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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Biden Gets Lemons in Pittsburgh, Makes Lemonade
      •  Pennsylvania Senate Race Is Up for Grabs...
      •  ...And So Is the Ohio Senate Race
      •  Why Do They Say These Things?
      •  Why Does He Say These Things?
      •  Pennsylvania Court Strikes Down Absentee Ballot Law
      •  Socialists Win Big in Portugal

Biden Gets Lemons in Pittsburgh, Makes Lemonade

There is a story about the 1948 Democratic National Convention. That was the first year in which the political conventions were staged with television in mind, and some Democratic pooh-bah thought it would make a great visual if 48 white doves (one for each state) were released as soon as Harry S. Truman's nomination was official. It did not work out so well; while that pooh-bah must have envisioned a majestic flock swooping around the convention hall, the birds went every which way, including landing on stage (which infuriated Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn). One of the doves flew up into the rafters, broke its neck crashing into a metal girder, and plummeted to the floor. "A dead pigeon," wryly observed one conventioneer, looking from the place where the bird had landed and then to Truman up on stage.

On Friday, Joe Biden was scheduled to appear in Pittsburgh in order to promote the infrastructure bill he has already signed into law (as opposed to the other infrastructure bill, which is still on life support). And shortly before Biden arrived in town, the Fern Hollow Bridge collapsed. A total of 10 people were injured, four of them badly enough to be taken to the hospital, although Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey tweeted that none of the injuries are serious.

Like that dove in 1948, that collapsed bridge might have been interpreted as a metaphor for Biden's presidency. But just as Truman went on to the win all those years ago, Biden decided to make the best of the situation. He incorporated Friday's developments into his speech, observing that the Fern Hollow Bridge had been deemed unsafe more than 10 years ago, that there are hundreds of other crumbling bridges in the Pittsburgh area, and that the infrastructure bill will send $327 million to the Yinzers to address this exact issue. "We're going to fix them all. Not a joke, this is going to be a gigantic change," the President declared.

In addition, Biden's staff called an audible, and he headed over to the site of the bridge collapse to view the damage for himself and to thank the first responders there. He was joined by Gainey, and also by Pennsylvania U.S. Senate candidates Rep. Conor Lamb (D) and Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D). Fetterman wasn't originally scheduled to cross paths with Biden on Friday, but he has a veteran politician's instincts for a good photo-op, and so he dropped everything and hustled over to the collapse site.

The footage of Biden's visit has been playing on Pittsburgh stations throughout the weekend, and there's little question that his stock has risen, at least a little, in the Keystone State. One could imagine this incident, and this footage, coming up again (and again) this year, as the Democrats make the case that the infrastructure bill was a major, and critically needed, legislative accomplishment. (Z)

Pennsylvania Senate Race Is Up for Grabs...

As long as we're on the subject, there are four months left until the Pennsylvania U.S. Senate primary, and things are still very fluid. On the Democratic side, John Fetterman has had a comfortable lead over Conor Lamb in every poll of the race conducted thus far. In fact, depending on the poll, Lamb might actually be the third strongest candidate, as he trails state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta (D) in some polls.

That said, there haven't been any surveys of the race in over a month. Further, the Democratic Party of Pennsylvania declined to make an endorsement in the race when its members met this weekend, and Gov. Tom Wolf (D-PA) similarly decided to stay out of it last week. That generally means that the insiders think there's no clear favorite, and they don't want to risk ending up in the uncomfortable position of ending up with a general election candidate they chose not to endorse.

The Republican side is even more hazy. Mehmet Oz got his own chance to make lemonade this weekend when he helped save a man who had suffered a seizure and lapsed into unconsciousness at a campaign event. That got him some good press, though almost exclusively from right-wing outlets. Further, Oz has led in every poll of the race taken since he jumped in.

