Wednesday, October 05, 2022

THE HYPOCRISY IS THE CRUELTY, AND THE CRUELTY IS THE POINT (updated)

I've been having cynical thoughts about how Herschel Walker can recover from this week's news. On the subject of both the abortion he paid for and the abuse his son Christian has cited, I've been thinking that all he has to do is admit to everything -- yes, even the abortion -- and simply say, "But that happened when I was mentally ill. Fortunately, God came into my life and rescued me, and now I'm a good man." I've been assuming that if he said that, Christian conservatives would swoon, and he'd actually go up in the polls.

But maybe I haven't been cynical enough. It appears that Walker doesn't need to do anything:
InsiderAdvantage/FOX 5 Poll: Warnock, Walker still in statistical tie

... Analysis from Matt Towery, founder of InsiderAdvantage:

... “We were polling this race before news broke late Monday of allegations against Herschel Walker and the social media posts by his son. We scrapped that poll and surveyed last evening after newspapers, television news, and social media bombarded voters with the various stories. In our Monday, October 3 poll, and prior to these news events, Walker trailed Warnock by one point.

“The good news for Warnock is that following these newest events, he leads by three points. The good news for Walker is that the difference between the two polls is well within the survey’s margin of error...."
So before the news broke, Walker was trailing by 1 in this poll. Now -- at the depths of this news cycle -- he's trailing by ... just 3. He's still very much in the race.

(Yes, the poll was conducted by a local Fox affiliate, but FiveThirtyEight says that InsiderAdvantage has a slight Democratic lean.)

So it appears for now that Walker is fine, and this will do little or no damage to him. And why should it? GOP and anti-abortion groups are still supporting him:
This stand-by-their-man approach was on full display Tuesday as Republican leaders and antiabortion groups rallied to Walker's defense. They pointed to his denial and called the report ... innuendo, lies and character assassination.

“Herschel Walker has denied these allegations in the strongest possible terms and we stand firmly alongside him,” said Mallory Carroll, spokeswoman for Women Speak Out PAC, a super PAC partner of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America.

"When the Democrats are losing, as they are right now, they lie and cheat and smear their opponents,” Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Campaign, said in a statement.
Right-wing thought leaders are making it clear that they don't care whether Walker was an accessory to what they normally regard as murder -- only power matters in this case.


We all know what Frank Wilhoit said: “Conservatism consists of exactly one proposition, to wit: There must be in-groups whom the law protects but does not bind, alongside out-groups whom the law binds but does not protect.” But we need to realize that conservatives believe that this applies not just to what's legally permitted, but also to what's regarded as moral. If a conservative does it, that means it's not immoral. And the corollary: Liberals are immoral even if they don't commit immoral acts.

So Bill Clinton's marital troubles make him a moral degenerate, but Donald Trump's don't -- in fact, he's widely regarded on the right as a good Christian. Barack and Michelle Obama are depraved even though they've had a long, sturdy marriage. Similarly, Hunter Biden's past transgressions damn him for life, no matter how thoroughly he cleans up -- but Herschel Walker's past is irrelevant to the right.

What's the right's definition of a good person? A Republican in good standing. What's the right's definition of an evil person? Anyone who isn't a Republican in good standing, or on the way to becoming one. (Democrats who attack the "Democrat Party" get a special exemption.) So no one on the right is calling Herschel Walker an accessory to murder. It's only murder -- with, increasingly, the risk of real legal penalties -- if we do it.

*****

UPDATE: This is close to what I was imagining. (Hat tip: Travis McGee on Twitter.)

Tuesday, October 04, 2022

NO, IT'S NOT DEMOCRATS' JOB TO TRY TO MAKE REPUBLICANS NICE

It's the first week in October, the primaries have been over for weeks, but bien-pensant pundits are still wringing their hands over one particular Democratic primary tactic:


The tweet above links to Hamilton Nolan's Guardian op-ed on this practice, which Nolan regards as unspeakably heinous:
... Democrats across the country spent millions of dollars to boost the candidacies of right-wing Maga candidates in the Republican primaries, on the theory that those extremists would be easier to defeat in the general election.
So far, that appear to be more than a theory. In the Pennsylvania governor's race, Doug Mastriano is trailing by double digits. So are gubernatorial candidates Darren Bailey in Illinois and Dan Cox in Maryland. (Cox trailed in the most recent poll by 32 points.) In the New Hampshire Senate race, where Republicans once hoped to pick up a seat, Don Bolduc is trailing by nearly 9 points.

But this, Nolan tells us, is precisely the wrong lens through which to look at this.
The Democratic strategists who engineered this will say: “They won’t win, so the strategy was sound.” And that is where their blinkered view of the nature of politics begins to show its true futility.

Because – my god, it’s hard to believe – politics is more than the next election. Yes! Time marches on endlessly into the future! And the things that we do today help to shape the things that happen next in an infinite and largely unpredictable chain of cause and effect! It’s crazy, I know.
Nolan claims that the future is impossible to predict, and then confidently predicts it.
It is now accepted as conventional wisdom, for example, that perhaps it was not strategically wise for the United States to arm mujahideen fighters in Afghanistan fighting the USSR in the 80s, because later on some of those same people with those same weapons were fighting the US.

But this same sort of elementary insight has not permeated the Democratic consulting world. If you help to make the Maga candidates stronger today, it is possible that that will have negative social and political consequences even if they do not win the election in November 2022.
Nolan says it's possible that aiding these Republican extremists will help them in the future, but he seems to be suggesting that it's certain that it will help them in the future -- or at least that there isn't a very good chance that it will weaken them.

His Afghanistan analogy is, to put it mildly, flawed. We gave weapons to the mujahideen. You can reuse weapons. You can't reuse a primary campaign ad that was paid for by the other party and aired during the primary campaign only. Democrats aren't arming these extreme candidates. Democrats are drawing them out of their cozy bubble, where they're now vulnerable to the opinions of voters who aren't batshit-crazy right-wingers. These candidates are used to fighting from trenches, and we've drawn them out of the trench. They're exposed now.

Nolan writes:
... it is dumb to dedicate resources to making Maga Republicans more visible and viable within their own party.
If they lose elections that their party could have won, how does that make them more viable?

What does Nolan want Democrats to do? Allow him to explain:
Imagine for a moment the possibility that the goal of “politics” is not just winning the next election, but rather reshaping the deepest power arrangements of the world in a more just way. In this conception of politics, the important thing is not just bringing along a handful of high officials in order to engineer a 51% voting majority in Congress, but rather evolving the views of hundreds of millions of people in a way that will bring the officials along with them....

The consultants ... are not clever enough to predict the chaotic long-run effects of fueling a movement that is the opposite of the movement we should be trying to build.
If I understand Nolan correctly, he believes it's up to Democrats to make Republican voters part of a broad-based movement for progressive social change -- at a time when the vast majority of Republican voters hate democracy, hate non-white people, hate gay and trans people, and would follow fascist wannabes like Donald Trump, Ron DeSantis, and Tucker Carlson to the gates of hell if they thought the journey would own the libs.
The historic figures who have done the most to promote justice did not do it by deviously clever manipulations of voter data. They did it by fighting for stuff that was right. Spending money to try to dupe hapless Republican voters into backing the goofiest fascist is not just stupid; it goes against justice. Tricking people is not part of organizing.

These sophisticated Democratic strategists are pouring poison into the well that we all, sooner or later, will have to drink from.
I have news for Nolan: That well was extremely toxic before Democrats spent a dime on this strategy. If they hadn't done this, there'd still be democracy-poisoners running all over the country -- Kari Lake, J.D. Vance, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Matt Gaetz -- and many of them would win. It's good that a few of their ideological allies are likely to get a punch in the nose, if only to remind the media that this ideas don't play well nationwide and Real Americans aren't all sitting in diners wearing red MAGA caps.

The Democratic Party's own candidates actually are "fighting for stuff that [is] right." But they can do that a lot more easily if they win elections. And they can discredit right-wing extremism more easily if right-wing extremism goes down to a lot of bruising defeats.

