Thursday, October 21, 2021

THE PALOOKA WHO THINKS HE CAN CHALLENGE TRUMP

In 2024, I don't believe there'll be a serious presidential primary contest in the Republican Party. Donald Trump will announce his candidacy sometime in 2023 and every A-list Republican will either drop out or decline to join the race. The sad, self-deluded losers who'll stay in the race -- the Bill Welds and Joe Walshes of 2024 -- will be people like this guy:
Is Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan [of Georgia] running for president? That’s what Manchester’s WMUR-TV wanted to know last night when Duncan visited New Hampshire’s famous Institute of Politics at St. Anselm College.

St. Anselm is a must-do stop for any presidential hopeful in the first-in-the-nation primary state, so a visit there inevitably leads to the question: Are you considering a run for the White House?

Duncan was in New Hampshire selling “GOP 2.0″-- the idea behind both his book and his vision for a possible post-Trump version of the Republican Party....

WMUR’s takeaway: “Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan could end up in the mix of contenders for president in 2024.”
Duncan voted and campaigned for Trump in 2020 but subsequently distanced himself during Trump's campaign to overturn the election results. Knowing that this made him a dead man walking in the Georgia GOP, Duncan decided not to run for reelection. He wrote GOP 2.0 instead, which is described by the publisher as follows:
GOP 2.0 is both a book and a movement that unites people around a common view of civility and freedom. GOP 2.0 puts policy over politics. It aspires to make Americans great. It’s about Geoff Duncan’s “P.E.T. Project,” reviving the party with conservative Policies, genuine Empathy, and a respectful Tone.

... GOP 2.0 is Geoff Duncan’s vision, forged by his unexpected struggle for the party’s future. In his words, “GOP 2.0 is not a new party – it’s a better direction for our Republican Party.” In this refreshing and reinvigorating new book, a leader who has been through the fire lays out a better way forward, one that lifts up reasoned ideas, expands the party, and positions the GOP to win back the White House in 2024.
The book hasn't come close to a bestseller list -- its current Amazon ranking is #58,557 -- but there he is in New Hampshire, hinting that he might run for president and persuading CNN's Chris Cillizza that he's serious:
All of this activity by Duncan -- with the New Hampshire trip the most telling clue -- suggests he wants to run for the Republican presidential nomination in his own right in 2024.

Asked about that question directly by WMUR, Duncan answered this way:

"I'm focused on healing and rebuilding the party right now. If you looked at my to-do list every day of what I have to do in all 50 states and the people I've got to talk to, I'm certainly consumed with trying to heal and rebuild the party, and we're going to be in a process of trying to figure out who's the best leader."

So, yes, he wants to run.
The public is indifferent, but a bit of media attention might persuade Duncan to run -- and he'll be shellacked, assuming Trump and his allies in state Republican parties allow primaries at all.

If there's a contest at all, I predict that Trump will be challenged only by fifth-raters like Duncan. Trump will glide to the nomination.

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

KILLING THE DEMOCRATS SOFTLY

It's possible that Joe Manchin wants President Biden's agenda enacted in a weak, shrunken, means-tested, fossil-fuel-friendly way. But Kyrsten Sinema not only appears to want to kill the Biden package -- or at least the part that isn't hard infrastructure -- she doesn't want to admit she wants to kill it. Instead, she claims to be open to negotiations while throwing newer and newer roadblocks in Biden's way. This, for instance:
The Wall Street Journal today reports that Sinema “has told lobbyists that she is opposed to any increase” in taxes on high-income individuals, businesses, or capital gains. Her opposition is reportedly “pushing Democrats to more seriously plan for a bill that doesn’t include those major revenue increases.”

If this report is true, it would likely be a death blow to Biden’s social agenda. Senate rules require that creating or expanding any social program — health care, child care, education, or anything else — can only be made permanent if it has some funding source. If Sinema refuses to support any tax increases on the wealthy, there’s no financing available to come anywhere close.
Her problem is that the rest of the party is willing to compromise, which means she needs to find new objections every time her Democratic colleagues make concessions so she can seem to be negotiatiing without actually trying to make a deal.

Of course, she could simply say she'll never get to yes under any circumstances, which would at least be an honest statement of her position. But she want to maintain the appearance of negotiating in good faith -- either that or her corporate owners want her to maintain that fiction.

This is how Republicans pretend to negotiate. Remember when John Katko, a close ally of House minority leader Kevin McCarthy, negotiated a deal to form a bipartisan commission to investigate the January 6 Capitol riot -- and then McCarthy and the rest of the party declared that the deal, though genuinely bipartisan, was unacceptable? Remember when Tim Scott, the only Black Republican in the U.S. Senate, negotiated a police reform bill with Democrats, then rejected the bill he negotiated, saying that it amounted to "defunding the police"?

The enemies of the Democratic Party obviously believe that there could be a price to pay if they appear to say no right away on key issues -- even though they plan to say no eventually. They obviously believe that if they fake good faith, they can reject what the Democrats want, even if they've already agreed to it, and trust that all Republican voters and many swing voters will believe them when they denounce the proposals as Democratic extremism.

So now this style of attack is coming from within the Democratic Party. And Democrats never seem to see it coming.

THE PUBLIC ISN'T INTERESTED IN JANUARY 6

The key numbers in the Quinnipiac poll that was released yesterday got some attention: 78% of Republicans want Donald Trump to run for president in 2024 but 58% of respondents overall don't; Joe Biden has a 37% job approval rating and a 52% disapproval rating (bad, but comparable to Trump's 38%/56% approval/disapproval in a Quinnipiac poll released October 11, 2017); and Trump is unpopular as well (39% favorable, 52% unfavorable), which means we should expect a great deal of punditry soon lamenting the two-party system and telling us that a third-party centrist can save us.

But I want to point out some of Quinnipiac's numbers about the January 6 Capitol riot. I often tell you about polls in which Democrats and independents largely agree, while Republicans are the outliers. But in the case of January 6, it's Democrats who are mostly out of step.

Quinnipiac asked:
As you may know, a special congressional committee is investigating the storming of the U.S. Capitol that occurred on January 6th and it has issued several subpoenas to witnesses as part of its investigation. Do you want to hear more information about what led to the events of that day, or do you think enough is already known about what led to the events of that day?
Overall, only 40% of respondents want to hear more about January 6; 56% don't. Most subgroups don't want to hear more: Only 40% of under-35s want more information, and only 45% of women. Blacks and Hispanics are less interested in uncovering additional information about January 6 than the general population -- 34% and 33%, respectively -- even though they're less favorable toward Trump than whites. Only among Democrats (59%) and white college graduates (57%) is there majority support for further investigation of January 6.

This isn't because respondents have positive feelings about what happened on January 6 -- overall, 59% of respondents consider January 6 "an attack on the government"; 57% believe Trump bears a lot (42%) or at least some (15%) of the responsibility for what happened; and 51% believe that Trump has been undermining democracy since the 2020 election (as opposed to 39% who say he's been protecting democracy). Majorities of independents and both men and women believe what happened that day was an attack on the government, and that Trump bears at least some responsibility; non-whites agree, including an overwhelming percentage of Black voters.

In other words, Americans aren't interested in hearing more about January 6 because they already know it was bad, and they already blame Trump.

I know many of you believe that the January 6 investigation is vitally important. My concern is that it's going to end in a muddle, the way the Mueller investigation and the two impeachments ended in a muddle, with dueling narratives and no accountability for the perpetrators.

The public knows January 6 was bad, and there really isn't much likelihood that we'll learn anything new about it that will drastically change our understanding of what happened. Republicans and members of the Trump family are extremely good at avoiding punishment for their misdeeds, and Democrats aren't good at bringing Republicans to justice. Meanwhile, America has many problems and a lot of discontent. So, sure, Democrats should persist in investigating January 6, but they should realize that what the public primarily wants from them is solutions to problems. Passing the Biden agenda should be the priority. Investigating January 6 is of secondary importance.

****

TO CLARIFY: I'm not saying that January 6 would be useless as a spur to election reform (although it ought to be only one of several spurs, given what Republicans are doing, and have already done, to democracy in the states they control). But endless hearings bogging down on the question of what precisely was said in a particluar Trump phone call to a particular aide or ally at 1:32 P.M. on January 6 could really be a colossal waste of time.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

TRUMP'S COLIN POWELL STATEMENT WAS MAINSTREAM REPUBLICANISM

Two of the best-known voices in the mainstream political press seem shocked that Donald Trump's response to the death of Colin Powell was so ... Trump-like.


