• Trump Who?
• Be Careful What You Grift For
• FEC Lets Trump Off the Hook(ers)
• Democrats Are Unwilling to Light a Fire Under Breyer
• Nikki Fried Is In
• Keisha Lance Bottoms Is Out
• Stacey Abrams Has a Book
The drama surrounding Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) is likely to reach its climax next week. She appears to have accepted that her job as Chair of the Republican Congress is a lost cause, and is spending her time penning anti-Trump op-eds. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), meanwhile, is making sure that he has the votes, and is laying the groundwork for Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) to succeed Cheney.
CNN's Scott Jennings has written a column about the situation. If you're not familiar, he's a former Bush White House staffer who was hired by CNN to provide "balance" with his conservative takes. We are not fans of his work; every column contains knee-jerk, predictable opinions and appears, quite frankly, to have been dashed off in 10 minutes. We particularly disagree with him here, though. He sees everyone coming out ahead, characterizing it as a win-win-win (a phrase he borrowed from the show "The Office"). As you can see from the headline, we think the opposite is more likely to be true.
We had reached our conclusions before we ever saw Jennings' piece, but since it's such a crystal-clear yin to our yang, we thought we would give you both sides, and you can reach your own conclusions:
- Jennings' Take: "[T]he talented rising star of the conference: moving up in the world is
most often not a bad thing. Despite carrying a lower Trump-voting score than Cheney (nearly 78%), the New York
congresswoman has made up for it where it counts: in her public attitude and disposition. She distinguished herself as a
fierce warrior, notably against Democrats like Rep. Adam Schiff (who many Republicans loathe like a cold sore) during
Trump's first impeachment trial."
- Our Take: It's not a great look for a member of Congress to climb up the ladder by stepping on the corpse of one of their colleagues. More important, however, is that a lot of the MAGA folks do not like Stefanik. They recognize that she's fundamentally a moderate, and they also recall that she held Trump at arm's length in 2016. So, they don't find her current MAGAness (MAGAcity? MAGAtry? MAGAnificence?) to be persuasive. She has the backing of McCarthy and of Trump himself, so she's going to get her promotion, presumably. However, being not MAGA enough for the Trump crowd and too MAGA for everyone else is not a great place to be for an ambitious, upwardly mobile representative.
- Jennings' Take: "If a Republican Party ever reemerges in which being a conservative
matters more than being a Trump loyalist, Liz Cheney is likely going to run it. The role of conference chair has been a
dead-end for her in this particular Republican cohort. Going out in a blaze of glory—as may be her leadership
fate—makes sense if you are playing a longer game that might develop into future opportunity."
- Our Take: This is where we come closest to agreeing with Jennings. As we wrote both yesterday and the day before, there is a version of events where Cheney comes out of this smelling like a rose (or like a Speaker of the House). That said, her situation in Wyoming appears to be more tenuous than we first suspected. She will almost certainly need multiple MAGA challengers to split the primary vote next year. If Team Trump has enough discipline to settle on one candidate, then she could be in deep trouble. So, it's at least a little more complicated than just "win" for her at the moment.
- Jennings' Take: "[H]e will be delivering a long-desired prize to Mar-a-Lago, and Donald
Trump will revel in the outcome. McCarthy believes that Republicans are likely to win back the House next year, and he
needs Trump to be engaged with the base and helpful on fundraising and in primaries to ensure that outcome."
- Our Take: And this is where we disagree with Jennings—or, at very least, his lack
of nuance—the most. It is certainly possible that silencing the apostate could allow the GOP House conference to
close ranks, and to enter 2022 unified, sailing along on the Trump Express.
That said, there are some real risks that come with going all-in on Trump like this. This high-profile squabble has served (along with other high-profile squabbles) to make very clear who is still calling most of the shots in the GOP. Democrats are already preparing to seize on that, and to milk it for all it's worth. Their argument will be that a vote for [whatever Republican] in 2022 is, de facto, a vote for Trump, since he's still pulling all the strings. If the anti-Trump vote buys that, and shows up in force, and much of the pro-Trump vote stays home, since their hero is not actually on the ballot, then it would be the worst of both worlds for the GOP.
