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Takeaways from the Elections

Given the rout the Republicans suffered Tuesday and the low importance of the debates, we'll lead today with election takeaways.

The New York Times

The Washington Post CNN Politico ABC NBC The Hill Fox News BBC The Guardian

Sometimes the takeaway pieces are all over the map. Not today. The same themes came up over and over. The winners were Abortion (9x), Glenn Youngkin's defeat (9x), Andy Beshear's win (9x), Tate Reeves win (4x), and Cherelle Parker's win in Philadelphia (3x). It may be a little early for someone to start selling Beshear/Whitmer 2028 or Whitmer/Beshear 2028 bumper stickers, but probably not too early. Among the losers last night, everyone mentioned Youngkin, but another big loser was Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA). His path to the White House just got a bit rougher, what with these uppity charismatic moderate Southern governors getting in the way.

Interesting is Fox News' take. It just listed the two gubernatorial races and Virginia elections but somehow missed Issue 1 in Ohio (abortion) and also Issue 2 in Ohio (weed). We guess nobody in red-state land cares about abortion. We haven't been there lately, so we are not sure.

The Siena College poll that has Democrats crying in their white wine showed the problem, but the elections yesterday showed the solution. The problem, at least in part, is that young voters aren't keen on an 80-year-old. But the results in Ohio, Kentucky, and Virginia may show the solution. Biden should make his slogan: "Abortion is between a woman and her doctor, not between a woman and her state senator." Just hammer on abortion, morning, noon, and night. Talk about how the Republicans want to ban abortion nationwide and the only solution is to vote for a straight Democratic ticket, all the way down to dogcatcher.

Closely related to that is getting initiatives like Ohio's on the ballot everywhere to drive turnout among young voters. Arizona Democrats are aware of this and are already working on getting a similar amendment on the Arizona state ballot in 2024. They need 383,923 valid signatures before July 3, 2024. They are aiming at 600,000 to provide a buffer since people who are not eligible voters sometimes sign petitions. The Arizona secretary of state, Adrian Fontes, is a Democrat, and is not likely to invalidate Ms. Smith's signature because she forgot to dot the "i" in her name. A measure on abortion will surely drive turnout in this key swing state. Democrats in other swing states surely now have a bee in their bonnet after Ohio. And why not throw in Mary Jane as well? She's just as popular. So, 2 days after Democrats were in deep depression on account of the Siena College poll, things are now looking up for them. Did we ever mention that in politics, a week is a long time?

The other Nate (Cohn) of The New York Times made a good point about the election results, however. Wonky off-year elections like Tuesday's tend to bring out highly tuned in, highly motivated educated voters. These people are largely quite progressive. The general-election electorate in 2024 will be different from Tuesday's, so one should be careful extrapolating Tuesday's result to the elections a year from now. (V)

Republicans Debate in Florida's Arsht Hall

To be entirely accurate, last night's GOP debate was held in The John S. and James L. Knight Concert Hall, which is one of three venues at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts. However, local media often simplify it down to Arsht Hall. We thank reader R.E.M. in Brooklyn, NY, for bringing that rather appropriate name to our attention.

We watched the whole thing, so that (many) readers don't have to. Here are the ten things that stood out to us:

  1. Future Moderators, Take Notes: Last night's trio of moderators put the folks who oversaw the past two debates to shame. Lester Holt was particularly effective at projecting a commanding presence, asking useful questions, and keeping the candidates from talking over each other. The latter was achieved, at least in part, by warning the candidates that if they did not play nice, they would get fewer questions (see the next item for more on this). Kristen Welker, for her part, was pretty good. And Hugh Hewitt was predictably the weakest moderator, both in terms of the questions he asked, and in his ability to keep the candidates under control. However, even he was better than what we saw at debates #1 and #2.

