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Political Wire logo A Wake Up Call for Democrats
Democrats Have No Backup Plan for Voting Rights
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Infrastructure Compromise Stuck on How to Pay for It
Biden Breaks from Agenda to Focus on Crime
Democratic Angst Grows as Filibuster Blocks Agenda

TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Sinema Lays Out Her Filibuster Views in Black and White
      •  Polling News, Part I: Adams Remains the Favorite
      •  Polling News, Part II: DeSantis for President?
      •  Trump's Risky Endorsement Strategy
      •  Tucker Carlson, Male Prostitute
      •  Big News Times Two from the World of Sports

Sinema Lays Out Her Filibuster Views in Black and White

For the last few weeks, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) has been getting all the attention, as people wondered exactly what he will, or will not, support when it comes to voting rights, infrastructure, and changing the filibuster. It would seem that Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) did not like it that Manchin was getting all the headlines, because she published an op-ed late on Monday that reiterates her views on the filibuster.

The headline, which many will roll their eyes at, is: "We have more to lose than gain by ending the filibuster." Sinema did not write the headline, of course, but she did write the body of the piece (or, at least, she approved it being published in her name). Here's the key passage:

It's no secret that I oppose eliminating the Senate's 60-vote threshold. I held the same view during three terms in the U.S. House, and said the same after I was elected to the Senate in 2018. If anyone expected me to reverse my position because my party now controls the Senate, they should know that my approach to legislating in Congress is the same whether in the minority or majority.

Once in a majority, it is tempting to believe you will stay in the majority. But a Democratic Senate minority used the 60-vote threshold just last year to filibuster a police reform proposal and a covid-relief bill that many Democrats viewed as inadequate. Those filibusters were mounted not as attempts to block progress, but to force continued negotiations toward better solutions.

And, sometimes, the filibuster, as it's been used in previous Congresses, is needed to protect against attacks on women's health, clean air and water, or aid to children and families in need.

My support for retaining the 60-vote threshold is not based on the importance of any particular policy. It is based on what is best for our democracy. The filibuster compels moderation and helps protect the country from wild swings between opposing policy poles.

To those who want to eliminate the legislative filibuster to pass the For the People Act (voting-rights legislation I support and have co-sponsored), I would ask: Would it be good for our country if we did, only to see that legislation rescinded a few years from now and replaced by a nationwide voter-ID law or restrictions on voting by mail in federal elections, over the objections of the minority?

It's a fine argument, though it does frame things in the way that is most favorable to the Senator's point of view. That is to say, it's much easier to say that you want to keep the filibuster because of positive outcomes A, B, and C that it has had. The question gets a little harder, however, when you frame it something like this: Getting rid of the filibuster is going to do harm, but restricting voting rights will do harm, too; which harm is worse? Or, if you'd like that in sound bite form: Which is a more important thing to protect, the voice of the minority, or the voices of minorities? Also helpful to her argument, Sinema overlooks that the Senate functioned just fine without a filibuster for 100 years or so, and with a very limited use of the filibuster for another 100 or so.

As is the case with Manchin, we don't really know what to make of Sinema's statements on this question. Actually, she's probably a little harder to figure out, since she doesn't have the argument that she's the only Democrat who can get elected in her home state, while Manchin does. Further, her state is purple (not ruby red) and many of her past supporters are getting restless, so it's less clear that her assertive centrism (conservatism?) is actually helping her, politically. All of this said, we will point out that the whole op-ed very pointedly focuses on eliminating the filibuster, and is essentially silent on changing the filibuster. So, if in a month or six, she "grudgingly decides" that it's necessary to make the filibuster a "talking" filibuster again, or to do something else that keeps the option available but makes it more onerous, she's left herself an out that would not require repudiating this entire op-ed.

