Salutations, people. How many pumps of Dunkin' Donuts caramel swirl is too many? Thanks for waking up with us. See you on Monday.
🚨TRUMP IS PREPARING TO PUSH OUT VINDMAN: "Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman — a National Security Council aide who testified during House Democrats’ impeachment hearings — will be informed in the coming days, likely [today], by administration officials that he is being reassigned to a position at the Defense Department, taking a key figure from the investigation out of the White House, according to two people familiar with the move who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss personnel decisions," our colleagues Josh Dawsey, Robert Costa and Greg Miller report.
- Why it's happening now: "Vindman had already informed senior officials at the NSC that he intended to take an early exit from his assignment and leave his post by the end of the month, according to people familiar with his decision, but Trump is eager to make a symbol of the Army officer soon after the Senate acquitted him ...," our colleagues write.
CONCORD, N.H. — HOW FAR CAN BUTTIGIEG BOUNCE: Can lightning strike twice for former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg … even if it never technically struck at all?
You'd never know from his campaign — and the ensuing polling bump the ex-mayor is experiencing now in New Hampshire — that the “Comeback Kid” of Iowa might not have actually won the caucuses this week. Tonight's debate in New Hampshire presents another opportunity for the national newcomer, who has performed well in the faceoffs so far.
With the Associated Press unable to declare a winner there, reports of results “riddled with inconsistencies and other flaws,” and a potential recanvassing effort in play, Buttigieg's early declaration of Iowa triumph is reminiscent of Bill Clinton's claiming victory in New Hampshire in 1992, despite coming in second to Paul Tsongas. The public relations move revived Clinton's campaign.
- “It means victorious over a lot of things — victorious because a year ago, it was just four staffers, victorious in terms of overperforming the expectations, and victorious in that we beat a crop of senators and a former vice president,” one of Buttigieg's advisers said of his “victorious” speech.
Now, Buttigieg has landed with a bounce in a state that's tailor-made for his success — libertarian-ish, non- ideological, and pro-small government — setting the stage for a potential upset or strong place finish here. With four days until the first-in-the-nation's primary, New Hampshire activists, strategists and voters are buzzing about and gravitating toward Buttigieg as the alternative to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who is leading in the polls here and ran away with New Hampshire in 2016.
Meanwhile, Joe Biden, who placed fourth in Iowa, went missing in New Hampshire, according to my colleagues Matt Viser, Cleve R. Wootson Jr. and Michael Scherer.
- Despite Biden's campaign bus parked outside of Nashua's Radisson Hotel, “the candidate was nowhere to be found,” they report.
- “Biden spent Thursday gathered with his top advisers at his home in Wilmington, Del., seeking a reset and perhaps a last-ditch effort to save his candidacy, beginning with a debate Friday night. He held no public events.”
- A new Boston University/WBZ/Suffolk tracking poll released Thursday showed Buttigieg surging 12 points from Monday to essentially tie Sanders in the lead at 24 percent, and Biden dropping 7 points to 11 percent.
- “The biggest story here is the fact that Sanders is a next-door neighbor who destroyed Hillary Clinton in 2016, might have lost to Mayor Pete in Iowa, and now he might barely beat a very unknown mayor from a small city in the Midwest,” a longtime New Hampshire Democratic strategist told Power Up. “[Sanders] might have a passionate base but the reality is, has he done anything to move beyond that base?
- “There is no question that [Buttigieg] had the best two weeks in New Hampshire politics,” said Sean Downey, who served as New Hampshire director for ex-candidate Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.). “But I think the thing that Mayor Pete needs to make up most in the course of the next five days is the fact that he got a slow start here. ”
Still thinking: The most important takeaway from the polls, however, is that over 40 percent of likely voters here have yet to make up their minds. But Buttigieg might be especially well-positioned to capture those late-breakers because of his natural fit in the state:
- “Pete has 'that thing' right now … and he is very much in line with where a lot of New Hampshire voters are,” the Democratic strategist added. “He doesn't come across as overtly partisan and ideological. He represents change by his age alone along with some other elements — like the historic nature of being an LGBTQ candidate has gotten him a nice foothold. Plus, he’s a very interesting person.”
- “This is a good state for him,” John Lappie, a professor of political science at Plymouth University, told Power Up. “We have some affluent, wealthy suburbs that he is well suited for. Sanders has a lot of enthusiastic support and obviously did well back here in 2016 but you have that moderate lane of voters who are skeptical of his chance to win the general … with people now realizing that Biden did not do well in Iowa, [Buttigieg] is a viable alternative for those who are skeptical of Bernie as the nominee.”
- “The southeastern part of the state has the most people — that’s two-thirds of the population and that’s a wealthy educated segment of the state,” Lappie added. “So that’s the place where I’d see [Buttigieg] doing well on election night and will be watching on election night.”
- “Sanders did well all over the place but did worse in those affluent areas,” Dante Scala, a political science professor at the University of New Hampshire, told us, pointing to suburbs like Bedford, Windham, Pelham, Portsmouth and Rye. “Those voters might be the swing voters right now in New Hampshire.”
On the ground: Buttigieg continued to stump here yesterday; his staff was unable to accommodate the overflow of press now flocking to his events. During a CNN town hall last night, Buttigieg elaborated on the historic nature of his candidacy positive terms, an approach that seems to be resonating with voters in an unusually nasty political climate.
