The Morning Dispatch: Kamala Harris Calls It Quits

Plus: Impeachment moves to Judiciary, what voter registration can tell us about 2020, and Rep. Duncan Hunter pleads guilty.

Happy Wednesday! Except it’s not a happy Wednesday at all. Reports have surfaced that poor weather has damaged potato crops throughout North America, potentially leading to a shortage in 2020. As if 2020 wasn’t going to be divisive enough, we’re now going to have to fight for the last french fry. Your very Irish Morning Dispatchers are not taking the news well.

Quick Hits: What You Need to Know

  • President Trump is currently in London to attend a NATO summit.

  • Trump is back to being bearish about the prospects of an imminent trade deal with China: He suggested Tuesday that the deal might be postponed until after the 2020 election, and stocks slumped in response.

  • The White House announced the upcoming G-7 summit will take place at Camp David—shutting the door for good on Trump’s abortive effort to host it at his own Doral resort in Florida. 

  • The Trump administration gave a $400 million border wall contract to a construction company whose chief qualification seems to be a president who regularly appears on Fox News. 

  • Deutsche Bank and Capital One must comply with congressional subpoenas from the House Intelligence and Financial Services committees for the president’s financial records, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday.

  • Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai is taking control of the web giant’s parent company Alphabet as well, taking over from Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin.

The Great Democratic Winnowing Continues

With just two months to go until the Iowa caucuses, it appears Democrats’ 2020 field is finally thinning in earnest. Over the weekend, two of the field’s also-rans, Steve Bullock and Joe Sestak, dropped out. Then, on Tuesday, we saw the race’s splashiest exit yet: Sen. Kamala Harris called it quits. 

When Harris declared she was running last January, many pundits saw her as the candidate—brimming with potential to meet the demands of Democratic primary voters. Donors and top tier operatives from Hillary's campaign looking for an early frontrunner flocked to her team until Biden joined the race months later. 

She was a woman of color who had used her platform on the Senate Judiciary Committee to nail witness after witness with her prosecutorial precision. She was from a delegate-rich state and had yet to be defined by the mainstream media or the Fox News crowd. 

She was, in her way, the Marco Rubio of 2020--great story, great staff, great potential. 

Since then, however, her campaign has suffered a death of a thousand cuts. In an overstuffed field where branding was crucial, Harris never managed to formulate a unique answer to the question: Why do you want to be president? Along the same lines, she never seemed to get comfortable with her candidate persona (or even settle on one) over time the way that Barack Obama did in 2007, drifting from pointed barbs to one liners to laughter during debates. 

Some leftists looked askance on her law enforcement past and her willingness to accept big-dollar donations from the billionaire class; some moderates were nonplussed by her personal attacks on Joe Biden in early debates. (Conservatives criticized her bombastic promises to seize lawmaking power from Congress to achieve her policy agenda on a host of issues, but conservatives don’t play much of a role in the Democratic primary process.) A growing sense of disgruntlement on her campaign staff in recent weeks—highlighted by the New York Times and Politico—clearly didn’t help much either.

There’s still good news for Harris. She remains a strong option for a vice presidential nod; leaving the race now makes that possibility more likely than ever. By opting not to go for the Hail Mary strategy of trying to outflank the rest of the field to the left, she didn't undercut her long-term electoral viability the way some other candidates—we’re looking at you, Beto O’Rourke—did. Bottom line? Harris will be back. 

What’s Up for Grabs?

The remaining challengers can be forgiven for taking a more mercenary view of Harris’s exit. She may not have commanded particularly wide support—3 or 4 percent in most polls—but there’s plenty of candidates polling well below that who’d love the shot of momentum of picking up a point from her. Sen. Cory Booker, the most prominent African-American candidate remaining after Harris’s departure from the race, hastily added a new event to his Iowa campaign schedule after her announcement: a speech in Des Moines focusing on “recent changes in the Democratic field and his path forward to defeating Donald Trump.”  

Rival campaigns will likely move fast to poach Harris’s campaign talent, too. 

“I imagine the Buttigieg team has put out feelers to the Harris team, especially envoys to the African American community,” Democratic strategist Max Burns told The Dispatch. “They'd be foolish not to try and grab them.”

Remember Impeachment?

When people asked us what we were most thankful for last week, having a few days off from covering impeachment was high on our list. But as Robert Frost wrote in 1923, “nothing gold can stay”; Tuesday was the newsiest day in the impeachment saga since the televised hearings wrapped a week and a half ago.