On the other hand, leading every poll wasn't too hard, as there have only been two polls since Oz entered the race. Both are at least six weeks old, and neither of them included businessman/establishment candidate David McCormick, who only entered the race a month ago. Further, Oz was below 20% in each of those two polls, while "Undecided" was north of 50%. So, it wouldn't be too difficult for McCormick to outpace Oz. And finally, Oz has lost several straw polls, making clear that grassroots activists and party insiders are not excited about his candidacy. The good doctor (well, ok, for the last 10 years he's been more of a bad doctor) is still the frontrunner, but that could change as soon as there is some updated polling.

There have also been a very small number of polls of hypothetical general election matchups, and all have given the lead to the Democratic candidate. However, those leads were small, and those polls are also old. For example, the most recent general election poll was conducted back in the first week of December. It tested only a Fetterman-Oz matchup, and gave the advantage to Fetterman, but by just two points (48%-46%).

Pennsylvania, along with Wisconsin, remains one of the two best pickup opportunities for the blue team. But we won't know exactly how good until there's more information, most importantly the identity of the two candidates left standing once the primary ballots are cast and counted. (Z)

...And So Is the Ohio Senate Race

The ongoing U.S. Senate race in Ohio is even more hazy than the one in Pennsylvania. The primary is May 3, which means the filing deadline for candidates is Wednesday. So, barring a last-minute surprise, the field on both sides of the contest is known. Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) has not drawn any major opponent, so he is the Democrats' nominee apparent.

However, Ohio is a fairly red state these days, and there will be no evaluating this race until the Republican candidate is known. On that side of the contest, things are a pretty big mess. Former Ohio state treasurer Josh Mandel consistently comes out on top in polls, but his usual 20% or so isn't great, and is lower than the usual 30% or so of Ohio Republicans who are undecided. Four other candidates—former Ohio GOP chair Jane Timken, author J.D. Vance, businessman Bernie Moreno, and investment banker Mike Gibbons—consistently poll in the double digits, which leaves them all just a few points behind Mandel. And this is after a year of campaigning and more than $25 million in advertising expenditures.

If MAGAworld could settle on a candidate, that might break the logjam. However, as much as each of the Republicans has tried to pander to that faction, none have become the MAGA champion. Mandel, for example, has the endorsements of Trump lawyer Jenna Ellis and Trumpy talk show host Mark Levin. Moreno has former Trump spokeswomen Kellyanne Conway and Katrina Pierson. Timken has Gov. Kristi Noem (R-SD). Vance has Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO), entertainer Tucker Carlson, and billionaire Trumper Peter Thiel.

Trump himself could theoretically break the tie by endorsing, but—in a demonstration that he thinks tactically about these things in at least some circumstances—he has withheld his support so far. The former president clearly isn't thrilled with Mandel, whose pandering—like Vance's—doesn't seem very genuine. And, at the moment, if Trump backs anyone else, he runs the risk not only of hanging his hat on a loser, but possibly hanging it on a third- or fourth-place finisher. It's hard to imagine him sitting on his hands forever, but he might be waiting until the election is close, so as to create a clearer appearance of "cause and effect" between a Trump endorsement and victory. Our guess is that if Mandel remains the frontrunner, Trump will support him, just to increase his endorsement batting average.

As to hypothetical general election matchups, the story is the same as in Pennsylvania. The Democrat (in this case, Ryan) generally leads, but the lead is small and the polls are old. And by "old," we really mean "ancient." The most recent was taken back in August, and had Ryan ahead of both Timken and Vance by three points (36%-33%), and behind Mandel by two points (38%-36%). As we said, the race is hazy. (Z)

Why Do They Say These Things?

Politicians often say disingenuous things, and today's Republican politicians are particularly egregious in this regard. But sometimes things are said that even raise the eyebrows of veteran politics watchers like us. There have been a few instances of that in the last week or so.

To start, many Republicans continue to believe that Joe Biden's having called a reporter a "stupid son of a bitch" is the worst presidential transgression since the time a president encouraged his supporters to storm the Capitol in hopes of overturning an adverse election result... er, wait, maybe not that. No, the worst presidential transgression since the time a president tried to get "dirt" on his opponent by using U.S. foreign aid to blackmail a foreign leader... hm, wait again. Maybe not that, either. Ok, the worst presidential transgression since the time a president was serviced orally in the Oval Office and then lied about it. There, that's it!

