Most (sane) people realize that a band of armed thugs attacking the Capitol to prevent the duly elected president from being sworn in is an attack on democracy, but a much worse (and more subtle) attack is going on in the state capitals now: redistricting. In Texas, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, and other states, it is the Republicans who are the offenders, but there are a few states, especially Illinois and New York, where the Democrats are just as guilty. We are partway through the process now, but it is already clear that the results of nearly all House elections will be known long before the first vote is cast. In fact, the name of the winner will generally be known as soon as both parties have chosen their candidates. The redistricting process, which is more precise than ever due to better software and better data, is making elections superfluous. On the plus side, this will save the donors billions of dollars. After all, if all the ads they buy won't have any effect on the outcome, why bother even running them?
The Washington Post has a nice rundown of some of the results so far:
And these are just some of the states where the gerrymanderers are going to town. The legislatures in New York and Illinois are also trying to make maps that eliminate the voters from the process, but since Republicans have the trifecta in 23 states and the Democrats have it in only 15, gerrymandering greatly favors the Republicans. Also, some of the big Democratic states like California and Colorado have independent commissions that draw the maps. If California Democrats could draw themselves a map with 48 Democratic districts and 4 Republican districts, that would help even the score, but they can't. Here are the trifectas:
It is worth noting that North Carolina is a special case. The Republicans control the state legislature but the governor is a Democrat. So technically, there is no trifecta there. However, the governor has no veto power over the election maps, so de facto, the Republicans control the mapmaking process in 24 states, not 23. However, in three Republican states (Wyoming and the Dakotas) and one Democratic state (Delaware) there is only one at-large representative, so gerrymandering is impossible for the U.S. House, though it is definitely possible for the state legislature. The six states with only one representative are marked with a "1" on the map above. A situation in which the voters play only a marginal role in controlling the government, even if all the election laws weren't designed to reduce Democratic turnout, is hardly democratic, but here we are.
Can the national Democrats do anything about this? Yes and no. In theory, yes, by passing H.R. 1 which would have independent commissions draw all the maps and thus eliminate gerrymandering. But in practice, no, because the Republicans will filibuster it every time it comes up and two Democratic senators, Joe Manchin (WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (AZ), don't want to modify the filibuster in any way (see next item). (V)
If Kyrsten Sinema's goal is to be in the news almost every day, she is doing very well. Washington Post reporters interviewed her again last week. She supports the various voting-rights bills the Democrats have drawn up, but she doesn't support changing the filibuster to actually pass them. This is Joe Manchin's position as well.
Sinema told the reporters that she would prefer a bipartisan bill, saying that will stand the test of time. Only no Republican senator is willing to vote for such a bill because every one of them knows that if there were completely fair elections, with no gerrymandering and no voter suppression, Democrats would have the national trifecta forever and they don't want that. So in effect, she is in favor of voting-rights bills but won't take the next step to actually get them passed. In a way, she is worse than Manchin, because Manchin at least was willing to write his own bill with only things he wants in there. National Democrats reluctantly agreed to his bill. But Sinema is not willing to write a bill for which she will go to the mat or to sign on to Manchin's bill.
Sinema's argument is that the filibuster compels moderation by forcing the majority to take the minority's concerns into account. Of course, if the minority is against some bill in any way, shape, or form, it is not going to negotiate in good faith trying to craft a bill that is acceptable to it. Sinema also told the reporters that anyone expecting her to change her mind has misjudged her. She's not going to do it.
Normally, senators can be bought off with pork. Phoenix needs a new airport? Sure. You want a high-speed train running along the I-10 between Tucson and Phoenix? No problem. Arizona State University, with 75,000 students (the largest in the country and Sinema's alma mater) has outgrown its campus? Fine, we'll build it a new campus. But it doesn't appear that Sinema is angling for more pork, even though she could have it just by giving Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) her shopping list. Her position seems to be: "I meant what I said and I said what I meant. A donkey is faithful one hundred per cent," (with apologies to Dr. Seuss).
In the end, if more pork than in all of Iowa can't change her mind, the next step is for wealthy Democratic donors to create a super PAC for the purpose of supporting Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ) if he challenges Sinema in the 2024 Democratic primary. If he doesn't, the donors get their money back. Once the super PAC has hit the $30 million mark, they can ask Sinema again. If the answer is still: "No, not now and not ever" there is nothing that the Democrats can do but force an actual vote in the Senate on the filibuster. The proposed change would not eliminate the filibuster, just make the senators actually talk day and night.