Trump wrote:


Cillizza responded:
What Trump's statement should remind us is that this is a man uniquely self-obsessed -- and without any ability to see beyond himself.

Powell was openly critical of Trump -- he voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 and Joe Biden in 2020 -- and of the dark direction the billionaire businessman was leading the country. And so, Trump saw Powell's death as an opportunity to get back at him -- and took it.

This is, in a word, classless. In two words: Utterly classless....

No one should be surprised by this latest degradation of what it means to be a president by Trump. He spent four years in office defining the job downward. That some people will applaud Trump's trolling of a dead man is, perhaps, his most toxic legacy.
But much of the right was angry at Powell long before Trump entered politics, because he endorsed Democrats and criticized some of the right's heroes. Sometimes this was expressed somberly, as in this Human Events column published shortly after the 2008 election:
... last Sunday, [Powell] popped up on CNN to criticize Rush Limbaugh for misleading, if not destroying, the Republican Party.

Powell tried to make the rejection of Limbaugh the path Republicans need to take to win elections again....

Of Limbaugh’s supposed influence on the Republican Party, Powell said: “Is this really the kind of party that we want to be when these kinds of spokespersons seem to appeal to our lesser instincts rather than our better instincts?" ...

And what are the “lesser instincts” to which Limbaugh appeals? I wonder if there’s any way Powell is referring to that instinct to defend life — both of the born and the unborn? Powell is pro-abortion; Limbaugh is pro-life....

Powell, like former Bush speech writer Michael Gerson, wants to remake conservatism into something without form or substance, something that is liberalism in all but name....

Powell and Gerson — and too many other phony conservatives — are the problem, not the solution. It was by their philosophy and political strategy that the Republican Party ended up abandoning conservatism in favor of McCainism. And that was the path to failure, not victory.
And some people just used Trumpian name-calling, years before Trump. This is from a story about a North Carolina campaign appearance by Barack Obama in 2008:
When Sen. Barack Obama entered a barbecue joint here to greet dozens of people eating lunch after church services on Sunday, Diane Fanning, 54, who works at a Sam's Club, began yelling, "Socialist, socialist, socialist — get out of here!"

Fanning said she'd heard Colin Powell had endorsed Obama but that "Colin Powell is a RINO, R-I-N-O, Republican In Name Only."
Trump's main political innovation was talking to Republican voters the way they talk to one another, in person and in online forums. Trump attacked John McCain in 2015 and suffered no negative consequences because much of the base had always been wary of McCain (for years he'd been called "Juan McCain" at Free Republic for his support of immigration reform). So why shouldn't Trump attack Powell, too? It won't lose him a single vote in 2024.

Republican voters believe Democrats are the worst people who ever lived, and anyone who enables them (as Powell did with his endorsements) or shares some of their political goals (McCain on immigration and campaign finance reform, Powell on abortion and affirmative action) is complicit in pure evil. The GOP base would have been as horrified by a gracious Trump statement about Powell as we would be if Joe Biden commended a recently deceased politician who'd praised Hitler. Why don't Cillizza and Haberman understand that?

HERE'S CHARLIE WARZEL BOTHSIDESING THE JOE ROGAN/SANJAY GUPTA INTERVIEW

Charlie Warzel used to write for The New York Times. He now has a Substack site called Galaxy Brain, where his latest post has a bothsider feel that suggests he hasn't left Times thinking behind.

Warzel's post is about a recent appearance on the podcast of COVID skeptic Joe Rogan by Dr. Sanjay Gupta, who reports on medicine for CNN. Rogan recently told his audience that he was sick with COVID and was taking the right's current favorite treatment for the disease, ivermectin. Gupta, knowing that Rogan has a large audience of skeptics and denialists, apparently hoped he could sway a few of them with mainstream science.

Though he'd probably deny it, Rogan is part of the right-wing media infrastructure, so he did to Gupta what you'd expect a right-wing interviewer to do to The Enemy: He hyperbolically attacked the doctor, with the obvious intention of "owning" him. Rogan, you see, was taking ivermectin in the form prescribed for humans. CNN had correctly noted that ivermectin is used in veterinary medicine. To Rogan, this was a "lie." From the transcript:
Joe Rogan: (02:44)
Before we get to that, does it bother you that the news network you work for out and out lied? Just outright lied about me taking horse de-wormer.

Sanjay Gupta: (02:55)
They shouldn’t have said that.

Joe Rogan: (02:56)
Why did they do that?

Sanjay Gupta: (02:57)
I don’t know.

Joe Rogan: (02:58)
You didn’t ask? You’re the medical guy over there.

Sanjay Gupta: (03:01)
I didn’t ask. I should have asked before coming on your podcast.

Joe Rogan: (03:02)
But they did it with such glee.

Sanjay Gupta: (03:03)
No, Joe.
Just as inevitably, the right seized on this brief moment as a refutation of Gupta, CNN, and the entire mainstream approach to COVID.


To you and me, this is a sign that right-wing media voices are toxic and dangerous. To Warzel, it's a sign that the discourse is bad, and everyone is at fault.

Warzel's post begins, "Today, I want to talk about a way that our media ecosystems can take even relatively boring exchanges and turn them into internet chum that helps basically nobody." He blames Gupta for starting the "chum" process:
... once Gupta tweeted the appearance, the anodyne conversation quickly and expectedly turned into culture war fodder, beginning with Gupta’s tweet:


Gupta doesn’t do himself any favors here with the self-aggrandizing ‘lion’s den’ and the ‘my friends told me not to do it’ schtick. Honestly, it’s extremely reminiscent of the Rogan/IDW ‘This is the dangerous conversation they don’t want us to have’ variety. Again: this was a pretty tame conversation! What’s important is that the tweet and the interview were immediately seized upon by online opportunists....
Warzel accepts at face value Rogan's assertion that CNN's use of the term "horse de-wormer" is a "lie" -- it is, at most, a mild misrepresentation -- and now he treats Gupta's use of the term "lion's den" as another appalling provocation. Warzel blames the tweet, in part, for right-wing reactions like the ones shown above, as if the right-wing media would have held its fire had Gupta only tweeted a little more nicely.

Then, according to Warzel, it's bad that Gupta went on the show of his CNN colleague Don Lemon and Lemon asserted that, in fact, ivermectin is a horse de-wormer.
But once this segment blew up in right-wing and mainstream media critic circles, CNN anchor Don Lemon confronted Gupta about it as well on his show. Lemon wanted to push back on Rogan’s critique and Gupta’s comments. “[Rogan] did say something about CNN and lying that I don’t think is correct,” Lemon said to Gupta. “Ivermectin is a drug that is commonly used as a horse de-wormer so it is not a lie to say that the drug is a horse de-wormer. I think that’s important. And it is not approved for Covid.”

Gupta nods along and agrees. He’s trying to thread a needle here....

Of course, this Lemon/Gupta segment itself also became grist for the right wing/MSM criticism outrage mill. Gupta was accused of backsliding and bending the knee to CNN. He was also accused of being two-faced, saying one thing to Rogan and one thing to Lemon. None of this is true.

I don’t mean to sound like I’m equating Rogan’s vaccine views or his platforming of wrong people like [COVID denialist Alex] Berenson with CNN’s annoying and disingenuous dunking. What I’m trying to get at is that the conversation this whole thing devolved into is so far afield of the kind of important conversations we could/should be having about vaccination and the pandemic as to be a massive waste of nearly everyone’s time.
But Warzel is effectively equating Gupta's tweet and Lemon's defense of CNN with what Rogan broadcasts. He's saying it all poisons the discourse more or less equally.

In fact, nobody from the left or center wants to have this fight. We'd all like people to get vaccinated, wear masks, and avoid medical quackery until we've got the pandemic under control. The right absolutely wants to have these fights. Joe Rogan's express purpose is to pick fights like these, and that's also the purpose of every right-wing media and social media figure who proudly proclaimed that CNN is awful and Rogan owned Gupta. They fight us when we challenge them and they fight us when we bend over backward to accommodate them. Why doesn't Warzel understand this.

Monday, October 18, 2021

COLIN POWELL DIDN'T FULLY ABANDON THE GOP UNTIL IT WAS TOO LATE

Matt Lewis of the Daily Beast thinks Colin Powell could have saved us from Donald Trump by running for president.
His legacy will have detractors on the right (he was a sellout who endorsed Obama) and the left (he misled us about WMDs), but I can’t help thinking what if he had been the future of the Republican Party? ...

