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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Afghanistan War to End Later This Year
      •  Biden Will Address Congress Later This Month
      •  Pence for President?
      •  A Different Argument for Making it Harder to Vote
      •  2020 Democratic Pollsters: Oops!
      •  Summer Olympics Could Become a Political Football, Too

Afghanistan War to End Later This Year

The United States military has been fighting in Afghanistan for 19½ years. Some sources will tell you that makes it the country's longest war, just outlasting the Vietnam War (1955-75). Joe Biden has determined that the May 1 deadline for withdrawal negotiated by the Trump administration is too aggressive, but he also doesn't want the U.S. to remain beyond the 20 year mark. And so, the White House announced that the 3,500 troops remaining in Afghanistan will be withdrawn by Sept. 11 of this year.

Predictably, Republicans reacted badly to this news, treating it as the worst foreign policy mistake since appeasement or the Bay of Pigs. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, for example, blasted the decision as "reckless" and said it is "a grave mistake. It is retreat in the face of an enemy that has not yet been vanquished and abdication of American leadership." To the Senator's credit, he said much the same thing when Donald Trump announced his own withdrawal plan last year.

Ultimately, the Biden administration's decision appears to come down to three things:

  1. Although Biden does not want to withdraw too quickly, and create a power vacuum, the May 1 deadline the U.S. already agreed to means that every day American troops remain beyond that date is a provocation for the Taliban. The administration believes that a slightly extended timetable, with a clear schedule for withdrawal, will be tolerated. However, if the U.S. were to unilaterally extend its stay for another year or more, it would cause hostilities to resume in earnest, with all the consequences that entails, including more dead American soldiers.

  2. The U.S. has been in Afghanistan for nearly two decades, and has made little progress in changing the status quo there for the last 5-10 years of that. At a certain point, if you're not catching any fish, you have to cut bait.

  3. Since 2001, the global geopolitical picture has changed, and the Taliban is not as high on the list of threats anymore as China, or Russia, or any of half a dozen others. So, the resources being expended in Afghanistan are needed more urgently elsewhere.

As is the case with so many foreign policy decisions, Biden seems to be choosing the least bad option, since there appear to be no good options available. At very least, one can be confident he made the decision in consultation with the experts. We shall see if the administration gets cold feet as the deadline draws near, and also if "total drawdown" ends up meaning "almost total drawdown, but we're still leaving 500 soldiers there."

Incidentally, the actual longest war in U.S. history, whether the good people at Wikipedia recognize it or not, is the war between the U.S. government and the Apache Nation. That war was not declared, but most aren't, including Afghanistan and Vietnam. From 1849 to 1886, a period of nearly 37 years, there were unceasing hostilities between the two parties, with never more than 3 months passing between engagements. (Z)

Biden Will Address Congress Later This Month

Joe Biden is a plainspoken, down-to-earth, grandfatherly white guy who doesn't wear tan suits (anymore), and whose approval rating is consistently in the mid-to-high 50s. Consequently, that has left Republicans with relatively few lines of attack against him. For a few weeks, it was "How come he hasn't held a press conference since becoming president? What's he hiding?" Then Biden held a press conference, and was perfectly presidential. The replacement line of attack was "How come he hasn't addressed a joint session of Congress? What's he hiding?" Donald Trump, for example, went on an extended harangue about it during his various rants this past weekend.

The tradition of making an early visit to Congress to, in effect, shoot the breeze, results from a minor quirk in the American system. By the terms of the Constitution, the president is supposed to update the legislature regularly on the state of the union. Over time, this has evolved into one address per year, usually delivered in January or early February. However, when there is a changeover in the White House, the outgoing president isn't in a position to set the agenda for the upcoming year, while the incoming president isn't in a position to review what's happened in the previous year. In keeping with the "talk to Congress annually" custom, most new presidents find their way to The Hill sometime in their first month in office, but it's neither necessary nor is it considered to be a state of the union address.

In any case, Biden is sensitive to the attacks being made against him, and he generally tries to shut them down when possible. And so, following Trump's tirade this weekend, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) invited the President to speak to Congress on Apr. 28 (two weeks from today) and he accepted. We predict he will talk about COVID-19 and infrastructure. We also predict that Republicans will criticize him for using a teleprompter, despite the fact that Trump used one for every one of his speeches to Congress. Needless to say, it takes years of training and study to be able to make these sorts of incisive predictions. (Z)

Pence for President?

