The Morning Dispatch: The Impeachment Will Be Televised

Plus: Bloomberg’s trial balloon pops, and a Veterans Day look at military service in Congress.

Happy Monday! If you’re off work today but aren’t sure why, be sure to thank the military members in your life. Today is Veterans Day—the 101st such commemoration since November 11 was set aside by President Woodrow Wilson in 1919 as a day “filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory.” 

Originally designated Armistice Day to memorialize the conclusion to the fighting of World War I, Congress rebranded and broadened the scope of the holiday in 1954 to account for non-WWI conflicts that had since taken place.

Quick Hits: What You Need To Know

  • Public impeachment hearings begin this week. If you thought impeachment news was crazy before, wait until they wheel in the TV cameras.

  • As the dust settles in the wake of Turkey’s bloody invasion of northern Syria, President Trump will hold a joint press conference Wednesday with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

  • Bolivian President Evo Morales stepped down Sunday after mass protests over his allegedly fraudulent electioneering.

  • Violence escalated in Hong Kong after a police officer was caught on camera shooting a protester.

  • Nikki Haley came out strongly against impeachment and dished on former top White House officials who she said encouraged her to “resist Trump.” 

  • According to a new poll, 65 percent of Republicans believe that Trump’s summer dealings with Ukraine constituted “normal presidential behavior.”

  • With the Iowa caucuses fast approaching and polls showing no slam-dunk frontrunner, socialist superstar Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez spent the weekend barnstorming the state on behalf of Bernie Sanders.

  • Disney’s streaming competitor to Netflix and Amazon Prime, Disney+, will be released to the public on Tuesday.

  • For the first time in 42 days, the Chicago Bears won a game.

Trump’s About to Get All the Transparency He Could Ever Want

Phase two of the House’s impeachment inquiry is about to begin. After six weeks of gathering secret testimony involving the president’s pressure campaign against Ukraine, House Democrats are preparing to throw the doors open: Public hearings are slated to begin Wednesday. Adam Schiff said at the outset of the inquiry that the secret phase was intended to help Congress perform its initial fact-finding investigation. Now comes the part where they try to sell the results of that investigation to the American people.

The Democrats’ immediate goal is straightforward: Try to keep things uncomplicated. The story they hope to tell convincingly has a lot of moving parts, but boils down to something very simple: The president, obsessed with conspiracy theories about his political enemies past and future, tried to extort a foreign government, Ukraine, to announce it was investigating those theories. With his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani as his pointman, he froze military aid that Congress had appropriated to help Ukraine beat back Russian aggression, letting the Ukrainians know both implicitly and explicitly that they were unlikely to receive that aid—and other prizes, like a public White House meeting—without the desired announcement.

They’ll hit other notes, too: Giuliani’s associates’ alleged criminal dealings in Ukraine, the smear campaign to oust the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, administration officials’ harried attempts to figure out exactly what Trump was driving at in Ukraine and how to prevent it from destroying relations between the two nations, and the Trump administration’s blanket refusal to permit current officials to testify. But the aid-for-investigations extortion is at the heart of it.

Once More, for the Cameras

As open hearings begin, an odd dynamic will be on display: The officials who will be testifying at the outset, including charge d’affaires Bill Taylor and former Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, have already been interviewed behind closed doors. In a sense, Democrats will be retracing their steps—or perhaps presenting a revised version of the rough draft that was the closed hearings.

Republicans, meanwhile, will be frequently forced into new territory, for a simple reason: Many of the arguments they made repeatedly during closed-door sessions simply no longer stand up.

There were the procedural arguments, of course: House Republicans vociferously protested that Democrats were doing secret hearings at all, insisting the proceedings amounted to a “Soviet-style” kangaroo court where Democrats conspired against the president in secret. Republicans spent a lot of time on this argument, but they can’t go back to it now: They can engage on substance, or not at all.

Of course, many of the substance arguments they trotted out during the opening stage aren’t looking so hot now, either. In almost every case, Democrats are entering the public hearings stage already equipped with previous testimony knocking those arguments over.

  • “President Trump wasn’t asking for investigations for political reasons; he was simply trying to combat corruption in Ukraine.”

For Republicans interested in defending Trump on the merits, this argument is the gold standard: It renders the question of whether a quid pro quo took place unimportant by denying that Trump did anything untoward at all. The president “wanted to clean up corruption in Ukraine, and ensure taxpayer funded aid wasn’t going to corrupt causes,” Rep. Mark Meadows tweeted last week. “Only D.C. Democrats could spin protecting taxpayer money into an impeachable offense.”

But a few pieces of sworn testimony already on record challenge this claim. Asked whether Giuliani was pushing for an investigation into the energy company Burisma for reasons unrelated to the Bidens, former NSC official Kurt Volker replied in the negative: “I believe that Giuliani was interested in Biden, Vice President Biden’s son Biden, and I had pushed back on that.”

A current State Department official, George Kent, testified that, according to EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland, Trump used “Biden and Clinton” as shorthand for the investigations he wanted: “POTUS wanted nothing less than President Zelensky to go to microphone and say investigations, Biden, Clinton.”

And released text messages between Sondland, Volker, and a top Ukrainian official, Andrey Yermak, demonstrate that the White House wasn’t just asking for an investigation into potential wrongdoing: They were asking Ukraine to assert in a public statement that wrongdoing had occurred and must be prevented from recurring. “Special attention should be paid to the problem of interference in the political processes of the United States, especially with the alleged involvement of some Ukrainian politicians,” Volker told Yermak the statement should say. “We intend to initiate and complete a transparent and unbiased investigation of all available facts and episodes, including those involving Burisma and the 2016 U.S. elections, which in turn will prevent the recurrence of this problem in the future.”

  • “Ukraine never knew the aid had been held up; no harm, no foul.”

Here’s another one that attempts to neutralize the “quid pro quo” accusation: How could Trump have been extorting Ukraine if they didn’t even know he was extorting them? “Ukraine didn’t know there was a hold on aid until just before it was lifted,” Rep. Lee Zeldin asserted Sunday.

But this, too, is contradicted by sworn testimony: Sondland reversed himself last week and asserted that he told a Ukrainian official that “resumption of the U.S. aid would likely not occur until Ukraine provided the public anticorruption statement that we had been discussing for many weeks.”

  • “All this is is just the establishment conspiring with Democrats to bring the president down.”

With the previous process arguments taking on water, we’ve started to see arguments of this tone more and more frequently in pro-Trump media about various officials who have offered testimony: a spurious claim pushed by Fox News that Yovanovitch had perjured herself; a theory, entertained by personalities at CNN and Fox and some House Republicans, that Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman had suspicious loyalties to Ukraine; and so on.

This argument is not the one most Republicans are eager to be making. It is faintly silly on its face—everyone who provides testimony that’s bad for Trump immediately becomes a villain—and it lacks the strategic impact of previous arguments: Even if they all were anti-Trump partisans, they’ve provided compelling evidence of Trump’s bad behavior under penalty of perjury.

Still, this argument has one great merit for Republicans: Unlike the others, it’s unfalsifiable. There’s no possible piece of testimony that could come out to disprove the notion that all this is just one big anti-Trump conspiracy, because every problematic piece of testimony can be immediately waved off as part of that conspiracy. Don’t be surprised, then, if we see this one deployed more and more frequently as open hearings get underway.

Trial Balloon-berg?

Last week, we covered former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s increasingly aggressive flirtations with a 2020 presidential bid, culminating with an official filing in Alabama on Friday. Over the weekend, the billionaire received some bad news and some slightly less bad news, both by way of the latest 2020 Morning Consult poll, conducted after the news of Bloomberg’s intentions.

The survey shows Bloomberg is a known commodity—already capturing 4 percent of likely Democratic primary voters. That’s not awful for a late-entry rich guy, placing him sixth in the race before even launching; Tom Steyer would be so lucky! But then the doom and gloom: there are a lot of Democrats for whom Bloomberg’s name is already mud. The New York tycoon holds the highest unfavorables in the field, despite being well-liked by the Democratic party’s older and more conservative fringes. Plus, despite all of Bloomberg’s alleged concerns over Biden, Warren, and Bernie’s electability, he himself leads Trump by a comparable margin, with a much larger contingency of undecided voters.

Axios reported Sunday that last week’s announcement served partly as a trial balloon for Bloomberg’s camp—to get a gauge on how voters and the media would react. After a couple of days, it seems safe to say the media is a lot more excited about a potential Mayor Mike candidacy than the American people more broadly.

Progressive and black voters are crucial to winning a Democratic primary in 2020. If you were building a game-changing Democratic candidate in a lab, you wouldn’t create a rich old white guy who was formerly a Republican and oversaw the implementation of stop-and-frisk policing in New York City.

