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The Daily 202: ‘It’s called 2016 PTSD.’ The ghost of Hillary Clinton haunts the Iowa caucuses.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) introduces her husband, John, and their daughter Abigail during a rally at Franklin Junior High School in Des Moines on Saturday night. (Gene J. Puskar/AP)
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with Mariana Alfaro

With Mariana Alfaro


DES MOINES – Amy Klobuchar remembers the text messages she received from her daughter on election night in 2016. Abigail Bessler, then a student at Yale University, traveled to New York so she could watch Hillary Clinton break the ultimate glass ceiling. When Donald Trump won a shocking upset instead, she texted the senator from Minnesota: “Mom, what should we do now?” Klobuchar wrote back a minute later that she should catch the last train to New Haven: “Remember, you have class tomorrow.” Her distraught daughter replied: “Mom, I mean our country.”

“That is the question we’ve asked ourselves every day since then: What should we do now?" Klobuchar told hundreds of supporters crammed into the Franklin Junior High gym on Saturday night. “My profound advice is this: We better not screw this up.”

Tens of thousands of Iowa Democrats are asking themselves that question as they prepare to gather tonight across more than 1,600 precincts for caucuses that will kickstart a five-month marathon to the party’s convention in Milwaukee. Presidential candidates, their surrogates and rank-and-file voters frequently invoked, always with dread, the memory of 2016 over the weekend. The latest proxy fight between loyalists to Clinton and Bernie Sanders got the lion’s share of attention, but the previous presidential election loomed large at six rallies I covered. The topic came up repeatedly during dozens of interviews across events for all the top contenders.

Pete Buttigieg’s final rally on Sunday was at Lincoln High School – the home of the Rail Splitters – in the same gymnasium where Clinton held her final rally on the night before the caucuses in 2016. Buttigieg and his surrogates boast that he’s toured 25 of the 31 Iowa counties that Barack Obama won in 2012 but Clinton lost in 2016. “And we’re getting bigger and better turnout in them,” Rep. Anthony Brown (D-Md.) told the crowd of 2,000 in Des Moines. 

A few hours later, as she warmed up a crowd of 1,100 for Joe Biden at Hiatt Middle School, Rep. Abby Finkenauer (D-Iowa) made the crowd uncomfortable as she forced them to relive their nightmare. “One of the things that really hit me, and that I cannot say thank you enough to the vice president for, is the hope he finally gave me that I didn’t even know I was missing,” she said. “You see, I remember – as every Iowan does – that night in 2016. We didn’t just lose the White House that night. We also lost our state Senate, and the GOP took complete control of our state.”

Finkenauer picked up her U.S. House seat in the northeast quadrant of the state during the 2018 midterms, but she noted that Democrats need to flip four seats to win the Iowa House in November. She recalled visiting one of those state legislative districts a few days ago, where the Democrat lost by nine votes in 2018, and meeting independents and Republicans who said they’d vote for Biden if he’s the nominee. “Joe Biden will help us take back our state,” Finkenauer said.

Facing what looked like an intimidating Clinton juggernaut, Biden chose not to run in 2016. Elizabeth Warren and Mike Bloomberg also considered bids but opted against them. People in Iowa have been speculating that, perhaps, the outcome would have been different if any of the three had challenged her. 

Biden thanked Finkenauer when he took the stage. “We can turn Donald Trump into a four-year historical aberration,” he said, “but we need you.”

The uncharacteristic fixation among Democratic voters on electability – across the ideological spectrum – flows at least in part from that latent sense of shock. “I’ve actually come up with a term for this that I use: It’s called 2016 PTSD,” said Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.). He spent the last two days as a surrogate for Biden, carpooling around Iowa with former senator Bill Nelson (Fla.), telling every Democrat they could find that the former vice president can carry the two swing states they hail from this fall.

“I did an hour of phone banking today, and literally every person who I reached said, ‘Well, I just want to make sure we pick the best person who can beat Trump,’” Boyle said last night as he and Nelson walked to their rental car after Biden’s rally so they could go watch the Super Bowl. “I think that’s a big reason why you see such a huge undecided number entering the caucuses. People realize the stakes are just so high for this election. It’s the trauma of election night 2016, as well as what Trump’s been like ever since. If you had a Mitt Romney presidency, I don’t think there’d be the same animus that you see on our side.”

A CBS survey of Iowa released on Sunday showed Sanders and Biden tied at 25 percent, with Buttigieg at 21 percent, Warren at 16 percent and Klobuchar at 5 percent.

