Jeff Sessions Is Running for His Former Senate Seat

Attorney General Sessions testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee, June 13, 2017. (Reuters photo: Jonathan Ernst)

This is the last Jim-written Morning Jolt until Tuesday. To all our veterans, thank you in advance.

Making the click-through worthwhile: Jeff Sessions is running for Senate again, in a move that makes sense for him but not for anyone else; Republicans had a pretty good night in western Pennsylvania, but that may not quite offset their losses in the Philadelphia suburbs; and NR’s John McCormack interviews senators and finds evidence that the Assault Weapons Ban, the Green New Deal and Medicare for All will never pass the Senate, even if Democrats win control of the chamber in 2020; and Elizabeth Warren finds an innovative new way to be dishonest about her background.

Why Are You Running for Senate, Jeff Sessions?

I can understand why he wants to run. Sessions was the lone senator to endorse Trump early in the 2016 cycle, became Trump’s closest ally among Washington Republicans, was nominated as attorney general, won a tough confirmation fight . . . and then quickly turned into the president’s punching bag. Six months into the job, Trump was publicly complaining he shouldn’t have appointed him, and went on to call Sessions “beleaguered,” “VERY weak” and “DISGRACEFUL.” Instead of being a capstone to a long career in Washington, Session’s last job in the nation’s capital was a long exercise in perpetual public humiliation.

But while the bid makes sense for Sessions, it doesn’t make much sense for anyone else. Sessions is going to become one of the president’s favorite targets and distractions in this cycle. Sessions’ entry further splits an already crowded GOP Senate primary field, slightly increasing the odds of Roy Moore making it to a runoff and getting the nomination. A lot of Trump supporters see Sessions as a turncoat or incompetent, so they may well adopt an anybody-but-Sessions stance, either in a runoff or a general election. (In case you’re wondering, Democratic senator Doug Jones is voting with the administration’s position 35 percent of the time. Alabama’s Republican senator Richard Shelby, is voting with the administration 93.7 percent of the time.)

Sessions turns 73 on Christmas Eve. Is it unreasonable to want some new blood? Alabama must have some scandal-free conservative Republican out there who would make a fine senator. Sessions has had four terms.

Was Pennsylvania Not Quite So Bad for Republicans This Year?

Dave Wasserman notices that because of less-covered races in western Pennsylvania counties, Republicans picked up control of six new county commissions, while Democrats picked up five.

Kurt wonders if the Republican gains in the western part of the state will offset those GOP losses in the Philadelphia suburbs. It’s certainly within the realm of possibility, and Trump certainly could still win Pennsylvania in 2020; those Siena/New York Times polls showed a close race among likely voters no matter who the Democrats nominate.

But I would be extremely wary of any strategy that deliberately traded support in much more populous suburban counties for a higher level of support in much less-populated rural counties. On Tuesday Republicans gained control of commissions in Armstrong (Census-estimated population 65,623), Cameron (4,492), Greene (36,506), Luzerne (316,646), Washington (207,346), and Westmoreland counties (350,611).

That adds up to a population of (not registered or likely voters) 981,224 people.

Democrats flipped Bucks (628,195), Chester (522,046), Delaware (564,751), Lehigh (368,100), and Monroe (169,507) counties. That adds up to a population of (not registered or likely voters) of 2,252,599 people. So yes, Republicans won control of more county commissions on Tuesday, but a lot more Pennsylvanians will live in counties with Democratically controlled county commissions.

Winning or losing the state all comes down to the margins. Republicans don’t need to win suburban counties to win statewide races in Pennsylvania or many other states; they need to keep them reasonably close and then run up their margins in rural and exurban counties, while hoping Democrats don’t have huge turnout in the cities. In 2016, both Trump and Senator Pat Toomey won Pennsylvania, but they took different paths, so to speak; Toomey ran much better in the suburbs but didn’t have as large a margin in the rural counties.

Perhaps one of the most important statements of the 2020 cycle came from Chuck Schumer (and as far as I can tell, I’m the only reporter at that event who spotlighted it): “For every blue-collar Democrat we lose in western Pennsylvania, we will pick up two moderate Republicans in the suburbs in Philadelphia, and you can repeat that in Ohio and Illinois and Wisconsin.” Schumer’s math didn’t work out correctly, but he correctly diagnosed the change in the party’s demographics. In 2018, that shift obliterated most of the GOP House members representing suburban districts, and it’s worth remembering that Trump won Pennsylvania by about 68,000 votes and Wisconsin by about 28,000 votes. Schumer’s calculation was wrong, but it wasn’t wildly wrong.

We’re starting to hear more about how the Trump campaign believes it hasn’t reached its ceiling of potential supporters, that they can identify and find like-minded potential voters who didn’t cast a ballot in 2016 and turn them out. That could indeed help win the state — but no campaign that wants to win can just shrug off losing the suburbs by a wide margin. (Note that Republican congressman Brian Fitzpatrick won reelection in 2018, 51 percent to 48 percent, and his district includes Bucks County and a bit of Montgomery County. Republicans can win in the suburbs, but the first step is wanting to win there.)

