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‘Breyer Retire’ Campaign Looms Over Democrats

TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Biden Makes Border Moves
      •  Biden Set to Catch an Economic Wave
      •  Republicans Get Ready to Dust off the Filibuster
      •  Hawley Rakes It In
      •  More Senate Candidates Announce Themselves
      •  Republicans Institute a Military Draft
      •  Now, This Is Someone Who Could Make Newsom Sweat

Biden Makes Border Moves

Things are not great along the southern border right now. As is generally the case around this time of year, the number of people (and, more specifically, the number of unaccompanied minors) trying to enter the U.S. has surged, far beyond the housing and staffing capacities of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). Joe Biden didn't ask for this problem, and he had little to do with creating the problem, but it's nonetheless up to him to address the problem.

On Monday, the White House revealed details of its approach to the border. In a mask-free gathering held in the White House Rose Garden, the President said his administration is going to build a "big, beautiful wall" along the Mexican border. Further, and in an added bonus, it will be paid for by the Mexican government. Win-win!

Oops, wait. It would appear our sources were out of date. Apparently, that was the last guy's plan. The new guy's plan actually has three elements to it (at least, three elements that have been publicly announced). The first is that Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala have agreed to more aggressively secure their borders, using military personnel. This means that fewer people—and, in particular, fewer children—will undertake the risky trip, subjecting themselves both to the elements and to various criminal enterprises that lurk along the way. It also means fewer people for CBP to deal with, of course.

The second element is an extensive radio advertising campaign that has been launched in Latin America. The U.S. has already aired nearly 30,000 commercial spots across 133 different stations. The ads are in Spanish, Portuguese, and six different indigenous languages and feature dialog like this:

Juan: Listen, Pedro. I want to go to the United States in a caravan and take one of my youngest kids because then it's easier to cross the border.

Pedro: What are you talking about, Juan? That's pure nonsense. Haven't you seen the news? Even if you go in a caravan, they can rob you, kidnap you, or you could even lose your life. And even a greater risk of contracting the coronavirus. Don't put your kids' lives at risk based on false hopes.

Shakespeare, it ain't, but presumably it gets the job done. This messaging is also being propagated on social media.

The third element of the plan—and this is where VP Kamala Harris is taking a leading role—is to provide funding to create jobs and retrain workers in Central American countries. The idea here is presumably obvious: If people don't have a desperate need to leave their home nation, due to poverty and chronic joblessness, they won't.

In short, the plan is pragmatic, as humanitarian as is possible, and doesn't involve one iota of input from Stephen Miller. Seems like a pretty good starting point to us.

Of course, we're not experts in border policy. Someone who is an expert is Chris Magnus, who has been running law enforcement in Tucson, AZ, for the last 5 years. Given that Tucson is just 75 miles from the border, and is the largest city in Arizona to be in the vicinity of the border, Magnus has some experience with immigration policy, and was an outspoken critic of the Trump approach. He likes the Biden approach, which works out well, because the President just nominated Magnus to lead CBP. Magnus is progressive enough on border policy to keep Democrats happy, but conservative enough (he dislikes "sanctuary cities," for example) that he should get some GOP votes in the Senate. When and if he is confirmed, he'll obviously take a leading role in implementing the Biden border strategy. (Z)

Biden Set to Catch an Economic Wave

Many times, we have observed that presidents generally get far too much credit for a strong economy, and far too much blame for a bad economy. A few times, we have also made the more specific observation that the economic pins are really set up for Joe Biden to knock down. According to the folks whose job it is to read the economic tea leaves, it would seem we're about to be proven doubly correct.

To start, the International Monetary Fund is pleased as punch with the $1.9 trillion that is about to be dumped into the economy thanks to Biden's COVID-19 relief bill. The IMF projects that the U.S. economy will return to its pre-pandemic size, as it experiences 6.4% growth in 2021. Note that the highest figure for the Trump era was 2.93% in 2018, and the last time growth was above 6% was in 1984, when it reached 7.24% under Ronald Reagan. The IMF also estimates that the U.S. economy will take the world economy along for the ride, with 6% growth worldwide and trillions of dollars of growth globally.

One downside to this sort of growth, of course, is inflation. However, a new analysis from Politico suggests that likely won't be a major problem. Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell and Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen (herself a former Fed Chair) believe that the nation now has the tools and the knowledge to keep inflation under control, pointing out that inflation has averaged a little less than 2% over the last 25 years. The Chair and the Secretary also observe that the double-digit inflation of the 1970s was triggered by phenomena that have no modern analogs, including oil embargoes, wage and price caps, and the end of the silver standard.

