On Wednesday, we wrote an item that proposed that while the Biden administration might have some ability to combat misinformation about the COVID vaccines, and certainly has some ability to make the vaccines available to anyone who wants them, there is relatively little the White House can do about right-wing folks who have turned this into a political issue, a hill on which they are (quite literally) willing to die.
But you know who might just reach the Republicans for whom this has become a political issue? Their fellow Republicans. And that brings us to yet another pop quiz. All of these right-wing figures have made strong statements, either pro-vaxx, or anti-vaxx, in the last few days. Which four made the anti-vaxx statements?
While you ponder your choices, we will point out that the reasons that the vaccine has become politicized are not hard to figure out. There is much distrust of government, and of science, among some folks on the right (and, of course, among some on the left, as well). And so, the vaccine was always going to be a hard sell to some portion of the populace. However, Donald Trump turned that up to 11 (since it's one more than 10) with some of his base. He mostly denied the pandemic while he was in office, in hopes of saving his presidential hide, and he has since worked to undermine Joe Biden, in hopes of salving his wounded ego. And so, for some of the MAGA crowd, refusing the vaccine has become an exercise in patriotism, partisan pride, owning the libs, etc.
And now, here's a rundown of who is (currently?) pro-vaxx and anti-vaxx:
Cavuto has actually been pretty consistently pro-vaccine and pro-science during the pandemic, but the other three—Ruddy, Scalise, and Hannity—have been vaxx critical in the past. What gives?
Undoubtedly, there are many possible reasons that these folks have had a "come to Jesus" moment. Scalise, for example, appears to have been genuinely convinced by the evidence. Hannity could be worried about legal liability. Ruddy, if you read the op-ed, is clearly trying to make sure Trump gets as much credit for the vaccine as is possible. However, as a piece from The New York Times earlier this week makes clear, a significant part of it is cold, hard numbers.
It is no secret that, thanks to Trump and his allies, the COVID-19 story has turned into a tale of two pandemics. Although infection rates are up nearly everywhere, people who have been vaccinated are vastly more likely to survive. That means that death rates are up almost exclusively in red states and counties (the three worst, right now, are Missouri, Florida, and Texas). At least some folks on the right are looking at this, and are scared witless that the Republican Party could give away some congressional districts, or even some states, due to vaccine hesitancy.
This is actually one of the most common questions we get for the Saturday mailbag: Could the anti-vaxx sentiment in red states cost the Republican Party dearly at the ballot box? To answer that with any degree of specificity requires projection skills that are beyond our pay grade (and our staff geographer just ran off to join the circus). However, we can tell you this: 38,566 Floridians, to take one example, have succumbed to COVID. The U.S. Senate race there in 2018 was decided by a little more than 10,000 votes. The gubernatorial election that year was decided by a little more than 30,000 votes. Clearly, COVID isn't going to take a red or purple state and make it sapphire blue. But if the Sunshine State has another spike and/or if it turns out that those who perished were, say, 2-to-1 Republican, then that could indeed be enough to affect a close election.
And, in any event, it doesn't matter if there is an actual demographic-political risk to Republicans running around unvaccinated. All that matters is if prominent Republicans think there is a risk. And some of them do. If that's what it takes to get them on the side of public health, then great. Of course, the fellow who could do the most good here is Trump. If he his persuaded that coming out strong for vaccination will bring glory to him, or that it will help his electoral prospects, he might just record the PSA that so many in the media have pleaded for. It seems unlikely but, then, so did Hannity coming out as pro-vaxx. (Z)
As long as we're talking COVID, we will also pass along this news from the world of sports. The NFL is unable (due to the union contract) to force its players to vaccinate before taking the field this season. However, the league is able to provide certain "inducements" that push players toward getting vaccinated. Already, the commissioner's office had announced that teams with 75% or more of their personnel vaccinated would face much looser restrictions in terms of testing, masking, traveling, practicing, etc. And yesterday, Commissioner Roger Goodell dropped a new, and pretty big, bombshell: If a team is unable to play a game due to having too many COVID-19 positives from unvaccinated players, then that team may forfeit the game (and the players would forfeit their game checks). Given that NFL teams only play 17 games, and that one win or loss is often the difference between going to the playoffs or going home, that is a big deal.
It is somewhat improbable that this would actually come to pass. Last season, pre-vaccine, there were only 10 games that had to be postponed for a day or two or three and another 5 that had to be rescheduled to a different week. However, even the risk that it might happen could be too much for some players to bear, especially since the peer pressure in the locker room is already intense.