- “And to see over the course of that year, having started with four people on the staff of the committee, we had this little cramped office in South Bend, no national name recognition, no personal fortune, no big email list that you would get from having run for president before,” Buttigieg said. “We just had this idea that we could build a different kind of politics, of belonging based on bringing people together.”
Hurdles remain: But even if Buttigieg does well in the Granite State, two strong performances in overwhelmingly white early states would obscure a major weakness for the mayor — he is barely registering with voters of color, who will play a big role in determining the Democratic nominee in coming states, especially in the South.
- “New Hampshire and Iowa could definitely give a misleading impression of his viability going forward,” Lappie told us.
- “The reality is that people said the same thing about Bernie four years ago and while he had a hard time making up ground with voters of color, he had a few successful and significant wins,” a New Hampshire Democratic strategist told Power Up. “So, Pete's doing something right. For now, they are showing that they can do the basics well: they can fundraise, deliver a clear narrative and not get caught in drama. "
Outside the Beltway
IOWA DEMS SAY THE RESULTS ARE IN: But we still aren’t sure exactly what happened. “Three days after the Iowa caucuses, the state Democratic Party at last released all of the results, showing the tightest of races between Buttigieg and Sanders,” our colleague Amy B Wang reports.
But there are reports of widespread problems: “The results released by the Iowa Democratic Party on Wednesday were riddled with inconsistencies and other flaws. According to a New York Times analysis, more than 100 precincts reported results that were internally inconsistent, that were missing data or that were not possible under the complex rules of the Iowa caucuses,” the Times’s Nate Cohn, Josh Katz, Denise Lu, Charlie Smart, Ben Smithgall and Andrew Fischer reported before additional results came in.
- The DNC is already demanding a recanvass: Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez in a sign of growing frustration demanded a recanvass (which is not a recount and would mean a hand audit of precinct records that comprise the SDE count). The Iowa Democratic Party later released their own statement where they did not acknowledge Perez's request, but pointed out that the rules allow any campaign to ask for such a measure.
For now: Both Buttigieg and Sanders are claiming victory. The situation we’ve brought you all week hasn’t changed, Buttigieg remains the leader in state delegate equivalents (the traditional measure of victory) and Sanders still has the most popular votes. Buttigieg’s lead of just over 1.5 SDEs would make this the closest Iowa caucuses in history after Hillary Clinton won by just under 4 SDEs in 2016.
- Sanders's team dismissed SDEs as an “antiquated and meaningless metric”: The senator's campaign claimed in a statement to reporters that the popular vote figure was the correct way to crown a winner, but even if you use SDEs they may still have won based on irregularities they found in the results.
In short: This remains a total and complete cluster.
At The White House
TRUMP CELEBRATES HIS ACQUITTAL: "[Trump] set off a new phase of political warfare, taking to the East Room of the White House to lambaste his opponents and praise his defenders during a bizarre and caustic performance celebrating his Senate acquittal that followed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s declaration that he was 'impeached forever,'" our colleagues Toluse Olorunnipa and Mike DeBonis report.
- The day began with a thinly veiled diatribe … at the National Prayer Breakfast: “Trump questioned the religious sincerity of Pelosi and Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who voted Wednesday to convict the president on a charge of abuse of power,” our colleagues write. “Pelosi, a Catholic, responded by saying Trump was ignorant about religion.”
Then he went off back at the White House: “He spoke without a teleprompter. He cursed in the East Room. He called the House speaker a “horrible person.” He lorded his power over a room full of deferential Republicans. He mocked a former GOP presidential nominee and his 2016 Democratic rival. He played the victim again and again,” our colleague David Nakamura writes of the scene.
- Trump repeatedly compared investigations to war: “With equal portions of gloating and political payback, he spoke within the warm cocoon of an audience stocked with his most vociferous defenders — a who’s-who gallery of powerful GOP lawmakers, Cabinet members, television pundits, White House advisers and campaign operatives who went to war to ensure the president would not be driven from office,” our colleague writes, 'You could be George Washington, you could have just won the war, and they’d say, ‘Let’s get him out of office,’ ' Trump said of his Democratic rivals. 'They’re vicious as hell.'"
This was not 1999: "No one shouted 'Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States!' 'Hail to the Chief' did not play. There was no applause," our colleague Gillian Brockell writes. "It was, essentially, a good news day for President Bill Clinton on Feb. 12, 1999; he had been acquitted in his impeachment trial. Still, when he took to the lectern in the Rose Garden, he was solemn."
TRUMP IS WAY BEHIND ON HIS WALL: "The Washington Post has obtained detailed U.S. government data about Trump’s border-wall project, its construction progress and contracts for each segment of the structure. The data shows the Trump administration is far from delivering on the president’s promise to finish more than 500 miles of new barriers by early next year," our colleagues Nick Miroff and Adrian Blanco report.
- Just how far off pace they are: "Trump has promised to build at least 500 miles of new fencing by early next year, and his administration has completed about 110 miles so far," our colleagues write. "To meet the president’s targets, crews will need to add about 30 linear miles of barrier per month throughout 2020, more than double the current pace of construction."
In the Media
- On the trail with Jeff Sessions: "Will Alabama take Jeff Sessions back?" By The Post's David Montgomery
- "What if everything you think you know about politics is wrong?": "An unsettling new theory: There is no swing voter." David Freedlander writes in Politico Magazine