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Guilty, Guilty, Guilty

When a jury gets a case late one day, and has a verdict ready by early afternoon the next day, that is usually not a great sign for the defense. And indeed, the Derek Chauvin jury, after taking just 10 hours to consider three different charges, found him guilty on all three.

In the short term, just about everyone who is not Derek Chauvin dodged a bullet. The crowds gathered in Minneapolis and elsewhere to await the verdict reacted with relief and, in some cases, joy, and there was no violence or unrest. Joe Biden, who was pleased as punch to avoid that particular landmine, delivered brief remarks in which he described the verdict as "a giant step towards justice in America," but also said there is more work to be done. VP Kamala Harris observed that "Black men, in particular, have been treated throughout the course of our history as less than human ... Their lives must be valued in our nation." The President and VP also spoke to George Floyd's family on the phone, and said the Floyds would come to the White House for a visit.

Tuesday's result closes one chapter in this saga but does not, of course, conclude the whole book. The next chapter commences in 8 weeks, when Chauvin will be sentenced. In theory, he could end up going away for a long time. Second-degree unintentional murder carries a maximum sentence of 40 years in Minnesota, third-degree murder carries a maximum of 25 years, and second-degree manslaughter carries a maximum of 10 years. Even a historian can add that up and see it works out to 75 years, which would put Chauvin in prison until the age of 120. However, since he has no criminal record, Minnesota sentencing guidelines suggest 12½ years on the first two counts and 4 years on the third. Further, since all three charges stem from the same crime, the sentences are likely to run concurrently. So, it's not a life sentence, but it's not a slap on the wrist, either.

There are also other questions to be resolved. Chauvin will appeal, of course, and will likely try to make an argument that the jury was influenced by Rep. Maxine Waters' (D-CA) exhortation to protesters this weekend to "get more confrontational." That seems a tough sell, though. A jury that comes back that quickly was pretty sure of their verdict, and it's improbable that, but for Waters' words, they would have found Chauvin not guilty. There is also some complaining on the right, with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) leading the way, that Biden himself provided grounds for a mistrial on Tuesday because he said he was "praying the verdict is the right verdict." Inasmuch as the jury was already sequestered when he said that, and so could not have heard or been influenced by it, Cruz is making a bad faith argument (of course, that has never stopped him before). And beyond the final disposition of Chauvin's case, it is also not clear what will happen to the officers who stood by as Chauvin murdered Floyd. All of these yet-to-come developments—sentence, appeal, fate of the other officers—are fraught, and have the potential to light the powder keg, depending on what happens.

Quite a few observers, including us, drew a parallel between what happened in Minneapolis last year, and what happened to Rodney King in Los Angeles in 1991: a conservative national political climate, a city whose police force has a poor civil rights record, an extreme act of violence captured on film. However, there are some pretty big differences that help explain the disparate outcomes:

  • King survived his attack, Floyd did not. The latter circumstance surely must create a bit more urgency that someone pay for what happened.

  • Although the Chauvin defense (and its allies in the right-wing media) tried to make the case that Floyd brought the attack upon himself, either by passing a phony $20 bill, or by being under the influence of drugs, their arguments were unpersuasive. By contrast, King bore at least some responsibility for the chain of events that led to his beating. He did flee a police stop, he did resist arrest, and he may have been under the influence of PCP. Nobody deserves to get beaten within an inch of their lives after they have been subdued, but the infamous footage that was shown on the news so many times tells a story that is incomplete, and that is different from the one the jury heard back in 1992.

  • Probably most important, Chauvin's jury was diverse, with six white members, three Black members, and three of mixed heritage. By contrast, the defense lawyers in the King trial were able to move the trial to Simi Valley, which happens to be extremely white and full of retired cops. Consequently, the King officers' jury was nearly all white (it was reported that way at the time, though later it turned out that one member had a Black father). Further, the members of the jury all had police officers as friends, neighbors, relatives, etc. They just might have been a wee bit inclined to be sympathetic to four police-officer defendants.

In any event, the main thing is that history did not repeat itself, and didn't even rhyme. Time will tell if this is the start of a new era of police accountability, or just a temporary deviation from the status quo. The ball is, in the minds of many Americans, in the Senate's court, so this is going to remain a salient political issue for the foreseeable future. (Z)

Republicans May Blow their Shot on Infrastructure

When Abraham Lincoln was running for president, he said he was willing to keep slavery intact and to work with the South, within limits. He was offered opportunities to keep the peace, most obviously the Crittenden Compromise, and did not take them, because they were not within his limits. In so doing, he chose a path that he knew full well would lead to civil war.

