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Political Wire logo U.S. Tells Americans to Stay Away from Kabul Airport
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What Moulton and Meijer Learned at the Kabul Airport
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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Biden Stays with August 31
      •  What's Next for the Taliban?
      •  They Have a Deal
      •  SCOTUS: Refugees Must Remain in Mexico
      •  Walker Will Run
      •  Another Republican Is Sued for Defamation
      •  One-and-a-half Million Votes

Biden Stays with August 31

Joe Biden said he'd have his decision on the Afghanistan withdrawal sometime Tuesday, and he made good on that promise, announcing that August 31 will remain the deadline to complete the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.

That is a very tall order for U.S. forces, obviously, since there are still many tens of thousands of people that the White House would like to extract. It does not make things any easier that much of the remainder is Afghans who aided the U.S. peacekeeping effort, but the Taliban announced yesterday that they would not be letting any more Afghans leave the country. Whether they can enforce such a dictum is another matter.

Biden is also facing blowback on the home front, as members of Congress on both sides of the aisle are pushing him to change the deadline. Of course, these folks are not too likely to line up to receive their share of the blame if the Taliban responds to that by blowing up a few Americans.

Two members of Congress went even further than just pressuring the White House, taking things into their own hands and flying to Afghanistan yesterday. That would be Reps. Seth Moulton (D-MA) and Peter Meijer (R-MI) and they went "to conduct oversight on the mission to evacuate Americans and our allies." The Congressmen did not advise the Department of Defense of their trip, nor House leadership; they just gallivanted off on an apparent whim. As you might imagine, they have nothing useful to add to the proceedings. This was confirmed by military personnel, who said that Moulton and Meijer are a distraction and a security risk. Their real purpose here, of course, was to raise their profiles and to score some headlines—a cynical and self-centered move, especially when people are dying and suffering, and American soldiers are risking their lives. They should really be censured over this.

In any event, at least at the moment, the executive and legislative branches are butting heads. We will see what happens over the next few days but, for now, we suggest you take that "August 31 for sure!" announcement with at least a few grains of salt. For now, sticking with the deadline makes all the sense in the world, since deadlines tend to motivate people to get things done. Further, announcing a unilateral extension of the deadline right now would be a big poke in the eye of the Taliban, folks who come from a culture where honor and saving face are very important.

Ultimately, however, that August 31 deadline might prove to be more fungible than it seems, if and when fungibility is needed. The President has already asked for contingency plans if the current deadline does not work out, and has also said that adherence to the deadline is predicated on Taliban cooperation, something they are not delivering at the moment. That is known as "hedging your bets."

In addition, there are also two pretty big known unknowns here. The first of those is exactly what "August 31 deadline" means to the Taliban. Will they consider the U.S. in violation at 12:01 a.m. on September 1? Noon on September 1? 3:00 p.m. on September 3? The second, and more important of those, is what was discussed and/or decided at the "secret" meeting on Monday between CIA Director William Burns and Taliban leader Abdul Ghani Baradar. Was the meeting completely unproductive? Or did the two sides work something out that allows both to achieve their goals?

In short, there is a lot of murkiness right now. The good news is that a fair bit of clarity is right around the corner. (Z)

What's Next for the Taliban?

Sometime soon, the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan will reach its conclusion, and Afghanistan will be 100% the Taliban's show. So, what's the prognosis for them? On the whole, pretty grim, it would seem.

Let's start with the good news for the Taliban:

  • Friends in high places: The Taliban is already in bed with Pakistan, and China is salivating over the possibility of bringing Afghanistan into its sphere of influence. China has lots of money, lots of guns, and lots of experience propping up dictatorial regimes.

  • And also...: Beyond the possible support of China, another thing the Taliban has going for them food is pretty good? (Z) has eaten at this Afghan restaurant a couple of times, and was suitably impressed.

