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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Freedom Caucusers Work to Sink Budget Deal
      •  Debt-Ceiling Court Case Postponed
      •  We Have Entered the Blather-for-Blather's-Sake Part of the Presidential Cycle
      •  Paxton Clock Is Ticking
      •  More of the Same for Turkey
      •  Approval Ratings Are a Mystery, Worldwide (Part II)

Freedom Caucusers Work to Sink Budget Deal

Predictably, the Freedom Caucus didn't get much of what it wanted out of the debt-ceiling hostage situation. Equally predictably, they are furious. And at least one of them, Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX), is working to burn the whole thing down.

Roy claims that, when Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) was negotiating for the Speaker's gavel, it was agreed that no bills would be sent to the floor of the House without the support of all nine Republicans on the House Rules Committee (Roy is one of the nine). Other folks who were privy to the negotiations say the number was seven of nine rather than nine of nine (are they fans of Star Trek: Voyager?). Still others say that none of this was written down and, in the House, if something's not written down it doesn't exist.

All of this squabbling brings up multiple questions:

  1. Is the deal really nine of nine?

  2. If it's actually seven of nine, are there seven Republican votes on the committee to approve the bill? Roy has the backing of Ralph Norman (R-SC), while the swing vote is Thomas Massie (R-KY), who has yet to take a public position on the agreement.

  3. If push comes to shove, would McCarthy abide by whatever agreement he made, or not?

Presumably, these questions will be answered in the next 24 hours or so, since McCarthy has said he wants to bring the bill to a vote tomorrow.

Whatever happens, however, is there any way the Freedom Caucus doesn't end up as the loser here? When it comes to the debt-ceiling bill, we have to imagine it will become law. In that case, the Caucus gets almost nothing, and ends up with egg on its face. Alternatively, it is possible that Roy & Co. manage to sink the deal. In that case, the deadline will be imminent, the President will have tried to do things "the right way," and will have cover to resort to extraordinary measures of some sort. The one outcome that is not on the table is "Rapid reboot with new bill in which the Freedom Caucus gets everything (or most of what) it wants."

And then there is McCarthy. Once the Freedom Caucusers fail spectacularly, what will they do about him? If they don't try to toss him out on his ear, then they will look like paper tigers. If they try and fail, say because House Democrats have secretly agreed to guarantee McCarthy's speakership, then they will also look like paper tigers. If they try and succeed, it's inconceivable that any other Republican will accept the devil's bargain that McCarthy did, just so they can be speaker for a few months. No, that hypothetical next Speaker of the House would take note of the budget-ceiling bill, would notice that it's way easier to work with the 20-30 centrist Democrats as opposed to the 20-30 Freedom Caucusers, and would ignore Roy and his friends.

In any case, it should be an interesting week, as things are about to get very real in the United States House of Representatives. (Z)

Debt-Ceiling Court Case Postponed

As long as we are on the subject of the debt ceiling, the "dramatic," last-minute court case that might have taken things out of Congress' and the White House's hands has been postponed. The National Association of Government Employees (NAGE) was the plaintiff, and its argument was that the debt ceiling is not legal and should be struck down. NAGE established standing by arguing that honoring the debt ceiling might well lead to government employees going unpaid, thus damaging the membership of the union.

Now that a resolution to the crisis appears to be imminent, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Stearns is no longer willing to fast-track the case. So, he issued a brief order yesterday setting the hearing date to... some unspecified time in the future. The Department of Justice had asked for this course of action, NAGE had opposed it, and the DoJ won.

Presumably, the Judge kept things wide-open so that the hearing can be rescheduled quickly in the event that the debt-ceiling deal falls apart. If it passes, however, one has to imagine that there will be no hearing, ever. It's possible to establish standing on the basis of imminent damage being done. It's not so easy to establish standing on the basis of "well, this problem could maybe possibly come up in the future." (Z)

We Have Entered the Blather-for-Blather's-Sake Part of the Presidential Cycle

At the moment, and possibly for the next year, the main competition in the presidential race is between Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) and Donald Trump. There are already a bunch of thought pieces out there asking "Is Marianne Williamson for real?" and "Could RFK make a race of this thing?" These are a waste of ink and pixels. Joe Biden has a commanding lead, and if he falters in a meaningful way, then a real Democrat (or two, or three) will jump in. Think Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA) or Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D-MI). Meanwhile, we have yet to see anything that persuades us that the other Republicans who are "running for president" have any chance of breaking through. No, the main (and only) story right now is definitely DeSantis vs. Trump.

In view of this, not to mention that these are kinda the dog days of the political calendar, these two men are sucking up vast amounts of oxygen right now with various pronouncements designed to capture headlines and to show the Republican base who is truly the most right-wing/anti-woke/angry/proto-fascist/able to "own the libs"/etc. Some examples from just this (long) weekend:

  • DeSantis decreed that if he is the Republican nominee, "I will beat Biden and I will serve two terms and I will be able to destroy leftism in this country..."

