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Uvalde: Situational Analysis

The mass shooting in Uvalde continues to dominate the news and continues to dominate this blog. There were three important developments of note this weekend, and then we'll continue our more-extensive-than-expected analysis of the politics of the situation.

Probably the biggest news since Friday is that anyone and everyone now admits the original narrative offered by authorities, from Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX) on down, was grossly inaccurate. The on-site security guard was not present, the shooter was not engaged before entering the school, and the police did not take immediate action upon arrival. One wonders how Abbott, et al., thought they would get away with easily disproven falsehoods, but now they've been caught redhanded (and we mean that on multiple levels). There are still unanswered questions, not the least of which is why Abbott said what he did on the day of the shooting. People are very angry (understandably), and Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin (R), who previously worked to downplay the seriousness of the situation, has now asked the Department of Justice to conduct a review of what happened.

Meanwhile, the NRA's convention went on as scheduled in Houston. It's hard to imagine anything more crass, but there it is. Abbott canceled his appearance, as did a few musicians, most notably Don McLean. So, there was no "American Pie" for attendees. What the crowd did get, however, was a string of fiery pro-gun speeches, including one from Donald Trump. Last week he was praising an anti-democratic dictator, this week he was speaking about gun rights just days after a mass shooting. What's next week's speech going to be about? The merits of kicking puppies? In any case, this is not a demographic that sees any need for change or compromise.

Finally, as announced, Joe and Jill Biden traveled to Texas this weekend to meet with victims' families and other relevant parties. The President gave his second tearful speech of the week and, in response to a chant of "Do something!," he promised: "We will!" Before his Texas trip, the President also gave the keynote speech at the University of Delaware's graduation ceremonies. "We can finally do what we have to do to protect the lives of the people and of our children. So I call on all Americans this hour to join hands and make your voices heard and work together to make this nation what it can and should be. I know we can do this. We have done it before," he decreed.

So, that's the news. Now, let's jump back into our ongoing assessment of the political dynamics. Normally, the phrase "situational analysis" is used in the world of business, or in the military, but we're going to borrow it here. When it comes to taking the lay of the land on the politics of gun control, we want to offer a few assertions that we think are on solid ground and are basically uncontroversial:

And yet, while it looks like a lousy time to be running on guns (at least according to the conventional wisdom), maybe it's not. We'll delve into that question tomorrow. (Z)

Down Goes Schrader

Please read that headline in your best Howard Cosell voice. As he ran for reelection this year, Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-OR) had the benefits of being a seven-term incumbent and of having the backing of the Democratic establishment, including a (very rare) presidential primary endorsement. He is also a centrist in a district (OR-05) that was quite purple under the 2012-22 map (D+3) and remains so under the 2022-32 map (D+1). So, he was a pretty good bet to keep his job.

On the other hand, Schrader—either out of conviction or a desire to keep the moderates in his district happy—bucked his party on quite a few key votes in the House. Though he eventually supported the second impeachment of Donald Trump (perhaps after seeing which way the political winds were blowing), the Representative initially called it a "lynching." He was one of three Democrats in the House to oppose a bill that would allow the government to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies, one of six Democrats to support legislation that would allow concealed carrying of guns in all 50 states, and one of six Democrats to oppose an increase in the federal minimum wage.

In addition, Schrader drew a strong opponent in Jamie McLeod-Skinner (D), who built her campaign around pocketbook issues and her opponent's tendency to cross the aisle on key votes. Schrader tried to point out that he represents all residents of OR-05 (not just the Democrats), and also that he voted with Joe Biden 96% of the time. It would seem that voters did not buy that argument, perhaps because the Representative was trying to have it both ways. Either he's an independent-minded maverick or he isn't.

In any event, it's now been called by the AP and others: Schrader lost. He becomes the first sitting member of the Oregon delegation to lose in the primaries since 1980. The ballots in Clackamas County, where there was a printing error, are still being counted. But McLeod-Skinner currently has 44,297 votes (55.4%) to Schrader's 35,642 (44.6%), which is a gap of 8,655 votes. There is no possibility that Schrader can overcome that gap once the ballots in Clackamas are fully tallied.

