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Fri Jan 3, 2020, 08:55 PM

 

Friday Talking Points -- On The Brink

{Program Note for DemocraticUnderground.com readers:
This is a weekly roundup column of what is going on in the political world. For the duration of the 2020 campaign, I've been instructed to post it under the "Democratic Primaries" category rather than the "General Discussion" category, whenever the primary race is discussed. This discussion may be a large part of the column, or a very small part. Just wanted to clarify this up front, to avoid any objections that most of the post is "off topic."}

As we sit down to write this, America is on the brink... of a lot of things, all at once. Largest among these: we are now on the brink of another war in the Middle East, this time with Iran. We could also be on the brink of a North Korean nuclear test or I.C.B.M. launch, which would probably signal a disastrous end to the Trump diplomatic bromance with Kim Jong Un. We're on the brink of a presidential impeachment trial in the Senate -- only the third one in our entire history. We're on the brink of a presidential primary season. And we're on the brink of a new political decade. All are pretty momentous, meaning that 2020 could turn out to be even more chaotic than the three years which preceded it. There's a scary (or just plain exhausting) thought, indeed.

Yesterday, the Trump administration essentially assassinated a foreign country's military leader while he was visiting Iraq. This is not to say he didn't deserve such a fate, but let's at least call it what it is when we discuss it. If the shoe were on the other foot, this would be akin to Iran using a suicide bomber to take out one of the U.S. joint chiefs of staff while he was on foreign soil. It's that serious, and we should definitely not forget that when we analyze how Iran is likely to react, both internally and externally. How would we react if a Pentagon bigwig were blatantly taken out by a foreign country? The answer to that is quite likely: "not in a very restrained manner," when you think about it. It is an act of war, plain and simple -- and not against a leader of a stateless organization (like Al Qaeda or the Islamic State), but against a high-ranking military official of a rather large and powerful country. Now, there have been provocations by Iran which have led up to this point, to be sure -- attacks on oil tankers, on a Saudi refinery, and in both Syria and Iraq against various groups (including U.S. soldiers). Iran does not have clean hands, and the man assassinated certainly had the blood of American soldiers on his own hands. So it's not like Trump decided to take out the defense minister of some random neutral country or anything -- this wasn't some unprovoked attack by any stretch of the imagination.

Still, as with all things Trump, one has to wonder exactly what is going to happen next. Is there even a plan? Are there even projections? Does anyone at the Pentagon or the C.I.A. or in the White House really know what our ultimate objective really is, at this point? Are there a few contingency plans lying around for what could happen next? It'd be nice to hear some answers to those questions, to reassure America that Trump didn't just decide to do this in some hissy fit with no regard for the consequences.

Of course, Trump being Trump, "there's a tweet for that." Back when he was a private citizen with the hobby of trolling the sitting president, Trump sent out quite a few tweets warning that Barack Obama was likely to start up a war with Iran because his poll numbers weren't high enough, and he thought it would help him get re-elected. Sound familiar?

Open hostilities between us and Iran was always a possible outcome, one exacerbated by Trump unilaterally deciding to pull out of the nuclear agreement with Iran. And Iran has been provoking us for quite some time now, almost daring us to react. But it all became a lot more real when Trump saw video on television of people besieging an American embassy, which is obviously not the sort of thing he'd like to see, heading into an election year.

Kim Jong Un also appears ready to make a splash on the world stage, perhaps literally (by a missile test which ends somewhere in the ocean). Trump's superficial friendship with the North Korean dictator has now proven to be a complete failure. Nothing was achieved unless you count "elevating Kim Jong Un's international stature." Trump always approached Kim as a real estate huckster, trying to sell him on the idea that North Korea could cash in in a big way by developing its real estate and raking in foreign money, in exchange for giving up their nuclear weapons. This was doomed to failure, of course, probably because Trump has never really quite grasped that it doesn't require building a bunch of shorefront casinos to get your name plastered on every single building in a totalitarian quasi-theocracy that already revolves completely around the worship of Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il, and now Kim Jong Un. Trump's misread on this basic fact had been leading the nominations for "Trump's biggest foreign policy blunder," at least until this weekend. The only question we have about North Korea, at this point, is whether Kim will start nuclear and/or I.C.B.M. tests right away -- to piggyback on what is going on with Iran -- or whether he will wait a bit until he can be assured of dominating the world's headlines by himself.