  • Trump went onto his boutique social media platform to acknowledge Memorial Day, sending his best wishes to: "those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for the country they love, and to those in line of a very different, but equally dangerous fire, stopping the threats of the terrorists, misfits and lunatic thugs who are working feverishly from within to overturn and destroy our once great country, which has never been in greater peril than it is right now. We must stop the communists, Marxists and fascist 'pigs' at every turn and, Make America Great Again!"

    The actual post was in ALL CAPS, but it's nominally more readable this way. And nominally less crazy. But only nominally.

  • DeSantis slammed the debt-ceiling deal, and warned that the U.S. is "careening toward bankruptcy." Since we have been told so very many times that the Governor is very smart, we assume he knows this is a lie, that the U.S. is not capable of going bankrupt, and that even if it was, it's not within a country mile of actually doing so. It's also worth noting that when DeSantis was in Congress, he voted to increase the debt ceiling multiple times.

  • Trump flip-flopped on DeSantis vs. Disney, and announced that the Governor should actually have done more to keep Disney from going "woke." Trump's previous stance, and undoubtedly his future stance one of these days, is that DeSantis went too far and cost his state money and jobs.

None of this matters one bit. These two men don't believe most of the outrageous things they say; they're just trying to figure out what they can say that will rile up people the most, and that will win them today's "I owned the libs" crown. The fact is that 99.99% of it will be forgotten by the time people start casting ballots next year. Heck, 99.99% of it will be forgotten within the week.

The real takeaway here, such as it is, is that the deplatforming of Donald Trump has had virtually no effect. The various media members have clearly signed up for Truth Social accounts, and are following the former president, and are reporting on his every ridiculous utterance, just like they did in 2015-16. The Donald got himself hundreds of millions of dollars, or perhaps billions of dollars, in free publicity, and he's doing it again.

For our part, we're going to turn our right-wing-presidential-candidate-BS filters up to 11 (since it's one more than 10, of course). The great majority of things that the two wannabe presidents say in the next 6-12 months are simply not worthy of notice, with relatively few exceptions (when DeSantis finally starts attacking Trump directly, for example, or if Trump says something that undermines one or more of his legal situations). That said, one of these two is likely to be the Republican nominee for president, so we will keep a close eye on them and report on it when one of them does or says something that could be important later on. (Z)

Paxton Clock Is Ticking

After years and years of corrupt behavior, the walls closed in on Texas AG Ken Paxton very, very rapidly. In the span of 3 days, he went from "hunky dory" to "impeached." As the committee vote recommending impeachment was unanimous and the whole state House vote to impeach was overwhelming and bipartisan, and as the list of offenses is lengthy, the AG is in a lot of trouble here.

It looks like he won't have to wait too long to learn his fate. With the regular legislative session wrapping up this week, the state Senate passed S.R. No. 735, which sets a general timeline for Paxton's trial in the upper chamber. It does not specify precisely when the fun will commence, but it does say that the start date can be no later than August 28. It's up to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R-TX) to narrow it down from there; he will presumably give both sides enough time to prepare their cases and to make time in their schedules (since being a legislator is a part-time job in Texas, and the members will be back at their regular vocations starting this week).

The Paxton situation has taken on national overtones, as Donald Trump is putting on a full-court press in an effort to save the AG, and is trying to twist the arms of every Republican member of the state Senate. If Paxton survives, then the former president will take all the credit, perhaps rightly so. If Paxton falls, on the other hand, it will be yet another sign that Trump is a modern-day Headless Horseman, and that his power only extends so far. (Z)

More of the Same for Turkey

The people of Turkey headed to the polls this weekend to choose their next president. And it turns out it will be... their current president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The general election votes for the far-right but anti-Erdoğan candidate, Sinan Oğan, basically split between the two runoff candidates. Since Erdoğan was already on the precipice of victory after round one, picking up half of Oğan's votes was enough, with the result that he defeated Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, 52.18% to 47.82%.

The election was not exactly a shining example of democracy in action (not to say that American elections are shining examples these days, either). Turnout was high (84%) and foreign observers agree that all the votes were counted. However, Erdoğan controls the broadcast media in Turkey. Imagine if every channel was Fox and every radio station was... well, Fox, and you get the idea. That left Kılıçdaroğlu to campaign through social media and other alternative means.

Further, in order to dissuade poor Turkish voters from paying too much attention to disastrous inflation (85%) or to the damage wrought by major earthquakes, Erdoğan lavished government money upon the populace in the past several months. In other words, he effectively bought people's votes. It does not appear that Erdoğan actually has a viable plan to get the Turkish economy on the right track, and the spending he did prior to the election is unsustainable. So, the poor people of Turkey are likely in for a rocky ride in the next year or two.

