That may sound like a type of licorice, but no, Monday's big news wasn't about candy. It was about Tesla CEO Elon Musk, and his acquisition of Twitter for the princely sum of $44 billion.
Note that it's not a done deal quite yet. There are still lots of details to be worked out, and money to be transferred, and paperwork to be signed. Also, Uncle Sam is going to take a long look at the transaction and make sure it passes the smell test. Nonetheless, the day will likely come—and probably pretty soon—when Twitter is entirely under the control of Musk, at which point he plans to take the company entirely private.
What, exactly, is Musk doing here? Nobody quite knows. It could be that he really and truly sees this as an excellent investment opportunity. Maybe he's right about that; after all, he's rolled the dice and won big-time several times in the past, most obviously with Tesla and SpaceX. That said, Twitter isn't raking in the money right now (it had gross revenue of $5.08 billion in 2021, and net revenue of... negative $493 million). And, what generally happens with these entrepreneurs who challenge the conventional wisdom is that they are right... right up until they're wrong. So, this could certainly prove to be Musk's Waterloo.
Alternatively, maybe Musk is bored, wants a new challenge, and $44 billion is no big deal to him because, either way, he'll always have more money than he can possibly spend. Certainly, his past statements about Twitter suggest that this is about more than just business. Most famously, he declared:
Well, I think it's very important for there to be an inclusive arena for free speech. Twitter has become kind of the de facto town square, so it's just really important that people have both the reality and the perception that they are able to speak freely within the bounds of the law.
Musk also claimed that "I don't care about the economics at all," although that could be a lie. If so, he wouldn't be the first rich guy to say "it's not about the money" when, in fact, it's about the money.
If Musk does indeed intend to inaugurate the Wild West era of Twitter history, and to allow content to go mostly or completely unmoderated, it could end up working contrary to whatever his goals might be. If Twitter turns into a cesspool—more than it already is—then advertisers aren't going to want to have anything to do with the site. Imagine a tweet sequence like this:
That's not a great look for McDonald's. And other than that hypothetical tweet, the other four are pretty much what the unmoderated 8kun and 4chan already look like. Well, except that our spelling and punctuation are correct. On top of that, if Twitter turns into the backwater of the Internet, it's also going to drive users away. Those folks not only become unavailable for targeting with ads, they also become unavailable for collecting (and selling) marketing data. So, there are some pretty serious downsides to adopting a radical new approach to moderation.
On the other hand, if Musk makes no changes, then it won't exactly match with his "maverick" image, and it will also disappoint his adoring fans, particularly the free-speech-at-all-costs crowd, and the conservatives who believe the platform will now be "fair" to them and their perspective. Indeed, right-wingers Tucker Carlson and Mark Levin both announced on Monday that they are ending their self-imposed boycotts of Twitter and will return to the service. So, our long national nightmare is over.
And speaking of right-wingers, the other big question of the day, other than "What is Musk doing?" is "Will Donald Trump be back on Twitter?" Thus far, Musk has said nothing on the subject, though restoring The Donald is a very Musky kind of move. It would certainly get a lot of attention, and would make a pretty clear assertion about Musk's commitment to free speech as he understands it.
In contrast to Musk, TrumpWorld had all kinds of things to say about the possible resurrection of @realdonaldtrump. The former president already said he's not interested. Devin Nunes, former member of Congress, and current CEO of TRUTH Social, said he also does not expect Trump to return, and also claimed that TRUTH Social actually has more engagement than Twitter does. Who knew a cow could produce that much bulls**t?
In any case, you may not have heard about this, but not everything Trump says is truthful. Or TRUTHful, for that matter. His ego is such that he cannot ask for his account back; he needs to be asked back. Ideally, begged. And claiming he's not interested is consistent with playing hard to get. Further, he loves Twitter so much, it's hard to imagine he could turn it down if offered another chance to get his fix. Oh, and there's also the fact that he doesn't actually use TRUTH Social, and that the stock price for the special purpose acquisition company that owns TRUTH is dropping like a rock.
So, it's our guess—and pretty much everyone's guess—that Trump is more likely than not to resume using Twitter. Again, Musk could still say "no," or Trump could say "no," but they are both probably going to say "yes." And if so, then the question will be: How does this affect the 2022 elections? The obvious answer is that if you let the leader of the Republican Party have his flamethrower back, then that's a win for the GOP. But not so fast. Remember that Trump spends virtually all of his time these days attacking Republicans who are not sufficiently loyal to the notion that the 2020 election was stolen (see below for more), or who otherwise displease him. Maybe that changes when we move into general election season, and there's only one Republican left standing in most races. But maybe not, and a Twitter-enabled Trump stages one or more repeats of what happened in Georgia in January 2021. (Z)
"But I already knew that," you say. That's not the meaning we were going for, however. What we mean is that New York AG Letitia James wants documents from Donald Trump, a judge agreed she could have them, and Trump refused to comply. And so, the judge has now held Trump in civil contempt.