If the rule change fails 51-49 (because Manchin appears to be somewhat more gettable than Sinema) then it will be clear to every Democrat in Arizona that Sinema personally destroyed democracy in America. That won't get the bill passed (although if the reaction in Arizona is strong enough, Schumer could switch sides at the last minute and bring it up again). But if she really kills it, she will be toast in 2024, even if she switches to the GOP since they don't like turncoats. And it isn't as if she is a lifelong conservative like Manchin. She grew up in poverty, living for 3 years in an abandoned gas station, and she was a member of the Green Party working for Ralph Nader before becoming a Democrat in 2004. It is nice when a politician takes a stand on principle and won't back down, but supporting an archaic Senate rule even if means the end of democracy is a peculiar hill to die on when she actually supports the underlying bill. (V)
Louis DeJoy is a quadruply controversial postmaster general. First, he is a major Republican donor. Second, he was finance chairman for the 2020 Republican National Convention. When anyone that close to a party gets a high-level job, it is obviously the spoils system in action. Third, he got rid of high-speed sorting machines and slowed the mail in the fall of 2020, knowing full well that far more Democrats were voting by mail than Republicans. Many Democrats said he was actively trying to invalidate as many Democratic votes as possible by having them arrive after the deadline. Fourth, he has over $50 million in the stock of a company that is both a contractor to the USPS and a competitor to it. The conflicts of interest are enormous. All of those combined suggests that maybe he shouldn't be postmaster general. Joe Biden has spoken out against DeJoy, but it's not his call. Only the nine-member USPS governing board can fire the postmaster general, and only then for cause (but the board gets to determine what "cause" means).
DeJoy has the complete support of Ron Bloom, his champion on the board. Naturally. After all, DeJoy has purchased $305,000 worth of bonds from the asset management company Bloom runs. But the happy relationship between the two may be ending now. On Friday, Biden announced that he was going to replace Bloom with Daniel Tangherlini, who was head of the General Services Administration during the Obama administration. In addition, Derek Kan, a Republican and former director of the OMB, will replace Republican board member John Barger. By law, the board has to have at least four Republicans and at least four Democrats.
Now that DeJoy's champion will soon be off the board, DeJoy's tenure as PG may soon be over. There is no doubt where Biden stands on this. On Friday, Press Secretary Jen Psaki said: "It's up to the board to make a determination about leadership, but we have continued concerns about the postmaster general's leadership." (English translation: "DeJoy has to go and right now.")
Psaki (and thus Biden) are not the only ones who want DeJoy gone. Three Democratic senators—Kirsten Gillibrand (NY), Jeff Merkley (OR) and Tammy Baldwin (WI)—have called for DeJoy to be fired. So has Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).
Biden's decision was a bit of a surprise, as Bloom has said in public that he expected to be renominated since he is nominally a Democrat. Nope. Board members serve staggered seven-year terms. In February, Biden appointed two Democrats and one independent to the board. With these new appointments, five of the governors are Biden appointees. If all of them vote to cashier DeJoy, he is out of there. They need a reason, but his financial conflict of interest is a pretty good one, as is his decision to slow the mail, on which many people depend for medicine and other things, especially in rural areas. After the Senate confirms the new appointees, we will see what happens. (V)
The Republican Party is in something of a bind. Fundamentally, four things are certainly true:
In the short and medium term, that seems to be working fine, especially if Republicans can defeat Democratic governors in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania next year in order to pass restrictive voting laws in those key states. Nevertheless, in the long term, this might not be enough, as a book by Harvard professor Thomas Patterson titled Is the Republican Party Destroying Itself? argues. Patterson is no knee-jerk liberal, originally from Cambridge or Berkeley. He grew up in a staunchly Republican small town in rural Minnesota and fought in Vietnam in the U.S. Army Special Forces. He wants to see the Grand Old Party recaptured by traditional conservative Republicans.
He thinks in the long run, the GOP is doomed unless it becomes the party of the Bushes, or at least Ronald Reagan, again and soon. Here are his arguments that the current road is a dead end:
None of this is to say the Republican Party will wither any time soon. As long as Republicans can gerrymander to their hearts' content in many states, the House may go Republican in 2022 and stay Republican until 2032. Also, as long as they control the state legislatures, they can try to disenfranchise as many Democrats as they can. Still, a lot of factors are working against the GOP long term, and in 10 years the situation might be quite different, especially if Democrats can succeed in getting their supporters to actually vote, despite the roadblocks being put up. (V)
Joe Biden turned 79 on Saturday, the only president to hit that marker while in office. Does that mean he is going to go back to Delaware in 2025? If his health holds up, probably not. He has already told his inner circle that he will run for reelection in 2024. His approval rating has sunk in the past few months, but 2024 is a long time away.
