Sunday, June 30, 2024


Maybe I'm not a pessimist. Maybe I'm just a knee-jerk contrarian.

In my last post, I joined the herd and said that it might be appropriate for President Biden to step aside and let someone else lead the ticket. But it's a day and a half after the debate and I'm not convinced that Biden's poor performance on Thursday night matters very much to voters.

This is an electorate that seems locked into its views of the candidates, whom voters have known for years. It's as if they're saying, "Stop making us try to think about these guys. We've told you what we think." In the case of Donald Trump, nothing seems to change Americans' minds -- not January 6 (his temporary dip in the polls was quckly reversed, although his numbers are still decidedly negative); not his indictments; not the civil cases he lost, including one involving a sexual assault; and not his criminal conviction. In Biden's case, his numbers started drifting lower after the Afghanistan withdrawal and continued dropping slowly but steadily during a bad period of inflation. Now his approval is consistently below 40%. Head-to-head matchups show the two men within a couple of points of each other nationwide, though Trump leads in the swing states.

New York magazine's Chas Danner looks at post-debate polls and ... there seems to be no movement: A Morning Consult poll has Biden still leading by 1, and a FiveThirtyEight/Ipsos poll showed very little change:
Post-debate, 46.7 percent of likely voters said they were considering voting for him, which was 1.6 percentage points lower than before the debate....

The share of likely voters who said they were considering voting for Trump after the debate climbed from 43.5 percent to just 43.9 percent.
So why the panic? Barack Obama suffered a much greater polling drop after his bad first debate in 2012, and he went on to win. Ronald Reagan lost a lot of ground to Walter Mondale after his terrible first debate in 1984, and he won in a landslide. And let's not forget John Fetterman's awful performance in his only 2022 Senate debate. He won too.

Biden's problem is that he appeared to be on his way to a loss before the debate. He needed a big win, and he got the opposite. So I understand the panic.

But I hope we're all prepared for the awfulness of the Republican campaign if Biden steps aside and is replaced by the most popular alternate pick among Democrats, Kamala Harris. Danner quotes the Morning Consult poll...
Three in 10 Democratic voters want Harris to take the reins were Biden to not be the party’s nominee, followed by 20% who said it should be California Gov. Gavin Newsom....
... as well as a poll from Survey USA:
• 43% of likely Democratic voters say it should be Vice President Kamala Harris, including 63% of Black Democrats, 56% of Democrats age 35 to 49, 55% of those with children under 18 at home, and 53% of those with high school educations. Harris leads or ties as the top choice among every demographic subgroup.

• 16% choose California Governor Gavin Newsom....

• 8% choose Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg....

• 7% choose Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

• 4% choose Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro; 2% Maryland Governor Wes Moore; 1% choose someone else. 20% are undecided.
Unless she turned it down, I think Democrats would have to pick Harris if Biden stepped aside. Wajahat Ali is right -- pundits and Democratic insiders are
musing about potential white saviors who can somehow come in at the last second, less than five months from the election, and magically push Democrats over the top. We’ve heard about Gavin Newsom and Gretchen Whitmer. A name that is rarely mentioned is Vice President Kamala Harris. This is after Democrats have spent the past four years doing absolutely nothing to help bolster her profile or image. How do you think all of this will go over with Black voters, especially Black women, who make up the Dem base?
But we'd have an even uglier general election campaign than the one we're having now, because Donald Trump would immediately crawl into the gutter and go mainstream with the nastiest things rank-and-file Republicans and GOP influencers have been saying about Harris since 2020. Here's a widely available T-shirt:

Amazon stopped selling "Joe and the Hoe Gotta Go" shirts in the summer of 2020, but you can still buy merchandise with that slogan there.

The slogan refers to Harris's brief relationship with former San Francisco mayor and California Assembly speaker Willie Brown in the mid-1990s. As a 2020 Reuters story notes, Brown was legally married at the time, but he'd been separated from his wife for many years. The relationship was no secret: the two made public appearances together. Brown was 31 years older than Harris. That's a somewhat greater age gap than the one between Donald Trump and his wife (24 years), though it's less than the one between Trump and Stormy Daniels (33 years).

Nevertheless, I'm sure Trump would instantly attack Harris the way this influencer with 1.7 million followers has:

Or the way this influential radio host with more than a million followers has:

Republicans think Kamala Harris "knee" jokes are hilarious. Items with this slogan seem to be popular:

Republicans thought this was hilarious last winter:

Trump will go there. He'll probably make his attacks slightly deniable, the way he calls the Black attorney general of New York State "Peekaboo" and pretends he's not really calling her "Jigaboo," But he'll go there, and so will his many people in his circle. Even "high-minded" allies like Speaker Mike Johnson will find a polite-sounding way to slut-shame Harris.

If this happens, I hope there's a huge backlash. Don't forget that the sexual revolution started in the 1960s and was fully under way in the 1970s. You know those gray-haired suburban moms and grandmoms in their fifties, sixties, and seventies who have rallied to the Democrats in recent years? They had fun when they were young. They're not ashamed of it, and they shouldn't be.

I think Biden will stay on the ticket. But if this alternate scenario plays out, it could be a huge miscalculation for the GOP. Let's hope.

Saturday, June 29, 2024

Had some family obligations today. Back tomorrow.

Friday, June 28, 2024


I watched a great deal of the post-debate analysis on CNN. While I agreed with the commentators that President Biden had a terrible night, I was furious when they all seemed to agree that Biden didn't look capable of serving for another four years. I found myself shouting at the TV: You all realize that he knows this stuff, right? You know he gets it, even if he struggles to get the words out. Why aren't any of you -- even the Democrats -- saying that?

