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Political Wire logo ‘Close to Catastrophe’
Democrats Drastically Overperforming in Special Elections
Down the Rabbit Hole Into Trump’s Brain
Trump’s Legal Team Is Enmeshed in Conflicts
How Jack Smith Structured the Trump Indictment
Oklahoma Man Pleads Guilty to Threatening DeSantis

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And now, on with the show.

Trump Legal News: Only in America

The title of that song, by Brooks & Dunn, actually works on numerous levels here. However, we have one reason in particular for using it. Reader R.M.S. in Stamford, CT, gave us a heads-up about this story. Normally, when Donald Trump holds one of his rallies, the song that is played is Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the USA." However, the recent Lincoln Dinner in Iowa was not staged by the Trump campaign, and so the choice of music was not theirs. The folks organizing the event went with the Brooks & Dunn song instead, which just so happens to include these lyrics:

One kid dreams of fame and fortune
One kid helps pay the rent
One could end up going to prison
One just might be president
Only in America

Was the song chosen because it's a country classic with a patriotic theme? Or was it chosen by someone who's not a fan of Trump (perhaps because of his attacks on Gov. Kim Reynolds, R-IA) and who wanted to get in a subtle dig? We don't know, but Trump was reportedly furious about it. He may not listen to security briefings, or to his lawyers, but he does listen to song lyrics, it would seem.

Yesterday, of course, was Trump's third arraignment. And, of course, he entered a plea of "not guilty." Here are the five most interesting things from the courtroom portion of the day:

  1. The magistrate judge who handled the hearing is Moxila A. Upadhyaya, a woman of Indian descent (Tanya Chutkan will take the case over once the pleadings are complete). One can only imagine some of the thoughts that went through Trump's head, some of which might end up being expressed on his boutique social media platform.

  2. Trump was visibly irritated when the Judge addressed him as "Mr. Trump" and not "Mr. President."

  3. Trump was also irritated when the Judge warned him that he would face arrest if he tried to threaten a juror, bribe a witness, or retaliate against anyone cooperating with the government.

  4. The two sides are already fighting aggressively over the timeline for the case. Trump lawyer John Lauro basically said he's going to need infinite time to get a handle on the case. The government wants to adhere to the terms of the Speedy Trial Act of 1974. If that happens, the trial would commence in 30 to 70 days. In other words, as we've already written, Team Smith is locked, loaded and ready to go.

  5. The next court hearing will be on August 28.

So, the courtroom portion was pretty dry, as would be expected. On the other hand—speaking of "Only in America"—the scene outside the courthouse was a carnival. Reader R.G. in Washington, DC, was kind enough to send in a few photos:

There's a sign that says 'Grump = Loser' and a Black Lives Matter flag

A woman holds a sign that says 'Make fascists ashamed again'

A guy in an old-style striped prison suit holds a sign that says 'Lock him up' while flanked by Black Lives Matter flags

A Black woman has a banner that says 'Black folks will save us' and 'Finally, Trump arrested again... and again

A guy is selling pins out of a wagon labeled 'The Roving Anti-Trumpism Bandwagon,' which also has a banner that says 'He's indicted and it feels so good'

As you will note, and as R.G. points out, the guy in the last picture stole our song idea. He's even selling buttons that say "He's indicted, and it feels so good." Needless to say, we'll be suing for our cut of the profits. R.G. did not manage to get a picture of the guy who was dressed like a Minuteman and singing Miley Cyrus songs, but luckily someone else got that and put it on YouTube.

What you don't see in the pictures is many (any?) Trump supporters. Their absence was noticeable enough that both CNN and Fox commented on it. It is Washington, DC, of course, and not exactly Trump Territory. On the other hand, the Trumpers had no issues getting there en masse on January 6, 2021. Presidential "candidate" Vivek Ramaswamy was ostensibly there to show his support, but in truth he was finished recording his "on the scene" video hit and was outta there by 7:30 a.m., well before Trump arrived. In fact, it was well before the judge or most of the press corps had arrived. We pass this along just in case you had any doubts that Ramaswamy is kinda phony.

Unsurprisingly, the pro-Trump spin operation was operating at full capacity once the former president left the courtroom. A few selected quotes:

Trump: When you look at what's happening, this is a persecution of a political opponent. This was never supposed to happen in America. This is the persecution of the person that's leading by very, very substantial numbers in the Republican primary and leading Biden by a lot. So if you can't beat 'em, you persecute 'em or you prosecute 'em. We can't let this happen in America. Thank you very much.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX): The likelihood that a D.C. jury will vote to convict Donald Trump is exceptionally high and the facts don't matter, the laws don't matter: They hate him. That's a big part of the reason why the Biden DOJ wants to bring this case in D.C. Which means, with a far-left judge and a far-left jury, there is a very real possibility that Donald Trump ends up being convicted.

Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO): This is election interference at its finest. The DOJ is no longer the Department of Justice. It's the department of injustice and with this arraignment, Joe Biden, his DOJ, has officially become his new campaign headquarters, and [Special Counsel] Jack Smith is his new campaign manager. I'm actually really excited over this arraignment because it only ensures that President Trump will be the 47th president of the United States.

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH): I think people in fly-over country, hillbillies in Ohio, or Iowa or Oklahoma, they're so sick of it, we're so sick of it. We're saying, we're going to support president [sic]. I think that's the take-away, I think that's the result of all this.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA): This is not justice. This is the greatest injustice. This is actual real communism in America. The Biden administration is arresting and trying to put in jail their top political opponent, Donald Trump. Why? Because they're watching the polls and they know that he's going to win. This is a serious situation.

On a related note, a new study reveals that there is a correlation between cognitive decline and constipation. So it's now a scientific fact that stupid people are more likely to be full of sh**.

Now, carefully crafted spin is one thing. Maybe it actually does some good in terms of fundraising, rallying the troops, etc. It's another thing entirely when the spin amounts to shooting yourself in the foot. Two different Trump attorneys went before the cameras yesterday and reminded us all why cut-rate legal representation is not usually the best idea:

Alina Habba: Well, I think that everybody was made aware that he lost the election. But that doesn't mean that was the only advice he was given.

John Lauro: What President Trump said is, "Let's go with option D. Let's just halt, let's just pause the voting and allow the state legislatures to take one last look and make a determination as to whether or not the elections were handled fairly." That's constitutional law. That's not an issue of criminal activity.

For those keeping score at home, that's two Trump lawyers admitting to key elements of the prosecution's case (that Trump knew he lost, and that he was involved with efforts to overturn the vote in various states). Habba was on the scene of her own volition, but Lauro was speaking in an official capacity as a representative of the former president. And he said the exact same thing on multiple programs. Lauro can be put on the stand and required to explain what he meant by that. This means the government can potentially admit that into evidence, even if Trump chooses not to testify.

And finally, since we're on the subject, The New York Times thinks it has figured out the identity of mysterious Co-Conspirator 6: Boris Epshteyn. This is based on a reference the indictment makes to an e-mail sent to Rudy "Co-Conspirator 1" Giuliani. The indictment's description of the e-mail lines up pretty well with an e-mail that Epshteyn is known to have sent to Giuliani on Dec. 7, 2020. We'll learn, sooner or later, if the Times is right, but the paper wouldn't put its name to the story if they weren't pretty darn sure. (Z)

Feinstein's Daughter Assumes Power of Attorney

Barring the unexpected passing of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), this was bound to happen sooner or later, and now it has. Katherine Feinstein, the Senator's daughter, has been given power of attorney over her mother's affairs. This gives Katherine the authority to handle legal and financial matters on Dianne's behalf.

We pass this news along for the obvious reason, namely that it's a meaningful step on the path to the Senator throwing in the towel. That could mean that she herself realizes that she's not... well, herself, and so chooses to resign. Or, it could mean that a court might examine the weight of the evidence, decide the elder Feinstein is no longer competent, and grant a conservatorship to the younger Feinstein. No senator has ever had a conservator resign on their behalf, so it would be somewhat uncharted legal territory. That said, conservators often do things like resign a seat on a corporate board on the part of their conservatee, so it's surely acceptable.

All of this said, while the Senator is potentially a little closer to exiting, stage right, she's not that much closer. The primary reason that power of attorney was given to Katherine is that there is an ugly dispute going on right now between the Feinsteins and the Blums—the three adult daughters of Dianne Feinstein's recently-deceased husband, Richard Blum. Even if the Senator was 100%, she might need someone to handle the various legal matters on her behalf. It's still a pretty big leap from this to Feinstein concluding that "I can't handle much of anything," or a court decreeing the same.

It's also worth noting that while the Senator clearly has moments where she's not lucid, she does do what she's told when a colleague tells her "Just say 'Aye.'" That has happened at least twice... in the last week. It's not an ideal arrangement, but since Feinstein's voting record and political stances are well known, it's not quite the crime against her right of self-determination as it would be if, say, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) was maneuvered into voting for the Democratic Party line. (Z)

The Sharks are Circling McConnell

Speaking of Mitch McConnell, the Senate Minority Leader has thus far offered little explanation for the "freeze" he experienced at last week's press conference. When we wrote it up, we suggested that for political reasons, he was going to need to provide some information, so as to assure people he's not incapacitated. He apparently disagrees, and guess what? He's now the subject of plotting, planning and scheming from all sides. Told ya, Mitch.

