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• Oops, They Did It Again
• When Trump Said "Locked and Loaded," Did He Mean "Locked and Loaded"?
• White House Blocks Testimony from Lewandowski, Dearborn, and Porter
• Chao Being Investigated
• Trump Making a Play for New Mexico?
• Israelis Head to the Polls
One of the strategies used in long-distance bicycle races, like the Tour de France, is the lead-out train. It is very, very difficult to remain in the lead for an entire race stage, since that would mean multiple hours of out-cycling 175 of the best athletes in the world. So, most riders, including those who aspire to win the Tour, hang back with the main group until it's time to make a move. Then, one of their teammates breaks away at top speed, and the aspiring champion rides behind him in his slipstream. The guy in front takes most of the punishment, while the guy immediately behind him conserves energy and resources until seizing the lead at the very end.
In addition to being a high-level racing strategy, that is also a pretty good description of what Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) is doing right now, albeit without the cooperation of willing teammates. Joe Biden is the clear frontrunner in the Democratic race right now, and at least one poll had him "winning" last Thursday's debate, with 20% of respondents tapping him as champ, more than any other candidate. However, he is also under the brightest spotlight of all, and is taking far and away the most criticism of any candidate. Just his debate performance, for example, has some commentators worrying about his age, others suggesting he is out of touch (what's a "record player?"), and still others proposing that he is somewhat less than enlightened when it comes to race and racism. Meanwhile, Warren is riding it out in Biden's slipstream, cementing her position as the #1 alternative to him, and biding her time while she waits for the implosion she thinks is coming.
It will be many months before we know, one way or another, whether the Senator's approach is going to work. That said, there has been some good news for her this week. First, YouGov and FairVote conducted a "ranked-choice" poll. Now, outside of Maine, no state has ranked-choice voting, so this is somewhat of a speculative exercise. However, it does give some sense of what will happen as the field narrows and candidates begin to drop out. In the first round, Biden was in the lead (as he is in polls right now), taking 33% of the vote to 29% for Warren, 20% for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), 10% for Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), and 8% for Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D-South Bend). As candidates were eliminated, and their votes reassigned, Warren took a comfortable lead, ultimately coming out on top with 53% of the vote, compared to 47% for Biden. Put another way, she is not the top choice for as many voters as Biden is, but she's apparently the next-best option for considerably more voters than he is.
This idea will be put to the test in Iowa, which doesn't have ranked-choice voting, but something similar in a way. Caucus rules state that any candidate failing to get 15% on the first ballot is eliminated, forcing a second round of voting (and possibly more later). At this point it seems like Sens. Michael Bennet (D-CO), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Amy Klobuchar (DFL-MN), and quite a few of the nonsenators won't make it to 15%. Their supporters will then all have to pick someone else in the second round. If Warren is the strongest second choice, she could easily win Iowa, with all the "Warren wins Iowa" headlines that will bring the next day.
In addition, Warren got some good news in terms of her efforts to unify the progressive wing of the party behind her campaign. On Monday, she landed the endorsement of the Working Families Party. They are allied with labor, they are progressive, and they were firmly behind Sanders in 2016. So, landing them is a coup for her, and could cause other progressive groups to jump on the bandwagon.
Of course, Joe Biden is a very savvy political operator, and he's being advised by a gaggle of savvy political operators, many of whom worked for Barack Obama. So, he and his campaign are not in the dark about what is going on here, and that Warren is surging. Team Biden also recognizes that while their candidate has taken some withering fire, Warren has largely skated. So, they have deployed operatives to go on TV, speak to reporters, write op-eds, etc. painting the Senator as un-electable. Supporters of Biden in Massachusetts, like State Rep. Angelo M. Scaccia, (D) are going after Warren particularly hard, arguing that she has underperformed other Democrats in her own state, and suggesting that if she doesn't get her fellow Massachusettsians excited, she can't possibly get residents of the other 49 states (and Washington, D.C.) excited.
In short, we appear to be headed toward a real race, as opposed to Goliath and a whole bunch of Davids. That should make the next month, and the next debate, pretty interesting. (Z)
Is there something in the water at the New York Times? There was a time, quite a few years back, when (Z) worked at a newspaper. And on the days that the big stories ran, the ones that everyone was going to be reading and talking about, reporters and editors went over and above to do their due diligence, and then did some more on top of that. The logic was pretty simple: If everyone is talking about your story, and you make a stupid mistake, then everyone will be talking about your stupid mistake.
