NDN Blog

Lavrov Comes to America For a Russian Victory Lap

Russia’s Return on Its Investment in Trump Has Been Huge

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s visit to Washington may as well be a victory lap: U.S. foreign policy is serving Moscow’s interests now

This essay was originally posted on GEN, a Medium affiliate, on Monday, December 9th. 

From a national security standpoint, the most important question about Vladimir Putin’s big 2016 investment in Donald Trump has always been about whether Russia would eventually get something significant in return for helping elect the U.S. president. Surveying President Trump’s actions over the past year, the answer appears to be that Putin is in the process of getting quite a lot from the United States, perhaps more than he could have ever imagined.

Not only has the United States taken very pro-Putin stances in Russia’s hot wars in Ukraine and Syria, but on a grander scale Trump has helped convey U.S. weakness and Russian strength in region after region across the world — a dangerous development which is going to create enormous challenges for the United States and the West for years to come.

With Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visiting Washington this week, it’s worth diving a little deeper into just how much Trump has tried to align the United States with Russian interests over the past year:

Syria

Trump has been working hard to unilaterally withdraw the United States from Syria, a country where Russia has a naval base and has been fighting on the government’s behalf since September 2015. Trump’s unexpected and abrupt withdrawal announcement a year ago caused Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to resign in protest, and his recent sudden second attempt at complete withdrawal has been met with extraordinary alarm in Washington, Europe, and even Israel. Without consulting our allies or Congress, the president pulled U.S. forces from the front lines of battle in northern Syria, abandoning our long time allies the Kurds, and in effect turning over the country back to the murderous Syrian government and its allies the Russians without the United States or the West getting anything in return. It was a hasty and sudden retreat, pure and simple, and sent a very strong signal across the globe about how feckless and unreliable America has become.

Venezuela

In May, shortly after talking to Vladimir Putin on the phone, the president again without warning or consultation with allies, publicly abandoned a months-long U.S.-led international effort to rid Venezuela of its corrupt leader, Nicolas Maduro, allowing him to stay essentially under Russia’s protection. In his statement announcing the decision, the president contradicted comments his own secretary of state had made just days before warning that Russia was in the process of invading and taking over Venezuela. It was a shocking reversal. Hopes of a restoration of democracy were dashed, and like in Syria, the president appears to have willingly allowed the country to become a Russian client state without getting anything for the United States in return. I spoke to a friend with family in Caracas this week, and he said Russian troops are now a common sight throughout the country.

Ukraine

In his infamous July 25 phone call with President Volodymyr Zelensky, Trump asked for help in removing the blame for the 2016 attack on U.S. elections from Russia and instead tried to place it on Ukraine itself. I’m not really sure that we’ve collectively processed here the gravity of what Trump asked of Zelensky that day — it was essentially a request for him to commit national and political suicide, and made it very very clear that regardless of where the U.S. government stood, Trump himself was with Russia.

Again and again the president has conveyed his sympathy toward Russia in this hot war, including when he ominously turned the August G7 meeting into a discussion about removing the sanctions from Russia for its illegal annexation of Crimea. Rudy Giuliani’s return to Ukraine last week should be read as a very public show of Trump’s contempt for Zelensky. It comes days before the Ukrainian president’s face to face peace talks with Putin that start Monday in Paris, a gathering where the United States is conspicuously absent.

Iran

At some point Trump was going to have to choose between his Gulf Arab and Israeli friends and the Russia-Iran-Assad axis. In recent months, it seems as if the president has finally chosen Putin over his allies. In September, the president signaled a desire to negotiate easing back on sanctions with Iran, backing off his hard line position. The United States did little to respond to Iran’s attack on Saudi oil facilities, and Russia’s perceived victory in Syria was a huge win for Iran as well. Experts in the region say the president’s recent dramatic reorientation toward Russian objectives there even has Israel wondering if it can continue to count on the United States in its struggle with Iran. The president’s embrace of Russian objectives in Syria cost him Mattis. His embrace of Russian objectives with Iran might have cost him John Bolton.

Europe/NATO/The West

Within the span of a few weeks, we have witnessed Western leaders mocking the U.S. president at a NATO meeting and Trump cutting short his trip to NATO as if it was a bother to him. Trump once again expressed doubts about his willingness to defend others in the alliance and also delivered a potentially crippling blow to the World Trade Organization, a key pillar of the U.S.-led post WWII liberal order. The president has backed Brexit and the fracturing of the European project, embraced far-right, pro-Putin, anti-European leaders like Hungary’s Orban, has walked away from a critical nuclear arms control treaty with Russia that directly affects European security, denigrated NATO, and weakened the global trading system. The Western alliance that won the Cold War, caused the breakup of the Soviet Union, and kept the United States safe, is under extraordinary strain. Of all of his gifts to Putin in recent months this one may be the most significant, and the most dangerous for the United States itself.

While there were moments in 2017 and 2018 where one wondered whether Trump was rewarding Putin (Helsinki being a good example), much of the truly significant aligning of U.S. policy toward Russian interests has come in the last year. While we may never know why, I want to offer an explanation: Trump’s drubbing in the 2018 election. Putin may have understood at that point that Trump had an expiration date, and needed to get from him what he could while he was still in office.

It is also long past time for leaders of both parties to challenge the president’s alignment with Russia far more forcefully.

The way Trump has prosecuted these policies has in every case seemed rushed, reckless, and sudden — as if there was pressure on him to deliver, and he just didn’t have time to prepare or soften the ground for the decisions. The Ukraine affair has appeared particularly wild and sloppy — and has continued this week, with Guiliani returning to Ukraine in a manner that seems reckless to an extreme.

Whatever the explanation for what we’ve seen, in the past year Trump has fundamentally altered core security arrangements throughout the world in ways which have benefited Russia and harmed western and U.S. interests. It is time for U.S. policymakers to come to a clearer understanding of the damage the president has done to our standing in the world and our security by these actions, which is why I have called for the House to conduct a broad security review next year as part of impeachment. It is also long past time for leaders of both parties to challenge the president’s alignment with Russia far more forcefully — it has become a clear and present danger to the national security of the United States.

Our List of High-Volume, Pro-Trump Twitter Accounts Up to 416

Dec 9th - As we have previously discussed, we’ve begun a project to locate and publicize high volume pro-Trump accounts on Twitter.  These “amplifiers” are a critical part of the modern social media ecosystem and are also an important part of how Trump and his allies move their narratives through the body politic here in the US.  It's our sense that all of us need to get a better understanding of these accounts and how they influence our domestic discourse. 

You can find some of the most aggressive accounts below, or you can see all 416 of the accounts we’ve found so far in the attached pdf.  Feel free to use this information for whatever work you are doing in this space.  Our goal is get a better sense of how many of accounts like these are out there – is it a few hundred? A few thousand? More? Help us figure that out. 

List updated as of 12/09/19 930am. 

 

Our Mad King, Desperate and Dangerous - Notes on 2020

On Mondays NDN publishes our weekly newsletter, NDN News.  It is chock full of timely analysis including items like you see below.  To get NDN News in your inbox each Monday visit here - and thanks for being part of our extended family. 

Dec 9th/Lavrov Comes for A Victory Lap, Next Steps On Impeachment, Biden Resilient - While the Democratic primary remains fluid, the main story continues to be Joe Biden’s resilience. Mayor Pete has surged impressively in IA and NH, but for all intents and purposes the big 4 Dems are all bunched up in both of those states and anything could happen.  Meanwhile, Biden retains a formidable lead in NV and SC, and his broad, diverse base of support bodes well for his campaign once the voting leaves the early states. From a performance standpoint the Biden campaign just feels like it has found its footing, in part because the Vice President is finding ways to turn his years of experience on the global stage into a vital asset – something evident in this new video released last week.  

