The Morning Jolt


What to Expect from the First Democratic Presidential Primary Tonight

Sen. Elizabeth Warren speaks at the California Democratic Convention in San Francisco, Calif., June 1, 2019. (Stephen Lam/Reuters)

A big news day makes the click-through worthwhile: The Democrats are prepared for the first debate of the presidential primary tonight; Robert Mueller agrees to testify before Congress; and NRATV ceases production, with little sense of its long-term fate.

It’s the First Democratic Presidential Debate Night. Try to Control Your Enthusiasm.

For some of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, tonight is as good as it’s going to get. They’ll step out onto that stage, stand next to bigger names such as Elizabeth Warren and Beto O’Rourke, the audience will cheer, and for one brief shining moment, they will look and feel like serious candidates for the presidency of the United States.

And then, a short time later, reality will set in. They’ll have to wait forever for a question. When the question arrives, it will be on a different topic than what they were hoping to get. They will try to shoehorn in a prepared one-liner, and it will land with a thud instead of the laughter and applause they sought. They’ll realize, halfway through their answer denouncing the Trump administration, that they sound almost indistinguishable from the preceding two speakers. They’ll belatedly realize that two minutes is far too short to elaborate on the point they’re trying to make, and that they may not be speaking again for another 15 to 30 minutes. Someone will try to improvise a new line of argument on the fly and the odds are good that it will come out as a suboptimal word salad.

In the second hour, the lesser-known candidates – Greg and I prefer the term, “The Asterisks” — will start to feel some pressure to stand out. They may try to take a shot at Joe Biden, who won’t be on the stage tonight, or some may conclude Warren is the closest thing to a frontrunner available and take a shot at her.

The New York Times writes that Democratic voters are looking for a candidate that they can picture winning a debate with Trump, and so some candidates may attempt to emulate the president’s bombast and insults. We can fairly argue whether Trump actually “won” most of the debates in the 2016 presidential primary or general election in the traditional sense; what Trump did is show up and play a completely different game than almost all of the other candidates. Most of the rest of the GOP field showed up to reenact the Lincoln-Douglas debates and Trump arrived with a script for one of Comedy Central’s celebrity roasts featuring Jeff Ross. From where I sit, this was a terrible development for the way a constitutional republic selects its commander in chief, but it proved brutally effective method to stand out in a crowded field. And as Marco Rubio demonstrated later in the primary process, when a traditional officeholder attempts to emulate Trump’s style of insults, it doesn’t work. Either way, a significant chunk of this 25-candidate field would probably wilt in a one-on-one stage debate with Donald Trump.

The weird split of the candidates into two nights means that tomorrow night offers the real excitement, featuring the slugfest between the big names of former vice president Joe Biden, Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, California senator Kamala Harris, and Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Even Thursday night’s asterisk candidates are the more interesting ones. Colorado senator Michael Bennet and Colorado governor John Hickenlooper are the closest thing to genuine centrists in the field, author Marianne Williamson and entrepreneur Andrew Yang are more likely to say something completely unexpected, and always-trying-too-hard California representative Eric Swalwell is starting to become bizarrely entertaining, like a bad movie being mocked by Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Also, New York senator Kirsten Gillibrand will be there.

Mueller Will Testify after All, But Don’t Expect New Revelations

Almost four months after special counsel Robert Mueller issued his report to the Department of Justice, and three months after his report was released to the public, Mueller will testify before the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees.

wrote back in May,  if you’re hired by the Department of Justice to investigate matters of extraordinary importance, I think you’re obligated to answer some questions, either under oath before Congress or to reporters. If Mueller wants to answer every Congressional question with, “I discussed that matter extensively in the report, please read it completely,” then fine.

Based upon Mueller’s public statement at the end of May, we may get some variation of that. And no doubt, many Democrats on that committee will repeatedly try to get Mueller to formally or informally endorse an effort to impeach Trump. I suspect Mueller has no interest in revealing his opinion on that.

NRATV Comes to a Halt

The news that the National Rifle Association has halted production of all programs on NRATV is both expected and yet still surprising to hear now that it’s official. Once the NRA’s main public-relations firm, Ackerman McQueen, refused to offer more details about how they were spending the NRA’s money, an outcome like this became almost inevitable. The NRA wasn’t going to continue financing a communications effort on its behalf without accountability, and Ackerman McQueen wasn’t going to be able to continue producing that communications effort without the NRA’s financing.

Gun-control advocates are likely to misinterpret this development as revealing something about the persuasiveness of the arguments in favor of the Second Amendment. But as I keep trying to emphasize, this is a story about money and lawyers, not guns. The past months have seen accusations and counter-accusations of wasteful spending, self-dealing, and attempted coups.

I would be surprised if NRATV never returned in any form, but at this point, no one knows what form that return would take — perhaps produced in-house by the NRA itself, perhaps rebooted and restarted with another communications firm, or some other option.

As for my buddy Cam, his message for today is, “It’s been a privilege and pleasure to host Cam & Co since 2004, and I want to once again say ‘thank you’ to everyone who helped turn the “Company” into a genuine community.”

ADDENDUM: The Deseret Newsmaking the case for optimism about America’s future, cites a column from last year.

Do you mind if I share a pair of recent Amazon reviews for Between Two Scorpions? It’s better when someone else is recommending the book instead of me.

First, from James C.:

If you like fast-paced — and I mean *really, seriously* fast-paced — thrillers that have a global scope, then here’s your book, right here. I’ve read a fair number of novels with ex-CIA / Delta Force / Navy Seal protagonists lately; it seems to be a popular type for lead characters. Some are drawn well, some aren’t. But Geraghty’s protagonists in Scorpions are an unlikely pair of CIA agents who are a married couple. The wife is a bad-ass Jewish warrior-girl from central Asia; her nominally nerdly, American husband is the comic relief. It sounds a little odd, but it works pretty well. So I liked the characters, I especially liked the dialogue, and I liked the world-building — including the historical and geographical crumbs that Geraghty drops while leading us through his tale.

And from Fuman:

This is an ingeniously conceived, inventively plotted, thought-provoking work… Scorpions” compares well to the works of “serious” thriller writers, and the thinking and imagination that bring the story to life merit a top grade. Geraghty has created a compelling group of characters and puts them in motion in breathtaking scenarios. There are enough twists to keep readers on edge as they careen across the globe. One suspects (hopes?) that the technology put to work here is the imaginary sort that animated 24 during its storied run, but Geraghty doesn’t wallow too much in tech jargon or unnecessary detail and keeps the focus on basic human nature. It helps to be able to draw compelling characters and credible relationships among them. Geraghty displays a fine talent for that, and the introspection that he uses to reveal these people to the reader is almost without exception brilliant… Overall, this was much, much better than expected. I highly recommend this book.

I hate to tell you this, but all of the NSA surveillance tech I describe in the book is real and has already been discussed in non-classified publications. And the way the bad guys take over television broadcasts is straight from the real-life “Max Headroom Incident” in Chicago in 1987. (When I showed Mrs. CampaignSpot the video of the Max Headroom signal takeover, she had nightmares the next night.)

A few reviews say they wished they had seen a bit more background about the characters, and believe me, that was in the earlier drafts. But thrillers need to move. Also, I decided I wanted to tell a story about characters who are in the middle of their careers in a dangerous world of spies, not at the beginning — they’re seasoned and they’ve had a lot of adventures before this story begins. A few said this felt like the middle book in a long series — but that leaves more to explore in future stories

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