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GOP Senators Haven’t Represented a Majority Since 1996
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Manchin Will Back Haaland

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) has to calibrate his positions on everything in order to keep his Democratic Senate colleagues at least somewhat happy with him while not jeopardizing his 2024 reelection hopes in a very red state. He has already come out against confirming Neera Tanden as director of OMB. His opposition will probably be fatal for her nomination. Two Senate committees that were supposed to interview her yesterday canceled their hearings. That is an almost certain sign that her nomination is not going to make it. The next step in the standard Kabuki play is that the nominee requests that her name be withdrawn for the good of the country. If she plays her part well, Biden will appoint her to a position that does not require Senate confirmation. If everybody plays their part, Manchin can brag in 2024 how he personally scuttled the horrible socialist Tanden and get brownie points with the Trumpist voters in West Virginia.

On the other hand, yesterday Manchin said he will vote for the confirmation of Deb Haaland to be Secretary of the Interior. One thing he likes about her is her position that fossil fuels (like, you know, coal) will be part of the energy mix for years to come. Another thing he likes is her willingness to use coal mining fees to clean up old abandoned coal mines. With Manchin, sooner or later, everything comes back to coal. Sometimes we feel we should note him as Sen. Joe Manchin (D-19th century). If confirmed, Haaland would be the first Native American to serve in the cabinet. And with Manchin supporting her, she will probably be confirmed. Manchin seems to enjoy playing God of politics. He gets to decide who lives and who dies. Good work if you can get it.

Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) said he would seek to block and defeat Haaland. He can put a hold on her nomination, but as long as all the Democrats stick together, in the end Haaland will be confirmed. (V)

DNC Will Get Involved in Midterms

You might be thinking: "Is that really news?" But yes, it is news because Barack Obama didn't really have a lot of use for the DNC, didn't treat it well, and didn't much care what it did. Joe Biden is not like that. He installed his favorite, Jaime Harrison, as chairman, and very much wants the DNC to be involved in the midterm elections. This is just part of the rehabilitation of the institutional Democratic Party, which largely wilted during Obama's tenure because Obama mostly cared about his own organization, not the Democratic Party's. One sign of that is that Biden's deputy chief of staff, Jen O'Malley Dillon, talks to Harrison regularly, allowing the DNC to coordinate well with Biden.

Harrison is a strong fundraiser. With Biden's support, he could make the DNC a powerful force in the midterms, not only for Congress, but also for gubernatorial and other races. The DNC is especially important because it has more flexibility than the DSCC, DCCC, or the DGA, each of which tries to elect Democrats within its domain but can't go outside it. If, for example, the DSCC has more money than it needs for Senate races and the DCCC doesn't have enough for House races, the DSCC can't just throw some money over the fence to the DCCC. The DNC can spend wherever the need is the greatest. Biden intends to give the DNC the $40 million he has leftover from his campaign.

Donna Brazile, a former DNC chair, said that the DNC is the only party organ that can help build up an organization in states that are not currently competitive, but might be some day if Democrats simply showed up. This is an idea first proposed by Howard Dean when he ran the DNC (the "50-state strategy"), but he didn't get very far with it. Maybe it is an idea whose time has come, especially now that states like Georgia and Arizona, which Democrats have long thought were impossible to win, turned out to be winnable after all. (V)

Postmaster General DeJoy May Soon Get a Special Delivery Letter

And it will say: "You're fired." The USPS is universally loved by Americans, especially those in rural areas for whom it is their main contact with the outside world. Yet Postmaster General Louis DeJoy seems hell-bent on destroying it. DeJoy testified before the House Oversight and Reform Committee yesterday. One representative asked him how long he expected to be on the job. He said: "A long time. Get used to me." DeJoy also outlined his plans for the USPS. He wants to slow first-class mail and remove a significant amount of mail from air transportation, all in the name of efficiency.

Democrats despise DeJoy because he introduced changes to the agency last summer that had the effect of slowing the delivery of absentee ballots. Unfortunately for him, that came out, and Democratic voters were warned to use ballot drop boxes during the week before the election. Many want Biden to fire DeJoy, but he doesn't have that authority.