For a long time I've believed that Biden is struggling in the polls not because the majority of the country is MAGA (it isn't), but because Trump's MAGA base is augmented by swing voters who feel unsettled by the strain of high grocery prices on their inadequate incomes -- and because they don't follow politics, they just want someone who seems like a leader. They don't know why inflation happens, they don't know why abortion is under assault (a non-trivial percentage of them blame Biden, because he's the president, and I guess they assume the president has the power to overrule Supreme Court justices and state legislators) -- they don't know much about politcs at all. So what they want to see when deciding on a candidate is someone who conveys a sense of leadership. It doesn't have to be by means of macho bluster -- they thought Bill Clinton and Barack Obama seemed like leaders. When something disturbing happens, they want someone who'll look straight into the camera and speak confidently and articulately about the problem.

That's why Biden is struggling in the polls -- on most days, he can't do that.

Many liberals reject the idea that presidential eloquence matters -- they sneer at the notion that a president might give one prime-time speech and change public opinion on an issue. They say if you believe that can happen, you have "West Wing brain." You're falling for the "Green Lantern theory" of leadership.

They're right about that -- in the real world, one speech can't turn the tide of history. But while presidential eloquence can't turn around public opinion on one issue overnight, it's cumulative -- many voters hear an eloquent president and think there's a steady hand on the tiller. They're willing to give these presidents the benefit of the doubt, even when they're dissatisfied with what's going on the country.

That's why Clinton and Obama won reelection and Biden probably won't. Voters who just want a sense of solidity and steadiness aren't getting it from Biden, because he doesn't sound solid and steady.

I'm using the word "eloquent," but voters don't necessarily want high-minded Ciceronian rhetoric. Sometimes they feel comforted by a hokey after-dinner speaker (Ronald Reagan) or an insult comic (Donald Trump). Reagan could segue from corny jokes to dire warnings about communism or "big government"; Trump can transition from Don Rickles in Vegas to fascist rhetoric about the enemy at the gates. It doesn't matter if hearing Trump (or Reagan) makes your skin crawl. I get it. I feel the same way. I think millions of swing voters agree. But what matters is that Trump, like Reagan, sounds confident and self-assured -- and there appear to be enough swing voters for whom that's sufficient this year, just as there were in 2016, and nearly in 2020. (Remember, Biden's total margin of victory in the states that gave him his Electoral Win was only about 45,000 votes.)

Most Democrats refuse to acknowledge something that seems obvious to me: Trump has skills. He's skilled at persuading at least some people -- and not just in the MAGA base -- that he knows what he's talking about and has a command of the facts. And of course he has this skill! He's a lifelong con artist! He's been appearing before cameras since the 1980s and telling people whatever it is he wants them to believe, with no regard for its truth value. He knows how to do this.

Most Democrats don't want to acknowledge this because they want to believe in a Trump of their own creation, one who's in advanced state of dementia and who has no idea what he's talking about. Many were sure that he wouldn't even show up last night. I tried to warn these people....

I think he'll try to be Stephen Miller at this debate, not himself. He'll try to do the prepared-text parts of his speeches (which are full of foreboding about our alleged descent into chaos under Democratic rule) rather than "Low-flush toilets, amirite?" And the Times will call him "presidential."

— Steve M. ( Jun 27, 2024 at 6:14 PM

But that's impossible! I was told. He's the crazy guy who talks about boat batteries and sharks! He's not capable of a disciplined performance! He's just a drooling old dementia case!

But that's Trump in "observational comic" mode. We know he knows how to shift gears because he did it during his criminal trial. He focused a lot of anger at the judge, prosecutors, and DA, as well as at the Biden administration. It didn't win him an acquittal, but it reinforced his dishonest "lawfare" narrative, endeared him to his base, and opened a lot of wallets. Trump knew what he was doing. A dementia case wouldn't have.

I'm not arguing that Trump is unbeatable. I'm arguing that Trump is formidable -- especially running against a candidate who struggles to speak forcefully. I know that too many ordinary Democrats think a Trump loss is inevitable -- voters must see he's unfit, right? They can't possibly fail to see that, can they?

They can:

Trump won't beat himself. Democrats need to beat him. Underestimating him isn't helping them to do that. We need State of the Union Joe Biden every day in order to beat Trump -- and if Biden can't deliver, maybe we need someone else.

Thursday, June 27, 2024


As Joe Biden and Donald Trump get ready for their first 2024 debate, Axios reports that the Biden campaign has begun focusing on Project 2025:
The Biden campaign is using Thursday's debate to launch a new offensive against Trump allies' radical plans to transform the U.S. government, known as "Project 2025."

... The Biden campaign wants to convince jaded voters that a second Trump presidency poses grave risks to the country. Biden officials see Project 2025 — which calls for an unprecedented expansion of presidential power — as a useful blueprint for what Trump's return would bring.
It would be nice to think that the campaign is being proactive, but it's clear that Biden's team is reacting to an unexpected surge of interest in Project 2025.
Google search interest in "Project 2025" surged earlier this month, and a John Oliver segment on Trump's plans for a second term racked up nearly 5 million views on YouTube in under a week.

...The Biden campaign ... is trying to capitalize on the viral momentum.

It launched a new website Thursday highlighting contentious policies from the Heritage Foundation's 920-page "Mandate for Leadership," a comprehensive policy guide for reshaping the federal government.
So the campaign didn't think it was worth devoting a section of the website to this terrifyingly extreme series of plans for a second Trump term until after John Oliver proved that there's voter interest?

That's political malpractice. The president, the vice president, and the rest of the campaign should have been working hard to make every voter aware of Project 2025 for months.

Republicans don't wait to use a line of attack until they have evidence that it's already viral. Republicans throw everything at the wall and pursue whatever sticks. The worst case for them is that, yes, many attacks won't resonate with voters, but even those non-viral attacks will reinforce the base's outrage at Democrats and motivate base voters to turn out for Trump and other Republicans.

You know who didn't wait to launch an attack on Project 2025 until there was evidence that criticism of the project was going viral? John Oliver. He and his staff recognized that there was a lot to say about the project. They could see that his audience would be horrified if they knew about it, even though the public wasn't already talking about it. So they didn't wait.

