Jason Witten, VFL, Returns to the Dallas Cowboys

Jason Witten

Jason Witten is perhaps my favorite VFL (Vol for Life, for the unacquainted).  Witten is an all around great guy who is tough as nails, is productive on the field, and plays the game the right way.  A lot of people were caught off-guard when the Cowboys made an announcement this afternoon:

I don’t think anyone would be offended if I say here Witten was just not working out with MNF.  I think this is a win for everyone, and I hope it works out.  For Witten, he evidently still has a desire to play.  The Cowboys are an exciting young team that have the potential to do better, and Witten can help them out.  He’s a great veteran presence, and this has the potential to be the best team he’s ever been a part of.

For the Cowboys, they needed more targets for Dak Prescott.  Their passing game was a mess before acquiring Amari Cooper last year.  Their offense was still missing a middle of the field, mid-range guy, though.  You can hardly ask for a better guy to get open and move the ball 10-15 yards downfield than Jason Witten.  Witten helps complete this offense and takes pressure off Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, and Amari Cooper for making the Dallas offense work.

For Monday Night Football, this is a chance at a fresh start.  They have an opportunity to look at a variety of different options and see what works best.  My advice would be to either (a) offer the Analyst role to Kurt Warner, who has done well in the role on NFL Network when given the chance, or (b) simply move Booger McFarland to the booth, since he seemed to do well last year.  Either of those would be good option.

I believe Jason Witten will come back refreshed and ready to help the Cowboys.  Under wildly different circumstances, think about what a season off from Football did for Adrian Peterson several years ago.  After being suspended for all but one game of the 2014 season, he came back in 2015 and was first-team all-pro.  While Jason Witten is not a RB, he’s nonetheless a very physical player who has taken his share of contact.  A year off is not necessarily a bad thing for him, and he’ll come back in time to benefit a Dallas team that needs him to get back to the next level.  Welcome back, Jason Witten, and I’ll be rooting for the Cowboys to win the NFC this year.

Bryce Harper Signs with the Phillies

After a long, drawn out off-season, Bryce Harper has finally signed.  It’s a doozy of a deal at 13 years, $330 million total.  After much speculation that the Dodgers were on their heels ready to pounce, it turns out the Phillies were able to get a deal done.

I’m split on how to feel about this as a Braves fan.  Bryce Harper is definitely a very good player, and the Phillies have improved more than any team in Baseball this season.  I was hoping Harper would go out to the West Coast or the AL to avoid him.  While I’m not as down on Alex Anthopoulos as some are, I’m a little annoyed that the Braves haven’t done more after dramatically increasing revenue in consecutive years and being told we would be able to shop in any aisle this off-season.  The one big splash they made was at what I would assess as their 4th biggest position of need entering the off-season (OF, Starting P, and Relief P rank higher than 3B).  While there’s still a chance the Braves go out and get Craig Kimbrel or Dallas Keuchel, it appears the Braves still let themselves get outgunned by every both the Phillies and Mets when there was absolutely no reason to let that happen as reigning Division Champions.

On the other hand, it’s important to keep things in perspective.  While it’s only 1 year, a healthy Josh Donaldson is probably going to play better than Bryce Harper.  And while it’s only a 1 year deal, a 1 year deal is better than a 13 year deal.  The Phillies are going to be around half-way through this deal just as Acuna, Albies, Swanson, and whichever young Pitchers pan out are hitting their prime.  Most of these long-term deals have gone sour for the teams signing them well before the end of the contract, and I doubt this is an exception.  While the Phillies are big-market spenders, this contract will most likely limit their options for building their roster going forward.  Those are all hopeful points for Braves fans.

Harper is presumably going to be a short-term boon to the Phillies.  That roster is stacked and will be difficult to compete with.  At the same time, the Braves will still be able to compete, and having the Phillies stuck with this contract for years to come could eventually be helpful.  That said, it would still be prudent for the Braves to shore up their Pitching depth before the season starts in order to be in a position to improve on their impressive season last year and make a deeper run in October.

Larry Hogan Came Out as Pro-Choice. That’s a Non-Starter for a Republican Primary.

