KENA BETANCUR/AFP/Getty Images

America, brace yourself for more corporate mergers.

A federal judge in D.C. signed off on AT&T’s planned absorption of Time Warner on Tuesday, rejecting an antitrust effort by the Justice Department that sought to halt the $85 million deal. In addition to reshaping the American media landscape, the ruling could prompt a spree of corporate consolidation in multiple industries.

Judge Richard Leon imposed no conditions on the merger, which is now set to combine AT&T’s dominant position over the nation’s telecommunications infrastructure with Time Warner’s influential media properties. Among them are premium cable networks like HBO, Warner Bros.’ film and publishing arms, and the Turner Broadcasting television network, which includes CNN.

The ruling is a major defeat for federal antitrust regulators. The Justice Department filed a lawsuit to halt the merger last November, warning that consumers would face higher television bills and fewer choices if AT&T simultaneously owned Time Warner’s TV properties and the satellite-television provider DirecTV, which it acquired in 2015.

“We are disappointed with the Court’s decision today,” Makan Delrahim, the Justice Department’s lead antitrust attorney, said in a statement. “We continue to believe that the pay-TV market will be less competitive and less innovative as a result of the proposed merger between AT&T and Time Warner.” The Justice Department did not indicate whether it would appeal Leon’s ruling.

Tuesday’s ruling is expected to accelerate a wave of corporate mergers in the American media landscape and beyond. Comcast, which already absorbed NBC Universal in 2011, is expected to spark a bidding war with Disney for most of 21st Century Fox as soon as this week. Leon’s decision could also bolster the proposed merger between mobile-phone companies T-Mobile and Sprint, as well as the CVS pharmacy chain’s bid to acquire health-insurance giant Aetna.

June 27, 2019

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This debate is taking place on Earth 2.

In the first hour of the first Democratic debate, the seemingly infinite number of Democratic presidential candidates on stage covered a lot of ground. They talked immigration and Iran, climate change and antitrust and gun control. Without ever really addressing it, they showed just how far the Democratic Party had shifted to the left over the past decade, with a public option now clearly emerging as the centrist position in health care. They even spoke in two languages!

One thing they didn’t really talk about—at least not directly—was President Trump. He was subtext, always, particularly on immigration and the possibility of war with Iran. But for the most part, his belligerence and incoherence was treated as a point of fact, rather than an unprecedented horror show.

It’s not hard to see who stands to gain from pointedly avoiding Trump on the debate stage. The party’s leadership wants to avoid impeachment proceedings at all costs, and they succeeded in the midterm elections in part because they focused so single-mindedly on issues like health care, rather than the daily barrage of tweets and scandals emanating from the White House.

But there’s also a sense that this debate is taking place in a parallel universe. Trump’s presence in the White House is a major catalyst for many of these crises, but the Democratic candidates thus far have largely avoided confronting it directly. The reluctance to speak his name feels almost mystical, as if saying it will summon his presence—or at least a tweet.

Joe Raedle/Getty

This is Democratic speed dating.

The opening debate is always a “get to know you” debate. That’s especially true of the first of two opening Democratic debates, given that it’s frontloaded with candidates no one knows (Tim Ryan, John Delaney), candidates almost no one knows (Tulsi Gabbard, Jay Inslee, Bill de Blasio, Julián Castro), and candidates already in need of a campaign reset (Amy Klobuchar, Cory Booker, Beto O’Rourke).

But it’s hard to make an impression when there are nine other people, many of them desperate, on the stage. The general strategy in the opening thirty minutes of the debate is for candidates to talk as fast as they possibly can, guaranteeing that they can maximize their short minute of allotted time. This is, of course, familiar to anyone who’s been in high school debate—a combination of nerves and peacocking, showing the audience just how much they know. This has been exacerbated by the manic opening of the debate, which has touched on issues from climate change to health care to antitrust, without much effort to try to get the candidates to actually talk to each other. (De Blasio, arguably the most desperate on the stage, is the only guy really trying to pick a fight.)

If there’s a byproduct of the pace of the debate so far, it’s that it does showcase just how many ideas the Democratic candidates have on the table. But mostly, it just showcases just how many candidates there are on the stage, and how many of them seem not that different from one another. (I’m looking at you, John Delaney and Tim Ryan.)

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Is cruelty a winner?

As the Democrats take the stage for the first debate, I am expecting—hoping, even—that there will be ample outrage over the warehousing of migrant children at the southern border.

The last week or so has seen an uptick in attention—because of the brutality at the Clint facility, because of the drowning deaths in the Rio Grande—on what has been the shame of a nation for most of the Trump administration. Several presidential candidates in Miami will be making the short trip to Homestead, a for-profit shelter for unaccompanied minors. The facility was, it must be said, first opened under Obama, but it was re-opened and doubled in size by Trump to cage hundreds of migrants in their teens.

Today, Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar made separate visits there. Neither were allowed inside, but Warren stood on a step ladder and peered over the fence at what she said were kids being marched in lines. She turned to the assemblage of media and supporters and called it “a moral stain inflicted by Donald Trump.”

“Following a policy that can be boiled down to one basic idea—and that is maximizing the pain inflicted on families who flee to the United States to try to build some security and safety in their lives—is fundamentally and morally wrong.”

Warren’s right, of course, and it is refreshing to hear strong condemnations from one of the Dem frontrunners. But then I thought, is that going to matter?

Adam Serwer famously wrote last October that “the cruelty is the point,” that the through line that connects what seems like a chaotic carnival of policy misfires is the joy at inflicting pain on people Trump and his fans see as “other.” That premise has become almost universally accepted by those opposed to this administration and the Republican Party that embraces it—and so, it is likely that many in Miami will try to score points by voicing righteous and rightful outrage at the serial meanness of Team Trump. But is that outrage a winner for the campaign trail?

This question applies to both the primaries—where every Democrat will hopefully be vocally opposed to the Zero Tolerance “policy”—and the general, where the issue energizes the GOP while seeming to enervate Democrats. The last thing you want to do is exhaust your base, after all.

But beyond that: Does Trump’s cruelty engender a real feeling of powerlessness? Is opposing cruelty basically negative campaigning—campaigning without hope, when your best advisers will tell you to close with hope?

June 26, 2019

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Welcome to TNR’s coverage of the Democratic debates.

Yes, the debates are upon us, a mere 16 months before voters will cast their ballots to decide whether President Trump should get a second term. In that time, babies will be conceived and born, the earth will orbit the sun and then some, and Democrats will, with any luck, choose a champion from the two dozen candidates running for the nomination. It all begins tonight, with the first of two debates in Miami this week featuring the 20 candidates—ten each round—who qualified to participate by either polling at 1 percent in three surveys or receiving 65,000 individual donations.

The staff of The New Republic will be watching the proceedings, offering running commentary and post-debate analysis, and hopefully answering any questions readers might have. Who’s up, who’s down? Who, if anyone, seems qualified to stall America’s spiraling descent into a fiery wasteland overseen by Trumpian kleptocrats? And who is Eric Swalwell, anyway? Pop by TNR’s Minutes blog at 9 o’clock EST tonight and tomorrow night to find out!