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Mike Johnson Has Some Decidedly Non-Mainstream Ideas

Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) has been in his new office for a few weeks, which means there's been time for journalists, including those from Rolling Stone and CNN, to take a long look at his past public statements. It's pretty eye-opening.

To start with, Johnson takes the view that humans are fundamentally evil. That evil is contained only by law, which flows from God. This, in turn, is why leftists are such a big problem. Since they don't believe in God, they don't have any law that constrains their inherent evil. Glad we cleared that up.

The Speaker is also, of course, staunchly anti-LGBTQ. He is very strongly opposed to allowing gay couples to adopt, since those children will be subjected to the evil of the parents. He also opposes any sort of special anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people. He argues that being gay (or trans, or bi, etc.) is a "behavior" and is not inherent to the person. So, it's not worthy of protection.

Johnson has also shared some choice thoughts about abortion, which he calls an "American Holocaust." In a 2022 interview (i.e., last year), he said: "I mean, the reality is that Planned Parenthood and all these big abortion [sic], they set up their clinics in inner cities. They are, you know, they regard these people as easy prey. I mean it's true. This is what's happening across the country now." Inasmuch as "inner cities" is thinly veiled code for "Black people," Johnson's presumption is that Black people aren't clever enough to realize they are being hoodwinked by the folks at Planned Parenthood. Exactly why Planned Parenthood would want to "prey" on people so as to run up its abortion total is not clear to us.

As you might also imagine, Johnson is a big fan of school prayer. And actually, it goes beyond that. He wants the Ten Commandments to be displayed in schools, and he also would like to make Bible study mandatory. We assume that would be followed by study of the Q'uran, Bhagavad Gita and Tao Te Ching. After all, fair is fair, right? In any case, time for Bible study would be created by canceling lessons about that nasty evolution stuff.

None of this is terribly unusual for a fundamentalist Christian like Johnson, though it is unusual for a high-ranking member of the U.S. government. We tried to think of the highest-ranking person in recent memory who might read along with the four paragraphs above and nod, and we came up with former AG John Ashcroft. If there's someone higher in the line of succession that you think we missed, say since 1990, let us know.

Perhaps most unusual, and most concerning, is something we've written a bit about before, namely Johnson's views on, for lack of a better term, the state of the union. Just a few weeks before becoming speaker, Johnson was part of a broadcast with several other prominent fundamentalists. And he decreed:

This is an inflection point. We are at a civilizational moment. The only question is: Is God going to allow our nation to enter a time of judgment for our collective sins which his mercy and grace have held back for some time or is he gonna give us one more chance to restore the foundation, to return to Him?... We will not be able to do it without the Lord's help, because the flesh and the mistrust, and the sin and everything is so great here that this is going to have to bring people to their knees.

When the moderator asked a follow-up, namely if the Day of Judgment is nigh, Johnson added:

You all know the terrible state that we're in... The faith in our institutions is the lowest it's ever been in the history of our nation. The culture is so dark and depraved that it almost seems irredeemable at this point. The church attendance in America dropped below 50 percent for the first time in our history since they began to measure the data sixty years ago. And the number of people who do not believe in absolute truth is now above the majority for the first time. One in three teen girls contemplated suicide last year. One in four high school students identify as something other than straight. We're losing the country.

We consulted the staff theologian, and apparently the third seal in the Book of Revelation is indeed "more than 20% of the high schoolers come out as bi." So, be on the lookout for the pale horse, because he's up next.

Johnson will not be able to put any of his ideas into action, since there's still a Senate and a White House out there. However, if he really believes that God's judgment is upon us, and that the time has come to burn it down, he absolutely could decide that something like a default on the national debt is a good thing. Most government officials are able to separate their personal religious views from their public work; we'll see if Johnson also has that capacity. We're just not sure.

In any event, the exact impact of Johnson's rather extreme religious views will not be known for a while. However, there is a different sort of impact that is already showing itself. It is no secret that the Speaker is not a good fundraiser, especially compared to his predecessor. Well, the NRCC's numbers for October are in, and they are not good. The take was $5 million, as compared to $10 million in October 2019 and $9.8 million in October 2021. This is the third-worst month for the NRCC this year, trailing only the invariably poor months of January and August.

