2019

What. A. Year. The year 2019 will close in just under 9 hours back home in Easton. It was a year of ups and downs personally, one that saw me begin with a trip to New York City to take pictures, but I’ll end in Omaha, Nebraska (and accordingly, an hour later than most of you). I had car issues, money issues, and probably every other kind of issue one can personally have, but I survived. I hated 2019, but it’s over now.

Lots of things happened in 2019. Bryce Harper came to the Phillies, but his teammates weren’t good enough in 2019, as the team stumbled to 81-81. Donald Trump got impeached. The Eagles won the division, while Dallas folded the tent. I went with my family to see the Stones at MetLife Stadium. Our team helped get Judge McCaffery elected to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania. The Sixers lost in the seventh game of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals. The Eagles beat the Bears and lost to the Saints in the NFL Playoffs. The 2020 Election is well underway, and in fact coming down the stretch in Iowa and New Hampshire. We lost two good friends, Bob Elliott and Bob Baxter to cancer. The year was wild. Lots happened.

I’m mostly happy 2019 is over. When the personal highlight might have been being put on Tulsi Gabbard’s hate list, you’re usually really to move on. I’m very, very ready to move on. Welcome 2020!

The Decade That Was- the Twenty-Teens

I want to go back to 2010 and tell myself about this decade- the 2010 version of me would be way more excited and shocked. An Eagles championship? Donald Trump as President? No way. It was a decade where we managed to repeatedly top ourselves, where we took the momentum humanity built up in 2008 and 2009, and kind of squander it on stupid, trivial, and hilarious things. But well, it was still probably the most comfortable time to be alive in our history.

To celebrate the end of our decade, I wanted to give you my personal list of the most memorable events. Admittedly, you should not read this list “in order,” and you should read it from the perspective of my personal biases. Hopefully though, you just enjoy it.

