Friday Talking Points -- Constitutional Crisis Of The Week

[ Posted Friday, February 14th, 2020 – 18:31 UTC ]

It was a fairly quiet week in politics, since we only had one new constitutional crisis erupt from the White House. OK, that's only partially tongue-in-cheek, but at least it wasn't one of those weeks where multiple such crises arise, we suppose.

Before we get to Donald Trump's continuing subversion of justice, though, we'd much prefer to first reflect on the Democratic presidential race instead. New Hampshire voted this Tuesday, and in doing so proved that what happened in Iowa was either (1) a fluke, (2) the result of having a Byzantine caucus system, or (3) just the Iowa Democratic Party's incompetence. Take your pick, but for whatever reason on the night the New Hampshire polls closed, we actually got numbers in real time and there were no noticeable screwups at all. Hopefully the Iowa mess will fade into the background as other states prove they can also hold a primary (or even a caucus) without it all blowing up in their face.

One further thing that New Hampshire proved this week was the enthusiasm of Democratic voters, as the state set a new record for turnout in the Democratic primary. More people turned out to vote than in 2016, and (more notably) than in 2008 as well. After disappointing turnout numbers in Iowa, this was another welcome change.

The mainstream media focused on two big stories out of the Granite State: Amy Klobuchar's surprisingly good finish and the surprisingly disappointing finish of Joe Biden. But the real story of the night was that Bernie Sanders won his first uncontested victory, putting him on a par with Pete Buttigieg (with one first place and one second place each). The two are now seen as neck-and-neck frontrunners, which simply was not the case before Iowa and New Hampshire voted. All eyes are now turning to Nevada and South Carolina, which both have much higher proportions of voters of color. The question now becomes how the candidates can all do with, respectively, Latino voters and African-American voters. Up until now, Joe Biden has been claiming he has an absolute lock on the black vote, but that is about to be put to the test in a big way.

From this point on, the schedule speeds up considerably. Once Nevada votes there will be a very short gap before South Carolina follows, and then only three days before the big day, when a third of all the national delegates will be decided on Super Tuesday. This will all kick off next week, when the next debate happens. This will likely be the first debate with Michael Bloomberg on the stage, which will be interesting to watch because up until now he's gotten a free ride by being largely unchallenged and having the airwaves in most of the Super Tuesday states all to himself. This is a good thing, because if Bloomberg were to be excluded from the upcoming debates then he would remain unchallenged right up until Super Tuesday (something we wrote about yesterday at length). Bloomberg has very quietly been rising rather dramatically in the national polling, and he's now in third place in a number of these polls. In other words, his ad blitz is paying off big time. Finally some other Democrats have begun to notice this, as several stories appeared this week documenting Bloomberg's past views on both "stop and frisk" police tactics and his further views on the tactic of banks "redlining" certain minority neighborhoods, so we'll see if this has any effect on Bloomberg's poll standings in the next week or so.

After disappointing finishes in New Hampshire, the Democratic field lost three candidates (Andrew Yang, Michael Bennet, and Deval Patrick), winnowing it down to single digits for the first time. There are now only eight Democrats still in the race: Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden, Michael Bloomberg, Tom Steyer, and Tulsi Gabbard. This is a much more manageable group, considering that to get here we've seen a whopping 21 other candidates drop out. The field will no doubt shrink further immediately after Super Tuesday, as more and more of the candidates realize that they have no realistically viable path to the nomination. At some point, the question is going to become who gets the endorsements of the candidates who drop out, which could indeed be a crucial question if any of them have any actual delegates to the convention. It's going to be very hard in such a multiple-candidate field for any one person to amass an outright majority heading into the convention, so this could wind up being a deciding factor.

This will all be weighing on the minds of the candidates on the debate stage next week, and more than one of them will have reached the point of desperation. When that point is reached, anything can happen -- because they'll have nothing left to lose. So the sparks may fly, and they may be flying in different directions than we've seen previously. Bloomberg, obviously, is going to have the biggest target on his back, but so will Amy Klobuchar after her surge in New Hampshire. But then we wrote earlier this week about the realignment in the Democratic race, so we'll just note it and move along for now.

