The Senate acquits Trump. But Romney does damage.

Plus: Which Democrat can beat Trump in 2020?

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Today’s read: 8 minutes.

The latest from Iowa, Mitt Romney’s vote to remove Trump from office and a reader question about the Democrat who can beat Trump.

Senate Republican Mitt Romney, who made history by voting to remove President Trump from office. Photo: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

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Iowa.

97% of Iowa results have now been reported. Pete Buttigieg and Bernie Sanders are in a virtual tie. Sanders has earned 26.5% of the popular vote with 44,753 votes. Buttigieg has earned 25% of the popular vote with 42,235 votes. But Buttigieg earned 550 State Delegate Equivalents to Sanders’ 547. In the past, the Democratic party has declared the winner of Iowa based on delegates earned, so it may end up that Buttigieg is elevated as the victor. But the final 3% of the vote, and delegate counts from satellite caucuses, could give Sanders a clear victory on both counts. The New York Times is also reporting that there are at least 100 inconsistencies and errors in the results released by the Democratic party, throwing an election that has already been riddled with negative press into further confusion.


What D.C. is talking about.

Yesterday, the United States Senate acquitted President Donald Trump on both articles of impeachment related to charges that he pressured Ukrainian leaders into investigating his political rival Joe Biden. After four months of trials and investigations, the impeachment ended with a largely party-line vote (52-48 on Article I, 53-47 on Article II), falling well short of the two-thirds majority required to remove a sitting president from office. It was the third time a president has been impeached and the third time an impeached president has been acquitted by the Senate. However, Utah Republican Mitt Romney did make history by voting to convict Trump on the first article of impeachment, abuse of power. It was the first time in United States history that a senator voted to remove a president from his own party. And while Trump did display political power and Republican unity with the vote, it wasn’t quite as he would have dreamed it. Even in voting to acquit him, several Senate Republicans criticized his actions and conceded that they were inappropriate or improper, refusing to parrot his administration’s talking point that he had done nothing wrong. Trump will now become the first president to ever run for re-election after being impeached. Here’s how the major papers played it:

Screenshot: The Wall Street Journal
Screenshot: The Washington Post
Screenshot: The New York Times

What the left is saying.

There was never any real doubt that the Senate would acquit Trump, and yesterday’s outcome was actually better than some on the left had hoped for. Romney’s vote made history, and the attack ads write themselves: Trump is now the first president whose own party members voted to remove from office. Two of the most vulnerable Democrats, Kyrsten Sinema (Arizona) and Joe Manchin (West Virginia), voted to convict Trump on both articles of impeachment, which was a big show of unity from Senate Democrats. Still, yesterday also brought a sense of foreboding. The left has mostly felt like Trump was obviously guilty as charged and deserved to be removed from office. Yet only one senator, perhaps the safest politically, had the courage or moral fortitude to vote to remove Trump.

It’s a reminder that the president is firmly in control of the party and his brand of politics is now the future of the GOP. “The verdict of this kangaroo court will be meaningless,” Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said. “You cannot be on the side of this president and be on the side of truth.” Sen. Brian Schatz from Hawaii said he walked off the Senate floor in tears after listening to Mitt Romney’s speech. “He literally restored my faith in the institution,” Schatz said. Sherrod Brown, the Ohio Democrat, published an op-ed in The New York Times claiming that Republicans admit in private they acquitted Trump “out of fear.”


What the right is saying.

It’s scorched earth for Romney. Donald Trump Jr. called him a “pussy” on Instagram and said the GOP should expel him from the Senate. President Trump released an attack ad calling him “slick,” “stealthy,” and a “Democrat asset.” “Mitt Romney had us fooled,” the narrator says in an ominous voice. Trump also tweeted that “Had failed presidential candidate @MittRomney devoted the same energy and anger to defeating a faltering Barack Obama as he sanctimoniously does to me, he could have won the election.” The Washington Examiner ran an op-ed declaring that “Mitt Romney is not ‘principled’ — and he never has been.” Romney’s own niece, GOP Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, said she “stands with Trump” and disagrees with her uncle. The White House was not expecting any defections as late as Wednesday morning, so the Romney vote was particularly shocking and could end up being a bit of a political blow.

In an effort to maintain unity, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said there would be no “dog house” for Mitt Romney and insisted that the only vote that matters is the next one. Others mocked the left for elevating Romney, who they used to trash religiously, as some paragon of truth. Several never-Trump Republicans praised Romney up and down, saying he was one of the last Republicans in the Senate who had the courage to think independently. The Salt Lake Tribune Editorial Board also praised Romney, saying everyone should be “duly impressed with Romney’s decision to follow his heart and his conscience — and his God — in doing the right thing when the right thing was difficult.”


My take.