Whether Bloomberg officially jumps in is yet to be seen (his team has already indicated that if he does join the race, he’d all but skip the first four states), but expect Warren and Bernie to continue building him up as a bogeyman while he decides. They’d love another foil on a debate stage—particularly one that might fracture the more moderate vote.

Service To Country—In More Ways Than One

A September study from Pew Research on trust and American institutions frequently found members of Congress and the military to be on opposite ends of the confidence spectrum: 77 percent of survey respondents believed military leaders handle resources responsibly all, most, or some of the time; only 47 percent thought the same about Congress. Meanwhile, 56 percent of those polled said military leaders do a good job preparing personnel to protect the country all or most of the time; 4 percent suggested members of Congress always or mostly do a good job promoting laws that serve the public.

So Americans have faith in the military, but think Congress is a sh*tsh*w. We here at The Morning Dispatch are up on Capitol Hill a decent amount—can confirm the latter is true. But what about those in the center of that Venn diagram, members of both institutions?

This combination used to dominate the halls of Congress. From 1965 to 1975, per a Pew Research Center analysis, at least 70 percent of both the Senate and the House entered elected office with prior military experience. Forty-two percent of respondents in 1973 told Gallup they had a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in Congress. Today, less than 20 percent of members of Congress are veterans—and Americans’ confidence in the legislative branch has plummeted to 11 percent.

Former senators Richard Lugar and Tom Daschle argued in 2017 “it's no coincidence that the current dysfunction in Congress comes as the number of lawmakers with military experience is at a historic low.” The pair, both veterans themselves, wrote that “military service tends to broaden an individual's world view,” and that “veterans are more likely to have witnessed the importance of alliances, the value of U.S. leadership and the key role that foreign relations play in our economy.” 

A fresh wave of veterans who fought in the war on terror are coming of age and looking to restore these values. While the total number of members with military experience decreased from 102 to 96 in the 116th Congress, 19 of those first elected in 2018 have served in the armed forces, the largest veteran freshman class in a decade. And the number of female veterans on the Hill is at a record high.

From Mikie Sherrill, a New Jersey Democrat and former Navy helicopter pilot, to Dan Crenshaw, a Texas Republican and former Navy SEAL who lost his right eye in an IED explosion; from Mike Waltz, a Florida Republican and Green Beret, to Ruben Gallego, an Arizona Democrat and former marine, these individuals dedicated their lives to serving our nation on the frontlines, and now they—alongside dozens of others—are doing so again in Congress.

Worth Your Time

  • The Berlin Wall fell 30 years ago Saturday. Check out this photo series The Atlantic put together illustrating life before the fall, and read how the Washington Post covered the historic day in real time.

  • Young Texas Republicans are having an identity crisis, Buzzfeed’s Nidhi Prakash reports. “I think we’re running out of time. We’re like a bunch of political dinosaurs and my party is practicing extinction politics”

  • Two of the best players in college sports, Ohio State’s Chase Young and Memphis’ James Wiseman, are facing punishment from the NCAA for “low-scale financial dealings from years past.” Read The Ringer’s Rodger Sherman on why the collegiate sports body should not exist.

Presented Without Comment

Something Fun

Pixar released a teaser for its newest film, Soul, and … is it June yet?

Toeing The Company Line

  • Steve joined Face The Nation on Sunday to discuss how last week’s released deposition transcripts have reshaped the Republican line on impeachment and who stands to benefit the most from a potential Michael Bloomberg candidacy. Check it out here.

  • Jonah delved into the great “democracy vs. republic” debate in Friday’s G-File, working through the difference between being “democratically” and “lawfully” elected. Friday’s edition also garnered quite possibly the best comment of The Dispatch era: “Jonah Goldberg saying, ‘Please cut me some slack if this gets weird.’ is like Michael Phelps saying ‘Please cut me some slack if I get wet.’” Thank you to reader Butch Earl for the truism.

Let Us Know

Where will the Ukraine scandal goalposts be at this time next week?

  • “Sure Rudy said that, but he’s always been a deep state Never Trumper”

  • “You have to respect the president demonstrating to aspiring law students everywhere what a quid pro quo is and how to carry one out on an international stage”

  • “It’s not like Trump was asking Ukraine to investigate a Republican”

  • “At least Trump and Sondland didn’t wad up the promised military aid in cash and play monkey-in-the-middle, throwing it back and forth over Zelensky’s head until he promised to investigate Biden”

  • “Show me where in the Constitution it says a president needs to act in the best interests of the United States”

Reporting by Declan Garvey, Andrew Egger, and Steve Hayes.

The Morning Dispatch: Will a Late Entry Scramble the Democratic Primary?

Bloomberg and Sessions jump in, plus the latest in trade, and a look at Facebook and Twitter’s conflicting advertising policies.

Happy Friday! If you are a multibillionaire and want to run for president, reminder that today is the final day to get on the primary ballot in Alabama!

Quick Hits: What You Need to Know

  • Attorney General William Barr reportedly declined President Trump’s request to state publicly that he had broken no laws in the Ukraine affair. (The president vociferously denies the story.)

  • Two former Twitter employees have been arrested on charges of spying for Saudi Arabia. 

  • William Roebuck, our top diplomat in Syria, chastised the Trump administration for not pushing Turkey harder not to attack the Kurds. 

  • A judge ordered President Trump to pay $2 million in damages after he admitted to misusing money raised for his charitable foundation for personal ends.

  • House Democrats release the transcript of their interview with former top Ukraine diplomat Bill Taylor, who testified in the most explicit terms yet about a Trump/Ukraine quid pro quo. 

  • The House will begin open impeachment sessions next week, Rep. Adam Schiff said.

  • White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney has been subpoenaed as part of the impeachment inquiry, but is unlikely to appear before the House Intelligence Committee on Friday as requested.  

  • A Warning, a book by an anonymous Trump administration official, alleges that Mike Pence would support invoking the 25th amendment if a majority of the Cabinet agreed and that senior officials considered resigning en masse last year in a “midnight self-massacre.”

El Bloombito Might Finally Take the Plunge

For years, billionaire and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has toyed with the idea running for the Oval Office. He came close in 2016, and bowed out earlier this year due to Joe Biden’s perceived strength. But in a development that could immediately scramble the Democratic primary, the New York Times reports that Bloomberg is calling top Democrats to let them know he is seriously considering jumping in and is taking steps to get on the ballot in Alabama, which has a Friday filing deadline.

The news comes as Biden, whose moderate lane Bloomberg would hope to occupy, has struggled to run away with the race. He currently holds a high-single-digit lead over Elizabeth Warren in polls, but has lagged behind his opponents in fundraising, remained as gaffe-prone as ever, and become embroiled in a Ukraine scandal that will likely see President Trump impeached.

Many Democrats view this vulnerability as an opening for a more progressive candidate like Warren or Bernie Sanders. But plenty others are worried such a leftward shift could imperil the party’s chances come November, a view seemingly supported by New York Times/Siena College polling earlier in the week. Hence, Bloomberg. (“What about us?” Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar shout into the oblivion.)

Whether Bloomberg, 78 in February, can catch on and can compete with the existing crop of Democrats is anybody’s guess. But he’s old, Jewish, and he used to be a Republican—a perfect combination of the current three frontrunners. What he also has is name recognition, and $50 billion. And as we discussed in an earlier Morning Dispatch, money like that does count for something.

Back in Session

Mayor Bloomberg wasn’t the only candidate to throw his hat into the electoral ring Thursday. A year after he was unceremoniously booted from the Trump administration, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced he’ll try next year to recapture his old Senate seat, which is currently occupied by Democrat Doug Jones. 

There’s one problem, of course: Trump and Sessions no longer get along. Although the former senator was one of Trump’s earliest and fiercest supporters during the 2016 campaign, Sessions committed an unpardonable sin in the early days of the Trump presidency: recusing himself from the Russia investigation. As that investigation swelled over the following months, Trump grew increasingly resentful that Sessions had abdicated what was, to the president’s mind, his central responsibility: Being a bulldog for the bossman. 

Sessions is coming out of the gate trying to defuse the tension. If you’d never heard of him before you saw his launch video, you’d be forgiven for thinking the most impressive thing he ever did was get fired with grace and good cheer. “When I left President Trump’s Cabinet, did I write a tell-all book?” Sessions begins. “No. Did I go on CNN and attack the president? No. Have a said a cross word about President Trump? No.” 

It may not matter: President Trump rarely gives up a grudge. 

And that may not matter: Jeff Sessions remains widely popular in Alabama. 

Keep an eye on this one. These down-ballot races have frequently been interesting case studies in to what degree Trump’s word is gospel among his supporters. We’re certainly gearing up to see another representative sample now. 

Better Trade Days Ahead?

A hint of good trade news Thursday: The U.S. and China, which are currently hashing out an interim ceasefire in the ongoing trade war, announced that their so-called “stage one” package would include easing off some of the tariffs the two nations have been bludgeoning each other with for the past two years.

