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Political Wire logo White House Braces for Grim News on Economy
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Justice Department Asking Witnesses About Trump
Feds Looking at Trump’s Actions in January 6 Probe
Viktor Orbán Will Still Speak at CPAC

TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  WSJ Also Abandons the S.S. Trump
      •  Newsom Gunning for Guns... and More
      •  Texas Gubernatorial Race Is Getting Interesting
      •  Scott Concedes that Republican Senate Candidates Have Money Problems
      •  Nelson Is Out in Wisconsin
      •  Hulu Won't Run Democrats' Ads
      •  History Lesson: Separation of Church and State

WSJ Also Abandons the S.S. Trump

Yesterday, we had an item about the weekend editorial from The New York Post that declared Donald Trump to be unfit for a second term as president. And we observed that there was no chance of that piece seeing the light of day without say-so from Post owner Rupert Murdoch.

In case there was any doubt on that point, the other major American paper owned by Murdoch has now jumped ship, as well. In a piece headlined "The President Who Stood Still on Jan. 6," the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal writes:

No matter your views of the Jan. 6 special committee, the facts it is laying out in hearings are sobering. The most horrifying to date came Thursday in a hearing on President Trump's conduct as the riot raged and he sat watching TV, posting inflammatory tweets and refusing to send help... Mr. Trump took an oath to defend the Constitution, and he had a duty as Commander in Chief to protect the Capitol from a mob attacking it in his name. He refused. He didn't call the military to send help. He didn't call [Mike] ]Pence to check on the safety of his loyal VP. Instead he fed the mob's anger and let the riot play out.

We suppose that is not technically a call for Trump to never run for president again, though it would be awfully difficult for the paper to give its endorsement to him now, having printed that.

Although both editorials appear to be in response to the most recent hearing of the 1/6 Committee, we are rather skeptical that last week's presentation opened Murdoch's eyes and caused him to have a come-to-Jesus moment. No, Murdoch is a user (just like Trump is), has concluded that Trump is just about used up, and is using last week's revelations as a convenient exit ramp. The publisher wants to be on the right horse for 2024, because being buddy-buddy with the frontrunner equates to access and also equates to readers/viewers. If you are going to base your newspaper on outspoken rah-rah Republican politics (the Post) or understated rah-rah Republican politics (the Journal), then it works best if you're rah-rahing for the right candidate.

Of course, the real seismic shift will come if and when the crown jewel of Murdoch's American media empire—Fox—does a proper Trump take-down. The viewership of that channel is something like twenty times the readership of the Journal and the Post combined. But a change in editorial policy at Fox is going to be slower in coming—if it comes at all—for a number of reasons:

  • Money: As we pointed out in yesterday's piece, the fact that the elites are turning their backs on Trump doesn't mean the rank-and-file are doing so, at least not yet. The financial risk that Murdoch is taking with the two newspapers is pretty small as compared to the risk he'd be taking if Fox viewers start tuning out, en masse.

  • Structure: Newspapers staffs are, to a large extent, organized as a pyramid. If the editor in chief makes a decision about the paper's coverage, or editorial policy, or approach, then the staff pretty much has to fall in line. So, all Murdoch had to do was make two phone calls to coordinate the newspapers' editorials. By contrast, Fox is a collection of fiefdoms. And the feudal lords who control them have fat contracts, and the leverage that comes from Fox needing them more than they need Fox. Yes, Murdoch could probably impose his will on some of the channel's lesser stars, but he can't plausibly call Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity and tell them that Trump is now yesterday's news. Murdoch can tell station management to play up Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) when possible (and they've been doing so), but that's a much more passive approach than what we saw in the past few days from the Journal and the Post.

  • Family: Rupert Murdoch is 91 years old. By all indications, he still takes an interest in the newspapers, but he leaves the running of the cable channel to his son, Lachlan. That also makes it tougher for dad to flex his muscles.

If Trump was savvy, and could control his emotions for 2 seconds, he'd take the lay of the land and make it as hard as possible for Fox to cut bait without them looking like the bad guy. But Trump either isn't savvy, or can't control his emotions, or both, because he lit into Fox & Friends yesterday, accusing them of going over to the "dark side" because they dared point out that he's not leading in every poll of the 2024 Republican field. That "dark side" is an interesting reference. Who would have thought Trump would be a fan of a movie about a man whose lust for power causes him to commit countless evil deeds in order to destroy a democratic government in favor of a dictatorship? Although in fairness to Darth Vader, he abandoned only one wife.

