Many people have criticized the Democrats all year for talking about abortion and infrastructure and chips while saying almost nothing about saving democracy. Joe Biden seems to have gotten the message. His speech at the Pentagon on the 21st anniversary of the 9/11 attacks yesterday stressed the importance of saving democracy.
He said: "It's not enough to stand up for democracy once a year or every now and then. It's something we have to do every single day. Biden didn't say why democracy is under a threat, but from his other recent speeches, it is clear he means that Donald Trump and his MAGA crew are the biggest threat to democracy on the horizon now and we have to unite to combat them. Of course, to say that explicitly on Sept. 11 at the Pentagon at a ceremony to honor the 3,000 people who died in the attacks would be in very poor taste and would be roundly condemned as partisan.
Kamala Harris is on the same page as Biden. On Meet the Press yesterday, she echoed Biden and warned about domestic threats to democracy, not foreign ones. She said they are harmful and made America weaker. She singled out people running for offices that oversee elections (e.g., state secretary of state) who themselves cast doubt on the integrity of the 2020 election.
It would also look bad for Fox News to attack Biden on Sept. 11, so in the hours after his speech, Fox News decided the best approach would be to ignore Biden. The top story was about Queen Elizabeth. The next four were about a 9/11 survivor's story, the NRA attacking the credit card companies for putting gun shops in a new category, a country music star, John Michael Montgomery, being hurt in a bus accident, and one about a video of Prince William not holding the door for his wife to get into a car. No mention that Biden gave a speech. Here's a screenshot.
On Breitbart, the only mention of 9/11 was the lead story, headlined: "CNN Contributor Dean Obeidallah Marks 9/11 by Comparing MAGA to Bin Laden." Was that an accident? Well, Obeidallah's father is a Palestinian although his mother is an Italian. At least his name wasn't intentionally misspelled as "ObeyALLAH."
National Review, which sees itself as a bit classier than other right-wing outlets, did have a story on Biden's speech although the biggest photo and headline yesterday related to the derailment of Steve Bannon's gravy train. In a tribute to the late queen, NR noted that Biden quoted her as saying "Grief is the price we pay for love." (V)
Three states in the East are holding their primaries tomorrow: New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Delaware. Then that's it until Nov. 8, when Louisiana holds its jungle primary. After that there could be runoffs in Georgia and other states in December. Let's look at tomorrow's action.
So by Wednesday, the list of Senate and House candidates will be set, except for Louisiana, where it doesn't much matter because Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) is a shoo-in.
The military situation in Ukraine is not directly related to U.S. elections, but indirectly it is. If Ukraine manages to militarily defeat Russia using U.S. weapons, intelligence, training, and aid, the guy who gets credit for that (besides Volodymr Zelenskyy) will be (quiz):
Answer below. For the past couple of days, Russian forces have been in full retreat from the Kharkiv area. If they are driven out of Ukraine's second largest city, which is only 20 miles from the Russian border, it would be a huge military defeat and a crushing psychological blow for Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Russian Ministry of Defense said that turning tail and running away was a key part of Putin's "special military operation." You often hear things like that said about "retrograde maneuvers."
Ukrainian troops have moved 30 to 40 miles a day, a huge change from what had been the 21st century equivalent of a World War I battle, with troops in trenches at the opposite sides of a field shooting at each other for weeks. The key city of Izyum (also called Izium) appeared to be taken by the Ukrainian army this weekend. It is a major railroad, highway, and logistical hub. If Ukraine can hang on to it, it will hurt Russian military efforts in the north enormously by cutting crucial supply lines.
It is often said about war: "Amateurs talk about weapons; professionals talk about logistics." If Russia is unable to supply its troops in the area with food, ammunition, and fuel, even more territory than the 1,000 square miles Ukrainian troops have captured in the past week could fall. As a consequence, Russia is trying to move troops rapidly from the southern part of the country to Kharkiv, which could have consequences for the South, which Ukraine is also vigorously contesting. If these troops can't make it on time, Russian troops around Izyum will be encircled and captured (or destroyed), creating serious manpower and morale problems for the Russian army. Putin hasn't mentioned this new development, as he was too busy inaugurating a new ferris wheel in Moscow on Saturday.
If you are interested in following the military developments on the ground, a good website, which we've recommended several times, is that of the Institute for the Study of War, which talks a lot about GLOCs (Ground Lines Of Communication), rivers, and bridges. It also has daily maps of where the fighting is, like this one:
Answer to the quiz above: (1). (V)
Senate Democrats are trying to pass a bill explicitly allowing people to marry other people of their own sex. Currently that is legal nationwide, but it is clear that Justice Clarence Thomas and probably other justices want to take an ax to that. If Congress were to pass law specifically allowing same-sex marriage, it might be more difficult for the Supreme Court to get rid of it, although it could rule that marriage is a matter for the states and not the federal government.
