Cory Booker drops out. Iran debate continues.

Plus, a question about campaign spending.

You’re reading Tangle: an independent, ad-free, non-partisan politics newsletter where I answer reader questions and share interesting perspectives on the news. To get Tangle in your inbox (around lunchtime Monday-Thursday), subscribe below:


Today’s read: 9 minutes.

You missed a lot of news over the weekend. Plus, my take on the strike in Iran and a reader question about campaign donations.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei casting his vote for 2017 presidential and local election. Phot: Hossein Zohrevand | WikiCommons / Hossein Zohrevand

BREAKING.

Sen. Cory Booker (D-Nj.) announced he will suspend his campaign for president. Booker struggled to climb in the polls despite a recent burst of funding in the last few months. He was seen as an inspirational moderate with an uplifting message. Here is the video announcing his decision:


What you missed.

  • Iran admits it shot down a Ukrainian passenger jet that killed 176 people. After multiple videos surfaced showing the plane being hit by a missile and then crashing, Iranian officials relented on their denials and admitted its missile defense system was responsible for shooting down a passenger plane that took off from its own airport. The head of the Revolutionary Guard’s aerospace division apologized on state TV, saying “I wished I was dead” when he learned about the downing of a plane. Iran’s air defenses were at their highest levels fearing a U.S. retaliation. An officer on the ground mistook the plane for a cruise missile and decided to open fire. Thousands of Iranians are currently protesting in the streets after the regime admitting to shooting down the plane. Click.

  • The U.S. unsuccessfully tried killing another Iranian military official, this one in Yemen, during the same time the U.S. killed Gen. Qassem Soleimani. That attack was aimed at Abdul Reza Shahlai, a leader of Iran’s Quds Force, a military organization Soleimani led. Shahlai was best known for helping finance militias in the region. Trump’s planned strike was apparently part of a larger plan to decimate Iran’s military leadership in two swift actions. Click.

  • The House of Representatives successfully took the first step in limiting Trump’s war powers by passing a resolution that restricts his authority to strike Iran without congressional approval. Eight Republicans joined the Democrats, including a surprising vote of support from Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, who is sometimes called the “Trumpiest” of all Trump-supporting members of Congress. The House opted for a concurrent resolution, which means it requires approval from the House and Senate but is also largely symbolic because it does not need a president’s signature. Last week I emphasized that a bill limiting any president’s war powers would be welcome. This bill wasn’t quite that, but it was at least a step in the right direction. Click.

  • Republican Senator Susan Collins says she is working with a small group of Republican senators to try to ensure witnesses can be called during the impeachment trial of President Trump. It seems a foregone conclusion that Trump will be acquitted in the Senate, which is controlled by Republicans, but Collins’ maneuvering could do political damage to Trump. Other Republicans have questioned the need for witnesses while Democrats have insisted they were a necessary part of any legitimate trial. Damaging public testimony against the president is a concern for the White House and his allies. Click.


What D.C. is talking about.

It’s been 10 days since a U.S. drone strike killed the Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, and the Trump administration’s justification for killing him continues to shift. Since the strike, Iran attempted one counterattack in public: a series of missile launches directed at Iraqi bases where U.S. soldiers were stationed. There were no casualties and little damage done. Shortly after those strikes, Iran shot down a passenger jet inadvertently identified as a cruise missile, killing 176 people. Experts on the region have also warned that Iran’s revenge is most likely to come in smaller, terrorist-like attacks on U.S. or Israeli soldiers in the region. With more than 3,500 soldiers deploying to the Middle East in the wake of the strike, though, Americans have been pining for a reason for the strike, which was largely considered an escalation.


What the right is saying.

On Friday, President Trump said Iran had planned to attack multiple U.S. embassies across the Middle East, including the embassy in Baghdad where Iranian militias stormed the gates and started fires. He told Laura Ingraham on Fox News that four embassies were under threat. But on Saturday, Defense Secretary Mark Esper told Face the Nation he was never shown any specific evidence that Iran was planning to attack four embassies, though he insisted he shared “the president’s view” that Iran was going to go after the embassies. White House national security adviser Robert O’Brien claims the strike will “reset deterrence” and bring Iran back to the negotiating table. Republican senators like Rand Paul and Mike Lee have said they were not shown specific evidence to justify the attack, but the highest-ranking intelligence officials have all maintained there was cause for concern: CIA director Gina Haspel and Gen. Mark Milley (the highest-ranking military official in the country) have both forcefully said the intelligence was “compelling” and a “major attack was coming,” according to NYT. Other conservatives have insisted that the intelligence is irrelevant: Soleimani has the blood of hundreds of American soldiers on his hands and has suppressed and killed his own people, so it’s a good thing he’s gone.


What the left is saying.

