Some news shouldn’t matter but sometimes something is up, and something was up in Virginia:
Democrats completed Virginia’s historic partisan shift from red to blue on Tuesday, winning majorities in both chambers of the legislature and consolidating power across state government for the first time in a generation.
In an election where passions about President Trump and the impeachment inquiry drove voters on both sides, a revolt against the president in Virginia’s rapidly growing suburbs helped remake the state’s political map. Now, under Gov. Ralph Northam, who survived scandal earlier this year, Democrats are positioned to advance a set of sweeping liberal priorities.
Virginia was red. Now it’s blue. That’s what’s up. Things may be changing, and Donald Trump may be the reason that things are changing:
Going into Tuesday, Republicans held a 20 to 19 advantage in the State Senate and a 51 to 48 edge in the House of Delegates, with one vacancy in each chamber. Democrats picked up at least two Senate seats, including an upset in a suburban Richmond district by Ghazala Hashmi, who will be the first Muslim woman in the Senate.
A former college literature professor, Ms. Hashmi was brought to the country from India as a child. Running her first campaign, she described experiencing a personal crisis after Mr. Trump ordered a ban on immigration from Muslim-majority countries.
“I didn’t know if I actually had a home in this country,” she said in an interview before the voting. “My anxiety was caused by wondering if other people would speak up and support the assault we were seeing on civil liberties.” She decided to speak up and represent herself.
Other people spoke out, but in the opposite direction. They sent her to the state senate, where a former college literature professor might prove useful. She’s probably quite good making sense of complex narratives that don’t seem to make sense until you figure out what is actually being said. Maybe she can make sense of Trump’s tales, but that was already underway:
In the days ahead of Election Day, Republicans warned direly that conservatives faced an existential crisis, in which they could lose the Virginia they had known, while Democrats argued their opponents had too long tried to block progress on issues like Medicaid expansion, a higher minimum wage and gun safety.
Pre-election polling showed the top issues were all ones that favored Democrats: raising the minimum wage to $15, spending more on roads and, especially, after a mass shooting in Virginia Beach this year, expanding background checks and banning assault weapons.
There was stuff to fix. Everyone knew that, so the Democrats offered realism. Let’s fix it. Republicans offered what is called “magic realism” – that which makes no sense at all but is hypnotically evocative and wonderful – and complete nonsense.
And of course much of this was deeply symbolic:
Juli Briskman, who famously flipped off President Donald Trump’s motorcade in a viral 2017 photo, won her race Tuesday night for a seat on the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors in Virginia.
Briskman, a former marketing executive and local Democratic activist, unseated eight-year incumbent Republican Suzanne Volpe…
Briskman made national news in October 2017 when a White House photographer traveling with the president snapped a picture of her riding her bicycle and giving the middle finger to Trump’s motorcade as it passed her.
Every movement needs its iconic moment and that was it, and then just one state over, there was this:
Democrat Andy Beshear claimed victory Tuesday night over incumbent Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin (R), a Trump ally who said he was not ready to concede the election with only a few thousand votes separating him from reelection.
Beshear, Kentucky’s attorney general, was leading statewide by about 5,000 votes, dominating in many urban and suburban communities, while Bevin ran strong in many farming counties.
And that was that. Matt Bevin can refuse to concede. Matt Bevin can hold his breath until he turns blue. He can scream all he wants about voter fraud. But he doesn’t have the votes. He lost. Now all he can do is watch the calm and cool and subtle guy who is the opposite of Trump, this new unifying guy:
Appearing at his victory party shortly after 10 p.m., Beshear vowed to be a “governor for everyone.” He said the election’s outcome should be viewed as a sign that voters are tired of partisan division.
“With all the partisan bickering and nastiness that we are seeing in politics, we have an opportunity to do better right here in Kentucky,” Beshear said. “I ran on kitchen-table issues, and I will govern, focused on those same challenges of good jobs, health care for every Kentuckian, protecting and funding our pensions and always supporting public education.”
