Twitter will drop all political advertising

In a surprise move, Twitter announced that starting in late November, it will no longer run any political ads. In a long series of tweets, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey explained his thinking. Reading a portion of his tweets:

“We’ve made the decision to stop all political advertising on Twitter globally. We believe political message reach should be earned, not bought. Why? A few reasons...
A political message earns reach when people decide to follow an account or retweet. Paying for reach removes that decision, forcing highly optimized and targeted political messages on people. We believe this decision should not be compromised by money.
While internet advertising is incredibly powerful and very effective for commercial advertisers, that power brings significant risks to politics, where it can be used to influence votes to affect the lives of millions.
Internet political ads present entirely new challenges to civic discourse: machine learning-based optimization of messaging and micro-targeting, unchecked misleading information, and deep fakes. All at increasing velocity, sophistication, and overwhelming scale.
These challenges will affect ALL internet communication, not just political ads. Best to focus our efforts on the root problems, without the additional burden and complexity taking money brings. Trying to fix both means fixing neither well, and harms our credibility.
For instance, it‘s not credible for us to say: “We’re working hard to stop people from gaming our systems to spread misleading info, buuut if someone pays us to target and force people to see their political ad...well...they can say whatever they want! [winking emoji]”
We considered stopping only candidate ads, but issue ads present a way to circumvent. Additionally, it isn’t fair for everyone but candidates to buy ads for issues they want to push. So we're stopping these too.”

He then goes on to clarify that some ads, for instance those promoting voter registration, will still be allowed. Details on that are coming in a few weeks. He also suggests, in a thinly veiled reference to Facebook, that he hopes this decision will spread to other platforms because frankly Twitter isn’t the biggest ad platform for politics—not by a mile. But it IS an ad platform for politics right now, and it won’t be in less than one month. That’s an interesting move, and its effects are hard to predict. It’s also worth noting that political ads are a small fraction of Twitter’s income, while Facebook brings in WAY more money from these kinds of ads.

Many Democratic candidates approved of Twitter’s move here, and specifically commented on it in the context of Facebook political advertising, which has lately been a real mess. Reading from a tweet by Andrew Yang:

“I applaud Twitter’s decision to ban political ads. It’s the rare triumph of the public good over the bottom line. I hope Facebook follows suit or at least verifies and stands by the accuracy of political ads on its platform.”

Montana Governor Steve Bullock echoed that sentiment, writing:

“Good. Your turn, Facebook.”

But not all the Democrats, and certainly not the highest-profile Republicans, agree. Reading from an article by Rachel Lerman and Barbara Ortutay in the Associated Press:

“Trump’s campaign manager called Twitter’s change a “very dumb decision” in a statement Wednesday.
“This is yet another attempt to silence conservatives, since Twitter knows President Trump has the most sophisticated online program ever,” campaign manager Brad Parscale said.
The presidential campaign for former Vice President Joe Biden said it was “unfortunate” that companies would think the only option was to completely ban political ads.
“When faced with a choice between ad dollars and the integrity of our democracy, it is encouraging that, for once, revenue did not win out,” Bill Russo, the deputy communications director for Biden’s campaign said in a statement.”

So, all of this comes in the context of Facebook, which has lately refused to remove false or misleading ads. That has caused turmoil, to say the least. As recently as Tuesday, Facebook’s Katie Harbath wrote this in an op-ed for USA Today:

“Anyone who thinks Facebook should decide which claims by politicians are acceptable might ask themselves this question: Why do you want us to have so much power?
In our view, the only thing worse than Facebook not making these calls is for Facebook to make these calls.
Our approach is consistent with companies like YouTube and Twitter. And broadcasters are required by federal law not to censor candidate ads.”

Twitter’s move suggests that there is a third path that Facebook is ignoring here: stop allowing political ads. That would remove this thorny problem of fact-checking, which itself has been an area of serious disagreement at Facebook. At the same time, it would destroy a massive revenue stream for Facebook. So. Interesting move by Twitter, and we’ll have to see how it shakes out.