    Based on this sample size of three, we wonder if it might not be better to have a policy that the moderators come from outlets whose politics are not aligned with the candidates'. The Fox moderators tend to ask softball questions, since they can scarcely afford to alienate people who will be guests on next week's program (or, maybe, tomorrow's program). And note that if this was the Democratic debate, we would be entirely on board with using Fox moderators, for the same reason.

    The one thing the moderators did have trouble with was keeping the audience under control. Truth be told, we don't fully understand what the theory of the audience is. If they are supposed to stay silent, then why do they need to be there at all? And if they are supposed to provide atmosphere/crowd response, then why are they constantly shushed by the moderators?

  2. We Have a Winner...: As we have noted, we don't look at any debate write-ups until after we've done our own. But if Nikki Haley isn't declared the winner by approximately 100% of commentators, we will be shocked. She is clearly better suited to this format than the others, and she was the only individual on stage who regularly sounded statespersonlike (our spell checker does not approve of that word, but we can't call her "statesmanlike," can we?).

    Haley is not only the smoothest debater, she is also quite clearly the foreign policy expert (helps to have been ambassador to the UN), and her policy ideas were the ones most likely to have a place in the real world, as opposed to the fantasy world of the other candidates, where presidents can snap their fingers and do all kinds of things that are actually the purview of Congress. That's not to say that Haley always had two feet on the ground, but she—and Chris Christie—were the only ones to spend more than 50% of their time in a place other than Fantasyland.

    We should also note that Haley gave as good as she got, when it was necessary. She did some sparring with Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL), and got the upper hand. She also got off a few bons mots at the expense of Vivek Ramaswamy. After he said he was up against two phonies "in three-inch heels" (in other words, Haley and Gov. Ron DeSantis, R-FL), she fired back that she actually wears five-inch heels, that she doesn't wear any heels that she can't run in, and that she wears the heels not for fashion but for ammunition. This isn't hilarious in written form, but it played pretty well in the moment.

  3. ...And a Loser...: As he desperately tries to claim Mike Pence's now-free-agent voters, Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) went full theocrat, and made clear that he'd love to build a government that prioritizes Christianity and Christian principles.

    That position is obviously problematic, but beyond that, he didn't even sell it well. He is probably the least-skilled speaker who was on stage last night, which is saying something when Ron DeSantis is in the house. His words are halting, and he often misspeaks, and his emphasis is unnatural. Put it this way: Joe Biden has been pilloried as a drooling, demented moron for public speaking performances that were not nearly as poor as Scott's.

    Scott was also the least able to actually answer the questions put to him (which means he was the one relying most on pre-scripted talking points). For example, when the Senator was asked what he would do as president, RIGHT NOW, to help people suffering due to inflation, he said he would... sign the paperwork needed to create the Keystone Pipeline. Huh? After he prattled on about energy independence and yadda yadda yadda for 60 seconds, the moderators reminded him that they were asking about how to help people RIGHT NOW. He answered with hand waving--Laffer Curve--futures markets--blah blah blah--so yes Keystone XL would combat inflation immediately. OK, Senator.

  4. ...And an A**hole: It's too bad assault is illegal, because Vivek Ramaswamy could really use a punch in the face. What an unbelievable jerk he is. If you thought he could not get worse than he was at the previous debates, well, you thought wrong. Presumably, in an effort to keep his "candidacy" going, or to more fully attach his lips to Donald Trump's posterior, he turned up the obnoxiousness to 11.

    The only thing we can say in Ramaswamy's favor is that he did not limit his snottiness to Democrats. No, he sprayed venom in all directions, like he was armed with a jerk shotgun. He smeared RNC Chair Ronna Romney McDaniel. He looked the two NBC moderators in the eye and advised them that they were not competent to moderate the debate, and accused the media in general of being traitors. He hit Republicans of generations past, Washington bureaucrats, Congress, immigrants, and all other manner of targets.