We bring this up because a similar dynamic sure seems to be playing out with Joe Biden's infrastructure bill, and with him and the Senate Republicans in general. Last week, he told the Senate GOP conference that he was open to counterproposals on infrastructure, but that his basic goals had to be kept in mind, and the proposal had to pay for itself. On Tuesday, the Republicans met to discuss the counterproposal that Sen. Shelly Moore Capito (R-WV) has been working on. And somehow, that proposal keeps moving farther from what Biden wants, rather than closer. It's now between $550 billion and $880 billion (depending on length), and would be paid for by levying fees on electric vehicle users and by tapping into unspent COVID-19 relief funds.

This is an unserious offer, even as an opening salvo. First of all, the total number is way too far from the one that Biden wants. We could easily be talking less than one-third; as we've noted before, if you're selling a car for $10,000, and a buyer offers $3,000, the negotiations are over because that's too big a gap (and because a $3,000 offer is basically an insult). Second, if a big chunk of the money is coming from already existing appropriations, then the real outlay Republicans are talking about may be something like $200 billion, which means that now we're down to offering $1,200 for that $10,000 car. Third, it's not clear that—even with a raid on the COVID-19 piggy bank—the math of the Republicans' proposal adds up, since there aren't that many EVs out there to be taxed, as yet. Fourth, given both his platform and the polling he's seeing, Biden is never going to go for a proposal where the bills are paid by individual Americans, and corporations get off scot-free.

We can see three possible explanations for what's going on with the GOP Senate conference:

  1. They are now dysfunctional to the point that they literally cannot come up with an offer that would be a serious counteroffer and yet would also be able to get the 10 Republican votes needed to forestall a filibuster.

  2. They are misreading the strength of their hand. There is no question that Joe Biden ran on unity and bipartisanship, and that he's got some interest in those things. But, as with Lincoln 160 years ago, the exact amount of interest he has is open to discussion, and there are certainly limits. The President isn't going to take a hatchet to his plan, yielding on most of his goals, in service of some vague (and not all that politically valuable) sense that the bill was "bipartisan." Point is, it could be that the Republicans are grossly overestimating their leverage here.

  3. The Republicans are just performing kabuki theater. There has been much complaining from the right side of the aisle that Biden isn't that serious about bipartisanship at all, that it was largely just talk, and that his meetings with Republicans are just for show so that he can claim he gave it his best shot. There may be some truth to this, and possibly a lot of truth. And so, perhaps the Capito proposal is just for show as well, such that the Republicans can also claim they tried to be bipartisan, but that the crazy radical socialist Biden just wasn't willing to work with them.

Whatever the GOP's endgame is—whether a much smaller bill, or no bill at all—there was a little bit of bad news for them, and a little bit of good news for Biden, on Tuesday. The country's largest union for coal miners, the United Mine Workers of America, has come out in support of the Biden plan. UMW likes the carbon recapture elements, which will save at least some of the remaining coal mining jobs. It likes the proposal to clean up abandoned coal mines. And it likes the idea of creating new jobs and doing retraining for those jobs. So, UMW is in, which puts them on the same side as (most) environmentalists. Not too often that coal miners and greens see eye-to-eye, but they do here. This will obviously give Sen. Joe Manchin (D-Coal Mining Country) cover to get on board with the plan (or will put pressure on him to do so). (Z)

Whither the Republicans, Redux, Part I: The Environment

A couple of weeks ago, we did three items looking at the existential issues the modern Republican Party faces right now, specifically their fraying relationship with corporate America, and their diminishing-returns relationships with evangelicals and the right-wing media. We added a fourth item on the Party's Trump-encouraged reliance upon xenophobes. We also wrote a companion piece on the Democrats, but there was much less to say there, because that Party is not currently at the sort of crossroads the Republican Party is.

Anyhow, as long as we're talking environment, this is yet another area where the GOP has some hard decisions to make. Joe Biden, who knows to strike while the iron is hot (and the planet is getting hotter), will convene a summit of global leaders on Thursday, in honor of Earth Day, to discuss climate change. And as part of that, he is planning to announce an ambitious goal to slash U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, perhaps by as much as half by the end of the decade. This is consistent with the Barack Obama-negotiated Paris Accord, which Donald Trump abandoned, but Joe Biden rejoined, seemingly within minutes of taking office. Needless to say, prominent Republicans in Congress quickly began screaming as soon as this news broke.