For Democratic elites and activists, the lingering shock of Trump’s victory is never far from the surface. Various storylines going into the caucuses involve clashes and tensions that pick at some of the scabs that, it turns out, have not fully scarred over. Clinton has stepped up her criticism of Sanders as he’s moved to the top of some polls. In a podcast published Friday, Clinton faulted Sanders for not doing more to unify the party after she beat him in 2016. This followed her criticisms in a documentary that “nobody likes him” and “he got nothing done,” which she stood by in an interview with the Hollywood Reporter. 

Sanders couldn’t attend a Friday evening event in Clive because he was stuck in Washington for the impeachment trial. When Clinton’s name came up during a panel discussion of prominent supporters, someone in the crowd booed. The moderator replied not to boo because that’s not classy. Then Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), a prominent Sanders surrogate and member of the Squad, interrupted. “No, no, I’ll boo,” she said, booing for effect. “That’s all right — the haters will shut up on Monday.”

After Tlaib expressed regret the next morning, Sanders campaign manager Faiz Shakir tweeted: “Rashida, you’re all good. We love your passion and conviction. Don’t change.” Then Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill weighed in: “I can’t imagine this kind of behavior is something Iowans want to see from candidates and their surrogates.”

Sanders alluded to the kerfuffle moments after he took the stage at Simpson College in Indianola on Saturday afternoon. “I’ll tell you as bluntly as I can why I believe we are the strongest campaign to beat Trump – not to say we are the only campaign,” he said. “Certainly, I hope that we’re going to win. But if we don’t win, we will support the winner.” 

The senator from Vermont then announced that his campaign knocked on 500,000 doors in Iowa during the past month. “If it’s a low turnout election, Trump will win,” he said. “And I believe our campaign … can bring millions of people into the political process who normally do not vote.” 

Then, on Saturday night, documentarian Michael Moore, who has been introducing Sanders around the state, ripped the Democratic National Committee during a concert in Cedar Rapids that drew 3,000 people. With echoes from four years ago, Moore accused the DNC of rigging the debate qualification requirements to help Bloomberg, a self-funding billionaire, qualify. The DNC’s spokeswoman replied that this is a “totally false … conspiracy theory.” 

A lot of the pitches the candidates and their surrogates make feel like allusions to the perceived shortcomings that critics believe allowed Trump to topple Clinton. “Bernie is a candidate the current president will not be able to vilify as inauthentic, and that’s a huge advantage,” said Jane Sanders, the senator’s wife. “If you watched the debates, you know that I’m not afraid to speak my mind,” added Klobuchar.

Consultants have pleaded with Sanders to talk more about himself throughout the campaign – in addition to his calls for political revolution. The senator obliged when he launched his campaign last February, but he’s mostly cut it out. This weekend, though, Sanders took the stage with two of his grandchildren. Then he emphasized his background as the son of an immigrant when he promised to restore protections for “Dreamers,” undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children. 

“The status quo is terrified of a Bernie presidency,” said Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), another member of the Squad, who introduced Sanders at Simpson College. Dozens of students snapped their fingers to signal approval. “Iowa will be able to start a domino effect … that will take him all the way to the White House.”

Warren tries to straddle the gap from Sanders to Biden. She emphasized this weekend that she knows how to work within the system to advance her agenda (e.g. to lower the cost of hearing aids) but also knows when to pick fights and apply pressure from the outside (e.g. to save the Affordable Care Act from being repealed). Coincidentally, she appeared at the same student center on Sunday that Sanders campaigned at on Saturday. “I am in this to fight back,” Warren declared. “That’s why I’m here. We fight back. Fighting back is an act of patriotism.”

Buttigieg also sought to stay out of the spat between Bernie World and Hillary Land. “I didn't much enjoy, as a Democrat, living through the experience of 2016, and I want to make sure 2020 resembles 2016 as little as possible,” he said as he left a Saturday event in Waterloo. 

Buttigieg has branded himself a unifier. Members of the audience submitted written questions for the candidate at his rally in Des Moines, which were pulled at random from a fishbowl. One asked him to name his favorite Beatles song. “I feel like, in a moment like this, the answer has got to be ‘Come Together,’” said Buttigieg, who is always quick on his feet.

Buttigieg was joined on Sunday afternoon by his mother and mother-in-law. His mom, Anne Montgomery, at 74, is younger than both Sanders and Biden. With explicit calls for generational change, Buttigieg said the next president will face futuristic challenges that we cannot even begin to fathom because the world is changing so fast. “We need a president prepared to leave the politics of the past in the past,” he said, adding that “falling back on the familiar” is comfortable but dangerous. “We can’t be afraid.”