  1. The Eagles win Super Bowl 52. I go to the parade. I never thought I’d see the day. When the football hit the ground and the clock struck zero on Super Bowl 52, I think I was mostly in shock. It really didn’t set in for me that the Eagles until about 30 minutes later when my uncle came out the garage leaving and said to me “well I guess you got one, Rich.” (He’s a Vikings fan) I put my beer down then and realized the Eagles had won the Super Bowl. The parade was just pure euphoria and celebration, and something I’m really glad I went and saw, as I didn’t get to go to the 2008 Phillies parade because it was so close to the election (I did go to a game though). The Eagles won the Super Bowl. It really happened! And they did it with Nick Foles. I honestly can say I said keep the faith when he took over. I also have to acknowledge that I said in 2013 that Foles would never lead a title run. Oh well, glad I was wrong.
  2. Hurricane Sandy pounds New Jersey while I’m running Central Jersey for Senator Menendez’s 2012 re-election. Sometimes you’ve done everything right, but fate has other plans. Sometimes by fate, we mean a hurricane. Senator Menendez ran a masterful campaign in 2012, and ended up with the largest victory in New Jersey since Bill Bradley’s 1984 win, but we still had a real moment of doubt late in the 2012 race. Superstorm Sandy crashed into New Jersey in late October, leaving unprecedented damage and suffering in it’s wake. I will never get the things I saw as I first drove back into Long Branch out of my mind. It was horrible. Once the situation stabilized, we had to put back together a get-out-the-vote program in the face of destruction, and it was a challenge. We succeeded though. And New Jersey has recovered quite nicely, thank you.
  3. The Rolling Stones do a U.S. Tour in 2019 that I go see with my family in the Meadowlands. Back in 1994, I saw my first concert at Giants Stadium- The Rolling Stones, with the Counting Crows as the warm-up band. A quarter century later, I was across the Meadowlands lot, seeing the Stones again. While you could see their ages, they sounded great. This time my mom and sister joined us (my mom was pregnant with her in ’94, opening up a ticket for me). My aunt even joined us, along with her neighbor. I knew a lot more of the songs this time too.
  4. I attend President Barack Obama’s second inaugural address on 1/21/2013. On Monday, January 21st, 2013, the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama, held his second public swearing-in. It was not held on the 20th, though he was sworn in that day, because it was Sunday. President Obama delivered the most progressive, uplifting inaugural address in American history that day, in the bitter cold. Thanks to long-time friend John Callahan randomly walking into me on the Hill, I got to upgrade to a red ticket. It was a memorable day.
  5. Bryce Harper signs a record breaking deal with the Philadelphia Phillies. For months, Philadelphia talk radio debated it- was Philly good enough to land the biggest star in his sport? (Not necessarily the best player, but…) Then I got the text from my Dad, while sitting in Saxby’s in Bethlehem. Then the Score App alert. Then I read the reports. Thirteen year. $330 million. Philly got the guy I wanted.
  6. The 2016 Election and my time in Northeast North Carolina for Hillary Clinton. I spent a big chunk of my adult life trying to elect Hillary Clinton, even laying the groundwork to get on for 2016, and it all culminated in Elizabeth City, NC, in a hotel room, watching Donald Trump give his victory speech. In between I got to see unforgettably beautiful beaches in the Outer Banks, work with local pastors to turn out the vote, see Klan members rallying, and staff a Chelsea Clinton event. A lot of people involved in 2016 express regrets, and I guess I wish we had won, but I wouldn’t give back the experience. I saw some amazing stuff on that campaign, and I wouldn’t have any other way.
  7. My cousin and I go see Jay Z’s final show opening the Barclays Center, with special guest Beyoncé. Jay Z may or may not be the greatest rapper of all-time, but he is certainly it’s first billionaire and biggest star. He played a role in moving the Nets to his native Brooklyn, and his reward was playing a Springsteen-esque run of shows to open the new arena. My cousin Evan and I went to the final night, and his special guest that night was his wife Beyoncé. The show was amazing, and paid homage to Brooklyn’s amazing hip-hop history. I’m really glad I bought those tickets from my friend Melissa.
  8. The Sixers “Process.” From 2013-14 through 2016-17 season, Philadelphia basketball fans were treated to something called “the Process”- and it wasn’t much of Joel Embiid playing. The team put forward a controversially bad roster that lost a ton of games and amassed four top three picks over four seasons in the draft. The 2015-16 team was so bad that they won 10 games- one better than the all-time worst 82 game NBA team. All that losing eventually got the NBA to step in and force GM Sam Hinkie our the door, but not until after laying the framework for the current team that has won over 50 games the last two seasons, while winning two playoff series. It was a weird time.
  9. Moving to Omaha for Joe Biden and the 2020 Iowa Caucus. There’s not much to write here. I got here on Friday, for what should be the first significant chapter of the next decade. Once again in the Iowa Caucus mix, trying to elect the next President. So far, it’s pretty cool.
  10. The 2011 Phillies break the team record for wins, lose in the NLDS to the Cardinals. They were the best team in franchise history, with three top five Cy Young finishers, and 102 wins. If they had only thrown a game in the Atlanta series to finish the series (or two?), the damn stinkin’ Cardinals never get in. Roy Halladay doesn’t lose his last great start 1-0. Utley doesn’t miss a game tying homer by a foot. And maybe we never watch Ryan Howard struggling in pain on the ground, with a torn achilles, as the season ends. Or maybe we do. We’ll never really know. A Summer of autopilot wins, fueled by an unbeatable pitching staff, the season was still a lot of fun. Maybe it was just too good to be true.
  11. Going to see The Rolling Stones on their 2015 tour at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh. In 2015, the Stones decided to eschew the big markets like New York and Philly, and do a North American tour that hit the mid-sized cities. So I bought tickets for their Pittsburgh show for my Dad and I as a Father’s Day gift. We sat in the far end zone and watched the most famous rock band in the world play for hours against the backdrop of Mount Washington. One of the most memorable moments at any concert I’ve ever seen came when the Penn State Women’s choir came out and did “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” with the Stones. The whole show was incredible though, and I’m kind of glad I saw it in Pittsburgh.
  12. Moving to Charlotte to work for the North Carolina Democrats on the 2018 Mid-Terms. As I contemplated what I wanted to do after a disappointing 2018 primary, it took me until August to decide I wanted to do another campaign. When I did, I started considering multiple states. Then I got a call about coming back to North Carolina, to Charlotte. Just like 2016, I was being asked to “fix” a problematic region. Part of me still thinks I should have said no. The other part of me (the majority) is glad I did it. Charlotte is an up and coming, exciting place. The city looks cool, has cool stuff to do, is politically changing, and lacks nothing in culture or food. The campaigns we worked on were exciting, and we flipped all of our state legislative targets. It’s also a job that has the distinction of having the only election ever officially stolen that I was involved in (NC-9’s Congressional result was officially thrown out because the Republicans tampered with paper ballots). The experience was 90% amazing. Two or three people did make it exhausting though. I met some awesome people though, from my supporter housing, to my organizers, and the locals. I’d recommend Charlotte to anyone.
  13. The 2010 Flyers lose in the Stanley Cup Finals to the Chicago Blackhawks, setting off the worst decade in team history. Who would have thought that a fairly young hockey team losing in the Stanley Cup Finals to start the decade would be a sign of failure to come? The Flyers Cinderella run in the 2010 Stanley Cup playoffs came to an end in game six at the Wells-Fargo Center on a weird goal that didn’t seem possible when watching on TV. The assumption then was that the Flyers would be back plenty. Instead the team would be blown up in under 24 months, and they wouldn’t make it past the second round more than twice the rest of the decade. It’s a shame, because I do think a Flyers parade down Broad Street would be the most bizarre, happy, and satisfying event humanly possible.
  14. I turned 30. Milestone birthdays are less awesome after 21. On May 11th, 2013 though, I still turned 30. My family and I had dinner in Manhattan, then they dropped me at CHT when we got back. I hung out there then all night and drank one or two good ones.
  15. Seeing the Foo Fighters at Citi Field in 2015. In the post 1970’s world, Dave Grohl is a top five rock star. I don’t say that lightly, but it’s true. In 2015, his Foo Fighters decided to go on touring, even with his broken leg. What ensued was a great tour, one where we stood twenty or thirty yards from him in the Queens outfield and watched him put on an amazing show. The Foo Fighters, over two decades later, continue to put on an amazing show. On that Summer night, we saw one of their best.
  16. Serving as Field Director for Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman in NJ-12 during the 2014 mid-term. One of the great honors in my professional career was serving as Field Director for Bonnie Watson Coleman. Not only was she a long time leader in New Jersey politics, she made history as the Garden State’s first African-American woman in Congress, and she’s done nothing but make me proud in the seat. The team I worked with was great, the locals were ready to fight for her, and the win was impressive. I’m really proud I was a part of that.
  17. Spring Training 2011 in Clearwater. To say there were high hopes for the 2011 Phillies is an understatement. I went to Clearwater for the first time that year, as my dad and I were moving furniture in for our friends and season ticket holding neighbors. I remember getting all worked up at the first game because Cliff Lee looked rusty, and everyone around me laughing that I even cared. Spring training is leisurely and fun, for the players and fans. That took me a bit to get.
  18. The Eagles beat the Bears in the 2018 NFL Playoffs (in 2019) on the “double doink.” I have to admit, I wasn’t sure if I was sure the Eagles would win or not. After winning the Super Bowl, anything seemed possible, but the Bears had been a better team all year, and were home. So I went up to CHT, took a seat middle bar, and watched as the whole game came down to one kick, which hit the goal post not once, but twice. There’s a great video of me leaping out of my seat when it happened.
  19. Seeing Springsteen at Citizens Bank Park on Labor Day 2012. Bbbbbbbrrrrrrruuuuuuccccceeeee! The guy doesn’t even have a warm-up act. The world owes Jersey a thank you for this one. My friend Erica and I were in centerfield, watching Bruce from just a few feet away. The man is a legend.
  20. Meeting Bill Clinton in 2013. Despite working for Hillary twice, and being at events with both her and Bill, I had never been in a private audience with either before. My friend David Fried changed that. He had worked in the Clinton White House, so President Clinton came over to do a fundraiser for his Rockland County Executive run. Since I worked for David, he got me a minute to take a picture and talk to the Nation’s 42nd President. He’s still the only President I’ve ever met.
  21. Grandma turned 90. I’m not a big fan of milestones, but my grandmother turned 90 in 2018. For that matter, her sister did in 2015 too. I can’t imagine living that long, can you?
  22. The 2010 Phillies have baseball’s best record, fall in the NLCS to the Giants. After winning the 2008 World Series and 2009 National League title, the 2010 Phillies won a league best 97 games. Unfortunately there wouldn’t be a third straight Fall Classic in Philly. The season was a lot of fun, with Roy Halladay throwing a perfect game and playoff no-hitter on the way to his second Cy Young. Ultimately they lost the NLCS in six games to San Francisco.
  23. Managing the PA House Majority Leader through the nightmare 2010 mid-terms in PA Coal Country. In 2008, I was at the PAHDCC as Field Director the last time Pennsylvania Democrats won a majority in either house of the legislature. In 2010, my reward was managing the House Majority Leader’s very difficult re-election. The re-alignment that has made Luzerne County “red” had already begun in the southern part of the county, with much of the anti-immigrant rhetoric we are hearing today. It was a tough year to be a Democrat, particularly in the Coal region, especially if you were on the wrong side of former Congressman Lou Barletta, and evening more so if you had any problems politically of your own. We would go on to lose Congressman Kanjorski, the Leader’s seat, and the Speaker’s seat at once. Even so, the experience of leading a $900,000 race, dealing with statewide stakeholders, and leading an operation on the ground of that size was worth it. I am eternally grateful to Todd Eachus for taking the chance on me.
  24. Roy Halladay arrives in Philly, makes history, dies, and is elected to Baseball’s Hall-of-Fame. Roy “Doc” Halladay came into Philadelphia like a tornado. His first two years could be the greatest the franchise ever saw. He threw a perfect game, a playoff no-hitter, won a Cy Young, and finished second for another. While his last two seasons were injury plagued, he did manage to win his 200th game. After retirement, he was taken too soon from us in an airplane crash in Florida. In 2019, he was elected to Baseball’s Hall-of-Fame.
  25. Seeing the Dropkick Murphys at Terminal 5 in New York City. If you ever get the opportunity to see the Dropkick Murphys live, do it. If you ever get the chance to go to Terminal Five for a concert, do it. If you get to do both together, and just days before St. Patrick’s Day, do it. Other than the “Flyers suck” chant, Cousin Michael and I had a great time (that didn’t bother him). From the crowd kicking bad peoples’ asses to great, high energy music, the show was awesome.
  26. My sister graduates from Temple University. Eleven years after me, my younger sister graduated from Temple University. At least I know I’m not the only smart kid in the household.
  27. Spring Training 2019 in Clearwater. My second trip to Clearwater of the decade checked off all the boxes. Harper shirsey, check. Time on the beach, check. Three baseball games, check. Seeing some prospects in minor league camp, check. Great food, check. It was a really awesome trip.
  28. The Sixers lose to the Raptors in the 2019 NBA Conference Semi-Finals on “quadruple-doink.” I didn’t have high hopes at the start of the 2019 Eastern Conference semi-finals, as the Toronto Raptors and Kawhi Leonard has absolutely dominated the Sixers for a while. Looking back though, the Sixers could have put them away in game four, up 2-1 and at home, leading with five minutes to go. Instead the series went the bitter distance, with Kawhi hitting a last second shot, after it had bounced off the rim four times. I really hate that weird man.
  29. Cliff Lee chooses Philadelphia. Merry Cliffmas. Just days before Christmas, Cliff Lee turned down more raw dollars in New York, and a return to Texas, to join the Phillies. His return set off pride across the region, as free agency’s big fish said he wanted to be in Philly.
  30. The Phantoms move to Allentown. The crown jewel of Allentown’s re-development was the PPL Center, and the arena was viable because the Flyers were willing to move their AHL affiliate, the Phantoms, to Allentown. For local sports fans, it’s been great. Even for folks who like concerts, it’s been great. Hockey live is incredible to watch, and Phantoms games have been fun.
  31. My second Iowa stint in 2014. It seems like every five or six years, I end up in the Hawkeye state, somehow. In 2014, I ended up in Waterloo for the second time for my friend Anesa’s Congressional run in the 1st District. Despite her credentials as a refugee and State Representative, we lost the money war badly, and had to try to run a very grassroots campaign. Cobbling together the votes of labor members, the Bosnian community, and people in Black Hawk County, we managed a decent showing. I met some really amazing people on that campaign.
  32. The 2010 Sixers make the playoffs, I see them lose game three to LeBron’s Heat. It was almost a joke when my uncle and I said we’d get a ten game season ticket plan for the Sixers in 2009-10. It ended up that we had playoff tickets for games three and four. He took game four and took his boys, I took game three. I took Pfen and Matty Panto, and we sat upstairs. The Sixers lead throughout, but lost at the end. The next day they won their lone game of the series. Of course we didn’t renew the tickets, and the Sixers went back to the playoffs and beat the Bulls in the first round.
  33. My parents turned 60. There’s not too much to this. In 2017 and 2018, my parents kicked off the New Year by turning 60. It wasn’t something we over celebrated, but it was significant.
  34. Working the first ACA push in 2014 for OFA. In the Spring of 2014 I was hired on by OFA NJ. It was my second Obama job, and I was just thrilled at the opportunity. While I worked on climate action and gun violence prevention, the main issue that got me worked up was the Affordable Care Act roll out in North Jersey. Getting people access to health insurance they hadn’t had was life changing. I’m grateful for the opportunity.
  35. Moving to DC for SEIU in 2011. When you work in politics, you expect to eventually have to live in DC. In 2011, I faced that reality. While I today love being in DC, my 28 year old self hated everything about DC. It was too expensive. It felt segregated. It really isn’t a “sports town.” I struggle to connect with “Beltways” and “Ivies.” Mostly though, if I’m honest, I was holding it up against New York and Philadelphia, which wasn’t fair. I also hated my job and the mentally abusive boss we all hated. And it just wasn’t Easton. If I lived there today, I’d be fine. But that was not fun. Don’t get me wrong, there were great moments like the night Bin Laden got killed, or when I met up with friends and went to a July 4th weekend Pirates-Nats game, or even just my weekly dinners with the crew- those moments saved it.
  36. “Chip Ball” fails in Philly. When the Eagles hired Chip Kelly, I called it a mistake. It certainly didn’t fail on that front. It took the supposed genius three years to decimate the Eagles roster and get fired. He gave away superstars, wrecked the team’s media relations, disrespected players, and managed to prove once again that “time of possession” actually matters in football. By the end, people questioned even if he was a racist. At least he was terrible enough that the team didn’t have to trade up as far to get Carson Wentz. He’s tanked San Francisco and UCLA since leaving.
  37. Cousin Evan graduates college, moves off to “the big city.” In May of 2014, my cousin Evan graduated from Millersville University. This is an achievement in his life, but what he’s done since is even better. After a stint interning at Lafayette College’s Athletic Department, he moved off to Jersey City, got a job in marketing, and has been doing well ever since. Today he’s working at an agency on the Boston Brewing Company, and doing quite well. He had a good decade.
  38. The 2017 Election in the Lehigh Valley. After the disappointment of 2016, the 2017 election felt like a new day. After a brief stint in New Jersey, I ended up at home in the Lehigh Valley, running several campaigns at once. In the end I ended up with a couple of County Executives, two statewide judges, and a bunch of new council people. It was way more rewarding to win at home, especially in the Trump era.
  39. Cousin Brad wins the Easton-Phillipsburg Thanksgiving Day MVP in 2012 with a record five touchdown passes. I have to admit, I didn’t see this coming. After a long night out the night before, and a few cold ones in the morning, I realized in the third quarter that my cousin was on his way to a record breaking day. He would throw five touchdown passes in his junior game, shattering the game record and winning the MVP. It’s not so much that I didn’t see him having a big game, I just didn’t think about having to find his brother and get us both on the field for pictures with the family after the big game. We made it, though I have to admit I was hurting. Evan ended up sleeping on the dog bed that afternoon.
  40. CHT closes, then re-opens better than ever. The College Hill Tavern is to me, as Cheers was to Norm. When it was sold to new owners, I was concerned for it’s future. The final night was a pretty good blowout, complete with some highway workers beating up a towny (we were pulling for the workers). Then there was some time with it closed. When the bar re-opened, it was nicer. The food was better. There were more TV’s. The new owners were cool. The place took a step up. And it’s still my bar of choice. All’s well that ends well.
  41. The end of the Andy Reid era in Philadelphia, and MNF against the Panthers. Andy Reid is the winningest coach in Eagles history, but when he let Dawkins walk and McNabb was traded, he was on borrowed time. That borrowed time came to it’s end at the end of the 2012 season. Somewhere in the middle of that season I took my cousin Brad with me to Monday Night Football against the Carolina Panthers and watched the Nick Foles’ lead Birds take a beating. It was admittedly weird listening to the “Fire Andy” chants upstairs. I wonder if any of us realized what a joke would immediately follow him.
  42. Working the 2013 Rockland County Election. In 2013, it took me a while to find the right fit, but I eventually ended up in Rockland County, NY, a former home of my parents. I ended up back with my 2008 Hillary roommates, Sally and Michael. I ended up working for one of my favorite people, Judge David Fried, himself an alum of the Clinton White House. While we came up 200 votes of finally flipping that county courthouse, we had a blast. What a beautiful, fun place. I worked with some great people.
  43. My friends get married off. This was definitely the biggest decade of my life for weddings. Every year it felt like I had a couple. They were all a lot of fun. I even “officiated” one, two if you want to get technical, and was in one. I loved them all.
  44. I attended game two of the 2010 NLDS. As the decade began, playoff games in South Philadelphia felt like a given for the Phillies. This would be the only one I attended this decade. Roy Oswalt started, and the Phillies got a big win. They swept Cincinnati for the series.
  45. My sister attended Temple Law School. While she will graduate in the next decade, my sister decided to stay right on Broad Street and continue studying to be a lawyer the last 2.5 years. Soon she’ll be all done.
  46. Working the 2015 Philadelphia Mayoral race. Thanks to my friend Sally giving her friend Stu my resume, I ended up being Field Director for former Philadelphia DA Lynne Abraham’s Mayoral race. What a wild, strange ride that was. While Abraham remained popular throughout the race, her polling fell off the cliff when she, as the oldest candidate in the field, fainted during a publicly televised debate. I met some interesting people, ate some great food, and made good money. Can’t complain.
  47. My friends start having kids and stuff. Nothing is stranger than when you start seeing your childhood friends as parents. For many of my childhood friends, that happened this decade. It’s been pretty cool to watch.
  48. I win a couple elections, I lose one too. During this decade I managed to win a couple of elections, but lost one too. I was elected as Palmer Township Auditor in 2015. I also was elected to the Pennsylvania Democratic committee in 2014. Unfortunately I didn’t win a second term on the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, but I got more votes in 2018 than 2014- just all the Bethlehem folks won that time. Being a candidate is very different, and I did enjoy it.
  49. The 2019 Elections in the Lehigh Valley. The last year of this decade was a weird one for me professionally. I spent the early part of the year interviewing for national jobs, then ended up staying local anyway. I ended up working with nine campaigns, and we won all nine- four Allentown school board members, an Allentown councilwoman, the Mayor, and of course DA Morganelli (on turnout for judge of common pleas), Judge McCaffery (Superior Court, as scheduler), and newly-elected Northampton County Councilman Kerry Myers (as Manager). It was a damn good year.
  50. RIP Uncle George, Uncle Charlie, Uncle Stan, Aunt Mary, Bob Elliott, Bob Baxter, and everyone else we lost. We lost a lot of great people this decade, some very close to me. I’m going to miss all of them, and felt the need to recognize them here.

