For the fourth time, or maybe it was the four hundredth time, a bunch of Republicans who are not going to be president got together to "debate" while (largely) pretending that the 800-pound gorilla in the room doesn't exist. If you want to watch it, you can do so here. You could also re-watch any of the other Republican candidates' debates; they're pretty much interchangeable at this point.
Reader K.H. in Golden, CO, wrote in with this suggestion:
I, for one, would like to excuse (V) and (Z) from having to watch a ridiculous debate on a ridiculous network with ridiculous moderators for ridiculous candidates and then provide us with takes and comments. Instead, I suggest that (if you don't have a subscription) you grab a 7-day trial on Hulu, watch 3 episodes of the 1980's screwball dramedy Moonlighting and give us your rundown on those. It's just as ridiculous, but it's a lot more fun and you will get to listen to some awesome soundtrack music, clever overlapping dialogue, intriguing (if impossible) plots, and, of course, the incredibly delightful theme song sung by the inimitable Al Jarreau.
It's tempting, though if we were going to revisit a 1980s show, we might be more inclined to pick Coach (great acting carried a concept of only moderate merit) or maybe The Wonder Years. Though who knows; (Z) was a big fan of Family Ties during its original run, but when he caught a few episodes several weeks back, he discovered it does not hold up. At all.
In any event, when you commit to a career in academia, and all the benefits therein—the glittering parties, the enormous salary, the women and/or men throwing themselves at you on a daily basis, the Italian sports cars—you also sign up to do some things you would rather not do in the advancement of human knowledge. So, we did our duty last night and watched 2 hours of paint drying... er, prattling from people who are in a heated race for second place.
There are few enough moving parts at this point that we can just take a look at each of them. So:
In the end, this thing is over. And we don't mean that Donald Trump has an insurmountable lead (though that is also true). We mean that the only (slim) hope for any non-Trump candidate is some version of a brokered convention. And there is only one person on stage last night who could possibly be the pick in that circumstance. The RNC and its delegates are not going to go with someone as loathsome as Ramaswamy. They are not going to go with Ron-Bot, who is clearly not ready for the big time, and who presumably never will be. And they are not going to go with Christie, whose approval rating among Republicans is below 20%. That leaves only Haley who has a glimmer of making the strategy of "hold onto second place and hope Trump collapses for some reason" work.
Anyhow, forgive us for turning the snark up to 11. But when you're dealing with people who largely have as much flavor as wallpaper paste, it's about the only way we can think of to make the piece at least somewhat interesting. And, by all reports, there will be at least two more of these before New Hampshire, so get ready to do it all over again. And again. (Z)
Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) dreamed of being Speaker of the House his whole life, the way some boys dream of being an NFL quarterback or a Major League slugger. Kev got a shot at it, but he had the wrong stuff. Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) made the job look easy because she was probably the best speaker since Joe Cannon. Pros always make it look easy. McCarthy was not a pro. He couldn't manage the Freedom Caucus and they left him out to dry. He could have told the FC: "Either you obey me or I'll work with the Democrats and pass laws you hate with every ounce of your body. For example, we'll legalize all the 'dreamers.' That's popular with our voters. Understand?" He just didn't have it in him, and they dumped him and humiliated him. Poor Kev. Maybe it was the Peter Principle or something, but he had no business being speaker.
Going back to being a backbencher was simply too humiliating, so he announced yesterday that he plans to resign from the House at the end of this year. His district, CA-20, is R+16, so there is no way it will turn blue. However, if McCarthy stays on the job until after Friday at 5 p.m., Gavin Newsom can keep the seat open until the next scheduled election. If McCarthy formally resigns before 5 p.m. on Friday, Newsom will have to call a special election, but will delay it until the last date allowed by California law to keep the GOP caucus a man short as long as he can. In that case, Newsom has 14 days to schedule the special election and it has to be within 4 months. That could put it in late April or even May. Newsom is in no hurry to put another Republican in the House. And the California SoS, Shirley Weber (D), will probably take her good time certifying the election, to make sure she got the count right. It could be mid-May or later before the new member is sworn in.
In his announcement, in the Wall Street Journal, McCarthy said: "I know my work is only getting started." What work? Is he going to run for president? Maybe he can try his hand at being a lobbyist, but that probably won't go well. Lobbyists' clients want to hire people who still have a lot of clout in Congress. That doesn't apply to him. He has an MBA degree from Cal State Bakersfield. Maybe he can find a job being CEO of a medium-sized company. Or maybe he can find some rich Republican to sponsor him so he can travel around the country recruiting non-MAGA candidates for the House.
