Friday, April 19, 2024


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, April 18, 2024


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 17, 2024


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 16, 2024


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 15, 2024


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

Anderson Cooper: And you had sex with him.

Stormy Daniels: Yes.

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

Stormy Daniels: No.

Anderson Cooper: Not at all?

Stormy Daniels: No.

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

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

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

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

Sunday, April 14, 2024


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fight the real enemy!

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

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

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

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

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

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

... might be an effective strategy for Republicans:

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

Saturday, April 13, 2024


The 2024 presidential election now looks like a tie. According to the Real Clear Polling average, Donald Trump's lead had been cut to 0.2% in a two-candidate race. And today Joe Biden gets good news from the polling unit of The New York Times:
President Biden has nearly erased Donald J. Trump’s early polling advantage, amid signs that the Democratic base has begun to coalesce behind the president despite lingering doubts about the direction of the country, the economy and his age, according to a new survey by The New York Times and Siena College.

Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump are now virtually tied, with Mr. Trump holding a 46 percent to 45 percent edge. That is an improvement for Mr. Biden from late February, when Mr. Trump had a sturdier 48 percent to 43 percent lead just before he became the presumptive Republican nominee.
Oliver Willis has a point:

Maybe Trump will continue to sink his own candidacy. Maybe the Biden campaign's attacks on Trump, particularly on reproductive rights, are working and will continue to work.

But even though the race is effectively tied, it isn't really tied. Trump is still winning. I'll regard the race as tied only when Biden has a persistent 5-point lead. The reason is simple: the Electoral College.

We know that Biden won the popular vote in the 2020 election by 7 million votes -- 7,059,526, to be precise. (All 2020 election data comes from Wikipedia's 2020 election page.) But that entire victory margin was in just two states: Biden won California by a margin of 5,104,121 votes and New York by a margin of 1,992,889 votes. That's a total of 7,097,010 votes.

To put it another way, Biden won California by 29.16% and New York by 23.13%. But those huge margins were wasted. Biden would have won California's 55 electoral votes and New York's 29 electoral votes even if he'd won the states by much smaller margins.

In fact, Biden won five states by margins of more than a million votes: California, New York, Illinois (20 electoral votes, 16.99% victory margin), Massachusetts (11 electoral votes, 33.46% victory margin), and Maryland (10 electoral votes, 33.21% victory margin). By contrast, Donald Trump didn't win any states by more than a million votes. The most populous, electoral-vote-rich states he won were Texas (38 electoral votes, 5.58% victory margin), Florida (29 electoral votes, 3.36% victory margin), and Ohio (18 electral votes, 8.03% victory margin).

What this means, for the purposes of the Electoral College, is that Trump's votes were distributed much more efficiently than Biden's. Trump could add these three large states to the many smaller states in the middle of the country, the South, and the Mountain West and nearly win the Electoral College despite losing the popular vote by four and a half points. (Trump would have needed a little over 40,000 votes in Georgia, Arizona, and Wisconsin to score a 269-269 tie in the Electoral College, which would have been resolved in Trump's favor in the House of Representatives, because each state's delegation would have cast one vote, and 26 state delegations were majority Republican.)

If Biden is tied in the polls, that means he's approximately 4 or 5 points weaker nationwide than he was in 2020, at least for now. It suggests that he'll struggle to win the swing states that gave him his Electoral College victory in 2020. Swing-state polling suggests he's struggling in states such as Arizona and Georgia. If Biden could beat Trump in one of Trump's Big Three states, it could decide the election, but polling in Texas, Florida, and Ohio suggests that they are, if anything, somewhat more Republican now than they were four years ago -- not as Republican as California, New York, Illinois, Massachusetts, and Maryland are Democratic, but Republican enough to suggest that they're safe Trump states.

I don't think Donald Trump's Electoral College win in 2016 was a black swan event. I think 2020 suggests that Republicans can routinely win the Electoral College while losing the popular vote, if they lose it by 4 points or less. In 2020, Biden needed to be four and a half points stronger than Trump to eke out an Electoral College win in the swing states. I think the same will be true this year and in years to come, unless Democrats can finally find a way to flip Texas, or can regain the ability to win Florida or Ohio.

So, yes, Biden needs a significant popular-vote lead in order to be tied in the polls. Maybe he'll get there. But he's not there yet.

Friday, April 12, 2024


On social media, many people are criticizing this New York Times story:

I don't think the critics are reading past the headline, although even from the headline I could see where the story was going. It's not judging the rightness or wrongness of Donald Trump's and Joe Biden's approaches to the issue of abortion and finding a false equivalence. It's merely saying that people with strong Democratic leanings tend to be passionately pro-choice, while Biden, over the course of his career, hasn't been, and that people with strong Republican leanings tend to be passionately anti-abortion, while Trump used to support abortion rights and is now hedging on anti-abortion rhetoric, even though he's the guy who killed Roe.
In the summer of 2019, as a crowded Democratic primary was picking up speed, Joe Biden was on the defensive, pummeled by abortion-rights groups and his opponents for his support of the Hyde Amendment, a measure that prohibits the use of federal funds for most abortions.