First off, I just want to point out something I wrote yesterday. I said, “I simply can’t take anyone seriously who pretends to be offended by Pelosi ripping up those papers and then throws their support behind him [Trump].” Last night, the president’s son, who acts as his surrogate, campaigns for him, appears with him on television, travels abroad with him, and has political aspirations of his own, posted this on Instagram:

This is why I’m not taking anyone seriously who pretends to be offended by Pelosi ripping up paper but throws their support behind the Trump brand of politics. If you’re going to support this kind of stuff, my opinion is you lose the right to feign indignation whenever Democrats do something slightly offensive.

Second, I’m not going to sit here and pretend Mitt Romney is infallible. Democrats suddenly lauding him is just laughable. He’s flip-flopped on a number of issues politically (depending on which state he’s in) and his legacy so far has mostly been defined by what an opportunist he is. Also, as he said in his floor speech on his decision to convict Trump, he’s voted with the president some 80% of the time. I certainly didn’t agree with a lot of those votes. But Romney’s religious convictions are sincere, and in the noise of today’s politics, I was actually pretty moved by his speech on the Senate floor. He lays out a coherent case for his vote, he explains why the president’s defenses rung hollow for him, he acknowledges the reality that he’s about to pay unimaginable political consequences and he also expressed some humility by noting that his vote will be a footnote in history but one he can at least be proud of. Say what you want about him, this clearly was not a vote to advance his own political agenda. He is already suffering those consequences politically and he will continue to have the ire of his party’s leader, who has proven to be vengeful and hold onto grudges.

Finally, I want to note that I have criticized Chuck Schumer quite a bit in this newsletter — especially when comparing his efficacy as a leader with Mitch McConnell’s. But if you’re on the left, this outcome deserves some praise. Schumer kept the party together, managed to have zero defections, and hauled in a surprise vote from Romney. The acquittal was always going to happen, but this was a fairly good outcome for Senate Democrats. I still think it was a huge failure to not whip enough votes for witnesses (what’s a trial without witnesses?) but I was surprised the party stayed so firmly together.

If you have another eight minutes, I do recommend watching Romney’s speech. Regardless of your feelings on him or Trump it’s worth listening to and it will certainly be a notable part of American history:


Your questions, answered.

Reminder: Asking a question is easy. All you have to do is reply to this email and write in with what you want to know. Try it!

Q: Who do you think is the best Democratic nominee to potentially beat Trump?

- John, Merrick, NY

Tangle: The million-dollar question! If I had a certain answer, I would probably be running a political campaign somewhere or making millions of dollars as a pundit on television. While I certainly don’t know “for sure,” I do have some thoughts about who would be best. To me, there are a couple of ways to view this: one is the data. This is just looking at the polls and the crucial states involved in the race and thinking about how that will shake out. The second is my own political instinct or intuition or whatever you want to call it, and how that view impacts said data. So I suppose my first answer here, which is Joe Biden, is a bit more based on practicality. My second answer, Bernie Sanders, is based more on the moment we’re in.

Biden: The polls don’t lie. I know everyone is extremely skeptical of everything after 2016, but the polls were pretty accurate. What wasn’t accurate was the predictive models a lot of publishers launched to reflect what those polls were telling us. Right now, Biden is by far the best candidate to beat Trump in Pennsylvania, which is one of the crucial swing states Trump won in 2016 that Democrats could pick up in 2020. Biden has strong roots in Philadelphia and Delaware and he’s the only top Democratic candidate not calling for a ban on fracking, which would decimate jobs in Western Pennsylvania and could be a barrier both Sanders and Warren cannot overcome. The most recent polls also show that Biden (and Sanders) are the only two candidates beating Trump in 11 key battleground states.

Looking ahead past the noise from Iowa and New Hampshire, polls also consistently show that Biden has the biggest support from African-American voters in the Democratic party. That’s important, as whoever wins the primary is not going to do without support from non-white voters (Sanders, too, does very well when you take Hispanic voters into account).

There’s also a simple reality that Biden has preserved his place as a moderate Democrat (even though he’d be running on the most progressive Democratic agenda ever if he got the nomination). For all the hype about the young voters behind Bernie, history tells us they are not nearly as reliable as the middle-aged and older voters. Biden has already gone through the ringer when it comes to opposition research, and his support amongst the most reliable Democratic voters hasn’t really wavered. It’s not hard to imagine every Democrat voting for Biden, even if they don’t like him much, given the palpable hatred and distaste of Trump on the left. He’ll pick up some moderates as well, maybe even the small sliver of never-Trump Republicans and every vote will count across Pennsylvania-Michigan-Wisconsin. It’s not hard to imagine a Biden victory over Trump in a conventional election where Democrats win back those three states and maybe even Ohio.