Every day that goes by, the Republicans' global warming denial gets more and more politically problematic. Younger voters do not particularly wish to live on a planet that looks like "Mad Max" or "Blade Runner," and many find global warming-denial to be a deal-breaker political issue. A sizable number of older voters agree with them. To put a number on it (or several numbers), a new poll from Pew Research, in honor of Thursday's semi-holiday, finds that 67% of Americans feel the government is doing too little to combat climate change, 64% would like to see the government make climate change a top priority, and 63% feel that stricter environmental regulations are "worth the cost."

Since there was some percentage of respondents that had no opinion, that means that there are only 25%-30% of Americans who feel current climate-change efforts are enough (or too much), who don't find the issue to be a priority, and who don't think that stricter regulations are worth the cost. Generally speaking, being on the overwhelming minority side of an issue is not a great place for a political party to be. That may explain why, among all the major political parties of the world, only the United States Republican Party has adopted global-warming denial as a plank in its platform.

The reason the GOP did that, primarily, was because of their relationship with corporate interests. More specifically, their relationship to Big Oil. And more specifically still, their reliance on the Koch Brothers, who had big money in Big Oil, and who undertook a sustained (and successful) propaganda campaign meant to denigrate global-warming science. However, one Koch is now dead, and the other is fading in importance and is increasingly alienated from the GOP.

Other Big Oil interests may still prefer global-warming denial, but corporate America as a whole is warming up to the notion of increased environmental regulation (no pun intended). The obvious example here is the automotive industry, where pretty much all car makers are moving in the direction of all-electric product lines (a process that will take a while, but is expected to be complete by the mid-2030s). Companies like GM, Ford, Chrysler, etc. have a duty to their shareholders to think long-term, and they can see where the U.S. and global markets are headed. They can't jump back and forth between long-term strategic plans every four years, as the White House changes hands. And as long as the government mandates standards for all car producers, then those standards don't put any one producer at a competitive disadvantage, since they are just part of the cost of doing business. If the government will toss in a few juicy subsidies to sweeten the deal, all the better.

What that means is that the Republicans' global-warming denial is speaking to an increasingly narrow coalition of science denialists (who are, more often than not, evangelicals), business interests (like Big Oil) that are still pushing back against global-warming mitigation, and people in non-eco-friendly professions (like coal miners, although see above). Does the GOP want to continue to keep these folks on board, at the risk of losing young voters, possibly permanently? Questions like that are why the Party is at a crossroads. (Z)

Whither the Republicans, Redux, Part II: Corporate America

And now, let's take a closer look at the Republican-corporate America relationship. In our original piece on the subject, and in a few follow-up remarks, we were at least somewhat skeptical that a partnership that has lasted so long (nearly 170 years and counting, with a couple of fairly brief pauses), and has been fruitful for both sides, could truly collapse. However, Politico talked to Yale business school professor and dean Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, who organized last week's Zoom call where 100 corporate CEOs discussed their discomfort with Republican anti-voter-rights efforts. Sonnenfeld is not so certain that the relationship can be repaired.

It's worth reading the piece in its entirety, but here are the key points Sonnenfeld raises:

  • Corporate America does not like it when wedge issues are used to pit Americans against each other. That's bad for business, as it often forces them to take sides (thus alienating some customers) and also aggravates employees. Think, for example, of the recent controversy over the MLB All-Star game being held in Atlanta, which put MLB commissioner Rob Manfred in a lose-lose situation. Sonnenfeld says that the divisiveness is "100 percent at variance with what the business community wants. And that is a million times more important to them than how many dollars of taxes are paid here or there."

  • In a related point, the GOP does not seem to appreciate that the workforce of 2020 is not the workforce of 1920. Bathroom bills and other anti-LGBTQ stuff, wrangling over birth-control coverage, xenophobia, etc. not only create tension in the workforce, they create actual, financial costs for businesses.

  • Further, the more the U.S. is perceived as xenophobic, the harder it will be to attract top talent from around the world, something that has historically given U.S. corporations a big edge.

  • Businesses do not like being attacked by Republican politicians (with Ted Cruz being a particular source of irritation on this front; good luck getting those big corporate donations for your next presidential bid, Senator). They are also aggravated by the hypocrisy that certain types of political expression (e.g., the ones that favor the Republican position) are ok, but anything else is mocked and derided by Party leadership, from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) on down, as "cancel culture."