However, Biden does have the authority to name people to the USPS board of governors and there are three vacancies he is about to fill. He is expected to name Ron Stroman, the recently retired deputy PG, to one of the seats. A second seat will go to Amber McReynolds, the chief executive of the National Vote at Home Institute, which supports absentee voting. The third seat will go to Anton Hajjar, the former general counsel for the American Postal Workers Union. With these three appointments, Democrats will have a majority of the board, which could then send DeJoy a special delivery letter informing him that his services are no longer desired. That said, one of the Democrats on the board is Donald L. Moak, who was appointed by Trump, and who previously voted to hire DeJoy. So, the PG's termination is no certainty.

Many Democrats want to make changes to the laws governing the USPS. One change would relieve the USPS from having to prefund the retirement benefits for all of its employees, a requirement no other federal agency has. Another item on the Democrats' wish list is replacing 165,000 USPS trucks with electric vehicles or at least very efficient conventional trucks. Another item many Democrats want is to bring back postal banking. This would allow people to open savings accounts with the USPS, cash checks there, and get small loans from it. The big banks and payday lenders are violently opposed to these potential changes. However, the postal unions strongly favor them. (V)

Secretaries of State Are Hot

Normally, the 50 state secretaries of state are unknown and somewhat boring officials. They supervise elections, handle the registration of corporations and nonprofits, manage state historical records, certify things that need certifying, and other mundane stuff. Nobody used to care about them. Donald Trump changed all that. Now a whole lot of people care about them because they have to be trusted to report election results correctly. A crooked secretary of state could singlehandedly change the results of an election. Trump tried hard to get Georgia's secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger (R), to flip the election results, but Raffensperger refused. For this effort, Trump may yet wind up in a Georgia state prison.

In 2022, 26 states (including Georgia) will elect a secretary of state, mostly for 4-year terms. Here is a list of the current incumbents. The dean of the list is Bill Gardner, who has been New Hampshire's secretary of state for 44 years now. He is one of the 14 who are appointed, rather than elected.

One can legitimately ask why an administrative office like SoS is an elected or appointed office, rather than being a civil service job. There is no good answer. It just is. Be that as it may, there is going to be a flood of attention in those 26 states next year as voters are newly aware of the office and its role in elections. Ground zero will be Georgia. Democrats appreciate what Raffensperger did, but would be happier if a Democrat were sitting in his office instead of him, since a lot of the voter suppression being done in Georgia (and elsewhere) originates in the secretary's office. For example, while the presence/absence of voter-ID laws is up to the legislature, secretaries have a fair amount of leeway concerning the purging of felons, sending applications for absentee ballots to voters, and so on. Future elections could depend on how aggressive the secretary is in trying to either (1) increase the number of voters, or (2) decrease the number of voters. And of course, how well the secretary stands up to political pressure is pretty important as well.

Raffensperger in particular, but also other secretaries who told Trump to go pound sand when he wanted something from them, are going to be in for bigger-than-usual battles in 2022 or 2024. Raffensperger, among other Republicans, will almost certainly face a Trump-endorsed primary opponent. Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson (D) will potentially face a Trump-endorsed general-election opponent, depending on who wins the Republican primary. Benson noted that her reelection will be much tougher than usual, but she also expects to raise far more money than usual, much of it from out of state, which is rare for such a low-profile office.

The Republicans have a group, the Republican State Leadership Committee, that is focused on electing Republican secretaries of state and is raising money for races in key states. Among other states, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, Ohio, and Wisconsin have SoS races next year. In the past, a really strong candidate for SoS might raise $500,000. This isn't enough for polling, message research, or TV ads. In 2022, millions will be spent on these races and they will become as competitive as gubernatorial or senatorial races. Keep an eye out for them. (V)