In any event, we don't much care for cable news, much less cable "news," so we won't be watching closely to see if Fox and its hosts finally cast aside Trump. However, there are folks in the media who will be watching closely, and they will undoubtedly alert everyone else if and when that time arrives. (Z)

Newsom Gunning for Guns... and More

Texas' bill that allows anyone to sue anyone who helps an abortion has clearly been an inspiration to other states. Some of them are working on similar abortion laws. On the other hand, states on the other side of the political aisle are taking the idea and applying it to other areas. As is often the case, California is first here. On Friday, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA) signed S.B. 1327, which allows Californians to sue anyone making, selling, transporting, or distributing illegal guns for (at least) $10,000. This also applies to gun dealers selling weapons to anyone under 21.

While the law might have some effect on gun traffic, the real purpose is to force the Supreme Court to twist itself into knots. The six conservative justices no doubt want to allow the Texas law to stand, but don't want the California law to stand. By carefully crafting the California law to be as close to the Texas law as possible, albeit about different material, it will be very hard for the justices to say, for example, allowing citizens to sue people they don't even know is fine in Texas but not fine in California. If they throw caution to the winds and do it anyway, it's going to drive the Court's approval even lower, something Newsom probably doesn't mind.

In case you have any doubts about Newsom's thinking, he sent out on these tweets on the subject:

As the tweet suggests, Newsom did indeed pay for full-page ads to run in Texas newspapers. Could be a little chest thumping, for benefit of Californians, in advance of Newsom's reelection bid in November. But that's doubtful, given that he's a shoo-in. Can you even remember the name of his Republican opponent? We'll remind you at the end, if you want to take a moment to try to come up with the answer.

No, this certainly looks like a politician who is thinking about a mansion much larger than the California governor's mansion, and located on the opposite coast. Newsom has to tread lightly, for fear of stepping on Joe Biden's toes (not to mention the toes of fellow Californian Kamala Harris), but openly sparring with Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX) and, last month, Ron DeSantis, gets Newsom some national headlines, and in a way that would be difficult for any Democratic pooh-bah to complain about.

And as long as we're on the subject, let us also give our thoughts on the many op-eds like this one that argue that the only plausible Democratic candidates in 2024 are Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. It is true that if a sitting president runs for reelection, they are nearly impossible to unseat. And if someone makes a real go at it (e.g., like Ted Kennedy in 1980), the Party will be badly damaged heading into the 2024 election, even if Biden survives.

But we stand by our view, which we've shared many times, that if Biden really is looking unelectable heading into 2024, he'll step aside, like Harry S. Truman in 1952 and Lyndon B. Johnson in 1968. And in that event, we do not believe that Harris is the only viable alternative. The argument, as made in the op-ed linked above, is that jettisoning the VP will alienate Black voters, cause them to stay home on Election Day, and that's unsurvivable for the Democratic ticket.

This is, to be blunt, nonsense. There are no more smoke-filled rooms, and the party doesn't really decide anymore. If Harris is, or is not, to be the Democrats' standard-bearer in 2024, it will be Democratic voters in the early primary/caucus states who make that decision. Recall that Biden himself looked like a dead duck, right up until Black voters in South Carolina turned his campaign around. If Harris were to win South Carolina in 2024 big time, she'd probably be the nominee. And if she didn't, it's hardly plausible to argue that she was the only candidate acceptable to Black Democrats.

So, if the 2024 Democratic presidential nomination turns into a slugfest, and Newsom emerges as the winner, he can absolutely be a strong candidate. For what it's worth, Turning Point USA held a straw poll this weekend, and the attendees overwhelmingly chose Newsom as the Democrat they fear most in 2024 (30.3% for him, with Michelle Obama in second place at 13.6%, and Harris in a distant fifth at 7.9%). You don't necessarily want to put much stock in straw polls, especially those conducted among activists from the other party, but it's at least a tiny bit of evidence that Newsom 2024, should it come to pass, is far from an automatic lost cause.