  • In 2020, many businesses took it upon themselves to implement various pro-voting initiatives, like paid time off on Election Day. They don't particularly like the GOP crapping all over that with voter-restriction laws and talk of stolen elections.

  • As a general rule, American business likes free trade. The GOP has rapidly become the anti-free trade party.

We should note that, for business interests, the choice is not binary. That is to say, they are not choosing between "all-in on the Republicans" and "all-in on the Democrats." They've always walked both sides of the street, to an extent, because that is the savvy business decision. However, it is entirely possible that the business interests' money, logistical support, PR efforts, etc. could tilt away from the GOP toward political neutrality or toward the Democrats. Even if there was no total abandonment and repudiation, that alone would knock out one of the foundational underpinnings of the Republican Party.

Watch for two more entries on the Republicans' identity issues tomorrow. (Z)

Elections Have Consequences

It was Barack Obama who said that, although we don't mean it in the way he did. In this case, we mean that politics is often something of a game of musical chairs, and when someone vacates their chair in search of a bigger and better one, it can create a ripple effect that often flies under the radar.

The case of the seat that Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL) just vacated by dying is a useful illustration. Whichever Democrat wins the special election in the D+31 district pretty much has a job for life (or a platform to move on to bigger things). And so, enthusiasm has been... high. State Sen. Perry Thurston (D) and former Palm Beach County Commissioner Priscilla Taylor (D) jumped in on Monday, and state Rep. Bobby DuBose (D) joined the field on Tuesday.

And that brings us to the consequences. By the terms of Florida law, a sitting state-level officeholder cannot run for federal office. And so, both Thurston and DuBose will have to resign their current posts in order to pursue Hastings' seat. The departure of Thurston is a particular blow for Florida Democrats, as he heads the Florida state version of the DSCC, and was next in line to become minority leader. Meanwhile, Thurston and DuBose's seats will remain vacant, depriving the Democrats of two votes in the legislature, until they are filled. And depending on the status of legislation currently before the Republican majority in the state house, the privilege of choosing their replacements may be put in the hands of...Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL). So, a vacancy in one safe Democratic House seat is going to heavily shake up Democratic politics in Florida, while also likely weakening the Party there. (Z)

Here a Book Deal, There a Book Deal, but Not Everywhere a Book Deal

Pop quiz time. All of the 10 individuals listed below have, at least preliminarily, made efforts to land a book deal since the Trump administration came to an end. Which five have actually had success?

  • Former AG William Barr
  • Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo
  • Former trade advisor Peter Navarro
  • Associate Justice Amy Coney Barrett
  • Former SBA Administrator Linda McMahon
  • Trump Son-in-Law Jared Kushner
  • Former presidential advisor Kellyanne Conway
  • Ousted U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman
  • Former health policy advisor Scott Atlas
  • Former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows

We will give the answer later. For now, let us say that the list of successes vs. failures speaks to the dynamics of what people are looking for in a book. Or, at very least, what book publishers think people are looking for, and so are willing to pay up front for:

  • Ciphers: The big bucks appear to be going to folks who are something of a mystery, and whose true views on the issues, or on the Trump administration, are not entirely clear. That includes folks whose debuts as major public figures have come only recently, as well as folks who seemed to feel one way about Trump but then veered aggressively in another direction.

  • Dirt: There is a reason that, The National Enquirer, and Bob Woodward have been in business for as long as they have—people like to read (or hear about) others' dirty laundry. Someone who is willing to provide that, even in the context of an overall pro-Trump work, is going to generate interest.

  • Propaganda: Here, the market is much more limited. There was once demand for rah-rah Trump books, but that demand is way, way down now that he's out of power and his public profile is fading. When it comes to someone who is just going to write a book about how amazing Trump was, and how he was the greatest president ever, the publishers prefer to just wait for Trump himself to sign a book deal.

And with that said, the five individuals who have landed a book contract are Barr, Barrett, Conway, Berman, and Atlas. Some of the others, like Kushner and Pompeo, have not tried all that hard for a deal, but are unlikely to find a publisher willing to give them the sort of advance they think they deserve. Still others, most obviously Navarro, have been told "thanks, but no thanks" in no uncertain terms.

