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Fri Feb 7, 2020, 07:28 PM


Friday Talking Points -- A Momentous Week

{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."}

Throughout the presidency of Donald Trump there have been many weeks that have left everyone completely exhausted, because so many momentous events have happened with such blinding speed. Each time, it's been tempting to say: "Trump can never top that week" at the end of it. We've all but given up doing so, because no matter how intense things get, there always seems to be a way to ratchet things up the very next week. However, that temptation was almost overwhelming this particular week.

We had a State Of The Union speech on Tuesday (hopefully, Trump's last one). One day earlier, we had the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucus on the Democratic side, which turned into its own sort of spectacular meltdown. Then we had the Senate voting to acquit Trump of the impeachment charges brought by the House. Trump waited one day before doing a victory lap, in an extended "Two Minutes' Hate" broadcast live from the White House. He let everyone know he's got an enemies list and he's now totally unrestrained. And now we're rushing to put together a Friday column before the next Democratic presidential debate happens, later today. Add in, just for the heck of it, a Super Bowl and the Oscars and you've got a week that will indeed be hard to top, at least on the sheer exhaustion scale of things.

Normally, we'd wait until after the debate was over and then type up our snap reactions, but we're not going to do that today. It's Friday, and we feel we deserve a rest. Also, we've spent the last two Fridays commenting at length on the historical impact of the third impeachment of a United States president, so we wanted to get things at least marginally back to normal here at Friday Talking Points. But there will be two more Democratic debates before Super Tuesday -- one before Nevada votes and then another one before South Carolina, so we've got plenty of time to parse what the Democrats are saying about each other this month.

There's not much that can be said about Trump's speech that we haven't already said (we did do a post-speech snap reaction column Tuesday, in case you missed it). We weren't impressed by it, as usual, but we were definitely pleasantly surprised by the Democratic response (more on this later in the program).

Nancy Pelosi, at the end of the speech, absolutely stole the show by ripping up her copy of Trump's speech, right behind him, which was absolutely priceless. Republicans feigned a fit of the vapors (all the fainting couches in Washington got a workout) as a result, but they simply have no leg to stand on when it comes to demanding "decorum" from Democrats, at this point. To any Republicans attempting to do so, I have two words for them which were yelled at a previous State Of The Union from the GOP peanut gallery: "You lie!" Also, there's Donald Trump, who wouldn't know decorum if it came up and bit him on the ass at the tee of the eighteenth hole.

False pearl-clutching aside, however, there was one significant moment the day after the speech, when Republican Senator Mitt Romney became the only senator in all of American history to vote to remove a president of his own party from office. He gave a moving speech about his fealty to his oath to God before his vote, which Trump later mocked at the national prayer breakfast. Personally, we never thought we'd see the day when any Republican mocked anyone's professed faith, much less a member of his own party, but here we are. Was there outrage from all those self-professed devout Christians in the GOP at Trump's scorn for Romney's stance? There was not. There was, in fact, silence. How the mighty have fallen! Just another episode to put into the folder marked: "Things to bring up and throw in their faces if any Republicans ever try to pull that holier-than-thou nonsense ever again," which was already bulging at the seams after Trump's takeover of the Republican Party.

The Democratic race to replace Trump went through a political earthquake this week, when the Iowa results were finally announced (after three days of waiting). Pete Buttigieg did a lot better than expected while Joe Biden did a lot worse than expected -- those were the two biggest storylines. Bernie Sanders was proven right to demand that Iowa release not just the "state delegate equivalent" totals at the end of the night but also the actual popular vote -- something he had pushed hard for after the razor-thin result in 2016, when Hillary Clinton beat him in delegates by two-tenths of a percentage point. Bernie suspected that he had won the actual vote back then, but there was no way to tell because those numbers weren't actually recorded. In the changes the party has made since then, Iowa promised to release such numbers. This year, they showed an eerie similarity, when Buttigieg beat Bernie in delegates by only one-tenth of a percent, but this time around Bernie was able to claim victory for winning the most votes (which he did in both the first and the final rounds). Both candidates essentially tied, because both will wind up with exactly the same number of actual delegates to the national convention, and both candidates will doubtlessly portray themselves as the victors in tonight's debate.

