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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Ted Fled
      •  It Ain't Easy Being Prez
      •  Shadow Boxing
      •  Poll: It's Still Trump's Party
      •  Trump to Haley: Pound Sand
      •  Ivanka Is Out
      •  Video Killed the Radio Star

Ted Fled

Let us imagine that your home state is suffering through an unprecedented breakdown of the electrical grid, right in the middle of winter, with the result that millions are living in refrigerator-level-cold houses and a few people have even died. If you are one of the state's most prominent leaders, you probably should do something to make it clear you're sharing your constituents' burden, or at least that you're trying to help navigate the situation. What you surely should not do is galavant off to a warm, tropical location while things work themselves out. And yet, that is exactly what the alleged political genius Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) just did, heading off to Cancun while Texans freeze.

At this point, let us concede a few things:

  • Politicians have as much a right as anyone to take a vacation.
  • Cruz presumably planned this trip long before the crisis in Texas commenced. (Update: Actually, he didn't)
  • As a U.S. Senator, he has relatively little influence over the situation.

And having said all of that, none of it matters one bit. Whether or not Cruz was within his rights to head to Mexico, and whether or not his family's vacation plans are the business of anyone besides the Cruz family, well—to borrow a line from one of Aaron Sorkin's finest screenplays—"the people have a funny way of deciding on their own what is and what is not their business."

In terms of optics, this is absolutely disastrous for the Senator. Even Aaron Sorkin could not have scripted a more perfect case of a politician shooting themselves in the foot, for at least three reasons:

  1. Yin and Yang: It is bad enough to jump ship on your fellow citizens in the middle of a crisis. But the contrasts here are particularly striking: suffering/vacation, cold/warm, powerless/privileged, scared to death/not a concern in the world. If Cruz had headed out on a "fact finding" trip to, say, Ireland, then that would have been less than ideal. But it would also have been far less problematic than a trip that involves luxuriating in the sun on sandy white beaches.

  2. It's Ted Cruz: As we and others have pointed out many times, pretty much everyone hates Cruz. His enemies. His colleagues. His former co-workers. His former college roommate. Many of his constituents. One reason for that is because he has a well-deserved reputation for caring only about what's good for Ted Cruz. And taking a vacation under these circumstances serves only to crystallize that perception.

    Another reason Cruz is hated is that he's perceived as a flip-flopping opportunist and a hypocrite. And guess what? Many times in the past, he has slammed other politicians for taking vacations he found to be inappropriate. For example, Cruz, like Donald Trump, had a near obsession with Barack Obama's golf outings, deeming Obama an "absentee president." The Senator has also attacked others for their travels, including Austin Mayor Steve Adler (D), for...traveling to Mexico. In that tweet, incidentally, Cruz described Adler as "a complete and utter hypocrite." Pot, meet kettle.

    The point here is that other politicians might weather something like this if it was their first slip-up of this sort. But for Cruz, it's merely a very high profile and easily remembered manifestation of problematic things about him that have been a part of who he is for decades.

  3. Soundbites: This is the real killer, from where we sit. As we have seen many, many times, the people tend to have short memories, and some difficulty wrapping their minds around more complicated scandals (like, say, the Ukraine Affair). However, this one is about as simple and understandable as it gets, and can be referenced with a single word: Cancun. When Cruz next runs for office, whether for the presidency or for reelection to his Senate seat, there are going to be Cancun jokes everywhere. Imagine, for example, that he agrees to only two senatorial debates rather than three. Jimmy Kimmel is going to say, "Cruz really wanted to debate a third time, but he has a trip to Cancun planned for that day." Or consider when Cruz reveals his Q1 2024 fundraising totals. Stephen Colbert is going to joke: "Cruz took in $12 million, and spent $6 million. Only $3 million of that was on souvenirs and Mai Tais in Cancun, however."