Meanwhile, Congress is locked in a squabble over the next step in the impeachment of Donald Trump. For now, Nancy Pelosi is calling the tune, refusing to hand over the articles of impeachment until Mitch McConnell comes to an agreement with Chuck Schumer on the trial procedures the Senate will use to try the president. Sooner or later (our guess is "sooner" ) this dam will burst, though, and no matter what parliamentary compromise is or is not reached, the trial will go forward. We'll have weeks of this trial, after which the Senate will vote and Trump will not be removed from office. At some point in here (whether during the trial or immediately afterward), Trump will give his final State Of The Union speech of his first term (or, as the Democrats sincerely hope: "...ever" ). So there's that spectacle to look forward to.

In one month, the first voters in Iowa will brave the freezing weather to cast the first votes for the Democratic presidential nominee. Between now and then we'll have one more debate, which will likely only have five (or, at the most, six) candidates on stage. We have now officially reached the point where more Democratic presidential candidates have dropped out of the race than are still running. Julián Castro became the fifteenth candidate to bow out this weekend, which leaves only (!) fourteen still running. Perhaps by the time of the Iowa caucuses we'll be down to single digits. But we wouldn't bet on it, at this point.

Fundraising numbers for the final quarter of 2019 are being announced, and it looks like Bernie Sanders is far out in front of the pack, despite his reliance on small donors. He is setting all kinds of records for a presidential candidate -- he's got over five million donations now, for instance -- and yet the media continues to give him short shrift. For the record, he just raised over $34 million in the past three months. Pete Buttigieg, Joe Biden, and Elizabeth Warren all raised over $20 million as well. Warren's fundraising was down a bit, while Amy Klobuchar and Andrew Yang saw large increases (while still significantly trailing the frontrunners' numbers).

Some in the media framed the fundraising race unfairly, since they pointed out that Trump raised more than each individual Democrat in the past quarter. True, but Democratic fundraising taken as a whole has actually outpaced the Republican efforts. Which is precisely how the numbers should be compared -- the red team versus the blue team, rather than the red team versus each individual player in blue. Trump is whipping up enthusiasm in his base, it is true, but Democrats are even more enthused about taking him on -- which should be the headline, not: "Trump beats Bernie in fundraising."

The first four primary states will dominate the political headlines in February, as the impeachment drama fades into memory. Then in March comes Super Tuesday, which is really "Super Duper Lollapalooza Tuesday" this year, due to all the huge states which have moved to the front of the line in the calendar. This is where Michael Bloomberg's "ignore the first four states and spend a boatload of money everywhere else" strategy will either launch him into the running or fizzle miserably.

By June, hopefully we'll have a Democratic nominee, although with multiple strong candidates running there's always the outside chance that Democrats will head to their convention without a clear winner. June may also shake up the entire presidential race in seismic fashion, as the Supreme Court will be handing down some key rulings which could instantly become central subjects in the presidential race. The focus of politics can change quickly, as evidenced by the fact that a few weeks ago, not many people was asking any of the Democrats what their policy towards Iran would be. But now, and for the foreseeable future, it'll be one of the first things asked. Remember, the political media focus can change on a dime.

All summer long, the general election will rage. Running against Trump is going to be tough (just ask all those Republicans he beat, back in 2016), and the campaign may be more brutal than anyone alive has ever seen. Trump will stop at nothing to remain president, and we will all have to learn exactly what that means in the months leading up to the election. There may be multiple "October surprises," as well as a few "September surprises," and at least a handful of "August surprises" and "July surprises" to boot. It's going to be a wild ride, that's the only thing anyone can say for certain at this point.

