Friday, September 30, 2022


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.


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.

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


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


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.


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


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.


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


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 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).

... 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


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.

Friday, September 23, 2022


Yesterday, The New York Times published a long opinion piece by Carlos Lozada that blamed America's crisis of democracy on politicians and political operatives who know that what they say and do is fraudulent:
... the lie that Donald Trump won the 2020 election has grown so powerful because it is yoked to an older deception, without which it could not survive: the idea that American politics is, in essence, a joke, and that it can be treated as such without consequence.

The big lie depends on the big joke. It was enabled by it. It was enhanced by it. It is sustained by it.

When politicians publicly defend positions they privately reject, they are telling the joke. When they give up on the challenge of governing the country for the rush of triggering the enemy, they are telling the joke. When they intone that they must address the very fears they have encouraged or manufactured among their constituents, they are telling the joke. When their off-the-record smirks signal that they don’t really mean what they just said or did, they are telling the joke.
This isn't wrong exactly, but it's reductionist and incomplete. It implies that everyone who's actively destroying democracy is doing it for kicks: thrill-killers of the democratic order. And it suggests that these functionaries and flunkies are acting on their own.

They aren't. The fish stinks from the head:
Fossil fuel giant Koch Industries has poured over $1m into backing – directly and indirectly – dozens of House and Senate candidates who voted against certifying Joe Biden’s win on 6 January 2021.

Koch, which is controlled by multibillionaire Charles Koch, boasts a corporate Pac that has donated $607,000 to the campaigns or leadership Pacs of 52 election deniers since January 2021, making Koch’s Pac the top corporate funder of members who opposed the election results, according to OpenSecrets, which tracks campaign spending.

In addition, the Super Pac Americans for Prosperity Action to which Koch Industries has given over $6m since January 2021, has backed some election deniers with advertising and other communications support, as well as a few candidates Donald Trump has endorsed who tried to help him overturn the 2020 election, or raised doubts about the final results.
Republicans have been lying to us about "election integrity" at least since the days of George W. Bush, when U.S. attorneys who wouldn't pursue cases of nonexistent voter fraud were fired. Partisan fraudsters such as Catherine Engelbrecht's True the Vote organization -- source of the misinformation in Dinesh D'Souza's fake documentary 2000 Mules -- have been lying for years, and avoiding consequences because they have prominent defenders, like the opinion section of The Wall Street Journal.

Are they doing this for the lulz? No. They're doing it because right-wing billionaires want the U.S. government to be in the permanent control of the Republican Party, which reliably votes to cut rich people's taxes and loosen corporate regulations. Republicans can't win elections by promoting their actual agenda, which is extremely unpopular, so in addition to manipulating the voting system for years in order to gain structural advantages, they've been selling their party to voters with lies and conspiracy theories. Some of the politicians and operatives who tell these lies and peddle these conspiracies know they're absurd, and while they may tell themselves it's all a joke, it's dead serious to the people directly or indirectly bankrolling them.

If loyalty to the GOP now means believing that the 2020 election was stolen, then of course the Koch network wants to bankroll election deniers. Koch World wants whatever it takes to put its preferred politicians in power. That's no joke.

Thursday, September 22, 2022


It's possible that the lawsuit filed against the Trump family and its business operations by New York State attorney general Letitia James will eventually result in a judgment or settlement so costly to Donald Trump that he won't even be able to fake being a high-living billionaire anymore. But I disagree with Martin Longman's assertion that Trump is already disgraced, at least in the eyes of the people who matter to him:
The civil complaint she announced on Wednesday did one valuable thing immediately, which was to expose Trump as far less wealthy than he’d like us to believe. This was demonstrated by showing how he has outrageously inflated the worth of just about every known asset he owns, and even claimed assets that he doesn’t own. The complaint shows a laundry list of fraudulent acts, but the simplest one to understand is that he’s been lying about his wealth. That hits him in one of the few places where he’s capable of giving a shit and feeling some real pain. That’s a consequence, and it’s bad for his image.
But it won't do the slightest bit of damage to Trump's image with the people whose opinion he cares about most these days: his right-wing fan base. It doesn't matter what's in James's civil complaint. They simply won't believe it, because it comes from a Democrat -- a Black female Democrat, no less -- and it's being reported by "the fake news." None of the fans will weigh the allegations even momentarily. They're all lies! Look at where they're coming from!