Mike Pence might have been the target of an angry MAGA mob that wanted to kill him. He might be persona non grata at Mar-a-Lago. He might be so unpopular in his home state of Indiana that he was in danger of losing his reelection bid as governor. But when he wakes up in the morning and looks in the mirror, he still sees a future U.S. president. And so, in the past week or so, he's been making all the moves necessary to run in 2024.

Broadly speaking, Pence has been doing everything possible to put his name out there, and to reenter public life. We're talking speeches, op-eds, meet and greets with donors, etc. It's like a second debutante ball. He also established his own PAC, entitled Advancing American Freedom. He must have used the Republican committee name selector:

Pick One from Column 1 Pick One from Column 2 Pick One from Column 3
Advancing Conservative Ideals
Promoting Our Greatness
Advocating American Priorities
Committee for Christian Freedom
Union for Faith and Tradition
Fighting for National Heritage
Celebrating Family Values

In case you couldn't guess, Pence's PAC will, according to a press release: "promote the pro-freedom policies of the last four years that created unprecedented prosperity at home and restored respect for America abroad, to defend those policies from liberal attacks and media distortions, and to prevent the radical Left from enacting its policy agenda that would threaten America's freedom." The former VP is lucky there is no tax on buzzwords.

When Pence isn't out fighting crime, or defeating the commies, or bringing down the liberal media, or whatever it is that he's promising to do, he is sitting at home typing on his computer. He is writing a book. In fact, he is writing two books, for which Simon & Schuster has paid him an advance of more than $3 million. The books will emphasize his Christian faith and public service. In other words, he's got one foot in the Trump lane and one foot in the Christian lane.

The first book will be about his time as vice president. This could be tricky for him. If it is a boring book about how wonderful the Donald is, with no news and no scandals, it could be soporific and not sell well. If it's more hard-hitting, it could alienate the base. The second book will be about the rest of his life. Of course, as long as the advance is guaranteed no matter what the sales are, Pence is probably happy and won't be horribly disappointed if the books don't sell well. They might do ok with evangelicals, however.

So, is Pence deluding himself here with all of this presidential maneuvering? Maybe not. It's possible, first of all, that the whole presidential run is really just a put-on to sell books and/or to land the former Veep a plum spot on Fox News or as Rush Limbaugh's replacement. But let us assume that he legitimately thinks he can mount a serious presidential bid. Let's try to make the case that is not totally crazy.

To start, and as we have written before, would-be presidential candidates have to commit to a theory of where the electorate will be in 3 years (or so) and go with that. Pence's theory is that Trump himself will not only not be running, but that his relevance to the Republican Party will be much diminished. The former Veep is clearly hoping to build a movement of (mostly) traditional Republicans, and ideally to attract a smattering of Trumpists. He's not going to get the fanatics who stormed the Capitol, of course, but maybe some of the less hardcore folks will appreciate that Pence backed Trump loyally right up until there was talk of insurrection.

In terms of numbers, Pence has undoubtedly taken notice that Trump had the backing of only 55% of voters in the recent CPAC straw poll, despite the fact that Trump spoke at the event, that it was held in his backyard, and that it was basically a festival of Trump lovers. The obvious conclusion here is that even the base's fondness for Trump (or, at least, its enthusiasm for another presidential run) is waning.

Meanwhile, the former Veep also knows that he remains relatively popular among Republican voters. The most recent poll to ask about Pence, from Politico/Morning Consult reveals that 76% of Republicans still have a favorable view of him. Further, when Republican voters were asked whom they would vote for if the 2024 primary were held immediately, these were the results:

Candidate Support
Donald Trump 53%
Mike Pence 12%
Nikki Haley 6%
Donald Trump Jr. 6%
Wouldn't Vote 5%
Mitt Romney 4%
Ted Cruz 4%
Someone Else 3%
Marco Rubio 2%
Mike Pompeo 2%
Josh Hawley 1%
Tom Cotton 1%
Tim Scott 1%
Kristi Noem 1%
Larry Hogan 1%
Rick Scott 0%

Since Pence's aspirations are predicated on the Trumps staying out of the 2024 race, he assumes that he'd inherit some chunk of the 59% currently going to the Donalds Trump. That, plus the 12% support Pence is already getting, plus his overwhelming name recognition, could be enough to triumph in a crowded primary field. Republican primary contests are often winner-takes-all (or winner-takes-a-lot), and if Pence can claim 25%-30% of the vote, that might be enough to outdistance his competition, particularly if they are primarily fighting for the hardcore Trumpist vote.

