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January 6 Was Just the Beginning

For some people, Jan. 6, 2021 was the beginning of a journey whose final destination is federal prison. But there were thousands of people who attended Donald Trump's rally that day and who didn't storm the Capitol and who were not arrested. They just went home to sulk and whine about how the election was stolen from them. Some of them moved on, but quite a few became political activists, sometimes moving on from the 2020 election to opposing vaccines, even though their former hero now supports getting jabbed.

Together, these folks are helping to form an amorphous movement that is Trumpish (with or without Trump), anti-vaxx, generally against anything the Democrats want, and for anything that their version of Jesus wants, no matter how far it is from what the original espoused. About 21 million American adults believe that the use of force was justified to restore Trump to his rightful role as president. Robert Pape, director of the University of Chicago Project on Security and Threats, said: "They are combustible material, like an amount of dry brushwood that could be set off during wildfire season by a lightning strike or by a spark."

Many of the people who weren't arrested have rallied behind those who were. They complain that after George Floyd was murdered, the media ignored the resulting arson and looting but are fixated on the Capitol riot. Of course, setting some cars on fire in Minneapolis isn't quite the same thing as trying to overturn an election that 60 judges and multiple Republican secretaries of state said was valid.

Some of them are doing more than whining. They are running for public office. For example, Jeff Zink, one of the Jan. 6 marchers, is running for Congress in Arizona saying that he will fight for the Jan. 6 defendants. Zink is a former church deacon who believes that COVID-19 is a bioweapon meant to convert the United States to socialism. He laments that America is no longer a Christian nation. Perhaps he missed the fact that most of the immigrants from Mexico are actually religious Catholics.

Julie Fisher, who also attended Trump's speech, is not running for office herself, but is working with a far-right group called Look Ahead America which is trying to register right-wing voters in Pennsylvania and Virginia and train them to support "cleaning up the voter rolls."

Other marchers see Jan. 6 as a kind of Trumpian Fort Sumter—the start of a life-or-death fight to stop socialism, anti-Christian secularism, and the tyranny of masking and vaccinations. Many of them get their cues from Tucker Carlson and wild conspiracy theories on social media. Some of them are taking part in local marches and joining groups of like-minded people. Greg Stuchell, a Hillsdale, MI, city councilman says: "Men got to step up, we don't have that many men any more," so he has joined some men's groups to figure out what to do about the man shortage. If he wants to get in touch with (Z), (Z) can direct him to several bars in West Hollywood that always have plenty of men. (V)

Blinken: We're Ready No Matter What Russia Does

Last week, Joe Biden gave the impression that if Russia invaded Ukraine only a little bit, it would be OK with him. He didn't really mean that and quickly walked it back. He meant the response would be proportional to the offense. If Russia grabbed a little land in eastern Ukraine, Russia would face sanctions and maybe removal from the SWIFT banking network. If it occupied the whole country, captured or killed President Volodymr Zelensky, and installed a puppet government, then we are looking more at something like a NATO base loaded with nuclear missiles in Latvia, 400 miles from Moscow.

Yesterday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken went on CNN's State of the Union to say the U.S. is prepared no matter what Russian President Vladimir Putin does. Then he went on CBS' Face the Nation to warn Putin that the U.S. is building up Ukraine's defenses. Putin speaks a little English, but probably doesn't normally watch the Sunday news shows. You can bet your bottom ruble, however, that plenty of folks in the Russian embassy in D.C. were glued to the tube yesterday and were probably live blogging Blinken back to the Kremlin. Blinken knew that very well and so he was addressing Putin directly, not Jake Tapper or Margaret Brennan. Among other things, Blinken said: "If a single additional Russian force goes into Ukraine in an aggressive way, as I said, that would trigger a swift, severe and united response from us and from Europe." If Putin takes him up on that, the response had better be commensurate with the words or Biden will like a paper tiger (or maybe a paper bear?). Putin would have even less respect for Biden than he has for Biden's predecessor.