That’s not Trump at all of course:
The governor’s race ended with President Trump mounting an aggressive effort to stop Beshear from winning the governor’s mansion in a state that the president carried by nearly 30 percent just three years earlier. The contest was marred by bitter personality and policy disagreements between the two candidates, including Bevin’s spat with Kentucky teachers over efforts to reform their pensions…
Those were needless fights, but there they were anyway:
In a statement Tuesday evening, Trump’s 2020 campaign manager Brad Parscale maintained that Trump’s support boosted Republican candidates in Kentucky on election night.
“President Trump’s rally helped five of six Kentucky Republicans win clear statewide victories, including Attorney General-elect Daniel Cameron, who will be the first black A.G. in Kentucky history and the first Republican to hold the office since 1948,” he said. “The President just about dragged Gov. Matt Bevin across the finish line, helping him run stronger than expected in what turned into a very close race at the end. A final outcome remains to be seen.”
Fine – Trump and Brad Parscale can wait for Godot, but he’s not coming. They’re stuck where they always were stuck:
In 2014 Bevin shocked pundits when he won the governor’s race by nearly nine points. Bevin’s surprise win and brash speaking style earned him the moniker “Trump before Trump,” and he and Trump frequently speak on the telephone, both men have said…
Bevin got into high-profile clashes with teachers and labor leaders over the state’s chronically underfunded pension program. After teachers staged sickouts and walkouts in protest of efforts to slash benefits, Bevin accused them of being “thuggish” and “selfish.” Bevin’s comments and proposals enraged educators, and state and national teachers unions poured millions of dollars into the Democratic campaign to defeat him this year.
With polls showing Bevin was one of the least popular governors in the country, the Democratic Governors Association also invested heavily in the campaign to oust him.
And that wasn’t that hard:
Bevin – the father of nine children including four who were adopted – aired ads vowing to oppose abortion rights and “sanctuary cities.” He also seized on congressional Democrats’ impeachment inquiry into Trump by urging the president’s supporters to help reelect him to send a message.
“It’s a load of baloney, and if you want to make their heads explode, elect every one of us,” Bevin said at a rally with other GOP candidates on Saturday in northeastern Kentucky. “If you want to make The Washington Post and the New York Times, and all of these other rags get all worked up and hot and bothered, vote straight Republican.”
Bevin’s message was amplified by Trump, whose visit Monday night drew several days of buildup coverage in the local media…
“The radical Democrats want to obliterate the rule of law, drive out faith from the public square, silence you online, confiscate your guns,” Trump said.
And the people went the other way, which should worry Republicans, as Karen Tumulty discusses here:
The latest Post-ABC News poll has some seriously troubling news for President Trump: A year out from the 2020 election, he is hemorrhaging the support he once enjoyed from independents.
If it hadn’t been for voters who claim no party affiliation, Trump most likely would not be in the White House today.
In 2016, he carried independents by four percentage points across the country, according to the National Election Pool exit poll. But in the states that mattered most, independents pulled him across the finish line. For instance, in Michigan, which had the nation’s closest contest, Trump won independents by 16 percentage points over Hillary Clinton.
But that might not happen this time:
In the latest survey, five of the most talked-about Democratic candidates are besting Trump with independents. Biden has expanded his lead over the president to 17 points, while Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) do nearly as well, each leading the president by 16 points among independents. They favor Sen. Kamala D. Harris (Calif.) over Trump by 11 points, and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg by 10 points.
In other words, the poll suggests that independents are increasingly willing to vote for a Democrat, no matter which of the most likely possibilities the party nominates. It also erodes Biden’s chief selling point, which is that he is the most “electable” prospect in the field.
But that hardly matters, given Tumulty’s anecdotal evidence:
Over the weekend, I sat down with 17 undeclared New Hampshire voters, who were among the 1,500 people attending a “Problem Solver Convention” sponsored by the group No Labels, which promotes the unfashionable concept that it is still possible to conduct the people’s business across party lines.