Despite the Wizard of Oz-ish noise-making on the right, there just is no good polling news for Trump.  His job approval remains worse than it was on election day 2018 when Rs lost by 8.6 points; Democrats have outperformed expectations when people have actually voted in 2018 and 2019; and when asking about whether Americans support the impeachment inquiry into the President, the spread is now 42/52 against the President – terrible numbers.   There is no backlash, no big change in the polls, no meaningful positive movement for the President – nothing.

What should worry the White House most is what has happened over time in other consequential national debates.  During Trump’s Presidency the numbers of people supporting things really important to him – the ACA, immigration, free trade – have all risen dramatically.  In both the 2018 and 2019 elections, Republicans underperformed.  On Impeachment, it is our belief that the President is in far more serious trouble than conventional wisdom holds right now.  He is clearly guilty of having committed a series of felony-level crimes and has tried to illegally cover it up for months.  Those are the facts. They are irrefutable. They are easy to understand.  And we really only learned them in the last few weeks, clearly not enough time, particularly during the holiday season, for them to sink in.  But like these other big issues where the debate has turned against the President over time, we think it will on removal – for he is a serial criminal, got caught, and leaving him in office is a danger to the country.  There just isn’t another side to this story.

On Sunday Simon joined MSNBC’s Joy Reid to discuss his recent essay which argues that the House should break the Ukraine and Impeachment inquiry into 3 parts – the crimes, the co-conspirators, and a security review.  In a new Medium piece out this morning, Russia’s Lavrov Comes For A Victory Lap, Simon makes a powerful case for the idea of a broad security review by detailing just how aggressively – and shockingly - the President has attempted to align the US with Russian geopolitical objectives in the past year. 

Dec 2nd/Biden and Buttigieg, Countering Trump’s Undermining Of US Interests/Global System - The basic contours of the race haven’t changed much since last week – Biden and Buttigieg have the most plausible Dem paths now, Warren has faded, and we are still waiting and seeing if Bloomberg and Patrick can deal themselves into the game.  Trump’s numbers remain in an uncomfortably low place on all measures including re-election, removal, and job approval.  In a new piece, Chris finds that at this point in their first term all Presidents since 1953 other than Trump have been at -10 net job approval for a total of 245 days; for Trump it has been 900. 

You can find NDN’s political insights covering a wide range of 2020 matters in recent stories in the LA Times, Minneapolis Star Tribune, NBC News, New York Times (here and here), Politico, Washington Examiner and the Washington Post (here and here). 

On Impeachment, Simon in a new Medium op-ed suggests splitting off a review of the damage done by Trump’s foreign dealings/policy from the current process which is rightfully looking at the crimes the President and his co-conspirators have committed.  He argues that in the long run this strategic review may be among the most important work done by Congress next year as America comes to terms with the grave and long term damage that Trumpism has done to our standing in the world and overall security.

With the President taking very destructive trade related actions in the coming days – steel tariffs against Brazil and Argentina and the killing off of the WTO dispute resolution process – Congress must somehow tie the successful adoption of the USMCA with the President abandoning his unilateral and serial attacks on the global trade system itself.  For those of us who have worked so hard to build the rules based international system in the years after Communism, it is just too much to be lectured about the urgent need for the USMCA from a party who walked away from a completed TPP deal in 2016, and who are standing by and letting the President do lasting damage to the global system the US has built and led.  Congress can and must do more than one thing at a time – it can pass the USMCA while also far more aggressively challenging the President’s sinister attacks on the American-led global order.  

Nov 25th/Biden’s Resilience And Warren’s Decline, Putin’s Pawns, Next Steps On Impeachment - After a few months of Warren mania, the Democratic race has entered a new phase.  Mayor Pete has surged in Iowa, Biden has shown a great deal of resilience and has even gained some ground, and Warren is in the midst of a significant swoon.  Our take is that Bloomberg and Deval Patrick are serious candidates, and while there are many reasons their campaigns may not amount to anything, it is far too soon to write them off.  We dive a bit more into these dynamics in a new analysis of recent polling, and you can find more of our thinking in these new pieces from the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and NBC News

On Trump and the GOP, what is there to say? The last few weeks have made it as clear as day that Trump is guilty of a series of felony-level crimes and should be removed from office.  Most of his senior team – Pence, Pompeo, Barr, Mulvaney, etc – appear to be co-conspirators in these crimes, an enormous challenge for our democracy.  A parallel criminal investigation into the Ukraine affair has dramatically widened in recent weeks and direct connections have been made in this one to the President, Rudy, and Nunes – thus everyone.  And like in 2016, the entire leadership of the national Republican Party, including the President, are now heavily invested in advancing stories which we know came from Russia. That the GOP has become so complicit in advancing illiberalism here and abroad remains one of the biggest and not yet adequately understood stories of our time.  

As for Impeachment, it’s our belief that Congress should break it into three separate tracks now: 1) The Criminal – establish the crimes that the President has committed from 2016 to the present day including election law violations and serial unprecedented obstruction.  2) A Security Review - conduct a formal review of the damage done to our national security by the President putting his own interests, and those of others (Putin, Erdogan, MBS), over the interests of the United States.  His actions in Ukraine and Syria alone these past few months have done incalculable harm to America’s standing in the world and our own security.  3) Prosecute the Conspiracy - refer the conspirators around Trump to DOJ/SDNY for criminal prosecution, feeding it into the widening SDNY investigation already underway.  Given the already stated intent of turning the Senate Impeachment trial into a Hannity-inspired circus, House leaders should think very hard about slowing down and holding the inquiry into the President open until we know a fair trial can be conducted. 

Nov 18th/Mayor Pete!, All Roads Lead to Putin, Another Bad Election for the Rs - As we gather this week for another Democratic debate (Wednesday), the Dem nomination fight is clearly evolving and changing: Bloomberg and Patrick, 2 serious candidates, have gotten in; battered by her advancement of a bad single player plan, Warren seems to be losing oxygen; Mayor Pete is now the candidate with momentum; and Biden continues to show remarkable resilience, keeping his national lead and in the past few weeks placing either first or second in most Iowa or New Hampshire polls.   It’s 10 weeks now until the Iowa Caucuses, and the Dem race feels wide open, still with many twists and turns ahead. 

As for Trump and the GOP, Simon offers the following insights in a front page Washington Post article this morning: “Where’s the good news for Republicans?” said Simon Rosenberg, president of NDN, a liberal think tank. “In 2018 and 2019, Trump had two worst-case or near-worst elections in a row; his numbers today are below where they were on Election Day 2018; incumbents are retiring in droves, making 2020 even more challenging; and Trump’s not just trailing 2020 Democrats nationally by a significant margin — he’s not clearly ahead in any important battleground state.” A new ABC News poll finds 70% of Americans think what the President did in Ukraine was wrong, and 51% believe he should be removed from office.  There is only bad news these days for the Rs. 

On impeachment, the President is clearly guilty, having been caught in a vast illicit scheme which may very well involve felony level bribery, extortion, and election law violations.  Given that the entire senior leadership of the Trump Administration is involved in this criminal conspiracy, NDN has raised the question of whether the House should slow down the process, and only vote on Articles of Impeachment once all documents are turned over and witnesses – including Pence, Pompeo, Barr, Perry, Mulvaney – are questioned under oath.  

With Roger Stone now heading to prison and two members of the Ukraine conspiracy now arrested, it is appropriate to remark just how many really close associates of the President have been indicted or jailed; and new revelations in the Stone trial and in the UK have once again raised concerns about Russian penetration of the right wing political parties on both sides of the pond.   We also worry about the wild and inflammatory language the Attorney General used in a speech Friday night – a further sign of the dangerous drift of Trumpland into an American-style authoritarianism. 