    If that is not bad enough, scholars have long known that rhymes make things more memorable and more credible (think: If it doesn't fit, you must acquit). This is known as the rhyme-as-reason effect. And, as you can see from the headline, Cruz's current scandal has already acquired its own mnemonic rhyme: "Ted fled." It's only two syllables, it's easy to remember, and it perfectly encapsulates what happened. In other words, what we are saying here is that we think Cruz had his "Macaca moment" —assuming "macaca" also happened to rhyme with something in a pithy fashion.

For a short while, Cruz tried to ignore the growing furor, and continued to frolic on Mexico's beaches (try not to focus too much on the mental image of what it looks like when Ted Cruz frolics). However, he finally returned from Mexico, and issued a statement of "apology." The Senator said he just wanted to make good on a promise to escort his daughters to Cancun and that, "[L]eaving when so many Texans were hurting didn't feel right, and so I changed my return flight and flew back on the first available flight I could take." This is what is known, in Texas, as bull**it. Cruz only got busted because he was photographed at the airport en route to his vacation. And he was booked in Cancun through the end of the week, and not for the day or two it would have taken to merely escort his daughters. If he had not been caught, he would be in Mexico at this very moment, feeling not a scintilla of guilt.

It may seem odd that we've put a somewhat gossipy item in the top slot today, but—with the usual caveat that, in politics, a week is a lifetime—we think that Cruz's misstep will have big consequences. We've already taken the position, which we stand by, that he's got no real shot at the 2024 GOP presidential nomination. He couldn't secure the nomination in 2016, and now his "lane" will be ultra-crowded, and he's got insurrection/Cancun hanging over his head. He may not even run now, and if he does, he'll get shredded by the competition. So what's left to him, presumably, is to try to be reelected to his Senate seat. Putting aside that he would have to violate his two-term promise, this is a fellow who eked out a fairly narrow win (50.9% to 48.3%) over a relative unknown in Beto O'Rourke in 2018. With 6 more years of demographic change and a presidential election year and the insurrection and this Cancun business? He is in serious danger of being knocked off. And with the Senate so close, every seat counts. So, an ill-conceived vacation could plausibly have a big impact on both the presidential race and the balance of power in the Senate in 2024. (Z)

It Ain't Easy Being Prez

The buck, as Harry S. Truman reminded people with a famous sign on his presidential desk, stops with the president. Now that the campaign is over and the governing has begun, quite a few bucks are stopping at Joe Biden's desk these days. And navigating the various challenges will be no small feat.

There is, for example, the minimum wage. Progressives (and many other voters) would, of course, like a big increase, from the current $7.25/hour federal minimum up to (eventually) $15/hour. Biden would like that, but he would also be ok with a smaller hike, if that is all he can swing. Senate Republicans are not going to work with him on this, which—at the moment—leaves him with budget reconciliation as the only viable possibility. Even that, however, would require getting the Blue Dog Democrats (e.g., Sen. Joe Manchin, D-WV) to give the proposal their votes. It would also require that Senate parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough agree that a higher minimum wage has a real budgetary impact, and so passes muster under the Byrd Rule.

At his town hall earlier this week, Biden tried to tamp down expectations. And in a meeting with a number of state governors, which was held last week but only reported yesterday, the President apparently tried to tamp down expectations even more. It would seem that he thinks a higher minimum wage is not doable right now, particularly with COVID-19 money the main priority, and that he wants to postpone this fight for another day. Whether he thinks he'll be able to thaw Republicans' opposition, or he thinks he's got a better chance with the next round of reconciliation, or he foresees the end of the filibuster, is not known. In any event, there's going to be a lot of unhappiness when wages remain at their current level for (at least) another year.

To take another example, there is the Iran situation. Thus far, Iran has signaled a willingness to forgive and forget that Donald Trump pulled out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (a.k.a., the Iran nuclear deal), and to return to the status quo ante Trumpum. But there are a lot of moving parts here. Among them:

  • Who goes first?: Right now, Iran is enriching uranium and the U.S. has imposed sanctions on Iran. There is disagreement on whether the Iranians should be the first to make a move (i.e., stop enriching uranium) or the Biden administration should be first (i.e., lift the sanctions).

  • Go big?: Some in the Biden administration would like to see the deal broadened, to include not only nuclear materials, but also things like ballistic missiles.