Net Neutrality Scores a Big Win in California

Net neutrality may seem a bit arcane to many people, but it is really important. Former FCC chairman Ajit Pai, a Trump appointee, killed net neutrality. That means that Internet providers are free to give better service to some kinds of Internet traffic and worse (or no) service to other kinds. Sound too abstract? Here is a hypothetical example: Your Internet provider is, say, Comcast. You go to and see a message saying: "This service is not available." Why not? Because Amazon could pay Comcast $50 million a year to block Netflix so that people will subscribe to Amazon Prime. Is that legal? Absent net neutrality, yes. So then you switch providers to AT&T, if that is possible. Netflix is there. Great. Now you try to visit the and get the message: "This service is not available." Why not? Because Rupert Murdoch is paying AT&T $30 million per year to block it in the hope that you will then visit one of his papers, such as the New York Post or the Wall Street Journal. Is that legal? In the absence of net neutrality, yes.

Net neutrality is a principle that says all traffic is equal and no traffic is more equal. If net neutrality is in effect, Internet providers cannot block any legal websites or content and cannot favor others with better service. The effects of allowing Internet providers to block content they don't like, either for monetary or political reasons, should be fairly clear, especially when "lucky" consumers/voters have access to two potential providers and unlucky ones have access to one (or zero). It's not like a chicken restaurant that has very clear political views. There are lots of restaurants that sell chicken. If you don't like one of them, there are plenty of others to patronize. Internet providers are not a dime a dozen.

In addition to those examples, an Internet provider could make a political decision that the Internet should be like cable television. There are 100-200 channels (websites) available, each run by a giant corporation, and everything else should go away, either by blocking the rest outright or by charging every website $50,000/month not to be blocked. That would probably clear the field pretty fast. Net neutrality makes that illegal.

But there is some good news on this front. While there is no federal net neutrality law, California passed one. The Internet providers sued to kill it. On Tuesday, a federal judge ruled against them, saying that if California wants such a law to protect its residents, it is entitled to pass and enforce such a law. Other blue states will no doubt take notice and pass similar laws now. Red states might decide to leave this to the free market, saying that if consumers don't like what their Internet provider is offering, they should pick another one. This ignores the fact that there are few places in the U.S. where there are more than two choices (at least for fixed broadband).

The FCC is currently split between two Democrats and two Republicans, with one vacancy. Until a fifth member is confirmed, it will not take any action. But if it is up to the FCC, as majorities change, net neutrality will fade in and out. The only long-term solution is a federal law making it a crime for an Internet provider to favor some traffic over other traffic.

As an aside, one of us (V) can choose from among a dozen Internet providers. He currently has an Internet provider that offers 500 Mbps upstream and 500 Mbps downstream (with no data limits), over 100 TV channels, and two fixed (VoIP) telephone lines, all for about $80/month, but 1 Gbps is also available from other providers. How is this possible? The Dutch government discovered a magic principle. They call it "competition." The physical infrastructure (fiber in the ground, etc.) is owned and operated by one company but it has to let any aspiring Internet provider use it for a fee. As a result, many Internet providers have sprung up. Some try to be the cheapest. Others aim at being the fastest. Still others tout their great customer service. Each one can charge whatever it wants to, but it has to keep an eye on what the others are doing. Changing providers is easy. Another example of that dreadful European socialism in action. (V)

Democrats Might Make a Huge Unforced Error That Could Cost Them Next Year

Quick question: Are (emergency) unemployment benefits considered taxable income? Quick answer: Yes. Long complicated answer: Still yes. Unemployment benefits have been considered taxable income for years. Millions of people got unemployment benefits last year and quickly spent all of it to pay the rent, buy food, and heat the house. Probably not many calculated how much tax they will owe on those benefits and then socked that amount away. In a few states, tax is automatically deducted from the benefits at the source, and in a few others, the beneficiary can opt for a deduction, but a lot of people aren't aware of any of this and spent every penny they got. They are soon going to be surprised when they get tax bills for thousands of dollars.

Many of them are going to say: WTF? There is a pandemic. The government gives me a measly handout and now wants part of it back? When they discover this, a lot of anger will be directed at Joe Biden, even though it isn't his fault at all. Well, it is his fault unless he absolutely makes sure that the COVID-19 relief bill he is pushing makes unemployment benefits received in 2020 and 2021 exempt from federal tax. Congress can obviously change the tax laws to do that but it doesn't look like it is going to do it.