Maybe, instead of waiting for John Oliver to tell them what lines of attack would work, Democrats should hire John Oliver -- or be like him. Go on offense. Steer the conversation rather than reacting to it. The Biden campaign shouldn't need Google search results or focus groups in order to recognize how alarming Trumpworld's plans are.

Wednesday, June 26, 2024


Whether or not this poll accurately reflects the thinking of the broader electorate, it deserves attention because the respondents seem to saying two contradictory things:
In six swing states that Biden narrowly won in 2020, a little more than half of voters classified as likely to decide the presidential election say threats to democracy are extremely important to their vote for president, according to a poll by The Washington Post and the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University.

Yet, more of them trust Trump to handle those threats than Biden.
Among all respondents in these swing states, 44% think Donald Trump would do a better job of protecting America from "threats to democracy," while only 33% say President Biden would. In a subgroup of respondents the pollsters describe as "Deciders" because their previous voting history (or lack thereof) suggests that their votes are up for grabs, 38% say Trump would defend democracy better, while 29% say Biden would.

This is true despite the fact that many of these people expect Trump to threaten democracy if he's elected again:
Among the Deciders, more than 7 in 10 believe that Trump will not accept the results of the election if he loses, compared with one-third who say the same for Biden. Nearly half, 47 percent, say Trump would try to rule as a dictator if he is elected to another term as president, compared with 15 percent who say Biden would.
Among the Deciders, 73% believe Trump will contest the election results -- even though 38% of this group thinks Trump would defend democracy better. That's an overlap of at least 11%. Either this group believes that contesting election results is defending democracy or they think contesting election results, even by leading a violent mob, is not a threat to democracy, even though that's precisely what it was in 2020 and 2021.

Maybe they don't see January 6 as a real threat because they experienced it as a distant event on television -- some people got violent many miles away, then it ended and the election results were ratified as usual. No harm, no foul, I guess.

Nothing in the rhetoric of President Biden or his campaign ever personalizes January 6. We know there was a violent mob, but we never hear how the day's events (or the rest of the Trump smear campaign) affected individuals. Here's a typical Biden ad:

We're told that 140 officers were injured. Why don't we see any of them? Why don't we hear any of their names? Does any Biden ad include the words of Michael Fanone or Harry Dunn? Are there any slandered, harassed, terrorized election workers who might be willing to give Trump's threat to democracy a human face -- perhaps Wandrea “Shaye” Moss and her mother, Ruby Freeman, the Georgia election workers whose lives were destroyed by Trump, Rudy Giuliani, and others, and who won a $148 million judgment in a defamation case against Giuliani? And if not them, how about lesser-known election workers who have been subject to Trumpist terrorism?
DOUGLASVILLE, Ga. — When Milton Kidd leaves work at the end of the day, he slips out the back door of the domed Douglas County Courthouse, avoiding the public entrance where people might berate him or demand his home address.

He never takes the same route home two days in a row, and he makes random turns to avoid being followed.

Kidd, a Black man, has a very dangerous job: He is the elections and voter registration director for Douglas County.

“Milton Kidd is a nasty n***** living on tax money like the scum he is,” one voter wrote in an email Kidd shared with Stateline. “Living on tax money, like a piece of low IQ n***** shit.”

Another resident from Kidd’s county of 149,000 west of Atlanta left him a voicemail.

“I don’t know if you’re aware, Milton, but the American people have set a precedent for what they do to f***ing tyrants and oppressors who occupy government office,” the caller said. “Yep, back in the 1700s, they were called the British and the f***ing American people got so fed up with the f***ing British being dicks, kind of like you, and then they just f***ing killed all the f***ing British.”
I can't blame them for not wanting to stick their necks out, but humanizing the story of Trump's efforts to steal the 2020 election, and possibly this year's as well, might make voters realize that people's lives are on the ballot, not just "democracy."

Smart campaigns know that voters respond to stories of individuals. In 1988, this Republican ad had a moderate impact:

But what people really remember is the man mentioned in the ads below, along with what happened to his victims:

In 2004, George W. Bush tried to sell himself as the person who'd keep Americans safe. Hugging the daughter of a 9/11 victim made that personal:

And in 2012, a PAC affiliated with Barack Obama attacked Mitt Romney, formerly of Bain Capital, with an ad featuring a worker from a company Bain acquired and shut down, but only after workers were asked to build a stage for the announcement of their own termination, which the employee in the ad described as "like building my own coffin":

In 2024, ads might not be the way these messages are conveyed, so it might be up to Biden and his surrogates to personalize these issues. For Trump's base, he's the individual whose allegedly undeserved suffering makes Biden's alleged attacks on democracy personal. Trump's frequent references to the January 6 prisoners also personalize the issue. When Trump talks about immigration, he often mentions individuals who were victims of crimes ascribed to migrants. Statistics refute the notion that undocumented immigrants commit crimes at a higher rate than native-born Americans, but Trump understands intuitively that anecdotes resonate more with voters than data.

Does the Biden campaign understand this? Or do Biden and his people think saying "Democracy is on the ballot" is enough?

Tuesday, June 25, 2024


As I'm sure you've noticed, Donald Trump and his allies are trying to delegitimize the upcoming debate with President Biden:
In recent days, Trump and his surrogates have condemned the debate’s format — apparently indifferent to the fact that his own team negotiated the terms of the event....

As for the possibility that his Democratic opponent might be able to “put two sentences together,” Trump appears eager to pre-emptively delegitimize Biden’s debate performance, too....

“I say he’ll come out all jacked up, right?” Trump said on Saturday, referring to the incumbent, after telling supporters that Biden will get “a shot in the ass” shortly before the debate. The former president added soon after, “Whatever happened to all that cocaine that was missing a month ago from the White House?”

