2020 Election

Dems Fight It Out, Delusions of A Mad King, Nevada This Saturday

Notes on 2020 - There has been lots of polling over the past few days and it tells a simple story – the Democratic race is very competitive and what happens in Nevada and South Carolina is really going to matter. Perhaps the most important development has been the slew of good polls for VP Biden in NV, SC, and other states showing him very much in the game.  Tomorrow’s Nevada debate, with Mike Bloomberg on the stage, will be a significant moment. Lots of drama ahead for the Democrats.

One bit of drama we hope we don’t see again is the troubles which plagued Iowa and which may repeat in Nevada this weekend. NDN believes it would be wise for DNC Chair Tom Perez to take some concrete steps to improve his operation in the coming days, sending a clear signal that he knows he needs to do better, and regain the trust of Democrats across the country.  This will be particularly important if Dems look like they are headed to a brokered convention, something which will put a much greater burden on the DNC to carry a negative message against Trump for the next 4-5 months, build a true general election operation for the nominee, and manage a divisive and challenging convention.  

As for Trump, his numbers remain bad and he has not shown any kind of significant bump from his illicit acquittal.   There is no doubt he is building a powerful juggernaut, which is why Dems not having a nominee until late July will be so problematic.  But some perspective here please.  Trump only won 2016 with the extraordinary trifecta of Russia’s enormous intervention, a left leaning third party candidate, and the Comey letter;  the GOP has had three truly awful elections since including the 8.6 point win for the Dems in 2018; incumbents in the low 40s as Trump is now almost never win; and do we expect him to behave more like Reagan and less like Caligula in the coming months?

The big story with Trump remains his dangerous disregard for the rules and laws which make our democracy, and all democracies, work.  In just the past few months he has solicited campaign help from a foreign nation, illegally held back information for a legitimate Congressional investigation, and corrupted the Senate Impeachment trial, and he now appears to be trying to turn the Department of Justice into an arm of his political project and campaign (something he did with the White House and State Departments in the Ukraine affair). 

What worries us the most is that the latest revelations about Trump and Barr are not just corrupt and illegal, but represent an attempt by the President to replace the story of the past few years with a new, fictitious, and delusional one.  It feels really crazy and dangerous  - as if the President has really lost contact with the real world, becoming in every way the Mad King our Founders so feared.  It remains shocking that the Senate GOPers and Barr are playing along with this destructive and out of control man. 

Parnas, Impeachment and McConnell's Weak Hand

This essay was originally published on Medium on Thursday, Jan 16. 

In the coming days, Senator McConnell is going to discover there are three reasons getting his colleagues to acquittal will be far harder than he and the President hoped:

The President is clearly guilty, and the evidence is overwhelming — A reminder that every witness who has been called works/worked for the President, including Lev Parnas; the House investigation began only after two Trump appointees, the General Counsel of the CIA and the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community, raised alarms about what the President had done, labeling it a matter of “urgent concern;” and the current SDNY/FBI investigation which arrested Lev Parnas was launched by another Trump appointee, US Attorney Geoffrey Berman.

 

The scandal was discovered by people who work for the President; the investigations were originated by people who work for the President; every witness has been someone who works/worked for the President. All the House has done is let these people talk and tell their story — and a damning story of lawlessness and criminality it is, without peer or precedent in our history. In that regard there is no such thing as Democratic or Republican witnesses — there are only witnesses. And remarkably the President has yet to produce a single witness capable of rebutting the testimony of the cascade of Administration officials who have already testified. They may have people who can talk about things unrelated to the scandal but it would be wrong to call them witnesses to the crimes the President has been charged with.

Trump and “innocence” can’t be used in the same sentence — It remains difficult for us to understand what explanation a Senator will be able to use if they vote to acquit…..was the President innocent of the charges? Is it okay for a President to use the awesome power of the Presidency to threaten and shake down a foreign leader for his own political advantage? Did the Senator not believe the eyewitnesses including Ambassador Sondland who said it was a quid pro quo? Why did the President block documents and witnesses — and refuse to testify himself, as Bill Clinton did — if he was innocent? How could this man, already an unindicted co-conspirator in 2016 felony level election law violations, be considered “innocent” when 3 of his top aides — Flynn, Gates and Stone — will be joining Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen in being sentenced to jail; two more — Parnas and Fruman — were arrested; and there are at least two federal investigations looking into Rudy Guiliani?

As long time political players, it is really really hard to understand how one gets to “innocence” when talking about Donald Trump and what happened here; and we are sure that all the GOP Senators have taken note of how ineffective the President has been in recent weeks of convincing the American people about Impeachment and his recent skirmish with Iran, something we review in this new analysis.