    Of course, Ramaswamy spent much time taking cheap shots at the folks on stage. Actually, we're not sure he even knew Christie was there. And our only evidence that he was aware of Scott was the 30-40 seconds where he and the Senator rudely chatted and smirked while Haley was speaking. However, there was much Vivek Vitriol fired in the directions of Haley and DeSantis, much of it below the belt. Most notably, when talking about the evils of China and TikTok, Ramaswamy attacked Haley as a hypocrite because her daughter has TikTok on her phone. How he knows that, we do not know, but it's a little creepy. It's also out of bounds; the crowed booed and Haley lost her cool for a moment, blasting Ramaswamy as "scum."

    Ramaswamy also managed to run through a "greatest hits" of Republican conspiracy theories from the last 15 or so years, from COVID and China (he wants the Chinese to pay the U.S. back for its expenses during the pandemic) to Hillary Clinton and the Russia dossier to George Soros. He also put forward one that we weren't familiar with; that the Democrats have no intention of running Joe Biden in 2024, and he's just serving as a screen to hide the "real" nominee, whoever it might be. Ramaswamy is either seriously unwell or seriously unhinged or both. Which means he's very much in the running to be Donald Trump's running mate.

  5. Less Is More: Having five people on stage, as opposed to seven or eight, made for a far less disjointed affair. Even better would be four or three, particularly if Ramaswamy is among the subtractions.

  6. Nighthawks: The overwhelming focus of the debate was foreign policy. Fair enough, but if you think that means that it was dominated by Israel and Ukraine, well... not so much. Sure, those subjects—especially Israel—came up some. But considerably more time was devoted to the evils of China. And the second-most-frequent "foreign affairs crisis" brought up by the candidates was the United States' border with Mexico. It has very clearly become an item of faith among Republicans that the southern border is the #1 threat to American security because it's allowing thousands of criminals and terrorists and untold amounts of fentanyl into the country.

    Equally importantly, with the sometimes exception of Christie, the folks on stage last night made clear they are all hawks. They are hawkish hawks. They are a hawkish hawk's hawkish hawks. They differ on exactly where to use deadly force, but they all think it should be a foremost tool in the president's toolkit. All of them said there should be no limits on Israel's response to Hamas. Most of them want to engage in some brinkmanship (or brinkwomanship—and yes, the spell checker hates that word, too) with China. Most of them want to frighten Iran with a show of force. Most of them want to use U.S. troops along the U.S. border. If a voter prefers to avoid World War III, it should be clear what party to vote for in 2024 (Hint: Not the Republicans).

  7. What Democrats?: Interestingly, given the focus on foreign policy (we're talking at least 70% of the debate), there was relatively little talk about the Democrats in general or the Democrat in the White House. Sure, there was some obligatory finger-pointing at Joe Biden, but it was a remarkably small part of the evening.

  8. Whither Abortion?: For whatever reason, the moderators waited until the very end to ask about abortion. Given what happened in Ohio, we would have thought Israel and Abortion would be one and two, in some order, but that is not what happened. In any event, if there is anyone who understands the candidates' position on abortion access (except, perhaps, Haley's), then they are cleverer than we are. We suppose it's only been 24 hours or so since Ohio enshrined abortion rights in its state constitution, while the notion of a 15-week ban failed badly in Virginia. So, there hasn't been time for the folks on stage to decide what they "believe" now.

  9. Irony Is Dead: Either because they were speaking in the heat of the moment, or because they don't think people are paying attention, the folks on stage said some... remarkable things last night. Ramaswamy decried antisemitism and then, shortly thereafter, besmirched the Jewish Volodymyr Zelenskyy as a "Nazi." Haley complained about "policies" that have squeezed the middle class, and have allowed the rich to become richer and richer and richer. Hmmm... hard to know which party has championed such policies.

    The real eye-roller of the night, however, came from DeSantis. During one of his many harangues about China, he said that if the United States is not careful, the Chinese will export authoritarian government, where it could subsume states like Florida. C'mon, Ron. Authoritarian government, where the state closely regulates schools, keeps corporations under control, actively restricts voting rights, gives money to favored friends of the regime, etc., would NEVER fly in Florida.