Meanwhile, the response outside the world of football could be interesting. The three demographics where vaccination is a particular problem are right-leaning white men, Black people (especially Black men), and young people. As chance would have it, all three of those groups are among the NFL's core demographics. So, the league's example could possibly influence some folks who otherwise haven't been reached through other means.
On the other hand, Colin Kaepernick taught everyone that there are some Americans who get very, very mad when they feel that football has become politicized. So it's possible that there could be a backlash, particularly if a red-state team ends up forfeiting a game. The four teams that are reportedly below 50% vaccination right now are the Washington Football Team, the Los Angeles Chargers, the Indianapolis Colts, and the Arizona Cardinals. The latter two of those are red-state teams, obviously.
The regular season kicks off on Sept. 9, so in about 9 weeks, we'll find out if this is a story or not. (Z)
Part of the reason that lots of people hate Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is that they are staunch partisans, and thus high-profile symbols and targets for members of the opposition party. But another part of the reason is that they are very shrewd, and very good at what they do. This is considerably more irritating than, say, the bumbling approach of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA).
At the moment, Pelosi is giving an object lesson that serves to remind everyone that she's a shrewd cookie (and that McCarthy is much less so). With the Minority Leader having pulled his people from the 1/6 Commission, he's put the whole thing in the Speaker's hands. Yes, he could "change his mind," but doing do would require him to put his tail between his legs, and his hat in his hand, and would look "weak" to Donald Trump, who would eat McCarthy alive. So, McCarthy's pretty well boxed himself in, and whatever PR benefit he gained from pitching a fit will quickly fade.
The Speaker, meanwhile, looks several moves ahead while playing 3-D chess, and so was clearly ready for this. She knows that the Achilles' heel here is that the 1/6 investigation will look like a partisan exercise, and that the more participation she can get from (non-grandstanding) Republicans, and the more she can put those Republicans front and center, the more she will be able to blunt that line of attack. And so, she is working to add more Republican members to the Committee, now that McCarthy said he's not interested in participating.
The leading candidate, as you might guess, is Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), who has been nearly as critical of Trump as the already-on-the-committee Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY). Maybe Kinzinger is motivated by a sense of civic duty. Maybe he's setting himself up to run for governor of Illinois. Whatever it is, joining the 1/6 Committee serves his purposes. At this point, with seats open, it would be more of a surprise if he did not join the committee, than if he did.
And it does not stop there. Pelosi can only appoint current members of Congress to actual seats on the Committee. And after Cheney and Kinzinger, she might not find many other willing participants. However, some past Republican members of Congress are apparently interested in helping out. And those folks, even if they can't take a formal seat on the committee, can most certainly be hired as staffers or advisers. Indeed, former Virginia representative Denver Riggleman who lost his seat last year after he officiated at a same-sex wedding, is reportedly close to be hired to assist and advise Cheney.
Obviously, readers of this site know what's really going on here, namely that (1) the lack of bipartisanship on the committee is largely the fault of McCarthy (for picking bomb throwers like Jim Jordan and Jim Banks) and McConnell (for killing the Joint Committee), and (2) the Republicans who are serving, or who look like they are going to serve, are outside the Party's mainstream. However, it is not political junkies that Pelosi is thinking about here. She's envisioning the press conference where the committee announces its findings (and possibly many other press conferences as well). And she thinks, probably rightly, that folks who aren't dialed into politics will be impressed that the investigation was bipartisan when they see a chyron at the bottom of the screen that advises viewers they are hearing from, "Rep. Liz Cheney (R), Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R), former Rep. Denver Riggleman (R)," etc. (Z)
Everybody knew this was coming. Heck, we noted it just two days ago. In 2018, Mississippi passed a strict ban on abortions, making the procedure illegal anytime beyond 15 weeks of gestation, excepting in "medical emergencies or for severe fetal abnormality." That means that a woman who was raped, or was the victim of incest, would be legally required to carry a fetus to term. The law clearly runs contrary to Roe v. Wade, and was meant to give the state a case it could take to the Supreme Court in hopes of overturning that precedent.
Since then, everything has gone according to plan. A federal judge blocked the law, Mississippi appealed to the Supreme Court, and SCOTUS took the case. And yesterday, Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch filed the brief in which she officially asks the Court to overturn Roe, declaring that the case for doing so is "overwhelming."
