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The Morning Dispatch: Bernie Sanders Hits the Jackpot
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The Morning Dispatch: Bernie Sanders Hits the Jackpot

Plus, checking in on Justin Amash and Will Hurd.

Happy Monday! Today is the day! You can read Steve’s full note on how The Dispatch will be operating going forward here, but the full newsletter and many of our other offerings are now available only to paid members. We here at the Morning Dispatch want to extend our deepest gratitude to you all for giving us a chance these first few months and letting us into your daily routine. We’ve had so much fun building this—both the newsletter and the community—and we can’t wait to see where it all goes. Thanks for joining us.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • Bernie Sanders won the Nevada caucuses handily on Saturday, receiving about 47 percent of county convention delegates. Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg placed second and third, respectively. Next up: South Carolina on Saturday.

  • President Trump heads to India today for a state visit with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. 

  • Under pressure from rival campaigns, Mike Bloomberg has announced he is willing to release several women from their NDAs involving sexual harassment suits they brought against his companies.

  • The Sanders campaign has been told by the U.S. government that Russia is again attempting to bolster his presidential campaign this year, according to a Washington Post report that was confirmed by Sanders.

  • President Trump’s new acting director of national intelligence, Richard Grenell, is under fire for failing to disclose his former work for a Moldovan politician, Vladimir Plahotnuic, whom the U.S. has accused of corruption.

Bernie Sanders Is Here to Stay

If it wasn’t clear before this weekend, it sure is now: The 2020 Democratic frontrunner is Bernie Sanders, a socialist, however you want to qualify it. On Saturday, Sanders took home the first truly commanding victory of primary season at the Nevada caucuses, winning more than 40 percent of the vote, nearly double the 19.7 percent captured by Joe Biden. Pete Buttigieg, who had managed to go blow-for-blow with Sanders in Iowa and New Hampshire, finished with 17 percent.

Another small-state victory might not seem like it should be much of a headline for Sanders—after all, he won New Hampshire, and received the most total votes in Iowa, too. But there were a couple factors that put an exclamation point on this one. 

First, there was his strength between the first and second alignments. Under caucus rules, as you may recall from Iowa, a candidate who fails to reach 15 percent at a given caucus location is deemed unviable at that location, which means his or her supporters there are obliged to redirect their support to another candidate. (Caucus goers are also free, of course, to take their ball and go home.) If the Democratic voters outside the Sanders camp overwhelmingly wanted to support a moderate candidate, you’d expect Sanders’s support to stay relatively stable on second alignment, while votes siphoned from candidates like Tom Steyer and Amy Klobuchar gave a boost to second-place finisher Biden. 

But in Nevada, the opposite was true: Bernie swelled more than six points on the second round of voting, while Biden crept up less than two points. At least in Nevada, Sanders wasn’t only the most popular first-choice candidate—he performed strongly as a second choice, too. 

Second choices matter less in primary states than in caucus ones, of course. But they will come into play when candidates on the bubble start dropping out again, which may happen as soon as next week. Democratic moderates still hope that the strongest non-Sanders candidate will eventually subsume enough of the others’ supporters to overpower his base—but there’s no guarantee that even, say, Klobuchar’s voters will pass over to the likes of Biden without bleeding a good chunk to Sanders first.

Then there’s the fact that Nevada, in contrast to Iowa and New Hampshire, has a substantial amount of racial diversity. Sanders captured 27 percent of caucusing black voters and 53 percent of Hispanics voting—complicating the picture for one of Joe Biden’s other last big hopes, that overwhelming strength among minorities would still be enough to freeze Sanders in his tracks once the race swung to the South.

The other campaigns clearly saw a sea change in the Nevada results, too. In last week’s debate, Pete Buttigieg took a few shots at Sanders’s left-wing platform (one of the only candidates who did, as the others had phasers locked on Mike Bloomberg). But Buttigieg dialed the “stop Sanders” rhetoric up to 11 in his concession speech in Nevada Saturday, railing at length against Sanders’ “inflexible ideological revolution” with its tone of “combat, division, and polarization.”

“I believe the best way to defeat Donald Trump and deliver for the American people is to broaden and galvanize the majority that supports us on the critical issues,” Buttigieg said. “That is the choice before us. We can prioritize either ideological purity or inclusive victory. We can either call people names online or we can call them into our movement. We can either tighten a narrow and hardcore base or open the tent to a new and broad and big-hearted American coalition.”

It was surprisingly scalding stuff for Buttigieg, and not hard to see why: His disappointing showing in Nevada was an indicator that, unlike Sanders, early-contest momentum alone was not enough to make him competitive. If he finishes a distant third again this week in South Carolina, even that momentum will be largely gone.