  10. We Assume This Is Not Intentional: In the background of this photo, you can see the logo NBC used for last night's event:

    It says 'NBC News: Decision 2024,'
the word 'decision' and the '24' are in blue, the '20' is in red.

    Note that the "20" is rendered in a different color. We presume that was just to create "variety," visually, although that technique is supposed to create emphasis. In other words, the logo could be read as reminding you that these candidates are running for president in 2024, and not 1924 or 1824. Truth be told, given some of the things said on stage last night, that reminder does have some value.

That's what we've got for now. It takes a fair chunk of time to watch the debate and then write about it, so we'll have the results for our little debate game, plus election reports from readers, tomorrow. If we tried to pull it off for today, this post wouldn't go live until lunchtime. (Z)

Debates Were Not Always Modeled on Cranky Toddlers in a Nursery School

Modern political debates have devolved into shouting matches among the candidates. It wasn't always like this. The New York Times has put together a collection of video clips from debates over the years to show how they have changed. And the change is enormous. In 1960, Jack Kennedy and Richard Nixon agreed that they had the same goals for America, they just had different methods of getting there. They were cordial and certainly didn't attack each other personally. They didn't even address each other. They addressed the moderator who asked the questions. The entire focus of their debate was policy issues.

A staple of debates is to ask each candidate about his opponent's biggest weakness. Among others, Jimmy Carter, Al Gore, and John Kerry didn't take the bait. Gore said: "I think we ought to attack our country's problems, not each other." Bob Dole said: "I don't like to get into personal matters. As far as I am concerned this is a campaign about issues."

It was also common for candidates to say: "I agree with my opponent on X." They also often complimented their opponent on some things. The first few debates were extremely gentlemanly and civil, with the candidates respectful of each other.

Further, they all respected the moderator and stopped talking when their time was up. At least until 1992, when decorum began to fade and the candidates stopped heeding the moderators entirely. In 2008, it went completely off the rails. The rules changed when Barack Obama said: "Ten days ago, John [McCain] said: 'the fundamentals of the economy are sound'." Then the moderator told Obama to say it to McCain's face. Obama then turned to face McCain and said: "John, 10 days ago, you said the fundamentals of the economy are sound." McCain then quipped to the moderator: "Are you afraid I couldn't hear him?" From that moment on, the candidates could address each other. In 2008, they were polite about it. Now it has devolved to a bunch of hungry toddlers fighting over the last banana. Talking over each other, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing became the norm and the moderators loved it.

With Donald Trump in 2016 and 2020, all rules went out the window. He just talked over Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden and had no respect for the rules. He also stalked Clinton, which broke all the rules.

Can it be fixed? Well, step one would be to give the moderators switches to enable and disable each microphone and give them instructions on how to use them ("green means it is on; red means it is off"). The next step would be to put marks on the stage indicating where the candidate may stand. On a first violation, the moderator gives the candidate a yellow (warning) card and holds it up quite publicly. On a second violation, a penalty is doled out, for example, taking away 1 minute of speaking time on the next topic. On a third violation, stage hands roll an isolation booth onto the stage and give the candidate a choice of being locked in it or being escorted off stage by four burly Secret Service agents. Getting rid of the audience would also be a good idea.

If Trump and Biden are the candidates, it is not clear if there will be any debates next year. Trump tries to simply dominate his opponent and doesn't answer any of the moderator's questions. Biden is a mediocre extemporaneous speaker. The DNC and RNC have to agree to procedures and rules and it is entirely possible that they won't be able to agree in 2024 so there will be no debates. (V)

Do Phillips and Tlaib Have Biden in a Pincer Attack?