Tonight is going to be a real throwdown, that's our guess (and that's why we're rushing to get this column done so we can watch the debate uninterrupted). Pretty much every candidate on the stage now has something to prove tonight, from the new frontrunners to the newly desperate. Andrew Yang will even be back, after being denied entry to the previous debate. However, one major candidate will still be absent, because the new rules for entry won't take effect until the next debate, so Michael Bloomberg will continue to be allowed to spend oodles of cash on television ads which (so far) have gone completely unchallenged by the other Democrats.

We are not among those who are denouncing this rules change, it bears mentioning. The rules were not (as some have claimed) "changed to allow Bloomberg onto the stage." The Democratic National Committee has said since last November that they were going to adjust things after the voting had actually begun, and their rules change reflects exactly what they said they were going to do. Any candidate who wins even a single national convention delegate gets an automatic free pass to the next round of debates. This will not include Bloomberg, because he is not competing in any of the first four contests. The donor hurdle was removed, because it was always a stand-in which was supposed to show widespread support among the voters, but now we have actual votes to show which candidates are widely supported and which are not, so it is no longer necessary. And the threshold for polling got incredibly higher, which few seem to have realized. In previous debates, this threshold began at only one percent in national polling, and stairstepped up to five percent the last time around (the rules which are in force for tonight's debate). The new threshold is ten percent in four national polls, or twelve percent in state-level polling in the states which are about to vote. That is a breathtaking leap, and it may well bar Amy Klobuchar and, yes, even Michael Bloomberg from the next debates (incidentally, it also will almost certainly leave Tom Steyer and Andrew Yang out in the cold). Bloomberg may make it in, but then again he may not -- the only candidates who have qualified so far for the next debate are Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Joe Biden. What with Pete Buttigieg's rise, he'll probably make it in too, but it's in no way guaranteed that anyone else will.

Now, don't get us wrong -- we are in no way supporting Michael Bloomberg's candidacy. In fact, we think he's got all kinds of baggage and may turn out to be a terrible president. We will probably hold our nose and vote for him in the general election, should he become the Democratic nominee, but then again that's true of every single other Democrat running. This is precisely why we would like to see him in a few debates before Super Tuesday, in fact, because we think it is high time all the claims he's been making in his ads are directly challenged by some Democrats who don't remember his stint as mayor of New York City quite so fondly. Just to make our position crystal clear, so we aren't accused of being in the tank for Bloomberg or anything. Far from it, in fact. We actually think he's got a glass jaw -- but it'll never shatter unless another Democrat takes a punch at him.

But back to tonight's debate. This one's going to be momentous because the Democratic field is currently in the process of realigning. Joe Biden no longer looks or sounds like a frontrunner after his dismal finish in Iowa. Amy Klobuchar is desperately trying to knock Biden down one more notch, because fourth place is a lot better than fifth place right now. Elizabeth Warren is hoping for a better finish than third, in a state right next door to her own. Bernie Sanders is hoping for the same thing, and he's doing a lot better in the New Hampshire polls than Warren is. And Pete Buttigieg is eagerly hoping that he'll become the lone moderate Democrat standing after New Hampshire, capitalizing on Biden's decline. Biden, of course, is in desperate straits, but a good finish in New Hampshire (second or even third place) would launch him right back into the fray at the front of the pack. Everyone has a lot to gain and a lot to lose, in other words.

