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Ghosts of Carters Past

You know, Jimmy Carter was a better president than most people seem to think he was. He had some very important policy accomplishments, including the Camp David Accords, the founding of the Departments of Energy and Education, and the expansion of Head Start and Medicare. He also worked to diversify the federal government and, in particular, the judiciary, before it was sexy to do so. And, of course, he was one of the most fundamentally decent men ever to occupy the White House.

Despite all of this, Carter was one term and done, and he left office with abysmal approval ratings. In part, that was his fault, as he struggled to work with Congress, had a tendency to speak off the cuff a bit too much, and generally failed to project strength and confidence. In part, he was the victim of circumstances, including high rates of inflation that were neither his fault nor particularly under his control, high gas prices, embarrassing relatives, ongoing tensions with Russia, and a messy situation with fundamentalist Muslims that he inherited from his predecessors.

We had been toying with the possibility of writing an item comparing Carter with Joe Biden, since certain commonalities between their presidencies seem to be presenting themselves. Indeed, there isn't much in the previous paragraph that doesn't also describe Biden; just substitute the Taliban in for the Iranian militants of the Carter years and you're pretty much good to go. And once Carter's approval sank below 50% at the end of his first year in office, it largely didn't rebound:

Carter started around
60, dropped to 50 around his 50th week, hovered between 40 and 50 for the next six months, then dropped into the 
30s, had a brief return to the 50s about a year before the end of his term, and then spent his last 9 months in 
office in the low 40s/high 30s.

Maybe Biden is doomed to the same fate, was going to be our point.

It turns out that we're not the only ones who thought of this. Republican strategists also came up with it. Of course, our goal was to give readers something to think about. Their goal, by contrast, was to find yet another line of attack to use against the President and the Democratic Party. And given that (many) members of the Republican Party are really good at staying on message, it meant that Jimmy Carter was actually trending on Twitter all day yesterday.

Yesterday was also a pretty good demonstration of Biden's "Carter dilemma," as chance would have it. The President, who is desperately trying to turn things around, traveled to Iowa to announce that summer limits on ethanol-petroleum blending would be waived this year. Ethanol is cheaper than gas, which lowers prices, but it's less eco-friendly, and contributes to smog in the summer. But what's a little global warming among friends, right? Anyhow, the point was to try to tame gas prices a bit. And since ethanol is commonly made from corn, a commodity that Iowa just happens to produce, the president was hoping to get a two-fer, pleasing fans of lower gas prices and Iowa farmers.

Unfortunately for Biden, the ethanol story was pretty much drowned out by the news that inflation in the past year clocked in at 8.5%. That's the worst annual figure since, you guessed it, the tail end of the Carter years. Oops. Once again, the economy just won't get out of the way of a well-meaning president.

We'll soon learn if it works to use Carter as a weapon against Biden. It's definitely the case that many Americans, and nearly all Republicans, have a low opinion of the Carter presidency. Here's an example of the sort of attack that members of the red team are lodging:

That said, Carter really was a better president than people remember. Further, he's been a stellar ex-president, teaching Sunday School, building houses for homeless people, fighting for democratic elections worldwide and, oh yeah, winning the Nobel Peace Prize. Here are a couple of examples of the counterpoints to the "Carter sucks" tweets:

So, perhaps these attacks won't land, particularly if Biden manages to avoid some of the mistakes made by the Peanut Farmer. (Z)

Biden Uses the 'G' Word

Joe Biden didn't just talk about ethanol yesterday, he also had a few thoughts about foreign policy to share with the world. It's one of the most... unusual segues we've ever seen, so we're just going to let you read his words for yourself:

Your family budget, your ability to fill up your tank, none of it should hinge on whether a dictator declares war and commits genocide, a half a world away...

Maybe that should be the Democrats' slogan in 2022. Ethanol: Making your gas cheaper and preventing genocide!

Although Biden wedged that in there in kind of a strange way, he did not use the word carelessly, or without forethought. Later, he explained himself to reporters:

Yes, I called it genocide, because it's become clearer and clearer that Putin is just trying to wipe out even the idea of being Ukrainian, and the evidence is mounting. The evidence is mounting. It looks different than last week. More evidence is coming out literally of the horrible things that the Russians have done in Ukraine. And we're gonna only learn more and more about the devastation and we'll let the lawyers decide internationally whether or not it qualifies but it sure seems that way to me.