Impeachment- Rome is Burning…

The view down Pennsylvania Avenue…

A few hours from now, Donald J. Trump is likely to become the third President to be impeached by the House of Representatives in the more than 240 years of the Republic. As I write this, I’m sitting in the Capitol Hill Starbucks on Pennsylvania Avenue, just blocks from the House floor. I might as well be home in Easton, given the divide I currently feel towards our politics.

To be clear, I believe Donald Trump should be impeached on many more counts than the two the House will consider tomorrow. Yes, he attempted to abuse his power by withholding both military aid and an Oval Office visit from the Ukraine, unless they investigated Joe Biden and his son. To be clear, that’s also an effort to extort a bribe. Trump also obstructed justice in his attempts to thwart Congressional oversight, refusing to turn over documents, make witnesses available, and ignoring subpoenas. Robert Mueller also made clear that Trump obstructed justice in his probe of election interference, particularly in limiting cooperation and firing the FBI Director. He also filed false reports of his campaign spending, when he failed to disclose his “hush money” payment to Stormy Daniels (and others) that he made when he wanted to keep the affair with the porn star quiet before the election. In addition to all of that, he is not disclosing the “gift” of free legal representation from Rudy Giuliani on his ethics forms (I’m not sure they’re a gift, but I digress). I’m leaving aside matters I consider to be of personal distaste, or his moral character, which I believe should be settled by the 2020 Election, not the impeachment process. I think he should be minimally impeached on articles of abuse of power, two counts of obstruction, bribery, falsification of campaign finance reports, falsification of an ethics report, and possibly extortion. In fact, I believe the House is wrong to vote on this matter until they have played out all legal disputes for additional testimony from people such as Mick Mulvaney, Rudy Giuliani, and Secretary Pompeo, because let’s face it, then Senate isn’t going to force the testimony of anyone else. House Democrats cutting this short are short-changing Democracy. And again, I’m leaving aside all issues of policy differences, Trump’s capacity to serve, or his moral character. Those have no place here.

