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Primary Action Continues Tomorrow

Tomorrow, voters in Virginia and D.C will head to the polls to vote in their primaries. In addition, there are runoffs in Alabama, Arkansas, and Georgia. Let's take a look:

Up next week are some biggies, including Colorado, Illinois, New York, Oklahoma, and Utah. (V)

Is Mike Pence a Hero?

Much ink and many pixels have been devoted recently to praising Mike Pence for his courage, bravery, devotion to the Constitution, and saving the Republic. Kathleen Parker's column in The Washington Post is one such item. But the comments on her piece are probably more interesting than the column itself.

Many commenters wrote something to the effect: How low has the Republican Party sunk when merely obeying the law makes you a hero? Others noted that for 4 years, Pence did whatever Trump told him to do and for 1 day, he didn't. That's 1461 to 1 against the former VP. Not a good score. (We had some folks in this week' mailbag write in with much the same.)

Also, former education secretary Betsy DeVos has said that after the attempted coup, she discussed invoking the 25th Amendment with Pence and he refused to do it. Is that courage in action? He could have set the process in motion. It might even have succeeded. After he categorically said "no" to her, DeVos resigned on Jan. 7, the day after the attempt coup, even though her term as Secretary of Education had only 13 more days to go. She has more cojones than he. Ditto Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, probably with the backing of the Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell (R-KY), to whom she happens to be married. Over a dozen other high-ranking administration officials also resigned, including Trump's former chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney.

If Pence really felt Trump was trampling on the Constitution, he could have resigned as well, making Speaker Nancy Pelosi next in the line of succession. Trump would have fumed and could have nominated a new veep immediately, but there was no way that person would have been confirmed by the House and probably not even the Senate. So the two things Pence could have done to show that Trump was a criminal (invoke the 25th Amendment or resign), he didn't do. Clearly bravery has its limits when your political future is at stake.

It has also been reported that Pence's first instinct wasn't "country first." In fact, early on he checked with noted constitutional scholar Dan Quayle to find out what power he had to overturn the election. Only after Quayle said to him: "Mike, you have no flexibility on this. None. Zero. Forget it. Put it away," did Pence decide to simply obey the law. Or maybe Pence saw this Steve Breen cartoon:

Donald Trump orders a dog 
who looks like Mike Pence to go potty on the paper, and the paper happens to be the Constitution

Did Pence really demonstrate a profile in courage? We report, you decide. (V)

Poll: Americans Think Trump Should Be Charged with a Crime

A new Ipsos/ABC News poll shows that 58% of American adults want to see Donald Trump charged with a crime on account of his attempts to hold onto office despite losing the 2020 election. Similarly, 60% think the Select Committee is conducting a fair and impartial investigation. Also noteworthy is that 46% think Trump bears a lot of responsibility for the attack on the Capitol and another 12% think he has a good amount of responsibility. Only 24% think he has no responsibility.

The poll was conducted entirely after the third televised hearing.

The findings are relevant because the Dept. of Justice generally indicts people only when the prosecutors think they will win in court. Is 58% enough to win a conviction? Possibly, because not everyone is following the hearings closely. In fact, only 33% are. But in a trial, the jurors will get all the facts presented to them. That could result in a much larger percentage believing that Trump committed a crime. Also in a trial, the law would be explained carefully to the jurors, especially the law about conspiring with someone to obstruct an official government proceeding—like counting the electoral votes.

However, the DoJ may follow its time-tested procedure of "first the little fish, then the big fish." If there is anyone more exposed than John Eastman when it comes violating the conspiracy law, we don't know who it might be. There are witnesses to his conspiracy who have already testified in public—for example, Greg Jacob and Marc Short—and possibly more who haven't (Mike Pence?). Turning the screws on Eastman might well elicit his cooperation, since he has a very weak position and the consequence of violating 18 U.S.C. § 1512(c)(2) is a free 20-year membership at Club Fed. Eastman is 62 years old, in case you were wondering. If Eastman were to flip and testify that yes, he and Trump conspired together to block the counting of the electoral votes, even hiring a world-class defense attorney like Rudy Giuliani might not save Trump. (V)

Trump Is Already Preparing His Defense

Some of Donald Trump's recent actions suggest that he expects to be indicted in connection with the Jan. 6 coup attempt and he is already working on his defense. Exhibit A is the 12-page memo he released as a rebuttal to the Select Committee's hearings. On every page he tried to make the case that he honestly believed that the election was stolen from him. Establishing what he believed is important because some of the crimes he might be charged with require "corrupt intent"—that is, that he knew what he was doing was illegal but did it anyway. Demonstrating that he truly believed he won would potentially be a valid defense. So he is trying to establish a track record of showing that he truly believed he won. Then there would be no corrupt intent and no case.

