Williamson goes on Colbert, an explanation of the DNC’s donor system, primary candidates reflect on the Apollo 11 mission, how much the candidates are spending to get donors, Sanders pledges not to take money from drug companies and health insurance companies, and a new poll suggests that a public option is more popular than Medicare for All.


Show Transcript

Note: This is the speaking script for the show, so the audio as delivered will differ very slightly from the below. This script also does not include audio clips from third-party sources, or advertisements, which may appear at various points in the show.

Williamson goes on Colbert

First up today, Marianne Williamson went on The Late with Stephen Colbert on Monday and basically blew the doors off the place. I’ve seen this happen before with Williamson. She’s often dismissed as an unserious person, but then you give her a few minutes to talk and it becomes very clear that she knows what’s up. Williamson thrives in an environment where she can speak at some length, making multi-part arguments. This may be why the sixty-second limit in the first debate didn’t work in her favor.

So Williamson appeared on Colbert, and sat for about a nine-minute interview. Here’s a clip from the middle of that, and Colbert speaks first:


Okay, I’m going to cut in right here and break this clip into two pieces, because Colbert cut off that line of questioning and moved on at that point. So in that first clip, Williamson takes the notion of peace and re-positions it in order to make her point. She defines peace as being akin to health, which is something that is well-understood by your typical voter—and probably better understood than the reality of war.

This is the underlying argument that leads to defining war as an absence of peace, rather than the other way around. That’s a very smart notion, and it reframes the debate in a way that is truly meaningful. The notion of cultivating peace no longer sounds like an idea we’d associate with hippies—it becomes a strategy to avoid war. And I think that voters, broadly, do want to avoid war, just like they want to maintain their own health.

Okay, on to the next part of this clip, which comes immediately after the bit I just played. Listen in:


Yeah. So THIS is what Williamson’s thing is. Colbert goes in with his own anecdote about a Department of Peace and Willie Nelson, but Williamson actually has the numbers. The numbers are the point here. Yes, we have government programs that attempt to foster peace, but they are funded at around 5 percent of what we pay for the military. So now, this becomes an issue of funding a strategy to avoid war, which is easily understood and I think easily agreed with by your typical voter.

You might also note that Williamson’s responses in the clips we just heard were relatively short. In the first clip, Williamson spoke for 55 seconds and got through the entire metaphor related to health, peace, and war. She’s speaking fast, but makes it work. And in the second clip about the State Department she spoke for 67 seconds. The rules for the debates next week mean each candidate will have sixty-second responses, with the possibility of a thirty-second followup. It sounds to me like Williamson has been working hard at debate prep, and I can’t wait to see the result on Tuesday.

Now, a quick programming note: I want to thank Thomas Veil, who mentioned this appearance to me on Twitter. I don’t see every piece of news every day, and it helps when listeners point out things that slip through the cracks. So, thank you, Thomas, and others on Twitter—keep this stuff coming, because I am absolutely listening.

An explanation of donor totals

Next up, a quick question that came in from a listener on Twitter through a direct message. Now because it was a private message, I don’t want to identify the listener directly, but I think it’s safe to read the question.

“I have a question about the number of donors threshold. Do they go by quarters? For instance, if I donated in Q1, do I count as one of the 65,000 unique donors needed for the June debates, and do I still count for the 130,000 needed for the September debates?”

Excellent question, and something I have never addressed on this show. And given all the things that ARE specific to certain quarters or windows of time, like the polling stuff, this part is actually pretty confusing. But there’s good news here.

The donor number is cumulative. So if you EVER gave to one of these primary candidates’ presidential campaigns, whether it was in Q1 or Q2 or even last year for candidates like Yang and Delaney, you are counted now and forever in the unique voter totals that the DNC uses to qualify candidates for the debates.

Thanks for the question, and keep them coming! My DMs on Twitter are always open.

Primary candidates reflect on the Apollo 11 mission, 50 years later

In an article for Politico, Jacqueline Feldscher and Bryan Bender collected a bunch of quotes from political leaders about the Apollo 11 mission and space exploration in general. Scanning through the article, I found two primary candidates who were quoted. Let’s check out those passages now.

“Sen[ator] Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat running for president, remembers her mom making a “rocket shaped Jell-O configuration” to mark the historic day.”

So according to my math, Klobuchar would have been 9 years old when the moon landing happened, so that sounds about right. I AM curious what flavor of Jell-O was involved, but maybe we leave that for an interview later.