Here’s the other, obvious side of this, to me- this was both inevitable and completely pointless. From the day he took office, some House Democrats, and very many activists in our base wanted to impeach him for all the political and personal reasons we find him disgusting. To be clear, most of America, including some of the people who supported him in 2016, find him unacceptable- Trump is the first President in modern times to never average or sustain a 50% approval rating for any sustainable period of time in the first three years he sat in office. In fact, 2016 exit polls showed his Election Day approval at 38%, while he received 46% of the vote. A full 8% of America knew Trump was no good, and still preferred him to any other choice for President. Americans know what Donald Trump is, and don’t care. Nothing he did to Robert Mueller, the Ukraine, with Russia, to the Congress, or otherwise uncovered in this investigation is going to dramatically change anything. The televised hearings didn’t move public opinion. Shaming the GOP for supporting their President (who has mostly done what they wanted in delivering conservative judges, tax cuts, and deregulation), it didn’t work. You can make the Senate take any oath as jurors that you would like, Donald Trump will not be convicted and removed from office by 67 Senators. This is not in doubt. In fact, the outcome was inevitable. Trump supporters do not care that he is objectionable to the Democratic base, and in fact they like it, full stop. Democrats should have listened to the voices telling them this from the start, because this is a process with no point. Trump won’t have to wear a “scarlet letter” for being impeached, but perhaps the freshmen Democratic members representing actual competitive districts might, because we put them in the inevitably hard position of choosing between the just (holding Trump to account) and the good (working on politically popular items that would allow them to continue helping their constituents by being re-elected). History will show Trump to have looked like a clown, and absolutely no living person has any reason to care.

And so tomorrow we will have a historic moment in our Congress that will have little to no tangible impact on today. Your Facebook feed will be full of middle aged white men in red hats calling Speaker Pelosi and Democrats vile names, talking ignorantly about Hillary Clinton’s “crimes” that never existed. You’ll also have women in pink hats on your feed talking about how the “Senate must do the right thing,” and posting Capitol phone numbers to lobby Senators who have long since made up their mind, based on opinion back home. Some twitter warriors will call for Rep. Peterson (D-MN) to be primaried for voting “no” on impeachment (good luck ever holding that dark red seat without him). The noise will be loud. And for who, for what?

To be clear, again, I think Donald Trump deserves his historical designation as a crooked dumpster fire of a President tomorrow. I’m just failing to see what we all get from it. If Democrats had been able to subject Trump to the drumbeat of criminal accusations over the next year, much like Republicans did to Hillary Clinton in 2016, and ultimately moved a big chunk of that 8% that voted for him and disliked him to stay home, vote third party, or vote Democratic next year, a failed impeachment would have had tremendous value. As is, it feels like we appeased the loud voices in the party that never understood the value of this anyway.

Moving forward, it’s clear to me that we should not view impeachment through some sort of moral duty prism. There is no trigger in the constitution at which Congress is compelled to impeach. In fact the House chose to not impeach Vice-President Spiro Agnew in the 1970’s even as he was indicted and convicted of felonies. The only “successful” impeachment of our President was the Watergate process against Richard Nixon, which pushed him to resignation once we had broad national unity against him. Even though this standard would protect reprehensible people like Trump, it would also stop nonsense conversations that have no real value. You can’t impeach and convict a President unless their own party turns on them. It was true with Bill Clinton. It’s true today. Perhaps we’d be better off making that our standard.

It Was Never About Trump

One of the most confusing things for the American left to understand is how Republicans keep supporting Donald Trump…

… and I get it, it doesn’t make so much sense. His personal life should disqualify him with Evangelicals, who carried George W. Bush politically. He’s blown a hole in the deficit, something that should have disqualified him with the alleged “fiscal conservatives.” He’s no Dick Cheney styled neo-conservative. In fact, the guy seems to have no real policy credentials or ideas. He’s flip-flopped on abortion rights, been inactive on his stated desire to bolster coal and fossil fuels, and even been largely ineffective on immigration. What exactly do they like about this guy? Why do Republicans continue to protect a guy cozying up to their one-time enemies in the Kremlin?

Do they like him? Like, for real? The polls say yes. Trump’s approval among Republicans routinely tops eight or nine out of every ten voters. Did they always though? No. Over the Summer of 2015, Trump’s approval within the GOP went up from 65% unfavorable to 57-40% approval to disapproval. Did anyone forget about who he was? Of course not. It was during that time that Trump upped his rhetoric on immigration and other cultural issues that drew Republican interest. It’s worth noting though, they knew all the stuff we knew, and they didn’t like him. But they could accept a person they didn’t personally approve of, once he was speaking their language. Indeed, they did by the Fall of 2015.

Eventually, Trump did win the Republican nomination, but he did so with 30% of the party’s delegates against him. Yet, today we regard his support as being like a cult. When did it change? Did it really? Is the GOP all in with him, really? Trump’s approval offers us a clue. Trump was elected with roughly 46% of the vote, but only 38% approval on that same day. At his lowest points in office, he has fallen about as far as 33% approval, and his ceiling has been just under his 46% vote share. A portion of the Romney 47% and McCain 46% that were solid GOP voters before, particularly suburban moderates, have become “never Trump” Democrats, helping them flip Congress. On the other hand, there was a near equal group of Obama-Trump voters who flipped from the Democrats in his favor. It’s fair to say that about 33% of the country love Trump, and intend to vote for him and Republicans across the board. It’s fair to say that there is another 5-7% of the country who usually approve of Trump, but are occasionally embarrassed by his antics. If you add these folks up, you get a 38-40% voting block that make up the base of the Republican Party. There is another 6% of the country that can’t bring themselves to say they like Trump, or the GOP for that matter, but generally end up voting that way in the end- because they prefer Republicans to Democrats. If you break down the full 46% that is the Trump coalition, you realize that about 13% (roughly very close to that 30% that opposed him at the convention) are less rock solid in their commitment to Trump. Democrats see this and wonder why these people don’t turn on Trump. Surely these fault lines in the party offer opportunity, right? Unless Democrats and the left are completely misreading Trump and his support- which they clearly are.

The choice these GOP voters made in 2016 was that they preferred a person they had problems with over Hillary Clinton, or for that matter a third-term of Barack Obama. They were not under any illusion about Donald Trump the person, or the political vision he put forward for the country on everything from immigration to climate change, to abortion rights and tax policy. This is why Trump has record setting negatives, as Clinton attacked his dirty language and personal character, but she could never quite put him away in the polls. They knew Donald Trump, good and bad. They were prepared to pick him over the Obama-Clinton Democratic Party. There was nothing about him that mattered.

As Democrats fret about impeachment polling not moving after hearings in the intelligence committee last week, it’s important to apply these past lessons- Trump’s coalition doesn’t care what Trump did. A solid 70% of them love whatever he does. The other 30% just don’t like the Democrats. Whether or not he was fair to the Ukraine isn’t going to suddenly awaken the “good” Republicans. Nothing about Trump will. Not his dirty language, his affairs, his love of Putin, or anything else. The policies don’t particularly matter. The man certainly does not.

The main animating principle of the Republican Party is opposition to the Democratic Party. The Republican base built by Trump is uniquely strong in the electoral college and U.S. Senate. This problem isn’t going away because Donald Trump did something bad. It was never about him anyway.

Yudichak’s Switch, 2019 Elections Complete Pennsylvania’s 2016 Re-Alignment

The New State of Play

Yesterday, State Senator John Yudichak (I-14th) switched parties in the Pennsylvania Senate, changing the partisan balance from 26-23 to 27-22. Democrats had high hopes hope of picking up the State Senate for the first time in 26 years next year, but that was when they only needed two seats to flip the chamber. Now they need three seats, which is just about the limit to what is truly possible in 2020. The obvious repercussion to this is that Republicans are more likely to control re-districting in the chamber than they were, which could change the odds of Democrats winning the chamber back in 2022 as well.

There was really no shock, just mild surprise, when Yudichak made the announcement. The timing doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, but the announcement itself looked like it was coming for a while. From his early career disagreements with Congressman Paul Kanjorski, to his later dislike of former PA House Majority Leader Todd Eachus, to his more recent strong disagreements with Governor Tom Wolf and more liberal Senate members from the Southeast part of the Commonwealth, Senator Yudichak has always kind of been a man of his own mind. He’s also been pretty popular over the years though, beating the former Mayor of Wilkes-Barre in the 2010 primary to get to this seat, and most recently facing no primary or general election opponent to retain his seat as a Democrat in 2018. He’s triangulated against the more liberal wing of the party to continue winning as Luzerne and Carbon Counties moved right, and there’s not much reason to believe the general public in that district will suddenly hate him.

There’s something else at work here though- the continuing trend of districts President Trump won moving increasingly red, and districts Secretary Clinton won in 2016 moving blue. The Republicans are on their way to wiping out in Southeastern PA, where they lost the bulk of the seats they held for a generation prior to Trump. On the flip side Western PA outside of Allegheny County is pretty much completely flipped to the GOP at this point. We’re rapidly approaching the point where there aren’t any moderates winning districts that lean away from their party.

