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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Not at the Beach, Anyway
      •  Always Trumpers Won't Give Up
      •  Iowa Republicans Have Introduced a Bill Banning Mifepristone
      •  Could Arizona Republicans Blow It Again?
      •  NRSC May Play Favorites This Time
      •  COVID-19 Is Not Going Away
      •  Might Sotomayor or Kagan Retire?
      •  DeSantis 1, College Board 0

Happy Groundhog Day! Or, as Joe Heller put it:

Cartoon about Groundhog Day and secret documents; the caption is '6 more weeks of discovering secret documents'

Not at the Beach, Anyway

Regardless of whether the official groundhog sees his shadow today, no new secret documents were found during an FBI search of Joe Biden's house at Rehoboth Beach, DE. The search was done with the cooperation of Biden's attorneys but without alerting Biden himself in advance.

While the absence of documents doesn't necessarily prove anything, if Biden had been trying to hide secret documents, it would have made more sense to stash them at his beach house, which is not nearly as well known as his house in Wilmington. That none were found at the beach house at least suggests that the half-dozen documents found at Biden's Wilmington House were there because Biden was sloppy, rather than because he was intentionally hiding documents he had no right to keep at home. (V)

Always Trumpers Won't Give Up

Sarah Longwell is a never-Trump Republican who serves as publisher of The Bulwark, and who runs a firm that does polling and focus groups. Though she has clearly stated political preferences, there is no evidence that she makes up data or focus-group reports, and her results seem generally based in reality. She is also married to a woman, so despite being a Republican, she is not much of a culture warrior.

Yesterday, we mentioned a recent poll Longwell did that showed about 30% of Republicans have as their motto "Trump or bust." Nobody else will do the job and they are most definitely not going to change their minds. And if the Republican primary field is large enough, 30% could be enough to come in first and sweep all the delegates in the many winner-take-all primaries.

In addition to the polling about Trump, Longwell has been running many focus groups of Republicans. In groups where all the participants were chosen because they voted from Trump in 2016 and again in 2020, very few want him to run in 2024. The most common complaint is "too much baggage." They like him—that's not the problem—but they don't think he can win. Most of them are for Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL), who they describe as "Trump without the baggage."

Interestingly, Longwell also ran focus groups with Republicans who really, really like Trump, regardless of who they voted for in 2016 and 2020. The reactions were very different from the first set of focus groups. These are the always-Trump voters. They will go to their graves adoring him. They don't care about his misdeeds or legal peril. It's Trump or die for them.

One thought that emerged from the loyal Trump focus groups is that they recognize that many other people don't like him, but that doesn't mean much because they still adore him. Another observation is that other candidates are always compared to Trump. For example, DeSantis is "Trump without the baggage" or "Trump not on steroids." What they mean is that he gives them all the Trumpy stuff they love but they hope he won't alienate other voters.

Talking to these voters led Longwell to conclude that Trump could still be the Republican nominee because he has these things going for him:

  • 100% Name recognition
  • Most of his true fans will vote for him if he loses the primary and runs as an independent in the general election
  • In a big primary field, most of the candidates will be scared to attack Trump and will attack each other
  • Joe Biden and Mike Pence having secret documents at home "exonerates" Trump since "they all do it"
  • When Trump rejoins Twitter and Facebook he will get back in the news and fire up the small donors

Longwell's conclusion is that no matter what else happens (short of Trump's dying), Trump will be a serious contender for the GOP nomination next year simply because 30% of the Republican voters will accept no substitute. If the field is large and fractured, that will probably be enough. The only thing that might stop him is for all the other contenders to make a pact that they will all drop out and support whichever non-Trump candidate has the most delegates after super Tuesday. In principle such a pact made now does not favor any specific candidate. If the rest of the primaries were Trump vs. just one other candidate, that other candidate could win. But given the egos of all politicians, such a pact is very unlikely. Though Democrats came very close to doing something like that for Joe Biden in 2020, and clearing the decks once it was clear he was the frontrunner, so you never know. (V)

Iowa Republicans Have Introduced a Bill Banning Mifepristone

The new abortion wars are going to focus on medical, as opposed to surgical, abortions, specifically on the availability of mifepristone. In Iowa, abortions are currently available up to 20 weeks, although through no fault of the state legislature. In 2018, the legislators passed a bill banning abortions after 6 weeks of pregnancy, but the courts blocked the law. So now they are trying again.