  • Congress: Some in Congress also feel the time has come to get more out of the Iranians. For example, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) thinks that way. Since he is chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he has some pull here.

  • Other countries: It's a multilateral treaty. If a new deal is going to be negotiated, then either China, France, Germany, Russia, the U.K. and the E.U. have to also sign off, or else the U.S. has to be ok with things becoming a little (or a lot) less multilateral. Given the potential for the Chinese and the Russians, in particular, to actively undermine any agreements they are unhappy with, it's probably necessary to get them on board.

  • The clock is ticking: If this takes too long, hardliners in Iran could seize the initiative, thus narrowing the range of possible compromises, or eliminating the possibility of compromise altogether. The same is true of hardliners in the United States, or possibly in other countries who are party to the agreement.

Given the complexities here, not to mention that the White House is rather busy with many other pressing matters, the odds are that Team Biden decides to just resuscitate the original deal and to leave it there for now. That said, the lead negotiator for the deal (John Kerry) is a part of this administration, so they may just decide to try to take another bite at the apple. In any event, things like this are why we would never, ever want to be president. Life is way easier here in the cheap seats. (Z)

Shadow Boxing

Take a look at this chart:

The chart shows the number of signed Supreme 
Court decisions by term from 1792 to 2020. The number consistently rose over the course of the 19th and early 20th centuries, with many years
between 1882 and 1924 featuring 300 signed decisions. Since the 1920s, the total has been in decline, is down to less than 80 a year since
2008, and down to less than 60 a year in the last couple of years

This was put together by Adam Feldman, who founded the very fine data-driven legal analysis site The Juris Lab. As you can see, it shows the number of signed Supreme Court decisions per term, a quantity that has declined pretty consistently in the past century, and has gotten positively tiny in the last decade or so.

At first glance, you might think that the Supreme Court has just slowed down in terms of the number of decisions it issues per year. However, that's not really what's going on. What the chart primarily reflects is the dramatic expansion of the so-called "shadow docket," a term that was coined by University of Chicago Law Professor William Baude in 2015, but that describes a phenomenon in existence for a much longer time. In short, the Court has claimed for itself the privilege of issuing a ruling, whenever it sees fit, without crossing all the usual t's and dotting the usual i's. Such decisions are often issued before the lower courts have fully weighed in or before SCOTUS has heard any oral arguments, are commonly unsigned, are frequently delivered late at night, and regularly offer little or no insight as to how the justices reached their conclusions. It's a shortcut, and usually a sloppy one, used recently in cases as far ranging as death penalty rulings, the legality of various election laws, border wall funding, and COVID-19 restrictions.

Why has this approach grown so much more common over time, particularly in the last few years? Slate's excellent legal analyst Mark Joseph Stern has a couple of thoughts. To start, one upside to using the shadow docket is that it allows the individual justices in particular, and the Court in general, to avoid scrutiny of their decisions. The conservatives on the Court, particularly Brett Kavanaugh once he was seated, have particularly learned that this a useful way to get some very right-leaning jurisprudence in under the radar. The tendency was also encouraged by Donald Trump, whose administration regularly asked for, and got, "emergency" rulings.

With that said, because shadow docket decisions usually aren't precedent-setting, and because they can often turn out in unexpected ways, there are partisans on both sides of the aisle who don't much care for the practice. And so, the House Judiciary Committee held hearings yesterday to look into the matter. It's early in the process, of course, and nobody is yet talking about radical reforms. However, the Congress does have extensive power when it comes to telling the Supreme Court how to conduct its business. And there are many ways that the legislature could seriously trim the size and scope of the shadow docket.