The former president will appeal, of course, and so the contempt finding will have no immediate impact on him. However, he's surely going to lose the appeal, since it would set a rather bad precedent to allow a defendant to escape the authorities by throwing a temper tantrum and refusing to cooperate. And once the contempt finding actually does kick in, Trump will be on the hook for $10,000 per day until he complies with the court order. Of course, given the size of his fortune, he can afford to ride that out for two, maybe three weeks.
And as long as we're on the Trump legal beat, let's mention one other case, from last week. Trump also lost that one, in which he was matched up against his former adviser and protégé Omarosa Manigault Newman, and was ordered to pay $1.3 million in legal fees to her. We almost didn't mention it, because we're not looking to take potshots at Trump just for the sake of taking potshots at him. However, on further review, we observe that a key element of the case was the finding that the nondisclosure agreement Trump forced Newman to sign was invalid. There are many other folks who signed those NDAs, and who might be keeping their lips zipped, in part, because of fear of being sued. Now that Manigault Newman has won, that could certainly influence the thinking of other Trump insiders, particularly those who might have a chat with the 1/6 Committee or the Department of Justice. (Z)
There are five serious (or semi-serious) Republicans running for their party's nomination for the open U.S. Senate seat in Pennsylvania. And last night, they gathered for a candidates' debate. All five of them were able to agree on one thing: that the other people on stage aren't Trumpy enough. And four of them agreed on a second thing: the election of 2020 was stolen from Donald Trump, and it is not yet time to move on from that issue. The only candidate who was not in agreement was Jeff Bartos. That is not to say he disagreed, merely that he dodged the question. So, the count was 4-0-1 for "the 2020 election is not over."
This story is worthy of notice for one reason: It is not possible for a Republican candidate, even in swingy Pennsylvania, to be viable without buying into "Stop the Steal." While the influence of Trump might be waning, too large a percentage of the base has become invested in the idea that the 2020 election was a fraud. Mehmet Oz and David McCormick know full well the result was legitimate, and it's probably only a matter of time until someone unearths a recording of them saying it in private. But publicly, they have to pretend they believe the conspiracy.
What nobody knows is: How will this play in the general election, when these folks will need votes from independents, Never Trump Republicans, conservative Democrats, etc. who find the conspiracy to be nutty and/or dangerous? Obviously, candidates often pivot toward the center in the general, but can you pivot off of "Donald Trump won the election of 2020"? Especially when you're on video saying it? Seems dubious, and it's going to come up all the time in the general.
The climate is so favorable to the Republicans that they should have no trouble having an excellent night on Nov. 8. However, if their main plank is conspiratorial and antidemocratic? That's a pretty good formula for blowing it. (Z)
Speaking of fealty to Donald Trump, and to Trumpism, House Republicans—from would-be Speaker Kevin McCarthy (D-CA) on down—have a wee problem if they regain control of the lower chamber. That problem, in a word, is impeachment. On one hand, the base wants Joe Biden impeached, ideally twice, as revenge for what happened to Donald Trump. On the other hand, Biden hasn't done anything remotely impeachable, and a phony impeachment could blow up in Republicans' faces, as happened with the Bill Clinton impeachment.
It would appear that House Republicans may have found a solution to this dilemma: Impeach a member of the cabinet. Nobody knows what cabinet members are doing most of the time, and targeting someone who is lower on the totem pole is less politically fraught, perhaps, than targeting a president. The cabinet secretary they have in mind? Truth be told, you should be able to guess without our help. But in case you can't, it's DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. Why is he the obvious choice? First of all, he's Latino. Second, he's responsible for border policy. And third, he's from California. That's a trifecta, at least from where McCarthy & Co. stand. If you include the fact that he's Jewish, it may well be a quadrifecta for at least some Republican voters.