And then there’s Bernie Sanders. Before it was trendy, I wrote here about Sanders’ path to the nomination (and by the way, I got a LOT of heat for it online). So far he’s taking the path I predicted, seems primed to win both Iowa and New Hampshire and is coming out of the gates swinging. Contrary to Biden, Sanders is a self-described radical who wants to burn the system down and put something new in place. His fundamental message is that the system is broken. His supporters hate when he’s compared to Trump, but it’s a left-wing brand of populism that is not unlike the populism that propelled Trump to office (Sanders mostly blames the wealthy and corporations while Trump mostly blames immigrants and globalism). Which is also why it’s tough to ignore what Sanders brings to the table. He just feels more built for this moment, more “fighting fire with fire,” more tapped into the mood of the left. He’s pissed, he’s fed up and he’s ready to fight. I think Sanders is far better than Biden on stage and I think he would do far better in the debates against Trump — which I expect will be an all-time ratings bonanza — and that could do wonders for him across the country.

It’s also true that young voters are not particularly reliable, but it’s tough to overstate the enthusiasm a candidate like Sanders could create. Again, it’s anecdotal, but I have friends in Pennsylvania, Florida and Michigan who told me they didn’t even vote in 2016. I have even more friends in Pennsylvania who voted third party in 2016! A candidate like Sanders could really bring the under 35 crowds to the polls and the temperature I sense from the country indicates he’d rile up a base of non-voters who’d come out and punch a ballot to upend “the system” and “the establishment.” So many Americans on the left no longer identify with the Democratic party, and Sanders’ pitch plays right into that.

In short, my answers are Biden and Sanders, for two vastly different reasons. I also think Michael Bloomberg is quite dangerous by virtue of his money and the fact he’s basically a better version of Trump (more successful, just as experienced with the New York tabloids, more governing experience, more money, more moderate, etc). Unfortunately for him, I don’t think Bloomberg has a viable path to the Democratic nomination, so I’m not sure he’ll ever get his shot. Elizabeth Warren suffers from all the “too radical” criticisms Bernie gets but lacks the grassroots enthusiasm Sanders has been able to harness. Andrew Yang has a compelling track record of converting Trump voters but I just don’t see the national appeal yet. Pete Buttigieg is a polished candidate, but — as Kyle Kulinski put it — I kind of see a Buttigieg vs. Trump matchup going something like this:

Right now, and I’ve said this before, I still think Trump has better odds of being re-elected than being defeated next year. But I certainly think the Democrats’ best chance — not their only, but the best — is to ride a Sanders or Biden nomination.


A story that matters.

For the last two years, political pundits and politicians alike have been warning about “online disinformation” campaigns. It’s been hard to pinpoint exactly what that means, and it’s left voters and politicians using words like “election interference,” “hacking” and “propaganda” interchangeably. Few people have actually invested the time and energy into analyzing the anatomy of these online campaigns — until now. The Atlantic’s McKay Coppins wrote a thrilling story about what happened when he created a new Facebook account, liked a bunch of pro-Trump Facebook pages, and then compared his feed to what was happening “in reality.” The experience helped him receive a bunch of targeted, pro-Trump ads and content online and gave us all a look into how the president is helping ensure his own re-election. Coppins employs a term from scholars who study mass information operations: “censorship through noise.” He describes it as “tactics of information warfare that have kept the world’s demagogues and strongmen in power.” It’s a fascinating story about how the internet is impacting politics. Click.


Numbers.

  • $25 million. The amount of money Bernie Sanders raised in January alone, more than Biden, Buttigieg or Warren raised in any 2019 quarter.

  • 219,000. The number of new Sanders donors in that month.

  • 9 in 10. The number of Americans who are satisfied with their personal life at this time, according to Gallup, a new all-time high.

  • 43%. Joe Biden’s chances of winning a majority of the delegates necessary to earn the Democratic nomination before Iowa voted.

  • 17%. Joe Biden’s chances of winning a majority of the delegates necessary to earn the Democratic nomination after Iowa voted.

  • 9 points. Pete Buttigieg’s bump in New Hampshire after an apparent top-two finish in Iowa, according to a 3-day tracking poll.


Have a nice day.

Canadian government officials announced they have secured $500 million of investment to build the largest solar farm in the country this year. The investment came from the Denmark-based Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners. Dan Balaban, the president of Greengate Power, says the construction will create 500 jobs and provide an ongoing income stream for landowners who are participating in the project. 1.5 million solar panels will be built and they’ll generate enough power to feed 100,000 homes electricity. The solar farm will be about a third of the size of Manhattan. Alberta, where the farm is being built, is considered a leader on renewable energy. It is also home to the country’s largest wind energy project. You can read more from CBC here.