Nov 4th/Ukraine Scandal Is Enormous - While the House is attempting to keep the Impeachment investigation focused and narrow on Trump’s shakedown of Ukraine, the more we learn the more difficult this is proving to be.  Three points: 1) As new documents revealed this weekend, Trump’s attempt to blame Ukraine for Russia’s interference in the 2016 election began with top campaign aide Paul Manafort before the 2016 election; on Friday David Ignatius reported that Trump’s first shake down of Ukraine occurred in 2017, and was done to get Manafort out of trouble over there.  Taken together, we now know that this ongoing Trump/Putin/Ukraine play began more than 3 years ago, and we will come to view the Mueller probe as an early chapter in this single ongoing mega scandal.  2) The current iteration of the Ukraine scandal involves most of the US govt’s senior leadership – Pence, Pompeo, Barr, Mulvaney, Maguire, Sondland, Volker, and dozens more in WH/State/DOJ.  Does the House have any choice other than to pursue their impeachment or prosecution? 3) As Manafort’s longtime business partner Roger Stone’s trial begins today in DC, it is a reminder of the Olympian level of criminality around Trump.  Top campaign aide, personal aide, national security advisor, political advisor, deputy campaign manager, and now Parnas/Fruman all indicted or in jail.  In just 2 ½ years, much of his Cabinet has resigned in scandal, already.  Not going to be easy to get all that down to two or three articles of Impeachment and a short Senate trial my friends. 

On the Dem side, it is now looking like a four way race with Mayor Pete and Senator Warren showing well these past few weeks.  Our initial read on Warren’s single payer plan is that legit questions about the accuracy of her estimates both on the spend and income sides are a huge problem for her, for it raises broader questions about her intellectual integrity – the very core of her brand.  We also wonder why there isn’t more of a conversation about the role of Trump’s illicit and conventional attacks on Biden in helping to cause some of the VP’s recent rough polling numbers in the early states (particularly considering that he received a boost in several national polls this weekend).  For if the Trump effort is indeed impacting Biden, then we need to describe the Trump effort to use Ukraine to interfere in our elections as something live and ongoing, and not in any way “an attempt” or speculative. 

Finally, ACA sign-up period began last week. As NDN has written before, politicians on both sides of the aisle should use this period to advocate to their constituents to get signed up, and Democrats should stress the integral role of the Affordable Care Act in increasing access to healthcare across the country. 

OCt 28th/Countering the Trump-Putin Alliance - In the crush of daily news, we shouldn't lose sight of two important moments in the past week.  First, we learned that Russia had resumed its efforts to undermine our democracy and had launched a major social media campaign to denigrate Vice President Biden.  It still boggles the mind that this reprise of 2016 has happened without much comment, or action, from the US government; and rather than condemning Russia for the resumption of these active measures, on Wednesday Trump rewarded Putin with Syria, an entire country.  The second moment came in Trump’s presser yesterday when he jaw-droppingly thanked Russia far more profusely for helping capture Baghdadi than those who actually helped the US - the Kurds of Syria and Iraq. 

Wherever one looks now one sees the US aligned or partnering with Russia, almost always against what had been stated US interests – Syria, Ukraine, Iran, Brexit, EU/NATO, climate change, Venezuela, Cuba, Open Skies and INF treaties, interfering in US elections, and Trump’s broader campaign to normalize authoritarianism here and abroad (did we forget something?) It is as if Putin and Trump have forged a secret alliance, and that Speaker Pelosi was right to share her concern that all of Trump’s roads seem to lead to Putin. 

What all this means for the 2020 debate is that it is vital for Democrats to start articulating what we are going to do to untangle the US from Russia in the coming years, and roll back its spirited insurgency against the West.  There is perhaps no greater foreign (or even domestic) policy challenge now, and all of us should aid our leaders in the months ahead to help them tackle the budding Trump-Putin alliance head on. 

The polling has been very noisy on both sides in the past week. Trump has dropped to one of the lowest places in his Presidency, and Dem polls are showing a lot of movement in various directions suggesting things are changing and evolving there.  On Friday, Simon was quoted in the NYTimes about a clear, recent development on the Dem side – Mayor Pete’s improving position: “How much Buttigieg can grow is one of the most interesting questions in the race right now,” Simon Rosenberg, a Democratic consultant and founder of the centrist New Democrat Network, said in a phone interview. If Mr. Buttigieg finishes strongly in the Iowa caucuses, Mr. Rosenberg added, he could make a play for the center lane of the Democratic electorate, establishing himself as a moderate alternative to Ms. Warren and a more youthful centrist pick than Mr. Biden, who is 76. “What’s important is that he’s demonstrated a capacity to do it already, by getting into clear double digits in Iowa,” Mr. Rosenberg said. “In a place that has to make up their mind first, he has been able to put himself in play.”

Oct 21st/Potemkin President, Buttigieg Appears To Be Making A Move - On Sunday, in the midst of a dangerous moment for the US and the world in the Middle East, the President referred to his Defense Secretary, Mark Esper, as “Esperanto,” and INVENTED a quote from him about what was happening on the ground in Syria which contained false information.  Friends, I'm not sure how much more Republicans need to know to conclude that it is time for Trump to go. 

As we saw Pompeo and Mulvaney get drawn deeper into the Ukraine scandal over these past few days, it was a reminder that the scandal involves a criminal conspiracy of the entire senior leadership of our government, including Trump, Pence, Pompeo, Barr, Maguire, Perry, Mulvaney, and dozens of other staff in the WH, State, and DOJ.  The scale and gravity of the scandal is enormous; and, as we wrote last week, we think that the President’s indefensible abandonment of the Kurds has made his impeachment inevitable.  We also expect far more attention to Trump’s astonishing fealty to Putin in the coming weeks. 

On the Democratic side the big news is clear movement for Buttigieg and some rough days for Warren.  Warren’s refusal to answer direct and simple questions again about her single payer health care plan has raised questions about her intellectual integrity, perhaps the core of her candidacy.  Meanwhile Mayor Pete has had a very good month of polling in Iowa, coming in third now in the last two polls including a new one out this morning from USA Today.  The Dem race seems to be changing a bit now. 

Finally, a series of stories in the last few weeks raises questions about whether the Democrats are entering the 2020 cycle ready to win in the current way campaigns are fought.  We’ve seen smart new stories on whether Dems have fallen behind in the digital realm (here and here), are prepared for this new age of disinformation, should be going after Trump more directly, and risk being dangerously outspent (here and here).  Simon offered this observation in a recent Politico piece:  “A lot of thinking went into not replicating the mistakes of 2016,” said Simon Rosenberg, who acted as a senior advisor to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in 2018. “I’m not sure as much thinking went into re-imagining the DNC’s communications responsibilities in an age of social media, disinformation, and Trump.”

Oct 15th/Syria Fiasco Makes the Case for Removing Trump Far Stronger - Trump’s reckless decision to surrender Syria to Russia and Turkey has made the case for his removal far stronger.  For we now have clear evidence of the threat posed by leaving this desperate and dangerous man in office for the next 15 months – Russia strengthened, ISIS revived, and America humiliated.   Removing him to prevent further damage - and yes there is much more damage he could do to America and our interests - is now an urgent task, something that cannot wait to the election in 2020. 

That this decision also involved a country where the President has hundreds of opaque investments also gives the House’s quest for greater visibility into his finances more gravity.  As we’ve seen in recent court decisions siding with the House on access to information, and the cooperation of top Trump officials with the Intel Committee, the absurd blockade that Barr, Trump, and the White House have erected has begun to erode.  The scope of the Ukraine scandal remains extraordinary, as it involves not just Trump but Pence, Pompeo, Barr, Perry, Mulvaney, Maguire, Rudy, and dozens of staff.   And as all of this once again involves felony level election law violations, it is time for Congress to force the re-opening of the FEC which was shuttered on August 26th, the same day that the White House learned the Ukraine scandal would become public.

