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The Morning Dispatch: What Iowa Voters Are Saying
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The Morning Dispatch: What Iowa Voters Are Saying

Plus, should Americans draw any conclusions from the British election? And what is Matt Bevin up to?

Happy Monday! Crazy that after all the hype over the last week, the NFL decided to cancel the Bears vs. Packers game. Guess we’ll never know who would’ve won! (Editor’s note: Nice try.) Anyways, lots of news so let’s get right to it. 

Quick Hits: What You Need to Know

  • It’s a big week for Congress. The House is scheduled to hold votes on the spending bill, articles of impeachment, and USMCA before next week’s recess begins.

  • The Supreme Court agreed to hear a case that will decide whether President Trump must release his financial records to various investigators who have subpoenaed them.

  • Democratic Rep. Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey is expected to change parties and become a Republican. Van Drew has voted with Trump only 7.1 percent of the time per FiveThirtyEight, but he has been a vocal opponent of the impeachment process in recent weeks.

  • Appearing on Fox News Sunday in the wake of last week’s IG report, former FBI Director James Comey admitted he was wrong to assert the FBI, with respect to the Russia investigation, handled everything “in a thoughtful and appropriate way.”

  • A judge ordered 234,000 people cleared from voter rolls in Wisconsin, a move with potentially enormous consequences for the Electoral College next November. The state’s Election Commission believes these voters may have changed addresses.

  • LSU quarterback Joe Burrow took home the Heisman Trophy on Saturday night, winning by a record-setting margin after earning more than 90 percent of the first-place ballots. He is expected to be drafted at the top of the first round next spring.

In Iowa, A Strong Economy Complicates Dem Messaging

What does it mean to be in the corner of the little guy? Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have cast themselves as the Democratic field’s most fearless foes of corporations and the wealthy. This requires them to sell voters on the idea that many of our national institutions are so irredeemably broken and exploitative that the only solution is to blow them up and start over. 

The only problem: Sometimes that narrative is hard to sell to voters for whom that narrative doesn’t match their own experiences.

This tension was apparent at an Iowa presidential forum earlier this month hosted by the Teamsters Union, the Guardian, and the Storm Lake Times. Many candidates showed up to hype their pro-worker bona fides to members of America’s preeminent labor union, but the belle of the ball was Sanders. Truckers and packers who clapped politely for the likes of Tom Steyer and Amy Klobuchar go nuts for the senator’s “you know you love me” pronouncements:

• “There are some very good candidates running for president, and many of them are friends of mine. But if you study the record, you’ll find there is no candidate more pro-labor than Bernie Sanders.”

• “My job as president is not to say, well, on one hand we’ve got the corporate interest, on the other hand we’ve got the worker’s interest. That ain’t my style. If elected president, we’re going to have a workers’ government in Washington, D.C.”

And yet: The applause cooled when Sanders’s spiel turned to his signature Medicare for All policy. The crowd was no more enthusiastic than it was for, say, Pete Buttigieg’s comparative weak-tea rhetoric an hour earlier: “We take a version of Medicare, make it available for every American who wants to get in on that plan, but trust you to decide whether you want it.” 

The reason is plain: If you’re in a strong union, odds are you’re already pretty happy with your health insurance and not necessarily thrilled about the prospect of remaking the industry from the ground up.

In this room, Bernie probably needn’t worry about mass defections to the likes of Buttigieg—on the issues at the front of these voters’ minds, like ensuring the solvency of their pension funds, he is still seen as reliably in their corner.

But the broader problem is obvious. Under President Trump, not everybody is thriving—farm country in particular continues to suffer. But in general, the economy remains quite strong. This doesn’t mean voters didn’t have economic concerns: There was plenty of talk, for instance, of corporations paying their “fair share” and raising the federal minimum wage. But even dramatic changes to the tax code and employment law fall far short of the sort of economic shakeup Elizabeth Warren has in mind when she talks about “big, structural change.” 

