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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  The Slow-Moving Coup, Part V: The Good News, Vol. I--Time
      •  Biden's Trajectory, Part II
      •  Biden Has a Reagan Moment
      •  It's Still Donald Trump's Party...
      •  ...And It's Getting More Authoritarian by the Day
      •  Supreme Court to Hear Affirmative Action Case

The Slow-Moving Coup, Part V: The Good News, Vol. I--Time

You know what they say about the best-laid plans of mice and men? Well, we initially intended this to be a four-part series. It didn't take long for that to go out the door:

Initially, what would have been Part III, and then what became Part V, was going to be a rundown of "The Good News": 10 reasons that fears of a slow-moving coup may be overblown. It would have been the mirror image of Part I. However, we came to realize that we had a fair bit to say about the various items on the "good news" list, and that laying the "good news" out very carefully and fully was rather important. So, we're going to split it up into parts. It also occurred to us, incidentally, that the fate of voting rights in Congress is rather significant to this discussion, and that we needed to see what happened there before proceeding. That story's final chapter may still be in the future, but for now it's in stasis, so we can start up again.

Since it's been a couple of weeks, let us begin reminding you of the items on the "bad news" list, since we want to provide a counterpoint to many of those. Here, as a refresher, is the executive summary of that post:

  1. Time: The last coup attempt was a rush job; this time Trump & Co. have 4 years to plan.

  2. Learning from Their Mistakes: The last coup attempt over-relied on the courts, the new one will shift focus to influencing voting outcomes by hook or by crook.

  3. Voter Suppression: In the last year, 19 red states have passed laws that make it harder to vote.

  4. Controlling the Machinery, Part I: 16 states have adopted laws that shift some portion of the responsibility for counting votes away from election officials and toward Republican-controlled legislatures.

  5. Controlling the Machinery, Part II: Republicans are working hard to populate the machinery with people friendly to their schemes, and not so friendly to honest elections. This starts at the poll worker level and continues all the way up to the executive positions in state government, particularly governor and secretary of state.

  6. The Big Lie: As brain-washing experts know, the best way to get people to believe a falsehood is to repeat it over and over. Trump & Co. have repeated the "stop the steal" lie so often, and with such conviction, that even non-acolytes may begin to think there really is something wrong with vote counting.

  7. Media: Fox, after a brief retreat from Trumpism, is all-in again. That is a big deal, and will compensate entirely for the apparently looming death of OAN.

  8. Trumpy Lawmakers: Pro-Trump and pro-insurrection politicians are already in office all over the place, and more hope to be elected this year.

  9. Non-Trumpy Lawmakers: At the same time, Republicans who dared oppose Trump and to call the insurrection by that name, are being run out of town on a rail.

  10. The House of Representatives: The Republicans may well control the House on the next occasion when electoral votes are counted.

So that, again, is the bad news. And now, we move on to some of the things that argue against the feasibility of a coup. Today, we want to take a look at the first item on the list above, namely "time." The good thing about time, when trying to execute some grand scheme, is that you have an opportunity to prepare, and to organize, and to put allies in place, and to do whatever is necessary. But there are two downsides to time, as well. The first of those is relatively obvious: Your opponents also have time.

Everyone knows what the Trump faction of the Republican Party did on Jan. 6, 2021. And everyone knows that the Trumpers are ready to try again. Pieces like these, pointing out how very clear it is that America is in trouble, and lamenting that nobody seems to be concerned, have become frequent enough to almost be a cliché:

The thing is, it's just not true. There aren't that many options when it comes to fighting a battle that is still 3 years away. Nonetheless, there has been vast media coverage of what's going on, from left-leaning, centrist and right-leaning outlets. And that includes not only warnings about the future, but specific and damning revelations about Jan. 6, 2021. If you search Google for "Trump coup," you get a staggering 73.5 million results. Sure, some of those are the bridge move, but that's still literally tens of millions of articles, op-eds, videos, Facebook pages, books, etc. about the looming threat. The messaging is getting through; polls show that about 90% of Democrats regard the 1/6 insurrection as an act of terror, about 70% of Democrats think that event was a threat to democracy, and more than 60% of Democrats think democracy is in peril. We highlight Democrats here because while "democracy is in peril" is also a common sentiment among Republicans, it is hard to separate those who see Trumpism as the problem and those who see Trumpism as the solution.