And then there’s a longer section from a recent entrant to the race, who happens to have 31 years of experience in the Navy.

Sestak eyes Mars. America should return to the moon and eventually continue on to explore Mars but it must do it as part of an international coalition, according to Joe Sestak, a former House member from Pennsylvania who announced he is joining the crowded field of Democrats running for president last month. “There is so much out there that could better humanity,” he tells us. “I also believe America’s greatest power … is to convene the world. That’s how I feel about space.”
What about a Space Force? The retired Navy vice admiral said the Pentagon needs to prioritize space without adding extra bureaucracy. “I don’t think you had to set up for space a whole other entity to accomplish what you need to do, but I’m fairly agnostic on how best to do it,” he said. “It could be accomplished with less bureaucracy as long as you have leader commitment from the president to the secretary of defense on down.””

Incidentally, I’m reading Sestak’s book right now, and this lines up with much of his thinking. The book, at least so far, is practical and straightforward. An interesting read if you want to hear from somebody who hasn’t gotten much coverage.

And just a reminder—50 years ago today, the three Apollo 11 astronauts were in quarantine, just beginning their 21-day session to make sure they hadn’t brought back any pathogens from the moon. That’s where we were, just 50 years ago. We were worried that moon diseases might kill us all. Imagine you just walked on the moon, you GOT BACK, you survived the whole thing, you splashed down, and then you had to spend THREE WEEKS IN QUARANTINE with the two other dudes you were stuck in a tiny capsule with for the whole mission. I bet that smelled amazing.

How much the candidates are spending to get donors

In Bloomberg, Misyrlena Egkolfopoulou dug into how the Democratic primary candidates are spending on social media—and whether it’s getting them anything. Reading from the article just to set the scene:

“Between January 5 and July 13, some two dozen Democratic candidates collectively spent nearly $26 million [dollars] on social-media ads, according to Bully Pulpit Interactive, an online communications agency. The biggest spenders so far have been Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, at $2.9 million [dollars], and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, at $2.6 million [dollars].”

And of course, both Warren and Sanders have tons of donors, so they’re well past that 130,000 donor threshold for the September and October debates. But among the lower-polling candidates, there are just a few who have reached that threshold. Reading here about one of them:

“Some candidates have mastered the social-media fundamentals better than others. Julian Castro, the former Housing and Urban Development secretary and San Antonio mayor, turned to Facebook to drum up fresh donors following a widely praised June 26 debate performance. Because he dominated a discussion on immigration, he targeted ads at users who clicked on video clips of those exchanges, spending nearly $600,000 [dollars] between June 29 and July 6, according to Bully Pulpit.
That amount was well above the $70,000 to $100,000 [dollars] per week that other Democratic candidates had spent on the platform, according to Acronym, a digital strategy firm for Democratic campaigns. “Stand with Julian, let’s get him to the next debates!” said some of the ads, which came with a “chip in” button.
His campaign believes it was money well-spent: On July 8, Castro announced he had hit the 130,000-donor target to make the September debate. Altogether, he spent $1.2 million [dollars] on Facebook and Google ads over the six months ending July 13 — about 25% of the $4.1 million [dollars] he has raised since announcing his candidacy in January, according to Bully Pulpit data and Federal Election Commission filings.”

So this is part of why a lot of folks are unhappy with the DNC’s increased donor threshold. In order to get 130,000 donors, you may need to spend more than a million dollars, AND have a great debate performance, AND campaign on the ground. In some cases, candidates are forced to choose between online spending versus in-person visits to key states.

And we actually have candidates who have spent all that money, visited the states, and still not met the threshold yet—Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is a good example. She has spent more than $1.9 million dollars on Facebook ads. Does she have 130,000 donors? No. Is she polling at 2 percent in four polls? No..

To close this story out, let’s hear from Chris Nolan, founder of the digital ad group Spot-On. QUOTE: “This is not a system that’s set up to encourage political discourse, it’s a system set up to optimize political spending.” END QUOTE, or should I say END SICK BURN?

Sanders pledges not to take donations from drug companies and health insurance companies

Last week, Senator Bernie Sanders gave a major speech on Medicare for All, and I covered just a snippet of that. I want to get into one more part of it, which may have bigger ramifications within this field. As part of the speech, Sanders challenged all the candidates to refuse donations from executives and lobbyists at health insurance and drug companies. This is very similar to the No Fossil Fuel pledge we’ve covered before, just focused on a different set of industries.