And now the bad news. This list is just a bit longer:

  • Enemies in High Places: There are certainly some foreign actors that are Taliban-friendly, but there are also some biggies that take the opposite view. The United States is the obvious one, of course, but also on the list is...India, which has had an acrimonious relationship with the Taliban in the past, is none too thrilled about anything that strengthens China or Pakistan, and is concerned that Afghanistan could be a source of refugees and/or terrorism. If the Taliban regime starts to crumble, they could get more than a few nudges from both the U.S. and India.

  • History, Part I: Rebelling is not governing and, as a general rule, rebel armies don't have the best track record when it comes to building stable governments. The Americans fumbled it the first time, which is why the Constitution is Independence, v2.0. Benito Mussolini ended up on the wrong end of a meat hook after 20 years, the French First Republic managed to hang on for just 12 years, the Cromwells held on to power in England for just 6 years between them, the Confederacy breathed its last after just 4 years, etc.

  • History, Part II: Rebel-armies-turned-governments have a particular track record of failure in Afghanistan. As Andrew Latham, a professor of international relations at Macalester College, observes in an op-ed entitled "The coming collapse of the Taliban," the rather similar mujahedeen did not survive long after defeating the Soviets back in the 1980s. He asserts that "The Taliban should savor its triumph while it can, for it is unlikely to survive much beyond this fleeting moment of victory."

  • Money: This is a biggie; it takes money to run a country, and the Taliban don't have much of it. Afghanistan's assets held abroad (mostly in the U.S.) have been frozen, while aid payments from the International Monetary Fund and other organizations and governments have largely been suspended. The Taliban wants to raise money by taxing commerce that passes through the country, but those modern-day caravans could become targets for terrorists, or could re-route to some cheaper country and route. There's money in heroin, but heroin money can't buy a country's way into the international financial system. Afghanistan is estimated to have $1 trillion in rare metals waiting to be mined, but that would require bringing in outsiders who have the necessary expertise. And the Taliban loathes outsiders.

  • Domestic unrest: The United States' efforts to promote democracy abroad have produced mixed results, at best. However, it's had rather more success in promoting capitalism. During the 20 years in Afghanistan, the Americans built a government and an army that proved to be paper tigers. But those two decades also saw the average Afghan's income triple. In other words, if the Taliban crashes the economy, the pinch will be much worse than the last time they were in power, and unhappiness with their leadership will be much greater. Things will get even worse if the Taliban reverts to form, and resumes its place as one of the world's most violent and oppressive regimes.

  • Rally round the...?: Afghanistan is one of those countries that's more like a confederation of tribes, or city-states, or factions than it is a unified nation. The Taliban drew from many different groups, and kept things together by rallying around a shared enemy, namely the Americans. But now the Americans are exiting, stage right. That might well deprive the Taliban of its key unifying principle.

This is all speculative, of course, but it certainly does seem as if the new rulers of Afghanistan face long odds. Maybe this will temper their baser instincts, in hopes that will make governance easier. Or maybe the new regime falls so fast that it makes Jefferson Davis' head spin. Either of these outcomes, should they come to pass, would bring some political benefit to Joe Biden. (Z)

They Have a Deal

Yesterday, we supposed that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) would work out her differences with the recalcitrant moderates in her caucus, and would find a way forward on the two infrastructure bills. We probably should have added that it's summer in humid Washington D.C., and everyone wants to get out of town, meaning resolution was likely to come sooner rather than later.

On Tuesday, resolution did indeed come. Pelosi agreed to bring up the bipartisan bill on Sept. 27, shortly after the House returns from its recess. That means it should become law by the time October rolls around. In exchange, the Democratic caucus voted unanimously to support the $3.5 trillion framework for the reconciliation bill, which effectively commits them to supporting the actual bill when it comes down the pike.