Oh, and Newsom's opponent this year is former state legislator Brian Dahle (R). (V & Z)

Texas Gubernatorial Race Is Getting Interesting

When it comes to advertising in Texas, it would seem that poking Greg Abbott in the eye is all the rage. In addition to the ads from Gavin Newsom (see above), there's also the new ad from the Mothers Against Greg Abbott PAC (note the acronym that works out to):

After its release, the spot quickly went viral, and has been viewed over 3 million times on Twitter. In case you don't care to watch it, it shows a Latino couple who are clearly nervous about their unborn child. The doctor comes in, explains that the fetus is brain damaged, and that if it is delivered, the result will be a few hours of seizures followed by the child choking to death. The physician explains that he cannot tell the couple what to do, as it's not up to him to make that decision. No, the only person who can make that decision is... Greg. After the father of the child asks "Who the fu** is Greg?", the doctor places a call to Abbott, and confirms that no abortion will be performed.

You probably could have just watched the ad in the time it took to read our summary. In any event, all the stories about the ad caused us to take a look at the polling of the gubernatorial race. There was a time when Abbott was up 12-15 over Democratic challenger Beto O'Rourke, but the race is clearly narrowing. In the past month, there have been three polls of the race:

Pollster Abbott O'Rourke Net
University of Houston 47% 42% Abbott +5%
YouGov/CBS News 49% 41% Abbott +8%
University of Texas 45% 39% Abbott +6%

O'Rourke still has his work cut out for him, but he's within shouting distance. And if anyone and everyone keeps hammering Abbott over abortion, things could get very interesting. (Z)

Scott Concedes that Republican Senate Candidates Have Money Problems

Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) is chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee this cycle. That means he's in charge of raising and spending money to try to win back the Senate for his party. And in the past week, he was all over the place talking about that problem. For example, in a speech at the America First Policy Institute summit, he decreed: "Look, we have great candidates, we have every reason to believe we can win. The issue we've got is we've got to raise money."

Scott's intent is not to wave the white flag, of course, it's to motivate Republican voters to get out their checkbooks and pony up. His problem is the first five words of that quote, which are a blatant falsehood. If the Republicans actually had great candidates, they would probably be keeping up with the Democrats, and they certainly wouldn't have to sweat, not in a year that looks to be so favorable to the GOP.

The fact is that, in nearly all of the races that matter, the Republicans have lousy candidates. This is not a judgment based on policy positions, it's one based on their propensity to shoot themselves in the foot/feet with stupid, unforced errors. The most recent to make lots of the wrong kind of headlines is J.D. Vance in Ohio. While Democrat Tim Ryan is putting in the work in Ohio, and running a strong campaign, Vance spent last weekend in... Israel. And speaking to a bunch of Israelis about their stellar birth rates doesn't exactly help Ohio voters understand what Vance might try to do about gas prices. "Tim Ryan is talking about kitchen-table issues, and J.D. Vance is out there going to fu**ing CPAC in Israel," observed one GOP operative.

If that is not enough, someone dug up a video this week from an interview Vance conducted last September:

It's only 40 seconds, so you should consider watching it for yourself. In it, Vance laments that the sexual revolution made getting a divorce as easy as "changing underwear," and says that women in violent marriages should stay married for the benefit of their children. Undoubtedly, those all-important suburban housewives are going to just love that opinion.

The assessment of many Republican pros in Ohio is that Vance is running the worst campaign possible. From where we sit, it's hard to disagree. Meanwhile, Herschel Walker is a walking gaffe machine in Georgia, Mehmet Oz is doing everything he possibly can to affirm his image as an out-of-touch carpetbagger in Pennsylvania, the yet-to-be-held GOP primary in Arizona has turned into a bloody slugfest, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) is no great shakes in Wisconsin, and in Missouri the party could get stuck with Eric Greitens, who has a history of assaulting and blackmailing his lovers and calling for his opponents to be shot. Let's also not forget that Scott himself, though not actually up this cycle, has hardly had a great year. His "Contract with America" ripoff not only pissed off Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), it also handed the Democrats ammunition in the form of "Hey! The Republicans want to end Social Security!" We remain astounded that a politician from Florida of all places—a.k.a .The Land of the Old—would issue forth with something so foolish.