Larry Hogan

As discussion continues concerning a potential Republican Primary challenge to Donald Trump, the name that continues to be mentioned is Larry Hogan.  It isn’t without reason: He’s one of the most popular Governors in the country and doesn’t have anywhere else on the political ladder to land.  His largest issue, as David Byler recently examined in the Washington Post, is whether he would appeal to Conservative Republican voters nationwide after governing as a Centrist in Maryland.

A smart candidate in this situation would begin to examine how best to appeal to the Right. As Byler’s data analysis clearly shows, a candidate will not be competitive with Trump simply running from the Center without winning over some Conservatives in the process.  Hogan evidently ignored this memo.  In a sit-down with the New York Times this weekend, he was asked his views on Abortion.  This is how the Times describes it:

And asked whether he believed Roe v. Wade, which made abortion legal nationwide, had been correctly decided by the court, Mr. Hogan replied in the affirmative: “I think so.”

Running as a pro-Roe candidate in a Republican Presidential primary is a quick path to irrelevancy.  Rudy Giuliani was the last candidate to attempt this, and he was never able to gain traction while dropping out very early in the race.  Past candidates without strong convictions on the issue, such as Donald Trump, Mitt Romney, John McCain were nonetheless prudent enough to move Right on the issue before running for President.

Besides Trump, the most successful candidates in recent memory to do well in Republican Presidential Primaries while often challenging the anointed front-runner (as Hogan would be doing) did so from a strong pro-life base of support.  This would include Ted Cruz in 2016, Rick Santorum in 2012, and Mike Huckabee in 2008.  Even Ronald Reagan, who Hogan would be seeking to follow the example of in challenging a sitting President, was pro-life by the 1976 election and used the issue to distinguish himself from the pro-choice Gerald Ford.  Nobody is going to mistake Hogan for Reagan, Cruz, Huckabee, or Santorum, but he at a minimum needed to start making inroads with the Conservative portion of the party.

What is more baffling about Hogan’s statement is that as the Times mentions, he has previously said he is personally pro-life.  He very easily could have decided to tell the Times that he is personally pro-life, has been forced to work with a Democratic majority in the Maryland legislature, and that on the National level would appoint Constitutionalist judges while working to defund Planned Parenthood and reduce Abortions.  That would have been a first step towards appealing to Republican primary voters without outright flip-flopping.

Hogan, for whatever reason, actually decided to move left on the issue by affirming Roe v. Wade.  This position is no different from that of Democrats, most notably 2016 Vice Presidential Nominee Tim Kaine, who claim to be personally pro-life and yet continue to defend Abortion-on-demand.  Who Hogan received this advice from is unknown, but it is a colossal misstep that will be revisited frequently if the Governor decides to enter the race.

Making the decision to shift left on Abortion even worse is that pro-life Republican voters who view overturning Roe as a high priority are not inevitable Donald Trump voters in a contested primary.  Looking at the numbers, these are voters broke for Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Ben Carson at rates higher than the Republican primary electorate at large during the 2016 primary.  While Evangelicals may have supported Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton in 2016, that doesn’t mean all Evangelicals have forgotten about Trump’s decidedly immoral lifestyle, or that some wouldn’t consider voting against him in a primary again under the right circumstances.

Furthermore, since getting elected, Trump has done little to push the Republican congress towards defunding Planned Parenthood or passing a pain-capable Abortion ban.  Both of these issues are pro-life priorities that went nowhere during a 2-year period in which Republicans controlled the White House and Congress.  There is room to attack Donald Trump from the pro-life position that virtually all Republican primary voters hold, and it is completely illogical that the current most-likely challenger to Trump has no desire to take this opportunity.

There is a very narrow path towards competing with Donald Trump in a Republican Primary.  It involves winning over many different groups of voters, and is a delicate balancing act.  Pro-choice Republican voters are nowhere near the forefront of these groups.  If pro-choice Republican primary voters are a major portion of a candidate’s base, then like it or not, that candidate will not receive enough of the vote to be remotely competitive.