Just less than half of them said they had voted for Trump. But one of those Trump voters, Rachel Spierer of Manchester, told me she might be willing to vote for a Democrat if the party picks someone like Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), who struck Spierer as “a mensch” during Brett M. Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings.
“Even as she spoke up and challenged him, the venom wasn’t there,” Spierer said.
And there’s this:
Dale Pike of Newmarket told me he used to be comfortable with Republicans back in the era of George H. W. Bush, but has voted more Democratic in recent years.
Pike likes a political slogan he spotted lately: Any Sane Adult 2020.
“I’m not in favor of a socialist. I’m not in favor of that. Other than that, it’s ‘any sane adult,'” he said.
And any sane adult has no problem with impeachment:
The people I talked to were also, by and large, supportive of the Democratic House’s vote to move forward on an impeachment inquiry in light of growing evidence that Trump withheld badly needed aid from Ukraine to further his own political interests.
They recognize that it is not likely to remove him from office, as the chances of a conviction by the Republican-held Senate are slim. But at a minimum, an impeachment investigation shows “there is some level of accountability,” Tom McGreevey of Concord said. “I think accountability at some level is what people want.”
And it was a day for that, as Kevin Drum notes here:
Last month, Gordon Sondland, Trump’s roving loyalist in Europe, testified that there was no quid pro quo in Ukraine. Sure, Trump was holding up military aid, and sure, Trump was balking at a meeting with Ukraine’s new president, and sure, Trump wanted Ukraine’s president to open an investigation into Joe Biden. But that was all just a big coincidence.
A week later, Bill Taylor, a professional diplomat who is our actual acting ambassador to Ukraine, testified quite differently. He testified that there was indeed a quid pro quo; Sondland knew all about it; and Taylor himself thought it was nuts.
Faced with this, Sondland had a choice to make. Fess up or risk going to prison for perjury?
But of course that choice was easy:
A crucial witness in the impeachment inquiry reversed himself this week and acknowledged to investigators that he had told a top Ukrainian official that the country would most likely have to give President Trump what he wanted – a public pledge for investigations – in order to unlock military aid.
The disclosure from Gordon D. Sondland, an ally of Mr. Trump who is the United States ambassador to the European Union, confirmed his role in laying out a quid pro quo to Ukraine that conditioned the release of security assistance from the United States on the country’s willingness to say it was investigating former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and other Democrats.
That admission, included in a four-page sworn statement released on Tuesday, directly contradicted his testimony to investigators last month, when he said he “never” thought there was any precondition on the aid.
Well, he suddenly “remembered” things, so at least he couldn’t be charged with perjury:
Mr. Sondland’s disclosure appeared intended to insulate him from accusations that he intentionally misled Congress during his earlier testimony, in which he frequently said he could not recall key details and events under scrutiny by impeachment investigators.
It also provided Democrats with a valuable piece of evidence from a critical witness to fill out the picture of their abuse-of-power case against the president. Unlike other officials who have offered damaging testimony about Mr. Trump, Mr. Sondland is a political supporter of the president who has interacted directly with him.
In short, he had saved himself and screwed Trump, but there was more:
Mr. Sondland had said in a text message exchange in early September with William B. Taylor Jr., the top American diplomat in Ukraine, that the president had been clear there was no quid pro quo between the aid and investigations of the Bidens. But Mr. Sondland testified last month that he was only repeating what Mr. Trump had told him, leaving open the question of whether he believed the president.
His addendum suggested that Mr. Sondland was not completely forthcoming with Mr. Taylor, and that he was, in fact, aware that the aid was contingent on the investigations. In his updated testimony, Mr. Sondland recounted how he had discussed the linkage with Andriy Yermak, a top adviser to President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, on the sidelines of a Sept. 1 meeting between Vice President Mike Pence and Mr. Zelensky in Warsaw. Mr. Zelensky had discussed the suspension of aid with Mr. Pence, Mr. Sondland said.
