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Today’s read: 8 minutes.
Rudy Giuliani gives a wild interview, a look ahead to what’s coming and a question about the top candidates for VP.
Rudy Giuliani, the president’s lawyer, speaking at a conference. Photo: Gage Skidmore
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What D.C. is talking about.
Rudy Giuliani. Yesterday, The New Yorker’s Olivia Nuzzi published a devastating re-telling of a day she spent with the president’s personal lawyer and former New York City mayor. In it, Nuzzi describes a subject who is fundamentally unwell: obsessing over bizarre theories, walking around with his fly down, drooling from the mouth onto his own sweater, leaving one of his three phones behind him in the car, drinking frequently throughout the day, falling over himself in a hallway, and incapable of doing even the most basic thing like getting Siri on his phone to understand him. The story portrays an old, confused and arrogant former mayor who perceives anyone that disagrees with him as a mortal enemy. Rudy’s story is critical because he is one of the president’s most loyal friends and — according to witness testimony and public evidence — he was at the center of Trump’s effort to pressure Ukraine into investigating Joe Biden.
What the left is saying.
Perhaps nothing got more attention than Giuliani’s comments about George Soros, the wealthy Jewish Democratic donor who survived the Holocaust. Soros is the center of many internet and right-wing conspiracy theories and is often the subject of anti-Semitic tropes about “controlling” the U.S. government and federal agencies. Giuliani said Sorors “controlled” Marie Yovanovitch, the former ambassador to Ukraine, and claimed “he’s employing the FBI agents.” Nuzzi told him he sounded crazy in the interview. “Don’t tell me I’m anti-Semitic if I oppose him,” Giuliani said. “Soros is hardly a Jew. I’m more of a Jew than Soros is. I probably know more about — he doesn’t go to church, he doesn’t go to religion — synagogue. He doesn’t belong to a synagogue, he doesn’t support Israel, he’s an enemy of Israel. He’s elected eight anarchist DA’s in the United States. He’s a horrible human being.”
The comments immediately set off a firestorm, with many on the left noting the absurdity of Giuliani claiming he was more Jewish than a Holocaust surviving Jew. In trying to describe conspiracy theories about Soros “controlling the media,” Giuliani hit the media for claiming he had business dealings in Ukraine. But in defending himself, Giuliani began describing his business dealings in Ukraine. That contradiction, combined with Giuliani’s numerous conspiracy theories he expressed in the interview — and repeatedly confusing the subjects of his attacks — left a lot of people thinking he had totally lost it. When you consider this is the man responsible for so much of the president’s policy in Ukraine, and worldview in general, the story is unsettling.
What the right is saying.
Plenty of Trump allies have been wishing Rudy would just shut up and do his work. The mayor’s love of media and journalists has gotten him into trouble before, and there are a lot of folks worried that he is damaging the president’s public stance every time he talks.
Giuliani himself mounted a defense directly to Nuzzi, who shared his response to the story on Twitter. Giuliani told her he read five paragraphs of the story and that it was “useless to talk” to her because she was a “lost cause.” Then he said he’d read the rest of the story and call back. Once he did, he told Nuzzi the story was unfair and that he only fell into the wall because he has a bad knee. He said he shouldn’t talk to her, said he was heading to the opera and wished her “Merry Christmas.”
Not many people came rushing to Giuliani’s defense, but Michael Malice did defend Giuliani’s comments about Jews and Soros. Malice, a right-wing radio host and Jew, pointed out that Soros was “never taken to a camp” in the Holocaust and claimed his family was not comfortable with their Jewish heritage.
The Giuliani-Trump relationship is one of the most interesting and significant in all of politics. It’s tough to summarize a profile like this, but I left with the distinct feeling that Giuliani really is just shooting from the hip, grasping onto random bits of information and certainly not a reliable narrator of events. It’s stunning to consider he is an informal cybersecurity adviser to the White House when he can hardly use Siri and repeatedly flashed a reporter a slew of push notifications on his phone. He’s also famous for butt-dialing or accidentally texting reporters. Twice, he butt-dialed a reporter and left lengthy voicemails discussing plans to acquire a few hundred thousand dollars and another railing against the Bidens.
Like Trump, Giuliani seems susceptible to basically anything he reads online. Say what you want about the president or Rudy, but it’s indisputable that both have repeatedly elevated conspiracy theories. When you read this profile, it’s easy to imagine him being susceptible to far-out theories or “evidence” that reinforces whatever beliefs he already has. Given his proximity to Trump, this seems pretty important. We know Trump thought Barack Obama was not born in America, that global warming is a hoax, that vaccines cause autism, that Muslims celebrated Sept. 11th in New Jersey, that Antonia Scalia may have died due to foul play, that Ted Cruz’s dad was linked to the JFK assassination, that wind turbines cause cancer, that Jeffrey Epstein didn’t kill himself, and so on (or if he didn’t believe these things, he at least turned the volume up on them). That Giuliani believes George Soros is employing FBI agents or controlling ambassadors to Ukraine is similarly absurd and it’s a stark reminder that there are people in and near the White House with some pretty extreme beliefs. If you have the time, I’d definitely suggest reading the profile yourself. You can find it by clicking here.