By coming out in favor of Roe v. Wade, Larry Hogan has predestined that he will immediately be met by fire from Social Conservative groups and pro-life figures who may have been willing to hold back, listen, or work with him otherwise.  If that happens and he finds himself unable to get traction if he enters the race, he will have no one to blame but himself for needlessly and haphazardly running against one of the Republican Party’s most important constituencies.

Marco Rubio Has Gone Too Far

Marco Rubio has been at the forefront of the movement pushing the United States to intervene in Venezuela to remove Nicolas Maduro. While there is growing consensus that Maduro needs to leave office, what that looks like and what role, if any, the United States and International community has in encouraging that result is debatable.

What Marco Rubio did today goes far beyond that debate. I would rather not link to it because of its distasteful image, but the Senator tweeted a picture of Maduro followed by a picture of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi when he was captured by Libyan forces opposed to his government.

First, let’s state the somewhat obvious: Both Maduro and Gaddafi are bad people who inflicted cruelties on their citizens. That’s a problem, and it’s not wrong to want to see better leadership in those countries. What Rubio is insinuating by trying to draw a line between these two cases, though, is morally and pragmatically wrong.

As a Country, one of our founding principles is due process. Our constitution enshrines the right to a fair trial and certain protections under our legal system, even if someone has committed heinous wrongs. You will never see me standing up for our intervention in Iraq, but look at what happened to Saddam Hussein once he was captured by U.S. forces. He was granted a trial in Iraq, and was only executed after being rightly found guilty of crimes that, in the judgment of the court, warranted the death penalty. Extrajudicial vigilantism without due process, such as happened to Gaddafi, is never something we should encourage. This is especially true when the act is happening by the side of a conflict that, rightly or wrongly, the United States is perceived to be supporting. We should never want to lose our moral standing, even when launched into the middle of conflicts against despots.

It’s not just our moral standing that makes this a horrible statement from the Senator, though. For Rubio, this decision makes it very harder to encourage the United States and the International community to make decisions to attempt to force Maduro’s hand. I personally don’t think we should intervene in Venezuela beyond economic means and diplomacy. If you’re Rubio, though, and you are attempting to persuade decision makers, the worst message you can send is that Venezuelan intervention would be the 2nd Libya, only in the Western Hemisphere. Libya has largely gotten worse since Gaddafi was removed from office. Lawless radicals control the country, and no respect for human rights exists. If you’re a Republican in the United States trying to increase pressure on the Venezuelan government, your worst message is that Venezuela will fall into unmanageable chaos, quality of life will decrease, and instability will trigger an even greater migratory crisis at our Southern border. By comparing this case to Libya, that is essentially the message being sent.

Beyond the impact on decision-makers, though, Rubio’s recklessness also harms the situation inside Venezuela. His tweet essentially sends the message that the United States government wishes to see Maduro executed in the worst way possible. This dissuades his government from being potentially receptive to a diplomatic solution, and sends the message that war is inevitable. This will lead the government to purse greater harms against civilians and anyone perceived to be with the opposition in order to attempt to strengthen their situation. Life will become worse for the people of Venezuela, all because of one hothead Senator.

Nicolas Maduro is not a good leader, and all of us should be hoping for a peaceful transfer of power to new leadership in Venezuela. Rubio’s message today, though, makes that significantly less likely. We must not let anti-democratic forces elsewhere cause to lose our democratic values, and we must do our best to avoid a 2nd Libya happening in Venezuela. Hopefully more responsible leaders of all political stripes in our government will take heed and implement responsible policy and messaging to attempt to bring the best possible result in a bad situation.

Ole Miss Basketball is getting Unnecessary Criticism

While kneeling has become somewhat prominent in Professional leagues, it has mostly stayed out of College Sports. One notable exception occurred today. Several members of Ole Miss’ Men’s Basketball team kneeled during the anthem.

https://mobile.twitter.com/overtime/status/1099419946742890498

A lot of people have been ignoring the context. Basically, the KKK and several neo-Confederate groups scheduled a protest for today. Part of this occurred on the campus of Ole Miss. Administration at Ole Miss had little in the way of the response. It essentially amounted to “avoid them”. Telling African-American students that they shouldn’t move freely on their own campus that they are paying to attend is not a comprehensive response.