Meanwhile, Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) still has to pass a bunch of budget bills in January, with increasingly small margins. With "George Santos," McCarthy, and Rep. Bill Johnson (R-OH) soon out, the House will be 219R, 213D for a while. That's not a big margin to work with, and the speaker has never tried his hand at cat herding before. We wonder how long Johnson will last.
The House will hold a party for McCarthy, but not everyone is going to attend. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) celebrated the news with a single word on his social media site: "McLeavin'." (V)
In a town hall in Iowa, Sean Hannity asked Donald Trump: "You are promising America tonight you would never abuse power as retribution against anybody?" Trump replied: "Except for Day One." What could he do on Day One? Well, maybe pardon himself and all the people arrested in the Jan. 6 coup attempt, plus everyone in his first administration. Then sign 50 executive orders the Heritage Foundation has prepared for him, many of which would be illegal. How about appointing an acting AG who then ordered Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, and a whole bunch of Trump's other opponents arrested? When Hannity asked him to clarify his remark, he said he would shut down the Mexican border and allow oil drilling on federal lands. It could be a busy first day.
Needless to say, the Biden campaign pounced on this. Campaign manager Julie Chávez Rodríguez said: "Donald Trump has been telling us exactly what he will do if he's reelected and tonight he said he will be a dictator on day one. Americans should believe him." Biden himself said: "Trump's not even hiding the ball anymore. He's telling us exactly what he wants to do. He's making no bones about it." Biden is surely going to use "Democracy or Dictatorship? Your call." as a campaign slogan.
Many of Trump's supporters will no doubt say the "dictator" remark was a joke, like killing someone on Fifth Avenue. But some of them may not find it so funny. In states where the difference between the candidates is 1%, losing even 2% of your supporters is a very big deal. (V)
On Monday, we noted that Kenneth "The Cheese" Chesebro was going to testify to a Nevada grand jury looking into whether the state's fake electors violated state law. Chesebro's testimony must have been pretty powerful, as yesterday the grand jury indicted all six of them. They are accused of uttering a forged document. This uttering thingie is spreading like the plague. It also got the fake electors in Michigan indicted. Fake electors in Georgia have also been indicted and Arizona AG Kris Mayes is working on those in her state.
Nevada AG Aaron Ford (D) was in a bit of a hurry. The statute of limitations would have run out on Dec. 14. But now that charges have been filed, the fake electors will have to stand trial. One of the utterances made by the fake electors was that they were the duly elected and qualified electors. That is patently false. They were not elected. The slate of electors filed by Joe Biden won Nevada.
On the other hand, the 10 fake electors in Wisconsin avoided a civil suit. They admitted that they were fake electors and promised not to pull the same stunt in 2024. However, a possible criminal case is ongoing. (V)
Horse-race polling a year out should be taken with a few grains of sodium chloride. Nevertheless, according to New York Times columnist Thomas Edsall, multiple factors look discouraging for Joe Biden. Numerous demographic groups that are normally highly Democratic are losing faith in the Democrats. These include young voters, Black voters, and Latino voters. Working-class white voters are largely gone already. The Democrats traditionally were seen as representing the interests of the middle class. That is fraying as well.
Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg ran a detailed poll with 2,500 respondents in swing states and districts. He asked them about 32 subjects. On China, climate change, women's rights, racial inequality, health care, protecting democracy, and not being an autocrat, voters preferred Biden to Trump. On making democracy more secure, it was a tie. On everything else, Trump led. These subjects included being for working people, standing up to elites, feeling safe, keeping wages up to inflation, patriotism, crime, immigration, and protecting the Constitution. We find Trump leading on protecting the Constitution... strange, to put it mildly. But Greenberg is a Democrat and a very experienced pollster. This is not some crazy Rasmussen poll sponsored by Fox News. Greenberg said: "This is grim."
The crosstabs show that the problem is Democrats falling away, not Republicans gaining. We saw the same effect in an item a week ago. The problem is clearly that Democrats are losing faith in the Democratic Party, not that they are suddenly becoming Republicans. Fundamentally, the expectations of many Democrats, especially ones who don't follow politics closely, are simply unrealistic. Democrats didn't have a working majority in the Senate during the first half of Biden's term because Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ) opposed the President on so many things. But low-information voters don't want to hear that. What they know is: "He didn't deliver" and they are not interested in excuses.