Your questions, answered.
Reminder: Submit a question by simply replying to this email.
Q: Who do you think is on the shortlist for VP? Who do you think would be a good match with each of the current top Democratic Candidates? And why?
- Jess, Jersey City, NJ
Tangle: I love this question. One of the most fascinating things about the Democratic party right now is that it’s actually quite divided. If it weren’t for Trump, who basically unites all Democrats and liberals that loathe him, the party would surely be eating itself alive. The progressive wing being led by Sen. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and “The Squad” (Alexandra Ocasio-Cortes, Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar) seems pretty at odds with the moderate coalition that Joe Biden, Amy Klobuchar, Pete Buttigieg and Chuck Schumer are apparently leading. Somewhere between the two are folks like Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Cory Booker, who oscillate between moderate and very progressive while trying to keep each side happy.
These divisions are critical to consider when picking a Vice President for each candidate. When picking a VP, presidential candidates typically look to coalition build or bring in support from voters they may have trouble reaching. In 2016, Hillary Clinton chose Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine as her running mate. At the time, the idea was that Kaine would help Clinton win while simultaneously being a safe choice (she was largely considered a lock to defeat Trump, so there were concerns if she had picked Elizabeth Warren or another big-name progressive she’d hurt her election odds). As The New Yorker reported at the time, Kaine was from a swing state, spoke fluent Spanish, has strong ties to the African-American community and was the son of a welder from Missouri, giving him some connection to the concerns of the white working class. In picking a VP, he seemed like a good bet.
This year, the big conversation around the top remaining candidates (Biden, Warren, Sanders and Buttigieg) is that they’re all white. And aside from Buttigieg, they’re all old and white. The conventional wisdom is that in order to excite and unite Democratic voters, nearly half of which are non-white, the white (and old) frontrunners will look to a young person of color to build excitement. Right now, the top two names being thrown around are Stacey Abrams and Kamala Harris.
Both are young(er) women of color. Abrams has been the hottest name, and Joe Biden even openly floated her as a potential VP pick earlier this year (Abrams has said she’d be open to run as a VP). The knock on Abrams is that she has little foreign policy experience and her biggest claim to fame is losing a Georgia race for governor. But Abrams has championed some major progressive issues, is a tremendous speaker and presence, and nearly won the Governor’s race in Georgia when many people thought she wouldn’t have a chance. She can turn out the vote and has experience in the spotlight (Democrats chose her to respond to Trump’s State of the Union address in February, and it was very well received).
Kamala, too, is an interesting choice. Again, the identity politics here makes a lot of Democrats think that there needs to be a woman or person of color on the Democratic ticket. It seems unlikely that Harris and Biden would team up, given the way they went after each other during the Democratic debates, but I certainly think it’s possible. IN fact, that could also be all the more reason for them to show some unity and bring the party together, though it wouldn’t do much to assuage progressive voters that Biden is too moderate. A Kamala-Bernie ticket also seems unlikely, as many Sanders supporters took to calling Harris “Kamala the cop” and criticizing her record as a prosecutor. The two may just have too much of an ideological divide. Warren-Kamala would be a powerful statement, and both senators have a ton of experience to draw on. They’d compliment each other well and given how underwater Trump is with women I could see them building a monstrous coalition in the election.
Outside of Abrams and Harris, I think Cory Booker and Julian Castro could be at the top of any ticket. Booker has just the kind of optimistic, upbeat energy some folks may want in a Vice President. He’s youthful, he’s got experience, he’s got a good message and he’s a great presence on stage. Julian Castro, too, has excited a lot of Democrats and has experience near the White House under Obama. He’d also be expected Democrats turn out the Hispanic vote.
My wild cards here are Pete Buttigieg, Sherrod Brown and Andrew Yang. If Buttigieg drops out, I could certainly see someone like Warren picking him up. The Sanders crowd loathes Buttigieg too much, and Biden-Buttigieg would probably be too moderate and too white-guy-vibe to pair off. But Warren-Buttigieg could be a fascinating combination of youth, moderation, progressiveness and intelligence. Polls about electability aside, Buttigieg and Warren are perceived by voters as the most intelligent candidates. Buttigieg could also be the first openly LGBTQ person in the White House, adding another historic notch on the belt to go with a potential Warren presidency. It’s not hard to imagine some enthralling campaign ads built around that.
Sen. Sherrod Brown is someone a lot of voters don’t know, but I’d keep an eye on him. Brown is loved in the Democratic party, he’s repeatedly won re-election in Ohio (a difficult state for Democrats) and he’s one of the most skilled lawmakers in the Senate. He also has a serious connection with working-class voters (think Trump or Sanders-esque, but in a more moderate way). I could see Sanders, Warren, Buttigieg or Biden picking Brown as a running mate, though I sincerely doubt Biden’s team would opt for another white male with experience in the Senate. Also, I know this is silly, but I’ve always thought Brown had a kind of “down to earth relatable guy” look going on:
Sherrod Brown, the Ohio senator, speaking during a town hall. Photo: Marc Nozell
Finally, Yang. I know Yang is still being dismissed by a lot of people, but he is a very skilled communicator and almost every voter I talk to has favorable feelings about him. So often, I hear people trash one of the top candidates. Broadly speaking, I’ve heard progressives think Biden is old and has some screws loose. I’ve heard Sanders-liberals say Buttigieg is a corporate pariah. I’ve heard Warren supporters think Sanders and his fans are sexist extremists who really hate Democrats. Sanders supporters think Warren is a Sanders-lite. But I rarely hear any of these coalitions trashing Andrew Yang. That makes him — a young minority candidate with good vibes, a clean record and forward-thinking policy proposals — a fascinating potential VP pick.