One study suggests that only 40% of the benefits were already subjected to withholding. Those people will be all right, since their tax bill is already paid. The other 60% will be soon socked with big tax bills they can't pay. They are going to be very angry, even though they probably should have at least asked last year if unemployment benefits are taxable.

Not all Democrats are oblivious to this problem. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Rep. Cindy Axne (D-IA) introduced bills to forgive federal taxes on up to $10,200 in unemployment income, but their provision would cost the federal government money, and that tax expenditure is fighting against many other priorities. If that goes in, should schools get less? States? Cities? Small businesses? Individuals? It has to come from somewhere since Biden wants to keep the total under $2 trillion. So far, the Durbin-Axne provision is not in the bill the House Ways and Means Committee is working on.

Biden does have a way out: Declaring an emergency. Previous presidents have declared emergencies. One did it quite recently in order to move funds around for wall construction. Under current law, benefits distributed during a qualified emergency are tax free. Biden could declare that this emergency qualifies. However, that would certainly be challenged in court, whereas an actual change to the IRS code would be immune to a challenge as Congress clearly has the power to determine what income is taxable and what income is not taxable. (V)

Virginia Gubernatorial Election Is Often a Bellwether

Virginia holds its gubernatorial election the year after the presidential election. Since 1976, the party that won the White House the previous year has lost the Virginia gubernatorial election every time except one (2013). Will this year be different? The results could foreshadow what will happen in 2022. Virginia is an interesting test case. It is a large, diverse state, with a strong Republican tradition, but the Democrats have done well there recently. It has huge suburban areas in Loudoun, Fairfax, and Prince William Counties, near D.C., that vote Democratic, but the western counties are all rural and Republican, except for Montgomery County, where Virginia Tech is located. This is shown in the map of the 2020 election by county:

2020 election in Virginia by county; it's blue on much
of the coasts, particularly in the north, and then there's one blue county among a sea of deep red in the western part of the state

"As Maine goes, so goes the nation" is obsolete. Replace "Maine" with "the Virginia gubernatorial election." It is often a harbinger for national trends. Both parties know this and are acting accordingly. New Jersey also has a gubernatorial election this year, but Gov. Phil Murphy (D-NJ) is very strongly favored for reelection, so no one is paying any attention to that race. Virginia is the only game in town.

It's going to be a free-for-all. Already, 12 people have filed to run: six Republicans, five Democrats, and a leftist independent. Gov. Ralph Northam (D-VA) is not among them because Virginia law states that although governors may serve as many terms as they can get elected to, they may not serve consecutive terms.

Generally, after serving one term, Virginia governors go find something else to occupy their time. Patrick ("Give me liberty or give me death") Henry served two (nonconsecutive) terms, as did James Monroe, but no one has gotten a second term since Mills Godwin did it in 1973. However, former governor Terry McAuliffe (D) is giving it a shot. While he was a popular centrist governor, many people on the left want a woman or someone who is a minority. Of the 73 governors Virginia has had, 72 were white men. Only Doug Wilder, a Black man, didn't fit the mold. No woman has ever been elected governor of Virginia.

But that isn't stopping some of them from trying. Two Black Jennifers are running: former Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy and state Sen. Jennifer McClellan (who is definitely a woman of color, even if her picture makes it seem otherwise). And the Black vote could be badly split, since Princess Blanding, a Black woman whose brother was killed by Richmond police, is also running (as a leftist independent), not to mention Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, who is also Black. With four Black candidates, a popular white male former governor, and an unknown white state delegate in the mix, the smart money is on the former governor unless three of the Black candidates drop out. Here are the Democrats and the independent:

Democrats and independent

Lee Carter is a fiery state delegate somewhat in the style of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). But his problem is that he is competing for the same progressive vote as two Black Democratic women. Surely most progressives are going to prefer a Black woman to a white man whose platform isn't terribly different from the women's.

