`Let Her Speak:’ Inside the screenplay of the Wendy Davis (Sandra Bullock) biopic

Good Monday Austin:

That, above, would be from the title page of the 133-page screenplay by Mario Correa, an accomplished Chilean-born, Brooklyn-based playwright and television and film writer, about Wendy Davis and the abortion filibuster that made her famous, a script that came into my possession Friday and which I read over the weekend.

Giving me a look. 2013.

On Thursday, Variety  broke the news.

Sandra Bullock will star in the spec “Let Her Speak” as Texas senator Wendy Davis, whose 11-hour filibuster helped stall an anti-abortion bill in the Texas state house.

Todd Black and Jason Blumenthal are on board to produce through their Escape Artists banner.

At the time, Davis was a little known Democratic senator who soon became a national icon on the subject of abortion after filibustering for 11 hours in order to stall a bill, and ultimately delaying its passage beyond the midnight deadline for the end of the legislative session. The bill would have included more restrictive abortion regulations for Texas and would have closed all abortion clinics in the state. (note: Not quite, but almost.)

Mario Correa penned the spec.

The package will now be shopped to studios and should court several suitors over the next week.

The role seems right up Bullock’s alley and could be another awards play for the star who won her first Oscar for playing Leigh Anne Tuohy in the real-life story “The Blind Side.” She just wrapped production on Warner Bros.’ “Ocean’s Eleven” spinoff, “Ocean’s Eight,” and is about start filming on the Netflix movie “Bird Box.”

She is repped by CAA.

I would have read it on Friday, but I was busy writing a Sunday story about Texas Democrats’ search for a candidate to oppose Gov. Greg Abbott for re-election, with Davis leaving the door open a crack that she would do it if an appropriate other candidate did not step forward.

The script is a good read.

I must admit, it’s a kick to read a screenplay about a moment in history to which you were first-hand witness – with all the name players bearing their real names – and to see how it’s done.

The script is drawn from the public record, from Davis’ book ” –  Forgetting to be Afraid: A Memoir – published two months before the November 2014 gubernatorial election, and, no doubt, from conversations with Davis.

It is written from Davis’ point of view and is hagiographic in the extreme. If you don’t agree with Wendy Davis on abortion, this will not be the movie for you, though, considering the subject and  the state of American political polarization, that should not be surprising.

The film opens with a terrifying and disturbing scene from Davis’ childhood that she wrote about in her memoir. As I wrote in the Statesman when it came out two months before the November gubernatorial election:

The book is replete with details of a sometimes harrowing childhood, of a loving but philandering father and a cold but dutiful mother who, after the first of two breakups with her husband, placed the infant Wendy and two siblings in the trunk of their car in the family garage with the intention of turning on the engine and killing herself and her children. Only a fortuitous visit from a neighbor who talked and prayed with Davis’ mother broke the spell of despondency and spared their lives.

We cut from that nightmarish scene to Wendy Davis on an Austin running trail in the spring of 2013, that sets the tone for rest of the movie.

Davis is portrayed as a hero –  strong, brave, brilliant, determined, relentless, tireless. This is not one of those movies where they throw in a fault or foible, however  minor, to give the character a more realistic texture.

This is not flawed-character-as-reluctant hero. This is up by her bootstraps, against the odds, hell bent for leather heroine.

The only hint of an imperfection is when colleague and ally Kirk Watson suggests to her that maybe she possesses the slightest hint of holier-than-thou moral preening – like she alone among her Democratic peers has the right stuff to lead the battle against the forces of darkness. But, of course, in the view of the film, she is also right, and so maybe, like all the great ones since Joan of Arc, she comes on a little strong.

At the time of the June 25, 2013 filibuster, I had been in Austin six months and it was one of the most dramatic scenes I’ve witnessed in 40 years as a reporter.

As I wrote in a First Reading on the third anniversary of the filibuster:

The Texas Capitol was the center of the political universe, the building fairly shaking, throbbing, pulsing with tension and consequence, with Wendy Davis – and that terse bard of the Texas Senate, Mike Ward – seizing the Twitterverse by the neck and shaking it for all it’s worth, and the moribund corpse of the Texas Democratic Party, laid out cold on a slab, being thumped and electric-shocked back to life.

I had been up the night before writing an anticipatory First Reading so I had only had an hour or two of sleep before showing up in the Senate that morning, and never leaving until well after it culminated in a delirious moment of confusion/triumph/defeat that made Mr. Smith, and all the fuss made about him, seem quaintly understated.

As I wrote in the Statesman that Sunday:

By standing her ground on the Senate floor for nearly 13 hours Tuesday against legislation that would severely restrict access to abortions in Texas, the petite Davis, in her now-celebrated rouge red Mizuno Wave Rider 16s, had provided downtrodden Texas Democrats with their best moment of the 21st century.

Overnight, Davis had raised the possibility that Democrats, against all odds, might mount a serious campaign for governor in 2014, scrambled Gov. Rick Perry’s political timetable, undermined Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst’s chances of re-election, and revised the politics of abortion in Texas by pushing final passage of Senate Bill 5 past its midnight deadline.

“That was the moment when the Democratic Party in Texas came alive,” U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, said the next day. “I was in the Texas Legislature for 10 years waiting for that moment. I never got it. It happened last night.”

This is the Wendy Davis that Wendy Davis and her campaign wanted to present to Texas voters when she ran for governor in 2014.

From Robert Draper’s February 2014 cover piece in the New York Times Magazine: Can Wendy Davis Have it All?

It did not take long for her and everyone else in the chamber to see that the usual permissiveness attendant to Texas filibusters — furtive sips of water, hard candy for sustenance, languid reading of the Bible, leaning against furniture, even a dash to the bathroom — would not apply to her. But as the hours wore on and the spectacle of the slight woman standing erect if dehydrated, and reading testimony from women who had gotten abortions, in a chamber full of glowering and mostly male Republicans spread across the Twitterverse, something began to tilt in her favor. At one point, opponents complained that she had violated the rules by getting off topic. At another, Rodney Ellis, a Democratic colleague, whispered, “The president just tweeted about you,” and Davis responded with an expletive of surprise. When the presiding Republican, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, ruled that she had three violations and ended her filibuster, pandemonium ensued, thus delaying a vote on the bill until just after midnight, when the session officially ended. Shortly after 3 a.m., Dewhurst reluctantly announced that Davis’s filibuster had prevailed and that S.B. 5 was dead. (The next month in a second special session, Gov. Rick Perry reintroduced the bill, and it passed.)

When she walked out to the Capitol steps, someone handed her a microphone, allowing her strained voice to be heard by the crowd of thousands who had gathered to greet her. She then decompressed in her office, after which she and Will Wynn walked together to her car — backs to the camera, savoring the semblance of privacy.

Overnight, a once-obscure state senator had become the Democrats’ most appealing new face. “I felt like she was Joan of Arc, standing up there for women all across the country,” (former Michigan Gov. Jennifer) Granholm said. Democrats in Washington were enrapt. When Davis visited the nation’s capital a few weeks later for a fund-raiser, Nancy Pelosi and more than a dozen senators were there. Anna Greenberg, a Washington-based Democratic pollster who until recently worked for Davis, explained that even for Beltway insiders, “there has been a feeling of disappointment in Obama — the inspiration just isn’t there anymore — not to mention all of the dysfunction in Congress. Then these new voices emerge,” like Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York, Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts “and Wendy, all speaking truth to power. They make Democrats feel inspired again.”

The cinematic possibilities of the moment were instantly obvious  and  the casting commenced almost at once.

I don’t think what I’m going to tell you about the screenplay requires any spoiler alerts. We all now how it ends.

But I think I can be of service by letting you know which roles require casting, and how the script treats each of those characters.

First things first.

The only reporter with a name and a real part is Laura Kamen. There is her cameraman, and another unnamed reporter, who gets to engage in some irrelevant reporter banter, but, otherwise Kamen’s it. I don’t think there is an actual reporter named Laura Kamen, and I don’t think she is based on anyone in particular, but I think Kamen is  a Jewish name, for what it’s worth.

So, sorry Johnathan, Evan, Steve. Not gonna happen.

The villain of the piece is Dan Patrick, then a senator, now lieutenant governor.

Here is how Dan Patrick is introduced in the film.


Well, I suppose he’s available. But not nice.


Patrick’s sidekick in the screenplay is Sen. Donna Campbell.

Here’s her intro.

Not nice.


The best line that I haven’t heard before is delivered by Dan Patrick (think Dennis Quaid) to Donna Campbell (think Holly Hunter) about eight hours into the filibuster.

The most interesting and demanding role is Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst – because he is written as conflicted and is a character with shades of gray. Dewhurst in the script is  torn between his own fundamental decency and respect for the traditions of the Texas Senate and political reality, and, what in retrospect, was a wholly legitimate concern about a challenge from Dan Patrick.

Here is Dewhurst’s intro.

Ted Hebert is, as far as I know, a made up name. I think he’s probably a composite, or maybe he’s just made up. He’s the slick political adviser/chief of staff/consultant, who tells Dewhurst what he needs to do to keep his job and keep Patrick at bay.

For Hebert, a special session that includes abortion is a gift that will enable Dewhurst to show the Republican base that no matter that patrician persona, and his previous defeat in the 2012 Senate primary runoff at the hands of Cruz, Dewhurst has the right right stuff.