Nevertheless, Senate Democrats are trying, but they need to get 10 Republicans on board to prevent the bill from being filibustered. They are getting closer, but aren't there yet. At the moment, only three Republican senators are definite "yes" votes: Susan Collins (R-ME), Rob Portman (R-OH), and Thom Tillis (R-NC). Sen. Lisa Murkowski has said she looks favorably on the bill but is not a definite "yes" yet.
The biggest hangup is how the law will handle religious institutions and religious business owners that recognize only marriages between one XX-person and one XY-person as actual marriages. Before agreeing to the bill, a number of Republican senators want a guarantee that these institutions and people will not have to compromise their religious beliefs. If a provision to that effect is added, the 10 votes are probably there, but the sponsors don't want a giant carve-out to allow any group to discriminate against a same-sex couple because it claims it violates their religion. For example, imagine a landlord who refuses to rent an apartment to a same-sex couple on religious grounds. Or a company that has a health-care plan that covers the spouse of every employee, but only if the spouse is the opposite sex of the employee. There are many more examples. Right now these forms of discrimination are illegal on account of the Obergefell v. Hodges decision, but if the bill the Senate is working on passes, it won't matter if Obergefell is overturned. (V)
After being booted off Twitter, Donald Trump thought he could create a Twitter clone (Truth Social) and rise out of his own ashes. It didn't work. Six months in, instead of the 89 million followers he had on Twitter, he doesn't even have 4 million. No one else of any consequence is a big star there. The site has lost $6.5 million this year and can't pay its bills. The merger plan that would inject $1.3 billion and put it on the stock market is on indefinite hold because the SEC smells a rat.
This looks like a replay of Trump steaks, Trump Water, Trump Vodka, Trump Casinos, Trump University, Trump Airlines, and almost every other Trump business venture: complete failure, with bankruptcy probably the next step. At least it has lasted 6 months so far, six times longer than Trump Blog, which lasted 29 days before being killed off as irrelevant. Whatever else you might say about Trump, the only business he ever succeeded at is real estate. And actually, he only succeeded there a portion of the time (less than 50%, for certain). His only true, unqualified success was at playing the role of a successful businessman named Donald Trump. He performed that role for 9 years on The Apprentice and, after leaving the show, has continued playing the character for another 7+ years.
The problem with Truth Social is that with Trump being the only big star, his endless rants about the same thing—how he won the 2020 election—are getting boring, even for people who like him. Politico's media analyst, Jack Shafer, said: "He's become a carnival geek biting the heads off of snakes, which can be a fabulous show the first couple of times you see it, but after that, meh." (V)
Republicans are worried about the North Carolina Senate race. They didn't expect to be. Rep. Ted Budd (R-NC) has described himself as a "conservative warrior" and "liberal agenda crusher," but many Republicans think he is not fighting hard enough. Former North Carolina governor Pat "Bathroom Bill" McCrory (R) says that Budd is running a "risk-averse" campaign. Right-wing radio host Brett Winterble says Budd lacks "fire and fury."
What they mean is that polls show the Budd's race against former North Carolina Chief Justice Cheri Beasley (D) to be a virtual tie. They would prefer a blow-out lead for Budd and blame that on his lack of zealotry.
Seven Republican strategists interviewed for the article linked to above disagree strongly with McCrory and Winterble. They are more worried about Budd's not getting enough votes from independents, the largest bloc of voters in the state. They think that going full-bore right-wing firebrand would be fatal to Budd's campaign, even if not doing so will make some Trump supporters skip the Senate race.
The strategists do agree that Budd is not doing well and they want to have the cavalry show up to help, specifically the Republican Leadership Fund. It has agreed to run $27 million worth of attack ads between now and Nov. 8. However, the strategists also realize that having the RLF being forced to prop up Budd means less money for other key races, such as Arizona, Pennsylvania, and Georgia.
History is on Budd's side. The most recent three Senate races in North Carolina have gone to the red team despite the blue team outraising them in every race. And sure enough, Beasley has raised twice as much money as Budd so far. Still, this one could be different due to abortion, something Budd completely opposes and Beasley supports.