At the Democratic debate tonight we should expect far more attention to urgent foreign policy matters, Syria/Ukraine/Russia, giving both Biden and Buttigieg a chance to better showcase their experience and competency on security issues.  How Biden manages the President’s attacks on him and his family and their work in Ukraine could be one of the primary’s most important moments – and in my mind a huge opportunity for the Vice President.  Trump himself, and impeachment, will also now be front and center – all in all it is likely to be a very different debate in tone and substance than what we’ve seen in the first three gatherings this year.  

Oct 7th/Our Mad King – Part of what made the investigation into Trump and Russia so challenging was its size, complexity, and significance.  The nation is about to face a prolonged look into a far bigger scandal now, one which will soon be understood to be the biggest scandal in all of our history – the Ukraine affair.   It involves not just the President and his family, but his entire government – Pence, Pompeo, Barr, Maguire, Perry, and Mulvaney – and dozens of staffers at the WH, State, and DOJ.  It of course is also directly tied to the still unresolved first big scandal, Trump and Russia, as the President throughout this Ukrainian debacle has seemed far more interested in advancing Russia’s interests than our own. 

Which brings us to what happened late last night – without warning, consultation, or deliberation, and overruling his advisers, the President decided to pull American troops out of Syria altogether, abandoning our allies the Kurds and leaving open the possibility of a resurgence of ISIS.  I will let this early thread from former US Special Envoy to the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS Brett McGurk explain it all, but of course this new Syria policy directly benefits Russia and Putin, who’ve wanted the US out of their client state for many years now; and sends a very Russian inspired signal that the US is indeed feckless, unreliable, and weak - a spent force on the global stage.  The gravity of the moment cannot be overstated.  

The President’s recklessness here, and making big calls which do not clearly advance the interests of the United States, is why his removal from office is an urgent national priority now.  There is no version of the Founder’s vision which contemplated a Presidency like this one – it was indeed the very thing they worked so hard to prevent for our young and inspiring nation.  Additionally, the further damage he could do to the US – through ignorance and incompetence, fealty to Putin, and greed and corruption – is just far too great to leave him in office any longer. 

Finally, on the 2020 landscape.  The Dems debate next week – will be important.  Early polls on Trump’s impeachment are far worse for him than any of us could have imagined, and show what a weakened state he’s in.  Fears about Dem overreach appear completely unfounded at this point.  Trump should be removed, and the nation appears ready to see him go. 

Sept 30th/Trump Desperate and Dangerous – For the past few months we’ve been warning that the President’s public behavior was growing more erratic and wild.  With historically low poll numbers, a 2018 wipe out election even in the Rustbelt, and a weakening economy, the President’s 2020 re-election chances seemed to be dimming. Italy’s Salvini, Israel’s Bibi, and the UK’s Boris Johnson, Trump’s ideological fellow travelers, all suffered dramatic setbacks in recent weeks. We argued that a sense of desperation had begun to seep into Trump's daily performance, and we worried that he would do something extraordinary and dangerous to change the trajectory of the race.  We thought it might be war with Iran or Venezuela, but it turned out it was a months-long illegal shakedown of two Ukrainian Administrations to manufacture dirt on Joe Biden, the Democratic front-runner, and a clumsy, illegal cover-up. 

And so impeachment is here, and in a blow to President Trump, it already has the support of the majority of the American people.  House leaders have decided to pursue a quick and focused inquiry, mainly looking at the Ukraine Affair.  While their hope is that it remains narrow, there are two reasons why the inquiry may be more complicated than it first appears: 1) the scandal involves most of Trump’s top aides and the VP – Pence, Pompeo, Barr, Maguire, Mulvaney, and Giuliani – and potentially dozens of staffers in the WH, State, and DOJ.  2)  It also involves Putin and Russia, again.  Trump’s wild behavior this weekend of course strengthens the House’s hand, as it answers the question “why now, why not wait to the election next year?” For the country cannot risk keeping this dangerous, desperate and I believe traitorous man in the White House any longer – the damage he can do could last for generations (and may already have). 

It's way too early to know what this means for 2020.  First, it is time to start treating the GOP side as if they are having a real primary.  On the Dem side, recall that in 1992, a big scandal helped make Bill Clinton the nominee as it denied oxygen to his opponents, making it much harder for them to break through.  A lot of what happens in the Dem primary in the next few months will depend on how Biden’s campaign handles his role in this crazy affair; and so far I’m not terribly impressed.  Trump starting a $10m ad campaign attacking Biden raises some interesting questions about how ready the Dem infrastructure is to handle an early sustained attack on its leading candidates, regardless of the source.  It is an issue I addressed in a recent column about how the US political parties need to re-imagine themselves for the current information and communications landscape.  I think we would all feel better today if the DNC had raised a $100m media fund or organized 2-3m Dems to act as a networked War Room going after Trump, rebutting his false attacks.  It will be fascinating to see how all this plays out at the next Democratic debate in two weeks.  Russia’s attack on the US and the Democratic Party didn’t come up in the first three debates – I assume it will be central this time. 

Sept 25th/Impeachment - So here we are. Impeachment.  A few hastily thrown together points.  1) The read out released by the WH this morning is a smoking gun and devastating to the President, Pence, Barr, Pompeo, Mulvaney, and Giuliani.  And a reminder - undermining our democracy and elections may be the most serious "High Crime" of all.  2) As the 7 Dem freshmen argued in their influential op-ed in the Washington Post on Monday, that Trump was taking steps to disrupt/cheat in the 2020 election required Congress to act (more here on Trump bringing “Moscow Rules to US politics).  3) Dems should view impeachment as a tactic, not an end in of itself.  The end is to educate the public on all the ways the President has betrayed the country and his oath, and to begin to far more effectively draw lines, re-establish right and wrong, and defend the rule of law. Removal will come if we make our case effectively.  

Finally, the closer one looks at Trump and Ukraine, the more one finds Putin and Russia.  Very soon we will once again be discussing Trump’s extraordinary fealty to Putin, and what transpired in 2016 which kept Trump in Putin’s malevolent pocket all these years.

What impact will it have on the election next year? Too early to tell. But we do know a few things.  1) Trump is very weak and even a drop of a few points in his standing could cause the Rs to start to abandon him.  He has three credible challengers in the primary, so all eyes are now on the R side of the Iowa caucus.  2) Will these sustained attacks hurt Biden and propel Warren? Perhaps.  But Biden would be smart to lean in more aggressively and turn this to his advantage. This will almost certainly, however, make it far harder for the second tier candidates to get the oxygen they need to grow – we saw that happen in the 1992 Democratic primary. 

Sept 16th/The Landscape Is Changing – In recent weeks we’ve been arguing that the national political landscape was changing, driven by a slowing economy, domestic security concerns, and a more far worrisome and erratic daily performance by the President.   It is our view that three new emergent issues also now have the potential to reshape our national dialogue in the coming weeks – the attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities and a potential spike in global oil prices, the President’s increasing alignment of US interests with Russia including on Iran, and the illegal suppression of an intelligence community whistleblower by the White House.  

Every election cycle is unique, with its own contours, opportunities, and challenges.  For the first half of 2019 things felt a lot like 2018, but Presidential years are always different from midterms as the Presidential candidates in each party define the terms of the national debate.  How this cycle will be different is becoming a bit more apparent now.  

A few things which haven’t changed of late – the President remains historically unpopular, and is far more likely to lose next year than win.   And Joe Biden continues to lead the Democratic field, with Elizabeth Warren at this point, in our eyes, his only serious competitor.  In general we thought the last debate was far better for the Democrats than the previous ones, and the talent and depth of the field was on full display.   We found this analysis of the debate by FiveThirtyEight to be helpful and spot on.

