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Morning Reads: Trump Wasn’t at the Debate, But He Won It

A roundup of some of the stories we're reading at BillMoyers.com HQ...

Morning Reads: Trump Wasn't at the Debate, But He Won It

Republican Presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) is seen on a television screen as reporters watch the Republican presidential debate sponsored by Fox News and Google at the Iowa Events Center on January 28, 2016 in Des Moines, Iowa. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Debate minus one –> So that happened. Just to keep things interesting, Trump opted out of Thursday night’s event and held a rally instead. (At the last hour, he apparently “offered to take part in the broadcast in exchange for a $5 million donation to his charities,” writes Cynthia Littleton for Variety.) At New Republic, Brian Beutler notes that Ted Cruz, Trump’s top rival in Iowa, was placed center stage in his absence, and believes the Texan botched it: “Cruz is the most seasoned debater of all the Republican candidates, and Trump’s absence created a vacuum that Cruz could have filled with his typical brio. Instead, at a moment that presented Cruz as much opportunity and peril as any in his political career, he offered up his worst performance of the cycle.”

Trump’s decision demonstrated yet again that he gets how this works, argues Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo: “Pundits and political obsessives tend to get distracted by process and policy literalism. But politics generally and especially intra-Republican political battles are really about demonstrating dominance — not policy mastery or polling leads but a series of symbols and actions that mark the dominating from the dominated.” At The Nation, John Nichols observes: “Trump was not just grabbing an opportunity to help himself. He was encouraging the other candidates to hurt one another.”

Survey of the public –> At New York magazine, Gabriel Sherman talked to 100 Republican voters (mostly white) in Iowa and New Hampshire about what they’re looking for in a candidate. It’s a fascinating chronicle of concerns and fears — with, of course, some wacky stuff tucked in there, too — in the first two states to pick a candidate.

AND: Our primary and caucus system of selecting our next president is an odd one. Those who turn out in Iowa and New Hampshire, the early states that often get to winnow the field, tend to be old and white — not representative of the many Americans to whom candidates will have to appeal to if they want to win the general election. So, Danielle Kurtzelben at NPR rounds up six ways of picking a candidate that over the years have been proposed as alternatives.

Taking on the gender gap –> Julie Hirschfeld Davis at The New York Times: “The Obama administration will move on Friday to require companies to report to the federal government what they pay employees by race, gender and ethnicity, part of a push by President Obama to crack down on firms that pay women less for doing the same work as men.”

A step too far? –> Hillary Clinton has adopted many of Bernie Sanders’ environmental proposals. But there’s one thing he champions that she hasn’t touched yet: an outright ban on fracking. Rebecca Leber reports for New Republic.

Mischaracterization –> We shared with you last week a Bloomberg profile of Robert Mercer, an eccentric and very conservative donor spending millions to back Ted Cruz. Turns out, he’s the biggest spender among several white guys behind a super PAC called Black Americans for a Better Future. Jon Schwarz at The Intercept has the details.

The watchdog’s paralyzed –> At Vox, Richard M. Skinner has an overview of the many ailments facing the Federal Election Commission, an agency that was designed to play the key role in enforcing campaign spending laws, but crippled by partisan infighting: “Perhaps reflecting the growing polarization of Congress, the atmosphere at the FEC has grown especially noxious, and its ability to function has collapsed. Republican commissioners have stated that they are content with a demoralized and dormant agency, since they prefer inactivity to what they see as tyranny.”

Reverse trends –> At a time when many conservative politicians are pushing controversial voter ID laws — some of which are being challenged this week in a North Carolina courtroom — fewer and fewer African Americans are signing up for a driver’s license, the primary form of photo ID used to vote. Brentin Mock writes for The Atlantic’s CityLab: “It seems that people just don’t need driver’s licenses as much these days, and find it a hassle to get them. When Transportation Research Institute researchers Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle explored reasons for these declining rates for a 2013 study, ‘Too busy or not enough time to get a driver’s license,’ was the top answer for respondents who did not have them. The rest of the responses suggested that people are less often using the kind of transportation they would need a license for.”

Semi-transparent –> On Sunday, January 31st, candidates and the super PACs backing them will disclose their donors. But, Bloomberg‘s William Allison reports, “There’s one hitch: that’s only about a third of the money that’s been spent shaping the elections. The rest comes from so-called dark money groups — social welfare organizations, associations and others—which aren’t required to reveal the interests behind them and have put up more than $213 million on political ads since the start of 2015, an analysis of Kantar Media CMAG data shows.”

More news from Flint –> Muckrakers and activist groups are taking a closer look at the federal, state and local response to the Flint water crisis and digging up new details. The progressive group Progress Michigan has discovered a document that appears to show that Gov. Snyder’s administration was trucking in clean water for state employees working in Flint even as it was telling residents that the city’s water was safe to use. And Oliver Milman reports for The Guardian: “Water authorities across the US are systematically distorting water tests to downplay the amount of lead in samples, risking a dangerous spread of the toxic water crisis that has gripped Flint, documents seen by the Guardian show. The controversial approach to water testing is so widespread that it occurs in ‘every major US city east of the Mississippi’ according to an anonymous source with extensive knowledge of the lead and copper regulations.”

Today’s Morning Reads was compiled by John Light and edited by Michael Winship.

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