Beasley is not unknown in North Carolina. She won statewide judicial races in 2008 and 2014. She lost in 2020 by 401 votes out of 5.3 million, a better performance than Joe Biden, who lost the sate by 11,000 votes. (V)
Well, OK, that is a bit of an exaggeration, but New York Democrats are not used to being worried about anything. Now, as many as eight House seats are in play. And this in a state where no Republican has won any statewide office in 20 years. The core problem is that New York is one of only two big states where Democrats have the trifecta and where gerrymandering is possible (Illinois is the other; California has a Democratic trifecta but uses an independent commission to draw districts). State Democrats went to town and drew a very gerrymandered map but a judge threw it out and drew a much fairer map, leading to a number of unexpectedly competitive seats. So, instead picking up a bunch of new seats in weirdly shaped districts, the Democrats are playing defense on Long Island, up and down the Hudson River, and elsewhere. Here are the eight most competitive races:
So the bottom line is that instead of picking up five or six seats easily, New York Democrats have a bunch of fights on their hands. (V)
Making political models requires a bit of a black magick, combining polling, fundraising, historical data, demographics, eye of newt and toe of frog. Or maybe toe of turtle. They are used to run simulations based on the polling data. Now, two of the better-known models are predicting that the Democrats will hold the Senate. The FiveThirtyEight model has the probability of the Democrats being in control in January at 0.69. The model from The Economist puts the probability at 0.78. But note, even 0.78 is not 1.00.
While explaining the results, both groups talked about "candidate quality," which is a euphemism for the terrible candidates Donald Trump has saddled the GOP with. The way this enters the model is the polling data. In most polls, the Trump-endorsed candidates are not doing well and that increases the Democrats' chances in the models. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) also recently mentioned "candidate quality" as the reason he thought the Republicans had a better chance at picking up the House than the Senate. This remark brought a quick rebuke from NRSC Chairman Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL), who didn't like it much.
But the reality is the Republican candidates in Arizona (Blake Masters), Georgia (Herschel Walker), Ohio (J.D. Vance), and Pennsylvania (Mehmet Oz) are all inexperienced, weak, and gaffe-prone. If Don Bolduc wins in New Hampshire tomorrow, you can add that state to the list as well.
If it turns out that the Republicans gain seats in the House but lose seats in the Senate, that will be an extremely rare occurence. It almost never happens that the chambers go in opposite directions in the same election. All the post-mortem analysis will be about "candidate quality" and Donald Trump's role in candidate selection. The message will be quite clear to Republican politicians, even if the media take is muddled. (V)
While campaigning in New Hampshire, nominally for Karoline Leavitt (see above), Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) actually spoke a truth that no other Republican has dared to say out loud, even though they all know it. Cruz said: "There are a lot of candidates out there feeling their oats and boasting 'I'm running no matter what. I don't care what Donald Trump says.' Anyone who says that is lying."
Now, remember that Cruz and Trump have an... er, interesting relationship. In 2016, Cruz ran against Trump in the Republican primary and called Trump "a sniveling coward," "a pathological liar," and "utterly amoral." For his part, Trump said Cruz' wife was ugly, that Cruz hid behind his religion, and Cruz' father was involved in the assassination of President Kennedy. Not real buddy-buddy here. Eventually Cruz toned it down because after he lost the nomination, he realized that he would need Trump's supporters for his next run in 2020, 2024 or 2028.
But despite their history, Cruz nailed it with his statement. He campaigned in New Hampshire, while Rick Scott spent the weekend in Iowa. Because he just loves fresh corn? Hmmmmm... we're not sure. If Trump announces a run this year or in early 2023, that upends everything. It suddenly changes the lay of the land totally. If Trump decides not to run, possibly due to a gentle nudge from Fulton County D.A. Fani Willis and/or AG Merrick Garland, every Tom, Dick, and Harry who had an (R) after his name once is going to jump in, and fast, in order to get the best donors, consultants, staff, pollsters, etc.
But if Trump does throw his MAGA hat in the ring, only those who know no fear will dare challenge him. Such is his grip on the MAGA faithful. That doesn't mean no one will challenge him, though. Mike Pence, who isn't getting any younger, might do so no matter what, and so might Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL). But lesser lights like Nikki Haley and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) won't. Pence and DeSantis would probably be thinking: "If Trump is convicted of a felony in 2023 or 2024, that will probably finish him and I want to be in the mix to pick up the pieces."
But Cruz' statement that all the people who are acting like candidates are just putting on a fake show is true. Only after Trump makes a go/no-go decision, will we have any clarity, no matter how many times anyone has visited New Hampshire or Iowa and no matter what he or she has said. (V)
Pro-choice activists want to put a straight up-or-down down vote to amend the Michigan Constitution to allow abortions on the November ballot. There is a procedure for doing that and the activists followed it exactly. They collected over 750,000 signatures to put it on the ballot—not only far more than the 425,000 signatures needed, but also more than any initiative proposal in the state's history. The procedure is to submit the paperwork and signatures to the Board of State Canvassers to see if all the requirements were met. In this case they were. But the two Republican members of the Board voted not to put the proposal on the ballot while the two Democratic members voted to accept it. The argument of the Republicans was more or less: "Yes, you qualified in all ways, but we are against abortion, so no, it can't be put on the ballot."