Now, the paper (Z) worked at (The Daily Bruin) had a circulation back then of about 20,000 (though by being the UCLA campus newspaper, and also being located in L.A., its influence was greater than most papers at that circulation level). The Times has a circulation of over 1 million on Sundays, so you might think that if they are printing a big-time story in their Sunday edition, they would be roughly 50 times more careful than the staff of the Daily Bruin was. Apparently not, it would seem, as the Gray Lady has dropped the ball on a number of high-profile stories recently, including the biggie they published on Sunday.
The story we refer to, of course, is the bombshell book excerpt from the new book about Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh. That excerpt had two revelations that got everyone talking (and more than a few talking about impeachment). The first was that Deborah Ramirez' claim that Kavanaugh exposed himself to her, which came up during his testimony, has been corroborated by a number of witnesses that the FBI did not bother to talk to. The second was that Max Stier, who as a student at Yale at the same time as Kavanaugh, saw him do something similar to another woman on another occasion.
This was clearly going to be a massive story, one that would get national attention and scrutiny, including from the fellow in the Oval Office. However, the Times made not one, not two, but three screw-ups as part of their coverage. Strike one was that they ran the piece in the Sunday Review, which is generally used for op-eds rather than breaking news. This is like running the 1971 front-page story about the leak of the Pentagon Papers in the book review section because hey, it was a book, too. Not a huge issue, maybe, but a little irregular and curious. Strike two, which is the biggie, was that the excerpt in the Times did not include a key detail that is in the actual book, namely that the woman in Max Stier's account does not recall the incident and refused to be interviewed. And strike three, which was also pretty big, was when someone (the Times is still trying to figure out who, apparently) sent out a cringe-worthy tweet from the newspaper's official account promoting the story. It read: "Having a penis thrust in your face at a drunken dorm party may seem like harmless fun, but when Brett Kavanaugh did it to her, Deborah Ramirez says, it confirmed that she didn't belong at Yale in the first place." Yikes. Needless to say, the newspaper has already deleted that tweet. They've also published a Q&A on the matter where they try to account for themselves.
None of this actually changes the most concerning aspect of the Kavanaugh situation, and the most critical argument of the book, namely that the charges against him were poorly investigated and that there was a lot of potential evidence out there that never saw the light of day. Even the Stier story is far from debunked; frat parties can be kinda wild, and it's entirely possible that a woman might not remember one semi-wild incident from nearly 40 years ago. Still, as any baseball fan knows, it's three strikes and you're out. The Times' screwups are enough to allow fence-sitters and Kavanaugh supporters to ignore the new information as "fake news," while Republicans circle the wagons in his defense.
And circling the wagons is precisely what every GOP pooh-bah did on Monday. From the President:
I call for the Resignation of everybody at The New York Times involved in the Kavanaugh SMEAR story, and while you’re at it, the Russian Witch Hunt Hoax, which is just as phony! They’ve taken the Old Grey Lady and broken her down, destroyed her virtue and ruined her reputation...— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 16, 2019
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), for his part, declared the criticism of the Justice to be "unhinged." Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who continues to be Kavanaugh's white knight, insisted that the Justice would never be impeached. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) opined that any Democrats who call for Kavanaugh's impeachment are "at war with the Constitution."
Booting Kavanaugh from office was always a near-impossibility, since it would take something awfully damning to get 20 Republican senators to vote for conviction and removal. Given Monday's developments, it's now very unlikely his sexual past will come back to haunt him in that way. If he does end up in hot water again, it will be because the Democrats lay hands on the paperwork from his time in the White House that proves that he somehow perjured himself during his testimony. We think that sequence of events is unlikely, but it's probably the only real Achilles heel Kavanaugh has left. (Z)
We don't often post the same tweet two days in a row, but on this occasion we want to make sure everyone is reminded of exactly what Donald Trump tweeted on Sunday night vis-à-vis the weekend attacks on Saudi Arabia:
Saudi Arabia oil supply was attacked. There is reason to believe that we know the culprit, are locked and loaded depending on verification, but are waiting to hear from the Kingdom as to who they believe was the cause of this attack, and under what terms we would proceed!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 15, 2019
As we wrote last night, this leaves Trump's exact plans to the imagination, to some extent. Nonetheless, there is no question he's threatening an attack, right?
Not according to the White House. Trump got a lot of blowback for that tweet, both from people who would prefer not to fight another war, and from people who don't like the implication that the Kingdom of Saud is dictating American military policy. And so, the administration deployed, of all people, VP Mike Pence's Chief of Staff Marc Short to put out the fires on Monday. And he explained that "locked and loaded" does not refer to a military strike. Instead, "locked and loaded is a broad term and talks about the realities that we're all far safer and more secure domestically from energy independence."