This has been inevitable, probably since Brett Kavanaugh was seated, and certainly since Amy Coney Barrett was seated. Trying to guess what the Court is going to do is usually not very productive; in this case it is clear that the three liberals (Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan) will try to keep Roe intact, at least three of the conservatives (Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, and Clarence Thomas) are salivating at the possibility of striking it down, and the remaining three (John Roberts, Barrett, and Kavanaugh) are playing things close to the robe, and will decide based on...who knows? The law? Their personal religious beliefs? Their personal political beliefs? Concern for the just-calling-balls-and-strikes reputation of the Court? It could be any of these.
If the Court does strike down Roe, then the aftermath will be something to see. At very least, the Republicans will have largely yielded one of their most effective wedge issues while simultaneously handing a giant wedge issue to the Democrats. This could also reignite the talk about court packing or some similar reform, and something might even happen on that front, particularly if the filibuster has been weakened or eliminated.
On the other hand, if Roe survives, it could work to the Republicans' benefit. They'll keep their wedge issue, and might also be able to rally the troops around "we need a seventh justice" or else "we need a Republican Congress so we can pass federal legislation on this subject." Note that they won't actually pass that legislation, much less get it signed into law by a Democratic president, merely that they'll use the "promise" in order to get evangelicals fired up (and donating money).
The Court is expected to hear the case in fall of this year, and will issue its decision in June of next year. Conveniently, that is right in the heart of election season. (Z)
On Wednesday, we did a rundown of several different prognosticators, and which Senate races that each of them deems to be competitive. The Iowa seat, currently occupied by Chuck Grassley (R), is not on the radar of anyone, except the folks at PredictIt. There, you can get 9-to-1 odds if you'd care to lay some money on the Democrats to win the seat. This might be a good time to jump on that bet, because the blue team's odds just improved, at least a little. As we have written many, many times, you can't beat someone with no one. And, on Thursday, the Democrats got someone in the person of former representative Abby Finkenauer.
Finkenauer is a centrist and a lifelong Iowan who comes from blue-collar roots. She managed to flip IA-01, winning it by 5 points over Rod Blum (R) in 2018 before losing it by 3 points to Ashley Hinson (R) in 2020. She was in the Iowa state House before that. So, she's battle-tested and has some name recognition. We're not sure that her gender affords an advantage, though three of Iowa's four representatives, one of its two senators, and its governor are all women, so maybe it does.
Finkenauer's first job will be to convince the Democratic establishment that she's worth investing resources in. Undoubtedly, she is hoping and expecting that Grassley will bow out, and that she'll be gunning for an open seat. If he doesn't, she's going to have a heck of a mountain to climb, as the Senator has never collected less than 60% of the vote. Her stated plan is to hit him hard over his votes on taxes and healthcare. She also knows that some Iowans are uncomfortable with the fact that Grassley will be 89 on Election Day and 95 at the end of his next term. Finkenhauer will be 33; the 56-year gap will be the largest in U.S. history if he runs again and she gets the Democratic nomination, outdistancing the gap between 94-year-old Strom Thurmond and 42-year-old Elliott Close in 1996. Finkenhauer can't attack the length of Grassley's teeth directly, for fear of appearing ageist and/or offending senior-citizen Iowa voters. But you can bet she will find ways to contrast her youth with his, well, lack of youth. One obvious thing she can do is be filmed while engaging in some sports activities, the more vigorous the better.
This one is not a race to watch quite yet, but it could get there—particularly if Grassley decides to call it a career, but maybe even if he doesn't. (Z)
That is the question that Data for Progress (DfP) asked. DfP took note of the fact that the state has two Democratic Senators that are pursuing very different approaches to governance. Kyrsten Sinema, of course, has tried hard to be a very visible centrist, and someone who puts the brakes on her party's "excesses." Mark Kelly, by contrast, has been much more of a (blue) team player.
In hopes of figuring out how well this is working for the two senators, DfP ran a poll of Arizona voters (also asking about Joe Biden while they were at it). Here are their numbers:
As you can see, Sinema lags both the President and her junior colleague across the board. In each category, fewer voters approve of her than the two men. Further, her approval is softer than theirs is, with more respondents in the "somewhat approve" group and fewer in the "strongly approve" group. Particularly instructive is that Sinema is way behind Biden and Kelly among Democrats—indeed, Biden's "strongly approve" number (56%) with them is greater than her total approval (54%)—and yet she also lags them a little bit with independent voters. In other words, as she performs "centrism," she's sacrificing Democratic support in exchange for...nothing. This tracks well with two general points that are sustained by many, many polls: (1) most "independents" aren't actually independent, and are pretty strongly aligned with one major party or the other; and (2) most voters prefer politicians who do something as opposed to those who do nothing.