Now, Johnson only took the gavel on Oct. 25, so that's not completely on him, per se. It was undoubtedly due also to general irritation with the House Republicans' shenanigans, as well as the fact that McCarthy wasn't shaking people down anymore. However, if the November numbers are also way down, then that definitely is on Johnson, and it's not good news for the GOP. Assuming that 2024 is a high-retirement year, as is shaping up to be the case (see below), then the Party will need more money, not less. (Z)

Utahns Hold True to Form

Republican Chris Stewart, who represented UT-02, resigned back in September to help take care of his ailing wife. Last night, residents of the district went to the polls and chose former Stewart aide Celeste Maloy as his replacement, 57.4% to 33%. UT-02 is R+11, which means a generic Republican should win roughly 54.5% to 45.5%. So, Maloy overperformed the baseline by a bit.

Maloy is a fairly garden-variety Western Republican. Her #1 issue is land management, while she's also anti-choice, pro-gun, pro-reducing spending, pro-military, and anti-immigrant. As is pretty much required for Utah politicians, she's a member of the LDS Church. She isn't Trumpy, however, and her campaign website pointedly avoids any mention of him. We shall see how well she meshes with her new colleagues. (Z)

In-N-Out; That's What the U.S. House Is All About

Another day, and more retirements from the House. To start, Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA), a longtime ally of Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), has decided to call it a career after 16 terms. Her district, CA-16, covers the area south of San Francisco, and includes Palo Alto and Menlo Park. It is D+26, so it's not going to be changing hands, even as an open seat.

Eshoo is currently the only person of Armenian descent and the only person of Assyrian descent in the House. We were a little surprised to learn there are no other Armenian Americans in Congress, but there are several in the running to replace Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) in CA-30, which includes the overwhelmingly Armenian-American city of Glendale. So, Eshoo might have someone to whom she can hand that particular baton when she departs.

On the other side of the aisle, meanwhile, Rep. Bill Johnson (R-OH) will leave Congress in the next few months to take over as president of Youngstown State University. He claims he wasn't looking to depart, but this opportunity just sort of landed in his lap. Readers can decide for themselves how much they believe that. In any case, his district is R+16, so it won't change hands in the special election that will be called once he formally quits, nor will it change hands next year.

As a reminder, we keep track of Congressional retirements here. However, we only list seats that will be open at the time of next year's election. Seats like Johnson's, which will be filled sometime in spring of next year by a special election, do not appear.

At the moment, it looks like Congress is headed for a record number of retirements. Thus far, 30 seats are set to be open. That's considerably fewer than 2022 (50 seats), 2020 (48), or 2018 (52). However, the dozen announcements thus far in November is far higher than any recent year, and is only equaled in the 21st century by 2011. It's customarily December and early January when the retirements come fast and furious; if this December and January are typical, then we could be looking at 60 retirements. Those are the voluntary ones; if we include a couple of dozen involuntary ones imposed by voters, something close to 100 seats could be in different hands in Jan. 2025 than they were in Jan. 2023.

Normally, when control of the House is close, and members of both parties have hope they will be in the majority, and thus will be in line for plum committee assignments, then folks tend to hold on for dear life. The number of people heading for the doors, at least in the House, speak to how unpleasant the job has gotten. Consider Johnson, for example. One of the worst parts of being a member of the House is all the fundraising you have to do. Well, a university president's main job is to fundraise. So, Johnson will go from doing something unpleasant part of the time to doing it all the time (admittedly, at a big salary bump). Clearly, the non-fundraising parts of being a representative were not rewarding enough to keep Johnson in Washington. And Celeste Maloy (see above) may soon find her victory to be quite Pyrrhic, indeed. (Z)

Maybe Hold off on Picking New Curtains, Gov. Gaetz

If Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) is convinced of one thing, it's how amazing Matt Gaetz is. We suppose it's not too surprising he's developed an ego as big as his forehead, since he represents a ruby-red district where he wins every election in a walk, and since he surrounds himself with sycophants.

