How Long Will Coronavirus Remain a Threat?

Officers in protective gears carry luggage cases after people who were transferred from the cruise ship Diamond Princess arrive at a maritime police base in Yokohama, Japan, February 5, 2020. (Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters)

On the menu today: America’s Center for Disease Control warns that this virus may well be with us for some time; Nevada Democrats struggle to straighten out issues before their caucuses next week; and some people can’t decide what they think about Bill Barr.

CDC: The Coronavirus Is Probably with Us Beyond This Year

Feel free to come back and tell me I’m wrong at the end of the year, but I think that if the presidential race is the No. 1 story of 2020, then No. 1A will be the coronavirus.

Yes, we’ve been through H1N1 and swine flu and various other outbreaks that came and went without having a significant impact on the life of the average American. This is different. The calmer-than-thou declaration that “more people die of the flu each year than the coronavirus has killed so far” is a non-sequitur. Nobody locks down the world’s largest cities, shuts down air travel, or turns away cruise ships over the flu. (I think we had a National Review cruise on the Westerdam a couple of years ago.)

Besides, almost all of our information about the coronavirus’s impact comes from a notoriously dishonest authoritarian government. While it’s possible the Chinese government might overstate the number of cases, it’s much more likely they would understate the number of cases. Or perhaps they’re freaked out enough to be honest in these circumstances. The numbers they’re releasing indicate the situation is getting worse:

China disclosed on Friday that 1,716 medical workers have contracted the virus and six of them have died…

Numbers continued to climb after the government changed the criteria by which it tracks confirmed cases. China on Friday reported 5,090 new coronavirus cases and 121 new deaths in the previous 24 hours.

The authorities said a total of 63,851 people had been infected by the coronavirus and at least 1,380 people had been killed by the disease. Most of the cases occurred in Hubei, the center of the outbreak, which recorded 4,823 new cases and 116 deaths over the same period.

Besides the virus itself, there is the potential danger from panic. “A Hong Kong clinic designated to treat suspected coronavirus cases suffered a second arson attack early Friday, officials said.

Regarding the rumor that the coronavirus is some sort of Chinese bioweapon that was accidentally released, perhaps from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, national-security adviser Robert O’Brien offered the somewhat surprising answer that the U.S. government doesn’t know one way or another. “I’ve seen those reports, and Twitter and the internet are alive with them. I don’t have any information on that one way or the other, so we just don’t know. I can’t comment on that.

The coronavirus probably wasn’t cooked up in a lab somewhere, because virologists have been predicting this sort of thing for a long time. In 2017, National Geographic offered an eye-opening article that laid out how China had inadvertently set up the perfect environment for viruses to spread from animals to people:

Officially, the live-bird markets in Beijing have been shuttered for years. In reality, guerrilla vendors run furtive slaughterhouses throughout this national capital of wide avenues, gleaming architecture and more than 20 million residents—despite warnings that their businesses could be spreading deadly new strains of the flu.

Many Chinese people, even city dwellers, insist that freshly slaughtered poultry is tastier and more healthful than refrigerated or frozen meat. This is one of the major reasons China has been such a hot spot for new influenza viruses: Nowhere else on earth do so many people have such close contact with so many birds.

At least two flu pandemics in the past century — in 1957 and 1968 — originated in the Middle Kingdom and were triggered by avian viruses that evolved to become easily transmissible between humans. Although health authorities have increasingly tried to ban the practice, millions of live birds are still kept, sold and slaughtered in crowded markets each year. In a study published in January, researchers in China concluded that these markets were a “main source of H7N9 transmission by way of human-poultry contact and avian-related environmental exposures.”

These areas — often poorly ventilated, with multiple species jammed together — create ideal conditions for spreading disease through shared water utensils or airborne droplets of blood and other secretions. “That provides opportunities for viruses to spread in closely packed quarters, allowing ‘amplification’ of the viruses,” says Benjamin John Cowling, a specialist in medical statistics at the University of Hong Kong School of Public Health. “The risk to humans becomes so much higher.”

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Robert Redfield is warning us that this isn’t going to go away anytime soon. “We don’t know a lot about this virus. This virus is probably with us beyond this season, beyond this year, and I think eventually the virus will find a foothold and we will get community-based transmission.”

Nevada, the Rest of America Needs You to Pull Yourself Together

Come on, Nevada. No matter how much I enjoy watching Democrats fall flat on their faces, I prefer for our country’s elections to be free, fair, transparent, and well-run. Vladimir Putin wants Americans to believe all their elections are corrupt shams. Nevadans, please don’t mess up the upcoming caucus.

With the Nevada Democratic caucuses only a week away, both caucus workers and presidential campaigns are worried about the lack of detail the state party is providing about how the results reporting process will work.

The worries come after the state party stopped working with Shadow Inc., the company behind the app whose “coding errors” were at the heart of the chaos of the Iowa caucuses.

Having scrapped plans to use a pair of Shadow’s apps, the parties will instead use a “caucus calculator,” as outlined in a new memo released by the Nevada State Democratic Party Thursday. Described as “user friendly,” the calculator will be used to add early voting data into each precinct and calculate totals on caucus day, February 22, along with paper work sheets.

The tool, which the party does not consider an app, will be available on iPads owned by the party and “accessed through a secure Google web form.”

But caucus volunteers have yet to get their hands on the calculator even though they’re the ones expected to use it on caucus day, and they have been given few details about it, according to three caucus workers who spoke to CNN this week.

Separately, before we all collectively choose to forget about the Iowa Democratic caucuses . . .

In Iowa, African Americans are 4 percent of the population.

In New Hampshire, African Americans are 1.7 percent of the population.

In Nevada, African Americans are 10 percent of the population.

In South Carolina, African Americans are 27 percent of the population.

If the first two states to vote in the Democratic presidential primary process were Nevada and South Carolina, instead of Iowa and New Hampshire, would Joe Biden still be the frontrunner?

If You Liked William Barr Wednesday, You Shouldn’t Hate Him Today

Whenever a new attorney general gets appointed and confirmed, you hear comments about the unique nature of the position. It is a law-enforcement position, and it is also a political appointment. The nature of government — its power, the money involved, and the kinds of people attracted to power — make it nearly inevitable that some people involved in politics will be charged with crimes. Sometimes those accusations will be legitimate, sometimes they will be false nonsense, and sometimes they will be somewhere in the middle — actions that are legal but unethical, actions that follow the letter of the law but violate the spirit, and so on.

There is no such thing as a perfectly apolitical attorney general; every attorney general faces accusations from the opposition party that they’ve put their thumb on the scale or let partisan politics sway their judgment: Janet Reno, John Ashcroft, Alberto Gonzales, Michael Mukasey, Eric Holder, Loretta Lynch, Jeff Sessions. The attorney general is supposed to be a nonpartisan enforcer of law and even-handed, clear-eyed prosecutor of crimes. He is also simultaneously a cabinet official for a president who has a clear point of view about how the Department of Justice should operate, which prosecutions should be prioritized, and so on.

But the man who appoints the attorney general, and whom he answers to, wears those same two hats. The president is head of the executive branch, and that includes the Department of Justice. The president is not a cop, but he can set the policy course for the DOJ — “we are announcing a new initiative today to target and prosecute [insert crime here].”

All presidents feel like the opposition party is a bunch of crooks, and that their friends and political allies who have been accused of crimes are getting a raw deal. We always judge the people we like by a gentler standard and our foes by a harsher standard. It is not surprising that Donald Trump thinks Roger Stone is unfairly accused — as well as all of his former campaign staffers prosecuted by Mueller.

Past presidents mostly kept their complaints, grumbling, and desires to protect their friends and prosecute their political foes limited to fuming or rants behind closed doors, away from the eyes and ears of the public. The functioning of our constitutional government, with the separation of powers among three branches, required all of the players involved to respect — not necessarily agree with, but respect — the decisions of the others. The Department of Justice needs to be seen as an impartial prosecutor of crimes, not as a taxpayer-funded extension of the president’s legal team.

Yesterday, Attorney General Bill Barr — who as of Wednesday, just about every Trump fan would have said had been exactly the kind of pugnacious, uncompromising, direct, and clear attorney general that President Trump wanted — declared in a televised interview that Trump’s constant tweets about ongoing criminal cases were making his job “impossible.” He didn’t insult the president. He didn’t attack the president. He just laid out a fact — that it was impossible for Department of Justice staff to go about their duties when they knew that any decision that Trump didn’t like could set off an extremely public tirade from the man who sat atop the executive branch.

“To have public statements made about the department or the people in the department, our men and women here, about cases pending in the department and about judges before whom we have cases,” Barr said, “make it impossible for me to do my job and to assure the courts and the prosecutors within the department that we’re doing our work with integrity . . . I cannot do my job here at the department with a constant background commentary that undercuts me.”

As you have no doubt noticed, many people in our political realm operate on the postulation “Trump is always right” and work backwards from there. Trump was a genius to hire Omarosa, Anthony Scaramucci, and Michael Cohen, who were among “the very best people,” right up until the moment they parted ways, and then those oddball characters were terrible. No matter how glaringly obvious a hire’s flaws were, Trump’s fans dance around the fact that the president thought hiring them was a good idea in the first place. Almost everyone Trump hires goes through the same process: John Kelly, Gary Cohn, Steve Bannon, Reince Priebus, Rex Tillerson, Ty Cobb — the moment they’re out the door, they’re publicly revealing that Trump was an egregiously flawed president who ran a dysfunctional or barely functional White House. Every time, Trump jumps onto Twitter to call them dogs, to insist they begged for the job, that he had only hired them out of a foolish sense of sympathy or mercy, insisting that the hires constantly screwed up and did a terrible job until Trump had no choice but to fire them (although he always has a surrogate communicate the bad news). Very, very rarely does anyone who is a fan of Trump acknowledge that he’s the one who keeps hiring these apparently horrifically flawed personnel.

Fresh off declaring that John Bolton was “a tool for the left,” Fox Business Channel’s Lou Dobbs has decided that Barr is now moved over to the list of villains over his comments. “I am so disappointed in Bill Barr . . . I have to say this — it’s a damn shame when he doesn’t get what this president has gone through, and what the American people have gone through and what his charge is as attorney general . . . To hear this attorney general complain about this president, who is fighting every one of those damn people to do the right thing and get this country straightened out and it’s mission to do so, not to carp about his boss.”

Earlier in the week, Dobbs said, “Bill Barr is doing the Lord’s work.”

ADDENDA: Damon Linker, contemplating a Donald Trump–Mike Bloomberg matchup: “What it really is — all of it — is an expression of the shared outlook of New York City’s billionaire masters-of-the-universe overlord class. America should be able to do better than swapping one oligarch for another. It better be able to do better than that. It’s up to Democratic voters to prove it.”

. . . Hey, remember impeachment? Remember when that was going to be one of the most consequential acts of Trump’s presidency?


Hunter Biden’s Devastating Influence

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (R) points to some faces in the crowd with his son Hunter as they walk down Pennsylvania Avenue following the inauguration ceremony of President Barack Obama in Washington, January 20, 2009. (REUTERS/Carlos Barria)

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day — grab roses or chocolate or something on the way home from work today. They’ll be more expensive tomorrow.

On the menu today: the fair question of whether Hunter Biden cost his father the Democratic nomination; Bernie Sanders warns Democrats not to try any funny business at the convention; and an old hound dog fails to bark.

Did Hunter Biden End Up Derailing His Dad’s Presidential Campaign?

On September 18, 2019, the Washington Post revealed that “the whistleblower complaint that has triggered a tense showdown between the U.S. intelligence community and Congress involves President Trump’s communications with a foreign leader.” This was the first domino to fall in a long sequence of events that lead to the House of Representatives impeaching the president and the Senate acquitting him on votes that were almost, but not quite entirely, divided along party lines.

In the third week of September, Joe Biden enjoyed a ten-point lead in the RealClearPolitics average of national polls. He enjoyed a ten-point lead in the polls in Iowa; though he quickly lost that lead, he remained in the mix of the top finishers throughout the fall. In mid-to-late September, Biden enjoyed a small lead over Bernie Sanders in New Hampshire. Polling in Nevada and South Carolina was less frequent at that time, but the available results suggested Biden enjoyed strong leads in those states, too.

Correlation is not causation. You can point to other reasons why Biden’s lead tumbled, first slowly, then quickly, in the past six months. Biden got older and he doesn’t look or sound like the guy who kept yelling “Malarkey!” during his vice-presidential debate against Paul Ryan. His debate performances haven’t been great. He’s not out of money, but he’s not awash in dough, and he’s up against two billionaires.

But most of these factors were in play in September (although Bloomberg didn’t announce his bid until November). Maybe the voters just started to notice Biden’s weaknesses as a candidate in recent weeks.

Or maybe those weaknesses became particularly vivid in the way Joe Biden handled questions about his son.

The president’s obsessive insistence that Hunter Biden was at the heart of some sort of corruption put a giant spotlight on his arrangement with Burisma and his broader career.

During impeachment, Trump couldn’t make even the mildest concession about the ethics of his actions or show the slightest contrition, insisting he and the Ukrainian president had a “perfect call.”

Biden took a similar position, repeatedly maintaining that his son had done nothing wrong — that his actions weren’t merely legal, but there was no reason to question his judgment or the appearance of a conflict of interest. Earlier this month Biden insisted his son got the Burisma board position, despite no business experience in Ukraine or in the natural-gas industry, because “he’s a very bright guy.”

Throughout the fall and winter, Biden kept having intermittent tense exchanges with reporters and voters, flashing anger that anyone could even imagine his son had done something unethical by taking the position. Back in 2014, figures such as the New York Times editorial board, the U.K.-based Guardian newspaper, a Washington Post columnist, and reportedly even officials within the Obama administration expressed discomfort and concern about Hunter Biden’s lucrative new role with Burisma.

In September, Biden’s irritation showed in an exchange with a Fox News reporter, “Everybody looked at this, and everybody’s looked at it and said there’s nothing there! Ask the right questions!

In December, Biden snapped at a voter and called him a “damn liar,” later adding “I’m not going to comment on anything other than that my son speaks for himself. He’s a 47-year-old man. He didn’t do a single thing that was illegal or wrong.” In a subsequent interview with Mike Allen of Axios, when asked, “Isn’t this something you want to get to the bottom of?,” Biden responded, “No, because I trust my son.”

That was a perfectly understandable answer from a father and an entirely unacceptable answer from a former vice president and a presidential frontrunner. During the fall and into the winter, Hunter Biden continued to demonstrate he was a troubled not-so-young man, with a messy paternity suit, legal fights over child support, past struggles with drugs, and stories of unsavory behavior in strip clubs.

Democrats could see what was coming. Donald Trump and his campaign already contended Joe Biden and his family were a bunch of corrupt, sleazy grifters from the Washington establishment. Hunter Biden was, at minimum, a scandal-ridden ne’er-do-well who had been making money off the family name and associating with shady characters for nearly two decades. Joe Biden wasn’t capable of giving a detailed rebuttal that cleared the air; his default setting was indignation that anyone would sully his son’s good name.

Week after week, month after month, Biden’s reflexive move on the topic of Hunter was to try to shame anyone who raised the issue, contending that the questioner was deliberately or inadvertently distracting from the more significant scandals around Trump and doing the work of the Trump campaign for them. He snapped at Savannah Guthrie, “you don’t know what you’re talking about!” during an interview on February 3. Guthrie is not Sean Hannity.

(One other interesting wrinkle to the Hunter Biden story. Not a single one of Joe Biden’s rivals in the Democratic presidential race used the issue against him.)

All of the problems that arose in the way Joe Biden handled the controversy over his son were always there — the age, the rote and simple answers to questions about complicated issues, the indignation that anyone could believe he wasn’t morally correct. Maybe those traits were destined to surface in one form or another eventually. But those weaknesses hadn’t held Biden back much throughout the spring or summer.

If you subscribe to the idea that Donald Trump feared Joe Biden as his toughest potential general-election opponent — and the polling generally verified that theory throughout most of 2019, both nationally and in swing states — then the top goal of Trump and his team during the Democratic presidential primary would be to do everything they could to ensure the Democrats didn’t nominate Biden.

Other Republicans, such as Rick Scott and Joni Ernst, literally told Iowa Democrats that they shouldn’t nominate Joe Biden. And so far, Democrats are listening!

By Nate Silver’s calculations, Joe Biden has gone from nearly a 50 percent chance of winning the nomination at the beginning of the year to a 16 percent chance now.

Who won the impeachment fight again?

Anybody else want to reevaluate that conventional wisdom that House speaker Nancy Pelosi is a shrewd strategic genius?

Bernie Sanders: Don’t Even Think about Dumping Me at the Convention, Democrats

Last night, Bernie Sanders said “it would be very divisive” if the Democratic convention in Milwaukee did not nominate the candidate who won the largest plurality of votes. “The convention would have to explain to the American people, ‘hey, Candidate X got the most votes, and won the most delegates in the primary process, but we’re not going to give him or her the nomination,’ I think that would be a very divisive moment for the Democratic Party.”

Most Democrats have only the vaguest idea of how quickly time is running out to stop Sanders.