As usual, it will be fascinating to see who gets attacked and who is launching such attacks. Will Biden be the biggest target, or will the other candidates ignore him? Will Biden be the most vicious attack dog, or will Klobuchar continue her streak? What will Warren do -- hang back and let the fur fly, or attempt to knock Bernie down a peg? Everyone's going to be targeting both Bernie and Mayor Pete, but will these two ignore the others and concentrate on attacking each other instead? Will anyone take a swipe at the absent Bloomberg? Will the moderators ask idiotic questions that totally ignore basic political reality? All kinds of things could happen, and many of them probably will.

Iowa didn't really narrow the race much at all, unless you count the confirmation that neither Tom Steyer nor Andrew Yang is going to be the Democratic nominee. Not counting Bloomberg, there were, in fact, five "tickets out of Iowa" this year, not the usual three. However, New Hampshire's primary could winnow this down to only four (again, not counting Bloomberg), especially if Amy Klobuchar fails to qualify for the next debate stage.

Tonight's debate will be the capstone on a week packed with momentous occasions, that much seems assured. So you'll have to forgive us for this rather condensed wrap-up of the week that was, since it's not over yet and we want to get this published before the final event begins.

This is going to be a short section, but don't worry, we're going to expand upon it in the talking points.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi certainly deserves an Honorable Mention this week for stealing Donald Trump's thunder by visibly ripping up her copy of his State Of The Union speech at the end, that's for sure. This was payback for him refusing to shake her hand at the beginning, which set the tone for how low the "decorum" bar for such events has fallen. Pelosi caused an epidemic of pearl-clutching among Republicans afterwards, and her viral moment ripping up Trump's speech stole a goodly portion of the news coverage away from what he had said. In other words, as political theater, it was stunningly effective.

Pete Buttigieg and Bernie Sanders also deserve Honorable Mention awards, for doing so well in Iowa (even if it did take far too long to find this out). Mayor Pete in particular smashed expectations in the first state to vote, which has launched his candidacy into the front ranks of the race. Tonight's debate will most likely be the most fascinating one of the cycle so far as a direct result.

But the clear winner of the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week was Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, for her delivery of the Democratic response to the State Of The Union. Again, though, we've got much more to say about this amazing speech later, so we're just going to hand Whitmer her award and move on. Congratulations are in order for Gretchen Whitmer, for summing up very succinctly the exact message that all Democratic candidates should focus on from now until November.

[Congratulate Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer on her Senate contact page, to let her know you appreciate her efforts.]

This one's pretty easy this week, too. We have a group award this time around, for the Iowa Democratic Party. And they won't even have to wait three days for the votes to be counted, either.


There's nothing like one snafu giving the entire party a black eye, and this one came at the worse imaginable moment -- the real start of the nominating race to take on Donald Trump. If ever there was a time when the entire world was watching, this was it.

We wrote yesterday about the larger problems the Iowa caucus has, and we sincerely hope that this fiasco spurs a national conversation about the entire concept of: (1) caucuses, Iowa's in particular, and (2) letting Iowa go first. Because it has now become painfully obvious that there's got to be a better way than what we just went through.

Not unlike the rollout of the Obamacare website, this was an unmitigated disaster. There really were no excuses, and no silver lining to be found. Eleanor Shellstrop of The Good Place would have called it a "clusterfork." And she'd be right.

Republicans everywhere reacted with unrestrained glee. As they had every right to (if the shoe were on the other foot, Democrats would have been equally justified in such gleeful scorn).

However, this won't be as big a deal once other states start voting -- and proving that what happened in Iowa is the exception and not the rule. Iowa's screwup is never going to be forgotten, but it also isn't going to change anyone's vote in November, to put it another way. So while it's embarrassing to see a state fall on its face so spectacularly, in the grand scheme of things it isn't going to be all that important.

Even so, the Iowa Democratic Party was, without any doubt, the winner of the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award.

[Contact the Iowa Democratic Party on their official contact page, although it may take awhile for the message to get through because they're still busily cleaning up the mess they made earlier in the week.]

Volume 560 (2/7/20)

This week, we saw not only the president's State Of The Union speech, but also the Democratic response. As mentioned, this was an excellent speech, so rather than trying to come up with our own discrete talking points this week, we decided to highlight a few key passages from Governor Whitmer's speech instead.