I wouldn't exactly call it a sign of maturity on Trump's part, but he seems to have come to terms with the fact that sophisticated people, in Manhattan society and elsewhere, will never embrace him. They're the kinds of people who understand that Trump's claims of wealth are inflated by lies -- but they knew that years ago. His new best friends are different. They don't believe what fancy East Coast legal and financial journalists tell them about Trump. They believe what Sean Hannity and Steve Bannon tell them about Trump. They believe what Trump tells them about himself.

In a way, Trump and the right-wing base are a match made in heaven. They think, Are you one of us or one of them? If you're one of them, we won't believe anything you say, no matter how much evidence you have. If you're one of us, you can tell us anything and we'll believe you. Trump is "one of us" for these people. For a lifelong con man, they're the perfect marks.


Be afraid. Be very afraid.
Republican Mark Finchem, who doesn’t believe that President Joe Biden won in Arizona in 2020, leads Democratic opponent Adrian Fontes in the first notable poll for the secretary of state race.

The OH Predictive Insights poll of likely Arizona voters released Wednesday shows Finchem leading 40%-35%, although a quarter those surveyed were undecided....

Mike Noble, OH Predictive Insights chief of research, said down-ticket races such as secretary of state tend to go along the lines of the generic ballot, which favors Republicans in Arizona.

“Mark Finchem is sitting in much better position, I think, than many would expect right now,” Noble told KTAR News 92.3 FM.
OH Predictive Insights isn't a polling outfit whose surveys routinely lean right, like Rasmussen or Trafalgar. In fact, in the same poll, Democrat Mark Kelly was found to have a 47%-35% lead over Republican candidate and Peter Thiel lab experiment Blake Masters.

Finchem is bad news:

(Alter quotes her own article in Time magazine. On Gab, Finchem calls Time "Marxist propaganda.")

... Finchem was outside the U.S. Capitol at the Jan. 6 riot. Though he maintains he never entered the building, video footage shows he was much closer than he originally claimed. Ali Alexander, the organizer of the rally that helped fuel the deadly mayhem, declared there wouldn’t have been a Stop the Steal movement in Arizona without Finchem....

Finchem is still pushing baseless theories about how the election was rigged, texting a link to a conservative activist project that he claims shows the “Chinese Communist Party now has operational control over many elections across the United States because they control the servers where all of the electronic data sits.”
The Republican nominee for secretary of state in Arizona is a self-proclaimed member of the far-right extremist group the Oath Keepers who repeatedly shared anti-government conspiracies and posts about stockpiling ammunition on social media.

... posts Finchem pinned on his “Thought Provoking” [Pinterest] board included conspiracy theories that the Mexican Army was making incursions into the United States in preparation for a full-scale invasion and repeated anti-Muslim posts arguing Sharia law was coming to the US soon....

On Twitter, he shared conspiracies that multiple ships docked at a Virginia naval station might be a target for a second Pearl Harbor-type attack. He said Satan ruled the United States and said gun ownership should be mandatory. In one post, he called for the impeachment of Obama, who was then President, for letting his daughter go on vacation in Mexico.
If Finchem defeats Democrat Adrian Fontes, he'll oversee the 2024 election in Arizona, possibly working with fellow denialist Kari Lake, who has a one-point lead in the Arizona governor's race according to Real Clear Politics. (FiveThirtyEight shows Lake trailing Democrat Katie Hobbs, but only by 3.4.)

This is just one poll of the secretary of state race, and the number of undecided respondents suggests that Republicans and right-leaning independents might be much more focused on he race than the rest of the electorate, who'll be repulsed by Finchem when they find out about him. But time is running out. Early vote starts in a couple of weeks.

Democracy might die in Arizona because state gas prices are higher than the national average. That's how it goes in America, right?

Donate to Democrat Adrian Fontes here. (I just did.)

Wednesday, September 21, 2022


There are a handful of Republican governors and members of Congress who actually, more or less, want to govern. Invariably, they're people who have stalled in their careers, and who have made peace with the idea that they'll never be president.

The rest of the party's officeholders, even when they're pretending to govern, mostly seek revenge. It's not really governing at all -- it's bread and circuses for their angry base.

We're familiar with Republicans whose goal is extra-spicy revenge: congressional figures like Jim Jordan who want to spend the next two years investigating Hunter Biden and Anthony Fauci (Jordan apparently hopes to be Speaker one day), and, of course, Ron DeSantis, who desperately wants to be president, and whose quest for revenge against the right's enemies seems to occupy all his waking hours, the way searching for food occupies a shark's.

