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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Wheels Are Coming Off the DeSantis Campaign
      •  Florida Republicans Release Primary Ballot
      •  Trump Disdains Christians? You Don't Say...
      •  The Democratic Trump
      •  No Abortion Initiative in Nevada... for Now
      •  The Terrorist Attack That Wasn't
      •  The Land of the Free?
      •  This Week in Schadenfreude: The Brain Drain Is Underway
      •  This Week in Freudenfreude: Gobble, Gobble

The headline theme will be back soon, once (Z) is operating at 100% again.

Wheels Are Coming Off the DeSantis Campaign

Currently, Nikki Haley is the flavor of the month, while Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) is increasingly yesterday's news. And the bad news keeps rolling in, as Chris Jankowski, the CEO of the main DeSantis PAC, Never Back Down, resigned late Wednesday.

There have been many weeks' worth of rumors that the PAC was in turmoil, with significant disagreements about the proper strategy for the campaign going forward. There have also been rumors of tensions between PAC leadership and the DeSantis campaign. Hmmmm... we're not sure how that's possible, since the PAC and the campaign aren't supposed to coordinate at all. If they are doing so, that's a violation of federal law.

Jankowski is regarded as one of the best in the business, and so his loss is a big one for a campaign that's already flailing. He undoubtedly knows that the paychecks are going to stop sometime relatively soon, probably in March, and he also probably guesses that DeSantis will soon open fire on Donald Trump, in a last-ditch attempt to right the ship. Jankowski wants to remain employable in Republican circles, and so doesn't want to be around for that. Plus, with reports of shouting matches and near fistfights, the PAC's offices have clearly become a toxic workplace. Who wants to spend the holiday season going to work with a bunch of jerks, in service of a hopeless cause? Not Chris Jankowski, apparently.

As long as we're on the subject, there have been four polls of the Republican primary field in the last week. Here are the top three candidates in each:

Pollster Trump DeSantis Haley
Emerson 64% 8% 9%
Morning Consult 66% 13% 9%
HarrisX 62% 11% 10%
Echelon Insights 61% 12% 12%

That's one where DeSantis' lead is (barely) outside the margin of error, and three that are a statistical dead heat. They are still playing for second place, of course, but within a couple of weeks, Haley is likely to overtake DeSantis in the polling averages of both FiveThirtyEight and RealClearPolitics.

In short, DeSantis has run the most disastrous campaign since... well, another Florida governor who thought he had the right stuff to be president. How great would it be if, in a last-ditch Hail Mary, the Governor announced that his new slogan is "Ron!"? (Z)

Florida Republicans Release Primary Ballot

The Florida GOP has announced the list of candidates who qualified for the state's GOP primary in 2024. Here they are:

  • Ryan Binkley
  • Gov. Doug Burgum (R-ND)
  • Chris Christie
  • Ron DeSantis
  • Nikki Haley
  • Asa Hutchinson
  • Vivek Ramaswamy
  • Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC)
  • Donald Trump

In case you are wondering, Ryan Binkley is a wealthy Texas businessman and megapastor who clearly knows how to work the levers, at least in Florida. His reading of the Bible tells him that the U.S. needs fewer immigrants and more guns.

The list is tentative, in the sense that the Florida Republican Party will not necessarily pass all of the names on to the Florida Secretary of State. Scott's name, obviously, will be omitted, as will the names of anyone else who suspends their campaign between now and the state's cutoff date, which is... in one week.

The point here is this: Primary and caucus season doesn't start for 6 or 7 more weeks, but time is already running out for candidates other than the ones already declared. The primary ballot deadline has already arrived in several states (Arkansas, Georgia, Nevada and New Hampshire, among others) and it will arrive in many more by mid-December (in addition to Florida, that list includes Arizona, California, Michigan, North Carolina and Virginia). That means that if either of the presumed nominees are to be unseated, then by the time Christmas rolls around there will be no possibility of a white knight, and thus only be three ways left to do it: (1) one of the other declared candidates knocks them off, (2) they stand down voluntarily, or (3) the party steps in and replaces them forcibly. None of these seems particularly likely to us. (Z)

Trump Disdains Christians? You Don't Say...