One tacit assumption that Sinema and Manchin are making is "If we play nice, the Republicans will play nice." We really question this. Suppose the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade and the Republicans win the White House and both chambers of Congress in 2024 or 2028. Then Congressional Republicans draw up a bill to outlaw abortion nationally and the Democrats filibuster it. Then the Republicans try to sneak that into a reconciliation bill but Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough says: "Nope." So the only way to pass the law is to abolish the filibuster. If you believe that the Republicans will say: "We appreciate your not abolishing it in 2021 when you could have passed your entire program, so we won't abolish it now," then we would be happy to sell you an NFT of today's posting for the bargain price of only $10,000. Want it? The Democrats would be extremely foolish to refrain from abolishing the filibuster now without some ironclad guarantee that the Republicans won't abolish it in the future. Probably the only "guarantee" that might be enforceable would be to pass a constitutional amendment right now requiring 60% of the Senate to approve all legislation. That would be hard to undo later when Republicans wanted to abolish it. (Z & V)

Polling News, Part I: Adams Remains the Favorite

Today is the day that New Yorkers will choose the Democratic nominee for mayor, and thus, Mayor Bill de Blasio's (D) successor. Things have grown exceedingly nasty, as candidates desperate to claw their way to the top have turned on one another and accused each other of all sorts of unpleasant things, whether it's being a lousy and ineffective co-worker (Maya Wiley), or engaging in voter suppression (Andrew Yang and Kathryn Garcia), or income tax evasion (Eric Adams).

It does not appear that all this mud-slinging has moved the needle much. In what will presumably be the final poll of the race, Ipsos has Adams maintaining his commanding lead, with 28% of the vote. Following him are Yang (20%), Garcia (15%), Wiley (13%), Scott Stringer (8%), Shaun Donovan (5%), Ray McGuire (also 5%), and Dianne Morales (1%), while 6% of respondents expressed no preference. That adds up to 101% because of rounding. Simulating the progression of the ranked-choice voting, Ipsos predicts that Adams will triumph over Yang in the 7th round of balloting, 56% to 44%.

It is clearly Adams' race to lose, then, and most New York political insiders think he'll be the next mayor. That said, the ranked-choice voting is a wildcard, particularly if non-Adams voters decide to put the focus on strategy rather than what is in their hearts. We should know what happened...sometime this month? Well, unless they import a bunch of Democratic officials from Iowa to run the show. (Z)

Polling News, Part II: DeSantis for President?

There are many, many groups of conservative activists out there, and they love to meet and talk shop. This weekend, one of those groups, the Western Conservative Summit, had its annual confab, and conducted a straw poll asking which folks the attendees would be willing to support for president. They could vote for as many or as few as they liked. Here are the percentages of the vote for each potential presidential candidate:

Candidate Percentage
Ron DeSantis 74.12%
Donald Trump Sr. 71.43%
Ted Cruz 42.86%
Mike Pompeo 39.35%
Tim Scott 35.58%
Kristi Noem 29.92%
Tom Cotton 29.92%
Rand Paul 27.76%
Donald Trump Jr. 24.8%
Mike Pence 21.56%
Josh Hawley 20.22%
Dan Crenshaw 20.22%
Nikki Haley 19.14%
Michelle Obama 2.96%
Elizabeth Warren 2.96%
Joe Biden 2.43%
Pete Buttigieg 2.16%
Stacey Abrams 2.16%
Amy Klobuchar 2.16%
Kamala Harris 1.89%
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez 1.89%
Beto O'Rourke 1.62%
Cory Booker 1.62%
Andrew Yang 1.35%
Bernie Sanders 1.35%
Gretchen Whitmer 1.35%
None of the above 1.08%
John Kasich 0.81%
Mark Cuban 0.54%
Andrew Cuomo 0.54%
Michael Bloomberg 0.27%

Before we talk about the numbers, let's start with some important caveats: These sorts of straw polls are extremely unreliable, because they involve small sample sizes, and an unrepresentative selection of True Believers™. They are the kind of thing designed for the Ron Pauls and the Pat Buchanans of the world to win, and do relatively little to indicate who is electable nationally, or even who has broad support in the Republican Party.

On the other hand, the folks voting in this (or any other) straw poll are the sort of activists that a candidate really needs, particularly if they are running in the far-right lane. The folks who attend these conservative conferences and summits have an outsized role in the Republican Party, because they donate their time and money and they have influence over other Party members. In other words, their support may not be sufficient to win the GOP nomination or the election, but it probably is necessary, in particular—once again—for someone running in the far-right lane.

