• Trump Will Mess with Texas
• Yes, But Can DeSantis Govern?
• Of Course, DeSantis Is Not the only Republican Eyeing 2024
• Crime Might Not Pay
• Fox Gets Socked
• Broom and Rug, Meet 4,500 Tips about Brett Kavanaugh
Today's post is rather heavy on Republican politics. As in, Joe Biden, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and the rest of the blue team will not get another mention after the sentence you are reading right now. In case you need to brace yourself, or make today's pot of coffee extra strong, or follow the lead of Oedipus (the part about his eyes, not the stuff that happened before that), then you are forewarned. We're going to begin with something that is kind of a microcosm of where the Republican Party finds itself these days, namely the absolute disaster that is the Maricopa County ballot audit.
Everyone knows that the whole point of this "audit" is to find "proof" that Donald Trump won the state of Arizona, but got cheated by some sort of chicanery. The strange part is how long it is taking. Consider that they are only examining the 2.1 million ballots cast in Maricopa County, and that the process began back on April 22. That's 96 days thus far, which is enough time to conduct roughly 20 legitimate audits. Heck, it's enough time for 40 people, counting ballots at the rate of 3 per minute for 8 hours per day, with weekends off, to complete the task—and then do it all over again as a double check. Cyber Ninjas, which is conducting the audit, has hundreds of volunteers, and no intention of being accurate anyhow. They are also nearly 40 days beyond the "end date" they initially announced. What the heck is going on?
The exact answer to that question is not known, but what is clear is that there's trouble in paradise (and possibly also in Paradise). To start, former Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett (R), who was chosen as the liaison between the Arizona state Senate (which commissioned the audit) and Cyber Ninjas, has been excluded from key meetings, and from observing key aspects of the process. He was so unhappy—since his good name is going to be used to bestow legitimacy upon the results—that he went public with his criticisms last week, and was banned from the facility where the audit is taking place. Bennett is now threatening to resign.
And that is not the only bad sign for audit fans. Arizona Senate President Karen Fann (R) and Judiciary Committee Chairman Warren Petersen (R), who are the driving force behind the audit, issued subpoenas on Monday, demanding additional materials from Maricopa County, particularly the network routers that were used on Election Day. What the two state senators are acting upon is a brand-new conspiracy theory, one that claims outside hackers were able to gain access to the Maricopa voting systems, and to move votes from the Republican column to the Democratic column. Fann and Petersen hope to "prove" the routers were connected to the Internet, which will then "prove" that the vote moving actually did happen. It is dubious that the claim is true, and even more dubious that it can be proven by examining the routers. More dubious still is that "they were connected to the Internet," if somehow proven, is prima facie evidence that votes were stolen from Trump.
Nonetheless, and to the surprise of absolutely no one, Trump himself has grasped at this straw with both hands (and possibly both feet). During his rally in Arizona this weekend, he cried:
The county has, for whatever reason, also refused to produce the network routers. We want the routers, Sonny, Wendy, we got to get those routers, please. The routers. Come on, Kelly, we can get those routers. Those routers. You know what? We're so beyond the routers, there's so many fraudulent votes without the routers. But if you got those routers, what that will show, and they don't want to give up the routers. They don't want to give them. They are fighting like hell. Why are these commissioners fighting not to give the routers?
So, routers-wise, do you think the routers are on Trump's mind, since his router-inspired rant mentioned routers an amazing 11 times, which is an awfully large number of router references for a single statement about routers, even if those routers are the hat you're hanging your hopes on (as the router-obsessed Trump clearly is, since shouting "routers, routers, routers," may be all that he has left)? With Trump, you always need to look to see if what he says is somehow tied to his making money. Stock in Cisco, the world's biggest manufacturer of routers, went up 24 cents (0.4%) yesterday. If he bought CSCO in advance of his rally in the hope of making a killing, it didn't really work. In any event, the point is this: If the original conspiratorial plan was working out, there would be no need to cook up an alternate conspiracy. So, things must not be going well.