The “shifting rationale” is not a good look. Take this lede from The New York Times:

“They had to kill him because he was planning an ‘imminent’ attack. But how imminent they could not say. Where they could not say. When they could not say. And really, it was more about what he had already done. Or actually it was to stop him from hitting an American embassy. Or four embassies. Or not.”

Politicians on the left have insisted the Trump administration testify before Congress or explain to the public the specific rationale for the attack. Some have also pointed to the Wall Street Journal article noting Trump told associates he was “under pressure… from GOP senators he views as important supporters in his coming impeachment trial” to execute the strike. This would comport with many liberals’ belief that Trump only acts in his own self-interest. Some liberal pundits have noted the U.S. government has a long history of leading us into war based on false premises. Bernie Sanders has repeatedly referenced Vietnam and Iraq. Others have noted the administration’s claims are absurd on their face. Pence tried to tie Soleimani to 9/11. Mike Pompeo, the Secretary of State, claimed the planned attack could have taken “hundreds of Americans lives” (which would be the deadliest single attack in the Middle East over the last 20 years). It certainly seems like the administration is doing everything it can to justify killing Soleimani in hindsight. Some on the left have even pointed to the downed passenger plane as a result of U.S. escalation, claiming it got caught in “crossfire.”


My take.

I’ve found myself almost agreeing with folks on both sides but yet to find a coherent rationale or stance that really satisfies me. So I’ll try to make one of my own: I believe the administration decided to execute this strike in haste. I don’t think there was appropriate foresight or planning, and I think it was extremely dangerous as the escalation could have easily broken out into an all-out ground war overnight. While I struggle to ever write that it’s a “good thing” someone is dead, I certainly don’t think Soleimani needs to be mourned by any American. Not just because he killed U.S. soldiers — something he did as general fighting in a war — but because of how he treats his own people. Soleimani has crushed dissent in Iran and Iraq, helped orchestrate the murders of pro-Democracy protesters and repeatedly helped the Iranian regime and Iraqi government hurt or kill its own people while they tried to fight for individual rights and freedom. That, above all else, is what makes him a bad person.

I also think there’s a perfectly sane rationale for the strike from a military perspective. The best case I heard for the drone strike came from Noah Rothman on the We The Fifth podcast. Noah makes the case that America was operating in a longstanding exchange of attacks and counterattacks with Iran, and explains how it’s possible this strike actually leads to less conflict going forward. If you’re looking for a “pro-bombing-Iran” view that is born out of historical precedent and public evidence, Noah’s argument is about as good as it gets (to be clear: he didn’t convince me that the strike was a good thing, but I did think he made a compelling case).

On the other side, Nathan Robinson from Current Affairs also wrote eloquently about how to avoid swallowing wartime propaganda whole, most pointedly noting that we have little reason to trust “government officials” citing evidence that justifies military action. While Noah Rothman is a reliable conservative, some might even say a “neocon,” Nathan Robinson is a hardcore leftist. If you’re interested in hearing cogent, intelligent takes from both sides, I’d recommend listening to Noah’s interview and then reading Nathan’s article.

The truth is this administration appears to have killed Soleimani in an effort to rock the status quo and frighten Iranian leadership. If there had been a clear imminent threat, it seems unlikely the administration would have shifting and contradictory explanations. So I’m not really buying that rationale. If there was a good rationale for killing Soleimani, it’s that he has done irreparable damage to his own people. And if there was a good way to kill him, it wasn’t an attack on Iraqi soil that effectively infuriated our allies. I’m glad Soleimani is no longer a powerful figure in the Middle East, but I struggle to find anything positive about why, how, where or when the administration decided to take his life.


An apology.

Georgia Republican Rep. Doug Collins issued a rare, full-throated apology on Friday after previously suggesting that “Democrats are in love with terrorists.” Collins made the initial comments on Fox Business while criticizing Democrats for their opposition to the drone strike that killed Soleimani. After making the comments, Sen. Tammy Duckworth, a Democrat who lost both of her legs while serving in Iraq, responded with this tweet:

Not long after, Collins issued an apology for his comments.


Ads.

Judge Judy, who had previously endorsed Michael Bloomberg in an op-ed, is now doing television ads for his candidacy. I know some people might scoff at this, but Judge Judy may literally be the most influential person on cable television. 10 million people watch her show every day. That’s more than double Dr. Phil and almost three times Fox News’s Sean Hannity.


Your questions, answered.

Reminder: You can ask questions, too! All you have to do is reply to this email and write in. You can also tweet at Tangle News here.

Q: I see the various amounts raised by different candidates, but I'm not sure what information to take away from that.  Bernie seems to get a lot of donations, but still seems to be pretty far behind the rest of the other Democratic candidates. Is there a historical correlation between donations raised and likelihood of winning the presidential nomination? Also, why is Trump able to raise so much money?  He seems like the person who needs it the least, so why are donors flooding his campaign? In a similar vein, I'd be curious to see Bloomberg's donations, since he really doesn't need it.