As mentioned on The Editors, unless Sanders’s support spontaneously combusts or he has another heart attack, at this point his worst possible finish is a result such as last cycle’s — staying in the fight all the way through the convention and ending with a strong second. He’s going to be above 15 percent just about everywhere, so he’s going to get at least some delegates just about everywhere. He’s no worse than second just about everywhere. He’s leading in California. He’s starting to lead the national polls. The March 3 Super Tuesday will determine 1,344 delegates and a candidate needs 1,990 to secure the nomination. Two weeks later, the March 17 states determine 577 delegates. One month from now, it will be too late.

An Old Hound Dog Who Isn’t Barking

Some have noticed that Barack and Michelle Obama haven’t endorsed Joe Biden or anyone else, or even given any hint of whether they have a preference among the remaining candidates.

I realize the conventional wisdom is that Hillary Clinton is now nearly universally detested, and that if she endorsed anyone, it would only help Sanders.

But you know who isn’t detested, particularly in Democratic Party circles, and who has been really quiet during this process? Bill Clinton.

You’re telling me if Bill Clinton came out tomorrow and did a rally for, say, Amy Klobuchar and started encouraging his old donors to give to her campaign, that wouldn’t shake up the race? You don’t think there are a chunk of older voters in these upcoming primaries who wouldn’t mind hearing “Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow” again and to see that bitten lower lip and thumb-and-forefinger television remote channel-changing gesture and pledges to stand up for Americans who “work hard and play by the rules”? Nineties nostalgia is running rampant in our Super Bowl commercials and pop culture — you don’t think there’s some room for it in our politics?

ADDENDUM: If you haven’t seen it already, check out the Mayor Pete Platitude Generator.


Biden’s Sudden and Severe Collapse

A supporter Former Vice President Joe Biden holds a sign as Biden leaves a polling station after a visit on the day of the New Hampshire presidential primary in Manchester, N.H., February 11, 2020. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

On the menu today: a big, detailed examination of where Democrats are after New Hampshire. It’s not a pretty picture.

Democrats Must Have Made a Wrong Turn at Albuquerque

Morning Jolt readers, you’re a generally but not entirely right-of-center audience. But let’s take a moment to step into the shoes of the average politically engaged Democrat. The kind of person who was shocked and horrified on Election Night 2016 and who has, since that night, been determined to make Donald Trump a one-term president. Think about what has happened, from the perspective of that person, in the past 14 months or so.

As the 2020 presidential election cycle dawned, the outlook was bright for these Democrats! Their party had just won a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives and won gubernatorial races in a bunch of key states: Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Nevada, New Mexico, Maine. Special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation kicked into high gear and appeared to spell trouble for President Trump. Trump’s approval rating remained underwater throughout his presidency. All Democrats had to do was find someone who would win 10,704 more votes in Michigan, 22,177 votes in Wisconsin and 46,765 more votes in Pennsylvania.

And then the cycle began . . . but things didn’t turn out quite right.

Julian Castro, the “Latino Obama,” who was going to galvanize and drive up turnout among Latino voters the way Obama did among African Americans didn’t even crash and burn; he never got off the runway.

Maybe it was always a little farfetched that Beto O’Rourke was going to be the candidate who could put Texas and the South and Midwest in play. But he, too, never really went anywhere. Steve Bullock was always something of an implausible longshot, but he offered a message that should have proven intriguing to the party, contending there were still plenty of winnable votes in states Democrats had written off in recent cycles. (Remember, Obama won ten more states than John Kerry in 2008, including Indiana and North Carolina.) But Democrats just didn’t seem that interested in what Bullock had to say.

Tim Ryan was always a longshot, but he was practically engineered in a lab to win back the voters who abandoned the party in 2016 in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Iowa. He, too, never got more than a cursory look, and nobody’s discussing him as a useful choice to be the nominee’s running mate.

Another guy who was in this mold, Ohio senator Sherrod Brown, chose not to run, and the party lost one of the more plausible consensus choices.

A lot of Democrats initially thought Kamala Harris was the complete package: biracial, a woman, a progressive prosecutor, a deep-pocketed network of supporters in California — everything “the Resistance” envisioned as the antithesis of Trump, and perhaps the right thematic successor to Barack Obama. After that first debate, with her hard shot at Biden, she looked like she was ready to enter the top tier . . . but the air just slowly let out of the balloon, and she ran out of funds.

If Harris wasn’t the right choice to follow in Obama’s footsteps, perhaps Cory Booker would have been or should have been the one: Mr. Sunny Optimism, the youthful and energetic snow-shoveling Newark mayor, giving speeches like a preacher on Sunday but laid back enough to make funny videos with Chris Christie. No, he ran out of money before the voting started, too.

And the Democrats found themselves with a much smaller, much whiter, and generally much older selection of candidates than they expected when the contest began.

Presented with an unprecedented variety of choices, Democratic primary voters, or at least the ones who answered their phones to pollsters and opened their wallets, weren’t so motivated to sort through all of them. The debates, which were supposed to be showcases for a large crop of rising stars, turned into a cacophony of pandering and gimmicks. Too many of the candidates sounded the same; a lot of candidates found themselves competing for the same core group of progressive activists and no one wanted to say no to anyone. Abolish ICE? Sure. Decriminalize crossing the border without permission? Why not? Ban private health insurance? Full speed ahead! Taxpayer-funded abortions? No questions asked! O’Rourke handed the NRA the soundbite they had always wanted, declaring, “Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15s!” to a cheering audience.

Most of the newer candidates couldn’t get much traction because voters seemed happy with the better-known, well-worn options. Good old smiling Joe Biden became the instant frontrunner, and his supporters seemed immovable for almost the entirety of 2019. He locked up African Americans, the South, rural and older Democrats. That looked like a solid base, one that could power him to the nomination, clearing everyone else out of his way like a snowplow.

But once the voting started, Biden’s seemingly solid base of support went down faster and harder than the Iowa caucus vote-tabulation app. Fourth in Iowa and fifth in New Hampshire? Nobody’s ever gotten the nomination after a start such as that. As long as Biden was a serious option, the Jenga tower of the “safe” plan for Democrats in 2020 remained intact. Run on a “return to normalcy,” reassure all of those moderates and independents and suburbanites who were freaked out by Trump’s circus and chaos, and let the progressives know with a wink and a nod that they would get their share of policy wins in 2021. But Biden flopping yanks out the bottom piece of the Jenga tower. The old familiar consensus-building option is gone.

(And let us pause to note that at no point did Barack Obama throw the Biden campaign a life preserver.)

Biden couldn’t have timed his collapse much worse. If he wasn’t going to win, better to flop early and let the voters focus upon and evaluate the other younger options. But somehow it does get even worse. This is the moment that the Democrats who aren’t comfortable with Sanders need to take a long, hard, uncomfortable look at their options, select an alternative, and unify behind that candidate. For once, Sanders enjoys a bunch of structural advantages. But Biden’s campaign says they plan to hang around until at least Super Tuesday. Unless Biden plummets to the low single digits, the non-Sanders vote will remain divided too many ways to overtake the Vermont senator. Republicans lived through this last cycle with Trump, and Democrats appear to have learned nothing from watching that.

The sudden and severe collapse of Biden distracts from the almost as sudden and severe collapse of Elizabeth Warren. She looked like a strong contender, and some called her the frontrunner back in October. She led Iowa as late as November! She led New Hampshire! In theory, she’s still in it, but she’s sliding fast. She’s the perfect candidate for one of the most vocal segments of the party — middle-aged to older white-collar white women who have an unwavering faith in the federal government’s ability to solve complicated problems. That’s an important demographic, but not a sufficient one.

Last night, when it became clear Warren was set for a disappointing fourth-place finish, she laid out an argument that sounded like a pitch to make her the unifying pick at a divided Democratic convention in Milwaukee this summer:

If we’re going to beat Donald Trump in November, we are going to need huge turnout within our party. And to get that turnout, we will need a nominee that the broadest coalition of our party feels like they can get behind. We win when we come together . . . The fight between factions in our party has taken a sharp turn in recent weeks with ads mocking other candidates and with supporters of some candidates shouting curses at other Democratic candidates. These harsh tactics might work if you are willing to burn down the rest of the party in order to be the last man standing.

Democrats in Iowa and New Hampshire have left their fellow party members in the other 48 states with a menu of deeply flawed options.

Bernie Sanders hasn’t run a tough general election in decades, and all of his big breaks in his political life came from improbable luck. He wants to run on socialism when unemployment is at 3.6 percent, and has been at or below 4 percent for nearly two years. (In a recent Gallup poll, only 45 percent of Americans say they’re open to voting for a socialist candidate; 53 percent say they would not.) Sanders’s supporters don’t get along with other Democrats, he would galvanize Wall Street and the business community to get active in support of Trump’s reelection, and he frightens the soccer moms in the suburban districts that flipped the House in 2018. Democrats would concede one of the most reliable and highest-turnout demographics and hope to make up for it with the listenership of Chapo Trap House. All of this assumes Sanders doesn’t have another heart attack between now and Election Day.

At first glance, Pete Buttigieg is the latest young rising star with soaring oratory — the successor to John F. Kennedy, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama. He makes some history as the first major gay presidential candidate — nobody remembers Fred Karger. But he apparently has almost no ability to sell himself to African Americans — and he’s been trying, and spending considerable resources on that goal, for months now. He’s getting 4 percent of the African-American vote nationally. He looks even younger than his 38 years, and his experience as mayor of South Bend is underwhelming. One African-American writer recently offered a scathing assessment: “[Buttigieg] is the embodiment of white privilege — someone afforded the opportunity to hold the most powerful office in the world when he has less experience in office than our local church deacon.”

Mike Bloomberg? He’s the walking embodiment of everything Bernie Sanders has always dreamed of running against. He’s rather shamelessly spending his way to the first tier. If the Democrats nominate Bloomberg, the epitome of Wall Street wealth, the Bernie Bros stay home, vote for the Green Party, or maybe even go out and form their own party. The nominating convention in Milwaukee would set up a Democratic Party civil war, and one not easily healed.

That leaves . . . Amy Klobuchar? Maybe the Minnesota senator is the safest bet at this point — no thrills, but enough experience and some corny mom jokes. She’s not trying to throw pro-life Democrats out of the party. She at least acknowledges the existence of the deficit. But she’s got to turn into Wonder Woman in the next four weeks — either get into the top tier in Nevada or South Carolina, see a spontaneous emergence of supporters in Super Tuesday states, preferably have a rival or two drop out, get a giant infusion of funds, and be ready to fight Bernie Sanders and Mike Bloomberg the rest of the way.

The task for Democrats remains the same: just do a little bit better than Hillary Clinton did in 2016. If Democrats had just won one and a half percent more in each state than she did four years ago, they would have won Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Florida.

(If Trump does one and a half percent better, he wins New Hampshire and Minnesota.)

But the task may have gotten harder in the past three years. Gallup released this morning a survey showing 61 percent of Americans say they are better off than they were three years ago, higher than the 50 percent who said so in 1996 and 2004, and 52 percent say they can afford more than they could three years ago — significantly higher than in previous cycles where an incumbent won reelection. Sixty-two percent give Trump a great deal or fair amount of credit for improvement in the state of the economy in the past few years.

ADDENDUM: You’re going to hear a lot of Democrats reassuring themselves by crowing that the turnout in the Democratic primary New Hampshire broke the 2008 record. (Actually, as of this writing, they’re 5,000 short of the record, with 3 percent of precincts remaining.) Record turnout or near-record turnout is a good thing, and Democrats should be pleased. But New Hampshire allows both Democrats and independents to vote in the Democratic primary, and when you look at the voter registration numbers, almost 78,000 more voters were eligible to vote in this contest compared to twelve years ago. When you’ve got a bunch more eligible voters and no competitive contest on the GOP side . . . shouldn’t your party set a turnout record?


We Need Straight Answers from China

Mr. Qiao wears a face mask and speaks to his family while they take pictures at Jingshan Park in Beijing, China, as the country is hit by an outbreak of the new coronavirus, February 6, 2020. “We know the situation of the coronavirus is severe. But the epicenter is far away, so we think it should be fine here … It’s a God-given chance to enjoy this family moment with snow and without work,” said Mr Qiao. (Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters)

Today brings the New Hampshire primary, and we’ll get to that in a moment, but the news out of China regarding the coronavirus is getting really ominous. Oh, and Nevada Democrats are starting to get nervous about how they’re going to count the votes in their caucus later this month.

Nothing to See Here, Just Beijing and Shanghai Going into ‘Lockdown’

Continuing the theme that what’s going on with the coronavirus is significantly more important than the political squabble of the day . . .

Shanghai is a city of 24 million people, the most populous urban area in China and, depending upon your measuring stick, possibly the second-largest city in the world. Beijing also has around 24 million people, arguably the third-largest city in the world. For perspective, the largest city in the United States, New York City, has about 20 million people in its metropolitan area.

Those two cities, with close to 50 million people, are going on a form of lockdown to stop the spread of coronavirus.

Measures unveiled by the authorities in Beijing and Shanghai on Monday include stricter controls on the movement of residents and vehicles, compulsory mask wearing and shutting down leisure and other non-essential community services.

The lockdown-style measures appear to be aimed at controlling possible community transmission of the virus as the country goes back to work at the end of an extended Lunar New Year holiday.

Last week, megacities such as Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Tianjin, Hangzhou and Chengdu announced similar restrictions. Apart from Hubei, authorities in Liaoning and Jiangxi provinces have also imposed provincewide measures.

The system includes a citywide registration system for entries into Beijing.

Do they have 50 million surgical masks in the city?

Maybe this is just a paranoid and authoritarian regime reacting the way paranoid and authoritarian regimes do. Or maybe the Chinese government is genuinely freaked out. Maybe they’ve found good reasons to be genuinely freaked out.

All of us are forced to try to figure out how bad the pandemic is based on what the Chinese government is telling us. Densely packed cities seem like really difficult places to contain the spread of a virus:

Of the 102 cases confirmed in the city, at least 33 of the patients worked or shopped at a department store in the city’s Baodi district, or had close contact with employees or customers, according to the city’s health authorities. Officials estimated that 11,700 customers had visited the shopping complex, which they did not identify, during a period in late January. The authorities said that those customers would be quarantined, and that the store itself was sealed and disinfected.

In addition, emergency measures were imposed over sections of the district — home to nearly one million people — with all but two entrances and exits sealed off in certain residential areas and security personnel on round-the-clock patrols. Residents in some areas were allowed to leave their homes to buy supplies only once every two days.

Over on the New York Times op-ed page, social psychologist David DeSteno concludes, “Most people don’t possess the medical knowledge to know how and when to best address viral epidemics, and as a result, their emotions hold undue sway. Rather, the solution is to trust data-informed expertise. But in today’s world, I worry a firm trust in expertise is lacking, making us too much the victim of fear.”

Okay, but the advice to “trust data-informed expertise” includes two catches in these circumstances. While I trust American health officials, few of us trust the Chinese government much at all, and all of us have many reasons to not trust them. Right now, the Chinese government controls a lot of the information about how the coronavirus is affecting their country. (Incidentally, why is there smog over Wuhan if most of the factories are closed and there are so few vehicles on the streets?)

Second, the message from those international health experts we’re supposed to trust changed quickly.

On January 22, the World Health Organization’s emergency committee convened under Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of WHO, and the committee “expressed divergent views on whether this event constitutes a [Public Health Emergency of International Concern] or not. At that time, the advice was that the event did not constitute a PHEIC, but the committee members agreed on the urgency of the situation and suggested that the committee should be reconvened in a matter of days to examine the situation further.”

Eight days later, they agreed that it did constitute an emergency, but were quick to add, “The committee emphasized that the declaration of a PHEIC should be seen in the spirit of support and appreciation for China, its people, and the actions China has taken on the frontlines of this outbreak, with transparency, and, it is to be hoped, with success.”

Now, eleven days later, Ghebreyesus declared, “we may only be seeing the tip of the iceberg,”

“we don’t properly understand its transmissibility or severity,” and “with 99 percent of cases in China, this remains very much an emergency for that country, but one that holds a very grave threat for the rest of the world.”

Like the GIF says: “Well, that escalated quickly.” Nineteen days ago, this wasn’t yet an international emergency. Now it’s a “very grave threat.” I want to trust the experts. But I can’t help but wonder if they soft-pedal any assessment that could irk the Chinese government.

Come On, New Hampshire. Just Give Us Some Clear Results Tonight.

Ryan Lizza is a smart guy, so if he zigs when the conventional wisdom zags and writes that Joe Biden could come back from his lousy start, that line of thought shouldn’t be automatically dismissed.

The former frontrunner who flamed out in Iowa and looked shaky at events across New Hampshire may indeed be on a glide path to an embarrassing defeat. But his advisers argue that he’s also now unburdened by high expectations and in a race without a dominant candidate who can unite the party.

And so Biden will get a second chance if he passes the one 2020 test he set for himself long ago: winning South Carolina. Plausible!

Still, I’ve gone from bullish on Biden through all of last year to bearish. Yesterday on the Three Martini Lunch podcast, Greg and I noted that Biden . . . doesn’t look alright. Maybe he looked pale in the debate because somebody did a bad job with his makeup. We’ve all been watching Joe Biden speak in public life for a long time; we know what a “normal” Biden speech or town hall looks and sounds like. Is he just weary from the campaign schedule? Does he have a winter cold or some other minor ailment?