Sanders has signed the pledge, obviously, and posted the details on his website. The overall thing is called the “No Health Insurance and Pharma Money Pledge,” and the entire pledge reads as follows:

“I pledge to not take contributions from the health insurance or pharmaceutical industry and instead prioritize the health of the American people over health industry profits.
Taking the pledge means that a politician or candidate’s campaign will adopt a policy to not knowingly accept any contributions over $200 [dollars] from the PACs, lobbyists, or executives of health insurance or pharmaceutical companies. The pledge does not apply to rank-and-file workers employed by pharmaceutical giants and health insurance companies.”

He then proceeds to list 208 companies that he will not accept money from. He also has returned prior donations that fall into this category. This move is aimed squarely at Joe Biden, and I wouldn’t be surprised to hear it come up in the debates next week. Reading from a Politico story by Dan Diamond:

“His pledge could put pressure on former Vice President Joe Biden, who in April held a fundraiser co-hosted by a health insurance executive, just hours after the front-runner launched his presidential campaign.
Other Democratic presidential candidates have pledged to refuse money from fossil fuel interests, and Sanders is not the first to say he's rejecting some health care industry donations. Sen[ator] Cory Booker... in 2017 said he would "pause" donations from the pharmaceutical industry, which has a large presence in New Jersey and had contributed to his earlier campaigns.
But many of Sanders' rivals have taken money from the insurance and pharmaceutical industries. Sen[ator] Kirsten Gillibrand... held a fundraiser in March hosted by a Pfizer executive. Sen[ators] Amy Klobuchar..., Kamala Harris...[,] and Michael Bennet... are among the candidates who have taken drug industry donations in previous campaigns.”

And last up today, a new poll released yesterday morning gives us more on healthcare policy. It was sponsored by NPR, PBS NewsHour, and conducted by Marist. The methodology of the poll is high-quality—it included real humans doing the dialing and interviews, it included cell phones, and the margins of error are a little complex, but let’s just say they’re between 3.5 percent and 3.7 percent, depending on which group we’re talking about.

Okay, so I know you’re wondering, like, what the poll asked about? Well, lots of stuff about the current president, and approval ratings, and whether people would vote for him again, but the thing that stuck out to everybody was a pair of questions around healthcare policy, and the two questions were buried in a sea of other policy questions.

The overall question was, “Do you think each of the following is a good idea or a bad idea?” and then the pollsters listed a variety of policies one by one. We’re talking here about a sample of “National Adults,” meaning everybody they polled, and there’s a plus or minus 3.5 percent margin of error on this particular set of questions. So, the ENTIRE GROUP was asked about the following policy: “Medicare for all that want it, that is, allow all Americans to choose between a national health insurance program or their own private health insurance.”

70 percent felt that was a good idea, 25 percent thought it was a bad idea, and 5 percent were unsure.

Next up, “Medicare for all, that is a national health insurance program for all Americans that replaces private health insurance.”

41 percent felt that was a good idea, 54 percent thought it was a bad idea, and again 5 percent were unsure.

So just to recap, a public option polls at 70 percent OVERALL—among ALL Americans—and Medicare for All polls at 41 percent. That’s a massive difference.

So this is a thing I keep beating the drum about—healthcare is a genuine differentiator in this field. But the poll didn’t stop there. The numbers I just read were for all Americans, regardless of party affiliation.

If you narrow it down to just Democrats, 90 percent of Democrats think a public option is a good idea, while 64 percent think Medicare for All is a good idea. Now, that’s not a BAD result for Medicare for All on its own, but it is an strong indicator of where the electorate is right now on this issue—they strongly prefer a public option.

The primary electorate is, of course, made up of Democrats. So candidates who support a public option and NOT Medicare for All might have an edge here. By the way, the margin of error on that Democrats-only question was plus or minus 3.7 percentage points. So stay tuned to the debates next week and we will see, again, who points out this massive gap and who is able to exploit it.


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. I’m still working on those Bingo cards—my plan is to have those up sometime tomorrow, that’s Friday, so you have the weekend and Monday AND TUESDAY to print them out. When those are up, I’ll mention it on the show, there will be links in the show notes, and you can go grab those PDFs and print them to your heart’s content. So I gotta go finish up those cards and get them out the door! As always, thanks for listening, and I will talk to y’all tomorrow.