If Biden has evidence that the Russians' goal is to wipe out the idea of being Ukrainian—and the President of the United States certainly has better information than we do—then that would indeed clear the bar for genocide. Even if the purpose is not to kill all Ukrainians, and instead to subsume them into Russian culture, that still clears the bar. The fellow who coined the term "genocide," Raphael Lemkin, was just beginning to explore the issue of cultural genocide when he died unexpectedly, and other scholars have taken up the banner since then.

We pass this along, since—as this week's mailbag, for example, reveals—it is a question of interest for many readers. Further, the worse the Russians behave—and there were reports on Tuesday that they've started using chemical weapons—and the stronger Biden's rhetoric gets, the closer the U.S. gets to being in a shooting war. (Z)

A Pretty Bad Week for New York Democrats, Part I...

Who is the most prominent non-federal officeholder in New York State? Is it Gov. Kathy Hochul (D)? Is it New York City Mayor Eric Adams (D)? Whichever of those two you think it is, they've had a pretty lousy week.

We might as well start with Hochul, since governors usually outrank mayors. When she was elevated to the governor's mansion, she vacated the lieutenant governorship, and had to pick someone to succeed her in that position. So, she conducted interviews, and did some background checking, and chose then-state Sen. Brian Benjamin (D). He's young (45), Black, and charismatic, so what's not to like, right?

It turns out, there may be a fair bit not to like. Yesterday, Benjamin was arrested, arraigned in federal court, and charged with several crimes, including bribery and falsification of records, in connection with discretionary money he was tasked with distributing while still a state senator. He says he's innocent, and that his actions were "laudable—not criminal," but has resigned in order to focus on his defense.

Maybe Benjamin really is innocent, and this is all one big misunderstanding. We're inclined to doubt it, but you never know. However, the odds this is resolved before the primaries on June 28, or even before the general on November 8, are not great. And that creates a real headache for Hochul. As someone who spent 7 years as lieutenant governor herself, she's expended much oxygen telling anyone and everyone how very important that office is, and how a successful partnership between the governor and the lieutenant governor is essential, and how critical a part of the Andrew Cuomo administration she was. Basically, it's like a VP who's running for president and who tries to persuade everyone that the job is definitely worth more than a bucket of warm pi**.

Anyhow, now Hochul has lost her (allegedly) essential right-hand man. Except, she hasn't really lost him at all. She's going to have to find another person to finish out Benjamin's term, but the ballot for this year's elections is already set, and Benjamin is already on it. In New York, governors and lieutenant governors do not run as a package in the primaries (though they do in the general election). However, everyone knows which lieutenant governor candidate is aligned with which governor candidate, especially in this case, since Hochul's opponents are already using this news as evidence of her poor judgment.

The Governor doesn't have a lot of great options here. She could announce that her real preference for lieutenant governor is... one of the other would-be governors' running mates (like, for example, Diana Reyna, D, who has been running alongside Rep. Tom Suozzi, D). However, Reyna and the other aspiring lieutenant governors have been taking potshots at Hochul, which would make that awkward. Further, if one of these folks gets the nomination, it would undermine the Governor's argument about how important it is to have a strong partnership with her lieutenant.

Alternatively, Hochul can stick with Benjamin and hope he wins in the primaries. Yes, he's under indictment, but stranger things have happened. If he does prevail, then the Governor would come under withering fire from Republicans for running with an (alleged) crook. That might be the one thing that could allow a Republican to be elected governor in deep blue New York State. Alternatively, if Benjamin wins the primary, the Democrats could scheme to get him off the ballot. However, he would have to be willing to play along, and to effectively end his political career, which he is not likely to be interested in doing. And even if he is, he can't just withdraw from the ballot. The only way to replace him would be for him to be nominated for some other political office, which would trigger a law that forces a candidate to choose which office they're running for. Is there a town in upstate New York that needs a new dogcatcher, perhaps?

The upshot is that the New York gubernatorial election just got a lot more interesting. And New York AG Letitia James (D) has gotta be kicking herself at this point that she decided not to run. (Z)

A Pretty Bad Week for New York Democrats, Part II...

Now that we've dealt with Hochul, we move on to Eric Adams. His entire campaign for mayor was based on his past service as a police officer, and on the promise that he would be able to tame the recent crime wave that has gripped New York City. We must say that, as a general rule, we find this particular campaign promise to be a steaming pile of B.S., and we wonder why voters continue to fall for it. Mayors have about as much control over ebbs and flows in crime as presidents do over inflation—a little, but not a lot, as both things are largely due to forces beyond the politicians' control.