This is undeniably an encouraging step for both countries, although questions remain about how large a step it really is. Skeptics will note that, although a modest preliminary agreement has been reached in principle, negotiators have yet to finish actually writing the document—a stage at which trade war negotiations have hit the skids before. And the White House is still pushing a deeply confused and conflicting set of trade policy aims: although his advisers insist that tariffs are merely a temporary tool to pressure China to stop its unfair trade practices, Trump continues to believe that they’re an unalloyed economic good worth employing for their own sake.

Nevertheless, anything’s better than the spiral of tariff chicken we’ve been dealing with up until now. And good news can’t come soon enough for the domestic manufacturers that President Trump promised the moon in 2016—and who have been suffering as the tariffs have piled up.

Trump Manufacturing: Rise and Fall

During his first two years in office, U.S. manufacturing boomed under Trump’s light regulatory touch and pro-business agenda. But that growth faltered as pressure from the trade war mounted late last year. Seeking to prop up the flagging domestic steel and aluminum industries, Trump inadvertently unleashed a wave of economic pain on the rest of the sector. Manufacturers by the thousands were slammed twice: first by the increased cost of imported materials, then, for companies that exported to China, by Beijing’s retaliatory tariffs slapped on their finished products. In the latter half of 2019, the manufacturing sector has actually contracted.

“The absence of a lot of new regulations and the certainty of knowing that there weren’t going to be a lot of new regulations, plus of course tax reform, really was rocket fuel for the American manufacturing sector,” Cato Institute scholar Scott Lincicome told The Dispatch. But once the trade war kicked in, “all the manufacturing data … they either plateau or they start going down.”

This trend has been particularly pronounced in the so-called Rust Belt—the Great Lakes states that were industrial powerhouses through most of the 20th century and where manufacturing still occupies a much larger portion of the regional economy than the rest of the country. Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan have all lost thousands of manufacturing jobs this year. Consumer confidence has started to sag.

“I don’t think that there is, as of now, widespread public alarm in the state about the manufacturing sector,” Charles Franklin, a prominent Wisconsin pollster at Marquette University, told The Dispatch. “On the other hand, the job losses are pretty significant. And so if we have a second year in a row with those kinds of losses, then I think you will see the issue rise more on the public agenda, the public consciousness, and in political rhetoric here.” 

What’s a Factory Worth, Anyway?

A couple points here. There’s a sense in which it’s unfair to Trump to get tunnel vision about manufacturing: The rest of the economy is still going gangbusters. Even in the Rust Belt, overall unemployment remains very low, although it’s crept up in recent months.

And yet, a big part of the president’s populist pitch was his promise to reverse this trend: to create economic conditions in which manufacturing wouldn’t continue to waste away, where laid-off factory workers in dried-up towns wouldn’t have to suffer the indignity of experts chirping at them to buck up and move to the city and reskill in a line of work more useful to the 21st-century economy. Wisconsin’s economy is still booming under Trump—but when you lose your warehouse job in Medford, it doesn’t do you much good to hear about how many new tech jobs there are in Madison.

Does all this run the risk of hurting Trump in 2020? It’s hard to say. On the one hand, Trump swept the Rust Belt only with razor-thin margins in each state: It wouldn’t take massive blue-collar defections to put his chances there in jeopardy. 

On the other, plenty of Trump’s 2016 supporters in the region are still holding out hope that he’ll bend China to his will—which, in the long run, would provide another boom to American industry. Kurt Bauer, president and CEO of Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, told The Dispatch that when they survey their members, almost half say they’ve been adversely affected by the U.S.-China tariffs—but that fully two-thirds support the tariffs anyway.

And, of course, many of the president’s supporters aren’t about to abandon him over a little economic pain, because it’s his cultural message that they were drawn to in the first place.

All of which is to say: The president needn’t panic over his manufacturing slump just yet. But if he was serious about his bombastic promises to usher in a new golden era for American manufacturing, it’s plain that something has to change.

Digital Double Standards

Let’s talk about political advertising. Whether it’s this health care-focused spot from Joe Biden or Donald Trump’s surprise World Series ad (which had seven figures behind it, a Trump campaign official told The Dispatch at the time), prepare your eyeballs and eardrums for a steady stream of dramatic lens flares and “I’m _____, and I approve this message” emanating from your television over the next year.

But you might be seeing less of them on your phone.

Last week, Twitter announced, via CEO tweet thread, that it was banning all political advertising on the platform; the site will not allow ads promoting either candidates or issues after November 22. “A political message earns reach when people decide to follow an account or retweet,” CEO Jack Dorsey said. “Paying for reach removes that decision, forcing highly optimized and targeted political messages on people. We believe this decision should not be compromised by money.”

The move came just weeks after Facebook made waves by neglecting to take down a Trump campaign ad that made some dubious claims about Joe Biden and his involvement in Ukraine. The ad was also running on MSNBC, Fox News, ABC, CBS, YouTube, and Twitter, but Facebook specifically rebuffed the Biden campaign’s request to take it down. “Our approach is grounded in Facebook’s fundamental belief in free expression, respect for the democratic process, and the belief that, in mature democracies with a free press, political speech is already arguably the most scrutinized speech there is,” Katie Harbath, Facebook’s public policy director for global elections, told the Biden campaign in a letter obtained by the New York Times. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg gave a speech the following week arguing that while tumultuous times can create calls to “pull back on free expression,” he believes we must continue to stand for it.

The blowback from Democrats was swift and severe. Mark Warner wrote a letter to the company demanding answers. Ron Wyden tweeted that the company should listen to its own employees and “stop microtargeting political ads without public transparency.” To demonstrate what she believes to be the policy’s absurdity, Elizabeth Warren even ran a fake Facebook ad herself, which was approved, claiming Zuckerberg had endorsed Donald Trump’s re-election.

So those were the headaches Twitter was hoping to avoid by banning political ads altogether. But the migraines have continued. In a statement provided to The Dispatch on Thursday, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy called Twitter a “guinea pig for an experiment in restricting free speech,” arguing “the push to ban political ads appears to be an attempt to satisfy a loud minority that is interested in banning speech they do not like.” Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale called the ban “yet another attempt by the left to silence Trump and conservatives.” 

Before you start to think these gripes about bias are baseless, check out this tweet from Dorsey: 

That’s the CEO responding to Elizabeth Warren, who, despite criticizing Facebook for allowing misleading political ads, is also criticizing Twitter for not allowing them—because the restriction extends to liberal organizations as well. Dorsey’s reply—“Taking all this into consideration”—is foreboding. Ultimately, the ban will come down to what Twitter deems “political” and what it doesn’t; the company has promised to explain more fully its policy in the coming days, but don’t be surprised if groups like Planned Parenthood or Greenpeace are magically exempted.

And that’s the fundamental problem with any other approach to advertising and speech than the one Facebook has taken. It’s far from perfect. There’s a lot of garbage on the site, and misinformation runs rampant—particularly since truthfulness is asymmetrical betwixt various campaigns. But in placing minimal restrictions on advertising, Facebook has removed itself and its employees from the role of neutral arbiter having to make individual determinations over what is and isn’t political and what is and isn’t true. Twitter’s proposed method? McCarthy said it “implies Americans around the country are unable to think for themselves.”

The judgments these companies have to make are not always as straightforward as some like Elizabeth Warren might have you believe—particularly when there are potentially hundreds of millions of them every single day. Is a post pointing folks to a Catholic adoption agency “political?” What about a tweet celebrating Palestinian heritage?

Plus, current policy dictates broadcasters are “prohibited from refusing to run even obviously false political ads,” Berin Szóka, president of the free market internet policy think tank TechFreedom, told The Dispatch (italics ours). Why should social media be held to a different standard? Mark Warner argued “this comparison is inapt,” and that Facebook should behave like cable networks that face no such requirement. But Fox News isn’t facing nearly as much heat for running Trump’s campaign ad.

When asked by The Dispatch what standard or guideline she would implement were she in charge of Facebook and Twitter, Warren’s campaign declined to comment. Perhaps because the answer would seem to be: “People who share my worldview can run ads, but people who don’t can’t.”

Worth Your Time

  • Christopher Collins and Sophie Novak dove deep on Clarksville, Texas’s, demise for the Texas Observer, asking why the town was starting to crumble. “When a rural hospital dies, the community around it starts to follow suit.”

  • We’ve been covering this Ukraine business pretty heavily in The Morning Dispatch, but this piece still took our breath away. It’s the behind-the-scenes story of how freaked Ukrainian officials tried to figure out how to wheedle their promised and desperately needed military aid out of a mercurial president they didn’t know much about: scouring his Twitter feed for clues as to what would appease him and what might make him mad, debating whether they really ought to make their promised capitulatory announcement on CNN given Trump had denounced it as “Fake News,” and so on. It’s engrossing and darkly funny and worth reading to the end. 