The Trump impeachment stuff in three minutes or less

Next up, a new segment limited to three minutes or less. A quick update on the Trump impeachment inquiry, and other election-related stuff in the world of the sitting president. Let’s get into it.

First up today, the House voted on a resolution to authorize the impeachment proceeding, including a variety of mechanisms under which it will happen. Only two Democrats voted against the measure. Every Republican voted for it. Justin Amash, the former Republican who left the party because of impeachment, voted for it. Four members were absent, so did not vote. The resolution passed 232 to 196.

Next, former National Security Adviser John Bolton may be caught in the same legal struggle as Charles Kupperman, who didn’t show up for his testimony earlier this week. Bolton has been invited—but not subpoenaed—by the House to testify. It turns out Bolton has the same lawyer as Kupperman, his former deputy. That lawyer is likely to suggest that Bolton also needs a legal opinion before he can sit for testimony. If that somehow magically doesn’t happen, Bolton would testify one week from today. But, expect that to happen, so we don’t know when Bolton might actually show up.

Also rumored to be appearing soon are John Eisenberg, who is a lawyer at the National Security Council, and his deputy, Michael Ellis. That appearance would be on Monday. And who else is up for Monday? Well, we’ve got Robert Blair, who worked under Mick Mulvaney. And then there’s Brian McCormack, who works at the Office of Management and Budget.

Of these, the most interesting is likely Eisenberg. Reading here from a Washington Post story by Carol D. Leonnig, Tom Hamburger, and Greg Miller:

“Moments after President Trump ended his phone call with Ukraine’s president on July 25[th], an unsettled national security aide rushed to the office of White House lawyer John Eisenberg.
Army [L]ieutenant Col[onel] Alexander Vindman, the top Ukraine adviser at the White House, had been listening to the call and was disturbed by the pressure Trump had applied to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate his political rivals, according to people familiar with Vindman’s testimony to lawmakers this week.
Vindman told Eisenberg, the White House’s legal adviser on national security issues, that what the president did was wrong, said the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation.
Scribbling notes on a yellow legal pad, Eisenberg proposed a step that other officials have said is at odds with long-standing White House protocol: moving a transcript of the call to a highly classified server and restricting access to it, according to two people familiar with Vindman’s account.”

The Harris campaign lays off staff to focus on Iowa

Senator Kamala Harris has made major changes to her campaign, including laying off some staffers. A story in Politico by Christopher Cadelago and Scott Bland gets into the details. Here’s a snippet from their intro:

“…Harris is dramatically restructuring her campaign by redeploying staffers to Iowa and laying off dozens of aides at her Baltimore headquarters, according to campaign sources and a memo obtained Wednesday by POLITICO, as she struggles to resuscitate her beleaguered presidential bid.
The moves come as Harris is hemorrhaging cash and in danger of lacking the resources to mount a competitive bid against better-funded rivals in Iowa. The overhaul will touch nearly every facet of Harris’ operation, with layoffs or re-deployments coming at headquarters, as well as in New Hampshire, Nevada and her home state of California, a Super Tuesday prize that her advisers once viewed as a big asset.”

Along with all that, various staffers are taking pay-cuts in an overall effort to match up spending with fundraising. The article has tons of detail on the challenges Harris faces with fundraising—particularly online—in comparison to some others who have recently capitalized on debate performances.

You may also recall that Harris has been focused on Iowa for quite a while now. Back on September 19th, I reported from yet another Politico article, which read in part:

““I’m [bleeping] moving to Iowa,” [Harris] joked to a colleague in Washington, within earshot of a reporter.”

