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As of yesterday, if you are traveling in the U.S., and are leaving on a jet plane (or a prop plane, or any other kind of plane), you don't have to wear a mask. Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle of the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida said so, in a 59-page decision. And after she issued her ruling, the TSA announced that it will abide by the decision while the government considers its options.

Was this a case of an "activist judge" who was "legislating from the bench"? Readers can decide for themselves, but we will point out the following:

Mizelle was among a group of judges who were the first to be nominated by a defeated president, and confirmed, since the tail end of Jimmy Carter's term in 1980. This seems like the kind of thing that should be forbidden under the "McConnell Rule," but perhaps we misunderstood something.

It will be interesting to see what the Biden administration does next. They could appeal the decision, of course, but it would go to the very conservative United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. Further, the majority of Americans appear to want all anti-pandemic measures to end (even if the pandemic has not, you know, ended). And the airlines want the mask mandate to end. So, the White House might well let this one stand. It may be instructive that Team Biden had nothing to say on the question; usually these decisions are made well in advance of the judge's ruling being announced, since it's usually pretty easy to guess how it will shake out. (Z)

Mike Lee the Latest to Be Outed as a Traitor

Them's strong words in the headline, but we're not sure what else to call it when a sitting U.S. Senator, having no evidence whatsoever of malfeasance, works feverishly behind the scenes to overturn a United States presidential election, and thus to overturn the will of the American people. Such is the case with Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), according to new reporting from CNN.

This new information comes courtesy of text messages sent to then-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, who must have needed to recharge his phone every couple of hours, since he seems to have been getting dozens of messages each day from every Trumper in Washington. Actually, there were two new sets of text messages that came to light. The first set came from Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX), who begged and pleaded with Meadows for some hard evidence of voting fraud, and then backed off when it was clear no evidence was forthcoming. The second set came from Lee, who begged and pleaded with Meadows for some hard evidence of voting fraud, and then went all-in on "stop the steal," even once it was clear there was no hard evidence to be had.

In particular, Lee asserted that he was entirely on board with any and all legal trickery that might be undertaken to stop Joe Biden from being certified as the winner of the election. The Senator was particularly focused on persuading friendly legislatures in states that Biden won to support alternate slates of presidential electors. Lee claimed, in his text messages, that he was working on the project "14 hours a day." He also complained to Meadows that while he (Lee) was truly concerned about reelecting Trump, other "stop the steal" senators, namely Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Josh Hawley (R-MO), were only in it for themselves and their own glory. Boy, nothing gets by him.

It is quite clear that whatever Lee was doing, he did not expect this information to become public, and so presumably did not expect to gain from it electorally. When he spoke on the floor of the Senate on Jan. 6, he made no mention of the extracurricular activities he had been undertaking for the previous 2 months. And when this latest news broke, the Senator had no comment.

Lee's problem here, beyond the possibility that he gets into legal hot water, is that he's up for reelection this year, and in a state that, while it is red, doesn't care much for Donald Trump. And his opponents are already making a lot of noise about this. Former state representative Becky Edwards (R), his primary rival in the primary, sent out a statement that says Lee "enabled those seeking to keep themselves in power, no matter the consequences" and that "The moment Lee realized the gravity of Trump's attempts to undermine the 2020 election, he should have stopped researching the legality of such actions and stopped pressuring local legislators." And Evan McMullin, the former presidential candidate now running as an independent for Lee's seat, took to Twitter to ask:

Why did Sen. Mike Lee advise spurious legal efforts to overturn the 2020 election? And why did he hide those plans from both the public and the FBI in the days leading up to Jan. 6?

— Evan McMullin (@EvanMcMullin) April 15, 2022

Lee is outpolling Edwards by a 3-to-1 margin, so Edwards has got a lot of ground to make up. But even if she can't do it in time for the primary on June 28, McMullin is going to be a thorn in Lee's side until the end. And all he, or Democrat Kael Weston, has to do is divide the vote such that their portion is a little bigger than Lee's. And in a real three-way race, 35-40% of the vote might be enough to get that done. (Z)

Democrats Are Going Try, Try, Try Again to Buy, Buy, Buy Again

The Democrats would very much like to pass an infrastructure bill, since there is an election this year, and they might not have the federal trifecta again for years. Reconciliation is too juicy an opportunity to pass up, especially since the Republicans passed a giant tax cut the last time they were able to use the maneuver.

To that end, the blue team is going to take another shot at getting something passed. The basic thinking is that now that Ketanji Brown Jackson has been confirmed, and the war in Ukraine is not dominating Washington's attention, there's enough oxygen (and time) for this effort. The upcoming primaries, and general election, are surely lighting a fire under Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) as well.

Both Schumer and the White House claim they have learned valuable lessons from the last, failed round of negotiations. And it would seem that the #1 lesson is "Don't negotiate in public, because it pisses Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) off." If so, then maybe we won't hear much about this until it approaches (or crosses) the finish line. That will presumably tell us if Manchin was legitimately angry, or if he was just using that as an excuse because he really doesn't want an infrastructure bill. Of course, there's also the Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (S-AZ) problem. Since she barely talks at all, unlike Manchin, we really don't know exactly what it's going to take to get her vote. Maybe a reporter can catch her in the restroom and get an answer to that question. (Z)

Blue Team Learns Its Lesson?