Both the general election and Democratic Primary elections have been remarkably stable of late – but, as we suggest above, that could also change in the coming months as the broader landscape itself transforms. 

Sept 9th - In a recent NDN News, we wrote about how the political landscape here in the US is changing, driven by rising concerns about our safety, a worsening economy, and growing worry about the President’s performance and overall fitness to serve.  Even for Trump the last few weeks have been a shocking combination of incompetence, impulsiveness, and general unwillingness to abide by long-held democratic norms and laws.  And we are seeing this sense of decline and drift really impact the GOP now – more House retirements, the Senate looking more and more competitive, and now 3 real primary challengers to the President.  Problems within the Republican Party are getting really serious now. 

The Vice President continues to lead the Democratic pack, though Warren is showing signs of continued strength and energy.  The next Dem debate is this Thursday night (one night only), and it will tell us a great deal - particularly about whether anyone can challenge Biden or Warren for the top tier.  While the race has been really stable, we doubt it will remain that way in the coming weeks and also doubt that Bernie will have the staying power to remain in the top tier – but have to admit that he has checked his erosion, and seems to be hanging in there.  So like everyone else we wait, and watch. 

The recent cancelling of the remote voting system in Iowa and Nevada, and a sustained misinformation campaign against Beto O’Rourke, has put the issues of cyber security and mis/disinformation back on the 2020 front burner.  Simon weighs in with a new piece calling for the parties to re-invent themselves to meet these new challenges; and a new Politico article details the ongoing debate inside the Democratic Party on how to best approach all this.

Don’t miss our recent work on some of the big demographic and geographic developments we are seeing this cycle – the big swing of under 45 voters, 45% or so of the electorate, towards the Democrats; the extraordinary erosion of the GOP in the heavily Mexican American parts of the US; and the dramatic decline of Trump and the GOP in the Rustbelt.  Along with a President far better known and far more disliked, these big developments of the Trump era are critical to understanding the current national political landscape.  As of now, 2020 is looking a lot more like 2018 than 2016.  Nothing better captures the President’s significant decline and his uphill re-election battle than this chart from Axios using Morning Consult data that shows Trump's approval falling significantly in every battleground state since his election.

Aug 22nd/The National Political Landscape Is Changing - When Congress returns in a few weeks and Democrats debate again in mid-September, our conversations will be happening in a rapidly changing political landscape.  Fears arising from domestic terror and gun violence, a slowing economy and talk of a recession, and an ever more weakened President will make the fall different from even where we left things at the end of the recent Democratic debate.

From a polling standpoint, the President has taken a big hit in the last few weeks, dropping almost 3 points, from 42.8/52.5 (-9.7) on July 30th to 41.5/53.9 (-12.4) today (we use FiveThirtyEight's polling aggregator).   All the major polls this month have found the President declining, some by way more than 3 points.  What has to be the most alarming to the White House is the President’s precipitous drop on his handling of the economy. The NBC News/WSJ poll released last weekend found Trump's approval rate on the economy falling from +10 in May to +3 now, while the Ipsos poll released yesterday saw a similar decline from +10 in July to +3 now. This represents an especially steep drop from last summer, when NBC News/WSJ had Trump at +16 and Ipsos had him at +18 on his handling of the economy.

On the Democratic side, Vice President Biden continues to have a clear lead.  Elizabeth Warren has a lot of energy and momentum now, and the rest of the field is fighting to keep up and stay in the game with her and the VP.  The winnowing of the field, in theory, should give some of those in the second tier desperate for exposure renewed chances to shake up the race.  These next few debates will really matter. 

We believe Congressional Democrats should make the fall about keeping America and its people safe, and offer a big bold agenda which includes gun safety, countering domestic extremism, and protecting our elections at the very least.  On the economy it is critical that we explain just how much of a failure the President’s economic policies have been, so as we discuss remedies to a slowing economy we don’t make some of the same huge mistakes he’s made in the last few years.   We also have to note that if we do tip into a recession that this will make the third consecutive GOP President to have brought a downturn, reminding us just how dramatically better the Democrats have been in managing the American economy since the global economy was born in 1989. 

Aug 5th - Remarkably, the two Democratic debates have done little to alter the trajectory of the Democratic primary – Biden still maintains a formidable lead, with Warren and Sanders in a next tier, and everyone else fighting to stay in the game.  The horrible events of this past weekend will almost certainly make issues about protecting our homeland far more important in the coming days, creating a new and different landscape than what we saw this summer.  The next Democratic debates are scheduled for Sept 12-13, and will feature a much smaller field.  So far only 8 have qualified – Beto, Biden, Booker, Buttigieg, Harris, Klobuchar, Sanders, and Warren.   The Democratic race is going to look and feel very different in September.  Though one thing looks like it will be the same – the President is deeply unpopular and hovering about in the same place which brought a 9 point Dem victory last year. 

NDN spent time this week writing about three critical demo/geographic trends we are seeing which will be critical to 2020 – under 45 year old voters are breaking hard towards the Democrats; the GOP brand is going through profound erosion in the heavily Mexican-American parts of the US; and Democrats have already won back the Rustbelt – it is up to Trump not the Ds now to win it back. 

July 22nd - After these last few months, what is there to say? Partying with pedophiles, clear evidence of felony level crimes which helped him win the 2016 election, return of Mueller and Trump-Russia, inhumane/war crime level treatment of kids and families at the border, globally condemned racist attacks against Members of Congress – and yet he persists. 

Make no mistake – Trump is a very weakened figure in US politics.  All of this stuff, firing offense after firing offense in any other executive job in America, has hurt him.  He remains about where he was on Election Day 2018, a 9 point wipeout election, and is underwater now in the most important battleground states – AZ, FL, GA, MI, NC, PA, and WI.  As Simon argues in this recent podcast and essay, it is essential now for the ultimate Dem indictment of Trump to get bigger and try to capture just how fundamentally unfit Trump is for this job, President of the United States.  Has to be way more than “obstruction.”

Two big events in the next two weeks – Mueller’s testimony Wednesday, and the Dem debates next week. Most significant dynamic in the Dem race is Biden righting the ship, for now.  His post debate slide has stopped and he has even recovered a few points in a few polls.  We remain convinced – see this thread - that Biden more than any other Dem candidate is successfully tapping into what we believe is the most powerful sentiment out there right now – fear of Trump, desire for strong leadership, pragmatism, and steady progress, not another four years of upheaval and conflict. 

July 8th/Parade Of Trumpian Horribles – While Trump’s poll numbers ticked up a bit, and the Democratic race became far more competitive and real, it is hard to escape this morning the big story of the past few weeks – what we will call for lack of better words Trump’s relentless parade of horribles.

Think about what we’ve seen – inhumane conditions for adults and children at the border; an epically embarrassing performance at the G20 which included repeated warm embraces of the world’s worst leaders, tough words for our allies, and another “no biggie” for Putin for Russia’s critical support of Trump’s campaign in 2016; whatever it is the US is doing in the Middle East; the new, ugly effort to circumvent the Supreme Court's rout of the President’s attempt to rig the census; the corrupt tax payer funded July 4th campaign rally on the Mall; news his campaign is already using completely fake images and people to grossly mislead voters; his dissing of the US Women’s soccer team during their historic and inspiring World Cup run; another credible account of rape; and his direct involvement in the Epstein scandal, whose toxic combination of wealth and abuse of power may come to symbolize the moral failings of the elites of this era in ways we don’t quite yet understand.