Uh, huh. That barely makes sense on its own. And when one considers that "locked and loaded" was linked in the President's tweet to awaiting information from Saudi Arabia, it makes even less sense. Is the U.S. energy independent only if Saudi Arabia gives permission for it to be so? Does the U.S. think it's energy independent, but it's waiting for confirmation from the Saudis? The good news here, of course, is that Trump—as he consistently does—has backed down again after venting some hot-headed rhetoric. So, the odds are that the U.S.-Iranian War won't be commencing this week. (Z)
Today, former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and former White House aides Rick Dearborn and Rob Porter were supposed to appear before House committees. At least, that's what it said on the subpoenas they all received. However, at the last minute, the White House very predictably ordered them not to show up. In the latter two cases, the administration is asserting the recently invented doctrine of immunity, while in Lewandowski's case, it is executive privilege, since he never actually worked in the White House.
It is quite clear, at this point, that Team Trump is just doing whatever they can to buy time. Their assertions of "immunity" and "executive privilege" are, to all but the most Trump-loving of attorneys, legal gobbledygook. And even if there was a chance of prevailing in the cases of some individuals, the administration weakens its argument by trying to protect every single person who is called to testify. Once they get before a court, the Democrats will have an excellent argument that Trump is behaving capriciously in an effort to save his own skin, and not out of any legal or civic principle. The President is just hoping that day in court, when it comes, is sometime after Nov. 3, 2020. (Z)
Speaking of things that aren't likely to go anywhere anytime soon, the House Oversight and Reform Committee commenced an investigation of Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao on Monday. There are accusations, with some evidence, that she's been using her office to enrich herself and her family. In particular, the blue team hopes to take a look at her failure to divest herself of stock in Vulcan (which does business with Chao's department) and the possibility that she steered business and other favors to the Foremost Group, which her father owns.
Hard to know what the Democrats' end game is here. If the White House does everything it can to interfere with the investigation of low-level functionaries like Rick Dearborn and Rob Porter (see above), then it certainly isn't going to help out while a cabinet secretary is investigated. Meanwhile, the only way to remove Chao from office would be impeachment and conviction, and while she has the usual insurance policy of a GOP-controlled Senate, she also has the additional insurance policy of being married to the Majority Leader. She could steer government contracts toward Iranian president Hassan Rouhani, the Unabomber, the American Puppy-Kickers Club, Planned Parenthood, and Satan himself, and she'd still be completely safe. Ok, maybe not Planned Parenthood.
There are only three plausible goals here that we can think of. One is to embarrass the administration (and the Majority Leader) and get some headlines about corruption. Two is to shame Chao into resigning. And three is to set the stage for a possible prosecution once she leaves office and this administration is out of power. Only Chair Elijah Cummings (D-MD) knows for sure and, thus far, he's not talking. (Z)
Donald Trump won a very narrow victory in 2016, with the margin coming down to about 77,000 votes in three rust-belt states. Given that things are looking a little grim in those three states (and elsewhere), he could really use an insurance policy or two, taking one or more states that Hillary Clinton won. There were previous rumors that the campaign had chosen their first "flip" target, and now those rumors have been confirmed. It's New Mexico.
Consistent with that strategy, the President held a rally in the state last night. He also fired off a series of tweets emphasizing how much he's done for the Land of Enchantment, and how very much he and the people of the state have in common. For example:
We are all united by the same love of Country, the same devotion to family, and the same profound faith that America is blessed by the eternal grace of ALMIGHTY GOD!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 17, 2019
Bound by these convictions, we will campaign for every vote & we will WIN the Great State of NEW MEXICO in 2020! pic.twitter.com/BV5Wxs5GxE
The theory is that there is a sizable segment of the state's Latino population that is just waiting to be tapped into by the GOP. The theory must also be that the state's Latino residents never heard his "Mexican rapists" campaign announcement, are unfamiliar with his wall-building plans, and do not know about his administration's habit of locking undocumented immigrant children in cages.
In other words, if Team Trump really believes that New Mexico is in play, and that it can be won on the strength of Latino votes, they're nuts. The state has gone for a Republican presidential candidate one time in the last seven elections (2004), and in the last three elections has given the blue team's presidential nominee an average margin of victory of 11.5 points. Trump himself lost it by 8 points, at a time when his approval rating there was 17 points above water (52% to 35%). Now, it is 17 points underwater (40% to 57%), a shift of -34 points overall. If that was not enough, New Mexico's entire congressional delegation is Democratic and every partisan statewide officeholder (governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, treasurer, etc.) is a Democrat. And the President would be barking up that rather giant wrong tree for 5 electoral votes. If all three of those rust belt states flip, 5 EVs would not be enough to save him, and if he holds any one of the three, the 5 EVs would not be needed.