Rep. Dean Phillips (DFL-MN) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) have Joe Biden in a bind. They have real power—the power to elect Donald Trump president, who will then carry out policies that both of them despise with a passion. Such is politics. Tlaib is attacking Biden from the left, primarily on Israel, claiming that Biden is engaging in a genocide of the Palestinian people. Yesterday, we discussed at some length what genocide is and is not. Phillips is attacking Biden more from the center right. If each one convinces 1-2% of the President's supporters that he is the wrong guy for the moment and they stay home and skip voting, that could be enough to sink Biden.

In a sense, Tlaib is both the more dangerous and less dangerous of the two. She is more dangerous because she is from the key swing state of Michigan, where about 5% of the voters are Muslims. She could singlehandedly flip the state from blue to red and elect Trump, who as president would tell Israeli P.M. Benjamin Netanyahu to bomb Gaza until all the Palestinians are dead, thereby actually triggering the genocide she is accusing Biden of abetting. On the other hand, her inflammatory rhetoric is surely going to make some Jews who weren't politically active go to ActBlue and send some money Biden's way.

Phillips has entered the New Hampshire primary. If he can beat Marianne Williamson, he could win it, causing headlines the next day like: "Rep. Dean Phillips wins the New Hampshire primary." For voters who are not paying attention and don't realize Biden wasn't on the ballot, it could convince them that the Phillips candidacy is real. Biden's main hope here is getting locals in New Hampshire to run a serious write-in campaign so Biden actually wins. Winning a write-in campaign is not impossible. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) did it in 2010 in her Senate race, and "Murkowski" is a lot harder to spell correctly than "Biden." She passed out flyers like the one below. Biden wouldn't need to do that.

Flyer Lisa Murkowski used in her write-in campaign

Phillips, who is Jewish, is not coordinating attacks on Biden with Tlaib. He probably doesn't even like her very much and has complained about the lack of love from progressives.

Phillips is a wealthy businessman and wants government to operate more like a business. He wants it to outline problems, propose solutions, and then carry them out. Unfortunately for him, running a gelato company is easier than being a congressman. In his company, he could decide that pumpkin was the flavor of the month and nobody would dare challenge him. It doesn't work like that in politics.

Both Phillips and Tlaib are being pilloried by other Democrats who see them as sanctimonious egotists who don't care about the Party's future. Both are being attacked for offending important Democratic constituencies. Phillips hasn't entered the South Carolina primary, which offends Black voters, and Tlaib has hugely offended Jewish Democrats. Democrats can ignore them at their peril. They represent cracks in the Biden coalition that the president needs to address. More on this tomorrow. (V)

Ivanka Testifies That She Has a Bad Memory

Ivanka Trump testified in Dad's civil trial yesterday. It was tough for her because the lawyers for the New York AG's office kept asking questions about Donald Trump's habit of faking the values of his properties and she has an awful memory. She couldn't remember much about them. Heck, she can barely remember how many kids she has or how to cook spaghetti. How she performed her duties as executive vice president of the Trump organization from 2011 to 2017 is unknown. Maybe she wrote notes on index cards to cue herself.

Some of the motivation for Trump to inflate the values of his properties came out at the trial. Trump sometimes personally guaranteed loans, meaning if the property went bankrupt, Trump would have to repay the loan out of his own personal funds. As a consequence, the banks had a great deal of interest in Trump's personal net worth. At the trial, Ivanka was shown a 2011 e-mail in which she acknowledged that a requirement from Deutsche Bank that Dad maintain a net worth of at least $3 billion was a problem. Eventually the net-worth requirement was set at $2.5 billion.

She was also shown another 2011 e-mail from the federal government expressing concern about his financial statements concerning his redevelopment of the Old Post Office into a hotel. Other evidence showed that she made $4 million on that deal. Unfortunately, she couldn't remember anything about it. She said: "There were many e-mails, many conversations." We certainly hope for Ivanka's sake that she is not suffering from cognitive decline. At one point she thanked one of the prosecutors for bringing up the subject of the Old Post Office because it brought back so many pleasant memories of the project, just not about the financing.