Meanwhile, Donald Trump has all but announced that he wants to be president again, so if he is healthy enough and is not a convicted felon, he is probably going to run in 2024. In fact, he might run even if he is a convicted felon, unless he is actually in prison. Given how slow the courts are, even if he is convicted of something in 2022, the appeals will probably still be pending in 2024. And if he is convicted of something, the impact may depend on what the charge is. If he is convicted in Georgia of election interference, he will sell it as "I was trying to stop them from stealing my rightful victory." Many of his supporters will buy that. However, if he is convicted of tax evasion or bank fraud in New York, he may lose some suburban voters who don't like the Democrats but like tax cheats even less.
So, it appears increasingly likely that it will be Biden vs. Trump again in 2024. As Yogi Berra reportedly put it: "It's déjà vu all over again." Have we ever had a rerun in politics? Yes. In 1952, the Republicans ran Dwight Eisenhower and the Democrats ran Adlai Stevenson. Then, in 1956, the Republicans ran Dwight Eisenhower and despite his loss in 1952, the Democrats ran Stevenson again, with the same result. If we go back further, in 1896 the Democrats ran William Jennings Bryan and the Republicans ran William McKinley. McKinley won. In 1900, it was the same pair again, and McKinley won again.
A few years earlier, we come to a more complicated situation. In 1884, (Stephen) Grover Cleveland (D) beat James G. Blaine (R), the continental liar from the state of Maine. In 1888, the incumbent Cleveland lost to Benjamin Harrison (R). Then Cleveland faced off against Harrison again in 1892 and won this time.
Still further back, in 1836 the Democrats ran Martin van Buren and the Whigs ran William Henry Harrison. Van Buren won. In 1840, Harrison got a rematch, and this time he won. Of course, Harrison died 31 days after being inaugurated, so it was a bit of a pyrrhic victory, but it does show that sometimes perseverance pays off.
This is not an exhaustive list since before the 1830s, it gets a little fuzzy due to the lack of party nominations. You could argue, for example, that George Washington and John Adams faced off twice, since the vice presidency went to the second-place finisher back then. You could also say That John Quincy Adams faced off against Andrew Jackson twice. However, you could respond to that by observing that 1828 was not a rematch of 1824, since the former was a two-way contest while the latter was a four-way contest.
If Trump runs in 2024, obviously he is not going to talk about Stevenson running again and losing again or Bryan running again and losing again. He would most likely compare himself to Cleveland because the only thing anyone except professional historians knows about him is that he served two nonconsecutive terms. The Trump situation is different however, since Cleveland ran three times, winning, losing, and winning in the Electoral College while winning the popular vote in all three elections. And his win in 1892 was helped by a third-party candidate, James Weaver, who won electoral votes in six states. Also, Cleveland was a reformer and a Democrat. Just in case you didn't know, his second vice president was a guy named Adlai Stevenson (grandfather of the 1950s Adlai Stevenson).
So recapping, it has happened twice that someone lost a presidential election and came back to win it four years later against the same opponent. The first time was 1836/1840, in a multiway field with a lot of candidates, when Harrison lost to Van Buren the first time and won the second time. The second time was 1888/1892 when Cleveland lost to Harrison the first time and won the second time. But as we mentioned, Cleveland had already won the popular vote twice before his third run and Trump has never won the popular vote. (V)
Now that the new congressional maps are being revealed, it is quitting season for some members of the House. The latest one to fall is Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), who has been in Congress for 30 years. But she has not been gerrymandered out of a job. Her old district (TX-30) was D+29, covering most of Dallas. The new one is not so different. It is 44% Black, 38% Latino, and 16% white. It is also 99% urban. The Republicans like it this way. By stuffing as many Democrats as they could find in her district, they can make nearby districts safe for Republicans. In any event, given the partisan lean of the district, Johnson will be replaced by another Democrat, almost certainly a Black or Latino one. Johnson will be 86 in 2 weeks, which is probably the real reason she is calling it quits.
Johnson was a trailblazer in many ways. In 1972, she won a seat in the Texas House. She was the first Black woman ever to be to elected to any public office from Dallas. She soon became the first Black woman in history to chair a committee in the Texas House. In 1986, she was elected to the state Senate, the first woman and the first Black person in the state Senate from Dallas since Reconstruction. In 1992, she ran for the U.S. House and won by a three-to-one margin. She is tied with Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) for the longest service in the House by a Black woman. But if Waters runs again and wins, Waters will break the tie. (V)
In politics, sometimes stuff happens that you don't expect. One of Donald Trump's goals is to make sure none of the Republicans who voted for his impeachment or conviction are reelected. One of the targets is Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (R-OH) in OH-16. Trump encouraged one of his advisers, Max Miller, to run against Gonzalez, which he filed to do. Trump immediately endorsed him. Gonzalez saw that it was hopeless and gave up.