What we are really saying is we are not buying that the Trump campaign is actually going to try to win New Mexico. This looks much more like a feint designed to force the Democrats to burn some resources in the state, just to keep it safe. Maybe it will work, but we are also guessing that the blue team has done the same analysis we just did, and isn't going to be fooled. (Z)
When Israelis voted for a new Knesset in April, the result left Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu unable to cobble together a majority coalition. So, he called a second election such that voters could try again. That election is today.
Since April, Netanyahu has tacked rightward, promising an increasingly aggressive policy in the West Bank. He's also hugged Donald Trump close, and Trump has hugged him right back. If Netanyahu wins, Trump will take many victory laps, and if the PM loses, well, expect a bunch of tweets about the racist who just got fired from Saturday Night Live, or Alec Baldwin's daughter shredding her father at his "celebrity roast," or maybe hurricanes in Alabama. The last round of polls, published before the pre-election embargo imposed by Israeli law took effect on Friday night, had Netanyahu on the precipice of a slim majority in the Knesset (between 57 and 59 seats of the necessary 61). Of course, margins of error being what they are, you shouldn't bet too much on any particular outcome. (Z)
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Sep16 Warren Gained the Most from the Debate
Sep16 Washington Post Ranks Warren as Most Likely to Be the Democratic Nominee
Sep16 Democrats Are Calling for Kavanaugh's Impeachment
Sep16 Why Don't the Democrats Who Have No Chance Drop Out?
Sep16 Fourth Debate Is (Almost) Set
Sep16 Trump's Challengers Are Not Happy Campers
Sep16 No More Pie in the Sky
Sep16 Romney Praises Trump for Doing Nothing
Sep14 Saturday Q&A
Sep13 Warren Is the Lone Star in Democrats' Texas Debate
Sep13 Judiciary Committee Approves a Resolution to Move Forward on Impeachment
Sep13 Federal Charges Recommended for McCabe
Sep13 Democratic Group Will Spend $50 Million on Swing-State Rural Voters
Sep13 Warren Releases Social Security Plan
Sep13 Trump's Advisers Are Trying to Block His Tariffs
Sep13 Cruz Will Oppose a Trump Judicial Nominee
Sep12 It's Time for the Third Debate
Sep12 All Major Democratic Candidates Lead Trump
Sep12 Biden Is Slipping in the Primary Polls
Sep12 SCOTUS Allows Asylum Limitations to Take Effect
Sep12 Nadler and Hoyer Are Not on the Same Page about Impeachment
Sep12 Why Bolton Was Fired
Sep12 Senators Give Trump's Judicial Nominee a Hard Time
Sep12 Mulvaney Ordered Ross to Back Trump on Sharpiegate
Sep12 9/11 Day, the GOP Way
Sep12 Shaheen Leads Lewandowski by 10 Points
Sep11 Bolton Gets Broomed
Sep11 Trump Doesn't Like Foreign Assets
Sep11 Trump Administration Targets Homelessness in California
Sep11 Who's Really to Blame for America's Crummy Election Security?
Sep11 It's the Economy, Stupid
Sep11 Latinos Prefer Biden, Sanders
Sep11 GOP Goes 2-for-2 in North Carolina
Sep11 The End of Democracy?
Sep11 Wednesday Q&A
Sep10 Trump Scandal Update, Part I: The Resorts
Sep10 Trump Scandal Update, Part II: The Alabama Hurricane
Sep10 Trump Scandal Update, Part III: The Taliban Talks
Sep10 Trump Won't Debate Primary Opponents
Sep10 Ossoff Launches Senate Bid
Sep10 It's Showtime in NC-09
Sep10 Republicans Turn On Their Own
Sep09 Trump Won't Meet with Taliban Leaders at Camp David
Sep09 Trump Might Get Kilt by House Oversight Committee
Sep09 National Poll: It's Still Biden, Sanders, and Warren
Sep09 New Hampshire Activists Favor Warren
Sep09 The Early States Are a Mixed Bag
Sep09 Steyer Qualifies for the Fourth Debate
Sep09 Sun Belt vs. Rust Belt Dilemma Affects the Senate, Too