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Political Wire logo Extra Bonus Quote of the Day
Nikki Haley Does Clean Up
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Legislators Move to Strip Cuomo of Pandemic Powers
Trump-McConnell Rift Threatens GOP’s Senate Hopes
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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  The Kid's in the Hall
      •  Trump Slams McConnell
      •  Movin' on Up?
      •  Insurrection Panel Getting Closer to Reality
      •  Trump Sued for Inciting Insurrection
      •  Giuliani Sidelined
      •  The Downside to Schadenfreude

The Kid's in the Hall

While he was president, Donald Trump pretty much took questions in only two ways: (1) on Fox News, or (2) as he was on his way to Marine One. This gave him total control, because in the first situation he was nearly guaranteed to get only softballs, and in the second he could declare an end to the questioning and hop on the helicopter as soon as the press corps hit him with a toughie. Pretty much the only time The Donald was ever compelled to face a real question was when a Fox news type, like Chris Wallace, went rogue.

Joe Biden is committed to a different approach. And so, he traveled to Milwaukee last night for a town hall hosted and broadcast by CNN (watch Part 1 here and Part 2 here). At the event, he faced real questions from a real journalist and from real Americans. Given that CNN is a bit left of center and that the audience members' questions were undoubtedly vetted, it was still a reasonably friendly forum. Nonetheless, it was clear that Biden subjected himself to more scrutiny and pushback in one night than Donald Trump did in an average year. Well, it was clear unless you're Fox News, where the headline was: "CNN skips asking about Cuomo nursing home scandal, TJ Ducklo fiasco at Biden Wisconsin town hall."

Here's the executive summary of the most interesting things from the evening (if you're not Fox News):

  • Empathy: Biden wants to set himself up as the anti-Trump, and there may be no greater difference between the two men than Biden's strong sense of empathy and Trump's total lack thereof. And so, it's not surprising that there were several high-empathy moments on Tuesday night, most obviously after a mother asked about getting her 19-year-old immunocompromised son with COPD vaccinated, and Biden asked her to stay behind after the cameras were off so he could help her get that taken care of ASAP. Great political theater to be sure, though Biden has been famous for that sort of thing for decades, so it wasn't just for the cameras, either.

  • White Supremacists: Speaking of contrasts with Donald Trump, the President declared that white supremacists are the greatest domestic terror threat in the United States.

  • Life in the White House: Consistent with the blue-collar-Joe image —but again, also not a 100% put-on for the cameras—the President said it's surreal to live in the White House, and that the staff is great, but he's a little uncomfortable being waited on hand and foot. He's also figured out something that every occupant eventually does, namely that because the president isn't free to leave anytime he wants, it's also kind of a prison. Specifically, Biden used the words "gilded cage."

  • Minimum Wage: With a half-century in politics, Biden knows a little something about how to massage public thinking on an issue. He continues to manage expectations on the $15/hour minimum wage, and last night said that while he would like to see things end up there, it will probably be necessary to do it in several steps in order to give businesses and the economy time to adjust. Congress has passed a grand total of one minimum wage bill since the New Deal era, and that one followed a "step-up, then wait, then step-up, then wait, then step-up a final time" model, so if Biden gets this done, it makes sense that is how he'd do it.

  • Return to Normalcy: There was much discussion of the pandemic, of course. Biden encouraged everyone to wear their masks and get their vaccines, and said that he hopes and expects things will be "back to normal" by Christmas. This marks a change from his promises as recently as last week, when he implied a return to normal by the end of summer. Truth be told, though, Christmas seems far more realistic.

    Biden also spoke at length about the reopening of K-12 schools. He said that he wants to move teachers up the vaccine priority list, and that if schools are open one day a week by the end of April, he will have fulfilled his "schools open again within 100 days" pledge. Most of the audience, and the country, aren't really buying that one day a week counts as "promises made, promises kept." For our part, as educators, it's very hard to shift modes of instruction halfway through a semester. Undoubtedly, the President was getting feedback from his wife—who is an Ed.D., after all—but it's hard for us to believe that schools will return to normal before fall term 2021.

  • Trump Who?: The President said he is tired of hearing about Donald Trump, and would like to move on from him immediately. Amen to that, Joe. He also said he has spoken on the phone to all of his predecessors "except one." The identity of the one exception was not revealed, leaving us with a mystery for the ages.