Two things we didn't comment on previously about the race are both pretty ugly. But not entirely unexpected, sadly. The first was the opening salvo in what will undoubtedly be a campaign of rampant homophobia from Republicans, which was launched at Pete Buttigieg by none other than Rush Limbaugh. This was, in fact, almost inevitable after Pete's rise in the standings on the Democratic side. You just knew it was coming, didn't you? And while Rush is smart enough to couch his gay-bashing in "deniability" language, there will doubtless be a lot worse to come from Republicans who aren't as artful in their hatred and fearmongering. The more Pete does well in the primaries, the more of this we can all expect. However, this time around it is almost guaranteed to backfire, since the American public has come a long way from the days when Republicans successfully wielded homophobia as a political weapon (see: the "defense of marriage" era).

The second ugliness came from a deacon of the mainstream media, Meet The Press host Chuck Todd. Here is what he said, when he for some reason decided it was time to echo a ring-wing pundit:

Hey I want to bring up something that Jonathan Last put in The Bulwark today. It was about how -- and Ruth, we've all been on the receiving end of the Bernie online brigade -- here's what he says. He says: "No other candidate has anything like this sort of digital brownshirt brigade."

For the record, members of Bernie Sanders's family were executed by Nazis because they were Jewish.

Now, we realize that slamming "Bernie Bros" is a favorite game of mainstream media pundits, but this was clearly the wrong way to do it. And Chuck Todd really should know better. "Brownshirt brigade"? Really, Chuck? Seriously? That's how you describe supporters of a man who could become the first Jewish president ever?

But let's get back to that constitutional crisis we mentioned, before we say something about Chuck Todd that we'll regret.

This week, President Donald Trump publicly strongarmed his attorney general to overrule some Justice Department prosecutors who had recommended to a federal judge a sentence of seven to nine years for Roger Stone, a Trump henchman who was convicted of not only lying to Congress but also witness tampering. Those are both serious crimes, but not to Trump (of course). Trump can't understand why anyone would want to be so mean to a guy who actually has a tattoo of Richard Nixon on his skin. William Barr, who has completed his transformation into total Trump toady, complied by refiling a sentencing recommendation to the judge which didn't call for any particular sentence at all.

All four of the prosecutors on the case immediately quit the case in protest. One of them actually quit his Justice Department job because he was so disgusted at the cronyism. None of this mattered to Trump, however.

Barr did seem a little stung at the criticism that was immediately heaped upon him, and subsequently gave an interview in which he sanctimoniously claimed that Trump's tweet had nothing to do with his intervention in the case. He was shocked -- shocked!!! -- to find gambling going on in here, in other words. Barr also attempted to publicly rebuke Trump, saying that Trump's tweets about "the department, about people in the department, our men and women here, about cases pending here, and about judges before whom we have cases, make it impossible for me to do my job and to assure the courts and the prosecutors and the department that we're doing our work with integrity." This all would have been pretty impressive stand for what is proper if Barr had a shred of believability left, at this point. Which he obviously doesn't. He went on to state: "I cannot do my job here at the department with a constant background commentary that undercuts me," which was just as laughable.

Trump then fired a tweet back at Barr, stating that he, as president has "the legal right" to interfere in any case he felt like interfering in, and to publicly comment on anything that popped into his head.

Again, if Barr had an ounce of credibility or integrity at all, this is the exact point where he would have handed in his resignation. He didn't, of course, which put the lie to his all his huffy indignancy. "I cannot do my job" in a pig's eye, in other words. Tell us another funny story, Bill!

Thankfully, though, as we said, that was the only constitutional crisis of the week. Progress, of a sort!


Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week

We have to begin by handing out an Honorable Mention award to the New Hampshire Democrats, both for a flawless primary night (whew!) and for the record-breaking turnout of the actual voters. This went a long way towards erasing the fiasco in Iowa from memory, and hopefully all the other states' voting will go as smoothly as it did this week.