Biden certainly does not want an out-and-out shooting war in Ukraine, since that could get out of control, especially if Putin invaded Latvia, Lithuania, or Estonia, all of which are NATO members. That would pretty much force the U.S. to intervene militarily. On the other hand, if Blinken can make it clear to Putin that an invasion of Ukraine, which is not a NATO member, might succeed militarily but Russia would pay a very heavy price in some way (e.g, a disrupted economy, cyberwarfare, new NATO bases on Russia's border, etc.), Biden will look strong on foreign policy, erasing the image of him being weak on Afghanistan. If Russia does invade, Biden will need to react in a way that makes it clear to everyone—especially Republican voters— that he is not afraid of Russia. If there really is Russian action here, it could make or break Biden's presidency. It's not the Cuban Missile Crisis, but we are potentially in that ballpark.

The U.S. is not the only country warning Russia. The U.K. also has Sunday news shows, and British Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab (who, unlike Kamala Harris, really is the second most powerful person in the government) went on Sky News to warn Putin that if he invades Ukraine, the U.K. will stand shoulder to shoulder with the country. He did say, however, that the U.K. would not send actual troops there, but did say that the Brits are already engaging in training Ukrainian troops. It's a big game of very high-stakes poker, but Putin, a former Lt. colonel in the KGB, plays his cards very close to his vest, so we don't know yet what he will actually do. Putin may not even have decided himself how much risk he wants to take. A botched invasion that resulted in thousands of Russian soldiers being killed would not sell well at home. (V)

Thompson: We Will Share Information with the Dept. of Justice

Tony Blinken wasn't the only guest on Face the Nation yesterday. Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS), chairman of the Jan. 6 Select Committee, also showed up and told Margaret Brennan that if he unearths any evidence of crimes committed in states where Republicans assembled slates of phony electors, AG Merrick Garland would be handed all the details. Thompson said: "We are concerned that documents have been filed saying they were individuals responsible for conducting and certifying elections and they're not. And when you falsify documents, in most instances, that's a criminal act." He's a bit wordy, but he understands that forging an official document, like a certificate of ascertainment, is a federal crime. He also knows who prosecutes federal crimes.

Thompson didn't say who he had in mind, if anyone, but The Washington Post and CNN reported last week that Rudy Giuliani was the genius who put the fake elector plan together. Surely Thompson knows as much as they do and probably more.

Thompson also said that he had a copy of a draft executive order that would have called on the U.S. military to seize all the voting machines in the country. If something like this happened in any other country, the media would instantly label it a military coup. So it seems the U.S. came within a hair of having one.

As an aside, Thompson said that he has already talked to former AG Bill Barr. We have continually wondered who in Trump's inner circle will be the first to jump ship to save his own hide. We doubt it will be any of Trump's kids, although Ivanka is the most likely of the bunch (actually, Tiffany probably loves Trump the least of all of his kids, but she is staying far from politics and most likely knows nothing about the attempted coup). It won't be Giuliani. He's probably committed so many crimes already that all he can do is move into St. Patrick's Cathedral full time and pray nobody can prove them to a jury. But Barr is an interesting possibility. He did what Trump ordered him to do for the most part, but he is not a dyed-in-the-wool Trump fanatic, probably knows a lot, and might be willing to trade that for a get-out-of-jail-free card. (V)

Arizona Democratic Party Censures Sinema

Let us start out by admitting that we don't have a clue as to what Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) has as her preferred end game. We really don't. That said, the Arizona Democratic Party doesn't like it, no matter what it is. It has now formally censured her. A censure doesn't have an actual sanction that goes with it, but state parties are not required to be neutral in primaries and some are not, about which more in a minute. State chair Raquel Terán said: "While we take no pleasure in this announcement, the ADP Executive Board has decided to formally censure Sen. Sinema as a result of her failure to do whatever it takes to ensure the health of our democracy." Sure doesn't sound like Ms. Terán is a happy camper. And she's not the only one to get off the Sinema bandwagon. Emily's List and NARAL also jumped off.

State parties do censure politicians from time to time. The Wyoming Republican Party has declared Rep. Liz Cheney (R?-WY) to be no longer a Republican, but it can't keep her off the ballot there.