  • Divided We Stand?: Finally, Biden emphasized that "The nation is not divided. You [just] have fringes on both ends." He kinda has to say that, by virtue of his job (though, in fairness, the last guy who held the job didn't feel the same way). Anyhow, he's still not giving up on "unity," at least not yet.

There you have it. There are no further town halls scheduled at the moment, but it wouldn't be a big surprise if this became a semi-regular thing, in the vein of Franklin D. Roosevelt's fireside chats (which happened at the rate of about three per year). (Z)

Trump Slams McConnell

Donald Trump and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) really only have one thing in common: They are both wholly transactional politicians who will do or say whatever is necessary to advance their ends, other consequences be damned. Except for that, however, they were really quite the odd couple during their roughly four-year partnership. McConnell is a very intelligent long-time Republican who knows the ins and outs of how the government works better than just about anyone and who ties his tie correctly. Trump is a much less intelligent Johnny-come-lately to the GOP who has barely any idea how the government works and who refuses to accept that the necktie is not supposed to be the lowest-hanging thing on the male body.

While Trump was in office, each of the two men had a utility for the other. The Donald needed McConnell to actually shepherd things through the Senate. The Turtle needed Trump to nominate far-right judges and to sign the (rare) occasional bill that made it through Congress. Now, however, they have very different goals. The Minority Leader, for his part, wants his job running the Senate back, and so wants the Republican Party run on the principle of "let's find GOP candidates who can win elections, and who cares what they believe." The former president, for his part, wants his ego to be massaged, and so wants the Republican Party run on the principle of "let's find candidates who are utterly loyal to me, and let's punish anyone who dares go against me."

All of this is to say that it's no surprise the two men's relationship fractured the moment the impeachment came to a close. McConnell, of course, voted for acquittal and then promptly torched Trump for his role in inciting the insurrection, and called for him to be prosecuted. The Minority Leader supplemented that with an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal in which he wrote: "There is no question former President Trump bears moral responsibility. His supporters stormed the Capitol because of the unhinged falsehoods he shouted into the world's largest megaphone. His behavior during and after the chaos was also unconscionable, from attacking Vice President Mike Pence during the riot to praising the criminals after it ended."

On Tuesday, Trump got out his howitzer and returned fire in a statement issued by Save America, which is Trump's PAC. After a bit of braggadocio on the subject of how brilliant a president he was, and how incredibly well he did in the 2020 election, Trump goes for McConnell's throat:

Mitch is a dour, sullen, and unsmiling political hack, and if Republican Senators are going to stay with him, they will not win again. He will never do what needs to be done, or what is right for our Country. Where necessary and appropriate, I will back primary rivals who espouse Making America Great Again and our policy of America First. We want brilliant, strong, thoughtful, and compassionate leadership.

Note that while Trump went for the throat, he decided not to go for the chins. That particular insult was apparently edited out of the original draft of the statement by staffers who convinced the former president that it was too gratuitous.

In any case, what we have right now is a giant pi**ing contest between the two most prominent and influential Republicans in the land. Democrats are just sitting back, getting out their popcorn, and enjoying the show. And speaking of shows, we cannot imagine how this one ends. We think that McConnell has reached an unquestionably correct conclusion, namely that going all-in on Trumpism risks leaving the GOP in the wilderness for a long, long time. They are approximately 35% of the voting public, and that's not enough to win elections, except in very red states and districts.

However, in partnering with Trump for four years, the Minority Leader may have played with fire for too long. Now, Trumpism is a movement, one larger and with a stronger foundation than the similar Tea Party of 10 years ago. The Tea Partiers lingered for years and, like the Donald, they prized ideological purity above electability, in the process throwing away at least half a dozen Senate seats for the Republican Party along with countless House seats. The point is, a drubbing in the 2022 midterms, or the 2024 presidential election, should those things come to pass, is no guarantee to put a wooden stake in the heart of the movement.

Another possibility, of course, is that the Trumpists lose their Dear Leader, either to death, or to prison, or to fleeing from prosecution. However, we're not sure that he is all that important to the movement anymore. Out of office and off Twitter, he's in much less a position to throw fuel on the flames than he once was. And yet, his base continues to burn, whether about cancel culture or QAnon or any of a dozen other things. Plus, there looks to be a new generation of Trumps (Ivanka, Donald Jr., Lara) who may inherit the mantle, and who have not been kicked off of Twitter.