Further, steps are clearly being taken to protect against another coup attempt. There's the 1/6 Committee, of course, which will eventually hand its findings over to the Department of Justice. The Democrats might pull something together on voting rights, and improvements to the Electoral Count Act are likely. There are plenty of lawsuits challenging the various voting laws that Republican legislatures have passed. Further, Democratic heavyweights are already getting to work at the grassroots level. Stacey Abrams is doing her usual effective work, and she's been joined in that by one of the biggest stars in the Democratic galaxy, namely Michelle Obama, who is leading the "When We All Vote" campaign, with an eye toward registering an additional 1 million voters.

And now, the second problem with having lots of time: It is very hard to keep a movement of any sort together, on the same page, and pulling in the same direction. The more extreme the movement is, the harder it gets. And while Trumpism is still intact, fissures are showing themselves all over the place. For example, there's the challenge to Trump being mounted by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL). It's not a serious threat to Trump yet (see below), but could very well turn into a civil war. And speaking of civil wars, there's also infighting going on at the various levels of the Republican Party, such as the nastiness in Idaho that we wrote about last week. And this is before we consider the possibility of Trump insiders who might flip to save their own skins in the various legal cases, or the effects of Trumper vs. Trumper political races, like the one for Alabama's open Senate seat.

There's another, related issue. Authoritarian types are pretty good at attracting loyalists who are fanatical, and are willing to do anything that the Dear Leader demands. Trump, for example, has Rudy Giuliani, and John Eastman, and Roger Stone, and Newt Gingrich (more below), and several others. But no coup leader has ever been able to fill their entire inner circle with hardcore types like this. And the non-fanatics must be kept in line, usually by fear, intimidation, and sometimes assassination (as a warning to those who remain after the killing is consummated). The former president clearly isn't willing to go there, which separates him from an Adolf Hitler, or a Benito Mussolini, or a Francisco Franco, or a Joseph Stalin. And so, he's consistently had issues with insiders who defected once he went too far. It didn't get a lot of attention, but after January 6, Steven Mnuchin and Mike Pompeo—who for 4 years were as loyal as anyone in Trump's orbit—gave serious consideration to trying to invoke the Twenty-Fifth Amendment, and removing Trump from power. Clearly, a coup was a bridge too far for them. How many other insiders, in Trump's orbit, or DeSantis', or any other would-be coup orchestrator, feel the same?

Note that in the previous paragraphs, we're only speaking of the difficulty in keeping the True Believers on the same page. This does not even include the folks who are playing along with Trump, but aren't really on board with him or any other authoritarian. We'll talk about those people in the next entry. (Z)

Biden's Trajectory, Part II

Last week, we pointed out that Joe Biden's polling numbers for his first year in office aren't great. He averaged 48.9% on the year, which is the second worst tally for a president since 1950. The only silver linings: (1) he still did better than Donald Trump, and (2) he was within shouting distance of Bill Clinton, and Clinton managed to turn things around.

Since a president serves as tentpole for his entire party in the midterms, we wanted to take a very close look at Biden's numbers, and the underlying dynamics of them. Today, we'll do another comparison, and then on subsequent days, we'll move on to looking closely at some of the things that are dragging him down.

Last week's piece focused on year one numbers; let's now take a look at what happened to each of those presidents in their second year. After all, that's what's going to matter at midterms time. We're going to use Gallup's numbers (for consistency); the table below gives the president's approval on Jan. 20 (i.e., the start of year two), on Jun. 1 (i.e., the commencement of the election cycle) and on Nov. 1 (i.e., right before the midterms). Gallup has not always published numbers on these exact dates, so when these dates are not available, we chose the closest one that is available:

President Jan. 20 Jun. 1 Nov. 1
Dwight D. Eisenhower 71% 61% 61%
John F. Kennedy 79% 71% 61%
Richard Nixon 63% 59% 58%
Jimmy Carter 52% 44% 49%
Ronald Reagan 49% 49% 43%
George H.W. Bush 80% 67% 58%
Bill Clinton 54% 45% 46%
George W. Bush 82% 70% 63%
Barack Obama 49% 47% 49%
Donald Trump 36% 42% 40%
Joe Biden 40% ? ?