All of this means that today's round, at very least, goes to the centrist Democrats, who got the quick(ish) vote on the bipartisan bill that they wanted. That means that the progressive wing of the caucus came up on the short end, at least for now, since the two infrastructure bills are no longer directly linked. At the moment, some of the progressives, including at least half the members of The Squad, are publicly complaining. One suspects they will get invited to the Speaker's office for a chat on how sausage is made, and a reminder that trillions of dollars are still set to be lavished on progressive priorities.

The maneuvering that Pelosi did was so abstruse that you have to be a world-class expert on parliamentary procedure—like, say, Nancy Pelosi is—to fully understand it. That's especially true since the framework passed by the House has not yet been posted to the bill-tracking website run by the Library of Congress, and so is not available to be read. However, it is inconceivable that Pelosi would risk losing the $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill. If you bet on anything today, bet that the Speaker crossed all the t's and dotted all the i's, such that reconciliation is a done deal when and if it gets past the Senate. We'll find out for sure, however, when Congress returns to full-time work in about a month. (Z)

SCOTUS: Refugees Must Remain in Mexico

On Tuesday, the 6-3 conservative majority on the Supreme Court decided to smack Joe Biden upside the head, and refused to reverse a loss he suffered at the hands (the gavels?) of a lower court. Donald Trump established a policy that migrants trying to cross into the U.S. via the Southern border would have to remain in Mexico while their cases were addressed, Biden tried to reverse it, the federal courts said that Biden did not follow the rules in issuing his reversal, and SCOTUS said they saw no need to get involved. Though that decision was not signed, the three liberals said they wanted to get involved, and since it only takes four justices to agree to hear a case, that necessarily means that all six conservatives opposed involvement, resulting in a 6-3 decision by inference.

We wrote about this because every outlet treated it as major news, with many issuing "breaking news" alerts. That said, we are not sold that it is quite that big a deal. We know absolutely nothing about conditions for migrants in Mexico, and are happy to be enlightened by anyone who does know something. However, we do know something about conditions for migrants being held in the U.S., which are not great under the best of circumstances, and get positively awful when things get crowded, or when Stephen Miller is calling the shots. It's possible that, if nothing else, Mexico allows greater freedom of movement while people wait, which would itself be a pretty big step up over the U.S. facilities.

Meanwhile, we are also uncertain about the political significance of this. The handling of immigrants is an issue that a lot of people talk about, but does it actually affect how they cast their ballots? Barack Obama had a pretty draconian approach, and it didn't seem to hurt him as he scored two big presidential wins. Donald Trump's approach was even more draconian, and yet he actually increased his share of the Latino vote in 2020. We suppose it's possible that Biden and/or the Democrats might be hurt by this, particularly in the purple state of Arizona. However, we can't really think of any evidence suggesting that is likely. (Z)

Walker Will Run

What creature walks on four legs in the morning, two legs in the afternoon, and three legs in the evening? The answer to the sphinx's riddle is "man," who progresses from crawling, to walking, to walking with a cane. On a somewhat similar note, Herschel Walker presumably did crawl at one point, and he is a Walker, and now he will run. After months of dithering, the former football star announced on Tuesday that he will compete for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in Georgia, in hopes of getting a shot at the seat that Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) will try to defend next year.

Walker's candidacy is entirely about Donald Trump. And Donald Trump's support for Walker is entirely about Donald Trump. The former president loves to have "friends" in key positions—and by "friends," The Donald really means "people who have kissed the ring many, many times." Walker once played for Trump in the USFL, and then later appeared on "The Celebrity Apprentice," and later still was an outspoken Trump supporter who delivered a speech at the 2020 Republican National Convention. Beyond loyalty, Walker also allows Trump to flatter himself that he's not racist and that he embraces "diversity." After all, he's got a Black friend. And finally, the former president sees himself as an out-of-the-box thinker who has important insights that political insiders do not. Making Walker into a U.S. Senator would, in Trump's eyes, be a major triumph of his gut over the professionals' experience and knowledge.