He’s also getting plenty of backup from the usual suspects: The Republican National Committee, among others, has asserted as fact that the incumbent president is “on an intense doping regimen,” and assorted right-wing members of Congress have called on Biden to take a drug test....

Last month, Republican Rep. Greg Murphy of North Carolina went so far as to tell Fox Business that he had secret knowledge about Biden’s reliance on illicit substances, which he refused to divulge on the air.
Meanwhile, Trump's press secretary, Karoline Leavitt, used an appearance on CNN, which will conduct the debate, in order to put the cable channel on trial:
Leavitt was speaking with CNN’s Kasie Hunt when she began criticizing the network, which will host the first Biden-Trump presidential debate on Thursday, June 27.

Leavitt praised her boss for “knowingly going into a hostile environment on this very network, on CNN, with debate moderators who have made their opinions about him very well known over the past eight years.”

... The CNN host tried to turn the subject back to what Leavitt expected from Joe Biden’s debate performance, but the conservative spokeswoman couldn’t resist going in on [Jake] Tapper, who has become a regular target of Trump’s allies ever since being tapped to moderate the upcoming debate.

“Well, first of all, it would take someone five minutes for someone to google ‘Jake Tapper Donald Trump’ to see that Jake Tapper has consistently—” Leavitt began, before Hunt put her hand up, interrupting her.

“Ma’am, I’m going to stop this interview if you’re going to continue to attack my colleagues,” said Hunt, but Leavitt persisted. The two continued to talk over each other, Hunt’s voice rising as she bid her guest to answer the question and stick to talking about Trump.
Hunt ended the interview:

Why are Trump and his people doing all this? I'm sure your answer will be They know Trump is a buffoon who's going to lose badly to Biden, and they need to make excuses.

You could be right -- Biden might appear to be the clear winner of the debate. But if that happens, the mainstream media, which loathes Biden, won't acknowledge the obvious. Here's how The New York Times covered the first debate in 2020, during which Trump was rude, obnoxious, and uninformed:
President Trump and Joseph R. Biden Jr. appeared onstage together for the first time on Tuesday. It was not exactly a debate.

Shouting, interruptions and often incoherent cross talk filled the air as Mr. Trump purposefully and repeatedly heckled and blurted over his rival and the moderator alike in a 90-minute melee that showcased the president’s sense of urgency to upend a race in which polls show him trailing.

Mr. Biden labored to get his points in over Mr. Trump’s stream of interjections, turning directly to the camera for refuge from a scrum that hardly represented a contest of ideas. But Mr. Biden did not stumble, contradicting months of questions from the Trump campaign about his mental fitness, and Mr. Trump seemed to do little to bring over voters who were not already part of his base.

The impact on the race of the messy affair — given that 90 percent of voters say they are already decided — is an open question.
In the mainstream press, even a terrible debate by Trump will be covered through a "both sides" lens, while the right-wing press will say Trump triumphed. So Trump can't really lose. Under those circumstances, why delegitimize the debate?

Because delegitimizing works. Trump and his allies are doing what they've done to the recent criminal trial in which he was found guilty of 34 felonies. As a recent Monmouth poll makes clear, much of the public agrees with Trump that the prosecution wasn't on the level, even though a majority of poll respondents believe Trump is guilty.
Just under 6 in 10 voters (57%) think it is likely that the decision to bring these charges against Trump was politically motivated. This includes 93% of Republicans and 60% of independents, but just 17% of Democrats. As a comparison, 48% of voters think the charges against Hunter Biden were politically motivated....

So even though 56% of respondents think Trump is guilty or lean that way, 57% believe the trial was politically motivated. And that helps explain why the trial had no impact on presidential preference:

Trumpworld's efforts to delegitimize Trump's criminal trial has been a success. So of course Trumpers are trying to do the same for the upcoming debate.

Monday, June 24, 2024


Remember how we killed the homophobic hate group Moms for Liberty? A woman claimed to be involved in a sexual relationship with the group's co-founder, Bridget Ziegler, and her husband, Florida GOP chair Christian Ziegler, and also accused Christian of raping her. No charges were filed, but texts that were made public confirmed the allegation that the gay-bashing Zieglers regularly sought women for threesomes. Christian was removed from the party chairmanship in January of this year.

So much for that group, right? The headlines made clear that Moms for Liberty would be a non-factor in American politics going forward. New York Times: "Florida Sex Scandal Shakes Moms for Liberty, as Group’s Influence Wanes." CNN: "Moms for Liberty Faces New Challenges and Growing Pushback Over Its Conservative Education Agenda." NPR: "The Waning Influence of Moms for Liberty." The Hill: "Moms for Liberty Faces Growing Challenges Amid Florida Sex Scandal."

But it appears that Moms for Liberty wasn't really dead:
On Tuesday, the South Carolina State Board of Education will impose a centralized and expansive censorship regime on every K-12 school library in the state. The new regulations could result in the banning of most classic works of literature from South Carolina schools — from The Canterbury Tales to Romeo and Juliet to Dracula. The rules were championed by South Carolina State Superintendent of Education Ellen Weaver, who is closely aligned with Moms for Liberty, a far-right advocacy group seeking to remove scores of books from school libraries.

... any library books (or other instructional materials) are automatically deemed "not 'Age and Developmentally Appropriate' for any age or age group of children if it includes descriptions or visual depictions of 'sexual conduct,' as that term is defined by Section 16-15-305(C)(1)." Critically, the regulations ban library books with any descriptions of "sexual conduct" whether or not those descriptions would be considered "obscene."

Weaver is a close ally of Moms for Liberty, which has advocated across the country to remove books from school libraries. She appeared at the Moms for Liberty 2023 Joyful Warriors National Summit. "There is nothing more precious that God has created than the hearts and the minds of our young people," Weaver said. "And that is what the radical woke left is after. Make no mistake: saving our country starts with saving our schools."
In Nevada's largest county, three Moms for Liberty-affiliated candidates advanced to the general election this month in school board elections. And Florida stuck by the group even after the Ziegler scandal broke:
Some of Florida's loudest advocates for public school book removals make up half of a state government-sponsored group to advise school districts on how to select titles and when to pull them off of shelves.