It was a fairly short speech, less than 15 minutes in total. But in that short time, several key themes were addressed that all Democrats running for office this year would do well to pay attention to. In a nutshell, these themes are:

  • This is what Democrats are for.

  • This is what Republicans are against.

  • Democrats want to fix problems, not make them worse.

  • The Senate hasn't done anything since Republicans took control.

  • Main Street is more important than Wall Street.

This is what wins elections, folks. Painting the differences between the two parties as starkly as possible, with a heavy emphasis on kitchen-table issues that voters care deeply about. Whitmer famously won her election on the campaign slogan: "Fix the damn roads," which is probably the best example of how to achieve this. Early on in her speech she explained why this was such a powerful political message:

[C]ar repairs take money from rent, childcare or groceries. And we, the Democrats, are doing something about it. In Illinois, Governor J. B. Pritzker passed a multibillion dollar plan to rebuild their roads and bridges. Governor Phil Murphy is replacing lead pipes in New Jersey. All across the country, Democratic leaders are rebuilding bridges, fixing roads, expanding broadband and cleaning up drinking water. Everyone in this country benefits when we invest in infrastructure. Congressional Democrats have presented proposals to keep us moving forward, but President Trump and the Republicans in the Senate are blocking the path.

As you can see, Whitmer wove many themes into a very succinct message. She highlighted one Michigander who, out of frustration, started filling in his street's potholes on his own, saying he had done more "with a pile of dirt than the Republicans in D.C. have with the Oval Office and the U.S. Senate." She followed this with the most memorable line of the entire speech: "Bullying people on Twitter doesn't fix bridges, it burns them."

The governor then pivoted to healthcare, which is still the strongest political subject Democrats have, due to Republicans continually trying to make the entire system worse for everyone. Donald Trump had just blatantly lied in his State Of The Union speech about protecting people with pre-existing conditions, when the reality is that his own Justice Department has joined a lawsuit which seeks to overturn the entire Affordable Care Act, including the protections such people now enjoy. Whitmer began this section by giving credit to some of her fellow Democratic governors (something she continued to do throughout the entire speech):

In Kansas, Governor Laura Kelly's working across the aisle to bring Medicaid coverage to tens of thousands. In New Mexico, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham enshrined A.C.A. protections into law. Every Democrat running for president has a plan to expand healthcare for all Americans. Every one of them has supported the Affordable Care Act with coverage for people with preexisting conditions. They may have different plans, but the goal is the same. President Trump, sadly, has a different plan. He's asking the courts to rip those lifesaving protections away. It's pretty simple, Democrats are trying to make your healthcare better, Republicans in Washington are trying to take it away.

This was the most impressive segment of a very impressive speech, in fact. There are two portions of it worth highlighting even further. The first is to point out that while the moderators of all the Democratic presidential debates have bent over backwards to expose all the sometimes-minor differences in the various plans each candidate has to further reform America's healthcare system, this focus misses a rather large point: "Every Democrat running for president has a plan to expand healthcare for all Americans.... They may have different plans, but the goal is the same." Republicans are on the record not just opposing any new effort to expand access to healthcare, but also vehemently opposing what's been achieved already. The contrast is about as clear-cut as it could be, and Whitmer's last line in this passage should become a key phrase that every single Democrat running for any political office starts using as many times as they can: "It's pretty simple, Democrats are trying to make your healthcare better, Republicans in Washington are trying to take it away."

