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Biden Announces Another $800 Million in Aid to Ukraine

Ukraine's president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, keeps pleading for more military assistance and Joe Biden is listening. Yesterday, Biden announced another $800 million in military help for Ukraine. This is on top of the $1.7 billion in weaponry already delivered. Biden does not need congressional approval for this move as he can use the Presidential Drawdown Authority to move materiel and services from U.S. stockpiles when he declares an emergency. The only open question now is which kinds of equipment will be delivered. So far, Biden has mostly delivered defensive weapons, like Javelin anti-tank missiles and Stinger anti-helicopter missiles. Zelenskyy now wants bigger and better offensive weapons, so Biden will have to decide what to provide. In large part, that depends on how much he is willing to anger Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Some military experts are expecting the war in Ukraine to go on for months, maybe years. Since each missile and bullet can be used only once, and many of them miss their targets, this raises the issue of how long the U.S. can continue providing them. Yesterday, top Pentagon officials met with eight of the top weapons providers to discuss how much capacity they have. After all, in the long run, Biden can't keep sending Ukraine Javelins at a rate faster than Raytheon and Lockheed Martin can build them. Other top weapons suppliers are Boeing, Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics, and L3Harris. Some specialty companies are also getting more love (and contracts), including IXI Electronic Warfare, which makes Dronekiller, and Radio Hill Technologies, which makes Dronebuster. SRC, Inc. makes larger anti-drone weapons that could shield an area the size of a stadium, but these are much more expensive (in the $3-$6 million range).

In any event, these are good times for weapons manufacturers, but also for U.S. generals who are more than a bit curious about how their various weapons fare against Russia's offensive weapons. And the information derived from the Ukraine war is asymmetric. The Pentagon will learn how its defensive weapons work against Russian offensive weapons but Russia won't learn anything about how its defensive weapons work against U.S. offensive weapons, since the U.S. hasn't shipped any tanks, jet fighters, etc. to Ukraine. In modern warfare, knowing how well your stuff works is really important. Of course, the Russians will also learn that their $5 million tanks can be easily destroyed by a $100,000 Javelin or a $25,000 Swedish-designed NLAW fire-and-forget rocket used by the U.K. army. And fixing the problem isn't going to be easy or cheap. We don't know for sure, but we suspect that top Pentagon officials believe that the information alone that they have gathered on how well Russian weapons function in actual war situations to be well worth the $2½ billion spent to acquire it. (V)

What Happens if Putin Uses Poison Gas in Ukraine?

While the U.S. generals are probably giddy with all they are learning about how well their Javelins work in practice against Russian tanks, they are probably sweating bullets about what to do if Vladimir Putin uses "chemical weapons" (a euphemism for poison gas) in Ukraine. They surely don't want to fight back with poison gas since then Putin would say: "See, everyone does it." They (and Joe Biden) are well aware that Barack Obama warned Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that if he used poison gas, that would be crossing a red line and there would be severe consequences. Then, al-Assad used chlorine gas and Obama did nothing. Biden knows he can't make threats unless he has some way of backing them up.

The New York Times' columnist Bret Stephens, who is not a military strategist, has nevertheless put together an interesting list of things Biden might want to keep in mind:

By themselves, none of these will stop Putin if he is prepared to win at all costs, but they could make life in Russia a lot more difficult and might convince the military, the FSB, and the National Guard that Putin isn't worth it any more so it is time for him to go. (V)

Democrats May Change the Presidential Nomination Process

Many progressive Democrats have for years chafed at the presidential nomination process, in which two almost-entirely-white rural states play an outsized role in vetting presidential candidates. In 2024, the process may finally change, although there is plenty of resistance to that from those states, Iowa and New Hampshire. And they do have some strong arguments, mostly that if, say, California went first, step 1 for any candidate would be to first raise $100 million for ads somehow. Campaigning in Iowa and New Hampshire doesn't require much money, just a dozen pairs of shoes and a tolerance for cold weather.

The DNC's Rules and Bylaws Committee is currently looking at a plan to change how the nomination process works. Committee member Leah Daughtry said: "We cannot be stuck in a 50-year-old calendar when we're trying to win 2022 and 2024 elections." Her point is well taken, since neither the 2020 Iowa winner (Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg) nor the 2020 New Hampshire winner (Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-VT) got the nomination.