In general, I think kneeling as a response to injustice is perfectly appropriate, whether it’s in regards to police brutality or neo-Confederate rallys in Mississippi. But specifically examining the response to today’s incident, the contrast between the response to the Neo-Confederates and the response to Ole Miss Basketball is stark. Lots of the response was that people were going to boycott Ole Miss. I don’t remember the response being that sharp to the NFL following its lax penalties for Domestic Violence. Clay Travis (aka Walmart Skip Bayless) said that the SEC has a big problem now. Did the SEC not have a big problem with a Neo-Confederate rally taking place on the campus of one of its member institutions?

What people choose to deem problematic or react to is extremely revealing. Even if you have problems with kneeling in general, it’s easy to understand why these young men at Ole Miss would choose to respond to these specific circumstances. We should have empathy for them and seek to create an environment free of White Supremacy, not melt down whenever African-Americans choose to make a statement about the world as it is today.

Manny Machado to the Padres

We are finally half-way through the Big 2 free agents signing.  Machado agreed to a 10 year/$300 million deal.  I imagine California taxes eat into a lot of that, but on the other hand, he gets to live in San Diego.

As a Braves fan, I’m happy to have him out of the NL East.  Now, we just need Bryce Harper to end up elsewhere.  Supposedly the White Sox were more interested in Machado, but there’s a chance the Padres add Harper as well.  The Giants are supposedly fading, but still in contention for Harper as well.  Honestly, I wouldn’t be too disappointed if he resigned with the Nationals.  I mostly just don’t want him to stack the Phillies.

Speaking of the Braves, Spring Training has started and the first games are this weekend! Touki Toussaint and Kolby Allard are each getting a couple of innings in the first game, and Mike Foltynewicz and Bryse Wilson get a couple each on Sunday.  It’s go time!

Carly Fiorina is the Right Answer to the Trump Primary Question

Fiorina

Late last week, Former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld announced the formation of an exploratory committee to consider challenging Donald Trump in a Republican Primary.  There is some evidence that there is a block of Republican primary voters who might be interested in a Trump alternative.  There is no evidence Bill Weld is the alternative they are looking for.

Nationally, a recent ABC News poll says 32% of Republicans nationally want a nominee other than Trump.  In Iowa, per a CNN/Des Moines Register poll in December, 29% of Republicans would either definitely vote for or consider a Trump alternative, while 63% say they would welcome a contested primary.  Additionally, in New Hampshire, an NHJournal poll has Mitt Romney already pulling 24% against Trump if they went head-to-head.  While it would be difficult, it is plausible that the right candidate could be competitive in a primary and, at a minimum, chart a course for what the GOP should be post-Trump.

There are several candidates who have shown interest in a run, and Weld has officially announced, but it’s unlikely any of them will be able to compete with President Trump.  Bill Weld, Larry Hogan, and John Kasich among others are to the left of the Republican Party as a whole, and are unlikely to unite all of its disparate elements.  Carly Fiorina is one of the few people who would be able to launch a credible challenge to President Trump from the Right and for whom it would make sense to launch a campaign.

First, Fiorina has a positive message she can run on to balance concerns she has about Trump.  In her 2016 campaign and her outside speeches and foundation, she consistently advocated for good leadership focused on creating opportunities for people and unlocking their potential.  That’s a compelling vision of governance that rivals anything seen from any Presidential candidate of either party since President Obama’s 2008 campaign.  Bill Weld doesn’t have a compelling message he can run on.  At the same time, Fiorina has shown a willingness to criticize Trump on issues she finds important and has unique authority to speak on, including Trump’s “horseface” comments and his attacks on the Federal Reserve.  She is in a better position than any potential 2020 candidate to balance a positive vision and platform with criticism of President Trump.