He reversed his position, but the episode underlined his wobbly standing in the eyes of abortion-rights activists as he faced off in 2020 against Donald Trump, who became a hero of the anti-abortion movement by using his presidency to appoint Supreme Court justices who appeared likely to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Now, in 2024, the tables have turned.

This week, it was Trump angering abortion opponents as he sought to wash his hands of the matter and leave it to the states....

Trump’s allies on the religious right ... were deeply disappointed with what they see as a flip-flop. Their alliance with Trump had always been uneasy — Trump called himself “pro-choice” in the late 1990s, but by 2011 had reversed his position entirely, calling himself “pro-life.” He won over evangelical support during his 2016 presidential race by promising to appoint anti-abortion judges.
The story isn't really about the issue of reproductive rights. It's about the two candidates and where they've previously stood on the issue, which is not where party stalwarts wish they'd stood. The story is fine for what it is.

But if there's a problem with the story, it's that it overestimates Republican dissatisfaction with Trump's abortion posturing. I don't think Amanda Marcotte and David French agree on much, but they agree on this: Republicans are fine with what Trump is saying.

Marcotte writes:
But most telling is the muted response on the Christian right. The anti-abortion group SBA List said they were "disappointed," but promised to "work tirelessly" to elect Trump in 2024 and that "he will get there" on a national ban. Alliance Defending Freedom, which argued the Dobbs case before the Supreme Court that ended Roe, completely ignored Trump's statement. Americans United For Life, Family Research Council, the Heritage Foundation, Turning Point USA: All loudmouthed fundamentalist groups, all angrily anti-abortion, and all responded with either silence, or in some cases, eager support to Trump's video. Penny Nance of Concerned Women for America, a longstanding anti-feminist group, seemed confident Trump will stick by the forced childbirth cause.
French writes:
And how did the pro-life establishment respond? With mild criticism, but also with immediate support. As Politico reported this week, “Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, Students for Life, the Faith and Freedom Coalition, the Family Research Council, National Right to Life and CatholicVote reiterated their commitment Monday morning to electing Trump.”

Charlie Kirk, the founder of Turning Point USA, one of the largest right-wing student and faith outreach organizations in the country, immediately posted his support, calling the statement “masterful” and said that the pro-life leaders he’d talked to were “very happy.”
To French, this is a sign that the movement is waffling on absolute opposition to abortion; to Marcotte, it's a sign that Trump is a liar who intends to ban abortion the first chance he gets. Either way, the movement seems content with Trump as a messenger.

My belief is that Trump, as a former young and middle-aged fuckboy, is still instinctively pro-choice. But he's also viscerally Republican now, as well as entirely self-serving, so he'll say whatever he thinks will get turn out enough Republican and Republican-leaning voters to get him elected. On abortion, he thinks he's a better political strategist than the Republicans who ran as no-exceptions abortion opponents in 2022, and we know he always likes feeling smarter than people who have more experience or knowledge than he does.

I don't think he'll prioritize banning abortion if he's elected -- but I also don't think he'll try to stop anyone who has a plan to do it. I think he'd sign a federal abortion ban into law. More likely, he'll sign any executive orders drafted for him that curtail or ban abortion, and he'll appoint whomever he's told to appoint to the federal bench -- and all of the recommended appointees will be anti-abortion zealots.

So he's a perfectly acceptable messenger for the GOP on abortion. As for Biden, he's doing fine for our side, despite any concerns I expressed on Tuesday. Maybe he's putting aside his concerns about abortion because he knows it's what he needs to do to beat Trump, but it's fine. He's stepping up.

Thursday, April 11, 2024


Democrats have been doing well in off-year elections, but Dan Hopkins, a political science professor at Penn, says that might not carry over to the presidential election:
Between Feb. 20 and March 18, 2024, Gall Sigler and I oversaw a survey, fielded by NORC, of 2,462 English- and Spanish-speaking adults living in the U.S.

... when we broke out respondents by their voting history, we found dramatic differences in whom they support for president in 2024. President Joe Biden performed much better among frequent voters, while Trump had a large lead among people who haven't voted recently. Specifically, among respondents who voted in the 2018, 2020 and 2022 general elections, Biden outpaced Trump 50 percent to 39 percent. But among respondents who were old enough to vote but voted in none of those three elections, Trump crushed Biden 44 percent to 26 percent.