Democratic Senators: the Filibuster Is Here to Stay

Our John McCormack quietly snares a big scoop that means that most of the policy dreams of progressives will never happen, even if they elect Elizabeth Warren president, Democrats win control of the Senate, and keep control of the House of Representatives. Arizona Democrat Kyrsten Sinema, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Jon Tester of Montana, have all declared, on the record, that they do not support “nuking the filibuster” for legislation, meaning the Senate will continue to require 60 senators to agree to bring legislation to a vote. Both Manchin and Tester told McCormack that they cannot imagine any circumstances where they would change their mind.

But wait, there’s more: two more blue-state Democrats don’t want to change the rules, either:

“I think we should keep the filibuster. It’s one of the few things that we have left in order to let all of the voices be heard here in the Senate,” Nevada freshman Jacky Rosen, the only Democrat to unseat a Senate GOP incumbent in 2018, tells National Review. “I’m a yes” on keeping the legislative filibuster, Pennsylvania senator Bob Casey says.

And a slew of other Democrats, from Chris Coons to Mark Warner to Ben Cardin to Michael Bennet all sound reluctant. From the comments of these senators, it sounds like a half-dozen think it’s a bad idea and at least another half-dozen have the wherewithal to realize eliminating the filibuster would bite them in the tush the moment the GOP gets control of the Senate again.

As John notes, “Keeping the filibuster would ensure Democrats could not enact a variety of laws, from the Assault Weapons Ban to the Green New Deal and Medicare for All, if they take control of Washington in 2020.”

Of course, politicians lie. It would only require 51 votes (or 50 votes and the vice president) to change the rules of the Senate, and eliminate the filibuster; if Democrats get to, say, 48 votes and these three are the last obstacle, the amount of political pressure upon them will be enormous. But Sinema, Tester, and Manchin all represent red or reddish states and campaign each year on being different from other liberal Democrats. Folding on the filibuster and enabling a lot of hard-left ideas that wouldn’t be popular in Arizona, Montana, or West Virginia would probably spell the end of their senatorial careers.

ADDENDUM: Today, Kevin Williamson’s column is titled, “Elizabeth Warren thinks voters are stupid. There isn’t any obvious reason to doubt that she’s right.” Kevin is writing about her alleged plan to pay for all of her ideas, which would require raising federal tax revenue by around 80 percent.

As if on cue, Politico reports:

[Warren] checks to see if there are any fellow “Okies” in the crowd. She describes herself as a “teacher,” the job she yearned for as a young girl when she lined up her “dollies” for instruction (“I had a reputation for being tough but fair,” she quips.)

She doesn’t poll her audience for people from Massachusetts, where she is the senior senator and where she has lived for over 20 years. Nor does she refer to herself as a “professor,” instead saying that after a brief public school teaching stint she “traded littles ones for big ones and taught in law school for most of my life.” At times on the trail, she wears a Berkshire Community College cap — from the small school in western Massachusetts where she gave the commencement address in 2015.

What, does she think people will just forget she’s been teaching at Harvard for two decades and that she was paid $429,981 over two years to teach two classes?


Last Night Wasn’t Great for Republicans

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks to reporters after a Republican policy lunch on Capitol Hill, March 26, 2019. (Brendan McDermid /Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Tallying the score from another election night that disappointed Republicans, how the GOP traded working-class whites for suburbanites in 2016 and continues to live with the consequences of that trade, an ABC News anchor blurts out the shocking truth about the network’s coverage of Jeffrey Epstein, and network news divisions once again are revealed as seas of sexually predatory sharks.

It Sure Would Be Nice If Republicans Could Compete in the Suburbs Again

For the third straight year, Republicans had a mostly disappointing Election Day.

In Kentucky, Republicans romped in almost all the statewide races, but Governor Matt Bevin appears to have lost his race by about 5,000 votes. (As of this writing, he has not conceded; there may be a recanvass and, if Bevin is willing to shoulder the costs, a recount.) When an incumbent runs ten or more points behind the rest of the ticket, it usually points to a candidate having unique problems, and Bevin undoubtedly had those, enraging Democrats but never really unifying or winning over all the state’s Republicans. But in the closing weeks, Bevin tried to effectively nationalize the race, and when Trump appeared at a rally for Bevin on Monday night, he declared, “If you lose, the [media] will say Trump suffered the greatest defeat in the history of the world. You can’t let that happen to me, and you can’t let that happen to your incredible state.” What should we conclude from the fact that the lesser-known GOP candidates in Kentucky who weren’t running on national issues romped?

In Virginia, the state Republican party has been effectively nuked; Democrats now control the entire state legislature and are poised to pass a slew of new liberal ideas into law, including new gun-control provisions and an expansion of Medicaid. Last night brought plenty of comments on Twitter that the GOP losses were because the “swamp” of D.C. had turned northern Virginia blue. But yesterday saw just one incumbent GOP official lose in Fairfax County — the last one standing. No, yesterday’s decisive losses came in places like the suburbs of Richmond and Virginia Beach. Future redistricting is going to give the battered state party an even tougher climb.