The problem here is that Walker is a very weak candidate. Among his liabilities:

  • Zero political experience
  • A history of debilitating mental illness
  • A history of spousal abuse
  • A history of unethical and possibly illegal business practices
  • He's a carpetbagger. Yes, he was born in the state, and played football for the University of Georgia, but he's lived in Texas for over a decade. He only got around to re-registering to vote in The Peach State just last week.

In addition to all of this, Walker is not especially well informed on political issues, is not a great extemporaneous speaker, and has little experience dealing directly with large crowds (running a football as a large crowd cheers does not count). He is 100% guaranteed to say many things that are dumb, or impolitic, or both.

Trump's theory is that his support and his charisma will be enough to drive Walker to victory in both the primary and general elections. That may be correct for the primary but, as to the general, the former president might want to check with David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler to see how well his support worked out for them. He might also want to review which presidential candidate won Georgia's electoral votes last year. If Walker goes up in flames—particularly if it happens in the primary, but also if it happens in the general—it will do damage to Trump's reputation as a kingmaker.

Meanwhile, the folks who run the Republican Party aren't going to say it openly, but they are going to hope that one of the other Republicans in the race lands the nomination. Their best hope is probably Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black (R). He is not, in fact, Black, but he has won statewide election in Georgia three times, and he's savvy enough to know that "carpetbagger" is probably Walker's Achilles' heel. So, Black has already opened up that line of attack, decreeing that Walker can't possibly know "what Georgians have on their minds." (Z)'s guess is pecan pie. However, in one of those very rare cases where (Z) and (V) disagree, (V) thinks it is actually peach pie.

If Walker does land the nomination, then the GOP pooh-bahs are going to hope that he benefits from the election being a midterm with lower-than-presidential turnout, and that he picks up a few votes on the basis of being Black and/or a popular former football star. Midterm dynamics are the most promising of those. Few Black voters are going to vote on the basis of skin color, and if they do, then the Black pastor of Martin Luther King Jr.'s former church is going to get the lion's share of those ballots. Meanwhile, there aren't many people who will put their fond memories from 30 years ago ahead of their present-day partisanship, as Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) demonstrated when he, former coach at Auburn, picked up hundreds of thousands of votes from Alabama alums last year.

A couple of weeks ago, PPP polled Warnock vs. the various GOP possibilities. The good news for Walker is that he did better than any of the other Republican candidates; the pollster had it 48% for Warnock vs. 46% for Walker, which is a statistical dead heat. However, that is before Walker has taken positions on many key issues, and before he's had any real opportunity to say impolitic things. Some candidates have room for growth in their numbers, as people get to know them, but Walker already has near-universal name recognition in Georgia. So, the odds are it's downhill from where he stands today. (Z)

Another Republican Is Sued for Defamation

The defendant isn't Rudy Giuliani or Sidney Powell, and the plaintiff isn't Dominion Voting Systems or Smartmatic, but the charge is familiar. The latest GOP personality to have a need for a defamation lawyer is right-wing pundit Candace Owens, who was sued for $20 million by former Republican congressional candidate Kimberly Klacik.

The case centers, in particular, on a video that Owens posted to Instagram in which she asserted that Klacik engaged in tax and campaign finance fraud and in money laundering, is an abuser of illegal drugs, and once ran a strip club. Why, exactly, did Owens choose to target Klacik? One possibility is that Klacik was not conservative enough for Owens' tastes, though that doesn't make much sense, since Klacik is plenty conservative. A second possibility is that Klacik, as someone with zero chance of winning (she lost by 40 points) was a safe target. Better to make an enemy out of a failed politician rather than one who got elected. The likeliest possibility, however, is that Klacik was threatening to move in on Owens' turf. Both are young, outspoken, conservative Black women. That definitely fills a need for the right-wing media, and on the right-wing speaking/rallying/complaining circuit. But is the niche large enough for two people? Owens did not particularly want to find out, wethinks.