Meanwhile, there is some unrest among Harris’s donor base. Reading from one particularly scathing part of yesterday’s Politico article:

“Donors contacted by POLITICO said Harris’ failure to take off is months in the making but has coincided with her crash in polls — and it’s been exacerbated by her recent spirals. That she was lapped by Buttigieg, a small-city mayor from Indiana, and nearly overcome in the third quarter by entrepreneur Andrew Yang, only makes it worse.
“She’s from [bleep]ing California. The idea that you don’t have support of high-dollar donors doesn’t make any sense,” said a Democratic donor who maxed out to Harris’ campaign but is disappointed by her inability to build a large-scale fundraising operation. “I blame her.””

And yikes. Well, we shall see how this works out. Despite some lower polling numbers than she got earlier in the cycle, Harris has qualified for the November DNC debate and needs just one more poll for December.

A new poll helps one candidate get closer to the November DNC debate

Here’s a quick one. A national poll by Suffolk and USA Today came out yesterday, and it counts for both the November and December DNC debates. It had a 4% result for Representative Tulsi Gabbard, which gives her a third qualifying poll for November and a second for December. If she gets one more result in the next few weeks, she will be on the stage in November. Oh, and before I forget, the margin of error on the Democratic side is 4.9 percent. But regardless of the margin, the result counts for debate qualification.

No other candidates got any NEW qualifying results from this poll.

And, by the way, on the Republican side, the combination of Mark Sanford, Joe Walsh, and Bill Weld, all added up, got to 4% in the poll of Republican primary voters versus 85% for Trump. The margin of error on the Republican side is plus or minus 5.5%. In other words, the margin of error is greater than the overall support for all the non-Trump Republican candidates.

Will impeachment cause problems for the Senators currently running for president?

And last up today, Ed Kilgore, writing for New York Magazine’s Intelligencer, brought up an interesting point. If the impeachment proceeding in the House reaches the Senate in January for a trial, which is certainly possible, that might present real problems for the sitting Senators currently in the presidential race.

Let’s run down that list one more time, to emphasize the importance of those candidates. You’ve got Michael Bennet, Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren. They’re all in the Senate, and they ALL, presumably, need to be present for major chunks of any impeachment hearing.

So the first part of this is, hey wait, why would anything be happening in January when the original plan in the House was to hold a vote in late November, so the Senate could handle this quickly in December and avoid the election year time-table altogether? Well, that’s looking less likely now, because there are a lot more witnesses showing up, and we just can’t predict how exactly this will work over the coming months.

In the article, Kilgore looks at the Clinton impeachment as an example. If the current process proceeds roughly on that schedule, it would extend beyond both the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary. If it goes any longer, it’s pushing into the Nevada caucuses, the South Carolina primary, and possibly even Super Tuesday on March 3rd. The reason this is a problem is that those early-voting states are typically key campaign stops for candidates right at these times—like you want to be on the ground in Iowa in January. That’s crucial. But if you’re tied up back in the Senate, that’s gonna be a problem. And why would they be stuck in the Senate? Well, reading from the article:

“An impeachment trial doesn’t allow for time off to do campaign events: The Senate rules require that once the trial begins, it must stay in session six days a week.”

And before you think, well, gee, at least these Senators get to give big speeches and stuff, which might almost amount to televised campaign moments…well, not so much. Reading again from the article:

“...[T]he current Senate rules compel virtual silence from senators during the trial itself, though they are free to run their mouths before it begins and after it ends. During the trial, unless precedents are ignored, all senators get to do is to send written questions to be posed by the House managers or the president’s attorneys, and then stand up and vote “guilty” or “not guilty” when the deal goes down. Not much room for showboating there.”

So, while this is speculation, it is certainly interesting speculation, and it may present a real problem for some of the highest-profile candidates in the Democratic primary.

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, I was fasting this morning before a routine medical test—everything’s fine, they just check in once in a while. Recording this, I JUST got back from that. The doctor said I could have a cookie. So I had four cookies. Because, obviously, sugar is the main thing you need to deliver a solid podcast performance in which you speak slowly and clearly. Hope it worked, folks! As always, thanks for listening, and I will talk to y’all tomorrow.