The base is represented by three made up characters.

The script offers a sympathetic view of Dewhurst. He is not just some hapless ditherer.  I would like to see them build his character a little more. If the movie is going to be ore than a polemic, it’s got to build on Dewhurst’s dilemma.

I like that.


Why Colin Firth?

The stutter, and the empathy I think Firth would bring to the role. (They can make him up to look older than he is.)

From a story I wrote on the eve of Dewhurst’s May 2014 primary runoff loss to Patrick, coming after his defeat two years earlier in a runoff with Ted Cruz for U.S. Senate.

Dewhurst found himself being challenged for the Senate by, among others, Cruz, who would turn out to be a once-in-a-generation political talent — a championship debater at Princeton and former solicitor general for Texas who had argued nine cases before the Supreme Court. Dewhurst put $20 million of his own money into the campaign, spending a lot on attack ads that hurt him more than Cruz. Most crucial for Cruz, the campaign calendar was stretched by court battles over redistricting, giving him time to mount a campaign that forced a runoff, and he stampeded to victory in the midsummer runoff.

Now, in an awful deja vu for Dewhurst, he is facing, in Patrick, another natural talker — a former sports broadcaster who for years has made his name as a conservative talk radio host on a station he owns in Houston.

“It’s very frustrating for me,” Dewhurst said in an interview in his campaign office Monday, just before going over to the early voting trailer at the H-E-B at Oltorf Street and Congress Avenue to cast his ballot. “On any given day, I’m going to be a slower talker than Dan Patrick or Ted Cruz because my father was killed by a drunk driver when I was 3, and it must have been so traumatic because for a while I couldn’t speak and then I had a horrible stutter.”

“It was a long time before I started to get it under control,” Dewhurst said. “In ninth grade, I was president of the student council, and I would try to preside over meetings, but I couldn’t talk sometimes.”

The remnants of his speech problem are still well in evidence. He speaks slowly — more slowly if he’s tired — and very deliberately.

Campaign staffers have in the past urged him to just speak from the heart and not overthink everything he is about to say, but the desire to get things just so seems to have become a general habit of mind.

The other Democrats in the Senate get roles of varying size.

Watson plays Davis’ foil – a friend and ally but just lacking a little of her moxie until the close of the filibuster when he delivers in brilliant fashion.

The script makes it plain why Davis was chosen to make history.


You want someone with a little friendly tension with Wendy/Sandra. Someone who can puncture her sanctimony, appear a bit world weary but who rises to the occasion and sounds like he’s really from Texas.

There are a couple of other meaty roles.

Sonya Grogg, as Davis’ chief of staff, is the woman behind the woman. The script describes here as a “young Wendy in the making.”

Dr. Lisa Chang is the 28-year-old physician – I have no idea if that is her actual name – who fits Davis with the catheter that enables her to make it through the filibuster, which allows for no bathroom breaks. Only the catheter is too large and painfully cumbersome so Dr. Chang has to rush over through impossible Austin traffic and an impossible line to get into the Capitol, to fit Davis with a more appropriately-sized catheter moments before the filibuster begin.

I predict the catheter scenes will be Oscar bait.

And, by the way, it’s Donna Campbell, a physician, who realizes Davis is catheterized.


There’s also a nice part in Javier Costa, the wide-eyed 21-year-old intern who arrives in Davis’ office on Sine Die of the regular session and finds himself thrust into the middle of history and playing his own pivotal role when he is dispatched, deep in to the filibuster, to the local CVS to procure a back brace Davis needs if she is oil to make it to midnight. Against all odds, Costa gets the brace to Davis just in the nick of time, although Sen Rodney Ellis’ memorable assist to Davis in getting the brace on cost her one of the there strikes she was allowed, imperiling the filibuster.

Ellis’ part is good, but doesn’t take full advantage of his personality.

Senate Parliamentarian Karina Davis – no relation to Wendy – has a nice little part in the thick of the filibuster action.

There are also roles, in flashback, for Jeff Davis, Wendy’s second husband, and former Austin Mayor Will Wynn, who plays her sympathetic and supportive boyfriend. It’s the kind of part Sam Shepard could have played, but, lamentably, he’s dead.

There is also, of course, Leticia Van de Putte, who the script describes as “Latina, confident, big-boned.”

The filibuster created the Democratic ticket in 2014 – Davis for governor and Sen. Leticia Van de Putte for lieutenant governor, though, for whatever reason, Davis kept her distance from Van de Putte during the campaign, which was odd considering their triumphant moment of sisterhood at the close of the filibuster.

As I wrote in a First Reading just after the election:

The most self-defeating and inexplicable aspect of the whole Wendy Davis campaign was the failure to take advantage of the party’s candidate for lieutenant governor.

Davis and Van de Putte should have campaigned side-by-side across the state. They needed each other. Van de Putte needed the exposure, needed to let Texans know who she was and that, notwithstanding her married name, she was actually Hispanic. And Davis desperately needed the Van de Putte touch. Van de Putte is warm and approachable and spontaneous where Davis is cool and distant and canned. It was Van de Putte who, arriving late in the filibuster after burying her father, delivered the killer line – “At what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice to be recognized over her male colleagues?”- that threw the gallery into pandemonium and won the day for the Democrats.

And how does he screenplay handle that moment?

Very oddly.

Wait. What? Hold on.

In the script, Davis is delivering Van de Putte’s spontaneous, immortal line.

That’s just not right. They’ve got to fix that.




In the script, as Davis, Kirk and the other Democrats celebrated after the filibuster, we see Rick Perry, in a silk bathrobe, over at the Governor’s Mansion, taking in the scene on TV, and talking to an aide on the phone.

That’s it. Perry could play himself. He’s got an equity card.

The Legislature passed the law in the next special session that Davis had filibustered, but three years later, the Supreme Court struck down the law.

But, for Davis and Texas Democrats, the political aftermath of the filibuster was a letdown.

A First Reading I wrote on the occasion of

Well, the adrenalin rush didn’t last, except maybe for Dan Patrick, who used the public flummoxing of David Dewhurst to launch a successful bid to remove and replace him. Davis’ gubernatorial campaign was a disaster. And somehow, when all the dust had settled, we had Sid Miller occupying the august office of Texas Agriculture Commissioner, once occupied by Jim Hightower and Rick Perry, and Ken Paxton succeeding Greg Abbott as attorney general.

From Robert Draper’s New York Times Magazine piece.

(T)he campaign had chosen as its lead narrative a heroic struggle of a different sort: that of a teenage, trailer-dwelling single mother, who, while raising two daughters, bootstrapped her way into Harvard Law School and soon, possibly, the governorship. On many levels, the story was politically exquisite. It connected the candidate and her devotion to issues like education in a personal rather than an ideological manner. It also sidestepped the divisive issue of abortion while framing her as the kind of hard-working mother to whom suburban women (a critical voting bloc) could relate. More broadly, as one of her Washington-based ad makers, Maura Dougherty, would tell me: “The bio connects her to Texans in a way that very few other things do. Her personal story makes her one of them.” Playing on the state’s self-reverence, the campaign titled the slick four-and-a-half-minute ad announcing her run for governor “A Texas Story.”

But it was also very much the story of a female politician — and was thus fraught with choices for which male candidates are seldom second-guessed by either voters or pundits. And, as it would develop two days after our drive around Fort Worth, the story was far from a tidy one.

In the movie, the tidy story makes a comeback and fits seamlessly with what led her to perform the Great Filibuster of 2013.

But, as I wrote in a First Reading  just after the 2014 eelection: O Pappy where art thou? What Wendy Davis could have learned from W. Lee O’Daniel:

Davis’ gubernatorial campaign peaked three months before it began, with her filibuster. From the moment she formally launched her campaign, it appeared to be an exercise in negative branding.

In other words, Davis ended up getting something less than the base Democratic vote. Not good. Jim Hogan, running for agriculture commissioner, did a great service by providing what amounted to a real-world control experiment. He raised no money. He did not campaign. He simply got his name on the ballot as the Democrat running against Sid Miller for agriculture commissioner and received 37 percent of the vote, two points less than Davis.

The 2014 election nationally had the lowest turnout in 72 years, since World War II, since Pappy O’Daniel roamed the campaign trail.

The starkest statistic of the Davis campaign is not the 20 percentage point margin by which she lost – vastly larger than former Houston Mayor Bill White’s 12.7 point loss four years ago to Gov Rick Perry – but how she lost it.

Attorney General Greg Abbott did not much improve on Perry’s performance – he received only 53,246 more votes than Perry out of a larger potential electorate. But Davis received 274,148 fewer votes than White, who has all the dynamism of Ferris Beuller’s high school economics teacher, and even though Davis would regularly remind voters at campaign appearance that her candidacy had generated more excitement than any Democratic candidate for governor in decades.



The screenplay ends, fittingly enough, with a call to action.


In the screenplay, that is followed by a note explaining what subsequently  happened to the people depicted in the movie.

One correction – Rodney Ellis is now a Harris County commissioner.

As for Davis’ vow to run again for office. We’ll see about that. Perhaps sooner than later.

But I got to figure being played by Sandra Bullock in a big-budget biopic has to be way better than being governor of Texas, and certainly far better than running for governor.

I admit I’m jealous.

If only there were a bankable star who could play me on the big screen.








