Saturday, April 20, 2024


Benjamin Netanyahu's war strategy is well on its way to achieving its primary goal: preserving the political career of Benjamin Netanyahu. The Jerusalem Post reports:
In two recent surveys, the Likud Party and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have received the highest levels of support since the Oct. 7 massacre. In the first [poll], conducted by Maariv, ... Likud now holds 21 seats, a peak since the [war] began on October 7....

The survey also highlights a tightening race for Prime Minister, with Benny Gantz receiving 42% of the support compared to Benjamin Netanyahu's 37%. The gap between the two has significantly narrowed, with Gantz's lead shrinking from 12% to just 5% over the past week.

According to the Maariv survey, the National Union Party leads with 31 seats....

In a separate but mandated survey by Direct Polls published on Channel 14 this week, a shift in public sentiment shows Gantz's National Union declining sharply, from over 40 seats to just 22. Meanwhile, Likud would garner 26 seats if elections were held today.... Additionally, the coalition parties would have 58 seats versus 52 for the opposition, including 10 seats shared between Ra'am and Hadash-Ta'al.
Let me be cynical: Electorally, it's good to be a leader in wartime, and, at least up to a point, it's better to be a leader in a prolonged war than a brief war that can be described as a success. George H.W. Bush drove the Iraqis from Kuwait, declared victory -- and lost his reelection bid. George W. Bush got mired in Afghanistan and Iraq, never captured or killed Osama bin Laden -- and became the only Republican presidential candidate to win the popular vote in the past 36 years.

Years-long quagmires are bad for politicians -- ask LBJ -- but Bibi is probably at or close to the sweet spot right now. He has two main goals -- saving his own ass and getting Donald Trump elected -- and there's a decent chance he'll achieve both. Everything else is secondary for him.

Friday, April 19, 2024


In The New York Times, Nate Cohn writes:
Was Trump Benefiting From Being Out of the News?

Donald J. Trump appears to be a stronger candidate than he was four years ago, polling suggests, and not just because a notable number of voters look back on his presidency as a time of relative peace and prosperity.

It’s also because his political liabilities, like his penchant to offend and his legal woes, don’t dominate the news the way they once did.

In the last New York Times/Siena College poll, only 38 percent of voters said they’d been offended by Mr. Trump “recently,” even as more than 70 percent said they had been offended by him at some point....

Similarly, many voters seem to be tuning out his myriad legal challenges. A majority of voters said they thought he had committed federal crimes, but only 27 percent of registered voters in the last Times/Siena poll said they were paying “a lot of attention” to the news about the legal cases against him....

It seems plausible that the lack of attention paid to Mr. Trump contributed to his early strength in the polling....

The Times/Siena poll offers some evidence to support this idea. Mr. Biden has a 95-3 lead among Biden 2020 voters who say they’ve been offended recently by Mr. Trump, while Mr. Trump wins 19 percent of those who say they’ve been offended by him before, but not recently.

Similarly, Mr. Biden leads, 93-5, among Biden ’20 voters paying attention to Mr. Trump’s legal problems, while he gets 78 percent among those who aren’t paying very close attention or less.
If Cohn is right, then Trump will inevitably be hurt by his first criminal trial, because it will lead to a great deal of media coverage portraying Trump in a bad light, regardless of the outcome. Right?

I'm not sure that's a safe assumption. Trump survived his civil trials with strong poll numbers, largely because those trials were rarely the top story in America, or even the top story locally here in New York. A past and possible future president of the United States was charged with rape, defamation, and financial chicanery, and the media mostly yawned.

The media might get bored with his criminal trial as well -- already I can see it slipping from its prominent spot on news organizations' front pages, in favor of Israel's attack on Iran and probably, soon, the new Taylor Swift album. But maybe Trump will keep our eyes focused on him, even if it's to his detriment. He's already showing signs of being an insolent defendant:

It's likely that insolence will hurt Trump's chances for an acquittal, but he can't not do this -- his father drilled into him the notion that the worst possible sin for a man is to be "weak," and he's still trying to please Dad, who's been dead for decades. There's a real possibility that Trump will be even more insolent and obnoxious than he was in his civil trials.

On some level, you can't blame him. This is what impresses his biggest fans. Apart from the fact that the system is clearly afraid to punish him, even when he's clearly violating direct orders from judges, there's the fact that Trump has probably rallied the entire GOP to himself by being a defiant asshole whining about persecution.