If the poll aggregation is right, the final result should be Bernie Sanders in first (perhaps by quite a bit), Pete Buttigieg in a respectable second place, and then three campaigns struggling to hit that 15 percent threshold either statewide or in a congressional district: Biden, Amy Klobuchar, and Elizabeth Warren.

The one thing working against Sanders? New Hampshire voters hate to assent to Iowa’s choice. One other thing to keep in mind is that one of the biggest misses on polling history came in New Hampshire in 2008, where all of the late polls had Barack Obama winning solidly, and Hillary Clinton finished with a narrow victory.

Hey, Nevada, the Democrats Really Need You to Get Your Act Together

The Nevada Democratic caucuses won’t have the same problems as the Iowa Democratic caucuses. But that doesn’t mean they won’t have problems. The Nevada Independent:

Campaigns here in the Silver State have been told that the Nevada State Democratic Party won’t be using the same app and vendor that were in part responsible for bungling the results of Iowa’s caucus last week, that the party won’t be using any app at all, and that what the party does plan to use is best described as a “tool” or “calculator.” Beyond that, aides aren’t really sure what’s in store for the state’s Feb. 22 Democratic caucus.

They don’t know how early voting, which was originally supposed to take place on an app on an iPad, is set to work. They don’t know how those votes are going to flow back to early voters’ home precincts to be counted alongside their neighbors preferences just as if they were there on Caucus Day. (A second app was supposed to accomplish that function.) They also don’t know how the Caucus Day results will be transmitted to the party.

Most caucus workers are volunteers; most polling-place workers are getting paid minimal sums or per diems. When those are the terms of employment, you’re going to get a lot of elderly people; you cannot design a system with twentysomething employees of Apple or Microsoft in mind. If the staff that’s on the job best understand pencils, paper, calculators, and phone landlines, maybe you should tabulate the votes with pencils, paper, calculators, and phone landlines!

ADDENDA: Everybody’s ready to burn the Iowa caucuses to the ground, but Charlie Szold, a former spokesman for the Republican Party of Iowa, makes about as compelling an argument as anyone can on why they ought to continue, except, you know, as functional, as the GOP’s have been:

Michael Bloomberg’s B-52 style campaign of carpet-bombed TV ads shows what politics without Iowa could look like: TV ads and national-news hits that bring the sausage-making directly into America’s living rooms, but only through heavy filters. The “authentic” tweets we read are poll-tested; “off-the-cuff” remarks during a CNN town hall are actually written and rewritten by communication staffs; and debates are scripted plays read poorly by amateur actors.

In Iowa (and New Hampshire, I guess) candidates are forced out of their comfort zones into an ersatz statewide House race, where rubber-chicken dinners, zany local traditions, and sharp-eyed citizens await with sharper knives.

. . . Dear Democrats: Do not count on Mike Bloomberg to save you from a Bernie Sanders nomination. Bloomberg is exactly the kind of man that Sanders has been preparing to run against his whole life.


The Growing China Threat

Volunteers in protective suits disinfect a railway station as the country is hit by an outbreak of the new coronavirus in Changsha, Hunan Province, China, February 4, 2020. (cnsphoto via Reuters)

On the menu today: Forget about the documentarian who said “workers of the world unite” during the Oscars ceremony. Heck, even forget about the New Hampshire primary for a moment — there will be plenty of that in the Corner — and let’s start off the week with three huge news stories that are just under the radar but have huge ramifications: the impact of the coronavirus, the accelerating bonanza in the U.S. energy industries and the one glaring exception, and the potential dangers of private location-data tracking. Trust me, this will be one of those newsletters you end up forwarding to people with “Did you see this?”

Are You Dependent upon China for Your Prescription Drugs or Your Doctor’s Equipment?

Allow me to offer you the least-noticed, most-terrifying headlines of the past week that escaped almost everyone’s attention, from an essay over at NBC News: “Coronavirus tests U.S. medical system’s unhealthy reliance on China for drugs, supplies.”

Tim Morrison, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, points out that even if most of us in the United States are at very low risk for contracting the coronavirus, our ability to get health care may be impacted by the ongoing fight against it in China:

Everything from antibiotics to chemotherapy drugs, from antidepressants to Alzheimer’s medications to treatments for HIV/AIDS, are frequently produced by Chinese manufacturers. What’s more, the most effective breathing masks and the bulk of other personal protective equipment — key to containing the spread of coronavirus and protecting health care workers — and even the basic syringe are largely made in China. The basic building blocks of U.S. health care are now under Xi’s control.

As Rosemary Gibson, author and health care expert noted, the United States does not produce its own penicillin anymore — the last U.S. based penicillin production facility closed in 2004. Of course, antibiotics may not do any good against the coronavirus, but they may be needed to deal with a related sickness, just as flu often leads to respiratory infections.

Lest you think this is just some nervous Nellie at some think tank, the good news is the federal government is noticing this potential problem. The bad news is, the federal government concurs this is a potential problem.

New FDA commissioner Stephen Hahn said no shortages of drugs or devices in the U.S. have been reported, but acknowledged, “the situation is fluid.” And concern is being voiced on both sides of the aisle and in the White House.

“There is emerging, and I think correct, issues about … how much we rely on production in China for basic drugs and all kinds of medical supplies,” said Rep. Greg Walden, the House Energy and Commerce ranking Republican, earlier this week

Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee, said Thursday evening that China’s control of the global supply of many pharmaceutical ingredients is keeping her up at night. She complained she’s not getting answers from U.S. officials on what overseas factories may be shut down amid quarantines.

Ready for a great irony? U.S. medical-device and pharmaceutical companies had to start thinking about their supply chains running through China in recent years because of the Trump administration’s trade war and tariffs — although in many cases, they either passed along the costs to customers or lobbied to get their particular devices exempted from the tariffs. “The U.S. imported about $5 billion worth of medical equipment from China before the trade war began. Trump’s tariffs now cover about 20 percent of those imports, but that is less than were initially targeted because the Advance Medical Technology Association, also known as AdvaMed, successfully lobbied to get many items removed before tariffs were imposed.”

At first glance that $5 billion figure doesn’t look terrible, as total U.S. spending on medical devices is in the neighborhood of $173 billion. Being cut off from about 2.8 percent of the total supply of devices used in the U.S. is not good but sounds manageable. (Then again, if it’s your medical device or prescription drug that you can’t get, this is a catastrophe.)

But some of the current comments from people who track this stuff are chilling:

 “Because China produces such a large proportion of the US’ drugs and medical supplies—especially personal protective equipment (like masks, gowns and gloves) that are used by hospital caregivers to protect themselves and their patients from infection — our members have expressed concern that the already fragile supply chain will break with the worsening conditions in China,” Tom Nickels, executive vice president of the American Hospital Association, wrote by email. “The AHA and hospitals are working with the appropriate emergency preparedness officials at the Department of Health and Human Services to keep them informed about the potential impact that worsening shortages could have.”

“All over the country, our members are talking to their supply chain managers, who are calling in additional masks and respirators to make stockpiles,” agrees Connie Steed, a South Carolina nurse who is president of the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology. If shortages occur — and she emphasized that she isn’t aware of any yet — hospitals would have to think through what they could sacrifice, from postponing elective surgeries to asking workers to wash and reuse their gear.”

Keep an eye on this sort of thing. The daily obsession with whatever President Trump tweeted each day means a lot of important issues slip under the radar.

To repeat a question from January 30: “Just how much interaction in trade and travel do we want to have with a secretive, powerful, chronically dishonest authoritarian regime that apparently will regularly face viral outbreaks?

Great News for the U.S. Energy Industry, with One Glaring Exception

Richard Meyer spotlights the latest “Short Term Energy Outlook” report from the U.S. Energy Information Agency, and it’s mostly really good news — with one glaring catch.

The big headline: Even under the big bad President Donald Trump, American carbon emissions are declining, and surprisingly rapidly: “After decreasing by 2.1 percent in 2019, EIA forecasts that energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions will decrease by 2 percent in 2020 and by 1.5 percent in 2021. Declining emissions reflect forecast declines in total U.S. energy consumption combined with assumptions of relatively normal weather. Energy-related CO2 emissions are sensitive to changes in weather, economic growth, energy prices, and fuel mix.” According to the U.S. Census Bureau, we added an estimated 1.5 million Americans during that time.

The data indicates the United States continues to become an energy superpower; this country has exported more total crude oil and petroleum products than it has imported since September. EIA forecasts that the U.S. will be a net exporter of total crude oil and petroleum products by 800,000 barrels per day in 2020 and by 1.4 million barrels per day in 2021.

As for American sources of energy, natural gas-fired power plants are projected to “remain relatively steady at around 37 or 38 percent,” renewables such as solar and wind hit 17 percent last year, should go up to 19 percent this year, and 22 percent next year. Nuclear power’s share of U.S. energy production will decline very slightly.

But here’s the one glaring catch: The share of U.S. energy produced by coal will drop, and administration promises to save the jobs of coal workers are probably swimming against the stream: “U.S. coal production will total 597 million short tons (MMst) in 2020, down 93 MMst (14 percent) from 2019, as a result of declining domestic demand for coal in the electric power sector and lower demand for U.S. exports. EIA expects that coal production will again fall by 16 MMst (3 percent) in 2021 as export demand stabilizes and declines in U.S. power sector demand slow.”

This may be moot; coal miners may love the fact that Trump recognizes them, appreciates them, and doesn’t cast them as the villains in the climate-change story. But in the long term, coal is just not as competitive as other potential options for energy.

Your Data Location Is for Sale

Finally, in the “stories that didn’t get anywhere near enough attention,” know that the apps you download to your phone are constantly providing your location to location data companies, who can then sell that data to whomever is willing to buy it.

As the New York Times laid out in an extensive report in December, these companies are “quietly collecting precise movements using software slipped onto mobile phone apps. You’ve probably never heard of most of the companies — and yet to anyone who has access to this data, your life is an open book. They can see the places you go every moment of the day, whom you meet with or spend the night with, where you pray, whether you visit a methadone clinic, a psychiatrist’s office or a massage parlor.”

The data is allegedly anonymous, but think about it: If someone matched your phone to your home address overnight and where you work during the workday, how hard would it be to determine that phone was yours?

Do you think that maybe this would be an issue for anyone who parks in, say, the parking lots of the Pentagon, White House, Central Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency at Fort Meade, the NORAD Command Bunker in Colorado Springs, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, or any other secure government facility? (Even if personnel keep their cell phones in their cars, someone with access to the data would know employees’ home address, the route of their commute, and everywhere they go when they’re not at work. This amounts to a “how to find people who know valuable classified information” guidebook for foreign intelligence services. (The only silver lining is that I assume we can do the same things to other countries.)

Even for those who don’t handle classified information, do you think you could learn sensitive information about people by tracking their movements to doctors, oncology specialists, psychologists, marital therapists, casinos, hotels and motels, places of known drug-dealing, and so on?

This data is already being used by Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection. You never consented to the government tracking your phone, but you didn’t have to; all you had to do was consent to a private company collecting the data . . . and they can then sell it to the government.

ADDENDUM: Great news, environmentalists. State governments have decided you ought to pay more in taxes and fees. Electric cars don’t use gasoline, meaning the owners don’t pay gasoline taxes. A majority of U.S. states now impose special fees on gas-free cars, SUVs, and trucks. Starting in July, California will charge $100 per vehicle, Alabama and Ohio charge $200, and Illinois hiked theirs from $35 to $238 in multiple fees.

Electric cars cost more to buy and to insure; besides the sense of being green, one of the selling points was that you could save money in the long run by not having to pay for gas. State governments are doing their part, bit by bit, to whittle down that advantage.

Welcome to the tax-hating dark side, electric car drivers.


Who Thought a Friday Night Debate Was a Good Idea?

From left: Activist Tom Steyer, Senator Elizabeth Warren, former vice president Joe Biden, Senator Bernie Sanders, South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg, and Senator Amy Klobuchar on stage for the Democratic primary debate at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, January 14, 2020. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

On the menu today: the Democratic National Committee’s inexplicable decision to have one of the most important debates of the cycle on a Friday night; wondering whether Barack Obama could stop Bernie Sanders if he tried, and why he doesn’t even appear to be trying; and good riddance to the execrable and incoherent Joe Walsh.

The Democratic National Committee Hopes You Watch the Debate Tonight. Or Do They?

How well do you remember the 2016 Democratic presidential primary debates? Maybe you remember Bernie Sanders declaring, with Hillary Clinton smiling beside him, “I think the secretary of state is right, the American people are sick and tired about hearing about your damn emails,” effectively forsaking that issue in the primary.

Other than that, you probably don’t remember much, and some would argue that that was by design.

The first Democratic presidential primary debate of that cycle wasn’t held until October of 2015. (The Republicans started in August.) The Democratic National Committee initially announced that only six would be held, roughly one per month. (The Clinton and Sanders campaigns would eventually negotiate expanding the number of primary debates to ten.) After the first debate in October, the next three debates were held on weekends — two Saturday nights and a Sunday night, right after the playoff football games. The first debate had 15 million viewers, but the next few saw the audience almost halved — 8.5 million, 7.8 million, 10 million. Americans have a lot of things they like to do on weekend evenings, and those things don’t include watching presidential candidate debates.

Once people learned how the DNC had effectively become a financial subsidiary of the Clinton campaign, some angry Sanders supporters argue that the national committee arranged the debate schedule to protect the frontrunner. If you’re ahead, you don’t need big audiences. You don’t need drama or fiery confrontations. In 1996, Bill Clinton and his reelection campaign wanted the general election to be boring. Controversy gets people fired up and thinking about trying something new. When you’re ahead, you just want to run out the clock:

Stephanopoulos, one of Mr. Clinton’s senior aides and strategists, argues that a Presidential contest that he predicts will leave ”no cultural imprint” is a healthy sign of ”maturity and community” in the country. From that high point, Mr. Stephanopoulos jumped to offer a more self-interested analysis of what he views as its benefits. ”When you’re an incumbent, and the economy is doing well,” Mr. Stephanopoulos said recently, ”boring is good.”

I have not found any previous cases of presidential primary debates held on a Friday night, although it’s possible I’ve missed one. Television networks know Friday night audiences are usually small. In prime-time television, Friday nights from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. are considered the “death slot,” a place to park shows that are close to cancellation. The young people that advertisers crave are out for dinner or dates or high-school basketball games or other events.

At least the debates are coming a bit more frequently now that actual votes are being cast; the next debate will be February 19 in Las Vegas, a few days before the Nevada caucuses.

I don’t know if the Democratic National Committee originally scheduled a Friday night debate to protect a frontrunner. Considering how the preceding few nights have featured the Iowa caucus non-results, the State of the Union Address, and the reaction to the impeachment vote, maybe the only better option would have been last night, and Americans probably needed at least one night off from our relentless political battles.

But the irony is that the frontrunner since the start of this cycle, Joe Biden, could really use a good night this evening before a big audience.

Other than Sanders, all of the candidates could use a good night and a strong finish when the results get tabulated Tuesday night. (They will be tabulated and announced Tuesday night, right, Democrats?) Pete Buttigieg had a great finish in Iowa, but he needs to demonstrate he’s not a one-state wonder. Elizabeth Warren could really use a finish that is better than, “eh, okay, I guess.” Amy Klobuchar is pretty much done, barring some miracle.

Further down in single-digit territory, New Hampshire may be the best night of the campaign for Tulsi Gabbard; the Emerson poll has her at 6 percent and she hit 7 percent in that survey earlier. And in one of the least-noticed developments, the air is coming out of the balloon for good old likeable Andrew Yang. If anybody’s got a reason to rage about the convoluted and complicated Iowa caucus rules, it’s Yang. According to the numbers released by the state party, almost 9,000 people showed up on caucus night and initially supported Yang, good for 5 percent — a pretty respectable result for a tech CEO nobody had heard of before last year. But because he didn’t hit 15 percent in many precincts, by the second round he was down to 1,780 votes. And now he’s at 1 percent in the “state delegate equivalents.”

Who won Iowa? In the eyes of the Associated Press, we still can’t be sure. “The Associated Press calls a race when there is a clear indication of a winner. Because of a tight margin between former Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Bernie Sanders and the irregularities in this year’s caucus process, it is not possible to determine a winner at this point,” said Sally Buzbee, AP’s senior vice president and executive editor.

Hey, Where’s Barack Obama in All This?

Jonathan Chait sounds really depressed and gloomy, seeing doom for the “American center-left.” Despite our past disagreements — and my belief that if Chait thinks what I write is idiotic, he ought to link to it in his denunciations — I don’t want to kick Chait when he’s feeling down. It absolutely stinks when the electorate kicks your preferred worldview in the teeth. Many traditional Reaganite conservatives have been there!

But I started to think about Chait’s January 2017 book, Audacity: How Barack Obama Defied His Critics and Created a Legacy That Will Prevail. Obviously, Chait wrote much of that before the 2016 election results were known, and Obama’s legislative legacy looks a lot shakier from the perspective of 2020. His tax increases are largely repealed, Obamacare’s individual mandate is gone, Trump blew up the Iran deal, withdrew from the Paris climate-change accords . . .

