If we follow our normal schedule, the next time we will be writing up news stories will be Monday. And by that time, it is possible that a new version of the Iran nuclear deal will have been finalized.
The participants in the negotiations all say that the deal isn't done until it's done, of course, and that things could still go south. However, there is apparently only one major sticking point to be resolved, namely an investigation into a nuclear site that the Iranians tried to hide. U.N. Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency Rafael Grossi is traveling to Tehran at the very moment this post is going live, in hopes of reaching an accommodation. If Grossi succeeds, then the deal might be signed by the end of the day on Saturday.
Assuming that this does all come together, it will be very interesting to watch the reaction in the United States. Democrats will praise it as a diplomatic triumph, of course. And, in our view, they will be right. To rescue the deal from the flames after Donald Trump pi**ed all over it and the Iranians, and to do so right in the middle of a worldwide object lesson in the risks a country takes if it agrees not to have a nuclear arsenal? That really is something.
As to the Republican response, who knows? Praise seems unlikely, except possibly from a few of the more traditional Republicans who might be looking to put even more distance between themselves and Trump. There could, and probably will, be some kvetching about selling out to the Iranians and getting a "weak" deal. However, that does raise the obvious question: If a better deal was possible, how come the "Art of the Deal" president didn't manage to hammer it out? Our guess is that a lot of Republicans just avoid saying anything, preferring not to give props to Biden, but also preferring to live a world where Iran isn't a nuclear power. (Z)
For obvious reasons, we are watching Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) very closely. And we must say that, so far, we are not overly impressed. He is clearly very good at supplying the base with lots of red, red meat. But beyond that, his talents seem to be... lacking. He's not a great public speaker, thanks at least in part to his squeaky voice. Further, as we noted earlier this week, he's a cold fish in one-on-one interactions. And he does a lot of things that may help him gain reelection as governor of Florida, but that will very likely come back to haunt him should he try to run a national campaign.
The big story this week involves—as is so often the case with DeSantis—face masks. He's turned his performative anti-pandemic-control politics into something bordering on an obsession. And this week, while appearing at the University of Southern Florida, he was caught on camera chastising a group of students for wearing masks:
It's only 26 seconds, but if you don't want to watch it, or you can't parse DeSantis' words (the audio isn't great), what he said was:
You do not have to wear those masks. I mean, please take them off. Honestly, it's not doing anything. And we gotta stop with this COVID theater... So... if you want to wear it, fine. But this is, this is ridiculous.
There was a fair bit of pearl clutching, mostly from left-leaning sites, about how very bad DeSantis' behavior was. On watching it, we tend to think that it was mitigated a bit by the fact that the admonition started out lighthearted, with some laughs, and that he later backed off from the demand. Still, the power differential between "state governor" and "high school students" is problematic, and the Governor was definitely over-the-top peevish by the end.
In any event, it doesn't particularly matter what we think, it matters what voters think. And while the base is probably delighted to see DeSantis rebuke a bunch of snot-nosed young whippersnappers, the incident is playing very badly with pretty much everyone else. Indeed, several of the students have been all over the news, talking about how uncomfortable/unhappy this made them feel. Voters do not take kindly to abusive behavior towards young people or animals, and this is exactly the kind of thing that could become an anchor around DeSantis' neck. Think, for example, of Mitt Romney's inability to escape the story of how he once drove 12 hours with his dog's kennel strapped to the roof of the car.
Similarly, although more substantively of course, DeSantis has just helped persuade the Florida legislature to pass a new, very harsh abortion ban that will outlaw the procedure after 15 weeks, and that will make no exceptions for victims of rape, incest, or human trafficking. The bill is headed to the Governor's desk, and he already said he'll sign it with pleasure.