Interestingly, McLeod-Skinner was noticeably powered to victory by Deschutes County, where she outpaced Schrader by more than 9,400 votes. This is surprising because Deschutes is not especially blue. It went for Joe Biden in 2020, yes, but with just 52.7% of the vote (and that was the first time it had gone Democratic in a presidential election since the 1990s). Democratic operatives will want to look very carefully at what happened there, in search of lessons that might be applied elsewhere. Neither McLeod-Skinner nor Schrader is a resident of Deschutes, incidentally, if that is what you are thinking. They both live in Clackamas.

The other too-close-to-call progressive vs. incumbent primary from the last couple of weeks, namely the tilt between Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX) and Jessica Cisneros, remains in doubt. They are separated by 175 votes, and counting stopped for the long weekend. So, the next update will come tomorrow. (Z)

Trump/Stefanik 2024?

There are a couple of kinds of news stories that appear regularly and that would appear to be right in our wheelhouse, but that we usually skip. The first of those is the "Speculation mounts about whether Joe Biden will run for reelection in 2024" stories. Nobody could possibly have a firm answer to that question, even the President. Regardless of what his inclination is right now, his health, the state of the economy, the makeup of the Republican field, his approval ratings, etc. are X factors that could push him in a different direction. And to the extent that Biden does have an inclination, he's not likely to share it with anyone beyond a few intimates. When Biden tells Barack Obama "I'm running again," and that fact immediately becomes public, it's not really telling us what will happen in 2024. No, it's telling ambitious Democrats to back off, and to avoid stepping on the big dog's toes. Well, the big donkey's toes. Or the big jackass' toes, depending on your viewpoint.

Similarly, we generally overlook speculation about Donald Trump's 2024 running mate. To begin, it is far from certain that Trump is actually going to run again. Beyond that, whether he runs or not, he's going to stage a de facto Apprentice-style competition wherein prominent ambitious Republicans kiss the ring (and anything else that needs to be kissed) and the former president eats it up. Even at such point that he makes a "decision," it's not meaningful until he actually announces it and can't easily change his mind anymore. Remember, he almost changed his mind about Mike Pence in the 3 hours between offering the former VP the #2 slot and the press conference where the decision was announced. Trump probably wishes he had that one back.

We're going to make an exception to our general rules right now, however, to pass along the news that Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) is on the rise in TrumpWorld, and Trump insiders are discussing her as a potential running mate for the once-and-would-be-future President. This makes a lot of sense, since Stefanik has made clear that she takes her marching orders from The Donald, and that's what he's looking for in an underling. He's also persuaded that a "diverse" ticket will win him some votes; e.g. that a Black running mate would get him Black votes, that a female running mate would get him votes from women, etc.

We don't actually care all that much what Trump or his acolytes are thinking, in general, because the influence of the former president is fading. However, Stefanik is a prominent member of her party who holds a high-ranking position in the House. She figures to become even more prominent if the Republicans take over the lower chamber. And since she was once moderate, and is now a MAGA Maniac, it's clear that she'll do whatever it takes to climb the political latter. If she has good reason to believe she's a Trump favorite, there's no real limit to what she might do to bow before the throne. And, depending upon what the former president insists upon (say, a Biden impeachment), that could be a real headache for any would-be Republican speaker, whether Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) or someone else. (Z)

Trump's Got a New Obsession

Again, we overlook a lot of stories about Donald Trump because he's mercurial, he's no longer in office, and more and more Republicans are concluding they can ignore him. But, as with the Elise Stefanik scuttlebutt, there are some exceptions. And so, we think it's also worthwhile to note this story, brought to our attention by reader M.M. in San Diego, about the former president's new obsession in terms of political issues: trans Americans.