Eventually, we will get to Election Day, though. Either Trump is re-elected and Democrats spiral down into despondency, or Trump is beaten and there is dancing in the streets once again. Even assuming the latter, however, doesn't mean the year will end well for Democrats. The phrase that currently causes the most fear to us personally is: "lame-duck Trump." What will Trump do if he loses the election? He will have almost three full months to do anything he wishes (and that he thinks he can get away with), with the full power of the federal government still under his nominal control. If you think Trump is unhinged now, just imagine what he'll be like after losing. It's enough to strike fear into the most optimistic Democratic heart, that's for sure.

The election may have a huge silver lining, though, if a big blue wave develops. If Democrats do well enough, they won't only chuck Trump out of the White House, they may also flip enough key state legislature seats and governorships to guarantee a much-more-level playing field for the next ten years of American politics. Gaining some degree of control (even if it is just one chamber of the statehouse) will prevent the worst Republican gerrymandering excesses after the 2020 Census is complete and the states redistrict their House seats. Democrats absolutely got wiped out after the 2010 Tea Party elections, and a lot of attention (and money) is being paid at the state level to ensure that this does not happen again next time around. Democrats winning big at the top of the ballot may bring a whole bunch of good news further down the ballot as well. One can hope, at any rate.

As 2020 begins, America is indeed on the brink of many momentous happenings. The most important, obviously, is whether we're going to be in an open war with Iran. So far, the recent wars we've fought in the Middle East (Iraq, Syria, Yemen, etc.) have been against rather limited adversaries. Iran is an order of magnitude bigger than all of these, however, meaning a declared shooting war with them is going to be a lot tougher slog than anything we've seen previously. Everything else we're on the brink of kind of pales in comparison to it, in fact. In the coming weeks we'll know more about how far this is going to escalate, but for the moment we remain on the brink of it all.

Welcome to 2020, in other words.





Volume 555 (1/3/20)

Since we're taking a longer view this week (rather than attempting to review the past three weeks of politics), we decided not to hand out our weekly awards at all. So we'll have to wait until next Friday to ponder who was the most impressive and most disappointing Democrats of late.

Instead, we've got a special talking points section this week. Oh, before we begin, we thought we should point people to yet another in a long line of anti-Trump statements from staunch Republicans (which has become almost a weekly feature here). This one is from Florida, from a guy who was a mover and shaker in Republican politics before the dawn of the Trumpian era. Now he is quite plainly disgusted with where his party has gone, and he is not shy about putting his feelings into words. It's a pretty good read (although it does get down into the weeds of local Florida politics a bit in the middle), so we wanted to provide the link, in case anyone's interested in reading that sort of thing.

We had to mention this up front, because we put together our actual talking points with one idea in mind: create some talking points that every Democrat running for president can use in 2020. Unlike the Democratic presidential debates, we are much more concerned with what ties all Democrats together rather than the wedge issues which divide Democratic factions. Sooner or later, we're all going to have to get behind the party's presidential nominee, and these are the talking points that any of them should be able to use, either before or after that happens.

Democrats have to provide a clear vision -- one might call it a "2020 vision" if one were in the habit of crafting talking points and campaign slogans, in fact (hint, hint) -- of how things would be different under their leadership versus what we are all experiencing now. How would they be different than Trump? How would all of them be different?

These are the things that the eventual party nominee is going to be running on in the general election, in other words, no matter who he or she is. These are the stark differences between any of them and Donald J. Trump. These are the slogans that need to be deployed to make the case as easy to understand as possible. There are plenty of others we could have included as well, too -- this is just a sample representation. Call it: "What We'd Tell The Democratic Nominee To Run On."



;The Oval Office is not a schoolyard, and I am not a bully

A few of these have to do with personality, plain and simple. Because even many Republican voters can't quite bring themselves to defend the worst of Trump's behavior. Remind everyone of this, in no uncertain terms.