In Mississippi, Republican Tate Reeves won the gubernatorial election by about six percentage points, and the GOP swept the other statewide offices by fairly wide margins. That’s good news for the right, but . . . it is Mississippi; the GOP should be winning there by big margins.

One of the pleasant surprises for the GOP came in New Jersey, where a 54-26 Democratic majority in the state assembly was trimmed to 48-32 across the state.

(Louisiana will resolve its gubernatorial and Secretary of State elections on November 16. Polling is sparse, but Governor John Bel Edwards appears a narrow favorite to win reelection.)

Once again conservative ideas were much more popular when not associated with the Republican party. In Washington State, voters narrowly rejected bringing affirmative action back to state contracting and university admissions. Separately, in a non-binding referendum, voters overwhelmingly rejected the idea of applying retail sales taxes to online retailers. In Seattle, the self-proclaimed socialist city-council member appears to have lost her seat to a pro-business challenger. In Colorado, voters gave fiscal conservatives a big win by rejecting letting the state keep any tax revenues above the state spending cap, money that the state Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights currently guarantees as refunds to taxpayers. In Sussex County, N.J., voters approved, by a 2-to-1 margin, a referendum directing the local freeholder board to cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. (Washington, Colorado, New Jersey — notice these are places where Republican candidates have had no luck lately.) Texans overwhelmingly passed a measure making it more difficult for the state to ever enact an income tax, by a nearly 3-to-1 margin.

Three straight mostly bad elections are not entirely the fault of President Trump, but it’s also implausible to argue he has nothing to do with it. He, more than any other figure in the country, sets the national political argument, energizing some demographics, thrilling some voters, but antagonizing and enraging others. When Trump stepped into office, the GOP had 1,124 state senators and 3,055 state representatives across the country. Today, the GOP has 1,081 state senators and 2,770 state representatives. When Trump took office, Democrats controlled just 14 state legislative chambers across the country; starting next year, Democrats will control 20 state legislative chambers. That’s not as severe as the Democratic party’s drop-off during the Obama era, but the trend is moving in the same direction.

Some of this may well reflect a new reality in our politics: A winning presidential candidate attracts a lot of voters who just aren’t that motivated when their guy isn’t on the ticket, and the president inevitably stirs up a lot of anger, motivation, and enthusiasm in the opposition. Barack Obama knows exactly how that feels.

The nomination of Trump represented the Republican party trading certain demographics — more working-class whites for fewer suburban white-collar workers and soccer moms. In 2016, that trade-off worked well for the GOP, but since then they’ve been paying the price. (Notice that in Pennsylvania, with no major statewide races, Republicans continued to get crushed in suburban local races like county commissioners.) Recall that Republicans just barely hung on in the special election in North Carolina’s ninth district, which includes some of the suburbs of Charlotte, and in 2018 the GOP barely hung on Georgia’s seventh district in the Atlanta suburbs, Nebraska’s second district which includes Omaha and its suburbs. Trump is the walking, talking Democratic get-out-the-vote operation in America’s suburbs. As those New York Times numbers from earlier this week indicated, he’s still got a path to 270 votes in the Electoral College. But he’s going to have to do it without a slew of suburban voters who were once in play for the GOP.

Network News, the Sea of Predators

Name a network news division that hasn’t been found averting its eyes, scuttling stories, or otherwise covering for a famous sexual predator. On Tuesday Project Veritas dropped their biggest scoop in a long time:

Amy Robach, ‘Good Morning America’ Co-Host and Breaking News Anchor at ABC, explains how a witness came forward years ago with information pertaining to Epstein, but Disney-owned ABC News refused to air the material for years. Robach vents her anger in a “hot mic” moment with an off-camera producer, explaining that ABC quashed the story in its early stages.  “I’ve had this interview with Virginia Roberts (Now Virginia Guiffre) [alleged Epstein victim]. We would not put it on the air. Um, first of all, I was told “Who’s Jeffrey Epstein.  No one knows who that is.  This is a stupid story.”

“The Palace found out that we had her whole allegations about Prince Andrew and threatened us a million different ways.”

Robach goes on to express she believes that Epstein was killed in prison saying, “So do I think he was killed? 100 percent, yes, I do . . . He made his whole living blackmailing people . . . Yup, there were a lot of men in those planes. A lot of men who visited that Island, a lot of powerful men who came into that apartment.”

Robach repeats a prophetic statement purportedly made by Attorney Brad Edwards “ . . . [T]here will come a day when we will realize Jeffrey Epstein was the most prolific pedophile this country has ever known,” and Disgustedly Robach states “I had it all three years ago.”

That’s at ABC News. You know, the organization where Mark Halperin was the political director for a long time.

Then there’s NBC News and how they handled Ronan Farrow:

The top guns at the network and its news division (news division chairman Andy Lack, president Noah Oppenheim and corporate CEO Steve Burke) have decided, by all accounts, to ride out the storm over the NBC’s botched handling of Ronan Farrow’s reporting about movie producer Harvey Weinstein in 2017.

Farrow and others credibly claim that the network suppressed his reporting on sexual assault allegations against Weinstein and covered up harassment and assault accusations against NBC’s former star, Matt Lauer.