All of this said, this is the most positive Pence spin that one can plausibly put together. The fact is that there are also a lot of chinks in Pence's (holy) armor. His poor relationship with Trump is a serious problem, as Trump might run just to spite his former VP. And if Trump doesn't run, he'll be working to undermine Pence at every turn. The Donald's relevance might be much reduced by 2024, but it won't be zero. Further, the list of candidates above does not include Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL), who is clearly emerging as a favored Trump alternative. In the CPAC vote, DeSantis was far and away the strongest non-Trump finisher, with 21% support. Pence, for his part, collected just 1%.

And even if Pence somehow makes it past Trump and the primaries, he's unelectable in the general election, where his liabilities are enormous. To wit:

  • In the minds of Democrats and independents, Pence will always be associated with Trump, regardless of what happened on Jan. 6. Meanwhile, the hardcore Trumpers would just stay home on Election Day or write in a name, if it was Pence-Biden or Pence-Some other Democrat. Though Pence is doing ok with registered Republicans, his favorability rating with the overall electorate is just 41%. There just aren't enough votes there to cobble together a winning coalition, even with an assist from the Electoral College.

  • Beyond his Trumpy associations, Pence has his own liabilities, not the least of which is that he's way out of step with the mainstream on issues of sex and sexuality. He backed harsh anti-LGBTQ legislation and anti-abortion legislation while governor of Indiana. He also has that "I won't dine alone with a woman" policy that makes him seem odd and creepy to many voters, and would be fodder for roughly one million late-night monologue jokes.

  • Personal appearance shouldn't matter, but it does, and Pence is an odd-looking man. Many years ago, Thomas Dewey was badly damaged by the observation that he looked like the "little man on a wedding cake" (this has been attributed to Alice Roosevelt, though she denied it). In any event, Pence has a look that is eerily similar in terms of its plasticine qualities. And if not the little man on a wedding cake, then possibly a lawn gnome.

  • In theory, Pence's base would be religious types, particularly evangelicals. But he's not actually that popular among them, as some see him as a sellout and others see him as a fanatic. His approval among evangelicals is just 53%, and among Christians in general is just 51%.

In short, as Pence entertains his presidential dreams, he's not as delusional as, say, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX). If you squint just right, you can build a case that Pence has a lane and a chance to rise above the Republican field. But there are serious problems there, and then there's simply no case to be made that he can win in the general. (Z & V)

A Different Argument for Making it Harder to Vote

Anyone who has followed the saga of the red-state voting laws, which we might have written about once or twice, knows the official justification that is offered for such laws: They prevent voter fraud. At a glance, this seems reasonable. Once you take more than a glance, however, you learn that the sort of voter fraud we're talking about here is basically nonexistent. Further, "prevent voter fraud!" might make sense when it comes to voter ID, but it is a pretty bad fit as an explanation for, say, "you can't give water to people waiting in line to vote" or "we just can't have early voting on Sundays anymore."

There is an alternate justification available, however. And, as a bonus, it's a justification that the authors of the Constitution believed in, and even implemented (at least for a while). That argument, in brief, is: Only "competent" voters should be voting. For the founders, that meant "well-to-do property owners who have a vested stake in the system." However, it could be defined in other ways. For example, National Review seems to have decided that they like this tack better than they like the "prevent fraud" tack, and so they just published three articles headlined "Major League Baseball and the Voting-Rights Con," "Why Not Fewer Voters?," and "Not Everyone Should Be Made to Vote."

The basic thesis of the three pieces is captured by this passage from the first of the trio, by Andrew C. McCarthy:

It would be far better if the franchise were not exercised by ignorant, civics-illiterate people, hypnotized by the flimflam that a great nation needs to be fundamentally transformed rather than competently governed. Left to their own devices, many such people would not even take note of elections, much less go through the effort to register and vote.
The second article, by Kevin D. Williamson, builds on this, making the connection to the founders explicit:
Voters—individually and in majorities—are as apt to be wrong about things as right about them, often vote from low motives such as bigotry and spite, and very often are contentedly ignorant. That is one of the reasons why the original constitutional architecture of this country gave voters a narrowly limited say in most things and took some things—freedom of speech, freedom of religion, etc.—off the voters' table entirely.