But if his antics are worse than before, he might alienate general-election voters who haven't thought about how much of an asshole he is in the past couple of years. Maybe, instead of being a quiet, polite defendant, he'll hurt his poll numbers with obnoxiousness, just because he's desperate to impress Dad.

On the other hand, the press might decide that Trump's behavior is just dog-bites-man and barely cover it. That's more or less what happened in the civil trials. Trump was quite obnoxious and did things that would have led to jail time for most other people, yet it was never as big a story as, say, university professors testifying in Congress about anti-Israel protests. But if we're lucky, his endless quest to be the toughest guy in the room will be his downfall.

Thursday, April 18, 2024


New York magazine's Ed Kilgore notes that Democrats will hold their convention in Chicago this year, at a time when left-wingers are angry at the party about its involvement in a war. So will 2024 be like 1968? Kilgore says no -- but I think there's somewhat more risk than he's willing to acknowledge. Here are some of the reasons he's not worried:
Gaza isn’t Vietnam.

... There were over a half-million American troops deployed in Vietnam in 1968, and nearly 300,000 young men were drafted into the Army and Marines that year....

Even from a purely humanitarian and altruistic point of view, Vietnamese military and civilian casualties ran into the millions during the period of U.S. involvement.
Yes, but when I watch how people in America talk about crime, or economic conditions, I question whether it's appropriate to use objective measures to compare the past and the present, given the fact that so many Americans base their response on vibes. Crime is down, inflation is cooling, jobs are plentiful, yet Americans talk as if we have murder rates comparable to the crack years and an economic struggles comparable to 1970s double-digit inflation.

Gaza protests clearly aren't as widespread as Vietnam protests in the 1960s. But I bet the issue will draw huge crowds to Chicago. (One way I'm certain that 2024 will be like 1968 is that there's likely to be much more anger at the Democratic convention than at the Republican convention, even though the Republican nominee in both years was more hawkish than the Democrat.)
Brandon Johnson isn’t Richard Daley.

Chicago mayor Richard J. Daley ... was the epitome of the old-school Irish American machine politician and from a different planet culturally than the protesters at the convention.

Current Chicago mayor Brandon Johnson ... is a Black progressive and labor activist.... While he is surely wary of the damage anti-Israel and anti-Biden protests can do to the city’s image if they turn violent, Johnson is not without ties to protesters. He broke a tie in the Chicago City Council to ensure passage of a Gaza cease-fire resolution earlier this year. His negotiating skills will be tested by the maneuvering already underway with protest groups and the Democratic Party, but he’s not going to be the sort of implacable foe the 1968 protesters encountered.
But in 2024, Johnson is more likely to be attacked for failing to be repressive than for being repressive. Footage of any violence or property damage will be endlessly looped on Fox News -- and probably on CNN and the legacy networks.

(On the other hand, the modern police tactic is to bottle up such demonstrations and keep them far from their targets. That's not great for free speech, but it might keep these demos from getting out of hand.)
The whole world (probably) won’t be watching.

The 1968 Democratic convention was from a bygone era of gavel-to-gavel coverage by the three broadcast-television networks.... Today’s media coverage of major-party political conventions is extremely limited and (like coverage of other events) fragmented. If violence breaks out this time in Chicago, it will get a lot of attention, albeit much of it bent to the optics of the various media outlets covering it. But the sense in 1968 that the whole nation was watching in horror as an unprecedented event rolled out in real time will likely never be recovered.
Yes, but what will "the optics of the various media outlets covering" the convention be like? Fox will be looking for chaos instigated by young pro-Palestinian protestors, many of them from elite colleges, whom it will characterize, accurately or not, as anti-Semititic -- but so will The New York Times, if its current news judgment is any indication:

I don't think there'll be as much chaos in the streets of Chicago this year as there were in 1968. I think modern crowd control tactics will limit the chaos. I think many people tune out politics altogether these days and won't notice any news from the convention. But while history probably won't repeat in Chicago, it might rhyme a little.

Wednesday, April 17, 2024


In a New York Times op-ed, Elizabeth Spiers gives us the conventional wisdom about Donald Trump's relationship with New York City, where -- fittingly, as Spiers sees it -- Trump's criminal trial is taking place:
It feels uniquely appropriate that Mr. Trump will have to endure the scrutiny on his old home turf.... He rose to fame here, but was never truly accepted by the old money elites he admired. The rich and powerful sometimes invited him to their parties, but behind his back they laughed at his coarse methods and his tacky aesthetic. His inability to succeed in New York in quite the way he wanted to drove much of the damage he did to the country as a whole, and arguably his entire political career.