Unlike her brothers and her father, Ivanka was poised and calm on the stand. At one point, defense lawyer Jesus Suarez asked her what the federal government's reaction was to the redevelopment of the Old Post Office into a hotel. She said: "I can't speak for the entire federal government." Judge Arthur Engoron laughed at that. She is so much smoother than her brothers, you might wonder if they grew up in the same family. However, she did admit that the valuations of Dad's properties were not always accurate (but that wasn't her fault, of course). She didn't mention that the hotel never turned a profit and that Dad lost over $74 million running it. She probably forgot.

In the end, Ivanka didn't intentionally throw her father under the bus as her cousin, Mary Trump, had predicted. She was entirely focused on covering her well-clad rear end. The only thing she said that may end up being important is explaining why Dad was so concerned about inflating the value of his properties: The banks insisted on a certain level of net worth to allow him to cover the loan should the property fail. That provides a concrete motive for Trump's lying besides the PR value of telling everyone how rich he was. When a judge sees the facts in a crime, he or she always looks for the motive. Now Engoron has that. In the end, Ivanka may have actually damaged her father quite a bit, albeit entirely by accident.

With Ivanka's testimony now over, an important phase of the trial is finished. The prosecution has no more witnesses. Today, the defense is expected to make a motion to decide the case immediately in their favor. Engoron is expected to reject it. Court will be closed on Friday for Veterans Day. Monday, the defense will start bringing its witnesses. Trump has said he wants to put 127 witnesses on the stand. This puts the judge on the spot. If he allows them all, the trial will go on for weeks and weeks, maybe months and months. If he rejects most of them as irrelevant, Trump will appeal on the basis of "the judge didn't allow my witnesses to testify."

Of course this could backfire. The judge could allow them and the prosecution could turn them into witnesses for the prosecution. Maybe Trump has coached somebody from Deutsche Bank to say: "We never pay any attention to valuations loan customers give." Then the prosecutor says: "I think you should be aware that the transcript of this trial will be public and anyone who wants to can see it and possibly use it in a subsequent lawsuit. Now, does the bank demand and expect that customer valuations of property be accurate and reflect true market value?" If the bank manager now says: "We don't care what people put on the form," he is inviting all customers to lie on their forms going forward. He's not going to do that. (V)

Could Trump Have a Secret Plan While Insulting the Judge?

Many heads have been scratched over the issue of why Donald Trump has been antagonizing, insulting, and goading Judge Arthur Engoron, who will decide the future of his business empire all by himself. It could be that Trump's lawyers, Christopher Kise and Alina Habba, simply can't control him, no matter how many times they point out that Engoron is the decider here and he could singlehandedly fine Trump $500 million and sell off all his properties to pay the fine.

Trump knows this. Retired judge Barbara Jones has been appointed to monitor Trump's businesses. The next step is for the judge to name a receiver who would prepare Trump's properties for sale. Jones is a serious candidate for receiver. Once a receiver is certified, the receiver goes to work selling the properties.

All this has surely not escaped Trump. So why is he hitting Engoron so hard? One potential explanation is that Trump knows he has lost the trial and Engoron will impose a huge fine. So he is not trying to win the case in court anymore. Instead, he is trying to anger Engoron so much that he oversteps his role, shows his bias, and does something that will allow the appeals court to throw the verdict and fine out the window. If Trump has conceded a loss in his trial, trying to get Engoron to make a mistake that the appeals court will pick up on might be his only strategy.

Of course, Engoron (74) has been around the track a couple of times. He has a pretty good idea of what judges can and cannot do and is undoubtedly thinking about the certain appeal as well. This is probably why the first time Trump violated his gag order, Engoron fined him only $5,000 and the second time he fined him only $10,000. If the Judge had imposed fines of $1 million and $5 million, that would have been a much better basis for an appeal. By making the fines so small, Trump can hardly argue the judge is obviously biased against him. In fact, NYS can argue the small fines show the judge was lenient to Trump.