Again, we have no idea how this ends. All we can say is if the GOP was a stock on the NYSE, you would definitely want to short it right now. Of course you would have to worry about Trumpists on Reddit using Robinhood to buy it en masse just to make you lose. (Z)

Movin' on Up?

In thinking about the 2024 presidential election—which, like it or not, has already begun—we (and others) have tended to group the Republican field into two lanes: the Trump lane and the anti-Trump lane. However, it's possible that might be overlooking a third group of candidates, which we might call the lane-switchers. As a case in point, we give you Nimrata "Nikki" Haley, who just sat for an extended profile with Politico's Tim Alberta. Alberta's salary for the week might just as well be charged to Haley's campaign account, as her purpose was to pitch herself for 2024.

Haley's connection to Trump is rather different from that of most other Republican officeholders. On one hand, she campaigned for him, served in his administration, and claimed to be a "close adviser" and "friend." On the other hand, most of the time she worked for Trump she was in New York and not Washington, and she left her post as Ambassador to the U.N. in December of 2018. That means she played no role in the controversial events of the latter portion of Trump's term, including Ukrainepot Dome, "stop the steal," and the insurrection.

Further, Haley is—like Mitch McConnell, or Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), or Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), or even Joe Biden—basically transactional as a politician. If being for something is the smart path to election, she'll be for that thing. And if being against it is smarter, she'll be against it. She's also incredibly unsubtle about her "flexibility" on the issues, as illustrated by her pronouncements about Trump in the last few weeks. At various times in January, she said that: (1) Trump has a strong case that he won the election, (2) his behavior on Jan. 6 was "disgusting," and (3) he "deserves a break" when it comes to impeachment, because if he incited an insurrection, he did not really mean it. The Ambassador should be careful; one can get serious motion sickness changing directions so rapidly.

Some Republicans think Haley is the current frontrunner for 2024 and—excluding Trump himself—the sports books agree. For what it's worth, among Republican contenders, they have Trump at 11% to win the election, followed by Haley (7.7%), Mike Pence (5.9%), John Kasich and Ted Cruz (3.2% each), and Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO, 2.4%). The favorite among all candidates, incidentally, is VP Kamala Harris, whose 18% chance of winning is even higher than Joe Biden's 14.2%.

Anyhow, if anyone can pull off the lane-switcher bit, it's Haley, who's a talented politician. However, we doubt that's a viable path in the end. Being sort of pro-Trump is, to borrow an old line, like being sort of a virgin. The Trumpers demand 100% loyalty, and the anti-Trumpers cannot abide support for someone who encouraged insurrection. It's hard to see either side moving off of those positions.

We think that as it gets closer to 2024 and people start paying more attention, Haley's star may fade. If Trump really decides to run, he will be the favorite for the GOP nomination. If he decides not to run, will the angry, resentful blue-collar workers who make up Trump's base really prefer an on-again off-again transactional Trumpist, who is the daughter of immigrants from a poor country, to Don Jr., Eric, Ivanka, or some other Trump, not to mention 100% Trumpers like Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Josh Hawley (R-MO)? We have our doubts. And the suburban women who might like her are probably going to be Democrats by then so they can vote in the Democratic primary, assuming Biden doesn't run for a second term. And if that alone doesn't take Haley down a few notches, just wait until she is forced to take a stand on immigration from sh*thole countries. (Z)

Insurrection Panel Getting Closer to Reality

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) believes that when it comes to the insurrection, the truth is out there, and it will ultimately work to the benefit of both the country and the Democratic Party that it be known. And so, she and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) have gotten to work on a bill that would create an Insurrection Commission on the model of the 9/11 Commission. The notion has moved from talk, earlier this week, to action at a very rapid pace.

To their credit, the Speaker and the Majority Leader are in touch with several members of the 9/11 Commission in order to figure out how to proceed. That list includes former NJ governor Tom Kean (R) and former representatives Lee Hamilton and Tim Roemer (both D). All of them warn that, given how divided the country is, the members of the new committee will have to be selected very deliberately, the questions they ask will have to be framed carefully, and the conclusions they produce will have to be presented with great delicacy.