And, as Politico points out, even if there is inflation, it's not likely to hit hard for many years. So it wouldn't be on Biden's watch, it would be on the watch of the next guy or gal. For example, the inflation resulting from spending on the Great Society of the mid-1960s did not manifest until 1973-74. So, any Biden inflation (Bidenflation?) wouldn't hit until 2028 or so.

Donald Trump spent all four of his years in office bragging about how great he'd made the economy. That was mostly bluster, since the economy was merely good and not great, and even that was largely due to non-Trump factors. Still, if not for COVID-19, it probably would have been enough to win him a second term. Biden and the Democrats look to have an even better economy heading into 2022 (and probably 2024). How much of the credit they deserve, and how much was dumb luck, is open to discussion. Nonetheless, the blue team will take it and run with it, while pointing out that the GOP was unwilling to lift a single finger (or give a single vote) to help boost the economy. That may just be enough to allow the Democrats to hold the House in next year's midterms. (Z)

Republicans Get Ready to Dust off the Filibuster

For all the talk of the filibuster, and its possible elimination, the Republicans haven't actually used it since the Democrats took over the Senate. That is due primarily to lack of opportunity, since the business that has been before the Senate so far has been largely unfilibusterable (the reconciliation bill, confirmations, etc.).

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is a wily operator, and so he's about to give Senate Republicans their first potential bite at the filibuster apple. Or maybe we should say filibuster crab apple, because it's going to be a bitter, unpleasant bite if the Republicans take it. The bill in question, written by Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI), is a response to the recent spike in COVID-related hate crimes against Asian Americans. It would task an official in the Justice Department with reviewing these incidents, would provide more guidance for law enforcement on how to cope with hate crimes, and would ask federal agencies to draft guidelines about how to avoid racially discriminatory language when describing the pandemic.

Although there are some valid critiques to be made of the bill (Why the laser focus on COVID?), there are three primary reasons, one of them official and two of them unofficial, that Republicans oppose the bill. The official reason is that they don't like giving the government too much power to police speech (unless playing the national anthem is involved). The first unofficial reason is that the GOP doesn't particularly like to acknowledge that racism still exists or is still a problem, since that is not what the base wants to hear. The second unofficial reason is that Donald Trump is as guilty as anyone when it comes to linking COVID-19 and Asians, which means the bill would be a big poke in his eye, and would surely set him off.

Anyhow, Senate Republicans can swallow hard, accept all these downsides, and let the bill proceed. Or they can filibuster, and then have the Democrats declare: "Look! The Republicans can't even agree that hate crimes against Asian Americans are a bad thing!" This would also give that much more cover for changing or limiting the filibuster. We shall soon learn what Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and his colleagues decide. (Z)

Hawley Rakes It In

Last week, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene reported that she brought in a staggering $3.2 million in donations in the first quarter of 2021. Yesterday, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO)—the Senate's answer to Greene—released his take for Q1, and it is almost as impressive. In fact, it is almost the same amount: $3 million.

There is a lesson here, we think, but perhaps not the one that you might anticipate. Our lesson is that fundraising is no longer a very useful tool for assessing a candidate's electoral hopes. There was a time, for many decades, when outraising one's opponent(s) corresponded fairly well with an increased chance of victory. But for a number of reasons, that time has clearly passed.

To start, it is not all that easy to turn money into votes anymore. The media landscape is vastly more fragmented than it once was, and people are very good at avoiding or tuning out advertisements. In 2020, just to take one example, Joe Biden's campaign spent about $14.85 for every vote he got, and Donald Trump's campaign spent about $11.20 per vote. And most of those votes, of course, would have gone to those candidates without any spending at all. So, the cost of actually "creating" an extra vote (either by getting someone to the polls who otherwise would not have voted, or by flipping a vote) is on the order of $500. At that rate, Hawley's $3 million is enough to buy...6,000 votes. Not a whole lot in a state where 2.5 million people show up to vote in Senate races.

A second issue is that, 10 or 20 or 30 years ago, nearly all donated money came from local sources. So, if a candidate collected a huge pile of cash, it usually meant that the people who would be voting for that person were excited about them. However, with the rise of ActBlue, WinRed, and other Internet fundraising options, anyone in the country can easily chip in a few bucks (or a few hundred bucks). This dynamic fooled us (and others) in 2020, as vast amounts of outside money made Democrats like Sara Gideon (Maine), Jaime Harrison (South Carolina), and Amy McGrath (Kentucky) appear to be more viable than they actually were.

And finally, the third issue is that there is a whole industry devoted to identifying and squeezing potential donors. The services of these donor prospectors cost money, sometimes a lot of it. Hawley engaged at least one donor prospecting firm, and possibly more, and is refusing to say how much he paid them. "I took in $3 million!" sounds pretty good. "I took in $3 million, but it cost me $2.2 million to do it!" sounds less good.