Then there are ambitious Republicans who occasionally appear to be governing. But even then, they're out for revenge.

This occurred to me when I was reading Ross Douthat's latest "whither the conservative reform movement?" column. For years Douthat has persisted in hoping that conservatives who say they want to help ordinary people will change the nature of Republican Party (while also nudging citizens into traditional families and away from all that icky abortion and recreational sex). To his credit, Douthat doesn't believe the party is any readier for policies that help ordinary citizens than it's ever been in the past few decades -- he knows the party mostly cares only about giving tax cuts to the rich. But he can dream.

He mentions a couple of policy initiatives:
The first, from Tom Cotton of Arkansas, promises to overhaul work force education and subsidize blue-collar trade work, offering a $9,000 voucher to encourage high school graduates to effectively apprentice in trade jobs, as opposed to enrolling in college. The second, from Marco Rubio of Florida, is an update of his past family-policy proposals, this time framed as a pro-life program and linked to the demise of Roe v. Wade: It proposes a bigger child tax credit and adoption tax credit, along with various programs aimed at supporting new mothers.
And how are these financed? Well, heaven forfend that they should be financed by higher taxes on the wealthy.
... for conservatives those choices are constrained by the right-wing anathema against raising taxes on the rich.

There are exceptions to this ban, and Cotton and Rubio make the most of them. You can tax the rich if they’re wealthy liberal institutions, and so Cotton funds his training voucher in part with a tax on the endowments of wealthy private colleges. You can tax the upper class by cutting off their tax breaks, and so Rubio funds some of his family policies by ending the state and local tax deduction, a policy that especially benefits higher‌ earners in bluer states.
Tax the oil companies? Never! Tax tech zillionaires, whom Republicans routinely say they despise as evil conservative-censoring monopolists? Nahhh. Tax Wall Streeters, who tend to hobnob with (and give generously to) East Coast Democratic politicians? Nope.

I'd go in those directions, because that's where the money is. These people have amassed more and more while giving back less and less to society. But Cotton and Rubio are Republicans, so they place the tax burden on homeowners in a few blue states (who are all presumed to be limousine-liberal mansion-dwellers), and on those nasty Ivy Leaguers with their weirdo ideas about gender and race.

Even when Republicans are trying to be high-minded, it's all about revenge.


Today's big news:
The New York state attorney general filed a sweeping lawsuit Wednesday against former President Donald Trump, three of his adult children and the Trump Organization, alleging they were involved in an expansive fraud lasting over a decade that the former President used to enrich himself.

... According to the lawsuit, the Trump Organization deceived lenders, insurers and tax authorities by inflating the value of his properties using misleading appraisals.

“This conduct cannot be brushed aside and dismissed as some sort of good-faith mistake,” James said at a news conference in New York.

“The statements of financial condition were greatly exaggerated, grossly inflated, objectively false, and therefore fraudulent and illegal,” she added.
We can expect the legal process to take years and the Trumps to argue that the incorrect valuations, which allowed them to pay lower interest rates on loans, were perfectly innocent and inadvertent, an argument a jury (or at least enough Fox-watching jurors) might buy. But in the long term this could be very bad news for the Trump family.

In the short term, however, it's excellent news for Trump the potential Republican presidential candidate. It makes him the victim of the evil libs again, just as we're all forgetting about the FBI search of Mar-a-Lago, the last event that gave a boost to Trump's poll numbers among Republicans.

Which leads to me wonder whether Ron DeSantis knew this was coming and didn't want Trump to have two unanswered back-to-back opportunities to whine about a "witch hunt." DeSantis is far away from Albany, but he has many friends at Fox News, and Fox has sources in Albany. So maybe he got word that the lawsuit was coming this month and redoubled his efforts to put cruelty points on the board before the suit could be announced. Or maybe not, but is it unreasonable to speculate?

Tuesday, September 20, 2022


I think Nick Catoggio, the commentator formerly known as Allahpundit, could be right when he argues that Donald Trump will probably start attacking Ron DeSantis relatively soon:
At some point an impatient narcissist will no longer be able to ignore his rival’s effrontery, especially if it’s cutting into his camera time. It’s one thing for DeSantis to steal Trump’s hand gestures, it’s another for him to steal the policy issue on which Trump has made his bones as a “fighter.” The day Trump loses his distinction as “King of the Jerks” to DeSantis is the day we have a bona fide fight on our hands for the 2024 nomination.