Maureen Dowd: On Trump’s Fantasia, Cruz’s Thunderdome and 41’s affection for David Cop-a-feel


Good morning Austin:

New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd and her Times colleague, Carl Hulse, are  coming to Austin Nov. 18  for an appearance at the Long Center.

Monday night, I spoke with Dowd. She was in Los Angeles for a benefit for the public library.

FR: Who persuaded you to come to Austin?

MD: Well, I love Austin, and I love Texas, and I love the Hotel San José. I love the Continental. And my dream in life is to get a poster of Ann-Margret singing at the Continental. If I can ever track that down.

So any excuse to come to Texas. I love Texas. Though it’s a sad time for Texas now.

FR: So why do you love Texas?

MD: I was the White House reporter for the Bush 1 White House and so I used to go to Beeville. I got my first cowboy boots in Beeville, where he would go quail hunting, and we would go to Houston for New Year’s Eve. I spent my New Year’s Eves in Houston.

And I love Texas women and I love Texas men. I love the whole state.

In a way it’s like California. You feel like you’re going to a completely different place with really cool people.

Austin is clearly one of the coolest places on Earth. I don’t think anyone disputes that.

FR: Do you wear boots?

MD:  Yes, I am trying to figure out which boots to wear. I always buy a pair at Allens when I’m there.

I love cowboy boots. The first ones I got were real hardcore cowboy boots in Beeville and they hurt and somebody told me that if just walked through a stream or something and wear them straight for a week, but I never could break them in. I finally had to give them away. But I never have trouble with the ones from Allens.

I love Guero’s. And I really love the Hotel San José

There was a picture in my room at the San José of Ann-Margret at the Continental and I really wanted to steal it but it was a big poster.

FR: Of the first President Bush, what do you make of recent revelations about his affection for David Cop-a-feel?

From Dave McKenna’s October 25 story in Deadspin:

Earlier this week, actress Heather Lind said in a now-deleted Instagram post that former president George H.W. Bush had sexually assaulted her. “He touched me from behind from his wheelchair with his wife Barbara Bush by his side,” she wrote. “He told me a dirty joke. And then, all the while being photographed, touched me again.”

That is not the end of things. Jordana Grolnick, a New York actress, has a story to tell that doesn’t sound very different at all. “I got sent the Heather Lind story by many people this morning,” Grolnick says. “And I’m afraid that mine is entirely similar.”

Rumors about Bush groping actresses in this manner have been circulating for a while. More than a year ago, a tipster passed word about the Heather Lind incident to Deadspin. We were told that Bush had, during a photo opp, groped her and told her that his favorite magician was “David Cop-a-Feel” while fondling her.

(Reached for comment, Bush spokesperson Jim McGrath provided the following statement: “At age 93, President Bush has been confined to a wheelchair for roughly five years, so his arm falls on the lower waist of people with whom he takes pictures. To try to put people at ease, the president routinely tells the same joke — and on occasion, he has patted women’s rears in what he intended to be a good-natured manner. Some have seen it as innocent; others clearly view it as inappropriate. To anyone he has offended, President Bush apologizes most sincerely.”)

In reporting out the tip, I found two actresses—Lind and Grolnick—who had accused Bush of groping, and also two Twitter users who, on April 4, 2014, made reference to the “David Cop-a-Feel” joke

MD: It makes me very sad because I think that probably the family is upset that this would be kind of the final things that’s talked about in his legacy.

I went down to Houston to have lunch with him in 2011 and he wasn’t talking well or moving well and that was six years ago, and I get the feel that he’s been sick for a long time.

That being said, if women don’t feel comfortable, I would never challenge a woman on that. If women were made to feel not comfortable, that’s not something I can speak to. I wasn’t there. I can only say he was a perfect gentleman with me when I covered him and when I’ve seen him in the years since. I can only talk about myself. I would not dispute anything that other women say along these lines.

I didn’t see that side of him. When you take a picture with him you have to scrunch down because he’s in a wheelchair. I’m not going to get into what other women feel or say. That’s not my place. I did not experience anything like that.

FR: Have you maintained any relationship with the second President Bush.

MD: I interviewed him during his first campaign, and I had a couple of interviews with him. I was very quickly kind of writing very critical columns, which went on for six or seven years, about how we got into Iraq and how it was being conducted, so I really wasn’t a favorite of the White House.

You know I think was the one who originally coined that Dick Cheney was Darth Vader, which then, in the end, Dick Cheney began using, so I was not a friend of that White House. I agree with the historians who say  that was the worst foreign policy mistake in American history.

You know we were attacked by one fiend, and then we said, “Let’s go after this other fiend because we have his address.” That is not the way we should conduct ourselves. It’s not fair.

FR: Have you, like many others, softened on Bush, post-Trump?

MD: When I see President Bush, Bush Jr., when I see him, when he makes a speech that’s very great about the need for civility and pushing back on President Trump, you know you can see where he has a lot of aspects where he could have been a very popular president, if he hadn’t come under the sway of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. But unfortunately he did, and when you see him being very dignified and appealing in speeches like he made last week it makes me sad that he couldn’t have been that president, but he wasn’t that president, unfortunately.

FR: It seems you adopted Trump’s word sad.

MD: Yes, but his is capital letters, exclamation mark. Mine is lowercase.

FR: Trump’ s been very good for the New York Times and the Washington Post,right?

MD: I say that Trump is the Rosemary’s baby of social media, reality TV and politics.

I mean it is the biggest story in presidential history. And White House reporters look exhausted but also they have all these lucrative contracts and magazine profiles.

When I covered the first President Bush, I don’t even think I got in the paper for six months, and then I think it was because he was showering with his dog Millie, or something.

I don’t think the White House reporters have a full appreciation of what it’s going to be like when they  go back to a normal politician and they are not on the front page, or on the home page twenty times a day, and they are not feted and they don’t have these big TV contracts you know because, unless Trump opens up the floodgates to a lot of celebrity presidents, and we end up with President Cuban (see Dowd’s recent, Mark Cuban Not Done Trolling Donald Trump), and President Kanye West, you know, everyone you see now on TV making a lot of money will have to kind of go back to a more boring White House existence.

It’s a kind of co-dependency, right, because Trump is like a heroin addict with attention, he has a heroin needle hanging out of his arm because he has the job where he gets the most attention of anyone in the world, which is what he wants, and we are dependent on him. So there’s a sort of a toxic mutual interdependence, where we have much higher subscription rates, and so does the Washington Post, and Rachel Maddow has the top ratings, and CNN, they can afford to call up reporters and give them contracts, and so this is plush time and it gives us a respite while we figure out a new business model for when Trump isn’t president.

But he’s the most accessible president in modern history, that’s what Maggie Haberman has said, and I think it’s true. Not to me, because he’s kind of mad at me. He tweeted that I was a wacky, neurotic dope, because there was something I said he didn’t like – I don’t know what it was – but he is incredibly accessible. He talks about the failing New York Times, but he talks to  Times reporters all time.

FR: When the president of the United States tweets that you’re a neurotic dope, is there a kick in that?

MD: Well, I think it got my book up fifteen places on Amazon, but it was kind of upsetting for me because Carl (Hulse) had a book party for me and he blew up the tweets and I looked at the bottom and I said, “What is that 20,000?” And he said, “Well, 20,000 people liked it,” and that was a little jarring.


But he always calls women “wacky and neurotic,” and I was a little disappointed because I was hoping for a more customized name from him having known him for thirty years.”

FR: You’ve talked to him for thirty years.

MD: The first time I talked to him was in 1987 when Mikhail Gorbachev made his first trip to  the United States and I was covering that, so I called the New York businessmen he was meeting with and before Trump went in the meeting, he was, “Oh, we’ve got to be careful, we’ve got to be skeptical of the Soviet Union, we don’t want to make any deals with them.” And then I called him after the meeting and he came out and he goes, “They’re fantastic, they love Trump Tower, they want to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, I love them, we have to make deals with them.”

So the very first time I interviewed him, I realized, just one compliment and the guy completely turns around, and it was just funny that it was on the subject of Russia too.

And then about a year later he was up at Trump Tower and he heard that Gorbachev was on Fifth Avenue, and so he came running down with this bodyguard, but then it turned out it was this actor from New Jersey named Ronald Knapp, and so Trump was trying to talk to him until he realized he was an actor.

From Dowd’s Dec. 7, 1988 column:

Gordon Elliott, who is the host for several Channel 5 programs and who accompanied Mr. Knapp in his charade, said afterward that Mr. Trump had fallen for the gag. ”There was absolutely no question that he bought it,” Mr. Elliott said.

Mr. Trump said that, once he got close up, he knew immediately that it was not the Soviet leader – especially since the pretender did not allude to the previous time the two had met and treated the deal-making mogul as a stranger.

”He looked fabulous and he sounded fabulous, but I knew it couldn’t be right,” Mr. Trump said. ”For one thing, I looked into the back of his limo and saw four very attractive women.

”I knew that his society had not come that far yet in terms of capitalist decadence.” 

MD: So Trump was the same Trump then.

He doesn’t change.

In ’99, I went to Miami with him where he was testing out a bid for 2000 and I said, “Why on Earth do  you think you could be president?” And he said, “Well, I’ve got the biggest ratings on Larry King,  and all these men hit on Melania, and Melania’s been on a lot of magazine covers, and my name is on the General Motors Building five times,” and that ego arithmetic you still see today – that he got so upset the day of the Inaugural with the crowd size, or just any day of the week – that has always been in place.