  • Tom Junod wrote a piece in The Atlantic about his friendship with Mister Rogers in advance of the movie, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, being released. They just don’t make ‘em like Fred Rogers anymore. “Remembering him as a nice man is easier than thinking of him as a demanding one.”

Presented Without Comment

Something Fun

Presidential rallies are weird: Part policy lecture, part motivational speech, part tent revival, part goofy rock concert. Sometimes it’s hard to discern the correct way to behave. This kid, however, has it figured out.

Toeing the Company Line

  • Jonah has faxed a fresh new midweek G-File down from his mountaintop yurt. Medicare-for-All, technobabble, the word “Brobdingnagian”—it’s all there. Give it a read!

  • The French Press is back with a vengeance. Thursday’s edition delved into populism, and the dangers that lie therein. But if he keeps peddling this LeBron > Jordan nonsense, we’re going to have to stop plugging his pieces.

  • And if that’s not enough Dispatch for ya, there’s a Remnant! Jonah had Fox News’ Chris Stirewalt on the podcast to discuss Tuesday’s elections and the impeachment saga. Check it out here.

Let Us Know

What dance move is likeliest to go viral next at a Trump rally? 

  • YMCA (Christianity is respected again!)

  • High Hopes (If it’s good enough for Pete Buttigieg, it’s good enough for The Donald!) 

  • The Macarena (Record-low Hispanic unemployment!)

  • Flossing (Let’s be honest: This is the winner.)

Reporting by Declan Garvey, Andrew Egger, and Steve Hayes.

From David French: The Perils of Marrying Populism to Corruption and Incompetence

As demonstrated by the Ukraine scandal, ABC News’ Epstein problem, and … the suburbs.

Let’s talk about populism. It’s received conventional wisdom that we live in a populist age, and that populism rests on a conviction that America’s elites have failed in numerous, material ways. The simplified version of the right-wing narrative is clear. Elites gave us the Great Recession. Elites gave us the Iraq war. Elites in Silicon Valley are exploiting us. Elites worship the market. Elites in the media are sneering at us. Elites in the academy discriminate against us. They hate our faith, they hate our culture, and they are waging an unrelenting political war to drive us from the public square.

And the anti-elitism often extends even to allegedly allied elites. After all, a Republican president launched the Iraq war, and the stock market collapsed on that same president’s watch. Moreover, there is deep resentment against “establishment conservatives” or “Conservatism, Inc.” for failing to defeat the left. 

And so it’s time to burn it down. Drain the swamp. Disrupt the status quo. 

This week has presented us with fascinating case studies in the reasons for—and perils of—populism. It’s demonstrated once again there are legitimate grievances with elite institutions, but that populists should take care not to replace one form of dysfunction with worse dysfunction. Otherwise, the status quo can strike back, hard. 

Here’s today’s lineup:

  1. Why populism fails: Keystone Cops in Ukraine.

  2. Why populism succeeds:ABC News, elite media, and the giant #MeToo fail.

  3. Why populism fails: the suburbs aren’t ready for a revolution.

  4. Progressives may live to regret the judicial resistance.

Also, thanks much for the avalanche of feedback on “The French Press.” The verdict? Well, it was mixed. Some of you liked it, very few loved it, and some loathed it. So we’ll call The French Press a placeholder name, pending a brilliant alternative idea. In the meantime, however, special shout-outs to Bob for “Frank Talk” (the French were Franks before they were French) and I can’t seem to locate the email, but thank you for the genuine laugh to the person who suggested, “David’s Bridle.”

Now, on to the analysis:

  1. Incoherence and corruption aren’t an upgrade over perceived incompetence.

I’ve been wading through hundreds of pages of deposition transcripts in the Ukraine impeachment inquiry, and I’m struck by two things. First, the evidence of a quid pro quo is overwhelming. We laid it out in detail in yesterday’s Morning Dispatch, and I won’t repeat it all here. It’s quite clear, however, that the kind of exchange so clearly evident in Donald Trump’s call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky represented literally months of American policy toward Ukraine. It now appears that Trump and Trump allies tried to condition both a meeting with Trump and American military aid on Trump’s demands for improper investigations.

That’s of course the heart of the impeachment inquiry, but I want to focus on something else—the sheer amateurism and, frankly, weirdness of the Trump diplomatic effort. Reading the transcripts you can see that even strong Trump allies, like Ambassador Gordon Sondland, were deeply troubled by Rudy Giuliani’s freelance lawyering and diplomacy. Sondland said that Rudy’s involvement “kept getting more insidious.” 

 The transcripts feature American diplomats who can articulate American national interests in Ukraine’s independence and security and describe a rational approach to dealing with persistent Ukrainian corruption—but then struggle to articulate how an investigation of Joe Biden or bizarre conspiracy theories advance those interests. In fact, even the president’s most able defenders can’t defend his actions as worthwhile on the merits. Here’s my good friend—and one of the smartest writers and analysts I know—Andy McCarthy, providing his own “bottom line” on Trump’s request that Ukraine investigate the Bidens:

It was inappropriate for the president to point the Ukrainians specifically and explicitly at the Bidens. A more polished president would simply have said, “We want you to root out corruption, no matter how high up it goes, even in our own government”—the Ukrainians would have gotten the point and there would be nothing to criticize. Trump went about it crudely. Commendable? Of course not. A valid reason to vote against him in 2020? Surely. But it’s not impeachable.

And here’s Lindsey Graham describing Trump’s policy toward Ukraine as “incoherent.” 

“Inappropriate but not impeachable” or “incoherent but not impeachable” are not arguments that sustain a populist political movement. They help a president survive removal. They do not help a president build the trust and confidence of the American people.

Nor do the images of the impulsive American withdrawal in Syria, where Russian reporters and mercenaries grant guided tours of hastily abandoned American bases to interested viewers back home. And nor do childishly written presidential letters to Turkish dictators. 

Yes, Trump has had his foreign policy achievements. His decision to continue (and accelerate) the Obama administration’s offensive against ISIS was sound. He didn’t just reduce the ISIS caliphate to rubble; forces under his command killed the “caliph,” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. But except for the recent raid on Baghdadi’s compound (conducted in the midst of an overall American retreat), many of his best moments came earlier in his administration, when he was surrounded by the trio of generals who helped guide American policy. 

Yet now the populist wave is carrying a president who has shed his restraints. He’s “Trump in full,” and while rage and fury against the establishment may sustain his core supporters, many other Americans won’t necessarily look at incoherence and corruption as an upgrade over the pre-Trump status quo. 

  1. ABC News teaches a valuable lesson about media corruption.

I need to become more cynical. I really do. I thought I couldn’t be shocked by media sex scandals, and then ABC went right ahead and surprised me anyway. Project Veritas released a leaked tape of ABC’s Amy Robach vividly expressing frustration that the network “quashed” a story about Jeffrey Epstein. You can watch the video here:

NPR has a good writeup of the video’s contents and ABC’s reaction: 

Robach complains that the network "quashed" her interview, suggesting that ABC had yielded to threats from powerful forces, including Buckingham Palace. Prince Andrew is among those men whom the accuser alleges Epstein trafficked her to for sex. The prince's representatives have denied that claim. 

ABC News executives say their journalists were simply not able to corroborate the details of the reporting sufficiently for broadcast. 

"We would never run away from that," Chris Vlasto, head of investigations for ABC News, tells NPR. The network has filed approximately two dozen digital and broadcast stories on Epstein since early 2015, when ABC started talking to the accuser, Virginia Roberts Giuffre.

 As NPR notes, Robach’s comments “came just two days after an NPR story disclosed the existence of Giuffre's interview and ABC's failure to broadcast it.” 

I have thoughts.

 First, let’s just be honest. There is a stunning amount of hypocrisy and selective reporting around media and political sex scandals. Though there are of course nuances that tweets can’t capture, sentiments like this rocketed around conservative Twitter yesterday, and the core critique has merit:

Second, the hypocrisy and selective reporting isn’t solely related to partisanship. Instead, I want to discuss an aspect of media corruption that gets entirely too little attention—relationships. My Dispatch colleague Jonah Goldberg has pointed out many times on his podcast (and written in his most recent book) that relationships—more than money—can explain media failures. 

 Relationships can be professional, personal, or familial, but the courtesies we extend to those we know or those we seek connection with will far outstrip the courtesies we extend to strangers or rivals. In her lament about her lost story, ABC’s Robach mentions Bill Clinton, Alan Dershowitz (a longtime fixture on mainstream media until he began defending Trump), and Britain’s royal family. Those aren’t just partisan connections, they’re often professionally valuable and personally warm. 

 Think of disgraced television anchors. It’s one thing to take on a Fox personality like Bill O’Reilly. It’s another thing to train your guns on someone you might simply know as “Matt” (Lauer) or “Charlie” (Rose). 

