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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Prime Minister Gerald Ford
      •  DeSantis, Crist Debate
      •  All Eyes on Fetterman
      •  Alaska Gone Wild
      •  Graham Gets a (Brief?) Reprieve
      •  This Isn't Going to End Well
      •  Today's Senate Polls

Prime Minister Gerald Ford

It's not easy to become the leader of a major industrialized nation without receiving a single vote, but Gerald Ford pulled it off. And now, so has Rishi Sunak. Benefiting from a nomination process designed to produce only one candidate—and, thus, no need for a vote—Sunak was announced as the new leader of Britain's Conservative Party yesterday, and thus the new Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. It will become official today when he is formally approved by King Charles III.

Of course, the vote total of zero is not the only thing Sunak has in common with Ford. The new PM, like the former president, follows on the heels of a very unpopular predecessor. Actually, two of them, in both cases. Of greater consequence is that Sunak, like Ford, inherits an economy that is in poor shape, and that is being pounded by runaway inflation. If the PM doesn't figure something out, and fast, his party is going to take a beating at the polls in 2024 or 2025; whenever the next general election takes place.

Sunak also bears some similarities to another president, namely John F. Kennedy. Both Sunak (42) and JFK (43) were young and handsome when they assumed power. They were also the first person of their religion to be elevated to the top job (Catholic in Kennedy's case, Hindu in Sunak's). Oh, and they both came to power with fat bank accounts that were in the nine figures (if not higher). There is, by the way, an irony in the fact that Brexit, which was a fundamentally anti-immigrant right-wing backlash, set in motion a chain of events that led to Britain's first brown prime minister.

As promised, we're going to turn it over to our British correspondents, who obviously know the subject better than we do. To start, here's A.B. in Lichfield, England, UK:

It's a notable coincidence that the announcement that the United Kingdom was to have its first Hindu Prime Minister came during Diwali, the festival of lights. And whatever we think about Rishi Sunak's politics, when he kisses hands with the King on Tuesday morning and formally becomes Prime Minister (no kissing of hands is actually involved; it's just a handshake), this is going to be a historic appointment. Mr Sunak is the first Hindu PM, the first person of color to hold the office (though not the first ethnic minority—see below for more details on that record), the first PM of South Asian heritage, the first PM to be born in the 1980s, and the youngest PM since the Earl of Liverpool (also 42) in 1812. Sunak only entered Parliament in 2015, so by British standards this has been a meteoric rise to the top.

But make no mistake, Sunak faces a daunting in-tray. His party is riven with in-fighting and division, problems exacerbated by Liz Truss's disastrous brief spell in office and Boris Johnson's quixotic failed attempt to reclaim his position this past weekend. While Sunak is reasonably popular with MPs, the wider party membership still views him with suspicion, holding him responsible for triggering Johnson's downfall by resigning as Chancellor; and unfortunately there's also a fair dose of basic racism on the part of some of the party's more atavistic supporters. It's worth remembering that Sunak crushed Truss in the ballot of MPs in the previous summer leadership contest before Truss was chosen by the membership—and this time around, there's a broad perception that the rules of the contest were deliberately manipulated to minimize the chances that the membership would have a say, in the process increasing Sunak's chances of being chosen at the second attempt. So here the incoming PM faces the opposite problem from Truss; instead of being liked by the party membership but disliked by the majority of MPs, Sunak has the support of the majority of MPs, but isn't necessarily liked by the party membership. Then there's the little matter of Sunak's democratic deficit. Not only is he the second PM in rapid succession to have been elevated without a general election, he didn't even have to face an internal party vote. Where Truss was elected by a combination of MP and membership votes, Sunak was simply the last candidate standing in the carefully constructed leadership contest, and so became prime minister by default.

And those are simply the narrow internal party-political problems. A partial list of Sunak's immediate broader challenges include rebuilding Britain's economic reputation after the disaster of Truss's 50 days in office, the ongoing war in Ukraine, unresolved issues over the impact of Brexit on Northern Ireland, clamor for a second independence referendum from the governing SNP in Scotland, rising nationalism in Wales, a cost of living crisis, and a National Health Service with record waiting lists and with ambulance response times measured in hours rather than minutes. Meanwhile, recent opinion polls give the main opposition Labour Party a 30+ percentage point lead and the Conservative Party approval ratings as low as 14%.