Our 2019 election results suggest that we’re reaching the point of peak partisan polarization. At this point, the Republican Party controls the county commissioner board (or equivalent) in all but three counties that President Trump won. The Democratic Party controls the county commissioner board (or equivalent) in every county Secretary Clinton won but one. In other words, we’re beginning to see a strong connection in Pennsylvania between Presidential election voting and voting all the way down to county elections, in odd number years. There’s basically no difference anymore.

We’re seeing the completion of the 2016 election trends. The Republican Party is almost extinct in Southeast PA. The Democratic Party is basically extinct in Western PA, “the T,” and in much of Northeastern PA. This is not going to increase the incentive for either party to compromise and behave more moderately. If anything, we’re seeing it continue towards the opposite.

What Happened in Election 2019

The dust has settled on the election of 2019, and everyone is asking the same question- what does this mean for 2020? It’s nearly impossible to separate questions about Trump from anything political, but it’s also nearly impossible to take things from one election and apply them to some future election with different people in it, and not make mistakes. There are a lot of elections from Tuesday to look at, and they generally give us different things to discuss, so I’m going to break this up into sections dealing with different topics, states, and regions individually.

Pennsylvania, as a whole-

map credit to @4st8 on Twitter.

There were essentially two elections held in Pennsylvania on Tuesday, which yielded a very close, mixed result in statewide elections in the state. Judge Dan McCaffery appears to have won a Superior Court seat for the Democrats as the top vote getter, delivering a victory for Democrats that gives them the majority on that court for the first time in a very long time. McCaffery ran up very strong numbers in Philadelphia and it’s suburban counties (Bucks, Montgomery, Chester, Delaware, and Lehigh), while also doing well in Lackawanna, Northampton, Centre, Erie, and of course, Allegheny. McCaffery also outperformed his running mate in the red counties, but it’s worth noting how similar his map was to the map of who controls County Commissioner boards in the 67 counties. Democrats flipped Monroe, Lehigh, Bucks, Chester, and Delaware counties in Tuesday’s elections, while maintaining control in Northampton, Lackawanna, Montgomery, Philadelphia, Centre, Erie, Allegheny, and Cambria. Statewide Democrats essentially were carried by 12 counties that mostly got bluer in 2019 than they were even in 2017 (Cambria actually got pretty red, but was held based on localized factors).

Judge Megan McCarthy King appears to have won the second Superior Court slot, currently leading by a narrow 30,000 votes over Democrat Amanda Green-Hawkins, while trailing McCaffery by a narrow 8,000 votes (roughly). For the Republicans, she offers a hopeful sign for 2020 in the Keystone State. While things haven’t gone great for the GOP as a whole, it’s worth noting now that in the statewide Judicial races of 2017 and 2019, Democrats have won 5 seats, and the GOP has won 4. King’s path to victory appears to have been strong showings in “Trump Country” counties, counties the GOP flipped control, and staying competitive in Monroe and Northampton counties. The GOP flipped control of county governments in Luzerne, Cameron, Armstrong, Westmoreland, Washington, and Greene counties, in most cases for the first time in generations. The GOP candidates got more votes than the Democratic candidates for Superior Court in 56 counties, winning by more than 10% in 51 of them, and by more than 5% in 55 of them. Their base in the era of Trump stayed extremely solid. That didn’t win them a sweep, but it did earn them a very, very close split.

Pennsylvania remains as competitive as it was in 2016. You’ll read analysis saying otherwise, and I understand why, but if you look at the overall picture, nothing has changed. Democrats probably have a narrow, narrow edge heading into 2020, but increasingly will be reliant on about 12 counties to carry them across the state. The impact of Trump, impeachment, and the national climate was higher turnout everywhere, and Trump counties getting more “red,” and Clinton counties increasingly getting blue.

The Lehigh Valley Region

Let’s state the obvious- Democrats had a better night than Republicans. Beyond that, you could look at Lehigh, Northampton, and Monroe and draw some dramatically different conclusions about where these counties are at moving forward. It’s fair to say that Republicans shouldn’t be excited about any of them, but the Democrats should have varying degrees of excitement about each of them.

I’ll start in Lehigh County because it was the most dramatic Democratic victory of the three. Four years ago in this exact election cycle, Republicans won three of the four Commissioner seats, virtually every contested row office, and were pretty dominant across the county government. That is all gone now, and it really wasn’t very close. County Executive Armstrong’s victory two years ago was a little bigger than many of us expected (disclosure- I managed that), and this cycle showed that to be the new norm.  Allentown, West Bethlehem, and Whitehall provided a substantial base of votes for Democrats, as did increasingly solid performances in some of the inner suburban communities- South Whitehall, Fountain Hill, Salisbury, Emmaus, and even the Macungies. One could look at Lehigh County, which used to be the more conservative of the Valley’s counties, and say that it is now blue. Not “swingy,” purple, or anything else that suggests it’s competitive, but blue. The Superior Court results back that up, in what was essentially a test case of generic partisan voting- The Democrats finished first and second here, and their margin was closer to 2,000 votes over the top Republican. Allentown elected two younger, more progressive council members out of their three. The results suggest Lehigh County is now performing like the Philadelphia suburbs.

Northampton County Democrats should be very proud and happy with what was a very good night at the polls. Democrats swept the county wide races, winning both Judicial seats, the DA’s office, the Controller’s office, and the one County Council seat they had to defend. Judge McCaffery carried the county by roughly 800 votes for the Superior Court race too. An African-American man was elected in a pretty white county council seat too (disclosure- I managed that). If you stopped right here, you’d ask how is this different than Lehigh County? I’d tell you, it’s at the margins. McCaffery’s rather close victory runs very similar in both raw votes and margins to Judge-elect Abe Kassis’ 1% and 1,005 vote victory over his Republican opponent. While margins were larger in the District Attorney and Controller’s race, it’s worth noting that those races featured Republican candidates with longer records to oppose for Democrats, and they exposed them. The ticket for Democrats was also not exactly indicative of “the coming revolution”- three career prosecutors for Judge and DA, a highly qualified City Controller for County Controller, and a former School Board President for County Council. They were fairly established people, and ran on fairly mainstream messages. It was a successful ticket, it won- but it wasn’t “burn it down” progressivism either. Democrats also did not take either of the two Republican held seats on County Council that don’t have any of the two main cities in them. Again, Democrats should be happy. They should also understand that Northampton County is still a very competitive, “purple” county. The overall margin of victory is about half of Lehigh County’s, which is great, but not blowout gaps. The most heartening thing here for Democrats is that after a huge spike in their favor leading to a blowout in 2017, the 2019 spike was even larger, and more bi-partisan, and they still won it. 

Then there’s Monroe County, the heart of the Poconos and fastest changing of the three counties, politically. In 2000, George W. Bush comfortably won a double-digit victory, but by 2008 and 2012 it was a steady part of the “Obama coalition” in Pennsylvania. Hillary Clinton narrowly held onto it in 2016, which had some concerned that Democratic momentum had halted, but 2019 suggests otherwise. For the first time in a long while, the Democrats will control the County Commissioner’s board 2-1. This is significant because it suggests the county’s national tilt left is dripping down into local races. It’s still worth noting that the GOP held the row offices, and won the Superior Court race here, suggesting some institutional strength isn’t quite there in the party yet, but they’re getting better at this. The one peculiar thing here is that Judge McCaffery not only didn’t win the county, he finished in dead last of the four candidates in the race. This is… strange, to say the least. The bottom line with this is that it was a good night for Monroe, but Monroe is still on the pathway to Lehigh County status, not there yet.

The Voting Machines…

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Well, that was fun, wasn’t it? I’m going to make several points here, some of which will be popular, some of which won’t, but all of which are simply true.