On a similar note, the Republican pollster Frank Luntz—who often swings and misses, but who does score a hit once in a while (including twice this week)—observes that all the "stop the steal" stuff could backfire on the Republicans by convincing their voters that there's no point in getting out and voting. This appears to have been a part of what happened in Georgia in January, and it could happen again. If this—plus the absence of Trump, plus restrictive laws that make it harder for blue-collar people to vote, plus demographic changes that are pushing the reliable voters into the Democratic fold—serves to significantly depress GOP turnout, McCarthy might not get his hands on that Speaker's gavel after all, even if he retains the full support of his conference.
This is going to fade from the headlines pretty soon, because Cheney is either going to get booted or she isn't, and then the soap opera will be (temporarily) over. However, the long-term effects here will certainly be one of the important stories of 2022. (Z)
While House Republicans are doing their best impersonation of the Supreme Soviet, circa 1955, and working to purge those who are not sufficiently loyal to the glorious Father of the Nation, Senate Republicans are mostly flying under the radar. Yes, there are Trumpy folks in the upper chamber, like Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Marco Rubio (R-FL), who are always happy to do a TV hit where they parrot the Trumpist talking points of the day. But largely the Senate GOP conference has remained out of the fray for the past few weeks.
Particularly remarkable is Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-KY) Switzerland-like ability to avoid falling in with either side. He made a Trump-critical speech, just as Liz Cheney did (though he did not, of course, support impeachment like her). The Senator has also refused to undertake a pilgrimage to Mar-a-Lago (or, starting this week, Bedminster) to kiss the ring. In fact, McConnell has made pretty clear that he would prefer never to speak to Trump again. The Donald has attacked him several times, but the attacks don't seem to be landing.
What is the secret of McConnell's success? At least in part, it is taking Ronald Reagan's 11th commandment of politics ("Thou shalt not speak ill of any Republican") to heart. Rather than focusing on internecine struggles, the Minority Leader has set his sights on the "real" enemy, namely Joe Biden, decreeing that "One hundred percent of my focus is on stopping this new administration." To paraphrase the famous LBJ quote we also mentioned yesterday, it would seem that McConnell thinks it's better to piss on someone outside the tent than someone inside the tent.
In addition, if there is anyone who has the power to launch an all-out GOP Civil War, it's McConnell. If he goes Full Cheney, and decrees that the future of the Party is not with Trump, then a lot of Republican officeholders will have to make a tough choice between a fellow who has the adoration of the base but is not in power, and a fellow who is currently the most powerful Republican officeholder in the country. That has not caused Trump to tread lightly, but it may be influencing other Trumpists to do so.
We shall see how long McConnell can stay above the fray, though we do know that over the course of nearly four decades in politics, he's gotten very good at turtling up when he needs to. (Z)
It is really quite remarkable that nearly everyone who ends up in Donald Trump's close orbit proves to be on the take, running one sort of underhanded scheme or another. Is he just a griftmagnet? Or, does his own propensity for griftiness serve to corrupt those around him, inspiring them to lower and lower depths? We're not sure.
What we do know, however, is that Trump's grifty acolytes tend to be less skilled at it than he is, taking in less money than he does with their grifting, and doing a worse job of getting away with it. Who can forget Michael Cohen, who was something of an idiot savant as a grifter, except without the savant part. He's currently finishing off his prison term, on house arrest, as a result. And yes, we did just squeeze six variants of "grift" into the span of 150 words, and were responsible for coining only one of them ("griftmagnet"; "griftiness" is Rachel Maddow's).
Two of Trump's buddies are now trudging down the road that Cohen once traversed. The first of those, of course, is Rudy Giuliani, who turns out to have been on the take six ways to Sunday. And, as it turns out, his fondness for making money any way he can is very nearly equaled by his fondness for spending it any way he can. We're not just talking standard rich-guy indulgences like expensive suits and private jet service and glasses of wine that cost more than some people make in a month, but also spending-just-for-the-sake-of-spending profligacies like $7,000 for fountain pens and $12,000 for cigars. Oh, and don't forget the omnipresent five-person entourage that accompanies Giuliani wherever he goes (and that also needs hotel rooms...and fancy fountain pens).