Underneath all this Trumpian sludge, there is an overwhelming sense of “can’t we do better? Aren’t we better than this? How did we get here?” with this President.  And to us here at NDN, this is the big challenge for the Democrats now: how can they make the case against Trump - with or without impeachment – that gets at the enormity of the failings of his Presidency and the elites who have propped it up? The abandonment of the America creed by many elites we’ve seen in recent years goes far beyond Trump, and is why one of the themes we hope Democrats can take up in coming days is something along the lines of “a return to virtue.” 

The House Should Consider Breaking Impeachment Into Three Parallel Tracks

I have a new essay on up on GEN, a Medium affiliate, which makes the case that the House should break the Impeachment process into three parallel tracks: the crimes, the co-conspirators, a security review.  You can read it on GEN, link above, or below. 

The House Should Consider Breaking Impeachment Intro Three Parallel Tracks

Given Republicans’ stated intent to turn the Senate impeachment trial into a wildly partisan Sean Hannity-inspired circus, it is critical the House keep the inquiry into the Trump-Ukraine affair open past the trial — it must be far more challenging for the president to corruptly claim exoneration, as he did, malevolently, in the Mueller process.

The more we have come to understand about President Donald Trump’s months-long effort to illegally pressure two Ukrainian governments into doing political favors for him, the more difficult it has become for the House to move swiftly and to keep the process “narrow.”

Consider what we’ve learned: We know now the scandal involves many more people than just the president — dozens perhaps. A parallel federal criminal investigation into the scandal is currently underway. Already, two Trump associates have been arrested, implicating the president, Rep. Devin Nunes, Rudy Giuliani, and others. And once again, the scandal raises the spectacle of Russia’s influence over the president and his team — an issue so serious it cannot be wished away.

Breaking impeachment into three tracks will allow the House to make an initial set of time-sensitive criminal charges for the Senate to consider.

The Mueller investigation took almost two years. Ken Starr looked into Bill Clinton for more than four. The House has been scrutinizing Trump’s interactions with Ukraine for only a few months, and while some brave administration officials have come forward to testify, access to critical witnesses and documents has been illicitly withheld by the president. There is a real chance that a swift and narrowly focused process that ends in a few weeks with the president’s “exoneration” by the Senate will prevent the American people from seeing the complete picture of what has happened. This would allow senior government officials who have committed crimes to walk away without being held accountable.

So, to best serve the American people and fulfill its constitutional obligations, Congress should consider breaking down the impeachment process into three separate tracks: focusing on the criminal, the co-conspirators, and a national security review. Let’s look at each in turn.

Track one: Clearly establish the president’s crimes

In the coming weeks, and in preparation for an early 2020 Senate trial, the House should develop its core argument for why President Trump’s removal is required and why it should happen now, before the 2020 elections. Congress can establish that the president broke election laws in 2016 and illegally obstructed a legitimate investigation into his campaign throughout 2017 and 2018. In the Ukraine affair he has done it again — broken election laws and illegally obstructed. If he is not removed, it is reasonable to assume that he will attempt to break laws again next year. As sworn guardians of the Constitution, the House just cannot let that happen.

While the House can establish the gravity of the president bribing and extorting a foreign ally, Democrats must also bear down on the repeated election law violations and work to explain just how serious a crime “cheating” is in a system like ours. It speaks to a profound contempt for democracy, a disregard for what at the end of the day has been the central source of American greatness. It is the very definition of a “high crime” — a crime not against a person but the very idea of America itself.

In the recent press conference announcing the arrest and indictment of two of Trump’s associates in the Ukraine affair, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, law enforcement officials went out of their way to explain the gravity of election law violations. FBI Assistant Director William Sweeney declared, “These allegations aren’t about some technicality, a civil violation, or an error on a form. This investigation is about corrupt behavior and deliberate lawbreaking.”

The Justice Department has a decades-long policy of declining to prosecute a sitting president, but former federal prosecutor Glenn Kirschner has a compelling argument for why election law violations should be exempt from this policy. “If a president can act unlawfully to influence an election, he does not deserve the protections of his ill-gotten office,” Kirschner wrote. “This incongruity encourages lawlessness in the quest for the presidency and then rewards that lawlessness by inoculating the criminal president against prosecution. Such a construct is dangerous.” In other words, unless Congress and the Department of Justice aggressively punish election law violations, we will be creating huge incentives for Trump and future candidates to make cheating a core part of their electoral strategy.

What ethical leader has had so many around him fall under investigation, or get indicted or jailed? Michael Cohen, Michael Flynn, Igor Fruman, Rick Gates, Rudy Giuliani, Paul Manafort, Devin Nunes, George Papadopoulous, Lev Parnas, Richard Pinedo, Roger Stone, and Alex van der Zwaan. Or so many Cabinet officials resign due to scandal? Rampant criminal activity and lawlessness around Trump is something that will also need to be firmly established in the months ahead.

It is evident that the president is a serial criminal and should be removed from office. That he has repeatedly violated U.S. election laws and cheated and committed crimes against our democracy itself makes his removal before the 2020 general election an urgent and patriotic endeavor.

Track two: Prosecute the co-conspirators

In order to allow Congress to focus on the case against the president, the House should create a process where his co-conspirators in the crimes of bribery, extortion, election law violations, and obstruction of Congress are allowed to face the evidence against them and defend themselves in public. This should be separate from the parallel federal criminal investigation that’s currently ongoing. Perhaps Congress can focus on one conspirator per day, and at the end of each proceeding, the House Committee overseeing this process can vote on whether the evidence available and testimony warrants a criminal referral to the Department of Justice.

Fortunately, the DOJ has already established a team overseeing the criminal prosecution of those in the Ukraine affair. The House-led criminal referrals can be made directly to that established team. In theory, the whole process can be completed in a few weeks, and executed shortly after the Senate trial ends for expediency’s sake.

Among those who should be compelled to defend their actions are Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, Attorney General William Barr, and others the House has reason to believe committed crimes in service of the president’s illegal scheme.

Track three: Review how the president has damaged our national security

In the Ukraine affair, the evidence suggests the president put his own interests above those of the United States; he not only betrayed the nation, but also, in the process, damaged our standing in the world and national security. Even more evidence suggests this is not the only time the president has done this, and Congress must investigate his dealings with Russia and all other nations. The awful possibility that the president has serially betrayed the nation, leaving us far weaker on the global stage, is such a grave matter that it must undergo a thorough review that is separate from the more rapid consideration of his recent lawbreaking.

At the very core of this security review should be a comprehensive assessment of the president’s repeated actions to benefit our most significant historic adversary, Russia. Wherever one looks in the world, one sees the American president taking steps to align our policies with Russia’s foreign policy aims, weakening America and elevating Vladimir Putin: the years-long refusal to condemn Putin’s repeated attacks our democracy, his decision to abandon Syria and the Kurds, his reversal in Venezuela, his efforts to undermine Volodymyr Zelenskiy and Ukraine, his embrace of Brexit and denigration of Europe and NATO, his recent easing up on Iran, and his withdrawal from the Paris climate accords. Just in the past few days, new worries have emerged about his ultimate aims in Afghanistan and Lebanon. The cumulative record is astonishing.

Trump’s lawlessness and his repeated willingness to dangerously sacrifice our national interests leaves Congress no choice but to proceed.

That a week ago the president repeated a false and frankly ridiculous story, which originated in Russia about the 2016 attack on America’s democracy, adds fresh urgency to this vital task.

A security review would be the most serious of all the steps Congress could take in the coming months, and should not have any timetable associated with it. While the review could be led by the Intelligence Committee and look and feel a lot like what we’ve experienced over the past month or so, the Foreign Affairs and Armed Services committees should be expected to proceed with concurrent public hearings and investigations to help ensure a thorough and complete review. Efforts should be made to allow those members with significant national security experience to play leading roles in the proceedings.