If this general theory is correct, Trump is betting that Engoron has as little self-control as he does. It's probably a poor bet, but Trump is desperate. (V)

Trump Gets (a Smidgen of) Good Legal News for a Change

A group of activists brought a case in Minnesota claiming that Donald Trump is not eligible to run for president on account of the Fourteenth Amendment, which says that people who have participated in an insurrection against the United States may not serve in any federal or state office. The group was asking the Minnesota courts to keep Trump off the Republican primary ballot.

Yesterday, the Minnesota Supreme Court effectively punted, at least for now. It ruled that Trump is eligible to be on the primary ballot, but the group can try again if he is the Republican Party's general election nominee. During oral arguments, the justices were hesitant to remove Trump from the ballot. They seemed to favor the idea that the voters, not the courts, should determine if he gets to be president again. The case is likely to be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. A similar case is underway in Colorado. (V)

Mike Johnson Could Be the Democrats' Secret Weapon

The fun part is over. Now Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) has to govern. And watch the politics at the same time. It won't be easy. He has to prepare a dozen bills to fund the government. He can try to stall a bit (see below) but sooner or later he needs to decide how much each department gets. And his decision has to be able to get 218 votes in the House and 50 or 51 in the Senate. That's the hard part.

Johnson is starting out by writing bills that the Freedom Caucus will vote for. They won't pass the Senate, but they give the Democrats plenty of fodder for campaign ads. For example, the constituents of CA-27 in Southern California, which is D+4 and which Rep. Mike Garcia (R-CA) won by 6.4% in 2022, are being bombarded with flyers saying that Garcia supports the GOP's extremist funding cuts that will hurt people in the district.

Johnson knows that any bill that makes the Freedom Caucus members smile has no chance at getting past the Senate, but he has to make the effort to show the FCers that he is with them and is trying. But those "show bills," which have no actual chance, put the Biden 18 and other vulnerable Republicans in a real bind. If they vote "nay," they may draw primary challenges from the right, but if they vote "aye," Democrats will kill them over it. They would greatly prefer that Johnson skip the pointless bills that could never pass and start with serious bills. But that would anger members of the FC, so he can't do that either.

Here are six contentious issues Johnson has to deal with in the upcoming bills.

In short, Johnson has his hands full now. Keeping the FCers on board while not having the Biden 18 jump ship will test his legislative powers to the max. Legislative powers that, by the way, it's not clear he actually has, as yet. (V)

House Is Considering Kicking the Can Down the Road

There is no way Mike Johnson can put together a dozen bills that can get through the House in the next week. If he fails to do so, the government will shut down. Republicans invariably get the blame for that. Consequently, House Republicans are looking at ways to kick the can down the road. The only problem here is that can-kicking is what got Kevin McCarthy fired.

Nevertheless, many House Republicans see that they are never going to reach a consensus on a dozen bills this week or next, so they have to engage in a little can-kicking, like it or not. They are considering a fine-grained approach, temporarily funding different departments for different lengths of time while battling over the funding levels for next year.

The "laddered continuing resolution" would fund four departments through Dec. 7 and the rest through Jan. 19, putting priority on the first batch. It would contain funding for military construction plus the VA, Transportation, HUD, and Agriculture. These would be in the so-called "minibus" package, although some Republicans want defense there, too. Remember that having the House pass any bill is only step one. The Senate has to pass it as well, and any bill full of FC priorities is going to fail in the Senate, requiring a difficult Senate-House conference. If Johnson sends real FC tigers there who will snarl and not give an inch, getting to a conference bill won't be easy.

Laddered CRs have been used before, generally when funding for some departments is easy and others are contentious. The idea is to get the easy ones (like Veterans Affairs) done first, since both parties generally agree to provide veterans with the care they need. It tends not to be political. Other departments are far more political, especially when a small group, like the FC, wants to hold the House hostage to its demands.