NBC’s brass has no intention of hiring an outside firm to lead a new investigation of what happened, relying instead on an internally led investigation that concluded last year and found little cause for concern about management’s role.

Then there’s CBS, where “three powerful men at the company — Leslie Moonves, its chief executive; Charlie Rose, its morning show anchor; and Jeff Fager, the executive producer of “60 Minutes” — have all lost their jobs because of workplace conduct.”

Remember when everyone wanted to pretend that this was just a problem at Fox News?

ADDENDUM: America’s entire intelligence community, speaking as one about the 2020 election: “Our adversaries want to undermine our democratic institutions, influence public sentiment and affect government policies. Russia, China, Iran, and other foreign malicious actors all will seek to interfere in the voting process or influence voter perceptions.”

Boy, it sure would be nice if the President of the United States would publicly concur with that.


It’s Never a Happy Election Day

People walk in Times Square on midterm election day in Manhattan, N.Y, U.S., November 6, 2018. (Caitlin Ochs/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Why the vast majority of politicians wants you to be unhappy, depressed, angry, and frightened; the political earthquake that occurred 25 years ago this month; the real state of America; and a “Crazy Eddie” level offer.

Happy Election Day. If your neck of the woods is voting on something, go out there and make your voice heard . . . presuming you care. If you don’t care and haven’t bothered to look at what or who is on the ballot, stay home. I went through the biggest races yesterday, and you can find an extensive list of races in all jurisdictions here.

Politicians Need You to Be Anxious

If you follow politics, you probably get a lot of emails from campaigns. To follow what the Democratic presidential campaigns are saying, I’m on all of their fundraising email lists, and thus several times a day I receive messages with subject lines that are about one step short of suicidal: “not good news.” “I’m personally asking . . .” “This is what we feared.” “we fell behind last night.” “Kamala has not qualified for the sixth debate yet.” “If everyone who reads this gives one dollar . . .” “Setbacks.” “We are JUST short.” “This is important.”

I won’t donate money, but I may ask someone to do a wellness check on those campaign staffers.

You don’t have to be a marketing genius or psychologist to figure out what they’re doing. Clearly, messages that sound ominous or troubled spur more donations than messages that say, “we’re doing fine.” If people think you’re doing okay, they’re less likely to send money. The Biden campaign could truthfully send an email declaring, “despite some not-so-great debate performances, we still have a big national lead, we still enjoy the best match-ups against Trump of any Democrat, and we’re looking okay, other than a slide in Iowa lately. Please send money.” But then most people would ignore it. Under this approach to campaigning, the ideal campaign needs its staff, supporters, and volunteers to be in a constant state of anxiety and agitation, constantly intensely motivated because they believe that doom is imminent unless they’re always giving 100 percent effort.

(Speaking of asking for money, did I mention the NR Webathon? Did I mention that fighting a free speech case all the way to the Supreme Court is real and not cheap?)

I should take a moment to salute those who care about a presidential campaign; a bit like rooting for a sports team, it is voluntarily becoming emotionally invested in a process that you have little or no direct control over, and one that is likely to end in disappointment. There is only one champion in each contest, and there’s only one winner in each campaign. Each day may bring ups and downs, but each cycle, every campaign except one ends with a concession speech.

You see the same relentlessly negative tone in campaign ads. Our state legislative elections are today, and last night the local news breaks warned me that candidates were soft on the abuse of foster kids, wanted to deny basic rights to rape victims, and didn’t want to stop mass shootings in our schools. I saw more grim black-and-white footage than an Ingmar Bergman film festival. Casual viewers would never realize that this is a contest between ideologically-opposed dweeby lawyers for state legislative seats; the stakes of the election were painted as repelling a demonic invasion.

Politics is now so saturated with appeals to fear and anger that you have to wonder if it’s psychologically healthy. The moment you feel like things are going okay, the less likely you are to donate or volunteer your time and effort. If you’re happy with the status quo, you’re less likely to vote. And of particular concern for the party of bigger government, the more you think your life is going well, the less you need government to do things for you.

Thus, almost everyone involved in the political process has an incentive to make you feel bad about something, that the stakes have never been higher, that we’re hanging by a thread, that your vote, your donation, your individual decision could make all the difference. If we’re a country with a fairly strong economy, generally secure in a dangerous world, generally tolerant and agreeable, generally helpful to the less fortunate, and a country with problems but none so bad that we would want to trade places with any other country . . . then you don’t have to be so active in politics. You can go enjoy your life and think about other things.

This is why clickbait articles declare “things have never been worse” when we know that isn’t true. You particularly find the “we’re going to hell in a handbasket” arguments from those who are attracting attention by denouncing “David French-ism,” which is never all that well-defined but is inevitably cited as the root of all of our troubles; one moment it’s an adherence to viewpoint neutrality in laws about public expression, the next a generally secular culture, the next, opposition to or criticism of Donald Trump. (A lot of these debates boil down to rehashing the arguments of the 2016 primary.) I am unconvinced that the missing key step to a cultural renaissance is “a hearing held on what’s happening in our libraries, in which, you know, Senators Cruz, Hawley, and Cotton make the head of the Modern Library Association, or whatever, sweat.”