Gaetz could easily stay in the House for the next 30 years, and be a thorn in the side of the next ten speakers. However, people like him are not content to stay put; he most certainly looks in the mirror every morning and sees a future U.S. president. Of course, people do not often go straight from the House to the White House, so Gaetz' plan was a pit stop in the Florida governor's mansion. He said, several months ago, that he's "100% committed" to a run in 2026, when Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) will be term-limited.

The Representative might want to rethink that plan. A new poll from Florida Atlantic University (FAU) reveals that Floridians, on the whole, do not think too highly of their black-sheep congressman. According to FAU, a mere 12% of them strongly approve of Gaetz, while 9% somewhat approve, for a total of 21% who view him (at least somewhat) positively. By contrast, 46% strongly disapprove and 11% somewhat disapprove, for a total of 57% who view him (at least somewhat) negatively. That puts him 38 points underwater. You don't win many elections when you're that unpopular. And it's worth noting that even among Republicans, he's basically even (36.6% approve, 36.3% disapprove), so he might not survive the GOP primary, if he does run.

It's a little early to say for certain, but between this and the sharp decline in Ron DeSantis' polling numbers we wrote about yesterday, it sure looks like Floridians are tiring of the sort of politics practiced by these kinds of Republicans. Do either DeSantis or Gaetz care one whit about making the lives of Floridians better? It certainly does not look that way. No, it looks like they are solely interested in using the powers and the trust voters have invested in them in order to promote their own brand, often literally at the expense of the state's taxpayers.

If Floridians have indeed soured on Republicans of this ilk, well, Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) is up next year, and he's another in the Gaetz/DeSantis mold. He also has a history of winning elections by very narrow margins. Should the state's voters be looking for more work horses, and fewer show horses, then next year's U.S. Senate race could get very interesting.

The Democrats will probably nominate former representative Debbie Mucarsel-Powell. She is a Latina who was born in Ecuador and came to the U.S. at 14. If all the Latinos and Latinas and women in Florida decide they have had it with Scott, she could be a serious contender. (Z)

Today in Dissembling: Peter Meijer

When he was a member of the House, Republican Peter Meijer reached the limits of his tolerance with Donald Trump after the 1/6 insurrection. Meijer voted in favor of the second impeachment, and had some strong words about how Trump should not be the GOP's leader moving forward. These were apparently acts of conscience, since Meijer knew full well they would bring an end to his career in the House.

These days, however, Meijer would like to get back in the game. In fact, he'd like a promotion to U.S. Senator, representing the purple state of Michigan as a Republican. You can't get that job these days without being Trumpy and so Meijer is in the middle of trying to explain to Michigan voters that, when it comes to Trump, I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I am not sure that you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.

As part of his "rehabilitation" (?) tour, Meijer just sat for an interview with Politico's Adam Wren. And Wren led off with the obvious question, namely "what changed?" Actually, it was a little longer than that; here's the full question:

When we last talked, I asked you whether you would support Donald Trump if he were the nominee in 2024. And you told me, "I have no idea how I would do that." As you launched your Senate campaign recently, you said, "When it comes to 2024 I'm going to support the Republican nominee." Did Trump change or did you?

And here is the answer:

It's something that I've grappled with. I think [former Trump Attorney General] Bill Barr's response has been, "I'll jump off that bridge when it comes to it." I would say one of the things that's really changed between then and now is my frustration at the cynical calculation that I've seen on the Democratic side.

From time to time, some have admitted as much and other times they haven't, or they've chosen not to kind of confess this desire [for Trump to win the nomination]. I don't think it's a controversial thing to say that the Democrats have kind of salivated—or at least this was the case going back towards the middle of this year before Biden's poll numbers imploded—they were salivating at the prospect of a Biden versus Trump rematch, thinking that given the president's weaknesses, his strongest chance of reelection was against Donald Trump. The substance of the Alvin Bragg indictment, I think, has been rightly viewed by folks across the spectrum as just quite spurious and politically motivated. And it's not the timing of the classified documents investigation because I think that timing—I don't take issue with that timing, it's hard to know the fundamental substance of that—but when it comes to a lot of the Jan. 6 related investigations, kind of election-related investigations...

