The Morning Dispatch: New Hampshire’s Turn
Plus, we review Tevi Troy’s new book on the history of White House infighting.
Happy Tuesday! New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary is today, and Bernie Sanders—who placed just behind Pete Buttigieg in the delegate count in Iowa—is the favorite to win. A free Strokes concert got 7,500 of his supporters out to a rally last night; can it get them to the polls today?
Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories
The Justice Department has accused the Chinese military of orchestrating 2017’s colossal Equifax data breach, which compromised the financial data of millions of Americans.
The White House has released its budget proposal for the 2021 fiscal year. The document proposes substantial cuts to federal spending, including caps on future growth of entitlement programs—although no one seriously expects Trump, who consistently pledges not to touch programs like Medicare and Social Security in speeches and on social media, to actually push Congress to pass such cuts.
Sen. Josh Hawley has unveiled the latest of his policy proposals designed to combat the U.S. tech industry: bringing the Federal Trade Commission into the Department of Justice and beefing it up with new tools to go after Big Tech.
President Trump continues to lash out at Mitt Romney over his impeachment conviction vote. The latest strategy: Accusing Romney of being involved with Burisma, the energy company at the middle of the scandal on whose board Hunter Biden previously served.
New Hampshire and the Art of the Possible
Declan has spent the last week up in New Hampshire eating Burger King and zigging around talking to voters at Buttigieg, Sanders, Warren, and Klobuchar events. On the site today, he takes a look at what he sees as one of the fundamental fault lines in the race: practicality vs. aspiration:
“A criteria for me is somebody who could speak to independents,” Helen Honorow said at a Rotary Club meeting in Nashua. “Yes, you need to speak to Democrats. But you need to speak to independents, you need to speak to moderate Republicans who want to preserve what we have in our country.”
“In 2016 I was all for Bernie, and still think the world of him,” Liz Richter disclosed at a Pete Buttigieg rally on Sunday night. “But I don’t think somebody as progressive as Bernie or Elizabeth will appeal to enough percentage of the country.”
She very well could have gotten this idea from Buttigieg himself. Just half an hour earlier, the former South Bend mayor warned a crowd of 914 packed into a middle school cafeteria about the perils of nominating his chief rival in the Granite State.
“At a moment like this, the one thing we cannot afford to do is to further divide a divided, polarized nation. We have got to get this right,” Buttigieg said. “I respect Sen. Sanders and I think a lot of the ideas that he’s calling for tie to values that we all share. But at a moment like this, telling Americans that you’ve either got to be for a revolution or you’ve got to be for the status quo, is telling most of us we don’t belong. And we need a political movement where everybody can find a home.”
“When you see $50 trillion worth of spending proposed, but only $25 trillion worth of ideas on how to pay for it,” he added, “the American people are going to want to know where the other $25 trillion is supposed to come from.”
At a country club in Nashua on Monday, Sen. Klobuchar made a similar pitch.
“My campaign has always been about reaching out, and not shutting people out, but bringing them with me,” she said, referring, presumably, to voters on her right, not her left. “When we were asked in the last debate if we thought a socialist should lead the ticket, I was the only one who raised my hand and said, ‘no, I don’t think so.’”
“Many of my colleagues have the free-college-for-all slogan, and that sounds great on a bumper sticker,” Klobuchar continued. “I don’t think that’s what’s best for the economy.”
Buttigieg and Klobuchar are practicing in New Hampshire what Otto von Bismarck—the man who unified a myriad of states in the 1860s and 1870s into what is now Germany—might refer to as “the art of the possible.”
Bismarck allegedly described politics as “the art of the possible, the attainable—the art of the next best.” Sometimes, in order to govern, you have to compromise, or water down your positions, or grant your opponent a victory.
And in New Hampshire, there’s a market for that kind of message—it might even be a winning one. “He’s not going to do everything that everybody wants,” Anne Fenn said of Buttigieg, whom she supports. “But he also doesn’t promise the universe to everybody and not be able to fulfill that. And that’s what I’m kind of worried about with Bernie folks.”
White House Sniping Is Nothing New
There’s a lot of fighting in politics today. Democrats vs. Republicans. Socialists vs. Pragmatists. Trumpists vs. NonTrumpists. And, if you talk to anyone who works closely with the White House, lots of White House staff vs. White House staff. A new book, by friend of The Dispatch, Tevi Troy, explores the history of the internecine fighting at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, in Fight House: Rivalries in the White House from Truman to Trump. We got our hands on an advanced copy and it’s quite a read.
The book opens with the Truman quip, “the only thing new in this world is the history you haven’t read yet.” And in this well-researched and entertaining stroll through administrations past, Troy seeks to make the case that the “Trump White House is comfortably in the mainstream of recent history—though a little more colorful” when it comes to the staff infighting, rampant leaking, and backstabbing in the West Wing that has come to define the last three years.
