overwhelmed and past his political expiration date.

*To be sure: I can’t recall a frontrunner of either party counterpunching so softly when directly confronted in a debate.  The pressure on him to perform better in the next face-off is now immense.

*Kirsten Gillibrand’s performance won’t get the attention it deserves because Harris owned the night.

*If you buy what Pete Buttigieg is selling, there was a lot on offer Thursday.

*Bernie Sanders ’20 believes what Bernie Sanders ’16 believed: TALKING LOUD IS GOOD, likeability be damned, socialism sells.

*If Michael Bennet can stay on the stage as the number of participants gets smaller, he will be even more of a factor.

*Named on more than 3 media “winners” lists: Harris, Buttigieg.

*Named on more than 3 media “losers” lists: Biden, Yang.

*I would wager that Harris and Buttigieg finished the night with more supporters than they started with.  Gillibrand and Bennet might have also.  I doubt anyone else did.

*Andrew Yang and Marianne Williamson were given extraordinary opportunities, which they squandered.

*We witnessed another night that demonstrated the leftward movement of the Democratic Party, including on immigration and health care.


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In other news:

Jocular Trump Tells Putin Not to Interfere in 2020.

My take: Post-Mueller world emboldens POTUS even more than usual.

Pelosi Cave on Immigration Bill Roils House Democrats.

My take: Senate Democrats + Mitch McConnell = power to break Speaker’s usual strong grip over her flock.

Supreme Court Issues Massive Rulings on Redistricting and Census.

My take: John Roberts has nearly unlimited power, and somehow escapes serious conservative scorn; Democrats will now have to spend even more effort dealing with the impact of redistricting; Republicans will now have to spend even more effort dealing with their Census agenda.

Top sports story: California legislator introduces bill to legalize sports gambling

ESPN

Top business story: Wall Street traders battle with small investors over new rules in the $9 trillion corporate bond market

Wall Street Journal

Top entertainment story: WGA looks to negotiate with individual agencies as talks continue to stall

Variety


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Thursday, June 27, 2019

I Read 43 Stories and Columns Recapping and Rating Wednesday’s Debate and Dial-Flipped Through Cable News

Stipulating that reporters and pundits don’t actually know how voters will be influenced by the debate itself and the multi-platform aftermath coverage…

My take (summarizing the takes of some others, with which I concur): Nothing really happened to change the contours of the race; Warren was fine-to-good but/and her presence fell off in the back half of the night; Castro stood out; Klobuchar and Booker stood out some, but not enough; notable that Trump was mentioned less than expected, and Biden not at all; most Democratic candidates are more left-wing than in past presidential races, worrying centrists and delighting Team Trump.

One of the World’s Shortest Debate Previews

Joe Biden

Best case: No references to anything that occurred before the invention of the iPod Nano, plenty of references to specific ways he would help families as president.

Worst case: Attempt to focus on Trump and stay above the fray culminates in a senior moment.

Bernie Sanders

Best case: Reminds people who voted for him in 2016 why they did – and rekindles their belief that he is the only true revolutionary in the race.

Worst case: Fails to attract new supporters because the viewers have heard it all before.

Kamala Harris

Best case: Delivers (with steel and a smile) rehearsed A+ anti-Trump lines as if she thought them up on the spot.

Worst case: Momentarily fends off a tough question with her “that’s something that should be discussed” dodge – and gets called on it by a leading rival.

Pete Buttigieg

Best case: Wows voters getting a first look at him with passion, intelligence, knowledge, and humor – and raises a million bucks online off of it.

Worst case: Has one of his rare off-key moments at a critical juncture.

Kirsten Gillibrand

Best case: Takes advantage of the big stage to talk her way back into the conversation based on her energy and intellect.

Worst case: Blocked out of her fair share of time by moderator focus on the Big Four.

Michael Bennet

Best case: Shows passion, talks sense, and elevates above the ideological spats – simultaneously intriguing the voters and reminding the donor class why he’s an Obama and Clinton favorite.

Worst case: A performance that consistently confuses boring for thoughtful and smiley for compassionate.

John Hickenlooper

Best case: Convinces viewers that there is a Colorado Miracle that he could bring to all 50 states.

Worst case:  Acts more goofy than solid, more baffled than confident.

Eric Swalwell

Best case: Reassures older voters, inspires younger ones.

Worst case: Says absolutely nothing that distinguishes himself.

Marianne Williamson

Best case: Couples her spiritual strength and straight talk with surprising chops on federal policy and national security.