The new plan would allow up to five states to vote before Super Tuesday, but states would have to apply and the DNC would make the call. Michigan is pushing hard to make it into those five because it is a closely divided swing state, has urban and rural areas, has manufacturing and farming, and has a wide cultural diversity. New Jersey is also trying to move up, but it has the huge disadvantage of being a state with extremely expensive media markets. Half the state is in the New York City media market and the other half is in the Philadelphia media market, neither of them cheap.

Of course a decision to say that any state may apply to be in the first five just passes the buck to the committee that gets to evaluate the 56 proposals that come in (remember that Puerto Rico, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and a few other territories, as well as Democrats Abroad, are also considered "states" and have Democratic primaries).

One feature that the committee is likely to stick to is geographic diversity. The current early states, namely Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada, are all small states but from four different regions. It wouldn't be hard to find four smallish swingish states from different regions that would showcase different constituencies, such as Nevada (Latinos), Michigan (blue-collar workers), North Carolina (Black voters), and New Hampshire (white voters). Conceivably the DNC could rotate the order over cycles, so if North Carolina went first in 2024 it would be the last of the early four in 2028. (V)

Governing Is Tough

When politicians have to make a choice between what they know is right and what the voters want, the parties react totally differently. The Republicans give the voters what they want all the time, no questions asked. After all, isn't it the job of people's elected representatives to do what their constituents want, even if they know that it is stupid, wrong-headed, and will ultimately backfire? The Democrats agonize and then, when they are finished, go agonize some more. Sometimes it goes one way, sometimes the other. In the end, half the Democrats blame the other half for making the wrong decision. It is about to happen again. And again. And again.

So, what's a president to do? All of these items require some action now and any action is going to anger a lot of people. Not being in power is easy. All you have to do is complain. Actually governing is harder. (V)

Maybe the Democrats Won't Be Wiped Out in November

There is endless talk everywhere about how the Democrats are going to get trounced in November. Historically, the president's party does lose seats in Congress in the first midterm. But will it be a shellacking, as Barack Obama put it in 2010? Political scientist Alan Abramowitz, over at Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball, is not so sure.

The magnitude of the losses vary widely from year to year, as this table of midterms from 1946 to 2018 shows.

House Elections   Senate elections
Results Number Swing   Results Number Swing
Shellacking (-45 or worse) 6 -53.2   Shellacking (-8 or worse) 5 -9.8
Bad (-30 to -44) 2 -36.5   Bad (-5 to -7) 3 -5.7
Average (-20 to -29) 2 -27.0   Average (-2 to -4) 3 -3.0
Good (-10 to -19) 4 -14.2   Good (0 to -1) 4 -0.5
Excellent (less than -10) 5 -1.2   Excellent (gain) 4 2.3
Total 19 -26.8   Total 19 -3.6

Something like 30% of the midterms have indeed resulted in a shellacking. The president's party lost over 50 seats in the House about a third of the time. Ouch. But there were also five elections where the loss was under 10 seats in the House, as well as four times the president's party actually won seats in the Senate. Generally, the Senate doesn't correlate as much as the House with the president's popularity or lack thereof because senators are well-enough known that their own personality often dominates.

Abramowitz also looked at how the president's popularity correlated to the magnitude of the loss. For the house, the correlation coefficient is 0.66 while for the Senate it is only 0.36. This agrees with what many pundits have been saying: Holding the House will be tough, but the Senate is a toss-up.

Abramowitz also looked at the correlation between the generic ballot question and the results. He gives a table showing the results of the generic ballot question and the loss. For the current generic ballot results (R+2), his prediction is a loss of 19 House seats but probably no loss in the Senate. But in the Senate, a lot turns on individual races. If the Republicans nominate unelectable candidates in Georgia, Missouri, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and elsewhere, that could have a big effect that overwhelms the historical statistics.