In order to conduct these investigations with the kind of thoroughness that the American public would expect, Congress should work to aggressively compel the Department of Justice to turn over all materials gathered by Robert Mueller in his two-year-long look at Russia’s efforts to penetrate and influence domestic U.S. politics. That the full Mueller report has still never been turned over to Congress remains among the significant outrages of the Trump era.

There is a powerful logic for Congress to move swiftly to remove the president. He has shown a dramatic disregard for U.S. election law; that cannot stand. Breaking impeachment into three tracks will allow the House to make an initial set of time-sensitive criminal charges for the Senate to consider, keep the criminal inquiry open in case more matters arise, hold those who have been involved in the president’s vast Ukraine conspiracy accountable, and conduct a thorough review of the damage done to U.S. national security by the president’s illicit foreign dealings.

Congress was reluctant to go down this path. But the president’s lawlessness and his repeated willingness to dangerously sacrifice our national interests leaves Congress no choice but to proceed, and to do so in a way which reminds the American people and the world that this great democracy is something very much worth fighting for.

Analysis: Trump Is The Least Popular First-Term President Since WW2

This piece was originally published on May 1st, 2019 and was updated with the latest polling data on November 21st, 2019.

Since the midterm elections last November, perceptions of Trump's popularity have swung rapidly as highly visible controversies such as the government shutdown and the release of the Mueller Report and Barr Summary have unfolded. Over the next few weeks, I'll take a look at some interesting developments in the polling, including Trump's popularity, the Democratic presidential primary, and the general election in 2020, and will comment on important take-aways from the data.

To start, how popular is Trump right now? While much of the conventional wisdom still portrays the President as a strong figure, the reality is that he continues to be by far the most unpopular first-term President in the modern era. According to FiveThirtyEight, Trump today sits at a -11.7 net approval rate. How does this compare to previous Presidents? Firstly, the lowest net approval rate that either Obama or George W. Bush hit during the entirety of their first 3 years in office was -8.7, so Trump is significantly lower than his immediate predecessors. Secondly, looking at all 11 Presidents since 1953, net approval at this point in their first term averaged +14.6, so Trump is more than 25 net points worse than his predecessors (and this average isn't skewed by potential problems with polling several decades ago - the average net approval of just Obama, Clinton, both Bushes, and Reagan at this point in their terms was +9.8).

Finally, let's look at how often Presidents over the past 60 years have experienced the type of heightened disapproval that Trump sees today. From Eisenhower until Obama, looking only at the first 3 years of each President's first term, Presidential net approval has been at -10 or worse for a total of 262 days (or just 2.0% of the time). By contrast, Trump has been under -10 net approval for 871 days (or 84.1% of the time).

In the 2018 midterm elections, this dramatic level of disapproval (-10.4 net on November 8, 2018 compared to -11.7 today) led to Democrats winning the popular vote by the largest margin of any midterm since 1986. Also within that midterm victory was a significant rejection of Trump by almost all of the emerging demographic groups that will form an increasingly large share of the US electorate in years to come, especially non-white and young voters. This trend has only accelerated since election day. According to Civiqs polling data, Trump today has a -36 net approval rate among voters under age 35, and is -49 among Latino voters. Similarly, the Republican Party currently has a net favorability rate of -42 among under 35s and -50 among Latinos, whereas the Democratic Party is net even among under 35s and +22 among Latinos. This represents an enormous decline since 2004, when George W. Bush actually won voters under 45 and lost Latino voters by only 9 points. 

While much of the media continues to hold up Trump as a powerful political figure who can conjure up electoral victories out of nothing, in fact he continues to be the most unpopular first-term president in over six decades and is leading Republicans down the path of the California GOP by ignoring those demographic groups that will over the next decade become more and more critical to winning elections.  Indeed, the future for Republicans in critical battleground states looks grim, with voters under 35 disapproving of Trump by a net 34 points in Pennsylvania and 28 points in Florida. Even in solid red states, Trump is losing the argument with the next generation of voters, with net approval among under 35s at -25 in Texas and -13 in Mississippi.

Is VP Biden In Better Shape Than Conventional Wisdom Holds Right Now?

While Mayor Pete has deservedly gotten headlines for his strong showing in the early states this week, an equally consequential shift seems to be happening in the national polling.  Using the RealClearPolitics Democratic Primary aggregate, the Vice President has gone from even with Elizabeth Warren on Oct 5th (26-26) to up 13 today (31-18).  Today's newly released YouGov national poll, which has historically been the best pollster for Warren, went from Warren up 3 last week (29-26) to Biden up 8 this week (30-22).

A review of the early state polls also finds Biden in a very competitive position in both Iowa and New Hampshire, and far ahead in the more ethnically diverse states which follow. According to RealClearPolitics, Biden is ahead of Warren for 2nd place in Iowa by 1 point and behind her for 1st place in New Hampshire by 2 points. Meanwhile, he is up 19 in South Carolina, 9 in Nevada, 10 in Texas, and 17 in North Carolina. Warren seems to have lost ground in most polls we’ve reviewed in recent weeks; and one has to wonder whether the President’s efforts to smear Biden with Ukraine is actually backfiring on the GOP, and making him into a stronger national figure. 

For more on NDN's insights into the 2020 elections, click here.

NDN Calls on Pres. Trump To Forcefully Condemn Russian Attacks on US Politicians

In response to the news that Facebook took down a sophisticated Russian-based malign influence campaign involving Democrats running for President, NDN is calling on the President and his Administration to take four immediate steps:

Denounce The Action, Implement Sanctions – The President should immediately denounce this interference in our domestic politics, ask the intelligence community to review Facebook’s findings, and if confirmed work with Congress to implement sanctions against Vladimir Putin himself, not just his government.

Work With Congress To Pass Bi-Partisan Election Protection Bills – The President should meet with Congress this week and settle on a package of bills he would sign which would improve our nation’s ability to protect itself from foreign interference.

Fill Critical Vacancies – The President should immediately appoint a permanent DHS Secretary and work with the Senate to put a fourth Commissioner on the Federal Election Commission, turning it back on. 

For more about NDN's work on protecting America's elections from foreign interference, click here.

Trump Needs To Re-Open The FEC Right Now

This analysis was updated on the afternoon of October 9th, a few hours after it was posted. 

While it is hard to keep track of the flood of malevolence flowing from the White House these days, I want to draw folks' attention to one action from Trump world that looks increasingly sinister - the shuttering of the Federal Election Commission, an independent regulatory body which enforces American election law. 

The FEC has six commissioners, with no more than three from one party. This past summer the Commission was already in a depleted state, as the White House and Senator McConnell had left the FEC with only four Commissioners, three of whom were already serving past the expiration of their term.  On August 26th, one of the two remaining Republican commissioners abruptly resigned, giving just five days notice before his departure, a highly unusual move in this process obsessed town.  This left the FEC with only three commissioners (again all serving past their terms), not enough to achieve a quorum.  More than a month later neither the White House nor Senator McConnell have announced plans to re-open nominations or bring to a vote any new nominee.  The FEC appears to have been taken off line permanently by Trump and McConnell just as the 2020 campaign ramps up. 

For some perspective, here is how the New York Times covered the departure of the 4th FEC commissioner in its August 26th edition:

The resignation of Vice Chairman Matthew S. Petersen, announced on Monday and scheduled for the end of August, will effectively freeze the F.E.C.’s governance, leaving it one person short of a quorum and thus unable to take on some of its most basic actions, including holding board meetings, starting audits, making new rules and levying fines for campaign finance violations.

“Voters should be extremely concerned,” said Ann M. Ravel, a Democrat and former F.E.C. chairwoman who stepped down in 2017 and who has not been replaced. “If you do not have the ability to do any kind of enforcement, then there isn’t any kind of respect for the law.”