In a clickbait-dominated political culture, whatever is new, shocking, and unusual attracts the most attention and often defines perceptions, even if it is wildly unrepresentative. We on the Right complain when some no-name GOP state lawmaker says or does something stupid and is suddenly used by the national media as a symbol of the moral failings of the entire party. We complain when the media finds a handful of nuts on Twitter reacting a certain way to describe a broad reacting. (The term “nut-picking” is used to describe this phenomenon.)

But we on the Right can fall into the same habit sometimes.

A couple years back, a firebrand self-proclaimed Christian declared that Caitlyn Jenner on the cover of Vanity Fair was the perfect symbol of America’s moral decline. “If you want one snapshot of just how corrupt — how morally corrupt, how morally bent, how morally twisted, how morally confused, how morally bankrupt — we have become,” Fischer said, “all you’ve got to do is take a look at the cover of Vanity Fair magazine.” I asked at the time, why is the cover of Vanity Fair our measure of our moral health? You didn’t pick it. I didn’t pick it. Probably neither one of us bought it or are subscribers. And as I laid out, the cover of Vanity Fair has been the spotlight of choice for celebrities who want to do sexually provocative or controversial things, since at least Demi Moore’s naked pregnant cover. Vanity Fair’s circulation in 2015 was about 1.2 million — really good for a magazine, but in a country with more than 321 million people then.

If you seek out signs of moral decline, you will find moral decline. If you seek out signs of moral renewal and the country becoming a better place to live, you will find those, too. How you feel about the state of your life, your community, your state, your country and the world will be largely determined by what you look for and choose to focus upon. As a wise warrior once said, “your focus determines your reality.”

(Okay, that was Qui Gon Jinn in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, and he was killed shortly after he said that, but that doesn’t mean he was wrong.)

Then what should we focus upon?

Twenty-Five Years ago This Month…

We’re approaching the 25th anniversary of the 1994 midterms, the “Republican Revolution” and the Contract with America. In the speech announcing it, Newt Gingrich laid out the goals of a balanced budget amendment and line-item veto, “stopping violent criminals,” welfare reform, tax cuts for families, strong national defense, removing the limit on senior citizen earnings, rolling back government regulations, commonsense legal reform and congressional term limits.

Some conservatives will look at that list and groan that the Contract was a failure; the Supreme Court found the line-time veto and term limits unconstitutional, at least as the Constitution currently stands, and a balanced budget amendment has not yet been enacted. (A balanced budget amendment just says the government must balance the budget; it does not actually enact the spending cuts or tax increases needed to balance it.)

But then again, the Republican Revolution did lead to spending cuts and tax cuts, short-lived surpluses (driven largely by the gargantuan tax revenues from the dot-com boom), the enactment of welfare reform, arguably the most important domestic policy achievement of the past 25 years; a continued revolution in military technology.

By a lot of measures, the conservatives of 1994 would be impressed by the state of the country in 2019. If you had asked them their biggest worry back then, quite a few would answer violent crime. In 1994, the United States had 713 reported violent crimes for every 100,000 citizens; the rate had peaked a few years earlier at 716. In 2018, it was just under 369 violent crimes per 100,000 citizens, a mostly steady two-and-a-half-decade decline. A lot of factors went into that decline; it is worth noting that the ideas in criminal justice reform — trying to ensure that a felon’s first trip to prison is also their last, and that they have the tools to succeed in life as law-abiding citizens — could only be enacted in a country that was no longer so worried about getting mugged, having their homes and cars broken into, or being murdered during a robbery gone wrong.

In 1993, about 10 out of every 1,000 people filed tort lawsuits — inattentive motorists, medical malpractice, faulty products and other civil wrongs. By 2017, that rate was down to just 2 out of every 1,000 people. Thirty states enacted limits to the damages in medical malpractice lawsuits.

If you had asked them what their top priority in changing the country was, quite a few would mention abortion, even though it wasn’t mentioned in the Contract with America. In 1994, the Centers for Disease Control tallied 1.26 million abortions in the United States — down a bit from the 1990 peak of 1.42 million. By 2017, the most recent year statistics are available, it was 862,320. The most recent abortion rate is the lowest rate ever observed in the United States and is now roughly half of what it was in the year after Roe v. Wade.

While I understand the cautionary notes from Alan Hawkins and Betsy VanDenBerghe, I still think the divorce rate hitting a 40-year low is good news. Teenage pregnancy and birth rates are down significantly. Despite the perception that the Trump administration doesn’t care about the environment, America’s air quality is getting better — emissions decreasing, declining concentrations of pollutants, unhealthy air quality days trending down (although they’ve leveled off in recent years). Our unemployment rate is below four percent for 17 of the past 18 months!

But how many political messages will you get in the next year that tell you, “hey, America’s doing pretty well by a lot of measurements?”

ADDENDUM: Whoa. For $75, you can get a year’s subscription to the print magazine, full access to NR Plus, and Rich’s new book, The Case for Nationalism. The listed price for Rich’s book is $26.99, so this is like getting all of that for $48, which is like getting all of the rest for thirteen cents a day . . .