Of course, his saying that he believed he won comes with the problem that when making a statement, he never considers whether it is true or not. All he considers is whether it helps him or hurts him. Prosecutors are likely to point out to a jury that The Washington Post catalogued 30,000 lies he told as president, so they shouldn't consider anything in the 12-page memo as reflecting what he was actually thinking.

One thing that could undermine Trump's plans is first-hand evidence that he actually knew he lost. For example, Alyssa Farah Griffin, the last White House communications director, testified to the Committee that Trump said something to the effect of "Can you believe that I lost to Mr. Biden?" Her testimony at a trial could help establish the fact that he knew he lost, making all of his efforts to reverse the election "corrupt." Also, probably a dozen close associates told him that he lost, which would further strengthen the case that he knew he lost.

In a deposition, Greg Jacob, Mike Pence's chief counsel, said that John Eastman told Trump that his plan to have Pence delay the counting of the electoral votes was illegal. If the prosecution can come up with many close associates of Trump who told him that he lost, he would have to make the case that he didn't trust any of his close associates, mostly people he hand-picked himself. A jury might find that hard to swallow.

In the end, "proving" that Trump knew he lost would come down to convincing all the jurors that he knew. Actual "proof" isn't needed. And remember, the trial would normally be held in D.C., which is a very Democratic city so it might not be hard to convince the jurors that Trump is a liar and a phony. Trump might try to get the trial moved to, say, rural Wyoming, but the judge is likely to say that Trump needs a better reason than "I don't like the demographics of the juror pool." (V)

Schumer Is Still Talking to Manchin about a Bill

Build Back Better (which strikes us as kind of a dumb name to start with) is completely dead. But there is some chance that a very stripped down bill with a couple of its provisions might yet pass. But only a couple. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is still (quietly) talking to Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), who blocked BBB in the first place. One of the (many) things that Manchin didn't like about the whole BBB business was negotiating with the whole Democratic Party in public. Schumer is not making that mistake now, probably his last chance to get anything passed in Joe Biden's (first) term. So we don't know much about the details, except that they are still talking.

Recent events have proven Manchin right about one thing: He worried out loud last year about inflation and didn't want a bill that would create more of it. The Democrats pooh-poohed him and said inflation doesn't happen any more, so no problem there. Oops. Maybe he was smarter than they were. Also, there were some aspects to the BBB bill that Manchin approved of, like universal pre-K and even charging stations for electric cars (since the electricity can be generated by burning coal, something of considerable interest to senators from states whose most important industry is digging the stuff up). As to inflation, a bill could help fight inflation by including tax increases that more than cover the cost of the spending, thus reducing the annual budget debt. Manchin was never against tax increases. In fact, if he could, he would repeal the entire 2017 tax cut bill the Republicans passed.

The trick is to put together a package that picks a few concrete items that voters can understand and decide which taxes and whose taxes to raise to pay for them and more. The latter is a bit complicated because Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) opposes most tax increases, so potentially even if Manchin is OK with a bill, she could block it all by herself. However, if she personally kills the bill, we predict that Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ) will announce his 2024 challenge to her in Jan. 2023 and will raise $20 million in the first week, maybe the first day. She's got to be smart enough to know that. Her input could be on which taxes are raised. She might be willing to accept certain tax increase, just not all of them. That would probably be all right with most Democrats if the math adds up.

One piece of input for the Manchin-Schumer discussion is a poll by Democratic pollster Hart Research conducted in four key 2022 states: Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, and New Hampshire. The poll asked voters what they think about four items that Manchin is known to favor:

Across the four states, 74% say they support these four items, and that includes 53% of Republicans. The poll also showed if a bill with these items passed, marginal Democrats would be more inclined to vote. Seniors are sure to like the lower drug prices, but there no specific benefits for nonseniors. Maybe adding universal pre-K would make parents of young children enthusiastic. There isn't a lot of opposition to that and if Republicans were to oppose that, the Democrats will start screaming: "Why do Republicans hate little kids?"

Even with pre-K, this is far from the Christmas tree full of sparkly ornaments that some Democrats were pushing for, but something is better than nothing, and right now Democrats are desperate for something.

It is worth noting that item 1 (allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices) does not cost the government anything. In fact, it saves the government money, which is one of the reasons Manchin likes it. That and the fact that he comes from a very poor and sick state.