We considered two of the Democratic candidates for the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award, and wound up unable to choose between them, so we're going to go ahead and give it to both Bernie Sanders and Amy Klobuchar for their performance in New Hampshire. This may annoy Pete Buttigieg supporters, but frontrunners are supposed to do well, so we felt his very close second-place finish wasn't as impressive as that of the other two candidates.

Bernie Sanders heads into the next two contests (and Super Tuesday) in a much better position than if he had lost to Mayor Pete by a slight margin. By doing so, he has forced the mainstream media to do something they have been loath to yet do: take Bernie's candidacy seriously. The media loves to dismiss Bernie or (even worse) ridicule him. They did so pretty consistently throughout the 2016 campaign, and they were all set to repeat this in 2020. Now, if Bernie stumbles in the next few contests, the pundits will all likely revert to form, but for the time being Bernie's frontrunner status simply cannot be denied.

This, of course, is causing the Democratic Party establishment to freak out in a rather large way. To them, Bernie being the party's nominee equates to Donald Trump winning a second term. There is no doubt in this assumption -- it is taken as gospel. They also believe that if Bernie is the standard-bearer of the party, it will result in lots of down-ballot losses as well, meaning the dream of taking back control of the Senate will also not be realized.

This may or may not turn out to be true, of course. But this is not 1972, and Bernie is not George McGovern. Times have changed. In 2016, a candidate won the Electoral College that nobody thought had a chance, precisely because the voters just did not do what the pundits and party insiders predicted. That could happen again, and this time around Bernie may be the surprise winner at the end of the day. This is in no way guaranteed, but then again neither is the result they're all predicting, either. Grappling with all of this simply would not have happened (or not to the same degree) if Bernie hadn't won New Hampshire. Which is why his victory was so impressive.

Amy Klobuchar only came in third in New Hampshire, and traditionally third-place finishers are given short shrift by the chattering classes. But Amy's finish was so unexpected, and her rise after the last debate so dramatic, that it was also a very impressive feat to pull off. If Klobuchar had placed fifth or even fourth (more in line with the pre-vote polling, in other words), then she would right now be agonizing over whether to drop out of the race or try to hang on for a few more weeks. Her campaign would also likely be broke.

Instead, she's been raising money in a big way and has rocketed into contention in the race. That is a stunning turnaround for just one debate performance, you've got to admit. We'll have to see in the next debate whether she can handle being in the front ranks or not, because up until now she's gotten very little in the way of attacks from the other candidates (with the exception of Buttigieg, who has gone toe-to-toe with Klobuchar a number of times already). Both Amy and Pete will also have to prove that they can indeed get voters of color to back them, in the next two state contests. So Klobuchar could either capitalize on her New Hampshire finish in a big way or quickly fade. But even having that chance was not really considered a possibility until the New Hampshire votes were counted. While the returns were coming in, at one point it even seemed like Klobuchar might best Buttigieg and wrest a second-place finish from him, but even though this did not happen her finish was still pretty downright impressive.

So for different reasons, we have to award the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week to both Bernie Sanders and Amy Klobuchar, for their performance in the Granite State.

[Congratulate Senator Amy Klobuchar on her Senate contact page, and Senator Bernie Sanders on his Senate contact page, to let them know you appreciate their efforts. As usual, we do not provide contact information to actual campaign sites, so if you'd like to donate to either campaign you'll have to find their sites on your own, sorry.]


Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week

Andrew Yang certainly disappointed all of his supporters (the "Yang Gang") on Tuesday night, when he announced that there simply was no viable path forward for his candidacy. We would say the same about Michael Bennet and Deval Patrick, but we are unaware of any actual supporters either one of them had, so the level of disappointment was far less.

Michael Bloomberg certainly caused a lot of disappointment when the opposition research on him finally started to appear this week, but then again this stuff has been around for years, for anyone who cared to look, so it's really not that surprising to us.