FR: What do you make of Alex Jones?

MD:  It’s hard to know where to even weigh in on the crazy. It would be interesting to meet him and cover him.

FR: Are you able to sort out this Donna Brazile thing?

MD: Basically, I have thought for a long time that the Clintons treated the Democratic Party as the party of the Clintons, and then Obama treated the Democratic Party as the party of Obama, so I wasn’t that surprised.

I just think they were very tone deaf in looking at the Bernie Sanders phenomenon and not knowing what that meant, and Obama had come up on a similar wave of hunger for change and instead of recognizing it, they tried to suppress, he and Hillary suppressed it, and so if they had realized it maybe they would have realized they needed Elizabeth Warren as a running mate, or she needed something else, but by suppressing  that sense of revolution, they couldn’t even read the room.

I never understood  why (Obama) shut down Biden so easily, he took him to lunch and told him that he couldn’t run because Biden seemed – he had an amazing life story and he was more in touch with blue collar people – and I thought they dismissed him as someone who wouldn’t do well way too easily given the political mood.

FR: Biden was greeted as hero at the LBJ Library last month.

From a First Reading in early October: Old-school Joe Biden hailed as a hero by students at the LBJ Presidential Library.

Former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden takes a photo with LBJ School graduate students after speaking at the LBJ Presidential Library’s Auditorium on the University of Texas in Austin, Texas, on Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017. NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Yes, Biden will be 75 in November.

But that makes him a whole year younger than Bernie Sanders.

Like Sanders, the kids love him.

By the kids I mean the students at UT and the LBJ School who made up much of the audience last night for his appearance as the Tom Johnson Lecturer at the LBJ Presidential Library, giving Biden a hero’s welcome and seeming very much in his thrall though his conversation with Updegrove.

HIs appeal is different from that of Sanders.

Sanders is the cranky socialist iconoclast, all issues all the time, and the issue being income inequality.

Biden’s appeal, especially to Millennials, is less obvious. He is a throwback to a time of respect and comity and consensus in politics.

But on a day that President Donald Trump was casually insulting Puerto Ricans stricken by disaster – aka, another day on the job – Biden’s homespun philosophy and appeals to decency and American first principles, carried some extra punch.

Watching him hold court, at length, last night, a Biden presidential candidacy in 2020 seemed perfectly plausible.

MD: It just seemed that President Obama and Hillary Clinton were just sort of these cerebral Ivy Leaguers and these other people weren’t good enough. But to me it was just a complete misreading of the electorate and the mood and the type of person that you need and the kind of choices she would have to make, so I thought that all along, so I wasn’t all that surprised by Donna’s stuff.

FR: Do you feel any personal responsibility that Joe Biden hasn’t already served as president for eight years?(I am referring here to classic early Dowd, a September 1987 story – Biden’s Debate Finale: An Echo from Abroad – that effectively knocked a then-young Joe Biden out of the race for the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination.)

WASHINGTON, Sept. 11— The Neil Kinnock commercial did not lead to electoral success last May in Britain, but the 10-minute spot of the Labor Party leader’s passionate speeches, against a cool soundtrack of Brahms, raised his approval rating by 19 points and became an instant classic.

On this side of the Atlantic, many Presidential campaign strategists of both parties greatly admired the way it portrayed Mr. Kinnock, who subsequently lost to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, as a man of character. Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, a Democratic hopeful, was particularly taken with it.

So taken, in fact, that he lifted Mr. Kinnock’s closing speech with phrases, gestures and lyrical Welsh syntax intact for his own closing speech at a debate at the Iowa State Fair on Aug. 23 – without crediting Mr. Kinnock.

In the commercial, the Briton began, ”Why am I the first Kinnock in a thousand generations to be able to get to university?” Then pointing to his wife in the audience, he continued: ”Why is Glenys the first woman in her family in a thousand generations to be able to get to university? Was it because all our predecessors were thick?”

Senator Biden began his remarks by saying the ideas had come to him spontaneously on the way to the debate. ”I started thinking as I was coming over here, why is it that Joe Biden is the first in his family ever to go to a university?” he said. Then, pointing to his wife, he continued: ”Why is it that my wife who is sitting out there in the audience is the first in her family to ever go to college? Is it because our fathers and mothers were not bright? Is it because I’m the first Biden in a thousand generations to get a college and a graduate degree that I was smarter than the rest?”

In his speech, Mr. Kinnock, an orator of great eloquence, rhetorically asked why his ancestors, Welsh coal miners, did not get ahead as fast as he. ”Did they lack talent?” he asked, in his lilting rhythm. ”Those people who could sing and play and recite and write poetry? Those people who could make wonderful beautiful things with their hands? Those people who could dream dreams, see visions? Why didn’t they get it? Was it because they were weak? Those people who could work eight hours underground and then come up and play football? Weak?”

Senator Biden’s Irish relations, it would seem, were similar, though they seemed to stay underground longer.

”Those same people who read poetry and wrote poetry and taught me how to sing verse?” continued Mr. Biden, whose father was a Chevrolet dealer in Wilmington. ”Is it because they didn’t work hard? My ancestors, who worked in the coal mines of Northeast Pennsylvania and would come up after 12 hours and play football for four hours?”


Thomas Donilon, Mr. Biden’s campaign aide, said that the Senator was traveling and did not care to comment on the similarities in the two speeches.


Asked which of Mr. Biden’s relatives had been coal miners, Mr. Donilon said the Senator had not necessarily been referring to his own relatives but had been talking about the ”people that his ancestors grew up with in the Scranton region, and in general the people of that region were coal miners.”

Told that Mr. Biden had used the phrase, ”my ancestors,” Mr. Donilon said, ”Evidently he had a great-grandfather who worked in a mining company.” Asked the name of the man, the company and the sort of job he held, Mr. Donilon pronounced himself at a loss.

Rereading that made me smile, considering this line from Biden at his LBJ appearance.

If you listen to Barack, he makes me sound like a guy who crawled out of a coal mine with a lunchbox.

MD: No (Biden does not hold a grudge about that story), he gives me credit, if he hadn’t gotten off of the campaign trail he might have missed his aneurism. So he thinks I saved his life. We’ve had a really good relationship for the last twenty years.

He is a really interesting guy. I think President Obama  and Hillary were, “Oh Biden makes gaffes,” and, we used to have an editor, Howell Raines, who used to say, everything depends on who you are in the field with, who you are running against, so compared to Trump, Biden’s gaffes would have been teensy-weensy little gaffes. They wouldn’t even have been noticed.

I just think that if he had wanted to run, even as a way to deal with his grief, I think they should have let him. I don’t think they should have shut him down. I mean he was the vice president. He was a very popular politician. Again, everything had to get out of the way for the juggernaut of the Clintons and I think they made a lot of tone-deaf decisions.

FR: Do you have a gut feeling about how long the Trump presidency is going to last?

MD: I know there are a lot of stories that get written that he’s so unhappy, he really would like to get out of there, but I don’t see it that way. I think he thinks he’s doing a good job. I think he is completely in his own reality and I think that reality is that he’s doing a good job. I think he will be there unless he gets dragged out of there.

But (special counsel Robert) Mueller and Trump are such a fascinating counterpoint because Mueller is the ultimate Boy Scout, and Trump is sort of the ultimate con man. They are sort of a cultural collision you’d see in a movie.

If I had Mueller coming after me with all the Dirty Dozen of people who are experts in all different things – like one’s a witness flipper, one’s organized crime, one’s this and that and (one’s skilled at) closing –  I would be very scared.

But then again Trump lives in his own Trump Fantasia, so he probably isn’t that scared.

Roger Stone has a theory of how he can get out of it. I saw something the other day. He has some backdoor way of getting rid of Mueller because Mueller was the FBI director with the Hillary uranium deal, some crazy conspiracy thing.

From the Oct. 30 Daily Caller:

Stone told TheDC that it is “really simple” how Trump ends Mueller’s investigation. The Trump confidant said that Mueller intends “to levy phony charges against Trump in order to impeach him.”

Trump has received past suggestions to fire Mueller, however, Stone maintains the president “doesn’t have to fire anybody.” Instead, Stone wants Trump to direct the DOJ to appoint a special counsel to investigate “all involved in the Uranium One investigation.”

The Hill recently reported that in 2009 the FBI “gathered substantial evidence that Russian nuclear industry officials were engaged in bribery, kickbacks, extortion and money laundering designed to grow Vladimir Putin’s atomic energy business inside the United States.”

Russian firm Uranium One ended up being approved to purchase a Canadian firm that controlled around 20 percent of America’s uranium supply. No charges were brought by federal officials and Stone said that there was a “cover up.”

Mueller was director of the FBI at the time, Stone said that investigating him is Trump’s “only change for survival.”

“Mueller can’t be a special prosecutor when he himself is under investigation,” Stone said. “Mueller is guilty of obstruction and cover up in Uranium One.”

FR: Who knows. Who would have thought the fate of the 2016 campaign would have rested with Anthony Weiner.

MD: I know. You know I always told Michael Beschloss, the historian, that he should do a book on how many hairpin turns sex has created in history.

FR: Did you see Weiner?

MD: It’s one of the most amazing documentaries I’ve ever seen.

The one on Roger Stone is good too.

FR: Any thoughts on Rick Perry?