What Sunak does have going for him is a perception—rightly or wrongly—that he was one of the grownups in Boris Johnson's cabinet, and a certain level of respect—again rightly or wrongly—over his actions as Chancellor during the height of the COVID pandemic. Is this enough to unite his deeply divided party and get on top of the country's problems? That somehow seems unlikely, but a lot of U.K. voters will likely settle for the teetotaler Star Wars fan in the top job, as opposed to someone who liked undermining the constitution in support of his political ego while lying through his teeth (Johnson) or someone who spectacularly crashed the economy in their first functional week in office (Truss). Many of us would settle for boring. Boring would be a good start.

And that first ethnic minority Prime Minister? It was the great Victorian PM Benjamin Disraeli. The hint's in the surname. The family were Italian Sephardic Jews by heritage; Benjamin's father Isaac D'Israeli stopped attending synagogue, and arranged for his children to be baptized into Christianity when the young Benjamin was 12 (also subtly changing the spelling of the family name). Isaac's father was from Cento, Italy, and Isaac's wife Maria Basevi was from another London-based Italian-Jewish merchant family.

And now, S.T. from Worcestershire, England, UK, with some insight into a specific issue that could haunt the new PM (and that S.T. has some background in):

The new British PM, Rishi Sunak, has been anointed and inherits the in tray from hell.

Sunak faces some issues which are very specific to him. The first, sad to relate, may be his skin color. The Conservative party has in the last 20 years been commendably successful in selecting black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) candidates who have gone on to be MPs, often in seats which have few BAME voters. Sunak will be the first non-white U.K. PM. In the more culturally conservative parts of the U.K., many of which were those areas which gave the Conservatives their 2019 election win, Sunak's heritage may not play so well among voters, always concerned about "immigration."

Secondly there is the question of whether someone as wealthy as Sunak can feel empathy with the ordinary UK voter. He has already in the past showed signs of being politically flatfooted in this area and his love of high end formal and leisurewear clothing (those beautifully tailored suits cost £3,000-4,000 a piece) do not project an image of a common man.

Most of the family wealth however comes from his wife, Murty, the daughter of Indian tech billionaire N.R Naravana Murthy, who founded the multinational Infosys. Ahshata's shareholding in the company is worth a cool £750 million. In April, it emerged that Murty, the wife of the then-chancellor, legally used an infamous U.K. tax loophole, Domicile Status.

This curious arrangement has been part of the U.K. tax code for decades and is a real international anomaly. Roughly speaking, it allows an individual resident in the U.K. to avoid paying U.K. tax on any income earned outside the U.K. Usually to qualify an individual has to be born outside the U.K. or have a parent who was born outside the U.K., but it is possible for someone born in the U.K. to claim they have permanently taken up domicile in another country and claim the exemption that way. In some notorious cases, some rich U.K.-born individuals have suddenly discovered an enduring love for tax havens such as Belize or Monaco, to shelter most of their income.

When the news of Ahshata Murty's tax status emerged (who leaked it?), a number of statements "on behalf of Mrs. Murty" followed. The first implied that as an Indian citizen living in the U.K., she automatically received Non-Dom status. This is untrue; the status has to be requested in writing from U.K. tax authorities annually. It was then said Murty paid tax on her non-UK income "elsewhere." This may be the case but exactly where was never specified and the Indian business community are quite as adept at funnelling their income through tax havens (Mauritius is a particular favorite) as their international counterparts.

Finally, Murty agreed that she would henceforth pay tax in the U.K. on all her income (presumably allowing any tax paid outside the U.K. to be offset). What she did not do, however, was clearly state that she would no longer be claiming her Non-Dom status. Why does that matter? Well the exemption covers not only income tax but also capital gains tax and inheritance tax. If an individual has £750 million in assets, it is likely that at some point capital gains or inheritance tax will be payable. So Murty may still be in the position to avoid paying tens of millions of pounds in tax, maybe even more, since she has only committed to paying tax on income.

Since the story first broke in April, at which point Rishi Sunak made a tremendous fuss about his family being dragged into politics, it has largely died down. Inevitably those parts of the U.K. press who support the Conservative party do not want to dwell on it. Plus, it is a little complex. And, of course, there have been a few other distractions to keep us entertained. Given however that the public have been warned they face "eye-watering" cuts in public expenditure plus increased mortgages, taxes and energy bills, the issue of tax avoidance (legal or otherwise) may become a matter of interest to the U.K. electorate. In which case the way the Sunak family arrange their finances may yet come to the fore again.