It is not known if Sinema is in the loop on this stuff, but Schumer needs her vote too, so he can't completely ignore her. But she had fewer objections than Manchin on BBB, mostly the tax issues. Also, the pressure that can be applied to her is 1000x what can be applied to Manchin. Hell, if the talks look like they are breaking down on account of her, there could be a "leak" to a major media outlet that the DSCC is going to actively support Gallego in the primary in order to defeat her. There isn't much time left, but apparently there is stuff going on under the radar. (V)

Consumers Are Spending Less on Services

This item is on economics, but it has huge political implications. In the past few months, Americans have been spending less on restaurants, travel, and other services like haircuts, manicures, and housecleaning. Some people are cutting down on tips and others are aggressively trying negotiate prices down. Here is a chart showing how spending on goods and services has "grown" this year (such spending almost always grows some, due to inflation):

The economy is slowing down for services;
the chart shows that people pretty consistently increase their spending on goods by 10%, but the increase in spending on services has
gone from 30% to 15%

What is going on here? The most likely reason is inflation. When the cost of gas, food, and other essentials goes up, people have less money to spend on optional things like vacations and dining out, so those industries get hit first. That means that some of the people who work in those industries are going to lose their jobs. With no income, their spending will drop. As this continues, businesses earn less money and more people lose their jobs. GDP is the sum of all expenditures across all industries. When the change in GDP is negative for two consecutive quarters, most economists consider that a recession. We could be heading in that direction.

So what's the political angle here? Will this affect the midterms? A formal recession before the midterms is unlikely, but if enough people think their future looks grim and they are worried about losing their jobs, it puts them in a cranky mood. They also try to spend less to have some savings if times get tough. This only makes the situation worse. When people are worried, they tend to blame the president, even though the president has only limited ability to do anything about the economy. This could hurt the Democrats in November.

But much worse for the Democrats is what could happen in 2023: a potential full-blown recession with soaring unemployment. Republicans would blame the Democrats and claim they could do better (without offering any specific plans). And no, banning abortion nationwide does not create any new jobs, except maybe a few new police officers on the abortion beat. To make it worse, the Fed is in the process of raising interest rates rapidly to fight the inflation. Getting it just right is really hard and the result could be to increase the chances of a recession next year or even in 2024. Fed chairman Jerome Powell understands this full well, but the U.S. economy is like a fully loaded oil tanker: it doesn't turn on a dime.

History shows that the economy affects people's vote a lot. In bad times, the president's party tends to get the blame. For example, after George H.W. Bush drove Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait, his job approval hit an incredible 90%. And then the economy tanked and he lost reelection to a Southern governor whom nobody outside of Arkansas had ever heard of.

Of course, things could still work out for the Democrats. Maybe the Fed will get it just right and tame inflation without causing too much unemployment. Then everyone will be happy. This is not to say that there are no other factors in play, though. If the Democrats can pass a mini or micro BBB bill that offers specific benefits that people like, such as free pre-K and lower drug prices, that could help offset a poor economy. Still, these are perilous times for the Democrats if the economy takes a big hit next year.

One person who is optimistic a recession can be avoided is Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen. She appeared on ABC's "This Week" yesterday and told George Stephanopoulos that the country has achieved full employment and further said: "It's natural now that we expect a transition to steady and stable growth. That's going to take skill and work, but I believe it's possible. I don't think a recession is inevitable." (V)

Herschel Walker Scores a Touchdown with Evangelicals

Georgia Senate candidate Herschel Walker (R) is a very brave man. He has the guts to criticize Black men who father children hither and yon with multiple women they are not married to, and then ignore the children after they are born. Not a lot of Black celebrities have the guts to do that.

However, there are a couple of small footnotes here. First, it was recently reported that in addition to his son Christian with his former wife, Cindy, Walker has three other children, with an undisclosed number of women, none of whom he was ever married to. In one case, he refused to pay child support until one of the women went to court to force him to do that. Other than sending an occasional birthday present to some of them, he has no contact with them. This kind of puts him in the same category as the absentee Black fathers that he loves to rail against.

Second, this past weekend, Walker was a speaker at the annual Faith & Freedom conference in Nashville sponsored by Ralph Reed's "evangelical" group. Walker talked about the news stories covering his previously undisclosed kids. How did the "evangelicals" respond? They cheered. After all, isn't one of basic concepts of evangelicalism having lots of kids with miscellaneous short-term girlfriends and then abandoning all the kids? Didn't Jesus do this all the time? We're not sure, since our staff theologian is off working on his "turn water into wine" project.