Moms for Liberty members made up three of six members of a Department of Education workgroup that met ... to redevelop an online training program for school librarians and media specialists following a 2023 state law focused on book challenges.

It’s a demonstration of the state’s willingness to cater to the conservative group, which has long supported Gov. Ron DeSantis and, along with its local chapters, has become the leading voice against books in schools that it considers inappropriate.
In purple states, Republican candidates are embracing Moms for Liberty. It's no surprise that the extremist GOP candidate for governor in North Carolina, Mark Robinson, would appear at a Moms for Liberty-sponsored event. But David McCormick, the supposedly less extreme GOP candidate for Bob Casey's Senate seat in Pennsylvania, also appeared at a recent Moms for Liberty event.

None of this should be surprising. One thing all modern Republicans have in common is shamelessness. And why should they ever feel shame? The GOP base will never hear any negative news, from Fox or any other right-wing outlet, about any individual or group that retains the power to hurt the hated libs. Also, there's a nearly limitless supply of money for right-wing organizations. So when scandal happens, these groups just take the hit and keep coming.

There's pushback against Moms for Liberty. A new law in Washington State could remove the group from the state's approved list of teacher trainers. Residents of Howard County, Maryland, are trying to stop the county board of education from removing books on a Moms for Liberty list from school libraries.

It's really hard to kill any organization on the right. These groups don't stay dead -- or even marginalized -- for long.

Sunday, June 23, 2024


I'm confused. I thought immigration was a profoundly serious national crisis -- that's what Republicans have been telling us for many years. But apparently it's not serious at all. Apparently it's okay to act as if it's a big joke.
Former President Donald Trump suggested in two speeches Saturday that migrants coming to the U.S. should have their own fighting league, remarking that they’re “nasty, mean” and “tough people” who could beat the country’s top fighters.

Speaking first to a crowd of conservative Christians at a Faith & Freedom Coalition gathering in Washington, D.C., Trump said he shared the idea with Dana White, president of the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

“I said, ‘Dana I have an idea. Why don’t you set up a migrant league of fighters and have your regular league fighters,” Trump said, “and then you have the champion of your league — these are the greatest fighters in the world — fight the champion of the migrants.’” The suggestion drew laughter and applause from the crowd, a response that continued as he spoke more about the concept.

“I think the migrant guy might win,” Trump said, adding that White “didn’t like that idea too much.”

“But actually, it’s not the worst idea I’ve ever had,” he continued.

Trump later repeated the idea during a rally Saturday evening in Philadelphia.
Trump is just trolling, of course. But why is it acceptable in his world to treat this issue lightly? One right-winger after another has told us that conditions at the border could lead to a calamity worse than 9/11. Can you imagine George W. Bush or some other Republican cracking a similar joke about Al Qaeda terrorists? We're not talking about an inevitably gruesome death -- Trump isn't proposing that we should throw immigrants to the lions. He's proposing fights that the immigrants might actually win. Maybe I'm misremembering the national mood after 9/11, but I don't think anyone would have responded well to a proposed series of fights between Americans and Guantanamo prisoners that might actually be won the detainees.

The likehood that this won't offend any of Trump's fans suggests that their anger about immigration isn't based on fear -- it's based on hierarchy. They're furious at the thought that immigrants might cross the border and simply blend into the population, living American lives and effectively becoming Americans. They need to be put in their place! Forcing them to fight for our entertainment would subordinate them to us.

And just as night inevitably follows day, Trump's latest pronouncement is followed by a ringing Fox News endorsement:
The hosts of Fox & Friends couldn't stop laughing about presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump's proposal to force migrants to fight each other....

"Oh my gosh, [Trump] proposed to Dana White that they create a migrant UFC, and then you can set the migrant champion against the regular UFC champion," [Will] Cain said as the other two hosts cackled....

[Rachel] Campos-Duffy said she alarmed her makeup artist by bursting into laughter after reading the text of Trump's speech.

"Can I tell you?" she said. "Well, I was reading that when I was in the makeup chair, and I just started laughing out loud, and then our makeup artist in here, we were like, what's going on?"

"And I'm like, Oh my God, he just said it's not the worst idea I've ever had," she laughed.
They can't stop cracking up at this! That's not how you feel about people you think are the worst threat to America since the 9/11 terrorists.

Campos-Duffy tried to end the segment on a serious note:
"Well, but tucked in it is something really important, which is these guys are violent," she said. "Maybe you need Donald Trump to make sure those guys are out of the country."

"So that's also tucked into that message. It's brilliant."
But the laughter says it all. This isn't about dangerous, evil predators.l This is about establishing who's boss. It's about forcing these people to fight for their overlords' entertainment, because that's the natural order of things.

Saturday, June 22, 2024


One of Donald Trump's ongoing complaints about his time in the White House is that aides and staffers wouldn't always do exactly what he ordered them to do. David Graham reported a few examples in 2019:
Sometimes aides didn’t want to follow orders that would require them to lie—as when Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein refused to say that firing FBI Director James Comey was his idea. At other times, they resisted orders that would violate government guidelines, as when then–Attorney General Jeff Sessions refused to cancel his recusal on Russia-related matters. And in some cases, they refused to do things to protect Trump from his own worst impulses, as when then–Chief of Staff Reince Priebus told the president he’d ask Sessions to resign, but just didn’t do it.

The acme, or the nadir, of noncompliance came from former White House Counsel Don McGahn, who first refused to fire [special counsel Robert] Mueller and then refused to write a letter denying that he had refused to fire Mueller. Told he might be fired, he was defiant: “McGahn dismissed the threat, saying that the optics would be terrible if the President followed through with firing him on that basis.” McGahn was right, and he wasn’t fired then.
We're told that this won't be a problem if Trump wins again -- he intends to employ only loyalists in his second administration. But will that really be the case?