To start, the Minority Leader has had an iron grip on the leadership of his conference for the better part of two decades. On one hand, challenging him directly is both disrespectful and gauche, and can make a person very unpopular with their colleagues, as Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) learned earlier this year (when he tried, and failed, to unseat McConnell as minority leader). On the other hand, if McConnell vacates his post unexpectedly (due to death, incapacity or resignation), an ambitious Republican doesn't want to be caught with his pants down (we would include "pantsuits down" in that, but the fact is that the Senate GOP is still run by men, such that there's no serious woman contender to succeed McConnell). At the moment, Sens. John Cornyn (R-TX) and John Barrasso (R-WY) are gently maneuvering behind the scenes, just in case. Cornyn would be the grown-up choice, Barrasso would be the clown car choice.

Meanwhile, the various Republicans who think they are running for president don't care about succeeding McConnell, per se, because they cannot do so (unlike the Speaker of the House, party leaders in both chambers have to be elected members, which excludes all the presidential "candidates" except for Sen. Tim Scott, R-SC). That said, most of the Republican presidential "candidates" are running in the Trump lane, and that means they are required to hate "RINO" McConnell. So, they've been nibbling away at him this week. To take one example, Nikki Haley was on Face the Nation, and performed her usual "trying to have it both ways" routine:

I think Mitch McConnell did an amazing job when it comes to our judiciary. When we look at the judges, when we look at the Supreme Court, he's been a great leader. But I do think that this is one—you know, we've got to stop electing people because they look good in the picture or they hold a baby well. We've got to stop electing people because we like them and they've been there a long time. That's actually the problem. You need to have term limits, because we need new ideas, new solutions. We've got to have a new generation...

What I am saying about Mitch McConnell, Dianne Feinstein, Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, all of them: know when to walk away. We have huge issues that need new solutions. We need new generational leaders. We appreciate your service. We appreciate what you've done. But this is why we will fight for term limits. We've got to get it done in America.

We trust it is clear that complimenting the Kentuckian on his Supreme Court maneuvering is somewhat faint praise when it's followed by suggesting that he's being reelected for no good reason, and then comparing him to a murderer's row of most-hated Democrats. The only thing that's missing is a comment on how very much McConnell has in common with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and/or Hillary Clinton.

And finally, Democrats aren't above a little maneuvering of their own, and so it's at least plausible this story is true. According to reporting that first appeared in The Washington Times, and then was reiterated by RawStory, Gov. Andy Beshear (D-KY) has apparently decided that if McConnell leaves his seat early, then he (Beshear) will ignore the bill recently passed by the Kentucky legislature that says that he (Beshear) has to pick a Republican to replace a Republican, and instead will tap a Democrat and then fight it out in court.

We note this report because, again, it's plausible, and if it did come to pass, it would be major news. That said, it is presumably clear that we are also skeptical. The Washington Times and RawStory are on opposite ends of the political spectrum (semi-far-right and semi-far-left, respectively), but are very similar in having somewhat shoddy journalistic standards. They're not always wrong, but they're wrong a lot more than a legitimate news source should be. On top of that, we really can't imagine why Beshear would consider such shenanigans, since he's up for reelection this year. It would almost certainly cost him his job, and for what? Somewhere between 6 and 18 months of +1 Democratic senator, before an election could be held (or before a GOP lawsuit was successful)? And even if Beshear was willing to fall on his sword like this (maybe because he believes that +1 will be the vote that ends the filibuster?), why would he publicly announce that before it was necessary?

In any event, our advice to McConnell remains the same: If you want to stay in power, you really need to come up with a compelling explanation for why this incident was no big deal. We were already on the record as suggesting that he probably won't ever get the gavel back. And it's going to be nigh-on impossible if he's got a reputation as someone whose mind could go at any time (or whose mind has already gone). (Z)

Rep. Dan Bishop to Run for AG in North Carolina

Rep. Dan Bishop (R-NC) is a leading member of the Freedom Caucus (which means that, in effect, he's louder than most of the other members). He also represents a district that is R+20, so he is pretty safe. Nonetheless, he's decided to leave the House and make a run for the attorney generalship of his home state.

It's easy enough to ascertain why Bishop would make this choice. To start, the AG seat is open, since current AG Josh Stein (D) is running for governor. Further, and consistent with that point, the AGship is a launching pad for gubernatorial (and U.S. Senate) runs. Presumably the Representative has his eyes on something bigger than a seat in the House. North Carolina is also likely to redraw its district maps this year, which introduces uncertainty. Even under the current maps, Bishop might be vulnerable to a challenge from the left, either a more moderate Republican who runs on a primary platform of "I'm a conservative, but not one willing to wreck the economy with a government default" or a moderate Democrat who runs on a platform of "I'm a moderate who agrees with the Republican Party on some things, but I don't support looney tunes stuff like debt defaults and blocking military promotions."