At this point, many readers might be saying to themselves: "No voters who are ignorant, civics-illiterate, swayed by flimflammery, and prone to bigotry and spite? Well, there goes most of Donald Trump's base—sign me up!" But that is not what the authors, who have no apparent sense of irony, had in mind. The third piece, by Dan McLaughlin, explains exactly which voters he and his colleagues are talking about: "The theory of what Democrats and progressives urge is that they particularly want the votes of the subset of people (mostly younger voters) who are unwilling or unable to plan ahead, and can be swept into the voting booth on a momentary enthusiasm without deliberation or reflection."

This is, of course, a silly and dangerous argument. Americans spent the better part of 200 years figuring out that democracy means that every adult deserves to have a voice in determining who governs. Citizens are not less affected by the actions of the government because they happen to be poor, or uneducated, or lazy, or whatever other thing "disqualifies" them as worthy voters. Further, as all three authors above know full well, the people who make the rules about worthy vs. unworthy voters conveniently tend to create a system that favors voters who are...just like them. It is no coincidence that the well-to-do, property-owning, white, and male Founding Fathers set it up so the franchise was (originally) available almost exclusively to well-to-do, property-owning, white, and male Americans.

Thus far, this way of thinking has not achieved wide currency among Republican voting-restriction advocates. But, National Review tends to be in the vanguard of new ideas for conservative partisans. So, you might be hearing a lot more about this in the near future. (Z)

2020 Democratic Pollsters: Oops!

Recognizing that confidence in their work has been badly shaken, five Democratic pollsters have joined together to issue a mea culpa for the 2020 elections, trying to explain what went wrong, given that predictions of a Democratic wave did not come to pass.

Here is the executive summary of their conclusions:

  • They missed on low-propensity voters. Although the pollsters assumed there would be a roughly equal number of "don't vote very often" Democrats and "don't vote very often" Republicans, the latter actually outnumbered the former by a margin of 4 to 1.

  • COVID may have skewed the results, with a disproportionate number of liberals working from home, and thus willing and able to take pollsters' phone calls.

  • Trump voters, especially the devoted ones, do indeed appear to be more unwilling than other voters to answer pollsters' phone calls.

  • In contrast to 2016, there does not appear to have been an "October surprise" that caused a late break in favor of Republican candidates.

  • In 2016, the pollsters neglected to correct for level of education. In 2020, they would have done better if they had asked "Do you think Donald Trump is presidential?," since that would have allowed them to better weight loyal Trump supporters.

Even though the pollsters have some idea of what went wrong, they aren't entirely sure how to fix it. And indeed, there may be no fix. The numbers continue to suggest that Trump, in his ability to get certain voters to the polls, is sui generis. Layering the pandemic on top of that may have made 2020 even sui generiser (new word alert!). It won't be clear until at least one or two more cycles have come and gone.

One idea that the pollsters are toying with is producing multiple sets of figures based on different possible models of the electorate. In other words, "If the electorate is the same as in 2020, then X will happen, but if it's 5% more Democratic, then Y will happen, while if it's 5% more Republican, then Z will happen." This strikes us as a very bad idea. Polls are supposed to be the best possible guess about what is going to happen. If the pollsters start hedging their bets like this, then why are they needed at all? If an election is not close, then the polls don't matter. And if it is close, well, we don't need a pollster to tell us that if the electorate skews Republican, then the Republican will win. Presumably this is just spitballing, and they won't actually do it. (Z)

Summer Olympics Could Become a Political Football, Too

Already, the 2022 Winter Olympics are steeped in controversy. They are scheduled to take place next February in China, and China has a godawful record on human rights, with the lowlight being their persecution of the Uyghur people. If the Western democracies send delegations of athletes, then it suggests tacit approval of the Chinese government's actions. If they boycott, then athletes who have spent their whole lives training for this, and who have nothing to do with the selection of Olympic sites or the policies of the Chinese government, will be turned into unvoluntary sacrificial lambs.

It would seem that Japan, set to host the (rescheduled) 2020 Summer Olympics in July and August of this year, could not let the Chinese have a monopoly on controversy. There is, as you may have heard, a global pandemic going on. Given that something like the Olympics, which is going to attract thousands of people from all over the world, has the potential to be a mega-giga-jumbo-giganto-superspreader event, one would expect the Japanese to take every possible precaution to protect participants. Not so much, as it turns out.