My only addendum to all of this is Beto O’Rourke. There are rumors that Democrats are going to go after Texas in the 2020 election, and Beto could come back into play if they are serious about flipping the delegate-rich state blue.
I made my VP power rankings a few months back, but here is my update. If we’re talking top four candidates with people not currently in the race, I think this would be my list, ranking each of their top two options based on who would be best for their election prospects and also who seems possible (i.e. they aren’t so ideologically divided that they couldn’t work together).
- Stacey Abrams
- Kamala Harris
- Stacey Abrams
- Sherrod Brown
- Stacey Abrams
- Julian Castro
- Stacey Abrams
- Kamala Harris
If we’re making the list but including candidates still running for president that may drop out soon, I think the list looks more like this:
- Elizabeth Warren
- Stacey Abrams
- Pete Buttigieg
- Andrew Yang
- Stacey Abrams
- Elizabeth Warren
- Stacey Abrams
- Elizabeth Warren
A story that matters.
The United States is more polarized now than it’s been in a long time. Despite Americans actually agreeing on many of the biggest issues the county faces, we’ve fractioned off into rival political tribes and insulated ourselves with media that reinforce our views. But every now and then, a story or piece of writing moves the needle in the direction of unity. One such moment seemed to happen yesterday when a 52-year-old Navy SEAL veteran wrote in Medium about his experience attending Yale. James Hatch said that as a veteran of war from Virginia he generally held the perspective that liberal college students were “snowflakes” vying for their safe spaces. But in his moving essay about his time at Yale, he writes about his experience realizing that the students around him shared the tenacity and work ethic of the people he met in the armed forces. Here is an excerpt:
“Based on my upbringing in the military, I associated difficult vetting process’ with quality and opportunity. I was correct in that guess,” he wrote of the students he encountered… “I hear the term occasionally from buddies of mine who I love, they say things like; ‘how are things up there with the liberal snowflakes?’ Let me assure you, I have not met one kid who fits that description. None of the kids I’ve met seem to think that they are “special” any more than any other 18–22-year-old. These kids work their assess off. I have asked a couple of them to help me with my writing.”
You can read the whole thing here.
With Tangle off the next few days, here are some things to keep an eye on in the news:
- Trump’s impeachment trial is likely to be on hold until well after the holidays. Congress is on recess until January 6th as Democrats and Republicans continue to fight over rules, witnesses and documents while the Senate awaits the articles of impeachment to be sent from the House of Representatives. Click.
- U.S. officials are keeping a close eye on North Korea, which has promised a “Christmas surprise” in the form of a long-range missile test that would be considered extremely provocative. Trump’s boastful claim that there was no longer a need to worry about a nuclear threat from North Korea seems like a distant memory. Click.
- The Trump administration is considering a troop drawdown in West Africa. Thousands of troops are over serving in West Africa carrying out various anti-terrorism operations. Click.
- President Trump is keying in on a new line of attack for 2020: that he will get make life easier and simpler again. He’s promising voters a world free of the minor inconveniences caused by regulations liberals champion. Think: no more lightbulb regulations, ordering a study on low-flow toilets and pushing back on plastic straw bans. Click.
- Is Amy Klobuchar rising? The Minnesota senator had what was widely seen as her best debate performance yet last week, and some are wondering if she has a shot to disrupt things in Iowa, where moderates typically perform well. Klobuchar’s “surge” seems strong and she has a track record of winning in purple and red states despite her staunchly progressive views. Click.
- $1 million. The amount of money Klobuchar raised in the day after last Thursday’s Democratic debate, the biggest single-day haul of her campaign.
- 400,000. The estimated number of living Holocaust survivors.
- 40%. The estimated percentage of those survivors who are living in poverty.
- 11. The number of Republican Governors who have said they will continue to accept refugees despite Trump’s executive order allowing state and local governments to block resettlement programs.
- 34%. Andrew Yang’s net favorability, according to a recent Morning Consult poll, a 7-point jump after Thursday’s debate.
- 33%. Pete Buttgigieg’s net favorability, according to the same Morning Consult poll.
- 12. The number of talking points in Donald Trump’s webpage called “Snowflake Victory,” which is supposed to be a guide on how to defeat liberal relatives in political arguments.
Have a nice week.
Your good news for today is that you get to enjoy a few days off from the hustle and bustle of politics. Congress is out of session, most political reporters and politicians are home with their families, and you don’t have to stress out about what you’re missing or what happenings are going on in D.C. If that’s not enough good news for you, give this story about Ethiopia’s first space launch a read: click.