The House committee chairmen were missing in action in a big way this week as they refused to issue a subpoena to John Bolton. They signaled that perhaps in a few weeks they might get around to it, but this sort of thing has a political shelf-life, and (to mix up the metaphor a bit) will turn into a pumpkin on St. Patrick's Day, when Bolton's book is released to the public. This window is closing fast, in other words, which was why the inaction this week earns the committee chairs (and Nancy Pelosi, for that matter) a (Dis-)Honorable Mention, at the very least.

But we're sticking with the New Hampshire theme and instead handing the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week to both Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren. Both candidates finished a long way behind the pack this Tuesday, which may be a rather grim omen for both their candidacies.

Biden now has a fourth-place finish and a fifth-place finish under his belt. That is not exactly where he had hoped to be at this point. Not winning Iowa and New Hampshire is one thing, but doing so badly in both is downright shocking when you consider that Biden has been leading in the national polling since before he even announced his candidacy. He has had first place all to himself for a full year, but this dominance is now at an end. It just crashed into two brick walls, to be absolutely blunt.

Biden's candidacy has been centered around two basic themes: electing him would return us all to the normal we enjoyed under Barack Obama, and Biden was the most electable candidate to take on Donald Trump. Perhaps Trump's grand scheme (to undermine Joe by smearing him with his son Hunter's obvious cashing in on his last name) actually worked. Perhaps Biden's lackluster campaigning was what left the voters unimpressed. But for whatever reason, the voters have indeed been fleeing from the Biden camp in droves. Most of them wound up pulling the lever for either Pete Buttigieg or Amy Klobuchar, in the end.

Biden's talk of a firewall in South Carolina now has more than a whiff of desperation about it. His support nationally among African-American voters sank in the past month from 49 percent to 27 percent, while Michael Bloomberg rose to 22 percent -- the exact number that Biden fell by. That can't be very reassuring to Biden supporters, whatever the color of their skin. Especially considering Bloomberg's "stop and frisk" record, as well as those redlining comments.

We'll see what happens in Nevada and South Carolina. There's still time for Biden to launch himself right back into the fray. He was polling very well in both states before Iowa and New Hampshire voted, but because state-level polling in both states is so thin on the ground it is now impossible to predict whether Biden's support has stuck with him or not. If Biden doesn't come in at least second place in South Carolina, then his candidacy may be toast, which would be as dramatic a collapse as Jeb Bush's back in 2016.

Elizabeth Warren isn't in as dire straits as Biden, at least not yet. She claimed third place in Iowa, after all, which is more than Biden can say. But her fourth-place finish in New Hampshire was disappointing for two big reasons. The first is that she's from a bordering state, which is supposed to give candidates an edge (although this metric may be overvalued, these days). The second is how far behind Klobuchar in the vote totals Warren finished. If the two women were neck-and-neck (like Buttigieg and Sanders were), then there would be a lot less disappointment among Warren supporters today. But they weren't even close. Klobuchar got roughly twice the votes Warren did. That was a body blow to Warren's candidacy.

Again, we've only had two states vote and there's still time for a comeback, but Warren would have to turn in the debate performance of her life next week in order to achieve this. Which is somewhat doubtful, since to date she's preferred to stay in the background while the other candidates mix it up during the debates. The biggest thing that could help Warren at this point would be for Bernie Sanders to stumble badly somehow in the next week or so, but that's a pretty thin reed to cling to at this point.

Warren's change in fortunes has not been as dramatic as Biden's, but it's still pretty notable. She had been the only candidate in the race who had bested Biden in the national polling average, but this peak came far too early for her, and it only lasted one day before her numbers receded once again. Other than that spike, she had been neck-and-neck with Sanders for months, but in the closing weeks Bernie has risen while she stayed stagnant in the polls. And this may only accelerate in the next week or so after her disappointing finish in New Hampshire. At this point we had been fully expecting Warren to be ascendant while watching Bernie Sanders struggle, but in actual fact the opposite has happened. This has been a rather large disappointment to her followers, to state the obvious.