This actually could have happened. Fourteen months before the 1996 presidential election, a Time/CNN poll found that “If the 1996 presidential election were held today, Colin Powell, running on the GOP ticket, would beat Bill Clinton 46 percent to 38 percent...”
I agree that Powell might have won a general election. His problem would have been winning the Republican primaries.
On a range of issues like abortion and affirmative action, Powell was out-of-step with the conservative zeitgeist. Gary Bauer, who was head of the Family Research Council, called him “Bill Clinton with ribbons.”
He couldn't have won. You had to meet the religious right's litmus tests then, just as you do now, to win the Republican nomination.

Lewis can imagine Powell winning, and thinks he would have avoided the Iraq debacle.
... as paleoconservative writer Jim Antle suggests, the Iraq war would likely not have happened: “As commander-in-chief, the decisions would have been his. He would have been less inclined to fall under the sway of Cheney and the neoconservatives, if they occupied prominent roles in his administration at all,” Antle writes.

No Iraq war probably means no Obama and no Trump.
That's a huge leap I'm not prepared to make. Not that it matters, because none of this could have happened.

But I wonder whether Powell could have had some impact if he hadn't limited his apostasy to endorsing Democrats for president.

People talk nowadays as if Donald Trump invented Republican extremism, but, as I've pointed out a number of times, it was a matter of concern years before Trump entered politics. Christie Whitman published a book in 2005 called It's My Party Too!, which was described by the publisher this way:
The former New Jersey governor and EPA administrator under George W. Bush presents a detailed and provocative critique of the Republican party's increasingly conservative and extremist views, recommending a moderate, solution-based approach to government that the author believes is more in line with traditional Republican principles.
What if Whitman had been joined by other prominent Republicans, among them Colin Powell, in abandoning the party altogether? Is it possible that the mainstream media and general public would have reckoned with the party's extremism early enough to prevent it from metastasizing uncontrollably?

But that was never going to happen either. Powell endorsed Obama twice, then Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden -- but as Lewis notes, he never stopped saying he was a Republican until his last year.
In 2014, Powell was asked on Meet the Press about his political affiliation. “I’m still a Republican,” he said. “And I think the Republican Party needs me more than the Democratic Party needs me.”

By 2021, he said that he could “no longer call himself a Republican.”
By that time, as we now know, he was fighting multiple myeloma and Parkinson's. Before that, he wouldn't budge.

You and I might never forgive Powell for helping to make the Iraq War happen, but he was widely respected. He might have made a difference. He chose not to try.

REPUBLICAN VOTERS MIGHT SIT OUT FUTURE ELECTIONS, THANKS TO TRUMP? IF ONLY.

It should make me happy that Republicans are freaking out -- and snapping at one another -- over Donald Trump's comments about future elections. The New York Times reports:
The G.O.P.’s ambitions of ending unified Democratic control in Washington in 2022 are colliding with a considerable force that has the ability to sway tens of millions of votes: former President Donald J. Trump’s increasingly vocal demands that members of his party remain in a permanent state of obedience, endorsing his false claims of a stolen election or risking his wrath.

In a series of public appearances and statements over the last week, Mr. Trump has signaled not only that he plans to work against Republicans he deems disloyal, but also that his meritless claims that widespread voter fraud cost him the White House in 2020 will be his litmus test, going so far as to threaten that his voters will sit out future elections.

“If we don’t solve the Presidential Election Fraud of 2020,” Mr. Trump said in a statement last week, “Republicans will not be voting in ’22 or ’24. It’s the single most important thing for Republicans to do.”
Mediaite tells me there's data to back up this Republican fear of diminshed turnout:
A stunning New York Times report reveals an “alarming” possibility that nearly 10 percent of Georgia Republican voters could sit out the 2022 election unless the 2020 general election is audited.
But when you read the relevant passage from the Times story (the same story I've quoted above), you see that there's not much to it:
Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia ... has told colleagues that she was surprised by a recent survey of Republican voters in her district, according to one person who spoke with her about it.

The internal survey found that 5 percent of Republican voters said they would sit out the 2022 election if the state of Georgia did not conduct a forensic audit of the 2020 election.... Another 4 percent said they would consider sitting out the election absent an audit.

The possibility that nearly 10 percent of Republicans could sit out any election — even one in a solidly red district like the one held by Ms. Taylor Greene — was something Republican strategists said they found alarming.
So this is a secondhand account of a statement made by Greene, one of the least trustworthy members of Congress, describing a private poll that Greene claims she's she's seen but that the person speaking to the Times apparently hasn't seen. The poll, if it exists, confirms the "need" for an audit in Georgia, which just so happens to coincide with what Greene wants. Yeah, I'm totally convinced.

But it's now conventional wisdom that Trump's election fraud talk reduces Republican turnout, and probably led Republicans to losses in the two Georgia Senate runoffs in January. But Philip Bump of The Washington Post is right and the conventional wisdom is wrong:
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution looked at county-level results and found that turnout declines in January were heavier in some counties that had voted more strongly for Trump in November.

That’s true.... The more supportive a county was of Trump in November 2020, the bigger the downward shift in turnout in January 2021....

But this isn’t the whole story. If we look at the shift by county from the 2018 gubernatorial race to the 2021 contest, there’s no such pattern. In other words, the increase in votes cast in the runoff election was pretty uniformly distributed relative to 2018 vote....

It wasn’t the 2021 election that was exceptional, it was the 2020 one. And the differentiating factor was whether Trump was on the ballot.
In other words, if you compare the 2021 runoff to the last statewide Georgia election in which Trump wasn't on the ballot, the difference in vote totals is roughly the same in Democratic and Republican counties. The runoff just seems bad for Republicans relative to the 2020 presidential election because in 2020 Trump was on the ballot, and there are a lot of people who don't vote very often but are eager to vote if they can vote for Trump.

But I wish I knew how this misunderstanding could work to Democrats' advantage. I admit that it's fun to watch scared Republicans trying to find someone who'll agree to take incoming from Trump. Louisiana senator Bill Cassidy apparently drew the short straw and was assigned this mission:
Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) told “Axios on HBO” he’s not sure former President Donald Trump would win the Republican nomination if he ran in 2024 — a rare voice of criticism from within the party.

When I raised the conventional wisdom that Trump would be expected to win the nomination, Cassidy jumped in.“

I don't know that,” the senator said during our interview in Chalmette, La.

... “Trump is the first president in the Republican side at least to lose the House, the Senate and the presidency in four years. Elections are about winning," Cassidy said.

On the possibility of Trump losing the nomination, Cassidy said: “Well, if you want to win the presidency — and hopefully that's what voters are thinking about — I think he might.”
But Cassidy just won reelection in 2020. He's safe until 2026. Trump will snipe at him, Trump allies will snipe at him ... and in upcoming elections Republican voters will still vote Republican, because they think Joe Biden is in an advanced state of dementia and is also, somehow, the worst dictator since Stalin, because Nancy Pelosi is the Antichrist, and because Anthony Fauci and George Soros and Bill Gates and the global Deep State and Antifa and Black Lives Matter and Critical Race Theory and the Transgender Menace must be stopped at all costs.

We continue to be told that Trump is a drag on poor Glenn Youngkin in Virginia. From the Times story:
Mr. Trump’s recent interference in the Virginia contest — where polls show the Republican candidate, Glenn Youngkin, narrowly trailing his Democratic rival, former Gov. Terry McAuliffe — worried advisers to Mr. Youngkin’s campaign. They watched as their carefully scripted plan to keep the race focused on their candidate and on claims that Democrats have veered too far left became engulfed by news coverage of the former president praising Mr. Youngkin at a political rally last week.

Some Republicans said they feared they were watching a preview of the awkward and unpleasant dilemma their candidates would face for the foreseeable future, as Mr. Trump remains the most popular figure in their party, determining what candidates say and how voters think.

“Here is where Trump is so destructive,” said Barbara Comstock, a former Republican member of Congress who lost her seat in suburban Virginia in 2018. That year, voters in swing districts across the country turned against centrist incumbents like her in a repudiation of Mr. Trump.
But if Trump is hurting Youngkin so much, why is Youngkin trailing in the polls by only 2.2 points, in a state Biden won by 10? It seems to me that Youngkin is doing the rope-a-dope perfectly -- telling media outlets consumed by suburban voters that he's not like that awful Trump, while using Trump and Trump surrogates to rally the Trumpist faithful. (I still think he'll lose, but not by much.)

I'd be thrilled if Trump were a drag on fellow Republicans, but I see no evidence of that.

Sunday, October 17, 2021

DEMOCRATS DON'T COUNT

GOP governors who oppose public health are slipping in the polls -- but it's not a problem, according to Politico, because they're slipping with the wrong people.
Republican governors crusading against vaccine mandates are facing significantly lower approval ratings on their handling of the coronavirus pandemic than their counterparts. But they’re not worried.