And now, a few observations:

  • Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) continues to look like the frontrunner if Donald Trump Sr. does not run. Indeed, if Trump is badly damaged (say, he's on his way to prison) and he still tries to mount a run, it's not impossible that DeSantis could decide to challenge him directly, and could dispatch him. It's clear that for many Republican voters, the Governor offers many of the upsides of Trumpism without all the baggage.

  • That said, for a guy who supported an insurrection, and who could be under indictment very soon, Trump is still holding on.

  • We are surprised to see Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) finish third, though if his support with the party activists is this soft, he's in deep trouble if he thinks he can mount a more successful presidential run.

  • Mike Pence was booed this weekend at a different Republican conference, namely the Faith & Freedom Coalition summit. If he's lost the people who attend a conference with a name like that, and he's pulling only 21% support in this straw poll, he's clearly fooling himself with his 2024 or 2028 presidential aspirations. He needs to go find a nice wedding cake that is missing its topper, or a lawn that's missing its gnome.

  • Sorry, Don Jr.! There are many other folks who will inherit the Trump mantle before you do.

  • Sorry, Nikki Haley! There is no such thing as the semi-Trump lane.

  • Sorry, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO)! Nobody believes you're a true Trumper.

  • John Kasich is an actual Republican who believes in actual Republican policies. And yet, he's less popular with Republican activists than Michelle Obama, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY)? Ouch. Too bad they didn't ask about Hillary Clinton; we would like to have seen how Clinton vs. Kasich came out.

  • The Democrats should not fool themselves that the Party has any candidate that can win any sort of meaningful crossover votes from the Trump base. Well, maybe Tulsi Gabbard, but she can't win any sort of meaningful votes from her fellow Democrats. Anyhow, in 2024, and for the foreseeable future, it's going to be about getting Democratic voters to the polls, and trying to win a majority of the independents.

There will be a lot of these straw polls in upcoming weeks and months, as summer is a popular time for these sorts of shindigs. And the trendlines will be interesting to see. (Z)

Trump's Risky Endorsement Strategy

Actually, "risky" is one word for it. "Careless" might work just as well. Since the start of this year, Donald Trump's political power has shrunk dramatically. He egged on an insurrection, he lost his social media, he exited the White House, his legal problems are mounting, and, if the poll above is to be believed, his grip on the Republican Party is slipping. The main thing he's got left is his power over the, the base, and his (theoretical) power to play kingmaker. If his endorsements can make or break a candidate, then he still has a seat at the Republican table.

The challenge for any politician who might hope to wield their influence in this way is that, like picking stocks or winning sports bets, it's hard to actually have an impact. Some races are hopeless for a party, and others are slam dunks. That means that there are only a small number of swing-y elections where an aspiring kingmaker might demonstrate their influence. The theory with Trump, of course, is that he has such power over his base that he can swing a primary, or even a close general election, simply by granting (or withholding) his blessing. However, that theory was not really sustained while Trump was in office. Let's take a look, for example, at his general election Senate endorsements for 2018:

Type Candidates Total
Endorsed Incumbent Winner Deb Fischer (NE), Ted Cruz (TX), John Barrasso (WY) 3
Endorsed Challenger Winner Mike Braun (IN), Rick Scott (FL), Kevin Cramer (ND) 3
Endorsed Open Seat Winner Marsha Blackburn (TN), Mitt Romney (UT) 2
Total Winners   8
Endorsed Incumbent Loser Dean Heller (NV) 1
Endorsed Challenger Loser John James (MI), Karin Housley (MN), Matt Rosendale (MT), Bob Hugin (NJ), Jim Renacci (OH), Lou Barletta (PA), Evan Jenkins and Patrick Morrisey (both WV), Leah Vukmir (WI) 8
Endorsed Open Seat Loser Martha McSally (AZ) 1
Total Losers   10

As you can see, overall, he was on more losers than he was winners. And nearly all the winners that he was on were shoo-ins; the only winner he might have helped pull over the finish line was Rick Scott, who won a barnburner. Meanwhile, it's possible he dragged Dean Heller and/or Martha McSally down enough to push them into the "loser" column. It's a little harder to evaluate his impact on the 2018 Senate primaries (or on House races), because he tended to be somewhat vague in his pronouncements, and he often "endorsed" when it was all over but the shoutin'. However, nearly all of the folks above would surely have been the Republican nominee with or without Trump. The only ones who might plausibly have been "crowned" by him are Marsha Blackburn, Matt Rosendale and Jim Renacci.