In addition to these warning signs, it is also the case that the pro-audit folks are losing the PR battle. Among the folks who have recently spoken up with reservations/criticisms of the process:
- Republican Election Officials in Arizona: Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer (R), for example,
on Fox yesterday. He declared "This was not a stolen election," and added, "This is like playing whack-a-mole. Some of
these claims we thought were like, the undead, have come back, I guess."
- Arizona State Senators Who Previously Supported the Audit: State Senator Michelle
Ugenti-Rita (R), and State Senator Paul Boyer (R), who both voted in favor of the audit, are among the members of their
who are having
second thoughts. Ugenti-Rita, for example, tweeted: "I supported the audit, but I do not support the Trump audit any
longer. I wanted to review our election processes and see what, if anything, could be improved. Sadly, it's now become
clear that the audit has been botched. The total lack of competence by [Karen Fann] over the last 5 months has deprived
the voters of Arizona a comprehensive accounting of the 2020 election. That's inexcusable, but it shows what can happen
when Republicans do not take election integrity deadly serious [sic]."
- Judges: Non-Republican entities, including voting-rights groups and newspaper reporters, would like access to documentation that should be a matter of public record, and that Cyber Ninjas has refused to produce. So, lawsuits were filed, and landed in the courtroom of Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Michael Kemp. Though no final ruling has come down yet, he was unsparing in his criticism of Cyber Ninjas during a preliminary hearing, telling defense counsel that the requested records are clearly covered by Arizona's freedom of information statutes, and wondering if Cyber Ninjas' unwillingness to surrender the documents is because the documents don't exist, due to the audit having been conducted improperly.
Trump, and the (large) segment of the Republican party that answers to him, have an awful lot riding on this. His ego, and his grift...er, his fundraising operation, demand that he keep alive the fiction that he actually won the election. If Cyber Ninjas can't come up with "proof" of fraud, it will be much harder to keep doing that. Meanwhile, that failure would also leave Arizona Republicans with egg on their faces, just as we approach an election in which a U.S. Senate seat and the governor's mansion are being contested. And for Republicans nationwide, it would weaken their arguments that stricter voting laws are needed to prevent alleged voter fraud. So, the pressure is on Cyber Ninjas CEO Doug Logan right now to come up with something, and something that can survive at least cursory scrutiny. At the moment, his chances aren't looking great. (Z)
While he occupied the White House, Donald Trump rarely made risky endorsements, preferring instead to maintain a high "win percentage" by backing mostly slam-dunk Republican candidates. However, he has changed his approach since leaving office. Maybe that is because he feels a need to seize every opportunity at a few headlines and some attention. Or perhaps it is because he, and/or his advisers, have figured out that his endorsements will really only have value if he wades into hotly contested elections, and helps elevate one of those candidates to victory.
Yesterday, we pointed out that The Donald is getting heavily involved in the race for Wyoming's sole House seat (he hasn't endorsed yet, but he will), and also in the special election in OH-15 (he's endorsed coal lobbyist Mike Carey). The former race is substantially personal, because Trump really wants to take down Rep. Liz Cheney (R). However, the latter appears to be entirely about him flexing his muscles, and trying to exert influence over GOP politics.
To that list, let us now also add the special election in TX-06. That seat came open when Rep. Ron Wright (R) died of COVID-19 back in February. The first round of voting was held on May 1, and since no candidate claimed a majority, there will be a runoff today between Wright's widow Susan (R, who claimed 19% of the first-round votes) and state Rep. Jake Ellzey (R, who claimed 13%).
Trump has bestowed his endorsement on Susan Wright, who would appear to be the safe pick. After all, widows often win these sorts of elections (e.g., Mary Bono, Lois Capps, Julia Letlow, Doris Matsui, Jo Ann Emerson, and Lindy Boggs, among many others), and Wright also "won" the first round of voting. However, it may not be the safe pick at all. Given the factors working in Wright's favor, she is the presumptive favorite, and Trump will hardly be able to claim that he lifted her to victory. If she loses, on the other hand, then it won't reflect well on the power of his endorsement. It does not help that (1) Ellzey has outraised and outspent Wright roughly 2-to-1, (2) special election electorates are wonky and unpredictable, and (3) the district, while R+6 by PVI, isn't all that Trumpy, having given its votes to him by only 3% in 2020 (51%-48%). Anyhow, by the end of the night tonight, all will (or should) be revealed.