... these results are a cautionary tale for those who would extrapolate Democrats' strong performance in 2022 or recent special elections ahead to this November. The 2024 election will almost certainly have turnout far higher than those races.
This is why I'm still pessimistic about November. Sure, President Biden is slowly gaining on Donald Trump, and now trails Trump by only 0.2% in the Real Clear Polling average. But turnout is always higher in presidential elections than in midterms or special elections, so it really might be Republicans who are being underestimated in this race. And I suspect that Hopkins and Sigler would also have found a Trump skew among voters who stayed home in 2018 and 2022 but did vote in 2020 -- based on the hero worship we see, Trump is undoubtedly the only politician some Americans care enough to vote for. This wasn't enough to get him elected last time, but Biden's victory in the Electoral College came down to a few very close states.

Democrats may need to give very infrequent voters a reason to stay home if they won't vote for Biden. If I were running the Biden campaign, I'd be ordering up ads that are montages of Trump presidential utterances and headlines, edited in a way that's as visually and sonically abrasive as possible. The goal would be to remind voters who have begun to believe that the Trump years were actually pretty good that the Trump years were, in fact, an exhausting shitshow.

I'm imagining ads that work on a visceral level, not on a policy level -- not Trump appointed the justices who overturned the Roe decision or Trump said nice things about Nazis but, rather, Trump was an obnoxious, headache-inducing troll every day for four years. Ads like this could include praise for Nazis, for instance, but they should emphasize Trump's blowhard nature, and the climate of national outrage it inspired. They should be seek to be a visual and auditory representation of how it felt every day to have Trump as president.

I think ads like these could work on even habitual voters, if they're among Trump's "soft" supporters -- the non-cultists who nevertheless prefer him to Biden. For many Americans, a nostalgic haze now surrounds the Trump presidency, or at least the first three years of it. Prices were lower! There were no wars in Ukraine and Gaza! And so on. It's possible that Trump will dispel that haze every time he opens his mouth. But I think Democrats should give him a push. He's wrong on policy, but he's also obnoxious. We might need to remind voters just how it felt to have him in office.

Wednesday, April 10, 2024


Back in 2016, Arizona's Republican-controlled state legislature passed a law allowing the Republican governor, Doug Ducey, to pack the state's Supreme Court, expanding it from five to seven seats. Ducey signed the bill in May of that year and chose two Republicans, John Lopez IV and Andrew Gould, for the new vacancies. National Republicans howled in outrage in 2020 when some Democrats proposed expanding the U.S. Supreme Court, yet they seemed quite pleased with what took place in Arizona four years earlier.

Gould resigned in 2021 in order to run for attorney general. Ducey replaced him with Kathryn Hackett King, a Federalist Society member since 2017.

The expansion of the Arizona Supreme Court was sold with the sort of bullshit invocations of higher principles that Republicans specialize in. Was Ducey packing the court? Goodness, no:
Ducey ... pushed back on questions about whether he expanded the court to pack it with Republicans, something Democrats said during the legislative debate.

“We have not packed the court, we have right-sized the court,” he said.
And the two new appointees weren't partisan hacks -- they were thoughtful textualists:
“I’m looking to someone who has a fidelity to our founding documents: the Declaration (of Independence), the Constitution and the state constitution, has a love of the law and an understanding of the separation of powers,” the governor explained.

... the governor, who is opposed to abortion, specifically declined to say whether he asked any of the applicants about their views on the legal issues associated with the practice.

“The litmus test is that people want to uphold the law, that they want to be a judge and not a legislator,” the governor said.

“I look for judges that want to interpret the law as written,” Ducey continued, espousing what some call “texturalism” or “originalism.”

“But I don’t think that judges should be writing the law, rewriting the law or fixing the law,” he said. “That is the legislature’s job.”
Ducey added two extra justices, and yesterday the Arizona Supreme Court declared that a pre-statehood law banning nearly all abortions should be upheld. The court asserted that a 15-week abortion ban passed in 2022 did not supersede the earlier ban. The vote was 4-2, with Lopez and King in the majority. Two extra justices made the difference.


The Republican dogs caught the car, and now they're upset about what transpired.
Rep. Juan Ciscomani (R-Ariz.), who represents a seat President Biden won in 2020, called the ruling a "disaster for women and providers" in a statement posted to social media.

Ciscomani said the 15-week ban "protected the rights of women and new life," but the territorial law is "archaic."

Rep. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.), another Biden-district Republican, said the issue "should be decided by Arizonans, not legislated from the bench," urging the state legislature to "address this issue immediately."

Kelly Cooper, a Republican running to challenge Rep. Greg Stanton (D-Ariz.), called for the state legislature to "begin work immediately on reinstating" the 15-week ban.
But that doesn't seem likely. The Republican-controlled legislature has been supportive of that pre-statehood abortion ban:
During a news conference held shortly after the ruling was released, the Democrat called on the Republican-led legislature to repeal the 1864 law, saying it was the right thing to do. Two attempts this year to do just that stagnated in the legislature, where the GOP-majority has the power to decide which bills get heard.