On top of all of this, by virtue of his notoriety, Bishop will attract a lot of money from right-wing billionaires like Richard Uihlein and Steven Schwarzman. North Carolina has campaign finance limits, but they are less strict than federal limits. If Bishop was running for reelection to Congress, he could collect $6,600 from each supporter. Running for AG in the Tar Heel State, he can cash checks for nearly twice that—$12,800 per person. At that rate, a couple dozen friendly billionaires and millionaires should allow Bishop to run laps around his competition, money-wise.

That said, Bishop is going to draw some serious primary competition (although thus far, the only declared GOP candidate is former state representative Tom Murry). He's also going to draw some serious general election competition, very possibly Rep. Jeff Jackson (D-NC). Oh, and the last time a Republican was elected AG of North Carolina, the White House was occupied by... Grover Cleveland (1896). Given that North Carolina is purple, while Bishop's politics are ruby-red, a moderate Democrat like Jackson should be in a good position to continue the trend. What Bishop has to hope for is that a ticket with him, and far-right Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson (R), who is running for governor, and Donald Trump himself brings out the Trumpy vote in droves, while somehow also causing the anti-Trumpy vote to stay home. (Z)

Early Voting Is Still Way Up in Ohio

Politics-watchers across the country are watching Ohio, and the fight over Issue 1, with interest. The plan to sneak it in under the radar has been a colossal failure, as indicated by the number of votes already cast, and by the extensive coverage of the story. There has certainly been plenty of news this week.

We're going to start with Secretary of State Frank LaRose (R), who is ultimately responsible for counting the votes once they are cast. It would be nice if the people who count votes in the United States were nonpartisan civil employees, the way it is in nearly all other industrialized countries. But that's not the system the U.S. has. LaRose is much more concerned about his U.S. Senate bid than he is about cultivating an image of integrity, so he has been publicly campaigning for Issue 1, appearances be damned. As a result, the Libertarian Party of Ohio has sued him for violating the Hatch Act. We wouldn't have guessed it would be the Libertarians, but there it is.

The Hatch Act is relatively toothless, so we don't expect much to come of this suit. Certainly it won't come before Election Day on August 8. We mention it, however, because it is LaRose's job to keep Ohioans informed about what's going on with the election. And while the first update was crystal clear, the second one requires a bit more work to parse. One wonders if the Secretary is trying to obscure that things aren't going so well.

Whether there is nefariousness or not, the numbers are nonetheless there, and are... impressive. As of July 27, the state has received 100,989 absentee ballots, 6,841 hand-delivered ballots, 15,853 drop-box ballots, and 231,800 cast-in-person ballots. That's a total of 355,483 votes cast so far (and again, the totals are a week out of date, because that's how the Ohio government rolls). In the first week of early voting, an average of 16,000 ballots were cast per day; in the second week, it was an average of 18,000. Polling-place hours expanded on Monday of this week, so those averages will presumably continue to climb, even though the deadline for absentee ballots has arrived. Even if there isn't a single additional ballot, the tally has already doubled the early voting from last year's U.S. Senate primaries and is a fivefold increase over the early voting in August 2022 (for state legislature).

There have been two recent polls of Ohio voters on Issue 1, and they say different things. The one from USA Today/Suffolk has 57% opposing Issue 1, while 26% support it and 17% are undecided. That would mean a solid majority wants to keep things as they are, with 50% + 1 of the voters able to approve a ballot initiative (say, the one in November safeguarding abortion access), as opposed to making it 60% + 1. Meanwhile, the poll from Ohio Northern University (ONU) says 42% support the measure, 41% oppose it and 17% are undecided.

It's not easy to poll an election like this, which is why there's such a big spread. We will point out that ONU is local, which is usually a point in a pollster's favor. That said, they are also newbies to the polling game, while Suffolk is among the elites. It is also the case that other polls favor the conclusions of USA Today/Suffolk, and that early voting thus far has been concentrated in blue counties. That said, sometimes the side that thinks it's winning rests on its laurels, while the side that thinks it's losing rallies to the cause. Further, the fact that people could be confused about what voting "for" or "against" means (e.g., if you want to protect abortion in November, you should vote "no" in August) could introduce a wildcard. The upshot is that we still think Issue 1 will fail by a sizable margin, but it's not a slam dunk. (Z)

DeSantis to Debate Newsom

What is that scent that you're picking up? Could it be the faint whiff of desperation? Yes, yes it could be. Earlier this week, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) agreed to debate Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA), likely sometime in November.

