Saturday, Nov. 30, 2019 | 2 a.m.
Bret Stephens: Hi, Gail. I hope had a beautiful Thanksgiving.
Gail Collins: Happy holidays to you, Bret. I bet I can guess what you’re not thankful for.
Bret: Bill Belichick?
In the meantime, here’s a riddle for us: President Donald Trump just had what most of us thought was, for him, a no good, very bad week. His ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, acknowledged after past equivocations that there was indeed a quid pro quo with Ukraine — and that everyone senior in the administration knew about it. Then Fiona Hill, the Russia expert formerly on the National Security Council, gave a stark warning to congressional Republicans that they risked becoming dupes to Russian propaganda being peddled by the president himself.
So what happens? Trump gets a modest bump in the polls. Are we in Media World just completely misreading the mood in the rest of America regarding this impeachment inquiry?
Gail: Don’t let polls ruin your week. For one thing, they’re not all that reliable, particularly in the short term. For another, I’m pretty sure most of the people who were really paying attention to the impeachment hearings had long since decided how they felt about the president.
The 2020 election will probably be all about turnout. And the recent state contests suggest we’re going to have a heck of a lot of anti-Trump voters showing up next year.
Bret: This is the (inflation adjusted) $64 trillion question. If it’s a turnout contest, then Democrats will do better with a more polarizing candidate, like Elizabeth Warren, though I’m beginning to doubt she can win the nomination, never mind the general election. And yet I still think the race is going to come down to a fairly small number of persuadable voters in states like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, who will be won over by a centrist Democrat in the same mold of other centrists who helped flip the House in the midterms.
But go on.
Gail: Another observation from the sunny side: My biggest takeaway from the hearings was the quality of the people who testified. You had a bunch of career diplomats nobody had ever heard of, who the right wing might call denizens of the deep state. And they were incredibly impressive — smart and so clearly dedicated to their jobs.
Bret: Agreed. If this is the “deep state,” well then, please, sir, I want some more. And it’s worth pointing out that people like Bill Taylor and Fiona Hill were never a part of any “resistance.” They were public-spirited people who believed that, when the president of the United States asks you to serve, the answer should be yes, no matter who the president may be. That they are now being treated so disdainfully by the GOP is yet another one of those Joseph Welch “have you left no sense of decency” moments.
But we’ve had so many of those in the past three years.
Gail: Let’s gossip for a minute. All of a sudden we’re hearing rumors that Vice President Mike Pence might be on the way out, that Trump will replace him on the ticket next year with somebody with more appeal, like Nikki Haley. Think there’s any chance?
Bret: A strong one, yes. Trump has no sense of loyalty, so the thought of dropping Pence isn’t exactly going to keep him up at night. And Pence is so loyal that when Trump dumps him (probably via Twitter) he’ll just give that constipated nod of his.
Gail: And tell his wife: “Mother, it’s time to go bye-bye.”
Bret: As for Haley, she does everything Pence does in terms of her appeal to the Trump base, including with evangelical voters, and probably widens Trump’s appeal somewhat, for instance with Republican-leaning suburban women. And her new book goes out of its way to showcase how loyal she was to Trump, as opposed to people like former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and former chief of staff John Kelly. That’s purposely designed to ingratiate herself with the Trump voters who weren’t entirely sure she was onboard the MAGA Express.
Gail: And, of course, to ingratiate herself with the president. Who I’m sure didn’t read the book, but probably got a one-paragraph summary.
Bret: Whatever Trump decides — and whatever she decides — she’s clearly setting herself up for a presidential run in 2024. She’ll be formidable. The shame is that, after being an early Trump critic, she clearly feels she can win the nomination only by drawing closer to the president, not distancing herself. It just shows how thoroughly Trump has captured and corrupted the party.
Meanwhile, Democrats! I thought that last debate was a bit of a snoozefest. The big story, it seems to me, is that Pete Buttigieg is approaching front-runner status, at least when it comes to Iowa. I’m more of a fan than you are. Can he go the distance?
Gail: Don’t think so. And it’s not a good idea. We just talked about the importance of turnout next year, and a lot of that is about making sure younger people and people of color show up to vote. That’s exactly where Mayor Pete is weakest.
Bret: I understand his weakness with African-American voters but remain mystified by why he isn’t polling better with the younger electorate. Even so: Wouldn’t it be nice to have a president who makes you enjoy the English language every time he speaks?
Gail: Mayor Pete is certainly a good speaker, but he’ll be even better when he runs again a few years down the line. I don’t think it’s a rejection if you just feel he could use a little more political experience outside of South Bend, Ind.
And speaking of mayors, are you still high on Mike Bloomberg? Talk about terrible poll numbers. How much do you think he’d need to spend to turn things around? More or less than the national budget of Canada?
Bret: He is my first choice by far, whatever misgivings I might have about his micromanaging style. (We former Republicans have to stick together.) I’m convinced he can trounce Trump in a general election, and he would have a winning message to the so-called exhausted majority that is sick of our hyper-ideological, polarized politics. And I wouldn’t read too much into his poll numbers right now. He’s a candidate of the head, not the heart. He has the money to keep going all the way to the convention, which might prove very useful if, as I think is entirely possible, the Democrats wind up with a brokered convention between two or three uncertain or unpalatable front-runners.
Gail: Ah, yes, a brokered convention. The last one was so exciting. King George VI had just died, the hydrogen bomb was about to get its first test and people were talking about the great new picture “Singin’ in the Rain.”
We haven’t had one since 1952, Bret. But tell me what you’re envisioning.
Bret: Imagine a scenario in which Buttigieg wins Iowa, Warren wins New Hampshire, Biden wins South Carolina and then goes on to win Super Tuesday, causing Bernie Sanders to drop out of the race. Some Sandernistas will go to Biden, but I suspect most of his supporters then shift to Warren. The rest of the field drops out for lack of funds — except, of course, for Bloomberg. At that point, the Democratic Party takes a deep breath, clenches some posterior muscles and realizes the former mayor offers the best shot at dethroning Trump, who at that point will be celebrating his impeachment “victory” after an acquittal in the Senate.
Am I 100% insane, or just 95%?
Gail: Hesitant to dismiss any wild possibility in the current climate. But when crazy stuff happens, it’s always because of Trump. On the Democratic side things are actually pretty boring considering that we’ve got a wide-open presidential race.
Bret: Too boring. I really think posterity will look back at this election as an inflection point. Are Democrats up to their historical responsibility to nominate the candidate most likely to defeat Trump? Or are they too consumed by ideology to appeal to the middle of the country, politically speaking, and win over the voters who aren’t in sync with everything Democrats stand for but are ready for a change?
Gail Collins and Bret Stephens are columnists for The New York Times.