If we didn’t know better, we’d be inclined to say the Bernie Sanders campaign’s breach of proprietary Clinton campaign data — a stunt that prompted a rare blow-up Friday in an otherwise sleepy race — was just a clever piece of agitprop. Earlier in the week, Team Sanders took advantage of a lapse by the vendor that provides both campaigns access to the Democratic Party’s digital voter files to snoop on their rival. But when the Democratic National Committee announced Friday it was denying the Sanders organization access to the entire system until it sorted through what happened, his team launched an offensive. Sanders chief Jeff Weaver, in a midday press conference, accused the DNC of conspiring to help Clinton squelch her stiffest challenger; and his camp followed up Friday evening by suing the party in federal court to regain use of its own info. That, despite the fact that the Sanders people acknowledged their culpability by firing their national data director.
The Sanders candidacy — staked on the appeal of the iconoclast’s integrity, on top of his lefty program — hasn’t covered itself in glory here. But the episode highlights a legitimate gripe. The DNC is staging its third debate of the season tonight, the second in a row on a Saturday night. (Evidently the 3 am slot New Years Eve on the Hallmark channel was already booked.) Sanders does not pose the peril he did two months ago, at the time of the first debate. Back then, the specter of Clinton’s email scandal still loomed, Vice President Joe Biden was circling, and Sanders was leading in New Hampshire, surging in Iowa, and packing stadiums across the map. Now, Clinton has retired those threats. Her support floats steadily above the crucial 50% mark in both early states and nationally. Barring a supernatural intervention, she will win the Democratic nomination. If anything, though, that makes the apparently heavy-handed collusion between her campaign and the DNC look all the more paranoid.
While Clinton shadowboxes, Republicans are self-immolating in a Royal Rumble. Eventually, however, one of them will emerge, bruised but perhaps not broken, and the truly consequential fight will commence.
Apologies for a mistake in yesterday’s note: Theranos is waiting for approval from the FDA, not the FTC.
• Obama plots a 2016 downshift
As President Obama eyes his valedictory year, the second half of his self-described fourth quarter, he’s planning an agenda around the race to succeed him that will increasingly suck attention away from his office. That means considerably trimming his ambitions for new accomplishments and replacing them with efforts to shore up his landmark accomplishments (think Obamacare and the recently-forged global climate agreement) and trying to highlight issues that will boost the Democratic presidential nominee. Yet his aides aren’t ruling out some surprises. “Our goal is to do some things that are unexpected,” one says. Politico
• Cruz’s theory finds some grist in New Hampshire, with big asterisks
To hear Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s theory of the Republican presidential contest, the conservative firebrand stands poised to emerge his party’s nominee because the candidates crowding the moderate lane will end up bunched in a traffic snarl (with apologies to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie). In New Hampshire, home to the second primary event, one new poll partially bears out his argument. The Boston Herald survey finds four establishment-friendly contenders — Christie, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio — all pulling in roughly ten percent each. The problem for Cruz is that so far, he isn’t fairing much better, while national frontrunner Donald Trump soars above the field with backing from more than a quarter of the GOP electorate. The Hill
• Here we go again: Another foreign government hack of U.S. networks
Evidence of a major security breach at Juniper Networks, the computer network company, has federal officials concerned that a foreign government has hacked encrypted government communications for the past three years. So-called backdoors in computer equipment appear to have enabled the latest cyber incursion - the equivalent, according to one official, of “stealing a master key to get into any government building.” The sophistication behind the attack implicates a foreign government, with China and Russia topping the list of suspects, though officials so far are refraining from pointing any fingers. It’s likewise not yet clear what information may have been compromised. CNN
Around the Water Cooler
• Jeb’s brother pinch hits for him with nervous donors
It’s been a while since Jeb Bush, the onetime heavy in the Republican presidential race, could point to evidence supporting the notion he’ll reemerge from the pack to claim the GOP’s title. His brother, George W. Bush, nevertheless is hoisting the flag. In a call with Jeb’s beleaguered finance team, the former president expressed confidence that the candidate is “peaking at the right time.” Don’t tell that to all the polls showing Jeb flirting with obsolescence. The official line remains that once voters buckle down to make a decision, they’ll opt for someone with a proven record of leadership. That, of course, assumes a lot, including that voters will revert to past patterns and that Jeb will the beneficiary. New York Times
• Ryan passes a big early test, with a cost
Staring down the barrel of another government shutdown, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) managed Friday to coral the votes necessary to pass a massive spending package to keep the government operating for the rest of its fiscal year. The vote represented a major test for the newly-installed House leader. But that he passed it doesn’t necessarily spell an end to the intraparty strife that made basic duties of the job a constant challenge for his predecessor, John Boehner. Indeed, Boehner ran up bigger margins on two similar votes in the past two years, despite a rockier relationship with the chamber’s hard-right fringe. That Ryan’s own side supplied him with less than three-quarters of the margin necessary for passage means that Democrats will continue to exert considerable leverage in the chamber — a dynamic that will require Ryan to keep cutting deals with the minority, arguably costing him goodwill in his own conference over time. Washington Post
• Ryan deal achieves oil industry priority by lifting export ban
The deal Ryan helped engineer includes a major policy change, lifting the 40-year-old ban on the U.S. export of oil. Overturning the policy will almost certainly raise oil prices, which is why the industry fought hard for it. But consumers aren’t likely to feel it at the pump, at least in the short term. For that, American drivers can thank the shale boom. The explanation lies in the way the glut of domestic supply relates to an interconnected global oil market. And, perhaps somewhat counterintuitively, some industry experts predict the policy change will eventually spur an even greater investment in domestic production. Fortune