... Mr. Trump couldn’t make it here — at least not the way he craved — despite being born here and being one of the few people who could afford it.

So it’s easy to understand why he bashes his hometown as a crime-ridden hellscape, and why the Oval Office appealed. Washington offered him political power but also something he may have wanted even more: the respect New York denied him.
Spiers doesn't have much respect for Trump, and doesn't suggest that Trump deserved more respect than he got from New Yorkers. But the obvious impliction of this argument is that if New York had somehow been nicer to Trump, if the real swells had invited him to more parties and if Spy magazine hadn't called him a "short-fingered vulgarian," he might not have sought the presidency as a fascist-wannabe.

I don't buy it, because I've watched the career of Trump's doppelganger, Rupert Murdoch.

Murdoch was also the son of a wealthy, successful man. Keith Murdoch was a major figure in Australian media, just as Fred Trump was a major figure in outer-borough real estate. Donald Trump pursued deals in Manhattan; Rupert Murdoch attended university in England, where, as this sympathetic piece argues, he was mistreated by British snobs:
As a brash Australian arriving in the 1950s at Oxford – the university that was then still the British political elite’s finishing school and a custodian of the English class system – Murdoch was always going to be seen as an arriviste or parvenu.

It must have rankled that despite his intellect, confidence and wealth, there would so often have been a side sneer at this upstart colonial – the “cataclysmic chauffeur from the Outback”, as the Oxford student newspaper called the car-owning undergraduate.

So when he took control of the News of the World, The Sun and later The Times, he turned them into battering rams against the self-satisfied smugness of the English establishment elite.

The day he walked into The Sun’s offices, the paper ran a leader column stating the mission that has defined him for decades: “We are not going to bow to the establishment in any of its privileged enclaves. Ever.”
Murdoch won, in a way that Trump didn't. Murdoch became the dominant figure in the British media, and then became the most politically influential media mogul in America. He had the power to tip elections on three continents. He owned a major movie studio, and on television he gave us The Simpsons and The X-Files. He became staggeringly wealthy.

But he never stopped feeling resentful. Last year, when he resigned as chairman of News Corporation, he wrote this in a memo to employees:
Elites have open contempt for those who are not members of their rarefied class. Most of the media is in cahoots with those elites, peddling political narratives rather than pursuing the truth.
Trump could win the presidency again, terminate all his legal cases, remake America in his own image, and become a Putin-level kleptocrat and he'd still be angry and resentful.

Spiers thinks the New York trial will diminish Trump in the eyes of his admirers:
There is some relief for New Yorkers who are witnessing the prospect of his comeuppance, though. The rest of the country is seeing a side of Mr. Trump that New York City residents have always been familiar with: the guy who’s angry that he hasn’t been accepted in the elite circles he admires and is outraged that others have.
But that's what his admirers like about him. They find his resentment of "elitists" relatable. They feel mistreated by the people he says are mistreating him. This trial may damage him in the eyes of middle-of-the-road voters who've been supporting him in this election without actually admiring him, but it won't hurt him in the eyes of his superfans. A guilty verdict will be proof of what they already believe: that elitists hate them and hate him, and being hated this way is a mark of virtue.

Tuesday, April 16, 2024


Many commentators and politicians -- mostly but not exclusively on the right -- tell us with great sorrow that the Republican Party has suffered a takeover by forces hostile to its true purpose. What once was the noble "party of Reagan" is now, alas, the "party of Trump," an entity that would repulse the Gipper and his allies.

A story in The Guardian reminds us that that's a lot of malarkey:
Two powerful conservative non-profits have donated millions of dollars to a number of pro-Trump groups led by key far-right allies Stephen Miller, Charlie Kirk and others that have promoted election denialism, extremist anti-immigrant policies and legal challenges to bolster the Maga movement.

Based in Wisconsin, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation and the Bradley Impact Fund in 2022 separately doled out six- and seven-figure checks to groups such as Miller’s America First Legal and Kirk’s Turning Point USA, and other Trump-friendly bastions such as the Heritage Foundation and Michael Flynn’s America’s Future....

The biggest checks in 2022 were written to Trump-allied groups by the dark-money Bradley Impact Fund: America First Legal received about $27.1m, Turning Point USA roped in close to $8m, and the Conservative Partnership Institute pulled in $712,310. America’s Future also received $500,000.

