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New polls:  
Dem pickups vs. 2020: (None)
GOP pickups vs. 2020 : (None)
Political Wire logo Trump Still Trying to Keep Tax Returns Secret
Liberty University Head Says Goal Is Influencing Elections
Will Trump Campaign In Virginia?
House Democrats to Meet Tomorrow Morning
Letitia James Poised to Run for New York Governor
Perdue Mulls Challenging Brian Kemp In Primary

TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  The Democrats' Nightmare Situation?
      •  The Democrats' Dream Situation?
      •  Let's Go Brandon
      •  This Is How They Do It in Brazil
      •  Mort Sahl, 1927-2021
      •  Fox to Launch Weather Channel
      •  Back to the Back to the Future, Part XI: Domestic Affairs

The Democrats' Nightmare Situation?

The Virginia gubernatorial race is certainly getting... interesting. With under a week to go, the already-tight polls are getting even tighter, putting Republican Glenn Youngkin in a statistical dead heat with Democrat Terry McAuliffe. As a consequence, the blue team is sweating bullets, and so is deploying the big guns, so as to give the former governor a shot at winning.

Let's start with the latest polls. There have been six of them released in the last week (not counting the poll from Kellyanne Conway, which may not be terribly reliable, so we'll exclude it). From most to least recent:

Pollster McAuliffe Youngkin Net
Suffolk 46% 45% D+1
VCU 41% 38% D+3
Emerson 49% 49% Tie
Cygnal 48% 48% Tie
Data for Progress 50% 45% D+5
Monmouth 46% 46% Tie

So, that is three polls that have it as a tie, and three that give McAuliffe a slight edge. The only one of those that puts his lead outside the margin of error is from Data for Progress. As you might imagine, given their name, they have a big Democratic lean (+3%). If we toss them out, or just shave the 3 points off, then the overall picture is, again, one of a dead heat.

In the end, this race is primarily going to come down to two things. The first, of course, is turnout. The general rule is that Democrats are less enthusiastic about turnout in off-year elections, and that members of whichever party holds the White House are less enthusiastic about turnout in all elections. Since the latter group is also "Democrats" in this case, that's a double-whammy for Team Donkey. On the other hand, early voting is way up this year; 724,965 Virginians have already cast ballots, as compared to grand total of 195,634 who did so 4 years ago. It is likely that those nearly 725,000 ballots skew heavily Democratic. We know that not only because Democrats are much more likely to take advantage of early in-person voting and voting-by-mail, but also because the congressional districts that have seen the most ballots cast so far are VA-08 (D+27), VA-10 (D+6), and VA-11 (D+19).

The other X factor is third-party candidate Princess Blanding. She is Black, she is liberal, and she is running on a racial justice and "clean up the police" platform as a member of the Liberation Party. Note that's "Liberation" and not "Libertarian." At the moment, she's polling at around 2% in those polls that include her as an option. It is fair to assume that nearly all votes for Blanding are going to come out of McAuliffe's pile. So, if the race ends up as close as it looks, then it could be decided based on the number of Virginians who choose to cast a protest vote.

If the Democrats win or if they lose—especially if they lose—then many in the media are going to point to that as a portent of what lies ahead in 2022 (and 2024). We don't believe that, and we've laid out the data that suggests that the Virginia governor's race is not especially predictive of anything.

What we do believe, however, is that this race speaks to a strategic issue that the Democrats are going to have to think long and hard about, regardless of the outcome. At the moment, the Party's most powerful weapon is Donald Trump. That may change when and if they pass the two infrastructure bills, but for now Trump does more to get Democrats to the polls and to get independent/crossover voters to vote Democratic than anything else.

The problem here is that Youngkin is not a fanatical Trumper, and has managed to keep the former president largely at arm's length. And so, the Democrats have gone all-in on trying to connect the two Republicans, a strategy that was on display again last night, as Joe Biden said to a Virginia rally crowd: "But how well do you know Terry's opponent? Remember this: I ran against Donald Trump. And Terry is running against an acolyte of Donald Trump."