Which would leave the Democrats—where? Amy Klobuchar is running on fumes. Elizabeth Warren’s pivot to a “unity candidate” pitch clearly hasn’t stuck, particularly after she switched to attack mode in last week’s debate. And Biden has been hamstrung by the entrance of Michael Bloomberg, who is apparently succeeding in taking away just enough support from the former vice president to neuter them both. Bloomberg will on the ballot for the first time on Super Tuesday.

A Sanders cakewalk to the nomination is not yet a foregone conclusion. But he’s the favorite to be the Democrats’ nominee and if he performs well in eight days, such a cakewalk may be inevitable. And, given his radical views, that alone is a remarkable fact. 

And if it’s Trump vs. Sanders that America has to look forward to in November, well…

Apropos of Nothing, Checking In on Justin Amash

It’s been about a month since Declan published his profile on Justin Amash, the congressman from south central Michigan who ceremoniously left the Republican party last July. When they spoke in mid-January, Amash was contemplating a third-party presidential bid, and certainly had not ruled one out. “Is there any better time to have a president who might be not from either party?” he asked with a smile.

Although—as Declan reported in the piece—several key libertarian networks pulled their funding of Amash due to his bucking of the GOP, the Michigan representative just concluded the best fundraising quarter of his career, bringing in a $595,000 haul that dwarfed all of his challengers in Michigan’s 3rd District. With $722,000 on hand, Amash is in a much better position to fend off his many challengers—chiefly grocery store scion Peter Meijer—than he was just a few weeks ago.

Unless…

Amash hasn’t yet responded to our inquiries on his latest thinking about a long-shot run for president, but the increasingly likely prospect of a Donald Trump vs. Bernie Sanders general election might well prove attractive for someone already frustrated with the two major parties.

Will Hurd Isn’t Going Anywhere

For the second installment in Declan’s “talking to interesting conservatives in Congress” series, he profiled Rep. Will Hurd of Texas, up on the site today. Hurd is the lone black Republican in the House—at least until he retires next January. He will be gone from Congress soon, but don’t expect him to become forgotten. He has plans. Some of the piece’s key takeaways are condensed and edited below—but read the whole thing here.

Only 14 percent of black voters approved of the the president’s job performance in a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released last week, and just 7 percent said they’d be enthusiastic about or comfortable with a Trump second term. Depending on who emerges as his Democratic opponent, Trump could score between seven and 16 percent of the black vote, according to the survey.

Hurd didn’t try to sugarcoat this.

“The three largest growing groups of voters: communities of color, women with a college degree in the suburbs, and people under the age of 29. Those are three areas where our brand, the Republican brand, is not the greatest, right? … I would say that it’s not necessarily because of principles and theories, it’s because there’s this notion that we don’t care about them, right?”

“Unfortunately,” he said, “if you’re under the age of 40, in a lot of places, you have to whisper that you’re a Republican.”

Demographics are not destiny, of course, and a person’s various identities do not inherently lead to one political persuasion or another. But a party whose congressional delegation is about 96 percent white and 90 percent male might run into some issues convincing Americans who don’t belong to either of those groups that it cares about them.

The simplest explanation for this uniformity would be the aforementioned polling figures. Republican voters nowadays tend to be older, whiter, and more male than their Democratic counterparts—and the GOP’s slate of elected officials reflect that. But there are a few more factors at play.

“Part of it is that there hasn’t been a lot of turnover in the House Republican Conference,” National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) spokesman Bob Salera said. (41 percent of the House Republican Conference has either left or announced their retirement from the Hill since Trump was inaugurated, but political winds have led many of those seats to be filled by Democrats.) “We have a lot of good members that have been here for a long time. Things are starting to change a little bit.”

It seems counterintuitive: Will Hurd has a strategy to reverse these imbalances, but he says he has to leave Congress to enact it.

“This is about taking a message to people that have not heard it before,” he said. “[Out of Congress] I’ll have the bandwidth and the time to take a message to places that I haven’t had the bandwidth and the time to do that.

Hurd announced his retirement in early August, writing, “I will keep fighting to remind people why I love America: that we are neither Republican nor Democrat nor Independent; We are better than the sum of our parts.”

The news sent the institutional GOP into a bit of a frenzy. More than 20 Republicans have announced their retirements from the House this cycle, but Hurd’s is different. Demographic optics aside, Hurd was widely considered one of the party’s brightest young stars. And his district—a land mass about the size of Georgia along Texas’ southwestern border—is incredibly competitive. He was the rare politician in this era of polarization who could win over members of both parties.