... Just last week, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott flat-out banned vaccine requirements, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis followed up by vowing to sue the Biden administration.

But new research shows governors in states without vaccine mandates — or where they’ve outright prohibited such a requirement — have “significantly lower” approval ratings for their handling of Covid-19.

In states with vaccine mandates, 52 percent of people approve or strongly approve of their governors’ handling of the pandemic, according to the latest survey from the Covid States Project.... That coronavirus approval rating drops to 42 percent for governors in states with no vaccine requirements. And it takes yet another hit — dropping to just 36 percent — in states where governors have barred vaccine mandates.
So why aren't DeSantis and Abbott worried?
... there’s the political calculus. Several Republican governors, including Abbott in Texas, are facing primary challenges from their right. Some, like DeSantis in Florida ... have eyes on 2024. Both of those factors are sending GOP governors scrambling to shore up support among the party’s base.
This is written as if all that matters is whether Republican governors please Republican voters. The fact that both governors will also face general election voters in 2022, in purple states -- and DeSantis might face them nationwide in 2024 -- is apparently irrelevant. Who cares what Democratic and independent voters think?

This is the same Politico story that features the following sentence:
Vaccine mandates are politically divisive but nationally have broad support.
If they "have broad support," how can they be "politically divisive"? Oh, right -- it'd because the one group that vehemently opposes them is the party of real Americans.
The Morning Consult/POLITICO poll from August showed eight in 10 Democrats and at least half of independent voters want to require vaccinations for all Americans.
But Republicans don't like mandates, so mandates are "divisve." Right. Got it.

Saturday, October 16, 2021

AN EXPERT ON CONSPIRACIES TELLS ME NOT TO WORRY. I'M WORRIED.

I'm supposed to be reassured by this Rolling Stone interview with conspiracy expert Joseph Uscinski. I'm not reassured, even though Uscinski's expertise comes highly recommended.
“Joe knows this stuff better than really anyone else does,” says Ethan Zuckerman, the former director of the MIT Center for Civic Media and a current professor of public policy, communication and information at the University of Massachusetts. “Joe has the data and Joe’s data is good. The rest of us are just dabbling. So I’m never going to contradict Joe on what conspiracy theories are and how they happen.”
Uscinski insists that there's no increase in conspiratorial thinking these days, and that the people who are falling for the worst conspiracies are people who were already psychologically unstable.
As Uscinski’s research bears out, a certain percentage of people (he puts it at 5-7 percent) will be predisposed to believe a certain type of anti-establishment conspiracy theory, and when they go looking, they will find it every time, in whatever form it is currently lurking. And ultimately, that means that in our collective hysteria over the QAnon phenomenon, we’ve gotten caught up in the weirdness of the ideas while perhaps losing sight of the weirdness of the people — and the fact that this potentially explosive weirdness has been an undercurrent of American society all along.
If you believe in extreme conspiracies, Uscinski says, it's because you were nuts to begin with. Here's a quote from the interview:
I mean, there’s this style of reporting that’s been out for a while, like, “My cousin became a QAnon and now I don’t know what to do.” These articles always start off with: “My cousin used to be so normal.” What’s really going on is the cousin was never normal or you just didn’t pay attention to the cousin and he was probably weird but you didn’t have a word to put on that.

But then you hear “QAnon” in the news. Now you can categorize what your cousin is doing as something. You’re like, “Oh, my God, this thing just happened to him.” Well, no, it didn’t just happen. Your cousin was always a wackadoo. I’m sorry....

You know, there’s always anecdotes of these things, but when you read the write up of these, you’re not getting this full picture of whatever that person might have been into before or what their other issues might be. I mean, there was a write-up last summer about this woman who trashed the mask aisle at Target, and all they’re talking about is social media, conspiracy theories, how conspiracy theories overtook her life. You have to get to paragraph 15 to find out that, oh, by the way, she’s diagnosed with severe bipolar disorder, was off her meds for a few months, had lost her job, was facing severe anxiety and was suffering from isolation due to the pandemic. Well, OK, that should be paragraph one.
Uscinski may have data to back this up, but he doesn't show his work. Maybe it's because Rolling Stone is the wrong venue for that. But I would have liked to see some supporting evidence.

Uscinski insists that people believe crazy things because they want to.
What does engaging in a conspiracy theory do for someone who has that mindset? Are they getting constant dopamine hits of their worldview being validated? What’s in it for them?
There’s some discussion that perhaps these are coping mechanisms, but bad ones. Imagine you want to cope with uncertainty. You say, “Oh, I don’t know why the pandemic happens. I can’t sleep at night. So I’ll decide that it’s China trying to kill us all.” Well, that might ease your uncertainty, but knowing people are trying to kill you with bioweapons does not really ease your anxiety. I think it’s a lot more simple than that — it’s that people like ideas that match what they already believe.
But there's a problem here: Believing that the COVID virus is a Chinese bioweapon isn't an off-the-rails conspiracy theory -- it's very close to what many Very Serious People want us all to believe. We've been hectored for months about the lab-leak theory. The belief that the virus escaped from a laboratory in Wuhan and that scientists, in China and elsewhere, conspired to cover up the leak is utterly mainstream. Lab-leak believers may not be willing to say that virus was created as a bioweapon, but many believe it was created, as part of "gain of function" research to see what a really bad virus might do, and from there it's a short step to the bioweapon theory. Are all the journalists who believe in the lab-leak theory mentally ill? Morris never asks Uscinski that.

The interview continues:
But the algorithm certainly isn’t helping with that.
I think that’s getting overestimated, because what do algorithms do?

Give you what you already want.
Right. And nobody wants to really come to grips with the fact that people already want this.
If everyone who succumbs in this way was destined to do so sooner or later, why did my parents smoke cigarettes for decades (in my mother's case, sixty years) while I've never become addicted to them? My answer is that I never started to smoke in the first place. I'm sure I could have easily become an addict if I'd started to smoke, just the way my parents did. Following Uscinski's logic, if I'd been susceptible to tobacco, I would have gravitated toward it. But that's not how people operate. Being susceptible to a toxic substance isn't the same as inevitably succumbing to it. It has to grab hold of you first.

Uscinski may be right when he says that the percentage of conspiratorialists rarely changes. In that respect, maybe there's nothing new about belief in QAnon. What's new is that the belief is weaponized by one political party -- as Uscinski acknowledges, almost as an afterthought, at the very end of the interview.
Leaders will use conspiracy theories from time to time whenever it suits them. Normal mainstream presidents and presidential candidates tend to eschew it. Not entirely, but they tend to not use them....

But having a major presidential candidate like Trump doing it is sort of a new thing. And it wasn’t just about one theory or one thing. It was an attempt to essentially build a new coalition within the party. Nobody in recent history has done what Trump has done and has gotten as far as he has. And I think the danger here is when our political leaders start using this stuff to build political coalitions and then to guide policy....

So we have the behavior of our political leaders bringing into our mainstream politics a bunch of people who have anti-establishment views and engage in anti-social behaviors. I mean, we can call it QAnon — you can call it whatever you want. But what you have there is a bunch of people with unsavory psychological characteristics and unsavory worldviews being activated by unscrupulous politicians. What the Trump presidency showed us is that our system is clearly vulnerable to that. That does keep me up at night.
Yes, that's the problem. Also, although Uscinski won't acknowledge it, Trump and other Republicans don't merely bring conspiratorialists into the fold, they spread conspiratorialism far and wide, and many people who don't believe every aspect of the conspiracies now say, Elitist liberal pedophiles run the world, and one of those pedophile elitists is Bill Gates, who's using COVID vaccines to depopulate the earth, and in the meantime the 2020 election was stolen by means of satellite skulduggery from Italy and fake ballots printed on bamboo paper in China. Not everyone believes every conspiracy theory. Many of them don't believe JFK Jr. is alive and will be Trump's running mate in 2024. But maybe they believe Joe Biden is completely senile and the government is secretly being run by Barack Obama. Or maybe they just believe Democrats cheat in every election, which is something they've been told by most Republican politicians and Fox News for nearly two decades.

What's the solution? Uscinski says:
Well, I think there are things that could be done. One, the parties need to have better control over who they allow to run under their banner. The Republican Party should not be allowing the Trumps, and the Democratic Party should not be allowing Maryanne Williamson. If people are espousing unacceptable ideas, those people should be removed from the ballots.