But let’s also note the odd and withering state of Obama’s political legacy. The only Democratic candidate who still makes a full-throated defense of the Affordable Care Act is Biden. Most of the other candidates wanted or cosponsored “Medicare for All,” a de facto admission that the ACA didn’t generate the results Democrats wanted. Almost the entire field has repudiated Obama’s immigration-enforcement record as too harsh. Bernie Sanders’s entire campaign is more or less a contention that the Obama administration didn’t go far enough on any front — on taxes, on regulations, on the environment, on higher education, on criminal justice.

The only candidate running on “a return to normalcy” is Biden, and you see the troubles he’s having.

Obama’s old campaign team is out there, making the argument against Sanders, but they don’t seem to be getting much traction. Last November, Ryan Lizza reported, “Obama said privately that if Bernie were running away with the nomination, Obama would speak up to stop him.” Yet we haven’t heard much of anything from Obama.

Is that out of a principled sense that a former president should not take sides in an ongoing primary?

Or out of a fear that if Obama publicly argued that the Democrats should not nominate Sanders, he might not win that argument?

Don’t Leave This Race Angry, Joe Walsh. Just Leave.

After getting 1.1 percent and finishing third behind William Weld in the GOP Iowa Caucus, Joe Walsh concluded that there was no point in continuing his presidential campaign.

“I am ending my candidacy for president of the United States,” Walsh told CNN’s John Berman on New Day. “I got into this because I thought it was really important that there was a Republican — a Republican — out there every day calling out this president for how unfit he is.” He added that he would rather have a Socialist in the Oval Office than “a dictator.”

Back on January 30, Walsh tweeted, “Any Senate Republican who votes to acquit this President without demanding witnesses, documents and a fair trial, deserves to lose this November.” I pointed out that this means Walsh was calling for the defeat of every Republican senator up for reelection this year, and forgot that responding to him in any way constitutes giving him media oxygen. He responded, “Yes Jim, that is what I’m saying. Any Republican who does not demand to see & hear from all relevant documents & witnesses b4 arriving at a verdict deserves to lose in November. Any Republican who puts their party b4 their oath deserves to lose. And that’s not easy for me to say.”

We now know this means Walsh believes every currently sitting Republican senator except Mitt Romney should be defeated in the next three cycles. Extending the same standard to the House would mean calling for the defeat of every currently serving House Republican as well.

When you are a Republican, and your platform is that “every Republican in the legislative branch except for one should be defeated and replaced with a Democrat” it seems fair to ask whether you are really a Republican any more by any functional standard. Walsh went out to Iowa and told voters he wanted to repeal the Affordable Care Act, that there shouldn’t be a federal minimum wage, he believes in using public funds for private schools, and strongly supports voter ID. Walsh also wants a border wall and opposes abortion without exception.

And he thinks every congressional Republican should be replaced by a Democrat, almost all of whom resolutely oppose the policies he prefers and want to move policy in the other direction.

This is incoherent. Joe Walsh wants a Republican Party that opposes Trump, or a conservative Democratic Party. Neither of those parties exist right now, and there’s little sign that either of those parties will appear anytime soon. Those of us who are traditionalist conservatives and who find Trump an extraordinarily frustrating president at best or a Constitutional disaster at worst have to choose from either Trump, the Democrat, some other candidate like the Libertarians or some little-known independent, or stay home.

It is also worth noting that Walsh gave grief to the likes of me (and probably a lot of you readers out there) for not voting for Trump in 2016. He declared that Republicans who wouldn’t support Trump were “corrupt”, “liars,” and “everything wrong with America.” Now he’s giving grief to the likes of us for not being sufficiently dedicated to the removal of Trump through an impeachment process ten months before an election.

Walsh sees everybody who disagrees with him as unprincipled sellouts, even though he changes his views with the sudden and dramatic nature of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

I would also point out that after our Twitter exchange, I heard from usually amiable readers who asked why I was giving Walsh grief when he had the courage “call out the fact that the rules of the nation will be changed forever.” As recently as New Year’s Eve 2016, Walsh was insisting Barack Obama was a Muslim. It is amazing how anti-Trumpism washes away all previous sins. Joe Walsh threated to “grab his musket” if Trump didn’t win in 2016, casually used the N-word, called for banning Muslim immigration, and was a Birther. But if you oppose Trump loudly enough, the Etch-a-Sketch of your life’s work gets shaken and the slate goes clean? To hell with that.

Good riddance, Joe Walsh.

ADDENDUM: Away from the presidential campaign, some thoughts on the growing bipartisan wariness about standardized testing. I salute the commenter who concluded that any doubts about the value of the current regimes of standardized testing must mean that I believe that no child should ever be tested on anything, and that any poor score on a standardized test is revealing a “lack of effort.”


Joe Biden Is in Real Trouble

Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden in Manhattan in New York City, January 7, 2020 (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

On the menu today: Impeachment ends, just as the Democratic presidential primary starts to get really bizarre and unpredictable.

Wait, the Democrats Have to Nominate Somebody, Right?

As discussed a bit on the latest edition of The Editors podcast, the Democratic presidential primary is surprisingly, weirdly, unpredictably wide open.

Joe Biden is not quite toast, but he’s in real trouble. Since the Iowa results started dribbling out, many folks have been saying that Biden looked like a paper tiger from the beginning. But that doesn’t quite ring true, because he managed to remain the national frontrunner throughout 2019. A lot of the other Democratic presidential candidates jumped into the race and calculated that at some point, Biden’s support would collapse, and non-Sanders, non-Warren voters would be looking for a new option. Biden managed to endure shaky debate performances, “meh” fundraising, all kinds of slings and arrows, and remain the polling frontrunner . . . right up until the moment Democrats started actually voting.

If this is the long-predicted and long-awaited genuine Biden collapse, the former vice president managed to hold it off until the worst possible time for the party. If you’re a Democrat who was happy with the Obama years and just want to get back to something like that, you might have been interested in someone such as Cory Booker. Or perhaps Kamala Harris had that one-foot-in-the-establishment, one-foot-in-the-progressive-grassroots balance. Julian Castro seemed to be one step to the left of the Obama agenda, but he served in Obama’s administration and clearly wanted to be seen as the Latino successor to the Obama model. Steve Bullock, Jay Inslee — there were a bunch of Democratic candidates who never quite got there because a lot of the voters most inclined to be interested in supporting them were already locked in on the Biden bandwagon.

And the wheels are falling off the bandwagon now. If Barack Obama was ever tempted to end his neutrality and endorse his old running mate, it may be now or never.

The “winner” out of Iowa is Pete Buttigieg, at least by measured by “SDEs,” or “state delegate equivalents, leading 26.2 percent to 26.1 percent over Bernie Sanders, but if you look at the vote totals for the second round — yikes, this really has turned into the playoff tiebreaker explanation from Baseketball — Sanders leads with 44,753 votes, while Buttigieg has 42,235 votes. Democrats, I don’t want to hear another word about how unfair the Electoral College is. The Electoral College is in the Constitution; you guys picked these convoluted multi-round caucus rules for yourselves.

(It’s Thursday morning. As of this writing, roughly 58 hours have passed since the voting finished in the Iowa caucuses. What the heck is holding up those remaining 3 percent of precincts?)

Do you see the Democratic Party unifying behind Pete Buttigieg? The 38-year-old former mayor of South Bend? (Oh, and how the heck do you go into the Iowa caucuses, intending to support Buttigieg, and then suddenly change your mind because you just learn that evening that Buttigieg is gay? Stop telling me that Iowans take their duties seriously and intensely study the candidates. I love all kinds of people form all kinds of places, but when Iowans start claiming that their residents are better evaluators of candidates than the rest of us, I turn into Albert Rosenfeld, seething with contempt for the residents of small towns in the Pacific Northwest.) Can you envision the Democrats putting aside all their differences and concluding: “Okay, Trump’s going to be tough to beat and if he wins another term, we lose everything we have and either the country or this party will get torn to shreds. Let’s bet all our chips on this guy”?

Bernie Sanders is probably the de facto frontrunner now, but a lot of Democrats grasp that the Vermont senator is probably the highest-risk candidate. Sure, he might be able to win back some of the frustrated, downscale, blue-collar voters who went for Trump in 2016. But nominating him puts more or less the entire business community behind Trump, and a lot of white-collar suburbanites who aren’t looking for a socialist revolution suddenly aren’t in the Democratic column anymore. Seriously, the Democrats are strongly considering nominating a 78-year-old who had a heart attack, running on a platform of sweeping economic changes, when unemployment has been 4 percent or below since February 2018. A Jeremy Corbyn–style blowout is a serious possibility in November.

After that . . . Elizabeth Warren? She may re-learn the lessons of the Marco Rubio campaign from 2016. Sure, you can finish with a surprisingly strong third, and “beat expectations,” and “show signs of momentum,” and have all kinds of ways of having a “not bad” result. But while you’re getting those better-than-expected third place finishes, somebody else out there is winning. Warren got to that respectable third-place finish in Iowa while winning exactly one out of 99 counties. (And no, she didn’t win Pocahontas or Cherokee counties.)

Or does the party look at this quartet and say, “nope,” and go for Mike Bloomberg on Super Tuesday? If that scenario comes to pass, the Democrats really risk some sort of revolt at the convention. The eighth-richest man in America, who served in office as a Republican, endorsed George W. Bush’s reelection and only changed his voter registration to Democrat in 2018, would waltz in late, spend more than $300 million, skip the first contests that emphasize retail politicking, and more or less buy the nomination. He’s got a #MeToo issue in at least his past comments to women who worked for him, if not physical harassment. Mr. Stop-and-Frisk, Mr. “Xi Jinping is not a dictator,” Mr. Cozy-With-Wall Street is a spectacularly incongruous choice for the Democratic Party’s mood at this moment.

I’m not a Democrat and have no interest in seeing one elected in 2020. With that in mind, out of the remaining options, I think Amy Klobuchar is the best remaining consensus choice — nobody’s favorite, but a nominee almost everyone in the party could accept. But Democrats don’t seem interested in a unifying option. Not only did Klobuchar not hit the threshold for delegates, she actually lost votes from the first round to the second. Iowa was supposed to be one of her best states!

Impeachin’ Ain’t Easy

Regarding the now-concluded impeachment trial of President Trump, all of the following can be true:

  • Hunter Biden’s arrangement with Burisma Holdings stunk to high heaven and had no conceivable explanation beyond Burisma wanting a connection to a powerful voice in Washington.
  • Hunter Biden’s arrangement with Burisma Holdings was technically legal on its own because no law bars the president or vice president’s family from serving in a ludicrously well-compensated minimal-work position with a foreign company. A creative prosecutor might be able to make a bribery case stick if he could prove that the Obama administration altered any U.S. policy to benefit Burisma.
  • The president had every right to want all of that investigated further.
  • The proper channels to investigate the Bidens and Burisma, and any violation of U.S. law, is in the Department of Justice.
  • One of the least proper channels to investigate the Bidens and Burisma was the president’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.
  • The claim that the president’s interest in the matter was a standard interest in anti-corruption and had nothing to do with harming Biden’s chances in the 2020 election is nonsense.
  • The president had many legal methods to attempt to delay or withhold the aid to Ukraine, such as the Impoundment Control Act. The president did not pursue those legal methods.
  • The aid, while significantly delayed in secret, was released before the end of the fiscal year.
  • Some Democrats have indeed been seeking to impeach the president since he took office.
  • The impeachment and removal of the president is the harshest “sentence” that can be handed to a commander in chief and has never been successfully used before in our history. It is not an action that should be taken lightly and should not become a “super-censure” or routine tool for Congress to express its antagonism to a president of the opposing party.
  • In Federalist 65, Alexander Hamilton wrote, “in such cases there will always be the greatest danger that the decision will be regulated more by the comparative strength of parties, than by the real demonstrations of innocence or guilt.” The Founding Fathers recognized this aspect of the system and went ahead with it anyway; a president should only be removed from office when there is a broad consensus of support. While impeachment can go forward when the president’s party holds a majority in the Senate, the odds of convincing many members of a president’s party to remove him are exceptionally low and members of the House ought to keep that in mind before starting the whole endeavor.

Finally, there’s a contradiction in the fury about Mitt Romney’s decision to become the first senator in history to vote to impeach a president of his own party.

I see a lot of Trump fans calling Romney a coward. Really? Doesn’t their own reaction prove that by voting to remove, Romney picked up a lot of enemies immediately? The entire administration will clearly be looking for opportunities for retribution. The entire pro-Trump media world has decided he’s now Enemy No. 1. Republicans in Utah are furious. Romney knew this would be the consequence, and he did it anyway. Call it any number of things, but it wasn’t cowardly.

And spare me the argument that Romney did it because he wanted praise from the media. He’s a 72-year-old multimillionaire senator who’s not up for reelection until 2024, and few Americans know better just how vicious the mainstream media can be. Romney lived through it in 2012; he knows how easily they will smear, deride, and attempt to destroy a good man in service of a political goal. Gail Collins admitted she tried to refer to the “dog on the roof” story in every column about Romney, more than fifty times, and boasted that Obama would never put a dog in a kennel on the roof of car. No, because Barack Obama ate a dog.

I’m sure a significant portion of the anger among Republicans is the sense that by voting to remove, Romney is pleasing all of those people who unfairly demonized, demeaned, and vilified him back in 2012. We all know just how spectacularly disingenuous their praise for him this morning is; if a Supreme Court justice keels over today, and Trump tries to put Amy Coney Barrett on the court with Romney’s support, the Utah senator will presto-change-o turn back into a dangerous, sexist, theocratic extremist overnight.

The only plausible reason for Romney to vote for removal on one count is because he genuinely believed it was the right thing to do — and did so knowing the avalanche of rage that would come his way from his usual Republican allies.

Meanwhile, Democrats wake up this morning dissatisfied, frustrated, and disappointed. Hey, I’ve got an idea, guys. Last weekend, Politico’s Anna Palmer said on Meet the Press: “The House Democrats are going to want to hear from John Bolton, they are going to want to continue the investigation. I was talking to an operative just this week and they were saying this is not going to be the last time this President is impeached.” Go for it, guys. Run in 2020 as the first House majority to run multiple separate impeachment efforts.

ADDENDUM: Over on NRO’s homepage, I note that both major parties are weak, but they’re weak in different ways: “The modern Republican Party can’t prevent the wrong guy from winning the most votes; the modern Democratic Party can’t count the votes.”


Pelosi’s Petty Move

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi arrives for President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress in Washington, February 4, 2020. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

On the menu today: I don’t know about you, but I’m really eager to dive into today’s topics. For once, we’ve got four consequential stories brewing simultaneously: Trump’s reelection argument in the State of the Union Address and House speaker Nancy Pelosi’s decision to literally tear it up on camera immediately afterward; the end of the impeachment saga; the Iowa Democratic Party’s implosion; and oh, hey, that really frightening virus spreading in China.

The End of ‘Nancy Pelosi, Master Strategist’

Last month the cover of Time magazine featured Nancy Pelosi, arms folded, looking defiant, with the headline “Her Gamble.” This was after she had delayed sending over the articles of impeachment for three weeks, convinced she could strongarm Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell into adopting rules that the Democrats preferred. I concluded that “the non-specialty press pays only intermittent attention to Congress, and when it does, the storyline is almost always the same. ‘The Democratic leader is bold and winning, the GOP leader is flailing,’ regardless of what is actually happening.

A bunch of mainstream-media reporters who cover Washington really didn’t like that tweet, and felt it was unfair and inaccurate. They believed McConnell gets similarly good press, and that Pelosi got covered as a strategic genius and hard-nosed political mastermind because she really is one.

I remain unconvinced and would point to the past few months as vivid counterevidence.

Pelosi’s resistance to impeachment for the first three-quarters of 2019 indicates she at one point recognized the political risks involved. Let us assume that she pursued impeachment over President Trump’s dealings with Ukraine because she genuinely believed his actions warranted the most serious form of Congressional punishment possible. Her announcement of the impeachment inquiry did flip public opinion, from a majority opposing impeachment to a slim majority supporting it. The level of support for impeachment in the aggregate polling stayed around 50 percent, peaking at 51 percent once. The support for removal stuck around 48 percent. Those survey charts look like a flatlining EKG monitor — and unsurprisingly, the level of support for removal is right around the 48.2 percent of the American electorate who voted for Hillary Clinton.

But if impeachment had any effect on President Trump’s approval rating, it seems to have improved it a little.

On December 5, discussing the impeachment of President Trump, Pelosi declared, “If we do not act now, we would be derelict in our duty.” Two weeks later, she added, “It is a matter of fact that the president is an ongoing threat to our national security and the integrity of our elections, the basis of our democracy.” Earlier in the year, Pelosi’s allies in the Democratic House leadership accused the president in the most vehement of terms: “Massive coverup.” “Betrayal.” “Great danger.” “Totalitarian.” “Unpatriotic.” “Dictatorial.” “Disloyal.” In their view, nothing less than the fate of America was at stake.

And then the House adjourned for summer recess for six weeks.

You see the contradiction there, right? The Democratic argument was that the country was trapped in the grip of a dictatorial madman, but that the normal interactions between the president and Congress could still occur, with business as usual. They could still work out a North American trade deal with said dictatorial madman.