Some things never change, and power struggles are nothing new to the White House. During the Kennedy years, for example, Troy describes the kind of “drama and fury that would make an excellent Netflix series” not between staff, but between President Kennedy, Vice President Johnson, and the president’s brother and attorney general, Robert.
Some tactics just evolve. Playground taunts and nicknames are nothing new to the White House. Troy recounts an Obama senior staffer who took to calling a band of troublesome younger aides “waterbugs.” David Gergen became known simply as “the tall guy” during the Reagan years. The Trump administration, Troy argues, simply updated the approach, employing emojis to diminish rivals, including a cartoon reindeer to refer to Reince Priebus as “prancer.”
Troy’s thesis is that “[n]ot only has White House infighting been a relative constant since the advent of the White House staff, the tactics themselves are time-tested. There is just more media attention than ever today, since with the proliferation of smartphones and other electronic means of communication there are more platforms for unscrupulous aides to share their insider perspectives with the media and others.”
That may well be, but after reading about internal dissension going back to the Truman years, one can be forgiven for thinking that perhaps there is some distinction between Bobby referring to LBJ as “Uncle Cornpone” at a dinner party and the White House communications director telling a reporter, “I’m not Steve Bannon, I’m not …” trying to perform an unnatural act of self-pleasure.
Worth Your Time
Just how bad is America’s prescription drugs pricing problem? Get a load of this remarkable AP story about a new program in Utah that regularly flies state employees to Mexico to fill their prescriptions because the same medications are so much more affordable there: “The cost difference is so large that the state’s insurance program for public employees can pay for each patient’s flight, give them a $500-per-trip bonus, and still save tens of thousands of dollars.”
In a true must-read, The Atlantic’s McKay Coppins takes a deep dive into the Trump-propagandist sector of the internet, immersing himself in the deep pool of fake news available to unsuspecting news consumers. “I was surprised by the effect it had on me. I’d assumed that my skepticism and media literacy would inoculate me against such distortions. But I soon found myself reflexively questioning every headline. It wasn’t that I believed Trump and his boosters were telling the truth. It was that, in this state of heightened suspicion, truth itself—about Ukraine, impeachment, or anything else—felt more and more difficult to locate. With each swipe, the notion of observable reality drifted further out of reach.”
With more and more states implementing some form of red flag law over the last few years as a means of dealing with possible mass shootings before they can occur, we’re starting to see data come in. In this CNN piece, David Shortell writes about the red-flag operation put into place in Broward County following the 2018 Parkland school shooting, where, according to a new study, law enforcement has seized more than 400 guns in the first year of the law’s existence.
Presented Without Comment
When an Ontario teen found $30,000 in cash and checks in a parking lot, she immediately turned the bag over to police — her tale thus avoiding becoming the spiritual successor to No Country for Old Men. It’s a much less gripping story than Cormac McCarthy’s novel, but boasts a more cheery ending. Instead of being forced to flee for her life before getting gunned down in a cheap motel, she got a $500 reward and some fun write-ups in the press.
Toeing the Company Line
Over on the site this morning, James Kirchick contrasts two pieces of LGBT anti-discrimination legislation currently before Congress: The Equality Act, which would broadly prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity but runs roughshod over religious freedom, and the Fairness for All Act, which comes closer than any previously proposed legislation to actually striking a balance between the two warring ideological forces.
In the latest episode of Advisory Opinions, David and Sarah speak with Nikki Neily, president of Speech First, about bias response teams on college campuses and the history of speech codes. Give it a listen.
Let Us Know
Sound the alarm: They’re making baseball worse again. The MLB is weighing an overhaul to the current playoff system that would expand the number of playoff teams from 10 to 14 and—horror of horrors—implement a reality-TV-style element in which the highest-seeded teams would choose which lower-seeded teams they wanted to face in the divisional round.
Naturally, this is wretched and we hate it. But it also got us thinking: Baseball’s one of those things that only gets worse when the suits start monkeying with the rules. Which of these changes marked the point at which the formerly glorious national pastime was besmirched forever?
2017: In an anxious attempt to speed up games, MLB puts a cap on mound visits and implements auto-intentional walks. (What fun is baseball without beautiful nonsense like this!)
2014: MLB finally bows to the march of technology and implements widespread instant replay. (If the game’s happening in St. Louis, why should a bunch of slo-mo eggheads in New York get the final say?)
1971: The use of batting helmets becomes mandatory league-wide. (If we keep coddling our athletes like this, how are we gonna knock off Cuba in the Olympics?)
1920: The spitball is outlawed. (No ball game for me but a dead ball game!)
Photograph of Amy Klobuchar by Scott Eisen/Getty Images.