This is entirely predictable. First, a large percentage of Republicans are anti-trans. Some are neutral while few are staunchly pro-trans. So, there's no downside here in terms of that portion of the base. Meanwhile, there are a fair number of centrists and Democrats who are trans-hostile, and some of them might just be won over by "strong talk" about this subject. Also predictable is that Trump claims he's the only one talking about this, even though that is plainly not true.

This is worthy of a mention because the former president is pretty good at finding wedge issues, and so he's likely to inspire other Republicans to hammer on this, even if those same Republicans are otherwise rejecting his influence. Further, Trump remains broadly popular among Republican voters, and he can still whip many of them into a frenzy. His behavior will most certainly give momentum to the passage of (more) anti-trans legislation, because that pleases the base. It's also a matter of time until one or more trans Americans are killed by a Trump supporter. And those individuals' blood will be on the former president's hands. (Z)

Gretchen Whitmer's Life Just Got Easier, It Appears

This is a pretty wild story that flew under the radar due to coverage of the massacre in Texas (thanks to reader R.V. in Pittsburgh for giving us a heads-up). The deadline for qualifying for the Michigan ballot arrived way back on April 19, and would-be gubernatorial candidates were required to submit 15,000 signatures, including at least 100 signatures in at least half of the state's congressional districts. In other words, a candidate must demonstrate there is some breadth to their support.

A total of 10 candidates submitted paperwork with the requisite number of signatures. And, after an examination of the paperwork, five of those 10 were disqualified. That includes the two fellows who looked to be the frontrunners: former Detroit police chief James Craig and businessman Perry Johnson. It is not clear exactly how many phony signatures each individual candidate had. However, if you take five candidates and multiply by the bare minimum necessary, that's 75,000 signatures in total. The state's investigation turned up 68,000 phony signatures. So the problem was extensive, and it's very probable that more than half of the signatures submitted by each candidate (and probably a larger percentage) were fake.

The guilty candidates all hired the same firm to collect signatures, and it was that firm's employees who perpetrated the fraud. At best, these would-be governors made their first major hiring decision and blew it, big-time. At worst, the candidates knew something crooked was going on and they got caught with their hands in the cookie jar. Either way, it suggests that they are not terribly well suited to become the chief executive of the country's 10th-most populous state.

The issue already went before the Board of State Canvassers, which is made up of two Republicans and two Democrats. You will be stunned to learn that the vote was... 2-2. However, by terms of Michigan law, it takes a majority to overturn the findings of the state Elections Bureau. So, as of the moment, the five candidates are out. Lawsuits are coming, of course, but the Elections Bureau says June 3 (i.e., Friday) is the last day before they have to get to work printing ballots.

Assuming the five candidates remain disqualified, then Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) just got a bit more job security. None of the five people who actually made the ballot has held political office before. In fact, none of them has a Wikipedia entry. That means we're talking about folks who are basically unknowns. In polls of the race taken when it was a 10-person field, only chiropractor and activist Garrett Soldano managed to break into the double digits (he was around 11% support). In terms of endorsements, only right-wing media personality Tudor Dixon has any. So, the Republican primary looks to be Soldano vs. Dixon unless the courts step in. (Z)

Happy Memorial Day!

Today is the day that the United States commemorates Memorial Day. As we do on occasion, and since it's been kind of a heavy last few days, we thought we'd commemorate the holiday with a little quiz. So, here we go:

1. By what name was Memorial Day originally known?

  1. Armistice Day
  2. Remembrance Day
  3. Decoration Day
  4. National Day of Prayer
  5. Patriot Day

2. The holiday was inspired by what notable historical figure?

  1. Pericles (ancient Greece)
  2. Charlemagne (medieval Holy Roman Empire)
  3. Pope Gregory VII (renaissance Vatican City)
  4. Cardinal Richelieu (early modern France)
  5. Florence Nightingale (19th century Italy)

3. The first national celebration of Memorial Day in the U.S. took place in 1868. Who was responsible for proclaiming the holiday?