"If I am elected president, I will solemnly promise never to use Twitter to bully others in any way, shape or form. I will restore the dignity that the office of the president deserves -- or deserved, at any rate, until January of 2017. I will never call people names on Twitter. I will never be a bully on Twitter, against my political opponents or against anyone else, period. I can make political points in other, more dignified ways. The Oval Office should not be some schoolyard or playground where Nelson Muntz is the loudest voice of all. People will not fear hearing what their president has to say, or to tweet. I vow to never stoop to the disgusting and disgraceful tactics of Donald Trump while I am president, because I think America is tired of all of that. And that we're better than that, as well."



I will listen to those who know

Another key difference worth pointing out.

"If I am elected president, I promise that I will listen to people who know more about things than I do. I will actually read briefing papers, and I will not demand that these briefing books be a single page with lots of maps and graphics. I do not get bored that easily, and my attention span is long enough to read multiple pages on important subjects. My ego is not too big to realize that scientists and generals and other experts know a lot more than I do on all sorts of subjects, and I will be eager to listen to their advice rather than tune it out while contemplating my golf swing. When such people tell me things are accepted fact, I will not instead believe some conspiracy theory I heard on the internet. I will look at data. I will absorb new facts. I will listen to those who know. And my solemn promise is that I will never, ever decide to pick up a big black marker and change a weather map just because I am so insecure that I can't admit I made a stupid mistake in a tweet."



More people covered, not fewer

Put aside all the hairsplitting and remind everyone what the fight is really all about, and which side believes what.

"If I am president, I will fight hard to make sure that more Americans are covered by health insurance, not fewer. I have my own ideas about how to make this happen, but I will be willing to listen to any plan that comes out of Congress that achieves the goal of more-universal coverage, no matter who proposes it. Make no mistake about it, Republicans -- led by Donald Trump -- have wasted an entire decade fighting Obamacare solely because Obama's name is on it. They have thus put themselves on the side of fighting endlessly to deny millions of people coverage. They have repeatedly put themselves on the side of the insurance companies rather than those with pre-existing conditions. They want you to have fewer choices for health insurance, period. Democrats want the opposite. We want to make the attempt to cover every man, woman, and child in this country. We think our nation will be healthier as a country if our people don't have to worry about going bankrupt when they get sick. We believe that everyone should have health insurance, and Republicans just don't. That is the choice you will be making this November, no matter how they try to obfuscate this central truth."



Make it easier to vote, not harder

This one's about fairness, which always polls sky-high with the American public.

"If I am elected, I pledge to work to make it easier for all Americans to cast a ballot. Democrats want to make it easier for people to vote, while Republicans want to make it harder. There's a reason for this, and it's an ugly one. The GOP wants certain voters to have so many hurdles that they just give up and don't bother voting. They think this gives them a partisan edge. They cite non-existent 'voter fraud' as the reason behind doing so, but voter fraud simply does not exist except as a tiny -- miniscule, even -- portion of all votes cast. They use this excuse to end early voting, to end weekend voting, to move polling places off university campuses, to allow identification like hunting licenses but not student ID cards, to purge voter polls of voters in districts that don't vote for them, and when all that fails to just throw a bunch of ballots into a swamp -- as happened recently in North Carolina. Democrats believe that voting is a basic right in our democracy, and we will fight hard to make sure that every eligible voter is allowed to vote in as easy a manner possible. We want to end hours-long waits at the polling places. We want to allow people to mail in their ballots and cast early votes on weekends, so that people who can't take time off from work can still have their voices heard. Quite simply, we want to make it easier for you to vote. Republicans want to make it as hard as possible -- especially if you're inclined to vote for us. We consider that to be un-American, because we believe in fairness and we believe in the right of every American to cast a ballot, period."



Tax the rich

This used to be considered political poison, but the polls show (over and over and over again) that overwhelming majorities -- even of Republican voters -- strongly support the idea.