A Morning Consult poll in September found that "voters are now more likely to see the Republican Party as capable of governing, tackling big issues and keeping the country safe compared with the Democratic Party." By a 9-point margin, voters see the Democrats as more ideologically extreme than the Republicans. Although Morning Consult didn't get into the details, we suspect that many voters believe that the Squad represents the Democratic Party. In public, it is even noisier than the Freedom Caucus, which focuses its ire more on internal House politics than on public opinion.
An NBC poll in September showed that 34% of voters believe the Republicans are better at looking out for the middle class and 36% believe the Democrats are better at it. Historically, the Democrats' lead on this question was as high as 29%. Now it is 2%. The poll was run jointly by Hart Research, a Democratic pollster, and Public Opinion Strategies, a Republican firm.
When Edsall asked Will Marshall, founder and president of the center-left Progressive Policy Institute, the question: "Trump is Kryptonite for American democracy, so why isn't President Biden leading him by 15 points?" Marshall answered that the ascendance of white, college-educated liberals has "pushed Democrats far to the dogmatic left, even as their base grows smaller. Young progressives have identified the party with stances on immigration, crime, gender, climate change and Palestinian resistance that are so far from mainstream sentiment that they can even eclipse MAGA extremism." In other words, the Democrats are focusing on culture-war issues rather than economic issues (e.g., inflation) and taking positions that are anathema to millions of voters.
Jacob Hacker, a political scientist at Yale, says that the Democrats are perceived as elitist and weak on issues that were once their foundation. Part of that is the right-wing fixation on the Democrats' "wokeness," but the Democrats do relatively little to refute that. They can't, because that is what young progressives want, but for much of the country, those positions are unacceptable. So if the Democrats go weak on woke, the young progressives won't vote but if they embrace wokeness, middle Americans will go Republican. The Democrats' biggest hope is that Trump will self-immolate, which is a real possibility, but not a strategy. (V)
One left-wing former Black congressman, namely Mondaire Jones, lucked out last week when Liz Whitmer Gereghty decided to drop her challenge. Yesterday, a current left-wing Black congressman, Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY), got a new challenger. Former Westchester County Executive George Latimer jumped into the primary race against him. He attacked Bowman for spending his time trying to help the Palestinians, rather than the people of Westchester County, which has a substantial Jewish population. Latimer's introductory video contains a clip of Bowman voting against a resolution to condemn Hamas after the Oct. 7 terrorist attack on Israel. He also attacked Bowman for voting against Joe Biden's infrastructure bill. Bowman was one of only six Democrats to oppose the bill.
The primary is going to be even worse than the Jones-Gereghty one would have been, because Latimer has been running for public office in Westchester County since 1987 and has never lost a race. Before being a two-term county executive, he served a number of terms in the state Assembly and state Senate. He is well known in NY-16, which covers a smidgen of the Bronx and about half of Westchester. The district is D+20. It is a well-off district, with a median household income of $96,000, well above the national average of $75,000.
Latimer is not Bowman's only problem. Rep. Lisa McCalin (R-MI) has introduced a resolution to censure Bowman for pulling a fire alarm just before a key vote to fund the government in September. It caused chaos as the House evacuated. There was no fire. The Democrats will try to table the motion. If that fails, the vote on the censure motion will get a House vote eventually, though not necessarily this week. (V)
Time for a couple of submissions that connect clearly with today's news. Taking the lead is P.L. from Morelia, Mexico, who tells us "We are briefly vacationing in southern Italy, at the end of a complicated work trip. And I just discovered that the sonnet form originated in Sicily. So here goes a modest attempt at that poetic form":
If Ramaswamy won the next debate,
Or Haley took control of the newsfeed,
Would MAGA voters promptly decry hate,
And race no longer be part of their creed?
DeSantis' freefall: Will it change his tune?
Or might Chris Christie's stand start gaining ground?
Perhaps the better angels will win soon,
And make the rank and file's hearts come round.
Oh no, my friend, change incites not their passion,
And what we sell the faithful are not buying.
Grievance and intransigence remain their fashion;
Racism and culture wars are yet undying.
Blaming the Other is still the easiest way.
Perhaps just one more loss might make them sway.
And one from A.D. in Los Angeles, CA:
"A dictator, moi?" uttered Don
Doubling down on his favorite con
Just 24 hours
Of absolute powers
And poof, just like that I'll be gone.