If we are certain about anything in modern politics, it is this: Donald Trump cares nothing for Christianity, Christians or the Bible. In fact, we are certain that he thinks all these things are stupid. He's willing to pretend in the event that there's something in it for him, namely the support of evangelical voters. He's also more than willing to lambaste evangelical Christians, if he believes they are not with him.

You haven't heard much lambasting from Trump, as the evangelicals climbed on board the S.S. Trump about 6 years ago, and nothing since has caused (most of) them to change their thinking. But back in early primary season 2016, the (un)holy Trump-evangelical alliance had not formed yet, and the evangelicals were flirting with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) as their champion. According to a forthcoming book from Tim Alberta, formerly of Politico and now of The Atlantic, The Donald had some very choice things to say about (certain) evangelicals at that time.

The particular event that lit Trump's fuse was a moment when he, in an effort to show that he really does love Jesus, talked in an interview about his favorite Bible verse. Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, told the would-be president to work that into the discussion. The problem was that Trump said his favorite verse is in "Two Corinthians." Not the best way to establish his credibility, since the proper way to refer to that book is "Second Corinthians." Shortly thereafter, Perkins endorsed Cruz, and Cruz began making jokes about Trump's "mastery" of the Bible.

All of this left Trump angry and embarrassed and, naturally, suspicious of a conspiracy. And so, he said to one Iowa political operative: "You know, these so-called Christians hanging around with Ted are some real pieces of sh**." Alberta also says that Trump returned to that subject over the years, and "would use even more colourful language to describe the evangelical community." Specifics are not in the excerpt that's been released, but they are presumably in the book.

We seriously doubt there is anything that can undermine Trump's golden idol status with the evangelicals, since they are clearly willing to bend over backwards to excuse any and all bad behavior on his part. But just in case this is the one that finally lands, we pass it along. (Z)

The Democratic Trump

We often get e-mails for the Q&A wondering what the Democratic equivalent of Donald Trump might look like. It would seem that question has now been answered:

The individual in question, of course, is New York City mayor Eric Adams. The sexual assault accusation is the latest item on his ledger, and it was made possible by New York's Adult Survivors Act, which re-opened the window for one year to allow alleged victims to file claims (this is also what made possible the E. Jean Carroll lawsuit against Trump). The complaint, filed on Wednesday, is thin on details, and asks for $5 million. Adams denies the assault, and denies ever having met the complainant.

We pass all of this information along for two reasons. The first is that Adams thinks he's upwardly mobile, and has his eye on something larger than Gracie Mansion. This despite the fact that the mayoralty of New York City has been a terminal office for a century; the last person to use the job as a launching pad to something else was Acting Mayor Ardolph L. Kline, who served for the final 4 months of 1913, and then 8 years later was elected to a single term in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The second reason we pass this along is because implied in the question "Who is the Democratic Trump?" is the follow-up: "Could Democratic voters be persuaded to support someone who is Trump-like in approach and personality, but Democratic in policy?" Readers can decide for themselves whether Adams has a future in Democratic politics, though we will point out that the Biden administration, which once used Adams as a surrogate, is now unwilling to touch him with a 10-foot pole. (Z)

No Abortion Initiative in Nevada... for Now

Taking note of maneuvering in Ohio, pro-choice activists in Nevada put together an initiative that would guarantee abortion access in their state. However, on Wednesday, District Judge James T. Russell tossed out the proposed text. That's obviously a bit of a setback.

At issue is a Nevada law (which has counterparts in many states) that limits ballot initiatives to one issue each. The proposed text would have ensured that:

[E]very individual has a fundamental right to reproductive freedom, which entails the right to make and effectuate decisions about all matters relating to pregnancy, including, without limitation, prenatal care, childbirth, postpartum care, birth control, vasectomy, tubal ligation, abortion, abortion care, management of a miscarriage and infertility care.