Many Democratic rank-and-file voters are exhausted over the Sanders vs. Clinton feud of 2016. Sean Maguire, 42, is supporting Warren but complimented Sanders for “shifting the Overton window.” “He’s definitely changed the conversation, and we wouldn’t be here without him,” said Maguire, who lives in West Des Moines and works in software. But he thinks Clinton and Sanders need to cut out their feuding. “Hillary has been in politics for decades, and she’s a brilliant woman and clearly capable,” said Maguire. “I think she’s throwing bombs right now because she’s wanting more of a moderate candidate. So she’s using her influence and power to change the narrative and to get us talking. But just shut up and move on.”

I spoke with a mother and daughter from Norwalk, a suburb of Des Moines, who plan to caucus together for Buttigieg after supporting Sanders four years ago. Andrea Legan, 40, an office manager at a law firm, said the fighting between loyalists to Sanders and Clinton is tiresome. “There’s three sides to every story – his, hers and the truth,” she said. “Unlike Trump supporters, I will admit my mistake,” added Sue Woody, 61, a weight-loss consultant. “It just makes me mad that, for the Bernie Bros, it’s him or nobody. That’s how we got Trump.”

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-- Washington Post team coverage:

  • Dan Balz: “Undecided Iowans are making their decisions.” 
  • Chelsea Janes, Annie Linskey, Sean Sullivan and Cleve Wootson Jr.: “Candidates power to end of Iowa campaign with competing visions of unity and electability.” 
  • Toluse Olorunnipa: “After a year of immersion in Iowa, will the Democrats return before November?” 
  • Karen Tumulty: “Uncertainty hangs over Iowa — and the 2020 race.” 
  • Marc Fisher: “An anxious nation finally votes. Some hope that will ease divisions. Others see a permanent state of ‘trench warfare.’” 
  • Jenna Johnson: “Sanders’s caucus target: Latino voters usually overlooked in mostly white Iowa.” 
  • Kayla Epstein: “How do the Iowa caucuses work, and how are they different this year?” 

 -- Good reads from elsewhere:

  • Des Moines Register: “10 questions that will be answered on caucus night.”  
  • Politico: “Rivals warn Sanders campaign plans to game Iowa results.” 
  • New York Times: “Democrats Had a 2020 Vision. This Isn’t Quite What They Expected.” 
  • Wall Street Journal: “Where Democratic Candidates Might Look for Support in Iowa Caucuses.” 
  • Fox News: “Iowa counties to watch.” 
  • FiveThirtyEight: “What Are The X-Factors That Could Change The Results In Iowa?” 
  • AP: “New rules could muddle results of Iowa caucuses.” 
  • Los Angeles Times: “Iowa voters are bringing the caucus to California and beyond.” 
  • USA Today: “Who will win New Hampshire? Unsure Democratic voters are watching Iowa with an eye on beating Trump.”
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Days away from the Senate's vote on whether to acquit President Trump, lawmakers considered what the trial would mean to the president. (Video: The Washington Post)


-- Two Senate Republicans acknowledged on the Sunday talk shows that Trump was wrong to pressure Ukraine for his own political benefit, even as they defended their decision to prohibit new evidence in his impeachment trial while pressing ahead with the president’s all-but-certain acquittal in a vote scheduled for Wednesday. They did so even after the Trump administration acknowledged the existence over the weekend of two dozen emails that could reveal the president’s thinking about withholding the military aid. 

  • “I think he shouldn’t have done it,” Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) told Chuck Todd on NBC. “I think it was wrong. Inappropriate was the way I’d say — improper, crossing the line.”
  • “Maybe not the perfect call,” Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) told Jake Tapper on CNN. “He did it maybe in the wrong manner. … I think he could have done it through different channels.”

-- But Ernst also opened the door to the House trying to impeaching Biden if he's elected and Republicans win the majority. “I think this door of impeachable whatever has been opened,” she told Bloomberg News. “Joe Biden should be very careful what he’s asking for because, you know, we can have a situation where if it should ever be President Biden, that immediately, people, right the day after he would be elected would be saying, ‘Well, we’re going to impeach him.’” 