It is course scandalous that the White House would allow our election watchdog agency to be taken offline given Russia's successful undermining of our elections in 2016 and judgments from all, including the new Senate Intel Committee report, that these activities haven't ceased and that our elections are in danger again this time.  But a review of new reporting and a timeline of recent events suggests something more venal and permicious about the timing of the FEC's shuttering - for the FEC was shut down on the very same day that the White House learned that credible allegations the President broke felony level election laws here in the US would become public, and just 12 days after a criminal referral of the President was made to the DOJ by the CIA's general counsel.  Let's review:

July 26 - Original whistleblower memo written, quotes US official who had been on the Trump-Zelensky call this way - "the official stated that there was already a conversation underway with White House lawyers about how to handle the discussion because, in the official's view, the President had clearly committed a criminal act by urging a foreign power to investigate a U.S. person for the purposes of advancing his own reelection bid in 2020."

Aug 12 – Ukraine whistleblower complaint filed with the Intelligence Community Inspector General.

Aug 14 – CIA General Counsel makes criminal referral to Department of Justice about the President’s actions based on the whistleblower report.  Among possible laws broken include election laws.  How the White House and DOJ became aware of the potential legal problems for the President and other senior Administration staff. One would assume significant efforts to mitigate potential damages began on this date. 

Aug 22 - In a somewhat suprising turn of events, the President announces he will force a debate at the upcoming G7 about lifting sanctions against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.  Demonstrates how front of mind Ukraine is to the President at this moment, and how extensive the explicit and implicit threats to Zelensky were during this period.  Indeed the G7 meeting which runs from Aug 24-26 features a very public and spirited debate about forgiving Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. 

Aug 26 – DNI Maguire officially notified of "credible" and "urgent" whistleblower complaint by the IC Inspector General.  Initiates process which guarentees that at some point the complaint will become public. 

Aug 26 – Also on this day, the FEC is hastily taken off line by the unanticipated resignation of Commissioner Petersen.

Sept 26 - Whistleblower complaint released, first time we learn of Attorney General Barr's direct involvement in the scandal.  DOJ admits they reviewed whether the President broke any laws, and importantly, cleared him of breaking US election law (NDN believes this argument, like so many legal arguments emenating from the WH and DOJ these days is absurd on its face, and any official public or private who pressured Ukraine for information on Biden committed felony level election law violations).

Reviewing the timeline, WH/DOJ learn on Aug 14th of potential election law violations by the President and other senior advisors, including potentially the Attorney General himself.  DOJ, after an unserious review of the charges, rules the President broke no laws.  However, in the interim, the independent regulatory body overseeing US election law is hastily taken off line in a move that can now only be understood as preventing any kind of investigation into these charges outside the control of the President's compliant DOJ. 

Calls for the re-opening of the Federal Election Commission should be very loud now.  It is bad enough Trump and McConnell have blocked several common sense bills which would have made our elections far more secure.  But it cannot be that they get away with taking the FEC offline this cycle, particularly as the issue of whether there was a huge criminal conspiracy to violate US election laws by Trump, his Administration, and his advisors has already become central to the 2020 campaign; and Russia, Iran, and other nations are likely to attack our democracy once again. 

As I wrote in this essay a few months ago, crimes which undermine our elections and our democracy more broadly are the gravest "high crimes" a President can commit while in office, and need to be understood that way. 

NDN Statement On Trump's Threatened European Tariffs

In light of this week’s WTO ruling on European subsidies to Airbus and the Administration’s announcement of new tariffs on $7.5 billion of EU imports effective October 18th, NDN President Simon Rosenberg has released the following statement:

“NDN welcomes this week’s WTO ruling against illegal state aid to Airbus, and hopes that this decision can help bring an end to the decades-long Airbus/Boeing conflict. However, NDN is very concerned by the Administration’s announcement of new tariffs on the EU, and urges the Administration to drop the tariff threat before new escalation occurs between the US and the Europeans.

The US also provides illegal state aid to Boeing, a case that will be ruled upon by the WTO in coming months, and the WTO in this week’s ruling strongly hinted that they would deliver the same result to the US, stating that: “The WTO has already found that the US failed to address illegal subsidies causing harm to Airbus. This will provide the EU with ground to claim countermeasures on US products at a level that could exceed US sanctions.”

As a result, NDN hopes that the Trump administration will now forgo its announced tariffs and enter direct negotiations with the EU to reduce state subsidies to both Airbus and Boeing. Anything less can only be seen as a reckless escalation of trade tensions by President Trump that isn’t intended to solve the Airbus/Boeing conflict. With the global economy already suffering immensely from trade tensions, and US manufacturing contracting at its worst level since 2009, a new trade war between the US and EU will only cause greater economic pain both at home and abroad.

Finally, Speaker Pelosi should make clear to the President that advancing the trade pact with Mexico and Canada will be far easier if the Administration lessens trade tensions with Europe and China.  Congress cannot appear to be looking the other way when it comes to the President’s reckless trade policies.  An escalating trade war with Europe will make it much harder to sell the propriety of the President’s trade policies to the public, and to wavering Democrats.”

New Polls Show Impeachment Moving Into Dangerous Territory For Trump

When Nancy Pelosi announced the beginning of an impeachment inquiry against President Trump on September 24th, all eyes turned towards the move’s impact on public opinion. While Trump has been the consistently least popular first-term President in the postwar era, Americans have in fact largely opposed impeachment proceedings, something which undoubtedly played a role in Democrats’ hesitation to fully embrace impeachment. However, over the past week, public opinion has dramatically changed, and it is now very likely that more Americans support both an impeachment inquiry and impeaching the President than oppose them.

First, support for starting an impeachment inquiry has significantly increased over the past week. Five polls – CNBC, CBS, Politico, The Hill, and Monmouth – asked this question both in August/early September and this past week. Averaging those five polls together, just 38.8% of Americans supported the inquiry in August/early September, compared to 50% who opposed it (net -11.2 percentage points). Over this past week, however, those same polls found that 47.6% of Americans supported the inquiry, compared to just 44% who opposed it (net +3.6pp). In a matter of days, support for the inquiry increased by a net 14.8pp, a very significant development given that new information involving the Ukraine scandal and others continues to surface daily.

Net Support For An Impeachment Inquiry

Second, and potentially more surprising, support for the outright impeachment of Trump has now risen to a plurality of Americans. Five polls – Quinnipiac, CNN, Ipsos, Civiqs, and Monmouth – have asked this question in August/early September and this past week (some of these polls specify impeachment and removal, while others just say impeachment). Averaging those five polls together, only 39% of Americans supported impeaching Trump in August/early September, compared to 52% who opposed it (net -13pp). Over this past week, however, support for impeachment surged to 46.4%, compared to 46.2% who opposed it, meaning that a slightly larger number of Americans want Trump impeached now versus those who do not.

Net Support For Impeachment

Finally, this rapid change in support for impeachment proceedings has been paralleled by a large drop in Trump’s approval rating over just the past week. On September 24th, the day that Pelosi launched the inquiry, Trump’s net approval stood at -9.8 according to FiveThirtyEight’s polling aggregate. In just seven days, it has fallen to -12.1. This decline of 2.3pp is especially notable because, over the 20 months from January 2018 to the present, the total range of Trump’s net approval has been just 7.8pp (from a low of -16.7 to a high of -8.9). As a result, this decline in just 7 days represents almost 1/3 of the entire movement in Trump’s approval over the past two years.

Overall, then, this first round of polling since the Ukraine scandal and the beginning of the impeachment inquiry represents very dangerous territory for the President. Larger numbers of Americans want him impeached than not, and this is before the House of Representatives conducts new impeachment hearings and likely even more leaks from the White House, two events that could increase support for impeachment even further.  

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