As a reminder, the four elements of a defamation claim are as follows:

  1. One or more false statements purporting to be fact
  2. Publication or communication of those false statements to a third person
  3. Fault amounting to at least negligence (the person either knew, or should have known, the statements were false)
  4. Damages to the target of the statement

The video was seen by many people on Instagram, so #2 is a done deal. The likeliest approaches for Owens' defense: (1) claim that she is an entertainer and that her statements were performative hyperbole, and not presented as "facts," (2) demonstrate that the things she said are true, or (3) dispute the damages that Klacik is claiming. According to Klacik's lawyer, the video cost his client a book deal, and speaking opportunities, and a bunch of other financial benefits. Owens' lawyer could plausibly argue that it wasn't the video, it was Klacik's loss/poor performance in the election that caused people to lose interest.

Anyhow, with the caveat that there is much about the case we don't know, our guess is that Owens will be able to win this one. However, that win may come after discovery, and a lot of unpleasant headlines, and a lot of fat checks written to one or more attorneys. None of those things are any fun.

In general, there is little value in "Candace Owens said crazy crap" items, in the same way that there is little value in "Ben Shapiro said crazy crap" items, or even "Marjorie Taylor Greene said crazy crap" items. The reason we point this story out is that, particularly in the era of Trump, right-wing punditry has become an arms race to see who can be the most outrageous, and the most provocative, and the most nasty. This is not especially good for the political process, or for the fabric of American society as a whole. In the past, readers have written in with various solutions, the most common of those being FCC regulation of cable news channels. That's not possible under current law, but defamation torts certainly are, and they've got teeth. So, maybe that area of law will be the thing that drags political discourse back in the direction of civility (at least a little), and that reins in some of the baser instincts of the OANs and Newsmaxes and Candace Owenses of the world. (Z)

One-and-a-half Million Votes

Polls of the California recall election are very consistent on one point: Support for booting Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) out of office is much higher among "enthusiastic voters" than it is among all voters. That makes sense, since the state is overwhelmingly Democratic (and so, pro-Newsom), but the recall is a Republican political project (and so, the people who are excited about it are anti-Newsom).

This has given rise to a plethora of "Newsom may be done in by Democratic apathy" stories. And, under normal circumstances, it is very bad news for one's opponents to be far more enthusiastic than one's supporters. However, these are not normal circumstances. It's a wonky, off-year election of course, which introduces plenty of uncertainty by itself. On top of that, it's the first ever gubernatorial recall election where all voters were automatically mailed a ballot. It's not too easy to correct for the significance of that. However, it must surely be the case that the enthusiasm gap matters less in a situation where voting can be done with one minute of a person's time, and no travel, as opposed to requiring a person to get to a polling place, wait in line, get their ballot, cast their votes, etc.

Yesterday, we got our first—admittedly, extremely preliminary—data on the situation. According to data-crunching firm Political Data, Inc., 7% of the ballots mailed out have already been returned; for a total a bit north of 1.5 million votes. The votes themselves haven't been revealed, of course, but the breakdown by registration is 884,638 ballots (57%) sent in by Democrats, 340,378 (22%) sent in by independents, and 332,097 (21%) sent in by Republicans.

Polling suggests that about 80% of Democrats, about 45% of independents, and about 10% of Republicans will vote to keep Newsom. If that's correct, he's got 894,000 votes to retain right now, or about 57%. That tracks almost exactly with his approval rating, so it's certainly a plausible estimate. It's possible that there will be a surge of Republican votes on Election Day, when in-person voting is available. That, of course, is what happened last year. On the other hand, Donald Trump isn't on TV every day right now, propagandizing against mail-in voting (while at the same time, casting his own vote via mail). So, maybe not. And even if there is a surge, it could be too little, too late. If the estimates above are correct, Newsom would have a roughly 230,000-vote lead right now. What if he extends that to, say, 600,000? There are only 5.3 million Republicans in California, and many of them will have voted by Election Day, while others won't be voting at all.

Anyhow, the upshot is that Newsom has to be sleeping at least a little easier right now. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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