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And So It Begins...

Ketanji Brown Jackson appeared yesterday for the first day of hearings into her potential elevation to the Supreme Court. In our preview, we said the whole affair would be "a tale told by idiots, full of sound and fury. Signifying nothing." Nothing that happened yesterday has caused us to revise that opinion.

Jackson, of course, played her role, which was to acknowledge how she is humbled by the opportunity, and then to say absolutely nothing of substance. From her opening statement:

Today will be the fourth time that I have had the honor of appearing before this committee to be considered for confirmation. Over the past three weeks, I have also had the honor of meeting each member of this committee separately, and I have met with 45 senators in total. Your careful attention to my nomination demonstrates your dedication to the crucial role that the Senate plays in this constitutional process. And I thank you.

And while I am on the subject of gratitude, I must also pause to reaffirm my thanks to God, for it is faith that sustains me at this moment. Even prior to today, I can honestly say that my life had been blessed beyond measure.

Sounds nice, says little.

The Democrats on the Judiciary Committee had two goals yesterday. The first was to emphasize, over and over, how historic this is, and how it's the Democratic Party that plans to put the first Black woman on the Supreme Court, which will be an important accomplishment for the Democratic Party, a.k.a. the party that expects to put the first Black woman on the Supreme Court. The second goal was to point out that the machinations of a certain party that shall remain nameless, but that is definitely not the Democratic Party (of first Black woman on the Supreme Court fame), have undermined faith the Court, and that seating a Black woman on the Court (something you can thank the Democratic Party for) will help to clean up the mess made by the unnamed party that has never seated a Black woman on the Court.

Meanwhile, the Republicans also had a couple of goals. The first was to do some score-settling, and to use these hearings to passive-aggressively emphasize how wrong the treatment of Brett Kavanaugh was (and also the treatment of Robert Bork (!)—Republicans apparently hold grudges for a long time). Some are even describing the hearings as "Kavanaugh hearings, year five" as opposed to "Jackson hearings, day one." The Republicans' second goal was to tear the nominee down a bit. They didn't do a lot of this yesterday, but they did a little, and their questions about Jackson's allegedly tolerant attitude toward child pornographers and terrorists are going to take center stage today.

This is, in many ways, the worst kind of political theater. The senators appear, to the casual observer, to be doing their jobs and vetting the candidate. But anyone reading this site knows that, at most, there are four senators whose votes are in question: Susan Collins (R-ME), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Joe Manchin (D-WV), and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ). And even that list may be too long. Further, because none of that quartet is actually on the Judiciary Committee, their votes are likely not being swayed by the testimony given during the hearings. It would save everyone a lot of time and effort if those four just went to lunch with Jackson at the Olive Garden, and figured out if she has at the support of at least two of them. (Z)

Of Course Ted Cruz Is an A**hole (Exhibit 321)

An interesting question. What is more damaging, politically?

  1. A politician who has a reputation for being really nice getting caught acting like an a**hole, thus calling into question whether their whole persona was a put-on.

  2. A politician who has a reputation for being an a**hole getting caught acting like an a**hole, thus causing people to say, "See? I told you they're an a**hole!"

We don't know the answer to this. What we do know is that Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) has a long-established and well-deserved reputation for being an a**hole, and he lived up to it yet again this weekend:

Cruz was in Montana this past weekend. The reason is unknown, especially since Texas' electrical network is functioning normally right now. In any event, the Senator missed the check-in window for his flight to D.C. and pitched a fit, to the point that the police had to be called. Cruz even played the "Do you know who I am?" card, which is always a winner.

We pass this story along because it speaks to our enormous skepticism about Cruz for President '24 (and '28 probably, and '32, etc.). Voters do not care for a**hole politicians. And they definitely don't care for politicians who think they're better than everyone else. Yes, Donald Trump gets away with both of those things, but Cruz has shown almost no ability to command the Trumpers the way the Donald can. That means that the Senator simply cannot afford unforced errors like this. And he makes a lot of unforced errors (particularly when he's at the airport, it would seem). Further, because he's an a**hole, people are always on the lookout for his bad behavior, and they give it wide circulation when it happens. This is not a good dynamic for a politician. Right now, he wants to be getting attention for giving Ketanji Brown Jackson the third degree. But instead, every headline he got yesterday was about his airport temper tantrum. (Z)

Of Course Eric Greitens Is an A**hole (Exhibit 119)

Having discussed an a**hole senator, let us now move on to an a**hole would-be senator, namely Eric Greitens (R). The former Missouri governor is a sleazeball. His political fundraising was six different kinds of shady, leading to a hefty fine. And, of course, he had an extramarital affair, was guilty of acts of sexual assault against his affair partner, and then threatened to blackmail the partner if she told anyone about any of it. Only by resigning did Greitens avoid impeachment and removal from office, which is not an easy feat for a Republican to pull off when they serve in red, red Missouri.