The SDNY/FBI Parnas Investigation will make it impossible for McConnell to make the Ukraine scandal disappear — Last fall SDNY/FBI launched a new formal investigation into Trump and Ukraine that, like the President’s activities in 2016, has once again begun arresting his current set of his aides. The man at the center of this investigation, Lev Parnas, let it be known last night that he believes that not only was Trump directing the illegal shakedown of Zelensky, but Rep. Nunes, Pence, Pompeo, Barr, Rudy, and other top White House officials were involved in the illegal conspiracy too. What this means is that this SDNY/FBI investigation has become a federal investigation into the President and most of his senior team, including the Vice President; and even if acquitted, the President will be running for re-election while under another federal investigation which could at any moment begin arresting or indicting potentially dozens of people involved in these illegal activities including some of the most important leaders of the Republican Party.

Imagine voting for acquittal and then see Rudy, Mulvaney, Nunes, or Pompeo indicted? How do you explain that to your voters?

Impeachment, Biden Leads, McConnell's Carnage - Jan 13th Notes

Notes On 2020 – Iran/Iraq, Impeachment, State of the Union/Budget, IA/NH/NV/SC, Booker dropping out, many Democratic debates - our system is about to get overloaded and polling, which has been pretty stable in 2019, could get awfully bouncy and volatile in the days ahead.  But let’s look at what we know now. 

Biden remains in the strongest shape of any Democrat and given the increased sparing in recent days we should expect a feisty debate tomorrow night.  One note on the current “electability” discussion – the Justice Democrats, the group aligned with AOC and thus loosely with Sanders, only won 7 of 79 of its 2018 races and only 4 of 76 if you remove three safe incumbents.  They didn’t win in a single Trump district – only safe Democratic ones. 

Trump - we know he is an historically unpopular President, and was been beaten badly in the three elections from 2017 to 2019.  But what has been very suprising to us in the past weeks is the President's struggle to persuade the American people about the two big new issues he faces - Impeachment and Iran.  Look at the numbers which follow - lots of 20s and 30s, not so many 40s and no 50s. 

Highlights from recent polling on the Iran conflict:

      Approve of Trump’s handling 43/56

      Less/More Safe 52/22

      Trump's behavior w/Iran reckless 52/34

      Divert from Impeachment 47/39

      Congress should limit Trump's war powers 55/33

Impeachment polls taken at the end of 2019 tell a similar story (Politico/Morning Consult and Fox News):

      Approve Convict and Remove/Don't Approve 52/42 (P/MC)

      Witnesses/No Witnesses 54/27 (P/MC)

      More Likely to Vote for Member Who Vote to Impeach/Less Likey 43/34 (P/MC)

      Abused His Power?  Yes/No 53/38 (Fox)

      Obstructed Congress? Yes/No 48/34 (Fox)

      Committed Bribery Yes/No 45/37 (Fox)

      Wrong to Ask Foreign Leader to Investigate Rival Yes/No 60/24 (Fox)

      Democrats Running Inquiry Fairly? Yes/No 45/42 (Fox)

All of this suggests the President is a bit of a spent force now.  Failure to convince the public about these two issues, or even get close to parity, has to be extraordinarily worrisome to those running the 2020 elections for the GOP.  The public has grown weary of him, and a majority are ready for him to go. 

Impeachment - What is perhaps most shocking about the last few weeks is that the President is either so desperate or out of control that in the Iran conflict he did exactly what the House has Impeached him for – he appears to have once again broken US laws/abused his power in the conduct of US foreign policy; and is once again obstructing reasonable oversight into what took place.  Like the Ukraine affair, it is far easier to understand how the President’s recent actions in the Middle East have benefited Russia’s ambitions than our own, which is the principal reason NDN has called on the House to conduct a broad review of the President’s national security decisions over the past year. 

Given the totality of what has happened – serial lawbreaking by the President, his top aides going to jail and a new investigation and more arrests, years of clearly criminal obstruction, and behavior more befitting of a King than a President – it is just outrageous how Mitch McConnell is approaching the impending “trial.” How can one have a trial without witnesses? There is and has never been such a thing.  How can the Senate actively enable and encourage the suppression of testimony and witnesses given months of complaints from the GOP about reliance on hearsay? The whole thing is beyond absurd and beneath this great country.  Mitch McConnell is in the process of degrading one of the most important tools for advancing democracy mankind has ever created, the US Senate. There is no win here for McConnell, no claims of “innocent” for our corrupt and venal President; there is disgrace, dishonor, and what will be a far harder election this Fall than any of them currently understand.  

GOP Bringing "Moscow Rules" to American Politics

A series of events over the past several months raises questions about whether using Russian style disinformation tactics has become a core part of the GOP’s electoral strategy for the 2020 elections.