Why? Democrats on the House Intelligence, Oversight, and Foreign Affairs committees banded together to release a 300+ page report highlighting what they found during their impeachment inquiry into President Trump’s dealings with Ukraine. The bulk of the report outlines what we’ve already heard from witnesses: Trump, through a variety of henchmen, pressured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to publicly declare an investigation into Joe Biden, at least temporarily conditioning both a White House meeting and congressionally approved military aid on him doing so. An additional 90 pages focus on Trump’s obstruction of the House’s investigation.

But those of us who did dive into the report were rewarded with some new information, chiefly in the form of call logs from Rudy Giuliani and his now-indicted associate Lev Parnas provided to investigators by AT&T and Verizon. The records detail just how often those two were in touch with the White House, the Office of Management and Budget, Devin Nunes, Sean Hannity, and an unknown “-1,” among others, particularly in the days leading up to former Ukraine Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch’s ouster.

What’s Next?

And with that report, Adam Schiff and the House Intelligence Committee have officially passed the impeachment baton over to Jerry Nadler and House Judiciary; the latter committee will hold its first hearing on the matter—titled “Constitutional Grounds for Presidential Impeachment”—later this morning.

The Judiciary Committee is much bigger than Intel—41 members total—so get ready for some new faces. Doug Collins, Matt Gaetz, Andy Biggs, and Louie Gohmert have been some of President Trump’s loudest defenders on the Republican side; expect Ted Lieu, Pramila Jayapal, David Cicilline, and Cedric Richmond, a close Biden ally, to be vocal in prosecuting the Democrats’ case. 

But the tenor of today’s events will seem a little different. Rather than hearing from those ensnared—directly or not—in the Ukraine brouhaha, Nadler has called as witnesses four law professors to discuss the constitutional bar for impeachment, and whether Trump’s actions have met it. Although there are prominent conservative and libertarian lawyers who have been critical of Trump’s abuse of power, Democrats, apparently determined to make the hearings look as partisan as Republicans have suggested they’d be, have chosen three liberal law professors to make their case. They will appear alongside one law professor who has been more sympathetic to Republican arguments, a point Trump’s allies in Congress will no doubt highlight later today.

The Big Picture

The trajectory of the impeachment inquiry seems to be fairly clear at this point. Barring dramatic new revelations or a dropoff in Trump’s approval rating, the Judiciary Committee will hold a few hearings and draft articles of impeachment that will pass the House along party lines, at which time the Senate will deliberate for a few weeks before acquitting the president.

There has been some talk of House Democrats shifting from an effort to impeach the president to move to censure him, a lighter rebuke that could possibly win some votes from the Republican wrong-but-not-impeachable crowd. But that still seems unlikely at this point.

The bottom line: President Trump abused the power of his office in a troubling way, something many Republicans will acknowledge in private, often in harsh terms. But in this moment of extraordinary partisan polarization, with Republicans in control of the Senate and a presidential election in less than a year, the odds of Trump’s removal from office remain exceedingly low, whether you think they should be or not.

Voter Registration and 2020

No matter how badly some Democratic candidates want to abolish the Electoral College, they’ll still need to play by the old rules in 2020 to be put in a position to do so. 

Hoping to glean some insights, we took a look at voter registration numbers in some of the states that’ll matter the most come next November. While some of the most pivotal 2020 swing states—Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota—don’t break down voter registration by party, Nevada, Florida, Pennsylvania, and New Hampshire do. Here’s what we found:

  • Nevada: In November 2016, there were 548,964 registered Republicans and 668,699 registered Democrats in the state. In November 2019, there were 582,491 registered Republicans and 688,449 registered Democrats in the state.

  • Florida: In 2016, there were 4,575,277 registered Republicans and 4,905,705 registered Democrats in the state. In 2019, there were 4,741,804 registered Republicans and 4,986,626 registered Democrats in the state. (Florida voters in 2018 passed a constitutional amendment restoring voting rights to approximately 1.4 million people in the state with felony convictions.)

  • Pennsylvania: On November 8, 2016, there were 3,301,182 registered Republicans and 4,217,456 registered Democrats in the state. On December 2, 2019, there were 3,248,919 registered Republicans and 4,060,853 registered Democrats in the state. 

  • New Hampshire: On November 8, 2016, there were 308,808 registered Republicans and 288,808 registered Democrats in the state. On December 17, 2018, there were 307,360 registered Republicans and 284,174 registered Democrats in the state. 

All of this is speculative: There’s plenty of time left to register, and not all voters cast their ballots strictly along party lines. But in an election where turnout will be key, these numbers can provide an early indication of where various enthusiasm levels are. And while Republicans may be making up some ground in some of these states, they’ve got a long way left to go in others.