And finally, a brief comment from G.S. in Basingstoke, England, UK:

As expected, following Boris Johnson and then Penny Mordaunt dropping out, Rishi Sunak was indeed anointed (note: not "elected") today and should take up the reins tomorrow.

Much has been made of Sunak's wealth and his wife's Non-Dom status. He is also, as he's just proved emphatically with his first speech, a pretty uninspiring and robotic speaker. However, and speaking as a solid Labour voter, this might just be the best of some bad options for the U.K. at the moment. The Tory party has no desire (or obligation) to give us an election, and to do so would be political suicide. Because of Sunak's individual wealth, there is absolutely no need for him to be doing a job with, to quote S.T. above, the "in-tray from hell." Sunak does not seem to be doing this for vainglorious reasons either (unlike some, Boris) so if you squint really hard it is just about possible to conclude he might be doing it for the right reasons. Unlike Truss, he seems to have the intellect for the job; his Spectator article during the last leadership election was almost unerring in its accuracy of the doomsday that would follow the enactment of Truss' economic policies.

So we will see. Until we get that election, good luck. He's certainly going to need it.

Thanks to all three of you! In our view, this trio has offered insights that we're not seeing anywhere else. (Z)

DeSantis, Crist Debate

Last night, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) and Charlie Crist met for their only debate of the campaign. Truth be told, we're surprised that DeSantis agreed to debate at all; he's got a large and steady lead in the polls, and he's a lousy public speaker with an off-putting voice.

There's also one other small problem for the Governor: There are a lot of angles available for attacking him. From pandemic management to immigrant flights to petty fights with Disney to his mystery position on abortion, there is much for Crist to work with. And the Democrat came out swinging, and hit the Republican on all of these things and more. DeSantis spent the night playing defense, and did a middling job of it, at best.

That said, the line of attack that did the most damage had nothing to do with DeSantis' past performance as governor. More like his future performance. Everyone and his uncle knows that the Governor is plotting, planning and scheming for a promotion from the Florida Governor's Mansion in Tallahassee to a larger and whiter mansion in Washington, D.C. Crist pressed DeSantis on his plans, and DeSantis refused to commit to finishing a second term as governor. Voters hate to be used like that, particularly in such an underhanded fashion.

Crist's problem is that "some damage" isn't enough damage. DeSantis' lead in the polls is a steady 10%, and he certainly didn't do himself 10 points worth of harm last night. Even if we squint really hard, and assume Crist finishes the campaign very well, and also assume the polls are off this year in a Republican direction, it is very hard to see how Crist could plausibly pull this thing out. (Z)

All Eyes on Fetterman

Florida took its turn on Monday, and tonight, Pennsylvania will host its own one-off debate. This one will be between U.S. Senate candidates Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D-PA) and Mehmet Oz (R).

In theory, the purpose of a debate is for the candidates to address their views on policy, and to highlight the differences between their backgrounds, their records, and their approaches. But let's be honest, everyone who tunes in tonight is going to be watching for one thing: How well Fetterman is able to respond to questions. To hear Fetterman tell it, his stroke was just a minor blip in the road, and he's perfectly fine. To hear Oz tell it, the stroke has left Fetterman so debilitated that he can barely feed himself. The rubber will now meet the road, and one of these two narratives is going to take a beating.

Our guess is that Fetterman will acquit himself generally well. If he believed he was at serious risk of a meme-worthy screw-up (or two or three), he would come up with some excuse to avoid the debate and would just accept whatever harm that did to his numbers. We shall soon learn if our guess is correct.

If you would like to watch the debate live, well, you're best off if you live in Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, or Washington, D.C. The "exclusive" broadcaster for the debate is WPXI channel 11 in Pittsburgh. However, it's one of those non-exclusive exclusives, apparently, as the debate is also being picked up by WPHL (channel 17) in Philadelphia; WHTM (27) in Harrisburg; WTAJ (24) in Johnstown; WBRE (11) and WYOU (12) in Scranton; WJET (28) and WFXP (26) in Erie; WYTV (33) in Youngstown, OH; WETM (18) in Elmira, NY; WPIX (11) in New York City; WIVB (4) in Buffalo, and WDVM (23) in D.C.