Meanwhile, such discussions also remind many folks that they don't particularly trust the Roberts Court, while also reminding them that Congress can step in, if it wants. And so, it is not impossible that the shadow docket hearings eventually lead to, say, "let's form a Constitutional Court" hearings, or "let's limit SCOTUS' jurisdiction" hearings. (Z)

Poll: It's Still Trump's Party

There is a new Morning Consult/Politico poll out, and it's got great news for Donald Trump (and, we would say, the Democrats) and bad news for any Republican who is not Trump: He is the favored 2024 presidential candidate of more than half of the party's voters. Trump's 54% support dwarfs that of Mike Pence (12%), Nikki Haley (6%), Donald Trump Jr. (6%), Mitt Romney (4%), and Ted Cruz (3%). Trump lost some Republican support immediately after the insurrection, but he's now bounced back to exactly where he was in November of last year. Indeed, only 27% of Republicans say he bears any responsibility for the insurrection whatsoever. If Trump were to follow through on his threat to shoot someone on Fifth Avenue, undoubtedly 73% of Republicans would say that they're tired of the biased media blaming Trump for everything. After all, it was the bullet that killed the victim, not Trump.

In other words, a little more than half the Party wants Trump as standard-bearer again, and at least 63% want a Trumpist candidate (possibly more than 63% depending on how you count Pence and Haley). That means that Trump and, more importantly, Trumpism will be around to haunt Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-KY) nightmares for at least 2 years, and almost certainly more. Undoubtedly, the GOP pooh-bahs will try to derail Trump and his movement, but they couldn't do it in 2016, and that was before Trump had provided proof of concept by winning the presidential election.

The looming problem for the GOP, which McConnell & Co. know full well, is that Trumpism is very unlikely to be a winner in 2024. That's true even if Trump is the candidate, and it's even more true if someone other than the Dear Leader is on the ballot. The former president got trounced twice in the popular vote, and that was before another four years of demographic change, not to mention supporting an insurrection against the government of the United States. Republicans may have forgiven Trump, but the large majority of independents (60%) and Democrats (88%) haven't. (Z)

Trump to Haley: Pound Sand

Earlier this week, we noted that former UN Ambassador and South Carolina governor Nikki Haley (R) is busily positioning herself to be the Republican nominee in 2024. And she wants to be the "good parts of Trumpism without the bad parts" candidate, thus positioning herself in both of the 2024 lanes that have been developing since November of last year.

We expressed skepticism that can work and, indeed, Haley got her very first object lesson on that point on Wednesday. She tried to make a pilgrimage to Mar-a-Lago, with hopes of sitting down with Don, Don Trump, kissing the ring, and clearing the air. The former president, furious that Haley was moderately critical of him (she said: "We need to acknowledge [Trump] let us down...He went down a path he shouldn't have, and we shouldn't have followed him."), told her to get lost.

The problem here is that Trump demands 100% loyalty, all the time. Not 99.9% or 95%, and certainly not 50%. He will not forgive or forget Haley's deviations from the Trumpist party line, and he's never, ever going to support her candidacy. Given the command that he (and Trumpism) have over the Party (see above), that is nearly fatal to the Ambassador's presidential hopes. Trump is going to play around with the possibility of running himself in 2024, and when and if he moves beyond that, there are plenty of 100% loyalist candidates for him to get behind, whether it's one of his kids, or Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO), or Ted Cruz, or Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL). Well, maybe scratch Cruz (see above). In fact, definitely scratch Cruz when there are many far better choices for Trump.

Haley's only real path is to become the unquestioned leader of the anti-Trump faction, dominate that lane, and hope the pro-Trump vote is divided in the 2024 primaries, allowing her to steal the nomination. Remember that most GOP primaries are winner-take-all, so if Haley gets 35% of the vote, and three Trumpy candidates get 20% each, she gets most of the marbles. Even that path is rather a longshot however, and then, even if she gets the nod, she would have to hope and pray—to both Waheguru and God, since she follows both Sikhism and Methodism—that the party unites behind her and Trump does not make it his mission to cut her off at the knees. Given his near-unlimited capacity for petulance and revenge-seeking, that may be beyond the power of both Waheguru and God to grant, even if they work together. (Z)

Ivanka Is Out

It is hard to win election as a Republican, these days, without Donald Trump's support. However, it is also hard to win election with his support, sometimes. Ivanka Trump was toying with the possibility of running for the Senate in her new home state of Florida. This despite having no apparent qualifications for the job, not to mention conflicts of interest out the wazoo. Throwing her $2,000 Vivien Sheriff hat into the ring, however, would have meant challenging Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL). He is an incumbent, is a pretty good match for his state, and is popular with many important Florida constituencies (particularly Miamians and Cubans). So, after careful consideration, she decided against a run, and told Rubio she won't challenge him.