In the election of 2008, the Democrats were flying high. They not only elected the first Black president in U.S. history, they picked up 7 seats in the Senate (giving them 57, and then later 58, 59, and 60), and they also grabbed 21 seats in the House (giving them 256 to the Republicans' 178). However, the blue team failed to notice that those downballot elections are important, too. The Republicans did not make that same mistake, and managed to dominate municipal, county, and state legislative elections. The latter was particularly important, as it gave the red team control of redistricting in many states, a development that is still paying dividends for them a decade later.

It may just be that you can fool the Democrats once, but you can't fool them twice. The party big shots have noticed, along with everyone else, that the Republicans are trying to set themselves up to steal the presidential election of 2024 (as compared to the attempted robbery of the presidential election of 2020). And the red team is doing so, in part, by seeing to it that they control the people who count the votes. After all, as Boss Tweed supposedly said: "In counting there is strength." So, the Democrats are countering by trying to make sure that it is they who control the people who count the votes.

Specifically, a Democratic PAC called Run for Something is busily pitching a 3-year, $80 million dollar plan aimed at finding, training and supporting 5,000 candidates for local offices that oversee election administration, from county probate judges in Alabama to county clerks in Kansas to county election board members in Pennsylvania. The plan is to wage this battle in 35 different states, which are all the ones where election officials are chosen by voters.

Thus far, Run for Something has raised just $6 million of the $80 million they're hoping for, but they do have some time before 2024, and they've got the support of some mega PACs (but no MAGA PACs), among them American Bridge and Open Democracy PAC. It's true that $80 million is a lot of money (unless you're in bed with the Saudi royal family), but maybe they can convince rank-and-file Democrats that this is a better investment of their hundred bucks than a wild-goose-chase like donating to whatever Democrat is running against Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO).

In an ideal world, these offices would not be sucked into the party wars in which the U.S. is now engaged. Indeed, in an ideal world, these offices wouldn't be elected at all, and would be filled by competent professionals, as is the case in Europe. But this is the way it is, and that being the case, the Democrats are showing some wisdom in trying to avoid the mistakes of 2008. (Z)

Money Don't Get Everything (It's True)

As long as we are on the subject of campaign spending, including pig-in-a-poke candidate donations, we'll remind you that the Q1 fundraising totals are rolling in (and we had an item on the subject yesterday). Are the totals interesting? We think so, which is why we wrote that item. Are they predictive? Maybe not so much.

There was certainly a time when "money raised" was a decent proxy for "voter support." But there are so many complicating factors these days that it's hard to draw firm conclusions from fundraising totals. Here are five issues to keep in mind:

  1. It takes money to make money: If you've got money, there are professionals out there who are happy to help you shake down... er, solicit your supporters. But depending on which professionals you hire, and which supporters you target, and how often you hit those supporters up, the cost-to-benefit ratio may not be so attractive. The case-in-point here is Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), who has much in common with Donald Trump, including that she's overall a dunderhead, but that she has some pretty good political instincts. And her instincts tell her, correctly, that appearing at the top of fundraising lists makes it seem as if she's wildly popular, and hard to beat. To that end, Greene spends vast amounts of money to bring more money in, so as to create the appearance that her fundraising is very robust. The truth is that something like 75 cents of every dollar donated goes into... finding more donors. As a result of this, although she took in a little over $1 million in Q1, Greene reported a net loss for the quarter, as so much of that $1 million ($735,000) was spent to raise the money in the first place.

  2. Out-of-state money: As we note above, there is a propensity to target the most-hated members of the opposition party rather than the most defeatable members of the opposition party or the more promising members of the donor's party. So, a disproportionate amount of cash flows from out of state to whomever is opposing Ted Cruz, or Marjorie Taylor Greene, or Lauren Boebert. This tells us little about the candidates who benefit from this largesse, or their chances of victory. Democratic donors are particularly guilty of this, and the party pooh-bahs are scared witless that tens of millions (or hundreds of millions) of dollars in donations will be wasted in 2022 on longshot Democratic candidates, as happened in 2020.

  3. So many hands out: These days, there are a lot of places a politically involved person can send their cash. There are the candidates, of course, and their affiliated PACs. There are the various campaign committees, like the National Republican Congressional Committee, or the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. There are the central committees. There are the political PACs, like EMILY's List or Lets Get to Work PAC. There are the lobbyists and activists, like the NRA and the ACLU. It is really hard to figure out how much money all these entities are taking in or, more importantly, what it all means.

  4. Dark money: More on the point of "how much money these entities are taking in," it's also easy for PACs to hide their donors, and sometimes even their overall takes, courtesy of Citizens United. To take a current example, there is a mysterious super PAC called Justice Unites Us PAC that has dropped $846,000 on Carrick Flynn in the crowded Democratic primary in OR-06. Is this some portion of the Democratic establishment putting their finger on the scale without admitting to it? Is it Republican rat**cking? Is it something else? Nobody knows. Well, somebody knows, but that somebody isn't talking.