Let’s review what we’ve seen so far. In June, the Trump campaign used foreign-shot stock footage to manufacture fake people who were then used in ads run on Facebook. A top Trump campaign consultant built a series of websites falsely purporting to be the official sites of Democratic Presidential candidates. The President tweeted out a video of Nancy Pelosi he knew had been altered, and also one morning retweeted dozens of accounts almost all of which were certainly — and obviously — fake. A new set of Trump campaign Facebook ads include one which lies about the Vice President and other Democratic candidates supporting single payer health care, falsely using an image from a different question from the most recent Democratic debate.

 

This morning, the Chairwoman of the RNC, Ronna McDaniel, retweeted a tweet by Senator Marco Rubio which featured selectively and misleadingly edited remarks by Rep. Ilan Omar. That the video was misleading and grossly misrepresented what she said had already been established. Yet the GOP Chair shared it anyway.

And of course there is the relentless, grinding flood of disinformation coming from the vast network of right wing bots and trolls. We’ve put together a list of some of the top right wing “amplifiers” here so as to better understand this critical part of the right’s disinfo dystopia. 

While we shouldn’t be surprised that the American political party which so enthusiastically embraced and amplified Russian active measures and disinformation in 2016 would be at it again, it does not mean that responsible Americans should accept these tactics as normal and routine. They aren’t. They are outside of what should be permissible in a mature democracy; and that we are seeing them emerge in this election should challenge all of us to do something concrete about it. Here are some ideas on what can and should be done:

Name and shame — First, we have to begin openly talking about what is going on here; condemn it when it happens; and be prepared to rebut and respond to these false attacks when they come. This tweet from the DNC’s War Room this morning is a good example.

 

Next, the social media platforms should be notified and encouraged to take down blatantly false material. Someday we may have to find a way to more formally regulate all this, as my friend Amb. Karen Kornbluh has recommended. But in the short term pressure should be applied to the platforms to be as aggressive as they can be to not knowingly spread false information.

Finally, the mainstream media should be judicious in how they cover these moments so they don’t end up just promoting false and misleading videos, statements and attacks. The role of the traditional media is particularly important here. The day the President took to Twitter and tweeted out dozens of accounts purporting to be firefighters who supported him, the Washington Post ran a story whose headline read “Trump retweets dozens of people taking issue with a firefighters union’s endorsement of Biden.” The problem of course is that The Post had no idea if these accounts were real people. Reviewing them, very few looked real. So what would be more accurate would have been “Trump retweets dozens of accounts taking issues with a firefighters union’s endorsement of Biden.” There has to be consciousness now in all stories going forward that there is a possibility these accounts are fake and that the entire episode was “disinformation” — the use of fake accounts and other means to create an impression about something which is not true.

It is my hope that all news organizations are having internal conversations now about how they are going to deal with these kinds of moments in the coming months. Have they trained their reporters and editors about common disinformation tactics? Is there a special editor assigned to officiate when questions about authenticity and whether something is disinformation are raised? Do internal practices need to be reviewed and updated to the moment? I hope all these things are happening now inside all news organizations as we get deeper into the 2020 election. For not understanding, or being surprised, can no longer be a legitimate excuse for anyone in the information or media business.

Non-proliferation — If we view disinformation and fraudulent representations as a societal “harm,” something dangerous and improper, then Democrats and other responsible actors in the political system should commit to not use these illicit tactics in their own operations. Vice President Biden has made such a commitment, and the 50 state Democratic Parties have called on the national party to seek such a commitment from all Democrats at all levels of government across the country. My hope is that other organizations in the day-to-day scrum of national politics — trade associations, advocacy groups, lobbying campaigns — also make similar commitments. Using these kind of Russian inspired disinformation tactics should be seen as something that is not just wrong, but unpatriotic, a betrayal of our democracy. Knowingly misleading your fellow citizens using fraudulent means can just never ever become okay.

Of course the fakery and fraud we discuss here is of a very conventional kind. We all expect artificial intelligence enhanced “deep fakes” to be deployed in this election. As you can see in this presentation, the ability to determine something which looks so real could be made up is going to very hard for our system and the American people, still struggling to handle the fraudulent representation described above, to manage.

After what we’ve seen already these last few months, the relentless daily lying by the President, and Mitch McConnell’s years of blocking legislation to protect our democracy and discourse, it is perhaps unreasonable to expect the Republican Party here in the US to do anything other than play by Moscow Rules in 2020. But the rest of us cannot be naive and unprepared this time. We need to condemn it, counter it, combat it and ultimately ensure that these kind of illicit tactics have no place in a democracy like ours.

This essay was originally published on the Medium website on Friday, July 26th, 2019. 

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