Fundraising tallies remain interesting, and they may be relevant at the macro level, but there are just too many moving pieces these days to use them as a proxy for judging a candidate's electoral chances. (Z)

More Senate Candidates Announce Themselves

It's a mere 18 months until the 2022 elections, and it takes time to mount a proper campaign, especially for a U.S. Senate seat. So, 'tis the season for would-be senators to announce their intentions (or their possible intentions) to run.

To start, former North Carolina governor Pat McCrory (R) is expected to formally toss his hat in the ring this week, in hopes of winning the seat that Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) is about to vacate. The good news for McCrory is that he's polling way ahead of the other two Republican politicians who have expressed serious interest in a run: Rep. Ted Budd and former representative Mark Walker. The bad news for McCrory is that Lara Trump could enter the race and wreck his chances. The other bad news for him is that he was so unpopular as governor that he was run out of town on a rail. Will Tar Heel State voters have forgiven and forgotten in the 6 years thereafter? McCrory is certainly hoping so.

The other notable would-be Senate candidate to step forward this week is Democrat Charles Booker, who has formed an exploratory committee as he considers a run in Kentucky. If he enters the race, and if he lands the Democratic nomination, then he'd be facing off against Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY). On one hand, an outspoken progressive Black man hardly seems the ideal candidate for the Bluegrass State. On the other hand, the Democrats have run a series of moderate white candidates in the last few cycles—Jack Conway, Alison Lundergan Grimes, Jim Gray, and Amy McGrath, from least to most recent—and have gotten nowhere. So, it certainly can't hurt to mix things up and try something different. Besides, the Democrats have little to lose trying.

However, it is worth noting that Kentucky is not Georgia, which just elected a Black senator (Raphael Warnock). About 60% of Georgians are white and 31% are Black. In Kentucky, 86% of the people are white and 8% are Black. A strategy of getting all the Black vote plus those much-desired suburban housewives isn't going to work. Not only are there fewer Black voters, but the Louisville suburbs are much smaller than the Atlanta suburbs, and to make it worse, some of them are northwest of the Ohio River in Indiana. On the other hand, if Booker can make the contest about class instead of race, Kentucky has a lot of mine workers, tobacco workers, and horse workers who might respond to that. (Z)

Republicans Institute a Military Draft

No, not for a war that they expect to start (or for one they expect Joe Biden to start). The GOP's pooh-bahs have noticed that the Democrats' very successful House cycle was powered, in significant part, by military veterans that the DCCC recruited. And so, the Republican Party is going to try to use the same trick in 2022.

There are already a number of veteran-Republicans in Congress, and those folks are taking the lead in trying to recruit veteran candidates. They are having some success, what with the possibility of retaking the majority, of new (and friendlier) district boundaries, and with Donald Trump not on the ballot. It turns out that some vets didn't particularly want their names to be listed beside his, while others felt that he would be an anchor around their necks.

It is an interesting strategy, although our guess is that a veteran running as a Democrat is more likely to attract independent/moderate votes than a veteran running as a Republican. Put another way, we would speculate that most people who are motivated by veteran status are Republicans by default, and would tend to rethink that only if (1) the GOP candidate is a non-veteran and a stinker, and (2) the Democratic candidate is a veteran and a non-stinker. We'll find out if our guess is right in November of next year. (Z)

Now, This Is Someone Who Could Make Newsom Sweat

We now live in an age when previous political experience is no longer a requirement for high office (and, for many voters, may be seen as a negative). So, it comes as no surprise that a new poll reveals that 46% of Americans would like to see wrestler and actor Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson run for president. He responded to the news thusly:

He's certainly got the "regular guy" bit down pat.

Starting with 46% support is not bad, but so little is known about Johnson's politics that he may have trouble building on that nationally. Indeed, it's not even 100% clear what political party he belongs to; he spoke at the 2000 Republican National Convention, for example, but he also endorsed Joe Biden and Kamala Harris last year.

If Johnson decides he'd like to dip his toes in the politics pond, he has a tempting opportunity to test the waters coming up in California. If there's anyone who is the 2021 version of Arnold Schwarzenegger—fairly young, handsome, charismatic, movie star, popular with the kiddies—it's The Rock. He's a California native, and although he lives in Atlanta these days, the Golden State does not appear to have any residence requirement for gubernatorial candidates (or, to be more accurate, it has one, but the Secretary of State doesn't believe it's legal and doesn't intend to enforce it). Johnson has given no indication he plans to enter the race, but if he does, he is head and shoulders more viable than Caitlyn Jenner, Richard Grenell, or any of the other challengers the GOP has put forward. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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