-- Sen. Susan Collins, the first of two Republicans to break with the president on any aspect of the trial, has found it lonely in the middle. Griff Witte reports from her home state: “Here in Maine, where the famously independent Collins is locked in a tight reelection campaign, the choice elicited a wintry mix of cold shoulders and icy glares. Republicans quietly counseled that Collins could go no further without inciting a rebellion from the party’s Trump-loving base — perhaps even a primary challenge. Democrats, meanwhile, heaped scorn on the senator for making gestures toward standing up to the president but not doing so when it counts. … Siding with Democrats on whether the president should be removed would be unforgivable among Maine’s rank-and-file Republicans, who are increasingly part of the Trump wing of the party, not the Collins wing. … The base is already restless. In recent weeks, Collins’s offices have been flooded with angry voice mails, many of them threatening and hate-filled. The vitriol has come from impeachment supporters as well as the president’s defenders, outspoken in demanding that Collins take their side.” 

-- RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel won’t defend her uncle, Mitt Romney, after he voted in favor of witnesses. On CBS's “Face the Nation,” McDaniel was asked about the Utah senator not being invited to the Conservative Political Action Conference as a result of his vote. She claimed she had not seen the CPAC announcement but said some Republicans were justifiably “upset” when other Republicans don’t defend the president. “They think if you’re not supporting him, you’re helping a Democrat get elected. That’s a very common belief among the grass-roots of our party,” she said.

-- Lead House impeachment manager Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) declined to say whether the House will subpoena John Bolton now that the Senate has declined to do so. "Whether it’s ... in testimony before the House or it’s in his book or it’s in one form or another, the truth ... will continue to come out," Schiff said on CBS. 

-- Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) promised a sweeping GOP counterattack against Biden and a pursuit of the whistleblower who brought the president's conduct to light after the Senate is expected to acquit Trump. “It’s going to happen in the coming weeks,” he said on Fox News. Graham used his TV appearance to put the ball in the court of Sen. James E. Risch (R-Idaho), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “Jim, if you’re watching the show, I hope you are,” he said, “let’s call these people in. Eventually, we’ll get to Hunter Biden. We’re not going to let it go. Jim Risch, you need to start it.” Risch’s office did not respond to requests for comment.

-- Trump said in an interview that aired on Fox before the Super Bowl that he will go ahead with his State of the Union address on Tuesday night. "We’re going to talk about the achievements that we’ve made," the president told Sean Hannity.

-- Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer will deliver the official Democratic response to the State of the Union tomorrow night. The 48-year-old, elected in 2018, will likely be on vice presidential short lists. (Detroit Free Press)

The United States has issued a “Level 4” travel advisory for China, its highest level of caution, over the rapidly spreading outbreak. (Video: The Washington Post)


-- Coronavirus infections are predicted to grow exponentially as the outbreak becomes increasingly politicized. Anna Fifield and Joel Achenbach report: “One nation after another is closing its doors to most Chinese travelers, as the death toll from the novel coronavirus continues to rise with no sign that the virus can be contained before it becomes a full-blown planetary health crisis. China's increasing isolation threatens to turn this new epidemic into a geopolitical conflict, intensifying preexisting tensions between China and the United States and having potentially significant impacts on the global economy. At 5­ p.m. Sunday, the United States put into effect stringent travel restrictions on people coming from China. But the official edict of the Trump administration, announced Friday, led to confusion late Sunday about where, exactly, travelers from China deemed in need of quarantining would be screened and housed at or near the airports where they would be arriving. … 

"At least a dozen countries have put travel restrictions on people coming from China. That list includes some neighboring countries that have closed their borders with China. Such travel restrictions are contrary to public health recommendations and have riled Chinese government officials. The Foreign Ministry’s combative spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, singled out the United States, saying that the World Health Organization has said such restrictions are not necessary. … Hua said many countries have offered China support, but in contrast, ‘certain U.S. officials’ words and actions are neither factual nor appropriate.’ That appeared to be a reference to U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who last week said the coronavirus could ‘help‘ to bring jobs to the United States as companies moved operations away from China. … 

China’s National Health Commission reported Monday that there are now 17,205 confirmed cases of coronavirus infection on the mainland, plus 15 in Hong Kong and eight in Macao. The WHO reported 146 confirmed cases in 23 countries outside China." Federal officials announced there are 11 U.S. cases of the coronavirus, with a couple from central California falling ill after the husband’s trip to China’s Hubei province at the epicenter of the outbreak.