Worst case: Doesn’t give voters any reason to envision her sitting in the Oval Office.

Andrew Yang

Best case: Uses humor, brains, and distinctive policy plans to force the spotlight to find him and then linger.

Worst case: Gets minimal time from moderators worried that he will hijack the debate.


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In other news…

Bernie Sanders earns Wall Street Journal op-ed space to say Trump is a bad type of socialist.

Reporting is mixed on the chances of trade progress with China out of the expected Trump-Xi weekend meeting.  The Wall Street Journal is bearish; Secretary Mnuchin is bullish.

Top sports story: Vanderbilt beats Michigan to win their second College World Series  

ESPN

Top business story: FAA finds new software problem on troubled Boeing 737 MAX

Bloomberg

Top entertainment story: Roku’s streaming device to reach 70% of market share by the end of 2019

Deadline


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Big Four

Iowa

Steve Bullock says he can get progressive things done.

New Hampshire

Sununu vetoes bill on zero emissions for state vehicles.

South Carolina

Graham locks down home state support — and seeks to lock out primary challengers.

Tribe’s push to build casino spurs Carolinas political fight.


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Wednesday, June 26, 2019

One of the World’s Shortest Debate Previews

Elizabeth Warren

Best case: Relates her policy positions to the real lives of working families with passion, sending the cares-about-people-like-you meter aflame. 

Worst case: Ganged up on by moderators who ask her questions outside her comfort zone.

Cory Booker

Best case: Leaves donors, voters, and the press eager to give him another shot at the upper tier.

Worst case: His polite and patient manner prevents him from claiming the time needed to make his case.

Julián Castro

Best case: Galvanizes a youth/Obama/Latino coalition that pops, especially in Nevada.

Worst case: His polite and patient manner prevents him from claiming the time needed to make his case.

Amy Klobuchar

Best case: Gets questions that allow the brilliant, relatable, common sense progressive/moderate hybrid version of herself to shine through.

Worst case: Gets process questions that don’t allow her to stand out.

Beto O’Rourke

Best case: Engages the audience in the room in a manner so compelling that it breaks the rules to applaud wildly, restoring “It” candidate luster.

Worst case: Sloppy, winding answers make him appear to be no things to no people.

Tulsi Gabbard

Best case: Two-step process of reminding the party that national security expertise matters and that her distinctive, experienced-based brand of it has lots of Democratic Party adherents.

Worst case: Doesn’t get sufficient time to explain her complex views.

Jay Inslee

Best case: Changes his brand from majoring in climate change and minoring in “accomplished governor” to majoring in “accomplished governor” and minoring in climate change.

Worst case: So overeager to stand out that he looks more excitable than electable.

Bill de Blasio

Best case: Shows enough multi-dimensional sophistication that the Gotham City press corps and elites give him a second look.

Worst case: Thinks quippy anti-Trump one liners are the ticket to success.

Tim Ryan

Best case: Melds his spiritual, economic populist, and cultural conservative dimensions into an intriguing Rust Belt delight.

Worst case: Forgets that this is a presidential debate and not the House floor.


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Pelosi Gets House to Pass Immigration Measure to Help Children

Bill would deal with tragic humanitarian crisis on the border.

My take: This was Exhibit AAA that the Speaker has extraordinary political and policy control of her caucus.  Her capacity to listen, learn, and lead makes her a great legislative master, bridging the ideological and practical divides within her party when lives are at stake.

Reluctant Mueller to Appear on Capitol Hill

Former independent counsel bows to pressure to give testimony.

My take: If the Democrats don’t prepare carefully, this could be an extremely anti-climatic, uninformative pair of hearings that inflicts damage on themselves. Mueller has made it clear that he doesn’t want to speak beyond the four corners of his written report.

Politico says this: “Even if Mueller simply recites his report, Democrats could make meaningful progress in using the Mueller probe to their political advantage.”

That might be true, but it might not.

There are 57 ways to try to get Mueller to say the president is a criminal; he will be prepared for all 57.  He is not a man who is likely to be tricked into going one inch more than he intends.

Tom Friedman Nails Trump Iran/China Gambits

Essential reading column by New York Times sage.

My take: When Friedman is good, he is very, very good. When he is extraordinary, he is better. He writes that Trump needs a simple deal with Iran that extends the previous Obama nuke pact, along with missile limits; and a much more complicated global agreement with China that will determine the future of the international order. Friedman gives Trump credit where it is due, and/but raises all the right red flags.