Whitmer then expands her message to highlight how Donald Trump and the Republicans are much more concerned with how Wall Street is doing than how average American families are doing. She weaves a metaphor of strength through this passage:

But the reality is not everyone in America has a job with healthcare and benefits. In fact, many have jobs that don't even pay enough to cover their monthly expenses. Doesn't matter what the president says about the stock market. What matters is that millions of people struggle to get by or don't have enough money at the end of the month after paying for transportation, student loans or prescription drugs. American workers are hurting. In my own state, our neighbors in Wisconsin and Ohio, Pennsylvania and all over the country, wages have stagnated while C.E.O. pay has skyrocketed. So when the president says the economy is strong, my question is, strong for whom? Strong for the wealthy, who are reaping rewards from tax cuts they don't need. The American economy needs to be a different kind of strong. Strong for the science teacher spending her own money to buy supplies for her classroom. Strong for the single mom picking up extra hours, so she can afford her daughter's soccer cleats. Strong for the small business owner who has to make payroll at the end of the month. Michigan invented the middle class, so we know if the economy doesn't work for working people, it just doesn't work.

Whitmer then immediately follows this up by returning to the contrast between the two parties, comparing what the House Democrats under Nancy Pelosi have already gotten done with Mitch McConnell's refusal to do pretty much anything that would help the average voter. This is a very important point, and again it is one that any Democratic candidate can effectively make:

Who fights for hardworking Americans? Democrats do. In the U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democrats pass a landmark bill on equal pay. Another bill to give 30 million Americans are raise by increasing the minimum wage. And groundbreaking legislation to finally give Medicare the power to negotiate lower drug prices for America's seniors and families. Those three bills and more than 275 other bipartisan bills are just gathering dust on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's desk. Senator McConnell, America needs you to move those bills. Meanwhile, Democrats across the country are getting things done. Pennsylvania's Governor Tom Wolf is expanding the right to overtime pay. Michigan is too. Because if you're on the clock, you deserve to get paid. Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper are working to give hardworking teachers a raise. And speaking of the classroom, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers unilaterally increased school funding by $65 million last year. In Colorado, Governor Jared Polis has enacted free all-day kindergarten. And in 29 states, we've helped pass minimum wage hikes into law, which will lift people out of poverty and improve lives for families. That's strength. That's action.

Democrats are getting plenty of good things done at the state level, and Democrats could get stuff like this passed nationally if we took control of the Senate and the Oval Office. This is a very clear message, and it is a winning one. Trump has tried to paint congressional Democrats as "Do-Nothing Democrats" through fear, because he knows full well the record shows exactly the opposite -- Democrats are doing plenty of good things, but they are all being blocked by Mitch McConnell and his Do-Nothing Republicans.

Whitmer drives this point home further by expanding the list of Democratic goals, towards the end of her speech:

Democrats want safe schools. We want everyone to have a path to a good life, whether it's through a union apprenticeship, a community college, a four-year university without drowning in debt. We want your water to be clean. We want you to love who you love and to live authentically as your true selves. And we want women to have autonomy over our bodies. We want our country welcoming and everyone's vote counted.

These are the messages that got Democrats elected in the midterms, and in the off-year elections last year. Democrats want to make things better, Republicans want to make them worse. So we end where we began, by restating the overarching themes of Whitmer's excellent speech. These should be the touchstones of all Democratic candidates' stump speeches, because they are so undeniable and plain to see. Want to know how Democrats can win in November? Gretchen Whitmer just showed them all how to do so. Hammer the following points home, in as many ways as you can:

  • This is what Democrats are for.

  • This is what Republicans are against.

  • Democrats want to fix problems, not make them worse.

  • The Senate hasn't done anything since Republicans took control.

  • Main Street is more important than Wall Street.

Chris Weigant blogs at: ChrisWeigant.com
Follow Chris on Twitter: ChrisWeigant
Full archives of FTP columns: FridayTalkingPoints.com
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Fri Feb 7, 2020, 07:47 PM

1. Thanks once again, Chris,


for an excellent column.

It is my fervent wish that EVERY SINGLE Democratic candidate for ANY office would read these columns and take them to heart.

And yes, Governor Gretchen Whitmer is a KEEPER! Good for her and good for Michigan for having the sense to elect her!
If I were to vote in a presidential
primary today, I would vote for:
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