As it turns out—and how could Giuliani possibly have guessed, since it's only happened 10,000 times before—Trump doesn't pay people who work for him. So, as America's Former Mayor was running 'round the country approaching (and probably crossing) the line on defamation as he tried to save The Donald's presidency, he wasn't being paid the $20,000/day that he was billing. Now, he's facing a cash crunch, and that's before he has to defend himself in potential lawsuits, and pay potential seven- or eight-figure judgments. So, sacrifices are now being made, and some (though not all) of the entourage has been laid off. Is it possible to get by with two servants instead of five? We certainly hope we never have to find out.
There are some Trump lackeys who are absolutely willing to go full G. Gordon Liddy, and take the fall on their Dear Leader's behalf. However, Giuliani does not give off the vibe that he is among them, and on Thursday, Team Giuliani, with son Andrew Giuliani doing the talking, began to make it clear that is the case. Starting gently, young Giuliani observed, for anyone who might be listening, that it sure would be nice for the former president to help out with the legal bills, and noting that, "The nut may crack in the next 36 hours. Once President Trump actually understands that his lead counsel was not indemnified, he's going to resolve this very quickly." Translation, for those who don't speak blackmail: "You better step up, Donnie, or the feds are going to get an earful."
There is no guarantee that Trump will yield to the pressure; he didn't with Cohen, for example, when the same threat was made. There's also no guarantee that Rudy's silence is going to stay bought, even if it's purchased right now. Hefty legal fees are a downer, particularly if they force you to pare your entourage to just two people and your cigar budget to under $5,000. However, they are not nearly so bad as spending the next decade or so in the hoosegow (which, for the 76-year-old Giuliani, could be a life sentence). Anyhow, odds are that a very unhappy divorce is coming, sooner or later. Which is something that, let's be honest, both men have a lot of experience with.
The other Trump buddy who may soon be out of the frying pan and into the fire is Newsmax CEO Chris Ruddy. The whole Newsmax operation has a faintly unpleasant odor emanating from it; a new article in The Washington Post lays out exactly what the grift is. They note that Newsmax is not in the news business, although that's something that anyone who has read the site already knows. The business they are in, interestingly, is direct marketing. To read the articles on the Newsmax site, a person has to create an account and provide an e-mail address. And, from that point forward, that person will be hit with an endless stream of pitches for "insightful" financial newsletters, and "miracle" vitamin pills, and things like that. In other words, Ruddy is basically Alex Jones, except with a slightly higher-pitched voice.
As it turns out, there's more money in news-as-propaganda (Fox) than there is in news-as-propaganda-for-purposes-of-email-address-harvesting (Newsmax). The former pulls in billions each year; the latter clears only about $20 million. And so, the legal exposure Ruddy faces for allegedly defaming Dominion Voting Systems is a real problem for him, and could cause the whole house of cards to come tumbling down.
Since the issues that Ruddy faces are civil, and since he presumably doesn't have dirt to dish on Donald, he's far less of a concern for the former president than Giuliani is. Nonetheless, both Trump associates are well on their way to becoming the latest cautionary tales for why you should never, ever hitch your finances to the Trump wagon. (Z)
As long as we're on the subject of sketchy behavior by Donald Trump, he got a little bit of good news on Thursday. The FEC officially announced a decision that they apparently made back in February, namely that they will not pursue sanctions against him in response to the hush-money payments he made in 2016 to two sex workers whose services he had utilized. Two (of the three) Democratic commissioners on the FEC promptly issued statements blasting the result, while two (of the three) Republican commissioners issued their own statements saying that justice has been served because Michael Cohen paid a price for what happened. This would appear to be the only circumstance in the world where a person who orders an underling to commit a crime has no responsibility when that crime is actually committed.