White House

John Durham Steps in to Investigate the Trump–Russia Probe’s Origins

(NRO Illustration: Elijah Smith; Jason Reed, Jim Lo Scalzo/Pool/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: A lengthy, detailed, drama-filled profile you must read; the big 2019 election preview, with signs that the stakes are higher for Republicans than they first appear; a new survey that should send Elizabeth Warren supporters into a panic; and several news books from National Review authors.

The Bull Who Takes No Bull in the Courtroom

Before I go any further, check out my especially lengthy and detailed profile of John Durham, the legendary federal prosecutor that U.S. attorney general William Barr selected to investigate the origins of the special counsel’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election, and whether it was properly predicated. I believe this is the longest, most detailed, and most thorough profile of Durham ever written — and he is a man who does not like to be the subject of profiles.

Durham’s career has it all — prosecuting mobsters with colorful nicknames, Ku Klux Klan, Whitey Bulger, corrupt FBI agents, ruthless street gangs, threatening the Central Intelligence Agency with an FBI raid, and coming as close as anyone has to cracking the biggest art theft in American history. We have no idea what Durham will find in his investigation of what prompted America’s law enforcement and intelligence agencies to start sniffing around the Trump campaign. But based upon everything I’ve learned while researching his career, reading court records, and interviewing his colleagues and former opposing counsel if Durham comes back with an indictment, he’s extremely likely to get and sustain a conviction. And if he chooses not to press charges, it probably means that no prosecutor could sustain a conviction based upon the available evidence. 

The Pretty Big 2019 Election Preview

Tomorrow is Election Day. For an off-year election, the stakes are surprisingly high for the Republican party; this year’s handful of races could end up being the canary in the coal mine.

Permit me to start closest to home here in Virginia. Hans Bader is deeply worried about a second blue wave hitting Virginia’s state legislature, and last week I laid out all the headwinds facing Virginia Republicans this cycle. Democrats made their peace with the scandals of Governor Ralph “Blackface” Northam, allegations of sexual assault against Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax, and another blackface scandal involving Mark Herring, the state’s attorney general. The GOP had a couple of inconvenient retirements, left a quarter of the state house races unopposed, the district lines were redrawn in a way that makes reelection tougher for a handful of Republicans, and one GOP incumbent didn’t file his papers in time and has to run as a write-in candidate.

There are some Virginia Republicans who think that the redistricting is only enough to reduce the margin of GOP victory in these seats, not flip them. Tim Hugo, the last Republican state delegate in the Virginia suburbs closest to Washington, is still hanging on, although his win is far from assured. 

There are a few opportunities for GOP pickups in the tenth district, where incumbent Democrat Wendy Gooditis (D) is seeking her second term against former state Deligate Randy Minchew, and in the 85th, where Rocky Holcomb is running for his old seat in an open seat race against Alex Askew; Holcomb lost by just a few hundred votes in 2017.

Republicans find it easy to believe that gloomy polls are wrong and that there is a segment of the electorate that intends to vote for GOP candidates but doesn’t want to tell a pollster. It’s easy to believe that “shy Republicans” like the old “shy Tories” exist, but the question is how many there are and how many will actually show up to vote — one percent of the total vote? Two or three? Enough to swing these competitive races?

One more note about absentee ballots: So far, as of Sunday, 175,554 Virginians have requested absentee ballots, and 135,728 have been returned. There are nearly 40,000 absentee ballots floating around out there. If a Virginian who requested an absentee ballot shows up to vote on Election Day, they are required to bring in the unused absentee ballot and return that. If they don’t, they can only cast a provisional ballot after presenting to the officer of election a signed statement declaring that he did not receive the ballot or has lost the ballot, subject to felony penalties for making false statements.

The victory of Kentucky governor Matt Bevin in 2015 was a pleasant surprise for the GOP, and perhaps an early indicator of Trump’s strength. Whether you included the independent candidate or not, Democrat Jack Conway almost always led. Bevin won by 8 percentage points; Republicans have to hope for the same this year — although polling has been surprisingly sparse this cycle. Mike Pence campaigned with Bevin Friday, and Trump is holding a rally tonight in Lexington, Ky.    

Louisiana governor’s race matches up the last pro-life Democratic governor, John Bel Edwards, against Republican Eddie Rispone. The campaign didn’t seem to be generating as much interest as usual, but then early voting hit a new record.

John Couvillon, a Baton Rouge pollster with JMC Analytics & Polling, says the early vote is probably a wash for the two contenders: “Because while the black share of the electorate increased 6 percent relative to the primary, the Republican share only decreased 3 percent. The remainder of the decrease came from lower turnout (percentage-wise) from white Democrats and white Independents. And since Governor Edwards has been running strongly among white Democrats (60-37% in the last poll JMC conducted and publicly released) and relatively well among white Independents (he trails 38 percent to 56 percent in the last poll), the incremental benefit to his campaign isn’t as much as it would seem, because the Republican percentage of the electorate remained relatively high, and among this group, Governor Edwards trails 17-79 percent.”

In Mississippi, term limits mean the state will be electing a new governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state and treasurer. Republican lieutenant governor Tate Reeves and Democratic attorney general Jim Hood are competing to succeed Bryant in the Governor’s Mansion. Polls in this race are surprisingly close.