In any event, if the generic ballot remains at R+2 or gets better for the Democrats, Abramowitz foresees a House loss, but not a complete shellacking and the Senate could be close no matter what. (V)

Trump's Power Continues to Wane

Donald Trump hates Gov. Brian Kemp (R-GA) with a passion because Kemp didn't throw the 2020 Georgia election to him, even though he lost. He has endorsed former senator David Perdue (R) in the GOP gubernatorial primary in Georgia in an attempt to get rid of Kemp without handing the keys to the governor's mansion to Stacey Abrams (D). If Kemp wins the primary, Trump will have to eat crow and support Kemp—although sauteed in butter, crow is delicious.

One problem for Trump is that for him, the Georgia governor's race is about one issue and one issue only: Who won the presidency in 2020? But for evangelicals, who make up about half of Republican primary voters in Georgia, that isn't the only issue, or even the most important one. And they like Kemp for a variety of reasons. For example, he signed a tough abortion bill, he didn't sign on to a statewide mask mandate, and he opposed closing churches during the pandemic. A lot of them feel that Kemp delivered for them, so why kick him out of office? If Kemp wins the primary and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) also wins his, Trump will look bad. If Trump's U.S. Senate candidate, Herschel Walker (R), loses to Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) in the general election, Georgia will be a national disaster area for Trump, one that cannot be concealed, even with a whole box of Sharpies. Having his handpicked candidates lose three very-high profile races in one state is going to be very hard to explain away by blaming the candidates. (V)

Progressives Don't Have a Candidate for 2024

Progressive Democrats don't love Joe Biden, but they don't have a candidate for 2024 yet. They are largely convinced that Bernie Sanders, who will be 83 on Election Day 2024, won't run again and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), who will be 75, probably won't either. Kamala Harris might run, but many progressives are disappointed with her. She basically hasn't done much of anything. So who are they going to support?

Corbin Trent, a former senior aide to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), said: "If it looks like it's going to be a free-for-all, then I think it's going to be back to the 24-person primary." If Biden chooses to retire in 2024, then a 24-person primary or thereabouts is very likely. Harris will certainly be a candidate, but remember, on her own, she bombed in 2020, and her profile now isn't that much higher than in was then. It is virtually certain that if Biden bows out, she will run, but will have a dozen or more competitors and she is probably not even the favorite.

A poll by St. Anselm College early this month shows that neither Biden nor Harris would get all the Democrats behind them. Biden would do better, of course, but if some charismatic progressive candidate came out of the woodwork in 2024, he or she could get 30% of the vote or more. But so far there is no obvious candidate. Some people are talking about Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA), but he is anything but a household name. Almost no one expects that any of the members of the "Squad" would get any traction. Sanders' national co-chair, Nina Turner, a strong progressive Black woman, couldn't even win a Democratic primary in her home state. Stacey Abrams would excite a lot of progressives, but if she is elected governor of Georgia in 2022, she won't be available, and if she loses, her track record of losing her own state twice in a row is not a great selling point. So the search for Mr. or Ms. Right goes on. (V)

But They Might Have One in Wisconsin in 2022

In Wisconsin, progressives do have a candidate, at least for the Senate race against Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI). It is Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes (D-WI), who is a genuine progressive. Well, except for the fact that he is running as fast as he can against some positions he supported earlier, namely defunding the police and abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Whether he can distance himself from positions he formerly held but which are now increasingly unpopular, even among Democrats, is the big question.

Barnes started out as a full-blown lefty, supporting the Green New Deal, Medicare for All, and increasing taxes on the rich and corporations. That got him the backing of Elizabeth Warren and a whole host of progressive groups. Of course, if Barnes gets the nomination, Johnson will make the entire race about "socialism, socialism, and more socialism."

But as Biden and many other Democrats see the handwriting on the wall, they are moving rapidly to the center. This gives another candidate in the race, state Treasurer Sarah Godlewski (D), a new chance. She has run a savvy campaign and is appealing to all segments of the party, including rural voters. She has some center-left ideas, but none of the firebrand rhetoric that might work in Vermont or Massachusetts, but definitely won't work in Wisconsin. And she was elected to statewide office on her own, as opposed to being part of a gubernatorial duo.

Also in the race is Tom Nelson (D). Not only is he unknown, but so is the county (Outagamie) of which he is county executive. Another candidate is Alex Lasry (D), son of a billionaire and not exactly poor himself, since he is an executive of the Milwaukee Bucks. Wisconsin does have a history of electing rich businessmen, including Johnson and former senator Herb Kohl. Lasry, however, is a recent transplant to Wisconsin and has to deal with the carpetbagger issue.