One problem that results from many potential challengers not having a compelling positive message is that when they have to provide a platform, they are tacking from the left.  For example, John Kasich’s main identity as a political figure at this point is being anti-Trump.  Because of this, he has taken up a number of positions, from opposing pro-life legislation to speaking out for gun control, that not only oppose Trump, but oppose the Republican Party platform that predates Trump.  John Kasich, Larry Hogan, and Bill Weld would all be presenting primary challenges from the left, which the Republican Party has no appetite for.

Carly Fiorina would be able to present a credible challenge to President Trump from the right.  She is pro-life, against Common Core, and anti-ACA.  Additionally, she is a political outsider who negates the President’s argument that we need a businessperson and not a politician as President.  Fiorina’s ability to credibly run against the President while running alongside the Republican Party as a whole gives her more plausible paths to victory, while opening up the ability to attack the President for failing to implement Conservative reforms such as defunding Planned Parenthood and repealing Obamacare.

While Fiorina is a Conservative outsider, though, she is capable of appealing to different elements of the Party that few others can.  As David Byler mentions in his recent, excellent Washington Post article, President Trump won the Republican nomination in 2016 with a minority.  A candidate who can unite Rubio, Cruz, Carson, and Kasich voters can present a serious challenge to Trump.  Throughout the 2016 campaign, Fiorina was generally well-liked within all elements of the Republican Party.  She is a Conservative who has credibility with the Right and yet is viewed as a serious person by the more Centrist, Suburban parts of the Party as well.  Bill Weld or any other challenger from the left is not going to win over voters who, in 2016, voted for Cruz, Carson, or Rubio.  Fiorina possesses Name ID and starts with credibility among all groups that would be harder to deflate than a candidate without national Name ID or who ran against the Right.

Because of all of these factors, I believe that Carly Fiorina is the candidate with the highest probability of success if she ran against Trump in a primary.  Furthermore, Carly Fiorina’s best option if she wants to be involved in politics going forward would be to run against Trump.  Being President is a difficult job, and not all political figures want the responsibility.  Because Fiorina has run for the office before and has a compelling message she would like to draw attention for, though, we can presume she would desire to be President.  For many Republican figures who are interested in the Presidency, such as Nicki Haley, Marco Rubio, or Ted Cruz, the best path may be to wait until 2024 or 2028.

Unlike them, this is probably not true for Fiorina.  When she was running in a primary against more conventional Republicans in 2016, she faded into the background and tended to be a 2nd or 3rd choice for a significant number of voters who nonetheless preferred her over Trump.  She would be at risk of this same problem occurring in a future election if she chose to run.  If Fiorina ran in 2020, she would have a chance to win among these voters who are more inclined towards conventional Republicans, while also negating Trump’s strengths and competing in the “outsider” lane.  This makes her unique among Republicans with national ambitions in that electorally, her time to run may be now.

Compared to figures such as John Kasich and Larry Hogan, there is little buzz that Fiorina is looking to run for President.  At the same time, some of her recent moves seem to be moves that someone looking to keep the option of a Presidential run alive might make.  Just as many political candidates do when running for President, she has a new book coming out in April on the topic of leadership.  She also has retained staff for her personal ventures and foundation that are veterans of her 2016 Presidential campaign, or who have political experience elsewhere.  Finally, while she hasn’t popped up on Fox News Primetime, she has nonetheless done some cable TV appearances, including on Fox News where one would expect a Republican candidate for President to try and attract eyeballs.  These could simply be the moves of any public figure looking to maintain a brand, but an optimistic observer could also see them as the moves of someone at least interested in a run for office.

A Republican campaign against Donald Trump will be an uphill battle.  Someone with the right background, though, could run to seriously threaten or defeat the President while also charting a course for the Republican Party into the future.  Bill Weld is not up to the task, and neither are any candidates who would have little to offer other than a token challenge to Trump from the left.  It is Carly Fiorina’s time if she wants to run.  Fiorina only has to decide if it is a challenge she has interest in pursuing.  Her career arc from Secretary to CEO shows she is up for a challenge, and Republicans with reservations concerning the President should hope she is up for one more.

The Vols Are Facing an Onslaught of Doubt. Bring it on.

