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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Could Haley Break Through?
      •  Mike Johnson, Mystery Man
      •  Johnson Is Starting to Govern and Will Soon Discover What It Is Like
      •  Ivanka Must Testify
      •  Poll: Republican Voters Say Trump Didn't Try to Overturn Election Results
      •  Nevada in the Spotlight
      •  Democrats Are Worried
      •  New York Republicans Want to Expel "Santos"
      •  Virginia Removed 3,400 Eligible Voters from the Rolls

Could Haley Break Through?

In 2016, John Kasich, Ben Carson, Herman Cain, Jeb! and others all had their moments in the sun. Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) had his 15 minutes this year but is all but dead and gone now. People didn't want to hear about how he slew the woke Mouse barehanded. Could Nikki Haley be the next frontrunner among those who are not Donald Trump? All indications are that maybe now is her turn. The timing is good. Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) is a dead man walking. Chris Christie doesn't actually want the nomination; he just wants to annoy Donald Trump. Vivek Ramaswamy has enough money to stay in until the convention in July. His only problem is that nobody prefers a Trump imitator to the real thing. Maybe Haley could be the last man or woman standing besides The Donald.

Haley is a conundrum. She is a brown woman and child of immigrants in a party that does not particularly like brown people, women, or immigrants. But she is also an excellent campaigner, outstanding speaker, and aggressive debater. She also has as good a background on domestic affairs as any of the other challengers and a better one on foreign policy than anyone else. In addition, she comes off as the adult in the room.

Veteran Republican pollster Whit Ayres said: "Sometimes the direction of movement is as important as the absolute level of standing—and she's going up, while the other candidates are either going down or remaining flat." Haley has already passed DeSantis in New Hampshire and South Carolina and is gaining on him in Iowa, despite DeSantis spending all his time there and Haley campaigning elsewhere. If Haley were to come in second in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, it would soon become a two-person race. If all the non-Trump Republicans were to coalesce in her camp, she might have at least a small shot at it. If she could actually win one of the early states, it would be a magnitude 10 earthquake.

Her sudden emergence as a serious candidate for "last person standing besides Donald Trump" has also increased the focus on her track record. People are asking why she tried to get Chinese companies to open factories in South Carolina while she was governor. They want to know where she stands on resettling refugees from the Middle East. Her position on abortion ("It can't get 60 votes in the Senate") isn't exactly the moral position the other Marjorie (Dannenfelser) wants.

And then there is the math. Haley is good at math. After all, she has a bachelor's degree in accounting from Clemson University and worked as CFO for her family's clothing business before being elected to the South Carolina House in 2004. Most Republican primaries are winner-take-all. The only way for a challenger to collect delegates will be to actually beat Trump in the primaries. In a three- or four- or five-way race, that simply won't happen. In a man-to-man or man-to-woman race, it is at least conceivable, especially if Trump's legal problems continue to grow. At this point, the non-Trumpy Republicans' only real hope is that all the other challengers either drop out or become irrelevant and all the Republicans who don't like Trump (for whatever reason) get behind Haley. (V)

Mike Johnson, Mystery Man

Speaker James "Mike" Johnson is one of the least vetted House speakers ever. Consequently, journalists and oppo researchers are running to their computers to type "Johnson" into Google, which indeed pulls up a lot of information, not all of it relevant. Searching for "Mike Johnson" gets 167 million hits in less than half a second of trying:

Google search brings up 168 million hits for 'Mike Johnson'

One of us, namely (Z), had a college roommate named Michael Johnson, a plumber named Michael Johnson, an actor he directed in a play named Michael Johnson, a lawyer named Michael Johnson and another plumber named Michael Johnson. So, it is likely that some sizable number of those Johnsons aren't the Johnson that now runs the House of Representatives.