Last year, when both men were reelected in romps, we were cautious about reading too much into the results, as they each defeated weak opponents under favorable conditions. More specifically, we wrote that both men would be viable candidates for president, but that one shouldn't overrate them based on the gubernatorial result.

Since then, we've revised our assessments, in opposite directions. As to Newsom, he's done an impressive job of elevating himself to the top rank of 2028 candidates, along with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D-MI). He's shown a deft touch when it comes to the modern style of campaigning, which blends meaningful policy accomplishments with skillful poking of your opponents' eyes. Again, you can never know how someone will fare under the ultra-powerful presidential microscope, but Newsom has the potential to be a force in 4 years. That is not something we would have written in 2022. As to DeSantis, although we were right to warn that there were signs of weakness, perhaps we should not have described him as "viable." It is no secret that he's wilted badly in the national spotlight, and that we are extremely unimpressed with his presidential campaign.

A few months ago, when DeSantis officially declared, Newsom—from his seat in the peanut gallery—tried to goad the Governor into a face-to-face debate. Back then, the Floridian was flying high, and so he turned his nose up at the proposal. Now, however, he has to grab for every possible lifeline. Obviously, DeSantis hopes he can make a dent in Donald Trump's lead at the two Republican candidates' debates, but that may not be easy with limited speaking time, particularly if the former president doesn't bother to show up. So, a head-to-head with Newsom may be DeSantis' best chance to show how well he can own the libs.

Assuming the debate moves forward, the setup is designed to give DeSantis the home-field advantage. It probably won't be in Florida (the sites under consideration right now are Nevada, Georgia or North Carolina), but it will be on Fox and it will be moderated by Fox entertainer Sean Hannity. Even though Newsom has to go into the enemy's lair, as it were, we think this is a pretty brilliant move by him. If he botches things, he'll have 3-4 years to put that in the rearview mirror. And if he hits a home run, or even a solid double, he'll be able to introduce himself to a national audience, and to cause some of them to make a mental note that he's someone to watch.

As to DeSantis, he's making the right call, too, because desperate times call for desperate measures. However, the tête-à-tête is much more fraught for him. To start, you normally only want to debate if you're more telegenic than your opponent. At this point, we've seen many hours of DeSantis footage and many hours of Newsom footage, and the Californian leaves Mr. Squeaky Voice in the dust. Even a bunch of softball questions from Hannity may not be able to overcome that. Meanwhile, even if DeSantis manages to "own" Newsom, it's hard to see how that will convince Republican voters that he is superior to Trump. And if DeSantis gets smoked, then that could be a fatal blow to his presidential chances.

In any case, because this is such an unorthodox thing, we would bet it gets better ratings than the actual Republican candidates' debate. Whatever happens, we'll have a full writeup, assuming it goes forward. (Z)

No More AP Psychology in Florida

We're going to stick with the Ron DeSantis beat for now. In fact, it's going to continue for another item beyond this. Don't say you weren't warned. Yesterday, the news broke that, in his war to remake education in Florida and to fight wokeness (despite nobody really understanding what that means), DeSantis has effectively killed yet another AP class. Everyone already knows about African-American Studies, and now Psychology has joined the list.

The story on the ground is a little complicated, and puts the College Board (administrator of the AP tests) in a position of advocating against its own interests. All other things being equal, the Board wants students taking as many AP courses and as many AP tests as is possible. This satisfies both of the Board's missions: (1) advancing students' educations and (2) making money. However, Florida state law now forbids the teaching of any material on sexual orientation and identity. The Board isn't going to change its standards or its tests for one anti-woke governor, and so it is now urging schools not to offer AP Psychology and is urging students not to take the test (since you can't exactly pass if you haven't learned 20% of the material).

We are going to assume that DeSantis, as a holder of multiple degrees from elite universities, understands that he is peddling bull**it here, and that there is no way the College Board can accommodate Florida's new "curriculum." To start, teaching information is not the same thing as advocating for the truthfulness or righteousness of that information. (Z), for example, has taught the Civil War at least 20 times, and while he has covered slavery extensively, he has never once come out in favor of slavery. Heck, he's never even come out in favor of the "educational benefits" of the slave system.

On top of that, even if you assume that teaching certain information IS advocacy, it's not the College Board's advocacy. The whole point of AP courses and tests is to replace general-education level college courses, so that students can start their college careers with some number of units in the bank. It is therefore necessary for the AP tests to line up with a GE-level college curriculum in the same subject. And in turn, it is necessary for GE-level courses to provide some foundation for advanced work, should a student end up taking upper-division courses in a subject. When he was in college (Z) took three upper-division psych courses, and every one of them had a unit on sexual orientation and identity. And that was 30 years ago; one can only imagine that material occupies an even bigger portion of the syllabus today. The upshot is that there's no way for either the Board or the nation's universities to course-correct, no matter how much Florida whines, cries and screams.