The real consequences for Sinema will come in 2024, at reelection time. Josh Marshall at TPM has a nice photo of her with a furrowed brow, definitely appropriate as she is in deep doodoo. He lists four possible scenarios for her future:

So we are back to where we started. What is she up to? If she just likes attention, she could be a loyal Democrat, continue to wear fashion-forward clothes, get reelected as a Democrat (incumbents generally win), and become the face of LGBTQ+ America. She'd be in the news as much as she wanted. If you have solved this enigma, let us know the answer. (V)

Cheney Is Crushed in Straw Poll

At a meeting of the Wyoming Republican Party Central Committee, a straw poll was taken on the state's lone House seat. Trump-endorsee Harriet Hageman got 59 votes, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) got 6, state Sen. Anthony Bouchard (R) got 2 and Denton Knapp got 1.

What does this mean? It means that grassroots activists are firmly behind Hageman, since party central committee members are by definition party activists. That doesn't mean Republican voters will vote the same way, but is surely isn't a good sign for Cheney. She will console herself with the knowledge that it is a very small sample and the people who voted are probably not typical of Wyoming Republicans in general. Traditionally, Western Republicans tend to be libertarian oriented and Trump and his acolytes are anything but that. They want a great big intrusive government ordering people to do things their way, not the kind of small laissez-faire government that libertarians prefer.

One important footnote here is what happened in the Wyoming Republican Party's 2020 convention. Over 300 people voted in that straw poll and Sheridan County GOP Chairman Bryan Miller trounced then-Senate candidate Cynthia Lummis. However, in the actual Republican primary, Lummis got 60% of the vote to Miller's 10%. Minor candidates got the rest. So the straw poll among the activists didn't reflect the Wyoming Republican electorate very well. The problem with the straw polls is not so much the small sample size but structural bias. The people who go to state party conventions are very ideological and care about inside baseball a lot. Republican voters tend to be ranchers and cowpokes who are more easy going and take a broader and more distant view of politics. So while Cheney isn't dead meat yet, she does have her work cut out for her. (V)

Large Majority of Americans Think the Country is Headed in the Wrong Direction

The Wyoming straw poll was a tiny sample and only dyed-in-the-wool Republican activists could vote in it. In a random sample of 1,000 adults done for NBC News, a new poll shows that 72% of Americans say the country is head in the wrong direction. It also shows that Joe Biden's approval is in the low 40s, Republicans are enthusiastic about the upcoming elections, and Democrats are losing interest. This is a formula for Republicans to sweep both chambers of Congress, win governorships across the country, pick up seats in state legislatures, and get all the jobs rounding up stray dogs. The poll was conducted jointly by Republican Bill McInturff and Democrat Jeff Horwitt. McInturff said: "There is nothing but flashing red flights and warning signs for Democrats." Even given his inherent bias, the numbers speak for themselves.

This is only the sixth time in the poll's history when more than 70% said the country is on the wrong track. In 1992, 2008, and 2016, numbers like these foreshadowed crushing defeats for the party in power. If the Democrats want to stave off defeat, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) needs to have an intern bring Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) a laptop computer, teach him how to use it, and have him write a BBB bill that Schumer will immediately put to a vote, as is. Another 6 months of foot-dragging and endless negotiating isn't going to do the job. Passing a bill at the end of July will be too little, too late.

One key issue that is hurting Americans is the economy. Yes, there are a large number of jobs available and the stock market is way up compared to a year ago [meaning that many people's 401(k) plans are also way up]. The problem is inflation. In the poll, 61% of the respondents say their income is not keeping up with the cost of living. Only 30% said it was:
Poll on family income

This result was much worse than in 2010, in the middle of the great recession.

On another question, a full 76% said that American democracy is being threatened. Unfortunately, the pollsters didn't ask: Why?

On the enthusiasm question, 61% of Republicans and only 47% of Democrats said they were interested in the midterm elections. This question tends to correlate with turnout. If Republican turnout is way up and Democratic turnout is way down, it will be a bloodbath for the Democrats at every level. Then there will be total gridlock all over the country and in 2024, Republicans will say: "See? They can't govern. Give us the keys to the kingdom."