 And nobody should think this is a purely progressive or mainstream media problem. It’s a human problem. We tend to give the people we know and like the benefit of the doubt. That tendency is amplified when that relationship might be professional valuable to us. Conservatives can and do suffer from the exact same malady.

 Why do mainstream media reporters pursue Fox News scandals with far more diligence than most conservative outlets? Well, yes, there’s the obvious partisan angle. But the simple fact is that large numbers of conservative reporters and commentators desperately want to be on Fox. And so you’ll see conservative “media critics” aggressively decry very real and very troubling mainstream media misconduct while remaining studiously silent about matters even as bad and brazen as Fox personalities’ role in promoting the loathsome Seth Rich conspiracy theory. 

 But it’s a simple fact that the web of relationships in mainstream media covers more outlets that reach more people than the cozy confines of the conservative media echo system. And it’s also a fact that major American institutions—like Hollywood and the academy—care far more about mainstream media coverage than they do about conservative coverage. 

 The web of relationships corrupts coverage. It protects the powerful. And it helps provide justifiable reasons for populist frustration and anger. 

And then right on cue, just as I was editing this piece, Yashar Ali tweeted a disturbing scoop, revealing first that ABC discovered who accessed the footage, a former employee who is now at CBS: 

I suppose media respect for whistleblowers has its limits ... 

  1. The suburbs don’t like revolutions

Let’s begin with two quotes from two smart writers and analysts. First, here’s the Washington Examiner’s Tim Carney:

Since Trump’s shocking upset win in November 2016, the story of politics in America has been pretty simple: Democrats win, Republicans lose.

The explanation is pretty simple, too: Trump has made Trump voters, but not Republicans, out of working-class independents and Democrats, and he has made Democratic voters out of independents and Republicans. Trump has also motivated Democrats to unprecedented levels.

The net effect is a massive shift of the electorate towards Democrats.

Next, here’s National Journal’s Josh Kraushaar telling us exactly where that shift is occurring: 

The main theme connecting Tuesday night’s governor’s races in Kentucky and Mississippi, state legislative contests in Virginia, and local elections in Pennsylvania is that Republican support has utterly collapsed in the suburbs.

It’s an existential warning for the GOP: Without running competitively in at least the outer rings of urban areas, Republicans can dismiss their chances of winning back the House, start worrying about the Senate flipping next year, and desperately pray that Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders emerges as the Democratic presidential nominee in order to give President Trump a shot at reelection.

The fact that the GOP is losing badly in the suburbs is well-established. The reason is slightly more complex than simply saying, “Donald Trump.” The reason is implied from Josh’s last sentence in the paragraph above. You say you want a political revolution? Well don’t try to start one in the most stable and prosperous communities in America. 

It’s often said that “where you stand is based on where you sit.” And there’s no question that if “where you sit” is rural America, there’s a good chance you’re going to experience declining job prospects, accelerating rates of drug addiction, underfunded schools (with no real school choice), and a feeling that your values and lifestyle are mocked and derided by wealthy, urban elites.

If you sit in the great cities of the American coasts, you’ll experience job opportunities and economic growth, but you’ll also see extraordinary inequality, endure spiraling costs of living that can make a person feel poor making salaries that rural Americans rarely see, and you’ll feel a rage that – for all your vast numbers – your values and votes are trumped by a cohort of citizens who hate you, mock your lifestyle, and believe you’re not even “real Americans.”

Moreover, both rural and urban Americans will sit among mainly like-minded neighbors who reinforce their beliefs and—through the magic of group polarization—amplify their extremism.

Life in the suburbs is substantially different. They’re generally more politically diverse. They’re generally far more affordable than America’s wealthy coastal cities. The schools aren’t crumbling. Since residents are often college-educated, they don’t lack for economic opportunity. Married, educated parents tend to do well. Their kids tend to do well. Life isn’t perfect, and the suburbs aren’t completely insulated from the cultural forces that drive American polarization, but they’re largely missing the sense of extreme urgency that powers both the Trump base and the progressive #resistance.

Last year I moved from rural Tennessee to a nice suburb outside of Nashville. Both locations are about equally “red.” Maury County (my old home) went for Trump in the 2016 general election by a 68-29 margin. Williamson County (my new home) voted Trump 65-30. But in the 2016 primary, Williamson County was the only county to vote against Trump in the GOP primary. Marco Rubio won it by four points. 

If you’ll indulge me in a bit of “rank punditry” (to borrow Jonah’s great phrase), in 2020 the less-revolutionary (or less-stable) candidate is likely to hold the suburban edge. In 2017, 2018, and 2019, the more-revolutionary (and less-stable) party was perceived to be the Trumpist GOP. And that’s the default presumption for 2020 as well.

But that brings me back to Josh’s last sentence. What’s potentially more revolutionary and disruptive than Trump’s tweets and scandals? How about a health plan that would yank most suburban voters out of insurance coverage they like? How about a left-wing economic program that seeks to fundamentally transform the economy that works so well for them? 

Yes, it’s true that Trump could so alienate the suburbs (especially suburban women) that they’d prefer to roll the dice with Warren or Sanders, but that’s a strange risk for a political party to take. As of this moment, the suburbs are theirs – but not because the suburbs want socialist change, and if the Democrats press the political revolution, they may well get shocked again. Right now, it’s the soccer moms who just might be keeping American politics from lurching completely to the angry extremes.

  1. The progressive judicial resistance may regret its precedents. 

Yesterday, a federal judge in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York (Obama appointee Paul Engelmayer) struck down in its entirety a Trump administration Department of Health and Human Services rule that was intended to “interpret and provide for the implementation of more than 30 statutory provisions that recognize the right of an individual or entity to abstain from participation in medical procedures, programs, services, or research activities on account of a religious or moral objection.”

The Trump administration rule is complicated, the judge’s opinion was 147 pages long, and I’m trying to limit the length of my newsletters, so I’m not going to dive into the details of the ruling. As a general rule, the court imposes a more exacting degree of scrutiny on the Trump regulations than existing jurisprudence permits. It functionally narrows the degree of discretion granted to the executive branch to interpret statutes and promulgate regulations.

That brings me to the key point. I’m beginning to believe that the legal left may well (and perhaps in the near future) learn to regret the precedents it sets today. 

In 2017 I coined the term “Trumplaw” to describe the legal left’s use of forum-shopping, creative legal theories, and national injunctions to cobble together a remarkably successful series of legal holding actions that seemed designed as much to run out the clock on Trump’s first term as they were to permanently block his policies. Even if they were perhaps destined to lose in the Supreme Court, the process of actually getting there and getting the case heard and decided could take years. 

And, indeed, the Supreme Court cannot and will not take every case. So some Trump regulations might just die, killed by lower courts that modified and strengthened existing legal doctrines to dramatically increase the level of judicial skepticism over executive branch actions. 

Moreover, by pressing legal challenge after legal challenge as far as it will go, progressives are moving cases to a Supreme Court that is not necessarily thrilledwith the regulatory state. Justice Gorsuch, in particular, has written eloquently about the administrative state’s threat to the American system of governance. 

So, what does that mean? It’s easy to imagine a very different kind of legal resistance, one that uses the precedents set by today’s legal left – but filtered through very different courts. Instead of filing cases in California and New York, the next legal resistance (say, this time, to a President Warren) will file its cases in Texas or Alabama. And then, those same courts will find the scrutiny applied to presidential actions by the Ninth and Second Circuits to be both interesting and persuasive. After all, conservative legal scholars have long argued that the executive branch has far more power than the founders intended.

It’s easy to see an emerging legal future where American polarization means Congress enacts few, if any, sweeping reforms, and presidents are subject to increasing restraints on their regulatory authority – based on precedents set by judges on the left and the right. And when that progressive activists lament that heightened legal barrier, in part they’ll have to blame themselves. Their own resistance established the precedents that will block progressive legal reform.

One last thing ... 

In reviewing reader mail (thank you for all of it!), I’m surprised at how many people took issue not with anything I said about Trump, but instead objected to my very correct take that LeBron > Jordan. You obviously did not read the airtight argument I made in 2018. And so, to paraphrase Monty Python, because of your apostasy, I shall end this newsletter by taunting you a second time. This is just great athleticism combined with great fundamentals. And it’s his 17th season. Ladies and gentlemen, the GOAT: 

The Morning Dispatch: The Republican Retreat on Impeachment

Plus: Marco Rubio’s ‘Common-Good Capitalism’ and a looming government shutdown.

Happy Wednesday! To those of you in states that held major elections yesterday, congrats on carrying out your civic duty once again. To the rest of you, congrats on living in a regular state that votes in regular years. The odd-numbered thing is weird

Quick Hits: What You Need to Know

  • Kentucky, Mississippi, and Virginia all held their regular oddball off-year elections Tuesday. 