Again, this will undoubtedly please the base that DeSantis needs for his reelection bid. But does he really want to run a national campaign as a guy who not only shortened the legal abortion timeline, but who showed zero empathy for victims of sexual assaults? Which Republican who supported that harsh a position won election to the White House? We can't think of one, either. And that's before we consider the possibility that Roe will be struck down or gutted, and that 2024/2028 will see a backlash to that. DeSantis may be the heir apparent to Trump, but it's no surprise that he got half the support at CPAC, because while the Governor has less baggage than the former president, he also has considerably less skill as a politician. (Z)
Texas has already kicked off primary season, which means that we are definitely into the thick of what might be called pre-primary season. What we mean is that while the next states won't be holding actual elections until May, time is running out for aspiring candidates to file and/or to build a viable campaign operation. Consequently, the basic outlines of most U.S. Senate races are now known. We won't know which candidates will survive the primaries in those states where there's a serious race on one side of the aisle or the other or both (e.g., Pennsylvania, Alabama, Missouri, Georgia, Ohio, etc.). But there's now little chance of an unexpected entry who might change the dynamics of a particular race.
Now the last major "known unknown" has been resolved. Arizona is one of the last states to hold its primary (Aug. 2 this year). That means that it is theoretically still possible for a high-profile candidate to take the plunge. And quite a few Republicans would like to see Gov. Doug Ducey (R) do so, since he's reasonably popular, he's won statewide, and he's, well, sane. However, given that he's persona non grata with Trumpers, in view of his pesky habit of honoring election results, Ducey knew he'd struggle to survive the primary, much less win the general. He'd previously said he was disinclined to run, and yesterday Ducey gave the full Sherman, declaring that while he may endorse one of the Republicans who has thrown their hat into the ring, he definitely will not be a candidate himself.
That means, at least according to the most recent poll of the race (conduced early in February), the Republican candidate will likely be state Attorney General Mark Brnovich (17% support), businessman Jim Lamon (13%), or Thiel Foundation president Blake Masters (12%). All are plenty Trumpy; the former president hasn't endorsed in the race yet, but if he does it could tip the scales. Brnovich has the highest support right now, and the widest name recognition, but the trend in polling has been downward for him. He was in the forties, then dropped to the twenties, and now is in the teens. The smart money right now is probably on Masters, because that is also where the big money is, thanks to billionaire Peter Thiel.
Of course, Arizona is a state that chose not to give its EVs to Trump. And Sen. Mark Kelly (D-AZ) is an incumbent and a very good fit, given his status as a veteran, a former astronaut, and the husband of popular former congresswoman Gabby Giffords. He's going to be able to spend his time rising money and twiddling his thumbs while his would-be opponents spend their time ripping each other apart, blowing through campaign funds, and tacking rightward in pursuit of the Trump endorsement. Then they will have less than 3 months to recover from that before the general. In other words, Kelly is likely to keep his seat (remember, 90% of incumbents do), especially now that he doesn't have to face Ducey. (Z)
As long as we are on the subject of aspiring Republican U.S. Senators in search of Donald Trump's endorsement, Missouri is another state where his blessing could be decisive, at least in the primaries. And there are indications that, at least at the moment, the former president is leaning toward disgraced former governor, and perpetrator of sexual assault, Eric Greitens.
When it comes to his endorsements, Trump cares about two things: (1) who will kiss the ring most enthusiastically, and (2) who will win. As we wrote earlier this week, he seems to be prioritizing #2 over #1, at least in some races. However, Greitens has done some particularly impressive ring-kissing in recent weeks. For example, the would-be senator was offered a deal: Send out a nasty tweet about Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), get tickets to a small, closed-door event with Trump. This is the tweet that Greitens delivered:
I was the first person in the country who said that when I'm in the Senate, I'm voting for new leadership.— Eric Greitens (@EricGreitens) November 15, 2021
No More RINOs. I'm not voting for Mitch McConnell. pic.twitter.com/qqsxG25gOr
He got his tickets, of course.