The pollsters also asked what the respondents' top issues are. The winners were jobs and the economy (42%), COVID-10 (29%), voting rights (25%), cost of living (23%), and immigration (22%). People could vote for two items.

Finally, the pollsters asked for an approval rating for various politicians and parties. The results: Joe Biden (39% positive/48% negative), Kamala Harris (32/49), Donald Trump (37/51), Liz Cheney (23/29), the Democratic Party (33/48), and the Republican Party (34/44). Americans are not happy. Our takeaway from this is Cheney's score. She is under water 23% to 29%. That means only 51% have an opinion of her, implying that 49% don't know who she is or have an opinion of her. We think it is a safe bet that close to 100% of our readers know exactly who she is, why the pollsters picked her as the only member of the 435-member House to ask about, and have an opinion of her, one way or the other. But most of the country really doesn't follow politics the way we do. They follow gas prices and beef prices instead. (V)

Thirty States Have AG Races This Year

We all know about the 5-10 races that will determine control of the Senate. Two weeks ago we wrote about the secretary of state races that will control the election machinery around the country. But there are also 30 races for state attorney general this year and the winners will be filing lawsuits left and right. The big question is who they will be suing. It will be the voters who determine that in November.

As of a couple of days from now, when Virginia AG-elect Jason Miyares (R) is sworn in, Republicans will control the AG position in 27 states, compared to the 23 they Democrats hold. But that could change radically, depending on the election results. There are 10 states where the Republicans hold the seat and the race is not competitive. These are:

There are four states which have a Republican AG that are potentially or definitely competitive:

There are seven seats the Democrats hold that are at least potentially competitive:

Finally, there are nine Democratic states that are not competitive:

So there are 11 states to watch. In a red wave, the Republicans could win most or all of them, but if the red wave doesn't materialize, each race will have its own internal dynamics. (V)

Biden Makes a Nomination to the Federal Election Commission

If no new voting-rights bill can be passed, the only election monitoring will have to be done by the Federal Election Commission, which has fairly restricted powers, but is better than nothing at all. The FEC's job is enforcing federal election law, weak as it may be. It has six members, three Democrats and three Republicans, so no decisions can be made along party lines. To get anything done, at least one Democrat and one Republican must agree to it. As a consequence, the commission generally is completely hamstrung, even though it has an annual budget of $80 million.

The members serve staggered 6-year terms. The term of Vice Chair Steven Walther has expired, so Joe Biden got a chance to nominate someone to take his place. He has now chosen election law attorney Dara Lindenbaum. She works for a D.C. law firm and has counseled candidates on complying with election law, so she won't have to learn the material on the job.

Lindenbaum got a bachelor's degree from Northeastern University and J.D. from the George Washington University Law School. She has worked for various civil rights and voting rights groups in the past. Her most notable position before the nomination was her job in 2018 when she served as general counsel for Stacey Abrams' gubernatorial campaign. After the election was over, she joined Abrams group, Fair Fight Action, as general counsel, so she is closely associated with Abrams. No doubt that is what got Biden's attention.

Of course, with the absence of any new federal election laws to enforce and the requirement of a majority to make any decisions, it is hard to see the FEC taking a major role in ensuring election integrity this year. But that is all there is. (V)

Ann Coulter Wants a Trump-DeSantis Cage Match

Ann Coulter is a popular writer and speaker for Republican audiences. She was an early supporter of Donald Trump. She even cobbled together a thing in the format of a book entitled In Trump We Trust: E. Pluribus Awesome. But somewhere along the line she lost faith in him, mostly because he didn't build that wall she so desired. More recently she has called him "a complete moron," "a blithering idiot," "a shallow, lazy, ignoramus," and a "lout." No more awesome.

Coulter has found a new love object: Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL), who is basically a smoother, more couth (or at least less uncouth) version of Trump and without the baggage (besides a nasal voice). Unlike Republican politicians who are hiding under their desks and afraid to say what they really think, Coulter is less inhibited and makes her money by being outrageous. In particular, of late, she has taken to mocking Trump and comparing him unfavorably to her new champion. Many Republicans are no doubt secretly egging her on because they want to see the former president taken down quite a few pegs but don't dare do it themselves. There is not much Trump can do about her except call her names, but that just gives her more attention, which she craves.