Maybe not. Rolling Stone's Asawin Suebsaeng and Adam Rawnsley report that Trump insiders have pushed back on one of Trump's personnel preferences:
Earlier this year, Trump offered far-right conservative activist Laura Loomer a job on his campaign, but the campaign quickly rescinded the offer after some senior staff bristled at the idea of bringing her on board.

“Take it from me, President Trump’s campaign is the only place in the political world where you can be hired for a job by the man himself in his office and then find out later that you actually won’t be hired due to intervention or sabotage from staff. It’s a situation that is unique to Trumpworld,” Loomer tells Rolling Stone....

Since the incident first leaked to The New York Times in April, Trump has on multiple occasions expressed his desire to have Loomer in a second administration, according to two sources familiar with the situation. Still, decidedly mixed feelings among his campaign officials persist.
In addition to that, here's a story in three headlines:
* The New York Times: "Trump Says He Would Give Green Cards to All Foreign College Students at Graduation"

* Politico: "Trump Keeps Flip-Flopping His Policy Positions After Meeting with Rich People"

* The New Republic: "Trump’s Surprising Promise to Immigrants Quickly Retracted by Campaign"
As the New Republic story explains, immigrant hard-liner Trump recently made a not-so-hard-line campaign promise:
Donald Trump made a very interesting immigration proposal on a podcast released Thursday: giving green cards to all foreign college graduates in the United States....

Appearing with right-wing tech baron David Sacks on the All-In podcast, Trump said he would implement the proposal helping international students if he returns to the White House.... the statement came after one of the other podcast hosts, investor Jason Calcanis, asked him to “promise us you will give us more ability to import the best and brightest around the world to America.”

“I do promise, but I happen to agree,” Trump said, and added that “what I will do is—you graduate from a college, I think you should get automatically, as part of your diploma, a green card to be able to stay in this country, and that includes junior colleges.”
How did that happen? Politico explains:
Donald Trump privately hinted at a shift in immigration policy at a Business Roundtable meeting last week. He told the group “we need brilliant people” in this country, according to one of the attendees, who was granted anonymity to describe a private meeting. And when he talked about finding ways to keep American-educated talent at home, some top CEOs, like Apple’s Tim Cook, were seen nodding their heads.

... there is plainly a pattern of Trump aligning his political stances with the views of wealthy donors and business interests.
But as The New Republic notes, Trump's own campaign opposes this blanket green card grant:
... Trump’s campaign press secretary, Karoline Leavitt, walked back the plan hours later, issuing a statement to The New York Times that it would include an “aggressive vetting process,” excluding “all communists, radical Islamists, Hamas supporters, America haters and public charges.” She added that the plan would only include the “most skilled graduates who can make significant contributions to America.”
The fact that Trump once again might be prevented from ruling as a dictator could be good news -- but it's likely to be very bad news. The last time around, Trump was constrained by institutionalists and people who respected the rule of law. This time, he might be at odds with staffers who are more extreme than he is, staffers whose revenge agenda is ideological rather than personal.

What I mean is that Trump wants to be president for personal reasons -- he wants to be powerful again, he wants to free himself from the legal cases against him, he wants to hurt his enemies, he wants to act on his own personal prejudices, and he wants to collect bribes and emoluments. His likely future staffers want to make America unrecognizable in a right-wing, Christian nationalist, permanently authoritarian way. Trump just wants to make himself the king of the world for four years, or eight years, or for the rest of his life. His future staffers want to neuter liberals and moderates in every part of America -- the government, the media, academia, popular culture, business -- and they want their kind to run the country forever.

I've expressed the hope that perhaps Trump won't be fully on board witrh the counter-revolutionaries' agenda and won't help them implement it as readily as they hope he will. But it's also possible that they'll have the upper hand, and when they're in conflict with Trump, they'll win.

That would be very, very bad for America. If Trump wins, we should actually hope that his narcissism sets the tone for his administration. The alternative -- control by the satff -- would be much worse.

Friday, June 21, 2024


I keep re-reading this New York magazine post by CNN analyst and former prosecutor Elie Honig in the hope that I'm missing something obvious, because if I'm not, then Honig is clearly the most naive person in the media and would be the worst possible person to negotiate anything.

Honig writes:
During oral argument on Donald Trump’s presidential-immunity claim back in January, District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Florence Pan posed this hypothetical: “Could a president who ordered SEAL Team Six to assassinate a political rival [and] who was not impeached, would he be subject to criminal prosecution?”

Trump’s attorney John Sauer — Rhodes Scholar, Harvard Law School grad, Supreme Court clerk, former solicitor general of Missouri — gave this astonishing answer: “If he were impeached and convicted first.” Pan incisively replied, “So your answer is ‘no.’” Sauer tried to recast his response as a “qualified ‘yes,’” but the damage was done. The hypothetical resurfaced during Supreme Court oral arguments with a bit of additional hedging by Trump’s team, but their bottom-line position remained mostly unchanged.

Sauer’s answer to the SEAL Team Six question, on Trump’s behalf, is wrong, reckless, and self-defeating. It’s also entirely unnecessary to the argument he needed to make and to how the Supreme Court will likely rule.
Any idiot can see what Sauer was trying to do there, right? He was trying to make an outrageously maximalist case for Trump's immunity from prosecution, so when a majority of the justices on the Court give Trump a great deal of immunity, they'll be seen as making a moderate decision. He's moving the Overton window -- or you could say he's just starting a process of dealmaking with an outrageous ask, as dealmakers routinely do.

Honig can't possibly fail to grasp this, can he? Can he?