There is no small amount of value in TrumpWorld in having a senator who is that thoroughly wrapped around The Donald's finger. We would not be surprised to learn that the people who advise the former president on his endorsements are pressing him to avoid a possible loser like Greitens, but that Trump really wants to back the former governor, presumably persuading himself that the difference between Greitens' chances and, say, Eric Schmitt's chances is small enough that it's covered by the ring-kissing.
If that is indeed Trump's thinking, he's wrong. Greitens is the only leading Republican candidate who could plausibly lose that race, in the same way the Kris Kobach blew the governor's race in red, red Kansas. So, not only is Greitens hoping that he gets Trump's support, Missouri Democrats are hoping for that, too. The primary isn't until August, so Trump can sit back for a while, if he wants to. And he might just do that before committing, if for no other reason than to minimize the chances of another embarrassment like the one that happened in Pennsylvania. (Z)
The House is edging closer and closer to 50 voluntary retirements, which is quite a high number (although there were 52 in the 2018 cycle). The latest, retirement #47, is a bit on the unusual side. The fellow throwing in the towel is Rep. Van Taylor (R-TX), who was on the ballot this week, and who was set to face second-place finisher Keith Self in a runoff election to be the Republican nominee in TX-03. But no more.
What happened? The short answer is: an extramarital affair. But that's not generally fatal these days, even in the Republican Party, where certain members pile up extramarital affairs like they pile up casino bankruptcies. Making this particular bit of adultery even worse is that Taylor tried to pay to cover it up. That said, there are certain members of the Republican Party who are known for doing that, too. The real issue here appears to be—wait for it—Islamophobia. Bet you didn't see that coming. Taylor's affair partner is/was Tania Joya, whose ex-husband ran off to join ISIS. She's being slurred in Texas media as the "ISIS Bride," and apparently affairs with ISIS brides are a bridge too far for god-fearing Texans. So, Taylor is out.
Under the old district map, TX-03 is R+6, which would mean that it might just be competitive as an open seat. But under the new district map, assuming it's not overturned, TX-03 is much redder—roughly R+12. So, the now sure-to-be-Republican-nominee Self can feel free to start looking for lodging in Washington. The Democrat is Sandeep Srivastava, a political unknown who has worked as a broker and consultant. (Z)
Taking a job with a foreign nation's propaganda arm might not be the best call, career-wise. That is especially true if the foreign nation in question is led by a somewhat unpredictable man with near-dictatorial power and a propensity for invading his neighbors. The U.S. staff of Russia Today, the pro-Russia "news" channel that has been peddling the Putin party line in America since 2005, just learned that lesson the hard way. Yesterday, they were laid off en masse, and told that their jobs are gone for good, as RT will immediately cease operations. The same happened in the U.K., and in several other nations that had RT outlets.
Needless to say, nobody wants to be in business with Vladimir Putin right now, unless they happen to be a Russian oligarch (and even some of them are undoubtedly having second thoughts). And so, RT is currently more radioactive than Chernobyl. As a result, most cable and satellite providers have dropped the channel from their lineups (the same fate that has befallen another propaganda outlet, namely OAN). This meant that the channel's business model no longer makes much sense. After all, if you propagandize in the forest, and nobody is there to hear it, did you ever really propagandize in the first place? There's also a thought out there that Putin could keep the channel going if he really wanted, making use of live streaming and other options, but that the more efficacious option for him these days is to make use of his mouthpieces at Fox. Is that really what is going on? We report, you decide. (Z)
The above story could well have been this week's schadenfreude item, since Vladimir Putin is an a**hole, and when bad things happen to him, or to those who enable him, it's certainly cause for a little schadenfreude. However, we decided instead to go with a bit of news related to a different type of poke in the Russian president's eye.
Russian censorship, which is significant even at the best of times, is turned all the way up to 10 right now, as Putin desperately tries to keep his citizenry united behind the war that he starter. It is not well for the Russian people to hear negative things about the war effort, or about what's happening to the Ukrainian people, so most possible outlets for that sort of information—social media platforms, non-Russian TV and radio broadcasts, foreign newspapers, etc.—have been blocked.