Adams has been in office for a little more than 100 days, and—surprise!—he hasn't quite solved the riddle. The people of New York presumably weren't expecting him to turn things around that quickly, but they also weren't expecting things to get... considerably worse. That's right, since Adams was sworn in, major crime in the City is up a staggering 44%. So, early returns certainly do not suggest that the Mayor is the crime whisperer.

Fair or not, Adams' failures were thrown into sharp relief yesterday when a thus-far unknown man with a gun opened fire on a New York subway. Fortunately, although 16 people were hurt, none of the injuries is considered life-threatening. And thus far, the culprit is at large, while his motives remain unknown (though the word "terrorism" is being bandied about).

This is not a great look for the NYPD, or for the mayor who came from the department's ranks. It's the kind of thing that sticks in people's minds, and feeds their perceptions that the city remains out of control. Ideally, Adams would at least be on the scene for a few photo-ops, so he could show how concerned he is. But, in case things were not already going badly enough for him, he's also got COVID, and is quarantined. So, no hands-on response.

There is a notion that, as an executive position involving authority over a population larger than that of 39 states, the mayoralty of New York is a potential launching pad to bigger and better things. But the fact is, it's not so. Four of the five mayors prior to Adams—Ed Koch, Rudy Giuliani, Michael Bloomberg, and Bill de Blasio—had lofty post-mayoral ambitions, only to find that the office was terminal for them. Thus far, there's no reason to suspect Adams will buck the trend. (Z)

It's Also Been a Pretty Bad Week for the DSCC, for that Matter

When you're in the middle of an election cycle, sometimes things go your party's way, and sometimes they don't. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is right in the middle of the latter sort of week, as they got some unfavorable news from three different states.

We'll begin with the biggest longshot of the three for the blue team, namely Iowa. These days, Iowa is pretty red. Further, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) is running for his eighth term, and clearly knows a thing or two about winning elections. So, the odds of the Democrats knocking him off are not great.

That said, there is a path, albeit an icky one that the DSCC has envisioned, but would never discuss openly. First, they need a very solid candidate. And they had one, in Abby Finkenauer (D), who represented Iowa in the House. The second part, and this is where it gets icky, involves the 88-year-old Grassley dying unexpectedly, as close to Election Day as is possible.

Under those circumstances, Finkenauer might just pull a rabbit out of a hat. But on Monday, Finkenauer was kicked off the ballot, for want of enough valid signatures in support of her candidacy. She will appeal, but time is running out. And if she doesn't get back on the ballot, then the Democrats are left with two unknowns, namely Adm. Mike Franken (ret.) and Minden City Councilman Glenn Hurst, neither of whom have a chance of knocking off Grassley, whether he's above ground or below.

Moving on, Missouri is a bit less of a longshot. There, the Democrats have a couple of pretty promising candidates in former Marine Lucas Kunce and Busch heir Trudy Busch Valentine. And if one of those two were to be matched up against sleazy former governor Eric Greitens (R), they would have more than a puncher's chance; he's roughly as radioactive as Kris Kobach (R), who managed to blow a slam-dunk gubernatorial election in neighboring Kansas. However, while Greitens was the pretty clear frontrunner, his ex-wife's allegations of domestic abuse, which were made public a couple of weeks ago, have cooled his jets a fair bit. He's sinking right now, such that Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R) has pulled even with him in polling. If Hartzler gets the nod, then Missouri is probably a lost cause for the blue team.

And finally, there is North Carolina, which is one of the Democrats' most promising pickup opportunities, just below Pennsylvania on the list. There, the blue team not only has a strong candidate in former Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court Cheri Beasley, but she doesn't have any serious opposition, so she can just sit on the sidelines and bank gobs and gobs of money during primary season. Even better for her would be if the Republicans spent primary season tearing each other apart, with the Donald Trump-endorsed Rep. Ted Budd, former governor Pat "Bathroom Bill" McCrory, and former representative Mark Walker shredding each other.

Those gentlemen may still shred each other, though they are running out of time to do it, since the primary is just over a month away (May 17). Whatever happens, polls suggest that Tar Heel Republicans are now coalescing around... Trump's candidate. If Budd wins in a walk, then it suggests that the red team is actually pretty unified in North Carolina. It would also be a feather in Trump's cap, endorsement wise, especially since Budd was one of his most outside-the-box endorsements. Neither of these things is good news for the Democrats.