Erdoğan presumably doesn't care about that since he's now locked up a term that runs until 2028. In theory, that will be it for him, as there are term limits built into the Turkish constitution. That said, the President was theoretically term-limited this time out, and that didn't do much to stop him. Erdoğan tends to agree with his good friend Vladmir Putin that term limits are so... limiting. So, don't assume Erdoğan is done being president until he actually leaves the presidential palace and someone else is sworn in.

Given that Erdoğan is close with Putin, and given that his regime is rather oppressive, Joe Biden undoubtedly was rooting for Kılıçdaroğlu to win. But one of the devil's bargains that comes with being president is that you have to deal with a lot of people you don't much care for. And while the President presumably doesn't much like his Turkish counterpart, they are still able to work together when needed. That said, you can perceive the lack of enthusiasm in the tweet Biden sent out after the Turkish election results were announced:

Congratulations to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Türkiye on his re-election.

I look forward to continuing to work together as NATO Allies on bilateral issues and shared global challenges.

Note that Türkiye is the preferred spelling announced by the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and it's used by diplomatic partners (e.g., the U.S. government). However, it has not become AP style, and is not generally used by non-diplomatic folks, including us. This is basically a consistency thing; if Turkey gets to be Türkiye, then Germany should be Deutschland, Japan should be 日本, and Canada should be, well, still Canada.

Now that Turkey has made its choice, the elections calendar—both nationally and internationally—is pretty bare for the next few months. Summer is, for various reasons, not the best time to hold elections. (Z)

Approval Ratings Are a Mystery, Worldwide (Part II)

Not a lot of political news in the U.S., thanks to the holiday, so let's remain on the foreign beat. Last week, we had an item running down Morning Consult's approval ratings for various world leaders. Since then, they have issued an updated list. Here it is:

Leader (Country) Approve    No Opinion Disapprove Net
Narendra Modi (India) 77% 4% 19% +58
Alain Berset (Switzerland) 57% 12% 31% +26
Andrés Manuel López Obrador (Mexico) 60% 4% 36% +24
Anthony Albanese (Australia) 54% 12% 34% +20
Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (Brazil) 52% 7% 41% +11
Giorgia Meloni (Italy) 48% 5% 47% +1
Alexander De Croo (Belgium) 40% 15% 45% -5
Joe Biden (United States) 41% 7% 52% -11
Justin Trudeau (Canada) 37% 8% 55% -18
Pedro Sánchez (Spain) 38% 6% 56% -18
Fumio Kishida (Japan) 34% 14% 52% -18
Leo Varadkar (Ireland) 34% 13% 53% -19
Rishi Sunak (United Kingdom) 33% 12% 55% -22
Ulf Kristersson (Sweden) 31% 15% 54% -23
Olaf Scholz (Germany) 32% 7% 61% -29
Mateusz Morawiecki (Poland) 31% 7% 62% -31
Jonas Gahr Støre (Norway) 30% 6% 64% -34
Karl Nehammer (Austria) 27% 8% 65% -38
Emmanuel Macron (France) 25% 6% 69% -44
Mark Rutte (Netherlands) 25% 6% 69% -44
Yoon Seok-youl (South Korea) 21% 7% 72% -51
Petr Fiala (Czech Republic) 19% 6% 75% -56

The results aren't all that different from the previous entry. Joe Biden moved down a slot, but all the leaders' numbers are roughly the same. Morning Consult also added Yoon Seok-youl of South Korea and Petr Fiala of Czech Republic, both of whom elevate France's Emmanuel Macron out of the basement. The new additions are deeply underwater, as are most world leaders, reiterating the point we made last time that it's (apparently) very difficult to be a popular leader in the 21st century.

Again on top by a mile, and defying the overall trend, is Narendra Modi. We remain mystified by this, but luckily, several readers wrote in to enlighten us. Here are some of those responses:

  • A.T. in Seattle, WA: As someone who follows Indian politics to a degree, it seems that Narendra Modi's popularity is largely based on a few factors.

    First, is that he has had a lot of socioeconomic successes, from electrification to toilets, there has been a major improvement in India since he came into office. Indian GDP growth is among the best in the world, and India seems likely to benefit from businesses looking to diversify away from China. Anecdotally, I myself visited Uttar Pradesh, the most populous state in India, last month after a 10-year absence, my last trip being in spring 2013, also to the same area, and I can say that I did notice a significant quality-of-life improvement overall.

    Second, is that he is seen as being successful on the international stage, India is viewed as a rising power, integral to world affairs, especially as many of its rivals seem to be stumbling. Not all of this is due to Modi, but he has positioned himself well to reap the benefits.

    Third, is that the political opposition to Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is fractured and comparatively weak, rife with issues of nepotism and corruption. Even with its recent defeat in the southern Indian state of Karnataka, the BJP is still seen to be in the driver's seat with regards to the Lok Sabha elections in 2024 (the elections for the lower house of the Indian parliament).