  1. Northampton County’s counting problems were unacceptable. It did cause undue stress and burden on candidates and campaigns who were impacted, and they deserved better. There should have been enough testing done to know you wouldn’t have some candidates shown as zeroes in races with three candidates. This is just not good. The county has a responsibility to run elections, the company has a responsibility to provide working machines for our taxpayer dollars, and neither did well at this. There’s six months until the 2020 primary for President, and this has to be fixed.
  2. The actual voting process in Northampton County was fairly easy and pleasant, and didn’t feature any “real” problems. Let me just start by stating something obvious to me after 17 years of elections- every single election I’ve ever been apart of has had issues with machines. Things like machines not booting up fast enough in the morning, while important to remedy, are not indicative of “massive problems” with an election. This isn’t re-assuring to most people, but it’s a reality of having democratic elections. My voting process on Tuesday, as well as the overwhelming majority of people I talked to, was easy and fine. It was a new system, and people do have trouble sometimes their first time using new technology, and I have no doubt that for some people it wasn’t as good. I have good poll workers at my poll too, which helps. The most common complaint I heard from people unhappy with the process, was that the paper ballot they received from the machine didn’t match what they thought they voted (straight ticket or otherwise)- which they had every opportunity to fix themselves in the booth by hitting “no” instead of “cast ballot” when they noticed the problem. A person’s inability to follow pretty basic instructions, or ask for help when they have an issue, is not a problem with our elections process, but a problem with the person. There were two cases cited of people having trouble with retention votes for judge, which is an issue I guess, but not a massive one that in any way changed the results. Over the course of the day, I heard more complaints in Lehigh County about actual voting issues than I did in Northampton County, and frankly I heard nothing I’d call overly significant in Lehigh County either. I’m going to come down on the side of saying the machines themselves were pretty easy to vote on, in both counties.
  3. Imagine this happening in April. There is at least a 50/50 chance that the Presidential ballot in the Democratic Primary in May, as well as the delegate ballot and statewide Auditor General races will have odd numbers of candidates. If this happens then, it’s a national embarrassment. ES&S needs to have it made clear to them that the time to fix this problem is very, very short, because if they can’t do it quickly, the county needs different machines for April. This happening in April would be very, very damaging.
  4. The election, despite the problems, was fair and accurate. Thank goodness for paper ballots being printed. Ultimately they were what was counted, to get to the final result. They were done so in the company of both judicial candidates or representatives, with the GOP County Chairwoman present (so don’t believe any of her ramblings about this being unfair), and all people who had a legal right to be present. The final results, a county narrowly decided by about 800 votes in the statewide race, pretty much match-up to what Northampton County actually is politically. That the machines failed to spit out proper and correct results from the start is a problem, but it is not a problem that should cast any doubt about the final result, which was counted by the actual paper ballots that voters clicked “cast vote” to vote. The results look right, and there’s no reason to believe there’s any problem with those paper ballots- which is why paper is better to have. One can certainly make the argument for Lehigh County’s system, in which you hand mark the paper and then put it into a scanner to be counted, but scanners are as faulty as anything else (though I do like having hand marked ballots to re-count, though Florida in 2000, or North Carolina’s 9th district in 2018 tell us that these can fail/be cheated on too).
  5. No, the election was not rigged. Let’s note here that the most injured party on election night was the DEMOCRATIC nominee for Judge, and the election was administered by a Democratic administration. There is literally plausible or sane argument that can be made that Northampton County sought to harm the Democratic nominee for the Court of Common Pleas, and anyone saying so needs to be committed to an insane asylum. The whole thing was a colossal mess, and certainly ES&S deserves increased scrutiny here, but even insinuating they were trying to rig the election would be crazy- why didn’t they try to rig Lehigh County too (they produced those machines)? This is kind of just an insane thing to have to rebut. That there are Democrats saying this kind of stuff, given the narrow Democratic victories that they are casting doubt on, is absolutely insane.

The Cities are Way, Way, Way Left of Pennsylvania

Map credit to @4st8.

The joke I’ve made for months is that no Philadelphia city elected official could get elected in any of the surrounding suburban counties. That’s not looking like a joke anymore. Philadelphia’s strange at-large council system elects seven members of City Council, but limits the majority party (basically Democrats forever at this point) to five seats. As usual, the Democrats won all five seats. The two “minority party” seats were virtually conceded to Republicans in recent times, and David Oh and Al Taubenberger have filled them for a bit now. On Tuesday night that changed. The Working Families Party candidate, Kendra Brooks, defeated Taubenberger for the seventh and final at-large spot, and will be the first third party candidate in my memory to win Philadelphia. Taubenberger has long been considered semi-moderate, and it’s hard to imagine this would have happened even next door in a suburban county. It happened though.

In Allegheny County, longtime District Attorney Stephen Zappala beat back left-independent challenger Lisa Middleman by a solid, but not overwhelming margin. Zappala was nominated by both parties in May, and one may have presumed he would have won bigger than 57-43%. He won nearly every precinct in the suburban areas of Allegheny County, but still only won by 14%- because he lost nearly all of the City of Pittsburgh. Again, he had both nominations, so those city voters made it a point to *not* vote straight ticket, and it got closer because of that.

Philadelphia and Pittsburgh are substantially to the left of even their neighboring suburbs, which are the left-leaning parts of the state. The space between politics in the two major cities and even a place like Scranton is now substantial. Given the high number of raw votes in those cities, this could have huge impacts on future PA elections.

New Jersey Elections, as a Whole

This is going to be a lot shorter than my breakdown of Pennsylvania, because it’s a lot more cut-and-dry. Democrats in New Jersey lost two seats in the Assembly and one in the Senate, all in one legislative district in the far South of the state, where the Democratic Senator refused to rule out voting for Trump next year. This is as close to indicative of nothing as you can possibly come up with. South Jersey’s Democrats, lead by Senate President Steve Sweeney, have chosen to not go along with Governor Murphy and essentially create a three-party state. Their “third party” didn’t fair well in one of their own districts, which I guess you can try and read into it what you want, but i’m not even sure it means they’re wrong either. Democrats tried to win a few other Republican seats to add to their substantial majority around the state, and they didn’t succeed, which I guess you can blame on national factors and impeachment, but you still have to remember that they are *Republican* seats. Yes, Trump is popular in Republican seats, which is why they keep supporting him in Congress. There’s nothing all that shocking about any of this. Democrats ran out of room to grow.

Sometimes a majority outgrows what it can sustain. Democrats have probably done that in New Jersey. It’s definitely securely blue, and nothing really happened that should change your mind there. In the long run, one must hope that Governor Murphy and the South can get together ahead of 2021 and reconcile their differences, to avoid another embarrassing governor like Chris Christie, but that’s not for today. My point about New Jersey’s overall results is that they don’t tell you much of anything.

Phillipsburg

While their neighbors on the Pennsylvania side of the Lehigh Valley were voting out Republicans, Phillipsburg was voting them in. Todd Tersigni defeated Stephen Ellis, and will be the next Mayor of Phillipsburg in January, along with a staunchly Republican council. This comes on the heels of a tumultuous four years in which council clashed viciously with Ellis, and essentially set out to destroy him from the start. For Tersigni, who probably felt slighted at times when he was a Democrat, by the county and town Democratic committees, he found a home in the GOP and got the job he wanted. For Ellis, it’s got to be disappointing.

Let’s not kid ourselves about the state of Phillipsburg and it’s politics at this point, it’s bad. The town was dealt a bad hand when Ingersoll-Rand left town, and it has struggled to carve out an identity and direction since. That’s neither party locally’s fault, and one shouldn’t root against Phillipsburg either way. The politics though are terrible. People had “piss on Ellis” bumper stickers on their cars to show their displeasure, complete lies and innuendos were thrown around (I’d say possibly by both sides), and the race certainly got nastier in the closing days. Usually what goes around comes around, and I’m sure that will be the case for the new Republican government that takes office in January. I’m not sure that’s a good thing for anybody, but nobody is asking me either. Phillipsburg needs a few good years, but i’m not sure the politics there will ever quite allow it.

The politics in Phillipsburg are changing pretty rapidly though. Downtown Phillipsburg was the Democratic stronghold when I was a kid, and now that is dramatically changing. “Hillcrest,” a neighborhood on the north side of town used to be “Marge Roukema Republicans,” (North Jersey moderate ex-Republican Congresswoman) but are increasingly swing voters left out by the Trump coalition. This election didn’t really change any of that. Phillipsburg performed more like the rest of Warren County as a whole, which could be attributed to the power imbalance between the two parties in the county, but also could just be that most of the town is actually more like the rest of the county than their neighbors in Easton. It will be interesting to see how this all goes.

The Rest of the Country

To varying degrees, nothing that happened on Tuesday was all that shocking. Virginia’s legislature flipped blue in both houses, which is not shocking at all given that the state has pretty much been going blue from 2005 onward. Kentucky’s Governorship certainly did flip, despite Governor Bevin’s pathetic whining, but that’s also no shock. Andy Beshear is popular, and is the son of a popular Governor, and Bevin is the second least popular Governor in America. Beshear was also pretty careful to not contest the election on purely national themes. Mississippi was close, but the Democrat was a pro-life “Southern style” Democrat running against a somewhat weak Lt. Governor. The reality in all three states is that they ran on pretty mainstream messaging, not really ideologically in the image of Presidential front-runner Elizabeth Warren or Dem-Socialist darling AOC. We can say the Democratic Party over performed in these states, but do these candidates even remotely match up to what is likely to be the campaign in 2020? I’m skeptical.

That’s all i’ve got. Thanks to all of you who voted, and who read this kind of long piece.