Sinema's choices have inspired a great deal of head-scratching around here. When she began her political career, she was leftier than Bernie Sanders, so we doubt that what we're seeing now is a demonstration of her deeply held beliefs. Further, there is a top-flight (Latino) primary challenger waiting in the wings in Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ). Whether the Senator has seen the CfP poll or not, she's got to have numbers that point to the same basic conclusion. So, we're going to be really surprised if there's no change in course in the next 6 months or so. (Z)
For all of his shortcomings, Donald Trump does have a few notable talents. And one of those is getting other people to pay his bills while he pockets the savings. This is what happened with his failed casinos, for example; he took them over, looted them, and then left his partners and shareholders holding the bag when the casinos went bankrupt.
To nobody's surprise, Trump is at it again. As everyone surely knows, there is an "audit" of ballots underway in Arizona, and possible audits about to launch in Georgia, Pennsylvania, and possibly Wisconsin. Further, Trump has used e-mail blasts and other tolls to raise vast amounts of money to fund these challenges. But if you think the money that he's raising is actually being used to pay for the audits (or any other challenges), well, please contact us immediately, because we'd love to partner with you in the purchase of an Atlantic City casino.
The audit in Arizona, for example, is being paid for by shadowy right-wing PACs, a few well-heeled Republican donors, and some small donations made directly for that purpose. Meanwhile, Trump's Save America leadership PAC has collected $75 million this year, and has spent roughly $0 on election challenges. It's almost like Trump and his team don't really believe there was fraud, and don't feel like wasting their money on wild goose chases.
Because PACs, including the ones controlled by Trump, are only loosely regulated, the former president can spend that $75 million in almost any way he wants. He could use it to boost favored candidates in 2022, for example, or to run for president again in 2024. He can't directly transfer the money to his personal accounts, although what he can do is pay himself and his family fat salaries for "leading" the PAC. That's almost as good, especially since Trump rarely pays income taxes. It is also possible to use that money as a piggy bank for "expenses," including stays at Bedminster and Mar-a-Lago, plane flights, and perhaps even repairs to jets that are currently rotting away at an airport in New York.
The PAC will have to file a report with the FEC on July 31, so next week we might get a slightly clearer picture of how the Donald is (and is not) spending all those donations. On the other hand, given his propensity for muddying the financial waters, and his desire to keep fleecing the sheep for as long as is possible, we might not. (Z)
Donald Trump has demonstrated, over and over again, that there are many people in his base that are easy marks. He certainly knows it, hence the $75 million for ballot challenges that isn't actually being used to fund ballot challenges (see above), among other scams he's run since becoming a politician.
Trump has also attracted a lot of people to his banner who share his propensity (his hunger? his compulsion?) for fleecing the rubes. And what he, and all the other grifters, know is that the gravy train is eventually going to come to an end. Maybe Trump will die, or maybe he'll go to prison and be disgraced, or, most likely, he will be drowned out by the next generation of MAGA politicians; folks who are younger and savvier than he, and who still have a public platform. Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) comes to mind here. Alternatively, his whole movement could collapse as his voters age and/or die off, or they start to realize that culture-wars distractions and unfulfilled promises are not creating jobs for people, or solving the opioid crisis, or putting food on the table, or doing much of anything to make their lives better.
The point is: The time is ripe for shearing the sheep. While the window might remain open for years, it might also slam shut by the end of the summer. And so, there has been a noticeable surge, recently, in grifts meant to target the MAGA crowd and to part them from their money.
Consider, for example, the "freedom phone." It's got "freedom" in the name, so it's gotta be good, right? Just like a bank with "American," "Federal," or "National" in the name has never, ever failed. The idea here is that Big Tech is made up of a bunch of Big, Bad Guys who want to control you, and spy on you, and police what you say. And your freedom phone, which you can get for the low, low price of $500, will free you from those shackles. It is "specially engineered," has security that The Man cannot defeat, a custom OS (the "Freedom OS") that The Man cannot crack, and it comes custom-loaded with all the applications that a Trump-lover could want, like Freedom and Rumble, while eschewing apps like Facebook and Twitter.
