Welcome to 2020! We kick off this new year with a pleasant bit of news about the Morning Jolt. Everyone who wants to get this newsletter entirely in email form, and to not have to click through to the NR website after a few paragraphs, you now can get the Jolt completely in email form . . . if you subscribe to NRPlus. Hey, right now it’s just $40 per year, which comes out to about eleven cents a day. NRPlus gives you full access to the magazine and its archives, way fewer ads, a members-only Facebook page where I and other NR staff hang out, and early access and invitations to NR events. It’s definitely worth it, and particularly to that guy who stopped me at the farmer’s market to say he wanted the Jolt to go back to pure email form. He should have subscribed by now, if he hasn’t already.
Today’s menu: An extremely tense situation around the U.S. embassy in Baghdad appears to have resolved itself peacefully, at least for now; Democratic candidates announce their fundraising numbers (spoiler, the president’s campaign war chest is much bigger), providing a quick lesson on why serious campaigns require so much money; an odd claim about leverage in that quickly fading impeachment fight; and a review of those end-of-the-year awards you may have missed.
Good News for Americans in Iraq . . . At Least For Now
That extraordinarily tense situation in Baghdad has a calm ending, at least for now: “The siege by supporters of an Iranian-backed militia at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad ended Wednesday after the militia ordered them to withdraw, bringing relief to the diplomats trapped inside and averting a potential showdown between the United States and Iran.”
But note this detail that isn’t showing up in the headlines: “The leaders later announced that their agreement to withdraw was conditioned on a commitment from Iraq’s prime minister, Adel Abdul Mahdi, to move ahead with legislation to force American troops to withdraw from Iraq.”
Lawmakers allied with these pro-Iran militias have raised this issue before in the Iraqi parliament and not gotten much traction. But now? Who knows. This appears to have been a straight-up demonstration of power by Tehran, an exhibition of who really controls what happens on the streets of Baghdad, according to the Wall Street Journal’s Ghassan Adnan and Isabel Coles: “It also starkly revealed the dominance of factions allied to Tehran within the Iraqi government, drawing it more closely into Iran’s orbit. Militia supporters disregarded orders from caretaker Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi to withdraw from the embassy on Tuesday but almost immediately began dismantling tents they had pitched on the opposite side of the street in response to the PMF’s request.”
The irony, of course, is that many Americans would like to leave Iraq. But we can’t leave entirely unless we A) feel certain that Iraqi security forces can unilaterally handle any attempt at a comeback by ISIS and B) that our diplomats and other personnel in the country are protected.
The discussion on social media feels like alternating premature celebrations. When the siege began, you saw more than a few folks on the left seemingly excited and enthusiastic about what they were certain would be “Trump’s Benghazi.” When U.S. forces mobilized quickly and the militias withdrew, Trump supporters started gloating that their man had faced down the challenge correctly. What happened over the past 24 hours is good news . . . but this test of wills isn’t finished, it merely paused. The Iranians aren’t just going to say “oh, well,” and stop trying to antagonize us. As Randa Slim, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute in Washington, tells the New York Times today, “this is one round of many rounds to come.”
Go Figure, It Turns out Running for President Requires a Lot of Money
The new year means a new fundraising quarter for the presidential candidates; Bernie Sanders raised $34.5 million in the last quarter, Pete Buttigieg raised $24.7 million, and Andrew Yang raised $16.5 million. Meanwhile, the Trump campaign raised $46 million last quarter. As the New York Times puts it, “the Trump campaign said it had raised $143 million for 2019 and held a staggering $102.7 million in cash on hand.” If your preferred candidate hasn’t announced their numbers by now, it isn’t guaranteed to be bad news . . . but campaigns rarely sit on good news for long.
Late last week, a fundraising email from the Sanders campaign lamented that running for president requires “obscene” amounts of money, and I wondered just how much the Sanders camp or anyone else thinks it should cost. A serious presidential campaign is a massive endeavor, an attempt to reach and persuade tens of millions of people across all fifty states, requiring paid staff and offices and transportation and advertising. The power to make decisions for the entire executive branch of government is at stake. Why would anyone think you could do this on a shoestring?
If your target audience is “just about every adult in America,” you have to spend a lot of money to reach that audience. If you’re seeing the same message from New York to California and from Minnesota to Florida, chances are somebody paid a lot of money to make that happen. Back in 2018, Chevrolet spent $825 million, Verizon spent $935 million, Amazon spent $1 billion on advertising, and American Express spent $2.8 billion. And remember, when it comes to television and radio advertising, candidates for federal offices are guaranteed the lowest available rate for the time slots they request.
(Every cycle, George Will points out that the sum of money Americans spend on elections each year is less than the amount that they spend on chewing gum.)
The lament that running for president is too expensive often comes with the contention that the fundraising necessities mean a lot of good potential presidents can’t complete or choose not to run. Color me a bit skeptical of this assertion. I suspect a lot of good potential presidents don’t want to deal with the hassle involved with running for president, including the complete loss of privacy, the impact on their families, the grueling and relentless schedule, the frustrating compromises that almost always come with the job. I also suspect that some of the best potential presidents recognize that no matter how well you do the job, some young men and women in uniform are almost certainly going to die on your watch because of your orders, and you’re going to have to write the condolence letters to their families. The best leaders recognize that the presidency is a heavy responsibility, not a grand prize.