Iowa Republican legislators have introduced a bill making it illegal to "manufacture, distribute, prescribe, dispense, sell or transfer" mifepristone or any other generic product that contains the same active ingredient. Under current Iowa law, physicians can prescribe mifepristone but they have to administer the medication themselves. None of this new-fangled telemedicine stuff, thank you. If the bill passes, then in-state physicians won't be allowed to prescribe or administer mifepristone themselves anymore.

What the bill does not do is ban the importation of mifepristone from other states. Iowa is not a country with sovereign borders. Interstate commerce is regulated by Congress, not the states themselves. So even if the bill becomes law, women will still be able to have video consultations with out-of-state physicians and have out-of-state pharmacies ship the pills to them. If Iowa passes a law allowing state officials to search all incoming mail for contraband, the federal courts will certainly strike that down.

So would the proposed bill have any effect if it was passed? Probably some. It is much easier for a frightened and pregnant 16-year-old girl to go to her family doctor for abortion pills than figure out how to contact an out-of-state physician for a video consultation. Also, young girls may not have credit cards or some other way to pay for the pills, whereas buying them locally can be done with cash. This is especially an issue when the girl's parents do not approve of abortion and the girl is trying to get one without her parents finding out. (V)

Could Arizona Republicans Blow It Again?

With Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ) potentially creating a three-way Senate race in 2024, Republicans have a golden opportunity to win the seat. Well, unless they have a bitter primary and end up nominating a whackadoodle. And to their consternation, they seem to be heading in that direction. Kari Lake and Blake Masters, both of whom lost statewide elections in 2022, are actively exploring a Senate run in 2024. Lake has the problem that she is being investigated for violating Arizona law when she posted people's signatures to her Twitter account. So, if she is essentially forced out, Masters would have a clear shot at the nomination. He already ran for the Senate, so all he has to do is reboot his old campaign. While a Masters campaign wouldn't guarantee a win for Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ), it is probably the best thing that could happen for him.

Are national Republicans eagerly waiting for Masters (or Lake) to jump in? Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-SD) isn't. He said: "Any candidate in '24 that has, as their principal campaign theme, a stolen election, is probably going to have the same issues that some of the '22 candidates had." Take that, Lake and Masters! Or maybe not. Caroline Wren, a senior adviser to Lake, shot back that Thune is "everything wrong with the Republican establishment." Then she added that "the Washington cartel is signaling that they're willing to hand an Arizona Senate seat to the radical left."

Arizona used to be Goldwater territory. For decades it elected conservative Republicans up and down the line. But that is changing. Democrats won the last three Senate races, and the most recent races for president, governor, attorney general, and secretary of state. Democrats are giddy. Nora Keefe, a spokesperson for the DSCC, said: "In Arizona, Republicans are stuck with a ragtag band of failed candidates."

National Republicans are worried about Masters and Lake but they have little influence. They could push for a moderate, like businesswoman Karrin Taylor Robson, who lost the gubernatorial primary to Lake in 2022, but she would probably lose to her again in 2024. The core problem is that Arizona Republicans love the crazies and the crazier they are, the more love they get. There is nothing John Thune or NRSC Chairman Steve Daines (R-MT) can do about that. (V)

NRSC May Play Favorites This Time

In 2022, then-chairman of the NRSC, Sen Rick Scott (R-FL), decided not to intervene in Republican primaries and let the voters decide. The voters (with some help from Donald Trump) picked a bunch of nuttier-than-a-fruitcake candidates in key races, most of whom went on to lose. This time, the NRSC appears ready to intervene early in primaries to get the establishment's preferred candidate nominated.

The first piece of evidence for this changed policy comes in Indiana. Sen. Mike Braun (R-IN) is retiring to run for governor, leaving an open seat behind. At first, it looked like former Indiana governor Mitch Daniels (R) was going to jump in. In the end, he decided not to. Immediately after his decision, the NRSC endorsed Rep. Jim Banks (R-IN), in an attempt to clear the field and avoid a super Trumper from getting in and winning the nomination. Banks is Trumpy enough, but at least he is a sitting member of Congress and not some weirdo outsider. Trump himself has endorsed Banks, so maybe this time the establishment and Trump agree on the candidate. That may not always be the case, though.

