There will be a Republican primary debate—kind of

On Monday I asked whether there might be Republican primary debates, now that we have an actual Republican primary field. Well, the answer is yes. Kind of.

According to a Fox News story by Paul Steinhauser, the three non-Trump Republicans have been invited to debate without President Trump. The group includes former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, former Illinois Representative Joe Walsh, and former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld. At press time, Walsh and Weld are confirmed, while Sanford is working to resolve a scheduling conflict.

The debate will be held by Business Insider and will stream live on Business Insider Today, which is itself a show on Facebook Live. It will happen on Tuesday, September 24th, and will be held in the Business Insider New York City headquarters.

The moderators will include Henry Blodget, Anthony Fisher, and Linette Lopez, all of whom are affiliated in some way with Business Insider or its parent company, Insider Inc. Reading here from Fox News:

““The political landscape has changed immeasurably since Donald Trump ran for and was elected president," said Nicholas Carlson, the global editor-in-chief of Insider Inc. "It’s vitally important to have an honest conversation about what it means to be a Republican in the era of Trump; our debate will be a valuable part of that discussion."
An optimistic Weld told Fox News that “we already have our first televised debate signed up for and that’s going to add a new dimension to the race and I think it’s going to be harder and harder for the Trump forces to ignore the fact that 2020 is an election year.””

I will bring you more details on this debate as they emerge. Also, I should point out, if there are other Republicans out there considering a run, RIGHT NOW might be a really good time to announce.

The North Carolina special elections go Republican

Yesterday I reported on the special election in North Carolina, with a focus on North Carolina’s 9th district. Well, Republicans had a good night! Dan Bishop, the Republican candidate, won in the 9th district against Democrat Dan McCready. In addition to that race, there was another in North Carolina’s 3rd, which was won by Republican Greg Murphy. Now that 3rd district thing was by no means competitive, with Murphy coming out about 24 percentage points ahead.

In the 9th district, though, Bishop won by two percent. That’s plenty to avoid a run-off and he has the seat. At the same time, Democratic pundits are pointing out that the 9th district has been safely red for many decades, and this was pretty close, even after Republicans spent millions and sent both the sitting president and VP to campaign.

So, what does this all mean? Well, depends on who you ask. But let me read here from an article in FiveThirtyEight by Nathaniel Rakich:

“…On paper, it was Republicans who emerged victorious, going 2-for-2 in two separate congressional elections. But there was also a silver lining for Democrats — their final vote margin in the night’s marquee race was much bluer than the district’s baseline partisanship.
That race was the do-over election in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District, where alleged election fraud tainted the results of the 2018 contest to such a degree that the state elections board opted to hold a new election. After the Republican candidate got just 905 more votes than the Democrat in the 2018 election, Republicans pulled off a clearer win this year: Based on unofficial results as of 11:30 p.m. on Tuesday night, Republican state senator Dan Bishop defeated Democrat Dan McCready 51 percent to 49 percent. However, Democrats did 11 points better in the district than we’d expect them to in a neutral political environment, as this is normally a heavily Republican district; it is 14 points redder than the nation as a whole, according to FiveThirtyEight’s partisan lean metric. And Trump won the district by 12 points in 2016.
The results also represent a continuation of the mini-realignment we’ve seen in the Trump era of suburbs getting bluer and rural areas moving even more toward the GOP. For instance, McCready lost the district even as he won suburban Mecklenburg County by 13 percentage points, an improvement on the 2018 results, when he won Mecklenburg by 10 points. (The portion of Mecklenburg that falls in the 9th District consists of affluent white areas of metro Charlotte.) But as noted by Ryan Matsumoto, an analyst at Inside Elections, McCready did worse than his 2018 performance in every other county, most of which are sparsely populated.”

On the other side, the president tweeted quite a bit about all this, with somewhat less nuance, and celebrated the victory. You know, getting “close” in politics is nice and all, but a win’s a win. In this case, Democrats are facing an increasingly polarized urban/rural split, and it’s not yet clear whether the same dynamic will continue into 2020 or something else will emerge.