Russell found this to be considerably more than one issue, while also complaining that the provisions of the proposed initiative were not spelled out fully enough. So, he tossed the text. In case it is of interest, Russell was appointed to the bench by then-governor Jim Gibbons, a Republican, and the most conservative governor Nevada has had this century.

The pro-choice forces are going to appeal to the Nevada Supreme Court, which has a slight liberal lean. They will also work up a new text, and see if they can get that approved. They have until July 8 to come up with wording that passes muster, and then to collect at least 100,000 signatures. Needless to say, with a presidential and U.S. Senate race that both figure to be close, Democrats would really, really, really like to get this on the ballot in 2024, instead of having to wait until 2026. (Z)

The Terrorist Attack That Wasn't

You've probably heard about this by now, but there was a very unusual car accident at Rainbow Bridge, which allows people to cross between the U.S. and Canada, passing over Niagara Falls.

There is actually a lot that is unknown about the accident. The car was a Bentley, was coming from the American side, and the two occupants were killed. Beyond that... a mystery. There is security footage of the lead-up to the crash, which you can see here, if you wish. It's not violent or gory, and if you don't watch carefully, you'll miss the relevant part. However, if you pay attention to the top of the screen, you see a white car approach at what must be 100+ mph, and launch into the air. Frankly, and we don't mean this as a joke, but instead as the best description we can come up with, it looks like any of a hundred car-chase scenes from The Dukes of Hazzard. In any case, if this was not either a mechanical failure or a suicide, we'll be very surprised.

That said, starting with Fox, the right-wing mediasphere immediately concluded it was a terrorist attack, and that it was therefore a failure of the Biden administration. Here are a few examples of tweets sent out in the hours after the incident:

  • Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ): Praying for our CBP officials and first responders.

    Our borders are under attack and the Biden Administration continues to sit on its hands.

    It's long past time to put Americans first.

  • Right-wing Journalist Simon Ateba: DEVELOPING: No word from the White House yet, an hour after a car exploded at the New York-Canada border near Niagara Falls in what is now referred to as an attempted terrorist attack. President Biden remains on vacation.

  • Right-wing Pundit Benny Johnson: The day before Thanksgiving, a terrorist drove a vehicle full of explosives to Niagara Falls, detonating them to cause a massive explosion at our border.

    This was an attempted terrorist attack.

    On US soil.

    Maybe the FBI should focus on actual national security threats instead of investigating Trump supporters.

  • Ted Cruz: This confirms our worst fear: the explosion at Rainbow Bridge was a terrorist attack.

    Both attackers are dead, and one law enforcement officer is injured.

    I am praying that officer makes a full recovery and is able to spend Thanksgiving surrounded by family and loved ones....

There are two problems with the above tweets. First, the FBI (and, thus, the Biden administration) did get involved in investigating the incident. Second, the FBI has already announced that it was not a terrorist attack.

We honestly do not know why Republican fears about the southern border have now become fears about the northern border, allowing such falsehoods to spread so easily and so quickly. We know Vivek Ramaswamy talked about building a wall along the northern border during the most recent debate, but we seriously doubt right-wingers are taking their cues from him, and we assume that he must have been parroting someone else.

We'll see if this new strain of thought continues. You'll know it's reached primetime when and if Donald Trump picks it up and runs with it. Meanwhile, "Thanks, Biden!" has clearly become the new "Thanks, Obama!" Republicans are now reflexively blaming the President for everything, even if that makes no sense, and even if the incident in question... didn't actually happen. (Z)

The Land of the Free?