The model for how these things can go wrong is the most famous commission report of them all, namely the Warren Report. The Kennedy assassination was politically charged enough, and the committee's work hasty enough, that the Report launched a thousand conspiracy theories. And today's political landscape is not only more fractured, but is also more prone to conspiratorial thinking (ahem, QAnon). The good news is that Pelosi and Schumer will, it appears, have some bipartisan support for their plans in Congress. However, that's just the first obstacle, and even once it's passed, appointing the commission (which will be Joe Biden's responsibility), and then serving on it, will not be an easy job. Ah well, if you can't stand the fire, get out of the kitchen. (Z)

Trump Sued for Inciting Insurrection

Well, that did not take long. With Donald Trump having been acquitted in his impeachment trial, Democrats are already moving on to other options for holding him accountable. Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS), who is chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, joined with the NAACP and filed suit against the former president in federal court on Tuesday. Basing their case on the Enforcement Act of 1870, the plaintiffs seek compensatory and punitive damages from Trump, along with Rudy Giuliani, the Proud Boys, and the Oath Keepers, who are also named in the suit.

Of course, Thompson and the NAACP don't really care about the money. What they want is for Trump to be disqualified from future officeholding, and for Giuliani and the two organizations to be rebuked. After all, it's not likely that any of these folks have much money, or at least that they will once Deutsche Bank (Trump) and Dominion Voting Systems (Giuliani) get done with them. Thompson is suing in his capacity as a private citizen and a victim of the insurrection. That may be helpful when it comes to determining whether the plaintiffs have standing to sue, and it also means that—politically—the Democratic pooh-bahs might be able to keep their hands clean. After all, it's one Congressman who did this on his own. Oh, and he's Black and is working with the NAACP. Those who wish to be critical, and turn this into a political football, will have to tread carefully.

Just one more thing. Thompson and the NAACP would love to get a judgment against Trump, et al., but they'll be almost as happy if they can just get to discovery. Who knows what treasures they might find if they are allowed to dig into Trump's, Giuliani's, and the white supremacists' affairs? And who knows how those treasures might be helpful to the NAACP (and others) in future legal actions? It's not clear that the judge (Amit Mehta, a Barack Obama appointee) is going to go for the applicability of the Enforcement Act, but he might. In any event, it's yet another court proceeding worth keeping an eye on. (Z)

Giuliani Sidelined

For the last 18 months or so of Donald Trump's term, and for the last 2-3 months in particular, Rudy Giuliani was the former president's most prominent lawyer. He was on TV, and in the headlines, and holding press conferences far more frequently than Jay Sekulow, or Pat Cipollone, or Lin Wood or any of the others. Not any more, though. According to Trump insiders, Rudy is no longer representing The Donald in any legal matters.

It is easy enough to figure out why their relationship has (temporarily?) been suspended. Trump, for his part, is not happy about Giuliani's near-total lack of success in the election lawsuits, not to mention embarrassments like the Four Seasons press conference, the hair dye running down the face, and the apparent effort to bed an underage woman being caught on tape by Sacha Baron Cohen. Giuliani, meanwhile, was apparently not being paid for his work. Plus, he's got his own legal problems to worry about these days.

More broadly, it is also the case that Giuliani was no longer a good fit for Trump's needs. The former president is kinda dense in a lot of ways, but he knows how the legal game is played. The matters in which Giuliani "represented" Trump were, to a greater or lesser extent, political theater. And as a former politician, Giuliani was suited to playing a starring role. But it is time now for something completely different. The Donald needs real defense lawyers, not a guy who used to be a prosecutor 30 years ago, and whose grasp of the law these days is shaky at best. Whether Trump will be able to find real defense lawyers, given his toxicity and tendency to stiff people who work for him, is anyone's guess. But, in any case, Giuliani is not the guy. (Z)

The Downside to Schadenfreude

When (Z) teaches History of California, he has an exercise where he shows students a bunch of ridiculous "news" stories about California that various prominent conservatives (Rush Limbaugh, Rick Santorum, Glenn Beck) have shared with their audiences (for example, that it's illegal to paint cars black, that U.S. history isn't taught at any of the UCs, that elementary school students are required to learn the tenets of Islam, etc.). The point is that California is a useful symbol, for conservatives, of all that is "wrong" with liberalism. Even if they have to make things up.

As you may recall, last summer there were intense heat waves in California that caused pretty much everyone to turn their air conditioning on. The Golden State couldn't produce enough electricity to meet the demand, which resulted in rolling blackouts. True to form, it was a happy happy joy joy moment for many conservatives, including several from Texas who hopped on Twitter to gloat. Here are the entries from those two wild and crazy guys, Ted Cruz and Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX):

Given that several Californians died of heatstroke, it was not the best time to score political points. Cruz has pretty much always been a jerk, of course, such that everyone who works with him—Democrat and Republican—hates him. Crenshaw has shown himself to be not much better, particularly since he pitched a fit when he was the one being targeted by poor-taste jokes.