Nevertheless, Johnson is 51 years old and has a track record. Sooner or later, reporters are going to find it. Some themes are already starting to emerge, including these:

  • Christian Nationalism: Kristin Kobes Du Mez, a historian specializing in studying evangelical politics, says that Johnson is a Christian nationalist. He believes that America was founded as a Christian nation, actual facts to the contrary (James Madison and George Washington were best described as Deists; Thomas Jefferson was attacked in his time as a "howling atheist"). For Johnson, the Constitution has to be interpreted in light of the Bible. He certainly does not believe in separation of church and state. Here are some sources on Johnson and Christian nationalism:

    • Politico: The Christian Nationalist Ideas That Drive Mike Johnson
    • Mother Jones: Mike Johnson's Long Flirtation With Christian Nationalism
    • MSNBC: Mike Johnson's Christian nationalist track record isn't a mystery—it's a tragedy

  • Lack of experience: With the possible exception of Dennis Hastert, Johnson has less experience herding the cats than any speaker in over a century. And Johnson's cats aren't like Hastert's cats. They have become lions, tigers, jaguars, and leopards. Johnson undoubtedly sympathizes with the Freedom Caucus, but that's not his job. His job is getting 217 (soon 218) votes for legislation. He has to get most of the Biden 18 on board without antagonizing the Freedom Caucusers. Johnson has no experience even trying to do that, let alone succeeding. And he also has to think about things like: "Does this have any chance of passing the Senate?" Another animal he will have to deal with there is Turtle, who has his own thoughts on matters legislative and has a clearer idea of what can pass the Senate and what can't. When Rep. Ken Buck (R-CO) was asked why Johnson won, he said: "Probably because he has the fewest enemies of anybody in the Republican Party." Not having enemies doesn't mean you can't acquire them quickly when you put concrete bills on the floor. Some sources are here:

    • Axios: Mike Johnson is the Least Experienced House Speaker in 140 Years
    • Politico: The Terrifying Learning Curve Facing Mike Johnson
    • The New Yorker: Speaker Who?: The Rise of a G.O.P. Nobody in Trump's House

  • Lackluster fundraiser: In addition to herding the cats and petting the Turtle, the speaker is expected to raise money for House Republicans. Lots and lots of money. Johnson's never done that before. Big donors are going to want to sniff his rear end before ponying up. They may also have lists of favors they would like, some of which may be contradictory to what the FCers want. For example, Big Business types tend to like stability and predictability and don't like shutting down the government to make a point. Can he manage that? Here are some sources:

    • Politico: Mike Johnson's ascension is already sparking a cash frenzy
    • Punchbowl News: He's raised just $553,000 this year.
    • Financial Times: Questions over fundraising dog new US House Speaker

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Johnson spent years working for a group whose goal was to embed Christianity in the public schools. That could be a treasure trove for Democratic oppo researchers and reporters. And there could be all kinds of unknown unknowns. (V)

Johnson Is Starting to Govern and Will Soon Discover What It Is Like

In his first interview with Fox News after becoming speaker, Mike Johnson said: "We need to bifurcate aid to Ukraine and Israel" (English translation: I am against aid to Ukraine). Guess what? An "Israel only" bill could probably not pass the House since every Democrat and many Republicans would vote against it and it probably wouldn't even be brought up for a vote in the Senate. Johnson has no experience trying to get consensus on contentious subjects, and he may be in for a rude shock. Pursuing the goals of at most a quarter of the House and only a very small fraction of the Senate just isn't going to fly. Dropping the bill isn't going to fly either because most Republicans strongly support Israel and don't want to see it destroyed. Supporters of Ukraine are never going to accept: "Let's pass aid to Israel now and then we can talk about Ukraine later" because they know there will never be a "later." Insisting that the two aid packages are in one bill holds the Israel aid hostage to the Ukraine aid. Supporters of Ukraine fully understand that, even if Johnson doesn't. But he'll learn.

The wars that Israel and Ukraine are fighting are very different, of course. Ukraine is struggling with a grinding ground war, trying to take back territory, foot by foot and inch by inch. The enemy is dug in along miles and miles of trenches. It's World War I all over again, sans the poison gas (so far). The war in the Middle East is a modern army fighting hard-to-find guerrillas hiding in underground tunnels. Think something along the lines of the Vietnam War, or either of the recent wars in Afghanistan (U.S.S.R. or U.S.).

Johnson's plan is to fund the aid to Israel and cut domestic spending by the same amount as the aid. The only problem is that will never even pass the House, let alone the Senate. It should be interesting to see how long it takes him to realize that it is going nowhere. Also, in addition to Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and Johnson, there are currently 431 other members of the House, any one of whom could introduce a motion to vacate the chair. That includes Democrats. If Johnson's view of governance is "my way or the highway," one of those 431 might just decide that it is already time for an MTV. (V)

Ivanka Must Testify

On Friday, Judge Arthur Engoron ruled that Donald Trump's favorite child, Ivanka, has to testify in the civil trial about how much he should be fined for violating state law while running his businesses. She has no interest whatsoever in doing so and will appeal this decision. Her argument is that she doesn't live in New York State anymore. However, she was executive vice president of The Trump Organization when it was breaking the law, so the judge wants to know things like whose idea it was to falsely value properties and who else knew about it. A top officer like an executive VP might well know. It seems unlikely the appeal will work. If that were true, any time anyone was accused of or involved with breaking a state law, they would be home free just by moving out of state. Courts understand this.