    • The night’s big headline: Kentucky has elected a Democratic governor. State Attorney General Andy Beshear unseated unpopular GOP incumbent Matt Bevin, who limped to the finish despite holding home-field advantage in a state Trump carried by 30 points in 2016. 

    • In Mississippi’s governor’s race, Republican Tate Reeves cruised to a strong finish over moderate Democrat Jim Hood. 

    • And Democrats picked up substantial gains in Virginia, recapturing both houses of the state legislature and cleaning up in the suburbs of D.C. and Richmond. 

  • The Trump administration officially began the process of withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement on Monday.

  • Iran continues to step away from the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which President Trump also withdrew the United States from last year. The country’s Fordo nuclear facility is once again becoming an active atomic site, with the country announcing intentions to inject uranium gas into more than 1,000 centrifuges.

  • A new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows Trump trailing leading Democrats by substantial margins among likely voters nationwide—but another poll from the New York Times and Siena College finds him still highly competitive in key battleground states.

  • And speaking of ABC News: The network is under fire after Project Veritas released hot-mic video of one of its anchors complaining that her coverage of Jeffrey Epstein was spiked and speculating that the well-connected financier didn’t really kill himself. 

The Death of a Defense

On September 25, Senator Lindsey Graham, among the most eager defenders of Donald Trump, offered confident assurances that whatever diplomatic dancing took place between the Trump administration and the newly elected government of Ukraine, there was no quid pro quo. “If you're looking for a circumstance where the president of the United States was threatening the Ukraine with cutting off aid unless they investigated his political opponent, you'd be very disappointed,” said Graham, who speaks regularly with Trump. “That does not exist.”

Three weeks later, in an interview on Axios HBO on October 20, Graham hedged a bit but offered a condition to his continued enthusiastic support. “If you could show me that, you know, Trump actually was engaging in a quid pro quo, outside the phone call, that would be very disturbing.” 

And here we are.

In updated testimony released on Tuesday, Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland described a conversation he had with Andriy Yermak, a top adviser to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, in which he proposed just such a quid pro quo. “I said that resumption of the U.S. aid would likely not occur until Ukraine provided the public anticorruption statement that we had been discussing for many weeks.” Sondland was working as a lead diplomat on Ukraine issues after Trump had given him what Sondland described as a “special assignment” in Ukraine. Sondland, a high-dollar Trump donor and self-described “lifelong Republican,” has a strong advocate in Trump’s inner circle, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin.  

Sondland submitted the new sworn statement, which contradicted with his earlier testimony, after a handful of senior U.S. government officials acknowledged the quid pro quo. Several did so under oath.

  • Bill Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, said he’d heard about the demand from Tim Morrison, a top National Security Council official and special assistant to the president. Taylor also detailed a conversation that he’d had with Sondland: “Ambassador Sondland also told me that he now recognized that he had made a mistake by earlier telling the Ukrainian officials to whom he spoke that a White House meeting with President Zelensky was dependent on a public announcement of investigations — in fact, Ambassador Sondland said, ‘everything’ was dependent on such an announcement, including security assistance."

  • Tim Morrison testified that Taylor’s testimony was truthful and correct. “I can confirm that the substance of his statement, as it relates to conversations he and I had, is accurate.”

  • Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, working on the National Security Council, testified about a meeting in which he heard Sondland “speak about Ukraine delivering specific investigations to secure the meeting with the president.”

Beyond these officials, two other strong Trump advocates—acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and Senator Ron Johnson—have also described a quid pro quo with Ukraine. (Mulvaney later attempted to recast his admission.)

So. where does all of this leave Lindsey Graham? Asked Tuesday about his views on Sondland’s testimony, he didn’t even attempt to reconcile his past proclamations. “I've written this whole process off ... I think this is a bunch of B.S.”

Digging Deeper

If Graham—an eager, willing defender of Trump who tried to enlist the entire Senate GOP into vouching for the president—isn’t even willing to attempt a defense in light of these latest revelations, is this a turning point? 

Maybe. Maybe not.

As hundreds of pages of impeachment interview transcripts from last month were released Monday and Tuesday, House Republicans readily slotted each witness into their narrative of unelected bureaucrats and congressional Democrats working together to undermine the president:

  • They have dismissed as a sideshow Marie Yovanovitch, the former ambassador to Ukraine, who testified at length about Rudy Giuliani’s shadow foreign policy and corresponding smear campaign to have her removed. Jim Jordan told reporters Monday that her testimony “frankly, had not much to do with the underlying issue” of a quid pro quo, while Rep. Steve Scalise called her “an Obama holdover, somebody who didn’t necessarily support President Trump’s agenda.”

  • They have waved off the new testimony from Sondland, who corroborated the accounts of several others, as unreliable. In a Tuesday tweet, Mark Meadows dismissed Sondland’s testimony as mere speculation, pointing out that he also testified that he hadn’t known for certain why aid was held up at all.

  • And they have leaned hard into testimony from former U.S. Special Envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker, who pushed back on the notion that the Trump/Zelensky call represented an illegal quid pro quo. 

Bottom Line

Elected Republicans are badly divided. There are some willing to defend Trump on the substance. They’ll argue that quid pro quos are a routine part of modern statesmanship, that the co-mingling of personal political interests with matters of national interest is common, that the outrage expressed about Trump’s behavior is feigned or a reflection of naivete. 

But there are many others who concede privately that Trump’s behavior is disturbing. And their complaints about the process and about Democratic partisanship, some of them legitimate, are less compelling with every new revelation from the inquiry. Does it matter that the initial interviews were conducted behind closed doors if the full transcripts are released and confirm that the president and his advisers haven’t been honest about their attempted coercion in Ukraine?

A Deadline Looms ...

Congress will have its hands full with [gestures broadly at the above] all of that, but there’s also the small matter of funding the federal government later this month.

Congress passed, and Trump signed, a short-term funding bill in September to avert another government shutdown just eight months removed from the longest one in American history. That money dries up on November 21, at which point the government would shut down if a similar continuing resolution (which would maintain current spending levels), or longer-term deal on appropriations isn’t reached. But no need to worry. Yet.

A Senate GOP aide told The Dispatch that not only is there “no appetite at all for a shutdown” on the Hill, but “there’s confidence that Congress will fund the government beyond the current deadline.”

Another source close to Senate leadership said “no one is talking about a shutdown except Senate Democrats.” 

Chuck Schumer, best known for being a Senate Democrat, told reporters last week he is “increasingly worried that President Trump may want to shut down the government again because of impeachment,” adding that the president “always likes to create diversions.”

Trump, for his part, hasn’t proactively suggested shutting the government down, but he hasn’t ruled out the prospect, either. “I wouldn’t commit to anything,” he told reporters on Sunday. “Depends on what the negotiations are.”

Marco Rubio’s Vision for a New American Century

Part of what we hope to be here at The Dispatch is a forum for debate over the future of American conservatism. When Trump’s presidency comes to an end, in either one year or five, Republicans will be tasked with charting a path for their party, determining which aspects of Trumpism to retain and which to throw to the curb.

Senator Marco Rubio planted an early flag in this fight on Tuesday, delivering a speech at Catholic University lamenting the decay of America’s social fabric and care for one another. He lay the blame on the conservative and liberal orthodoxies that have guided American economic policy for the past half-century.

On the political right, where I come from, we’ve become defenders of the right of businesses to make a profit, the right of shareholders to receive a return on their investment, and the obligation that people have to work. All these things are true. But we have neglected the rights of workers to share in the benefits they create for their employer, and we’ve neglected the obligation of businesses to act also in the best interest of the workers and ultimately of the country that have made that success possible.

The political left is an enthusiastic champion of everyone’s right to free everything, and they never shy from reminding us of business’ obligations to share with their workers and the government, but they rarely focus on our obligation to work, and do not focus nearly enough on a business’ right to make a profit.

Rubio, like others seeking to capitalize on Trump’s populism, argued the free market alone will not solve America’s problems. “[E]conomic growth and record profits alone will not lead to the creation of dignified work.” Republicans, including Rubio, have long touted the benefits of such a market. But Trump’s victory in 2016—which saw him flout long-held party dogma on entitlements, health care, and trade—has thrown into question among Republican electeds just how strictly voters expect them to adhere to the principles that drove the Reagan revolution 30-plus years ago. 

What does this all this mean in concrete terms? Very little. .. so far. Rubio argued the tax code should incentivize corporations investing in new jobs and higher wages, not stock buybacks. He proposed revamping the Small Business Administration to encourage innovation in areas where “market principles and our national interest are not aligned.” He advocated for expanding the per-child tax credit and providing more options for family leave. “Because after all,” Rubio said to the room of students, “ask yourself this fundamental question: Does our country exist to serve the interests of the market? Or does the market exist to serve the interest of our nation?”