Here's the same information for his 2020 Senate endorsements:

Incumbent Winner Shelley Moore Capito (WV), Bill Cassidy (LA), John Cornyn (TX), Steve Daines (MT), Joni Ernst (IA), Lindsey Graham (SC), Cindy Hyde-Smith (MS), Jim Inhofe (OK), Mitch McConnell (KY), Jim Risch (ID), Mike Rounds (SD), Ben Sasse (NE), Dan Sullivan (AK), Thom Tillis (NC) 14
Challenger Winner Tommy Tuberville (AL) 1
Open Seat Winner Bill Hagerty (TN), Cynthia Lummis (WY), Roger Marshall (KS) 3
Total Winners   18
Incumbent Loser Cory Gardner (CO), David Perdue (GA) 2
Challenger Loser John James (MI), Jason Lewis (MN), Corky Messner (NH) 3
Open Seat Loser Kelly Loeffler (GA) 1
Total Losers   6

Trump's overall record was better in 2020 than in 2018, but that's due to his propensity to endorse incumbents, along with the fact that Republicans were defending so many seats. In races where a boost was needed, he actually did worse than in 2018. The only GOP win where Trump might have mattered is in North Carolina. Meanwhile, he failed to save any of the seats that he might have saved, most obviously the two in Georgia. His impact in the primaries was also muted; he gave Tommy Tuberville, Roger Marshall, and Bill Hagerty a leg up, but that was largely a matter of deciding what kind of Republican would be representing a very red state.

Anyhow, the point is that Trump's track record isn't at all impressive; he might be able to swing a primary here or there in a red state or a red district, and he might be able to influence a very close general election in a purple-to-red state, but that hardly makes him a kingmaker. And note that all of this was with the patronage and the bully pulpit of the presidency at his disposal, not to mention social media.

These days, Trump has none of those things. Further, in his desperate desire to remain relevant and to retain influence over the Republican Party, he's pursuing a much riskier approach to endorsements for 2022. Yes, he's still on some Republican incumbents who are overwhelming favorites to win. That list currently has five entries: John Boozman (AR), Jerry Moran (KS), Rand Paul (KY), Marco Rubio (FL), and Tim Scott (SC). Those folks are all going to win if Trump backs them, opposes them, or says nothing.

In the four other races where he's endorsed, on the other hand, the former president has lined up behind a considerably less safe candidate. To start, there is Wisconsin, where Sen. Ron Johnson is all-in on Trump and Trump is all-in on him. It's not yet clear that Johnson will violate his 2010 campaign promise and run again, but if he does, it could blow up in the face of both Trump and the GOP. The Senator is pretty unpopular with many Wisconsinites these days, something he was reminded of this weekend when he appeared at Milwaukee's Juneteenth celebration and was roundly booed.

Beyond Johnson, there are three races where Trump has picked a candidate other than the one favored by the establishment. One of those, as we noted yesterday, is Alaska, where Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R) is a strong favorite to win reelection. However, she also refuses to accept the Big Lie, and she voted for conviction during the second Trump impeachment. So, she's persona non Trumpa, and he's backed MAGAphile Kelly Tshibaka (R) instead. Meanwhile, in Alabama, outgoing Sen. Richard Shelby (R) is behind his former chief of staff Katie Britt (R), while Trump likes the much Trumpier Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) instead. And in North Carolina, outgoing Sen. Richard Burr (R) is telling anyone and everyone who will listen that former governor Pat McCrory (R) is the only person in the Party who can hold the seat, but Trump is behind the ultra-Trumpy Rep. Ted Budd (R-NC).