IF DEMOCRATS DO WELL IN THE MIDTERMS, THE MAINSTREAM MEDIA WILL STILL SAY THEY LOST

I was planning to write about Herschel Walker's very bad day when I ran across this tweet, in which a former New York Times and CNN reporter quotes Democratic pollster John Anzalone:


"Dead dogs," of course, is a reference to another story that broke yesterday: a report on scientific experiments overseen by Dr. Mehmet Oz at Columbia University that killed hundreds of dogs.

Harwood and Anzalone are telling us that Democrats should be losing, because "high inflation and weak presidential approval" are creating "headwinds," but Republican "headcases" -- especially Walker and Oz, who were endorsed by Trump -- are on the verge of depriving Republicans of their rightful victory.

I'm not convinced that the electon is over for either Walker or Oz. Walker has been neck-and-neck with Raphael Warnock despite past revelations of unacknowledged children and domestic abuse. News that he paid for a girlfriend's abortion might be shrugged off by Georgia's mostly Christian conservatives as bad behavior the Lord is now helping him to avoid. Last night's tweetstorm by Walker's right-wing son Christian might be harder to dismiss.


But I lived through 2016 and "Grab 'em by the pussy." I thought it was over for Trump then. So I'm not declaring Warnock the winner yet.

And Oz has been gaining ground on John Fetterman, although a new USA Today poll has Fetterman up by 6. Fox News won't stop trying to elect Oz. So he's still very much in contention.

Nevertheless, if Democrats do well in November, the mainstream media takeaway will be that it was a transitory reaction to the Dobbs decision and the result of bad candidate selection on the Republicans' part. There won't be any acknowledgment that a large portion of the country is disgusted with Republicans and that other voters voted Democratic because they started to notice what Republicans really believe. It will be suggested that a Trump-free GOP would have run the table, as if such a party is even possible. Democrats might exceed expectations, but they won't get credit for it.

****

UPDATE: Here you go (Axios's Josh Kraushaar responds to a GOP consultant):

Monday, October 03, 2022

NO, MAGGIE, TRUMP WON'T PICK TIM SCOTT AS HIS RUNNING MATE

So I'm over at New York magazine and I'm reading Jonathan Chait on Donald Trump's view of people who aren't white:
One of the important phenomena of this current era that has been weirdly hiding in plain sight is Donald Trump’s habit of saying racist things in public....

The latest example is his social-media rant against Mitch McConnell. “He has a DEATH WISH. Must immediately seek help and advise from his China loving wife, Coco Chow!”
Then I click over to Margaret Hartmann, who runs through several possible explanations for the nickname Trump recently gave New York State's African-American attorney general, Letitia James: "Peekaboo."


The first theory is:
It’s an intentional allusion to a racist term.

The most popular explanation among Twitter and Reddit users is that Trump wanted to call James a racist insult that rhymes with “peekaboo” and starts with a “J.”
Which seems like the only possible explanation.

And then I leave New York and click over to this story:
New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman shared who former President Donald Trump is likely to choose for a running mate if he enters the race in 2024.

During an appearance on “The View” co-host Ana Navarro asked Haberman who she believes Trump would look at as a possible running mate.

“There are a couple of people whose names get mentioned and the one who gets mentioned the most by people close to him is Tim Scott from South Carolina, the senator....” Haberman replied.
Do I need to tell you that I'm skeptical?

Trump is a racist. Sure, he hung out with Kanye West and endorsed Herschel Walker, but West and Walker are Black people whose main accomplishment took place in "their lane." West is an entertainer. Walker was an athlete. Sports and entertainment are what Black people are supposed to do, in the view of racists like Trump.

Tim Scott has never been a professional athlete or entertainer. He earned a degree in political science and went on to become an insurance agent and financial adviser while pursuing elective office. We know what Trump thinks of Black men who do financial work:
A [1991] book by John O’Donnell, former president of Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City, quoted Trump’s criticism of a Black accountant: “Black guys counting my money! I hate it. The only kind of people I want counting my money are short guys that wear yarmulkes every day. ... I think that the guy is lazy. And it’s probably not his fault, because laziness is a trait in blacks. It really is, I believe that. It’s not anything they can control.” Trump later said in a 1997 Playboy interview that “the stuff O’Donnell wrote about me is probably true.”
It's possible that what Haberman says is true as far as it goes -- that people around Trump mention Scott frequently. But that's no reason to believe that Trump would ever agree with them.

Haberman also mentions Sarah Huckabee Sanders. That's more plausible -- he hired her once, and she was an effective attack dog for him, without ever seeming as if she wanted to steal his spotlight. But I think he's more likely to pick a dull white male (dull because he doesn't want anyone else with star power around him, white and male because "straight out of central casting" means a white male VP). I'm not sure who fits the bill -- maybe Glenn Youngkin?

I could certainly see Ron DeSantis picking Scott as a running mate, because he knows it would play well. But no, Maggie, not the very racist Trump.

REPUBLICANISM IN 2022 IS MORE OF A DICK THING THAN EVER

Here are some disheartening (though unsurprising) survey numbers from Siena College:
A new poll is showing Gov. Ron DeSantis with an 8-point lead on Democratic challenger Charlie Crist....

DeSantis leads with 49%, while Crist earns 41%.
Siena's Don Levy notes:
“Additionally, DeSantis has a solid 50-43% favorability rating, including being viewed favorably by a majority of independents, compared to Crist’s 34-39% favorability rating, with more than a quarter of the electorate not having an opinion about him, including 20% of Democrats.”
So the guy who's made it his life's work to be as unlikable as possible is considered the likable one, while the candidate who tries to come off as a nice guy is seen as the unlikable one (or doesn't make an impression at all).

This might be the explanation for the numbers:
“There is a gender gap. By 24 points, men support DeSantis, 57-33%, while a plurality of women, 48-42%, support Crist,” Levy said.
Gender gaps have been a feature of American politics for decades, but this one is rather massive -- Crist is up 6 among women, while DeSantis is up 24 among men. And that's just on the question of candidate preference -- when you look at the favorability numbers, DeSantis is up by 27 among men (60%-33%) and down by 10 among women (42%-52%). Crist is down 17 among men (29%-46%) and up 5 among women (38%-33%).

In the year of the Dobbs decision, you'd expect Democrats to be doing better with women than men. But Crist is only slighly ahead among women, and only seen a bit more favorably. DeSantis is noticely underwater with women, but he's massively ahead among men, who view him favorably by a nearly two-to-one margin.

So is this really about abortion? It seems to me that it's about testosterone.

There were similar results in a Quinnipiac poll of the Texas governor's race that was released last week. Overall, Greg Abbott leads Beto O'Rourke 53%-46%, according to the poll. O'Rourke's lead among women is 11 (55% to 44%). Abbott's lead among men is 30 (64% to 34%). (I'm not sure how that adds up to a 7-point race, but those are the numbers Quinnipiac provided.)

In both races, Democrats are noticeably ahead among women, but among men they're being crushed. And that's really what Republicanism is in 2022. If cruelty is the point, along with sheer obnoxiousness, it's because cruelty and obnoxiousness turn men on.

Sunday, October 02, 2022

IT'S MORE EXTREME WHEN DEMOCRATS DO IT, BECAUSE REASONS

The Washington Post's Yasmeen Abutaleb has published a story with the headline "Apocalypse Now: Democrats Embrace a Dark Midterm Message" -- and yes, the message seems fairly dark:
Democrat Max Frost, running for U.S. Congress in Florida, has said Republicans like Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) are trying to build “right-wing fascist power.” Rep. Pat Ryan, a New York Democrat, says America faces “a coordinated domestic attempt to undermine our Constitution.”

And Rep. Chris Pappas, a New Hampshire Democrat facing reelection in a swing district, paints an Orwellian America if his Republican opponent gets her way on abortion: “It wouldn’t be a woman’s choice — it would be the government’s choice.”