Though Democrats will be disappointed that there will be no ugly primary battle, this is a pretty predictable development. To start, campaigning is hard work, particularly in a big and diverse state like Florida. The Trumps have never shown much affinity for hard work, especially when the payoff at the end is no sure thing. Further, Donald Jr. has occasionally implied that a mere Senate seat is beneath his family—it wouldn't be a surprise if Ivanka feels similarly. And finally, if Donald Sr. was unable to get his own daughter elected in his own home state, his brand would take a rather sizable hit, possibly even among the base. In any case, Ivanka's out, and the only Trump family member who appears to be seriously considering a run for office in 2022 is Lara Trump (wife of Eric). Of course, if Lara loses, the Donald will disown her and say that she isn't a real Trump. (Z)

Video Killed the Radio Star

Readers will recall that we ended up with a bunch of television references in Wednesday's post, and that we promised to list them all today. As with the 1980s movies references, it's easier to list them in an item, as opposed to trying to do it in a postscript. And so, without further ado:

  • The headline of the item The Kid's in the Hall was a play on the name of the Canadian sketch comedy show The Kids in the Hall. And we want to reiterate that any rumours the Canadians have infiltrated this site are lies, and that merely saying so causes us great offence, eh.

  • The item Trump Slams McConnell refers to them as an "odd couple," which comes from the play, movie, and TV show of that name created by the great Neil Simon.

  • The headline of the item Movin' on Up is taken from the very recognizable theme song of the show "The Jeffersons."

  • The item Insurrection Panel Getting Closer to Reality contains the phrase "the truth is out there," which is the tagline to the show The X-Files.

  • The third paragraph of the item Trump Sued for Inciting Insurrection begins with "Just one more thing." That is the catchphrase of TV detective Columbo. Since that show had two pilot episodes, nearly 3 years apart, we listed two different debut years. This was definitely the toughest reference to catch.

  • The item Giuliani Sidelined includes the phrase "now for something completely different," a line often used by the cast of Monty Python's Flying Circus. That piece also includes a mention of Sacha Baron Cohen, who has created two different TV shows (Da Ali G Show and Who is America?), so that could plausibly be called a TV reference as well.

  • The final item, The Downside to Schadenfreude, has the phrase "happy happy joy joy" from Ren and Stimpy, then a mention of the wild and crazy guys and also a clip from Saturday Night Live, then a "moment of Zen" from The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (which debuted in 1996, but didn't get Stewart as host until 1999, hence the two debut years), then D'oh from the Simpsons and, to bring it to a close, a mention of the famous "Who shot J.R.?" moment from Dallas.

Those, at very least, are the references we intended. As with the last time, others were pointed out by readers, including "pooh-bahs" (The Flintstones), "truth be told" (To Tell the Truth), and "kinda dense" (Four Seasons). Who knew? (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Feb18 Rush Limbaugh Is Dead
Feb18 How to Turn Bad News into Good News, Texas Style: Lie
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Feb18 Democrats May Turn Marjorie Taylor Greene into a Boogeywoman
Feb18 Traffic at Far-Right News Sites Spiked in 2020
Feb18 Forty Acres and a Mule, Revisited
Feb17 The Kid's in the Hall
Feb17 Trump Slams McConnell
Feb17 Movin' on Up?
Feb17 Insurrection Panel Getting Closer to Reality
Feb17 Trump Sued for Inciting Insurrection
Feb17 Giuliani Sidelined
Feb17 The Downside to Schadenfreude
Feb16 Battle Lines Are Forming
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Feb16 An Unforced Error for the Biden Administration
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Feb16 Perdue May Take Another Bite at the Peach
Feb15 Takeaway Time
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Feb15 Poll: Americans Believe Trump Was Responsible for the Capitol Riot
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