“Obviously, he represented one of the most closely divided districts in the country,” Salera said. “Texas-23 is the consummate swing district … So it’s a place that’s going to be a fight, regardless of who the Democrat and Republican end up being.”

“The Will Hurd one hurts,” NRCC communications director Chris Pack told me while discussing GOP retirements last fall. 

Hurd was first elected in 2014 by 2,422 votes. That margin grew to 3,051 in 2016, but plummeted to 926 two years later. Many Democrats blamed Beto O’rourke—then running against Sen. Ted Cruz—for Hurd’s final victory. The viral Democratic sensation frequently praised Hurd’s bipartisanship, and the pair even road-tripped to D.C. together after a snowstorm canceled their flights, streaming the trek on Facebook for all to see.

But when I asked Justin Hollis—Hurd’s longtime campaign manager—if he thought his boss would have won again in 2020, there wasn’t a moment’s hesitation: “100 percent.”

“Yeah, we would have been fine,” he continued. “I mean look, to say that we would have won by 10 points, like that’s not true … But we always had a great organization and a great team, and we knew what our focus was, and we knew what the path is.”

Hurd may not have any more campaigns that need managing (for now), but his partnership with Hollis isn’t over quite yet. On November 14, a video—featuring Hurd—announced the Future Leaders Fund, a super PAC led by Hollis “determined to create a diverse crop of future elected officials to be ambassadors to our party.”

“Future Leaders Fund will help good candidates have the resources to grow the party,” Hurd says in the spot. “In addition to running TV ads, it will also build field programs to grow grassroots support.”

Worth Your Time

  • The Supreme Court will hear arguments this week on an interesting environmental case involving the 2,200 mile Appalachian Trail, the celebrated hiking path that stretches up the Eastern seaboard from Georgia to Maine. The trail isn’t technically a national park in itself, but it is a unit of the national park system, which has caused major headaches for energy companies in the area: a court ruled in 2018 that permits to lay pipelines deep beneath the trail were invalid because the U.S. Forest Service lacked the authority to authorize them, and that in fact no agency was permitted by federal law to authorize a pipeline in national park land. This New York Times column from Will Harlan wears its side-of-the-trees heart on its sleeve, but still serves as a useful primer on a case that will be fascinating to watch.

  • This op-ed from William H. McRaven, the retired Navy admiral who, among other things, oversaw the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, commands attention. Responding to the unceremonious firing of President Trump’s acting DNI Joe Maguire, McRaven writes that “in this administration, good men and women don’t last long”: “I have known Joe for more than 40 years. There is no better officer, no better man and no greater patriot … Joe was dismissed for doing his job: overseeing the dissemination of intelligence to elected officials who needed that information to do their jobs.”

  • As good journalists, your Morning Dispatchers uphold daily our sworn duty to fear and mistrust Wikipedia. But as children of the internet, we love Wikipedia—which is why we’re glad it’s finally getting some respect around here! In this lovely piece for Wired, Richard Cooke breaks down how the much-maligned crowdsourced encyclopedia has quietly become one of the last real torchbearers of the original promise of Silicon Valley.

Presented Without Comment

Something Fun

This Avengers-Chicago Bears mashup video has Declan ready to run through a wall, and Steve in tears laughing. 

Bears. Are. Back.

https://twitter.com/bydavidprince/status/1231373379111989248

Toeing the Company Line

  • In a win for advocates of the horseshoe theory of politics everywhere, David’s Sunday French Press takes a look at what he deems “the church’s real political correctness problem.” Have segments of the right succumbed to some of the very same excesses of campus liberalism? Check out David’s answer here.

  • The latest G-File asks “who would be worse, Bernie or Bloomberg?” The answer is not as simple as you might think on first blush. Allow Jonah to take you through the arguments here.

  • When asked about some of his supporters’ aggressive rhetoric and behavior in last week’s debate, Bernie Sanders condemned any hostile actions taken on his behalf. But he also insinuated that Russia may be behind the animosity—a claim that became harder to untangle after Friday’s Washington Post scoop. Declan talked to several disinformation experts and did his best to parse truth from fiction in this week’s Dispatch Fact Check. Give it a read here, and be sure to subscribe to get it in your inbox.

  • Danielle Pletka looks at reports that the U.S. intelligence community believes that Russia is trying to interfere in the 2020 election in favor of Donald Trump, and she has a good question: Why Trump and not Bernie?

Reporting by Declan Garvey (@declanpgarvey), Andrew Egger (@EggerDC), Sarah Isgur (@whignewtons), and Steve Hayes (@stephenfhayes).