With a tough midterm election about six weeks away, many Democrats have largely settled on a campaign message, and it’s not one that simply emphasizes their accomplishments. Instead, it amounts to a stark warning: If Republicans take power, they will establish a dystopia that cripples democracy and eviscerates abortion rights and other freedoms.
How does this compare with the GOP's messaging, according to Abutaleb?
Republicans have adopted their own apocalyptic rhetoric, warning that Biden and the Democrats are taking the country down a path of soaring crime, raging inflation and uncontrolled immigration. That has created a midterm arena marked by dueling dystopias, as the parties vie to outdo each other in describing the hell scape that lies ahead if the other side wins.

But while Republican rhetoric in many ways amounts to a routine political attack, the Democrats’ message reflects the reality that many in the GOP are openly embracing anti-democratic principles and an end to abortion rights, even as some scramble to distance themselves from such positions after previously advocating them.
This makes my brain short-circuit. Abutaleb acknowledges that Democrats' "apocalyptic rhetoric ... reflects the reality" of the Republican agenda, and she acknowledges that Republican rhetoric is also apocalyptic. Nevertheless, Republican rhetoric is just politics as usual. Hunh?

Does Abutaleb think Republicans are merely saying that crime is rising, the border is porous, and the economy is bad? They're saying more than that. They're saying Democrats want to kill Republican voters.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) accused Democrats of murdering Republicans in “killings” that the lawmaker claims are underway. “I am not going to mince words with you all,” Greene said at Donald Trump’s rally in Warren, Michigan, on Saturday night. “Democrats want Republicans dead, and they have already started the killings.” To support her claim, Greene cited a recent North Dakota crime story about an intoxicated man who allegedly “had a political argument with [a] pedestrian,” hit the pedestrian with a car, and then later claimed the pedestrian was “part of a Republican extremist group,” according to court documents. During her speech, Greene added that President Joe Biden “has declared every freedom-loving American an enemy of the state.” “But under Republicans, we will take back our country from the Communists who have stolen it and want us to disappear,” Greene concluded.
They're saying President Biden is a would-be dictator:


In August, Republican National Committee chair Ronna Romney McDaniel published an inflammatory op-ed on the Fox News website that was full of lies about what the federal government is doing:
Look at the big picture. Last October Biden’s Department of Justice labeled parents concerned about their kids’ educations as "domestic terrorists." In May, the Biden administration tried to set up a "Ministry of Truth" to police what Americans read online. Last week, Senate Democrats passed a bill hiring a Rose Bowl Stadium’s worth of new IRS government agents to financially target everyday citizens. And on Monday, the Biden Justice Department unleashed the FBI on a leading political opponent just 92 days ahead of the massively important midterm elections....

This raid on President Trump should be a wake-up call for every American.... If the Democrat establishment can do this to a former president, what can they do to you?
And:
Several right-wing or Republican figures reacted to the search of Mar-a-Lago not only with demands to dismantle the F.B.I., but also with warnings that the action had triggered “war.”

“This just shows everyone what many of us have been saying for a very long time,” Joe Kent, a Trump-endorsed House candidate in Washington State, said on a podcast run by Stephen K. Bannon, Mr. Trump’s former chief political strategist. “We’re at war.”

Even before the search at Mar-a-Lago ... some of Mr. Trump’s most vocal supporters had been casting the political stakes as existential, suggesting that the country was already embroiled in an end-of-times clash between irreconcilable foes.

“This is truly a battle between those who want to save America and those who want to destroy her,” Kari Lake, the Republican nominee for the governor of Arizona, told the crowd at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Dallas in early August. “That’s where we are at the moment. My question to you is: Are you in this fight with us?”
According to Lake, the conspiracy to destroy America isn't limited to Democrats:
Arizona candidate for governor Kari Lake implicated Cindy McCain in a plot to destroy America with liberal billionaire George Soros.

While appearing on ... Steve Bannon's right-wing podcast, Lake suggested that Republicans fear her more than Democrats.

"It just shows you how dangerous the RINO-class of the Republican Party is," she complained. "I believe they're in cahoots basically with the [George] Soros types on the left. And this is why they stabbed President Trump in the back on the fourth of November and we remember that."

"This is the Cindy McCain branch of the Republican Party," the candidate continued. "They're not Republicans. They're globalists and they want -- I think they want an end to America. They want a globalist agenda, a new world order, whatever you want to call it."

She concluded: "And we want America. We want our Constitution and we want our constitutional rights intact. And that's what they're afraid of."
Republicans sometimes take the "Democrats want to destroy America" rhetoric to absurd levels:


But it doesn't add up to "a routine political attack," unless the point you're making is that it's been routine for Republicans to say that Democrats are trying to destroy the country since at least 1972.

Remember the water parable in David Foster Wallace's 2005 Kenyon College commencement address?
There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?”
That's how mainstream journalists are when they're swimming through ever-present Republican extremism.

Saturday, October 01, 2022

IT'S ALL FUN AND GAMES UNTIL YOUR LEAD SHRINKS TO 2 POINTS

I'm worried about the Pennsylvania Senate race. For most of August, John Fetterman had a double-digit lead over Mehmet Oz, according to FiveThirtyEight, but now that lead has shrunk to 6.5 -- and in five of the last six polls Fetterman's lead has been four points or less. In two of the polls, from Emerson and Phillips Academy, Fetterman's lead was just two points.

One reason this is happening, as Chris Hayes noted last night, is that Fox News is "monomaniacally obsessed" with the Fetterman-Oz race.


They have ramped up the attacks on Fetterman to an almost ludicrous degree. From Labor Day to this Tuesday, Fox primetime hosts went after Fetterman 120 times, more mentions than the other six marquee Senate races combined....
After Hayes talked about this, he interviewed Fetterman. What I saw worries me. I'm not worried because Fetterman's speech still shows aftereffects from his stroke -- apart from one notable word inversion, Fetterman's speech sounds pretty good under the circumstances. I think most voters will cut him slack -- most people aren't great public speakers, and many people know a stroke victim (or have had a stroke themselves).

What worries me is the degree to which Fetterman relies on glibness and jokes. I understand why he'd want to go in this direction -- his campaign has become nationally famous for its effective mockery of Oz. Much of what he said alluded to jokes and memes that are widely shared on social media.

But Fetterman is running for the U.S. Senate. He needs to show voters that he can also talk seriously about issues, and that he has ideas about how to solve America's problems. Oz and his amen corner at Fox News are hitting Fetterman on issues, particularly crime. In the Hayes interview, Fetterman mentions the reduction in the murder rate when he was mayor of Braddock, Pennsylvania, but he doesn't talk about what his ideas are for dealing with crime now. And he doesn't talk seriously about any other major issue.

Here's the interview. (Apologies for the video title -- it was posted by a Fetterman critic. It's a straight video rip, however.)



The first thing Fetterman says is an allusion to memes and campaign merchandise (I'm quoting Mediaite's report on the interview, with some transcript corrections):
“Lieutenant Governor, it’s great to have you. I have not got an opportunity to speak to you on air since your stroke and since your primary victory. And first, I just wanted to check in and see how you’re feeling and how you’re doing,” Hayes asked Fetterman, kicking off the interview.

“I’m doing great. I’m doing fantastic. And it’s not about kicking balls in the authority or anything. But I always like to say that if Dr. Oz says something and I can sell it on t-shirts and raise money for our campaign, then it’s a good day for me. Whether it’s kicking balls or Crudités, we actually made half a million dollars off crudity, so, you know. Thank you, Dr. Oz,” Fetterman responded.
In a recent radio interview, Oz derided Fetterman's way of dressing as "kicking authority in the balls," a phrase that's now, understandably, a point of pride for Fetterman and his fans. In the Hayes interview, Fetterman inverts the key phrase -- "kicking balls in the authority" -- but that's his worst verbal slip in the interview.

However, after this light-on-substance opening, Fetterman continues with ... more of the same. Hayes says, "I want to ask what you view as the main dividing line, the main choice in this election" -- an opportunity for Fetterman to get serious -- and Fetterman responds with a complaint about the help Oz's campaign is getting from Mitch McConnell and Fox News, with yet another attempt to portray Oz as a mockable loser:
And the campaign is so sad that you need people like Tucker or Hannity to sherpa him around because they even used to make fun of him. Yeah. There’s clips of them laughing at him.
It's easy to say that Oz is a mockable loser, but he might not be losing anymore. And the question wasn't about that. Maybe a slightly more substantial answer would have been welcome here.