Moving the Phillies Forward

As mediocrity goes, you can’t get more mediocre than 81-81. While everyone has a diagnosis for why the Phillies were so mediocre, it’s worth remembering one thing- absolutely no one predicted this. The 2018 Phillies were 80-82, an improvement from 66-96 the year before, and largely did it with improved pitching in Gabe Kapler’s first year. After adding two former NL MVP outfielders, a multi-time All-Star shortstop, arguably the best catcher in the game, and a durable and elite late-inning reliever, the Phillies weren’t expecting a one-game improvement. It was easy to expect 90 wins and an NL Wild Card. Neither happened.

When it comes to assigning blame for this season, I come unequivocally down on the side of blaming the General Manager and front office. Yes, the manager has his flaws. Yes, injuries hit this team- as they did the 100 plus win Yankees. The truth is that this team was simply not talented enough though, because of the GM. I assign blame to Matt Klentak for four specific failures:

  1. Terrible starting pitching. Taking a chance on one of Eflin, Velasquez, and Pivetta might have made sense. Rolling the dice with all three, then trotting out a busted Eickhoff, a rookie Irvin, and trying to pass off Smyly and Vargas as help was insane. Klentak simply has to stop trying to be precisely right on his “player valuations,” and get some premier talent.
  2. A punchless, inadequate bench. Among this year’s underrated disasters was the bench. Gosselin lead the team in pinch hits, despite being DFA’ed and spending a few months in AAA. Aaron Altherr played significant games here. Nick Williams didn’t work off the bench. Roman Quinn still can’t stay healthy. Andrew Knapp isn’t a great hitter. Jay Bruce and Scott Kingery had to provide most of their value as starters. And yeah, Sean Rodriguez was on the team.
  3. An old bullpen unable to pitch the way their manager wants to manage. Presumably the Phillies asked Gabe Kapler about managing a bullpen in his interview. I presume they understood he wants to play match-ups aggressively in the late innings. If they understood that relievers were going to be getting up and down a lot, making a lot of one and two out appearances, and needing to be durable enough to get up and down almost every night, then why did they give him a bunch of older relievers. Men over 35 years old can perform as relievers, but they need their rest. Robertson, Neshek, Nicasio, and Hunter all were older arms that got injured this season. Even younger guys like Seranthony, Arano, and Morgan had issues staying healthy in this system. The front office didn’t think this through.
  4. A minor league system unprepared to help. This isn’t getting enough attention on the list of failures. The Phillies raided the IronPigs early and often to plug holes. It didn’t work. The team failed to attract veteran AAA players who could help, and failed to develop much beyond Adam Haseley in terms of prospects ready to help now. Just two of Klentak’s draft choices over the first four years have played for the team. That’s pretty alarming.

What do I then make of the debate over Gabe Kapler’s future? I largely don’t care. I do come down on the side of firing both he and pitching coach Chris Young, mostly because neither provided much positive. Kapler hired poor hitting and pitching coaches, projected his laid back persona onto a team that needed more accountability, and refused to adjust in areas where his philosophies failed. I’m not really concerned that his press conferences were abrasive to our fanbase, but I am concerned by his unwillingness to play any old-school, situational baseball. Ultimately though, I blame Kapler less than the front office for this team’s failures. I’m less interested in firing him than Klentak. He may even be this generation’s Terry Francona that stinks here and figures it out elsewhere. I don’t dislike the guy. I’d mostly fire him because I don’t think he’s great at this right now, and I think there are better available options on the market, not because I think he’s the top thing ailing our team.

Looking ahead to the off-season, I have my wishlist in mind for what they need on the field too. I’m looking for:

  • Go for some big splashes. Cole, Rendon, and Strasburg (if he opts out) are all worth the bid. Nothing is hurt by succeeding here. But more directly…
  • Two starting pitchers. At least one needs to be a legit number two type, and the other should be at least a three. I’d be in on the Bumgarner, Hamels, Wheeler market, in addition to the pitchers above. I’d also be in on the Ray, Minor, Boyd trade market.
  • At least two late-inning relievers. And yes, there should be some guys below 35 here. The Phillies should even consider forking out some closer market money on San Francisco’s Smith.
  • Either a starting center fielder or a very solid fourth outfielder. I’m thinking you either make Adam Haseley your fourth outfielder for now by grabbing a big splash in center, or you come home with a Cameron Maybin type of fourth outfielder type that you don’t fear starting sometimes. I’m not opposed to re-signing Dickerson and giving up a little defense with him and McCutchen in left and center, with Haseley spelling their off days and late innings, but I don’t find it realistic.
  • An upgrade utility infielder. I have no problem with Brad Miller being back, but upgrade on Sean Rodriguez. If it’s Kingery playing this role because you signs third baseman and don’t dump Cesar at second, I’m fine, but upgrade here.

I think we’re walking into next season with three starters (Nola, Arrieta, Eflin), at least six or seven starting positions, and three of the five bench spots (Grullon, Miller, and Bruce) filled in-house. That’s it bad. My big worry though is the Phillies will fire Kapler, and allow Klentak to repeat last off-season where he whiffs on filling out a full roster because he’s afraid to spend some veteran money on pitchers and bench pieces. I’m fine with firing people, I just wish we were talking about the right people. The failures of 2019 need to be assigned to stubbornness by the front office to make the last one or two moves needed. Only a change in attitude and philosophy can take us to the playoffs in 2020.

Yay for Impeachment! Or Not…

For the fourth time in American history, the President of the United States will face a formal impeachment proceeding. With this being our 45th President, that is just shy of 10% of our Presidencies. With this being the third time in the last fifty years we’re going through this, it’s safe to bet we’ll see a fifth in our lifetime. This is rare, but it’s increasingly less rare. In this case, one could argue it felt nothing less than inevitable.

To be fair to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, I think she tried hard not to do this. I think she knows what a disaster it will probably be. I am less than certain frankly that Trump didn’t try to get to this point, for varying reasons. It felt inevitable though because in the “blue” House Districts that Democrats held before 2018, impeachment is popular. For similar reasons in “red” Senate seats, it’s doomed to fail. Pelosi tried to hold back the tide in her “blue” seats to protect the 40 freshmen House members elected in swing districts last year. Politics would not allow that.

So what is the process? What’s the likely outcome? What is the actual political fallout. Let’s observe.

Trust the Process?

The House leadership intends to begin this process in six separate committees. In other words, the House Judiciary, Intelligence, Financial Services, Ways and Means, Government Oversight, and Foreign Affairs Committees will begin this process with formal hearings investigating parts of Trump’s Presidency. Presumably at the conclusion of their investigations, they will either recommend articles of impeachment, or not. Speaker Pelosi chose to do this, rather than hold an initial House vote to open the inquiry, and send it straight to the Judiciary Committee (the process under Nixon and Clinton).

From there, this will follow normal process. The Judiciary Committee would then debate and vote on the articles before them. The assumption is they will pass. Then those articles of impeachment would go to the full House, who would vote on whether to impeach (or as a legal process matter, essentially indict) the President. If a majority, or 218 members vote to impeach, President Trump would join Bill Clinton and Andrew Johnson as the only Presidents ever impeached. Neither of them was convicted, and neither was penalized at all in office. The other President to face impeachment of course was Richard Nixon, who resigned when it was clear he would be impeached. It’s almost certain Donald Trump will not resign.

The next step is presumably a Senate trial. Assuming one is held (it’s not entirely clear that they have to), the trial’s rules will be set by the Senate itself. The Senate President is of course Vice-President Pence. The man in charge of the Senate is Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who will literally decide the rules of the trial. Chief Justice John Roberts would then serve as the judge enforcing the rules. There must be 67 Senators voting to convict the President and remove him from office, or he is considered acquitted in this process. There are current 47 Democrats in the Senate, so any vote to convict must include 20 Republicans.

Impeaching and removing a President is really hard. That’s why it’s never happened. It’s meant to be a consensus process, where all parties buy in. That’s really hard to do in divided government.

What’s the Likely Outcome?

By virtually any read, President Trump will eventually win this process. Whether that happens in the House committees, the full House, or the Senate, the outcome is virtually assured. Unlike Andrew Johnson’s impeachment, the President’s own party really isn’t interested in hurting him. Unlike Nixon’s process, there doesn’t appear to be any senior Republicans feeling politically threatened by the process. This begins under similar conditions to Bill Clinton’s impeachment.

So when will this fail? The furthest possibility is a Senate trial. For Trump to be convicted, it would seem that all 47 Democrats and 20 Republicans, or some similar math is needed. This means Doug Jones, Jon Tester, and Joe Manchin, all dark “red” state Democrats, would have to vote to convict, let alone Democrats in swing states like Ohio, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan, New Hampshire, Virginia, Minnesota, Arizona, Nevada, and Colorado (to name some), have to vote to convict. Then you need Republicans. The only one sounding reasonable today was Mitt Romney, who represents Utah, so don’t get hopeful. The obvious pressure points are Collins and Gardner, both of whom may benefit from voting to convict, but aren’t showing any budge. Senators Tillis, Ernst, and McSally may move if Trump falls further in the polls, but so far they’re not. Longer shots include Toomey, Portman, Murkowski, Rubio, Daines, Burr, and Johnson. I went as far as possible here politically, and your count is 13. There’s virtually no way Democrats even do this well, but they’d need 7 more votes. Because Republicans know that, they’ll hang together.