Anyhow, in honor of the President's mean words for Peter Doocy, Rep. Jim Banks (R-IN) tweeted this:

We are willing to believe that Banks knows nothing of American history, and so is unaware that many a president has directed a few PG-13 words at reporters, including Ronald Reagan (whose verbiage we've mentioned), the Bushes George, Lyndon B. Johnson, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Harry S. Truman. Indeed, Truman not only used salty language with reporters, he once penned a letter threatening to kick one of them in the balls. It's also plausible that Banks doesn't know that Franklin D. Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson aggressively censored reporters during their respective world wars, or that Abraham Lincoln and John Adams, among others, literally threw unfriendly journalists in prison. However, even if we give Banks allowance for being an ignoramus, history-wise, it is nonetheless the case that he has not been in a coma for 5 years, and so is aware of Donald Trump's lengthy record of attacking reporters, encouraging their arrest, mocking them (the disabled ones, at least), and disparaging their work as "fake news." It is therefore remarkable that, even if he is unaware of all the other examples listed in this paragraph, Banks could tweet that with a straight face.

Similarly, the early days of the latest edition of Supreme Court Sweepstakes have caused multiple GOP senators to utter some real eye-rollers. For example, Sen. Susan Collins was on ABC's "This Week" on Sunday, and decreed that Joe Biden had "politicized" the process by promising to name a Black woman to the Supreme Court bench.

As with Banks' statement, this is the kind of thing that makes steam come out of a historian's ears. To start with, as we have already pointed out, there have been a great many justices chosen primarily to please a particular ethnic, religious, or political constituency. On top of that, since the ostensibly non-partisan George Washington left office, the number of justices chosen where "they will advance my party's political goals" was not a consideration at all could be counted on one hand with many fingers left over. Heck, it's been at least 30-40 years since there's been a justice where their position on abortion wasn't a consideration, and that's before we talk about any other aspect of their political views.

To the credit of George Stephanopoulos, he pointed out that Donald Trump promised during the 2016 campaign that he would appoint a woman if Ruth Bader Ginsburg's seat came open, and that Ronald Reagan committed to naming a woman to the Court during his 1980 campaign. The host observed that these were "exactly" the same thing as what Biden did. And Collins responded:

Actually, it isn't exactly the same. I've looked at what was done in both cases and what President Biden did was, as a candidate, make this pledge, and that helped politicize the entire nomination process. What President Reagan said is as one of his Supreme Court justices, he would like to appoint a woman, and he appointed a highly qualified one in Sandra Day O'Connor.

If you are clear on the distinction she's drawn here, you are cleverer than we are. Incidentally, Reagan first committed to picking a woman for the Court on Oct. 15, 1980, so it's not the case that one of the presidents made their pledge in order to attract votes and the other only made it after they were in office.

On a similar note, many a Republican has—as predicted—begun attacking Ketanji Brown Jackson as the "Affirmative Action" candidate. It is rather presumptuous to assume that she's less qualified than the available candidates of other ethnicities, and so needs an extra boost. Further, the point of Affirmative Action was to create equality of opportunity for historically disadvantaged groups of Americans. Since there's never been a Black woman on the Court (and there have only been two Black men out of 115, or 1.7%), one could argue that this is exactly the situation where a little Affirmative Action is called for.

In any event, the loudest complainer over this weekend was Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS). He was on several radio and TV programs this weekend to lament how unfair it all is. Appearing on SuperTalk Mississippi, for example, he decreed: "The irony is that the Supreme Court is at the very same time hearing cases about this sort of affirmative racial discrimination while adding someone who is the beneficiary of this sort of quota." This is an interesting point. We examined the last 250 years' worth of Mississippi representation in the U.S. Senate (125 years for the Class I seat, and 125 years for the Class II seat). All but four of those years have been served by white men, which means that 98.4% of the time, Mississippi's U.S. Senate seats have been filled by white men. Our staff demographer advises us that the population of Mississippi is not, in fact, 98.4% white men. But yes, the white, male Mississippi senator has an excellent point that people shouldn't get an unfair advantage based on their race.