Hayes asks about abortion. Fetterman's response is strained wordplay.
The conversation turned to abortion rights with Hayes asking, “Do you know what Dr. Oz’s position is on a nationwide abortion ban? And what is your position?”

“Well, you know, what’s also true is, is that Pennsylvania has a new power couple of MAGA of extremists. They’re ‘Moztriano.’ They were married together by the Pennsylvania GOP and they run together. Doug Mastriano and Dr. Oz. ‘Moztriano.’ That’s a new power couple,” Fetterman responded....
This is painful to watch, not only because Fetterman isn't nimble enough verbally to pull it off, but because he's been handed an opportunity to talk about a serious issue that's also meaningful to voters on a visceral level ... and he leads with this digression.

The answer gets somewhat better. Fetterman alludes to the contrast between Oz's former assertion that life begins at conception and his current refusal to say whether he backs an abortion ban. But it comes back to more wordplay:
"And they both believe that abortion rights, they rest in them, not with women in Pennsylvania. And abortion is on the ballot. That’s the truth. You know, Dr. Oz is a joke, but it’s not very funny because right now, you know, whether it’s in the governor’s race and in the Senate race, the Dr. Oz folks believe that Roe v Wade had to fall down. And he believes that every abortion is a murder. And that means any woman that chose abortion must be a murderer themselves.

“And Dr. Oz used to make fun of, you know, me having a stroke that I might miss a word every now and then. And Dr. Oz keeps missing words. And those words are ‘yes’ and ‘no’ on the National Abortion Ban,” continued Fetterman, concluding:
They refuse to give the answer, not even today at a press conference that they had, did they give people the answer and they refuse that they can’t and they won’t.
It's understandable that Fetterman wants to make self-deprecating remarks about his stroke, and then wants to use those remarks as springboards for attacks on Oz. But he ends up getting entangled in his punch lines -- and forgetting to say serious things in a clear way, which he seems capable of doing. On abortion, for instance, he should say, simply, seriously, and directly: I support a woman's right to choose. Oz won't say whether he supports an abortion ban, but in the past he's implied that all abortions are murder. We can't trust him on abortion.

Fetterman is trying too hard to live up to his campaign's fun factor. He needs to show that he can get serious.

Friday, September 30, 2022

MAYBE YOU CAN'T BEAT RON DeSANTIS, BUT YOU COULD AT LEAST ROUGH HIM UP

Oliver Willis lives in Florida, and his online ad diet has been missing an essential nutrient:


A few days ago, Time's Molly Ball wrote about the listless Democratic campaign against Ron DeSantis:
While DeSantis dominates the news, his reelection this year has been all but taken for granted, and [Charlie] Crist, a former Republican governor and two-time statewide loser, has been all but ignored. To most political observers in both parties, the race is barely a speedbump as DeSantis steamrolls to national prominence. Amid the daily drumbeat of speculation about DeSantis vs. former President Donald Trump, his constituent and frenemy, DeSantis vs. Crist merits barely a mention.

Yet DeSantis, 44, is hardly battle-tested. Four years ago, he was a little-known Republican congressman who got elected governor in a historic squeaker, defeating the since-indicted Democrat Andrew Gillum after a recount by less than half a point—just 30,000 votes out of more than 8 million cast. Since then, DeSantis has made a splash on the national stage thanks to his handling of COVID-19 and talent for culture-war provocations, from taking on Disney and critical race theory to the recent migrant gambit. He’s increasingly seen as a frontrunner for the GOP presidential nomination, whether or not Trump enters the race. And Democrats seem powerless to stop him.

It’s a befuddling situation in what used to be America’s paradigmatic swing state: rather than mount a massive effort to take out or at least bruise DeSantis, Democrats are effectively allowing the Republican they fear most to coast to reelection.
Are they doing this because they don't fear him? I always imagine Democratic operatives as people who believe what the mainstream media writes about 2024: Hey, if the Republican presidential nominee isn't Trump, it really could be Mike Pence, Glenn Youngkin, Nikki Haley, or Mike Pompeo! (Nope -- if Trump doesn't win the nomination, it'll be DeSantis.)

Maybe Democrats couldn't have put up a serious challenge to DeSantis this year, given how much money he's raised. But the counterargument is that he's gone out of his way to alienate everyone in the center and the right, which would seem to make him at least somewhat vulnerable. And the polls show that: According to the FiveThirtyEight polling average, DeSantis is leading Crist by only 5.6 points. According to Real Clear Politics, his lead is even smaller -- 4.8.

Even if you don't believe he's beatable, roughing him up is a way of roughing up the narrative and talking points Republicans intend to take into 2024: that everyone hated the public health measures put in place to slow the spread of COVID, that everyone hates gay and trans people, that everyone thinks talking about America's racial past in schools is anti-white bigotry, that everyone hates immigrants, that everyone likes meanness. If Democrats had put some resources into this race, DeSantis might have won anyway, buy he at least might have had to sweat through a vote count that extended well past Election Night, and he might have had only a squeaker of a win -- a humiliation for a politician as arrogant as DeSantis. The takeaway might have been that in-your-face Republican extremism isn't a winning strategy -- and DeSantis really isn't the future of the party.

But I assume that the Democratic Party is thinking primarily about 2022 now and can't be bothered thinking about the future. Trying to beat DeSantis would cost too much money, money that would be better spent in other races.

But DeSantis might have lost this year. Sometimes the rich candidate loses. And the 2024 election cycle will be here very soon. Maybe a little foresight now would have been helpful two years from now.

THE NEW YORK TIMES TRIES TO BOTHSIDES CAMPAIGN FINANCE REFORM

Did you know that Republicans are almost as determined to get big money out of politics as Democrats? It's in The New York Times, so it must be true! From yesterday's edition of the Times On Politics newsletter, written by Blake Hounshell:
Hints of Republican Concern About Unlimited Campaign Cash

... as Democrats have embraced the world of dark money, some Republicans have begun to take a second look at Citizens United.
Some Republicans? Define some, Blake.
Don’t get me wrong: “Campaign-finance reform” is still very much a Democratic project.

A bill in the House calling for a constitutional amendment to abrogate the Citizens United ruling and allow states to regulate money in elections as they see fit has just one G.O.P. co-sponsor: Representative John Katko of New York, who is retiring at the end of his term this year. Katko supported the impeachment of President Donald Trump after the storming of the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, so he’s not exactly a bellwether of Republican sentiment in Congress.
The bill in question has 179 Democratic co-sponsors in the House. On the Republican side, there's just Katko.

But wait, there's more Republican concern!
... this week, as I tagged along with members of American Promise, a nonpartisan group promoting a 28th Amendment to the Constitution that would track closely with Katko’s bill, I found some faint signs that the winds were shifting on the right.

American Promise recently hired a new executive director, Bill Cortese, who came up through the ranks of the Republican operative class. A onetime campaign aide to former Representative Chris Shays, a Connecticut Republican who sponsored what became known as the McCain-Feingold Act in 2002, Cortese has worked for Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey....

A few local chambers of commerce, normally bastions of Republican Party support, have signed on, too. David Black, a former aide to Gov. Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania and a past president of the Harrisburg Regional Chamber who is active in American Promise, is a champion of the concept. Rick Bennett, a Republican state senator and former majority leader from Oxford, Maine, spoke at American Promise’s conference this week in Washington.
So ... one Northeastern GOP state legislator and a handful of operatives who've worked with long-departed Northeastern Republicans. What else you got, Blake?
One surprising proponent of the group’s proposed amendment is Doug Mastriano, the hard-right Pennsylvania Republican state senator who is now running for governor. On Sept. 21, Mastriano, who is being vastly outspent by his Democratic opponent, introduced a resolution with five other Republicans expressing support for the idea.
Okay, that's ... something. The resoultion is backed by 6 out of 113 Republican members of the Pennsylvania House, but that's better than nothing, right?