If these numbers are indeed instructive, well, there is nothing but bad news for Biden and the Democrats. We excluded presidents who assumed office midway through their predecessor's term, of course. But for the fellows who won the presidency outright, without a pit stop as VP, the story has consistently been "second-year doldrums." All of them, save one, were in a worse place heading into the midterms than they were at the start of the year. The exception is Donald Trump, who started about as low as a president can go, and improved to... almost as low as a president can go. If Biden only rises 4 points in the next 10 months or so, it's going to be a rough year for him, and a bloodbath for the Democrats in November.

With that said, we think there is a distinct possibility that Biden could beat the trendlines, and might do what even John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton could not do. But to make that case, we will have to look carefully at some of the things that are hurting Biden right now, which is what we will do in the next several installments. (Z)

Biden Has a Reagan Moment

Last week, we mentioned the occasion when Ronald Reagan accidentally got caught on a hot microphone referring to the press corps as "sons of bitches." So, we can hardly let it pass that, yesterday, Joe Biden had precisely the same thing happen.

It's not clear exactly which question got under Reagan's collar all those years ago, but it's abundantly clear which question irked Biden. At the end of his press conference, as the President was preparing to exit, Fox's Peter Doocy shouted: "Will you take questions about inflation? Do you think inflation is a political liability ahead of the midterms?" And in response, Biden muttered: "No, that's a great asset. More inflation... What a stupid son of a bitch."

Needless to say, this required folks on the right to get out the smelling salts as they coped with the shock and horror occasioned by the remark. There were two main themes to their complaining; the first was how unpresidential and undignified it was. For example:

Apparently, they are unaware not only of the Reagan incident, but of the fact that Dwight D. Eisenhower and Richard Nixon were liberal (no pun intended) users of a wide range of four-letter words. There's also the mouth on Donald Trump, which was generally regarded approvingly by those on the right, on those occasions when they bothered to regard it at all.

And that brings us to the second theme, namely that the whole thing is so unfair, because when Trump said mean things, the media jumped on him, but they're surely going to give Biden a free pass. For example:

Folks who raised this complaint apparently don't know much about the modern news media, because of course every outlet was going to jump all over this. For CNN's part, it was right at the top of the page within an hour of the original utterance:

The CNN headline is
'Hot mic catches Biden calling Fox reporter 'son of a bit*h'.

Biden, for his part, acted considerably more like Reagan than he did Trump. The President called Doocy to apologize, and the official White House transcript of the presser includes the off-color language. So, it is true that these things are handled differently in the Biden era than in the Trump era. It's just that the differences aren't the ones that the Trumpers are whining about. (Z)

It's Still Donald Trump's Party...

And speaking of Trumpers, we've had a number of items recently about how some Republicans who were previously pro-Trump are trying desperately to steer the Party toward a more predictable, less legally encumbered Trump clone, with Ron DeSantis the early favorite to succeed to the throne. We've also pointed out that if prominent Republicans got to decide who leads the Party, Trump would never have become its nominee in the first place, and that as long as he controls the base—and he still does—he is in charge.

This month's edition of the Harvard CAPS/Harris Poll bears that out. Among Republican voters, Trump is the favored 2024 choice of 57%, with DeSantis in a distant second place at 12%, and Mike Pence taking the bronze with 11%. No other Republican the pollster asked about—Nikki Haley, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), or Mike Pompeo—polled above 5%. It's Trump's party, and he'll cry if he wants to.

If Trump steps aside in 2024, then the prospects of some of these folks obviously get brighter. In that scenario, Harvard CAPS/Harris has DeSantis at 30%, Pence at 25%, Cruz at 14%, and the other four Republicans still polling in the single digits. There's still plenty of time before 2024, of course (well, mid-2023 is when things are actually going to heat up), but DeSantis is clearly the nominee-in-waiting if Trump stays out. One also has to figure that DeSantis' support has the most room to grow, since he's the least known of the top three, and he's got the biggest platform right now.