Which is one reason I think his patience with DeSantis—his willingness to hold his tongue about the younger man—is about to run out.
The reason I think Catoggio is right is that right-wingers seem to regard DeSantis's Martha's Vineyard stunt not merely as an enjoyable act of lib-owning, but as one of the most monumental acts of lib-owning in American history. It's quite possible that the next several polls of the 2024 GOP presidential contest will show DeSantis beating Trump. (According to Real Clear Politics, Trump has been beating DeSantis in the polls by an average of 30 points.) Trump needs to regain the upper hand. (Maybe he should ask the FBI to search Mar-a-Lago again. That was excellent for his poll numbers.)

But I don't agree with Catoggio about this:
DeSantis’ entire case against Trump in the 2024 primary rests on electability....

The yardstick for relative electability is destined to be DeSantis’ margin of victory in Florida against Democrat Charlie Crist. Trump won Florida by 3.5 percentage points in 2020; DeSantis would like to double that margin if possible, never mind the obvious differences between the caliber of opponent he and Trump each faced and the dynamics of a presidential cycle versus a midterm cycle.

... Because DeSantis will be more or less attractive to Republican voters in 2024 depending upon how gaudy his margin of victory is, Trump has every incentive to do what he can to hold down that margin of victory. That means attacking DeSantis now—before the gubernatorial election—in the hope that some meaningful number of MAGA diehards will decline to turn out for the governor in November in protest. After all, if DeSantis were to beat Crist by only 3 points instead of 7, that might functionally end his 2024 hopes.
First, I don't agree that "DeSantis’ entire case against Trump in the 2024 primary rests on electability." Republican voters who worry that the rest of us hate Trump so much he can't win seem to believe that the key to victory in 2024 is simply not picking Trump. Their preference for DeSantis isn't that they think he's more electable -- it's that his incessant lib-owning efforts give them immense pleasure.

Also, do you think Republican voters will really parse numbers this way? Remember, in 2016 Trump lost the popular vote by 3 points and won the Electoral College by less than 100, and he regularly said that he won in a "landslide." THe Republican base never questioned this. If DeSantis wins, the margin won't matter to the GOP base; FiveThirtyEight and panels on Morning Joe will carefully analyze Trump's and DeSantis's relative performance, but Republican voters won't. And if DeSantis wins but underperforms, every GOP voter will just blame Democratic fraud (as, I assume, will DeSantis himself).

And this kind of sabotage isn't Trump's M.O. -- remember, he's not even trying to hurt Brian Kemp and Brad Raffensperger, the two highest-profile pols in statewide races who defied him and survived primaries.

Catoggio think Trump might attack DeSantis on a couple of issues:
One is abortion. For all his usual maximalist bravado, DeSantis is a shrewd politician with the good sense not to press his luck on the ultimate culture-war issue amid an apparent national backlash to the end of Roe. The 15-week ban he signed into law earlier this year is an uncharacteristically moderate compromise designed to prevent the issue from galvanizing Democratic turnout in Florida in November....

Trump could challenge him on that.
Abortion? Trump doesn't really care about it. He only seated the Supreme Court justices who overturned Roe because he wanted to be loved by evangelicals.
Which leaves us with the nuclear option, Trump’s second potential line of attack on DeSantis. He could demand that the governor answer forthrightly whether he believes the 2020 election was stolen or not.

DeSantis has practiced strategic ambiguity on that question for nearly two years. He won’t say that the election was rigged, but he will campaign for election deniers. He won’t declare that the election should have been overturned, but he did call on voters to report suspected lawbreaking to their state legislators around the time Trump was trying to convince swing states to certify his electors as legitimate. He has been and hopes to forever remain half-pregnant on the subject....
Trump might attack him on that. But I suspect Catoggio is thinking too much like a political commentator.

In the 2016 campaign, what did Trump mainly attack Marco Rubio on? His height. How did Trump attack Ted Cruz? He attacked Cruz's wife's looks and his pals at The National Enquirer concocted a cockamamie story about Cruz's father participating in the assassination of JFK.

So my guess is that when Trump astarts attacking DeSantis, he'll attack in non-political terms. He'll attack him on his height, or on some obscure incident in his past, or allies like Roger Stone (who loathes DeSantis) will float completely unfounded rumors about him, which Trump will amplify. Stone already insinuated that DeSantis cheats on his wife after DeSantis was out of the public eye briefly last winter:

I expect Trump to take some potshots at DeSantis in the near future, but I think he'll save most of his ammo for the campaign. This could get ugly (I hope).