But how close are we to genuinely bipartisan support for campaign finance reform? Let's find out:
On Wednesday, the actress Debra Winger, a board member of American Promise, prepared activists from the group before they headed toward Capitol Hill on Thursday, serenaded by a bagpiper, for brief meetings with aides to Senators Collins, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Marco Rubio and Rick Scott of Florida, along with Representative Scott Perry of Pennsylvania and a few other Republican House members.
And what happened?
They emerged encouraged that they had found an audience, but they received no firm commitments of support.
But I'm sure Susan Collins was very concerned.

Meanwhile....
Last week, Republican senators blocked a vote on a Democratic-sponsored bill to require any organization spending money during a federal election to disclose donors of $10,000 or more. News outlets, fully expecting the bill to fail, barely covered it....

In 2012, a Republican-held legislature in Montana passed a law to regulate dark money, but it was thrown out by a federal court.

Since then, Montana seems to have gone in the opposite direction. In February, State Senator Steve Fitzpatrick, a Republican, introduced a bill that would relax certain disclosure rules, which he said was intended to toss out “nit-picky things that we’ve all grown to hate in our campaign-finance system.”

Gov. Greg Gianforte, who has been accused of violating campaign-finance laws, signed a version of the bill in May.
"Dark money is good" is still the default setting for Republicans, no matter how much Blake Hounshell wants to bothsides it.

Thursday, September 29, 2022

VOTERS MIGHT BE HIGHLY PARTISAN THESE DAYS, BUT THEY SOMETIMES REJECT THEIR OWN ODDBALLS

In The Washington Post a couple of weeks ago, political scientists John Sides, Chris Tausanovitch, and Lynn Vavreck wrote:
Voters and leaders in the two major parties are not only more ideologically distant from each other but also more likely to describe each other in harsh terms. In the fall of 2020, 90 percent of Americans said there were important differences in what the parties stood for — the highest number recorded in almost 70 years of American National Election Study surveys.

But polarization is not the whole story. Something more is happening. Voters are increasingly tied to their political loyalties and values. They have become less likely to change their basic political evaluations or vote for the other party’s candidate.
Which is odd, because in several states this year there's a pretty good chance that voters will pick a senator from one party and a governor from the other party.

According to a new Boston Globe/Suffolk poll, Democrat Maggie Hassan leads the New Hampshire Senate race by 9 points, while Republican Chris Sununu leads the governor's race by 17. In a Fox poll this week, Democrat Raphael Warnock had a 5-point lead in the Georgia Senate race, while Republican Brian Kemp led by 7 in the governor's race. According to a new Marist poll of Arizona, Democrat Mark Kelly leads the Senate race by 5, but Republican Kari Lake leads the governor's race by 3. None of these are outlier polls -- they're roughly similar to the polling averages.

In those averages, Democrat Tim Ryan has a lead (though it's less than a point) in the Ohio Senate race, while Republican Mike DeWine has a double-digit lead in the Ohio governor's race. And while Democrat John Fetterman still seems to have a decent lead in the Pennsylvania Senate race, it's narrowing, while Democrat Josh Shapiro's lead is widening in the governor's race.

I'm not sure why this is happening, but it seems as if you can win some crossover votes if you can succeed in portraying the other candidate as an oddball, while the other candidate fails to do the same to you. In New Hampshire, Democrats have portrayed Republican Senate candidate Don Bolduc as a Trumpist weirdo, and that seems to be working. Pennsylvania Democrats have done the same thing to Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano. The Peter Thiel Republicans running for Senate in Arizona and Ohio, Blake Masters and J.D. Vance, seem to have been cast simply as weirdos. In the Pennsylvania Senate race, John Fetterman and the Republican, Mehmet Oz, have been portraying each other as weirdos; Fetterman has been winning the battle, but it's tightening. In the Georgia Senate race, Democrats have persuaded at least some voters that Republican Herschel Walker is unqualified and unstable (which he is).

So while ideology largely rules, you can still win a few crossover votes by figuring out how to make middle-of-the-road voters think your opponent is too weird to elect. Democrats should do more of this -- in the Arizona governor's race? in the Florida governor's race? -- because Republicans do it all the time.

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

TRUMP IS A SON OF QUEENS, BUT HE'S ALSO A SON OF FRED

The New York Times asked Joe Klein to review Maggie Haberman's book on Donald Trump. Klein writes this:
Haberman’s Trump is very much a child of Queens, although of an exotic sort — a white Protestant. I, too, am a child of Queens, and Trump’s use of phrases like “the Blacks” and “the gays” brings back memories of my grandmother denigrating “the Irish” who lived next door. Outer-borough bigotry was endemic, but it tended to be casual, not profound. Ethnic street fights were followed by interethnic marriages; they still are. And always, for all of us — and even for a rich kid like Trump — there was the allure of Manhattan, a place far more glamorous than our humble turf. If we could make it there...

“I can invite anyone for dinner,” Trump said after his inauguration in 2017. But he remained an outer-borough brat, intimidated by elites. As president, he threw tantrums when he thought people were lecturing or talking down to him. In an infamous meeting with the Joint Chiefs at the Pentagon, “Trump knew that he was being told something he did not fully comprehend,” Haberman writes, “and instead of acknowledging that, he shouted down the teachers.”
I don't like the way is framed. It implies that Trump is a bigot -- he's far worse than a casual one -- simply because he was a child of Queens. He couldn't help it! Everyone grew up a bigot there in Trump's era!

But many successful people came from Queens, and not all of them are bigots. Tony Bennett? Martin Scorsese? Both were born in Queens before Trump was, as was Mario Cuomo. I'm not aware of any public displays of racism from any of them. I'm also not aware of any lashing out in the presence of people who might know more than them about something. You don't have to be a malignant narcissist if you're from Queens. You don't have to be a bigot. (Klein himself hasn't always been the most racially enlightened commentator.)

Of the people I've named, Trump grew up the wealthiest and most privileged. Somehow that made him more insecure, for the rest of his life, in the presence of other successful people. Why?

It occurs to me that Fred Trump, Donald's father, would have been the archetypal Trump voter. What did we learn when we examined the demographics of the Trump vote after the 2016 election? We learned that his voters weren't primarily blue-collar -- in fact, they were wealthier than the average voter. But many of them had amassed considerable wealth without a college diploma. And they resent both culturally sophisticated urbanites and members of racial minority groups.

That's Fred Trump. That's the legacy he passed on to his son. (Well, that and the cheating and finagling.) It's why Trump is who he is.

FASCISM IN AMERICA DOESN'T NEED TO BE REGIONAL, OR EVEN NATIONAL

John Stoehr thinks the fascist threat to America comes primarily from the South:
Our discourse presumes the dividing line between Americans is solely partisan. Over here are Republicans. Over there are Democrats. But a focus on partisanship overlooks geographical differences, particularly the south’s unique historical role in the US.

Where is the highest concentration of politics as war by other means? The south. Where is the highest concentration of politics as problem-solving? The northeast. “American politics is the South’s revenge for the Civil War,” wrote Garry Wills. The south dominates the nation. If it can’t, it goes to war, putting an end to democratic politics. Yet we act as if sectionalism died two centuries ago.
The South has been the epicenter of reactionary politics in America for more than a century -- but I'm not sure it's the epicenter anymore. At this point, the reactionary South is more a state of mind than a fact of geography. It's all over the country. Here's the Republican candidate for governor of Pennsylvania:


During the 2013-14 academic year, Mastriano also posed for a group photo at the Army War College wearing a Confederate uniform.

Also see the work of Robert Pape at the University of Chicago's Project on Security and Threats:
When we look at the counties that the 716 people arrested or charged for storming the Capitol [on January 6, 2021] came from, where they live, what we see is more than half live in counties that Biden won. They do not mainly come from the reddest parts of America. They also come from urban areas such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, New York City, Philadelphia, Houston, and Dallas. But the key characteristic uniting them is that they come from counties where the white share of the population is declining fastest.
The white panic Stoehr associates with the South? It's in every corner of America.