Rubio ended his speech claiming his goal was not to “define a post-Trump conservatism for the Republican Party,” but rather, “do whatever it takes to keep our country from coming apart.” Color us skeptical. We’d wager it was both. That post-Trump conservatism will need defining, and there are plenty of figures—Ben Sasse, Nikki Haley, Will Hurd, Liz Cheney, Doug Ducey, Tom Cotton, Josh Hawley, among others—waiting to do just that. Consider this Marco’s entry.

Worth Your Time

  • Award-winning film director Martin Scorsese set the internet aflame last month when he said Marvel movies weren’t cinema. Tuesday, he penned an op-ed explaining himself: “We now have two separate fields: There’s worldwide audiovisual entertainment, and there’s cinema. They still overlap from time to time, but that’s becoming increasingly rare. And I fear that the financial dominance of one is being used to marginalize and even belittle the existence of the other.”

  • Jonathan Rauch and Ray La Raja’s new piece in The Atlantic asks the question, “how much democracy is too much?” They argue Republicans and Democrats have ceded unprecedented power to primary voters, and it’s breaking American politics: “Despite their flaws, smoke-filled rooms did a good job of identifying qualified people who could unify their party and also exert broad appeal in a general election.”

Presented Without Comment

Something Fun

As if the Giants 2-7 season wasn’t cursed enough, Monday’s game against the Cowboys was delayed for several minutes by a black cat darting around the field.

The cat, to be fair, seemed to have absolutely no desire to be there, and did its very best to leave. We’ve all been there, cat.

Toeing the Company Line

  • David French’s Dispatch newsletter has a name! Be sure to subscribe here to get The French Press delivered to your inbox every Tuesday and Thursday. His most recent iteration dives into Elizabeth Warren’s “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad Medicare financing plan,” highlights the importance of marriage to a healthy workforce, and rebuts a popular defense of Trump on the Ukraine front. We may have to issue a correction, though, because David erroneously referred to LeBron James as the GOAT, when Michael Jordan clearly holds that title.

  • National Review editor Rich Lowry joined Jonah on the most recent Remnant podcast to discuss his new book, The Case for Nationalism. Well, it was more of a debate than a discussion—but an amicable one! Give it a listen here.

Let Us Know

What else should Marco Rubio fight for in the economy of the New American Century?

  • No more of those corporate brand Twitter accounts clapping back at each other

  • Per-dog tax credits

  • A subscription product that bundles together all these new streaming servic—oh wait that’s just cable

  • Massive tax incentives for starting right-of-center digital media companies

  • Shortening the lines for the sandwich at Popeyes—one of your Morning Dispatchers had to wait 28 minutes for spicy chicken Tuesday

Reporting by Declan Garvey, Andrew Egger, and Steve Hayes.

The French Press: Elizabeth Warren's Fantastical Potpourri of Absurd Assumptions and Outright Falsehoods

Even progressives wonks are (politely) asking, "Wait. What?"

There are two things you have to understand about media coverage of Elizabeth Warren. First, her appeal in the Democratic primary race is highly concentrated among educated white progressives. And second, the mainstream media is disproportionately populated by ... educated white progressives. This leads to a kind of default credulity in coverage of her statements and proposals. There’s a bit of “one of us” camaraderie that’s entirely natural and human, but good journalists recognize their biases and fight against them.

And that brings us to a fascinating phenomenon I’ve noticed in Warren coverage. Let’s call it the “Wait. What?” narrative. She releases a statement or proposal that purports to own her opposition or advance a progressive goal, she receives favorable initial coverage, and then good journalists take a closer look. That’s when it all falls apart.

The previous perfect example was the coverage of her big reveal of her Native American heritage. Remember that? She made a video. She released the results of DNA testing showing she had some small trace of Native American ancestry, and for about four hours the media responded as if she’d just destroyed Donald Trump. Then they took a closer look, realized that she was basically as white as your average Swede, and realized they’d been had. Ever since then, Warren has been in public apology mode. 

History has just repeated itself, on a much more consequential stage. Warren has released her Medicare-for-All financing plan, she blasted out to all the world that she could remake American health care without raising taxes on the middle class, and smart people across the spectrum are responding with a resounding, “Wait. What?”

But that’s not all I’m covering today. Here’s the lineup:

  1. Warren’s financing plan is worse than you think.

  1. Marriage, the most important cultural institution.

  1. Don’t fall for a flawed Trump defense

Oh, and I’m test-driving a newsletter name. This came through Twitter direct message, my wife loves it, and I think it works—the French Press. If you hate it, let me know. Now, on to the substance . . . 

  1. Elizabeth Warren’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad Medicare financing plan

I get the argument for Medicare-for-All. I really do. Its proponents sincerely believe they can replace our hybrid public/private health care industry (an expensive system no one truly loves) with a public-run program that will deliver more health care for less money. Seniors tend to really like Medicare, and extending a popular program to the rest of the nation—while also ensuring that even the poorest Americans have access to “free” high-quality care—is a goal that has real political and moral force behind it. 

But then Americans start to think through the sheer magnitude of the social and economic disruption, and the shine comes off the program. More than 150 million Americans are covered by employer-provided health insurance plans, most Americans like their current health plans, millions of jobs depend on the current system, and they’re understandably leery of the greatest peacetime government expansion in American history.

Bernie Sanders responds to these objections with a degree of blunt honesty. Yes, your taxes will go up. No, you won’t keep the insurance you like. But, trust me, most people will pay less overall, and you’ll like what we build. 

What about Elizabeth Warren? She just insulted your intelligence. She just unveiled the most transparently absurd campaign pledge since, “I’ll build the wall, and Mexico will pay for it.” When I read her plan, which purports to deliver universal health care coverage without a middle class tax increase, it’s hard to believe intelligent people take it seriously. It’s simply fantastical. It’s a potpourri of absurd assumptions and outright falsehoods. 

Let’s start with the assumptions.

Most estimates of the cost of Medicare-for-All put the 10-year tab at more than $30 trillion. Even if the federal government chose to deficit-finance a big chunk of that cost (highly likely when creating new programs), it’s still necessary to raise a massive amount of revenue to avoid a truly disastrous sincrease in the national debt. But hey, what if we simply assume that the cost is much lower? What if we crunch the numbers so that every single debatable question is resolved in a way that makes the program cheaper? 

To get a sense of the sheer magnitude of Warren’s assumptions, I refer you not to a gobsmacked conservative website, but rather to Vox’s Ezra Klein. As he explains, Warren takes a respected cost projection from the Urban Institute and modifies it, substantially (the italics are mine):

Private insurers spend about 12.2 percent on administrative costs and profits. Urban assumes that would fall to 6 percent under single-payer, as that’s what Medicare spends now. Warren assumes it will fall to 2.3 percent, as that’s what Medicare’s single-payer program pays now—the higher number includes the private plans in Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part D. That saves $1.8 trillion.

America pays higher prices for the same drugs than other countries. Urban assumes single-payer could cut those costs by about 25-30 percent. Warren proposes cutting payment rates for brand-name drugs by 70 percent. That saves $1.7 trillion.

Medicare pays significantly lower rates to physicians and hospitals than private insurers do. Because providers have built their businesses atop the mix of higher private and lower public prices, the fear is that shifting the system to the lower Medicare rates could lead to widespread hospital closures and physician bankruptcies. Urban assumed that single-payer would pay physicians at Medicare rates but hospitals at 115 percent of Medicare’s rates. Warren takes hospitals down to 110 percent, saving $600 billion.

Warren’s finds more than $2 trillion in savings from scaling a series of Affordable Care Act-era payment reforms across the single-payer system. These are efforts to move health care away from fee-for-service, but the assumptions here are optimistic. Warren’s team projects $1.2 trillion in savings from bundled payments, for instance, but a footnote refers to a Congressional Budget Office paper from before the program began in earnest. A 2018 Commonwealth study found no savings from bundled payments, and Medicare has been backing off the program in recent years.

Health spending tends to grow a lot faster than GDP. The government’s top actuary projects 5.5 percent growth over the next decade. Urban, in its analysis, assumed 4.5 percent. Warren’s team simply asserts that it’ll hold growth to 3.9 percent, which is similar to other developed countries. That adds $1.1 trillion in savings.

Ezra’s doubts are politely expressed, but they’re obvious. He states later in the piece that “[t]here are places where I find Warren’s math or ideas a bit optimistic. I’m skeptical that payment reforms will save trillions.” This is the “Wait. What?” moment. Even an analyst who’s broadly sympathetic to Warren’s progressive goals is unconvinced. In progressive wonk-language, he’s essentially asking, “Who is she kidding?” Her cost assumptions are way, way too aggressive.