Initially, Ivanka was a defendant in the case, just like her two brothers, Eric and Donald Jr. However, she was eliminated as a defendant earlier this year because her role in the company ended long ago and the statute of limitations let her off the hook. Not so with her brothers. That ruling did not eliminate Ivanka as a witness. Both Eric and Donald Jr. are also expected to testify this week.

What is Ivanka afraid of? She can probably afford the airfare from Florida to New York and can probably even manage to find the time, since she doesn't currently have a 9-to-5 job. Maybe she knows what Daddy was doing, like manipulating valuations. In fact, given that Trump possibly actually loves her (probably the only person other than himself that he might love), he might well have bragged to her how brilliant he is to have pulled the wool over the eyes of his bankers, insurance brokers, and the tax authorities. Then when asked if she knew about it, she would be faced with the choice of perjuring herself or destroying his business. That is not a choice she especially wants to be faced with.

Trump definitely does not want to put darling daughter through the wringer, so he called the judge a "nut job" for ruling that Ivanka has to testify. Statements like that against the judge violate the gag order in place against Trump. He has already paid two fines, one for $5,000 and one for $10,000, for previous violations. Mathematicians all over the country are sitting on the edge of their chairs waiting for the third fine. Is the judge using an arithmetic progression (so #3 will be $15,000) or a geometric progression (so #3 will be $20,000)? If it is going to double each time, it could hit big money after a while. Remember, if you start with one penny on the first square of the chessboard, and you double it for each subsequent square, to complete the full sequence requires $184,467,440,737,095,516.15, or a shade over $184 quadrillion. Donald Trump doesn't have that much money, no matter what he might tell his accountants to say, and he's not starting with just one penny, either. (V)

Poll: Republican Voters Say Trump Didn't Try to Overturn Election Results

For years now, on the air, Fox News has steadfastly maintained that Donald Trump won the 2020 presidential election, even though top executives and network stars knew he lost. The executives feared that if they told the truth, viewers would desert them in droves and the company would face ruin. So they lied to protect their business. The lies have cost the company $787.5 million so far, with more to come.

One consequence of their lies is that a large number of Fox viewers and their friends and families now believe that Trump really won and is being railroaded by all the indictments against him. A new YouGov poll shows that while 47% of adult citizens think Trump tried to overturn the Georgia election and 29% think he didn't, among Republicans only 18% think he tried to overturn it and 59% think he did not. Among independents it was 46% yes and 22% no. Considering that multiple eyewitnesses said he did and there is an audio tape to back them up, Republicans are living in a fantasy world, but that's the way it is. As to whether Trump committed a crime in Georgia, 72% of Democrats, 41% of independents, and only 11% of Republicans think he did. Similarly, on the issue of whether they approve of Trump being charged in Georgia, 83% of Democrats, 50% of independents, and only 15% of Republicans approve of him being charged. That surely will have an impact on the various trials coming up.

In other words, it seems like Trump's defense is not going to play out in the courtroom, but in public. We expect that once the trials start, Fox will put "expert" after "expert" on the air explaining why the charges are "trumped up" and why their hero is not guilty. Unless the jurors are sequestered, which is unlikely in a long trial, probably some of them will watch Fox every day and get their information there. (V)

Nevada in the Spotlight

Iowa is an early state and has a caucus. New Hampshire is an early state and has a primary. Nevada is an early state and has... both! And one of them doesn't count.

This past weekend the focus was on Nevada. The main event was the Republican Jewish Coalition's annual meeting. This was the baby of the late billionaire Sheldon Adelson. He invited wealthy Jewish Republican donors to an event at one of his Las Vegas hotels and Republican candidates flocked there to be inspected by the donors, like so many cows at a cattle show. His widow, the Israel-born Miriam Adelson, has continued the tradition, but is staying neutral in the GOP primaries. This year, with Israel in crisis, the donors were keen on hearing what the candidates would do about the Middle East should they become president next year. They came and made their pitches.