Listen to Tim Ryan’s new album

Next up, in the “things I thought I’d never say” department, Ohio Representative Tim Ryan has dropped an album. Let me just read his tweet:

“I dropped an album. Really. Listen to my [hashtag] NewAndBetter Agenda on Spotify.”

And then he literally links to an album on Spotify. The artist is Tim Ryan, and the album is called “A New and Better Agenda.” This is looking good, maybe like it’s, you know, mid-90s alternative rock or something?

Now, look, you know me. I’m the guy who said when O’Rourke wanted to “reintroduce” himself, he should’ve done so with Jay-Z’s “Public Service Announcement,” which famously includes the lyric, “allow me to reintroduce myself.” So I was pretty psyched to tune into these hot beats from Tim Ryan. I mean, who wouldn’t be?

So let’s listen to a random snippet from track 6, a song called “College Affordability,” and I don’t have the whole track because I don’t subscribe to Spotify, but anyway, here’s the preview. This is literally what happens when I hit the play button on Track 6 in the tweet. Turn up the bass and get ready for Tim Ryan to spit some bars.


Anyway, if you’re a Spotify subscriber, there’s a heck of a lot more where that came from. There is a link in the show notes.

The Times asks 2020 candidates to weigh in on executive power

Yesterday, The New York Times published a massive feature titled, “We asked 2020 candidates how they would wield presidential power. Here is what they said.” And it’s just what you’d think. Reading from the intro by Charlie Savage:

“American political fights often turn on interpretations of executive power: whether and when the president may act without congressional approval or defy federal statutes, particularly in matters of war, secrecy and law enforcement. The Times sent a survey to the presidential candidates about their understanding of the scope and limits of the authority they would wield if elected. The candidates also detailed any potential new curbs on White House power they would be willing to sign into law.”

And then there sixteen candidates who responded, including Joe Walsh and Bill Weld on the Republican side. But the Times piece is missing a handful of major candidates. Reading again from the fine print at the bottom:

“In June, I sent a questionnaire to candidates challenging President Trump in the 2020 election. I had also conducted this survey in each of the past three primary campaigns.
Several other candidates were also invited to participate but have not yet answered the questions, including Bill de Blasio, Julian Castro, John Delaney, Tom Steyer and Andrew Yang. The Times will update this graphic if and when any of them provide answers.
Before they dropped out of the race, John Hickenlooper answered the questions and Kirsten Gillibrand provided a general statement. Mr. de Blasio also provided a statement.”

Both of those statements, and the Hickenlooper answers, are linked in the article. Now, this survey is WAY long, with eleven topic areas, and I’m not gonna read like five minutes of quotes here. But there is a HUGE pile of text over at the New York Times—link in the show notes, of course—covering a bunch of topics. This is everything from freedom of the press to military power to whether a sitting president can be indicted. This is a terrific way to look at how specific candidates choose to respond to these complex questions. Some of them offer simple, short, direct answers. Others give what are essentially essays in response, and most fall somewhere in between. But one of the most fascinating questions is number 10, where the question is simply, “Who are your campaign’s advisers for legal issues?”

Of the sixteen candidates asked, only five gave what I consider to be a real answer. Most of them simply did not answer AT ALL, while others gave an answer saying they didn’t really want to tell the Times, or might do it later, or whatever. And that includes, by the way, the ENTIRE “top three” in the Democratic field. They ALL gave non-answers here.

So you have to give credit to people who actually answered the question. For example, Bill Weld’s answer was, “Nicholas Rostow, R.J. Lyman, Martin Skold.” That’s an answer. That’s concrete and unambiguous. Points to Weld.

Now let’s look at another example. Elizabeth Warren responded:

“My campaign relies on and appreciates advice and guidance from a variety of legal scholars and practitioners.”

That is a non-answer. The question was specifically WHO those people are, not whether they exist or whether you appreciate them.

So check out the link and dig in for a bunch of policy stuff—and a few pretty notable non-answers.

Buttigieg and Klochubar share an awkward moment

This next one is a quickie, but it caught my eye because it was a funny little moment, and got a little funnier the closer you looked.

Yesterday afternoon, Mayor Pete Buttigieg posted a photo on Twitter and wrote, “Very funny, [United].” The photo shows the interior of a plane with a two-by-two seat configuration, meaning on each side of the plane you’ve got two seats: window and aisle. So this is probably a small commuter jet.