Let us now recall that all of this mucking around in education is prompted by the fact that parents tend to be very protective of their kids (and their kids' educations), and some Republicans (Gov. Glenn Youngkin of Virginia, most notably) saw an opportunity to weaponize that. However, he who lives by the sword dies by the sword, as they say. And DeSantis, in his efforts to score points by mimicking Youngkin (but taking it to greater extremes) may find that his schemes will backfire on him, in the end. The number of students who take the AP African-American Studies test, and the AP Psychology test, in Florida each year is relatively small (30,000 or so). But that's not nothing, and one can foresee future interference with other subjects: Biology (evolution), U.S. History (slavery, Trail of Tears, nuking Japan and other stuff that gives white people the sads), Literature (lots of books have LGBTQ subtext, or outright text), Art History (some artworks feature people sans clothes), etc. Eventually, it is going to occur to many parents and students, if it hasn't occurred to them already, that the Governor is putting college-bound Floridians at a competitive disadvantage in search of cheap political points.

DeSantis will never again run for governor, of course. However, if he is to have any hope of being nominated for president, he needs to win his home state. Plus, if the president thing doesn't work out (the likely outcome), he might try to run for a U.S. Senate seat. After all, that's what former governors of Florida do. And the more unpopular he gets with his fellow Sunshine Staters, the less likely that any of DeSantis' best-laid plans for his political future will work out for him. (Z)

Magic's $50K Donation to DeSantis Has an Unpleasant Odor to It

In case all the headlines-of-the-wrong-kind about Ron DeSantis in the news sections aren't enough, he's also making headlines-of-the-wrong-kind in the sports sections right now.

It is not a big secret that the owners of the NBA's Orlando Magic, the DeVos family, are very active in Republican politics. And so it is not a huge surprise that the team made a hefty donation, $50,000, to DeSantis' super PAC. However, in view of the Governor's position that there was a lot of good to be found in the slave system, the contribution is causing a fair bit of controversy.

The least problematic explanation, such as it is, is that the Magic is just doing what companies do, and is playing both sides of the political aisle. This is certainly how the team tried to sell it when reporters started asking questions. "It was given as a Florida business in support of a Florida governor for the continued prosperity of Central Florida," explained Magic COO Joel Glass in a statement.

Given the DeVoses' love of Republicans, and the fact that they didn't give any money to any Democrats, this doesn't exactly pass the smell test. It also comes off as extremely tone deaf, given that the team's starting lineup is 80% Black, its roster is 80% Black, its coach is Black and its general manager is Black. It is not a great workplace environment if you're a Black person and you have reason to think the guy who signs your paychecks believes slavery had its upsides. Certainly, the NBA Players' Association, as well as some of the individual players, have made no secret of their unhappiness.

Another possibility, and it doesn't necessarily negate the "the DeVos family is kinda racist" explanation, is that if you are going to do business in Florida right now, you simply have no choice but to give some money to DeSantis. If so, then that would mean the Governor is basically guilty of a version of racketeering. "That's a nice basketball team you got there. I'd hate to see anything bad happen to it."

Whatever's going on here, it doesn't look good. It's also a reminder that: (1) the worlds of politics and business are now very much intertwined, for everyone to see and respond to, whether the business owners like it or not, and (2) almost everything bad that happens in Florida these days gets reported on and connected to DeSantis (justifiably so, usually), with something like 50% of those stories ending up as a reminder of the Governor's views on slavery. That may be free-of-charge earned media, but it doesn't seem to be helping DeSantis' campaign. Certainly, the polls don't think so. (Z)

Lamenting the Loss of Local Newspapers

We had an item yesterday about how people are skipping the (national) news because there's so much negativity and nastiness contained within. Since we ran that item, we thought we would also mention this complementary story from PBS about the loss of local newspapers.

The broad trendlines here have been felt across the entire newspaper industry, even the big boys and gals. But they have been particularly profound for small and small-ish papers. When it comes to display advertising (the larger ads, usually with pictures or other visual elements), advertisers have largely decided that other options are more promising. For example, (Z) used to work at the Daily Bruin. The Greeks used to spend $30,000-$40,000 advertising their rush weeks; now they buy 1,000 glossy postcards for $200 and hand them out on Bruin Walk. The student store used to spend over $100,000 announcing the sales of the week; now it sends out a mass e-mail. Beer companies used to place full-page ads ($2,000 a pop) the day before football games; now they pay Facebook and Instagram for electronic ads. Add it up, and it's a loss of well over $1 million in ad revenue for a publication that was only taking in $2 million at its very height. The only thing that keeps the Bruin afloat now is that students have to pay a subsidy each quarter. Needless to say, most small newspapers don't have that option.