Congress also needs to hold their members accountable for engaging in this sort of stuff. [Ted] Cruz and [Josh] Hawley should have been booted from the Senate for their actions. Replace them with another Republican — that’s fine. They need to hold themselves accountable before they start to censor any of us.
Oh, is that all? I'm sure that should be easy to accomplish. The GOP won't have a problem with it, right?

Uscinski might know his stuff, but he really doesn't understand how conspiratorialism is operating in American politics today.

Friday, October 15, 2021

KYRSTEN SINEMA: FIGHTING TOXICITY WITH ... TOXICITY

Michelle Cottle of The New York Times thinks it might make sense for Kyrsten Sinema to become an independent.
Some have suggested that she’s charting a path out of office entirely. But Ms. Sinema’s better course may be not to leave the Senate but to split with her party. Her departure might even wind up being a positive for all involved.

Throwing in with Republicans seems like a bridge too far. It’s not as though Ms. Sinema is an actual conservative. But easing over into the independent column could be a gentler, less disruptive transition. She could still caucus with the Democrats, much like her independent colleagues Angus King and Bernie Sanders.
Except that King and Sanders actually support the current Democratic president's most important legislation.
A split still wouldn’t be easy. The logistics would be a nightmare.... But Ms. Sinema has a better shot than most at not just surviving such a shift, but becoming a truly independent force to be reckoned with — maybe even a power broker for years to come.
In order words, a thrift-store-chic boot in the Democrats' face forever.

Cottle insists that Sinema isn't an inscrutable flibbertigibbet -- she's a woman of principle! Just read her memoir!
... many of her critics ... see her as a chameleon, unprincipled and narcissistic, an intellectual lightweight without any steady, guiding tenets. But she does have a guiding principle. She holds fast to an abhorrence of the toxicity and dysfunction of the hyper-polarized political system, brandishing a potent combination of disgust, frustration and moderation that could, come to think of it, put her in sync with a big slice of Americans.
So Sinema abhors political toxicity? Tell us more.
... her involvement with progressive activists — both as one herself and later as an elected official — left some scars. In her 2009 book, “Unite and Conquer,” Ms. Sinema emerges as a progressive disillusioned by the foibles and limitations of progressive activism. The book, on coalition building, is awash in mocking caricatures of progressives as smug, ineffectual, rigid, self-serious, wonky, disorganized know-it-alls. Recalling her own experiences, she tosses out tough-love observations such as, “Progressives love to talk about coalitions, but we’re not very good at creating or maintaining them,” and “since we’re so smart and have all the answers to the world’s problems, you’d think that we progressives would get more done.”

... With their fanatical “obsession with victimhood,” she declares, progressives will always struggle to create “effective coalitions.” This focus on differences rather than shared interests is one of the political tendencies she sees herself fighting against.

That rejection of factionalism may be more central to her identity than any of her legislative positions.
But this isn't a "rejection of factionalism." If you declare that all of your ostensible allies are terrible, self-righteous absolutists while you're The One True Political Force To Be Reckoned With, you've made yourself into a faction -- a faction of one, perhaps, but a faction nonetheless. If you reject the "toxicity" of what you regard as absolutism, shouldn't you demonstrate that by not being an absolutist yourself? Remember, you don't have to be all the way to the left or right to be a politcal absolutist. You can -- to take a purely hypothetical example -- be a person who refuses to negotiate in good faith when the legislation that's the highest priority for all the other members of the party to which you nominally belong hangs in the balance.

This seems obvious, but it's invisible to Cottle. Over and over again she describes Sinema as the person who plays well with others while everyone else is rigid and doctrinaire.
The senator, who declined interview requests, fancies herself a role model for a new ethos favoring “a higher road of engagement that focuses on finding common ground,” as she put it in “Unite and Conquer.”
So how about "finding common ground" with the members of your own damn party?

Cottle believes Sinema is a great compromiser even as Sinema wakes up every day and spits in the eye of everyone who begs her to explain what compromises she's seeking. You write a piece like this when you've internalized the widely held notion that the highest virtue in politics, short of being a right-winger, is making concessions with right-wingers -- the very thing Sinema prides herself on -- while no one ever needs to the same with Democrats, because Democrats are icky and disgusting.

FOX COMMENTERS' RESPONSE TO BILL CLINTON'S HOSPITALIZATION IS PRETTY MUCH WHAT YOU'D EXPECT


I don't consider this a major story, but it's the lead story at FoxNews.com right now:



Former President Bill Clinton remained in a California hospital early Friday after being admitted earlier in the week for a non-COVID-19-related infection.

"On Tuesday evening, President Clinton was admitted to UCI Medical Center to receive treatment for a non-Covid-related infection," Clinton's spokesman, Angel Urena, said in a statement on Thursday evening.
CNN reports that the former president, who is 75, has a urinary tract infection that spread to his bloodstream, a fairly common medical condition in the elderly.

It's a relatively minor medical problem, so why is the story so prominent at Fox? Because it's an excellent opportunity for Fox fans to demonstrate the kind of high-minded civic engagement they're known for. From the comments:
A source close to the situation told Fox News the former president was "diagnosed as a urological infection which morphed into a broader infection

Probably systemic syphillis

****

bill remembers trying to grope mooch obama, and then he woke up in the hospital

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I'm sure it is an STD he caught from Epstein Island. I wonder if Hillary brought the painting of him in the blue dress from Epstein's living room to comfort him in the dire time.

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Not Covid-19 related? I thought that since Covid-19 appeared all other illnesses disappeared.

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Bill was diagnosed with an STD accompanied by extreme flatulence. In medical terms, gonorrhea with the wind! Let’s go Brandon

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A long very painful illness is exactly what Klinton deserves

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Not Covid-19 related for ol' dirtbag bill means: his herpes flared up just as the claps acted up and spurred his ghonerea into full beast mode until his syphilis came on full motion and swolled up his balls into grapefruits. A hospital trip was warranted, besides with bill being buddies with ol' bill gates, he can't ley anybody know he has the virus with the vaccine in his creepy filthy body.

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Where I live a friend died in a motorcycle accident when his wife got his death certificate the cause of death said he died of Covid 19.

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Bad reaction to the vaccine

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At this moment Chuck and Nancy are secretly hoping Bill meets his maker so they can have a week long funeral complete with a 'Golden Casket' to further distract the American people from their atrocities. FACT.

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Don’t Worry. Syphilis is very treatable these days. The hard part will be notifying ALL the contacts.

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Yea would you want to give Hillary the news?

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Hillary won't be on that list, he won't touch that cow

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Has anyone contacted Barry?

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Hopefully he will go slowly, with excruciating pain and agony

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with pieces dropping off

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oscar meyer first

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and poop all over

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What would really be great is if all his nurses were guys who identify as girls

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I bet he asked for Ivermectin
Every so often, this notice appears:
This comment violated our policy.
Which means that all the comments above (and many more like them) didn't violate Fox's "policy," whatever it is.

And please remember: All of these people vote.

Thursday, October 14, 2021

TRUMP HASN'T STARTING INSULTING RIVALS YET

I've seen this theory of 2024 emerging in the America media, and now a British Twitter friend has sent me a BBC story repeating the theory:
Is Trump's power over Republicans starting to slip?

... If Trump is dipping his toe once more into presidential politics, the prospect hasn't been universally welcomed outside the friendly confines of his rallies.

A recent Pew Research poll found that, while two-thirds of Republicans in the US want Trump to remain a "major political figure", fewer than half want him to seek the Republican presidential nomination a third time.

It's what the New York Time's Jonathan Martin has called the "gold watch" constituency - a portion of the party that wants to thank Trump for his service and then usher him into retirement with a shiny gift and a pat on the back.
In the Pew survey, 44% of Republicans and Republican leaners say they want Trump to run, while 22% say he "should support another presidential candidate who shares his views." In the latest Morning Consult poll of the primary field, 47% of Republicans support Trump, 12% each support Mike Pence and Ron DeSantis, 6% support Donald Trump Jr., and no one else gets above 3%.

That alone should be enough for an easy Trump victory. But what if he fades a bit more? And what if Republicans who want to move on from Trump clear the field for one strong challenger? If he's only polling in the 40s, isn't he beatable?

Perhaps -- but please note that these are his numbers before he starts insulting challengers.

If there's a competitive primary, Trump will resort to his most dangerous weapon: schoolyard nicknames. Is Governor DeSantis a serious threat? Overnight he'll become ... Rotten Ron! Can't you hear Trump saying that? Can't you picture the campaign press releases referring to DeSantis as Rotten Ron? (Trump's will probably still be peeved that DeSantis rejected the call for an audit of the 2020 election in Florida, even though Trump won.)