Kevin Drum notes the damage that has been done here:
Unless my memory is playing tricks on me, this is the first time the Pence has been explicitly tied to the quid pro quo. Pence’s previous testimony has been the usual favorite of VPs throughout history: he was out of the loop and knew nothing. But if Sondland is to be believed, that’s not true.
So now it looks like pretty much everyone knew about Trump’s extortion of Ukraine. He wanted President Zelensky to get in front of a microphone and announce in no uncertain terms that a probe of the Bidens was being re-opened. Once that was done, the money spigot would flow and the doors of the White House would be thrown open.
And once again for the slow learners: Trump was doing this not in exchange for some kind of US benefit. He was doing it specifically for personal gain in an upcoming election.
But Republicans continue to pretend that this is no big deal because they’re afraid of what Trump’s base might do to them if they admitted that this was, in fact, a serious abuse of power. And so nothing happens.
Andrew Feinberg sees that too:
As Donald Trump strode onstage to deliver remarks at a Lexington, Kentucky “Keep America Great” rally on Monday night, home viewers might have noticed that his campaign made good on his plan to introduce “Read the Transcript” T-shirts into America’s politico-sartorial discourse.
It’s a move that GOP ad-man Rick Wilson said could be attributed to the 45th president being “a fucking moron”, or, as one more generous GOP source put it, “proof that Donald Trump will turn anything and everything into something he can sell.”
But it’s also proof of his imperviousness to reality.
Yes, Donald Trump is not any sane adult:
Nearly six weeks into the House-led impeachment inquiry, aides say Trump remains convinced that Americans will absolve him of anything untoward if they’d just “read the transcript” of his self-described “perfect call” with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (which is not a verbatim transcript and may, according to one witness, have been altered to omit key details).
Of course, polls taken over the last eight weeks shows that as more and more Americans read the “transcript” that inspired the shirts, more and more Americans have become increasingly supportive of Democrats’ investigation.
However, it’s no longer the only “transcript” Americans can read if they want to judge President Trump’s actions for themselves.
Over the past 24 hours, House Democrats have released four transcripts – yes, actual verbatim transcripts – of interviews with numerous administration officials, conducted by both Republican and Democratic members and staff on the House Foreign Affairs, Intelligence and Oversight Committees.
And if Americans study these new transcripts closely, it’s unlikely they’ll be as convinced as Trump thinks they’ll be that the president never did anything wrong.
That might explain the evening’s election results, but one current House Oversight Committee member, Jamie Raskin, says this:
“The President has run out of excuses, defenses, and alibis as far as I can tell, so our Republican colleagues have been pretty much defenseless against the overwhelming weight of testimony being offered by seriously credible witnesses,” Raskin said. “Our GOP colleagues basically have nothing except some discredited old conspiracy theories and some idle conjecture about the Bidens, but none of that lays a glove on the case against the President that has emerged. This was a political shakedown of the Ukrainian government by Trump and his henchmen… executed against the interests of the United States and the policies of the State Department.”
Raskin said he wasn’t sure if Republicans have even settled on a strategy for defending the President… “Perhaps there is a method to this madness, but I perceive basic disarray on the GOP side. They are experiencing cognitive dissonance because they are ending up defending a president who has undermined our national security, sided with the tyrant of Russia and attacked our career foreign service officers.”
“That’s a tough position for them to be in,” he continued, adding that the GOP’s desire to unmask the anonymous Intelligence Community whistleblower whose complaint sparked the impeachment probe “is both absurd and pernicious.”
“It’s like attacking someone who calls the fire department about a 12-story blaze which everyone is trying to put out – or if Nixon blamed Watergate on Deep Throat,” he said. “It’s also pernicious because it’s dangerous. The President has inflamed political tensions and somebody could get hurt in this environment. Scapegoating a whistleblower is the kind of tactic you’d find in a banana republic.”
People really are beginning to notice that. One year out from the general election, voters now see that clearly enough. So they’re searching for that one sane adult. And perhaps they’ll find one. Trump wasn’t it. Oops.