The extremely libertarian Cato Institute has just released its "freedom" scores for 2023. They actually calculate three different scores. The first is "economic freedom," which includes state and local taxation, how big the state government is, and what debt/assets the state government has, among other things. The second is "personal freedom," which includes the percentage of residents in prison, limits or lack thereof on alcohol/tobacco/marijuana use, gun restrictions, legality of gambling, and limits or lack thereof on campaign finance, among other things. The third score is an overall score which incorporates the other two (but weighted).

Here are the top five states for "economic freedom":

  1. New Hampshire
  2. Florida
  3. South Dakota
  4. Tennessee
  5. Georgia

And here are the bottom five:

  1. New Jersey
  2. Oregon
  3. California
  4. Hawaii
  5. New York

Here are the top five states for "personal freedom":

  1. Nevada
  2. Arizona
  3. Maine
  4. New Hampshire
  5. New Mexico

And here are the bottom five:

  1. South Carolina
  2. Kentucky
  3. Wyoming
  4. Idaho
  5. Texas

Here are the top five states for "overall freedom":

  1. New Hampshire
  2. Florida
  3. South Dakota
  4. Nevada
  5. Arizona

And here are the bottom five:

  1. Oregon
  2. New Jersey
  3. California
  4. Hawaii
  5. New York

What lessons can be derived from this particular exercise? We see a few:

  1. The folks in New Hampshire are definitely living up to their state motto.

  2. When red states talk about "freedom" and when blue states talk about "freedom," they mean rather different things. Readers will have their own ideas as to which is more important, but we will point out that the blue-state version of freedom at least extends to everyone, whereas the red-state version primarily benefits those who have wealth.

  3. Many libertarians, particularly the ones at Cato, claim to be advocates for all kinds of freedom. But, when push comes to shove, what they really care about is the economic stuff. It is for this reason that libertarians are often described as closet Republicans.

If you click through the link above, the Cato folks also make available maps that break down each individual "freedom." For example, the state where it's easiest to get a gun? Kansas. The state that is least friendly to marijuana? Texas. The state with the worst debt problem? New York. (Z)

This Week in Schadenfreude: The Brain Drain Is Underway

Red states have spent the last 10+ years, and in particular the last 2-3 years, pursuing policies that, on the whole, don't sit well with young people, or educated people, or progressive people. It's only been a year since Dobbs allowed the red states to severely limit abortion access, but the consequences of that development, and of the "own the libs" policies in general, are starting to show themselves. To wit:

  • Texas is now the only red state to attract more college students than it sends away

  • Applications for OB-GYN residencies are down 10% in red states that have banned or strictly limited abortion access. In addition, many OB-GYNs are fleeing to blue states. The result is that red states have to pay considerably higher salaries to OB-GYNs to have any hope of attracting... anyone.

  • A survey of red-state college professors reveals that applications for tenure-line positions are way down, that 67% of existing tenured faculty would not recommend their institution to a colleague, and 30% are actively looking for employment elsewhere. That number jumps to 47% in Florida.

  • Red states are having trouble attracting and/or keeping teachers. Texas teachers are quitting at a rate 25% above the national average. South Carolina is having trouble staffing 17 different subjects that are part of the state curriculum. In Florida, teacher vacancies were up 35% last year, and another 15% this year.

Given the generally low regard that Republican politicians have for education, and in particular higher education, these developments may largely be seen as positives and not negatives. However, there are lots of jobs that can only be done by college graduates, and the more of them that are driven away, the more that red states will lack essential services. Meanwhile, college graduates pay a lot more in taxes, on the whole, than non-graduates. Many red states already have a shaky tax base. If they allow these trends to continue, in service of the culture wars, then it will get harder and harder to make ends meet.

Ultimately, electing people like Ron DeSantis, Gov. Kristi Noem (R-SD), and Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX) has led red states closer and closer to something like pre-industrial status. Will voters choose a different sort of leadership? Or will they keep marching forward, into the sea? (Z)

This Week in Freudenfreude: Gobble, Gobble

In view of the holiday, we thought we'd write a little bit about one of the more pleasant American political traditions, namely the now-annual pardoning of the White House turkey(s).