At a week of campaign events, not a single Iowa Democrat, including plenty of self-described moderates and centrists, said Trump would get their vote if one of the hard-left candidates got the nod. (Much more common was the sort of response from one man at a Klobuchar rally: “I’d vote for any one of them, any one of them, over Trump. I’d vote for you!”) But when it comes to picking a candidate, voters who are doing okay are likely to lean toward one who they think will improve the country without tearing down the pieces they see as working for them.

In that sense, when the caucuses roll around in February, the Bidens and Klobuchars of the race might have some cause to thank Donald Trump. 

The Extremely Online Caucus

There’s one major caveat worth mentioning, however. The current conditions on the ground might favor the race’s moderates, but it’s anybody’s guess for how many more election cycles that will be true. There’s a particular subset of candidates who are notable for the youth of many of their supporters—candidates who are attractive to young people who have spent their whole lives steeped in internet culture and thus approach politics through a very different lens from that of their elders. 

This was brought home at a Sanders rally at Harding Middle School in Cedar Rapids, which drew the attention of Scott Schultz, a local aerospace engineer, and his son Justin, a recent graduate of the University of Iowa. 

The elder Schultz was just getting started shopping for candidates, having been reminded by a local canvasser that the caucuses were just around the corner: “It was kind of delayed, in a way, because with so many Democratic candidates in the field it’s been a little bit overwhelming.” He’d heard good things from Sanders the last time around, “all the slogans he’s had about dealing with the top billionaires, the one percent and all of that.” 

So far, the only candidate he had a word of criticism for was Biden, who the day before had called a man at one of his events a “damn liar” over a question about his Hunter Biden’s work in Ukraine: “I always worry about Biden being the person, because there’s a little bit of some mess-ups. … I know he just was frustrated, probably hearing the same old thing with his son, but that’s the thing we’re trying to get rid of with Trump, that kind of bully stuff.” 

The younger Schultz, on the other hand, was long since done shopping: His candidates were Tulsi Gabbard and Andrew Yang, with the expectation that he’d ultimately get in line for Sanders. He saw them as outsiders who wanted to scrape out Washington corruption and hadn’t been given a fair shake by the political establishment or the media: “You look at all the media blackout, you look at the way that MSNBC and CNN, they just trash Tulsi, they trash Bernie. … There’s just so much going against them that it sucks.”

Justin Schultz was clearly dispirited about the prospect of a rubber-stamp primary: “Hopefully people just wake up more and they do a little more research. Don’t look at just the mainstream news—you can’t learn a lot from the debates, those little thirty-second clips. You’ve got to go to the people, see what they’re saying. You know, that’s why I say to go Joe Rogan or something. Watch for hours to see these people talk about the issues.”

And he had nothing but scorn for the DNC’s nominating process: “When you look behind the scenes and you can see all this corruption, so I just hope that some of the progressives are going to get in there—”

His dad cut in: “I don’t know if I would call it corruption so much as establishment.”

“Yeah, the neoliberal establishment.” 

Boris Johnson Insider: Trade and Immigration Led to Landslide

Much ink has been spilled on the meaning of the Tories’ landslide victory in the United Kingdom last week. For New York Magazine, Andrew Sullivan argued “Boris Johnson is showing Western politicians how to win.” Bret Stephens’ Friday New York Times column warned Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren they could suffer a fate similar to Jeremy Corbyn’s.

But can a December 2019 vote 4,000 miles away really provide much insight into our election next November? President Trump seems to think so, telling reporters in the Oval Office on Friday, “I think that might be a harbinger of what’s to come in our country.” 

We wanted an inside view, so we spoke with Brett O’Donnell, a debate and message strategist for Boris Johnson’s campaign, who has worked with Republican candidates from George W. Bush, to John McCain, to Mitt Romney. What follows is a condensed transcript of our conversation, edited for clarity.

In your mind, what was the campaign really about? What led to the landslide last Thursday?

“The vote Leave campaign—the Brexit campaign back in 2016—was driven by two significant issues: immigration and trade. And I really think that those issues were still latent in the campaign this time, because they were able to get so many people in the Midlands and Northern England who had voted Labour for decades to switch and vote for the Tories. And I think part of that, really three factors. One immigration and trade still, because there’s a lot of blue collar folks who still think that the E.U. has robbed them of jobs. And then there’s a lot of folks who voted Labour, voted Remain even in the referendum, who believe that Brexit is keeping the country from moving forward economically and getting anything done that makes their lives better.”