Greitens now has more trouble on his hands. He is involved in a nasty custody dispute with ex-wife Sheena Greitens. And yesterday, she filed an affidavit that includes revelations like this:

Prior to our divorce, during an argument in late April 2018, Eric knocked me down and confiscated my cell phone, wallet and keys so that I was unable to call for help or extricate myself and our children from our home. I became afraid for my safety and that of our children at our home... [his] behavior included physical violence toward our children, such as cuffing our then-3-year-old son across the face at the dinner table in front of me and yanking him around by his hair.

Among other contentions, the affidavit also asserts that the former governor threatened to use his political contacts to destroy his ex-wife's career and that he displayed such "unstable and coercive behavior" that his access to firearms had to be limited. Obviously, Sheena Greitens has some motivation to cast things in the worst possible light, but this does not come across as an invention out of whole cloth. What it does come across as is more evidence of a pattern of behavior.

In any event, this could be an utter disaster for the Republican Party. Greitens has consistently led in polling in the Republican primary, thanks in part to the endorsements of Michael Flynn, Sebastian Gorka, Ryan Zinke, Rudy Giuliani, and Kimberly Guilfoyle. That's quite a list. He could win this thing, particularly if Donald Trump climbs on board (or stays out of the race entirely). And if Greitens is the nominee, he could definitely blow this despite Missouri's deep-red hue. Voters don't much care for accused pedophiles like Roy Moore, and they don't much care for accused spousal abusers.

This somewhat parallels the situation in Pennsylvania, when leading Republican candidate (and Trump endorsee) Sean Parnell had to drop out in the face of similar allegations. However, in Parnell's case, a court actually weighed in and awarded custody to his wife, a result that was (quite reasonably) interpreted as a statement that the allegations had much truth to them. The Greitens' case is not so far along, and so the would-be senator is not going to be forced out by a court's judgment. He would have to fall on his sword voluntarily, which many Missouri Republicans are encouraging him to do. However, it would appear that the former governor is not interested. So, the GOP could be stuck with these damaged goods. (Z)

Trump Endorsements: Not Worth the Paper They're Written On

We mentioned this briefly yesterday, but it's worth a bit more attention. Donald Trump is openly considering a revocation of his endorsement of Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) in this year's U.S. Senate race.

Trump spent decades mastering the art of wasting actual capital, and he's taken that skill set and applied it to political capital. One can scarcely appreciate how foolish this is as Trump tries to maintain his (apparently slipping) hold on the Republican Party. To start, Trump should have kept this to himself until he was ready to make his de-endorsement (dis-endorsement? un-endorsement? di-vorsement? tnemesrodne?) official. Now, even if he follows through, he looks wishy-washy and opportunistic. And if he doesn't follow through, then he and Brooks both take unnecessary damage.

More importantly, Trump tried to sell this as being due to Brooks wavering on "stop the steal," but we all know what's really going on: Brooks looks like he is going to lose, and Trump doesn't want to be on a loser. The problem, though, is that if Trump's endorsement doesn't mean anything beyond "here's who I am guessing will win," then it won't do much to influence voter behavior. Indeed, we're not so sure his endorsement matters all that much anyhow. As long as someone is sufficiently Trumpy, our guess is that voters make their own determination, knowing full well they are paying closer attention than the former president is.

There's also another problem. If candidates for office conclude that Trump's endorsement is open to revision, and that voters don't pay his pick much heed anyhow, then they won't work to curry his support (or to keep it once they are in office). Already, it's pretty clear that for most Republican candidates, Trumpism is far more important than Trump. It's true that Brooks is flopping around right now, and saying anything he can in order to regain Trump's affection. But Brooks is something of an outlier; his campaign is going so poorly that Trump's endorsement is basically all he's got.

The thing is, Mo Brooks was a stinker of a candidate last year when he landed Trump's endorsement. Outside of his very red (R+17) district, he can't win anything. He couldn't even beat Roy Moore, for God's sake. If the former president had held his tongue, and not just gone with the first fawning candidate who presented themselves, then he wouldn't be hitched to a loser. But again, Trump has a real gift for burning capital needlessly. (Z)

"News" on the Hunter Biden Front

When there is an important story in the world of politics, particularly national politics, we try to make sure to write something about it. However, there is an awful lot of news that is treated as "important," and is given coverage by many outlets, but is really what you might call "So what?" news. For example, several times in the last couple of weeks, one of the Trump offspring has shared their opinion on why Vladimir Putin didn't invade Ukraine while pops was president. These assessments are absolutely worthless, as they are 100% guaranteed to be self-aggrandizing spin, unsupported with evidence of any sort. And yet, every outlet seemed to have a "Donald Jr. Explains..." or an "Eric Trump Explains..." piece when those two held forth. Clearly, Trump hate-reading gets a lot of clicks.