It may feel like Trump being impeached in the House is a done deal at this point, as 218 members now support an inquiry- but an inquiry isn’t impeachment yet. There are 235 Democrats, 198 Republicans, 1 Independent, and a vacancy in the House right now. This essentially gives Democrats 236 votes to start with, since the Independent left the GOP over impeachment. This means Democrats can lose 18 votes and still impeach Trump on just Democratic votes. That means impeachment is pretty likely. There are 40 freshmen representing formerly Republican seats though. This means that if Democrats can’t move the needle on impeachment polling, it may not be able to pass the House. It’s likely to pass, but it’s no lock.

I’d bet on articles of impeachment passing the House Judiciary though. The only potential pitfall is that six investigating committees is too many, but that’s not likely to matter. Don’t bet on this to die fast, but bet on it to die, basically.

What’s the Politics?

I’ll just go on record and say that this is maybe the only time I’ve disagreed with Nancy Pelosi’s judgment in this Congress. Impeachment starts out polling terrible, that’s not likely to change, and the polling is probably even worse in the swing districts. Pelosi had no choice though. A majority of the House wanted this inquiry, largely thanks to jitters among moderates who fear primaries (thanks, Justice Dems). Once those politics changed, Pelosi pretty much had to do this. And to be even more fair, the President of the United States openly admits he blackmailed an allied leader to help him hurt a domestic political rival.

Let’s just start from the unassailable facts to begin here though. Impeachment isn’t popular. It’s polling below 40%. That has been consistent. There are short term spikes, but it’s never overly popular. Much like in the Clinton impeachment, it has nothing to do with the facts- half the country thought Clinton was guilty, but only 30% supported impeachment at the time of the actual votes. Even as impeachment is not popular now, neither is Donald Trump- his average approval is actually up to 44.9%, a historically mediocre to poor number in a President’s first term. Those numbers are being propped up by some outlier numbers from Rasmussen and Emerson. So it is fair to say that both impeachment and Trump aren’t popular right now.

If we accept those facts as the case, then it’s hard to see how impeachment changes it’s own politics. They know Trump. They do not really like Trump. They still do not want impeachment. There’s less polling on the matter, but polls on various accusations against Trump show the public usually believes he’s guilty. In other words they already think he’s bad, they just don’t care enough to impeach him. It’s unlikely that hearings or testimony are going to move these folks in the middle with contradictory views. Sure, the hearings will be on TV, but are these folks going to watch it? Of course not, not unless something ridiculous and extraordinary happens in them. In that sense, it means the best shot for Democrats to change the math on impeachment is probably this Fall, when opinions might still be moved by something wildly over the top. Opinions won’t move during a Senate trial. Either way, it’s more likely that nothing said ever matters in this process, because a segment of the population is just not interested in impeachment.

In the best case scenario for Democrats, they put forward some new revelations in the hearing process that make things politically inconvenient for Senators like Collins, Gardner, Tillis, and Ernst. Perhaps they can help themselves put distance between Trump and Senate Republicans in swing states, improving their chances of taking the Senate next year. What seems more likely though is Trump’s eventual acquittal, whether it be in the House or Senate, and an eventual tough vote for 40 vulnerable House Democrats, and maybe even three Senate Democrats.

I don’t think Democrats had to do this. I don’t think this reaches much beyond the core of the Democratic electorate. This is not what 2018 Democratic campaigns were based on. Ultimately, I think it’s more likely than not to be bad politics. But for better or worse, this is where we are.

And Now That It’s Over…

Saturday night was the last Phillies game on our 17 game plan for this season, and within 24 hours after that, it all finally seemed over. After the Red Sox had completed the sweep on Sunday afternoon, it finally seemed safe to stop saying “maybe” this team would make the playoffs. Last night as I laid on my couch and watched the Cubs win again, it dawned on me that this season is almost definitely over. I’d still like to see them beat out the Mets for third and win 82 games, I guess, but I don’t really care. The season that seemed so promising when I was down in Clearwater in March will end as their eighth straight season out of the playoffs.

I won’t play the game of “who to blame,” because I don’t want to leave anyone deserving out. For the second straight season, Gabe Kapler and his analytics driven approach failed in a pennant race. He over manages the game playing every match-up, and frankly his chosen coaching staff (particularly his original hitting coach and his pitching coach) taught their “new” approach to the game, and failed miserably. I’d stop the blame there, but that would be irresponsible and unfair. Matt Klentak handed him a flawed roster, one that could hit pretty well, but couldn’t pitch to save their lives. Not a single Phillies starting pitcher has a better ERA than the Braves fourth starter, Julio Teheran, and only one has thrown more innings. Klentak gave Kapler, his chosen manager, a bullpen full of pitchers over 35 years old, knowing full well that Klentak regularly likes to use his bullpen early and often. Add on a pitching coach trying to force all of the pitchers to throw four-seam fastballs up in the zone, and you see how the disaster happens. The GM did a bad job building his rotation, bullpen, and bench. The manager doesn’t use them right. The pitching coach was a noticeable downgrade from the one we let go to Atlanta. And yeah, well, the pitchers and hitters mostly didn’t do their jobs either.

You can only blame the players to the extent that they underperform their abilities. There is no doubt that this team on the field now was somewhat unlucky. Your center fielder beat up his girlfriend in a casino, your original left fielder tore his ACL in the midst of a really good bounce back season, then the new left fielder you traded for had typical nagging injuries for an older player. So sure, you’re going through the growing pains with a rookie in center field. Your third baseman did what he’s done throughout his young career so far, and when the team got impatient, they sat him down and played a lot of inferior bench players. Your old bullpen guys all got injured together, and you got stuck with waiver wire and AAA guys to finish the season. About the only part of the team that legitimately underperformed on the field was your starting pitchers, and that was fatal. Bryce Harper and J.T. Realmuto put up 3.8 and 5.7 WAR seasons to date, or roughly All-Star and All-Star plus level seasons in their first years here, with particularly strong second halves. Jean Segura wasn’t quite what he was last season in Seattle, but he’s an “every other year” type of player traditionally, and still posted a well above average 2.6 WAR. Cesar Hernandez is pretty much who he was last year too. Scott Kingery was a pleasant surprise to even his biggest critics, like me, posting a respectable 2.4 WAR season. The only true disappointment has been Rhys Hoskins, and he’s posting a solid 2.7. A poor second half and low batting average makes us not appreciate a 28 homer, 81 RBI performance. On the field, for the most part, you got what you paid for, so while I am not a fan of Kapler’s methods, this team’s failures need to mostly be laid at the feet of bad luck and bad front office work.

Let’s not beat around the bush- a year ago right now, our owner was talking about “stupid money.” That did not happen. Instead our general manager used his “player valuations” to talk himself out of giving Patrick Corbin the sixth year, or out-bidding the Rays for Charlie Morton, or making an offer to current Brave Dallas Keuchel, or even trading minimal value for Cole Hamels last Summer. For your information, all of those guys are currently headed for the playoffs. All of them are at least better than four of the Phillies pitchers. Did I mention above that our pitching coach from last year is in Atlanta too? Meanwhile our team President Andy McPhail’s attitude was “if we get in, we get in, if we don’t, we don’t.” The Phillies, and owner John Middleton who promised stupid money, meanwhile stayed below the luxury tax with an inadequate team. Player valuations are a great excuse for this in small markets, like Oakland and Milwaukee, both of who still have stronger playoff aspirations than us. That shouldn’t work in the largest single-team market in the league though. And if you’re going that route, you better do it as well as Oakland and Milwaukee. The ownership and front office failed this team though. They didn’t do enough to win in 2019. That’s idiotic when you consider the money they did spend.

My only conclusion is that you can’t keep the blame to just one person or part of this team. If I were John Middleton, I would remove everyone from McPhail to Klentak, and Kapler and his coaching staff. For one, they failed to reach your goals with your money. Second though, they really lost this fan base as the summer was dragging on. The stands were not full like the heyday of 2009. They weren’t that entertaining. You have a team tied for third place, in the division, and a minor league system rated near the bottom of the league. Their draft choices aren’t reaching the league, and player development is questionable at best. There’s not much whining success to point to. The best moves of last off-season, bringing in the Harpers, Realmutos, Seguras, and McCutchens are not particularly genius- any idiot with the budget would do that. On the hard moves, everyone basically failed.

A new regime, one with a bigger market perspective, could do a lot with the parts the Phillies would hand them. I think they should consider doing that.