Meanwhile, the Bradley Foundation ponied up $425,000 to the Heritage Foundation, which has worked with many other pro-Trump groups to assemble a 1,000-page plan for a new Trump presidency with an authoritarian agenda to expand executive-branch powers and curb key agencies such as the US justice department.
The Bradley groups seem to combine the worst of both the old and new GOP:
The Bradley foundation’s board includes the well-known rightwinger Art Pope, a North Carolina multi-millionaire who used to chair its board and is also a director of the Bradley Impact Fund. Pope has deep ties to other conservative bastions such as the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity, where he has been a board member too.

The board of the Bradley Foundation also boasts the rightwing lawyer and Trump ally Cleta Mitchell, a senior legal fellow at the Conservative Partnership Institute.

Mitchell founded CPI’s self-styled “election integrity network” in 2021 after participating with Trump on his 2 January call to the Georgia secretary of state Brad Raffensperger, who Trump beseeched to “find” 11,780 votes to help overturn Joe Biden’s win in the state.
The Bradley Foundation was once known for its ties to foreign-policy neoconservatives such as Irving and Bill Kristol. It has honored Reaganites such as Ed Meese and Ed Feulner. And it was deeply involved in the mainstream right in the post-Reagan era, funding The American Spectator's attacks on the Clintons during Bill Clinton's presidency, bankrolling Charles Murray's work on The Bell Curve, and underwriting union-buster Scott Walker's rise to power in Wisconsin. As the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel noted in 2011,
The list of major recipients reads like an all-star roster of conservative think tanks: millions of dollars directed to well-known groups such as the Hudson Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute, the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace, and the Federalist Society - all trying to put their stamp on three branches of government.

Millions more have gone to just about every major conservative publication, including such magazines as Reason, Crisis, First Things, National Affairs and FrontPage Magazine.
And now Bradley is giving to the likes of Mike Flynn, an Alex Jones fan and Christian nationalist whose ReAwaken America group preaches Holocaust denialism and QAnon theories, as well as Charlie Kirk, Cleta Mitchell, and other right-wingers whose fringe ideas, we're told, would never have been tolerated in Reagan's day.

But one of the biggest money sources is the same. It's all the same party.

Monday, April 15, 2024


The only Donald Trump criminal trial that's likely to take place this year starts today in New York. Trump is charged with falsifying business records in order to cover up an affair with porn star Stormy Daniels. Amanda Marcotte thinks that testimony from Daniels will be "devastating" for Trump, largely because, as Daniels told Anderson Cooper on 60 Minutes in 2018, their sexual encounter was not fully consensual and was miserable for her:
Stormy Daniels: And I was like, "Ugh, here we go." (LAUGH) And I just felt like maybe — (LAUGH) it was sort of — I had it coming for making a bad decision for going to someone's room alone and I just heard the voice in my head, "well, you put yourself in a bad situation and bad things happen, so you deserve this."

Anderson Cooper: And you had sex with him.

Stormy Daniels: Yes.

Anderson Cooper: You were 27, he was 60. Were you physically attracted to him?

Stormy Daniels: No.

Anderson Cooper: Not at all?

Stormy Daniels: No.

Anderson Cooper: Did you want to have sex with him?

Stormy Daniels: No. But I didn't — I didn't say no. I'm not a victim.
Marcotte believes that women do more damage to Trump's reputation than men do:
While plenty of men ... have spoken out about their negative experiences with Trump, women have generally been the most compelling witnesses against him. Former journalist E. Jean Carroll testified in two civil trials about how Trump sexually assaulted her and then defamed her. Juries found her persuasive enough to award her nearly $90 million. Former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson wasn't sexually abused by Trump ... but became the most striking witness in the Jan. 6 hearings during the previous Congress. Her accounts of Trump as a petulant child who throws ketchup and flails impotently at Secret Service agents rang true in a way that was difficult for even the most delusional MAGA heads to deny.
Really? Carroll won both her cases -- I think Trump will lose the Daniels case as well -- but Trump doesn't have a lot of admirers in Manhattan. Hutchinson's allegations were also persuasive to Trump haters. But in the country at large, the proceedings in which these two women participated coincided with strong poll numbers for Trump, and his easy triumph in the Republican primaries followed. Trump still appears to have a slight lead in general election polls. If he's slipping at all now, it's probably because he's more visible than he's been for the past few years. He's the most damaging witness against himself, not his female (or male) critics.