There is the small matter of finding some offense committed by Mayorkas that rises to the level of being impeachable, but that's just a minor detail, apparently. Only one cabinet secretary has ever been impeached—Secretary of War William Belknap in 1876. He was acquitted, and obviously Mayorkas would be, too, since there's no way over a dozen Democrats would vote against him. But apparently House Republicans think the spectacle will be enough to please the former president and his minions. (Z)
Hoo, boy—it's kind of a Trumpy day at E-V.com, isn't it? Sometimes, that's just how the ball bounces. Sorry. Anyhow, continuing our apparent wall-to-wall coverage of all things Donald, CNN has laid hands on the 2,319 text messages that Mark Meadows turned over to the 1/6 Committee.
Naturally, CNN did not post all of the messages to its website, since that would be pretty overwhelming. So, it's just the juiciest ones. And those are more than enough to make clear that some of the Trumpiest members of Congress had absolutely no limits if it meant that the former president could remain in power. Of particular... interest (?) is Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), who encouraged Meadows to persuade Trump to declare "Marshall Law." That's right; taking a cue from the seminal communication theorist Marshall McLuhan, Greene wanted Trump to force everyone to accept that the medium is the message.
No, wait. That may not be it. It could be that Greene's spelling is atrocious, and that what she really wanted was for Trump to declare martial law, and to use the military to keep himself in power. Yeah, that's probably it. And that is pretty much the dictionary definition of fomenting insurrection. So, if Greene is found to not be in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, well, then we might as well strike that portion of the Fourteenth Amendment from the books. Note that there were others who were eager to subvert democracy, including Donald Trump Jr., Rick Perry, Rudy Giuliani, and the MyPillow Guy; it's just that Greene was the least subtle.
Meanwhile, this story does raise two other interesting questions. The first is: Who keeps leaking this stuff to CNN and to other outlets? Presumably, it's someone on the committee, looking to light a fire under the Department of Justice and to encourage AG Merrick Garland to finally indict Meadows for contempt of Congress. But that's not the only possibility, and we look forward to the 2025 (or so) book from Maggie Haberman in which she tells us who it was. The second question, meanwhile, is: What was in the texts Meadows has kept hidden, and who sent those texts? The 2,319 texts that he did turn over are pretty bad, so one can only imagine how bad the ones he withheld are. The only thing we know for sure is that Donald Trump Sr. doesn't do texts, because he can't figure out how it works. So, whoever is incriminated by the missing Meadows messages, it's not him. (Z)
Sometimes, as with the text messages (see above), CNN does a public service with its coverage. Sometimes, not so much. In the latter category, we give you this story, which originally carried the headline "Melania Trump and other first ladies have left the Bidens scrambling for new White House glassware." That headline was rather misleading, and so maybe that's why it eventually was changed to "A crystal-clear issue: The White House is in desperate need of new glassware."
This story is, to be frank, dumb. To start, there is no actual "scrambling" or "desperate need." From those headlines, you might be given the impression that guests have to be turned away for want of enough table settings, or else that Justin Trudeau and Boris Johnson are forced to drink from "collectible" glasses that Bill Clinton got for 99 cents with his Happy Meals back in the 1990s. But what actually happens when there's a need is—and make sure you're near your fainting couch before you keep reading—the White House staff... rents some crystal. Egads!
Meanwhile, to the extent that a ball has been dropped, it is true that Melania Trump dropped it. She knew that there wasn't enough crystal, and did nothing to solve the problem. Of course, the same is true of Michelle Obama. And Hillary Clinton. And the Bushes, Laura and Babs. And Nancy Reagan, Rosalynn Carter, and Betty Ford, too. In fact, the last time the White House acquired new crystal was during the Nixon years, which means it was before (Z) was even born. It's also worth noting that First Lady is a ceremonial office with no statutory basis and no formal authority. And so, the various occupants of that office have no actual duty to deal with stuff like this, whereas the various presidents who have served since Nixon—who actually draw a paycheck—could have gotten off their collective duffs and solved this problem. We don't know why nobody actually dealt with it, though our guess is "White House rents dishes" is not likely to become political ammunition, but "White House spends $100,000 on fancy crystal" is.
In any event, the reason we mention the story is this: Conservatives complain that outlets like CNN tend to create "scandals" out of whole cloth, and that right-wing types in general, and the Trumps in particular, are unfairly targeted. And, at least sometimes, conservatives are right about that. (Z)
We actually (knowingly) let the cat out of the bag as to who advanced to the championship round; you could tell by who was and was not included in the consolation bracket. But let's make it official:
That leaves us with this:
Here are the final two ballots:
Consolation bracket responses, if you haven't already submitted them, are due by tonight at 11:59 p.m. PT. Championship round responses are due by Thursday night at 11:59 p.m. PT. And your comments are appreciated. (Z & V).