Good leaders adjust to the realities of the time that they’re living in and the requirements of the mission at hand. If you want to be president, you need to develop a national fundraising network capable of raising tens of millions of dollars, full stop. This has been reality for decades; it didn’t sneak up on anybody. You need a plan to accumulate resources; you can’t simply hope that money will appear. The Internet has made it much easier for campaigns to raise money than before the 1990s. As seen above, Sanders, Buttigieg, and Yang figured out how to raise more than ten million in a quarter, much of it from small donors. Four years ago at this time, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Donald Trump had raised eight-figure sums in one quarter. If they can figure out how to do it, then surely the next great president can figure out how to do it.
When I hear a candidate lament, “I would make an excellent president and commander in chief, I’m inspiring, people believe in me, people trust that I have the judgment to make the country a better place . . . but I just can’t get people to give me money,” I’m skeptical that he would be as great a president as they think.
Hey, Remember Impeachment?
Eleanor Clift seems convinced that time is on Nancy Pelosi’s side, and that the longer she waits to send the impeachment articles to the Senate, the more leverage she has over Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell.
Really? The House impeached Trump two weeks ago. There’s nothing about impeachment on the front page of today’s New York Times, Wall Street Journal, or Washington Post. The country is already refocused on the violence in Iraq, the latest threatening rhetoric from North Korea, the Democratic primary, the vaping ban, the partial deal on trade with China, the church shooting in Texas, and the violence against Jews in New York . . . Life moves on pretty quickly these days. Americans are not sitting on the edge of their seats, dying to know how this dispute between Pelosi and McConnell gets resolved.
ADDENDA: If you’re not listening to the Three Martini Lunch podcast that I tape with Greg Corombos — twelve to twenty minutes or so, every weekday, a fast and funny take on the day’s top headlines — you missed out on our end-of-the-year awards over the holidays.
- Most Overrated Political Figure . . . Jim’s pick: Beto O’Rourke. Greg’s pick: Pete Buttigieg.
- Most Underrated Political Figure . . . Jim’s pick: Andrew Yang. Greg’s pick: Amy Klobuchar.
- Most Honest Political Figure . . . Jim’s pick: Mitt Romney, the Trump critic who votes with the administration’s position 79.3 percent of the time. Greg’s pick: Mark Sanford.
- Sorry to see you go . . . Jim’s pick: David Koch and Pat Caddell. Greg’s pick: His father, Ted Corombos, who in addition to being an exemplary father, was mayor of Iron Mountain, Mich.
- Rising Star: Jim’s pick: New York representative Elise Stefanik. Greg’s pick: Florida governor Ron DeSantis.
- Fading into Oblivion: Jim’s pick: Mark Sanford. Greg’s pick: Howard Schultz.
- Worst Scandal: Jim’s pick: The abandonment of our Kurdish allies. Greg’s pick: FISA abuse.
- Best Political Theater: Jim’s pick: Boris Johnson’s Conservatives, Actually ad. Greg’s pick: Tulsi taking out Kamala Harris in one of the debates.
- Worst Political Theater: Jim’s pick: the Democratic debates because of the terrible ten-candidate format. Greg’s pick: How the left is exploiting Greta Thunberg.
- Best Idea: Jim’s pick: the U.S. working out some trade agreements with Japan, the EU, and now, it appears, USMCA. Greg’s pick: Trump tariff threat vs. Mexico to improve border security.
- Worst Idea: Jim’s pick: Trump hiring Rudy Giuliani as his personal lawyer. Greg’s pick: the Green New Deal.
- Boldest Tactic: Jim’s pick: The White House refused to cooperate with the impeachment process at all, and as far as we can tell, paid either no or minimal price for it. Greg’s pick: Virginia counties and other locales claiming Second Amendment sanctuary status.
- Most Overreported Story of the Year: Jim’s pick: the Russia collusion theory. Greg’s pick: The smear of the Covington Kids.
- Most Underreported Story of the Year: Jim’s pick: The U.S. becoming a net crude oil and petroleum product exporter in September. Greg’s pick: Virginia Democrats’ scandals.
- Best story of the Year: Jim’s pick: The death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and the effective end of ISIS. Greg’s pick: Hong Kong and Iran protesters.
- Person of the Year: Jim’s pick: Boris Johnson. Greg’s pick: Bill Barr.
- Turncoat of the Year: Jim’s pick: Tulsi Gabbard, declaring at a Democratic debate that “our Democratic Party, unfortunately, is not the party that is of, by, and for the people.” Greg’s pick: NBA cowards — especially LeBron and Steve Kerr.
- Prediction for 2020: Jim’s pick: The ugliest presidential election in American history. Greg’s pick: The Democratic nominee won’t be Biden or Warren and may not even be in the race yet.