What is clear here is that "evangelicals" are not going to abandon Walker, no matter what facts about his life come out. He could probably get caught taking liberties with a goat, and some "evangelical" would claim there is no evidence that Jesus opposed such behavior, since all of the Biblical references to goats appear in the Old Testament, except for the one in Matthew 25:33. As it is, one of the attendees at the conference, Paulina Macfoy, said she supports Walker because he "stands for family." Definitely. And then some.

Of course, it is hardly news that "evangelicals" as a group are largely right-wingers who use religion à la carte as a cover story when it is convenient. For example, when it comes to eating shrimp and getting tattoos, it's: "Jesus made a new covenant with God, so the Old Testament rules don't count anymore." But when it comes to hating LGBTQ+ people, it's "Leviticus this" and "Deuteronomy that." So naturally, supporting a guy who is against abortions (a topic Jesus never discussed) comes naturally, even if he fathers children left and right and abandons them. We're curious what might happen if it turns out that Walker fathered more than four children and paid for one or more abortions. If you are a woman whom Walker impregnated and then paid for your abortion, please drop us a note. We'd love to scoop Politico. (V)

Santa Claus Is a Loser

Yup, he didn't finish in the top four in the Alaska top-four primary for the state's lone House seat. The votes have now been counted and the winners (with their percentages) are Sarah Palin (28%), Nick Begich (19%), Al Gross (13%), and Mary Peltola (9%). The other 44 candidates, including Claus, won't be on the ballot in November. It's probably for the best; the commute from the North Pole to Washington is a real bear, even if you do have a self-driving sleigh.

The November election will be ranked choice. Voters can list up to four candidates in order. This means that second and third place votes could matter a lot, especially since there are two Republicans and two (sort of) Democrats on the ballot. Mary Peltola is an actual Democrat, while Al Gross ran for the Senate as a Democrat in 2020 and lost. Now he is running as an independent, but that doesn't fool anyone.

The four candidates who will be on the ballot in November together got 69% of the vote. That means that the 31% of the voters whose candidate didn't make it to November will have a big influence. Their votes are all over the map, with multiple Democrats, Republicans, independents, and others among the other candidates. The votes in the first round make it harder to tell who will be the first person voted off the island. Our guess is that it will be Peltola because no Republicans will vote for her and some (many?) of the Democrats who voted for a candidate other than the top four will vote for Gross. (V)

Judge Will Draw Louisiana House Map

The Republicans in the Louisiana state legislature got a little too greedy in their redistricting plans. Given the distribution of voters in the state, there should really be two majority-Black House districts. The legislature drew just one. Democrats sued on the grounds that the map violates the Voting Rights Act. U.S. district judge Shelly Dick, an Obama appointee who is white, agreed with the Democrats and told the legislature to try again. They didn't do it. She got frustrated and said she will draw the map herself. Undoubtedly, the Republicans in the legislature are unhappy they got stuck with a judge who is a Dick.

Gov. John Bel Edwards (D-LA) noted some irony here. The state just recognized Juneteenth as an official state holiday to commemorate the date in 1865 when Union Gen. Gordon Granger told the slaves in Texas that they were henceforth free. Yet, more than 150 years later, Black Americans are still fighting to get the political representation to which they are legally entitled.

The battle still isn't over. Dick's ruling is going to be appealed to the conservative U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. And that ruling could end up in the U.S. Supreme Court. However, until a higher court overrules Dick, her map will stand. Keeping in mind Louisiana's jungle primary, time is less of a factor here than in any other state, since the map doesn't really need to be finalized until late August or so. (V)

AFL-CIO Elects a Woman as President

The Democrats have long been dependent on labor unions for votes and fighting the ground war, but as union membership declines, they provide less and less help. A development yesterday could change that. The AFL-CIO elected a woman, Elizabeth Shuler, as president. She is the group's first female president.

Historically, unions drew most of their members from industries with few women workers, like automobile manufacturing and truck driving. But in the modern economy, there is potentially much more room for union growth in sectors like government, health care, teaching, customer service, food preparation & processing, retail sales, and hospitality, where women are far more plentiful. Having a woman leading the AFL-CIO is likely to help the group grow in these sectors.

Shuler has promised a massive grassroots organizing drive in the next decade, with the goal of getting an additional 1 million new union members. She is keenly aware of—and supports—ongoing unionization efforts at Starbucks restaurants and Apple stores. Bigger and more powerful unions would definitely help the Democrats.

In addition to electing Shuler as president, the AFL-CIO also elected Fred Redmond, who is Black, to the #2 post, secretary-treasurer. As women and minorities make up an increasing large percentage of the work force, trying to recruit them as union members is an obvious thing for the AFL-CIO to do, and having a woman and a Black man as the top two leaders is probably a step in the right direction. (V)

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