Stoehr also believes that fascism in America can't appear to be imported.
... fascism is always homegrown. Ours won’t look like Italy’s. Italy’s won’t look like Hungary’s. And so on. Fascisms may resemble each other, but they aren’t copycats. If it seemed imported, it wouldn’t work, wrote Sarah Churchwell: “Fascism’s ultra-nationalism means that it works by normalizing itself, drawing on familiar national customs to insist it is merely conducting political business as usual.”
In 2022, is this still true? I agree that an American fascist movement would need to look American rather than foreign. But these days, when American right-wingers look to other countries, what they often think is: These foreigners share our traditional American values more than a lot of the so-called citizens of our own country. In the past, they've regarded Benjamin Netanyahu and even Tony Blair as standing for Right and Truth against "Islamofascism," while liberals, in their view, were pro-terrorist. These days, they look at Viktor Orban, or Vladimir Putin, and see someone who, unlike American liberals, champions heterosexuality and believes in rigid rules of gender, traditional nuclear families, and Christianity as a state religion, while opposing George Soros and "globalism." And more recently...


And why not? In order to win our favor, Putin, Orban, and Brazil's Jair Bolsonaro learned the American right's favorite talking points and parroted them back to us. Italy's next prime minister, the fashy Giorgia Meloni, has consulted with Steve Bannon, and it shows:


If overseas fascists continue talking like American fascists, I imagine our country's right-wingers would be just as happy to see Hungary annex the United States as the other way around.

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

NOBODY LIKES RON DeSANTIS, BUT IT DOESN'T MATTER

If you learn nothing else from Gabriel Sherman's Vanity Fair feature story about Ron DeSantis, you'll at least learn this: DeSantis is extraordinarily unlikable.
DeSantis’s offices have earned a reputation as very unhappy places to work. “When you work for Ron, he makes you feel like you’re just lucky to be there,” a former gubernatorial aide said. “I once had to drive him to the airport. We got stuck in traffic for an hour, and he didn’t say a word,” a former congressional staffer told me. “I describe him as having the personality of a piece of paper.” Last year, Politico reported ex-DeSantis staffers had formed a “support group” to commiserate over their bruising experiences. “He’s a terrible bully,” a past adviser said.
DeSantis is so bad at normal human interaction that he can't even manage to be nice to rich donors.
“The biggest complaint you hear about DeSantis is that he never says thank you,” a veteran GOP strategist said. “People host events where donors give him enormous sums of money, and he never says thank you.” ... People describe DeSantis’s personality as a mix of extreme arrogance and painful awkwardness. “He’s missing the sociability gene,” a prominent Republican said, relaying an oft-stated critique. “He doesn’t do the warm and fuzzies well. I was at a fundraiser in DC where he was like two hours late. Everyone was like, What the fuck?” recalled a GOP strategist....

DeSantis has flashed his notorious temper in front of donors. In December 2021, DeSantis had a mini-meltdown when he was interviewed onstage by billionaire investor Charles Schwab during a fundraiser at The Breakers in Palm Beach. According to an attendee, DeSantis monopolized the discussion until a visibly frustrated Schwab interjected. “You don’t get to ask the questions and give the answers,” Schwab said. DeSantis looked enraged. After the interview, DeSantis left the stage without shaking Schwab’s hand. “This was in front of donors paying $50,000,” the attendee said. Last February, DeSantis annoyed donors at a fundraiser at the JW Marriott in Washington. “He was onstage and said, ‘I’m the reason why people move to Florida,’” an attendee recalled.
It would be nice to think that this will be his undoing, but the donors don't seem to mind:
According to disclosures, DeSantis has raised a record-breaking $172 million since August 2019. His Democratic opponent [in the Florida governor's race], Charlie Crist, has raised just $15.3 million.

DeSantis’s political power flows from the fact that he is equally popular with the donor class and a GOP base that has otherwise shown utmost fealty to Trump. Billionaires like Citadel founder Ken Griffin and real estate mogul and Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross love DeSantis’s elite credentials—Yale, Harvard, the Navy—and his deregulatory zeal. He’s Trump “without the insanity and the tweets at three in the morning,” one top GOP donor told me.
Clearly, the donor class doesn't care that he's a jerk, as long as he's willing to cut their taxes and eliminate regulations.

But won't DeSantis's insufferable personality hurt him in the primaries? Sherman thinks it might:
It’s hard to see how he would perform in early primary-season states like Iowa and New Hampshire that reward retail politicians who connect with voters on the ground. “Can a guy who doesn’t have any time for the rituals and practices of politics—the backslapping, handshaking, how are the kids?—succeed?” asked a longtime Trump adviser. “When you have a CNN embed with you videoing you every day meeting voters, then we see who you really are,” said another Republican.
But in 2016, when Donald Trump won the nomination, do you remember who had the second-highest total of votes, delegates, and states won? Ted Cruz -- one of the least likable people on the planet. It's widely known that even Cruz's Republican Senate colleagues don't like him. But he got nearly eight million votes in the primaries. (Trump got fourteen million.) If Trump hadn't been in the field, I think Cruz would have won the nomination.

The dominant figure in the Republican Party since 2015 has been a personable, gregarious asshole -- but doesn't mean that it's important for the next leader of the party to be personable and gregarious. I think the asshole part of the formula is the key. Republican voters like assholes -- if you're vehemently right-wing and people dislike you, the GOP electorate figures you must be doing something right.

So I think the GOP voters believe it's a good thing that DeSantis is abrasively obnoxious. That's a sign that he's capable of infuriating the people they want to infuriate. So his thoroughly unpleasant personality could actually be an asset for him in the 2024 primaries.

OH, LOOK -- THE DEMOCRATIC PROMOTE-THE-EXTREMISTS STRAGY IS WORKING

When Democrats began doing this, the pundit hand-wringing was loud enough to be heard from space -- but it seems to be working:
Tuesday marks exactly six weeks until Election Day, when we’ll finally get resolution on one of the most widely discussed — and consequential — storylines of the 2022 election: the Democratic Party’s practice of meddling in Republican primaries in the hopes of producing unelectable nominees.

It was a risky bet, but at the moment, it appears to be paying off....

In the Illinois governor’s race, incumbent Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker has led Republican Darren Bailey by double digits in nearly every poll since July....

There hasn’t been much polling in Maryland’s gubernatorial race, but what’s out there shows a huge advantage for Democrat Wes Moore. You can tell Republican Dan Cox is feeling the heat: He’s upped his attacks against Moore since the unflattering numbers were published.

... FiveThirtyEight’s polling average has Democratic Attorney General Josh Shapiro leading Republican Doug Mastriano by 10.4 points....

In the New Hampshire Senate race, Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan ... has a massive fundraising advantage over Don Bolduc, a retired Army general, ending last month with more than $7 million in cash on hand, compared with just $83,900 for Bolduc.
And according to the Real Clear Politics average, Hassan is leading Bolduc by 8 points, even though Hassan was expected to be quite vulnerable this year.

The criticism of Democrats was based on two faulty premises. One is that the Republican Party is salvageable: If we all just give Republicans a nudge in the right direction and root them on, like parents teaching a small child to ride a bicycle, they'll ride off into the land of democracy and civic responsibility, abandoning their extremist ways and voting instead for safe, upstanding candidates. Liz Cheney will win a bipartisan landslide victory in the 2024 presidential election and all will be right with the world. In fact, it's the opposite: Given the slightest hint that there's a candidate out there who wants them to embrace their inner fascist, they rush to vote for that candidate. No one puts a gun to their heads and forces them to vote for democracy-haters -- they do it willingly. This year, Democrats made sure they heard the call of Trumpism, and they eagerly responded.