This is not that important, but it is interesting. And it does speak to the fact that the MAGA intensity is already noticeably fading. It's much harder when the dear leader no longer commands the bull**it pulpit. (Z)

Bush Tries to Remake His Image

Someone who has no trouble getting book deals, by virtue of his being a former president, is George W. Bush. Former presidents can put out autobiographies, or works of political philosophy, or volumes of poetry, or works of fiction, or collections of zesty lo-cal chicken recipes, and the publishers will line up for them. And so it is that the 43rd president is currently in the process of schlepping his new book Out of Many, One, which features paintings of immigrants by Bush, accompanied by biographical blurbs. There are 43 profiles in total (get it? 43rd president?), all of them folks that befriended and favorably impressed the former president.

On some level, Bush is trying to influence public policy here, specifically by trying to drag the Republican Party back to its previously pro-immigration position. However, given that he remained almost entirely silent on the subject during the virulently anti-immigrant Trump years, and that he's only spoken up once the other (much more immigration-tolerant) party is in power, it's difficult to see this as a serious attempt to wield whatever influence or moral authority Bush still has.

That brings us to Bush's second purpose, which is surely the main one: To rehabilitate his reputation. When he left office back in 2009, he was well on his way to "worst president of all time" status (or, at least, bottom five). But then Donald Trump came along, which caused millions to say "You know, maybe Bush wasn't so bad." So now #43 is doing everything he can to frame himself as the anti-Trump—calm, reasoned, senior statesman, etc. And it's not a coincidence that he's staking out a very high profile position on the issue that was literally the signature policy issue of the Trump presidency.

At least a few people aren't having any of it. Jackson Lears, a distinguished historian who has been a longtime critic of Bush, said: "He was a man who wrapped his very narrow-gauge nationalism, his chauvinism and militarism in the rhetoric of righteousness. He was an evangelical Christian and that, to me, is more offensive in many ways than Trump's style, which was overt, offensive and repellent." It will take generations to know exactly what happens, but it's worth noting that these post-presidency PR efforts tend to work well while the former president is alive (it's working for Bush, and also worked for Richard Nixon, Herbert Hoover, Franklin Pierce, etc.). However, they don't generally have a lot of long term efficacy. Nixon, Hoover, and Pierce are all rated very poorly as presidents, right alongside low-quality chief executives like Warren Harding, who died in office and never had a chance to stage a rehabilitation tour. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Apr20 The Last Piece of the Puzzle?
Apr20 Washington Waits for Chauvin Verdict
Apr20 Greg Abbott Is in Trouble
Apr20 Republican Cranks Are Cranky
Apr20 Kyrsten Sinema Has a Message for...Someone
Apr20 Rep. Steve Stivers Will Step Down
Apr20 Walter Mondale Is Dead at 93
Apr19 U.S. Warns Putin about Consequences if Navalny Dies
Apr19 Manchin Doesn't Like the Infrastructure Bill
Apr19 Was There a Reverse Coattails Effect?
Apr19 Trump's Spy Can't Spy on the Spies Anymore
Apr19 A Hells Angel in the Senate?
Apr19 2024 Fundraising Has Started
Apr19 McDaniel Urged to be Less Trumpish
Apr19 America First Caucus Is Dead
Apr19 Poll: Ending Lifetime Appointments for Justices is Popular
Apr19 People Are Tired of Waiting for Godot
Apr18 Sunday Mailbag
Apr17 Saturday Q&A
Apr16 Bipartisanship Theater
Apr16 About that Court Packing...
Apr16 Chauvin Trial Is Almost Over
Apr16 Pence Gets Pacemaker
Apr16 Nikki Haley for President?
Apr16 Former Cold War Foes News, Part I: Russia Hit With Sanctions
Apr16 Former Cold War Foes News, Part II: Castro to Retire
Apr15 Manchin and Biden Actually Like Each Other
Apr15 Can Democrats and CEOs Be Friends?
Apr15 Gensler Is Confirmed as SEC Chairman
Apr15 Democrats Are Fretting about Stephen Breyer
Apr15 House Committee Approves D.C. as a State
Apr15 Greitens Is Already Causing Trouble for Republicans
Apr15 Kevin Brady Is Retiring
Apr15 McAuliffe Has Huge Lead in Virginia Democratic Gubernatorial Primary
Apr14 Afghanistan War to End Later This Year
Apr14 Biden Will Address Congress Later This Month
Apr14 Pence for President?
Apr14 A Different Argument for Making it Harder to Vote
Apr14 2020 Democratic Pollsters: Oops!
Apr14 Summer Olympics Could Become a Political Football, Too
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