The Republican side is a big mess, overshadowed by the giant shadow of Donald Trump. He is the 800-pound orange-utan in the room. Some Republicans think the keys to the governor's mansion will belong to the Trumpiest candidate. Others think they will go to the least Trumpy candidate. So this will be a big test of what might happen in 2022 in many races. Here are the six Republicans:

Republicans running for governor of Virginia

Only two are politicians, state Sen. Amanda Chase and Del. Kirk Cox. Glenn Youngkin and Pete Snyder are businessmen. Peter Doran is a former think tank executive. Sergio de la Peña is a retired Army colonel. Most observers think the four outsiders have no chance, so it will either be Chase, who calls herself "Trump in heels," or Cox, who is running as a non-Trumpy candidate. With such a diversity of choices on the Democratic side, there will be no crossover vote. Every Democrat is sure to find a candidate to love. The $64,000 question is whether Republicans want a gun-toting Trumpy woman or a non-Trumpy man. A lot is going to be read into the results. Republican officials are scared witless of McAuliffe vs. Chase in the general election. That will result in a Democratic landslide. McAuliffe vs. Cox would be more competitive, but only if the Republicans cooperate and pick him.

As of Dec. 31, Cox had $691,000 cash on hand and Chase had $235,000. That could change radically as the June 8 primary approaches, especially if out-of-state Democrats start pouring money into Chase's campaign. It could also change if Trump endorses Chase. Given his penchant for sticking it to the Republican establishment, he might well do it. As far as the Democrats go, well, McAuliffe was known as the Clintons' bag man. He can raise stupendous amounts of money and is proving that once again. He has already raised $6 million and will raise many more millions before June. It is not lost on him that in times of turbulence, a lot of voters want a steady (white male) hand on the tiller. Selling himself as a younger version of Joe Biden might work. There is one other factor that could play a role here. If Democratic donors see one of the Black women as the next Stacey Abrams, the money could pour in. But if none of them emerges as the clear leader, McAuliffe could swamp them all.

The Republicans all agree on abortion (bad) and guns (good). The one area where they are split is whether Joe Biden won the election fairly. Cox says "yes," Chase says "no." The others would rather not say.

In the general election, one thing everyone will be examining with a microscope is whether those suburban women have really left the Republican Party behind and are now Democrats. Did they vote for Joe Biden, or merely against Donald Trump? If they actually liked Biden, they will like McAuliffe if he is the nominee. If they are still Republicans, they might go for Cox (but not Chase). In short, all eyes will be on Virginia this year. (V)

Rush Limbaugh and the Battle of the Flags in Florida

Florida has only one statewide elected Democrat, Nikki Fried, commissioner of orange juice (well, and other agricultural products, too). She is planning to challenge Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) when he runs for reelection in 2022. She is trying to raise her statewide profile to clear the field of other ambitious Democrats. Specifically, she is trying to do this over Rush Limbaugh's dead body. When DeSantis ordered state buildings to lower their flags to half staff to honor Limbaugh, Fried ordered buildings under her control to fly the flags at the top of the pole. She said: "What he's doing is bending over backwards to honor a radio host who spent his entire career talking hate speech and talking bigotry and division and conspiracy theories." Trumpy voters aren't going to like that, but they were never going to vote for her anyway. Democratic voters might take notice though.

Fried isn't formally in the race yet, but she is definitely running. She released a video last week attacking DeSantis for botching his response to the pandemic. She isn't bothering to attack the other Democrats in the race, possibly including former governor Charlie Crist. It's probably a good strategy for the moment. It's easier to get Democrats to like you if you attack Republicans, rather than other Democrats.

Fried's résumé is not very long, but it includes one thing Democrats like: a win in a statewide race, one of just three Democratic wins statewide in Florida in the past 16 years.