The other faulty premise is that the median voter is a Republican who -- understandably! -- is repulsed by Democrats. Mainstream commentators believe this even though, on issues from guns to abortion to the legitimacy of Joe Biden's victory, Democrats and independents largely agree and constitute solid majorities, while Republicans are the extremist outliers. Democrats ran ads for Big Lie crazies in states where they were counting on liberals, moderates, and a small number of non-insane conservative to outnumber the crazy right. As it turns out, at least in Democratic and swing states, it's possible to get a majority of voters to rally around a Democrat if the alternative is a whackjob Republican. The commentariat, which has internalized the right-wing characterization of Democrats as woke LGBT soy-boy CRT police-defunders who can't utter a sentence without using the word "Latinx," feared that this was impossible, because voting for the candidate in the "R" column is just so ... normal.

This Democratic strategy might not work on a national level, but it's working in the races the party singled out, because millions of Americans will actually vote for a Democrat if the alternative is the triumph of sociopaths.

Monday, September 26, 2022

DONALD TRUMP ISN'T "OPAQUE" AT ALL, MAGGIE

Maggie Haberman's book on Donald Trump will be published soon. Yesterday The Atlantic published a Haberman teaser, which ends with an assertion that Trump is ultimately unknowable.
I spent the four years of his presidency getting asked by people to decipher why he was doing what he was doing, but the truth is, ultimately, almost no one really knows him. Some know him better than others, but he is often simply, purely opaque, permitting people to read meaning and depth into every action, no matter how empty they might be.
I don't know why Haberman says this. I assume it's to maintain an air of mystery that will inspire people to buy her book. Maybe Trump himself has encouraged her to say it, because making him seem mysterious is good for him and for her.

Because it's obvious that Haberman does know Trump. In The Atlantic piece she tells readers, by indirection, that Trump saw (and continues to see) the Big Lie primarily as a ruse to hold on to the love of his fan base (and separate them from their money).
"Can you believe these are my customers?” Donald Trump once asked while surveying the crowd in the Taj Mahal casino’s poker room. “Look at those losers,” he said to his consultant Tom O’Neil, of people spending money on the floor of the Trump Plaza casino. Visiting the Iowa State Fair as a presidential candidate in 2015, he was astounded that locals fell in line to support him because of a few free rides in his branded helicopter. In the White House, he was sometimes stunned at his own backers’ fervor, telling aides, “They’re fucking crazy.” Yet they loved him and wanted to own a piece of him, and that was what mattered most.

Almost immediately after his defeat in 2020, Trump began fundraising off his claims of fraud, turning to his ardent fans for support. Plenty of people donated small amounts of money to continue a fight he swore was valid and building toward action. It was difficult to discern, though, whether Trump actually believed what he was saying about the election.

I learned in the spring that Trump was repeating a claim from one of his most vocal allies, the self-made pillow-company CEO Mike Lindell, that Trump would be reinstated as president by August 2021. Trump liked the idea, telling aides he did not want to have to sit through another three and a half years of a Biden presidency. He quietly encouraged some conservative writers to publicize the idea in their own voices, telling the National Review editor Rich Lowry as well that he anticipated being reinstated by August 2021. Trump encouraged Lowry to write about it, saying it could help the magazine. When Jenna Ellis, his former adviser, protested on Twitter the notion that Trump could be reinstated to office, Trump told Ellis that her reputation would be damaged. She took that as pressure to reverse her statement. Trump conceded to her that the scenario was “almost impossible,” but that he wanted to keep the idea alive.
Of course Trump would embrace the notion that he could be returned to office in the middle of Biden's term. What's the downside risk for him? It's like a bet with a slim but non-zero chance of a huge payoff, except he doesn't need to put anything down. He loses nothing by doing this. Minimally, he gains the love (and small-dollar donations) of those rubes who wanted to fly in his helicopter. At best, there's a violent revolution and he actually is restored to power. He doesn't care about what that would do to the country, any more than he cares about what his actions from Election Day to January 6 did to the country. He benefited. He received an outpouring of love and money that haven't stopped. And he risked nothing.

Okay, maybe he risked being brought up on charges. But he knows how to handle situations like that, as Haberman makes clear, again indirectly.
He was at his most animated when I asked about why he had trusted Sidney Powell, given the concerns his other advisers had had about her. Since then, Powell had faced libel suits from voting-machine manufacturers she had accused of corruption; her defense had been, essentially, that no one should have taken what she had to say seriously. “I was very disappointed in her statement,” Trump said. “That is so demeaning for her to say about herself.” Then he essentially read stage directions on how to use public claims in lawsuits. “All she had to say,” he said, “was ‘Upon information and belief, I think such and such.’ Now all she says there, was take a thousand stories that were written over the last 10 years long before all of this, that are bad stories,” he said, “and that is information and belief, she read them. And that’s the end of that case. That’s true for everybody: ‘It’s upon information and belief and let’s go to court to find out if it’s true.’”
That's what he'll say if he's ever brought up on charges of trying to overturn the election: Upon information and belief, I really thought I won. At that, he assumes, prosecutors won't be able to persuade the jury that had corrupt intent.

Why does Trump think laws don't apply to him? Because he's spent his life observing people who make their own laws, and he expects every part of the world to be dominated by such people:
He thought back to the first major political figure he had observed up close, the Democratic Party boss Meade Esposito, who dominated Brooklyn politics when Trump joined his father’s real-estate business. “Meade ruled with an iron fist,” Trump said. “And he was a very strong leader, to put it mildly. And when I came to Washington, I said, ‘Oh, well, this is now the big league. So as tough as they were, this must be even tougher.’ But I said, ‘How could anybody be tougher than Meade?’ Meade had a cane at the end. He used to start swinging the cane at people. I mean, he was wild.”

... Trump’s view of strength never changes, regardless of the context, flattening all situations so they appear the same. He used identical language—“with an iron fist”—when describing how Esposito presided over his boroughwide fiefdom and when he praised China’s President Xi Jinping after his own term ended.
And, really, there's no law -- what matters is who you know.
Trump was clear that he did not believe he would have faced any of the same legal problems that had dogged him if Manhattan’s longtime district attorney, Robert Morgenthau, had still been in office. “No. He was a friend of mine. He was a great gentleman. He was a great man. He was highly respected. No. And I run a clean organization. This is a continuation of the witch hunt.” He added, “Bob Morgenthau would not have stood for this.”
Trump might be the least opaque president of my lifetime. I think Maggie Haberman knows that. But maintaining a sense of mystery about this not-at-all-mysterious man might sell some books for her.

Sunday, September 25, 2022

THE JERK GAP IN AMERICAN POLITICS

The Washington Post's Aaron Blake tells us that Democrats are leading in the polls in a number of swing-state races that have one thing in common: unlikable Republican candidates.
The gap is perhaps most pronounced in Pennsylvania, where both GOP Senate nominee Mehmet Oz and gubernatorial nominee Doug Mastriano have trailed consistently in the polls.

... In three recent polls — from Muhlenberg College, CBS/YouGov and Monmouth University — the percentage of people who viewed [Oz] unfavorably was double-digits higher than those who viewed him favorably. The Muhlenberg poll showed 29 percent of people liked him, while 53 percent disliked him. And the CBS/YouGov poll shows even 36 percent of Trump voters dislike him.

Oz’s opponent, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D), has middling approval numbers. But in each poll, Fetterman’s net favorability (i.e. positive views vs. negative ones) is more than 20 points higher than Oz’s, which helps explain Fetterman’s consistent edge in the race....

The story is similar in the governor’s race, where Mastriano’s image ratings are about as bad as Oz’s; he’s also double-digits underwater in all three polls.... And thanks to running against a Democrat who’s more popular than Fetterman, state Attorney General Josh Shapiro, Mastriano’s net image rating is consistently more than 30 points worse than his opponent.
The pattern repeats in the Michigan governor's race and in Senate races in Arizona and New Hampshire (where Democrats have significant leads), as well as in Senate races in Ohio and Wisconsin (where Democrats are doing better than expected).

However:
... these popularity gaps are often bigger than the margins in the actual head-to-head matchups. And there’s one main reason for that: partisanship.

As The Post’s Philip Bump recently wrote, the CBS/YouGov poll showed Fetterman led Oz on several key issues when it comes to voters’ decisions, often by double digits. Yet Fetterman led by just five points on the ballot test. That’s because party often wins out on voters’ decisions.