What does the Republican Party stand for? What are its beliefs? What do Republicans want to do if they regain power? An opinion piece by the Washington Examiner's Zachary Faria makes the answer clear.

Faria writes:
Republicans' choice for 2024 should be abundantly clear

Whatever debate there is about the 2024 presidential race, and about whether Republicans should nominate former President Donald Trump or Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, it is not much of a debate at all. Both men, and the establishment media that hate them, have made it clear who the right answer is.
Surely we'll be told about clear policy differences between the two men -- right?

DeSantis has a campaign war chest of $122.5 million. While he coasts toward a likely reelection in Florida, he has also given $2.5 million to the Florida Republican Senatorial Committee in hopes of expanding his state party's majority in the state Senate....

Meanwhile, Trump’s PAC, Save America, is hoarding its $99 million haul while siphoning grassroots donations that should be going to competitive races this year. Save America spent $4 million in July, but just $200,000 of that went to GOP candidates.... Trump’s PAC is otherwise not very interested in sending money, not even to the candidates whom Trump himself has endorsed.

The contrast is stark between DeSantis trying to boost his state party and govern more effectively and Trump tanking Republicans' chances in those 2021 Georgia Senate runoffs.
So when Faria is describing what makes DeSantis likely to be a good president of the United States, the first thing that comes to mind is ... the fact that DeSantis is trying to elect more Republicans than Trump is.

But surely Faria talks about policy after that, right? Again, nope:
But if that isn’t enough, why not let establishment media and Democrats tell you who they want? ... Who does the media view as a bigger threat than Trump? Let’s ask Jamelle Bouie of the New York Times, as reliable a Democratic partisan as you'll find in the media. DeSantis “may be a more competent Trump” when it comes to wielding power, and “he’s also meaner and more rigid, without the soft edges and eccentricity” of Trump ... meaning that he would likely deem DeSantis the bigger threat should he actually become president. Democratic strategists and other liberal pundits, including Andy Levy and Molly Jong-Fast of the Daily Beast and the Washington Post’s Max Boot, are already on that boat. The worst Republican is always the next Republican, and they are far more afraid of DeSantis being next than a Trump sequel.
And that's all Faria has to say. Nothing about policy. Nothing about ideology. DeSantis helps more party members get elected and DeSantis, at least at the moment, makes the libs -- including Max Boot, who was a Republican for decades -- cry more.

That's the complete list of relevant criteria for GOP voters, according to Faria.. Those are the only things that matter. And if he's wrong, it's because most GOP voters care only about item #2.

Monday, September 19, 2022


Ahead of his upcoming debate with Senator Raphael Warnock, Herschel Walker is lowering expectations in a way that seems unusual but is, in a way, quintessentially Republican:
Georgia Senate hopeful Herschel Walker (R) downplayed himself ahead of his debate with Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) next month, saying “I’m not that smart” ...

Speaking to reporters on Friday, Walker was asked what kind of preparation he was doing for the debate.

“Talking to the voters, talking to you. You told me I gotta prepare, so I’m preparin’,” he said to the reporters. “I’m this country boy, you know, I’m not that smart. And he’s that preacher. He’s a smart man, wears these nice suits. So he going to show up there, embarrass me at the debate, October the 14th. And I’m just waiting, you know, I’ll show up and I’m [going to] do my best.”
Walker didn't always claim to be "not that smart." In fact, as CNN reported in April, he used to claim that he'd graduated in the top 1% of his class at the University of Georgia (he never graduated) and that he'd been valedictorian of his high school. CNN concluded that his school didn't have a valedictorian the year Walker graduated, but he did have good grades in high school: "Walker was a top student at his high school and the president of the Beta Club – he maintained an 'A' average to be in the school’s Beta Club," CNN reported.

But Walker isn't just claiming to have had a poor education after saying he'd had a good one. He's suggesting that Warnock is a fancypants elitist, while he's a plain-spoken ordinary guy.

Warnock is a preacher with Ph.D. in theology, but he had a modest upbringing, as AP reported last year:
He grew up in Savannah in the Kayton Homes public housing project, the second youngest of 12 children. His mother as a teenager had worked as a sharecropper picking cotton and tobacco. His father was a preacher who also made money hauling old cars to a local scrapyard.

“My daddy used to wake me up every morning at dawn,” Warnock told a hometown crowd at a drive-in rally two days before his election Tuesday. “He said, `Boy, you can’t sleep late in my house. Get up, get dressed, put your shoes on. Get ready.’”