The Democrats are stuck with this messaging now, since you can't exactly change approaches a week before an election. But the result is that Youngkin has spent most of his time talking about the issues, particularly education, and McAuliffe and his surrogates have spent most of their time talking about Trump. Clearly, if the polls have the right of it, this is not working very well. So, the blue team will need to think long and hard about their purple-state strategy heading into 2022, whether McAuliffe wins by a nose, or loses by one. (Z)

The Democrats' Dream Situation?

Meanwhile, over in very red Missouri, a situation quite different from the one in Virginia is unfolding. This one also involves a former governor, albeit one who is now running for the U.S. Senate. That would be Eric Greitens (R), who cheated on his wife, took revenge porn photos and tried to use them to blackmail his mistress, and probably also took illegal campaign contributions. Before the Missouri AG could get to the bottom of it all, Greitens saw the writing on the wall and he quit the governor's mansion. But now he's back with an eye toward rebooting his political career. And because he's a veteran, and because he's a MAGAlomaniac of the first order, and because he has broad name recognition, he's leading in polls of the Republican primary field.

There are other Republican candidates of course, including Reps. Vicky Hartzler and Billy Long, and Missouri AG Eric Schmitt. And there is every chance that Donald Trump's endorsement will be decisive in the Republican primaries. Trump likes to be on frontrunners, and he likes to have other politicians in his debt, so he may well endorse Greitens and then claim that the former governor owes him everything. On the other hand, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) has Trump's ear, and Hawley loathes Greitens. The Missouri AG who ended Greitens' gubernatorial career? That would be one Josh Hawley.

If Greitens does get the endorsement, and probably with it the nomination, Democrats will be dancing in the streets. First of all, because Greitens is damaged goods, so much so that he might actually lose, even in red, red Missouri (see Kobach, Kris). Second, because Greitens is certainly not going to hold Trump at arm's length the way Glenn Youngkin is (see above). No, Greitens will spend the entire election suckling at the Trump teat, and telling everyone how MAGAnificent both he and Donald are. That will do the work of tying the candidate to the poisonous Trump without the blue team having to lift a finger, which will allow their candidate to spend the election talking about the issues. In other words, it would be the opposite of the dynamic in Virginia. And this means that in 2022, the Democrats might actually have an easier path—or, at least, an easier strategic decision—in some red states than they do in some purple states. Politics is often a strange thing. Oh. There is one other little thing. The Democrats have to find a decent candidate. You can't beat somebody with nobody. (Z)

Let's Go Brandon

At the start of this month, reader Q.S. in Holly Springs asked if we believe the U.S. in the midst of a Cold Civil War. And this was our answer:

When (Z) teaches the Cold War, he asks the students to name everything a country might do to hurt and embarrass another country, short of engaging in direct armed violence. And they usually come up with a pretty good list: spy operations, and win in sports, and propaganda, and tell jokes, and try to recruit other countries to your side, etc.

You could certainly argue that there is a similar dynamic in American politics today, of doing everything possible to hurt and embarrass the "enemy," short of shooting at them. On the other hand, the Cold War was bilateral—both sides were engaging in the various hurtful shenanigans. We would say that the Cold Civil War, by contrast, is unilateral. Right-wingers—or, at least, Trumpers—bend over backwards to do whatever they can to "own the libs." However, we do not see evidence of a similar dynamic going in the other direction. Yes, most Democrats really dislike Trump, and act accordingly, but that's just politics. Is there any behavior among the members of the modern left that is equivalent to, say, refusing to wear masks because "that's what the libs want"?

That triggered a multiple-weeks-long discussion in the mailbag (see here, here, and here) about whether or not the Cold Civil War is bilateral or unilateral.

In retrospect, we wish we'd been a little more clear in our original answer. Rival countries and rival political parties both do things to compete with, hurt, embarrass, outperform, etc. their opponents. What made the Cold War distinctive was the degree. The U.S. and the U.S.S.R. did just about everything they could think of to hurt the other nation, often taking things to absolutely ridiculous degrees. A film like Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb would not work as comedy, except in circumstances like those.