The proposers took the issue to the state Supreme Court, which ruled that there is no legal basis for blocking the initiative, since it met all the requirements for a ballot initiative and had way more than the minimum number of signatures required. The Court voted 5-2 to put the proposed amendment on the ballot. Chief Justice Bridget McCormack blasted the two Republican members of the Canvassing Board for basically ignoring the law because they didn't happen to like the initiative. The two justices who voted against putting it on the ballot said that there should have been oral arguments before the Court before a decision was rendered. However, the proponents said this was an emergency situation because if there were oral arguments, even if the Court voted to accept the initiative, the filing deadline (last Friday) would be missed. The other five justices saw through this argument and said that the written briefs from the respective lawyers explained everything and there was no need for oral arguments in this case.
So the initiative will appear on the ballot. And what will appear on television screens from Detroit to Ironwood for the next 2 months are ads telling people to vote for it and against it. This is likely to motivate poor people, young people, and minorities to vote this year and most likely they will vote for Democrats up and down the line as well, probably ensuring the reelection of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D-MI) and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson (D) as well. Conceivably it could also flip the Michigan House, which is currently 56 Republicans, 53 Democrats, and 1 independent who caucuses with the Republicans. All the seats are on the ballot in November. The trifecta is probably out of reach for the Democrats because the state Senate is 16D, 22R and the map is strongly gerrymandered. However, all the Senate seats are also up in November, so in a blue wave the Senate could also flip, but the House is much more likely.
If the amendment passes by a large margin, especially if it is larger than in Kansas, and at least one of the chambers flips, 2024 will be an abortionfest, with similar initiatives in many, many states. There could also be initiatives adding a provision to state Constitutions banning abortion. There could even be both. What would happen if both passed is... interesting.
But a lot of the action will be in Michigan this year as it is a large swing state. Instead of "As Maine goes, so goes the nation," it could be "As Kansas and Michigan go, so goes the nation." If the initiative is approved in a landslide, Republicans will be wetting their pants nationwide, caught between what their base wants and what the majority of voters want. Abortion could have the same role—in reverse—as Karl Rove's strategy of working to put amendments to state constitutions to ban same-sex marriages on the ballot during the George W. Bush administration to drive turnout.
Once the word gets out on the amendment, it will be interesting to see if pollsters start asking about it. There is a somewhat competitive gubernatorial race between Whitmer and Tudor Dixon (R-Trumpville) which is sure to be polled regularly, and adding one question about the amendment wouldn't cost much extra. (V)
A number of personnel changes at CNN in recent weeks have sparked rumors that CNN is intentionally trying to move to the right politically. CNN denies this, although it would be amazing if they were to admit it, even if it were true.
The tone has also changed in places. For example, Brianna Keilar, an anchor on CNN's morning show, criticized Joe Biden for having Marines in the background and using a dark-red backdrop for his speech last week. That's getting close to "he wore a tan suit" territory. CNN normally doesn't care much about the set someone uses and Keilar had previously been a big critic of Donald Trump. Another data point is the departure of CNN's White House reporter John Harwood, who has been consistently critical of Trump. Yet another is the cancellation of Reliable Sources, which was hosted by Brian Stetler, a huge critic of both Trump and Fox News. It seems that many people who have been critical of Trump are leaving or toning it down. More changes are expected.
Some of these changes are surely fallout from the February departure of former CNN President Jeff Zucker, who was very much a hands-on leader, sometimes sending questions to ask to on-air personalities while they were interviewing people. He was replaced by Chris Licht, who might have a different agenda than Zucker had. It is also possible that some of this is due to right-wing billionaire John Malone, a major shareholder in Discovery, which purchased CNN's parent company, Warner Media, last year. In any event, liberals are watching carefully to see what's next. (V)
In late 2019, a group of high-profile disaffected Republicans, including George Conway, Steve Schmidt, John Weaver, and Rick Wilson formed the Lincoln Project to try to prevent Donald Trump from being reelected because they don't like what Donald Trump has done to the Republican Party. The group designed and ran a a large number of memorable ads brutally attacking Trump. They were produced with lightning speed and hit Trump hard where he was the weakest, pulling no punches. The group raised $90 million and had 40 employees and 60 interns at its peak.
The Lincoln Project then had a lot of internal turmoil, in part because Weaver sent sexual messages to multiple men offering them support in exchange for sex. Several board members resigned as a result. After a period of inactivity, it seems to be back in the ad business (sans Weaver), again hitting Trump where it hurts, in one case calling the people who donate to him "suckers," as in this ad:
The ad definitely got Trump's attention. The group makes sure of that by always running it on the Fox News station in the location Trump is currently at. He saw it and threatened to sue the group as well as Fox for running it. Project co-founder Rick Wilson gleefully reacted by saying: "In 2020, The Lincoln Project took up a long-term free lease in Trump's brain. His threat to sue the Lincoln Project today is like Trump himself; impotent, flabby, and pathetic." Even though Trump is not on the ballot this year, the ads may well continue anyway. (V)