There are multiple other states where Republican Senate primaries are likely. In West Virginia, Rep. Alex Mooney (R-WV) is already in, but Gov. Jim Justice (R-WV) is exploring a run, as is AG Patrick Morrisey (R). Will the NRSC interfere here? Montana now has two representatives—and both of them want to get out of the House and into the Senate. Again, will the NRSC pick sides? And there is Arizona, as discussed above.

Ever since 2014, the NRSC has stayed out of primaries. While picking a candidate has an upside (the Party doesn't have to defend some wacko in the general election), it also has a downside. The downside is that if the NRSC tries to defeat some primary candidate and that candidate wins primary anyway and is elected, the Party will have no control of the candidate in the Senate and he or she will do whatever he or she wants to. The Republicans really don't want any more copies of Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY). (V)

COVID-19 Is Not Going Away

While the COVID-19 disease is easing and becoming more endemic than pandemic, the battles over it are now just starting to heat up. Among activist Republicans, there is immense and growing anger at all the government policies and regulations aimed at containing the virus. Among many of them, the subtext is: "I don't care if the whole damn county dies, I am not going to let the government make me wear a mask or get a vaccination." It is likely that the Republican House is going to pick up this theme and run with it. "Government overreach" may also play a role in the 2024 elections, especially the GOP presidential primary, with candidates bickering over who did the most to oppose public health measure intended to save lives.

In the House, Republican leaders are trumpeting the message: "The pandemic is over but Biden is so out of it, he doesn't understand this." Of course, the pandemic isn't over, with something like 10,000 new cases a day reported (and many times that number of cases not reported), but who cares about facts when there are voters to rile up? On Tuesday, Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY), who was a lifelong moderate until she got a whiff of power, said: "House Republicans are voting on legislation to restore our constitutional rights and freedoms after two long years of Democrats' COVID-19 power grab policies." Any bill that manages to pass the House won't even get a vote in the Senate, so this is all for show, not a serious attempt at legislation.

Note that in the first paragraph of this item we write that it was "activist" Republicans who are banging the drum about COVID and freedom. Polls show that for most Republicans, that show has already left town. They are concerned about inflation, crime, and immigration, while burdensome government mandates are not a priority. But House Republicans tend to be responsive to the most extreme activists, so they are putting on this show.

It's not only House Republicans. State parties are at it, too. Last week, the Arizona Republican Convention adopted a resolution against "experimental vaccines, mask mandates, and businesses requiring proof of vaccination." The attorneys general in Louisiana and Missouri have filed a lawsuit alleging that federal officials conspired with Twitter to suppress unwanted information about the pandemic.

For many Republicans, government intrusion into private life is the enemy of freedom. How dare the government tell you to wear a mask? It should stick to things that don't impinge on anyone's personal freedom, like forcing women to carry unwanted pregnancies to term or forbidding people from smoking the evil weed or engaging in paid sex work.

Although only a small part of the Republican base is up in arms about COVID-19 restrictions, Donald Trump has picked up the message. He is now dropping his support for vaccines (whose development his administration funded) from his stump speech. He is now promising to reinstate members of the Armed Forces who were discharged for refusing to be vaccinated. Ron DeSantis has tried to one-up him by suggesting throwing Anthony Fauci across the Potomac. The whole topic will hit the front pages when the House starts its investigations into the government's response to COVID-19 starting on Jan. 20, 2021. The government's response prior to that date is not likely to come up, for some reason. (V)

Might Sotomayor or Kagan Retire?

As we have pointed out several times, Senate Democrats face a brutal map in 2024. Term-limited Gov. Jim Justice, a coal billionaire and the richest man in West Virginia, is probably going to challenge Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV). Given that West Virginia went for Donald Trump by 40 points in 2020, Justice might well win, although Manchin could avoid defeat by running for the open governor's job instead of running for senator in 2024. He might even enjoy watching all the Democrats who hate him beg him to run for reelection instead.

If Justice wins that seat, the Democrats would have to hold tough seats in Montana, Ohio, Wisconsin, and other states to have at least 50 seats in the Senate in 2025. If the Democrats lost West Virginia and just one of the others, they would be down to 49 Senate seats. This means that probably no more judges could be confirmed unless they were related by blood to Republican leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), and maybe not even then. Since it might be many years before the Democrats controlled the White House and also the Senate again, some Democratic worrywarts are already openly hoping that Justices Sonia Sotomayor and/or Elena Kagan will retire while Joe Biden could still replace them with younger justices. For example, Ian Millhiser is spooked by the thought of a Supreme Court with seven or even eight right-wing Republicans. Replacing Sotomayor and Kagan with 45-year-olds would prevent that for decades.