Also devastating is the loss of classified advertising. This may not occur as readily to those who are not in the business, but classified pages used to be goldmines. As a general rule-of-thumb, a full page of classified ads brings in about three times as much money as a full page display ad. And so, a robust classified section can subsidize two or three newspaper sections (say, arts, opinion, and the comics, which don't bring in too much money on their own). These days, unless you're looking to reach the AARP set, it is much wiser for a person or business to advertise on Craigslist and/or social media. And those things, in addition to reaching a wider and more on-target audience, are free.

As a result of these sizable changes to the business model, many newspapers have been gasping for air for years (or, sometimes, decades). Hastening the trend are the several media conglomerates that specialize in identifying distressed newspaper assets, scooping them up, extracting whatever value is to be had, and leaving the rest to rot.

As PBS observes, the result of this is that at least 2,200 small and medium weekly newspapers have gone belly up since the year 2000 (a figure that does not include, of course, all the failed dailies and semi-weeklies). They use as their case study The Canadian Record, which had a circulation of 1,000 or so. Despite its name, it was actually the "paper of record," as it were, for a small town in Texas, which so happens to be named Canadian. Mind you, it was probably still subversive. Nonetheless, it kept residents apprised of "the city council, school and hospital board meetings, the impacts of droughts and wildfires, the babies born, football games won, and residents lost."

When the Record failed, most of that went away. And with it went a reminder of the commonalities that residents of different political stripes shared. In some cases, there's no great way for people to get that information anymore. In other cases, they can get it, but often in a way (say, Facebook friends) that reaffirms their political bubble. The folks at PBS are "hopeful" that this trend can be reversed, but the fact is that 2,200+ publishers and editors have tried and failed, so one shouldn't hold one's breath. (Z)

This Week in Schadenfreude: Tennessee Republicans go 0-for-2 (Squared)

Well, this is embarrassing. At least, it is if you're a Republican in the Tennessee state House. The two Democrats, Justin Pearson and Justin Jones, who were tossed out of their seats for presuming to exercise their right to speak on the floor of the House were literally out of office for mere days before being chosen as their own temporary replacements. However, to keep their jobs, they had to win special elections, which were held yesterday.

To nobody's surprise, despite the fact there was zero polling, both men won in laughers. Jones, in SD-52, claimed 78% of the vote. Pearson, who faced only an independent challenger in SD-86, got 93.4% of the vote. The two districts are very blue and very Black (which, technically, makes them very Black and blue). On top of that, Jones and Pearson are heroes/martyrs to their constituents. So, they've basically got jobs for life if they want them.

The conduct of Tennessee Republicans in this incident was simply reprehensible. It's bad enough to silence the minority. It's even more icky to silence minority members of the minority, given the South's unpleasant history of racial oppression. And to abuse the rules in order to perform an outlandish political stunt is beyond the pale, especially when the white member of the "Tennessee Three" survived, while the non-white members were expelled. So the egg that the Tennessee GOP has on its face right now is well deserved, indeed. (Z)

This Week in Freudenfreude: When Republicans Do Good

We don't often get to talk about a Republican (or multiple Republicans) in this space. That is because the modern Republican Party is largely in the control of slimeballs who cater to their voters' basest instincts. Quick, can you name a plank of the GOP, as currently constituted, that involves making the world into a better place in some way? It's all about undoing one thing or another, or protecting turf of one sort or another (financial turf, religious turf, national turf/borders, etc.).

It wasn't always that way, however. There was a time when both parties had ideas about how to move forward in a positive way. They disagreed on priorities, and they disagreed on means, but there is little question that most or all of the pre-Trump Republican presidents had at least some ideas on how to make a better America. And we thought we would discuss two Republican-president-driven successes today.

To start, many readers are following the Women's World Cup right now. And if you watch the games, you see students and graduates from America's universities dominating many matches. Not necessarily on the U.S. team, mind you, which has thus far underwhelmed. No, they're on the teams from New Zealand, Denmark, England, Italy, Japan, Australia, Jamaica, the Phillipines, and many others. Indeed, the team from Canada has more players who played at U.S. schools (22) than the U.S. team does (20). Someone better look into that.

The reason for this, as folks familiar with sports history will know, is Title IX, which was signed into law by Richard Nixon in 1972. This was back when Republicans had serious policy proposals related to equality for women (although it should be noted that the bill passed with bipartisan support, and the text was written by conservative Democrat Birch Bayh). Among its provisions, Title IX required equal representation for male and female athletes in college athletic programs. Since (gridiron) football rosters are large, and since there is no women's equivalent, universities were compelled to beef up their women's programs in other sports. Soccer (a.k.a. the other football) was very popular worldwide, but investment in women's sports was not. That meant there were busloads of talent waiting to be plucked around the world, and the American universities availed themselves. To this day, the NCAA is the world's preeminent pre-professional women's soccer organization.