Right now, of course, Texas is having its own power problems, not due to extreme heat, but due to extreme cold. And so, for anyone who was upset by the Texans' cheap shots, their moment of Zen has arrived. Not because anyone with a conscience wants Texans to suffer, but because people did not forget what Cruz, Crenshaw, and others said on Twitter, and now a public flaying is underway. D'oh!

One would hope that some lessons would be learned here. For example, it's usually best to focus on solving (or helping with) a problem, as opposed to finding someone to point a finger at. For another example, maybe these scientists who have been warning about climate change, and more extreme climate events, are on to something. Unfortunately, those are not the lessons that conservative media and politicians are taking. While the evil libs in California (a.k.a. the "devil's army") were responsible for that state's issues, Texas is just a victim here, and would not be having issues if not for those confounded renewable energy sources (wind turbines, solar, etc.). Never mind that the Lone Star State's current issues are due primarily to failures among fossil-fueled energy providers. If they must blame someone, they really oughta shoot J.R. (Z)

Well, it happened again. We finished today's post, and then realized we had included allusions to famous TV shows in six of the seven items. So, we went back and added a reference to the one item that was missing one, and then jam packed one item with five extra references (for a total of six), just for kicks. Should you want to play detective, the debut years for the shows mentioned, in order, are 1988, 1970, 1975, 1993, 1968/71, 1969, 1991, 1975 (two from that show), 1996/99, 1989, and 1978. We'll run a list on Friday.
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Feb16 Battle Lines Are Forming
Feb16 The Lincoln Project Is Dying
Feb16 One Born Every Minute
Feb16 Don't Call Us, We'll Call You
Feb16 An Unforced Error for the Biden Administration
Feb16 Nevada Getting out of the Caucus Business, into the "Going Second" Business
Feb16 Perdue May Take Another Bite at the Peach
Feb15 Takeaway Time
Feb15 How Brave Were the Anti-Trump Seven?
Feb15 Poll: Americans Believe Trump Was Responsible for the Capitol Riot
Feb15 But Will the Senate Vote Even Be an Issue in 2022?
Feb15 Some in Congress Want a Bipartisan Commission to Examine the Riot
Feb15 McConnell Is Now Leading a Fractured Republican Party
Feb15 Trump Is Coming Out of Hibernation
Feb15 Are the Democrats Powerless Now?
Feb15 Trump's Business Partners Are Squeezing Him
Feb14 Unimpeachable
Feb14 Sunday Mailbag
Feb13 The Defense Rests
Feb13 Saturday Q&A
Feb12 Send in the Clowns
Feb12 What's Next for the Republicans?
Feb12 It Will Be a Taxing Year for Trump
Feb12 Former Republican Officials Consider Forming Center-Right Party
Feb12 Biden Administration Grapples with COVID-19
Feb12 Biden Administration Also Grapples with Clemency
Feb12 Diplomatic Unity?
Feb11 The Impeachment of Donald J. Trump, A Tragedy in Three Acts
Feb11 Atlanta DA Has Opened a Criminal Investigation of Trump's Call to Raffensperger
Feb11 Senate Judiciary Committee Will Hold a Hearing on Merrick Garland Feb. 22-23
Feb11 Poll: Huge Majority Wants COVID-19 Relief Bill to Pass
Feb11 Biden Can Now Find Out What Trump Said to Putin
Feb11 Republicans See Themselves as the Party of the Working Class
Feb11 How the Republicans Plan to Win Back the House
Feb11 Nearly 140,000 Voters Left the Republican Party in January
Feb11 "Trump in Heels" Frustrates Virginia Republicans
Feb11 Politics Makes for Strange Bedfellows
Feb10 There's a Right Way and a Wrong Way...
Feb10 Lessons Learned
Feb10 Good News, Bad News for Fans of a $15/hour Minimum Wage
Feb10 Biden's Getting His Cabinet, Slowly but Surely
Feb10 Democrats Focus on the Suburbs
Feb10 Presidents' Best Friends
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Feb09 Parscale Suggests Trump Run as Martyr in 2024
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Feb09 No DeJoy in Mudville (at Least, Not Yet)
Feb09 Red-colored Sharks Are Circling Newsom
Feb09 Fetterman Throws His (Sizable) Hat into the Ring