We are surprised that C-SPAN isn't airing the debate; instead, they will re-broadcast the Florida gubernatorial debate (see above). But the matchup will be streamed on, which looks like the name of an adult website, but is actually the website for WETM;, which, frankly, could also be an adult site, but is actually the website for WPIX; and You can also download the WPXI app and watch on your phone or other mobile device. You'll want to make sure to have some crudités on hand for snacking while you watch, of course.

And while we are on the subject, we answered a question this weekend about why Barack Obama isn't campaigning in certain places, like Pennsylvania. We said that his choices are data-driven, and tried to guess why Pennsylvania might be off the table. Turns out that was premature; both Obama and Joe Biden will be stumping on behalf of Fetterman and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Josh Shapiro in the days before the election. (Z)

Alaska Gone Wild

Yesterday, we had an item about the dynamics of the Alaska House race, which features Rep. Mary Peltola (D), Sarah Palin (R), Nick Begich III (R) and Chris Bye (L). In short, though Alaska is a generally red state, Peltola has proven to be a skilled political operator, while the Republicans are divided into factions that are pretty bitterly opposed, with some of them loving Palin and hating Begich, and some of them loving Begich and hating Palin.

As it turns out, things are even more interesting than we knew yesterday. To start, reader J.A. in New York, NY, sent in a heads-up, noting that Palin has endorsed Peltola as choice #2. Since Begich has done the same, that means that Pelota is now the official second choice of both Republican candidates (as opposed to, you know, the other Republican). Further, Pelota has made a point of retaining much of the staff of deceased Rep. Don Young (R-AK), a reach-across-the-aisle move that has impressed many Alaskans.

And on the subject of both endorsements and reaching across the aisle, yesterday Peltola and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) endorsed each other. The Senator said she will absolutely be ranking the Representative first on her ballot, while refusing to identify her #2 choice (Hint: It ain't gonna be Palin).

We will also point out that four brave pollsters have produced five polls of the race, and they all reach the exact same conclusion: Peltola starts in first place, with 45-50% of the vote, and she clinches the job in either the third or fourth round of ranked-choice-ballot processing. So, given all that has come to pass, she's clearly the favorite at this point.

One last thing, while we're on the subject of ranked-choice voting (RCV). Reader P.F. in Fairbanks, AK, brings to our attention this article about RCV activists. They're pushing for the adoption of RCV in multiple western/Pacific states, including Arizona, Colorado and Hawaii, pointing to Alaska as proof of concept.

The RCV fans are also fighting hard in Nevada, where a ballot proposition Question 3 would allow Nevadans to adopt the system this November. However, one of the two major parties is strongly opposed to Question 3, and has spent much time and energy undercutting it. That party is, of course... the Democrats. Democratic activists of various stripes have made a whole bunch of arguments, but the issue really appears to be that the Nevada Democratic Party is divided into two factions (the progressives and the centrist/Reid folks), and they fear RCV would stoke tensions between the two factions and thus help the Nevada GOP. In other words, it's pretty much the opposite of Alaska. Polling has been all over the place, though the latest poll, from Suffolk, says Question 3 will win by 6 points. It's certainly one of many stories we'll be following on election night. (Z)

Graham Gets a (Brief?) Reprieve

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) is doing everything he possibly can to avoid testifying before the grand jury that has been impaneled by Fulton County DA Fani Willis. And yesterday, he got yet another judge to rule in his favor. This judge is one you are probably familiar with, namely Clarence Thomas, who oversees the circuit where Graham is slugging this out.

If Graham spent Monday night celebrating this result—doing whatever he does when he's feeling celebratory—then the festivities are almost certainly premature. What Thomas did was put an administrative hold on things until the Supreme Court has time to review the paperwork and decide whether to take the case. It won't take long for that to happen, and it's improbable that Graham will get four justices to vote that this is worthy of their time. If he somehow does, then he'd have to get five justices to agree that a Senator can do, well, almost anything and then claim it was part of his duties as a legislator.

Of course, we are not lawyers. Neal Katyal, by contrast, is. And not only is he a lawyer, he is a former acting solicitor general, meaning he's tried cases before the Supreme Court. And yesterday afternoon, appearing on MSNBC, he said: "I don't see much merit to this case, so I'd be very, very surprised if the U.S. Supreme Court agrees to hear the case. If they do, I'd be even more surprised if somehow Lindsey Graham won this thing. I think the decision by the court of appeals was incredibly strong."