- Sean, Long Island, NY

Tangle: There are a number of questions here, so I’ll try to tackle them in the order you asked them.

The main thing prediction markets and pollsters takeaway from donations is enthusiasm. But even more important is the details of the donations and the position the money puts a candidate in. For instance, Bernie Sanders has out-raised other Democrats, but he’s also received donations from more people than any other Democrat. 1.8 million people donated to his campaign in the fourth quarter of last year, and five million people total have donated to his campaign. That’s why his fundraising gets so much attention: despite there being a huge field of Democrats to choose from, he’s still managed to get five million individual people to donate to his campaign.

As for whether donations raised and winning correlate, it’s kind of hard to parse. In short, yes: candidates who raise a lot of money usually have the best shot of winning. That’s probably because they are the most popular candidates and can spend the most money. That doesn’t mean contributions are predictive, though. Polls are still the most predictive when it comes to guessing who will an election, but the so-called “betting markets” weigh a candidates’ polls, donations, endorsements, etc. to predict their odds of winning. Here is how the markets look as of Sunday night, according to one of the most popular sites out there, ElectionBettingOdds.com:

Your question about Trump is an interesting one, and I’m not sure I have a great answer. You certainly wouldn’t catch me donating to Trump, Tom Steyer or Michael Bloomberg, who all gave extravagant wealth and could easily fund their own campaigns. In fact, in 2016, Trump spent $66 million of his own money (he had promised he’d spend $100 million but never did) on his way to winning the election.

Still, the biggest reason Trump picks up so much money is that he is totally unopposed. While there continues to be a fervent and well-connected anti-Trump movement in the Republican party, other voters who don’t want Democrats to win only have one realistic option to donate to: Donald Trump. The president also has a brilliant merchandise campaign and is funding heavily off of anti-impeachment ads. He sells all sorts of bizarre products based on things as obscure as the denigrating nicknames he comes up with for political opponents. I think Trump supporters see every dollar donated as helping fight the Democrats and every t-shirt bought as helping promote Trump, so it’s a worthwhile investment for his supporters.


Screenshot of Donald Trump’s shop online.

Finally, Bloomberg. He actually vowed to not accept any political donations and so far he’s kept his promise. So the answer to your question is that he has no donation funding. The wealthy-billionaire-former-New York City mayor is spending far more money than any candidate in the race, and it’s all coming out of his own pocket. Because the Democratic National Committee has a donation and polling threshold to qualify for debates, Bloomberg won’t be on stage for any Democratic debates unless he successfully lobbies the party to make an exception (he’s already met the polling threshold). In the first month of his campaign, he spent $100 million, and some experts have predicted he could spend as much as $1 billion to beat Trump himself or help another Democrat win the 2016 election.


A story that matters.

Republican governors across the United States have blindsided Trump by opting to accept refugees into their states. In September, the Trump administration filed an executive order, currently being challenged in court, that allowed states and local governments to reject refugees. But instead of joining Trump and rejecting the refugees, 42 of the 43 states who have taken a stance so far have accepted refugees. Only Texas, led by Gov. Greg Abbot, has opted to reject refugees (which earned him this scathing editorial in The Dallas Morning News). 18 of the 26 Republican-governed states have already opted into the refugee program, and 7 of the remaining 8 are yet to take a stance. Trump supporters and foes say the administration misread the religious communities that have a heavy influence in red states and support refugee resettlement. You can read more for NBC News here.


Numbers.

  • 1 million. The estimate number of people who have died from alcohol-related causes between 1999 and 2017.

  • $4.6 billion. The amount of money refugees spent in Texas in 2015.

  • $1.6 billion. The amount of money refugees paid in taxes in Texas in 2015.

  • 1.8%. Cory Booker’s national polling average in the Democratic primary this morning, according to RealClearPolitics, before he dropped out of the race.

  • 2.7%. Cory Booker’s Iowa polling average in the Democratic primary this morning, according to RealClearPolitics, before he dropped out of the race.

  • $253 trillion. The amount of debt the entire world holds, according to the Institute of International Finance, a new record.

  • These TV ad buy numbers:


Have a nice day.

For starving animals in Australia this week, food literally fell from the sky. Choppers dropped thousands of carrots and sweet potatoes in areas where wallabies and other Australian wildlife are struggling to find food because of the fires. In total, the park service has dropped about 4,850 pounds of fresh vegetables into the brush for the animals. Click.


Share Tangle.

If you like Tangle, please consider forwarding this email to friends or sharing Tangle on social media. If someone sent you this email, you can subscribe below.