Weekend open thread: Secret weapons

This post’s title came from the unintentionally humorous Bloomberg News analysis by Jennifer Jacobs and Kevin Cirilli: "America Meets Trump’s Secret Weapon: Ivanka." The nut graph declared, "Ivanka […] might be her father’s single strongest asset for changing his perception among women, one of Trump’s weakest demographic groups, strategists and campaign insiders said." Support came primarily from Ivanka’s brothers Donald Jr. (“She’s an impressive woman”) and Eric ("I think she brings in independents. I think she brings in Democrats quite frankly"). Unnamed strategists described Ivanka as "a character witness" who can be a "bridge between her father and women," thanks to her "refined and feminine, but unmistakably Trump" brand. Lacking data to bolster that assertion, Jacobs and Cirilli wrote, "Even Trump’s opponents agreed that Ivanka, a balm to her dad’s shock-jock tactics, is a strong weapon for Trump." The only detractor quoted was the former leader of a stop Trump super-PAC, who called Ivanka "smart, poised, graceful and dignified." No question, she is. So was Ann Romney. The 2012 presidential election still had the largest gender gap ever recorded.

Jacobs and Cirilli rightly noted that unlike Democrats, Donald Trump "hasn’t called for" making quality child care more affordable, a goal Ivanka flagged in her convention speech. They could have added, nor has the GOP nominee endorsed "equal pay for equal work," for which Ivanka promised her father would fight. Hillary Clinton has been emphasizing those and related issues like paid family leave in almost every campaign appearance for more than a year. I doubt she or her strategists are losing sleep over Trump’s "secret weapon."

If any campaign analysis could make you lie awake in terror, it would be Josh Marshall’s July 23 post at Talking Points Memo about Trump’s entanglements with Russian President Vladimir Putin. I’ve enclosed excerpts below, but you should click through to read the whole piece.

I knew Trump had occasionally praised Putin, and vice versa. I’d seen a small army of Russian trolls stir things up for Trump on Twitter last year. I knew Trump was getting favorable spin from the Kremlin-backed English-language television network and from Russian-language websites with ties to the authorities. I had read that Trump campaign operatives "gutted" GOP platform language related to Russian interference in eastern Ukraine. On Thursday, I saw Trump’s startling interview with the New York Times, in which he signaled he might not honor our country’s obligations to NATO allies attacked by Russia, if those countries had not "fulfilled their obligations to us."

Though I was vaguely aware Trump had some business dealings in Russia, I didn’t appreciate until reading Marshall’s post that "Trump’s financial empire is heavily leveraged and has a deep reliance on capital infusions from oligarchs and other sources of wealth aligned with Putin." Marshall observed, "if Vladimir Putin were simply the CEO of a major American corporation and there was this much money flowing in Trump’s direction, combined with this much solicitousness of Putin’s policy agenda, it would set off alarm bells galore."

Having seen how Putin uses financial leverage to bring people in line, I’m ready to skip the alarm bell ringing and raise the threat level to orange.

I spent a decade covering Russian politics, including the election cycle when Putin rose to power and the early years of his presidency. My main research focus was Putin’s wide-ranging campaign to reassert state power over the Russian media.

Putin had a lot of weapons in the toolkit, such as physically restricting journalists’ access to some stories; enacting new laws on media coverage of terrorist conflicts; using government authority to issue or deny broadcast licenses; refusing to air political advertising created for an opposition figure; and launching criminal investigations or civil lawsuits against journalists, editors, and owners.

One of the most potent methods for taming the Russian media was getting entities in the Kremlin’s sphere of influence to turn the financial screws on Putin’s critics.

Putin has been using state-controlled corporations to go after disobedient news organizations or their key investors since his earliest months on the national scene, indeed before his election as president in March 2000. The first blood drawn in Putin’s effort to neuter Russia’s leading private television network NTV came in February 2000, when the gas monopoly Gazprom abruptly demanded repayment of a $211 million loan to the network’s parent company.

After various forms of legal and monetary pressure wrested NTV away from a troublesome oligarch, several prominent journalists and managers landed jobs at a different tv network with a smaller broadcast area. But before long, a pension fund linked to a state-controlled oil company used its position as a minority shareholder to force that network into liquidation. The move made no economic sense. The pension fund refused buyout offers and eliminated any prospect of recouping its investment by pursuing a legal strategy to take the network off the air. The band of NTV refugees found jobs at a third television company, this time partnering with someone "who [had] direct access to the president." Financial problems finished off that network in a little more than a year. Its major investors included an oligarch with close ties to Putin, but he didn’t lift a finger to cover the company’s debts as the broadcast license hung in the balance.

Putin has altered many aspects of his country’s political life. Those still working in the Russian field could speak about how he expanded his power over other sectors. My window onto Putin’s leadership style leaves no doubt in my mind: it’s not just plausible but probable that if Trump companies were deeply indebted to Russian business interests, the Kremlin would try to use those relationships to its advantage.

As if Trump’s comically narcissistic temperament, dishonesty, short attention span, use of divisive language and race-baiting, and lack of constructive ideas weren’t enough to disqualify him from serving as president.

