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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Whither the Republicans?
      •  Joe Meets with Joe
      •  Cybersecurity Is on the Front Burner Again
      •  Gubernatorial News, Part I: Virginia GOP Has Its Candidate
      •  Gubernatorial News, Part II: Newsom Has an Ace in the Hole
      •  Republican Messaging Is Horses**t

Whither the Republicans?

The writ of execution has been signed, as it were. On Wednesday, House Republicans will vote whether to boot Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) from her post as Chairman of the House Republican Conference and to replace her with, presumably, Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY). Barring the unexpected, Cheney will walk the plank. The interesting part will be seeing how few votes there are to keep her.

Anyhow, we have now written plenty of items trying to make sense of what is going on with the Republican Party as it plunges further and further into radicalism and into becoming a cult. There have also been a number of interesting answers to that question from other sources in the past few days, so we thought we'd run them down:

  • It's about Trump: Republican Charlie Dent, who represented Pennsylvania in the House from 2005-18, and so had a front-row seat for the rise of Trumpism, thinks it's very simple: The former president commands the total loyalty of the base, like a cult leader, and any Republican who wants to continue their career has no choice but to follow.

  • It's Not about Trump: The Washington Post's Greg Sargent believes that Trump is a means to an end, rather than an end unto himself. His paper-thin-ego demands that he refuse to admit defeat, and that he repeat "stop the steal" until he's blue in the face. Most Republicans don't really believe that he won, in Sargent's view, but they do believe that they have become a minority party that risks years spent in the wilderness. Strict voting laws will, they hope, solve that problem, and "stop the steal" gives cover for passing those sorts of laws.

  • The Logical Conclusion: James Downie, also writing for the Post, offers a take that is complementary to Sargent's. He makes an observation that we have actually made a few times, namely that the 2021 Republican playbook is nothing new; for generations the shtick has been aggressively pro-business policies coupled with culture wars appeals to the "silent majority" or "real Americans" or "true patriots" or whatever the label du jour is for angry white social conservatives. All that has changed, in Downie's view, is that "Trump has turned some of these traits up to 11. The dog whistles became bullhorns; the 'executive time' administration plumbed new depths of incompetence. But for Republicans ... the threat of liberalism outweighs the risk of an inept, amoral or fascistic president."

    Sargent and Downie also both note (quite rightly) that covering the GOP's venal behavior is not easy, because soft-pedaling it serves to enable the Party's worst instincts, while directly confronting it leads to charges of bias.

  • Follow the Money: For many years, the Republican Party got a lot of money from corporations, and from the NRA (which cares about guns), and Sheldon Adelson (who cared about Israel), and the Koch Network (which cared about pro-corporate and pro-libertarian policies). Adelson and one of the Kochs are now dead, and the remainder of the list has become less able or less willing to give money to the GOP. However, according to a new analysis from ProPublica, the Trump GOP has cultivated a new generation of megadonors. And many of those megadonors are MAGAdonors. Say that five times fast. Anyhow, if Trumpy culture wars/anti-immigration stuff is where the money is, then the GOP may have no choice but to follow.

Undoubtedly, this will not be the last time we write about this question, since it's quite the puzzle, and will obviously be central to figuring out where the future of American politics lies. (Z)

Joe Meets with Joe

The two most powerful Joes in the country, who might also be the two most powerful people in the country, met at the White House on Monday. Joe Biden is trying to get his infrastructure plan passed. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) is skittish about the size and the cost of the plan, and also refuses to allow any portion of it to be put on the national credit card. So, the goal is to get on the same page. After the meeting, Manchin emerged and issued a statement that said absolutely nothing: "President Biden and I had a productive and thorough meeting. I can assure you his priority—like mine—is doing good for every American and West Virginian."

Since we aren't going to learn anytime soon what was said at the meeting, if we ever learn, we can only guess what the President might have said to try to apply a little pressure to the Senator. Here are a few possibilities:

  • Time Runs Short: It is not going to be easy for the Democrats to hold the House (and it could prove tough for them to hold the Senate). The less of their agenda they pass, the harder it will become, and if they lose either chamber, that's it for most of the Democratic agenda, including anything Manchin might want, for at least two years, and probably more. The Senator is 73; he can't have too many rodeos left, and if the Democrats lose the trifecta now, he might not be around the next time they have it.

  • Time May Run Even Shorter: We wrote about this back in January. Yesterday, The New York Times' Ian Prasad Philbrick put a finer actuarial point on it: Members of Congress die, perhaps more often than you think. Over the course of U.S. history, an average of seven representatives and three senators have died per term. And this Congress is one of the oldest, the average senator is 64, and the average representative is 58. A little bit of bad luck, and the Democrats' majority evaporates overnight.