Again, as we noted, we have a high tolerance for spin, because that's what politicians do. But when they say things so patently ridiculous, and so obviously at odds with reality, then our tolerance runs out and we start to wonder what is going on. We've got a few possible ideas:

  1. They live in such thick bubbles that they don't even realize how absurd their statements are.

  2. They know how absurd their statements are, but think their voters are too dumb to realize it.

  3. They know how absurd their statements are, but have concluded their voters prefer "this is what I want to hear" over "this actually passes the smell test."

We presume it's #3. If so, this kind of delusional alternate reality is great at keeping the MAGA crowd satiated with red meat, but isn't so great for connecting with non-MAGA Republicans and independents. That means it's probably good political strategy for Banks and Wicker, but not so much for Collins. (Z)

Why Does He Say These Things?

Donald Trump had another one of his rallies this weekend. Usually, they are not worth mentioning, but he really went over the top this time. These things may not be unrelated; as he grows more and more starved for attention, he might well be turning the rhetoric up to 11.

Anyhow, the former president said a couple of things that really got people's tongues wagging. First, he strongly implied that if he is returned to the White House, he would very likely pardon some or all of the 1/6 insurrectionists. His exact statement: "If I run and I win, we will treat those people from January 6 fairly. We will treat them fairly, and if it requires pardons, we will give them pardons because they are being treated so unfairly."

That was not all, of course. After whining for a while about being unfairly targeted, Trump also called on his supporters to take to the streets if the prosecutors who are pursuing him "do anything illegal." He said: "If these radical, vicious racist prosecutors do anything wrong or illegal, I hope we are going to have in this country the biggest protest we have ever had ... in Washington, D.C, in New York, in Atlanta and elsewhere because our country and our elections are corrupt."

We actually have a little bit of uncertainty as to why Jim Banks, Susan Collins, Roger Wicker, et al., say the outlandish things they do (see above). But truth be told, despite the headline, we don't really have uncertainty with Trump. He wants attention, as we noted, and—as we've written before—he's a walking id who thinks only of his needs in the moment and who rarely thinks of long-term consequences. His rallies, which get his adrenaline really flowing, just encourage his worst tendencies.

However, such declarations have also got to be driving his handlers nuts. First of all, there's a very real chance that he is going to face some sort of charges related to suborning insurrection or otherwise trying to extralegally influence the outcome of the 2020 election. And his defense will be "I never intended for there to be a violent action, or for anything illegal to happen, and I strongly disapprove of anyone who took the law into their own hands." This defense, already shaky, doesn't get any better when he publicly suggests both pardons for the insurrectionists and that they should be ready to do it all again.

Meanwhile, if he runs again, the Democrats are going to try to paint him as a purveyor of authoritarianism and insurrection. Even if he doesn't run, both in 2022 and 2024, the Democrats are going to try to level the same charges against the Republican Party as a whole and against its candidates. Trump is not helping disprove that case when he implies that the insurrectionists are innocent of any crime and also that another insurrection or two would be just fine with him. This is why many Republicans were pulling their hair out on the Sunday morning news shows. Even Susan Collins, who was not only "concerned," but even said she wasn't sure she could vote for Trump in 2024 if he's on the ballot. Strong words when coming from her.

And if Trump is already saying this kind of stuff, one can only imagine what he'll come up with as the elections get closer, and as the legal walls start to close in. Yes, it's an assumption that the legal walls will start to close in, but a pretty good one, as we will discuss tomorrow. (Z)

Pennsylvania Court Strikes Down Absentee Ballot Law

In 2019, the Pennsylvania legislature approved the adoption of no-excuse absentee voting. The bill passed both chambers with large majorities. However, a number of Republican members—including at least half a dozen who voted for the change in the first place—decided that the legislation (known as Act 77) violated the Pennsylvania constitution, and so they filed suit. Perhaps this "realization" is related to the fact that Donald Trump lost the state by only 80,555 votes. In any event, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court agreed that the law was not valid, and overturned it by a 3-2 vote. You will be stunned to learn that the three judges in the majority were all elected as Republicans and the two in the minority were elected as Democrats.