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Breaking Iowa Democratic hearts, Hillary Clinton picks Tim Kaine for VP

Hillary Clinton’s campaign announced a few minutes ago that U.S. Senator Tim Kaine, a former mayor of Richmond and governor of Virginia, willge the Democratic candidate for vice president. Kaine’s been the front-runner for the job all along, by virtue of his extensive political experience, stature in a swing state, good ties with the business community, and fluency in Spanish.

I suspect that the Bernie Sanders endorsement last week, combined with the mostly disastrous Republican National Convention, gave Clinton confidence to make a "safe" choice, rather than someone who would excite our party’s base, like Senator Elizabeth Warren or even Senator Cory Booker. Too bad Ohio has a Republican governor, otherwise Senator Sherrod Brown would have been an ideal running mate. Some pundits are calling Kaine a "governing pick," someone Clinton feels comfortable working with for the next four or eight years, as opposed to the person who can do the most to boost her campaign over the next four months.

Of all the people Clinton was considering, Kaine arouses the most antipathy from the Sanders wing for various reasons. His vocal support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement is just one of the problems. Kaine’s defenders point to his perfect voting record in the Senate on reproductive rights and LGBT equality, his near-perfect record on labor issues, his background as a civil rights attorney, and numerous accomplishments as governor. He is not outside the Democratic Party’s mainstream. On the other hand, the Progressive Punch database ranks Kaine the 40th most progressive among the 46 current senators who caucus with Democrats.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack was repeatedly named in news reports and commentaries about Clinton’s short list. He’s got an inspiring personal story and developed a tremendous grasp of public policy over his long career in local, state and federal government. By all accounts, he and Clinton get along very well, having been acquainted since Clinton became friends with Christie Vilsack’s brother Tom Bell during the 1970s. Like Kaine, he has a reputation for making few mistakes. I regret that Clinton didn’t choose Vilsack, though I would have been equally happy with Labor Secretary Tom Perez.

No one is more disappointed tonight than the Iowa Democrats who know Vilsack best. Sometimes in politics, you hear how so-and-so big shot elected official was a nightmare to work for. You never hear those stories about Vilsack. On the contrary, the former Vilsack staffers I know rave about how knowledgeable, thorough, caring, engaging, and funny he was.

Then First Lady Clinton came through for Vilsack at a critical time during his underdog 1998 gubernatorial campaign. I have no doubt she will tap him for an important job if she is elected president. Iowans will see plenty of Vilsack on the trail this fall as a supporter of Clinton and down-ticket candidates.

Any thoughts about Kaine or the presidential race generally are welcome in this thread.

UPDATE: Added below some comments from Iowa Democrats to the Des Moines Register’s Jason Noble and Brianne Pfannenstiel.

SECOND UPDATE: Embedded below the video from the first joint campaign appearance by Clinton and Kaine, in Miami on July 23. His stump speech is worth watching in full; it was remarkably well constructed and delivered. I see more clearly now what this "happy warrior" could bring to the ticket. He wove together personal details, policy accomplishments, and a clear contrast between Clinton’s vision for the country and Donald Trump’s. I didn’t know much about Kaine’s legal work to combat housing discrimination, or that he and his wife sent their kids to public schools. If he does as well at the DNC on Wednesday night, Republicans should be worried.

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Ted Cruz is playing a smarter long game than Scott Walker or Marco Rubio

Three 40-something politicians who had hoped to be this year’s GOP presidential nominee addressed the Republican National Convention last night. Only one of them upstaged what was supposed to be the evening’s highlight: a speech by vice presidential nominee and Indiana Governor Mike Pence.

Although Senator Ted Cruz drew boos from many in the crowd and was panned by some journalists, he ended the night better-positioned for a possible 2020 race than either Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker or Senator Marco Rubio.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Canada germander (American germander)

Following Marla Mertz’s post last week about a spectacular and rare prairie plant, I wanted to feature some unassuming wildflowers common in a range of wet habitats.

Nine species of germander are native to North America, but according to John Pearson of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, only one (Teucrium canadense) is native to Iowa. (Pearson added that other kinds of germander may be found in gardens.)

Sometimes called American germander or wood sage, Canada germander often grows in ditches, at woodland edges, or next to streams. I took all of the enclosed pictures along North Walnut Creek, near where the Windsor Heights bike trail passes under College Drive.

Side note for nature lovers riding RAGBRAI next week: please keep an eye out for Milkweed Matters volunteers handing out common milkweed seed balls for bicyclists to cast in unmowed ditches along the route. Monarch butterflies depend on milkweed plants to reproduce.

We now return to your regularly scheduled edition of Iowa wildflower Wednesday.

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In 11 days, we will probably know who the next President is

Many thanks to Dan Guild for this historical perspective. You can read his past contributions to this blog here and here. -promoted by desmoinesdem

In any election there are a few predictable and important events. Few are as important as the Conventions. How important? Here are some basic facts:

  1. In the 12 elections since 1968, the candidate leading in polling after the second convention has won the popular vote 11 times, and the only exception led by less than a point (McCain in 2008).

  2. The candidate leading 3 weeks after the second convention has NEVER lost the popular vote.

  3. No candidate has EVER won if they trailed after their convention. EVER.

  4. 10 of 11 candidates who led by more than 5 after their convention won (Dukakis in ’88 is the only exception.

A table summarizing the data is set forth below. In addition, my database of presidential polling (which is the most complete online) is here.

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