MD: It does make me a little nervous that Rick Perry is in charge of nuclear weapons, but everyone is already scared to death that Trump is, so it really doesn’t matter. You know Gail Collins, my colleague, loves to torment Rick Perry, so I like to let her do it because she does it so brilliantly.

Like this Collins column, from way back last week:

Oh, that Rick Perry.

Our secretary of energy was in South Africa recently, for Africa Oil Week. Whenever the word “oil” is mentioned, Perry responds like a dog on the scent of a hamburger. So no surprise there. We wouldn’t even have noticed he was gone, except for the part where he suggested that fossil fuels would protect women from sexual assault.

“Let me tell you where people are dying is in Africa,” he told an audience after he returned, launching into a story about a young village girl who yearned to be able to read by electric light instead of a smoky fire.

O.K. so far …

“But also from the standpoint of sexual assault,” Perry continued. “When the lights are on, where you have light that shines, the righteousness, if you will, on those types of acts. So from the standpoint of how you really affect people’s lives, fossil fuel is going to play a role in that.”

Now we all support electrification of rural villages. But where the heck did the sexual assault part come from? The Department of Energy wasn’t really forthcoming. It just issued a statement saying that while Perry was in Africa “he was told how light can be a deterrent to sexual assault and can provide security in remote areas.”

Environmental groups quickly pointed out that there is a hefty sexual assault problem in places that have more electricity than they know what to do with. But let’s be generous. Maybe he was still quoting that village girl. Do you really think she insisted that the light come from fossil fuels? Inquiring minds want to know.

Rick Perry is an absolutely terrible secretary of energy. We all remember that he took the job without realizing that his central responsibility would be overseeing the safe handling of nuclear materials, a topic he knew nothing whatsoever about. Interested bystanders recalled sadly that Barack Obama’s first secretary was a Nobel Prize-winning scientist and the second a nuclear physicist.

On the other hand, Rick Perry once shot a coyote while jogging.

He claims.

FR: Gail Collins seems to have a little bit more ambiguous relationship with Texas than you do.

MD: I know. That is true. I don’t know what it is. I do love Texas.

FR: She’s a Texas skeptic.

MD: Maybe it’s because I was born below the Mason-Dixon line, in D.C., so I like to pretend I’m a Southerner.

FR: Have you met Beto O’Rourke?

MD: I think he tried to set up a meeting, but our schedules didn’t match. Yeah, he’s a punk rocker or something? He sounds interesting. I’m not sure Texas is quite prepared for blue Senators yet, but I would like to cover him.

FR: He’s from El Paso, which has never elected one of its own to statewide office.

MD: You should get this book, the thing that I’ve been up all night writing about, by Jaron Lanier, you know he invented virtual reality, and the whole beginning of this book is how his parents fled the Holocaust and pogroms and  went to this town in the Southwest corner of Texas, and that’s where he was raised.



From a 2011 New Yorker profile by Jennifer Kahn:

Lanier’s mother and father belonged to a circle of artists in Greenwich Village, but they moved soon after Jaron was born—on May 3, 1960—first to Colorado, and then to a spot near El Paso, Texas, on the border with Mexico. The area was desolate and impoverished, and Lanier has speculated that the move was driven, at least in part, by fear. Lanier’s mother, Lilly, a pianist, painter, and dancer, had emigrated from Vienna when she was fifteen, after surviving a concentration camp. His father, Ellery, the child of Ukrainian Jews who had fled the pogroms, worked as an architect, painter, writer, elementary-school teacher, and radio host. When Ellery was seven, a close relative was murdered by a gang of anti-Semitic men wielding swords. A younger sister of the victim, who witnessed the assault but was warned by the attackers not to speak of it, was so traumatized that she spent the rest of her life as a mute.

FR: What about Ted Cruz?

MD: I kind of blame Ted Cruz. I think he’s the one who kind of kicked off this whole nihilism in the voters, when he was, what I called it, Ted Cruz’s Thunderdome, when he just got into this whole nihilistic thing about Obamacare and shutting down spending bills. Because I noticed when voters were interviewed about Trump – “Doesn’t Trump make you nervous?” and, “Don’t you think it’s a bad idea to vote for him?” and they would give very nihilistic answers – “We don’t care because politicians don’t seem to care  about anything so why should we.” So I think that whole attitude became kind of infectious.

From Dowd’s October 2013 column, Welcome to Ted Cruz’s Thunderdome


AN ape sits where Abe sat.

The year is 2084, in the capital of the land formerly called North America.

The peeling columns of the Lincoln Memorial, and Abe’s majestic head, elegant hands and big feet are partially submerged in sludge. Animals that escaped from the National Zoo after zookeepers were furloughed seven decades ago migrated to the memorials, hunting for food left by tourists.

The white marble monuments are now covered in ash, Greek tragedy ruins overrun with weeds. Tea Party zombies, thrilled with the dark destruction they have wreaked on the planet, continue to maraud around the Hill, eager to chomp on humanity some more.

Dead cherry blossom trees litter the bleak landscape. Trash blows through L’Enfant’s once beautiful boulevards, now strewn with the detritus of democracy, scraps of the original Constitution, corroded White House ID cards, stacks of worthless bills tumbling out of the Treasury Department.

The BlackBerrys that were pried from the hands of White House employees in 2013 are now piled up on the Potomac as a flood barrier against the ever-rising tide from melting ice caps. Their owners, unable to check their messages, went insane long ago.

Because there was no endgame, the capital’s hunger games ended in a gray void. Because there was no clean bill, now there is only a filthy stench. Because there was no wisdom, now there is only rot. The instigators, it turned out, didn’t even know what they were arguing for. Macho thrusts and feints, competing to win while the country lost.

Thomas Jefferson’s utopia devolved into Ted Cruz’s dystopia.


“In the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, many of the feverish pols believed they were waging the right and moral fight even as G.O.P. party elders like Jeb Bush, John McCain, Karl Rove and James Baker warned them that they were dragging the country toward catastrophe. The Tea Party leaders liked to refer to themselves as the Children of Reagan. But as Baker told Peggy Noonan, Reagan always said, ‘I’d rather get 80 percent of what I want than go over the cliff with my flag flying.’ ”

The boy frowns. “But Papa, didn’t the healthy Republicans realize the infected ones had lower brain functions?”

“Well, son, they knew there was something creepy about the ringleader, Ted Cruz,” the man replies. “His face looked pinched, like a puzzle that had not been put together quite right. He was always launching into orations with a weird cadence and self-consciously throwing folksy phrases into his speeches, like ‘Let me tell ya,’ to make himself seem Texan, when he was really a Canadian.”

The boy looks alarmed. “A Canadian destroyed the world, Papa?”


“What is left of the world is being run by Julian Assange from what is left of the Ecuadorean Embassy in London and by some right-wing nut in a cabin in Idaho.”

The boy begins to cry. “Papa, stop. You’re making me sad. Are all the good guys gone?”

Looking through the gray skies toward the ashen Lincoln Memorial, where an ape sits in Abe’s chair, the man replies sadly, “Yes, son.”

MD: In my book I write that I think my sister spurred one of the only apologies that Trump has ever given because she was thinking about voting for Trump in the primary and he asked, “Is she still for me,” and I said, “No, because you put out that mean tweet about Heidi Cruz with that mean picture of her.”

From an April 2016 Dowd column Trump Does it His Way.

WASHINGTON — YOU could hear how hard it was for Donald Trump to say the words.

“Yeah, it was a mistake,” he said, sounding a bit chastened. “If I had to do it again, I wouldn’t have sent it.”

I was telling him he lost my sister’s vote when he retweeted a seriously unflattering photo of the pretty Heidi Cruz next to a glam shot of his wife, Melania.

He repeated his contention that he didn’t view the Heidi shot “necessarily as negative.” But I stopped him, saying it was clearly meant to be nasty.

Trump also got into his schoolyard excuse of “he did it first” and “that wasn’t nice,” insisting that Ted Cruz wrote the words on the digital ad put up by an anti-Trump group aimed at Utah Mormons; it showed Melania in a 2000 British GQ shot posing provocatively and suggested that it was not First Ladylike. Cruz denies any involvement.

Truth be told, Trump said he “didn’t love the photo” of Melania. “I think she’s taken better pictures,” he said, also protesting: “It wasn’t a nude photo, either. It wasn’t nude!”

It’s ridiculous how many mistakes Trump has made in rapid order to alienate women when he was already on thin ice with them — and this in a year when the Republicans will likely have to run against a woman.

He did a huge favor for Hillary, who had been reeling from losing young women to a 74-year-old guy and from a dearth of feminist excitement. And for Cruz, who started promoting himself as Gloria Steinem, despite his more regressive positions on abortion and other women’s issues.

FR: Did your sister end up voting for him?

MD: She sort of went back to him, but then he lost her again with all the crazy treatment of women that she read about. I think in the end she voted for me, but unfortunately it was just the one vote.

FR: Trump is hardy. Sens. Corker and Flake call him out but nothing much follows. With Nixon, when one domino fell, others followed.

MD: There’s no precedent for covering all this and every time you try to use some prior way you covered it, you can’t.

I thought Trump was finished when the piece came out about how he pretended to be his own PR guy. I thought that would finish him during the campaign.

