This week:The Briefing, Vol. VII, Issue 38
- Impeachment is a political act
- Biden’s quiet collapse in polling, fundraising
- Ossoff raising big bucks once again
President Trump is not afraid of impeachment, and especially not of the convoluted charge being laid against him.
Last week, as Democrats began their informal inquiry, he embrace the charge. What a whistleblower claimed he had done in hushed tones, he shouted instead from the housetops. He said on national television, with cameras rolling, that he wants to see foreign government’s investigate the alleged corruption of Joe Biden — a potential opponent in next year’s election. And he added, implausibly, that politics was not at issue.
So far, the White House has been laudably transparent in producing the documents in question — the transcript of Trump’s phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and the complaint of the anti-Trump whistleblower. Now he has also been transparent in answering to the charge. Yes, he has said, he embraces the charge that he made (and still makes) such requests for foreign governments to investigate U.S. citizens. All the Democrats have left in hand is to accuse Trump of improper motives and of using U.S. aid to Ukraine as leverage for such a request.
Hence Trump’s dogged insistence that there was no “quid pro quo.”
A political act: Impeachment is a political act. It makes a judgment about what is proper. It doesn’t necessarily have to be about what is strictly illegal.
In this case, Trump would be severely abusing power were he to lean on Ukraine for personal favors. But he wouldn’t necessarily have committed a criminal offense, given the vast power over foreign policy and diplomacy that presidents have. This essentially guarantees that the impeachment process will be viewed as political. Everyone will thus take whatever evidence emerges to be proof for his own side. The question is how the less-engaged voter will view the process — as a “witch hunt,” or as a needed fight against an abuse of presidential power.
Biden’s quiet collapse: The Trump-Ukraine controversy is already claiming a victim, but it isn’t Trump. It’s Joe Biden. And this may actually be the entire point of the defiant rhetoric coming from President Trump and Rudy Giuliani.
At the very least, he is not being helped by the constant mention of his son’s shady foreign sources of income obviously the direct result of his own position. Given that Biden has appeared all along to be Trump’s strongest general election opponent, one suspects that Trump is milking the Ukraine story in order to choose a weaker adversary for next fall. This is why Trump’s campaign is spending $10 million on anti-Biden ads relate to the Ukraine scandal. Trump does not want to face Biden.
But it would be a mistake to blame just Ukraine for Biden’s current state of collapse. His fall in the polls began before the current impeachment controversy. He now trails Elizabeth Warren in the last two national polls, but he trailed behind her in two Iowa polls in the middle of September and at least one New Hampshire poll and one California poll taken before the Ukraine call transcript was released. Warren is also beginning to erode his lead among black voters.
What’s more, Biden’s fundraising clearly began to dry up before any of this started — before the Ukraine call even took place.
Biden’s third quarter total of $15 million was abysmal. It was a sharp decline from his second quarter, and it put him far behind the other two candidates who matter (Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders each raised $25 million in the quarter) and even one who doesn’t matter (Pete Buttigieg raised $19 million).
Consider also that Andrew Yang, with his $10 million haul, is now in the same fundraising ballpark as Biden, and unlike Yang, Biden cannot afford to self-fund. Moreover, Biden has not even released his cash-on-hand numbers. This leaves the strong possibility that he is doing even worse than the topline fundraising numbers suggest.
Trump, but with money: Note that in contrast to Biden, President Trump raised $45 million in the third quarter just online, including more than 300,000 new small donors. Trump and the RNC raised a combined $125 million in the third quarter, a staggering sum.
It is not a surprise that a sitting president should outraise Democratic primary contenders, even by quite a bit. But it is quite surprising that an established incumbent president could build up his small-donor base on such a scale. Recall that in 2016, Hillary Clinton outspent Trump roughy two-to-one. Just imagine what he will be able to do with actual money.
Louisiana: Next Saturday, Gov. John Bel Edwards, D, will be within inches of the 50% majority he needs to avoid a runoff, one way or another. It is anyone’s guess which side of 50 he will end on. On the Republican side, businessman Eddie Rispone and Rep. Ralph Abraham are fighting Edwards and one another to force that runoff and of course to reach it, respectively.
Georgia: Given his failure in 2017, it’s a bit surprising that Jon Ossoff got donors to part with $800,000 of their hard-earned money for his Senate bid. But he’s putting his old lists to good use, and it’s going to be a problem for any other Democrat interested in running for the regular Senate seat that is up this cycle — that of Sen. David Perdue, R. Ossoff raised and spent almost $50 million in losing a House special election to former Rep. Karen Handel, R, who went on to lose to another Democrat in 2018.