There are only three competitive seats, meanwhile, where the Republicans don't have to grit their teeth right now and hope nothing else goes wrong: New Hampshire, Florida, and Nevada. And of those, only Sen. Marco Rubio in Florida can be considered the favorite to win. The bottom line is that if the Republicans fail to hold the Senate, or if they actually lose seats, money is not the problem, it's merely a symptom. (Z)

Nelson Is Out in Wisconsin

The Democratic primary for Wisconsin's U.S. Senate seat was, for several months, a four-way affair. The four were centrist and wealthy businessman Alex Lasry, centrist State Treasurer of Wisconsin Sarah Godlewski, progressive Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, and progressive Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson. The latter two had very definitely split the progressive wing of the Party, as Barnes has the endorsements of folks like Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), but Nelson had the backing of the progressive super PAC Our Revolution.

As of Monday, the progressives are divided no longer, as Nelson dropped out of the race and threw his support Barnes. He was not polling especially well (single digits) and said he was plumb out of money. Nelson has run for statewide office a couple of times, and also for the House of Representatives, and one suspects he also hopes that taking one for the team now will reap rewards in the future.

Mandela has led in every poll of the primaries so far, and picking up most of Nelson's support certainly won't hurt. That said, in most polls of the race, the largest grouping is "undecided." So, there's still potential for any of the three candidates to prevail. Really, though, the main threat to Barnes would be if one of the two centrists drops out, allowing that segment of the electorate to coalesce behind either Lasry or Godlewski. If that does not happen, then we are very likely looking at Barnes vs. incumbent Ron Johnson. That would be a young, Black progressive against an old, white reactionary. If that does come to pass, Wisconsin voters won't be able to say they don't have a clear choice. The primary election is August 9. (Z)

Hulu Won't Run Democrats' Ads

The Democrats are clearly going to have the fundraising advantage this cycle, and so will be able to afford a lot more advertising. However, that advantage doesn't do the Party much good if platforms won't take their ads. Right now, the Democratic muckety mucks are hopping mad that the streaming platform Hulu is refusing to run spots centering on abortion, gun control and political violence, as such ads are "controversial."

Hulu is owned by Disney, by the way, so there have been quite a few folks on the right who heard this news and said, more or less "See! Now you know what it feels like!" Truth be told, we can see both sides of the story. On one hand, if Disney/Hulu runs Democratic ads, it will anger Republican viewers, and will cause some of them to cancel. A streaming service makes far more on subscription fees than it does on ads, and so the cost/benefit analysis just doesn't add up.

On the other hand, the Democratic ads are not violent or jarring, and rely primarily on verifiable statistics and quotations. That is very different from many Republican ads, which assert outright lies, like "the election was stolen." Further, the Democrats point out that abortion, gun control and political violence are shaping up to be the dominant issues of the midterms and that banning such ads hamstrings their campaigning.

Hulu eventually backed down on a couple of ads, and will presumably back down on a few more. Still, it is a reminder that despite complaints to the contrary, Hulu/Disney and other media conglomerates are not in the bag for one political party or the other, and they really prefer to remain neutral and to keep customers (and employees) of all stripes happy. (Z)

History Lesson: Separation of Church and State

As the Supreme Court and the Republican Party take a decidedly theocratic bent, they are compelled to confront a wee problem, namely that the fellows who created the U.S. government took pains to create separation of church and state. And increasingly, the leaders of the Party are resolving that contradiction by... rewriting history, and insisting that the founders did not, in fact, desire the separation of church and state. For example, noted historian Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) gave a speech a couple of weeks ago in which she said "I'm tired of this separation of church and state junk that's not in the Constitution. It was in a stinking letter, and it means nothing like what they say it does." To take another example, a new training program for Florida teachers includes the lesson that it is a "misconception" that "the Founders desired strict separation of church and state."

In view of this new... scholarship, we thought we'd do a brief refresher on this issue, over and above pointing out that Boebert might want to consult the Bill of Rights. All she has to do is read the first 10 words, which are "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion," and then she can get back to shooting practice, or whatever it is she does when she's not poring over her intensive scholarly work.