The current oldest justice is Clarence Thomas at 74, but he probably has a living will specifying that he is to be kept technically alive on however many machines it takes until there is a Republican in the White House and a Republican Senate. Sotomayor is 68. Kagan is 62. Statistically, a 68-year-old woman can expect to hang on for another 18 years A 62-year-old woman should be good for another 23 years. But a 45-year-old woman is probably good for 45 more years. Given how contentious the Supreme Court has become, that sounds a lot better to some Democrats.

Will the justices retire? Historically, that would be unusual. Over the past 100 years, the average age of retiring justices was 75. Over the past 40 years, the average retirement age was north of 80. The one obvious counterexample was David Souter, who retired in 2009 at 70, although Souter made it clear that he hated living in D.C. and wanted to go back to New Hampshire, where he grew up.

Will Sotomayor or Kagan take the hint? After all, stuff happens. Even to people as famous and beloved (by some folks) as Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Sotomayor is well aware of the fact that she has diabetes. She also knows she will hit 70 on June 25, 2024, in the middle of the presidential campaign, allowing Biden to make very high profile nomination and get the nominee confirmed. Will she do it?

The most recent justices who retired did so when they could be replaced a president of the same party as the one who nominated them. Stephen Breyer even went public about that, although he took so long to exit that Democrats were down on their knees praying for him daily. It's not a secret that retirements are always strategic now, but a retirement by a justice as young as these two would really focus everyone's attention on how broken the Supreme Court is. It might even start a serious discussion about a constitutional amendment establishing fixed terms of 15 or 18 years, a mandatory retirement age of 65 or 70, or even a new procedure allowing every president to make one nomination per election won and having the size of the court vary instead of being fixed at nine. Having an even number of justices sometimes wouldn't be a disaster as an even split would just leave the appeals court decision in place (for its circuit). (V)

DeSantis 1, College Board 0

Ron DeSantis isn't president (yet) but he is sure calling the shots already, at least in some quarters. It's been less than 2 weeks since DeSantis told the College Board that its AP course on African American Studies was unacceptable and violated Florida law.

The Board Responded with: "Yes, Mr. President-wannabe, how fast would you like us to gut it to meet your wishes? Would 2 weeks be fast enough?" Well, actually, the Board didn't ask. It just went ahead and removed all the material DeSantis objected to. The topics that have been deleted include critical race theory, Black queer studies, Black feminist literary thought, reparations, and intersectionality. Other topics, like Black Lives Matter, are now optional, which means they won't be on the test so nobody will teach them. A "research topic" has been added, so students who want to study it can as part of their research. Black conservatism is also a suggested research topic. Leftist writers like Kimberlé Crenshaw and Angela Davis have been removed.

Robert Patterson, a professor of African American studies at Georgetown University and cochair of the committee that developed the course, said that the course may "complicate" some students' knowledge of American history when they learn that George Washington owned many slaves and Abraham Lincoln wanted to resettle freed Black people in Africa.

It is pretty clear that the original curriculum was designed to please progressives, conservatives be damned, and surprise, the conservatives pushed back. If the lesson plans had stuck to discussing the arrival of Black people in America, slavery, emancipation, reconstruction, Jim Crow, the Civil Rights Movement, and police killings of Black people in the 21st century as well as profiles of prominent Black writers, leaders, politicians, artists, musicians, and athletes, it wouldn't have gotten DeSantis' dander up. Why is Black queer theory in there and Black opposition to abortion not?

David Coleman, head of the College Board, said that the changes were not made to bow to political pressure. Literally: "At the College Board, we can't look to statements of political leaders." In other words, just 2 weeks after DeSantis said the curriculum was not acceptable to him it magically changed, with all the elements DeSantis didn't like removed. Coincidences happen all the time, after all.

Big states get to throw their weight around all the time. When California adopts emission standards for cars, it is sometimes easier for car manufacturers to make all their cars meet the California standards rather than have separate production processes for California cars and not-California cars. When Texas adopts standards for history books, it is sometimes easier for publishers to do what Texas wants than have two versions of a book. Now when Florida pipes up about an AP course that a relatively small number of high school students will take, it is simply easier for the College Board to give in rather than have a Florida test and a not-Florida test. (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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