And so, having read the back-and-forth across those three Sundays, we stand by our original assertion: The Cold Civil War exists, and it is unilateral. There is no question that the Democratic Party is in competition with the Republican Party, and often takes delights in the missteps and failures of the red team. However, it is only the Republicans that take things to extremes that border on satire, and that bring to mind Poe's law. And as the latest case study in this, we give you "Let's go Brandon."

For those not up-to-date on this meme, here is the background. Kelly Stavast was covering a NASCAR race for NBC recently (and we all know how the audience for that sport skews, politically). As she interviewed winner Brandon Brown after the race, the crowd began to chant. Here's the original video:

It is still not clear if Stavast really misunderstood what she was hearing, or she was just trying to avoid the ire of the FCC. In any event, she observed that the crowd was chanting "Let's go Brandon!" In fact, what they were actually chanting was "F**k Joe Biden."

This has immediately become a euphemism, a source of much delight for Republicans, and a not-so-inside inside joke. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) tweeted a video of himself chanting "Let's go Brandon!" Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL) ended a floor speech with "Let's go Brandon!" Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC) has been wearing a mask during House sessions that reads "Let's go Brandon!" A tune entitled "Let's Go Brandon!," by conservative rapper Bryson Gray, went viral on YouTube and went to #1 on the iTunes charts before being removed from both for propagating medical misinformation.

This sort of behavior is pretty extreme and has not, at least in recent years, had a counterpart among Democrats. The closest parallel is #Covfefe, but there are pretty big differences between that and "Let's Go Brandon":

  • "Brandon" is vulgar, #Covfefe is not.

  • "Brandon" was quickly deployed by members of Congress, sometimes in Congress, and #Covfefe was not.

  • #Covfefe spoke to a real issue/concern that existed with Donald Trump, namely careless tweeting. "Brandon" is just a mondegreen of a chanting crowd's biliousness.

  • "Brandon" is considerably more mean-spirited than #Covfefe.

Readers can judge for themselves if "Brandon" is on a different level than the various insults directed at Trump, but in our view, it is.

And actually, as long as we are at it, we have a second item for the list. As nearly everyone has heard by now, actor Alec Baldwin was handling a gun as part of an independent movie he was filming, the gun was—contrary to what he had been told—loaded with either a blank or a live round, and it misfired and killed the cinematographer. Baldwin is clearly devastated by the mishap; pictures of him in tears (and possibly throwing up) have been circulating around the Internet.

Of course, Baldwin used to go on Saturday Night Live—a TV show based on satire—and make fun of Donald Trump. It was not an affectionate portrayal, by any means, but it was well within the bounds of acceptable comic performance (quite similar to SNL's portrayals of Richard Nixon). After the accident on the movie set, paragon of class Donald Trump Jr. immediately posted for sale on his website t-shirts that read "Guns Don't Kill People, Alec Baldwin Kills People."

To take an accident and a tragedy like this—someone's wife and mother got killed—and to squeeze it for political points and for a cheap buck? It's icky. And again, we struggle to think of an equivalent on the Democratic side of the aisle. Liberals hate Rush Limbaugh about as much as conservatives hate Alec Baldwin, and there were certainly some frank and non-celebratory obituaries (including ours), and there was even some celebrating on Twitter. But we don't recall Malia Obama or Chelsea Clinton selling t-shirts that made light of Rushbo's death. Further, he intended to do the things that upset people. Alec Baldwin did not intend to kill anyone, and the cinematographer his bullet hit was an innocent victim.