Imagine that Nikki Haley is making a serious run at Trump. Trump will undoubtedly begin referring to her using her real first name -- Nimrata -- and maybe she'll be become Nutso Nimrata. (I don't know why any adult would respond well to these infantile insults, but they seem to have an extraordinary power over right-wing voters.)

If Haley is a top challenger, I assume Trump will attack her for one of her proudest achievements: removing the Confederate flag from the statehouse grounds in South Carolina when she was governor. And he'll pay no price for that.

Remember, Trump seemed not to have the support of the majority of GOP voters in 2016, and it was widely believed that he'd be beatable once the primary field narrowed. But as it did, he really started dishing out the insults. Li'l Marco! Lyin' Ted! GOP primary voters were having the time of their lives. He won easily. And he'll do it again.

SINEMA CLEARLY WANTS TO RUN AGAIN, BUT ON WHICH BALLOT LINE?

It was only a couple of weeks ago that National Journal's Josh Kraushaar was touting a poll showing Kyrsten Sinema with higher approval ratings in Arizona than Mark Kelly, the state's other senator, who's a much more mainstream Democrat.



Around the same time, Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo described Sinema as doomed to lose a 2024 primary -- but then he posted a reply from an Arizona reader arguing that Sinema's plan is to beat any Democratic challengers by drawing a large number of independent voters (who can vote in party primaries in Arizona), at which point she'll have a good shot at winning the general election.

But a new poll from Data for Progress suggests that she's unlikely to survive a primary.
Seventy percent of prospective 2024 primary voters have a negative opinion of Sinema, with just 24% expressing a positive view of the first-term senator. Nearly half have a “very unfavorable” opinion. For contrast, 85% of primary voters have a favorable opinion of Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), who is also in his first term.

The survey tested Sinema against four different potential primary challengers: Rep. Ruben Gallego, an Iraq War veteran who represents Phoenix and whose name often comes up in conversations about potential threats to Sinema; Rep. Greg Stanton, a former mayor of Phoenix; Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego; and Tucson Mayor Regina Romero.

If all four candidates ran ― an unlikely scenario for many reasons, including the fact that Ruben and Kate Gallego used to be married to each other ― the survey has Ruben Gallego earning 23% of the vote to Sinema’s 19% and Stanton’s 13%. Both Romero and Kate Gallego would theoretically earn 9% of the vote.

But head-to-head matchups drive home how dire Sinema’s position could be. All four potential challengers have massive leads: Ruben Gallego leads Sinema 62% to 23%; Kate Gallego has a 60% to 25% edge; Stanton leads 59% to 24%; and Romero leads 55% to 26%.
And no, she's not doing well among independents in this poll, or at least among independents who are likely to vote in the Democratic primary -- with that group, she's at 37% approval, 58% disapproval.

It's early, and she can theoretically turn this around. But it seems obvious that her corporate owners have tasked her with killing the Biden agenda, not merely watering it down. The earlier poll quoted by Kraushaar might not have been an extreme outlier -- there could have been many Arizona voters who thought it was good to negotiate the contents of this legislation from the center. But voters eventually want legislators to do something, and it's clear that Sinema wants the opposite. If she doesn't find a way to vote for this -- and I don't think she will -- she's doomed as a Democrat.

She clearly doesn't believe that -- she's in Europe now trying to raise campaign cash from Americans living abroad, according to The New York Times, although it's not clear whether she's raising cash for Senate Democrats as a group or for herself.

She can't be gearing up to run in the Republican primary, can she? Last month, Josh Marshall took a look at a Bendixen & Amandi poll conducted in June:
Just 47% of Dems approved her performance as Senator. Only 46% of independents approved. But she had a new superpower. Her approval among Republicans was an eye-popping 54%. Only 32% disapproved....

She’d built a constituency of partisan Republicans who really like her because she’s constantly wrongfooting her own party.
And that was in June. Now it's clear that she's sent the Biden agenda to the intensive care unit, where it might not pull through. She might actually kill the bill all by herself, doing that thumbs-down thing she stole from John McCain, with the curtsy added just to twist the knife.



They'll love her. She'll be the new Tulsi Gabbard. Maybe she'll even start arguing that the 2020 election was stolen.

What if her plan is to win the Republican primary with a combination of registered party voters and independents? It might seem impossible, given her voting record, which is disappointingly compromised to us but is far to the left of the typical Republican's record. But maybe they'll just treat her the way they treat Elise Stefanik, who was a moderate Republican before she became a Trump cheerleader -- they won't care about her past as long as she owns the libs now.

With Sinema, I don't think we should rule out anything, except the possibility that she'll do the right thing.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

HERE'S ANOTHER "CANCELED" RIGHT-WINGER WHO ISN'T ACTUALLY CANCELED

Publishers Lunch reports:
Conservative news outlet The Daily Wire announced Wednesday that it will launch a publishing imprint, DW Books, set to start publishing in spring 2022.... DW Books says it will publish the book by Jonathan Mattingly, a police officer who shot Breonna Taylor. Post Hill Press originally signed Mattingly, and they parted ways after Simon & Schuster declined to distribute the title.
When Mattingly parted ways with Post Hill Press after Simon & Schuster dropped his book, he wrote this in an American Thinker post:
I am not the first person to be canceled by the publishing industry for going against the "woke" narrative. Earlier this year, Simon & Schuster canceled a book from Senator Josh Hawley....

Whether you're a United States senator or a cop from Louisville, the left doesn't want your story to be told if you stand in its way. Leftists want you to leave them alone as they divide America with their falsehoods.

I, for one, won't sit by idly and let that happen. I plan to tell the truth, no matter the cost.
The "cost" for Mattingly is that he's now being published by the book imprint of Facebook's favorite right-wing site, which all but guarantees the book massive exposure on social media, in addition to the inevitable bulk buys that are certain to propel it onto the bestseller list.

True "cancel culture" would be "We, the authorities, won't allow anyone to publish or read this book." In reality, if a moral degenerate like Ben Shapiro wants to publish it, that's his right as an American. But it's not cancel culture if decent people want no part of it.

BOTHSIDESING MASKS IN THE NEW YORK TIMES OPINION SECTION

I like ProPublica's Alec MacGillis, and I appreciate some of what he's saying about mask-wearing in this New York Times op-ed.
BERLIN — You see it everywhere here in Germany, day in and day out: People taking the subway or bus or train put masks on as they prepare to board. And when they arrive at their stop or station and disembark, nearly all of them take the mask off, almost in unison.

For someone who arrived here after spending the first year and a quarter of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States, it is a remarkable sight: a communal, matter-of-fact approach to mitigation, turning what has become such an intensely charged symbol for Americans into a mere practicality. This approach to masks and public transit is on display not only in cosmopolitan Berlin, but everywhere I’ve been [in Germany] in my reporting travels these past two months.... Mask on when you’re inside the train or store; mask off when you’re out of it.
That's what I do, although I wait until I leave a subway station before removing my mask. If Germans do this, good for them.

But then MacGillis begins blaming the fraught politics of masking in America on ... both sides (which I'm sure is what made the piece appealing to the editors of the Times opinion section):
Throughout 2020 and the first part of 2021, I traveled across the United States reporting stories, and wondered why it was so hard for the country to arrive at a sensible middle ground on Covid-19 measures.

Even after public health experts had established the vastly lower risk of transmission outdoors, I watched local officials close playgrounds and swimming pools, leaving young people with fewer options for low-risk activity and social contact. That was (mostly) the blue states. In one red town I attended a crowded memorial service in a windowless church where precious few people were wearing masks, and many shared embraces as though the virus simply didn’t exist. All or nothing, nothing or all.
We can argue about the risk of COVID to children -- it's not zero, although many Americans have argued since the start of the pandemic that it's effectively zero -- but I think the closure of outdoor recreation facilities for kids was about fear of very close physical contact, not about an incorrect belief that the outdoors is as COVID-risky as the indoors. Maybe local governments went too far. But the difference between overcaution and red-state hostility to precautions is that overcaution doesn't spread a deadly virus and undercaution frequently does.
And I saw how these wildly conflicting responses were fueling a vicious cycle of ever wider divides in behavior, with corrosive political side effects. For someone who had been documenting the country’s growing political fissures for more than a decade, it was not hard to discern what was happening: Reports of Trump supporters refusing to wear masks in big-box stores or indoor campaign events seemed to make liberals more inclined to wear masks even when outdoors with few people around; seeing mask wearing turned into a political statement, more partisan talisman than necessary tool, in turn made many conservatives less likely to mask up indoors when the circumstances justified it.
There's a pervasive myth that a high degree of COVID caution among some liberals is an effort to spit in the eye of conservatives, or virtue-signal to other liberals. For the people who believe this, it's a story that's too good to check; as far as I know, no one has ever asked people who wear masks in uncrowded outdoor settings why they do it. Particularly since the rise of the Delta variant, I assume it's because of unconfirmed reports that Delta can transmit within five to ten seconds and might be more contagious outdoors than other forms of the virus.