Marcotte thinks the specifics of Daniels's story will make the Trump myth harder to believe:
Trump's conduct with women makes clear that he's both a bully and a coward, who victimizes vulnerable people in situations where they have no real way to fight back. It also undermines his lifelong effort to portray himself as an irresistible Lothario and sexual dynamo. The ladies don't swoon over Donald Trump. They spend every minute wondering when it will be safe to wriggle free from his stubby fingers.
To people who are paying attention and are willing to accept what the evidence says, all this is obvious, and has been obvious for years. To most other people, the legend of Trump's studliness prevails, just as the legend of his business prowess prevails in the minds of many Americans despite overwhelming evidence of his ineptitude as a CEO. Too many people want to believe that charismatic figures are as special as they tell us they are -- think of the Elon Musk cult -- so they deny what's right in front of them. Also, Trump must be special because who among us has ever been in a position to browbeat a porn star into sex in the first place, all while married to a fashion model wife?

Trump will probably lose the case, and maybe the trial and verdict will damage his polling. But many voters will continue to believe that he's a ladies' man who "doesn't need to" be a predator. Or they'll believe that everyone does it, or at least every male in power -- look at how Biden massages people's shoulders! Look at Jeffrey Epstein's guests! Trump might make this trial into a politically damaging event for himself if he continues on his usual course of attacking the process and the participants. But in a society that's still sexist, I don't think an adult film actress's words will bring down a potential president.

Sunday, April 14, 2024


The Biden's administration has responded to the Iranian drone attack on Israel by offering effective defensive support, accompanied by a message to Benjamin Netanyahu that he won't get U.S. help if he goes on offense and launches a counterattack on Iran.

Fox News, if it were a news organization, would update this headline:

The Iranian attack is no longer "impending." It happened, and Israel rebuffed it with U.S. assistance, despite the doubts expressed here. But Fox is leaving the headline as is, because Murdoch pere et fils believe that any time you can plausibly attack Democrats, you should, and you shouldn't update an attack-on-Democrats story or headline just because it's no longer consistent with the facts. Leave it up for as long as possible, in order to elicit the maximum hatred of Democrats. If anyone questions why the editors you've hired didn't order an update, the way they would in an actual news organization, you can say they just didn't get around to it. (No one will question this decision except me.)

The Fox story is mostly a series of attacks on President Biden, whom Republicans hate more than they hate the Iranians or any other foreign adversary.
Lawmakers reacted after Iran launched drones from its own territory toward Israel late Saturday, calling for the White House to "stand firm" and "stop coddling Iran." ...

"I will continue to engage with the White House to insist upon a proper response," [Speaker of the House Mike Johnson] said. "The Biden Administration’s undermining of Israel and appeasement of Iran have contributed to these terrible developments." ...

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, condemned the Iran attack on Israel, while placing the blame on the Biden administration.

"Iran has encircled Israel and has been attacking our Israeli allies from almost every front for months. They have launched attacks from Syria, Iraq, Yemen, the West Bank, Hezbollah-controlled Lebanon, and of course the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. Now they have escalated by launching attacks directly from Iranian territory," Cruz said in a statement. "These attacks are enabled and financed by deliberate policy choices made by Joe Biden and Biden officials, who have allowed roughly $100 billion to flow to Iran since 2021. Americans and Israelis have been made catastrophically more vulnerable by these policies."

Fight the real enemy!

It's an inexact analogy, but can you imagine if Democrats had responded to 9/11 this way, by immediately attacking President Bush? (Though I've always assumed that this is how Republicans would have responded if 9/11 had happened on Al Gore's watch. I assume Gore would have been impeached over 9/11. At the very least, he'd have been attacked starting within days of 9/11 if he expressed any hesitation about attacking Iraq rather than just Al Qaeda.)

Who else is blaming America first right now? This guy:
Giuliani: Reagan Would Have Hit Iran Before the First Missile Got to Israel

Saturday on Newsmax2, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani argued the correct response to Iran’s attack on Israel would have been to hit Iran at the earliest stages of the strike as possible.

Giuliani argued that was what former President Ronald Reagan would have done if he were facing similar circumstances.

“I really do think we’re missing an opportunity, a historic opportunity here — if we had a president like my old boss in the White House,” he said. “Every time [when] I was mayor and I had to make a difficult decision, I would say, ‘What would Ronald Reagan do?’ I know what Ronald Reagan would do right now. He would have hit Iran before their first missile got to Israel. And he would have taken out every nuclear facility he could. He would have been trying to look for an opportunity to do that for years.”
Yeah, that approach couldn't possibly have adverse consequences, could it, you old drunk? And hey, remember when a Marine barracks was bombed in Beirut and Reagan withdrew all U.S. troops from Lebanon?

But describing everything bad that happens in the world as Biden's fault...

... might be an effective strategy for Republicans:

Having a 24/7 "Biden bad!" media firehose is paying benefits.