  5. Donors are not random: These days, small donors are preferable to big donors, since 1,000 $100 donors have ten times as many votes as 100 $1,000 donors. Further, the small donors can be hit up again and again, whereas the larger donors hit the cap ($2,800 per election) pretty quick. But whether one has many small donors or many large donors, or both, it does not necessarily tell us how many votes one might get. Donors are generally older, better-educated, wealthier, and more politically informed than the average American. Someone who appeals to those demographics (say, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-MA) is going to outperform someone who appeals to a working-class, less-dialed-in demographic (say, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, D-PA). So, Warren's fundraising might give a false impression of higher support than she actually has, and Fetterman's might give a false impression of lower support. Fundamentally, a large number of moderately supportive voters (i.e., the type who don't donate) is far more valuable than a smaller number of fanatically supportive voters (i.e., the type who donate regularly). If you don't believe us, get in your time machine, go back to 2016, and ask Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).

As we've written many times, it's better to have more money than your opponent has instead of having less. And direct comparisons are sometimes helpful, particularly if candidate [X] in a race has raised five times more than their closest opponent. But overall, fundraising is not a great proxy for polling. (Z)

Donald Trump: Batter Up (Senate Edition)

To hear Donald Trump tell it, he was a serious baseball prospect, and would have played in the major leagues if the money was better. To hear anyone else tell it, he was a benchwarmer who batted well below .200 (and thus well below the Mendoza Line), and his only hope of wearing a major league uniform was if some team had hired him as a batboy. This, then, would be one of those very, very rare occasions where the former president exaggerated his past exploits.

These days, a different Trump batting average is of interest, namely his batting average on his endorsements. In theory, if he does well, he's still a kingmaker (well, a memberofcongressmaker, or a governormaker). If he does poorly, then his grip on the Republican Party weakens all the more. The question, however, is: What would be a good batting average for him? And what would be a bad one? Yesterday, we wrote: "If he hits .350, he would be an extraordinary baseball player, but even at .500, he would be a terrible politician." Today, we thought we would look a bit more closely at that question, focusing on his U.S. Senate endorsements. He currently has 16 live endorsements (the 17th was Sean Parnell, who dropped out). Here are those 16:

State Candidate Latest Poll Risk
Arkansas John Boozman None None
Idaho Mike Crapo None None
Iowa Chuck Grassley None None
Wisconsin Ron Johnson None None
Louisiana John Kennedy None None
Kansas Jerry Moran None None
Kentucky Rand Paul None None
Florida Marco Rubio None None
South Carolina Tim Scott None None
Alaska Kelly Tshibaka None None (due to top-four primary)
Nevada Adam Laxalt Laxalt 57%, Sam Brown 19%, Bill Hockstedler 1% Minimal
Georgia Herschel Walker Walker 64%, Gary Black 9%, Latham Saddler 5% Minimal
Utah Mike Lee Lee 67%, Becky Edwards 19%, Evan Barlow 6% Minimal
North Carolina Ted Budd Budd 40%, Pat McCrory 27%, Mark Walker 8% Moderate
Pennsylvania Mehmet Oz Oz 23%, David McCormick 20%, Kathy Barnette 18% Moderate
Ohio J.D. Vance Josh Mandel 28%, Vance 23%, Mike Gibbons 14% Significant

As you can see, in a sizable majority of the races where he has endorsed, Trump is all-but-guaranteed to be on the right candidate. In 10 races there is essentially no chance his candidate loses; the race is so lopsided nobody is even bothering to poll it. In another three races, it would take an October surprise (well, a May surprise or a June surprise) to change the trajectory of the race. That means that, barring unexpected developments, Trump is going to go 13-for-16, minimum. In other words .813 is his floor, his personal endorsement Mendoza Line.

So, at the moment, there are just three Senate races where we might get any useful information whatsoever, and only one (Ohio) where Trump has actually stuck his neck out. He could still wade into the Missouri and Arizona Senate races, which would give us some additional useful data points, since those are competitive. On the other hand, he could endorse in several other states, most obviously Oklahoma, where the Republican primary is a slam dunk, and where he would be sure to increase his batting average.

The bottom line is that, even when all the Senate primaries are over, we probably won't be able to draw too many conclusions about Trump's ongoing power, unless the handful of more risky candidates he's backed either win big or lose big. But maybe his gubernatorial endorsements will be more meaningful? We'll take a look at those tomorrow. (Z)

March... Sadness, Part XV (Final Four, Part I)

The end is near! Here are the results of the left half of the Not-so-Elite-Eight (that's left in terms of physical location on the bracket, definitely not in term of politics):

The left side of the Final Four looks like this:

#1 Former president Donald Trump vs. #1 Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)

Here are the ballots for the Final Four:

This time, we need your responses by Thursday, April 21, at 11:59 p.m.—and, of course, your comments. (Z & V).

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