Again, the Cold War was about extremes, and when we answered that question a month ago, we saw that level of extremism—you know, "Gentlemen. You can't fight in here. This is the War Room!" type absurdity—on just one side of the political aisle. We have only grown more persuaded of our answer since. (Z)

This Is How They Do It in Brazil

When it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro ran the Donald Trump playbook. Or maybe Trump ran the Bolsonaro playbook. Either way, it was a lot of denial, then finger-pointing, then promotion of quack cures. The result was that the United States has had the most deaths from the disease (759,932 and counting) and Brazil has had the second-most (606,293 and counting). Well, the most and second-most reported deaths, at least. It's a wee bit hard to believe that China has had less than 5,000 deaths, and less than 100,000 cases overall.

In any event, other than being voted out of office, Trump has suffered no penalty for his poor leadership, which undoubtedly cost tens of thousands—and possibly hundreds of thousands—of Americans their lives. Bolsonaro may not be so lucky, however. As he is gears up for his reelection bid (Brazilians go to the polls in October of next year), the Brazilian Senate has recommended that prosecutors file charges against their president, holding him and 13 others responsible for the nation's disproportionate number of COVID deaths.

The matter is now in the hands of the Brazilian Ministry of Justice, and nobody seems to know what Merrick Garland... er, Anderson Torres will do. Still, can you imagine the U.S. Senate trying to go after Trump for pandemic mismanagement? Heck, he probably fomented an insurrection, and even that the Senate was unable to pursue.

And speaking of El Donaldo, he formally announced his endorsement of Bolsonaro for another term just minutes after the Brazilian Senate report was released. Perhaps that was meant as a show of solidarity, though news of the report does not seem to have reached the U.S. prior to Trump's announcement, and the former president is not exactly known for paying close attention to what's happening abroad (or what's happening domestically, for that matter, unless it involves him). So, it appears to be a case of...serendipitous (?) timing, though also a reminder that being out of office has not changed Trump one whit. (Z)

Mort Sahl, 1927-2021

When (Z) was in his first year of graduate school, on the first day of one of his graduate courses, the professor asked everyone to go around the table, introduce themselves, and talk a little bit about their interests. That happens on the first day of pretty much every grad seminar. Well, when it was (Z)'s turn, he truthfully said his interests were primarily in politics and in culture. Unbeknownst to him, that particular professor considered those things to be exclusively great-white-man history, and so saying that was like waving a red cape in front of the prof's eyes. And so, that professor took an instant dislike to (Z), and several weeks later tried to get him thrown out of grad school. That is a true story.

Obviously, that professor's expulsion attempt was not successful. Nor was the reprogramming attempt, as (Z)'s interests are still primarily politics and culture. So, you better believe that when a giant whose career traversed both arenas dies, there is going to be an item about it. The giant in question today is Mort Sahl, the dean of American stand-up comedians, and a person who could reasonably claim to be the father of modern political comedy. He passed away yesterday at the age of 94.

After growing up as an only child, relocating to Los Angeles with his family, serving in the Air Force in World War II, and graduating college on the G.I. Bill, Sahl commenced his stand-up comedy career in 1950. At that time, "stand-up comic" meant "guy who dresses in a suit and does a bunch of spit-takes and 'take my wife' jokes." Since Sahl was both a Canadian and a USC graduate, he was a natural troublemaker, and decided that sort of shtick wasn't his scene. So, he adopted a more casual, youthful look, and he decided it might be interesting to joke about relevant things like social issues and current events. The major comedy clubs of the early 1950s weren't quite ready for that, so Sahl didn't really take off until he started appearing at more underground clubs, most notably San Francisco's hungry i.

Ultimately, hungry i was the launching pad that made Sahl into America's most famous comedian, a status he enjoyed for about a decade. He appeared on just about all of the major TV talk/variety shows, and was a particular favorite of Steve Allen. On Aug. 15, 1960, he became the first comic to be featured on the cover of Time. It's somewhat hard to appreciate his style without seeing him in action (clip here, if you wish to take a look). That said, here are a few of the more notable lines from his career:

  • Liberals feel unworthy of their possessions. Conservatives feel they deserve everything they've stolen.
  • A conservative is someone who believes in reform. But not now.
  • Women have everything they want, and they've never been so unhappy.
  • People tell me there are a lot of guys like me, which doesn't explain why I'm lonely.
  • Reagan won because he ran against Jimmy Carter. If he ran unopposed he would have lost.
  • Washington couldn't tell a lie, Nixon couldn't tell the truth, and Reagan couldn't tell the difference.