Quite a few Republican politicians and pundits, including the fellow from the item immediately above this one, did some crowing this weekend about how absentee ballots are obviously illegal/immoral/corrupt, and thank goodness that's finally being recognized. However, Pennsylvania is only one state, and something that violates its constitution doesn't necessarily violate the constitution of Washington, or Colorado, or Wisconsin. More importantly, the ruling has already been appealed to the state Supreme Court, which has a history of taking the opposite view on electoral questions like these. You will be stunned—for the second time in as many paragraphs—to learn that the Pennsylvania Supremes include five judges elected as Democrats and just two elected as Republicans. Veronica Degraffenreid, Secretary of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, is so confident the decision will be overturned that her department has told local election officials to change absolutely nothing as they prepare for the upcoming primary on May 17. So, don't put too much stock in the crowing. (Z)

Socialists Win Big in Portugal

Portuguese prime minister António Costa is leader of that nation's Socialist Party, which makes him center-left by European standards. He has overseen a successful COVID vaccination program, and has helped strengthen the Portuguese economy. On the other hand, he's had some difficulty keeping the further left members of his coalition—the Communist Party and the Left Bloc—happy. Perhaps these general outlines sound familiar.

In any case, the disagreements between Costa and the lefties led to the collapse of his governing coalition in late December, and thus triggered a snap election that took place over the weekend. Polls suggested that Costa and the Socialists would remain the largest party in the Portuguese parliament, but that there would still be a need to cobble together a majority by allying with... well, probably not the Communists or the Left Bloc.

As it turns out, the polls were only half right. Although even Costa himself was convinced that he'd have to find some other party to share power with, the Socialists actually won at least 117 seats, and possibly 118, out of 230. That is an outright majority, sparing Costa the need to go hat in hand to one or more of the minor parties, as he had to do in 2019 when the Socialists won only 108 seats.

The other interesting storyline is that turnout was up substantially from 2019, which saw a record low 48.6% of eligible voters cast a ballot. Despite the current Omicron surge, and more than 10% of Portuguese citizens living in mandatory isolation (they were given special dispensation to cast ballots), turnout this time was close to 60%.

We keep an eye on foreign elections because there are often international trends and voters react to, well, developments that cross international borders. In the late 2010s, there was a rise in right-wing populism that saw Donald Trump, Jair Bolsonaro, and Boris Johnson, among others, swept into office. Maybe a left-wing counter-response is underway. A couple of weeks ago, we wrote up several other elections this year that should be of interest. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jan30 Sunday Mailbag
Jan29 Saturday Q&A
Jan28 The Day After
Jan28 BBB Was Only Mostly Dead, It Would Seem
Jan28 Sinema's Sinking
Jan28 Biden: The Least Bad Option?
Jan28 Maybe Trump Has Finally Hit His Floor
Jan28 This Week in Schadenfreude
Jan28 Looking Forward: The Readers Predict 2022, Part VI: Congress, the Legislation
Jan27 Breyer to Disrobe
Jan27 The Lord Giveth and the Lord Taketh Away
Jan27 Those Texans Sure Are... Inventive
Jan27 Barns Will Burn in Georgia
Jan27 A Useless Idiot?
Jan27 Looking Backward: How Did The Readers Do?, Part VI: Congress, the Legislation
Jan26 Looking Under Rocks for White Grievance
Jan26 The Filibuster May Linger a While Longer, but It's on Life Support
Jan26 Pelosi Is In...
Jan26 ...While Cuellar Has Trouble...
Jan26 ...And Cooper Is Out
Jan26 The Slow-Moving Coup, Part VI: The Good News, Vol. II--The Republicans
Jan25 The Slow-Moving Coup, Part V: The Good News, Vol. I--Time
Jan25 Biden's Trajectory, Part II
Jan25 Biden Has a Reagan Moment
Jan25 It's Still Donald Trump's Party...
Jan25 ...And It's Getting More Authoritarian by the Day
Jan25 Supreme Court to Hear Affirmative Action Case
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