Coulter recently wrote in her column: "For months now, Trump's been playing the aging silent film star Norma Desmond in 'Sunset Boulevard' to DeSantis' younger, prettier Betty Schaefer." This is the kind of remark that undoubted enrages Trump, which was the purpose of it, of course. She wants to push the idea that he is an old, washed-up relic and it is time to put him out to pasture. Though she could stand update her pop culture references if she really wants to push his buttons. We doubt he's a devoted student of mid-century neo-noir film.

Trump's problem here is that the media tend to pick up on this sort of story as a proxy for the real Trump-DeSantis battle that may yet happen in 2024. The more coverage it gets, the more other folks who Trump can't bully may also pick it up until it becomes mainstream. Noticeably, DeSantis isn't saying anything at all. He is happy to have the arrows aimed at Coulter for the time being. But if Coulter and enough other right-wing pundits start saying that DeSantis is the new Trump, it makes the two of them look like equals. Trump desperately does not want that. His view of the situation is that DeSantis is entirely his Trump's creation and an ingrate for not appreciating what Trump has done for him. DeSantis surely thinks that Trump is an old washed-up relic, but definitely prefers Coulter to be the one saying that for the moment. One right-wing pundit souring on Trump does not a movement make, but it bears watching. (V)

Politico Turns 15

If you have read this far today, thank you, and we have a special treat for you. It is time for a happy sweet 15th birthday for Politico, which was recently sold to a German publish conglomerate for a billion dollars. When Politico started up, it hired Matt Wuerker to be the new Thomas Nast, David Horsey, or Herblock. In those 15 years, he has created hundreds of cartoons. Yesterday, he wrote that when Richard Nixon was caught up in the lies of Watergate, he was in middle school and decided then and there he wanted to be a political cartoonist. Wuerker got his wish; here are a few of his many creations:

Collection of Matt Wuerker cartoons; one shows
Republicans destroying a Reagan statue so they can use the materials to build a Trump statue; another shows a TV with Fox on it with wires
labeled 'snark,' 'bile,' and 'hysteria' plugged in but the wire labeled 'facts' disconnected; a third shows a Republican who has defaced an
Obama 'Hope' poster to make Obama look like Che Guevara; a fourth shows a boat being captained by George W. Bush, with the 'Wall Street'
deck above water, the 'Middle Class' deck barely above water, and the 'Lower Class' deck under water.

Wuerker is glad he has had a front row—no, make that a back-of-the-newsroom—seat to all what has happened in those 15 years. He thinks that Donald Trump's hair is the greatest gift to cartoonists, ever. Barack Obama was a problem for him, since cartoonists always caricature their subjects and drawing him as Little Black Sambo would not have gone over well, so he focused on the ears and megawatt smile. Wuerker also observes that in the fall of 2008, all the free marketeers forgot about "government isn't the solution, government is the problem" and came around hat in hand begging for handouts—a cartoonist's dream.

The cartoons are slightly left of center, although Politico itself really tries to be neutral. That doesn't mean it is even-handed. When one side lies and the other doesn't, the site doesn't say "they both do it." It tries to stick to the truth, even when that de facto favors one party or the other, depending on the issue. When a story is everywhere, we generally link to Politico or CNN, since they are free and The New York Times and The Washington Post are behind semi-paywalls.

If you are curious about Politico's business model, it makes money two ways. It runs ads—and they are expensive, as we can attest, having run some there during election seasons. But it also has Politico Pro. If you are a Big Ag lobbyist and you want to know exactly what was said at the markup of the farm bill yesterday, you definitely want to subscribe to Pro even though subscriptions (which are a la carte and custom tailored to each client's needs) are in the $10K ballpark. That way a farm lobbyist can subscribe to news about the House and Senate Agriculture Committees, but not the Banking or Veterans' Affairs Committees. Of course, every publication has scoops regularly, so we sometimes have to link to subscribers-only sites, most commonly The Wall Street Journal. (V)

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