From Dowd’s May 2016 columnThe Mogul and the Babe:

The Washington Post revived a story, with a new damning audio, about how Trump had masqueraded as his own publicist, named either John Barron or John Miller, to boast about himself back in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s. Trump admitted in court testimony in 1990 that he had used the name John Barron as an alias. Former Times editor Joe Sexton told me that he thought he interviewed Trump-as-Barron in 1985 while working as a sportswriter with UPI and chasing a story about the New Jersey Generals. The Post audio on “John Miller” contained classic Trumpisms like “That I can tell you.” CNN interviewed a forensic audio specialist who believed that Trump was posing as Miller. But Trump insisted to me that the Post recording was not his voice. “ Do you know how many people I have imitating my voice now? It’s like everybody.”

FR: That appears now to be almost a charming story.

MD: Yeah, compared to the cascade of other stories.

FR: So you’re not in a panic about America?

MD: Not really because a lot of our modern presidents have been mentally kind of a little deranged. You know, they found out recently  that Nixon and JFK kept pscyhotropic drugs in the medicine cabinet. And Lyndon Johnson’s aides used to argue about whether he was paranoid or a manic depressive, and Jimmy Carter saw UFOs.

As Arthur Schlesinger said, the White House doesn’t seem to have much of a provision for nuts and the last taboo is the idea that we’d have a White House shrink, but I definitely think we should have a White House shrink.

FR: Just to be on call? Or to be able to say, “You’re done. Get out of here.”

MD: To be on call.

You know I made the mistake, Ashley Parker, she’s my former assistant, she’s the Washington Post White House reporter, and so we were at a dinner and she told me about how when Trump tweets, her phone makes a little noise. And so I went, “Oh that’s cool. Do it to my phone.”

And now I don’t know how to take it off. I’ve got to get back to Washington and figure out how to take it off because that beeping, he’s tweeting all times of the day and night.

FR: It’s like a wake up call.

MD: But if you’re in Los Angeles, it’s more like the middle of the night. I definitely do not want him beeping, beeping, beeping on my phone anymore.

And on that, we said our goodbyes.

I had originally intended to write this up for yesterday’s First Reading, but I ran out of time, because as I explained to Dowd, I had to be up bright and early Tuesday to see Rep. Dawnna Dukes’ conversation with Evan Smith (who Dowd will be having lunch with while in Austin) at the Austin Club.

“Who?” Dowd asked.

An Austin state representative, I said – searching for a short and intriguing intro – who in a little more than a year paid an online psychic more than $50,000.


MD: Oh my God. See that’s why I love Texas. Thats exactly why.

Amid the sleeping giants, is there a place in Texas politics for the Milder White Guys?

Andrew White, the son of former Gov. Mark White

Good Monday Austin:

In the last couple of weeks — nine months into the Age of Trump –  two Milder White Guys stepped forward to indicate a desire to run for statewide office in Texas under the MARA (Make America Reasonable Again) banner.

Last week, it was Scott Milder of Rockwall announcing he was going to run in the Republican primary against Lt. Gov Dan Patrick.

From my Statesman story:Rational Republican’ Milder enters race against ‘extremist’ Dan Patrick

Presenting himself as “a rational, conservative Republican running against an extremist incumbent,” Scott Milder, a former Rockwall city council member and advocate for public education, declared Thursday that he is challenging Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick in the March Republican primary.

“Somebody’s’s got to stand up and confront the bully who’s never going to stop picking on the little guy,” Milder, 49, said in an interview in Austin with the American-Statesman. “He’s insulting. He’s polarizing. He’s divisive. He’s not a strong a leader. He doesn’t represent the values of class and character that Texans have.”

Patrick’s political consultant, Allen Blakemore, responded that, “Dan Patrick is unequivocally the hardest working, most effective, conservative leader in the history of the Texas Senate. He enjoys overwhelming support among Texas Republicans, including early endorsements from Gov. Abbott, Sen. Cornyn, Sen. Cruz, major conservative grassroots leaders, a majority of Republican county chairs and SREC members, and a long list of Texas business leaders.”

But, Milder said he believes “there is a groundswell of anti-Patrick sentiment all over Texas. I hear it everywhere I go, and these are traditional conservative, rational Republicans. And that’s what I consider myself,”

A week earlier, it was Andrew White, expressing interest in seeking the Democratic nomination for governor.

From my story with Sean Collins Walsh:

Pitching himself as a centrist and a pragmatist, Andrew White, the son of former Gov. Mark White, is exploring a bid for the Democratic nomination for governor in 2018.

White, an investor in Houston, has never run for office but said he became interested in challenging Republican Gov. Greg Abbott after his father died in August and after Hurricane Harvey, during which he helped rescue about 100 people on his small fishing boat.

White said hearing old stories at the funeral about how his father grappled with such weighty issues as taxes and public school finance made him realize the triviality of Abbott’s push for policies like the “bathroom bill” to prohibit transgender Texans from using the restrooms of their choice.

“Compared to what he was doing, our politicians today are playing games, and they’re trying to get more and more extreme,” Andrew White said in an interview. “Our governor and lieutenant governor are representing really well the 200,000 fringe voters in the very extreme end of their party and ignoring the 27.8 million other Texans.”

So far, the Milder White Guys entrance onto the scene landed with a quiet thud. But maybe that’s their way and we have to give them time for their subtle pheromones to waft their way into the nostrils of  the body politic.

In fact, Milder told me that part of his strategy was for his low-key, non-entity status to lull Patrick and his base into a false sense of security.

So far that strategy would appear to be working to a tee.

His challenge is to persuade Texas Republicans that a strategy that has given them a stranglehold on Texas politics is not in the long run, for them or the state, a great idea.

As for White, his is an even more complicated and interesting challenge  as the Democratic Party, which hasn’t won statewide office since 1994, approaches the opening of the one-month filing period for the March primary ballot, on Saturday.

On Sunday ,Julián Castro and Wendy Davis shared a panel, moderated by the Texas Tribune’s Evan Smith, at the Voto Latino Power Summit at the AT&T Center on the UT campus. (Voto Latino is nonpartisan organization founded by actress Rosario Dawson that focuses on Latino voter registration, civic engagement and issue advocacy.)

Wendy Davis was the Democratic candidate for governor in 2014.

Here is some of what she had to say Sunday:

We get ignored in presidential contests. And yet, if Texas were to turn, and Republicans certainly know this, Texas is the prize. Texas with all its electoral votes, can dictate what happens in this country going forward. That’s incredible responsibility, and it’s an incredible opportunity, for all of us  in this state, and it was one of the reasons I was committed to running for governor  in 2014, believing that every amount of effort we could put into being engaged, to registering new voters in this state would be something we could build upon and build upon and build upon moving forward and I think that’s a commitment that the Democratic Party and the members of the Democratic Party and the leaders of the Democratic Party need to take very seriously. But it’s also a shared responsibility.

It’s not just the leaders of the party who are going to be able to move that forward as proactively and productively as it needs to happen. I think Julian just said it beautifully, it’s really up to all of us in this room and the unique responsibility that rests on the shoulders of your generation. Interestingly, by the year 2020, your generation is going be reflective of 40 percent of the eligible voting population in this country and when you think about electoral outcomes right now and you look at who’s voting and the percentage of their representation in the population that’s voting, what you’ll see is  that the older white people are really dictating the outcome of elections because they’re voting in much greater percentages of what they represent in the population and so if we each encourage the people in our circles to understand that responsibility and the opportunity that comes with taking the responsibility we do have an opportunity to turn it around. And I think the Democratic Party needs to do a better job of sending that message and to embrace the fabulous energy of the people who are in this room and others like them.

Smith noted that Abbott did relatively well with Latino voters, winning outright among Latino males.

Davis said that was because Latinos didn’t really know who Greg Abbott was, and were influenced by his Mexican-American wife, and her mother, who did ads vouching for his character.

They didn’t think he would sign a ban on sanctuary cities.

“I’m hoping there will be a better response to who he is in the next election cycle,” Davis said, “if we’re able to field a candidate for governor.”

Also, Davis said:

I think quite candidly that I and the Republicans did a very good job of trying to silo me around one issue and that was abortion – and I am never going to shy away from my support for women to make their own decisions about their bodies –  but, as much as that enabled me to gain some prominence about who I was as result of that filibuster, there are so many other things that I have championed and worked on and tried to advance as governor, and it was very hard  to get that message across.

So, one might think, it would be some relief for Davis that Andrew White,  son of a governor with whom Davis had a close and positive relationship, had chosen to grab the baton or try to.

But one would be wrong. Very wrong.

White, on Sunday, released What I believe positions on a host of issues.

Here is White’s position on women’s health.

Let’s start here: personally, I can’t understand when a human life actually begins.  It’s a mystery known only to God, and, as such my faith tells me to protect the beginning of life.  To me, that means working on policies to reduce the demand for abortions.

However, I want this to be clear: Roe v Wade is the law of the land, and I respect the law.  While my stance on abortion is not the traditional Democratic position, I’m not a blind extremist on this issue like Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. 

Do I respect the rights of the mother?  Yes.  Do I respect that a woman’s body is private?  Absolutely.  So, does this mean at times my own views conflict with each other?  Yes. 

One thing I am sure of: Gov. Abbott and Lt. Gov. Patrick—for the sake of politics—are holding 97% of all women’s health services hostage—cancer screening, contraceptives, pre-natal care…The result? More women dying of cancer.  More women with unplanned pregnancies.  More women not getting basic health services.  We must never return to the days of back alley abortions. That’s not progress. That’s also not pro life, and I won’t be a part of it.