Does that sound a little dubious to you? If so, you're obviously not a mark...er, the target demo. The phone is actually a rebranded Umidigi A9 Pro, which is made in China, and otherwise retails for about $150. The "Freedom OS" is just a lightly customized version of the Android OS, and would be easily compromised by a veteran hacker, or by Google (who paid for its development). Hacking the phone, should someone wish to do so, is made vastly easier by the fact that Umidigi phones are notoriously non-secure because they use MediaTek chips. "I have never encountered a secure MediaTek device in my entire life," observed one cybersecurity expert. "Using MediaTek for anything and expecting privacy or security is fundamentally flawed." And finally, whether the phone is a cheap knock-off or a top-of-the-line iPhone, it's not going to be able to do very much if one limits oneself to fringe social media platforms, e-mail services, search engines, etc. If you want to be a cell phone luddite, and you want to cut yourself off from 95% of the Internet, you don't need a special phone to do it. And as to security, there has been a lot of news lately about the Israeli cyber security firm NSO Group, which has been selling software to governments that can break even the iPhone, which has really good hardware and software security. If even the iPhone is vulnerable, then the Freedom OS would probably last about 10 seconds under attack by a halfway decent hacker.
To give another example, news broke yesterday that the most predictable grift imaginable has become a reality. Combine the worldwide grift du jour with TrumpWorld, and what do you get? Why, it's the Magacoin, of course!—the world's newest cryptocurrency. Thus far, there are 75 million Magacoins in "existence," a number chosen to reflect the number of votes that Donald Trump "won" the 2020 election with. That sort of basis for a currency certainly inspires confidence. The creator of Magacoin is Trump ally and supporter Reilly O'Neal, who holds the lion's share of that 75 million. However, he's used various stunts to gain attention, including giving free Magacoins to prominent conservatives, and also promising to donate 10 million Magacoins to the Magacoin Victory Fund, a PAC that will allegedly support Trump-friendly candidates. Thus far, O'Neal has attracted several hundred marks...er, investors.
A big factor in the rise of Trumpism is that a lot of voters felt that they had been crapped on, degraded, taken advantage of, disrespected, etc. for a very long time, and that Trump understood and would push back against all of that. Having won the base's confidence and near-undying allegiance, how long can Trump and his acolytes crap on, degrade, take advantage of, and disrespect his supporters before those supporters conclude they've been taken for a ride? It would seem that The Donald and his acolytes are going to put that to the test. (Z)
Last week, we wrote an item entitled "Today's Schadenfreude Report," in which we noted that accused pedophile Roy Moore had lost his lawsuit against comedian Sacha Baron Cohen. Thereafter, several folks wrote in and asked us to make the Schadenfreude Report a regular feature. We're going to give it a try, at least tentatively, though we worry a little bit that we won't always have raw material, and we worry a lot that the bullseye is going to be on members of one particular party the vast majority of the time. But when a relevant story pops up, we can run with it. Suggestions are always welcome, of course.
Today's subject will be Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) and Matt Gaetz (R-FL). One of them is, like Moore, an accused pedophile and sexual predator. The other is a proven racist, antisemite, and conspiracy theorist. Both seem to have zero interest in governance, and enormous interest in self-promotion and attracting the adoring attention of the MAGA crowd.
Right now, Congress' two most toxic members have joined forces for a tour of rallies and town halls that are meant to raise money for their reelection campaigns. It has not gone well. They attempted to hold an event in Southern California, only to have the venue cancel when management found out that Greene and Gaetz were involved. A second venue was booked, and also canceled, followed by a third venue that canceled just hours before the event was to take place.
So, the duo was compelled to redirect to a local beach, which is public and can't cancel on them. That's not great, but at least it's not the storefront of Four Seasons Landscaping, right? The only problem is that while a public beach can't exclude the Representatives, it also can't exclude the general public, including tricksters looking to have some fun at Greene's and Gaetz' expense. And so they were approached by comedian Walter Masterson, who was wearing American Flag-patterned clothing, and who pretended to be wildly excited. Once he was in close proximity to Gaetz, Masterson began recording on his phone, and kept repeating: "everyone thinks you're crazy, I don't think you're crazy" and "people think you're a pedophile, I don't think you're a pedophile." Eventually, Gaetz had security haul Masterson away, but that did not stop the videos from going viral. It also did not stop roughly 1 million people from joking that if you want to be allowed a picture with the Representative, you have to acknowledge that he is a pedophile, since saying that he isn't will just get you hauled away.
That's pretty embarrassing. Arguably even worse, however, is that the Gaetz-Greene tour is losing money hand over fist. They've spent almost $300,000 to hold their fundraising events, and have pulled in less than $60,000. In part, that is because Gaetz is a grifter, and is using the events to funnel money from his campaign coffers to the PR firm he happens to own. However, that's just part of it. The other part is that the duo just isn't that popular, and has failed to capture even a fraction of the Trump MAGA magic. Maybe that only says something about the two of them. On the other hand, maybe it says that the love is now, and will always be, for the Dear Leader and nobody else. (Z)