But again, people who wear masks outdoors aren't hurting anyone. People who won't wear masks in Walmart might hurt someone.

And not just by spreading COVID. MacGillis notes that Germany, despite the apparent calm with which it has responded to pandemic restrictions, has had one murder in response to public health measures. America, of course, has had many more.
... the police in southwestern Germany arrested a 49-year-old man accused of fatally shooting a 20-year-old gas-station clerk who had told him to wear a mask in the shop. It was reportedly the country’s first instance of deadly violence apparently fueled by disputes over pandemic restrictions, a category of killing of which the United States has more than a half dozen examples.
MacGillis says that this violence was "apparently fueled by disputes over pandemic restrictions," a phrase that glosses over the fact that the violent "disputers" are all on one side. They're all mask opponents, as the list at MacGillis's link makes clear.
[A] Georgia gunman ... fatally shot a cashier at the Big Bear supermarket outside of Atlanta after arguing with her about his face covering, according to a statement from the Georgia Bureau of Investigations....

In one of the earliest incidents, four people were charged for fatally shooting a security guard at a Family Dollar store in Flint, Michigan, in May 2020 after police say the 43-year-old denied entry to a woman whose daughter was not wearing a mask.

Denying service over missing face-coverings has also been linked to the killings of a Louisiana police officer, who wouldn’t allow a maskless man into a high school basketball game, and an MTA mobility driver in Baltimore, who was shot and killed after turning away a would-be bus passenger.

An 80-year-old man in Buffalo, New York, died in October of last year after he was pushed to the ground by a fellow customer at a bar who he confronted about not wearing a mask.
One mask opponent was killed, but he was a violent aggressor.
A Michigan sheriff’s deputy fatally shot a man suspected of stabbing another man after a mask dispute in a Quality Dairy store in July of last year (the man who was stabbed later died from the injuries).
And where's the pro-mask equivalent of this?



Or this?



You can argue that both sides have misjudged the appropriate response to the virus, but you can't argue that both sides are equally menacing. Much of the right didn't want to wear masks, didn't want to take precautions, didn't want to treat the pandemic as anything worse than a flu, and now doesn't want to get vaccinated. The right treats the public health response itself as an aggression -- even the parts Alec MacGillis approves of -- even though the absence of public health measures -- the "freedom" the right wants -- leads to disasters like what happened in the South this summer. Sorry, Alec, but the blame doesn't fall equally on both sides.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

REPUBLICANS PRACTICE UNPOPULARISM

Democrats are wondering if the only way they can prevent electoral disaster is "popularism" -- limiting themselves to policy positions that are very popular. By contrast, Republicans just don't care what the general public thinks.
The Florida Department of Health on Tuesday issued a fine over $3.5 million to a county government for violating the state's ban on vaccine passports.

The Leon County government was fined $3.57 million for what the Florida Department of Health called a "blatant violation of the law relating to the ban of vaccine passports in our state."

"It is unacceptable that Leon County violated Florida law, infringed on current and former employees' medical privacy, and fired loyal public servants because of their personal health decisions,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) said in the announcement of the fine.
According to an August poll, Floridians support vaccine mandates.
Clear majorities support vaccine passports for a wide range of public activities. For cruise ships, just under 70% supported proof of vaccination for passengers. For flights, nearly 68%.

Just over 67% said universities should require vaccinations for students. Another 61% supported vaccine mandates for those attending large sports and entertainment events. And 65% said businesses generally should require their employees to get the jab.
Texans too:
Most Texans support measures requiring all eligible people to get vaccinated against COVID-19, according to a recent survey.

More than 65 percent of Texans said they would support vaccine mandates issued by federal, state or local governments; the national average was 64 percent. More than 70 percent of Texans would support vaccine requirements to board an airplane; more than 62 percent would support vaccine mandates for children returning to schools; and 67 percent would support them for students returning to universities.
And yet Texas governor Greg Abbott signed an executive order yesterday saying that "no entity in Texas can compel receipt of a COVID-19 vaccine by any individual, including an employee or a consumer."

DeSantis and Abbott don't care. They know that even Republican voters who oppose them on this will vote for them anyway in 2022, because Fox News and Newsmax and OANN tell them every day that voting for any Democrat means voting for all the evil in the world -- Soros and Antifa and Critical Race Theory and the War on Christmas and communism and shootings in Chicago and Superman kissing a guy. When you've got that kind of well-rooted fearmongering going for you, you don't need popularism. You can do whatever the hell you want, or at least whatever pleases the most rabid base voters and inspires them to send money to your campaign fund. Caring what the public thinks is only important for one party.

WHY BIDEN SEEMS STUCK

I saw this yesterday in a Politico story:
In a focus group last week, Pennsylvania Democrats one after another articulated the issue vexing top White House aides, party operatives in Virginia and voters in Georgia: Why isn’t President Joe Biden’s diminished job rating rebounding?

All nine participants from Tuesday’s session gave Biden C- grades or lower....

“There is a malaise,” said Sarah Longwell, a moderate Republican strategist who became a vocal supporter of Biden in 2020, and led the focus group of Democratic voters. “People don’t feel like their lives have been improved. They did sort of feel that promises aren’t being kept.” ...

Longwell said she was struck ... by how little Democrats in her surveys blame Republicans for standing in Biden’s way.
Well, of course they don't. In nearly all elite-media reporting, Republicans are practically invisible. The press tells us that the major bills Biden is trying to pass are being blocked by two senators. The larger of the two bills is actually being blocked by fifty-two senators, fifty of whom are never asked to explain why they aren't willing to meet Biden partway. The other bill will probably be blocked by nearly all of the same fifty senators, despite the fact that a number of them claimed to support it a while back. The elite media expects outreach across the aisle from Democrats, but never from Republicans. And so Republicans aren't blamed for their intransigence.
Biden and Democrats in Washington “are in a morass of fighting with each over bills that nobody knows what’s in,” Longwell added. “It just looks like a cluster.”
No one knows what's in the bills because they're Democratic domestic-spending bills, so the press believes that the salient point is Oh my God, the cost of these bills is huge! And Democrats are doing a bad job of messaging, as is usually the case, so of course no one knows what's in the bills.

Longwell and others say that what's particularly dragging Biden down is a sense that the pandemic isn't under control.
[Focus group participants'] answers circled back to a similar point: The pandemic and the many ways it continues to hinder normal life is souring their views of Biden.

One woman said she wanted to buy a car but supply chain issues were delaying new shipments to the dealership. A man complained about understaffed restaurants....

In one widely circulated memo, Democratic strategist Simon Rosenberg argued that Biden’s steep drop-off can only be explained by the public’s perception of his uneven handling of the pandemic and a belief he is not prioritizing it....

Pandemic fatigue is growing among Biden’s core voters elsewhere, too. In a nearly 100-page study of 40 so-called “gettable” Democrats and independents done in Clark County, Nev., last month, researchers found that voters were “anxious, tired, and exhausted.” The researchers added that voters “looked at the government’s [Covid] stumbles along the way and shrugged their collective shoulders.”
Case numbers are down, and yet Biden isn't declaring victory. Obviously, after the false dawn of this past spring, you can't blame him. But Ron DeSantis and Greg Abbott seem prouder of their record of failure -- hundreds of deaths a day in each of their states as a result of this summer's Delta surge -- than Biden is of his successes. The vaccine mandates are working -- employees have largely chosen to comply. States with high vaccination rates continue to avoid the mass death and hospital overcrowding that red states have experienced. If you had a heart attack in New York or Boston this summer, there was an ICU bed for you. Why can't Biden say that his approach is working?

I don't know how -- or whether -- Biden can turn this around. This is the third consecutive Democratic presidency that's been caught in the brambles in its first year or two, after the president underestimated Republican resistance to his agenda. This time, however, we don't have a charismatic Great Communicator in the White House. Maybe Biden has a different sort of likability, and he'll become more popular as COVID recedes and some legislation is passed. But he needs to take some credit. He and his party need to work the refs and get better coverage. And Democrats need to make Republicans the enemy, which is just putting the blame where most of it belongs.