The pollster also previewed some possible presidential matchups, and while to some the numbers may look bad for the Democrats, we think otherwise. Among all respondents, 46% said they would vote for Donald Trump in a rematch of 2020, while 40% said they would vote for Joe Biden. Trump beats Kamala Harris even more soundly in a hypothetical matchup, 49%-39%. If it's DeSantis vs. Harris, then DeSantis comes out on top 40% to 39%. For some reason, DeSantis vs. Biden was not polled. Also, for some reason, every name that is even moderately difficult to spell is misspelled, including "Kirsten Sinema," "Nikki Hayley," and "Anthony Blinken." Harvard must have had one of those legacy students type up the crosstabs.

So, why are these grim numbers not bad news for the Democrats? Well, first of all, note that both Trump and DeSantis are right at or near the ceiling for a Trumpy candidate—somewhere between 40% and 49%. There's no reason to think that most, or even many, of the "undecideds" are available to them; those folks are sure to hold their noses and vote for the non-Trumpy candidate, if that is what has to be done. Second, and in a related point, the Biden administration is about as low as it can go, and the Trumpers still can't pull ahead in a meaningful way. Third, and finally, even in such a favorable environment (i.e., Biden and Harris are unpopular), DeSantis is in a statistical tie with Harris. If Harvard CAPS/Harris had polled Biden-DeSantis, then surely Biden would have come out ahead. This is not a good omen for the Republican Party for what will happen if they have to run a Trump clone instead of Trump himself.

Again, with the election so far away, this poll doesn't really tell us much about 2024. But it certainly tells us where the Republican Party stands today, and that is firmly in the shadow of Donald Trump. (Z)

...And It's Getting More Authoritarian by the Day

Former speaker Newt Gingrich is basically the originator, at least in modern American politics, of the gross abuse of prosecutorial processes in order to score cheap political points. He was, after all, the architect of Bill Clinton's impeachment. And so, it's no surprise that he's willing to embrace an extreme version of victors' justice. That is precisely what he did on Fox this weekend, warning that the members of the House 1/6 Committee are at risk of being imprisoned when the Republicans take over Congress next year.

Here is Gingrich's exact quote:

You have—both with Attorney General [Merrick] Garland and with this select committee on January 6, people who have run amok. What they need to understand is on January 4 next year, you're going to have a Republican majority in the House and a Republican majority in the Senate. And all these people who have been so tough, and so mean, and so nasty are going to be delivered subpoenas for every document, every conversation, every tweet, every e-mail. I think when you have a Republican Congress, this is all going to come crashing down. And the wolves are going to find out that they're now sheep and they're the ones who are in fact, I think, face a real risk of jail for the kinds of laws they're breaking.

Not only is this wildly offensive, it's also incredibly stupid. Gingrich, of course, is unable to explain exactly what laws have been broken. Further, he conveniently overlooks that Congress has no enforcement powers, and that would-be Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and would-be Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) can scream until they're blue in the face, and the Department of Justice isn't going to listen. After all, even if we go with Gingrich's theory, then this is the same DoJ led by the hopelessly partisan Merrick Garland.

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY), whose family used to be close with Gingrich, but no longer gives a fig about Newton, took him to task on Twitter:

She knows he's just a bitter old crank who is desperate for attention, but at the same time is helping to normalize ideas that would have been unspeakable as recently as 5 years ago—in other words, in 1 A.D. (anno Donaldi). (Z)

Supreme Court to Hear Affirmative Action Case

Chief Justice John Roberts came of age in the 1960s and 1970s. And it would appear that none of the major domestic policy developments of that era are going to escape a look-see from his court. They burned the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to the ground several years ago, and of course Roe v. Wade is in their crosshairs now. On Monday, the Supremes announced that next term, it will be affirmative action in college admissions.

The defendants here are Harvard and the University of North Carolina, who are being sued under Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibits schools that receive federal funds from discriminating on the basis of race. If the intent of Congress is to be considered here, they clearly meant that schools could not refuse admittance on the basis of race.