    Fourth, is that Modi's stances on Indian cultural issues are very popular among many Hindus, who make up about 80% of the population of India, particularly in regions of North, Central and West India, regions heavily affected by Mughal and British rule. Hindu identity is very important to a large percentage of Indians (according to Pew, about 64% of Hindus feel it is necessary to be Hindu to be truly Indian).

    Fifth, is that Modi is personally viewed favorably by a large percentage of Indians, he is seen as largely self-made, rising from tea seller to prime minister (compared to Rahul Gandhi, who is seen as only being where he is due to his lineage), and is considered hard working and honest (so far he has avoided being personally implicated in corruption scandals). Similar to how Abraham Lincoln earned a reputation as honest and having risen from "Log Cabin" roots.

    This personal aspect has also allowed Modi to avoid any backlash from any of his policy failures, such as currency demonetization or the COVID response, since the public still gives him credit for effort.

    As a result of these factors, his popularity has remained quite high throughout his time as PM, and likely will ensure that the BJP retains majority control after the 2024 Lok Sabha election.

  • S.P.B. in Maharashtra, India: In all the years I have been following politics, I always envied U.S. politics because how much data is available to analyze. Also the accuracy of pollsters. Indian politics has been not so, for the lack of a better word, lucky. Our pollsters have been generally inaccurate, and even when they have been right, their methodology has been pretty suspect.

    With that said, the polls about Narendra Modi are probably accurate. To give you a background, Modi belongs to a nationalist party, BJP. Policy-wise they are quite socially conservative and economically liberal. The main criticism of the party has been its fascist tendencies. Narendra Modi was chief minister of a fairly prosperous state of Gujarat. During his stint as chief minister, he arguably led a corruption-free government. He managed to transplant that clean image to national level and come to power on the back drop of huge corruption allegations against the previous government in 2014. Since then he has become Kim Jong Un lite. There is no government communication even at local level that shys away from giving him credit. He has a knack of turning disastrous policy decisions to his favor. For example, one of his biggest policy decisions was demonetization of high value currency notes. This was disastrous to the economy, probably took about 2-3 percentage points off the GDP growth for that year, and achieved exactly zero of the policy objectives. However, he has managed to salvage his image out of it. His cabinet doesn't even sneeze without giving him credit. He is everywhere, quite literally. He doesn't shy away from giving himself credit even for most mundane "accomplishments," such as G20 rotational presidency! To add to Modi's aura of invincibility, the largest opposition party Indian National Congress is going through a leadership crisis.

    We have a bunch of news channels that make Fox News look like paragon of journalism. They have constant wall-to-wall praise of Modi's government and, oddly, criticism of opposition parties even though they have been out of power for a decade now.

    In light of the above factors, Modi's approval rating is not surprising. Also note this rating doesn't always translate to electoral success. In fact Modi's party just lost an important state election. In this election Modi personally campaigned for the state party almost as if he was on the ballot.

    Here is a book that explains the Modi effect.

    One final note: This kind of approval rating is not unheard of in Indian politics. Indira Gandhi was probably even more popular at her peak. And so was her father, Nehru.

  • L.T. in Vienna, Austria (but from India): Not sure who Morning Consult's local pollsters are, but their understanding of India may be lacking. Worse, like so much of the Indian media and public-facing institutions, they may well be compromised (similar to my current neighbor, Hungary). So, only positive findings for the Dear Leader, a man who is as much of a bully as Viktor Orbán or Donald Trump, and like them, hits back at any criticism.

    India is a big and diverse place. Modi has huge support in the "Hindi-speaking cow belt," which does encompass some of the biggest states, which are also by far the least educated. So if they are overrepresented in the sample, it would be like polling Trump's popularity mainly in Texas, Ohio, West Virginia, Wyoming and the Dakotas (my apologies to the good people there).

    Outside that belt, Modi's party just lost badly in local elections in Karnataka, a medium sized state in the South, got zero seats in Kerala, another Southern state, and badly lost West Bengal, another medium sized state.

    Due to the first-past-the-post system inherited from the Brits, Modi's party has a decent majority in Parliament, but they actually only won little more than 40% of the vote.

    To conclude, one can take that 78% approval with a bucketful of salt.

  • J.M. in New York City, NY: Modi has run a half-rockstar/half-ethnic-machine campaign and governance or, put another way, seems to combine the flash, pugnacity, and patronage of a Huey Long with the raw bigotry of a Donald Trump. I only hope, for India, that his fall will be less destructively convulsive than his rise.

Thanks to those who wrote in! We'll run some assessments of other leaders later this week; if anyone cares to comment on any of the 20 or so folks in the list above, and why they're at where they're at, approval-wise, here is the e-mail address. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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