  • The Unions Are with Me: The key to Manchin's political career is his strong support among union workers. And they like Biden's infrastructure plan. Labor leaders in West Virginia are already mobilizing support for the infrastructure bill, which provides both cover for and pressure on the Senator to vote for it.

  • Bring on the Pork: We'll mention this again because it's the obvious one. The heftiest leverage Biden has is that he can unleash a vast amount of pork on West Virginia. Consider how far, say, $10 billion will go in a state with a GDP of about $70 billion?

Thus far, it looks like the infrastructure package may be broken into pieces to make it more palatable to Manchin. If so, then the progressive wing of the party won't be happy. However, our guess is that Biden wouldn't agree to do that unless he had some assurance that Manchin would support piece #2, #3, etc. when they come up for a vote. In any event, at least for now, the dance of the Joes is still underway. (Z)

Cybersecurity Is on the Front Burner Again

Sometimes, a president gets to deal with stuff that is completely unimportant, but that gets all kinds of attention, like whether or not they were born in Kenya, or whether or not they are a felon wanted in Ukraine. And sometimes they get to deal with stuff that is extremely important, but that gets very little attention. Cybersecurity most definitely falls into the latter category.

As you may have heard, Colonial Pipeline became the latest victim this weekend, as they were hit with a ransomware attack from a group called DarkSide. Colonial handles the transport of more than 100 million gallons of gasoline and other fuel every day, ultimately handling about half of the Eastern states' fuel supply. The attack led Colonial to shut the pipeline down. They've been terribly specific in committing to a timeline for when it will be back online—somewhere between two days...and six weeks. The company has also been equally specific about exactly how they plan to proceed, not revealing whether or not they are going to pay the ransom, or if they have some alternate solution. DarkSide, incidentally, is based in Russia. They claim they are only after money, and that they aren't working for any national government. Readers may decide for themselves how much they believe that.

There are a number of challenges when it comes to grappling with cybersecurity. Among them:

  • The bad guys are very skillful, and innovate quickly, especially if they have state support.
  • In general, businesses don't take the threat seriously until it is too late.
  • Security costs money.
  • Security is an operational nuisance (e.g., making backups every day and storing them offline and offsite).
  • Businesses don't like the government (and thus the public) to know when and how they've screwed up.
  • There is much debate about exactly how the government should best handle this bureaucratically, either creating new infrastructure, or expanding the responsibilities of existing infrastructure.

Presidents have been trying to improve American readiness on this front since...1984, when Ronald Reagan pushed for the installation of a cybersecurity czar (in character for Ronnie, he first became aware of the issue thanks to a movie, namely WarGames). Some of the presidents since Reagan, most notably Barack Obama, have taken heed and installed someone who was broadly responsible for coping with this issue. Donald Trump did not take heed, by contrast, which may have allowed the SolarWinds hack to happen on his watch. Joe Biden is the first president to appoint a National Cyber Director, though Chris Inglis is, of course, still awaiting Senate confirmation. Because who better to assess the credentials of a computer security expert than a bunch of septuagenarians who probably use AOL for their personal e-mail accounts?

In any case, cyber attacks in general, and ransomware attacks in particular, are here to stay, and are getting worse in terms of both frequency and severity. So, perhaps the public and private sectors will finally pull their heads out of the sand. The Biden administration is also doing what it can to take lemons and make lemonade, sending Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg out on the road to make the case that "infrastructure" means a little something different today from what it meant in 1950, which is why the American Jobs Plan casts such a broad net.

Meanwhile, if the hackers who hit Colonial are reading this, we're not impressed with your taking down a pipeline. What do those guys know about cyber security? Nothing. Now, if you were to take down a very well protected, high-value target with lots and lots of money to pay the ransom such as, that would be impressive. (Z)

Gubernatorial News, Part I: Virginia GOP Has Its Candidate

When it comes to statewide offices, Virginia marches to the beat of a slightly different drummer. First of all, they prefer off-year elections, which means they will be one of two states to vote for governor this year (New Jersey is the other, while California could plausibly be a third, though see below). Second, the Republican Party of Virginia chose to pick its candidate this year via convention rather than primary. However, because of the pandemic, they couldn't hold an actual convention, so they instead had partisans gather at 40 satellite sites for an "unassembled convention." Seems kind of like a hybrid between a primary and a convention. A privention? A corimary?

Anyhow, although the Virginia GOP suggested it would take a couple of days to count this weekend's votes, the top two candidates saw all they needed to see by Monday evening, because businessman Pete Snyder conceded, thus making businessman Glenn Youngkin the Republican nominee. Youngkin has no political experience; he's running as a mini-Trump and spent much of the primary campaign complaining about Dr. Seuss books, socialism, stolen elections, China, and socialism. Yes, we wrote socialism twice, because it's Youngkin's favorite. He has already spent $5.5 million on his campaign so far and is ready and able to spend tens of millions more. Undoubtedly, that ability to self-fund was part of his appeal.