Because Japan has had past issues with anti-vaxx movements and conspiracy theories, that nation's government was extremely...deliberate when it came to approving vaccines for general use. As a result, their rollout among members of the general public began...last week. Thus far, less than 1% of the Japanese population has had one shot, and less than 0.4% of the population is fully vaccinated. And there are no particular plans or expectations those numbers will be way up when the Olympics are scheduled to start in less than 100 days. Although the athletes are supposed to be vaccinated and to have a negative COVID test before arriving in Tokyo, the tens of thousands of volunteer workers will operate under no such constraints. The Japanese plan for those folks? They'll each get two masks and a small container of hand sanitizer. Problem solved! And even that is more than will be done when it comes to the members of the Japanese public and/or the spectators.

The obvious solution here is to postpone the games once again, to 2022. That will cost some money (billions), and it's also unfair to the athletes, who will have to do another year of training, assume another year's worth of injury risk, and potentially age another year beyond their physical primes (an extra two years is an eternity, for example, for an 18-year-old gymnast). However, better those things than putting tens of thousands of lives at risk. If the games do go forward, then the various national governments, including the Biden administration, will have a tough call to make. The Olympic athletes are adults (or near-adults), and presumably can make their own decisions in terms of risk. On the other hand, if a government does nothing, and a dozen of its athletes get sick and die, the blowback would be intense. Undoubtedly, Joe Biden and other world leaders will push the IOC to postpone (or relocate) the games, and relieve them of having to make a choice. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Apr13 Biden Makes Border Moves
Apr13 Biden Set to Catch an Economic Wave
Apr13 Republicans Get Ready to Dust off the Filibuster
Apr13 Hawley Rakes It In
Apr13 More Senate Candidates Announce Themselves
Apr13 Republicans Institute a Military Draft
Apr13 Now, This Is Someone Who Could Make Newsom Sweat
Apr12 Over a Hundred CEOs Met to Discuss Voting Bills
Apr12 Wisconsin Supreme Court Rules against Purging Voters
Apr12 The Country Remains Deeply Divided
Apr12 Where Did Senator Biden Go?
Apr12 Trump Calls McConnell a "Dumb Son of a Bitch"...
Apr12 ...But He loves Marco Rubio
Apr12 Buttigieg: Biden Is Open to Changes on Infrastructure
Apr12 Pelosi Wants to Split the Infrastructure Bill
Apr12 Yang for...Mayor?
Apr12 Janey Will Run for Mayor
Apr11 Sunday Mailbag
Apr10 Saturday Q&A
Apr09 Biden Takes Aim at Guns
Apr09 What Is Going on with Joe Manchin?
Apr09 Whither the Democrats?
Apr09 New York Governor's Race Apparently Has Two Candidates in the Trump Lane
Apr09 I Did Not Have Sexual Relations with that Woman
Apr09 COVID Diaries: Why so Serious?
Apr08 Biden Will Announce Executive Action on Guns Today
Apr08 First Georgia, Now Texas
Apr08 But Not Kentucky
Apr08 Boehner Blames Trump for the Capitol Riot
Apr08 Republicans Get a Deadline on the Infrastructure Bill
Apr08 D.C. Statehood Bill Will Come Up This Month
Apr08 Why Don't Republicans Hate Kamala Harris?
Apr08 Marjorie Taylor Greene Is Raking in the Big Bucks
Apr08 So Is Mark Kelly
Apr07 Biden Administration Says It Won't Get Involved in Vaccine Passports
Apr07 California Set to Reopen
Apr07 DCCC Will Play it Pretty Safe in 2022
Apr07 Alcee Hastings Is Dead
Apr07 Gaetz the Latest to Learn that Loyalty to the Trumps Is a One-Way Street
Apr07 Fear of a Black Planet
Apr07 St. Louis Has a New Mayor
Apr06 Good News, Bad News for Biden on the Infrastructure Bill
Apr06 Fauci Concedes What Everyone Should Already Have Known
Apr06 Whither the GOP, Part I: Corporate America
Apr06 Whither the GOP, Part II: The Religious Right
Apr06 Whither the GOP, Part III: The Right-Wing Media
Apr06 Putin Apparently Isn't Going Anywhere
Apr05 Battle of the Bridges Begins
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Apr05 Other States Are Watching What Happens in Georgia