For the Democrats to get working control of the Senate, they have to hold all of their own seats and pick up two more. Pennsylvania and Wisconsin are the most likely pickups, so the Democratic primary is of crucial importance. If the Democrats nominate a lefty who is trying to escape what he was saying only a few months ago, it could be tough against a well-known sitting senator. The primary is in August and many voters aren't paying attention yet, so the Lt. Governor has a chance to establish Barnes 2.0, but how will that play with progressives who prefer Barnes 1.0? (V)

Demographics Meets the Supreme Court

In June, a new batch of high school seniors will get their diplomas. For the first time, kids of color will be in the majority. By the year 2025, the number will rise to 55%. They are going to be heavily affected by the upcoming Supreme Court decision on whether colleges may use affirmative action for admitting students.

In addition, the upcoming Court decisions on abortion, climate change, LGBTQ issues, religious exemptions from federal laws, and a host of other issues is likely to enshrine into law the values of culturally conservative whites that the upcoming generation completely disagrees with. As the next four or five high school classes graduate and become voters, this is going to lead to huge conflicts between what a substantial fraction of the electorate wants and what the Supreme Court has declared is the law of the land. That is going to rock politics for years to come.

The recent confirmation of Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Court won't change much, although she can be counted on to write some fiery dissents and get a lot of fans among young people. The millennial generation (people born from 1981-1996) was the most culturally and racially diverse generation in history—until Generation Z (people born 1997-2017) came along. Among Gen Z'ers, one-third have no religion and one-fifth identify as LGBTQ. They are not going to be happy with the Supreme Court. All of the millennials are eligible to vote and about half of the Gen Z'ers will be eligible to vote in 2024. They will gradually supplant the boomers and Greatest Generation. In fact, one calculation shows that millennials and Gen Z'ers will be 45% of the electorate in 2024. Gen X (born 1965-1980) will stay constant at one-quarter. Of course, young people have a terrible track record at voting, but it is possible that a series of culturally conservative Supreme Court decisions will move them to get to the polls, with huge political implications if they do.

If the Supreme Court decides to revisit past decisions, including Loving v. Virginia and even Griswold v. Connecticut, that could really stir up the millennials and Gen Z'ers, especially if Jackson writes some very fiery dissents saying that the other justices are inventing new law out of thin air.

In addition, many states are passing laws on voting, LGBTQ issues, participation of transgender students in sports and more that the Supreme Court is likely to approve and with which millennials and Gen Z'ers strongly disagree. All of these things are going to be big problems for the Court going forward as the boomers are gradually replaced by younger voters with very different ideas. Especially if some of those ideas involve packing the Court the next time the Democrats get a working majority in Congress along with the White House. (V)

Trial Date in Defamation Case against Fox News

When Fox News claimed that the voting machines produced by Dominion Voting Systems were rigged, Dominion sued Fox. That was a couple of years ago and the result of the lawsuit is many years in the future because the judge in the case, Eric Davis, has set April 17, 2023, as the trial date. In a way, Dominion is lucky for such an early trial. Fox wanted it to start in 2024. The judge has said the trial should be wrapped up in 5 weeks.

At least a date has been set in this case. In other suits filed by Dominion, including against Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell, Newsmax and One America News Network, no date has been set yet, so 2024 or even 2025 are still possible. No doubt, all of the defendants in all of the cases will try to delay the trials into the far future in the hope that everyone will forget about them and give up. Or maybe the damage sustained by Dominion will be great enough to force it into bankruptcy and end the suits. And after the trials there will be years of appeals and in the event that Dominion wins, there will be years of appeals about the fines. Anyone who had expected a speedy resolution of these cases is sure to be disappointed. (V)

March... Sadness, Part XI (Legislative Branch, Round 4)

Yesterday's matchup was apples and oranges. Today's is apples and apples.

The Legislative Branch bracket now looks like this:

#1 Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) vs. #10 House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA)

Here are the ballots for the Not-so-Elite Eight:

This round runs until Monday, April 18, at noon. And keep sending in that feedback on the matchups. (Z & V).

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