But it seems unlikely that Republicans will respond to the renewed request. House Speaker Ben Toma and Senate President Warren Petersen filed an amicus brief in the case advocating for the reinstatement of the Civil War-era law, saying that lawmakers never intended to supersede the ban when they passed the 15-week law.
The state's legislative session is scheduled to end on April 20. But Republicans could be shameless hypocrites and call a special session to fix the mess their own party created, or demand that the Democratic governor Katie Hobbs call a special session (and accuse her and legislative Democrats of playing politics if they balk). But then Republicans would be alienating their anti-abortion supporters, which seems quite unlikely.

So it will probably be up to voters to fix this. They can vote out some of the GOP legislators, as well as two of the justices who helped make up the majority, because they're on the ballot this year. And, of course, they can back a measure enshrining reproductive rights, which seems to have more than enough signatures to appear on the November ballot.

Maybe state Republicans will surprise me by brazenly pretending to oppose the 1864 law, and voting to overturn it. But I doubt it.

UPDATE: Well, there you go.
Arizona Republicans Thwart Attempts to Repeal 1864 Abortion Ban

... Democrats ... quickly tried to push bills through the Republican-controlled state Legislature that would repeal the ban....

But Republican leaders in the Senate removed one bill from the day’s agenda on Wednesday, legislative aides said. In the other chamber, a Republican House member who has done a political about-face and called for striking down the law made a motion to vote on a Democratic repeal bill that has sat stalled for months. But Republican leaders quickly put the House into recess before any vote could be held.
No enemies on the right! Good luck with that.

Tuesday, April 09, 2024


There's an old political saying, sometimes ascribed to Ronald Reagan: If you're explaining, you're losing. Yesterday Donald Trump released a video laying out his position on abortion.

The initial media coverage strongly suggested that Trump's position is simple and moderate:

But the Biden campaign is responding vigorously. Here's a Twitter thread that goes state by state, listing the many extreme restrictions Trump's "let the states decide" position would leave in place. An example:

Here's President Biden personally attacking Trump:

Biden says:
Donald Trump just endorsed every single state ban on reproductive care nationwide. All across the country, women are being turned away from emergency rooms, or being forced to travel hundreds of miles or ask a judge, just to get the basic care they need. That's Donald Trump's vision for this country? He said it himself: He'd punish women who seek out the care they need. If MAGA Republicans put a federal ban on his desk, he'd sign it! Donald Trump is the reason Roe was ended. If you reelect me, I'll be the reason why it's restored.
(That last sentence is aspirational, not accurate, because Democrats probably need 60 senators to codify Roe, and they'll have to be extremely lucky to come out of the next election with 50. This is what they get for never abolishing the filibuster. Nevertheless, it's good to have Biden saying this.)

The Biden campaign is even trying to meme:

Ordinarily, I'd worry that because Trump's position seems simple, Democrats must be losing if they have to keep explaining how not-simple it actually is. But the campaign is pushing back so vigorously that I think Trump might stay on the defensive.

Biden is asserting that Trump would sign a national abortion ban. I wish the president and his surrogates would dare Trump to say he'd veto a ban. If Trump won't promise to veto a national ban, or won't respond at all, doesn't that prove the Democrats' point? And if Trump says he would veto a ban, wouldn't that lose him some Evangelical support? (I agree with Amanda Marcotte that most Evangelical leaders are signaling that they still have Trump's back, even as they scold him mildly for not advocating an outright national ban. Also, I think Lindsey Graham's immediate push to criticize Trump is a pre-arranged good-cop/bad-cop act intended to make Trump look moderate.)

I also wish Democrats could be more explicit about the fact that Trump might not need to do anything to preside over a national abortion ban except appoint more and more federal judges and Supreme Court justices who are willing to rule in favor of abortion opponents (and birth control opponents, and in vitro fertlization opponents). Historically, most Democratic voters haven't understood the importance of the federal courts. Now, when it's too late for Roe, they get the importance of the Supreme Court. (I wish more liberal- and left-leaning voters had understood that during the fight over Barack Obama's final Supreme Court vacancy, and understood it during the 2016 election.) Here's a list of anti-abortion court appointees from Trump's presidency. A couple of examples:
Jeffrey Brown (Southern District of Texas) bragged about his involvement in making it more difficult for minors to seek abortion care in Texas, referred to IUDs and emergency contraceptives as “potentially life-terminating drugs and devices” and “abortifacients,” and was endorsed by major anti-choice organizations in Texas.

Liles Burke (Northern District of Alabama), as a state court judge, held in Ankrom v. State, 152 So.3d 373 (2011) that the word “child” in Alabama’s child endangerment statute applies to the unborn.