There's still a long time until the general election, of course, and we hardly need to remind readers that in politics, a week is a lifetime. Still, between the news out of these three Senate races, plus the messiness in New York (see above), Democratic pooh-bahs will not be sad to see this particular lifetime come to an end on Sunday. (Z)

Even Mitt Romney Doesn't Know What the Hell He's Doing, Apparently

When Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) decided to reenter the political arena, we wrote many times that we didn't know what he was playing at. As a septuagenarian, he wasn't really in a position to commence a long and fruitful Senate career, culminating in a few years as, say, Senate Majority Leader. He also wasn't likely to put himself in a position for a second presidential bid, given that he lost badly the first time and that, more significantly, the Republicans are now the party of Trumpism (even if they are, less and less, the party of Trump). Ultimately, we concluded that his goal was to be a fly in the ointment, and to try to drag the GOP, kicking and screaming, back toward the center and toward sanity.

Sometimes, Romney acted that part, as when he voted to convict Donald Trump in the second impeachment trial, or when he voted to confirm Ketanji Brown Jackson. Mostly, however, he kowtowed to the former president, ultimately voting with Trump about 75% of the time. That puts Romney in the same ballpark as his fellow Utahn Mike Lee (R), as well as former senator Kelly Loeffler (R), and Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY), Rick Scott (R-FL), and Ben Sasse (R-NE). Few of these folks will appear on a list of Republican mavericks. Or a list of Republicans who are sane, for that matter.

Anyhow, it's almost the middle of 2022, which means that it's time to start thinking about the election. And by that, of course, we mean the 2024 election. Romney will be up that year and, depending on how things break, could end up on the same ballot with Donald Trump. That's not great news for the Senator, as there are some very Trumpy folks nipping at his heels, like Republican state Attorney General Sean Reyes (R), who says that if he becomes a senator, he will make sure that "another" presidential election isn't stolen by the Democrats.

At this point, Romney apparently has no idea what he's going to do, telling The Hill: "I'm going to cross that bridge down the road. I haven't given a lot of attention yet." That's certainly true; among other things, he hasn't bothered to do any fundraising yet, such that he has less than half a million in his campaign war chest. Yes, advertising is cheap in Utah, and Romney could easily get out his checkbook and make a $20 million donation to himself. Still, it's not common to have thought so little about one's reelection campaign at this point in the process.

We presumed, 4 years ago, that Romney had some sort of plan, and that his plan would dictate exactly what he would do in 2024 (retire, run for reelection, run for president, etc.). Maybe he did (and does) have a plan, and he's just keeping it to himself for now. Or maybe there was no plan at all, and he just ran for the U.S. Senate as a lark. Perhaps, one day, we'll learn. Or perhaps not. (Z)

March... Sadness, Part X (Judges and Governors, Round 4)

Nobody really doubts the winner of the Executive Branch bracket, but this one has given us a rather more intriguing contest:

  • #5 Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL; 67.6%) defeats #9 Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh (32.4%)

    Our Take: Kavanaugh probably has more actual influence, but DeSantis really chaps people's hides. Further, it is true that the blood of many dead people is on the Governor's hands.

    T.G. in Salem, OR: In both of this week's matchups, the situation is the same... governors, even half-a**ed governors of small states, like Sarah Palin of Alaska (population not land mass), can do much more damage (both short- and long-term) then any judge can do. As you've written many times, the SCOTUS can be ignored because they don't have the power to enforce. Governors do have the power to enforce.

    J.E. in Gilbertsville, PA: Both matchups in this round felt a bit like Sophie's Choice, but in the end I had to give the nod to the two judges. All politicians bend laws and rules to some degree or another, which unfortunately leaves some possibility for the really bad actors who break them. But it is literally the job of the judges to push back against such behavior and to be the final protectors of democracy, and these judges obviously have no interest in doing that job.

    D.F. in Norcross, GA: This one should be a barnburner. Kavanaugh has no doubt done a lot of damage and is in position to do more. But he's hit his ceiling in terms of what he can do. Ron DeathSentence matches Kavanaugh's ability for damage, and is trying to position himself to take it to a higher level. So I'm with the Florida Falsifier.

    R.K. in Chicago, IL: One must ask themselves how likely it is that DeSantis will win re-election. Not that losing the governor's mansion would necessarily preclude DeSantis from ever becoming President, but losing this November could derail his rise for a few years. The idealist in me says DeSantis will lose, so I'll pick Kavanaugh as he can continue to parrot Federalist Society talking points on the bench until he drinks himself into the ground.