Separate from the regular bills is the supplemental appropriation for Israel, Ukraine, and Taiwan, with some money for border enforcement thrown in so Democrats can run ads against Republicans who vote against border enforcement. There is little agreement on that, but the supplemental is probably the most critical of all the bills since it is needed to help allies in two ongoing wars. (V)

Meta Is Starting to Deal with AI

Everyone in the media business is keenly aware that AI is going to be used to create fake texts, fake images, and fake videos during the 2024 campaigns. No one (except the fakers) is really in favor of these things, but banning them runs into First Amendment and other issues. Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, is taking a baby step here by asking people who are running political ads that use AI-generated imagery to label them as such.

That sounds good, but is hardly a solution. Among other problems are:

Joe Biden signed an executive order intended to encourage honest players to admit what they are doing. But what about dishonest or out-and-out malevolent players (think: the St. Petersburg troll farm)?

AI-produced ads have already run. In April, the RNC ran a fake ad showing the future of the U.S. if Biden is reelected. It showed boarded-up store fronts, armored military patrols in the streets, and waves of immigrants producing panic. In June, Ron DeSantis ran an AI-produced ad attacking Donald Trump by showing him hugging Anthony Fauci. Here is a news story about this. It won't be the last one:

Google has a similar policy already in place. The problem, again, is malevolent actors who use AI and don't label their photos and images as fake. (V)

Tester Runs His First Ad

One of the three or four races where an incumbent Democratic senator could lose is Montana, where Sen. Jon Tester faces his toughest test ever. He just launched his first ad:

The ad emphasizes that his family has been farming in Montana for three generations. Why does he emphasize this? Well, he has two potential opponents. Rep Matt Rosendale (R-MT) is something of a carpetbagger from Maryland and has a distinct Maryland accent. When Montanans hear his ads later, some of them are going to focus on that. The other potential candidate, and the one strongly favored by the NRCC, is millionaire Tim Sheehy, a former Navy SEAL who owns an aerial firefighting company. Although he was born in Bozeman, MT, he spent much of his life out of state, returning only in 2014. He rails against property developers who buy up huge tracts of unspoiled land and build houses on them when he himself owns many properties and thousands of acres of land.

So Tester's pitch will be that his family has been farming in the state for generations and knows what life as a Montana farmer is really like, while the other guys are (rich) interlopers who know nothing about the life of a Montana farmer. In Montana, that pitch could well resonate with a lot of voters. (V)

Poll: People in China Are Less Hostile to U.S. Than They Were

There have been plenty of polls about what Americans think of China, but what about the other way? What do Chinese people think about America? Morning Consult has been running polls there asking if people see America as an ally (friendly) or an enemy (unfriendly). The results are somewhat surprising:

Poll of what Chinese people think of America since March 2022

18 months ago, by a three-to-one margin, Chinese people saw America as an enemy. Now, it is almost tied. That's a big shift. Most Americans see China as an enemy, not an ally (hence the GOP debate; see above). It's not clear what caused Chinese opinion to change. One possibility is that when he was president, Donald Trump constantly attacked China verbally and did things like put tariffs on Chinese products. Many Chinese people probably saw this as aggressively anti-Chinese.

Joe Biden, by contrast, has cut the rhetoric, but quietly done things that actually could hurt China much more in the long run than a 10% tariff on T-shirts. He got Intel to start building a $100-billion semiconductor plant in Ohio and the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company to start building a $40-billion semiconductor plant in Arizona. These will make America much less dependent on China in the long-run for advanced chips and will actually hurt China, but the average Chinese citizen doesn't understand this (unfortunately for Biden, neither does the average American citizen). Biden also got the Netherlands to ban ASML from selling chip-making machines to China. In other words, with Trump, it was all bark and no bite. With Biden, it is all bite and no bark. Chinese people don't realize that Biden is actually quietly taking steps to undermine China and is actually a bigger threat to China than Trump was. (V)

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