At the end of his decade long heyday, Sahl became obsessed with the Kennedy assassination, and his focus on that caused his career to go into decline before a 1970s resurgence that lasted into the 1990s.

The list of comedians who regarded Sahl as a major influence is long and very impressive, and includes Lenny Bruce, Joan Rivers, Richard Pryor, George Carlin, Jerry Seinfeld, Andy Kaufman, Woody Allen, Dick Gregory, Rodney Dangerfield, David Letterman, and Steve Martin. In the last few years, Rolling Stone, Comedy Central, and Paste Magazine have all published lists of America's greatest comics. Here are the Top 10 from each:

1 Richard Pryor Richard Pryor Richard Pryor
2 George Carlin George Carlin Chris Rock
3 Lenny Bruce Lenny Bruce George Carlin
4 Louis C.K. Woody Allen Steve Martin
5 Chris Rock Chris Rock Joan Rivers
6 Joan Rivers Steve Martin Andy Kaufman
7 Jerry Seinfeld Rodney Dangerfield Bob Newhart
8 Bill Cosby Bill Cosby Mort Sahl
9 Dave Chappelle Roseanne Barr Steven Wright
10 Mort Sahl Eddie Murphy Dave Chappelle

As you can see, Sahl's fingerprints are all over the place. It is also the case that, without him, there probably wouldn't have been a Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour or an Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends, and there might not have been a Saturday Night Live, or a Late Night with David Letterman, or a Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Considering the impact that those who followed in Sahl's shoes have had, you can understand why he has a real claim to being the father of modern political comedy. (Z)

Fox to Launch Weather Channel

In case you haven't already heard, the Fox stable of cable channels has just grown by one. Since Monday, Americans have had the option of getting their weather from Fox Weather Channel. As with every cable channel launch, the people responsible for this one are gushing about how they plan to reinvent the wheel. Said Fox News Media CEO Suzanne Scott: "The entire team has worked meticulously to develop a fresh, innovative approach to forecasting with tools like 3D radar and the 'FutureView' to super-serve the loyal audience that we have cultivated over the last 25 years." That's right, it's not just service—it's super service. But do they check your oil and make sure your tires are inflated properly is what we want to know.

There really isn't too much to say about a new weather channel, but in honor of Mr. Sahl (see above), we thought we'd have a bit of fun with this. So, send us your best suggested slogans for the new channel. We'll get the ball rolling:

  • Fox Weather Channel: Because not all hot air comes from Tucker Carlson
  • Fox Weather Channel: That's not rain, that's liberal tears
  • Fox Weather Channel: And you thought Willard Scott's audience was old

On Friday, we will run the best suggestions we get. (Z)

Back to the Back to the Future, Part XI: Domestic Affairs

The penultimate installment of (belated) reader predictions for 2021. Here are the installments we've already run:

And now, readers' predictions for domestic affairs:

  • G.K. in Mishawaka, IN: 2021 will see the groundwork laid for a return of the Whig Party. A wealthy individual, say, a Mark Cuban or a Howard Schultz, will invest heavily in a media outlet that will reach out to right-wing but not MAGA Republicans. This, along with Trump turning his back on Fox News, will create a less extreme news source for said Republicans, further splitting the party. While exactly zero Whig candidates will run in 2021, there will be at least one running for the House in 2022, and a weak candidate for President on 2024.

  • F.L. in Denton, TX: Louis DeJoy will be replaced as Postmaster General.

  • J.A. in Redwood City, CA: The most significant progress on climate change will arise within the private sector.

  • F.M. in Charlottesville, VA: NRA EVP Wayne LaPierre will be criminally charged for accounting fraud and/or FARA violations. Without a succession plan in place, the NRA will effectively disband, continuing to function in name only.

