The Morning Jolt

White House

Democrats Are Finding the Road to 2020 to Be Much Bumpier Than Expected

Sen. Bernie Sanders listens as former Vice President Joe Biden speaks during the Democratic presidential candidates debate in Westerville, Ohio, October 15, 2019. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Democrats brace themselves for a hard-fought primary that lasts all the way into the summer; the British Royal family embarrasses themselves on two continents; more violence in Hong Kong; and finding a silver lining in a frustrating autumn.

Democrats Are Caught in Impeachment Hearings, and without a Good Candidate

Some days politics can be dreadfully boring, and other days it has all the sensory overload of crowd-surfing during a rave in a minefield under a fireworks display.

First, Democrats realized that they arranged for the likely Senate impeachment trial to begin in January — right before the pivotal weeks of the Iowa caucuses Feb. 3 — and that it could run anywhere from five to eight weeks. (All for the predictable outcome of a vote to convict that falls well short of the two-thirds required.) Bad news for senators Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Cory Booker, and Michael Bennet. Some of them will probably drop out of the race before then, but you have to wonder if any would be sufficiently consumed by ambition to blow off the impeachment trial in order to campaign in those early states.

But here’s the second painful realization for Democrats: The odds that any candidate will quickly unify the party are shrinking rapidly:

“I have never seen a situation where the likelihood that this thing will go to a convention without a candidate having a majority of the delegates is higher than it is today,” said one of the strategists, who assumes Bloomberg will formally enter the race and win some delegates. “You will have multiple winners at the front end, none of whom will match the resources of a person at the end of the process.”

. . . They also point to Senator Bernie Sanders’s medical and political rebound from a heart attack, which suggests he could battle Senator Elizabeth Warren for liberal voters for months. One delegate counter admitted to concluding it is now “more likely than not” that no one gets a majority of pledged delegates, largely because of Sanders’s continued strength and the likelihood that he will continue to campaign even if he is trailing late in the primary contest.

Bernie Sanders won 13.2 million votes in the Democratic primary, good for 43 percent overall. He’s polling in the high teens in most early states and nationally. This means he’s lost most of his fair-weather supporters; the 15 to 20 percent left are the die-hards, who already saw a reasonable opportunity to jump off the bandwagon with the heart attack. Those 15 to 20 percent are probably not changing to another candidate until Sanders departs the race.

Republicans shouldn’t get too confident; on Election Day 2020, the vast majority of self-identified Democrats are going to vote for the Democratic nominee. From the Bernie-loving self-proclaimed socialists to the limousine liberals who prefer Bloomberg or wished Howard Schultz had run, all of these factions more or less loathe Donald Trump with the passion of a thousand suns going supernova and are willing to run across broken glass barefoot like John McClane to vote to ensure Trump’s defeat.

The catch is that it doesn’t take that many Democratic defectors to shift the outcome on Election Day. In 2016, according to the exit polls, among the demographic of self-identified Democratic men, 15 percent voted for Trump in Pennsylvania, and among this group Trump won 14 percent in Ohio, 13 percent in Iowa, 11 percent in Florida, 10 percent in North Carolina, and 9 percent in Michigan. Among self-identified Democratic women, Trump’s numbers were smaller but still a bit surprising: Trump won 10 percent in Michigan and Ohio, 9 percent in Pennsylvania, and 7 percent in Florida, Iowa, and North Carolina. Couple that with lower-than-expected turnout among key Democratic groups like African Americans, and Trump had just enough votes in just enough places to win the presidency.

A rerun of that scenario is pretty plausible. If Democratic leaders still had a smoke-filled room to select the nominee, they would calculate that the Democratic voters who are most likely to drift off to Trump are blue-collar, white-working class voters in the upper Midwest. (I would add working-class women who own guns as another key demographic, as that’s where the NRA focused the vast majority of their get-out-the-vote efforts in 2016. One other demographic to keep an eye on: African-American gun owners. There are roughly 30,000 members of the National African American Gun Association, and roughly 24 percent of African-American households have a member who owns a gun.)

If Democrats want to win, they would nominate an upper-Midwesterner who is most popular with these demographics, and throttle back on the gun control talk and promise that any union member who was enjoying good health benefits through their contract could keep them. Maybe Biden could win back those voters who drifted from Obama to Trump in 2016. Pete Buttigieg doesn’t have quite the right resume and background, but at least he’s more or less from the right part of the country and can point to his military service.