Recall also that buying an extra week, or month, doesn't actually do Graham much good. This isn't the 1/6 Committee, where the coach turns back into a pumpkin when the clock strikes 12 on Jan. 3, 2023. Willis isn't going away, and she'll be waiting with bells on whenever Graham runs out of appeals, which he's just about to do.

And finally, reader J.S. in The Hague, Netherlands, brings to our attention a cartoon that's circulating on social media right now as a comment on Thomas. It's a little large to fit in 900 pixels, but the punchline is this: "It's like the old Turkish proverb says: 'When a clown moves into a palace, he doesn't become a king. The palace becomes a circus.'" Thomas clearly cares nothing for his reputation, or the reputation of the Court, and does little to dispel the notion that his rulings emerge from his personal political predilections. The Associate Justice could have denied Graham, since he knows there is little chance of the Senator prevailing, but instead made a different choice. As Chief Justice John Roberts has certainly warned Thomas on more than one occasion, paying zero attention to reputation may not be the wisest choice as a member of a body that has no power to enforce its rulings. (Z)

This Isn't Going to End Well

The transformation of Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) into University of Florida president Ben Sasse is absolutely being achieved through much railroading. According to the rules of the university, it is a requirement that a diverse slate of candidates be considered for high-level positions like this one. The committee overseeing the process claims that nine people were indeed considered, and it was a diverse list. However, courtesy of a new law rammed through the legislature by Ron DeSantis, the identities of the eight non-Sasse candidates—if they actually exist—are unknown. This strongly suggests that Sasse is going to be DeSantis' hatchet man, as DeSantis tries to "reinvent" higher education in Florida.

Yesterday, things got even more icky. The university board of trustees will meet next week to consider the appointment. And current president Kent Fuchs announced that he is invoking a decades-old university rule, one that has rarely been enforced this millennium. That rule allows Fuchs to prohibit student protests, and to impose sanctions on those who disobey. Fuchs said that while he certainly values the First Amendment, and students' right to express themselves, there will be no protesting allowed at the trustees meeting. Fuchs also advised that down is up, bad is good, and the clocks are currently striking 13. He's a university administrator, so he knows a thing or two about newspeak.

As you might imagine, the student body, already furious about Sasse's political views (particularly his opposition to LGBTQ+ rights), is now even more furious that they are being silenced by threats against their educations. The faculty is furious about Sasse's political views, his disdain for tenure, the dubious hiring process that resulted in his being the only finalist, and the silencing of dissent. It is not a great start for a university president to be opposed by the majority (indeed, apparently the vast majority) of the people on the campus he will be overseeing.

There are also some interesting legal angles here. Although University of Florida policy apparently allows the silencing of dissent, it also guarantees the freedom of expression. So, there seems to be a conflict. Also, First Amendment rulings have made very clear that there are special protections for free speech on university campuses. So, Fuchs and the administration of the University of Florida are playing with fire here. And if the regents ram through Sasse's appointment despite the obvious issues that have arisen, they are likely to find themselves regretting it sooner rather than later. (Z)

Today's Senate Polls

Emerson constantly has better news for Republicans than any pollster not named Trafalgar. Either the Emersonites are going to emerge as the geniuses of the 2022 cycle, or the goats. For our part, we struggled to accept that Don Bolduc has turned the New Hampshire U.S. Senate race into a near-dead-heat. (Z)

State Democrat D % Republican R % Start End Pollster
Alaska Pat Chesbro 16% Lisa Murkowski* 41% Oct 19 Oct 22 Alaska Survey Research
Connecticut Richard Blumenthal* 56% Leora Levy 41% Oct 19 Oct 23 Quinnipiac U.
New Hampshire Maggie Hassan* 48% Don Bolduc 47% Oct 23 Oct 23 InsiderAdvantage
New Hampshire Maggie Hassan* 50% Don Bolduc 45% Oct 18 Oct 19 Emerson Coll.
Ohio Tim Ryan 46% J.D. Vance 46% Oct 14 Oct 19 Siena Coll.
Pennsylvania John Fetterman 51% Mehmet Oz 45% Oct 13 Oct 17 SSRS
Wisconsin Mandela Barnes 49% Ron Johnson* 50% Oct 13 Oct 17 SSRS

* Denotes incumbent

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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