And then there is also something we mentioned last week, namely the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR. The rot that has overtaken the Republican Party was already beginning to set in during the George W. Bush years, but Bush the younger did have a few things on his résumé that would do a Dwight D. Eisenhower or a Bush the elder proud, and PEPFAR was definitely one of them. We didn't pay quite as much attention to the program in last week's item as we should have, but reader S.H. in Hanoi, Vietnam, wrote in to rectify the problem:

Just a brief two cents to convey the sad news that PEPFAR stands on a knife's edge. Okay, maybe four cents, but still.

First, just to underscore what you wrote: PEPFAR isn't merely "the single biggest feather in the cap of Bush the Younger," it's almost certainly the most important reason why the HIV epidemic is within range of coming to an end—not HIV in the United States, mind you, but HIV in the entire world. I am not a historian, so take this observation with heaping servings of salt, but I would regard PEPFAR as second only to the Marshall Plan in terms of the most successful U.S. foreign policy, and of using the soft power of the U.S. government to materially improve the lives of tens of millions of people.

PEPFAR simply couldn't have happened without George Bush's vision. His belief in using the force of the U.S. government as a tool for good in the world may have been an abject disaster for Iraq and its neighbors (to say nothing of tens of thousands of U.S. veterans) but PEPFAR was its flip side, and it was instigated mainly by him and a small group of like-minded advisors. Once PEPFAR was set up, it received backing from a broad political coalition, including religious conservatives along with social liberals (which includes people like me who wouldn't have voted for him, then or now). Now in its twentieth year and with a budget of about $7 billion per year, it's hard to estimate the precise number of lives PEPFAR saved, but the answer is easily in the millions and probably in the tens of millions. While other international support for ending the epidemic does exist, PEPFAR remains the largest form of global support for ending HIV, and such international initiatives were established only after the U.S. showed that it could be done. PEPFAR should be a point of pride for every American, taught in schools alongside the landing on the moon as a great achievement of a people. But hardly anyone knows about it.

Now for the really bad news. Within hours of the Freudenfreude piece, The New York Times published an article noting that a rump of Republican members of Congress are determined to kill PEPFAR funding as part of an effort to influence abortion practices overseas. The tactics are similar to the Republican-led brinksmanship of Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-AL), who is holding up military promotions until the military bans support for abortion, as well as those of Republican members of the House who are holding up the annual military budget for the same reason. At present, it is their way or the highway, and the PEPFAR program, which has stood for two decades as a testament to bipartisan achievement, may well be scuttled in the coming months.

This could not have happened without the Supreme Court's Dobbs decision. The reason why PEPFAR was never a battleground was because abortion was a matter of settled law in the U.S. It's worth noting that PEPFAR isn't even in the business of abortion; the program provides medications to treat HIV. But because some of the local organizations that receive financial support to implement PEPFAR objectives do perform abortions, the entire operation is considered compromised by these Republican politicians. So the endangerment of PEPFAR is yet another one of the unanticipated consequences of Dobbs, and soon, millions may pay for that with their lives.

In addition to the now uncertain fate of PEPFAR, there are other movements that threaten to erase all of the hard-won victories against HIV. Readers of are aware that right-wing movements across the world have championed increasingly hostile policies toward LGBTQ communities, which are disproportionately infected with HIV. The increasing levels of state-sanctioned violence against such communities will almost certainly lead to a resurgence in infections, as men who have sex with men in particular avoid seeking care for fear of incarceration or worse. This has already happened in Uganda, which passed an anti-homosexuality bill two months ago by making sodomy a crime punishable by death, and immediately led to empty HIV clinics upon its passage. Such a bill was only possible with the full-throated support of the very same type of American Christian conservatives who are blocking the PEPFAR legislation in Congress. So we may well be witnessing the high-water mark of the campaign against HIV, whose possible end, to my mind, would be, like so many other things in American political life, an entirely unforced error.

[Full disclosure: a large portion of my job, which I started eight months ago, is supported by PEPFAR funds, so I am not an entirely disinterested observer. That said, I have written previously to bring attention to George Bush and PEPFAR, well before my current position was even available.]

Thanks, S.H., and a rare tip of the freudenfreude cap to the Republican Party. We can but hope that the GOP returns to being a normal political party, ideally soon, as opposed to its current status as a vanguard of fascism.

Have a good weekend, all! (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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