  • S.S. in West Hollywood, CA: No significant reforms on criminal justice.

  • A.H. in Midland, GA: The Democrats will win the two gubernatorial races scheduled for later this year.

  • V.K. in Hamilton, ON, Canada: Republicans will pick-up the Virginia Governor's office as former Governor Terry McAuliffe is defeated in a comeback bid.

  • D.C. in Delray Beach, FL: Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) will emerge as the most incompetent governor in the union.

  • J.W.C. in Honolulu, HI: Governor Tony Evers (D) of Wisconsin will announce he will not run for re-election.

  • W.R. in Tampa, FL: At least one Democratic politician will be assassinated this year.

  • D.O. in Denver, CO: Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman will enter politics, either as a candidate for office or more likely, an appointee to a post in the federal government.

  • K.H. in Maryville, TN: After delivering Georgia for the blue team, Stacey Abrams will write her own ticket within the Party (probably not much of a stretch, this one!). She will eventually decide to enter, and she will win, the Governor's race.

Bringing up the rear, on Friday, will be a list of predictions that didn't fit in any of the other categories. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Oct26 The Insurrection Will Soon Be Televised
Oct26 Some Presidents Get to Keep Their Secrets, Others Don't
Oct26 Democrats Go Boldly Where No Tax Has Gone Before
Oct26 The Facebook Papers Drop
Oct26 Biden Finally Gets His FCC House in Order
Oct26 Back to the Back to the Future, Part X: Foreign Affairs
Oct25 One of These Is Not Like the Other
Oct25 Biden Met with Manchin Again
Oct25 Democrats May Be Barking Up the Wrong Tree
Oct25 Some Senators Don't Belong There
Oct25 The Jan. 6 Riot Was Only a Small Part of the Coup Attempt
Oct25 Vance Whacked for Formerly Being Anti-Trump
Oct25 Montana Gets a New House District--and a Big Fight over It
Oct25 North Carolina is Also Gearing Up to Redraw the Maps
Oct25 Virginia Could Be A Split Decision
Oct24 Sunday Mailbag
Oct23 Saturday Q&A
Oct22 Biden Goes to Town
Oct22 Bannon Held in Contempt
Oct22 Social Media News, Part I: TRUTH
Oct22 Social Media News, Part II: LIES
Oct22 The Proof Is in the Pudding, Part I: Kyrsten Sinema
Oct22 The Proof Is in the Pudding, Part II: The Supreme Court
Oct22 Don't Know Much about History: The American Genocide?
Oct21 Republicans Block Voting Rights Bill
Oct21 Democrats Are Working on Plan C
Oct21 Sinema Is Against Raising Taxes
Oct21 Cheney Asks Republicans to Vote to Hold Bannon in Contempt of Congress
Oct21 Yet Another Investigation of the Trump Organization is Gearing Up
Oct21 Arizona is Filling the Ballot with Conspiracy Theorists
Oct21 Virginia Democrats Are Worried
Oct21 Why Are Conservatives Happier Than Liberals?
Oct20 Legal Blotter, Part I: Team Trump
Oct20 Legal Blotter, Part II: Crooked Congressmen
Oct20 Trump Slurs Powell
Oct20 A Critique of Democratic Messaging
Oct20 Cassidy Calls for Senility Test
Oct20 Halloween Comes Early
Oct20 Stewart Slams Media for Pot-Stirring
Oct19 Another Two Bite the Dust
Oct19 Trump Files Executive Privilege Lawsuit
Oct19 Texas State House Makes District Maps Official
Oct19 2020 Census May Have Undercounted Black People
Oct19 Too Bad We Can't Just Let Teachers Teach
Oct19 Colin Powell, 1937-2021
Oct19 Washington State Football Coach Terminated
Oct18 Manchin: No Coal, No Deal
Oct18 Does Biden Care about Democracy?
Oct18 Texas Is Working on an Even Worse Law
Oct18 Peter Thiel Wants to Be the New Sheldon Adelson