If that is not enough, the former president decided on Monday to wade into another tricky Texas election, namely next year's contest for state AG. Incumbent Ken Paxton (R) is running for re-election, and is very Trumpy, but is enmeshed in scandal, as he was indicted on fraud charges and is also being investigated by the FBI for corruption. Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush is the challenger, is also very Trumpy, and is not enmeshed in scandal. However, he is also a member of the Bush family, and Trump does not like the Bush family. In part, that is because they have sometimes been critical of him (although not nearly as loudly as they could have been). In part, it is because the Bushes are the type of blue-blood family that has always turned its noses up at the unrefined, nouveau riche Trump family. Anyhow, given the choice between an alleged crook and a member of a rival family, the former president is backing the crook, of course.
In contrast to tonight's election in TX-06, we are going to have to wait a while to find out what's going to happen in the AG race (the primary is on March 1, 2022). However, Paxton is in danger of losing, and possibly even losing big. If he does, and if it's a Bush who knocks him off, that won't just be one egg on Trump's face, it will be a whole omelet. (Z)
There is little doubt, at this point, that Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) is pretty good at the sorts of stunts that thrill Donald Trump's base. He's already shepherded through the legislature, and signed into law, bills that limit voting in the Sunshine State, ban female trans athletes from competing in girls' high school sports, forbid the teaching of Critical Race Theory, require universities to collect data on "bias" among faculty and students, and make it illegal for businesses to demand vaccine passports. You might call all of this "Beyond Burger" legislation; it's meant as red meat for the base, but it's ultimately phony.
In any event, it certainly appears that the Governor has won the hearts of the Trumpublicans. Fabrizio, Lee & Associates just released a new poll in which they asked 800 Republican voters if they approve or disapprove of several non-Donald Trump Sr. Republican politicians. Here are the net numbers for the seven people they asked about:
|Donald Trump Jr.||+55%|
|Marjorie Taylor Greene||+8%|
Before we continue our discussion of DeSantis, let us note a couple of things. The first is that we don't especially trust Fabrizio, Lee & Associates' numbers; their mission these days seems to be providing numerical proof that Republicans love Trump and those in his orbit. Further, they released only their top-level numbers here, and no crosstabs. That means that it's not actually clear if, say, Gaetz was 57% approve, 40% disapprove, or was 27% approve, 10% disapprove.
Still, the numbers may be legit and, at very least, are probably in the ballpark. And that being the case, the results certainly say some interesting things about the current state of the GOP. Donald Jr. has never held office, and his only "contributions" are showing up at rallies to shout about the libs, and sending lots of nasty tweets complaining about the libs. Gaetz and Greene have gotten zero bills passed by Congress, and the former is a possible sex offender, while the latter is a definite bigot. House Minority Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), for his part, has flailed around and offered so little leadership of his conference that he makes Paul Ryan look like Sam Rayburn or Joseph Gurney Cannon. On the other hand, McConnell may well have advanced Republican priorities, at least on the federal level, as much as every other Republican combined in the last 10 years. And yet, he trails everyone except Cheney by a mile. Is it any wonder that nearly all Republican officeholders focus on culture wars stuff, and kissing The Donald's hindquarters, as opposed to actual governance?
Anyhow, returning to DeSantis, he is clearly very popular with the Trump wing of the Republican Party, which means that the governor is either the frontrunner, or one of them at least, for the 2024 nomination, assuming Don Sr. sits that election out (and we think he will). Unfortunately for DeSantis, he—unlike the other folks in the poll above, and unlike most of the other 2024 Republican presidential aspirants—currently occupies an executive office. He actually has to govern right now, and since he's in a state with a Republican trifecta, he can't pass the buck based on Democratic obstructionism.
And that is where things get tricky for DeSantis, as actual governance could prove difficult for him, or could compel him to do things that will not make The Donald and his base happy. For example, this year has produced a particularly brutal case of "red tide," a mass algal blooming that kills sea organisms en masse (600 tons so far), and wreaks havoc on the economies of gulf coast towns. Getting involved in mitigation efforts will run contrary to the small-government rhetoric that DeSantis deployed while running for governor, and that Republicans generally embrace. Further, whatever he does (or does not do), he could still get hammered. He would not be the first politician to be blamed for issues largely beyond his control.