Yes, he can:
Here’s a better answer, which Trump’s team could and should have given: “Of course, a president who ordered SEAL Team Six to assassinate a political rival can be indicted. In fact, this scenario helpfully illustrates our point. The relevant question is whether the charged conduct is within or beyond the outer perimeter of the president’s official job. Obviously, an assassination plot would fall outside and the president would not be immune. But we maintain here that some of the conduct charged against our client was within the scope of the president’s job and therefore entitled to protection from prosecution.”
So Honig believes that Sauer -- who, like a majority of the justices on the Supreme Court, is affiliated with the Federalist Society, and thus will be recognized by those justices as someone who's on their team -- should have started the bidding by asking for exactly what his client would settle for, instead of asking for more. That's how Honig thinks this works.
When, any day now, the Supreme Court rules on criminal immunity, bank on this: The justices will not permit a scenario in which a president can put a hit on a political rival and evade prosecution.
Probably not.
Indeed, the Supreme Court can — and I believe will — firmly reject Trump’s SEAL Team Six response but still establish a more limited (and more sane) variation of presidential immunity.
I think it will be more limited, though I don't think it will be "sane." I expect the justices to give Trump a tremendous amount of immunity, stopping just short of saying he can lawfully order the assassination of a political rival. And they're counting on that to look like a reasonable decision in part because Trump and his legal team had such an unreasonable ask.

Does Elie Honig serioudly not understand this? Is this the best the mainstream media can do for legal commentary?

Thursday, June 20, 2024


No separation of church and state, please -- we're Republicans:
Louisiana has become the first state to require that the Ten Commandments be displayed in every public school classroom....

The legislation that Republican Gov. Jeff Landry signed into law on Wednesday requires a poster-sized display of the Ten Commandments in “large, easily readable font” in all public classrooms, from kindergarten to state-funded universities.

... the governor signed the bill into law at Our Lady of Fatima Catholic School in Lafayette on Wednesday....
A Catholic school seems like an odd choice for this signing ceremony.

So, even within Christianity, the Ten Commandments aren't precisely the same across traditions — the text is translated and even *numbered* differently. This law appears to mandate the KJV version — a Bible translation entire Christian traditions reject.

[image or embed]

— Jack Jenkins ( Jun 19, 2024 at 3:58 PM

Jenkins is right. The text of the bill includes the prescribed version of the Ten Commandments, and it's not the version I grew up with as a Catholic child. The Catholic Ten Commandments don't include "Thou shalt not make to thyself any graven images" or any other translation of this passage. As a result, the commandments that follow are numbered differently, and Catholics have two "covet" commandments rather than one.

Remember, Louisiana is 22% Catholic (according to the Public Religion Research Institute), or perhaps 26% Catholic (according to Pew). So this isn't just Christianity being imposed on the state's Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, atheists, and so on -- it's also Protestantism being imposed on Catholics.

The American impulse to display the (Protestant) Ten Commandments got a huge boost from Hollywood in 1956, when Paramount Pictures released Cecil B. DeMille's film The Ten Commandments. Among those recruited to endorse the film was a judge in Minnesota:
In the 1940s, wishing to avoid sentencing to a juvenile reformatory a teenage boy who had stolen a car, Judge E.J. Ruegemer instructed the boy to find and keep a copy of the Ten Commandments. Inspired by the eventual success of this alternative sentence, Judge Ruegemer began distributing copies of the Commandments nationally through the Fraternal Order of Eagles, of which he was a member, starting in 1951. The F.O.E. distributed 100,000 printed copies of the Commandments and 250,000 copies of a comic book called “On Eagle’s Wings” promoting the organization’s belief in the transformative power of learning about the Commandments.

In 1956, DeMille contacted Ruegemer with hopes of using the judge’s service project to help promote his epic film. Funded in part by publicity money from Paramount, DeMille and Ruegemer ordered granite monuments with the Commandments engraved on them to be placed in front of courthouses and in public parks across the country.... DeMille often sent stars from the film to the dedications....

Several of the monuments still exist around the country, although some were removed as part of community and judicial conflicts over the separation of church and state. In 2005, the Supreme Court case found the F.O.E. monuments constitutional, in a case involving one of the monuments that was placed on the grounds of the Texas state capitol.
It's not clear whether this campaign inspired Roy Moore:
In 2001 ... Judge Roy Moore, the newly-elected Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Alabama, commissioned a 5,280 pound granite monument to the Ten Commandments. In violation of United States Supreme Court statutes, he placed it inside the rotunda of the state court building. As with the F.O.E. sculptures, inscribed on the monument were passages from the Declaration of Independence, the national anthem, and other writings central to the founding of the United States.
Judge Ruegemer thought he'd influebnced Moore.
Judge Ruegemer saw a connection, however, between his own and DeMille’s work to promote the Commandments, and the Commandments, and Judge Moore’s monument. In an interview he gave to the Minneapolis Star Tribune in 2003 at the age of 101, Ruegemer stated that, “You could say this big mess in Alabama, where the judge refused to obey a federal court order to remove the Ten Commandments, you could say that all started with that 16-year-old St. Cloud boy.”
So the publicity campaign for a movie released at a time of anxiety about communism, juvenile delinquency, and other real or imagined threats to the American way of life became part of our now apparently permanent culture war. Obviously there will be court battles over this law. I assume that the federal judiciary Leonard Leo has created will use the battles to declare that, yes, separation of church and state is a myth, or maybe that this isn't really the establishment of religion, or that establishment of religion is fine as long as only the states do it. But I hope I'm wrong.

Wednesday, June 19, 2024


What do Democrats want? An economy that work for all people, not just the rich. A justice system that's fair to everyone. Equal rights for all regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation. A way out of the climate crisis. An end to the gun violence epidemic. Affordable healthcare. Affordable housing. And on and on.

What do Republicans want?


As The Bulwark's Jonathan Last notes, Trumpers aren't driven by the pursuit of justice for themselves, because their lives are pretty sweet:
Most revolutions are borne of dissatisfaction. Some revolutions are motivated by ethnic or religious hatreds. Every once in a while, you get a revolution propelled by a belief that something better lies on the other side....