SCOTUS has already considered affirmative action, including affirmative action in education, numerous times. The best-known cases are: (1) Regents of the University of California v. Bakke (1978), which said that quotas are not ok, but that it's ok to consider race as part of the student's overall profile, and (2) Grutter v. Bollinger (2003), which said that it is acceptable to favor underrepresented minority groups as long as those applicants are also judged based on factors used for all students (e.g., SAT scores). As chance would have it, the opinions in both cases specifically mention Harvard as a university that is doing things the right way.

Now that SCOTUS is taking yet another look, the odds that the policy survives beyond July of next year, when the Supremes will announce their decisions for the 2022-23 term, are not good. The current suit was manufactured by Edward Blum, a conservative activist who was also responsible for the case that gutted the Voting Rights Act. He knows well how to spoon-feed Roberts, and affirmative action is one of Roberts' biggest bugaboos. In 2007, for example, the Chief Justice wrote: "The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race." It's understandable; as a fellow with two degrees from Harvard, he clearly was held back by a lack of opportunity for white folks. Anyhow, we already know how he's going to vote. Unless you can persuade yourself that two of the five remaining conservatives will want to uphold affirmative action, then you must concede that the policy is headed to the same junk pile as the Voting Rights Act. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jan24 January 6 Was Just the Beginning
Jan24 Blinken: We're Ready No Matter What Russia Does
Jan24 Thompson: We Will Share Information with the Dept. of Justice
Jan24 Arizona Democratic Party Censures Sinema
Jan24 Cheney Is Crushed in Straw Poll
Jan24 Large Majority of Americans Think the Country is Headed in the Wrong Direction
Jan24 Thirty States Have AG Races This Year
Jan24 Biden Makes a Nomination to the Federal Election Commission
Jan24 Ann Coulter Wants a Trump-DeSantis Cage Match
Jan24 Politico Turns 15
Jan23 Sunday Mailbag
Jan22 Saturday Q&A
Jan21 Rudy Giuliani Is in Trouble...
Jan21 ...Of Course, So Is Donald Trump...
Jan21 ...And Maybe Rep. Henry Cuellar, While We're at It
Jan21 This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things
Jan21 Biden's Trajectory, Part I
Jan21 This Week in Schadenfreude
Jan21 Looking Forward: The Readers Predict 2022, Part V: The Supreme Court (and Other Legal Matters)
Jan20 Manchin and Sinema Meant What They Said, and They Said What They Meant
Jan20 Three Strikes and Trump Is Out
Jan20 Biden Has Discovered the Bully Pulpit
Jan20 Build Back Smaller
Jan20 There Is a Mixed Response to the Supreme Court's OSHA Decision
Jan20 Biden Will Make 400 Million N95 Masks Available for Free
Jan20 Abortion Pill Is Tough to Swallow
Jan20 Biden Fills Three Fed Seats
Jan20 Why Is Donald Trump's Big Lie So Hard to Discredit?
Jan20 Biden Nominates Ambassador to the U.K.
Jan20 The Civil War Is Underway in Idaho--Pitting Republicans against Republicans
Jan20 Looking Backward: How Did The Readers Do?, Part V: The Supreme Court
Jan19 The Trump Onion Is Getting Peeled
Jan19 The Heat Is on Joe Manchin
Jan19 Generalissimo DeSantis Wants to Create Election Police Force
Jan19 Two More House Democrats Call It a Career
Jan19 Mehmet Oz Is Down...
Jan19 ...And Bill de Blasio Is Out
Jan19 Looking Forward: The Readers Predict 2022, Part IV: The Biden Administration
Jan18 Time for the Voting Rights Rubber to Hit the Filibuster Road
Jan18 Democrats Take the Plunge on Blue Slips
Jan18 More Trouble in GOParadise
Jan18 Americans Now Lean Republican, According to Gallup
Jan18 Biden-Cheney 2024? Yeah, Right
Jan18 Travels in Cheneyland
Jan18 Looking Backward: How Did The Readers Do?, Part IV: The Biden Administration
Jan17 Sunday News Shows Were All about Voting Rights
Jan17 Talk of Primarying Sinema Heats Up
Jan17 Harris Worked on Voting Rights. Now What?
Jan17 Ohio Supreme Court Tears Up the New Congressional Map
Jan17 Trump Kicks Off the Midterms in Arizona--by Talking 2020