At the meeting, Donald Trump told the 1,500 attendees that if he had been president, Hamas would never have attacked Israel. But he also admired Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and other right-wing antisemites. This might not have been the best audience for that pitch. He also warned Hamas: "If you spill a drop of American blood, we will spill a gallon of yours." Hamas probably doesn't understand that as Israel uses the metric system and nobody there knows what a gallon is. Nikki Haley lit into Trump and said he was confused. Ron DeSantis denounced the moral equivalence between Hamas and Israel. Mike Johnson even showed up and said: "As a Christian, I know, and we believe, the Bible teaches very clearly that we're to stand with Israel."

But something else was also at play: the battle between the primary and the caucus. On Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024, Nevada will hold a state-run primary. Every registered voter will receive an absentee ballot in the mail, as required by state law. Voters can mark it and mail it back. It means nothing. The winner doesn't get any delegates.

Two days later, on Feb. 8, 2024, the Nevada Republican Party will hold caucuses, like Iowa. That's where all the delegates will be chosen. Caucuses are much more sparsely attended than primaries. In a primary, every vote counts the same. The vote of a wildly enthusiastic voter counts the same as that of someone who just flipped a coin or rolled a die. Caucuses are different since they require a greater commitment of time and effort. Enthusiastic voters tend to show up and indifferent ones don't. So caucuses favor candidates whose base is wildly enthusiastic about them. In Nevada, there is the additional problem of explaining to the voters that the ballot they will get in the mail doesn't matter. Instead they need to show up 2 days later at a different location to caucus. Caucusing is complicated enough without this additional confusion. Many voters are simply not going to understand why the Nevada Republican Party decided to have caucuses when state law requires a primary.

The consequence of all this is that Nevada could have two winners. Nikki Haley, Tim Scott, and Mike Pence filed to run in the primary. Pence will probably still be on the ballot, even though he just dropped out. The winner won't get any delegates but will get a ton of publicity and some momentum, which may be more valuable than the handful of Nevada delegates. Two days later, Donald Trump, Ron DeSantis, Vivek Ramaswamy, Chris Christie, and Doug Burgum will compete for the actual delegates in the caucus. When the caucus winner is announced, there will be less publicity and a lot of explanations of why the state had both.

Haley's strategy is probably smart. She is likely to win the primary, since all she has to do is outpoll Scott and Pence. Headlines everywhere the next day will be "Nikki Haley Wins the Nevada Primary." People in other states won't understand that she didn't get any delegates. When Trump wins the caucuses 2 days later, a lot of people are going to be scratching their heads and saying: "But didn't Haley already win Nevada?" (V)

Democrats Are Worried

The announcement of Rep. Dean Phillips (DFL-MN) that he is running for the Democratic presidential nomination has accomplished something. It made Democrats run for their worry beads and start using them. They expect the 2024 election to be close and are scared of anything that might cost Joe Biden 1% of the vote, elect Donald Trump, and destroy the country forever. Their latest fear is that while Phillips has no chance of winning the Democratic nomination, by talking about Biden's age all the time, he could convince a few thousand Democrats in key states to abandon Biden, either by voting for a third-party candidate or by not voting at all.

Top Democrats are pleading with everyone: "Stop looking for a Biden alternative. It is pointless and only serves to divide the party." The only condition in which looking for an alternative might make sense is if the Republicans nominate Nikki Haley or Ron DeSantis, in which case a much younger Democrat might be called for. But the odds of that are small.

Many Democrats are now blaming themselves for asking "What if... " for so long instead of getting behind Biden a year or more ago. Gov. Tim Walz (DFL-MN) summed that up by saying: "Democrats by nature are a little bit skittish. They get themselves worried. They work themselves up. They talk in their groups, amongst one another. Just stop it." Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-PA) said: "I deal in the real world. He is going to be the nominee, regardless of whether people think they can construct on paper a more attractive nominee or not." Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO) said: "Every time Democrats go on TV and say: 'The president's done a great job, but he's 80 years old,' all they're doing is feeding this appetite out there by some for a third-party run. That could be the worst thing that happens in a century."