Pushed by his parents to work hard, Warnock left Savannah and became the first member of his family to graduate from college, helped by Pell grants and low-interest student loans.
Walker's remarks aren't as nasty or hypocritical as the way George H.W. Bush treated Michael Dukakis in 1988. Dukakis was the son of Greek immigrants; Bush was a son of privilege. But Bush portrayed Dukakis as the elitist, describing some of Dukakis's policies as "born in Harvard Yard's boutique" -- a phrase that makes no sense but ends with a word that sounded sissified and French. The Yale-educated Bush, meanwhile, claimed to love pork rinds and country music. He won in a landslide. Bush's son didn't need to attack his opponents, Al Gore and John Kerry, as elitists -- the media and GOP surrogates did that for him. He won twice.

Herschel Walker could have simply claimed he's not a great speaker -- but he made it about class and breeding. That will appeal to a lot of GOP voters. This is America, so I really don't think he'll lose votes for saying he's not smart. I ho[pe I'm wrong, but I think he might win votes that way.


Over the weekend I posted a tweet in response to a then-trending hashtag: #MarthasVineyardRacists. I got a fair amount of right-wing abuse for objecting to the faulty premise of the hashtag:

The immigrants were greeted warmly on the Vineyard, but eventually they were taken to a designated emergency shelter on Cape Cod, at a military base about thirty miles away by ferry. The Cape Cod facility is much more able to provide beds, medical care, and other necessities than anything on the island of Martha's Vineyard. This was the right thing to do -- but not according to the Murdoch media, or the millions of Americans who regard its reporting as gospel truth:

The right's message discipline on this event was unusually tight, even by normal GOP standards -- so much so that one wonders whether the planning of the Ron DeSantis (presidential) campaign stunt and the planning of the media response by his campaign's top media aides in the Murdoch empire took place simultaneously.

I expect propaganda and spin from Republicans. But this spin is so distant from the truth that it's reminiscent of what Russians believed about Ukraine at the time of the invasion. The difference is that you can't blame Russian citizens for believing that Ukrainians would welcome the Russian soldiers as liberators because they were desperate to throw off the Ukraine government's Nazi yoke of oppression -- media outlets that might have told them the truth have been suppressed and shuttered in Russia. In America, right-wingers live in a propaganda bubble voluntarily. Truthful reporting is easily available to them, a channel change or a mouse click away, but like the residents of a cult compound, they're told not to believe anything they hear that doesn't come from trusted cult leaders, because the utterances of outsiders are all lies. And that's what they believe.

I should be accustomed to the Republican embrace of unreality -- obviously, GOP voters can't agree on the objective fact that Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election. But this is a reminder that the GOP voter base is drifing -- or is being pushed -- further and further away from reality every day.

Which brings me to this:
Former President Donald J. Trump appeared to more fully embrace QAnon on Saturday, playing a song at a political rally in Ohio that prompted attendees to respond with a salute in reference to the cultlike conspiracy theory’s theme song.

While speaking in Youngstown in support of J.D. Vance, whom he has endorsed as Ohio’s Republican nominee for the Senate, Mr. Trump delivered a dark address about the decline of America over music that was all but identical to a song called “Wwg1wga” — an abbreviation for the QAnon slogan, “Where we go one, we go all.”

As Mr. Trump spoke, scores of people in the crowd raised fingers in the air in an apparent reference to the “1” in what they thought was the song’s title.
Although I assume that the immigrant trafficking stunt will give Ron DeSantis a considerable polling bump, and might put him temporarily in the lead, Trump is still the front-runner for the 2024 Republican nomination -- and here's that front-runner not just giving a nod and wink to QAnon, but playing a QAnon hymn at one of his rallies, a couple of months after putting the same hymn in one of his online videos.

I always expect the worst of Republicans, but QAnon scares me, because it's a rejection of reality so extreme I would have thought it impossible except among paranoid schizophrenics. And yet millions of Americans believe that all their political enemies are cannibal pedophiles who guzzle the bodily fluids of children, and will do so until superhero Trump brings them justice in one moment of melodrama. For a while, QAnon seemed to have faded into the background in America, but Trump now seems poised to try to ride it all the way to the White House.

I know I'm supposed to be worried that the waving of index fingers at that Trump rally was meant as a fascist salute, but it didn't have to be fascist to be terrifying. Cynical hucksters are encouraging mass delusion to gain power, while using their power to create even more mass delusion. That's bad enough, even without the jackboots.