  1. A president (Andrew Johnson)
  2. A governor (John A. Andrew of Massachusetts)
  3. A mayor (Fernando Wood of New York City)
  4. A general (John A. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic)
  5. A newspaper editor (Horace Greeley of the New York Tribune)

4. Many cities claim to have been the very first to celebrate Memorial Day. In 1966, Lyndon Johnson declared that the "birthplace" of the holiday is the small New York town of Waterloo. That remains Waterloo's claim to fame to this day. Waterloo has something in common with another municipality in New York State. Which is it?

  1. Like New York City, its nickname includes the word "apple" (The Big Apple/The Apple of Your Eye).
  2. Like Erie, it was once the terminus for a major east-west canal.
  3. Like Albany, it is among the oldest townships in the state, having been founded in the 1600s.
  4. Like Cooperstown (birthplace of baseball), its claim to fame is based on bogus historical evidence.
  5. Like Buffalo, a former president died there (William McKinley in Buffalo, Martin Van Buren in Waterloo)

5. What is true of Memorial Day celebrations in Mississippi, Alabama, the Carolinas, Louisiana, Texas and Virginia?

  1. The holiday is not celebrated.
  2. The holiday was not celebrated until the 1980s.
  3. The holiday is celebrated, but not in May.
  4. The holiday is always celebrated on May 31, not on the Monday closest to May 31.
  5. Those states have two Memorial Day holidays, one general and one for Confederates.

6. What poem is traditionally associated with Memorial Day?

  1. "In Flanders Fields"
  2. "Dulce Et Decorum Est"
  3. "O Captain! My Captain!"
  4. "I Measure Every Grief I Meet"
  5. "Because I Could Not Stop for Death"

7. And because of that poem, what flower is traditionally associated with Memorial Day?

  1. White rose
  2. Red poppy
  3. Yellow sunflower
  4. Orange blossom
  5. Bluebonnet

8. Which of these historical events, in sadly appropriate fashion, took place on Memorial Day?

  1. The Tet Offensive
  2. The Johnstown Flood
  3. The New York City Draft Riots
  4. The 1906 San Francisco earthquake
  5. The D-Day Invasion

9. The bloodiest war in American history, and the impetus for the Memorial Day holiday, was the Civil War. That war not only killed nearly 1 million soliders, it also left many more addicted to painkillers (as many as one in four Civil War vets by 1890). What well-known product was first introduced to try to help them overcome their addiction?

  1. Coca-Cola
  2. Ghirardelli chocolate
  3. Wheaties cereal
  4. Life Savers candies
  5. Kraft macaroni and cheese

10. What time today are Americans asked to observe a moment of silence?

  1. 5:24 a.m. (sunrise in Washington, D.C.)
  2. 11:11 a.m. (the time when World War I came to an end)
  3. Noon (the middle of the day)
  4. 3:00 p.m. (a convenient time when everyone is theoretically up and about)
  5. 6:46 p.m. (sunset in Washington D.C.)

11. Memorial Day weekend is when studios release their biggest films of the year, money-wise. Adjusted for inflation, what film holds the record for highest Memorial Day weekend domestic gross?

  1. Gone With the Wind (1939)
  2. Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope (1977)
  3. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (2007)
  4. Black Panther (2018)
  5. Top Gun: Maverick (2022)

12. (Z) will be thinking of his maternal grandmother today; she is the one who got him interested in politics in the first place. What did she do during World War II? (It's been mentioned a couple of times in past blog entries.)

  1. Worked as a barber, shaving men's heads when they arrived for boot camp
  2. Served in the Women's Auxiliary Corps (WACs)
  3. Worked as a riveter, building airplanes
  4. Served as a civilian lookout for possible Japanese warplanes in Los Angeles
  5. Worked as a translator, as she grew up in Pennsylvania and was fluent in German

Answers tomorrow! (Z)

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