-- The Department of Homeland Security is warning airline passengers their flights may be rerouted if officials discover mid-flight that someone onboard has been to China in the last 14 days. (AP)

-- The virus is threatening supply chains that depend on Chinese-made parts and materials. David Lynch reports: “Some of the United States’ best-known manufacturers such as General Electric, Caterpillar and the Big Three automakers, along with many smaller American businesses, depend on what is made in Chinese factories. Now, they confront life without those items…. ‘The concern is not the zombie apocalypse with people dying in the streets. The concern is that a huge chunk of the global economy gets put out of commission as people wait it out,’ said Patrick Chovanec, managing director at Silvercrest Asset Management in New York. … Most Wall Street economists … say the economic damage will be limited. Economists at JPMorgan Chase Bank on Friday cut their first-quarter global growth estimate by 0.3 percentage points to 2.3 percent. But they predicted a swift rebound that would return China and the global economy to their pre-crisis trends by midyear.” 

-- Stock markets in China reopened this morning after a 10-day break to their sharpest falls in more than four years. Simon Denyer and Shibani Mahtani report on our special live blog: China’s main share indexes plunged more than 8 percent. The government announced it has opened a “super-fast” built hospital in Wuhan. The new facility has 1,000 beds that authorities hope will relieve pressure on the city’s overwhelmed hospitals. And Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said this morning that she would close more border crossings with China, leaving only three open. The announcement came as thousands of medical workers in the city started a strike designated to pressure the government into a full border closure.

-- A man wearing a fake explosive device stabbed two people in south London before he was shot dead by police in what authorities are calling a terrorist attack. William Booth and Karla Adam report: “Police identified the assailant as Sudesh Amman, 20, recently released from prison, where he had been serving a sentence for ‘Islamist-related terrorism’ offenses. British news media said Amman pleaded guilty in 2018 to charges of possessing terrorist documents and disseminating terrorist publications. … Police said that armed officers, part of a proactive counterterrorism surveillance operation, were following Amman on foot when the attack began. ... Three people were wounded, police said.”

-- Al Qaeda claimed it directed the Saudi military officer who carried out the December shooting at the U.S. military base in Florida that left three sailors dead. From the Times: “In an audio recording released on Sunday, the leader of the Yemen-based group, Qassim al-Rimi, claimed responsibility for the Dec. 6 attack at Naval Air Station Pensacola, according to SITE, an organization that tracks jihadist media. The group offered no evidence that it had trained the gunman, Second Lt. Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, but produced a copy of his will as well as correspondence that indicated he had been in contact with Al Qaeda. Experts said those elements gave the claim a plausible air.” 

-- Turkey accused Syria of killing five Turkish soldiers in Syria’s Idlib province, as the Turks carried out retaliatory strikes. Kareem Fahim reports: The unrest came as “forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad are pursuing a military offensive in Idlib [that] has killed hundreds of civilians and caused an exodus of displaced people from towns caught up in the fighting, according to humanitarian aid groups. … The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group, said the Turkish soldiers were killed during an exchange of fire near the town of Saraqeb, about 15 miles north of Maarat al-Numan. Turkey ‘has responded to this attack in kind’ and killed 30-35 Syrian soldiers, [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan said, adding that the retaliatory strikes were continuing.” 

-- The head of U.S. Central Command says Iran has “de-escalated," but the threat of retaliation remains. Missy Ryan reports: “Speaking during a visit to the USS Harry S. Truman, an American aircraft carrier conducting operations in the northern Arabian Sea, [Gen. Kenneth “Frank” McKenzie Jr.] said Iran’s maritime forces likewise had displayed a ‘fairly normal’ level of activity in recent weeks. … McKenzie said he believed Iran was still ‘digesting’ the impact of the Trump administration’s decision to kill [Maj. Gen. Qasem] Soleimani … ‘I think Iran has seen that we do have will and that we’re willing to take action in our own interests,’ McKenzie said. ‘We’re not going to endlessly be the recipient of their actions.’”

-- The New Yorker’s Adam Entous and Evan Osnos trace back the decisions that led Trump to order the attack on Soleimani: “The Suleimani operation differed substantially from America’s patterns of targeted killing since 2002. Suleimani was not the leader of a stateless cabal but a high-ranking representative of one of the most populous nations in the Middle East, which, for all its deep involvement in terrorism, is not in a conventional war with the United States. In adopting a mode of assault usually reserved for a wartime enemy, the Administration acted on the belief, which is popular among many of the President’s most influential advisers, that the U.S. has been deceiving itself about the nature of its relationship with Tehran.”