Kentucky, Louisiana, and Mississippi are all perceived as heavily Republican states, even though southern Democrats who run for state offices are usually significantly more competitive than those who run for U.S. Senate or statewide. Democrats are convinced that their strategy in Virginia — contend that Trump represents a xenophobic, racist, backwards approach to governance that alienates all of those soccer moms and white-collar workers — will work in other traditionally Republican-leaning states like North Carolina, Georgia, Arizona, and perhaps even Texas. Any big statewide wins tomorrow will convince Democrats that they’re on the right track and that Trump is a unique albatross in the party, even in once-deep-red places. (In the case of Louisiana, Edwards’ social conservatism — signing a fetal heartbeat law into effect — scrambles the usual political calculus.)

Tomorrow New Jersey will hold elections for all 80 state assembly seats, but no one is expecting a dramatic change. Democrats hold a 54-26 majority and are all but guaranteed to keep their majority. Correspondents for the New York Times contend that President Trump and impeachment are major issues in the races, which doesn’t make a lot of sense because the New Jersey state assembly doesn’t vote on impeachment. Apparently, Tip O’Neill has now been entirely reversed; no politics are local anymore. 

In Washington State, voters will consider a state referendum that would restore affirmative action policies in the state for government contracts and admission to state universities. Back in 1998, 58 percent of Washington voters voted to end the state’s use of affirmative action.

In Pennsylvania, voters will consider a referendum on victim’s rights that would allow crime victims to sue the state if their rights, like being notified of a perpetrator’s release from prison — are violated. The ACLU opposes the referendum, contending that it is vaguely written and superfluous.

Voters in Texas will consider ten referendums tomorrow. Proposition Four would enact a constitutional amendment banning legislators from enacting an income tax; Governor Greg Abbott is encouraging Texans to vote yes. “Yes” means no income tax, “no” means yes to a possible future income tax. 

Proposition 8 would create a fund for flooding projects such as drainage, mitigation and Proposition 9 would allow precious metals such as gold, silver, and platinum held in depositories to be exempt from property taxation.

A ‘Wow’ Poll That Should Freak Out Elizabeth Warren Supporters

Yikes. It’s easy to put too much faith in polls, but a result like this probably ought to get Democrats to contemplate their upcoming decision with great care. The New York Times finds that among likely voters, Elizabeth Warren is tied in Arizona, trails President Trump by 2 percentage points in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, and trails Trump by 4 points in Michigan, Florida, and North Carolina. That’s the sort of thing that will probably leave a lot of Democrats breathing into paper bags. Maybe Warren resembles Hillary Clinton a lot more than her supporters want to admit. 

ADDENDUM: Tomorrow is publication day for two big books from National Review editors — The Case for Nationalism, from Rich Lowry, and Richard Brookhiser’s newest work of history, Give Me Liberty: A History of America’s Exceptional Idea. Pre-order them, hunt for them at your nearest bookstore, add them to your holiday wish list. And while you’re at it, throw in Kathryn Lopez’s A Year with the Mystics, which is not about the Washington WBNA team, but in fact a tour through the mystical writings of the Church and finding Christ in a world that is often filled with noise, distractions, and “the constant busy-ness of life.” Get all three of these and you’re covered on country, history, and faith.


Elizabeth Warren’s Medicare for All Fantasy

Sen. Elizabeth Warren speaks with supporters at a town hall in Tempe, Ariz., August 1, 2019. (Gage Skidmore)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Elizabeth Warren unveils how she’ll pay for Medicare for All, and makes some wildly unrealistic assumptions; a particularly implausible narrative of Katie Hill’s victimhood is constructed before our eyes; a kind word for the also-ran Democrats of this cycle who at least had something new and interesting to say; and an offer you won’t want to miss.

Warren: Just Assume I Can Get All the Medication for 30 Cents on the Dollar

Elizabeth Warren has a plan for that . . . and her plan runs on rainbows and unicorns. Warren unveiled how she would pay for Medicare for All without raising middle-class taxes this morning, and it basically relies on everyone involved in health care and medicine agreeing to do the same or more work for a lot less money than they do now.

Her plan is to save money by reducing payments to physicians to Medicare rates, which tend to be significantly lower than private insurance, and to 110 percent of Medicare rates for hospitals and instituting a variety of payment reforms to encourage health providers to generate more savings.

The plan sets an ambitious goal of cutting Medicare drug prices by 70 percent for brand-name drugs and 30 percent for generics through a series of reforms. It would also require the new Medicare system to run with much less administrative overhead than the Urban Institute predicted would be necessary — 2.3 percent of total costs instead of 6 percent.

She wants to get the same medicine that we do now, paying only 30 percent that we do now. When you assume you can do that, sure, making the numbers add up gets a heck of a lot easier! Imagine working out your household budget by assuming you could keep your home for only 30 percent of your current rent or mortgage payments. You’re lucky if you can find a “70 percent off” deal in stores that are going out of business; Warren’s convinced she can get it for every band name medication required for every American in the country. Yes, she’s exactly the person we need to replace that guy in the Oval Office who’s in denial about reality and who keeps telling us he’s the greatest dealmaker of all time.