Lock Him Up?

Political corruption may be as old as politics itself, but here’s a story of corruption very suited to our day: Rep. Duncan Hunter, the California Republican indicted last year for helping himself to hundreds of thousands of dollars of his campaign funds, decided to plead guilty this week—after spending more than a year decrying the case as a politically motivated “witch hunt” against him. 

Here was Hunter last August: “The fact is that there is a culture operating within our Justice Department that is politically motivated. We are seeing this with President Trump; we are seeing this with my case… It is a sad state of affairs when those entrusted with upholding the law have no appreciation for following the rule of law.”

And here was Hunter on Tuesday: “I failed to monitor and account for my campaign spending. I made mistakes, and that’s what today was about.” 

Even this was a misrepresentation: In his actual plea, Hunter admitted to taking campaign funds for personal use knowingly and willfully. But it’s at least closer to the truth than making wild claims about a deep state conspiracy. (The change of heart can’t be called a surprise: His co-conspiring wife turned states’ evidence months ago and the evidence accumulated of his guilt was overwhelming.) 

Hunter’s guilty plea brings his saga to the same conclusion as that of former lawmaker Chris Collins—another Republican who denounced the insider-trading charges against him as a “witch hunt” until he pleaded guilty last October. 

And for any other current or potential congressional ne’er-do-wells out there, his case stands as a warning: Just because a line works for Teflon Don, doesn’t mean it’s going to work for you.

Worth Your Time

  • If you want a deeper look at the Duncan Hunter story, take a gander at this feature from our Andrew Egger, who profiled the congressman for The Weekly Standard during the 2018 midterms—an election Hunter limped through by leaning on his heavily Republican district and denouncing his Christian opponent as a supporter of sharia law for good measure.

  • Is beer the next beverage science will suddenly decide is actually really good for you? Probably not, but you should still read Ben Cohen’s great Wall Street Journal article about how Detroit Pistons star and general way-too-large dude Andre Drummond built a conditioning routine around the Lord’s second-favorite beverage.

  • You like reading gloomy economic prognostication? Well, this hefty Medium piece by Byrne Hobart has that in spades—and it’s engagingly written enough to keep your attention through the wonky economics, too. Bottom line: The U.S. economy has been built around the baby boomers for a long, long time, and we’re remarkably unprepared for their long retirement.

  • If you or someone you know hasn’t been directly affected by the opioid crisis, the immense toll it is taking on lives around the country can prove difficult to wrap your head around. In a heartbreaking piece for the New York Times, Dan Levin lays bare the devastation OxyContin wreaked on the Minford High School Class of 2000, using the Ohio school’s yearbook as a guide.

Presented Without Comment

Something Fun

Internet memes typically churn through a finite lifecycle before dying off from either natural causes or widespread adoption by boomers (see: dabbing, OK boomer).

But in Baby Yoda, we may have stumbled upon the One True Meme that will live forever, bringing peace to a broken people and a broken world.

We know startlingly little about The Mandalorian’s breakout star, other than he is 50 years old (a mere child in Yoda Years), likes to eat frogs, is highly sought after, and possesses some semblance of The Force™.

Just look at this guy!

Baby Yoda will live forever!

Some challenged Ted Cruz to ruin him, but he only made him stronger!

Toeing the Company Line

  • Yesterday’s French Press touched on the gun rights case sitting before the Supreme Court, flailing Democratic candidates disregarding the Constitution, and why the abortion rights movement is on its heels. You can read it here!

  • Jonah had new Dispatch staff writer Sarah Isgur on The Remnant podcast to discuss her time at the Department of Justice, that Peloton commercial, cookies, and more. Give it a listen here, and keep your ears open for more soon on the podcast front.

  • Monday’s Morning Dispatch asked if the protests in Iran and the surrounding region could be viewed as “another Arab Spring.” While we meant the phrase to refer figuratively to the possibility of another mass outbreak of protests against the region’s despotic regimes, we should note that Iranians are primarily of Persian descent, not Arab. 

Let Us Know

Other than—of course—a Peloton bike, what are some other Christmas gifts you’re thinking of getting that fitness nut in your life?

  • A new professional-quality video camera, to take inspirational videos with while using the Peloton.

  • A new juicer, for making drinks that would make any Peloton rider proud.

  • A real bike, for when they want to use their Peloton but also have someplace to be, or for when the Peloton is in the shop.

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

Photo credit: Kamala Harris on the campaign trail by Mario Tama/Getty Images.