But so are her revenue estimates. She builds into the plan revenue gained from achieving a comprehensive immigration reform compromise that hasn’t been achievable in a generation. She also presumes that she can slash defense spending by almost $800 billion over a decade, but unless she can guarantee both permanent progressive governance and a decade of peace, she simply cannot project a decade’s worth of defense budgeting. The defense budget is set year-by-year, and if the Pentagon feels the bite of Warren’s cuts, it’s a safe bet that the next GOP administration will make the Defense Department whole. 

That’s hardly the end of the revenue optimism. She claims the IRS can collect an additional $2.3 trillion through stepped-up tax enforcement. This is sheer fantasy. To put this in perspective, she’s claiming that she can get roughly 10 percent of her (unrealistic) revenue target just by better enforcing tax laws. 

She’s also assuming she can force states to redirect trillions of dollars in health care spending to the federal government, a mandate that raises serious constitutional concerns. As the Obamacare case reaffirmed, the Constitution places limits on the ability of the federal government to mandate how states spend state tax dollars. 

She also of course includes taxes on employers (which could impose costs on middle-class employees), large corporations, and the very wealthy, but even her optimistic projections of revenue from these sources doesn’t come close to covering the costs of her programs. Moreover, destroying the private health insurance system could eliminate roughly 2 million jobs. What’s her plan for that? Here it is:

When she released her funding proposals, I tweeted that it was a perfect example of how smart people deceive the public—with wonky word-salads that most Americans simply can’t decipher. It sounds sophisticated. It looks well-reasoned. And it gives her most partisan supporters talking points to take to cable news. But when the word salad fails, Warren has demonstrated that she can lie just as brazenly as Trump. Here she actually says that only billionaires will pay higher taxes. Extraordinary: 

One final note, there are signs that voters may well punish the Democrats if they nominate Elizabeth Warren. She’s running as the disingenuous version of Bernie Sanders, and for now she performs worse than he does in four of six key battleground states:

Just as I can understand the appeal of Medicare-for-All, I can understand—at least on the surface—the progressive appeal of Elizabeth Warren. She’s idealistic. She’s smart. She claims to have a plan for everything. But in practice she’s morphing into a high-energy version of Hillary. She’s untrustworthy. She’s hyper-partisan. Her plans aren’t just too extreme for millions of voters, they’re also unworkable and frequently unconstitutional. Can a candidate who shares traits with both of the failed 2016 Democratic candidates really beat Donald Trump? 

  1. Marriage really, really matters.

Here’s research item No. 1—with a hat tip to Tyler Cowen. An enormous amount of ink has been spilled attempting to explain why so many young men have withdrawn from the labor force. One explanation is declining working-class wages have led more men without college educations to withdraw from the workforce. But a new paper posits a different explanation—that changes in the marriage market are also extraordinarily potent. From the abstract:

This paper presents a model in which men invest time in employment to enhance their value as marriage partners. When the marriage market return on this investment declines, young men’s employment declines as well, in preparation for a less favorable marriage market. Taking this prediction to data, I show that fewer young men sought employment after [two] interventions that reduced the value of gender-role-specialization within marriage: i) the adoption of unilateral divorce legislation, and ii) demand-driven improvements in women’s employment opportunities. I then show, using a structural estimation, that half of the employment effect of a labor market shock to men’s wages is determined by endogenous adjustment of the marriage market to the shock.

You can read the entire paper here, but it argues that men participated in the workplace in part to enhance their marriage prospects. They worked to marry. Easy divorce diminishes marriage stability. Changing workplaces and economic trends that have both enhanced women’s economic power and diminished traditionally male workspaces (like factory floors) have made noncollege men less desirable marriage partners and have disrupted the traditional balance of economic power in marriage. Thus, “work is less likely to win a desirable marriage contract,” and the response from many millions of men is “why bother?”

Here’s research item No. 2—with a hat tip to Brad Wilcox and the Institute for Family Studies. It turns out that the epidemic of deaths of despair (drug overdoses, alcohol deaths, suicides) that have tormented white working-class families and have lowered overall American life expectancy disproportionately afflict unmarried men and women. From the abstract:

Although the decline in marriage has been cited as a possible contributor to the “despair” afflicting marginalized White communities, these studies have not directly considered mortality by marital status. This paper uses complete death certificate data from the Mortality Multiple Cause Files with American Community Survey data to examine age-specific mortality rates for married and non-married people from 2007 to 2017. The overall rise in White mortality is limited almost exclusively to those who are not married, for men and women.

The paper does not address the question of “whether changes in family structure are contributing causally to the observed patterns of mortality.” Instead, it argues that “the question is important regardless of the causal relationship.” It makes an additional, critical point—“marriage is increasingly a feature of privileged life in the United States, and mortality is an important component of that pattern.”

Finally, here’s research item No. 3, again with a hat tip to Brad Wilcox. Is divorce contagious? It seems so:

A research team headed by Rose McDermott of Brown University analyzed three decades of data on marriage, divorce and remarriage collected from thousands of residents of Framingham, Massachusetts.

McDermott and her colleagues found that study participants were 75% more likely to become divorced if a friend is divorced and 33% more likely to end their marriage if a friend of a friend is divorced.

So divorce is contagious…and you can catch the divorce bug from your friends—even from a friend of a friend?

“Approaching the epidemiology of divorce from the perspective of an epidemic may be apt in more ways than one,” McDermott and her colleagues wrote in a forthcoming article in the journal Social Forces. “The contagion of divorce can spread through a social network like a rumor, affecting friends up to two degrees removed.”

This paper isn’t new. It dates from 2013, but Wilcox rightly tweeted it back to life Monday. It’s a powerful reminder that we don’t live atomized, autonomous lives—that our marriage choices have consequences that can ripple outward into our communities. It turns out that one way to help rebuild and sustain an American marriage culture is as simple as getting married and staying married. Your fidelity and commitment can act as a brake against the “social contagion” of divorce.

I’m not sure how much more evidence we need that a thriving marriage culture is a basic building block of a healthy society (or that marriage bonds are all-too-fragile, especially in marginalized communities), but I’ll keep pushing that evidence into the public square every time I see it. 

  1. The president is accountable to Congress for the conduct of his foreign policy.

I like and respect Brit Hume a great deal, but I did not like this tweet:

Or this one:

I get the argument. The president takes the lead in foreign policy, and advisers who express their opinions about that policy in private should salute and follow orders when POTUS exerts his will. The president can’t “subvert” foreign policy when he sets foreign policy, and that means he can certainly overrule any “interagency consensus” when he seeks a different policy.

There are at least two rather important qualifiers to this general rule. First—and most obviously—Congress gets a say in foreign policy as well. When it has appropriated funds for foreign aid, that money must be spent absent a lawful reason to withhold payment. Congress appropriated money for Ukraine. It was not the president’s money to withhold, especially for the purpose of extorting an investigation of a political rival and an investigation of a bizarre conspiracy theory.

That rolls us right into the second qualifier. In a newsletter last week, I observed that Congress was, ultimately, the supreme branch of government. While the president has a degree of default control over the conduct of American foreign policy, Congress can not only check him by statute (through the power of the purse or through other statutes passed over presidential vetoes), it can remove him from office if it believes the president has abused that authority. Constitutionally, Congress should not wash its hands of dangerous, corrupt, or bizarre presidential actions by deferring to whatever policy he chooses to set.

I’ve served in the military—the part of American government most firmly under presidential control—and I can tell you that it is laden with checks and balances designed to thwart corrupt or incompetent commanders. They don’t always work. They frequently fail. But they’re there nonetheless, and many of those checks apply all the way up the chain of command to the commander-in-chief. 

So if an anonymous whistleblower believes a president is abusing power and potentially violating the law, he can raise that concern to the relevant congressional committees, and he can raise that concern to the Inspector General. If Congress is sufficiently alarmed, it can investigate, and when it investigates, it can ask even the president’s staff to provide their evaluation of the executive branch’s actions. 

As the saying goes, two things can be true at once. It can be true that the president sets policy, and it also can be true that his ability to set policy is subject to congressional oversight. It can be true that subordinates should obey the lawful orders of the president they serve, and it can also be true that they’re honor and duty-bound to report through proper channels potential corruption or evidence of unfitness. And an impeachment inquiry is most definitely a proper channel. 

I agree that other presidents have abused their powers. I agree that Congress has deferred far too much to the executive branch—especially on matters of war and peace. But past deference does not mandate present deference, and when a president engages in conduct that is far outside the bounds of propriety or competence, we want to hear from the men and women under his command.  

One last thing . . . 

I have long suspected that LeBron James is either a superior being from another planet or an augmented human from the future who’s journeyed back in time to demonstrate to us the extraordinary potential of the human body. I’ve looked for proof for years. At last, I’ve found it. In this clip. This is his 17th season in the NBA, and he just did this. 

He’s the GOAT. I made the case in 2018, and I get more right every year.

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