“We should be loving expectant mothers with acts of kindness, while respecting their legal right to choose.”

We Democrats need to nominate a candidate who can win in November, so we can end the games our state leaders are playing with women’s health.  It’s time for more humanity and less politics. 

So, let’s focus on where we agree. Reasonable people on both sides want fewer abortions and better health care.  There’s common ground here. We should be loving expectant mothers with acts of kindness, while respecting their legal right to choose. 

Soon, I’ll be meeting with organizations devoted to women’s health services to learn more.  Together, we can increase access to healthcare and make abortion rare.  That’s progress. 

If we don’t aspire to a better place, a better community, what are we left with?  Healthy community starts with a new conversation, respecting the views of others and working toward common ground. 

Is this a path forward? What do you think? Send me a note.

From the comments on Wendy Davis’ Facebook post on White:

Aimee Boone Cunningham Thanks friend! This guy has no place in our party at all.

Stephanie Ryburn His rhetoric sounds like donald trump.

Aimee Boone Cunningham Michelle, nope, nope, and nope. He is anti-choice. And trying to have it both ways, apparently. Don’t be fooled by the B.S., friends.

Yvonne Massey Davis Thank you!!! He is definitely not his father.

Curiously, the last previous Facebook post on Davis’ page was about White’s father, who was a defender of abortion rights.

It would be interesting to know why the son has come to a more conservative view on abortion than his father, but in the meantime, abortion rights are a litmus test to Wendy Davis and many Democrats, and disqualifying for White.

If only he could be more like Ralph Northam, the Democratic candidate for governor of Virginia, which votes Tuesday.

But wait.

From Michael Tomasky  at the Daily Beast


The Most Self-Righteous Political Act of 2017 Just Took Place in the VA Governor’s Race

Democracy for America chose to un-endorse Ralph Northam over an entirely hypothetical issue. Is there any wonder why people can’t stand the left?

The left-wing firing squad is back.

The geniuses at Democracy for America, the organization that grew out of Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential campaign, have un-endorsed (without ever having actually endorsed him in the first place) Virginia Democratic gubernatorial nominee Ralph Northam over a recent flip-flop on sanctuary cities. 

It’s the most appallingly self-righteous and idiotic thing that’s happened in American politics this year. And this has been a year filled with self-righteous and idiotic things.

Northam once cast a crucial vote against a bill banning sanctuary cities in Virginia. He did so because, he explained, there were no sanctuary cities in Virginia. Republican Ed Gillespie, once a country-club Yankee Republican now trying to reincarnate himself as Jeff Sessions, has been hammering him on it. So Northam flipped.

Though he has said he opposes sanctuary cities, this past week he conceded that he’d sign a bill banning them. It’s cowardly. It’s probably bad politics, too. It’s better politics to take your lumps and turn it into a character issue by proving that you have a backbone. People respect that even if they disagree with your position.

But we’re five days away from an election. A hugely important election, where there is an incredible amount at stake.

1. A Gillespie win would be a big victory for Donald Trump—and, given the kind of race-baiting and Confederate-statue worshipping and immigrant-bashing campaign Gillespie has run, for Trumpism and Bannonism.

2. It would be a huge defeat for a reeling Democratic Party, which really needs this win to put a little wind in its sails heading into next year.

3. A Gillespie win would give the GOP total political control in Virginia, assuming neither state house flips. That’s one more state capital with ne checks on a hyper-conservative agenda, which will include the redistricting process that comes after the next census, in the third year of the next governor’s term.

4. Oh, and this would make Virginia the 33rd state fully in GOP hands. You know how many states are needed to agree on a constitutional convention? Thirty-four. If you haven’t read much about Republicans’ ideas about what a constitutional convention would accomplish, you’d better.

So, in the view of some of those on the left, Northam was not a profile in courage on sanctuary cities.

But, neither was House Speaker Joe Straus.

Castro on Sunday said that while he likes and admires Straus, Straus buckled on SB 4 – the ban on sanctuary cities.


Joe held off a lot of legislation that would have not only hurt the Latino community but many communities, but when he had to choose it was the anti-Latino legislation in SB 4 that he allowed to go through. Now why is that? One reason is that the  knows that is the reddest of red meat for that constituency. He knew, that is the one that I am going to get out of the way

Davis said that when it comes to choosing Sraus’ successor as speaker in 2019, no Democrat should vote for any Republican who voted for the Schaefer amendment – what Democrats called the show me your papers amendment.

Here, from Sunday, is  Andrew White on Sanctuary Cities

Show me your papers

“Put your hands up.” Put them up. 

“Don’t move.” Don’t move. 

Usually when a police officer says do something, most of us listen. Not our Governor. 

Police chiefs in six major cities told Governor Abbott: “Don’t sign the Sanctuary Cities law.” These chiefs knew that saying, “show me your papers” to Hispanic people would end the close, trusting relationships that took years to build. Gov. Abbott did it anyway.

Local police fight crime, not illegal immigration. Border patrol agents fight illegal immigration. That’s how law enforcement works.

But our governor, who says he’s against “over-reaching government,” now decides he must sign state laws that handcuff local police into doing the work of federal authorities. 

“Gov. Abbott’s law reduces crime reporting, which makes our cities more dangerous.”

That’s not supporting local law enforcement. That’s playing politics. The Sanctuary Cities law is a “Made for TV” issue, perfect for 200,000 fringe voters. It’s playing to the conspiracy crowd.

According to Houston’s police chief, sexual assault reports by Hispanics dropped by over 40% because witnesses were afraid to be detained by immigration. The simple fact is Gov. Abbott’s law reduces crime reporting, which makes our cities more dangerous.

Let’s be clear. The Sanctuary Cities law means that when Hispanic-Americans get pulled over in a state that’s nearly 39% Hispanic, they’ll be asked to show their papers more often than ever. But, when people who look like me get pulled over, they probably won’t even be asked. That’s discrimination. Pure and simple. And that’s not right.

We have the power to fix this. I’ll end this nonsense.

It would appear he would pass that litmus test, but, well, it’s too late for him because he flunked the abortion litmus test.

But Democrats still have their sleeping giant. Actually, sleeping giants, according to a new analysis from Ed Espinoza of Progress Texas:

Analysis: New Voters in 2016 contributed to increased margins
for Democrats over Republicans by 5-to-1
 Austin, TX — A Progress Texas analysis of Texas voter turnout in the 2016 election shows that new voter growth contributed to increasing support for Democrats over Republicans by a margin of 5-to-1.
The analysis focuses on the state’s 20 most populous counties and measured growth in support for presidential candidates in each county from 2012 to 2016. The analysis is part of a new project entitled Special Report: Flipping Texas in 2018.
“Texas is one of the fastest growing states in America and, over the past decade, the growing electorate has increased the Democratic vote by more than 1,000,000 compared to 150,000 for Republicans,” said Ed Espinoza, Executive Director of Progress Texas. “Democrats are making up ground statewide while Republicans are at a relative stand still.”
Progress Texas concludes that these new voters demonstrate that there are Two Sleeping Giant in Texas – the Latino one, and the growth of new progressive voters who are moving to the state. Combined, these constituencies are making notable changes in the electorate. While these audiences are growing the Republican vote has been virtually stagnant.
“More than 1.8 million new voters went to the polls last year fueled largely by 1.4 million Millennial and Generation X voters,” added Espinoza. “These are voters who clearly do not support the divisive politics pushed by Donald Trump and Texas Republicans alike.”
The report also analyzes drop-off voting trends from presidential to midterm elections and projects that the 2018 election will produce 2.8 million votes for Republicans and 2.3 million votes for Democrats. That 500,000 vote gap could potentially be overcome by turning out progressive-minded voters among those 1.4 million Millennials and Gen-X new voters.
Perhaps, but political neophyte Andrew White’s wisdom is that the Democratic Party in 2018 might be better off trying to appeal to those people who reliably vote than depend on those who need to be stirred from their slumber.

 In order to win in Texas, with the electorate as it is, Democrats need to win about 36 percent of the white vote. Davis in 2014 won a little more than a quarter of the white vote.

In her book, Turning Texas Blue: What It Will Take to Break the GOP Grip on America’s Reddest State, Mary Beth Rogers, a Democratic strategist who ran Ann Richards campaign for governor in 1990, the last successful Democratic campaign for governor in Texas, recounted some of the lessons from Wendy Davis” 2014 campaign, which ended in a twenty-point loss to Abbott:

  Lesson Five: The campaign never had a strategy to reach white voters. In there canvassing, Battleground Texas volunteers were supposed to classify voters into three categories: (1) off the table; (2) hard but persuadable; and (3) on board. If voters were Anglo, the assumption that they were probably “off the table,” meaning that they might be difficult to persuade to vote for Davis and probably not worth the time or effort to pursue.
Even though Davis had always considered white, pro-choice women likely source of others, there was never a distinct strategy to win them other use. While Planned Parenthood’s PAC,sent $2.6 million to target identified pro-choice voters, the Davis campaign never developed an effective strategy to to reach Anglo women for whom abortion might not have been a primary issue. As a result, white voters were basically ignored. Given the fact that exit polling that white voters in non presidential election years still averaged 65 percent of the vote, how can you write off two-thirds of the voters and still expect to win?
Successful ventures to not ignore two-thirds of their potential audience.