Another story last week from this category involves First Son Hunter Biden. Recall that Biden, who definitely has a few skeletons in his closet, was at the center of a fairly vast conspiracy theory perpetuated, in particular, by Rudy Giuliani. He was slurred for drug abuse (true), and for tax evasion (possibly true; the investigation is ongoing), and for using his famous name and his famous connections (i.e., dad) to land some high-paying jobs in Ukraine. This may also be true (and who knows better about this trick than Rudy Giuliani?). However, the core claim—that the current president and then vice president pulled strings in Ukraine to land high-paying gigs for his son—is unsupported by any evidence whatsoever, and does not work, timeline-wise. Still, Giuliani persevered in making the claim, including asserting the existence of a broken laptop in a repair shop in Delaware that contained e-mails proving everything.

The New York Times has been keeping a close eye on Hunter Biden, which is fair enough, we guess, since they also kept a close eye on the progeny of Trump. And the paper's latest on the subject contains this passage:

People familiar with the investigation said prosecutors had examined emails between Mr. Biden, Mr. Archer and others about Burisma and other foreign business activity. Those emails were obtained by The New York Times from a cache of files that appears to have come from a laptop abandoned by Mr. Biden in a Delaware repair shop. The email and others in the cache were authenticated by people familiar with them and with the investigation.

In some of the emails, Mr. Biden displayed a familiarity with FARA, and a desire to avoid triggering it.

In other words: (1) Biden was concerned about his tax situation, (2) Biden was concerned about possibly violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act, and (3) there really was a laptop.

Right-wing media treated this as a development on par with the promulgation of the Watergate "smoking gun" tape, or the deciphering of the Rosetta Stone, or the splitting of the atom. The story was treated as proof of concept of two things: (1) that the "mainstream media" is shady, because the Times attempted to bury the revelation deep in the story, (2) that because the laptop exists, the claims about the Biden family are all true.

Of course, if the Times really was shady, they wouldn't have included the information at all. The reason it only got passing notice is that it was only tangentially related to the story. The basic point was that Biden is still under investigation; the laptop e-mails are just one part of the evidence being used against him. Meanwhile, Hunter Biden conceded long ago that the laptop in question might well have been real. But just because it exists, and just because it was the rare laptop that had e-mails on it, does not mean that the whole Giuliani-fueled conspiracy is true. In fact, the only thing that really matters is whether or not Joe Biden is implicated in bad behavior, since he is an officeholder and Hunter is not. And it remains the case that there is zero evidence of misconduct on the President's part.

The alleged conspiracy/scandal got very little attention outside of right-wing media, and we were inclined to let it pass as well, since it's really "So what?" news until such time that Hunter Biden is convicted of something (and even then, he's a private citizen, so...). However, Senate Republicans are licking their chops, and are fantasizing about what they will do if they regain control of the upper chamber. And high up on the list are investigations of Hunter Biden and Anthony Fauci. Biden is no more worthy of a Senate probe than Fauci is, but the number of "the laptop is real!" stories being run by right-wing media will serve to justify Senate Republicans' claim that their investigation is VERY IMPORTANT. So, we pass the Hunter Biden news along, despite our "So what?" response. (Z)

March... Sadness, Part III (Executive Branch, Round 2)

The first round of votes are in, and it's time to bid farewell to eight cinderellas who didn't have what it takes to be the worst political figure in America. We're going to do one bracket per day for the next four days, so we'll run a bit behind the schedule for the actual NCAA Tournament, but that's life.

And now, the results for the first round for the executive branch, with our comments, along with some comments from readers:

We now have an Executive Branch bracket that looks like this:

#1 Former president
Donald Trump vs. #9 Former vice president Dick Cheney; #12 First Son Hunter Biden vs. #13 Postmaster General Louis 
DeJoy; #11 Former first son Donald Trump Jr. vs. #14 Former White House senior adviser Jared Kushner; #7 Former 
president George W. Bush vs. #15 Former attorney general William #Barr

The voting for the next round is now open here! And we continue to welcome comments on the matchups. (Z & V).

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