Ocasio-Cortez-backed Candidate Declares Victory in Close Queens DA Upset Bid

Tiffany Cabán also had Bernie Sanders support.

My take: Private Democratic focus groups continue to find AOC has high name recognition and influence among a large segment of the progressive movement.  Many presidential candidates want her endorsement, but all should be trying to figure out how to bottle whatever it is she has.


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Top sports story: Yankees homer in their 28th straight game in win over Blue Jays

ESPN

Top business story: To offset tariff damage, Bejing could devalue Yuan and purchase Iranian oil

Bloomberg

Top entertainment story: NRA pulls the plug on NRATV over messaging concerns

New York Times

Big Four

Iowa

Iowa’s voter ID law trial begins: Opposing lawyers emphasize unnecessary hurdles and election integrity.

Biden wins early state endorsements, including black leaders.

New Hampshire

Child detention meets N.H. primary politics.

Nevada

Cortez Masto to Democratic contenders: For success in Nevada, listen to Latino voters.

Las Vegas home prices are fastest-growing in US.

South Carolina

As 2020 presidential candidates campaign in SC, Pee Dee has been mostly left out.


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Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Debate Eve Problems

Joe Biden’s biggest problem is…Joe Biden.

Elizabeth Warren’s biggest problem is…finding a state she can win outright among the first four contests.

Bernie Sanders’ biggest problem is….needing a second act that rhymes with his first act — but adds a compelling twist.

Kamala Harris’s biggest problem is…living up to the “tough but nice” potential the early odds makers thought she would effortlessly deliver on.

Pete Buttigieg’s biggest problem is…doing what’s right to make his current constituents happy he is running for president.

The other twenty candidates’ biggest problem is… DNC rules mandating a candidate reach a fifteen-percent threshold to win delegates in each state.


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Why Biden Is the Frontrunner

AP poll: “What Democrats want the most is experience in elected office: 73% cited that as a quality they’re looking for in a presidential candidate.”  (“Is a woman” was second at 40%.)

My take: On paper, Biden’s record, ties to Barack Obama, and strong establishment support should make him the clear favorite.  But this NY Times op-ed by Michelle Goldberg, written after she spent the weekend watching Biden in South Carolina, is a canary in the coal mine for those who think it is just a matter of time before voters look elsewhere for their experience and electability. 

Many of the elites supporting Biden have not watched him perform in a single campaign event yet.  The debate holds risks for the former VP, but it is actually a remarkable chance for Biden to make a first 2019 impression on the Gang of 500 and the broader electorate.  A strong performance in Miami, of which Biden is thoroughly capable, could put a stop for now to articles like Goldberg’s and demonstrate that Biden’s lead is based on more than name ID.

Sanders, Warren Rivalry on Slow Burn

Washington Post has an excellent look at simmering meta feud.

My take: Haley Barbour’s old political adage “In politics, good gets better and bad gets worse” is threatening Sanders’ standing right now.  Warren is a political body in motion and she will likely remain in motion until Sanders can figure out how to be an effective outside force.  It is going to be very difficult for the Vermonter to undo the conventional wisdom that he is not matching Warren’s policy chops.  In the short term, he has a chance to slow her by out-performing Warren in Miami in their separate debates, and outraising her in the second quarter in both total dollars and total contributors. 

Complicating Sanders’ challenge: Warren has surged past him without saying a single discouraging word about her colleague.  Sanders truly considers Warren a friend and an ideological soul mate, and he has a worthy principled aversion to engaging in attacks on such people.  The political physics of nomination battles suggests to some that he will need to put that inclination aside.  

Factual question it would be good to know the answer to: Has Sanders’ campaign done opposition research on Warren?  Is it more naïve to ask that question than it would be if the answer is “no”?


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Trump Works Health Care

Incumbent floats various proposals while Democrats are stronger with voters on the issue.

My take: If (and it’s a big “if”) the Democrats can nominate a presidential candidate who can explain to voters how she or he would lower their health care costs as president, the election could very well be decided by how effective Trump is in cutting the polling gap on the “who do you trust more on health care?” question.  Republicans will see a political opening as long as the Democratic hopefuls seem to be focusing more on coverage expansion than cost controls.

Tensions With Iran Escalate

Tehran says US actions end path to diplomacy.