  • #7 Associate Justice Clarence Thomas (68.7%) defeats #6 Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX; 31.3%)

    Our Take: And so we end up with a matchup of the most disliked governor in the country against the most disliked judge in the country (at least, among readers of this site).

    D.B. in Keedysville, MD: The Abbott versus Thomas face-off is tipped by their respective remaining time to spread their pernicious influence. Clarence's time must be nearing its end, while—based on the evidence to date—we have no idea how much more actual harm Abbott is willing to do to both people and democracy.

    T.B. in Bay Shore, NY: My votes were the obvious choices of Greg Abbott and Ron DeSantis, because it's time for the battle of Mephistopheles vs. Voldemort. Hopefully, the next ballot doesn't open a hole in the middle of the earth.

    K.O. in Andover, MA: Abbott is loathsome, but remains mostly restricted to Texas. Contributing to the biased power bloc on the Supreme Court earns Thomas the nod. One can hope the spousal mess leads to his resignation—yes, it's a long shot, as it would imply being honorable.

    T.J. in Columbus, OH: Abbott is unlikely to rise above his current station, so his reach is limited, Thomas is near the apex and has an ax to grind.

The Judges and Governors bracket now looks like this:

#5 Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) vs. #7 Associate Justice Clarence Thomas

Here are the ballots for this round:

You've got until Monday, April 18, at noon. And we always love to hear your thoughts on the matchups. (Z & V).

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Apr12 Biden Is Gunning for the Guns
Apr12 Trump's Grip Is Slipping...
Apr12 ...While DeSantis' Is Getting Firmer
Apr12 Hunter Biden, Meet Jared Kushner...
Apr12 First Poll of the Alaska House Race Is In
Apr12 In Mexican Stunt Election, Nobody Really Won
Apr12 March... Sadness, Part XI (Executive Branch, Round 4)
Apr11 Cheney Says There Is No Battle Inside the Select Committee
Apr11 Republicans Promise to Rein in Biden If They Capture Congress
Apr11 Democrats Try to Appeal to Ukrainian-American Voters
Apr11 Putin May Interfere in 2024 Elections
Apr11 Is a Coup against Putin Possible?
Apr11 Trump Endorses the Quacker of Oz
Apr11 Judge Likely to Allow Challenge to Greene to Proceed
Apr11 Meet the New Murdoch, Same as the Old Murdoch
Apr11 The Culture Wars Have Gone Global
Apr11 In France, It Will Be Macron vs. Le Pen again
Apr10 Sunday Mailbag
Apr09 Saturday Q&A
Apr08 Jackson Is Confirmed
Apr08 Even More Contemptible
Apr08 Friends of Russia Announce Themselves
Apr08 No Better Man than Fetterman?
Apr08 Capitol Fox Was Indeed Rabid
Apr08 This Week in Schadenfreude
Apr08 March... Sadness, Part X (Others, Round 3)
Apr07 Biden Unveils More Sanctions on Russia
Apr07 Contemptible
Apr07 Temporary Setback for Arizona Republicans
Apr07 Texas Rejected Almost 25,000 Absentee Ballots
Apr07 Noem Bans Teaching CRT in South Dakota
Apr07 Blue Dogs Fight Back
Apr07 Poll: Clarence Thomas Should Recuse Himself from 2020 Election Cases
Apr07 Ohio House Republican Is Retiring
Apr07 Fox Attacks Democratic Congressman
Apr07 March... Sadness, Part IX (Legislative Branch, Round 3)
Apr06 Ivanka Speaks
Apr06 White House Playing Its Aces in the Hole?
Apr06 Oklahoma Passes Extremely Harsh Abortion Bill
Apr06 Another Republican Politician Is Caught Committing (Potential) Voter Fraud
Apr06 Trump Claims Another Victim
Apr06 California Special Election Headed to a Runoff
Apr06 March... Sadness, Part VIII (Judges and Governors, Round 3)
Apr05 Prediction: Thursday (or Friday), 53 (or 52) to 47
Apr05 Republican AGs Sue over Border Policy
Apr05 A Tale of Two Representatives
Apr05 The Truth about TRUTH Social
Apr05 Maryland Has Its Maps
Apr05 March... Sadness, Part VII (Executive Branch, Round 3)
Apr04 Congress Still Hasn't Passed a Standalone Bill Punishing Russia or Helping Ukraine