The presentation of turkeys to the sitting president dates back quite a long time—long, long before the pardons began to be issued. It is known that George Washington was gifted with turkeys at least a few times, and so too was Thomas Jefferson. Abraham Lincoln, too, which makes sense, since he's the one who declared Thanksgiving to be an official federal holiday. For 40 years, from 1873 to 1913, a Rhode Island turkey farmer named Horace Vose made sure to send a couple of birds to the White House every year. Pardons were not an option, however, as Vose's turkeys arrived already dressed and prepared for cooking.

For a few decades after Vose died, the gifting of turkeys to presidents was intermittent, and was handled by... whatever person took the initiative. It wasn't until 1947 that the presentation of presidential turkeys was regularized, with the National Poultry and Egg Board taking up the responsibility. This was not entirely a beneficent gesture. In fact, it really wasn't beneficent at all. Inasmuch as grain was needed for diplomatic purposes, Truman tried to persuade Americans to forgo all meat on Tuesdays ("Meatless Tuesdays") and to skip poultry on Thursdays ("Poultryless Thursdays"). Since animals eat grain in large amounts, this was meant to ease demand. The nation's meat and poultry producers were none too keen on Truman's plan, and they saw an opportunity to do a little lobbying against it, given that Thanksgiving falls on a Thursday. So, they arranged for a high-profile turkey gifting, and then made sure that reporters asked the President how he enjoyed his Thanksgiving turkey. Needless to say, if the president was not observing "Poultryless Thursdays," it encouraged the rest of the American public to ignore the restrictions, as well.

And so, since 1947, every sitting president has received at least one turkey, and usually two, from the National Poultry and Egg Board. As to the pardons, that custom took much longer to take hold. There are claims that Abraham Lincoln issued the first one, but this appears to be due to his liberal issuance of pardons for humans; there's no evidence he ever spared a turkey. The first known "pardon" came from John F. Kennedy, though he avoided using that particular word. There were at least a few turkeys spared by Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan, while Rosalynn Carter saw to it that all the turkeys during her husband's presidency were re-routed to petting zoos.

It was actually George H.W. Bush who made the pardons stick, and who actually used the word "pardon." In 1989, animal rights activists protested outside the annual turkey presentation. While they were in earshot, Bush declared: "But let me assure you, and this fine tom turkey, that he will not end up on anyone's dinner table, not this guy—he's granted a Presidential pardon as of right now—and allow him to live out his days on a children's farm not far from here." Since that time, no presidential turkey has ended up on the White House dinner table.

These days, much care and attention is put into selecting just the right turkeys for the ceremony. The breeder starts with between 50 and 80 birds, who are trained to tolerate flash photography, sudden/loud noises, and crowds. That flock is narrowed to roughly 10, and from those 10 the two best-habituated are chosen for the presentation ceremony. The names are chosen via a write-in contest for children, and the retired turkeys are sent to a destination chosen by the president and first lady. George W. Bush preferred to send them to Disney parks, while Barack Obama favored historic residences in Virginia, including Mount Vernon. Donald Trump and Joe Biden have, on advice from the National Poultry and Egg Board, sent their turkeys to various academic institutions. This allows for a considerably longer lifespan. And in case you are wondering, this year's turkeys, Liberty and Bell, are headed to the University of Minnesota.

There was a time when presidential politics was full of civil, non-partisan traditions that allowed a chief executive to remind everyone that he is president of all Americans. These days, even benign things like the egg roll and the turkey pardons have become politicized (for example, many right-wingers are circulating a fake video that makes it look like Biden skipped out on the ceremony this year). We certainly hope the day comes that the intensity of partisanship is dialed down, and everyone can enjoy the more pleasant trappings of American political traditions.

And beyond that, allow us to take this opportunity to express our appreciation for all the folks who make this site possible, including the programmers and copy editors who help us out, and the readers who make it possible. Thanks to all, and have a good weekend! (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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