Biden's advisers are frustrated with all the talk of finding someone else. They point to his many achievements in office and how he has herded the cats far better than anyone could have expected. They also don't believe for a second that a younger nominee, say Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA) or Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D-MI), would suddenly pull millions of die-hard Trump voters into the blue camp. They believe that Trump has a floor of 45% and no Democrat will be able to change that. It is going to be a close election, no matter what, and Biden is the only Democrat around who has demonstrated that he can beat Trump. (V)

New York Republicans Want to Expel "Santos"

New York Republicans in the House will offer a privileged resolution later this week to expel Rep. "George Santos" (R-NY) from the House. This means that Mike Johnson must hold a vote on it within 2 days.

Rep. Marc Molinaro (R-NY) said: "George Santos should not be a member of Congress. He should have resigned. We've seen a cascade of indictments, more criminal activity. He basically has admitted to being a fraud. And if that resolution comes to the floor, I'll vote for it."

Johnson will be in a bind here. On the one hand, supporting an obvious criminal will tarnish the Republican brand even more than it is now and probably result in losing 3-5 House seats in 2024 in New York. On the other hand, if "Santos" is expelled (which requires a two-thirds majority), there will be a special election in his NY-03 district on Long Island, which is D+2. A Democrat is likely to win the election, reducing Johnson's majority even more. Since all the Democrats will vote for expulsion, it will take only 77 of the 221 Republicans (35%) to boot "Santos" from the House.

It is rare for a House member to be expelled. It has happened only five times, usually after a member has been convicted of a crime. "Santos" hasn't been convicted of anything yet, although he is in deep trouble on many of the 23 counts he has been charged with. But even if "Santos" escapes the ax this time, he might not next time. Also, any member voting to save "Santos'" neck is going to hear about that in great detail during his or her next campaign, especially if "Santos" has been convicted by then. Ads like: "Rep. X voted to keep convicted criminal George Santos in the House" are not going to mention that the vote came before the conviction (or plea deal).

The motion to expel isn't the only one to attack a member scheduled for this week. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) has introduced a privileged resolution to censure Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) for antisemitic activity. You have to admit, if anyone in the House is an expert in antisemitic activity, it's Marge. In any case, this resulted in a privileged resolution from Rep. Becca Balint (D-VT) to censure Greene for fanning the Jewish space lasers... er, the flames of hatred. A censure resolution requires only a simple majority, not a two-thirds majority as an expulsion resolution does. (V)

Virginia Removed 3,400 Eligible Voters from the Rolls

Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R-VA) wants Republicans to win control of the General Assembly next week. He wants it very badly since it would give him the ability to pass his program, which is now blocked by the state Senate.

Now it appears that 3,400 eligible voters were removed from the rolls—possibly by accident, but we don't know. The removees were all on probation, which means they had been previously convicted of some offense. Statistically speaking, minorities are more often convicted of crimes than their numbers would otherwise warrant, and minorities skew Democratic, so removing people on probation from the rolls probably helps Republicans.

Was this intentional, due to incompetence, or simply a software bug? No one knows (yet). All but 100 have now been reinstated. However, Youngkin's view on former felons voting is clear. The three previous administrations (two Democratic and one Republican) all took steps to automatically restore felons' rights after they served their sentences. Youngkin reversed this policy and now requires former felons to apply (individually) to get their right to vote back, which election officials can approve or deny at their discretion, with no disclosed criteria. All in all it sounds like Youngkin is not keen on letting former felons vote.

But there is more. In Virginia, people can register to vote at the Dept. of Motor Vehicles when they are there for a driver's license, to register a new car, or for something else. However, there is a backlog of 256,000 registrations that have not been processed yet and may not make it before next week's election. It is almost as though the Youngkin administration has something against voting.

Finally, Republicans frequently complain about people voting illegally. A number of states have gotten together to share data on voters, to make sure that when someone moves to a new state and registers to vote there, he or she is automatically removed from the rolls in the old state. In principle, someone moving could go to the elections office before moving and ask to be removed from the rolls, but few people do this. Consequently, the interstate organization that is automating the procedure, the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC), is crucial in preventing double voting.

One might think that Republicans would be strong supporters of ERIC. Nope. Wrong. Youngkin just pulled Virginia out of the group, even though it was a founding member. What's the problem? Well, in addition to trying to remove people who are no longer eligible to vote in some states, ERIC has another mission: helping people register to vote. This was unacceptable to Youngkin and some other Republican governors, so he and they have pulled out of the group. Just in case you thought voting was a nonpartisan matter, well, try again. You get three tries. (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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Oct25 The War in Israel, Part V: Readers Weigh In, Again
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