“It wasn’t just about Brexit in terms of relitigating the arguments for and against Brexit. It was about channeling the frustration that people had felt, or were feeling, about not being able to move the country forward. They were stuck with a hung parliament, stuck in this rut of debate about Brexit. And so that’s why the message was get Brexit done. Move forward.”

“In the first debate, the first half of the debate was all about Brexit. So [Johnson] really prosecuted that message very well. Then, the second half of the debate was on things like the NHS [National Health Service] and austerity and everything else. And he went away from the message. And after that debate, I said to him, ‘Boris, what you have to realize is, Brexit is the gateway to everything. So in every answer you can talk about getting Brexit done.’”

On comparisons between Tories and Republicans, Labour and Democrats.

“Tory conservatism, even now, is radically different than American conservatism, even Trump conservatism, because they have a National Health Service, because they do rely on social programs and social safety nets a lot more than the American system does. But I do think there are two issues that cross over between both Tory conservatives and Trump conservatives, and those are trade and immigration. And I still believe that those two issues were very powerful in driving the British election. And I’m still of the opinion that they will be powerful drivers in the American election. And I think Democrats, and even some Republicans, have woefully underestimated the power of those two issues in what put Trump into the White House and what may get him reelected.”

“I know Joe Biden is trying to make it about how far left your policies go, ‘be careful of that,’ but I don’t think it’s about the spending policies or NHS or some of those social safety net policies or all of the free education, those sorts of things that Jeremy Corbyn, the massive spending. I don’t think that was really it. I firmly believe that what drove voters to switch parties, to give Boris Johnson a landslide, was trade and immigration. There are just so many people in England who believe their jobs, those manufacturing jobs, have gone away because of bad trade policy with the EU. And on top of that, they believe their country has been overrun by immigration because, there, it’s not illegal immigration, it is free movement dictated by the EU, which they believe has led to them losing control of their immigration system. And I think a lot of people in the country want to regain control of immigration.”

“One of the policies that, again, did not get much international pickup but did get a lot of domestic pickup, is that Boris Johnson put in their manifesto, put in their proposals, was mandating that immigrants who come into the country actually have to pay a fee to use the National Health Service, which is opposite of what Democrats are offering. Even Joe Biden supported free health care to illegal immigrants. That policy is massively unpopular in the United States. I don’t think Democrats get that. And the policy of charging immigrants to use the NHS in England is popular because people, they believe it’s unfair that people can come into the country and benefit from this thing that they have to pay into to use.”

Was Corbyn’s association with anti-Semitism as big of a campaign issue in the United Kingdom as it was made out to be here in the United States?

“We mentioned it tangentially, but it was not something that we made a big issue in the debates or otherwise. It was somewhat of an issue, but we didn’t make it a big issue and it wasn’t a driver, in my opinion, in the election. It was just, it was another thing that made people not like Jeremy Corbyn.”

When Trump was at NATO, there was some coverage that Boris was trying to avoid being seen with him, conversing with him, he didn’t want Trump weighing in on the election. All these comparisons are being drawn between them, why the distancing?

“I think the campaign was just nervous that some of the Remain voters who may not like the president as much may have been swayed at the end if the president weighed in heavily. The president I think understood the stakes of the campaign. And I actually think, just anecdotally, I would hear from a lot of people who would say, ‘We need Boris because he’s a disruptor like Donald Trump.’ They wouldn’t always use that term, but they would say, ‘I may not like Boris because of X, whatever X might be,’ but they’d say, ‘He’s the only one that’s going to get us through Brexit.’”

On that Love, Actually ad.