My take: Trump’s general style of political combat (threaten, provoke, belittle, float carrots, act erratic to keep the opposition off balance, use chaos as a tool) for now has met its match with a country whose leadership’s survival depends on standing up to the United States and holding on to its nuclear ambitions.  It is easy to push North Korea off the front pages.  Iran’s strategic importance, broad-based sponsorship of terror; and threat to the world’s energy supply make this a problem the White House can’t just walk away from.

Top sports story: Giannis, 24, becomes the third-youngest player to win MVP

ESPN

Top business story: Facebook’s currency is high-risk for users, high-reward for Facebook

Wall Street Journal

Top entertainment story: WGA accuses Endeavor of inflating client numbers for IPO

The Hollywood Reporter

Big Four

Iowa

Can Elizabeth Warren seal the deal with new voters Wednesday? Backers are banking on it.

New Hampshire

First Republican challenger to Shaheen strikes bipartisan tone.

Driver with record charged with 7 homicides in biker crash.

Nevada

In interview with Sun, Sanders talks Yucca Mountain, minimum wage hike and climate change.

South Carolina

O’Rourke proposes new ‘war tax’ to fund veteran health care.


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Monday, June 24, 2019

Eleven or so dirty little secrets about the Democratic presidential nomination battle that “everybody” was talking about this weekend:

“Everybody” this weekend was saying that Elizabeth Warren is going to be the Democratic nominee.

“Everybody” this weekend was reading this essential Ross Douthat column and agreeing that it does a great job of summing up Joe Biden’s vulnerabilities – and Warren’s potential.

“Everybody” this weekend was wondering if Biden has it in him to replace his backward-looking electability argument with a future-oriented explanation of policies that resonates with voters.  (“Everybody” thinks it was not a promising sign that the first words out of Biden’s mouth at Saturday’s South Carolina Democratic Party event were an homage to recently deceased Palmetto State Senator Fritz Hollings.)

“Everybody” this weekend was wondering what Bernie Sanders intends to do about what “everybody” is saying about Elizabeth Warren. (His Monday announcement of a plan to erase ALL existing student loan debt is one way he can distinguish himself – while pushing the party further left.)

“Everybody” this weekend was wondering if Kamala Harris can finish high enough in Iowa to make winning South Carolina possible.

“Everybody” this weekend was wondering if Pete Buttigieg has a solution for his hometown governing challenges that is as efficient and human as his normal modus operandi.

“Everybody” this weekend was wondering how the trailing twenty candidates deal with their frustration at being asked nonstop, including by reputable journalists and anchors, “what do you have to do to break through in this crowded field?”

“Everybody” this weekend was wondering how the DNC will react after the first debate and before the second if NBC gives a disproportionate amount of time to the higher polling candidates.

“Everybody” this weekend was wondering how NBC will react after the first debate and before the second if the DNC complains about unequal time allocation.

“Everybody” this weekend was wondering who will be declared the standout media darling and second place finisher in the first debate.

“Nobody” this weekend was wondering what the president will say if the ratings for the Democratic debates are lower than they were for the first Republican debate four years ago.


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US Keeps Up Pressure on Iran

Promised new sanctions and cyber warfare intended to bring nation to its knees – and to the negotiating table.

My take: Despite his bellicose rhetoric, Trump is a talker, not a fighter.  The president sees Europe as hopelessly naïve and divided about how to deal with Tehran.  If there were a good conventional military option to deter and degrade Iran’s nuclear program, the Israelis would have used it long ago.  Trump basically believes what President Obama did: that economic and other pressure to produce regime change (better) or a negotiated settlement (ok) are the best option. The question for many, given his goals, is why did Trump abrogate the nuclear deal he inherited?

Republican System to Compete for Online Money Is Complete

GOP belatedly launches “WinRed” to answer “ActBlue.”

My take: The Democrats’ system to facilitate small-dollar donations online has been a huge advantage for the party.  If WinRed works to equalize the right’s capacity to garner web giving, Team Trump will have helped Republicans solve a long-standing tech problem, with symbolic and practical implications up and down the ballot for 2020.


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Top sports story: Dodgers sweep the Rockies with 3 walk-off home runs
USA Today

Top business story: Oil prices continue to rise as more sanctions are threatened
Bloomberg

Top entertainment story: Leaked documents reveal Ari Emmanuel was vetted for Trump White House role
Deadline

Big Four

Nevada

Kamala Harris campaign ramps up Nevada team.

Republicans in Nevada gearing up for Trump reelection.

South Carolina

TAKEAWAYS: In South Carolina, a new Democratic landscape.


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