John Bush (Sixth Circuit) likened abortion to slavery: “[t]he two greatest tragedies in our country—slavery and abortion—relied on similar reasoning and activist justices at the U.S. Supreme Court, first in the Dred Scott decision, and later in Roe.”

Stephen Clark (Eastern District of Missouri) said that Roe v. Wade “gave doctors a license to kill unborn children. Like the Dred Scott decision, Roe is BAD law.”
Those are just some of the B's. I haven't even gotten to abortion pill banner Matthew Kacsmaryk. The Democratic Party needs to do a better job of educating its voters -- and swing voters -- about the importance of the federal courts.

And I have some doubts about the likely efficacy of this ad, which is widely seen as hard-hitting and effective:

It's gut-wrenching, but I wonder whether the message is muddled. This couple mourns a child they lost to a miscarriage, but they sought an abortion because of health risks to the mother? At the end we're told that delays resulting from a draconian anti-abortion law may have cost this couple the chance to have another child. Could this be clearer, or maybe mentioned at the beginning of the ad? Or are my concerns misplaced? Will voters respond to the couple's obvious pain, the invocation of sepsis, the general bureaucratic Handmaid's Tale cruelty? I don't know.

Despite my concerns, I think the Biden campaign is doing a good job of pushback. I expect to see a lot more like this. One of my main criticisms of Democrats is that I think they need to fight like this much more, in campaign seasons and out. I hope they learn that for the future. But they're clearly fighting hard now.

Monday, April 08, 2024


Dan Pfeiffer, the podcaster and former adviser to President Obama, thinks the press is failing democracy because it normalizes Donald Trump. Pfeiffer points to a recent appearance on Hugh Hewitt's show in which Trump said that President Biden appeared to be on drugs during the State of the Union address:
I think what happened is you know that white stuff that they happened to find, which happened to be cocaine in the White House, I don’t know, I think something’s going on there, because I watched this State of the Union, and he was all jacked up at the beginning. By the end, he was fading fast. There’s something going on there. I want to debate. And I think debates, with him, at least, should be drug tested. I want a drug test.
Pfeiffer writes:
This is pure insanity.

... the traditional political media decided to ignore this outlandish accusation from a clearly deranged and dishonest man (and the next potential President of the United States). The press is aware of the interview. Hewitt is not a MAGA content creator who operates in the dark corners of the internet. He is — bizarrely and unfortunately — a member of the Washington establishment in good standing. The reporters who cover Trump listened to the interview and many wrote stories about his comments on Israel and Gaza, but they made an editorial decision to bury Trump’s insane accusations.

... I think the incident reveals how the press’s coverage of Trump ends up advantaging him and making Biden’s road to reelection that much steeper.
But would more coverage of this remark have made any difference? We know the answer, because this has happened before.

As MSNBC's Steve Benen reminded us a few days ago, "In the 2016 presidential election, Donald Trump suggested that Hillary Clinton might be on performance-enhancing drugs." From NBC's story at the time:
Donald Trump took aim at the war on drugs on Saturday — by challenging Hillary Clinton to take a drug test.

"Athletes, they make them take a drug test," Trump said at a Portsmouth, New Hampshire, rally. "We should take a drug test prior to the debate because I don’t know what’s going on with her. But at the beginning of her last debate, she was all pumped up at the beginning. And at the end ... she could barely reach her car."

"I'm willing to do it," he added.
This was covered by CNN, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Time, CBS, Fortune, The Hill, BuzzFeed, Slate, and even Us Weekly and The Hollywood Reporter. Did reporting on Trump's drug remarks change voters' perceptions of Trump? Obviously not enough to keep him out of the White House. So why does Pfeiffer believe it would have a significant impact now?

Also, I don't understand why Pfeiffer calls this calculated attack "insane." Trump is trying something that, in his estimation, worked before for him. This might be a misreading of the 2024 electorate, but it's not crazy. (I know that many liberals want to play "I know you are, but what am I?" in response to right-wing misinformation about President Biden's mental state, but most of the preposterous things Trump says can be explained as products of either his ignorance or his assessment that the rubes will respond to preposterous rhetoric.)

And if Trump is insane for saying that Biden might be taking cocaine, then so are many, many right-wing commentators, as Media Matters noted in a compilation of tweets published while the State of the Union address was taking place:
As it became clear that no one would buy this speech as evidence that Biden is too old to be president, you could see the right settle in real time on an alternate, evidence-free narrative: Biden was on drugs.

Fox anchor Julie Banderas provided a case study in this progression. As Biden prepared to begin his speech at 9:21 p.m., she posted that she was watching the speech “from bed. Didn’t need to a take a Melatonin tonight, this should do it.” By 9:45 p.m., with her preferred narrative dead, she grasped for a new one and alleged that Biden was on cocaine: “I think I just got to the bottom of the untraceable little baggie found at the White House.” ...

* OutKick’s Clay Travis, 9:44 p.m.: “What drugs have they shot him up with tonight? This is not how normal people talk.”

* Right-wing cartoonist Ben Garrison, 9:45 p.m.: “They really jacked up Joe with the drugs tonight- think there's a IV bag under his jacket?”

* TownHall’s Kurt Schlicter, 9:49 p.m.: “Maybe the paramedic who called into @HughHewitt this morning and told me Biden would be on cocaine was right!”

* Podcaster Monica Crowley, 9:53 p.m.: “Biden, pumped full of god-knows-what drugs to make it through this pack of lies, blasts Pharma.”

* Fox contributor Mollie Hemingway, 9:54 p.m.: “Plot twist: It was Joe Biden's cocaine in the White House!”

* RealClearInvestigations’ Mark Hemingway, 9:57 p.m.: “The rushed jittery pace of this speech is the drugs, right?”

* Fox host Greg Gutfeld, 10 p.m.: “Think we found out who that coke belonged to.”
Are all of these people insane? Isn't it more likely that they're doing this cynically, because they assume it works?

If we have a problem, it's that the mainstream press and the Democratic Party didn't adequately raise an alarm about the use of disinformation by the GOP and its media allies decades ago. These people got away with claiming that Michael Dukakis's wife burned an American flag in 1988. In the 1990s, they got away with accusing Bill Clinton of drug-running and multiple murders. They got away with accusing John Kerry of winning three Purple Hearts during the Vietnam War under false pretenses, and claiming that Barack Obama lied about his birthplace, his religion, his college career, the identity of his father, and so on.

In retrospect, it's clear that the routine weaponization of anti-Democratic disinformation by the GOP and its media allies has done terrible damage to American democracy. We should have begun describing this as a serious problem decades ago. Instead, we've treated the GOP as a responsible governing partner, and treated Fox News as a responsible media outlet that deserves its prominent place on the cable dial and in the White House briefing room.

It might be too late to raise suspicions about Republicans or Fox now. We normalized their dangerous behavior a long time ago.

Sunday, April 07, 2024


Sometimes bad journalists make it too easy to spot what's wrong with their journalism. Here's an example, from AP. You won't find it hard to identify the problem with this one:
Anonymous users are dominating right-wing discussions online. They also spread false information

The reposts and expressions of shock from public figures followed quickly after a user on the social platform X who uses a pseudonym claimed that a government website had revealed “skyrocketing” rates of voters registering without a photo ID in three states this year — two of them crucial to the presidential contest.

“Extremely concerning,” X owner Elon Musk replied twice to the post this past week.

“Are migrants registering to vote using SSN?” Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, an ally of former President Donald Trump, asked on Instagram, using the acronym for Social Security number.

Trump himself posted to his own social platform within hours to ask, “Who are all those voters registering without a Photo ID in Texas, Pennsylvania, and Arizona??? What is going on???”

State election officials soon found themselves forced to respond. They said the user, who pledges to fight, expose and mock “wokeness,” was wrong and had distorted Social Security Administration data. Actual voter registrations during the time period cited were much lower than the numbers being shared online.

Stephen Richer, the recorder in Maricopa County, Arizona, which includes Phoenix, refuted the claim in multiple X posts while Jane Nelson, the secretary of state in Texas, issued a statement calling it “totally inaccurate.”

Yet by the time they tried to correct the record, the false claim had spread widely. In three days, the pseudonymous user’s claim amassed more than 63 million views on X, according to the platform’s metrics. A thorough explanation from Richer attracted a fraction of that, reaching 2.4 million users.

The incident sheds light on how social media accounts that shield the identities of the people or groups behind them through clever slogans and cartoon avatars have come to dominate right-wing political discussion online even as they spread false information.
No, it doesn't. The incident doesn't shed light on the evils of online anonymity. It sheds light on what happens when extremely famous people who identify themselves by name share false information with their millions of followers. This fake news didn't spread because the original tweeter was anonymous. It spread because Elon Musk, Marjorie Taylor Greene, and Donald Trump chose to spread it.

Those of us who go back to the early days of blogging remember that the wannabe gatekeepers have blamed anonymity for the spread of dangerous material for a couple of decades now. But if that's the case, why does the problem seem worse now? Because large corporations run by people whose names we know either tolerate bad content or, in Elon Musk's case, eagerly draw attention to it.

But we've known for years that disinformation spreads most rapidly when high-profile people spread it. Thirty years ago, false rumors about Bill Clinton were spread widely in a video called The Clinton Chronicles, which featured an appearance by Reverend Jerry Falwell, who was a hosehold name at the time; Falwell also promoted the video. In 2004, the false attacks on John Kerry's service record in Vietnam were made openly by named right-wing operatives. And the most famous promoter of many right-wing lies -- that Barack Obama wasn't born in America, that the 2020 presidential election was rigged -- was Trump, who is very much not an anonymous figure.

One of worst stochastic terrorists on the American right anonymously ran a Twitter account called Libs of TikTok for a year, starting in April 2021. Her identity was revealed in April 2022. Now that it's widely known that Chaya Raichik is Libs of TikTok, what's changed? Absolutely nothing, because Musk and others encourage her stochastic terrorism and cheers her on.

The AP story makes clear that Musk is a huge problem:
Since his takeover of Twitter in 2022, Musk has nurtured the rise of these accounts, frequently commenting on their posts and sharing their content. He also has protected their anonymity. In March, X updated its privacy policy to ban people from exposing the identity of an anonymous user.

Musk also rewards high engagement with financial payouts. The X user who spread the false information about new voter registrants has racked up more than 2.4 million followers since joining the platform in 2022. The user, in a post last July, reported earning more than $10,000 from X’s new creator ad revenue program.
But the story still focuses on anonymity, even when an experts quoted in the story appropriately directs her attention elsewhere:
Tech watchdogs said that while it’s critical to maintain spaces for anonymous voices online, they shouldn’t be allowed to spread lies without accountability.

“Companies must vigorously enforce terms of service and content policies that promote election integrity and information integrity generally,” said Kate Ruane, director of the Free Expression Project at the Center for Democracy and Technology.
That's right -- social media companies should fight disinformation generally, working to remove maliciously misleading content whether or not the person posting it is anonymous.

But the press doesn't like to accuse prominent people of being figures of pure evil, even though some, like Musk, clearly are. Much easier to say that we have a problem becaue of grubby basement-dwellers who post under pseudonyms.

Saturday, April 06, 2024


It's widely believed that the campaign of Robert Kennedy Jr. poses a greater threat to Joe Biden than to Donald Trump -- Biden supporters certainly think so -- but if electing Trump is Kennedy's goal, you have to wonder why he's saying things like this:

The notion that Putin wanted to "de-nazify" Ukraine is the kind of pro-Russia messaging we're hearing from the MAGA right. If you want to appeal to voters who might otherwise vote for Biden, why would you want to sound like a Trumpist (or a Putin useful idiot)?

That's in addition to this:
The presidential campaign of Robert F. Kennedy Jr. ... said in an email on Thursday that rioters charged with crimes in connection with the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol and held in a Washington jail had been “stripped of their constitutional liberties.”
Kennedy walked that back...
Nearly four hours later, the campaign retracted the statement. Stefanie Spear, the press secretary for Mr. Kennedy’s campaign, said the statement “was an error that does not reflect Mr. Kennedy’s views,” adding, “It was inserted by a new marketing contractor and slipped through the normal approval process."
But then there was this:
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. said that he would appoint a special counsel to investigate whether Donald Trump’s supporters were subject to politically motivated prosecutions after Jan. 6, 2021.

In a statement Friday seeking to clarify his position on the Capitol attack, Kennedy questioned whether the riot qualified as an “insurrection”; echoed Trump’s claims that the prosecution of its participants was politically motivated; and said he was “disturbed by the weaponization of government” against the former president.

“Like many reasonable Americans, I am concerned about the possibility that political objectives motivated the vigor of the prosecution of the J6 defendants, their long sentences, and their harsh treatment,” the independent candidate said in the nearly 500-word statement. He wrote that the prosecutions fit “a disturbing pattern of the weaponization of government agencies.”
And earlier in the week, in an interview with CNN's Erin Burnett, Kennedy asserted that Biden threatens democracy more than Trump:
“I can make the argument that President Biden is a much worse threat to democracy,” Kennedy [said]. “The reason for that is President Biden is the first candidate in history, the first president in history that has used the federal agencies to censor political speech, so to censor his opponent.

“The greatest threat to democracy is not somebody who questions election returns,” he added a moment later, “but a president of the United States who uses the power of his office to force the social media companies, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter to open a portal and give access to that portal to the FBI, to the CIA, to the IRS, to CISA, to NIH to censor his political critics.”
Kennedy is referring to a White House's staffer's email to Twitter in January 2021 asking the company to remove a Kennedy tweet that blamed the deaths of many elderly people, including the 86-year-old former baseball star Hank Aaron, on COVID vaccinations. (Twitter rebuffed the government, and the tweet is still up.)

Again, if Kennedy's goal is to peel off voters who might otherwise vote for Biden, why is he doing it with Trumpian framing?

I have a theory. Philip Bump of The Washington Post writes:
Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s approach to national politics is uncomplicated. Whatever the conventional wisdom — however sound it might be and no matter the scale of the evidence supporting it — he’s against it.
That appears to be true. And where are the vast majority of the political conspiracy theories in America showing up? On the right. Some are generated by Republican propagandists. Others come from Russia and are embraced by Republicans in America. So he's saying these things because he's addicted to conspiratorialism, and GOP (and Kremlin) talking points offer him a steady supply.

Ed Kilgore of New York magazine thinks Kennedy is aware that his voters will be people who dislike both Trump and Biden, and he's trying to create more such voters:
RFK Jr. is very much the candidate of what political analysts call “the double haters,” voters who dislike both Biden and Trump for various reasons and would prefer a credible alternative.... if he can help increase the number of “double haters” by describing the two major candidates as “threats to democracy,” there will be even more people open to voting for Kennedy. It’s possible that he believes Biden is more vulnerable to raids on his supporters because they are less personally attached to their candidate than Trump backers; Kennedy is already pulling more votes from the Democratic candidate than from the Republican. So calling Biden an even bigger threat to democracy than the obviously scofflaw Trump could be a matter of hunting where the ducks are.
But in that case, you'd think Kennedy would want to avoid sounding like a Trumper. Yet he keeps doing it, presumably because those Trumpist conspiracy theories are irresistible to him.

Or maybe there's a belief in MAGA World (or Moscow) that Kennedy is useful as a person who can effectively deliver Trumpist (or Putinist) ideas to political or cultural liberals. If so, we'll see if it works. That's the only way a "use Trumpist framing as a means of winning over potential Biden voters" strategy makes any sense to me.

Friday, April 05, 2024


Hugh Hewitt interviewed Donald Trump on Thursday. What's getting the most attention is the fact that Trump wouldn't say, in response to two prompts by Hewitt, that he's "still standing 100% with Israel," as well as Trump's apparent impatience with the government of Benjamin Netanyahu. This impatience is being described as a rejection of Trump's previous pro-Likud posture -- but I think it also reflects Trump's own approach to big, protracted crises he can't figure out how to exploit successfully, which is that he just wishes they'd go away.

Trump doesn't care about human lives, Jewish or Palestinian. When he looks at Gaza, what he sees primarily a public relations problem for a fellow politician -- one that isn't going well for that politician. Read what Trump says in response to a question from Hewitt, and remember how Trump talked about the prolonged COVID crisis in 2020:
“And so are you still 100% with Israel? And what’s your advice to [Benjamin] Netanyahu beyond get it over with in a hurry?” ...

“Well, that’s all the advice you can give. I mean, that’s the advice. You’ve got to get it over with, and you have to get back to normalcy,” Trump said.
That's what Trump said repeatedly in 2020:
"Stay calm. It will go away. You know it — you know it is going away, and it will go away. And we’re going to have a great victory." (March 30, 2020)

"And I think we’re doing very well on the vaccines but, with or without a vaccine, it’s going to pass, and we’re going to be back to normal." (May 5, 2020)
In the Hewitt interview, Trump continued:
“And I’m not sure that I’m loving the way they’re doing it, because you’ve got to have victory. You have to have a victory, and it’s taking a long time. And the other thing is I hate, they put out tapes all the time. Every night, they’re releasing tapes of a building falling down. They shouldn’t be releasing tapes like that. They’re doing, that’s why they’re losing the PR war. They, Israel is absolutely losing the PR war.”

Trump said videos of Gaza being destroyed only hurt Israel’s image around the world.

“They’re releasing the most heinous, most horrible tapes of buildings falling down. And people are imagining there’s a lot of people in those buildings, or people in those buildings, and they don’t like it. And I don’t know why they released, you know, wartime shots like that,” he said.
What Trump cares about is what people are shown. Recall that in early March of 2020, Trump didn't want the passengers of the cruise ship Grand Princess to be tested for COVID, even though quite a few clearly had it, because that would look bad for him:
"I like the numbers being where they are. I don't need to have the numbers double because of one ship that wasn't our fault," Trump said in a Fox News interview.
And in June 2020, there was this:
President Donald Trump now says that he was not kidding when he told rallygoers over the weekend that he asked staff to slow down coronavirus testing, undercutting senior members of his own administration who said the comment was made in jest.

“I don’t kid, let me just tell you, let me make it clear,” Trump told a reporter on Monday, when asked again if he was kidding when he said Saturday he instructed his administration to slow down coronavirus testing.

The President then sought to highlight the US coronavirus testing numbers and asserted that “by having more tests, we have more cases.”

... Trump had told supporters at the rally that Covid-19 testing was “a double-edged sword.”

“I said to my people, ‘Slow the testing down please,’ ” the President had said.
On the subject of Gaza, Trump said to Hewitt:
“... But they’ve got to finish what they started, and they’ve got to finish it fast, and we have to get on with life.”
That was his message all through the worst of COVID -- it needs to be over quickly, and people need to get on with their lives.

So I wouldn't say Trump is criticizing Netanyahu the way other critics are criticizing Netanyahu. Trump looks at Bibi and sees someone like himself. He would want to will the problem into non-existence. He can't understand why Netanyahu hasn't done that already.