“The Love, Actually ad is great on a couple of levels. First of all, it delivers the message the way it should: let’s get this done, enough is enough. But the other thing, the problem we had was people didn’t trust Boris, they didn’t like him. That ad kind of reminded people, ‘Hey, this is the guy who rode in on a wire to the London Olympics. This is the guy who rides his bike around London. This is the guy that we used to love, kind of the lovable Boris.’ And so I think one of the things that that ad did is it not only drove message, but it did it in a vehicle that reminded people why they actually really like Boris. And so I thought that ad was particularly good. It’s one of the best political ads I’ve ever seen.”

Matt Bevin, Unhinged

Matt Bevin—outgoing Republican governor of Kentucky—went on an amnesty spree last week, granting pardons and sentence commutations to 428 individuals before Andy Beshear, his Democratic successor, was sworn in on Tuesday.

The pardons—some related to nonviolent drug offenses, but others letting murderers and rapists off the hook—have been the subject of bipartisan scorn, and may lead to investigations. Micah Schoettle had just begun a 23-year sentence for repeatedly sexually assaulting a middle school girl. Delmar Partin was serving a life sentence for decapitating a woman and stuffing her body in a barrel. Patrick Baker was two years into a 19-year sentence for murder and robbery; his family raised $21,500 for Matt Bevin’s campaign last year.

Mitch McConnell, whose relationship with Bevin has been icy since the latter tried to primary him in 2014, excoriated the former governor on Friday. “Honestly, I don’t approve. It seems to me it was completely inappropriate.”

“I still haven’t wrapped my mind around it, how is this even possible that he’s walking around scot-free now?” the mother of the girl Schoettle sexually assaulted, when hearing he was pardoned, told the New York Times. “It scares me to think that he knows he got away with it.”

Worth Your Time

  • This tell-all interview with a former hitman for a Mexican cartel has to be read to be believed. Courtesy of Azam Ahmed and Paulina Villegas at the New York Times

  • And now for something completely different: As the decade draws to a close, your Morning Dispatchers are finding themselves in a contemplative state of mind: thinking back wistfully on old friends and places and experiences we had over the last ten years that helped shape us into the people we are today. So we’d like to thank the good folks at Buzzfeed News for giving us this piece to help bring our minds back to what’s really important in life: The goofy internet tidbits that now make up pretty much the entire sense of humor of anyone who spends too much time online. (Word to the wise: this list of the decade’s best memes is NSFW in places.)

Presented Without Comment

(Allen Robinson would have scored if they lateraled it to him at the 10-yard line.)

Something Fun

A lot of people these days like to talk about all the way the internet has made our lives more wretched. This video is one helpful counterpoint.

Toeing the Company Line

  • The second episode of Advisory Opinions, David French and Sarah Isgur’s new podcast, is online now! Be sure to subscribe and download here; they talked about the British election, the IG report, Trump’s anti-Semitism executive order, and the porn wars on the right. Plus, David is no longer recording from the bottom of a well!

  • In Sunday’s French Press, David uses Apple TV’s The Morning Show” to delve into how power can affect and distort relationships, and he responds to some reader mail that reminds us of the various shapes evangelism can take.

  • Jonah’s most recent G-File takes a retrospective look at a 2008 column of his about Obama’s rhetorical style, comparing the 44th president’s postmodernism to the 45th’s. He then enlists in the “narrative wars,” describing how partisans grasp at partial truths that support their preconceived notions rather than full truths that don’t paint as neat a picture. Give it a read here!

Let Us Know

Boris Johnson’s surprise U.K. election triumph has unleashed a wave of silly takes from U.S. pundits who know little about politics across the pond but are eager to use the results to prognosticate here anyway. What’s the most useful takeaway for Trump 2020 from the Tory triumph? 

  • Trump will be fine in 2020, provided his advisers can convince him never to comb his hair. 

  • The secret to re-election is to cut an ad reproducing a classic Christmas scene, like when Bruce Willis jumps off the roof of the Nakatomi tower in Die Hard

  • Trump will win in a landslide if he can only think of some loathed liberal globalist syndicate to pull America out of, like the International Screenwriters’ Association. 

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

Photograph of Bernie Sanders at the Teamsters’ candidate forum in Cedar Rapids, Iowa by Win McNamee/Getty Images.