I'll put it this way: Even if this substance is not political, the timing of it could not have been more calculated in order to support the reemergence and kind of bolster Donald Trump.

I may not feel this way if I saw the Democratic Party doing everything in their power to—if they truly viewed Donald Trump as the threat that they say he is, then if I saw them acting consistent with that, versus essentially forcing a game of chicken upon the American people—then I may have stayed where I was when we were having that conversation. But certainly right now, I'm just very much in "a pox on all houses" mentality.

If you can understand the logic here, you are cleverer than we are. It would seem his argument is: "The Democrats are bad, and aren't doing enough to stop Donald Trump, so I guess my only choice is to support Trump." Note also that the interview doesn't get any clearer or more comprehensible if you keep reading.

In any event, this is a question that Meijer is going to face over and over and over. And all he's come up with is a pile of verbal dog poop. From this, we draw two things. First, it's case study #272 that you cannot bridge the gap between Trumper and Never Trumper. Second, Meijer is never going to be a U.S. Senator from Michigan or from anywhere else. If he can't sell it hard that he's had a "come to Jesus" moment and realized that Trump is the bee's knees, the way Vance did, then he's not going to get anywhere near the votes he needs for the nomination, much less a general election victory. (Z)

Federal Judge Orders Improperly Dated Ballots to Be Counted in 2024

One element of Pennsylvania election law is, to be blunt, really dumb. It is the part that requires vote-by-mail ballots to be properly dated by the person returning them. Some voters forget to put the date, some voters accidentally put the wrong month or day or year (e.g., 11/15 instead of 11/5, or 10/5 instead of 11/5). And when that happens, the ballot is supposed to be disqualified. This is dumb, of course, because the date written on the ballot does not in any way change whether or not it was received on time.

Various pro-voting groups filed a lawsuit over this element of Pennsylvania election law, and yesterday U.S. District Judge Susan Paradise Baxter found in their favor. The basic argument of her ruling is as follows: The date, whether present or not, or accurate or not, has no relevance to determining whether the ballot was received on time or whether the sender is an eligible voter. And so, disqualifying ballots on that basis is a violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965, both of which forbid immaterial errors from being used to disqualify ballots.

The ruling was cheered by Democratic-leaning groups, since Democrats like mail-in voting, and it was jeered by Republicans, since Republicans dislike mail-in voting. Based on that, and the general tendency for Democrats to vote by mail more than Republicans do, one has to guess this will boost the blue team's vote totals a bit in 2024. And in a close state like Pennsylvania, every bit counts. That said, we're not talking about a huge number of votes, since this is a fairly abstruse problem—roughly 15,000 in presidential elections and 7,500 in midterms. And, of course, not all of those are Democratic, so it's maybe +7,000 or so for the blue team next year. Oh, and Republicans are increasingly warming up to voting by mail, so it could be more like +5,000. Still, once again, every bit counts. (Z)

Houston, We Have Voter Fraud

The catch-all argument that Republicans make in cases related to voter access, voting, etc., including the one in Pennsylvania (see above) is "voter fraud." As in, it's a serious problem, and we must make it very difficult to vote so as to make certain that no illegitimate ballots sneak through. If tossing out thousands of legitimate ballots is the price of that, then so be it.

Yesterday, there was a conviction in a case involving the single-largest case of voter fraud uncovered during the 2020 elections. Kim Taylor applied for, and received, a bunch of absentee ballots, which she then submitted. The total number of phony ballots was... 52, and she did it to help her husband Jim win the Republican nomination for IA-04, the seat then held by Steve King (R). It did not come within a country mile of working; Jim Taylor got only 8% of the vote.

Now, Kim Taylor has been convicted on all 52 counts, each of them carrying a maximum sentence of 5 years. She surely won't end up doing 260 years in the clink, but she's certainly going away for some meaningful period of time. Meanwhile, this case serves as a reminder of several things about voter fraud:

  • It's rare.
  • It's usually discovered.
  • It's nearly impossible to execute at the level needed to swing an election.
  • Most of the recent culprits have been Republicans.
  • The most effective avenue for potential fraud is absentee ballots, an avenue that GOP anti-fraud efforts rarely focus upon.

That ends today's lesson. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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