Then a funny thing happened. Ohio lost a House seat and the map had to be redrawn quite differently to deal with the new reality of only 15 seats instead of 16. The state legislators had little interest in Miller or Trump one way or the other. Their goal was to maximize the number of Republicans in their delegation. As a consequence, OH-16 is no more and Miller had to find a new district to run in. The one he picked contains liberal Akron and is something of a swing district. He will probably win the Republican nomination easily, but he might not win the general election. Trump won't be happy about this, since he prefers members of Congress who worship the very ground he walks on (as Miller does).
Miller, like many Trump-backed candidates, has a track record of abusing women and cheating on his girlfriends. When he was working for Trump, he was also dating White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham. After they broke up, Grisham accused Miller of being violent and physically abusing her. He has denied it. The Democrat might just bring this up during the campaign. (V)
It's not exactly news that Democrats don't like Republicans and Republicans don't like Democrats. It used to be that people in one party just didn't like the other party's policies. But now it is more like they hate all the people in the other party and everything about them and their lifestyle and everything they stand for. It's kind of the Hatfields and the McCoys writ large. Or maybe the Union and the Confederacy. And it has gotten much worse, as new data show.
Since the 1970s, the group behind the American National Election Studies has been asking people how warm they feel about each party, from 0 (cold) to 100 (warm). It's not exactly Celsius, but good enough. In 1978, the average Democrat rated the Republican Party as 48 and the average Republican rated the Democratic Party as 46. Back then, members of Congress from each party would yell at each other on the floor of the Senate all day, then go out for drinks together at 6 p.m. Each party regarded the other as its political opponent, not its mortal enemy.
By 2000, things had deteriorated a little bit. The average Democrat gave the GOP a 41 and the average Republican gave the Donkeys a 38. Not as warm as the 1970s, but still somewhat friendly. There also wasn't so much hatred. Only 10% of the Democrats gave the Republican Party a zero (basically, outright hatred) and only 7% of the Republicans gave the Democratic Party a zero.
Now fast forward to 2020. Last year, the average Democrat gave the Republicans a score of 20 and the average Republican gave the Democrats a 16. What is more startling is that by 2020, 39% of the Democrats gave the Republicans a zero and 48% of the Republicans gave the Democrats a zero. Think about that. Almost half the Republicans despise the Democrats and think they are completely worthless and almost 40% of the Democrats reciprocate in kind.
A 2020 poll from the American Enterprise Institute agrees with this. It shows that 64% of Democrats see Republican policies so misguided that they pose a serious threat to the country. Among Republicans, it is even worse, with 75% seeing Democratic policies posing a serious threat to the country. No wonder the parties are at each other's throats all the time. And we haven't seen any stories about the Senate majority and minority leaders going out for drinks together at 6. Even less plausible is the Speaker of the House and the minority leader going out for a friendly chat in the evening. (V)
Last Friday, Joe Biden pardoned two white male turkeys, Peanut Butter and Jelly. This year's pardoned birds spent Thursday evening at the fancy Willard Hotel, just a few blocks from the White House. They were taught to preen their feathers and smile for the camera. They slept in separate beds, to prevent the Republicans of accusing Biden of contributing to the moral delinquency of a turkey.
Actually, this business of pardoning turkeys and saving them from the death penalty is more complicated than you might have realized. Abraham Lincoln supposedly pardoned a turkey, but that story may or may not be true. Harry Truman was given a turkey at Thanksgiving by a poultry association, but he didn't pardon it. He ate it. The current pattern was really set by George H.W. Bush. Presidents often make jokes at the pardoning. Even Donald Trump did. He said the turkeys have already received subpoenas to appear in Rep. Adam Schiff's (D-CA) basement so he was pardoning them. Biden said that the turkeys would be boosted rather than basted. He also said: "I've said before, every American wants the same thing: You want to be able to look the turkey in the eye and tell them, it's gonna be okay."
This year, back in July the president of the National Turkey Federation, Phil Seger, chose turkey farmer Andrea Welp of Jasper, IN, to select the turkeys to be pardoned. They had to look good on television and be relatively tame. They were transported by truck from Indiana to D.C. for their 15 minutes of fame and went back the same way. The two fortunate turkeys will live out their days with the Dept. of Animal Sciences at Purdue University, where students will be able to study them. (V)