It’s been an excellent season for the Tennessee Volunteers. They beat Gonzaga in what was practically a road game. They defeated Louisville on a neutral court. They won 19 consecutive games, mostly in the SEC. Finally, they beat Alabama and swept Florida. They more than earned their #1 ranking for as long as they held it.

Unfortunately, the streak came to an end last night at Kentucky. We can be honest: It was an off-night for the Vols. They didn’t play physical, tool bad shots, and let UK get too many good shots. That said, Kentucky is a top-5 team. They played their best game of the year, and will be difficult to beat even for a team not having an off-night. They did get some help from the Rupperees, but the Vols would have most likely lost even without that.

With one bad night, that was enough for some in the national media to bring out the doubt. The same voices that insisted a program like Tennessee should be honored that since-fired Greg Schiano would stoop so low as to be the Head Coach are bow insisting Tennessee is a good team masquerading as a great team. All based off of one off night against a top-5 team.

Lets be realistic: No one expected Tennessee would go 18-0 in SEC play. Anyone who has paid attention to this Tennessee team, though, should know that they are a great team. They are one of the best teams in the country this season, and have a chance to be an all-time great team. They are still very likely to repeat as SEC champions, and are built to go deep in March. One bad night at Rupp doesn’t erase any of that.

For some though, Tennessee will never be good enough to receive recognition as anything more than a fluke. The national media didn’t turn off the Duke bandwagon when they lost at unranked Syracuse. They recognized it was an off night that didn’t work out. That’s what Tennessee has Saturday, and everyone has turned on them.

Fortunately, though, this is a Tennessee team that is built on overcoming doubt. This is a squad full of scrappy players that weren’t heavily recruited. This is a team with a coach who was fired less than 5 years ago and who went through significant criticism for years before that. This is a team that is used to proving people wrong. All of the hate coming from the national media will make it that much sweeter when the Vols repeat as SEC champions and go deep in the NCAA tournament. Bring it on.

Bill Weld is the Wrong Answer to the Trump Primary Question

I’ve written before on why there should be a Republican Primary opponent to Trump in 2020.  He is unstable, the most likely candidate to lose, and morally unfit for office.  That said, we need a serious person to challenge him.  In my 4-part series on a 2020 Republican Primary earlier this year, I talked some about the selfish incentives a candidate might have to challenge Trump that go against the ultimate cause:

On the individual level, though, there are a number of other definitions of success that may not have anything to do with electoral success.  For example, a candidate may run in order to try and push a particular issue or issue-set into the conversation (Example: Ron Paul 2008 and 2012).  More perversely, a candidate may run in order to generate attention that can monetized as a book deal, a TV contract, or through some other means.  Finally, there are some candidacies that are just completely inexplicable (Jim Gilmore, George Pataki, etc).  All of these are individual definitions of success that often directly contradict with the broader voter group’s definition of success.

Bill Weld, who is reportedly fixing to announce an exploratory committee to look at a Trump challenge, is the case of someone who has no good reason to run other than being an attention-seeker.  He was a mediocre Governor for 6 forgettable years in the 90s who hasn’t been heard from since other than being Gary Johnson’s running mate in 2016.  How is that someone who can defeat Trump or who has any business being President?

I doubt Weld will scare a serious person out of the field.  My biggest worry is that he will make the concept of a Trump challenge look like a joke, thus leading people to dismiss the idea of a challenge out of hand.  We need a serious person with competent experience and an actual vision beyond self-promotion to get in.  Hopefully that will be someone off this list.  The best choice, though, is someone who will run from the Right, unite Rubio/Cruz/Carson voters, and be able to fundraise.  The best possible answer who would also have other incentives to run?

Carly Fiorina

Image result for carly fiorina

Video Wednesday

I don’t know if I’ll do this every week or not, but I had several things I came across recently worth sharing, so here they are:

The Rainbow Video from Kacey Musgraves

(via John Crist and Trey Kennedy, who are must-follows).

Braves Pitchers + Catchers report Friday! Here’s some of the highlights from last season.

Not an Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez fan, but this sums up a lot of problems in our politics today pretty well.

And finally, the Tennessee Volunteers are still the #1 Mens Basketball team in the Country.