And then we come to the State of the Union. As Rich observed, “Democrats invited Trump to take advantage of this majestic setting for what’s basically a campaign speech at the same time they were saying he had to be removed from office, or the republic and Constitution would fall. This makes no sense.”

Impeachment ends today; as of this writing, the only question on the Republican side is whether Senator Mitt Romney of Utah votes for removal. The ceiling for removal votes is set at 48 senators, and that assumes Democrats Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Doug Jones of Alabama, and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona vote yes. It is conceivable that the vote for removal only gets 44 votes. (I would bet 46, with only Manchin flipping.)

While persuading congressional Republicans was always a tall order, Pelosi and her allies pretty much failed from top to bottom. (One reason for this is that the 2018 House elections wiped out the moderate, less-pro-Trump GOP House members who would be most open to an impeachment inquiry. Sure, now the Democrats miss Mia Love and Barbara Comstock and Carlos Curbelo and the rest.) I would argue that this is in part because advocates for impeachment never put much effort into trying to get into the heads of their target audience: Republican lawmakers. They just assumed that the arguments that worked when appearing on MSNBC or in an interview with Maureen Dowd would also persuade GOP lawmakers from the Midwest, where Trump’s approval is higher and a significant portion of the electorate thinks every president engages in some sort of unsavory arm-twisting of foreign leaders.

Sure, Trump looks bad for either ignoring, rebuffing, or not noticing Pelosi’s extended hand before his State of the Union Address. Then again, there’s an ongoing impeachment and she called him a threat to national security.

Then Pelosi tore up the speech right after Trump finished. You’re going to see a lot of “yas slay queen” cheerleading coverage of Pelosi’s reaction. No doubt, a lot of people in the Democratic grassroots adored the gesture, and a lot of people in the Republican grassroots are nearly fainting from shock and outrage. (That shock and outrage usually eludes them when Trump goes on one of this Twitter tirades.)

But if you’re one of those millions of Americans who isn’t attached to either party . . . and you did happen to watch . . . Trump’s speech probably included a lot that you liked. This was a masterfully produced presentation, with a lot of tributes to ordinary Americans who proved, as that Budweiser commercial argued, that you can find quite a bit of the extraordinary in “ordinary Americans.”

Your mileage may vary, but I think the most memorable parts of the speech were Stephanie and Janiyah Davis from Philadelphia and the discussion of opportunity scholarships, Kelli and Gage Hake and the story of the late Army staff sergeant Christopher Hake; Tuskegee Airman Charles McGee and his great grandson; aspiring astronaut and eighth-grader Iain Lanphier from Scottsdale, Ariz.; Carl and Marsha Mueller and the tribute to their daughter, Kayla; Rush Limbaugh getting the Medal of Freedom shortly after announcing his diagnosis of lung cancer; Robin Schneider and her daughter Ellie, born at just 21 weeks and six days; and most spectacularly, the reunion of Sergeant First Class Townsend Williams with his wife Amy and two young children. Exploitative? Maybe. But since Ronald Reagan, presidents have been spotlighting their guests in the gallery and trying to associate their presidency with the acts of amazing people. This was an Oprah-esque State of the Union Address, full of perfect-for-television human drama.

And then Pelosi tore up the speech as soon as it was done, with the whole country watching.

Democrats can and will argue Pelosi’s act was some sort of three-dimensional chess, where the speaker ensured more of the discussion would be about her ripping up the speech than the speech itself, but . . . the cost–benefit analysis of that move has to come out pretty even. Sure, people already inclined to oppose Trump will find it defiant and bold, but I think a lot of Americans will find it childish and petty, an action more fit for an angry kindergartener than one of the leaders of the legislative branch of the United States. Pelosi lost her cool and came across as an unserious leader consumed by rage — exactly the kind of figure that the Democrats insist President Trump is.

Today impeachment ends, and Gallup has Trump’s approval rating at the highest of his presidency. Mike Allen of Axios concludes: “Trump is getting stronger, not weaker, despite his impeachment.

What the heck did Democrats get out of this?

It’s Almost As If the Iowa Democratic Party Wants to Fuel Conspiracy Theories

But an impeachment effort that failed to remove the president and a childish response to the State of the Union aren’t even the biggest problems Democrats face this week.

It is Wednesday morning, the Iowa caucus was held Monday, and we only have 71 percent of the results.

Read this sentence in the New York Times, discussing the Iowa caucus results: “It is not clear when the rest of the caucus results will be released, or if the full results would alter the current standings of the candidates.

This is not the sort of thing that happens with a routine technical snafu. The staff of the state party should be able to add up all the results from 1,600 precincts with a pencil and paper and a calculator by now. The Democrats started holding their caucus in Iowa in 1972, long before the Internet and mobile phones and apps and the rest. The voting ended 36 hours ago, as of this writing. This assessment is not designed to fuel conspiracy theories; every caucus place was open to the public. But it simply does not make sense for the state party to say: “We still can’t tell you the results from nearly a third of the precincts, and we cannot tell you when we will have those results.”

As for the results we have . . . Pete Buttigieg at 26.8 percent of state delegate equivalents, Bernie Sanders at 25.2 percent, Elizabeth Warren at 18.4 percent, Joe Biden at 15.4 percent, and Amy Klobuchar at 12.6 percent.

If Klobuchar couldn’t hit 15 percent in Iowa, she’s not going to hit 15 percent in many other places, and she’s wasting her time and splitting the less-enamored-of-socialism vote.

Biden finishing fourth and just barely above the line required for delegates is a really bad night for him. He’s not done, but he really needs better nights in New Hampshire and Nevada. That lead in South Carolina won’t disappear instantly, but it’s been shrinking, and if Biden has three bad finishes heading into the Palmetto State, a good night there probably won’t balance it out. I had been bullish on him all last year. Now it appears he really does have a glass jaw that shattered at the worst possible moment.

Warren’s finish is fine — not bad, enough to keep going, not quite sure it’s easy to see her vaulting to the nomination. Sanders is arguably now the frontrunner — the last two polls in New Hampshire give him a really solid lead, and everybody else is uncomfortably close to the delegate line. And winning Iowa — in terms of delegates, if not total votes — gives Buttigieg a second wind. He might just turn out to be the last guy standing against Sanders.

We’re Living in a Slow-Motion, Low-Level Pandemic Movie

The good news about coronavirus: “The scientist leading the UK’s research into a coronavirus vaccine says his team have made a significant breakthrough by reducing a part of the normal development time from ‘two to three years to just 14 days.’ Professor Robin Shattock, head of mucosal infection and immunity at Imperial College London, said he is now at the stage to start testing the vaccine on animals as early as next week with human studies in the summer if enough funding is secured.

Unfortunately, there’s a lot more bad news about coronavirus.

I guess we should just get used to the dead and infected numbers steadily climbing each day: “The death toll from the monthlong coronavirus outbreak has continued to climb in China, rising to 490. New cases have surged by double-digit percentages in the past 11 days, with no sign of a slowdown . . . The new figures from China’s Health Commission on Wednesday showed that 65 people died on Tuesday and that 3,887 more people had been infected. So far, 24,324 people are known to have been infected.”

If you fear the numbers are worse than the Chinese government is saying, your lack of faith in Beijing’s honesty is understandable.

Also note that when authoritarian regimes start finding themselves with big problems, they start looking for scapegoats. I figure it’s just a matter of time before the Chinese government starts blaming foreign governments for the outbreak. The Chinese government is already accusing the United States of an “inappropriate overreaction” to the disease by restricting entry by those who have been to the Wuhan region.

Ahem. 50 million people are quarantined, the first doctors who discussed it were jailed, and they think we’re overreacting.

You can’t operate your economy normally when you’re dealing with a pandemic and enforcing quarantine zones. China’s economy is going to slow down, and this is going to have an impact on the global economy, because a lot of supply chains run through China. Economic hardship is small potatoes compared to people dying, but that consequence is coming down the track, headed for us.

A writer for the Washington Post warns that the true danger from the coronavirus is anti-Asian racism.

ADDENDA: On the latest episode of the pop-culture podcast, Mickey and I have a big disagreement about the Super Bowl halftime show, we dissect that new Netflix documentary about Taylor Swift getting political, and ask whether Gwyneth Paltrow has now become something of a cult leader.


Iowa’s Democratic Disaster

Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders appears at an election night rally in Des Moines, Iowa. U.S., February 3, 2020. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

On the menu today, Iowa’s Democrats give America a night it will never forget, for all the wrong reasons, while Republicans have a delightfully boring and predictable caucus night.

The Night the Iowa Caucus Died

For Iowa Democrats, the night of February 3, 2020 will forever rank among the greatest disappointments, frustrations, and purely enraging humiliations of their lives. As of 6:35 a.m. Eastern this morning, the Iowa Democratic Party simply . . . cannot tabulate the votes!

The delay is baffling, as anyone should be able to do this with a spreadsheet program or even a sheet of paper. Yes, there is a lot of data — there are about 1,600 precincts — but they held these caucuses before the Internet or mobile phone technology. The data-tabulation app may have failed, but the human mind is allegedly capable of functioning without an app.

Note that this is only an issue in the Democratic caucus. Four years ago, Iowa Republicans recorded their vote totals for each candidate; you can look it up today and know that Ted Cruz won 51,666 votes and Donald Trump won 45,429 votes.

You can’t do that for the Democratic results of four years ago, because the party only recorded the number of pledged delegates at each location. The Bernie Sanders campaign objected to this standard, contending that while the outcome was no doubt close, it’s quite possible he had more overall supporters. We will never know, because no one in the Democratic Party thought it was important to record how many people supported which candidate after the first grouping in support of candidates.

After Sanders complaints in 2016, the Iowa state party realized that while the delegates are what really count, it made sense to record who supported which candidate at each step of the caucus’ surprisingly complicated and convoluted process. In the Iowa caucuses, supporters of those below the 15 percent threshold can merge together and form a larger Voltron-like “viable” option for a compromise candidate, or, in some cases, Cory Booker, a candidate who quit the race last month.

The state party insists their problems with the vote totals did not represent a hack or other outside problem. But as Monday turned into Tuesday, Iowa Democratic Party leaders basically declared that no one was allowed to know what the results were, and that no one was allowed to know why nothing could be revealed:

In a call with the campaigns earlier this evening, the Iowa Democratic Party struggled to explain why Iowa caucus results have not been released. According to two sources with information about the call, the party would not say why it was not releasing any information, and struggled to explain what issues had caused the considerable delay.

When the explanation did arrive, the statement generated more questions than answers:

We found inconsistencies in the reporting of three sets of results,” said Mandy McClure, the party’s communications director. “In addition to the tech systems being used to tabulate results, we are also using photos of results and a paper trail to validate that all results match and ensure that we have confidence and accuracy in the numbers we report. This is simply a reporting issue, the app did not go down and this is not a hack or an intrusion. The underlying data and paper trail is sound and will simply take time to further report the results.

Wait, what inconsistencies? Is this a simple matter of somebody forgetting to carry the one, or are the results not seeming to match from one set to the next?

If you aren’t all that invested in who won and resent the fact that this state always gets to go first . . . Monday night was hilarious. The party that constantly reminds us how they are the party of science, the party of education and educators, the party that is forward-looking and embraces the power of technology . . . cannot do math when it counts. The party that wants the federal government to take over the health-care system cannot add up numbers from 1,600 precincts. This was all over again. Staffers for presidential campaigns raged over the fact that when they called up the state party for answers, party officials hung up on them. One precinct secretary was on hold, trying to report results; called in to CNN, finally got through, and then the party hung up on him live on the air.

Come on, guys. Even the Chinese government is giving some answers about the coronavirus outbreak. Saddam Hussein’s old spokesman “Baghdad Bob” may have lied all the time, but at least he was willing to appear in front of the cameras.

Monday night in Iowa was a cross between Franz Kafka and HBO’s Veep, as state party officials insisting that nothing beyond routine issues were being worked out, while everyone stood around, and the talking heads on the cable networks filled airtime, waiting for results that would not come. Shortly after 11 p.m. Eastern, with the deadlines for the front page of East Coast newspapers passing, the candidates started appearing at their Iowa campaign headquarters and giving their victory speeches. We’re used to candidates giving those speeches, with less than 100 percent of precincts reporting, and not knowing exactly how they’ll finish. We’ve never seen candidates give their speeches having no idea how they did, or only the vaguest idea. (From the precincts covered on cable news, Sanders appeared to be having a good night, and Biden not such a good one. But those cities and college towns probably aren’t representative.)

The speeches were not updated to reflect the bizarre circumstances. Sanders referred to, “the message that the voters of Iowa have sent to the nation.” What message?

This morning, Democrats look exactly like what their critics accuse them of being — a bunch of grandiose dreamers whose ambitions greatly exceed their competence. They can’t handle the basics of running elections in a constitutional Republic, but they fantasize of having far-reaching powers over the daily lives of every American.

And it comes on the heels of the results of the Des Moines Register poll being withheld because “a candidate’s name was omitted in at least one interview in which the respondent was asked to name their preferred candidate.”

We can laugh — and we will — but for public faith in free and fair elections, last night was a catastrophe. If we watched this happen in another country, would we believe that the foreign nation was running free and fair elections? Or would we look at the lengthy and inexplicable delay as evidence that some sort of shenanigans were going on?

At some point, hopefully today, we will hear the election results, and those 41 delegates to the Democratic National Convention will get allocated. But how many voters will trust those results? How many will think that the convoluted process — with some precincts being decided by coin tosses! — was unfair to their preferred candidate?

Andrew Yang offered an uncharacteristically lame comment on Twitter that “it might be helpful to have a president and government that understand technology so this sort of thing doesn’t happen.” The president of the United States has nothing to do with how the Iowa Democratic Party runs its caucus, or what app it chooses to use, or whether it does sufficient testing beforehand.

I have never liked the Iowa caucuses. Iowans themselves are fine people, but the fact that this state always gets to go first skews our politics in ridiculous ways. You could argue that ethanol subsidies exist and continue entirely because of the Iowa caucuses. You hear Iowans talking about how they’re having a hard time deciding among the candidates because they’ve only met them twice. For most of the rest of us, our contact with the candidates consists of hearing endless echoes of: “I’m Mike Bloomberg, and I approved this message.” And as laid out many times, caucuses don’t offer a secret ballot, have much lower turnout than primaries, require multi-hour time commitments, and are tougher for those who work nights or have kids.

The Ames, Iowa, straw poll ended as a tradition last cycle, and maybe this debacle will finish off the caucuses:

If one thing was certain from Monday’s debacle, Iowa had just signed its death warrant as the first-in-the-nation caucus state, the legendary Des Moines Register political reporter David Yepsen said.

“This fiasco means the end of the caucuses as a significant American political event. The rest of the country was already losing patience with Iowa anyway and this cooks Iowa’s goose. Frankly, it should,” Yepsen said. “The real winner tonight was Donald Trump, who got to watch his opponents wallow in a mess. A lot of good Democratic candidates and people who fought their hearts out here for … nothing.”

Oh, and as for the Republicans . . .

Meanwhile, the Republicans ran their caucuses . . . without a hitch. Trump won 97 percent, William Weld got 1.3 percent, and Joe Walsh got 1.1 percent. Sure, turnout is much lower when there’s an incumbent, but the GOP is pretty pleased that about 32,000 Republicans came out to participate in a process that had no drama whatsoever.

ADDENDA: Man, I didn’t have “unmitigated disaster with no results” on my preemptive spin scorecard . . .

. . . I guess for one night, Michael Bennet and Deval Patrick are doing roughly as well as everyone else, huh?

Oh, and meanwhile, over in Wuhan China, apparently medical personnel are enforcing quarantine zones with automatic rifles, at least according to video accounts on Twitter. Boy, that doesn’t look ominous, does it? Isn’t that the mid-point of every terrible epidemic-disaster movie?


The 2020 Iowa Democratic Caucus Preemptive Spin Scorecard

From left: Activist Tom Steyer, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar on stage for the Democratic primary debate at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, January 14, 2020. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

Today’s Morning Jolt is sort of like a choose-your-own-adventure book. Figure out who you’re pulling for in the Democratic primary — if none, just read all the way down — and then see where your preferred candidate finishes, and voila — your victory or defeat spin for tonight is ready to go.

If you are a fan of Joe Biden, and . . .

Joe Biden finishes first: “Everyone has been writing this campaign’s obituary since last spring, and all Biden does is lead the pack. All cycle long, this campaign has been mis-covered by woke left twentysomething correspondents who have no sense of history and who are wildly out of touch with real-life Democrats outside of the cities. Joe Biden connects with these people and because of that connection, he’s in the driver’s seat. Biden didn’t win the primary tonight, but he’s in good shape for the next three early states. For all the hullaballoo of the past year, this thing might be effectively over by Super Tuesday.”

Joe Biden finishes second or third: “This is fine, and I don’t mean in the dog-in-a-burning-house kind of way. Iowa is an odd state because so many candidates commit so much time to retail campaigning, and that kind of a campaign hits a wall on Super Tuesday, because you can’t shake hands in diners in ten states simultaneously. We did pretty good here, and we’re going to do pretty good in all of the remaining early states, and then by Super Tuesday, this will be a two-person race, probably our guy against Sanders. A lot of Democrats are terrified Sanders can’t win. We’re built for the long haul.”