In other words, the Commission was deadlocked. Since no action can be taken without a majority, that means that Trump skates. With that said, the news is not all good for him. Seemingly demonstrating that they are not entirely in the bag for the former president, the three Republican commissioners joined their three Democratic colleagues to unanimously recommend to Congress that they pass a law banning Trump's griftalicious (yes, we made that one up, too) technique of collecting recurring donations from voters unless they uncheck a box. In addition, while the FEC considers this matter closed, Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance Jr. does not, and so Trump is not in the clear yet. (Z)
We hope you know that poetry like that headline doesn't grow on trees. In any case, Democrats are exceedingly concerned that Associate Justice Stephen Breyer—who is, by almost 10 years, the oldest member of the Supreme Court—will decide to stay on the job until the Democrats are no longer in a position to replace him. So, they would really like to see him bid adieu well in advance of next year's midterms, in case they lose their Senate majority. However, they are also unwilling to lean on him, according to reporting from CNN, for fear that will anger the Justice and cause him to dig in his heels. After all, nobody likes to be told: "Time to put you out to pasture, you old goat."
In response to this reporting, several Democratic senators were asked about the situation, and most of them demurred. Not Dianne Feinstein (CA), though. She opined that it would be a "great loss" if Breyer were to leave the Court, and that "if a person is serving with integrity and working hard and producing for whatever the constituency is, that's what these jobs are all about." One wonders if the Senator (who, incidentally, is just shy of 10 years older than Breyer) was also thinking of another aged Washingtonian when she said that. In any event, while the Democratic pooh-bahs don't want to pressure the Justice, they also don't want to encourage him to keep on keepin' on, either. Between this and hugging Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Feinstein certainly isn't winning many friends among the members of her caucus these days.
In any event, the Democrats have set up the pins for Breyer, as it were, making it as clear as is possible that if he steps down, he will be replaced by his former clerk, Ketanji Brown Jackson. It's now up to him to knock them down. We are not intimates of Breyer's, but it wouldn't be terribly surprising if he just wants Jackson to first get a little bit of service on the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia under her belt—she's currently awaiting confirmation—so that the promotion is respectable. Meanwhile, isn't it remarkable how quickly it's become normalized that if the Republicans take control of the Senate, of course they'll hold a Supreme Court seat open for two years. We can remember a time, way back, when doing so for just 8 months was considered undemocratic and antithetical to the traditions of the Senate. (Z)
Well, not officially. However, the Florida Agriculture Commissioner, who is the only Democrat serving in statewide office in the Sunshine State, has been happy to chat with anyone listening about her plans to challenge Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL), and the campaign strategy she will employ. Nobody does that unless their entry into the race is a certainty.
Fried's plan is to paint the Governor as a modern-day tyrant, focusing on his crusade to restrict voting rights, and the anti-riot legislation he's supported, and his propensity for overruling local decisions about COVID-19 (like mask mandates) to make the case that he is an aspiring dictator. We think that's a pretty good tack she's chosen; Americans don't like politicians who get too big for their britches, and the tyranny angle incorporates nearly all of the really controversial things he's been associated with. It's also very reducible to sound bites and symbols. Fried could get in the habit of referring to DeSantis as King Ron I, or maybe she could sell toy guillotines on her website.
That said, before Fried can put her approach to the test, she's going to have to survive a tough Democratic primary. As we already noted, former governor and current representative Charlie Crist (D-FL) is already in, and he's a formidable foe. Rep. Val Demings (D-FL) is also expected to toss her hat into the ring. Both of those folks have more experience in political office than Fried does, and they would also appear to have clearer natural constituencies. Whoever claims the nomination is going to have to be good. (Z)
While Nikki Fried is busy trying to move on up, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms (D) dropped a bit of a bombshell on Thursday, and announced she is going to move on out of politics and would not stand for reelection next year. "While I am not yet certain of what the future holds, I trust that my next season will continue to be one full of passion and purpose," she explained. Bottoms was rather vague about what prompted the decision, although she was specific about some of the things that did not prompt it, including an alleged inability to fundraise and/or fear that she would lose her reelection bid.
This is a rather surprising turn of events for someone who, a little more than six months ago, was considered a rising superstar in the Democratic Party, and was given serious consideration as a running mate for Joe Biden. Maybe she's just sick of it all, or perhaps she feared for her family's safety, given how polarized Georgia has become. Perhaps she's landed a juicy post-government job at a think tank/lobbying firm, or maybe there's a scandal about to surface. For now, the full truth, as well as the likelihood of an eventual return to the arena, will remain a mini-mystery. (Z)
As long as we're talking about Georgia politicians, we'll pass along an interesting tidbit, namely that one-time (and probably future) gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams has a new book coming out. It's not the usual dry tome that politicians are wont to produce, though. Nope, she is resuming her career as a novelist (before entering politics she penned eight romance novels). The new book is called While Justice Sleeps, and is a political thriller that takes place behind the scenes of the Supreme Court.