Which is why we have to give both Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award, for doing so badly in the New Hampshire primary.

[Contact Senator Elizabeth Warren on her Senate contact page, to let her know what you think of her primary record. And once again, we do not provide contact information to campaign websites, so you'll have to look up Joe Biden's contact information for yourself, sorry.]


Friday Talking Points

Volume 561 (2/14/20)

We've got the usual mixed bunch of talking points this week, but before we begin we have to issue a call for every Democrat everywhere to denounce a little-noticed event that happened recently down in Florida. A man who fully admitted to the cops that he was motivated by hatred of Donald Trump drove his car into a booth where Trump supporters were registering people to vote in a parking lot. Thankfully, no one was hurt because people were able to get out of the way before the impact, but that doesn't lessen the severity of the action at all.

This is completely and utterly unacceptable, period. Republicans were pretty quick to denounce the man, even before it became clear that he was not just some madman but was actually motivated by political hatred. But to date, few Democrats have added their voices to this chorus of condemnation. This needs to change, because this is so completely abhorrent to American democracy. Violence is not the answer, and more Democrats need to state this in unequivocal terms. Like we said, this is not really a talking point, because it is really more important than that. And Democrats should say so, loudly and without reservation. Violence is unacceptable in politics no matter which side it comes from, and when it comes from your own side then you have a heightened duty to call it out and swiftly condemn it, period. There are no excuses for not doing so.

OK, with that ugly business out of the way, let's get back to our political talking points for Democrats to use in the next week or so.


   E.R.A. now!

This will only be a potent political motivator if it is pointed out, every chance Democrats get.

"The House of Representatives just voted to remove the deadline which a previous Congress artificially put on the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, and we now call on the Senate to follow suit and do the same. When Virginia recently ratified the amendment, it became the thirty-eighth state to do so, which means that now three-fourths of the states have ratified the amendment, just as the Constitution calls for. In this day and age it is hard to justify not guaranteeing equal rights for women in our nation's founding document, but Republicans somehow still don't want to see this happen. This should be a major issue in every Senate race that happens this year, because Republican candidates should be asked point-blank why they oppose guaranteeing everyone's mothers, wives, and daughters the same rights enjoyed by America's fathers, husbands, and sons. The Equal Rights Amendment was first proposed a full century ago, and it is long past time for it to be added to the United States Constitution. Every female voter in the country should know which political party is fighting to make this happen and which party still opposes granting them the same equal rights that men enjoy."


   Vindman's brother?!?

The media has largely ignored the most glaring question that arose when Donald Trump decided to retaliate against those who spoke the truth about him last week. So ask it!

"I certainly don't agree with Donald Trump firing Ambassador Gordon Sondland and Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman last week, but at least I can understand why he did so. Trump was so peeved that people who work for the White House should have the temerity to point out his wrongdoing that he decided to retaliate against them. Like I said, that's pretty disgusting behavior from an American president but you can at least understand his warped reasoning for doing so. But there's one question that I have yet to hear anyone ask, and that is why Vindman's brother was also fired. Lieutenant Colonel Yevgeny Vindman didn't testify against Trump in the impeachment hearings. He didn't say anything against Trump at all that I am aware of. I've never even seen him interviewed in the media, personally. But even though he had nothing to do with his twin brother's actions, he was also fired from the White House. What possible justification does Trump have for doing so? This isn't even logical retaliation, it is nothing short of vindictiveness writ large. While the media had plenty to say about Sondland and Alexander being let go, there was absolutely no outcry over the most bizarre aspect of Trump's retaliation -- he fired a guy that had nothing to do with his impeachment whatsoever. This is beyond reprehensible, it is downright inexplicable."


   Come mister tally man...

Daylight come and me wanna go home.