Fried and DeSantis disagree on everything, from meeting agendas to hiring decisions. Their sniping at each other is only going to increase from now until the Democratic primary gets going, at which time she might have to start firing away at the other Democrats who would like to be governor. At least one Florida political strategist thinks that Fried's primary strategy is to ignore the primary as long as possible and become established in the minds of Democrats as the person who despises DeSantis the most and is best able to take him down. Until some other high-profile Democrat gets in the race, there is no reason to do otherwise, and maybe not even then. It could become a contest about who hates DeSantis and Trump the most. (V)

O'Rourke Is Back

While Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) was lolling on the beach in Cancun and Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX) was telling the millions of Texans freezing in the dark that they should blame the Green New Deal for their plight, former Senate candidate Beto O'Rourke was soliciting donations to help storm victims and delivering pallets of water from his pickup truck. To many observers, this looks like a guy about to run for public office, probably against Abbott in 2022. His campaign against Abbott is already pretty clear: Abbott doesn't care what happens to ordinary Texans. If he wants to make the point that Republicans in general don't care about ordinary people, he can also feature Cruz in his 2022 ads. Could it work? O'Rourke came within a couple of points of beating Cruz in 2018. Now, his profile is higher and his image is miles higher after Abbott bungled handling the storm.

Could a white Irishman be the next Stacey Abrams? Maybe. During his 2018 run, O'Rourke managed to register 200,000 new voters. To win in Texas, he will have to do a lot better than that, but Georgia now shows how it can be done. And Abrams didn't have a clear villain as a foil. O'Rourke has two very high-profile and unpopular villains to work with. A poll from the University of Houston in mid-January—before the storm hit—put Abbott's approval rating at 39%. It's surely lower now, which could make him vulnerable.

One big problem O'Rourke has is that during his short and ill-fated presidential run, he was a fearless supporter of gun control. During one of the debates he said: "Hell yes, we're going to take your AR-15, your AK-47." That might play well in blue states, but it does not play well at all in Texas. O'Rourke's counterargument will be that Abbott has botched two crises: the pandemic and the storms. He is an incompetent leader. People for whom guns are the most important issue are probably never going to vote for O'Rourke no matter what, but Republicans who are scared of COVID-19 and spent a week freezing in the dark might have a dim view of Abbott and be open to dumping him. (V)

Democrats Introduce a Bill to Strip Presidents Convicted of a Felony of Their Pension

Rep. Sean Maloney (D-NY), who chairs the DCCC, and Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), a leading progressive, have introduced a bill into the House that would strip any president convicted of a felony of his lifetime $219,200 pension. It would also remove the budgets ex-presidents get for office space and a staff. The pair didn't mention which former presidents they had in mind, but there are only five possibilities: Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump. Maybe they suspect Obama is going to write a bad check in the next few months. Who knows?

The legislation does not strip ex-POTUSes of their lifetime Secret Service protection. However, no one really knows how that would work for a president in prison. Would the agents have to take rotating tours in prison along with their charge? The possibility that Donald Trump might end up in prison rose dramatically as a result of the Supreme Court's recent refusal to shoot down a subpoena for Trump's tax returns and financial records that was issued by Manhattan D.A. Cyrus Vance Jr. The bill would apply to any felony conviction, including for state crimes.

The bill is called the REAP Act: The Restoring and Enforcing Accountability in Presidents Act. As ye sow, so shall ye REAP, apparently. (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Feb24 COVID-19 Bill Will Be a One-Party Show
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Feb22 Trump Will Address CPAC on Sunday
Feb22 Democrats Are Doing an Autopsy of the Election
Feb22 Republicans' Strength in the State Legislatures Was Built Up over 40 Years
Feb22 Poll: Republicans Are Still with Trump
Feb21 Sunday Mailbag
Feb20 Saturday Q&A
Feb19 Ted Fled
Feb19 It Ain't Easy Being Prez
Feb19 Shadow Boxing
Feb19 Poll: It's Still Trump's Party
Feb19 Trump to Haley: Pound Sand
Feb19 Ivanka Is Out
Feb19 Video Killed the Radio Star
Feb18 Rush Limbaugh Is Dead
Feb18 How to Turn Bad News into Good News, Texas Style: Lie
Feb18 Manchin Is a Byrder
Feb18 Biden Does Not Support Forgiving $50,000 in Student Loans
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
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Feb16 Battle Lines Are Forming
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Feb16 An Unforced Error for the Biden Administration