Joe Biden finishes fourth: The above, but louder. “This is a bit of a disappointment, but no reason to panic. The difference between first place and fourth place in Iowa is about six delegates. This is a race to hit 1,990 delegates. Pretty soon Buttigieg and Klobuchar’s voters will realize their candidates are not going the distance, and they’re not going to jump on the Bernie or Warren bandwagons. We’re going to consolidate the non-socialist Democrats in the coming contests, and we’ll be fine.”

If you are a fan of Bernie Sanders, and . . .

Bernie Sanders finishes first: “This is an earthquake. The party establishment that wouldn’t let him win last time couldn’t stop him from winning this time. Don’t let anybody else downplay the importance of Iowa — everybody wants to win Iowa. This campaign has the most energized and dedicated grassroots, Bernie’s appeal is much broader than the establishment wants to admit, and this campaign has the momentum. On to New Hampshire, which should be nothing worse than a second-place finish for him. A lot of people thought our man wasn’t a serious contender this time around. Lots of people wrote him off after the heart attack. Everyone completely misunderstood how much the party had changed in four years. Bernie Sanders didn’t change; the Democratic party changed, and now he’s in the perfect position to lead a party that is no longer afraid of being called socialist.”

Bernie Sanders finishes second or third: “It would have been nice to win, but this is okay. Maybe Sanders being away from Iowa for the past few weeks held us back some. For once the conventional wisdom is right, this is a two-man race, and Joe Biden is very shaky frontrunner — maybe a “frontrunner in name only.” We’re coming out of Iowa only a handful of delegates back from the leader, and well-suited to go the distance.”

Bernie Sanders finishes fourth: “This is a surprise, and disappointing, but ultimately an minimally consequential setback. New Hampshire is his state; last time around, he crushed Hillary Clinton there, 60 percent to 40 percent. Any other campaign taking a hit such as this would crumble; Sanders just keeps chugging along . . .”

If you are a fan of Pete Buttigieg, and . . .

Pete Buttigieg finishes first: “By every measure, this shouldn’t have happened. Buttigieg is too young, he’s too unknown, some voters might not be comfortable with a gay nominee. He out-organized, out-hustled, and out-ran candidates who have done this before. Tonight’s results demonstrate that the Democratic party is clearly ready for a fresh face and a new voice to take on Trump. If Biden and Sanders and Warren are faltering this early — hey, guys, it doesn’t get any easier from here on out. We’re going to look back on this night the way we look back on Obama winning Iowa in 2008 and showing everyone that it wasn’t a crazy dream.”

Pete Buttigieg finishes second or third: “A lot of people are going to say a mayor from Indiana really should have won Iowa, but this campaign was up against three well-established big names. Yes, a win would have been nice and blown up the “Biden vs. Bernie” narrative that is far too premature. But this is still an extremely well-funded campaign that’s running competitively in New Hampshire. We’re running behind Statler and Waldorf from The Muppet Show. You better believe Democrats are going to have second thoughts before they formally hand the nomination to either one of them.”

Pete Buttigieg finishes fourth: “Ow. Okay, this stings a little. As the candidate said, “we need to have a strong finish” and clearly we didn’t. But it would be premature to write him off. Buttigieg is still the “wine track” candidate and Iowa was a “beer track” contest. New Hampshire will be better. A bunch of the Super Tuesday states will be better. This is a setback, but not a derailment.”

If you are a fan of Elizabeth Warren, and . . .

Elizabeth Warren finishes first: “To hell with all the polling, most of which had her fourth out of the top four. Iowans famously decide late, and this year, they looked at all the candidates and realized all of the other candidates represented risks in a general election that they just weren’t going to take. Democrats want an experienced fighter who will stand up for women and who won’t shrink in the face of a bully, and they found the candidate who fits those requirements. The other candidates aren’t bad guys, they just came up short. Let’s not forget the Des Moines Register endorsement, and the New York Times endorsement. People scoff about ‘the media,’ but having large swathes of the media believe that you’re the best qualified and have the best ideas is like having the wind at your back. The chronic underestimation of Warren should stop now.”

Elizabeth Warren finishes second or third: “Look who’s got some momentum! Everyone gave us up for dead. Yes, a win would have been nice, but every finish such as this keeps us fighting for another week. She closed strong. Democrats aren’t certain yet, and she can be in the conversation for a long time.”

Elizabeth Warren finishes fourth: “Look, despite leading Iowa in the autumn, this state was never the best fit for her. New Hampshire is better.”

If you are a fan of Amy Klobuchar, and . . .

Amy Klobuchar gets above 15 percent and some delegates: “Look, all four of other big-name candidates have glaring flaws and leave some corner of the party deeply dissatisfied. Klobuchar may not set the world on fire, but she’s the Goldilocks candidate — not too left, not too centrist, not too old, not too young. All we need to do is survive from week to week, and eventually Democrats will realize the need to unite, and Klobuchar is the candidate best positioned to unite the party.”

Amy Klobuchar gets below 15 percent and no delegates: “Tonight is frustrating, but polling showed a surge towards the end. It makes no sense to quit now, after the Manchester Union Leader endorsed her. Even if her numbers never improve from here, if she won’t be the king, so to speak, she could end up being king-maker. She will be the one lower-tier candidate whose endorsement matters — her 4 or 5 percent in the remaining states could make a difference in a tight contest.”

If you are a fan of Andrew Yang: “Nothing that happened tonight matters, a tech CEO talking about dealing with automation was never the kind of candidate who was going to appeal to a bunch of farmers. Just wait until the contest moves on to bigger and more diverse states, and you’ll see him hitting that 15 percent threshold for delegates.”

If you are a fan of Michael Bloomberg: “None of these early states matter. He’s going to laugh and announce that next week he’s running another 100 million in television ads. He’s now running fourth in most national polls. No one is taking him seriously enough. He’s going to clean up a bunch of delegates on Super Tuesday and in March everyone will see that he’s changed how you run for president forever.”

If you are a fan of Tom Steyer: Wait, really? Really? Like, are you related to him or something?

Okay, assuming you really exist, “My guy is running second or third in South Carolina” — no, I didn’t believe it either at first — “and everybody is sleeping on him. He’s going to shock people in the Palmetto State and the whole race will be reset. It will be so eye-opening, Bernie Sanders is going to start saying ‘hi’ back.”

If you are a fan of Tulsi Gabbard: “Tonight’s disappointing finish is because of the treachery of Hillary Clinton, the queen of warmongers, embodiment of corruption, and personification of the rot that has sickened the party for so long — and the fact that the Iowa caucuses were never her kind of contest. Come on, Hawaiian surfer veteran congresswoman who’s taking on the foreign-policy establishment? Iowa’s Democratic caucus is a bunch of union members who want to hear about ethanol subsidies. She appeals to independents. She’s at nearly 5 percent in New Hampshire. CNN’s not even inviting her to their town halls anymore. Anything she gets in this contest, with the deck so stacked against her, should count as a big win.”

If you are a fan of Michael Bennet: “Hey, he outlasted a lot of bigger names!”

If you are a fan of Deval Patrick: “Okay, maybe he should have filed papers to run for president before the middle of November.”

If you’re a Trump fan: “[Five minutes of hysterical laughter, followed by a deep breath] Democrats contend there’s a wide range of voters who oppose President Trump and they’re convinced that’s a strength of the party. But it’s not. There are worlds of difference between the Bernie Bros, and the local bank manager who’s intrigued by Bloomberg’s ads, and the suburban mom who nods along to everything Amy Klobuchar says, and the university diversity and intersectionality management coordinator who thinks Warren is exactly what the country needs, and the old lifelong Democratic farmer who’s sticking with Biden. They’ve all spent a year believing that their preferred candidate is going to win this, or that at least it would be one of their top choices. A significant chunk of the party is going to walk out of this primary process deeply disappointed by the nominee, and those people are going to be awfully tempted to vote third party or stay home. You really think all of those ‘burn it all down’ volunteers for Bernie are going to knock on doors for Joe Biden this fall? If Trump had been a disaster, with a recession and high unemployment and foreign wars, you might keep Democrats united. But 75 percent of U.S. adults say the economy is in good shape. On paper, this race is over already.”

If you’re a right-leaning but not a Trump fan: “I can’t believe it. All Democrats had to do to beat Trump is be normal, and they couldn’t do that.”

ADDENDA: Congratulations to the Kansas City Chiefs and their fans across the country. Now, who’s responsible for planning this week to include the Iowa caucuses tonight, the State of the Union on Tuesday, the impeachment vote on Wednesday, and a Democratic primary debate on Friday?

And just how much does the DNC not want people to watch this debate? Who’s itching to watch a Democratic debate on a Friday night?

White House

The End of Impeachment?

Rep. Adam Schiff peaks next to Rep. Jerry Nadler during a news conference on the Senate impeachment trial of President Trump in Washington, D.C., January 22, 2020. (Mary F. Calvert/Reuters)

On the menu today: With Tennessee senator Lamar Alexander declaring, “there is no need for more evidence to prove something that has already been proven and that does not meet the United States Constitution’s high bar for an impeachable offense,” the Senate’s impeachment trial might be wrapping up as soon as today. If impeachment is indeed coming to a close, it’s time to focus on a strangely unasked question in much of this: Whom were the House impeachment managers trying to persuade? And did they seem like a group that was primarily focused on changing the minds of Republican senators?

Were the House Impeachment Managers Even Trying to Persuade GOP Senators?

In Steven Covey’s bestselling book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, his second habit is to “begin with the end in mind,” which means to “begin each day, task, or project with a clear vision of your desired direction and destination.”

In all likelihood, reaching 67 votes in the Senate to support the removal of the president was probably impossible. House impeachment managers had to try to convince, at minimum, 20 Republican senators to vote to remove. This means that targeting their message to persuade a rebellious senator such as Lisa Murkowski wasn’t enough. The message would have to be designed to persuade senators right in the middle of the GOP caucus who usually vote with the president and who have no inherent desire to see him removed from office. House impeachment managers were asking Republican senators to sign off on something that had never happened in 230 years. (George Washington took the oath of office to be president in 1789.)

Persuading Republican senators is an extremely tall order. But you can fairly ask if the House impeachment managers even tried.

The Ukraine aid was included in the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019; on August 1, 2018, that legislation passed the Senate, 87–10. Only two Republicans voted “nay,” Mike Lee of Utah and Marco Rubio of Florida. Three Republican senators did not vote, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Jeff Flake, and John McCain, who passed away later that month.

So out of the 53 Republican senators in the chamber today, all of them except for Lee, Rubio, Paul, and ones elected in 2018 — Rick Scott, Mike Braun, Josh Hawley, Kevin Cramer, Marsha Blackburn, Mitt Romney, and the appointed Martha McSally — voted for that Ukraine funding. The House impeachment managers message to those 43 Republican senators could have and should have emphasized, “you voted to authorize and appropriate those funds. That is your power as a senator under our Constitutional system. The president had the opportunity to veto that legislation, and he did not. The president had the opportunity to delay the funds legally and openly by communicating to Congress he was hold up the funding under the Impoundment Control Act. He did not do that.”

Before the Senate vote, 220 Republicans and 139 Democrats voted for this legislation. The president didn’t defy Democrats on Ukraine funding. He defied 359 House members and 87 senators of both parties, about as broad a bipartisan consensus as you see in this day and age. And the president himself signed that legislation into law. That presidential signature has to mean something; if signing a bill into law doesn’t represent an acceptance that what is in the legislation will become law, what does it mean? If a president defies a law that he signed into law himself, why should anyone else obey the law?

Senators, that is your constitutionally guaranteed power that the president ignored and defied. Page 132 of the bill, right there in black and white: $250 million. There is no asterisk, no caveat, no indication that this funding is optional. Congress did not mumble, stutter, or have any lack of clarity in what the law required. The law required the executive branch to send $250 million to Ukraine for security assistance, and the executive branch did not, at the direction of the president. If he had concerns about corruption, he could have communicated that before the bill passed, or he could have vetoed the bill, or he could have invoked the Impoundment Control Act. He could have urged a Congressional ally to introduce legislation revoking that funding. He did none of those, and instead tried to just hold up the funding in secret.

If the president does not distribute funds that have been authorized and appropriated by Congress and chooses to simply ignore the law that is passed, then nothing Congress does has any meaning. It means every year’s arguments in Congress about how much we should spend and on what is kabuki theater, because the president will ultimately make all of the government spending decisions himself. If the president does not suffer a significant consequence because of his actions, it means that the Congress has voluntarily given up it’s “power of the purse.” Article I, Section Nine of the Constitution is similarly clear: “No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law; and a regular Statement and Account of Receipts and Expenditures of all public Money shall be published from time to time.” Not only does that give the legislative branch the power to spend the money, it demands accountability to the public of how that money is being spent.

Every member of the Senate begins their time in office by taking an oath: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.”

You cannot take that oath, and then say that the president can refuse to spend money authorized and appropriated by Congress. That is not supporting and defending the Constitution, that is supporting the violation of the Constitution.

It is good that the Ukraine assistance was released on Sept. 11, 2019. Some would argue that because the funding was only delayed, not completely withheld, the circumstance is “no harm, no foul” or “minimal harm, minimal foul.” But would the funding have been released if Politico hadn’t reported that the administration was “slow-walking” the aid on August 28?

If the executive branch only starts to spend congressionally authorized and appropriated money when Congress notices and starts publicly registering its anger, the entire process of how our government spends money will break down, and the separation of powers will be reduced to a cracking facade over a de facto monarchy. The president will have a secret veto of sorts, a way to stop, or at least significantly delay, spending he doesn’t like without ever telling any other branch of government. The legislative branch will have to authorize spending, then appropriate funds, and then check back a few months later to ensure the executive branch actually did as the law required.

Notice this line of argument doesn’t even get into the quid pro quo. The motive isn’t really that important. This line of argument doesn’t contend that Hunter Biden should not testify and it doesn’t attempt to defend Hunter Biden or Joe Biden from allegations of wrongdoing. (Democrats can make an effective impeachment argument, or they can protect the reputations of the Bidens from a process that is likely to make them look bad. Sometimes life puts us in a situation where we have to make difficult choices between two goals and trying to do both means neither goal gets achieved.)

During the trial, impeachment manager Sylvia Garcia of Texas delved into how the president was afraid of running against Biden: “He asked for it because he knew it would be damaging to an opponent who was consistently beating him in the polls and therefore it could help him get reelected in 2020. President Trump had the motive, the opportunity and the means to commit this abuse of power.”

Does that sound like an argument that appears targeted towards the center of the GOP caucus? Does that seem likely to persuade a Republican senator?

The Democrats want to prove that President Trump abused his power. Everything I laid out above focuses on a different question: Did the president violate the Constitution? The motive for it is moot. It doesn’t matter whether Trump did it because he thought the Ukraine assistance would be wasted or whether he did it because he was trying to strongarm the Ukrainian government. The violation of Congress’s authority to control and direct spending is the same.

The House managers want to argue, “Trump is a bad guy and his presidency must end,” which was never going to get much traction among the “jurors” they’re supposed to be trying to persuade. The argument “Trump’s actions violated the Constitution, and must carry a serious consequence, otherwise we will get more of this from him and future presidents” might get a little more traction. Focus on the principle, not the person. You might persuade Senate Republicans that more than a party-line vote might act as a warning shot to Trump and to future presidents. An impeachment vote that falls short of 67 votes but comes close, with well more than half, would still be a stinging rebuke.

The big question of the past week has been whether the Senate would hear from witnesses. How many facts are in dispute in this case? Sure, John Bolton would probably be able to flesh out some anecdotes and provide colorful details, but the relevant question is the date of the transfer of funds. Senate watchers believe that if 47 Democrats vote to have witnesses, and three Republicans vote with them, the vote would come down to a 50–50 tie. The vice president has no role in impeachment, for obvious reasons. The tiebreaking vote would come from . . . Chief Justice John Roberts.

Past history has taught us that John Roberts doesn’t like controversy and doesn’t like getting dragged into partisan politics. If you’re a Democrat who is hoping for removal and for Roberts to make that tough decision on witnesses, you want to avoid antagonizing him as much as possible. You want to appear reasonable, and fair-minded, and focused on the facts.

Yesterday, the trial was at the question-and-answer portion; senators submit their questions in writing and the chief justice, presiding over the trial, reads them to either the impeachment managers or the president’s attorneys.

Elizabeth Warren submitted this question to the House impeachment managers: “At a time when large majorities of Americans have lost faith in government, does the fact that the chief justice is presiding over an impeachment trial in which Republican senators have thus far refused to allow witnesses or evidence contribute to the loss of legitimacy of the chief justice, the Supreme Court, and the Constitution?”

Your mileage may vary on how you interpret Roberts’s facial expression after reading that question aloud and staring in Warren’s direction; most of his face was stony but to me his eyes could not hide his exasperation. You could almost see the thought bubble over his head: “Really? I’m doing my best to prevent this from turning into a circus, I have no authority to order anyone to testify, and you’re giving me grief like this?”