"Welcome to the Banana Republic of America, folks. That's what we have now officially become, when the president feels it is his right not only to sic his Justice Department on his political enemies but also to strongarm them into going lightly on his own henchmen. Trump is now blatantly claiming that he has every right to demand his attorney general investigate who he feels should be in jail and to ease up on the convicted criminals who helped him get elected in the first place. I don't know what else you'd call it other than a banana republic, at this point. Trump isn't even trying to hide any of this any more, because he is convinced that he is now above any law but the ones he makes up in his own head. Is that Harry Belafonte I hear singing in the background?"


   Pardons to follow...

Please don't be surprised at Trump's next move, either.

"With Trump now completely unchained and feeling unbound by any sort of constitutional constraint whatsoever, you just know that his next move is going to be to start issuing pardons for all his minions who have been convicted in federal courts of serious crimes. Up until now, others have convinced Trump how bad this would look for him politically, but at this point Trump is obviously not listening to any such sane advice. So please, everyone, don't be shocked or even surprised when Trump starts pardoning all those criminals he has surrounded himself with -- and there's already a long list of them behind bars serving time. It's not just going to be Roger Stone, that's my guess. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me in the least if Trump starts issuing pro-active pardons for cronies of his who haven't even been convicted of their crimes yet."


   Trump lies (part 19,872 and counting...)

Democrats need to hit this one especially hard, out on the campaign trail.

"Donald Trump just released his White House budget proposal, and once again it puts the lie to two major campaign promises he made. First, he won't be balancing the budget any time soon. He assumes wildly optimistic growth figures -- at levels he hasn't been able to yet achieve, mind you -- for years to come, but even with this voodoo math he won't be able to balance the budget for the next 15 years. Remember him promising that he'd not only balance the annual budget but also retire the national debt? Yeah, that was a funny one, wasn't it? But that's not even the worst lie, because in his budget proposal Trump is also pushing to slash Medicare spending even though he has been promising over and over again that he'd never do such a thing. Want Medicare slashed to the bone? Vote for Trump and his Republican enablers. Want Medicare preserved? Vote Democratic, because when we say we'll protect it, we are not lying like a rug."


   Trump lies (part 19,873 and counting...)

The king of "just makin' stuff up" gets caught, for the umpteenth time.

"Donald Trump told a moving story during his State Of The Union speech about a formerly-homeless and drug-addicted veteran turning his life around, and the crowd dutifully gave Tony Rankins a standing ovation. That was all fine and good, but Trump flat-out lied when he tried to steal some of the credit for this impressive turnaround. Trump swore that Rankins was able to put his life back in order due to a construction job created by an 'Opportunity Zone' tax break. This was nothing short of a despicable lie, folks. Rankins got his job in Nashville two years ago -- four months before the Treasury Department even published its list of neighborhoods eligible for the tax break. Adding one lie to another, the area where Ranking got his job didn't even make this list, so even without the calendar problem he simply did not benefit at all from the tax cut. But that didn't stop the president from claiming all the credit for this success story, even if he had to blatantly lie about it."


   Just imagine if Obama had tried such a thing

Another episode in this continuing series....

"Donald Trump just announced he will be stealing money earmarked to buy aircraft for the Pentagon and instead using it to build his southern border wall. That's right -- Trump is denying the troops almost four billion dollars that was supposed to buy planes and helicopters for the military to use. Now, can we all just imagine for one tiny moment what Republicans would have said if Barack Obama had taken four billion dollars away from the Pentagon and used it to fulfill some campaign promise he had made? I think the words 'traitor' and 'unconstitutional' would certainly have been used, and those are just the politest things the GOP likely would have said. American troops are currently deployed in several combat zones around the world, and yet when Trump denies the Pentagon money for planes, what do we hear now from Republicans? Total silence. Craven sheepishness. Utter spinelessness. But then again, this is really just par for the course for them, because anything their Dear Leader does simply cannot be criticized. After all, you never know when Trump will sic the Justice Department on any of them, these days."

-- Chris Weigant


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Cross-posted at: Democratic Underground