To take an even thornier issue, COVID-19 is now surging in Florida; things are as bad there, at the moment, as in any state. One could argue, somewhat compellingly, that the Governor deserves some blame for this, as he has been outspokenly and aggressively against mask mandates, vaccine requirements, and other measures that surely would have helped keep things in check. Thus far, he is sticking to his guns, and insisting that there will be no strong COVID containment measures, like lockdowns. But what happens if things continue to spiral out of control? If DeSantis changes course, he could alienate the Dear Leader, as well as the base that follows Trump's lead. If he doesn't, then he could end up with the blame for hundreds, thousands, or even tens of thousands of deaths. The Governor might want to ring Trump up and ask how that worked out for him in 2020.
It also does not help, incidentally, that DeSantis has to run for reelection next year, and in a state where he won by just 32,463 votes out of 8,119,909 cast. On one hand, he has incumbency and name recognition this time, a massive war chest, and he might benefit from the new voting restrictions. On the other hand, he is going to draw a stronger challenger this time than Andrew Gillum (either Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried or former governor Charlie Crist) and he is going to need moderate/independent voters who care about actual governance more than they care about how many Beyond Burgers he's tossed them.
Obviously, 2024 is pretty far away. However, for the reasons we outline above, and others, we are skeptical that DeSantis retains his lofty position among would-be GOP presidential candidates. It is extremely difficult to make it through 3-4 years with a giant target on your back, and the road to the White House is littered with the corpses of candidates who went from "the chosen one" to "quickly out of the race," including Jerry Brown, Mario Cuomo, Howard Dean, Bobby Jindal, Jeb!, and Chris Christie. You will notice that all of those gentlemen were state governors. We would propose that's not a coincidence. (Z)
If our supposition is right, and Ron DeSantis flames out, and Donald Trump chooses not to run again, then the Republican nomination could devolve upon a U.S. Senator. There are certainly several senators who are hoping that is the case, and those folks are busy engaging in the sort of political stunts meant to curry favor with the base.
Yesterday, following on the heels of the request that Mississippi AG Lynn Fitch (R) made to the Supreme Court last week to overturn Roe v. Wade, Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Josh Hawley (R-MO), and Mike Lee (R-UT) decided to wade in (no pun intended). They filed a 33-page amicus brief with the Court in which they asserted that of course Roe should be overturned, and listed the reasons why.
Each person reading this presumably has an opinion on Roe, and while those opinions probably lean in one direction, they surely also cover the entire spectrum of possibilities. We are making no comment on the law or the lawsuit itself. What we are saying, however, is that the Senators' brief is just kabuki theater. There is absolutely no argument they are going to think of, no set of words they are going to formulate, that is going to cover territory that won't already be covered by a dozen other briefs that have been, or will be, submitted. Especially in just 33 pages; the way that legal documents are formatted, some lawyers take 33 pages just to clear their throat.
This is the exact same set of senators, incidentally, that submitted a bill a few months ago to strip Major League Baseball of its antitrust exemption. This was in response to the relocation of the All-Star game, and was also just kabuki theater. That bill was never, ever going to come up for a vote in the Democratic-controlled Senate (and, in fact, was never, ever going to make it past the committee stage). Even if it had somehow passed the Senate, it wouldn't have passed the Democratic-controlled House. And if it had somehow passed the House, it wouldn't have gotten a presidential signature. And even if all those things came to pass, there would have been a years-long legal battle that Major League Baseball would likely have won.
Anyhow, we would suggest the machinations of this little triumvirate are of interest for two reasons. The first is that Cruz and Hawley are most certainly planning presidential runs in 2024. They are clearly testing out which issues they can use to rally their would-be voters, and trying to give themselves concrete "accomplishments" on those issues that they can brag about. In other words, we're all going to get an earful about Roe next year, and then again in three years. "Cancel culture," too, of course.