Warren put Adam Schiff in a somewhat awkward position; he immediately responded, “Senator, I would not say that it contributes to a loss of confidence in the chief justice. I think the chief justice has presided admirably.” The trial watchers and legal analysts thought that question was a serious mistake, unnecessarily putting the chief justice into an incredibly awkward position. (Now if Roberts were to cast the deciding vote in favor of witnesses, he looks like he’s acquiescing to pressure from Warren.)

“Begin with the end in mind.” If your goal is to get Roberts to vote your way if the question of witnesses comes down to him, then you don’t ask a question like that.

But if your goal is, “make sure your name is in the headlines, four days before the Iowa caucuses,” well then . . . mission accomplished, I guess.

ADDENDUM: On this week’s The Editors podcast, wrapping up impeachment and trying to forecast the big finishes in Iowa.


Warren Wants to Help You . . . Until It Hurts Her Campaign

Senator Elizabeth Warren speaks to the media as the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump continues in Washington, January 27, 2020. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

On the menu today: how Elizabeth Warren’s claim of Native heritage drove her to an awkward flip-flop on a little-noticed policy issue; a new series of surveys suggests Medicare for All is a serious liability in those key swing states; the endgame in Iowa approaches, with one candidate almost entirely forgotten; and a key voice on Wall Street makes a clear and bold prediction about the upcoming presidential election.

Elizabeth Warren’s Big Flip-Flop on Native-American Gambling

On page 80 of Elizabeth Warren’s 2003 book, The Two-Income Trap, she made a brief reference to gambling and its role in contributing to the rising rate of Americans filing for bankruptcy:

If the bankruptcy system isn’t packed with frauds and cheats, then why are so many families in trouble?” With a million and a half families declaring bankruptcy each year, one might expect innumerable explanations for all that financial mayhem. During our interviews we heard a wide variety of reasons. Some were victims of crime, some had made bad investments, some had problems with alcohol or gambling and some had lost their homes in a flood or earthquake… Nearly nine out of ten families with children cite just three reasons for their bankruptcies: job loss, family breakup and medical problems.

Back in 2014, as a senator, Warren expressed opposition to a previously passed Massachusetts law that expanded legal gambling, and expressed support for a referendum that aimed to strictly limited what was allowed in the state, “You have to remember, I come to the question of gambling from a background in bankruptcy and what happens economically to families. It’s a tough call to make. People need jobs, but gambling can also be a real problem, economically, for a lot of people. I didn’t support gambling the first time around and I don’t expect to support it.”

For quite a long while, Warren was a vocal skeptic, if not an outright staunch opponent, of legal gambling. (That happens to align with what I think!) And then she got in hot water over her claims of Native-American heritage, and then she moved to help a tribe in her home state get the authority to use land the way it wishes, which just happens to include plans to build an elaborate new destination resort casino in Taunton, Mass.

A new digital ad will launch Thursday and run in Iowa and New Hampshire hitting her on the casino plan.

For what it’s worth, Warren insists she’s not flip-flopping:

Warren told WMUR she has long opposed legalized gambling. But she also defended a bill she co-sponsored in 2018 that would have essentially overturned a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that blocked the Wampanoag tribe in her home state from pursuing a plan for a $1 billion casino.

Warren said Thursday, as she has in the past, that the bill had nothing to do with the casino.

“I sponsored a bill for the Wampanoags to have control over their own land,” Warren said, adding that Massachusetts state law, and not her bill, would allow the tribe to build a casino on the land.

“The question about the Wampanoags’ land is a powerfully important historical question,” Warren said. “And for the federal government to deny them control over this land and refuse to take this land into trust for the Wampanoag is something that is not only bad for that tribe, it is bad for tribal nations across the country.”

In Warren’s mind, all she’s supporting is a tribal sovereignty bill, a bill that just happens to give the green light to the big new casino they want to build.

In all likelihood, this is rival local interests — either wanting the casino, or Rhode Island casinos that don’t want competition — plugging their fight into preexisting political rivalries. (Would the plan to give the Wampanoags control over that land be as divisive if their development plans didn’t include a casino?) But for Warren, it’s a reminder of her implausible claims to Native ancestry and how her need to mitigate the damage from that decision created a parallel need to demonstrate that she could be tribes’ biggest friend in Washington. She really wants to mitigate the financial risks to working families . . . up until the moment doing so could really complicate her presidential ambitions.

Wowsers, Is Medicare for All Going to Be a Liability in the Upper Midwest!

One of the most fascinating stories of 2020 is how so many Democratic candidates convinced themselves that Medicare for All would be a big winner in the general election. The centrist think tank Third Way comes along today like the robot in Lost in Space, waving its arms and shouting to Democrats, “Danger, Will Robinson, danger!”

Three new polls of likely general election voters in the Blue Wall states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin reveal that voters are deeply skeptical about Medicare for All and that the policy will not help Democrats beat Donald Trump in these top 2020 battleground states. These findings may explain why by margins of 19-points in Pennsylvania, 16-points in Michigan, and 17-points in Wisconsin, Democrats and persuadable voters would rather the Democratic nominee run on building off the Affordable Care Act over Medicare for All . . .

In no state does a Democrat who supports Medicare for All beat Donald Trump, losing by four in Michigan, by one in Pennsylvania, and tying in Wisconsin. But a Democrat who supports building off the ACA wins by six in Wisconsin, two in Pennsylvania, and is down by two in Michigan. Medicare for All is not the answer for persuading voters in 2020.

Perhaps a thick of layer of voter ignorance in starting to melt away. As recently as October, majorities of Americans had no idea how Medicare for All worked and more or less assumed it was like the current system but without the parts they didn’t like: “The same survey also revealed that a majority of Americans are still seriously misinformed about how Medicare for All would work. 55 percent of respondents believed that people who get insurance through their jobs would keep those plans, and the same percentage believed that people who bought their own insurance would keep those plans. A separate question found that 40 percent said they thought private insurance would still be the primary way that Americans would get coverage under Medicare for All. 54 percent said that individuals and employers would continue to pay health insurance premiums.”

Under the bill introduced by Bernie Sanders, and co-sponsored by Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, and Elizabeth Warren, it is illegal for “a private health insurer to sell health insurance coverage that duplicates the benefits provided under this act” or “an employer to provide benefits for an employee, former employee, or the dependents of an employee or former employee that duplicate the benefits provided under this act.”

The Democratic Primary’s Forgotten Man — I Mean, Really Forgotten

This move by Joe Biden and other candidates is a just smart tactic, operating under caucus rules where if your candidate doesn’t get above 15 percent, you have to choose somebody else or go home:

Joe Biden and other leading candidates are actively courting lower-polling campaigns in the final days before the Iowa caucuses, hoping to forge election night alliances designed to pick up the supporters of candidates who fail to move past the first ballot.

Biden’s campaign has approached at least two rival primary campaigns, seeking to broker agreements ahead of the Monday night’s caucuses, according to sources familiar with his overtures. And an aide to Tom Steyer said Wednesday that his campaign had been approached by “multiple candidates.”

This could be a big deal for Warren (right around or above that 15 percent threshold) and Amy Klobuchar, who’s finished with 13 percent, 11 percent, and 10 percent in the last three polls. Fans of Andrew Yang, Tom Steyer, and Tulsi Gabbard won’t see their candidate get delegates, but they can decide whether Warren and Klobuchar have a good enough night or a bad defeat.

But in a primary process that has served up heaping portions of humiliation for a lot of once-promising rising stars in the Democratic party, this sentence ranks high among all of the indicators of long-lost dignity: “Former Rep. John Delaney, a non-factor in public polling in Iowa despite campaigning tirelessly there since 2017, said Wednesday that he was not aware of outreach to his campaign from any other competitor.”

This poor guy. He’s got so little support no one’s even remembering to ask for his endorsement.

ADDENDA: Our old friend James Pethokoukis shares this anecdote from Goldman Sachs: “A whopping 80-90 percent of participants at our client conferences thought that President Trump would win reelection in November.”

Politics & Policy

The Pendulum of American Politics

Voters cast their ballots to vote in state and local elections at Robious Elementary School in Midlothian, a suburb of Richmond, Virginia, U.S. November 5, 2019. (Ryan M. Kelly/Reuters)

On the menu today: an eye-opening poll on political animosity; a powerful argument that America’s elites have forgotten what their positions require of them; and a question about the Senate’s consideration of witnesses in the impeachment trial.

Would the Country Be Better Off If Large Numbers of the Political Opposition ‘Just Died’?

This weekend, one of the speakers at Stand Together mentioned a survey conducted in 2019 that tried to measure just how much each side of the partisan divide downright loathed each other:

Just over 42 percent of the people in each party view the opposition as “downright evil.” In real numbers, this suggests that 48.8 million voters out of the 136.7 million who cast ballots in 2016 believe that members of opposition party are in league with the devil.

The mass partisanship paper was written by Nathan P. Kalmoe and Lilliana Mason, political scientists at Louisiana State University and the University of Maryland.

Kalmoe and Mason, taking the exploration of partisan animosity a step farther, found that nearly one out of five Republicans and Democrats agree with the statement that their political adversaries “lack the traits to be considered fully human — they behave like animals.”

Their line of questioning did not stop there.

How about: “Do you ever think: ‘we’d be better off as a country if large numbers of the opposing party in the public today just died’?”

Some 20 percent of Democrats (that translates to 12.6 million voters) and 16 percent of Republicans (or 7.9 million voters) do think on occasion that the country would be better off if large numbers of the opposition died.

We’re not finished: “What if the opposing party wins the 2020 presidential election. How much do you feel violence would be justified then?” 18.3 percent of Democrats and 13.8 percent of Republicans said violence would be justified on a scale ranging from “a little” to “a lot.”

People realize that we’re stuck with each other, right? There are almost 63 million Americans who voted for President Trump and almost 66 million Americans who voted for Hillary Clinton. We will have an election in November, and 60-some million people will vote for the president and 60-some million people will vote for his Democratic opponent. One candidate will get more than 270 electoral votes, and that will decide the winner, but those 60-some million people on each side aren’t going anywhere. An exceptionally small number of people who threaten to leave the country if the candidate they loathe wins actually follow through on this.

There is no scenario of “final victory” where masses on the other side just give up and decide that the opposition was right all along.

Some Democrats may believe that demographic changes will eventually give them a decisive majority, but they forget something. As the elderly die off, the older members of the younger generation become middle-aged. They get married, have kids, buy houses and get mortgages, and get a 401(k). They start to complain about the marriage penalty, public schools that aren’t good enough for their kids, care about the home-mortgage deduction, and want policies that make the stock market rise. They climb up the income ladder and start to get frustrated with tax rates. Also, they start to wonder why pop music isn’t as good as when they were teenagers, and eventually, they start telling kids to get off their lawn.

There’s churn in the electorate each year. Roughly 3.5 million Americans turn 18 each year; roughly 2.5 million Americans die each year. Approximately 620,000 to 780,000 legal immigrants become U.S. citizens each year.

In 2012, you saw a lot of assessments that declared that demographic shifts were building to a permanent change in partisan balance in the country: “Indeed, electoral demographics have become the driving force of the past two presidential elections, a fulfillment of Peter Brimelow and Ed Rubenstein’s 1997 prophecy, ‘Demography is destiny in American politics.’ They forecasted 2008 as the year when a shift in ethnic demographics would ensure the Republican party’s inexorable slide to ‘minority status.’ ”

That assessment looked prescient in 2008, less so in 2010, looked back on track in 2012, much less accurate in 2014, wildly wrong in 2016, and somewhat back on track again in 2018. (Turnout rates within particular demographics can change!) Why, it’s almost as if people’s voting decisions aren’t as predictable as political scientists think, and the parties adjust their messaging to court previously skeptical demographics. Today’s Democrats are doing a lot better among white-collar suburban professionals than they did a decade ago. They’re doing a lot worse among blue-collar whites. Democrats contend Trump is a rabid xenophobe with a particular animosity towards Latinos. Most polling indicates he will get between 25 percent to 30 percent of the Latino vote, around the 28 percent that exit polls indicated he received last time.

Because there won’t be any mass alien abduction that removes millions of Americans from the voter rolls, we need to find ways to live with one another. Sure, the winning side can enact its preferred policies, but the pendulum of American politics has swung back and forth since 1992. Anything you enact can get repealed by the other guy down the road once he’s got the presidency and a congressional majority. The best way to establish a lasting change — like, say, welfare reform, the Patriot Act, Right to Try, or the First Step Act — is to pass it with a reasonably bipartisan majority. If both sides buy in, both sides have an incentive to make the idea work.

‘There Is Just One Elite, and It Is Increasingly Becoming Its Own Sector of Society.’

The above point ties in pretty well with today’s excellent excerpt from Yuval Levin’s A Time to Build: From Family and Community to Congress and the Campus, How Recommitting to Our Institutions Can Revive the American Dream:

As William Deresiewicz has noted, the percentage of students at selective colleges whose families are in the top quarter of income earners in America has gone from roughly 45 percent in 1985 to more than 65 percent today. Our meritocracy is plainly rearranging itself into a more familiar aristocratic pattern, which leaves us less and less persuaded of its claim to legitimate authority.

For similar reasons, the American elite has actually grown more homogeneous in terms other than race, sex, ethnicity, and family connections. Business elites, professional elites, political elites, cultural elites, media elites, and academic elites were not so long ago fairly distinct groups of people in American life — each with its characteristic set of educational backgrounds, cultural identities, political affiliations, and life experiences that crosscut in constructive ways. Today, we increasingly find a uniform body of elites atop these different institutions, all of whom share the same kinds of educational backgrounds, cultural affinities, and political priorities. Different sectors of American society no longer really have their own elites, because there is just one elite, and it is increasingly becoming its own sector of society.

What is worse, this new aristocracy is in some important respects less modest about its own legitimacy than the old. Because each of its members must work to prove his or her merit — to pass the key tests and clear the key hurdles — today’s elite is more likely to believe it has earned its power and possesses it by right more than privilege. Because our elite as a whole has inclined to this view, it tends to impose fewer restraints on its use of authority and generally doesn’t identify itself with the sort of code of conduct that past aristocracies at least claimed to uphold. Even when today’s elites devote themselves to public service, as many do, they tend not to see it as the fulfillment of an obligation to give back but rather as a demonstration of their own high-mindedness and merit.

People have risen to positions of great responsibility and public trust without seeming to recognize that they have those responsibilities and public trusts. As if to illustrate Levin’s point: “Charles Lieber, the chair of Harvard University’s Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, has been arrested and criminally charged with making ‘false, fictitious and fraudulent statements’ to the U.S. Defense Department about his ties to a Chinese government program to recruit foreign scientists and researchers.”

A less-discussed aspect of the recent college-admissions scandal was that so many of the parents caught in the fraud, besides the famous actresses, worked as investment executives, doctors, lawyers, and other positions of considerable public trust. Many people trusted these individuals with their retirement savings, their health, their fate in the hands of the law. All of these people were “elite” in their income and social standing. And all of them, when push came to shove, felt it was okay to cheat to get ahead.

What If the Senate Heard from Lots of Witnesses?

The word that John Bolton’s book will include accounts of conversations directly relevant to the accusations against President Trump made it more likely that the U.S. Senate will vote to hear from witnesses. As of this writing, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell doesn’t know which way a vote on that issue would shake out.

Senator Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) was discussing a possible Bolton-for-Biden “one-for-one” witness deal. A thought experiment: What if the alternative course was taken, and both the impeachment managers and the president’s defense team could call all the witnesses they wanted? Clearly, McConnell would prefer to get this trial over and done with as quickly as possible. Everyone knows how it ends. But maybe a trial that drags on for weeks and weeks, maybe months and months, would check a bunch of boxes: No one could argue that the Senate rushed the decision, the public that has largely tuned it out would grow more convinced that it’s a waste of time, and it would drive Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren batty.

The good news for impeachment advocates is that public support, as measured through the FiveThirtyEight aggregation, is 50.6 percent. The bad news is that opposition is 45.2 percent. That’s a slight improvement since the beginning of the year. But the overall trend looks like a flatlining EKG monitor — 80-some percent of Democrats, low 40-some percent of independents, and less than 10 percent of Republicans support removal. (In October, 79 percent of Democrats, 40 percent of independents, and 13 percent of Republicans supported removal.)

That’s the kind of public-opinion split that makes a party-line vote on impeachment probable.

ADDENDUM: A fascinating revelation about some of the stories we heard about the world’s most wanted terrorist, straight from Robert O’Neill, the U.S. Navy SEAL who shot Osama bin Laden: “We invented bin Laden’s kidney failure so we could tell which sources were lying to us. ‘It’s him, I saw the dialysis machine.’ It’s called counter-intelligence. You’re welcome.”


Bernie Is Frightening the Democrats

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks in Columbia, S.C., January 20, 2020. (Sam Wolfe/Reuters)

On the menu today: Establishment Democrats suddenly realize Bernie Sanders might win the nomination; a lot of ominous signs for Sanders in a general-election matchup; some other observations from the winter meeting of the “Stand Together” groups allied with Charles Koch; and some little-known sterling organizations making a difference.

The Sudden Democratic Panic about Bernie Sanders

One week before the Iowa caucuses, with Bernie Sanders leading most polls in that state and in New Hampshire, the rest of the Democratic party is suddenly realizing that the Vermont senator could well win the nomination. At NBC News, Politico, and ABC News, the big story this morning is that the Democratic establishment has been caught asleep at the wheel for a second straight cycle.