The wise thing for Trump to do would be to cool his jets, and wait to see how things play out, so he doesn't end up with his wagon hitched to candidates who are headed to big defeats, or who might have skeletons emerge from their closets. But The Donald is incapable of being patient, and never plays the long game. So, now he's placed bets on a bunch of candidates, and bets that are based on their loyalty to him, rather than their overall electability. In at least three of these cases, and possibly four (depending on what happens with Johnson), the former president is lining up against the GOP establishment. The problem is that the GOP establishment has the money, and the logistics, and a much larger megaphone (including social media), and is pretty good at knowing who is most electable. So, Trump is likely headed for a bunch of high-profile, embarrassing primary defeats.

Again, this is not to say that Trump can't swing the occasional statewide election, or House election, or race for dogcatcher. But one of these days, and that day may well be Wednesday, November 9, 2022, Republican politicians are going to look carefully at The Donald's track record, and are going to figure out that he can't really make or break their careers with a snap of his fingers. His endorsement won't be totally meaningless after that; he can help voters identify the Trumpiest candidate, the way that Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez help voters identify the progressive candidate. But nobody is calling Sanders or Ocasio-Cortez "kingmaker," and nobody in Washington asks "How high?" when they say "Jump!" (Z)

Tucker Carlson, Male Prostitute

Those who have been watching "Saturday Night Live" for a very long time will recall that Fred Garvin, Male Prostitute was a loudmouth, dressed in garish clothing that was 10 years out-of-style, and was "available" to anyone and everyone who made it worth his time. We think that's a pretty good description of Tucker Carlson, as well, particularly after Monday's revelations about his cozy relationship with the "lamestream media."

On his show, of course, Tucker Carlson plays a bombastic, right-wing firebrand. If you didn't already know, you could watch a clip of him and one of Stephen Colbert (when he hosted "The Colbert Report"), and you might struggle to figure out which one was "real" and which one was parody (Poe's law in action). And part of the Tucker Carlson character, performed five nights a week on Fox "News," is a constant barrage of attacks on the media (which is presented as near-universally left-wing), and its shortcomings, biases, errors, unfairness to Donald Trump, etc.

As with Rush Limbaugh the radio-show character and Rush Limbaugh the person, there is clearly some distance between the TV Tucker and the real Tucker. It was The New York Times' Ben Smith who yesterday clued everyone into how big that gap just might be. It turns out that when he's off the air, Carlson is constantly on the phone, not only with Republican insiders (including Donald Trump), but also with the same "left-wing" reporters that he has described, on-air, as "cringing animals who are not worthy of respect." He often serves as a background source for stories about himself, about internal Fox politics, and about the Trump presidency (including some none-too-flattering stories about The Donald).

The motivations on both sides here are very clear. Reporters often rely on their "adversaries" for insider information, since you can only get insider information, by definition, from insiders. (The Times' Maggie Haberman, and her relationship with Trump, provide a good example of this.) Meanwhile, by talking to the media, even if it's usually off the record, Carlson gets to shape the narrative, while also giving himself some leverage over negative coverage of himself. If a reporter who gets good information from Carlson twice a week is thinking about an anti-Carlson hit piece, they might think twice about exactly how much they want to risk getting cut off.

Anyhow, although this is a standard, and ultimately unsurprising, arrangement, it undoubtedly looks and smells a little fishy to outsiders. Can the media be properly critical of Carlson if they are in his debt? Probably not. Can Carlson's pronouncements on the media (or anything else) be taken seriously if he so obviously does not practice what he preaches? Again, probably not. So, both sides will hope (probably correctly) that this revelation is quickly forgotten, so they can resume prostituting themselves out of the public's view. (Z)

Big News Times Two from the World of Sports

There were two very significant developments in the world of sports on Monday. Although neither has become a political football yet, they certainly could. So, for those who don't follow the sports pages or read, let's bring you up to speed.