The Trumpian revolution, on the other hand, seems to be the product of decadent boredom commingled with casual nihilism.

Circumstances for our revolutionaries have never been better. They are so flush that they parade on their boats. And fly upside-down flags outside of their million-dollar suburban homes. And put stickers depicting a hogtied president on their $75,000 pickup trucks. All while posting angry memes to Facebook on their $1,000 iPhones.

We are not talking about les misérables Américains.
Many Democrats are comfortable and fortunate but want to improve conditions for people who aren't like themselves. But there's no evidence that privileged Republicans want to help anyone who's not in their tribe. The central point of Republicanism is precisely that people who aren't in your tribe are unworthy of basic rights and decent treatment. They shouldn't have health insurance if they're working shit jobs with no benefits. They shouldn't be treated decently by the cops. It's intolerable if beer companies, department stores, and Hollywood studios sometimes market to them, even if they usually market to other groups.

Republicans are driven by spite -- and that makes a Republican politician's job much easier than a Democrat's. It's hard to fight for economic and social justice -- vested interests will fight back with all the power they have, so it's hard to win more than partial victories that leave genuine justice elusive.

Spite is much easier -- and even a partial victory in pursuit of spite feels satisfying to spiteful voters. Donald Trump didn't need to build his entire wall in order to satisfy his base -- just building part of it angered Democrats, and that was spiteful enough. The mere fact that Trump ran and won the nomination in 2024 is satisfyingly spiteful for Republicans. Every day that he remains in the race, especially after four indictments and a felony conviction, is pure spite. And his ongoing campaign to discredit the results of the 2020 election is also seen by his base as a welcome act of spite.

Trump doesn't really have to do anything if he's elected president in order to satisfy his voters -- just being elected, fairly or otherwise, spites us. Everything he does to us, or to people whose lives we think should be made better, is satisfying spite, even if a court rolls it back. And he doesn't have to do any of the big things on his agenda if small, easy things make us angry.

This isn't purely a Trump phenomenon. Nearly every Republican makes owning the libs a priority, and lib-owning alone can make a Republican politician seem like a success in office. Whereas Joe Biden looks like a failure if his supporters are in any way dissatisfied with the economy, the war in Gaza, the degree of homeless or crime in America....

In other words, it's much easier to be a Republican politician, as long as you concentrate on spite.

Tuesday, June 18, 2024


Michelle Goldberg's latest column is about the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor in Indiana, who is so far right he makes Mike Braun, the very conservative gubernatorial nominee, uncomfortable.
... after the Republican convention this weekend, the influential conservative lawyer James Bopp Jr. wrote, in a confidential memo obtained by Politico’s Adam Wren, that there’s a “serious threat” to the party’s nominee for governor, Senator Mike Braun.

That threat is Micah Beckwith, a Pentecostal pastor, podcaster and self-described Christian nationalist who was just chosen, despite Braun’s wishes, to be his running mate.
Here's are just a few of Beckwith's public pronouncements:
The day after the Jan. 6 insurrection, Beckwith said that God had told him: “Micah, I sent those riots to Washington. What you saw yesterday was my hand at work.” He’s said that the “progressive left has taken over the Republican Party in Indiana,” and promised that if he wins, he’ll be a thorn in the side to the governor.
Before his victory this weekend, Beckwith was probably best known for leading a campaign to purge the young-adult shelves at the Hamilton East Public Library, where he was a board member until January. (He resigned after a policy he’d promoted, which removed books that included sex, violence or repeated profanity from a section for teenagers, was reversed.)
During that fight, Beckwith made an enemy of John Green, author of the massive bestseller The Fault in Our Stars, which Beckwith sought to remove from the Young Adult section of the library. But there's a lot more ideological extremism where that came from, as I'll explain below.

Goldberg sees the political rise of figures like Beckwith as a consequence of Trumpism:
I’ve written about this in Minnesota, where delegates to the state convention endorsed the Alex Jones acolyte Royce White for Senate, and in Colorado, where the state party recently called for the burning of Pride flags. Cadres of true believers inspired by Donald Trump, and by the religious movement that sees him as divinely ordained, are seizing the party from the bottom up, much to the consternation of more traditional Republicans who thought they could indulge the MAGA movement without being overtaken by it.
But Trump shouldn't get all the blame. Another factor at work here is the replacement of ordinary news outlets with social media sites as the main source of information (or "information") for much of the country. Trump was a Twitter ranter for years before he became a politcal candidate, but while a great deal of right-wing social-media discourse is bellicose in a Trumpian way, there's also an emphasis on memes that's largely independent of Trump. Right-wing meme culture has many influences other than Trump: Alex Jones, QAnon, and Fox News, to name three. Younger right-wingers such as Charlie Kirk and Ben Shapiro pump memes into the discourse every day. Crackpot cartoonists such as Ben Garrison do the same. This culture would exist even if Trump had never entered politics, and it will outlive Trump.

Beckwith loves memes. Nearly everything he posts on Facebook and Instagram is a meme. The memes cover a range of topics, including at least one topic on which Beckwith is at odds with Trump (vaccines), but there are some common threads: The enemy (us) is unspeakably evil, on par with the worst villains in human history. Powerful people are in a massive conspiracy to conceal plain truth. And each meme is presented as a perfect nugget of wit and incontrovertible truth -- anyone who tries to refute it is obviously dull-witted and stuck in the Matrix.

Here are some examples from Beckwith's social media:

The future of the Republican Party will be in the hands of people who only think about political issues at this superficial, us-good-them-bad level. The party eventually won't have a "governing wing." It will be focused on pure revenge. And yet it will run possibly half the states in the union, and probably the federal bench, while it's also able to win the White House and Congress.

That is, unless Democrats focus voters' attention on the moral and intellectual bankruptcy of this party, and learn to push back against "Democrats are the embodiment of pure evil" messaging. I hope I live to see that happen. But I'm not sure any of us will.