I know not everyone in the NR audience has such a warm-and-fuzzy perspective about our old friend and colleague David Frum. But Frum is a guy who at least spent some time in the conservative movement and GOP politics, and periodically he reminds the mostly left-of-center audience of The Atlantic of how the world actually works, and when he does, it can turn out to be hilarious. It’s like watching a parent try to explain to kids that the coins in their piggy bank cannot, in fact, cover the costs of a trip to Disney World:

Bernie Sanders is a fragile candidate. He has never fought a race in which he had to face serious personal scrutiny. None of his Democratic rivals is subjecting him to such scrutiny in 2020. Hillary Clinton refrained from scrutinizing Sanders in 2016. It did not happen, either, in his many races in Vermont. A Politico profile in 2015 by Michael Kruse argued that Sanders had benefited from “an unwritten compact between Sanders, his supporters, and local reporters who have steered clear” of writing about Sanders’s personal history “rather than risk lectures about the twisted priorities of the press.”

The Trump campaign will not steer clear. It will hit him with everything it’s got. It will depict him as a Communist in the grip of twisted sexual fantasies, a useless career politician who oversaw a culture of sexual harassment in his 2016 campaign. Through 2019, Donald Trump and his proxies hailed Sanders as a true voice of the people, thwarted by the evil machinations of the Hillary Clinton machine. They will not pause for a minute before pivoting in 2020 to attack him as a seething stew of toxic masculinity whose vicious online followers martyred the Democratic Party’s first female presidential nominee…

Trump will terrorize the suburban moderates with the threat that Sanders will confiscate their health insurance and stock holdings, if not their homes. Trump accused Democrats of pro-ayatollah sympathies for noticing that his story about the killing of Qassem Soleimani was full of holes. In 1980, Sanders joined a left-wing party whose presidential candidate condemned “anti-Iranian hysteria around the U.S. hostages” being held at the U.S. embassy in Tehran, suggesting that “many of them are simply spies … or people assigned to protect the spies,” as Ronald Radosh reported in The Daily Beast. Imagine what Trump and his team will do with that.

A lot of stuff that was either no big deal or dismissed as “just Bernie being Bernie” in Vermont will look really bad in GOP attack ads in all of those swing states. I still can’t believe we haven’t seen a single commercial that even mentions Sanders’s otherworldly op-ed about women’s rape fantasies. The Sanders campaign will insist it was the foolish ramblings from a confused young man, written many decades ago. The Trump campaign will point out, accurately, that Sanders was 30 years old when he wrote it.

The whistling-past-the-graveyard assessment of Sanders for Democrats is that his particular quirks won’t much effect on the overall contours of the race; in a matchup between any Democrat and Trump, any Democrat just has to keep the blue states and flip the big three in the Upper Midwest — Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania — to win the presidency. But . . . a new poll released Monday measured head to head matchups in Delaware, and . . . Bernie Sanders is ahead of Donald Trump only by a point. Maybe not all those blue states look so secure if Sanders is the nominee.

And did I say flip Pennsylvania? Maybe that’s not such a safe bet!

John Fetterman, Pennsylvania’s lieutenant governor, and Bill Peduto, Pittsburgh’s mayor, both Democrats, agree on one thing: a pledge to ban all hydraulic fracturing, better known as fracking, could jeopardize any presidential candidate’s chances of winning this most critical of battleground states — and thus the presidency itself. So as Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren woo young environmental voters with a national fracking ban, these two Democrats are uneasy.

“In Pennsylvania, you’re talking hundreds of thousands of related jobs that would be — they would be unemployed overnight,” said Mr. Fetterman, who endorsed Mr. Sanders in 2016 before Donald J. Trump won his state, pop. 12.8 million, by just over 44,000 votes. “Pennsylvania is a margin play,” he added. “And an outright ban on fracking isn’t a margin play.”

Ramesh lays out an argument that the Trump campaign, or Trump supporters, will use to sway Trump-skeptical or Trump-weary conservatives if Sanders is the Democratic nominee. Even a minimally competent President Sanders would still make America significantly more open to socialist policies in the long run. “The limits of what’s politically possible will shift left as the political world adjusts to the new reality. Politicians, strategists, journalists, activists and voters who thought that certain ideas were too far left to make it in America would revise their sense of the country, and of what counts as extreme or as realistic within it. The ground on which future races for president, governor and Congress are contested would move left. That doesn’t mean the U.S. would be Venezuela, or even Denmark, by the start of 2022. But it is reasonable to expect that government policy 10 or 20 years from now would be considerably more socialistic than it would be if Trump were re-elected — or if Biden were elected.”

Signs of Hope for America, Well beyond the Beltway

Various news and notes from this year’s Koch/“Stand Together” winter meeting . . .

  • A jaw-dropping statistic mentioned Saturday: “People don’t see a system that values them — and they’re right,” Brian Hooks, president of the Charles Koch Foundation, told the gathered attendees. “They don’t see a system that gives them a chance, and increasingly, people don’t see a role for themselves in society. The consequences are devastating. People are losing hope. They’re literally dying. Life expectancy is down for the first time in over a century. Suicide, alcoholism, drug overdoses killing twice as many people each and every year than the number of Americans who died in the Vietnam war.”
  • Senator Mike Lee of Utah had planned to attend the Koch Stand Together meeting, but he was on jury duty in Washington, so to speak. He recorded a taped message that applauded the network’s movement into foreign policy, and in particular, that it is time to end our military presence in Afghanistan. Lee said, “we need an open, honest, robust discussion about what our goals are, particularly in Washington. With great power comes great responsibility.” I’m fairly certain that’s a deliberate quote of Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben. This is the senator who cited Tauntauns during remarks on the Senate floor.
  • Former Virginia senator Jim Webb was in attendance and spoke very briefly during the presentation on ending the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan. “I think when you look at where we are in foreign policy today, even those of us like myself who grew up in the military, served in combat, my son served as a Marine rifleman in Iraq, have to say that the foreign policy apparatus in this country is now broken and it needs to be fixed with positive leadership.”

The Koch winter meeting loves to spotlight charitable and nonprofit groups with new and different approaches to tacking social problems.

  • At unCommon Construction, youth from Louisiana high schools apply to join a team that builds a house each semester. They earn hourly pay and school internship credit; with the revenue from each project, apprentices also earn a matching “equity award scholarship” for further education, industry certifications, or the tools needed for long-term employment. Todd Rose, professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and co-founder of the think tank Populace, said “the moral isn’t that every kid should spend a semester learning how to build a house,” or that construction should be their fallback profession. It’s that every kid should be able to find a way to realize their full potential, and that right now, too many school systems aren’t providing enough options to do that.
  • In Dallas, Café Momentum is a downtown restaurant where the entire staff has done time in the juvenile-justice system. Each teen or young adult rotates around all the roles in the restaurant, and has access to pre- or after-work hangout for studying, preparing for job interviews at other restaurants, and so on. One of the points I appreciated the organizers acknowledging that the café won’t work miracles for everyone; out of roughly 800 teens and young adults who have worked there, the recidivism rate is about 15 percent. But the statewide rate of recidivism for juveniles who have been through the system is 50 percent. This week, there will be a Café Momentum pop-up restaurant in Miami, for the week of the Super Bowl.
  • The Mobile Loaves and Fishes Program is using those 3-D printed homes mentioned yesterday to create a community for the chronic homeless — people who have been out on the streets for anywhere to five to fifteen years. Expanding from an RV park, the facility will soon have those small but cozy and well-built small homes. The organizers emphasize that the homeless need more than a meal or a roof over their heads; in many cases, they have lost their families, their sense of community, a sense of connection to other people. Those in the program find some role — barbers, repair work, pottery, wood working, organic farming.
  • The Phoenix is a “sober active community” that uses sports and fitness to help people through the process of recovery from addiction. “People come in for the workout, and they end up staying for the new community that they’ve built,” says founder Scott Strode.

As mentioned yesterday, “this country is full of good people who want to make a difference.” And sometimes these corners of America with good people making a difference feel like they’re light years away from what’s going on in Washington.

ADDENDUM: Look, my fellow air travelers. I hate delayed flights and the risk of missed connections as much as the next guy. But the weather is the weather, and if you fly through, say, San Francisco, there’s always going to be the chance of fog delaying things. The poor woman behind the counter at the gate cannot control the weather and, in most circumstances, is doing the best she can. It does not matter to the weather if you have a lot of frequent-flyer miles, and the gate agent’s manager isn’t going to be able to change the weather, either.


What Does It Mean to ‘Stand Together’?

Donald Trump greets Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and former Vice President Joe Biden as former U.S. President Barack Obama looks on after inauguration ceremonies swearing in Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States on the West front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., January 20, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson – HT1ED1K1JGTSG

On the menu today: a lot of reporting from the winter meeting of the political and philanthropic groups backed by Charles Koch; an argument for all the requested witnesses during impeachment; and an unexpected figure argues in favor of President Trump’s reelection.

‘Every Person Has Value,’ but Few People in Politics Act As If That Is True.

Indian Wells, Calif. — One of the recurring rallying cries at the winter meetings of the network of groups tied to billionaire Charles Koch is that no one should be written off as hopeless, dismissed as a waste, or left behind. Almost every speaker offers some version of this message: “Every person has value.” “Every single person has something to contribute.” “Every person has some extraordinary talent.” “Every person has potential and ability to rise.”

One of the points I try to emphasize in my coverage of these meetings is the particular philosophy that guides these exceptionally deep-pocketed donors. They’re generally right of center, and many have donated to GOP candidates, but they’re extremely enthusiastic about “social entrepreneurs” — those who create nonprofits and for-profit businesses focused on tackling society’s problems, such as addiction, poverty, insufficient educational opportunities, criminals reentering society, and so on.

Since I’ve started covering these meetings in 2017, a few publications have predicted “a pivot away” from politics and policy by the network, a characterization that Emily Seidel, chief executive officer of Americans for Prosperity, vehemently disputes. But it’s probably accurate to say that the network has concluded that backing and electing their preferred candidates is only going to get them about halfway to where they want to go.

That candidate support is likely to be somewhat unpredictable for those who see Stand Together — the new name for the assembly of Koch-affiliated groups — as a de facto extension of the GOP. Last year, Americans for Prosperity Action endorsed the reelection of Mississippi state senator Juan Barnett for his impassioned efforts to shepherd criminal-justice reform legislation to passage. Barnett is a Democrat.

Unsurprisingly, Democrats aren’t knocking down the door and seeking an endorsement from AFP. “I think it’s an area where we’ve got a lot of trust to build,” Seidel said. “In 2019, we were in 38 races, one of those was for a Democrat. And so that ratio, especially at the state level, where the hyper-partisanship hasn’t quite infiltrated and people are more willing to work together, where there’s the opportunity for both Republicans and Democrats to lead on these issues that we think are so important, I think there’s more chance we would support Democrats at the state level at this point.”

Despite a lot of rhetoric about unity, neither political party in the U.S. fully embraces that “every single person has something to contribute” philosophy. Leaders of both parties would claim they believe this, but obviously they don’t behave as if they believe this. It’s fair to wonder how many Republicans see value and potential and dignity in drug addicts, felons who have served their sentences, the homeless, the Dreamers, and those who claim to be victimized by police. And it’s very fair to doubt whether Democrats see value and potential and dignity in gun owners, rural communities, evangelical Christians or anyone who expresses an insufficiently “woke” opinion; some openly contend that Wall Street and the rich are “parasites.” The subtext of a lot of our most heated political rhetoric is in fact, “only some of us have value, and only some of us deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.”

Hillary Clinton labeled a portion of Trump voters “deplorables,” Trump regularly compares his foes to dogs or other animals and has called congressional Democrats and Never Trump critics “human scum.” Figures such as Rick Wilson fire back, “if there’s a sharper critique of America’s failed education system than the breathless, mindless Trump voter, I can’t name it.” Allegedly respected political scientists attempt to clinically diagnose Trump voters as “cognitively challenged,” “driven by racism and sexism,” and incapable of being “won back by intellectual arguments.”

One of the winter meeting’s speakers was Daniel Lubetzky, the billionaire founder and executive chairman of Kind Snacks. He developed a line of Dead Sea beauty products made by Israelis and Palestinians and has been involved in various charitable and nonprofit efforts to get Israelis and Palestinians to work together against extremism and terrorism.

“For me, it’s staggeringly terrifying that I learned the tools to connect people there, I find necessary now here,” Lubetzky said. “And I’ll tell you what’s even more terrifying, we would go to Gaza and the Gaza Strip, Ramallah and Jerusalem find a way to help them find common ground, and to build a shared future. It’s harder for me to build a common ground when I talk to Democrats and Republicans! It is funny, and terrifying!”

There’s a consequence to all of this. Good people who don’t want to be demonized stay away from the political realm. At this moment in our national life, getting involved in politics is basically signing up to be treated with contempt, and if you’re unlucky enough, attracting the attention of people who want you fired, or for your business to be shut down, or to harass you online or perhaps even in person.

One of the signs on the elevators at the Koch gathering declares, “This country is full of good people who want to make a difference.” That statement is simultaneously obvious, reassuring, easily forgotten, and somewhat radical in an era of hyper-partisan polarization that contends the opposition yearns to damage the country.

I asked Stand Together network member Amy Rees Anderson what would make 2020 a successful year from her perspective, and she hoped the entire tone of the discourse around elections would improve: “One of the reasons we don’t see more women going into politics is because it’s just — they have families that get affected. It’s gotten where you’re almost safer in the mafia because they at least have rules! We don’t go after the families! It’s such a discouraging thing, because a lot of good people, who could really have an impact, they’re scared to jump in. They just don’t want their families brutalized, and the ugliness of it.”

Anderson joined the network out of an interest in promoting entrepreneurship and considered herself relatively uninterested in politics until a conversation with one of her employees vividly illustrated the unintended consequences of government policies. She had wanted to give a raise to some of her employees in a rural location, and some employees didn’t want it.

“I said, ‘what do you mean, you can’t take the raise?’” Anderson recalled. “And they said, ‘if I do, I lose all of these government benefits I have,” — benefits that were only given to those below a certain income threshold. “They said, ‘it’s too expensive to take the raise.’ It was this eye-opener, it was almost as if our system had been set up so that they would be forever held there. I saw what it did to those employees’ self-worth . . . Philanthropy is one aspect to it, but if we’re leaving things in place that strip people of their self-worth and their ability to succeed on their own, you can’t shy away from the political aspect, because one affects the other so deeply.”

The gathering is one of the most refreshing events I get to cover all year, because it’s full of people who reject the “me against you” mentality and who instead have a “me and you against the problem” one.

“I think what’s great about this group here is that everybody has their own opinion, and everybody’s okay with that,” Anderson told me. “Some are more conservative, some are less, but I think everybody has such a healthy respect for the quality of individuals that are involved here, that you respect everybody’s opinion and right to differ on certain things.” Then again, maybe it’s easier to build that collegial, respectful atmosphere when you gather more than 600 people who are all successful and wealthy enough to commit, at minimum, $100,000 to the group’s goals and affiliated organizations.

I spoke with one donor who characterized himself as more left-of-center in his politics, who joined the network because of its work in building social capital in troubled communities. He joked that some of his friends would stop speaking to him if they knew he was associating with someone such as Charles Koch. It illustrates why the organization is so eager to get reporters to start referring to it by its official name  “Stand Together” — instead of “the Koch network.”

The donor, a Californian, said to me that the network is like the world’s finest sushi restaurant — the best fish, the best décor and furnishings, the best sushi chefs in the world.

“And outside, the sign says, ‘cold dead fish,’” he said with a laugh.

Alright, If We’re Going to Have Witnesses, Let’s Have All the Witnesses

John Bolton’s book is apparently full of detailed descriptions of exchanges with the president that blow up the “there was no quid pro quo” argument from the White House.

In his August 2019 discussion with Mr. Bolton, the president appeared focused on the theories Mr. Giuliani had shared with him, replying to Mr. Bolton’s question that he preferred sending no assistance to Ukraine until officials had turned over all materials they had about the Russia investigation that related to Mr. Biden and supporters of Mrs. Clinton in Ukraine.

Okay, bring in John Bolton to testify. Bring in all the witnesses each side wants. If Trump’s team wants Hunter Biden to testify, bring in Hunter Biden. Do this fully and completely; don’t let anybody argue afterwards that it wasn’t a fair process because the Senate didn’t hear from this witness or that witness. Tell Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar that it’s bad luck, but they’re going to be off the campaign trial for a long while. If they really hate it, they can resign their seats in the Senate and have their states’ governors appoint replacements quickly.

ADDENDUM: An attendee of the winter meeting shared a fascinating anecdote with me. At an event in support of the Dreamers, he had met an illegal immigrant who expressed a desire that Trump be reelected. A bit surprised, this attendee asked the man why he felt that way, and the immigrant pointed out that under Obama, he was at risk of being arrested and deported as well; he figured that under this president or a different one, his risk of deportation was about the same. But under Trump, at least the man’s painting business had been thriving. Given a choice of living in fear of deportation with a merely okay economy or living in fear of deportation with a thriving economy, he preferred the latter.

Maybe they need bumper stickers: “Undocumented Immigrants for Trump.”

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