-- The trial for a promising HIV vaccine failed in South Africa after an analysis showed it was no more effective than a placebo. Lenny Bernstein reports: “Vaccinations were halted after an independent monitoring panel for the ‘Uhambo’ study in South Africa determined on Jan 23 that 129 people who received the vaccine developed HIV while 123 who were given a placebo contracted the infection.”


-- The Kansas City Chiefs claimed their first Super Bowl title in 50 years after defeating the San Francisco 49ers. Mark Maske reports: Quarterback Patrick "Mahomes delivered a pair of touchdown passes as part of a 21-point outburst as the Chiefs came back to beat the San Francisco 49ers, 31-20, with a stunning late turnaround in Super Bowl LIV on a picture-perfect South Florida night. ‘I just went out there and kept competing,’ said Mahomes, who was named the game’s MVP. ‘I knew we weren’t in an ideal situation. But I believed in my defense to get stops. They did. And the guys kept believing in me to start making plays down the field, and we found a way to win.’ … Mahomes became a Super Bowl winner in his third NFL season. He had a first-half rushing touchdown and ended up completing 26 of 42 passes for 286 yards. Chiefs Coach Andy Reid added a Super Bowl victory to his distinguished career." Mahomes “showed why he is the best player in the NFL,” writes columnist Jerry Brewer.

-- Kyle Shanahan’s team lost a double-digit Super Bowl lead. Again. Jacob Bogage reports: “The 49ers led by 10 points entering the fourth quarter of Super Bowl LIV, with nearly all the momentum and a championship just 15 minutes away. … Shanahan is just 40, but he has his own experience with playoff heartache. He was the offensive coordinator for the Falcons three years ago when Atlanta lost a 28-3 second-half lead against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. Shanahan received plenty of scrutiny after that loss, with critics charging that his play-calling turned too conservative too early … In those two Super Bowls, Shanahan’s offenses have now been outscored 46-0 in the fourth quarter and overtime.”

-- Jennifer Lopez and Shakira took over Hard Rock Stadium for a dazzling 12 minutes at halftime, living the American Dream, writes pop music critic Chris Richards: “For the razzled-and-dazzled, there were armies of dancers pretending to be soldiers, and cheerleaders, and salsa musicians. And there were big songs — the kind you hear at weddings and dentist appointments. And there was a cameo from the rapper Bad Bunny, clad in a trench coat made of liquid steel. And there was a string section playing Led Zeppelin’s ‘Kashmir’ like they were rowing a pirate ship across the Biscayne Bay. And there was Shakira, wagging her tongue at the camera, either singing or trying to communicate with birds of paradise. And there was J-Lo, forever young, twirling around on a pole pointed toward heaven. But through all that, if you were still able to masticate your potato chips in quiet concentration, you may have heard the American Dream itself pulsing in a space where it will always be allowed to live: inside a pop song.” 

-- Our culture reporters say the commercials, overall, were pretty weak this year. Maura Judkis and Sonia Rao think the best five spots came from Google, Cheetos, Doritos, Pringles and Snickers. And they identify the five worst ads as those from Audi, Genesis, Planters, Rocket Mortgage and Sabra.


NBC News reported that John F. Kerry was overheard talking on his cellphone Sunday morning in the lobby restaurant of the Renaissance Savery hotel in Des Moines about what it would take to run for president. A reporter overheard him discussing “the possibility of Bernie Sanders taking down the Democratic Party — down whole.” When the story broke, Kerry said the report was “false,” using an expletive that shares the first letter of his middle name to put a finer point on it. He deleted the tweet and replaced it with this version:

After the tweet was deleted, many joked that the president will use a Sharpie to validate his mistake:

The Missouri governor was in Miami cheering for the correct state:

The president’s elder sons and campaign manager, not subject to federal gift laws, appeared to enjoy the hospitality of a GOP lobbyist:

Bob Dole, the 1996 GOP presidential nominee who represented Kansas in the Senate, also went to Miami for the game:


The Trump campaign’s Super Bowl ad featured Alice Johnson, whose life sentence for nonviolent drug offenses the president commuted in 2018:

The ad focused on Alice Johnson, who was facing life in prison for a nonviolent drug offense before President Trump commuted her sentence. (Video: Donald J. Trump)

“Saturday Night Live” imagined an impeachment "fantasy" trial in the cold open:

SNL also touched on the coronavirus news:

Trevor Noah addressed recent reports that portions of the border wall are falling, joking that maybe Trump should focus on getting the wall done right rather than fast: