Wednesday, January 31, 2024


Remember Fitzmas? That was a term referring to the belief among critics of then-president George W. Bush that Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation of the outing of CIA officer Valerie Plame would effectively end the Bush presidency. Yes, we really believed that once.

We also believed that Robert Mueller's investigation of Russian interference in the 2020 election would effectively end Donald Trump's presidency. Mueller Time didn't pan out either.

Now we assume that Trump's four pending criminal cases will be the deus ex machina that re-elects Joe Biden and saves us from another Trump term. It's obvious why people believe that:
More than half of swing-state voters wouldn’t vote for Donald Trump if he were convicted of a crime, according to a new Bloomberg News/Morning Consult poll, a warning sign for the Republican frontrunner who continues to lead President Joe Biden in key states.

The poll found that 53% of voters in the seven closely watched battleground states would be unwilling to vote for Trump in the general election if he were found guilty of a crime, a figure that grows to 55% if he’s sentenced to prison.

... Nearly one in four — 23% — of swing-state Republicans say they are unwilling to support him if convicted.

... He loses one out of every five of his 2020 voters if he’s found guilty....
That's a good thing, because otherwise, the numbers in that poll look really awful for Biden:

But it seems less and less likely that there'll be any Trump trial ending in a jail sentence before November. Politico reports:
Whether Donald Trump faces a potential prison sentence in 2024 is at the mercy of a federal appeals court that’s operating on its own schedule — at a time when every day matters.

More than 50 days have elapsed since Trump’s criminal proceedings in a Washington, D.C., trial court — on charges for attempting to subvert the 2020 election — were paused indefinitely. They won’t resume until the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals and, most likely, the Supreme Court resolve the question hanging over the entire case: whether Trump, as a former president, is immune from criminal prosecution....

U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan, who is overseeing Trump’s federal election case, has tried to keep it on an expeditious track, and the trial is officially slated to begin on March 4. Chutkan, though, has strongly suggested she’ll push back that start date to account for each day of delay caused by Trump’s immunity appeal.

Even if the appeal were resolved this week against Trump, that calculation would put his earliest trial date in late April. But if the D.C. Circuit and the Supreme Court take additional weeks or months to deliver a final ruling, the opening days of Trump’s trial could be pushed to the summer or fall.

If, at that point, Trump retains his grip on the 2024 GOP presidential nomination, he and his allies are certain to exert intense pressure to postpone the trial until after the election.
A George H.W. Bush appointee, Judge Karen Henderson, is playing stall ball here. As for Trump's other trials, only the least damaging one seems likely to get under way soon:
Trump is facing three other criminal cases: one brought by [special counsel Jack] Smith in Florida in which Trump stands accused of hoarding national security secrets at his Mar-a-Lago estate after leaving office; one in Georgia brought by local prosecutors who say Trump conspired to subvert the presidential election there in 2020; and one in New York brought by the Manhattan district attorney, who says Trump falsified his company’s records to mask hush money payments he made to conceal an alleged affair with a porn star.

A trial in the New York case is officially slated to begin in late March, though Trump is still pushing to toss it altogether, and even if it moves forward, the anticipated punishment is expected to be minimal. The Georgia case has not yet been scheduled but is likely to be shunted to 2025, given its complexity and laundry list of unresolved issues. And the classified documents case in Florida, set for May 20, also appears likely to be pushed back as U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon, a Trump appointee, has extended key pretrial deadlines.
Maybe you think there'll still be a massive dropoff in support for Trump if his only conviction is for paying hush money to a porn star and his sentence is a fine and probation. If so, I hope you're right. But be ready for that to be the best we get in 2024 from all the investigations of Trump. Be ready for the real possibility that the three other trials, all on much more serious charges, simply won't happen before the election.

Biden should be trying to reverse these polling deficits on the assumption that the legal system won't help him. If it does, that's gravy. But it seems more and more likely that it won't.

Tuesday, January 30, 2024


A.B. Stoddard of The Bulwark calls it TDS -- Taylor Derangement Syndrome. I call it Tay-Anon.

Stoddard writes:
Addled Trumpers are sounding the alarm. They’re not just warning that [Taylor] Swift is out to brainwash America’s youth into liberalism or theorizing that she and Travis Kelce [of the Kansas City Chiefs] are in a fake relationship. Now they’re telling us that the Super Bowl is going to be fixed....
You may have seen the tweets:

(Kelce is "Mr. Pfizer" because he appeared in an ad for Pfizer's COVID vaccine.)

A writer for Laura Loomer's site takes it a step further:
Super Bowl LVIII’s Kansas City Chiefs vs. San Francisco 49ers match-up is a globalist dream come true as California Governor Gavin Newsom and Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce’s girlfriend Taylor Swift can take center stage in American politics and culture for the next two weeks.... 2024 DNC Convention rules allow for loopholes to make Newsom the Democrat Party’s nominee as long as Biden steps down before the DNC Convention in August.
And as Stoddard notes, the movie Barbie is part of the conspiracy as well:
[Jack] Posobiec, commenting on a video of Kelce, wrote: “Kelce is as trash as his regime-appointed girlfriend. What a beta.” But it’s not just Swift and Kelce he has groused about—he’s also has deep thoughts about Swift and ... Barbie: “These are mascots for the establishment. High level ops used as info warfare tools of statecraft for the regime.”
The rage and derangement here are very gendered. There's obvious frustration because the massive commercial success of Swift and the Barbie movie refutes one of the right's favorite slogans, "Get Woke, Go Broke." But there's also rage because Swift and Barbie are girl culture. It's particularly galling that Swift is canoodling with a football player (and a pro-vaccine football player at that), because right-wingers tell themselves that they have a monopoly on masculinity, and that men who hang out with liberals and feminists are beta males and soy boys. Kelce's Chiefs can't possibly have made it to the Super Bowl on their own merit. Swift's music and the Barbie movie can't possibly be the cultural phenomena that they are because millions of people worldwide happily and voluntarily joined the fan base. Some psyop must be involved. The globalists have stabbed true masculinity in the back.

And please note something else about this craziness: It's not coming from Donald Trump.

Stoddard ascribes it to "addled Trumpers," and, yes, the people peddling this nonsense support Trump. But there are many, many centers of craziness and extremism on the right, and most of them would exist even if Trump had dropped dead on the back nine at Mar-a-Lago years ago and Ron DeSantis were on his way to wrapping up the nomination.

The Guardian published a story yesterday about fake-grassroots protests against support for gay and trans students in public schools. It mentions Trump only in passing, but it's a reminder that trans-bashing is an issue on which Trump is a follower, not a leader. In 2016, Trump literally waved a Pride flag at one rally and said he'd let Caitlyn Jenner use the bathroom of her choice at Trump Tower. Now he advocates laws defining gender as fixed at birth and promises to terminate “programs that promote the concept of sex and gender transition at any age.” On immigration, Trump makes other Republicans more extreme -- but on LGBTQ rights, other extremists make him more extreme. (A new Politico story suggests that anti-abortion extremists hope to pull Trump even further to the right on that issue as well, with the aim of banning all abortions nationwide.)

Whether it's extremism or conspiratorialism, the right seems to be led not by Trump exclusively, but by whoever is the edgiest edgelord. Often it's a group of edgelords -- for instance, there's no single leader of the COVID denialist movement, but it drives Republican thinking on the virus, in defiance of Trump's continued support for vaccination. Trump echoed QAnon for a while, but he wasn't its leader, or even one of its main propagandists. And now we have Tay-Anon, which is independent of Trump.

Last fall, I published a post titled "It's a Cult, but Is It a Trump Cult?" In that post, I wrote:
... is the MAGA cult strictly a Trump cult, with Donald Trump as the stereotypical cult leader, or is it a cult of rightism, with multiple leaders, and in some ways leaderless?

... the Trump cult might die but the right-wing cult might live on, led by some combination of Steve Bannon and Christopher Rufo and Jack Posobiec and Marjorie Taylor Greene and Candace Owens and Elon Musk and Andrew Tate and Moms for Liberty and dozens of other people who aren't Trump.

I'm reminded of our discovery, sometime during the post-9/11 era, that terrorism was being inspired not directly by charismatic leaders of Al-Qaeda or ISIS, but more immediately by lesser-known online influencers. The behavior of the followers was cult-like, but it seemed like cultural worship of certain ideas (and violent tactics) rather than worship of Osama bin Laden or Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. That, in a somewhat less violent form, is what we've had on the American right for years, even if it looks like a personality cult now. When Trump is gone, I think rightism will revert to being the kind of non-personality cult it used to be, with a wide range of gurus taking Trump's place. It might not be the MAGA cult, but it will still be dangerous.
Future cult activities will look like Tay-Anon, or the CRT scare, or the trans-teenager scare, or the border scare. Trump might be gone, but this cult activity won't rely on him, because, on the right, crazy always wins.

Monday, January 29, 2024


Here's a story from May telling us that Joe Manchin would really, really like to run for president. Here's a story from November saying the same thing. And here's a CNN story published yesterday:
Sen. Joe Manchin says he “absolutely” can see himself as president.

Privately, the West Virginia Democrat has told people that a Joe Biden health scare or a Donald Trump conviction could give him an opening to run as an independent this year.

In public, during stops in states such as New Hampshire, South Carolina and Georgia, Manchin says he believes there’s a role for him as a national icon in the “fiscally responsible and socially compassionate” middle, comparable with the role Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders plays for the progressive left.

If Manchin runs, he would want to do so using state ballot lines being secured by No Labels....
No Labels needs a candidate. Manchin needs a ballot line. Match made in heaven (or hell), right? But while you may be tempted to say, "Get a room!," the CNN story suggests that Manchin is frustrated, as if No Labels is just not that into him.
In private conversations about his potential run, Manchin now speaks of No Labels – for which he was a founding co-chair in 2011 – in belittling terms as just “a ballot access organization.” Asked whether he would include any staff or other material from No Labels if he launches a campaign, Manchin demurred.
It's easy to believe that No Labels is a sleazy organization that's trying to get Donald Trump elected and wants to hoover up billionaire cash in order to make that happen. But what if No Labels is somewhat sincere? What if CEO Nancy Jacobson and her husband, pollster Mark Penn (who insists he's not directly involved in No Labels, though the group uses his polling), are really high on their own supply and sincerely believe that they can get their own candidate elected president in 2024?

I say this only because they've clearly friendzoned Manchin -- for months he made clear that he wanted to be the No Labels candidate, but No Labels insists it wants a Republican at the top of the ticket because a Democrat would throw the election to Trump. As Third Way, the rival centrist organization, told us in the fall:
They Intend to Pick a Republican

No Labels is telling people that’s their intention. The NY Times reported that CEO Nancy Jacobson “has told potential donors and allies that the No Labels candidate will be a moderate Republican, according to three people familiar with the conversations.”

Their data makes it obvious. No Labels is telegraphing this decision with their chart, which shows Trump rolls to victory in the battlegrounds with a third-party ticket helmed by a Democrat.
That's this chart:

If they really want Trump to win, their own numbers suggest that they should run Manchin. But they don't seem interested.

Or maybe No Labels is a huge clusterfuck and won't nominate anyone. The CNN story suggests that the group is in shambles.
Larry Hogan, the Republican former governor of Maryland, quit the No Labels board last month over frustration that power and information were being hoarded by group leadership – and not to, as reported elsewhere, clear the way for a presidential run of his own.

“It’s been far less organized than he expected it to be” and “he doesn’t see a plan coming together,” a person familiar with Hogan’s thinking told CNN. “You don’t know where this train is going, and you’re signing up for something you didn’t necessarily sign up for.”

... Plans for a convention in Dallas have collapsed. Talk of a virtual convention remains ambiguous. Who would be picked as delegates to that convention is a mystery. Who would pick those delegates hasn’t been decided. The approximately dozen prospective candidates – including elected officials and business leaders – who will be presented as options are being kept secret, with the full list unknown even to some of the leaders. What information No Labels would use to inform its decision is up in the air. How decisions would be made to ensure candidates won’t be spoilers if they are put on a ticket hasn’t been figured out. Who would decide whether to potentially take the ballot lines back from a ticket, as the group says it will technically be able to do through the summer, is unclear.
I've been worried about No Labels -- I think any No Labels candidate would hurt Biden more than Trump -- but it seems increasingly likely that Jacobson and Penn had delusions of grandeur, or that this was a scam to separate billionaires from their money and no more than that. (Two donors have recently sued because, they say, their money is being used in ways they weren't anticipating.) I thought No Labels would at least run someone to keep the cash flowing. Now I suspect it won't happen.

So maybe this is one less thing to worry about. I hope that's the case.

Sunday, January 28, 2024


We know that right-wingers hate the people who are attempting to cross our southern border primarily because they're not white. But this isn't just a race war for them. They think it's a war war.

Ten retired FBI officials have written an open letter to the Speaker of the House, the Senate majority leader, and the heads of the House and Senate intelligence and homeland security committees arguing that what's happening at the border is actually a military or terrorist invasion. One prominent senator thinks that makes a lot of sense:

From the letter:
In its modern history the U.S. has never suffered an invasion of the homeland and, yet, one is unfolding now. Military aged men from across the globe, many from countries or regions not friendly to the United States, are landing in waves on our soil by the thousands – not by splashing ashore from a ship or parachuting from a plane but rather by foot across a border that has been accurately advertised around the world as largely unprotected with ready access granted.

It would be difficult to overstate the danger represented by the presence inside our borders of what is comparatively a multi-division army of young single adult males from hostile nations and regions whose background, intent, or allegiance is completely unknown.
It gets worse.
This is particularly alarming in light of the Hamas terror attack on Israel last October 7. Those of us who have fought terrorism know that, historically, successful terror attacks invite mimicry. We know, as well, that terror leaders intentionally cultivate throngs of young men possessing a certain easily-manipulated personality type to carry out atrocities.

It is stark to say so, but having a large number of young males now within our borders who could begin attacking gatherings of unarmed citizens, in imitation of 10/7 and at the behest of a foreign terror group, must be considered a distinct possibility....

For these reasons, elements of this recent surge are likely no accident or coincidence. These men are potential operators in what appears to be an accelerated and strategic penetration, a soft invasion, designed to gain internal access to a country that cannot be invaded militarily in order to inflict catastrophic damage if and when enemies deem it necessary.
Your Fox-watching relatives believe all of this. They believed it even before this letter was released.

We know they believe that the consequence of allowing a few million undocumented immigrants into a nation with more than 300 million native-born citizens is that "we don't have a country." They really think America is so fragile, so insubstantial, that our national character can be obliterated by the presence of a relative handful of outsiders. (No, it doesn't matter that many of them, like me, are descendants of immigrants who were also seen as destroying America's national character -- which survived in what I'd consider an enriched form.)

They also believe -- and they believed this long before Donald Trump descended that escalator in 2015 -- that terrorists are slipping across the border with mass slaughter on their minds. (Right-wingers have been telling us that Islamicist terrorists are crossing the border since 2005 at least, based on specious evidence.)

This belief precedes Trump and will outlive him. He's the leader of the Republican Party not because he persuaded GOP voters to hate and fear immigrants, but because he embodied their already rabid hatred of immigrants more than any other high-level Republican.

This is why -- as I've predicted -- the House's first serious impeachment effort is targeted not at President Biden, but at Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. To the right, this is the most important issue of our time. And they think -- maybe, in some way, they hope -- it could be a real war on our soil soon.

Saturday, January 27, 2024


The Atlantic's David Graham states the obvious: that it would have been absurdly easy for Donald Trump to avoid the $83.3 million judgment against him in the second E. Jean Carroll civil trial.
Having lost the first case, all he really had to do was stop publicly assailing Carroll. He didn’t have to admit that he was wrong. He didn’t have to admit that he had sexually assaulted Carroll. He didn’t even have to admit that he had defamed her. He just had to stay quiet.

But this being Trump, he couldn’t do it. Even as the trial proceeded, and all signs suggested that Trump was in for a rough verdict, he kept at it. He attacked Carroll with dozens of missives on his social-media site. While campaigning in Iowa this month, he said she’d made up her story. He behaved no differently in court. [On Thursday], he testified for less than five minutes but still managed to call the accusation false, earning a rebuke from Judge Lewis Kaplan, who said Trump could not re-litigate the first defamation trial.
But does it matter?
... the question raised here is the same as the one raised by the several other cases against Trump. Is there any sanction so dire that it can keep Trump from lying?

... So far, Trump can’t stop saying things that get him into trouble and then deepen it. He is unable to stay out of the public eye, because he is running for president. And once he’s there, he appears psychologically unable to stop making the same bogus claims. Never before has it cost him so dearly.
But has it really cost him dearly? As Ben Protess and Maggie Haberman point out in The New York Times, Trump doesn't have to pay Carroll anytime soon.
... while he is waiting for an appellate court to rule, Mr. Trump need not cut Ms. Carroll a check....

Mr. Trump can pay the $83.3 million to the court, which will hold the money while the appeal is pending. This is what he did last year when a jury ordered him to pay Ms. Carroll $5.5 million in a related case.

Or, Mr. Trump can try to secure a bond, which will save him from having to pay the full amount up front.

A bond might require him to pay a deposit and offer collateral, and would come with interest and fees. It would also require Mr. Trump to find a financial institution willing to lend him a large sum of money at a time when he is in significant legal jeopardy.
But he'll find a way, won't he? And in all likelihood, he'll remain the presumptive Republican presidential nominee -- he might actually do better in upcoming primaries because Republican voters will believe he's being persecuted.

(We'll see if his general-election poll numbers go down. When I write gloomy posts about the election, I'm regularly told that we haven't seen the impact of Trump's trials on public opinion. So let's watch what happens in the next couple of weeks. This is the first time a Trump trial has been the biggest news story in the country. Will it change his general-election polling at all?)

In this case, Trump was willing to risk a massive verdict against him because what's important to him is to be the kind of person his mentor, Roy Cohn, told him he should be: someone who's always on offense, who never apologizes and never admits error.

The world seems full of people like this nowadays, assholes who suffer setbacks and just keep going, clearly unchastened. Alex Jones owes far more money to plaintiffs than Trump, yet he continues to broadcast, nearly three years after his losses in court; his victims are still trying to get some money out of him, so far without success. Or consider Andrew Tate, who just keeps posting hateful, misogynistic videos and tweets despite his 2022 arrest on charges of human trafficking and rape. And, of course, there's Elon Musk. He's not in legal trouble for his botched purchase of Twitter, but he's lost quite a bit of money, yet he's not at all chastened -- he defiantly platforms the racists, fascists, and conspiratorialists who share his vilest political opinion, and his site also platforms predatory AI porn creators.

On the rare occasions when it appears that we have these people cornered, they leverage news of their legal or financial troubles to garner sympathy from their fan bases. And then they just keep doing what they always did.

It's exhausting. It sends the message that the system doesn't have the power to protect us from them, and that they actually gain strength from our attempts to rein them in. These people are never truly ruined, no matter how reprehensible their misdeeds are. For what he did to the Sandy Hook families, Alex Jones should be so poor he's on public assistance and living out of his broken-down car. Trump and Tate should be broke and in prison. Musk shouldn't still be the second-richest person in the world.

But they just keep coming.

Friday, January 26, 2024


Just before the New Hampshire primary, Axios reported this:
President Biden's team believes that Trump becoming the presumptive Republican nominee for president would give a much-needed jolt of energy to voters and grassroots donors who don't want to see Trump back in the White House....

The president's campaign has internal data indicating that most of the undecided voters Biden is targeting don't think Trump will be the Republican nominee because they haven't tuned into an election that's more than nine months away.

That's led Biden's team to believe the dynamics of the campaign will change significantly once those voters realize it really will be a Biden-Trump matchup in November....
It's possible that some of them have tuned in to the election and have been told by very savvy reporters at elite media outlets that there's still a chance to beat Trump, so clap harder!

I think it would have been good for Democrats if Republicans had declared Trump the party's presumptive nominee at next week's Republican National Committee gathering in Las Vegas, a proposal that was floated by a Trump loyalist and then withdrawn.

I also think it would be good for Democrats -- and all Trump opponents -- if Nikki Haley were to drop out now. But Democrats' favorite Republican, Liz Cheney, disagrees:
Former Representative Liz Cheney urged Nikki Haley to stay in the Republican primary race through Super Tuesday in an episode of “Pod Save America” that will be released on Friday. Ms. Cheney, an outspoken critic of former President Donald J. Trump, called his candidacy an “existential threat” to the nation and commended Ms. Haley for running against him, despite her long odds.

“We need to make sure that we’re challenging him and working to defeat him at every step of the way. And right now, Nikki Haley is in this fight, and I think she ought to stay in it,” Ms. Cheney said....
How long can "clap harder!" anti-Trumpers keep this up? I'm afraid that even after Trump cleans Haley's clock in South Carolina and in the Super Tuesday contests, these folks will be saying Haley should stay in -- stay in all the way to the convention, Nikki! -- because, heck, Trump could choke on a hamburger, or could be convicted in a criminal trial and sent to prison, even though there's no reason to believe that any judge will have the guts to send Trump to prison while he has an appeal pending, and Republican voters will probably rally around Trump even more intently if he's convicted but continuing to campaign. (He fights!) This is assuming that any of the trials even take place as scheduled before the convention.

For all we know, the "clap harder!" folks might insist that Trump could still be removed from the Republican ticket even after the convention. At that point, I think it will be hard for even most low-information voters to believe that Trump could be replaced as the Republican nominee. But some really might still think it could happen (and might be told it could happen by respetable media outlets, and maybe even by Liz Cheney and other anti-Trump right-wingers).

Cheney, by the way, is still not ruling out running herself:
Ms. Cheney has not endorsed a presidential candidate, and has teased the possibility of a third-party run herself. She didn’t rule that out on the podcast, and she told Jon Favreau, the podcast’s host and a former speechwriter in the Obama administration, that she “certainly” thinks a third-party candidate, whether her or someone else, will enter the race before November.

“I think we’ll see what happens,” she said. “You know, my No. 1 priority is defeating him and I think that’s going to guide whatever ultimately I decide I’m going to do.”
If her No. 1 priority is defeating Trump, she should endorse Joe Biden right now. But, of course, her priority no. 1A is electing someone who is neither Trump nor (blecch!) a Democrat, and she'll apparently chase any chimera that holds out the hope, however forlorn, of victory by a "normal" Republican in November. And who knows? Maybe she is seriously considering a No Labels run herself, which would guarantee a Trump victory. (The vast majority of her fan base these days consists of MSNBC Democrats.)

The Biden campaign is right: The sooner voters realize that the nominating contests are over, the better it is for the president's reelection chances. I think Liz Cheney sincerely wants Donald Trump to lose, but I don't think she wants the only person who can beat him, Joe Biden, to win. So she might be no help this year.

Thursday, January 25, 2024


Donald Trump won the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, and he's leading in the polls by a large margin in his one remaining GOP rival's home state, so it's clear that he's going to be the Republican presidential nominee. The new hotness in the media is arguing that Trump's recent double-digit wins are actually a sign of general-election weakness. Here's Amanda Marcotte at Salon:
Despite the headlines about Republicans lining up behind Trump, there's significant evidence that, in fact, his leadership is causing the party to fracture and go to war with itself. Which is not where Republicans want to be going into a presidential election....

NBC exit polls showed only 50% of voters in the New Hampshire GOP race self-identified as Republicans and 44% were independents. While proud Republicans broke heavily for Trump, Haley got 58% of independents, most of whom said they were "moderate" or "conservative." These numbers suggest a large number of people who would have called themselves Republicans in the past have left the party and turned out to vote against Trump.
And here's part of an analysis by Michael Bender and Lisa Lerer of The New York Times:
Outside the soft bubble of Republican primaries, Mr. Trump’s campaign is confronting enduring vulnerabilities that make his nomination a considerable risk for his party. Those weaknesses were laid bare in New Hampshire on Tuesday, where independents, college-educated voters and Republicans unwilling to dismiss his legal jeopardy voted in large numbers for his rival, Nikki Haley....

“The general election really starts now, and you’ve got the two most unpopular political leaders going who are going to be facing off against each other,” Neil Newhouse, a Republican pollster, said. “It’s a lesser-of-two-evils election.”
But in all likelihood, it won't be "a lesser-of-two-evils election," because rich tech and entertainment donors are chipping in to help get Robert Kennedy Jr. on state ballots, while Republican billionaires pony up to do the same for No Labels. Neither Marcotte's column nor the Times analysis ever mentions RFK Jr. or No Labels. Both pieces imply that Trump's base is shrinking when it needs to expand if he wants to do better against Joe Biden than he did in 2020. They're missing the point that Trump doesn't need to win more votes than he did four years ago in order to win. Because he almost won the Electoral College in 2020, Trump just needs to lose fewer voters to minor-party candidates than Biden does.

It's not shocking that the electorate in the New Hampshire Republican primary was only half Republican this year -- in 2012, the last time the Democrats had an uncompetitive primary featuring an incumbent president, only 49% of voters in the GOP primary were Republican. In both years, many Democrats and independents skipped the Democratic primary and voted in the Republican primary.

This year, these voters voted against Trump. But that doesn't mean they'll vote for Biden in November. Here are results from a Marist general-election poll of New Hampshire released last week:
Biden (52%) leads Trump (45%) in a hypothetical general election contest among New Hampshire registered voters....

In a three-way contest including Biden, Trump, and Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the race is more competitive. Biden receives 44% of the New Hampshire electorate to 41% for Trump and 12% for Kennedy. Kennedy cuts mostly into Biden’s support, especially among independents.
This poll didn't include a No Labels candidate. It also didn't include Jill Stein of the Green Party, who I suspect will leverage the war in Gaza to pick off progressive votes. (It doesn't mention Cornel West, but I doubt he'll get on any ballots, given his financial woes and understaffed campaign.)

I'm not saying that Kennedy will hurt Biden more than Trump in every state -- the opposite seems to be the case in polling of some other states. And we don't know who the No Labels candidate will be. But if your analysis is that many would-be Republican voters have soured on Trump, and therefore Biden will automatically benefit, you're missing a key fact about the election.

I think 2024 will look more like 1860 than 2020. Remember, Abraham Lincoln won in 1860 with only 39.8% of the vote; three other candidates had double-digit vote percentages. I don't believe Kennedy or No Labels will actually win a state, but there's a strong potential for a fragmented vote. Biden needs to win like Harry Truman in 1948, who beat not only a Republican, Thomas Dewey, but also a disaffected Democrat running as a segregationist, Strom Thurmond, and the progressive Henry Wallace, who'd been vice president under FDR for one term. Can Biden win under similar conditions? We don't know. But we need to remember that voters disgusted with Trump will have choices other than Biden.

Wednesday, January 24, 2024


In New Hampshire -- the early primary state with the most moderate Republican electorate by far -- Donald Trump beat Nikki Haley by double digits. So the Republican race is over, right? Not according to The Point, the new group politics blog at The New York Times. Here's a Point headline:

Elite journalists are desperate to believe that there's still a horserace -- or at least a pseudo-horserace. Healy writes:
This much is clear: For the first time in this campaign, Haley now has a measure of control over the race, inasmuch as her decision to stay in or drop out will determine its trajectory.
Perhaps I'm misunderstanding the word "trajectory," but it's obvious that the projectile known as Nikki Haley will land in the same place we've always known it will land -- Loserville -- whether or not it arrives there rapidly or somewhat less rapidly.

Healy continues, referring to Trump's nasty victory speech last night:
And the mere notion of Haley-in-pole-position sure seemed to get under Trump’s skin last night.
Haley will not be "in pole position" in the South Carolina primary or anywhere else. In horse racing and auto racing, you actually need to win races or qualifying heats in order to be awarded pole position. Haley is 0-for-2.

Healy appears to acknowledge reality:
... this much is also clear: Haley doesn’t have a path to the nomination right now....
Only to add an asterisk:
... at least not any traditional kind.
Dude, just stop.

What Healy means is this:
... I can see Haley going this route if she stays in: Trying to attract as many moderates and independents as she can in the South Carolina primary Feb. 24 and then the Super Tuesday states on March 5, picking up more delegates, and letting the dice roll on Trump’s legal problems. (Supreme Court arguments are coming up in two weeks on whether he can appear on the ballot in Colorado, not to mention his other cases.)

It’s not a path, but a Plan B — an alternative for the party if the unexpected happens with Trump. And where does Trump go from here? Back to court, presumably, with the E. Jean Carroll trial still underway.
Healy is giving his readers a sense of false hope: Oh boy, the verdict in that E. Jean Carroll case is coming soon, and Trump will probably lose. This might be where we really get him.... Except remember what happened to Trump's poll numbers after the last E. Jean Carroll trial? Nothing bad happened -- if anything, Trump's numbers improved.

Trump, of course, is facing criminal charges as well -- although it's not clear how many of his upcoming trials will actually happen this year. Trump will appeal any guilty verdicts, and most prominent Republican politicians are already on record saying they'll support him even if he's convicted. Republican voters appear to feel the same way. And the Supreme Court is highly unlikely to allow Trump to be removed from ballots.

Super Tuesday is six weeks away. Trump will have so many more delegates than Haley by then that her only hope is that he dies, or his apparent dementia becomes suddenly much worse between now and the convention.

Healy writes:
... [Trump's] team would be wise to consider what my colleague David French pointed out last night on The Point: “New Hampshire tells us the G.O.P. is still Trump’s party, but it also tells us that Trump’s party is fractured, and fractured parties struggle to win the White House, especially when an incumbent is under fire.”

David’s right. Trump is running as a virtual incumbent, but so far he’s only winning 50-55 percent of the vote from his own party. Could there be a ceiling on Trump’s vote in the November general election, one that’s too low to win? That’s the question I’m leaving New Hampshire with.
Healy and French ignore two obvious facts about this election. First, this is an election in which both parties seem fractured -- polls suggest that many Democrats would prefer a candidate other than Biden. Second, this is an election in which Trump's real or imagined vote ceiling is likely to be irrelevant -- Robert Kennedy Jr. and No Labels seem determined to get on the ballot in most states, and progressives will have the opportunity to cast protest votes for Jill Stein, and possibly Cornel West.

The Democratic Party might rally around Biden, who has 67.5% of the Democratic primary vote in New Hampshire as I type this. (Trump's percentage is 54.6%.) Biden accomplished that despite the fact tht he wasn't on the ballot -- all his votes were write-in votes.

But I think the "fractured GOP" narrative is oversold. Yes, 43% of Haley's Iowa voters said they'd vote for Biden in November, but as I explained to you, 39% of her voters chose Biden the last time, when Trump nearly won the Electoral College. In New Hampshire, Trump won 74% of registered Republicans, according to the exit polls; Haley won 88% of registered Democrats and 60% of independents. Maybe the larger Republican electorate is fractured, but the party isn't.

If you want to see a really fractured Republican Party, then let's hope for the scenario Healy hints at: Trump withdraws from the race (or dies, or can't carry on for some other reason) and Haley proclaims herself the first runner-up who's now entitled to the crown. I seem to be the only pundit who's noticed this, but I'll keep pointing it out: Haley is not popular among Republicans. Donald Trump's numbers among Republicans are 78.1% favorable, 19.2% unfavorable. Haley's are 46.8% favorable, 31.3% unfavorable. If we suddenly have a Trumpless race, the party elite will be thrilled with Haley (as will The New York Times), but many Republican voters won't be. Trump has told them she's a globalist and a "birdbrain," and many of them believe it.

The still-popular-among-Republicans Ron DeSantis (62.2% favorable, 22.3% unfavorable) could un-suspend his campaign. MAGA stalwarts might urge primary voters to keep voting for Trump as a placeholder for a Trumpist substitute candidate (Donald Trump Jr.? Mike Flynn?). There could be convention chaos.

That would be fun. It seems very unlikely, but I hope it happens.

Tuesday, January 23, 2024


After Richard Nixon's landslide win in the 1972 presidential election, Pauline Kael, the New Yorker film critic, didn't really say, “How did Nixon win? I don’t know anyone who voted for him.” Here's what she actually said:
I live in a rather special world. I only know one person who voted for Nixon. Where they are I don’t know. They’re outside my ken. But sometimes when I’m in a theater I can feel them.
The real Pauline Kael understood that Nixon voters were real, even if she didn't know them personally. This post, from Vanity Fair's Brian Stelter, feels as if it was written by the Pauline Kael of legend:
This column is about political burnout. You’re probably feeling it....

Iowa caucus turnout numbers were weak. Ratings for the cable news coverage of the results were soft. Two primary debates ahead of New Hampshire were canceled. And these trend lines aren’t going to suddenly turn around. The prospect of a rematch between President Joe Biden and former president Donald Trump is, for untold millions, the worst kind of rerun. In poll after poll, Americans are saying that they are underwhelmed by the 2024 candidates and unhappy about the political system as a whole. Some are terribly angry and motivated to vote (and door-knock and donate) but many are just tired.

So they’re “tuning out,” to borrow a phrase the Pew Research Center chose for the title of a recent report on the matter.
But is everybody tuning out? As Alex Thompson and Erin Doherty of Axios point out today, supporters of one major-party candidate are much more enthusiastic about the November election than supporters of the other:
A USA Today/Suffolk University poll this month found that 44% of GOP primary voters were "very enthusiastic" about Trump, while only 18% of Democratic primary voters said the same about Biden.
Are people who'll vote enthusiastically this year simply outside Stelter's ken?

Thompson and Doherty add:
An NBC poll in November found that 63% of Biden voters were more against Trump than for Biden.
The point of their piece is that some Democrats are rooting for Trump to lock up the Republican nomination early, because many voters simply haven't grasped that Trump will be the GOP nominee:
The president's campaign has internal data indicating that most of the undecided voters Biden is targeting don't think Trump will be the Republican nominee because they haven't tuned into an election that's more than nine months away.

That's led Biden's team to believe the dynamics of the campaign will change significantly once those voters realize it really will be a Biden-Trump matchup in November....
I hope they're right. According to 2020 exit polling, 44% of Biden voters chose him because they disliked Trump, while only 22% of Trump voters said they were primarily casting an anti-Biden vote. I'd be happy to win that way again.

But why aren't voters focused on the near-inevitability of a Trump primary victory, and alarmed as a result? For several reasons.

First, the mainstream media continues to say that Trump might lose -- or did, at least, until a day or two ago. The right-wing press occasionally suggests that someone other than Joe Biden might be the Democratic nominee -- a few days ago, for instance, a preposterous Cindy Adams column in the New York Post alleged that there's a stealth campaign under way to nominate Michelle Obama -- but on the right, the message is that it simply doesn't matter who the Democratic nominee is, because all Democrats are part of the same sinister cabal, and you'd better be sure to vote unless you want a country run by undocumented immigrants, socialist transsexuals, and the World Economic Forum.

Democrats simply don't talk about Republicans the way Republicans talk about Democrats, so Biden's recent polling weakness can probably be ascribed in part to the perception that Republicans other than Trump are perfectly nice and could be fine presidents.

Democrats don't attack the opposition party every day because most prominent Democrats worry that they'll need Republican cooperation in order to govern. Most Republicans don't worry much about governing, and even those who do, like Mike Johnson and previous Republican House speakers, assume they can insult Democrats all they want and still receive Democratic cooperation when it's time, say, to avoid shutting down the government. (They're right.)

Democrats' fear of not having governing partners when necessary prevents them from creating negative impressions of the GOP. This helps the GOP in every election -- voters go to the polls not really thinking about the fact that the GOP is the party of unlimited guns or anti-abortion extremism or endless tax cuts for the rich. It almost seems as if agreeing to cooperate on governing occasionally is a Republican ruse to keep Democrats from telling the truth about how awful Republicans are. It works. Republicans do really well at the polls given how unpopular most of their policy positions are -- and how unpopular their party leader is. That could change, but only if Democrats start to close the demonization gap.

Monday, January 22, 2024


A few days ago, Greg Sargent published this at The New Republic:

Is that what MAGA voters want from Trump? "Wanton lawbreaking"?

I don't think so, or at least I don't think that's how they'd see it. I think they want him to be a law unto himself. But that's not quite the same thing.

Sargents conflates several ideas. He notes that Trump has demanded that the Supreme Court grant him "COMPLETE & TOTAL IMMUNITY" (as he's put it, in all caps, on Truth Social) for his actions when he was president. Obviously Trump wants to be told that his crimes while in office weren't crimes. But he and his base don't think he's actually committed any crimes, ever -- not in his Stormy Daniels cover-up (the subject of his first indictment), not in his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election, and not in his handling of classified documents (the subjects of his other indictments). They don't think he's guilty of improper business practices and they don't think he sexually assaulted E. Jean Carroll or any other woman (the subjects of the civil suits he faces). Do they want him to be granted permission to break the law? I think they believe he's a remarkably honest and virtuous man who couldn't possibly have ever broken the law. They think he's up on charges only because a corrupt, depraved, America-hating set of prosecutors has said he broke the law.

Sargent writes:
Trump has reportedly told friends and allies that he wants the Justice Department to investigate a range of former Trump advisers turned critics. Again and again, Trump has publicly vowed to prosecute Joe Biden and his family based on a series of invented crimes.

... Trump is relentlessly conditioning his supporters to expect a second term in which he will bend or break the law to wield the machinery of the state to persecute his opponents....
But Trump's followers don't believe that the alleged crimes of Joe Biden and his family are "invented." They think those crimes are very real, even if they can't name them or point to any solid evidence that crimes were committed. They're not counting on Trump to make up a transparently fake set of charges against President Biden. They think he's guilty of actual crimes, and should be tried and sentenced for those crimes.

And Trump doesn't need "COMPLETE & TOTAL IMMUNITY" in a second term in order to prosecute Biden (and other political enemies) on charges you and I know are phony. He just needs a thoroughly politicized Justice Department. He can have that -- he probably will have that -- sinmply as a consequence of being elected and having a Republican-controlled Senate to rubber-stamp his appointees, whether or not he has immunity.

In horror, Sargent writes:
... a recent CBS poll found that a stunning 55 percent of self-identified MAGA voters think that if Trump wins reelection, he should “get revenge by criminally charging political opponents.”
Again, I'm sure this is because they believe that Trump's political opponents have actually committed crimes -- or at least have done things that should be crimes. Consider the fact that fifteen House resolutions have been filed -- six of them by Marjorie Taylor Greene -- calling for the impeachment of President Biden. What are the "high crimes and misdemeanors" alleged against Biden? Wikipedia offers a summary:
Issues that have been floated by prominent proponents have included Biden's handling of illegal immigration at the United States–Mexico border, the handling of the United States' withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, Biden's extension of a federal COVID-19 eviction moratorium, other COVID-19 pandemic-related actions of Biden, business dealings of Biden's son Hunter ..., Biden's energy policy, the Joe Biden classified documents incident, and the accusation that Biden is "weaponizing" the government.
MAGA voters believe all of these things are real "high crimes." They believe the 2020 election was a massive Democratic crime spree.

MAGA voters don't want "lawlessness." They live in a fantasy world, and they want simple justice for the fantasy crimes they believe their enemies have committed. They might get this warped version of justice from Trump if he's elected, and even if he doesn't have "COMPLETE & TOTAL IMMUNITY," it might all be perfectly legal.

Sunday, January 21, 2024


I enjoy most of what E.J. Dionne writes, but, like many pundits, he's fallen for the notion that there's a Republican crack-up taking place.

In his latest column, Dionne writes:
The prevailing wisdom going into Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary sees Donald Trump as triumphant. But don’t mistake him for a colossus leading a mighty band. This view ignores the opportunism behind many of the endorsements he is winning and the sharp split between Republicans who want to govern and those who don’t.

While there is certainly polarization between our parties, the primary cause of the deep distemper in American politics is the polarization within the Republican Party. Trump’s apparent dominance distracts from what the behavior of elected GOP politicians in Washington teaches us day after day: The party is a mess.
Dionne claims that "the party is a mess" because, among other things, there's a "sharp split between Republicans who want to govern and those who don’t." But there isn't. In this as in so many other things -- including support for Trump -- the only split is between those who take the edgelord position enthusiastically and those who take it in order to fend off future primary challenges from the right. Just about every time there's a split between the crazies in the GOP and the so-called governing wing, the people in the latter group go along with the extremists to preserve their own political viability. Whether it's backing Trump, abandoning Ukraine, or blocking a compromise on immigration, Republicans who are willing to be reasonable yield to Republicans who aren't.

You may call that disunity. I call it unity.

Dionne continues:
... Trump’s victory in the Iowa caucuses created the feel of a party falling in behind him. Telling were endorsements from Sens. Ted Cruz (Tex.) and Marco Rubio (Fla.), two politicians the vindictive front-runner repeatedly mocked, humiliated and slandered. So much for self-respect.
That doesn't create the feel of a party falling in behind Trump. That is a party falling in behind Trump. Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis will be next, after they lose in South Carolina.
But even if the punditry proves right, the GOP is in no way cohesive or coherent. Just look at the Republican majority in the House, which can’t govern without Democratic help.
This presumes that Republicans want to govern. The dominant edgelords don't.
Meanwhile, Senate and House Republicans are at odds on the most important foreign policy question of the moment: whether the United States will continue to stand up against Vladimir Putin’s aggression in Ukraine.
Yup, and while there are many Republicans who think it's very important to back Ukraine in this fight against Putin, they don't think it's as important as owning the libs by refusing to pass a compromise bill on immigration and aid to Ukraine.
... If the Senate reaches a bipartisan deal and [House Speaker Mike] Johnson rejects it, he will be the reason Ukraine isn’t funded and the United States loses credibility around the world.
Yes, but Biden will be denied a win. That's all that matters, even to supposedly pro-"governing" Republicans in the House.
Even Trump’s big victory in Iowa belied the idea that Trump’s army would walk through fire for him. Many were plainly unwilling to ignore the bitter cold and icy roads on caucus night. Only about 110,000 of the roughly 750,000 registered Republicans in the state participated, down more than 40 percent from the 187,000 who joined the last competitive caucuses in 2016.
Yes, but "the last competitive caucuses in 2016" were actually competitive. Ted Cruz beat Trump, the national front-runner, with 27.6% of the vote. Trump was at 24.3%, Marco Rubio at 23.1%. Nine candidates earned at least one delegate. This time, the results were a foregone conclusion.
The divisions among those hardy voters were deep, pointing to President Biden’s opportunities to drive wedges into the GOP electorate. The entrance poll found that Trump drew just 37 percent among college graduates, compared with 67 percent among non-graduates.
Yes, but 26% of those college graduates supported Ron DeSantis, which means that even the college-educated minority of caucus voters is solidly in the pro-authoritarianism camp.
... And 31 percent said they would not consider Trump fit to be president if he were convicted of a crime....
Oh, please. They'll still vote for him, assuming that any of the trials can be completed by November. They'll accept the argument that the process was rigged, an argument that will be repeated ad nauseam by every Republican apart from professional apostates like Liz Cheney and Mitt Romney.
Sure, Democrats have their divisions, too. Party loyalists range from the center to the left, and some of their loud fights doomed parts of Biden’s program in the last Congress. But what’s remarkable is how much they did pass with narrow House and Senate margin....

The difference is that Democrats want to govern because they believe government has a chance to do good. This means even the party’s most left-wing members will compromise to take a step or two forward even when they want to take four.
Progressive Democrats do a lot of compromising. It's the Whatever Billionaires Want Caucus, led by Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, that won't. (Neither is a Democrat now, and good riddance.)
Republicans, on the other hand, are riven between those willing to govern — even, occasionally, with Democrats — and those who will be satisfied only if Trump is president. They presume this would allow them to roll over the left, the liberals and the moderates alike.
Oh, they presume even a Nikki Haley presidency will allow them to roll over Democrats. And largely because she and Trump would appoint exactly the same Leonard Leo-selected federal judges, and govern from the same Heritage Society handbook, they're probably right. (Haley, in fact, might follow the handbook in a much more disciplined fashion than Trump.)
Failing to see the GOP as a party torn asunder allows Trump to seem stronger than he is. He uses this perceived supremacy to cow Republicans who hold the quaint view that governing in a reasonable and (small-d) democratic way is the point of getting elected.
And if Trump chokes on a hamburger tomorrow, the entire Fox prime-time lineup and right-wing "thought leaders" like Steve Bannon will cow the Republican nominee and the nominee's supporters in precisely the same way, and they'll continue deferring to the crazies.
Is it just wish-casting to think New Hampshire may seize the opportunity to send them the message that it’s their duty to fight back?
Of course it is.

Please stop saying that there's a Republican crack-up. There isn't. A dozen House Republican leaders might be defenstrated between now and the end of the decade, but the party will continue to be completely united against the rest of us. The party will still have power in the states to terrorize abortion-seekers or trans people. The party will control the Supreme Court until long after you and I are dead. The GOP is not going anywhere.

Saturday, January 20, 2024


This isn't the typical "Trump's losing it" clip. This is much worse:

There's more to it than just this:
Former President Donald Trump appeared to mistakenly refer to GOP rival Nikki Haley instead of Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., when discussing the Jan. 6 riot at a campaign rally in New Hampshire on Friday night.

The mixup came during Trump's remarks to a crowd of supporters in Concord, N.H. ...

“Nikki Haley, you know they, do you know they destroyed all of the information, all of the evidence, everything, deleted and destroyed all of it. All of it because of lots of things like Nikki Haley is in charge of security. We offered her 10,000 people, soldiers, National Guard, whatever they want. They turned it down. They don’t want to talk about that. These are very dishonest people,” Trump said....

Trump has previously accused Pelosi of turning down 10,000 soldiers on Jan. 6, a claim that has been debunked.
Trump likes his women pink-skinned and northern or eastern European, and he seems to regard people descended from those regions as genetically superior, so maybe it makes some kind of sense that he'd confuse an olive-skinned, dark-haired, Italian-American woman he regularly attacks and a brown-skinned, dark-haired, Indian-American woman he's been attacking recently.

But it's worse than that:

From yesterday's trial coverage:
Former President Donald Trump’s legal team requested a mistrial in writer E. Jean Carroll’s defamation case against him because she “actively deleted evidence”—despite the judge denying Trump’s mistrial request for the same reason earlier this week....

On Wednesday when Carroll was cross-examined, she admitted to deleting emails containing death threats, saying she believed it “was the smartest, best, quickest way to get it out of my life,” Reuters reported.
If Trump is mixing up Pelosi, Haley, and the fair-haired, fair-skinned Carroll, he's losing it.

Many people have believed for years that Trump is showing signs of significant dementia, but I've been a skeptic for a long time. I've written posts expressing my skepticism since 2017. I stand by those earlier posts -- to hear a lot of people talk back then, it was a matter of weeks or months before Trump would have to be shuffled off to a locked memory-care ward. During his presidential term, I felt -- and still feel -- that many observers were blaming dementia for utterances that were clearly the result of ignorance, or a penchant for provocation. (For instance, saying that Jews who vote Democratic are disloyal to Israel isn't a sign of cognitive impairment, as one pundit argued in 2019 -- it's a sign that you're willing to say as president what Fox News commentators say routinely.) As recently as last October, I argued that Trump's brain is still functioning about as well as usual. On the campaign trail, Trump had recently confused Sioux City, Iowa, and Sioux Falls, South Dakota -- but Barack Obama also confused the two cities during his 2008 campaign. No one thinks Obama has dementia.

But this is different. In my family, I've seen both full-blown dementia and mild cognitive impairment. I've thought for years that Trump has the latter. It doesn't always progress to full dementia. (My mother was diagnosed with it and died without further mental deterioration.)

Now I think dementia is creeping up on Trump. When I watch this clip, I'm reminded of the way my grandmother called me by my uncle's name in her last years, or the way an octogenarian boss struggled to remember my name when I had meetings with her shortly before her retirement, even though she'd worked with me for years. ("And you are ..." "Steve.")

Trump might be able to conceal this for quite a while. Ronald Reagan's mental decline was visible in his first debate with Walter Mondale in 1984, but he managed to complete his second term and didn't publicly ackowledge his dementia until nearly six years after he left office. He delivered quite a few speeches in the interim.

We'll see how Trump does. But I'm no longer a dementia skeptic.

Friday, January 19, 2024


I agree that Ron DeSantis's campaign has made a lot of mistakes. He probably should have announced his candidacy early instead of waiting for the end of the Florida legislative session. He shouldn't have frozen out the mainstream media (a mistake he now admits). He was foolish to launch his campaign in a glitchy live Twitter broadcast. And he could have make better use of his origin story -- a kid with a modest upbringing who played baseball for a team that made it to the Little League World Series.

If DeSantis had made all of those changes, I think he still would have finished far behind Donald Trump. Maybe he'd be poised to finish well ahead of the other also-rans -- the position Nikki Haley appears to be in now. But he still wouldn't have beaten Trump, or even come close.

DeSantis might have had a shot at a win if he'd made all of the changes listed above plus one more: He should have come out of the gate as a finger-pointing, trash-talking critic of Trump from the right.

I know that DeSantis tried to direct some trash talk at Trump. But even then, he was trying to thread the needle. Last March, when it seemed clar that Trump would be indicted in New York for paying hush money to Stormy Daniels, DeSantis, who wasn't a declared candidate yet, tried to attack Trump and defend him simultaneously, in a way that pleased no one and was genuinely embarrassing:
“I don’t know what goes into paying hush money to a porn star to secure silence over some type of alleged affair, I can’t speak to that,” DeSantis said. “What I can speak to is that if you have a prosecutor who is ignoring crimes happening every single day in his jurisdiction, and he chooses to go back many, many years ago to try to use something about porn star hush money payments, that’s an example of pursuing a political agenda and weaponizing the office.”
I'm imagining a DeSantis who attacked Trump head on, addressing Trump directly and pointing his finger at the camera like a pro wrestler threatening his rival. The main message this DeSantis would have delivered was: Trump is an ineffectual RINO. Imagine DeSantis opening his campaign with this as the highlight of his first speech:
Donald Trump, you didn't get the wall built. I will. You didn't destroy the Deep State. I will. You didn't repeal and replace Obamacare. I will. You didn't end the abortion holocaust in America. I will. You didn't take on the COVID Nazis. I did, and I will. And while you complain a lot about Democrat election fraud, you didn't prevent it. I've stopped the steal in my state, and if I'm elected, I'll do the same all over America.
This would have been very different from Chris Christie's campaign argument. DeSantis would have been attacking Trump but rejecting all liberal and centrist framing. (When DeSantis suggested that it was bad for Trump to have sex with a porn star, he was accepting what the hated libs say.) DeSantis could have become the candidate who made journalists ask, "Did he really say that?" -- which is Trump's strength.

Also, by taking this approach, DeSantis would have been using his personal obnoxiousness. Newt Gingrich does this, and while he'll never be president, or even the GOP presidential nominee, he won a couple of states in the 2012 primary season and put a scare into Mitt Romney. DeSantis won't win any states this year.

And just imagine DeSantis jiujitsu-ing the issue of the 2020 election by claiming that Trump cost himself the White House. You and I know that the election was fair, but Republican voters don't. Could DeSantis have persuaded a significant number of them that Trump just didn't work hard enough to prevent all the (nonexistent) Democratic cheating? (Think of this as the Karl Rove strategy -- using an opponent's strength against him.)

I think Trump still would have beaten DeSantis if he'd taken this approach -- but DeSantis at least would have gone down swinging, and probably in a better position for 2028. We'll never know.

Thursday, January 18, 2024


The Washington Post's Aaron Blake finds it troubling that Democrats are saying bad things about Republicans during an election year.
Increasingly, Democrats’ desire to go after the GOP writ large and win elections has clashed with their admonitions that Trump and election denial are singular menaces.

... the Biden campaign turned to Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker to drive its message ahead of the caucuses [in Iowa]. That message: that the GOP candidates were more or less the same.

“If we’re all being honest about it, there is no difference between the Republican candidates in this field when it comes to what it means for working families and all Americans who want a better life for themselves and for their communities,” Pritzker said at a Biden campaign news conference.

Pritzker made similar arguments in the context of Biden’s focus on democracy. “The anti-freedom, anti-democracy ideas that Donald Trump’s party stands for are the same, whether it’s him or his Mini-Mes spewing it,” Pritzker said.

Pritzker mentioned Nikki Haley’s failure to cite slavery as the cause of the Civil War — something Haley later sought to correct — alongside Trump’s rhetoric about immigrants “poisoning the blood” of the country.

“All of these Republican candidates are singing the same terrible song,” Pritzker said.
Yup, Haley did try to walk back her refusal to link the Civil War to slavery -- but after the Iowa caucuses she was right back at it, insisting that America has "never been a racist country." That may not be a Trump-like statement, but on this subject Haley is really terrible.

And as I told you last month, Haley has embraced extremist ideas such as terminating every federal government employee after five years, an easy way to replace dedicated civil servants with ideological hacks. This is the kind of government-destroying idea we think might be implemented in a second Trump term, but Haley has expressed more enthusiasm about it than Trump has.

Blake continues:
The DNC suggested last month that [Chris] Christie, who ... extensively criticized Trump on the campaign trail, was truly a “MAGA Republican” because he had pushed to repeal Obamacare. The GOP’s repeal efforts predated the advent of the MAGA movement.
I have some doubts about the Biden team's strategy of using "MAGA" to mean "Republican and bad," but hey, maybe it works, like Chris Rufo's scheme of referring to anything in a school that presents Black people in a positive light as "critical race theory." Sure, the demand for Obamacare repeal predated Trump, but that repeal movement was driven by the Tea Party, which essentially evolved into the MAGA movement. (Another point: It's fair to call Christie "MAGA" because he was a Trump fluffer through the 2016 campaign and most of Trump's presidential term.)
Last month, [the DNC] labeled Haley and New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu (R) as “two MAGA extremists.”
Have they said they'll vote for Trump if he's the Republican nominee? Even if he's a convicted felon? Yes and yes. Then they're MAGA. (Haley has also said she'll pardon Trump if he's convicted of felonies and she's elected president.)

Are these Republicans as bad as Trump? Maybe not, but they're bad. Democrats should say they're bad, using whatever language might be effective.

Blake also beats this dead horse:
The other big flash point came last year, when Democrats caused some consternation in their own ranks by meddling in about a dozen Republican primaries to elevate extreme — and often election-denying — candidates. The aim was to face more beatable opponents in the general election.

And the thing is: It worked. Those candidates won in a half-dozen primaries and went on to lose to Democrats in every one.

But just because the tactic didn’t backfire doesn’t really address the moral side, which is that Democrats promoted and could have helped install the kinds of supposedly dangerous candidates they so warned about.... If these candidates are indeed so dangerous, why would you ever help them get one step closer to elected office?
Do we have to have this argument again? Democrats ran ads intended to persuade Republican voters to vote for weaker candidates. Republican voters rose to the bait, and the candidates were, in fact, weaker.

Republicans in 1972 portrayed George McGovern as a dangerous hippie-loving peacenik. So why did Richard Nixon's reelection campaign scheme to drive the more electable Ed Muskie out of the race in the hope that the less electable McGovern would be the Democratic nominee? No one ever argues that Nixon's people did this because they were pro-amnesty doves who loved the hippies. Everyone knows it was a scheme to improve Nixon's chances of victory. It worked. Nixon's scheme in 1972 was based on lies and dirty tricks; the ads Democrats ran in 2022 were truthful. And they worked. So what's the problem?

Every so often, Democrats play to win in an election year. The nerve of them!

Wednesday, January 17, 2024


Oliver Willis writes:

I believe Willis is referring to this piece by Timothy Noah in The New Republic, which approvingly quotes Liz Cheney:
Liz Cheney declared Wednesday that the GOP is finished. “The Republican Party,” she said on ABC’s The View, is
clearly so caught up in this cult of personality that it’s very hard to imagine that the party can survive. I think increasingly it’s clear that once we get through 2024 we’re gonna have to have something else. Something new. I believe the country has to have a party that’s based on conservative principles and values where we can engage with the Democrats on substance and on policy.
Cheney is right.
Noah also quotes one of America's most esteemed political historians:
Historian and author Sean Wilentz told me by email that “I’ve been saying something similar”:
[I’ve been saying] that the Republican Party is dead as a doornail, that mainstream parties come and go in American history ... that what was the GOP is now over, having been fully supplanted by an authoritarian political cult.

Taking it another step, it’s time everyone in the news media woke up to that fact and owned it. Anything being done under the presumption that the Republican Party still exists (primaries, &c.), that it can be reconstructed after Trump ... is sheer fantasy. Some of the Never Trumpers, maybe most, have come to realize this. But covering events, like Iowa, while denying that the GOP is a corpse normalizes the situation, which is extremely dangerous, giving Trump a degree of legitimacy he has long ago lost—or should have lost.
Noah himself writes:
Without artificial support, the body cannot long survive brain death, and the GOP’s brain, as I documented in February, is pretty obviously dead. The Republican Party maintains a fragile House majority, a narrow majority of governorships, and a larger majority of state legislatures. In the next election, current projections suggest the GOP will lose the House but win back the Senate and, possibly, the presidency. Even so, I agree with Cheney that the Republican Party is running on fumes and that we are witnessing something rare in American politics: the death of a major political party.
It's fine to argue that the Republican Party of some past era is dead. But to say that it will die soon? That's crazy.

When Cheney says the GOP is dying, she means it's not the party she likes anymore. Cheney is like an old guy saying that "music sucks now" because there's no new music he likes, even though plenty of younger people really like the new stuff.

But when Wilentz and Noah say the GOP is dead, they seem to be saying that it's not a political party anymore. Noah, in the February 2023 article he cites above, argues that the GOP has "lost its brain," using the word "brain" to mean "ideology."
... I’m using the word “ideology” to describe, in a neutral manner, some set of reasoned and coherent principles and policies, however mistaken, around which a society can be organized. That’s how [the sociologist Daniel] Bell (mostly) used the term. He called ideology “the commitment to the consequences of ideas.”
Does the modern GOP really lack a "commitment to the consequences of ideas"? Let's look at Republican gun policy. It's led to an America where mass shootings happen more than once a day, and where guns purchased in Republican states with loose gun laws fuel crime in Democratic-run cities. Republicans know all this, and they have no intention of changing their views in order to reduce the frequency of the bloodshed. They fully accept the horrible consequences of their misbegotten ideas about firearms.

Republicans know that women are being put at risk by abortion laws that threaten criminal consequences for the termination of dangerous pregnancies. They're not worried about that. They know that their pro-billionaire tax policies, their war on government social spending, and their unswerving opposition to unions make the lives of poor and lower-middle-class people immeasurably worse. They're fine with that. They know their "fossil fuels forever" energy ideology literally threatens the survival of the planet. That doesn't trouble their sleep at all.

The idea that there's no ideology in the Republican is absurd. The party is much more than a personality cult -- it's still driven by a set of absolutely horrible ideas that will long outlast Donald Trump. And I haven't even gotten to the racism, the sexism, the homophobia, and the xenophobia, which Noah, in the February article, dismisses as "pathologies, or resentments, or ethnic hatreds." Why aren't those considered part of an ideology? They lead to "principles and policies" that are "coherent ... however mistaken." Offering unwavering support to on police forces that brutalize non-whites, or forcing school libraries to shut down or purge collections because they include books about gay people and prominent Blacks, or separating migrant families at the border -- all of these are policies based on principles, whether we find the principles abhorrent or not.

Much of what I'm describing is policy on which Donald Trump is a follower, not a leader -- which is why I argue that the GOP isn't a personality cult. The party will survive him even if it doesn't have a charismatic figurehead, because it will still finde ways to drive voters to the polls with anger-driven ideas, which it will then translate into policy.

The GOP isn't dying. It doesn't even appear to be sick, however sick it makes the rest of us.