Even more telling: The same pollster showed that, in both Pennsylvania and [the Senate race in] Georgia, a majority of people supporting the Democrat said they were doing so primarily because they liked their candidate. But 8 in 10 supporters of the Republican said their vote was primarily about supporting their party or voting against the other candidate.

... what these polls suggest is that if Republicans can win in these states — and by extension win the Senate — it’ll be in large part because of a favorable environment and the ever-present pull of partisanship.
If "partisanship," with no party label attached, is the reason unlikable Republicans are competitive in races against more likable Democrats, then where are the examples of the opposite phenomenon? Where are voters embracing Democratic jerks rather than nice, likable Republicans in competitive races?

Maybe there just aren't any nice, likable Republicans. It certainly seems as if Republicans try harder to be nasty and unlikable. Maybe Republicans in this year's most competitive races are doing better than their likability scores because some voters are choosing them for their unlikability. (That would appear to explain the good polling numbers for Ron DeSantis, the least likable person on the planet.)

Republican and right-leaning swing voters see an obnoxious Republican and think: He may be a jerk, but he's our jerk. Democrats don't seem to do that. (Maybe they did in response to Anthony Weiner and Alan Grayson, but they're both out of politics now.)

But Republicans also seem to have much more party loyalty than Democrats. It's not hard to see why: Their favorite media sources have engaged in pure cheerleading for their party (and relentless demonization of the other party) for decades. The rest of the media is described as "liberal," but it's always ready to shiv a Democrat. (Was there a single positive news story published about Joe Biden between the fall of Afghanistan and the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act?) The entire political world hits the fainitng couch when a prominent Democrat issues a blanket condemnation of Republicans, while Republican politicians call Democrats treasonous Marxist America-haters every day.

So it's not surprising that Republican jerks can be competitive. They're Republicans. There's simply more Republican partisanship than Democratic partisanship.

Saturday, September 24, 2022

KEVIN McCARTHY'S MODERATE, MAINSTREAM WITCH HUNTS

Yesterday, when Speaker-wannabe Kevin McCarthy introduced House Republicans' "Commitment to America," which is intended to be a reboot of Newt Gingrich's 1994 Contract with America, Luke Broadwater of The New York Times reported that it was mostly bland and non-threatening, by design:
Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, the hard-right Georgia Republican who has sympathized with the rioters jailed for their roles in the assault on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, smiled widely from her seat at center stage on Friday as her party laid out what its agenda would be if it succeeded in winning control of the House in November.

Just a few seats down sat Representative John Katko, the centrist from central New York, who voted to impeach former President Donald J. Trump over the Jan. 6 attack and is retiring from Congress.

... Representative Kevin McCarthy ... introduced the “Commitment to America,” an innocuous-sounding set of principles he said would guide a G.O.P. majority, and which appeared aimed at uniting members as disparate as Ms. Greene and Mr. Katko....

The agenda ... avoided certain topics that polls show are not favorable to Republicans’ chances of electoral success: the abortion bans that most in the party have embraced, defunding the F.B.I., the Jan. 6 attack or Mr. Trump and his ongoing legal troubles.

Instead, Mr. McCarthy focused on proposals that most in the party proudly support, and that are unlikely to alienate the suburban and independent voters they need to win a majority.
But as Broadwater noted three paragraphs later, the agenda did not, in fact, avoid the topics of abortion and so-called election integrity:
But if the agenda soft-pedaled Republicans’ less-popular proposals, it did not omit them entirely. It contained a reference to the party’s commitment to enacting strict abortion restrictions, pledging to “protect the lives of unborn children and their mothers.” It alluded to the G.O.P.’s continuing embrace of Mr. Trump’s false claims of voter fraud in the 2020 election, promising that a Republican majority would “increase accountability in the election process through voter ID.”
And as for the FBI, if you click on "A Government That's Accountable" on the Commitment to America site, one of the items highlighted is this:


What does that mean? If you take a side trip to the site of the House Judiciary Committee's Republicans, you'll find this article, which originally appeared at Breitbart:
Jim Jordan Explains the 14 FBI Whistleblowers: ‘Frankly, We Anticipate More’

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, has been fielding whistleblower allegations against officials at the Justice Department and FBI since last November....

Jordan said Sunday to Fox News’s Trey Gowdy that 14 whistleblowers from within the FBI had come forward to his office:
Fourteen FBI agents have come to our office as whistleblowers, and they are good people. There are lots of good people in the FBI. It’s the top that’s the problem. But some of these good agents are coming to us telling us this is bologna what’s going on, the political nature now of the Justice Department.
... Jordan asserted to Breitbart News that he has in fact had 14 whistleblowers speak to his office about the Justice Department and FBI but that all of them approached his office prior to the Trump raid.

“It started when we realized what the Justice Department was doing relative to parents and the whole school boards issue,” Jordan said, in reference to allegations one whistleblower made to Jordan’s office in November 2021 that the FBI was taking counterterrorism measures to investigate parents who it deemed a threat at school board meetings.

Jordan had another whistleblower contact him in March 2022 who raised questions about “the progress and extent” of the FBI’s investigation into two pipe bombs that the FBI said were placed near the Republican National Committee and Democratic National Committee the night before the January 6 Capitol riot.

In May 2022, Jordan cited “several whistleblowers” who had contacted his office with claims that the FBI was retaliating against agents who “engaged in protected First Amendment activity on January 6, 2021.”
So while The Times's Broadwater says that the agenda "avoided" references to defunding the FBI, it embraces Jordan's multi-pronged FBI witch hunt, which will result in months of conspiratorial hearings if Republicans take the House. (Jordan will be the chairman of the Judiciary Committee in a Republican House.)

In the Breitbart story, Jordan claims that there was an assault on parents' rights that needs to be investigated. Back at the Commitment to America's "A Government That's Accountable" page, we see this complaint about the current Democratic-run House:


Jordan and McCarthy are invoking one of the GOP's many Big Lies: that the Justice Department has defined right-wing speech by parents as terrorism. Republicans have uttered this Big Lie repeatedly over the past year or so, with barely any pushback. A few examples:
“Attorney General Garland is weaponizing the DOJ by using the FBI to pursue concerned parents and silence them through intimidation. Florida will defend the free speech rights of its citizens and will not allow federal agents to squelch dissent.”
— Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), in a tweet, Oct. 5 [2021] ...

“Merrick Garland says he's going to use the Justice Department to spy on parents at school board meetings.”
— Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), in an interview on Fox News, Oct. 13 [2021] ...

“Now the FBI is trying to silence parents. That’s wrong.”
— Glenn Youngkin, Republican nominee for Virginia governor, in a campaign ad, Oct. 13 [2021]
In fact, the memo from the attorney general on October 4, 2021, referred to those engaging in threats or other forms of intimidation:
In recent months, there has been a disturbing spike in harassment, intimidation, and threats of violence against school administrators, board members, teachers, and staff who participate in the vital work of running our nation's public schools. While spirited debate about policy matters is protected under our Constitution, that protection does not extend to threats of violence or efforts to intimidate individuals based on their views.
But all of your right-wing relatives now "know" that the FBI labeled parents as terrorist simply because they expressed opinions.

The FBI won't be the only target of a witch hunt, according to the Commitment to America. There's also this complaint about House Democrats:


If you scroll down to a button labeled "COVID Origins" and click on it, you're taken to a February press release from the House Oversight Committee's Republicans:
Today, House Committee on Oversight and Reform Ranking Member James Comer (R-Ky.), Republican Whip and Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis Ranking Member Steve Scalise (R-La.), and House Committee on the Judiciary Ranking Member Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) called on seven scientists who initially believed COVID-19 may have leaked from the Wuhan lab to provide answers under oath. These scientists suddenly reversed course after privately speaking with Dr. Francis Collins, former director of the National Institutes of Health, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. It is unclear what science, if any, changed in the short amount of time.
McCarthy's plan promises to target Dr. Fauci, just as it plans to target the FBI. But The New York Times says the Commitment to America is a moderate document that avoids controversial subjects. It isn't.