We do not know if this will have any political significance, but we do know that she's not the first high-profile politician to dabble in popular fiction. Franklin D. Roosevelt, for example, conceived of an idea in 1935 that became the book The President's Mystery; it was also made into a film under the same title. Of course, most of the heavy lifting was done by a co-author, since Roosevelt's plate was pretty full. On the other hand, like Abrams, British PM Benjamin Disraeli did his own writing; he found it relaxing and he also needed the money. He put his pen aside while serving as premier, but outside of those years, he managed to produce more than a dozen novels, as well as a volume of poetry and a play.
For Roosevelt and Disraeli, their book projects got them some free publicity, and also made them a little more accessible to voters, not unlike Ronald Reagan's jelly beans or Barack Obama's NCAA Tournament picks. Perhaps Abrams will enjoy the same benefits. Meanwhile, her presumptive opponent in 2022, Gov. Brian Kemp (R-GA), is currently slumping in polls, hurt badly by Donald Trump's attacks upon him. (Z)
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
May06 Trump Endorses Elise Stefanik to Replace Cheney in House Leadership
May06 Trump Rips Pence
May06 Republicans Dump on Big Business
May06 Demographic Change May Not Help the Democrats As Much As They Expected
May06 Biden in Favor of Waiving Patent Protection on COVID Vaccine
May06 Yankees and Mets Will Offer Free Tickets with a Vaccination
May06 The Score: 44 Down, 1,156 to Go
May05 Biden Doubles Down on Vaccination Schedule
May05 Whither the Republicans: George W. Bush
May05 Whither the Republicans: Liz Cheney
May05 Trump Launches His "Social Media Platform"
May05 Trump Legal Blotter, Part I: Barr Memo Is About to See the Light of Day
May05 Trump Legal Blotter, Part II: Giuliani Prosecutors Want Special Master
May05 Florida Politics, Part I: Crist Declares for Governor
May05 Florida Politics, Part II: Special Election Set for January
May04 A Race Against Time
May04 A Biden Misstep: The Refugee Cap
May04 Another Biden Misstep: The Letter
May04 Judgment Day for Trump Is Imminent
May04 Redistricting Is Already a Mess
May04 Be Careful What You Wish For
May04 Jenner Stakes Out Her Territory
May03 Biden Wants GOP Support for His Infrastructure Bill "If Possible"
May03 Manchin Believes that D.C. Statehood Requires a Constitutional Amendment
May03 Republicans Threaten Cheney
May03 Giuliani May Have to Choose between Saving His Own Neck or Trump's
May03 Biden Is Giving the Pentagon Back the Money Trump Took for Wall Construction
May03 Poll: 64% of Americans Are Optimistic about the Direction of the Country
May03 Cindy McCain Calls Arizona Election Audit "Ludicrous"
May03 A Battle Is Brewing over the Chairmanship of the South Carolina Republican Party
May03 TX-06: It's Over Before It Starts
May03 Cheri Bustos Will Not Run for Reelection
May02 Sunday Mailbag
May01 Saturday Q&A
Apr30 The Takeaways Are In
Apr30 The Reviews are In, Part I: Joe Biden
Apr30 The Reviews are In, Part II: Tim Scott
Apr30 The Ratings Are In
Apr30 100 Days
Apr30 Trump Says He Would Consider DeSantis for VP
Apr30 Zinke's Back
Apr30 It Would Seem that Trans Rights Are the New Gay Marriage...Maybe
Apr29 Biden Addresses (a Small Bit of) Congress
Apr29 Redistricting Revisited
Apr29 MacDonough Has Become K Street's New Star
Apr29 Two Key Biden Judicial Nominees Testify
Apr29 Feds Search Giuliani's Apartment
Apr29 Fed Will Keep Interest Rates Near Zero
Apr29 Poll: Americans Approve of Biden