Where there's a will, there's a way, however, and determined activists have found opportunities that escaped the censors' attention. The most interesting is...restaurant reviews. People are going to the Yelp and Google pages for prominent restaurants in Moscow and other cities and leaving 5-star "reviews" like these: "5,800 Russian Soldiers died today, 4,500 yesterday. Stop your aggression, don't let your kids suffer, if you go to war you will not come back" and "The food was great! Unfortunately, Putin spoiled our appetites by invading Ukraine. Stand up to your dictator, stop killing innocent people! Your government is lying to you. Get up!"
You have to admit, that's pretty slick, and alse pretty funny. And whenever the punchline of the joke is the warmongering Vladimir Putin, that is most certainly time for some schadenfreude. (Z)
When a major war begins, there is generally a rally 'round the flag effect, wherein people of different political stripes unify behind their national leaders. That has been happening across many nations in Europe, Asia, and North America since Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine. This surge of support, in turn, has made it easy for those leaders to put forward a unified international front through organizations like NATO.
The tricky part is maintaining domestic support once the initial wave of emotion/excitement wears off, and once the consequences of the war begin to be felt. And, for the nations of Europe at least, the time for consequences is nigh. At least a million Ukrainians have already fled the country, and that number could ultimately go as high as 4 million. Those folks have to go somewhere, and that somewhere, in the majority of cases, will be one of the other nations of Europe.
In recent years, of course, there has been much anti-immigrant sentiment across Europe, giving rise to far-right anti-immigrant politicians like Marine Le Pen in France, Geert Wilders in The Netherlands, and Nigel Farage in the U.K. So, will there be a backlash here? That's the million-dollar question. Or maybe the billion-dollar, or trillion-dollar question. On one hand, that is a very large number of people who are being displaced, and thus a large number of people who will be absorbed. On the other hand, Ukrainians are, for lack of a better term, less "foreign" than the immigrants that have been targeted by xenophobic political movements. Ukrainians are caucasian, Christian, and have had access to Europe's visa-free Schengen Zone since 2017.
We're still very early into the unfolding of these events, of course. The next few months will probably reveal whether or not there is going to be a backlash that, in turn, would make life much harder for Joe Biden and other leaders of the pro-Ukraine alliance. (Z)
French law dictates that candidates for that nation's presidency file paperwork at least 5 weeks before the first round of voting takes place. This year, the first round of voting is scheduled for April 10, which makes the deadline March 3 (a.k.a. yesterday). Everyone presumed that current president Emmanuel Macron would stand for another term, but he took his sucré time in making it official, announcing his intent to run on Thursday evening.
France changes governments and political parties pretty often, and Macron's own La République En Marche! party is only 5 years old. So, it's hard to guess what would have happened if he'd decided he was done. Now that he's in, he will surely advance to the final round of voting, and the only real question is the identity of his opponent. Valerie Pecresse, who is to the right of Macron, is the likelist possibility. However, also in the mix are prominent anti-immigrant politicians Marine Le Pen and Eric Zemmour. That's our second mention of Le Pen today, which is approximately two too many. Still, if she or Zemmour get the nod, the Ukraine refugees (see above) would be a wild card that would certainly introduce some uncertainty into the race.
Naturally, the U.S. government would prefer that Macron keep his job. The AUKUS deal was not great for Franco-American relations, but in general Macron and Joe Biden work well together, and the two men have really been the primary leaders of the anti-Russa/pro-Ukraine alliance (with Germany's Olaf Scholz the third, but slightly junior, member of the triumvirate). The second and final round of voting for president will take place on Apr. 24, a refreshingly short timeline that spares the French an endless run of posturing and maneuvering from politicians like Sen. Ted Cruz (R) and Ron DeSantis (whoever the French equivalents of Cruz and DeSantis are). Anyhow, by the time Labour Day arrives on May 1, Macron's fate will be known. (Z)