Also, this is DEFINITELY NOT FIRST CLASS and you can tell the photo was taken in Row 12. Anyway, the photo shows Senator Amy Klobuchar laughing in an aisle seat—in other words, closer to the middle—and sitting one row ahead of Buttigieg, who is grinning but is also crammed into a window seat where the window doesn’t actually line up with the seat. He’s behind Klobuchar and is farther to the left of the plane.

In the location data, the tweet is marked as coming from Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. So I hope the candidates had a nice flight together. Oh, and United Airlines did in fact respond a bit later, writing:

“Hey Pete, we thought you two might want to talk debate strategies before the big night Thursday. […]”

But that’s not all. The passenger seated across the aisle from Klobuchar posted a bunch of photos and explained what was going on. His Twitter handle is AT LBTX3, and he posted selfies with each of the candidates.

When somebody else asked him on Twitter to explain what Klobuchar was laughing at in that first picture, he wrote:

“Me[.] I made a joke about giving up my seat to Mayor Pete and Team. I told him it was going to cost him. But I was ok because I got to sit next to the amazing [Amy Klobuchar,] she was wonderful. She knows how to keep busy and make a complete strange[r] smile.”

Yet another head-to-head poll makes waves but doesn’t mean much

And this next item I mention only because you’re gonna hear about it, and I think you should be prepared to know why it doesn’t actually matter. A new poll from the Washington Post and ABC News included a variety of questions that are pertinent to the upcoming election. The one that got the most play online today was one of those head-to-head matchup polls, where the question reads:

“If the 2020 presidential election were being held today, and the candidates were
(Donald Trump, the Republican) and ([so-and-so], the Democrat), for whom would you vote? Would you lean toward (Trump) or ([so-and-so])?”

And obviously, so-and-so is my term; in the poll text they used the word “ITEM” to indicate a candidate’s name, and what they mean is they’d insert the name of a real candidate there when the pollster was asking the question. Well, the poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points for this particular question, which they asked of all registered voters. The responses broke down so that every single Democrat they asked about beat Trump by a decent margin. For kicks, I’m going to read these numbers, but I want you to listen to them knowing that they are highly dubious because we are so far away from the general election. Okay? Got it? All right, gonna read matchups.

Biden wins 55 to 40

Sanders wins 52 to 43

Warren wins 51 to 44

Harris wins 50 to 43

And Buttigieg wins 47 to 43.

Now, again, poll literacy time, the margin there is plus or minus 4 percent in EITHER direction for EITHER side. Know what I mean? So that thing where Biden shuts out Trump by fifteen points…well, that’s actually outside the margin, even if the poll is actually the full four points off for each candidate. The same thing is true for Sanders. The other three—Warren, Harris, and Buttigieg—are all technically polling within the margin of Trump, though, obviously, there does appear to be a trend here, which is that Trump can’t seem to break about 44 percent in any of these matchups within this particular poll. And that does agree with previous polling like this.

Now, having said all that, the thing we should pay most attention to here is the amount of support Trump CAN draw. And that appears to have a ceiling, at least right now. In this case, like I said, it’s 44 percent plus or minus the margin of error. Now, that IS gonna change in some direction by the time a year from this November rolls around. And, by the same token, there were five Democratic candidates listed, and only of them is actually gonna be running for president in the general…those candidates are ALSO gonna change during this massive time period. So check out the episode of this show from August 16th, titled “Understanding Early Head-to-Head Polling” for some more data and a simple explanation of why Democrats should not get too excited about these particular kinds of polls. Link to that episode in the show notes, at the bottom.

Well, that is it for one more episode of the Election Ride Home. I have been your host, Chris Higgins. You can always find me on Twitter @chrishiggins. Well, it is a solemn day to do a news show, or really much of anything, to be frank. I’m glad to be here and to have my copilot, my trusty Russian Blue cat, Mr. Spock, asleep on a blanket next to me, gently snoring as I record the show. And before you ask, no, there has been no Russian Blue interference in this program, unless you count repeated requests for lap time, which, I will admit, did affect my writing somewhat. As always, thanks for listening, and I will talk to y’all tomorrow.