Elizabeth Warren, arguably the frontrunner or near-frontrunner, is a Harvard Law professor who wants to quintuple the federal tax on ammunition, triple the tax on firearms purchases, create a federal licensing system in addition to existing state ones, and limiting the number of guns a person can purchase; meanwhile, the AFL-CIO says it can’t support Medicare for All unless it carves out exceptions for existing union contracts. Warren does not seem like the most natural fit to win back those voters, nor the candidate most likely to boost African-American or Latino turnout.

For a bunch of collectivists, Democrats have a really hard time getting all of their oars rowing in the same direction.

Royal Embarrassments

I know we’ve already had a revolution against the British crown, but can we do it again, just to re-emphasize the point?

When Prince Andrew set out to explain his friendship with the financier and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein in a BBC interview broadcast Saturday night, it backfired predictably.

Viewers were left shaking their heads at the wisdom of consenting to a polite-but-relentless grilling by the journalist Emily Maitlis in the first place. Many said they found his statements alternately defensive, unpersuasive, or just plain strange.

Prince Andrew, also known as the Duke of York, repeatedly denied accusations by Virginia Roberts Giuffre that he had sex with her when she was 17 years old and had been offered to him by Mr. Epstein. Under insistent questioning by Ms. Maitlis, the duke insisted he had “no recollection” of meeting Ms. Giuffre.

But he could not explain the photograph taken in a London house that appeared to show him with his arm around the girl’s bare waist, and with Mr. Epstein’s former girlfriend, Ghislaine Maxwell, smiling in the background.

The whole interview comes across as almost a parody of an oblivious royal, protected by layers of entitlement and tradition and unearned respect, and barely able to understand the severity of the crimes being discussed.

When asked whether he regretted his relationship with Mr. Epstein, which continued after the financier served time for soliciting a minor for prostitution, Prince Andrew said: “Do I regret the fact that he has quite obviously conducted himself in a manner unbecoming? Yes.”

“Unbecoming?” the BBC interviewer, Ms. Maitlis, replied with a tone of incredulity. “He was a sex offender.”

If he’s not lying — and he probably is — Prince Andrew’s galactic-level naiveite makes Bertie Wooster look Harvey Keitel’s “the Wolf” from Pulp Fiction.

Meanwhile, another royal visited another kingdom, and created an embarrassment almost as bad as the one above:

Sarah Ferguson, Britain’s Duchess of York, said that she was moved by the warm welcome she has received from the people of Saudi Arabia. She added that it was a reflection of the good example set by the country’s rulers.

“I love the feeling of kindness that I’m getting from the people of Saudi Arabia,” she told Arab News on Wednesday which, appropriately, was International Kindness Day.

“Everyone has been so nice here in Riyadh; I think that comes from good leadership.”

She compared this wonderful reception to her experiences in other places “where people are judgmental of you,” adding: “I don’t feel that here. I feel people are embracing me as ‘Sarah’ and that is such a beautiful feeling.”

Because that’s the first thought that comes to mind regarding Saudi Arabia: They’re not judgmental! Certainly not in a country with a public square used for ritual beheading punishments nicknamed “Crop Chop Square!” I don’t know about you, but I hadn’t even known that the Duchess of York felt judged when she traveled to so many places. What a tragedy. Thank goodness she’s found that visitors are nice to royalty in Riyadh!

Firebombs and Bows and Arrows in Hong Kong

Hey, remember when we cared about Hong Kong? All that controversy about the NBA and all that?

Just because American news media stops paying attention, doesn’t mean the conflict stops:

Hundreds of Hong Kong activists armed with firebombs and bows-and-arrows on Monday battled riot police who have laid a days-long siege to a university, the most violent confrontation yet in a half-year of protests.

Early Monday, the police tried storming the campus at the main entrance and made some arrests. But the occupiers fought back with dozens of firebombs and set barricades ablaze, forcing the police to retreat.

Sure, the NBA is embarrassing itself by continuing to play footsie with a brutal regime that is attempting a crackdown of pro-democracy protesters. But it sure would be nice to get the president to offer a statement of support, too!

ADDENDUM: How do you define a silver lining? I would say it’s watching your favorite football team have an egregiously disappointing season but still being able to give flak to fans of the Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, and Washington Redskins.

Back when I was a kid and we went to Jets games regularly, during those long, blustery halftimes we would usually watch some local college or high school marching band. Yesterday at the Jets-Redskins game, we fans were treated to watching the U.S. Army’s Silver Wings Parachute Team. No offense to the marching bands, but watching guys parachute into the stadium is better!

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