"If I am elected president, the rich are going to have to suck it up and pay their fair share of taxes. The free ride for billionaires and Wall Street is going to end, folks. Time after time, Republicans have told us that showering tax goodies on the wealthiest among us is somehow going to make everyone's lives better. We don't believe that, because it has proven to have failed each and every time they have tried it. We have a more complex tax policy than just 'give your boss more money,' and we're going to implement it to roll back the enormous tax breaks passed under Donald Trump for the millionaires and billionaires. We think it's more important to allow middle-class families to write off charitable donations than it is to give the wealthiest unlimited writeoffs. We think corporations ought to pay a minimum tax rate no matter how many writeoffs they conjure up to hide their enormous profits. When Republicans weep and wail about deficits and the national debt, they never seem to mention the fact that we wouldn't be in nearly as deep a hole if they hadn't given the tax revenues away to the people who least needed such breaks. Donald Trump promised that if he were elected president his own taxes would go up. That was nothing short of a gigantic lie. He and people like him got millions of dollars worth of tax breaks. We think that's the wrong way to do it. We think the richest should start paying more taxes, period. And you know what? Over seven in ten Americans agree with us."



Uphold law and order, not break it

This one is an easy lay-up, and it strikes right to the heart of the enormous hypocrisy currently within the Republican Party on the issue.

"If I am elected president, I solemnly swear that the Justice Department will be absolutely independent and non-political. I will end the use of the Justice Department as a partisan meat-axe. I will appoint an independent attorney general, and then I will not petulantly tell him to go after my political enemies. Republicans -- before Trump took over -- used to pride themselves on being the party of 'law and order,' but it's impossible for them to now make that claim with a straight face. Ever since Trump hijacked their party, they have gone along with all his lawbreaking and lawbending behavior without a solitary peep. They have looked the other way while Trump has set dangerous precedents for what the president of the United States should be allowed to get away with. I will restore honor and dignity to the office that Trump has dragged through the mud. And the first thing I will do to ensure that is to depoliticize the Justice Department and tell them to work to uphold law and order for all, instead of finding excuses for why law and order doesn't apply to me personally."



Can you really take four more years?

This really needs to be the heart of the Democratic argument, because it works so well for undecided voters who may not hate Trump but also may not approve of everything he does. So make the case on that level alone.

"What this entire election boils down to is this: When you go into the voting booth, are you really going to vote for four more years of this?!? Do you really want another four years of waking up in the morning dreading to hear what the president tweeted in the wee hours? Do you long for the days when a sitting president refused to pick fights and bully private citizens for no reason? Do you remember what the word 'presidential' used to mean in this country? We can return to that, and I can lead the way. Have you had enough of presidential petulance? Would you really rather not see another tantrum from the Oval Office? Do you want to go back to the days when a president refused to call his opponents names that are both juvenile and downright vile? I challenge everyone to go back and take a look at some video of either Barack Obama or George W. Bush speaking. Remember when presidents correctly used the English language for entire sentences at a time? Remember when you could hear a president speak without expecting to cringe at any moment? That's what I can promise you. I will vow to restore dignity and basic humanity to the office of the presidency. I don't know about you folks, but I'd really like to get back to some semblance of normal. Does anyone really look forward to four more years of what we've all endured for the last three? That's your choice. Four more years of this, or four years when you can once again hold up your head and proudly tell your children that they should act like the president of the United States. That's the choice you have to make, plain and simple."




Chris Weigant blogs at: ChrisWeigant.com
Follow Chris on Twitter: ChrisWeigant
Full archives of FTP columns: FridayTalkingPoints.com
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If I were to vote in a presidential
primary today, I would vote for:
Undecided

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ChrisWeigant Jan 3 OP
BlueMTexpat Jan 3 #1

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Fri Jan 3, 2020, 09:41 PM

1. Excellent TPs, IMO,

 

for ALL Dem candidates! Here's hoping that some, at least, will read this, take them to heart and incorporate them into their campaigns.

If I were to vote in a presidential
primary today, I would vote for:
Elizabeth Warren

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