The second interesting thing is the involvement of Lee. Among the three, he's the only one up for reelection next year. However, as a conservative Mormon Republican in Utah, he's got a job for life if he wants it, and doesn't really need extra PR help. It is possible that he's just a true believer, and that he's getting involved because pushing back against Roe and MLB are where his passions lie. However, it's also possible that he has some 2024 aspirations of his own. He's not been mentioned as a presidential contender, and Utah Mormons don't have the best track record on that front, so we kind of doubt that he has his eye on the big chair. On the other hand, vice-presidential candidate Mike Lee? Could be. (Z)
For the Republican Party, that is. As a wedge issue, that is.
Back in the late 1960s, many Americans believed they were in the midst of a crime wave. To some extent, that was true, as the country was being negatively affected by tensions over the Vietnam War and race relations, and by the assassinations of 1968, and economic malaise, and a number of other dynamics. To some extent, it was a creation of the media, which gave extensive, often over-the-top coverage to various high-profile violent crimes. And to some extent, "crime is out of control" was a dog whistle for "minorities, especially Black people, are out of control." In any event, Richard Nixon was a shrewd operator. He took the lay of the land, ran on a "tough on crime" message in 1968, and won. Other Republicans followed his lead that year, and in numerous elections thereafter, at least until the mid-1990s (when, for example, Rudy Giuliani won the mayoralty of New York based on a "tough on crime" platform).
Right now, in 2021, crime in general—and murder, in particular—is spiking again. It will take the sociologists a while to put all the pieces together, but it's clear that the pandemic is at least partly responsible. It is also clear that the media, aided by politicians on both sides of the aisle, is helping to create a perception that things are really, really bad. And so, Republicans may well be tempted to channel their inner Dick this year and next, and to run on a "tough on crime" message.
In a very interesting piece written for Politico Magazine, Joshua Zeitz speculates that this tactic might not work so well this time around. Once again, it is true that crime really is up. It is also true that, in recent polls, voters have ranked "crime" as the country's most pressing issue several times. However, there are a couple of important differences between 2021 and the late 1960s.
The first difference is that the crime, at the moment, is largely not spiking in the places where the swing voters are. While people are concerned about "crime," in general, they tend to vote based on that issue only if they feel personally threatened by criminals. The main battlegrounds in 2022, and 2024 for that matter, will be the suburbs and the exurbs. And those places are not where the crime is. The crime is mostly in the cities, and we know which party already has an iron grip on most of those.
The other difference, one related to the first, is that the dog-whistle racism that was a part of the 1960s "tough on crime" campaigns doesn't really fly today. At least, it does not fly in the suburbs and exurbs, where the voters that the two parties crave tend to lean conservative on fiscal issues but liberal on social issues. So, they are less likely to be impressed by the implication that violent Black/Latino/Asian people are lurking around every corner.
We've already had a couple of object lessons, in 2021, that would appear to support Zeitz' argument. In New York City, Democrat Eric Adams ran a "tough on crime" campaign, and won the primary (which, in effect, will give him the mayor's office in November). And in the considerably less urban NM-01, Republican Mark Moores ran a "tough on crime" campaign, and got crushed. Given that it's a D+9 district, he was expected to lose anyhow. However, instead of losing by the 11 points that PVI would predict, he lost by 25.
One does not want to reach firm conclusions based on only two data points, but soft conclusions are OK, especially when two data points are all we've got. And the soft conclusion here is that in the place that "tough on crime" would be expected to work, the Democrats appropriated the issue, while in the place where it would not be expected to work, it did not, not in the least. (Z)
While Donald Trump was in office, Fox adopted a largely anti-vaccine posture (with Neil Cavuto being the notable exception). These days, as we pointed out last week, it's more of a mixed bag. Cavuto remains pro-vaxx, and Sean Hannity appears to have climbed on board. On the other hand, Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham, among others, continue to express hostility to the vaccines, and to nearly everything that has been done by the government in order to control the pandemic.