Anyhow, the first thing to keep in mind is that while it is convenient to refer to "the Founders" as if they were a hive mind, and were all in agreement about everything, the reality is much messier. They were different people, with different experiences, different philosophies, and different backgrounds. This extended to their practice of, and their thinking about, religion. To illustrate this, let's consider the religious views of the seven "key" Founding Fathers (as chosen by the historian Richard Morris):

  • John Adams: Devout Christian, but one who moved from a fairly conservative denomination (Congregationalist) to a very liberal one (Unitarian).

  • Benjamin Franklin: Outspoken Deist who had little use for organized religion.

  • Alexander Hamilton: Same as Franklin.

  • John Jay: Very religious Episcopalian who wrote that "No human society has ever been able to maintain both order and freedom, both cohesiveness and liberty apart from the moral precepts of the Christian Religion. Should our Republic ever forget this fundamental precept of governance, we will then, be surely doomed." He also disliked Catholics, and advocated (unsuccessfully) for a law barring them from holding political office.

  • Thomas Jefferson: Another Deist, and one who edited the gospels to remove the miracles and other supernatural events, leaving behind a work of moral philosophy.

  • James Madison: Yet another Deist.

  • George Washington: Publicly, he was an Episcopalian who attended services on a regular basis. However, he may have just done this for benefit of his wife, or for appearances, as he avoided taking part in any of the rituals of the church, such as confirmation or Holy Communion. Based on his writings and statements to colleagues, he was a Deist in all but name.

To broaden our data set just a little bit, let's add the names of all the men who (like Franklin) signed both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution:

  • George Clymer: He was raised a Quaker, sometimes attended Episcopalian services as an adult, and arranged to be buried in a Quaker cemetery. His life is not especially well documented, but he appears to have been largely nonreligious.

  • Robert Morris: Very devout Episcopalian, married the daughter of a bishop.

  • George Read: Another devout Episcopalian.

  • Roger Sherman: Devout Congregationalist who served as a professor of religion and maintained an active correspondence with several of the day's leading theologians. Still, he wrote several times about the importance of free exercise of religious beliefs.

  • James Wilson: Dabbled in a number of different religious traditions, including Presbyterianism, Thomism and Deism. Probably settled on some sort of Christianity, but nobody is really sure.

The point here is that, if you pick and choose your evidence carefully (say, quoting from Jay), you can make a pretty compelling case that the Founders were religious fanatics who wanted to found a borderline theocracy. Or, if you pick and choose your evidence carefully (say, quoting from Franklin), you can make a pretty compelling case that they wanted religion as far from the government as is possible, and ideally set on the path to extinction. So, don't put too much stock in a quote or two or three that seem to be "definitive," because one or two or three Founders cannot possibly speak for the whole group.

That said, the overwhelming weight of the evidence suggests that the Founders, whatever their personal beliefs, favored a very clear wall between church and state. This is clear from their collected writings—at least, those Founders for whom we still have writings. On top of that evidence, there are two reasons that it makes good logical sense. The first of those is that the Founders were not a randomly selected group of fellows. They were, by definition, rebels who resisted the authority of the King of England and his Parliament. They were deeply concerned by the tools that the King and the Parliament used to impose themselves over the colonists. One of those was taxes. Another was a standing army. And a third was the Church of England. If you managed to interview 12 random Americans from the year 1776, or 12 random white, rich guys, you might get a variety of opinions about the separation of church and state. But the Founders? For them, a lack of separation between church and state was one of the problems that made them rebel.

Further, the Founders were all, to a greater or lesser extent, students of history. For those of us living today, the Civil War still serves as a useful cautionary tale. The Civil War ended 157 years ago. Now, take 1776 and subtract 157. That gives you 1619, when Europe was still in the midst of the turmoil caused by various nation-state-religions warring with one another. The Thirty Years War, for example, was effectively Protestant nations vs. Catholic nations and left between 4.5 million and 8 million people dead. It lasted from 1618-1648, and so was actually a little closer to the Founders than the Civil War is to us. Over half the men who signed the Declaration had degrees in divinity, but they also understood the consequences when church and state become intertwined.

The conclusion: Shockingly, Lauren Boebert, and whoever is developing curricula in Florida, and all the other conservatives who insist the Founders didn't want separation of church and state are full of (holy) sh**. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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