First of all, one of the decisions lingering on the Supreme Court's "to do" list was in the case of National Collegiate Athletic Association v. Alston, et al. The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) is, of course, the governing body that oversees college sports. "Alston" is Shawne Alston, a former football player for West Virginia, who (along with his co-plaintiffs) felt the promise of "an education in exchange for your performance as an athlete" was not being fulfilled. Specifically, while universities provide room, board, tuition, and books to student-athletes, the NCAA forbids schools from paying for other education-related expenses, like laptop computers, personal tutoring, lab equipment, musical instruments, etc. This conveniently allowed member schools to shrug and say, "We'd love to help with these things, but we just can't!" So, Alston (and several other student-athletes) sued.

In a unanimous ruling, the Court sided with Alston and his fellow plaintiffs. The majority decision was written by Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch, and found that "full scholarship" means "all educational expenses" and not just tuition, books, and room and board. The absolutely scorching concurrence, which might as well have been penned by Bernie Sanders, was written by...Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh, of all people. He went rather further than Gorsuch, calling the NCAA the cartel that it is, and making very clear that future, broader lawsuits are not likely to go the NCAA's way. Thanks to Monday's decision, student-athletes can now get laptops and such, and thanks to a previous decision, in O'Bannon v. NCAA, student-athletes must be paid when their likenesses are used. Kavanaugh's concurrence is basically an invitation to file a suit that will confront head-on the most sacred cow of college sports, namely whether or not student-athletes can be paid. If that suit is filed, and is successful, it will topple the NCAA's whole business model.

The Court's ruling is, in the end, not especially surprising. Liberals like to empower laborers (i.e., the student-athletes), while conservatives are fans of the free market. Further, the NCAA has abused its power and its position for a very long time. So, the new status quo, the one established yesterday, should not be especially controversial.

However, there are a lot of people in this country, particularly in the Midwest and in the South, who really love their college sports. And once some student-athlete takes Kavanaugh up on the implied suggestion in his concurrence, and that student-athlete turns the NCAA on its head, the effects are likely to be massive. Right now, the two most successful college coaches in the country (Nick Saban of Alabama and Dabo Swinney of Clemson) take home more than $8 million per year. If schools have to pay their players, then the math is going to get problematic very quickly. Some universities will cut a bunch of sports that aren't football or men's basketball (possibly putting those schools in violation of Title IX). Others will say that if they have to choose between having a big-time coach and a physics department, well, too bad for the physics department. Still other schools will decide that they simply can't support a Division I program anymore, and will drop down a division or two, where athletes don't even get scholarships. And all of this upheaval will be the result of a case that pits, to a greater or lesser extent, predominantly Black and Brown athletes against predominantly white coaches and administrators. So, there's potential for this to get very politically charged in a year or two or three.

Meanwhile, the other big news on Monday is that the NFL now has its first openly gay player. Carl Nassib, who plays on the defensive line for the Las Vegas Raiders, decided that he was willing to subject himself to...whatever may come of this, and so posted a brief video to Instagram in which he outed himself. "I just wanted to take a quick moment to say that I'm gay. I've been meaning to do this for a while now," he explained, "but I finally feel comfortable enough to get it off my chest."

Some folks are already comparing Nassib to Jackie Robinson, though we wouldn't go quite that far. In Robinson's case, there were zero Black athletes participating in any major team sport when he broke baseball's color line in 1947, and the number of Black athletes of any sort who had been embraced by Americans by that time could be counted on one hand, with fingers left over (boxer Joe Louis, track and field star Jesse Owens, By contrast, there are many prominent LGBTQ+ folks in American society, and in American sports (team and individual), and there have already been closeted gay players in the NFL (e.g., Jerry Smith) and out gay players in NFL training camps (Michael Sam).

All of this is to say that while Nassib is quite brave to put himself out there, this shouldn't be that big a deal. However, we also wouldn't have thought that a player or two kneeling during the national anthem would be a big deal, and look what happened there. Plus, many NFL players are quite conservative and quite religious, and have a propensity for speaking their minds, even when remaining silent might be the better play. So, we shall see what happens. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has already issued a statement supporting Nassib. We cannot find any definitive statement as to what Goodell's religion is, but if he's Catholic, we assume that the Church will issue a statement denying him communion sometime in the next week or so. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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