Because several of Fox's highest-profile personalities are throwing fuel on the anti-vaxx fire, the channel has gotten much criticism from people on both the left and the right. It's gotten intense enough that Fox media reporter Howard Kurtz pitched a fit on his program on Sunday. He declared that "it makes for a great liberal narrative" to say that under-vaccination "is the fault of right-wing media." He also said that "Fox's rivals are in a frenzy about blaming this network. But there are a lot of voices on Fox News Channel and many, including me, including the anchors who just made a second pro-vaccination PSA, want the tens of millions of holdouts to get the covid shots, and that includes these conservative hosts."
Perhaps Kurtz was just expressing his personal pique. Or perhaps he got his marching orders from the higher-ups at Fox. They could be worried about bad PR, or about the possibility of a disproportionate number of Republicans dying of COVID. They might also be worried about subjecting themselves to lawsuits. We wondered about this in the piece we wrote last week, and about a day later, Slate's John Culhane published a piece in which he argues that Fox could indeed be sued. The claim would be fraud, and the elements would be that (1) Fox knew, or should have known, that they were perpetuating falsehoods; (2) people relied on those falsehoods; (3) those people were damaged because of that reliance.
This is rather far removed from Fox actually being sued, and it definitely involves taking laws that were written to apply to individuals and applying them to a corporation. Also, Fox has escaped damages in the past by arguing, apparently persuasively, that Carlson (in particular) is an entertainer, and not a journalist. Still, just because a lawsuit might not be successful doesn't mean it won't be filed, that it won't survive summary judgment, or that it won't cost the channel a bunch of money and bad PR to defend. So they really could be nervous about this possibility.
In any event, this is the second time in recent months that Fox has backed way off a Trumpy line of argument, following on the heels of their reversal on "voter fraud." And perhaps what we are seeing is that it is not viable, long-term, to simultaneously be (1) a major, profitable cable channel, and (2) outlandish enough to satisfy the former president and his base. (Z)
Those who followed the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation, which includes most readers of this site, will recall that the process was paused for several days so that the FBI could look into allegations of sexual misconduct against the then-Supreme Court nominee. The Bureau set up a 1-800 tip line, and got roughly 4,500 tips. Late last week, we learned what actually came of this: The FBI interviewed 10 people, apparently not including either Kavanaugh or primary accuser Christine Blasey Ford, sent the "relevant" tips to the White House, while also providing an executive summary to the members of the Senate, and then called it a day.
The FBI's side of the story goes something like this: the time they had available to investigate was very limited, and with tip lines like this there is a lot of dross among the diamonds, and finally, they tried their best to give the relevant parties an overview of what was learned. However, many people are outraged by the revelation that the Bureau ultimately did so little, since it made no attempt to ask for more time, since a list of "tips" without follow-up information doesn't do the senators much good, and since sending a report to the Trump White House was roughly as useful as printing the Bureau's findings on a roll of toilet paper.
The question that many people have, of course, is whether this could plausibly affect Kavanaugh's status as a Supreme Court justice. And the answer is: "It's not likely." The Constitution contains no provisions for disqualifying a justice based on irregularities in the confirmation process; assuming Kavanaugh does not die, the only currently existing ways for him to depart are via impeachment and conviction or via resignation. If follow-up on those 4,500 tips compellingly demonstrated that Kavanaugh perjured himself, then he could possibly be impeached, but the odds of 17 Republicans voting to remove him so that he might be replaced with a Democratic nominee are roughly equal to the odds of Donald Trump admitting that he lost the election fair and square, and that everything since then has just been a grift to separate followers from their money.
Similarly, if it were compellingly demonstrated that Kavanaugh committed one or more serious acts of sexual assault, he might be shamed into resigning for the good of the Court's reputation. But he does not appear to respond to shame, and putting together a slam-dunk case based entirely on 30-year-old testimony would be a tall order, indeed. Further, investigating a sitting Supreme Court justice would be an exceedingly hot potato for any attorney general, and does not seem to be consistent with the style of current AG Merrick Garland in particular.
In short, while the confirmation of Kavanaugh just got a bit more malodorous, at least for those who did not already feel that he smells as sweet as a rose, he's still in excellent shape to have a long career on the Court. (Z)
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jul26 Kinzinger Will Join the 1/6 Select Committee
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