Monday, October 11, 2021

YOU CAN'T SHAME THEM

In a naive column about how President Biden can regain his footing, E.J. Dionne writes:
Harry Truman-style, Biden should press Republicans about what benefits they propose to deny to Americans who need them. Do they want less child care? Less health coverage? More expensive drugs? No tax breaks under the child tax credit? And do recalcitrant Republican governors want an unending pandemic?
I think, in all cases, Republican officeholders would answer: Sure, why not? Yes, polls show that Republican voters want what's in Biden's bills almost as much as Democrats and independents do -- but we also know that Republican voters respond extremely well to the notion that government assistance should go only to the "deserving."

And on the question of whether Republican officeholders "want an unending pandemic," I'd say that many of the ones who want to run for president in 2024 certainly do. I don't think this is because they want to kill people exactly (although, again, there's a widespread belief on the right that COVID kills only those who "deserve" to die -- the elderly, the sick, the overweight). I think, for Republican governors, the pandemic is like a war. Remember, George H.W. Bush went to war with Iraq at the peak of his popularity, accomplished the goals he set out to accomplish, declared victory, and brought the troops home. The following year, he lost his reelection bid. His son also went to war with Iraq and got stuck in a quagmire. He got to run for reelction as a "war president" who was "keeping America safe." He won reelection, and is the only Republican presidential candidate to win the popular vote since 1988.

You'd have to be a sick person to want to prolong suffering just for political gain -- but we're talking about Ron DeSantis, Greg Abbott, and Kristi Noem, so why not? We should remember that their ongoing battle, as long as there's a pandemic, isn't with the virus -- it's with us. As long as they're fighting us over vaccines and masks, the contributions will be pouring in. When the pandemic is over, they'll need to find something else to open contributors' wallets. (I don't believe it's a coincidence that Republicans began to go all in on the Critical Race Theory hysteria just when it seemed as if vaccination was about to end the pandemic.)

No, E.J., you can't appeal to their better natures, and you can't shame them. You just have to roll right over them. And as long as there's a filibuster, Democrats simply can't do that.

Sunday, October 10, 2021

IF YOUR VOTERS THINK THE OTHER PARTY IS THE ANTICHRIST, YOU DON'T NEED "POPULARISM"

So we're all discussing the work of Democratic data wonk David Shor -- Ezra Klein, Jamelle Bouie, Nate Cohn, and Politico's Ian Ward are all writing about Shor's notion that Democrats are doomed in future elections unless they stop emphasizing policy ideas that matter to young, white, college-educated party staffers and instead stress what matters to voters who are closer to the median, which means voters (of all races) who are older and have less education. Prioritizing messages that appeal to ordinary voters is what Shor calls "popularism."

I think there's something to this -- discussions of defunding the police probably didn't help Democrats in 2020, and might have hurt them enough to cost them some races, in a year in which they won control of D.C. but lost many key races they should have won. (Shor thinks the effect was significant; other Democratic data wonks disagree.)

But how many Democratic candidates actually ran on a defund-the-police platform in 2020? Joe Biden certainly didn't. Also, why doesn't this seem necessary for Republicans? They run on banning all abortions, increasing the availability of guns, and cutting taxes on the rich. None of these ideads are popular. Republicans win anyway. Why?

I'll start with the first question: "Defund the police" mattered in 2020 not because Democrats made it a central issue (they didn't), but because the right said it was a central issue for Democrats. The problem wasn't that Democrats missed an opportunity to stress policy positions that are broadly appealing -- it was that Republicans seized an opportunity to make Democrats appear evil to Republican and swing voters.

My problem with Shor's "say popular stuff" message is that it doesn't take into account an earlier set of ideas about why Americans vote the way they do: because they're motivated primarily by negative partisanship. Voters vote for one party because they hate the other party. Unpopular messaging hurts Democrats because Republicans and Fox News use it to make conservatives and moderates hate Democrats.

And Republicans don't have to worry about being "popularist" because Democrats rarely try to make voters hate Republicans.

Democrats refrain from taking advantagez of negative partisanship even though, as that recent Larry Sabato survey argued, Democratic voters are nearly as angry at Republicans as Republicans are at Democrats. The Democrats win elections mostly when negative partisanship is thrust upon them -- as it was during Trump's presidency or George W. Bush's second term. Unlike Republicans, they don't stir up grievances, and they've never been good at nationalizing anger about local issues. (By contrast, Republicans make national issues out of nothing, as in the current panic over critical race theory in schools.)

Of course, Democrats don't have a media operation that can compete with Fox and talk radio. So I guess they have to run on ideas, and make sure they're the right ones. Meanwhile, Republicans simply say, "We're the party that doesn't want to end civilization as we know it!!!!" And that's enough to make them competitive in nearly every election cycle.

Saturday, October 09, 2021

IF YOU REPEAT A LIE ENOUGH TIMES, WITH ENOUGH BACKUP, PEOPLE WILL JUST BELIEVE YOU

Politico's Renusa Rayasam asked a couple of advertising professionals how they'd market President Biden's infrastructure plan. To introduce their recommendations, Rayasam wrote this:
Wherever you sit on the political spectrum, and whatever you think of the substantive merits of the multi-trillion dollar bill that Joe Biden has staked his presidency on, you will probably agree that the bill has been terribly named.

Point of comparison: Former President Donald Trump, who certainly knew how to market things, passed the simply named “Tax Cut and Jobs Act,” and Trump reportedly wanted to call it the even simpler “Cut Cut Cut Act.” Yet Biden’s signature bill is sometimes called “the reconciliation bill,” after the legislative procedure Democrats plan to use to pass it.
What? Trump "certainly knew how to market things"? Trump Steaks? Trump Water? The USFL? Bleach as a treatment for COVID-19?

And "Tax Cuts and Jobs Act" is a terrible name for a bill. (Yes, the second word is "Cuts," not "Cut," which means it has multiple "s" sounds for the tongue to trip over.) "Cut Cut Cut Act," which was Trump's recommendation, was so childish and awful that Republican leaders in Congress rejected it; it sounds like something dreamed up in a manic state after a dozen 20-ounce Diet Cokes.

But Trump has persuaded America that he's a great marketer, many people have repeated the assertion over the years, an entire TV show was built around the myth of his business brilliance, and now we believe in his prowess. ("The 'Cut Cut Cut Act' Is Effective Branding" was an actual headline that appeared in The Atlantic, a very serious publication, four years ago.)

You know which bill had an emotionally effective name? The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act -- and yet its poll numbers were mediocre or worse for the first several years after it was signed into law.

Build Back Better isn't a bad name. Biden's problem is that Democrats have divided the proposal into two bills, which makes the entire process of getting them passed seem wonky and convoluted. Ordinary people undoubtedly struggle to understand why that's necessary, why the reconciliation bill can pass with 51 votes but 60 are needed to pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill (which is confusingly called BIF, as if it's the Bipartisan In Frastructure bill). Getting some or all of this actually passed ought to make a difference for Biden -- people forget that Trump's poll numbers were also mired in the 30s during the autumn of his first year in office, after Charlottesville and the GOP's failure to pass an Affordable Care Act replacement. They went up after that tax bill was finally signed into law late in the year.

An ad guy quoted by Rayasam says:
While the bill itself is full of programs that benefit working class families around the country, the cultural conversation is completely focused on the bill’s price tag and the messages aren’t breaking through. That’s a massive branding fail.
That's a massive media fail, as Peter Coy noted in The New York Times a couple of weeks ago:
The $3.5 trillion spending plan from President Biden is at risk in Congress partly because $3.5 trillion strikes people as a lot of money. Which, of course, it is. But the net cost of the plan, after taking into account offsetting tax increases and spending cuts, is only one-quarter as big.

Sharon Parrott, president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a left-of-center think tank, is urging people to stop focusing on the $3.5 trillion label.

In an Aug. 31 commentary, she wrote that if Donald Trump’s signature legislative achievement, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, had been measured the same way as Biden’s plan is being calculated, it would have been called a $5.5 trillion package. It never was — it was described appropriately as a $1.5 trillion piece of legislation (later revised by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office to $1.9 trillion) — because Republicans and Democrats alike took into account that the Trump bill contained offsetting tax increases and spending cuts.
That happened because the right-wing media cheerleads for Republicans and the mainstream media is easily manipulated into presenting Republican tax bills in the most favorable light, while Democratic proposals, especially those that spend money on non-elites, get terrible coverage from both branches of the media. It's unfortunate that Biden and his fellow Democrats haven't done anything to combat this media bias, but it's wrong to say that Trump's big first-year bill got better coverage because he's a marketing genius.