From my story in today’s Statesman.

 Despite disaffection with Trump and the possibility that Democrats could benefit from a “wave election” in 2018, Castro acknowledged that, in Texas, “it has been a tough cycle to recruit candidates” for the statewide ticket, with both Castro and his twin brother, Joaquín, passing on a run for statewide office in 2018.

“My brother thought about running for Senate (against U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz) but decided not to and (U.S. Rep.) Beto O’Rourke (D-El Paso) is doing a great job,” Castro said, of putting himself into position to win if there is a big Democratic wave nationally that carries into Texas.

Joaquín Castro also passed on running for governor.

“He’s not” running, his brother said.

Smith asked if that’s 100 percent, and Julián Castro replied that, “as much as we like to think we’re the same person, we’re actually two different people, so, I can only rule him out 99 percent.”

Castro shared the Voto Latino stage with former state Sen. Wendy Davis.

When Smith asked Davis, who lost to Gov. Greg Abbott in 2014 by 20 points, whether she might run for governor again in 2018, she replied, “I rule it out 99 percent.”

Why leave a one percent chance she might run, Smith asked.

“Because no one’s stepping forward,” Davis said.

So far, three candidates — Jeffrey Payne of Dallas, Tom Wakely of San Antonio and Garry Brown of Austin — have announced their intention to run for the Democratic nomination for governor.

Andrew White, the son of former Democratic Gov. Mark White, who died in August, is exploring the possibility of a candidacy, but in a Facebook post last week, Davis wrote the White’s “anti-choice” position on abortion made him unacceptable as the party’s nominee: “Uhh – no. Just no.”

Castro, meanwhile, said he will decide by the end of 2018 whether to run for president in 2020, which apparently is seen as a more realistic ambition than to be elected a Democratic governor of Texas.

Hey, Matthew, Sandra, Willie, wanna buy a paper?

Copy of photo in Statesman publishers office – Franki Trlica, Paperboy 1929
Jno P. Trlica, PhotographerGood morning Austin:

Good day Austin.

We learned yesterday that Cox Enterprises has put the Austin American-Statesman up for sale.

Not the incalculably valuable waterfront property by the bat bridge on which the newspaper building sits. That is already spoken for by the Cox family. But the paper itself — which is worth less.

Not worthless. Hardly. The Austin American-Statesman is a truly terrific paper that does Austin proud, day after day.

It’s priceless.

It’s just, in the open market, worth less, a lot less, than the land it occupies.

That seems wrong. What has the land done to be so valuable? It just sits there.

But the paper is a scene of perpetual, tireless creative  effort.

I don’t know what the future holds, but, if past is prologue, for me, I’m cautiously pessimistic.

My last job was with the New Orleans Times-Picayune, another great and beloved  paper, that in 2012 cut back to publishing three days a week, laid off a couple hundred employees, including me. I was told I was a superb reporter, and they couldn’t use me anymore.

That brought me to Austin five years ago, Dec. 1, and it’s been great. But I imagine the next owners may look at a 63-year-old man who stays up all night writing 5,000-word blog posts as an oddity they can do without.

I came home last night and told my wife the news, and that I wasn’t sure what to do.

She advised me to “think outside the box.”

Sound, if trite, advice.

But, as the World Series resumed, I thought outside the box.

Altuve, I thought. José Altuve.

Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve, left, talks with left fielder Marwin Gonzalez during batting practice for baseball s World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Monday in Los Angeles.

What a great guy.

Baseball players make a lot of  money, more than they possibly can know what to do with, so why shouldn’t José Altuve buy the Statesman?

I know he’s with the Houston Astros and Houston’s going through a lot of stuff that might prove a more compelling object of Altuve’s charity, but what really scotched the idea was when I looked up Altuve’s salary.

What I found was unbelievable. A scandal.

Jose Altuve, three-time winner of the American League batting title, almost certainly this year’s Most Valuable Player, earns only $4.5 million a year. He is only the 12th best-paid player on the Astros’ payroll. Justin Verlander, at $28 million, earns more than six times as much as José Altuve.

From ESPN:

1 Justin Verlander 28,000,000
2 Brian McCann 17,000,000
3 Carlos Beltran 16,000,000
4 Yuli Gurriel 14,000,000
5 Josh Reddick 13,000,000
Francisco Liriano 13,000,000
7 Dallas Keuchel 9,150,000
8 Cameron Maybin 9,000,000
9 Charlie Morton 7,000,000
10 Luke Gregerson 6,250,000
11 Evan Gattis 5,200,000
12 Jose Altuve 4,500,000

This is a travesty. José Altuve doesn’t even make enough money in a year to buy the Austin American-Statesman.

Carlos Beltran, who makes a more respectable $16 million a year, is a good guy. If he bought the Statesman I could even forget all about how Beltran in 2006, as a New York Met, watched an Adam Wainwright curveball for a called third strike with the bases loaded, ending Game 7 with the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Championship Series.

But Beltran has devoted extraordinary time and money to helping his native Puerto Rico, so it makes no sense to distract him.

And he also has nothing to do with Austin that I know of.

Now Cubs ace Jake Arrieta. He still lives in Austin, right, and he’s coming into a really big payday.

CHICAGO, IL – OCTOBER 18: Jake Arrieta #49 of the Chicago Cubs acknowledges the crowd after being relieved in the seventh inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers during game four of the National League Championship Series at Wrigley Field on October 18, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

From Bleacher Report:

This winter, Arrieta will test free agency. Someone will reward him handsomely, and unless the Cubs are willing to pay the market rate for an ace—$100-plus million—he’ll be hurling baseballs in a new city.

What we need is someone in Austin or with a deep affection or connection with Austin to buy the paper. There are some very rich business folks, but there is a danger that someone with decided interests in what government does, might seek to influence the paper’s coverage, and leave the public wondering.

So, what we need is for that someone to have a lot of money that doesn’t depend on things the Statesman writes about.

Like Matthew McConaughey.

Austin resident celebrity Matthew McConaughey donated his time on Thanksgiving Day to deliver hot meals to clients of Meals on Wheels Central Texas. The group is one of many seeking donations during the holiday season. Ralph Barrera / Austin American-StatesmanMcConaugheyMcConaugheMcConaughey i

McConaughey is embedded in Austin culture and identity.

Right now, a traffic message on a road leading to downtown reads:  “Do you use your blinker? It would be a lot cooler if you did,”

According to the website, Celebrity Net Worth, Matthew is worth a cool $95 million. Now, we’re getting somewhere.

He seems like he’d be someone who thinks Austin ought to have a daily newspaper.

And, with him as our  owner, we could put up billboards all over town and on the sides of buses, and what not, that showed Matthew enjoying his morning cup of coffee and his Statesman, with the words: “Do you  read the Statesman? It would be a lot cooler if you did.”

Or, how about Sandra Bullock?

Billy Bob Thornton and Sandra Bullock star in Austin director David Gordon Green’s “Our Brand Is Crisis.”

According to Celebrity Net Worth, Bullock is worth $200 million. (Jose Altuve definitely needs to get in touch with her agent.)

Now $200 million is the kind of money that would allow Bullock to buy the paper and keep it going until she is old and I am older.

And, Bullock has done one film in which she played a newspaper columnist. From TV Tropes:

Not to be confused with the Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later, 28 Days finds Sandra Bullock playing a drunk and disorderly newspaper columnist sent away to a rehab facility to sober up. Although she’s initially resistant to the program, Bullock eventually sees the light and admits to herself she has a problem that won’t go away without help. Viggo Mortensen co-stars as a major league baseball player and fellow rehab center patient who connects with Bullock on an emotional level.

Willie Nelson would probably be the coolest owner. I know he was dead broke and owed the IRS a lot of money he forgot to pay them some years ago.

04/22/17 Suzanne Cordeiro/ for American-Statesman Willie Nelson performs onstage at the Whitewater Amphitheater in New Braunfels, Texas.

But he’s back. According to People With Money from January, the “84-year-old Willie Nelson has taken the No. 1 spot on People With Money’s top 10 highest-paid guitarists for 2017 with an estimated $75 million in combined earnings.”

Nelson had a song that came out earlier this year — Delete and Fast Forward Again — that seemed studded with potential newspaper maxims.

Delete and fast-forward, my son
The elections are over and nobody won
You think it’s all endin’ but it’s just settin’ in
So delete and fast-forward, my friend

Delete and fast-forward again
It’s just one big circle and it’s beginning to end
What’s next was now and what’s now is now again
So delete and fast-forward again

Delete and fast-forward the news
The truth is the truth, but believe what you choose
When we blow the whole world back to where it began
Just delete and fast-forward again

The sale of the Statesman comes at a time when the press is under what seems unprecedented assault, starting at the top.

Meanwhile, right here in Austin, Alex Jones has a vast audience, the ear of the president and is making money hand over fist from the sale of Caveman, the Ultimate In True Paleo Nutrition with Bone Broth, Turmeric Root, Chaga Mushroom, Bee Pollen, and other Ancient Supernutrients, and the like.

I’m thinking that in this new media environment, Matthew, Sandra and Willie may be too laid back.

Maybe the best buyer would be someone like the Texas Rattlesnake — Stone Cold Steven Austin — who is reportedly worth $45 million.

And think of the branding opportunities.

That’s right, I’m ready to write for the Stone Cold Steve Austin American-Statesman.