The Democrats will hold an old-fashioned primary on June 8; polls make clear that, barring the unexpected, former governor Terry McAuliffe will get the blue team's nomination. If you look up "centrist" in the dictionary, you will find a picture of McAuliffe. Plus, he has the name recognition that comes with, you know, having already been governor. There is something of a "rule" that Virginia gives its governor's mansion to whichever party does not hold the White House; that's actually held true for 10 of the last 11 elections. However, the one exception was...Terry McAuliffe, who was first elected in 2014, in the middle of Barack Obama's second term. Further, the Republicans have elected only one governor of Virginia this century (Bob McDonnell in 2010), and the state's voters don't much care for Donald Trump, who lost the state by 10 points last year, and by 5 points in 2016. So, McAuliffe—or whoever the eventual Democratic candidate is—will certainly be the favorite against Youngkin. (Z)

Gubernatorial News, Part II: Newsom Has an Ace in the Hole

Actually, it's more than one ace. It's more like 75,700,000,000 of them. You may have heard some right-wing pundits and politicians say that California is so badly run, it's on the brink of collapse. Would that all of our finances could be so badly run, as the pandemic has turned out to be something of a boon for the Golden State. The wealthy folks who make up most of the state's tax base were largely able to continue their work unimpeded, often shifting to an at-home setup. Meanwhile, the stock market has been on fire. As a result, California ran a $75.7 billion surplus last year.

At very least, this makes the current recall a whole different kettle of fish from the 2003 recall. Back then, because of the power crisis, the state was in the red, and there was talk of defaults on pension obligations and other expenses. This time the state is flush, which will presumably mean much less "throw the bum out" sentiment, and will also make it difficult for would-be Republican governors to make the case (as Arnold Schwarzenegger did back in 2003) that they could make a much better job of it. Further, Newsom wants to distribute some of the surplus in the form of $600 checks for middle-class and working-class residents, and $500 for families with dependents. That probably won't hurt the Governor, either, as Californians decide whether or not they would like new leadership. (Z)

Republican Messaging Is Horses**t

Normally, we wouldn't bother with this news, since "Republicans say silly stuff" is pretty much "dog bites man" these days. That is not to say that Democrats don't say silly stuff sometimes, but the modern GOP (see above) is very much dependent on keeping its base angry. That means a constant churn of potential "culture wars" issues, as Donald Trump & Co. send up trial balloon after trial balloon to try to figure out what will stick. We mention this particular story primarily because we had a bit in this weekend's Q&A about how Republicans have gotten flabby about their use of buzzwords in general, and about their use of the phrase "cancel culture" in particular, and this happens to be a particularly good example.

The background here is that the Kentucky Derby was run last Saturday, and was won by Medina Spirit, who is trained by Bob Baffert. Everyone raised a mint julep to Baffert, and his now-record seventh Kentucky Derby victory, and that was that. Or, so it seemed. In post-race testing, however, Medina Spirit was discovered to have an illegal quantity of the anti-inflammatory steroid betamethasone in his bloodstream (some is allowed, but the horse was at roughly twice the legal level). If a second test, expected back this week, comes back positive then the victory will be forfeited and the title will be passed down to second-place finisher, Mandaloun.

It would appear that Donald Trump took notice that Medina Spirit is (1) an athlete, and (2) brown. Further, the former president has his shiny new Twitter knockoff to play with. That meant he just had to weigh in: "So now even our Kentucky Derby winner, Medina Spirit, is a junky. This is emblematic of what is happening to our Country. The whole world is laughing at us as we go to hell on our Borders, our fake Presidential Election, and everywhere else!" That's quite the non sequitur there. Although in some translations of the Bible, the four horsemen of the apocalypse ride on steeds that have been drugged with betamethasone, so maybe that is what he was referring to.

Meanwhile, Baffert knows a cue when he sees one. Or, at least, a chance to deflect attention and muddy the waters. He has insisted that he's a martyr here, and that he would never, ever cheat, and that he cannot imagine how those drugs got into the horse's system. And, in an interview with...wait for it...Fox News, the trainer declared that this incident was yet another example of "cancel culture."

Even using the loosest possible meaning of "cancel culture," it's hard to see how it can be used to describe "your horse failed a drug test, one that you knew full well was coming." Incidentally, this is the fifth time this year that one of Baffert's horses has failed a drug test. Reach your own conclusions as to how much of a martyr Baffert really is. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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