A key test of the seriousness of Warren’s rivals, and future interviewers and debate moderators will be how seriously they press her on these wildly unrealistic assumptions.

Narratives Get Crafted by Ideologues Who Aren’t as Clever as They Think They Are

You probably remember when Ben Rhodes famously told the New York Times in 2016 that most people who cover the White House “know nothing” and are easily spun.

“All these newspapers used to have foreign bureaus,” he said. “Now they don’t. They call us to explain to them what’s happening in Moscow and Cairo. Most of the outlets are reporting on world events from Washington. The average reporter we talk to is 27 years old, and their only reporting experience consists of being around political campaigns. That’s a sea change. They literally know nothing.”

As you get older, you start to see the strings, and you begin to realize that the people who are trying to spin you are not that bright, or at least nowhere near as bright as they think they are. They make arguments that are contradictory and implausible.

We witnessed another vivid example this week in the sudden formation of a narrative that Rep. Katie Hill is a victim of sexist forces. The Los Angeles Times “reports” today, “GOP enemies wanted to beat Katie Hill. Then they got her nude photos.”

Before the revelations over on Red State, the odds that you had heard of Hill are pretty low. The only thing I knew about her was that she was the vice chair of the House Oversight Committee and was, on paper, the person who was slated to take over after Elijah Cummings passed away (although Speaker Pelosi could put someone else more experienced in charge if she wished). As a California Democrat from the Los Angeles area, we could probably guess her positions on most issues, but she had just been sworn into office for her first term in January. Did she have “enemies” or merely opponents in the other party who wanted to see her defeated in the next election?

Many people in the media — likely those young and underinformed correspondents that Rhodes described — seem to have decided that because Hill was A) a Democrat B) a woman and C) bisexual, that she had to be the hero or victim in this story.

The argument from Hill is that she did have an affair with a campaign staffer, but did not have a separate affair with a congressional staffer, despite screenshots of text messages and other evidence assembled and posted by Jennifer Van Laar at RedState. While it is theoretically possible that all of that could be an elaborate hoax, Hill is asking everyone to believe that while she slept with a subordinate, dependent upon Hill for a paycheck in one situation, she would never do it in that other situation, which is against House rules.

There is an established procedure to handle allegations like this, and it involves the House Ethics Committee. That panel began an inquiry and Hill announced her intention to resign the next day. If, indeed, Hill had never violated House rules about sexual relationships with employees, why did she suddenly resign? She had good reason to think the House Ethics Committee would clear her.

Democrats like Kamala Harris want the discussion to be entirely about the release of nude photos of Hill; the California senator and presidential candidate says that the lesson of the Hill story is one of “cyber exploitation” and that “there’s so much that people do about women and their sexuality that’s about shaming them.”

Releasing nude photos of other people without their consent is wrong, malevolent, and oftentimes criminal. If someone did indeed violate California law on “revenge porn,” we should prosecute that person to the fullest extent the law allows. But the wrongdoing of another person does not magically make Hill’s alleged relationship with the staffer disappear. And about a year ago, the #MeToo movement had convincingly argued that almost every sexual relationship between a boss and a subordinate involves a morally-troubling imbalance of power. Sure, it’s consensual, but how honest can a person be with their partner when that person can fire them at will? And doesn’t that circumstance almost always create an unfair situation for the rest of the employees?

Now a significant number of left-leaning media voices are asserting, “no, wait, in this case, a member of Congress having sex with a staffer is okay.” We know many of them would be screaming bloody murder if a male or Republican member of Congress did the same thing. We know this because we’ve seen similar cases far too often: Vance McAllister of Louisiana, Chris Lee of New York, Mark Souder of Indiana, Chip Pickering of Mississippi, John Ensign of Nevada, Vito Fossella of New York. Yes, some stick around and manage to get reelected, having convinced their constituents that it doesn’t matter — Scott DesJarlais of Tennessee is a notorious example.

One last point on Harris’ statement that “there’s so much that people do about women and their sexuality that’s about shaming them.” If you write or Tweet about Kamala Harris, someone will almost always quickly bring up her extramarital affair with Willie Brown in the early 1990s (he was married, she wasn’t; see number 16 here). It is easy to understand why Harris would resent so many people defining her by those actions so long ago. Harris may well believe her past relationships are no one else’s business, and that she did nothing wrong. But during their relationship, Brown appointed Harris to the state’s Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board, a job that paid $97,088 a year, and six months later, he named her to the California Medical Assistance Commission, a post which paid $72,000 a year. No doubt other people wanted to get appointed to those positions, and no doubt they resented the fact that Harris’ special relationship with Brown gave her such a significant advantage in his selection process.

There are plenty of reasons to vote against Harris based upon her record in office — see the other 19 reasons above. Maybe some people bring up the Brown affair simply because they want to embarrass Harris. But there’s a genuine issue of her getting preferential treatment from Brown and career assistance from the relationship — and many of the same people who don’t want to acknowledge that Hill did anything wrong in this case won’t want to acknowledge that Harris did anything wrong in that case.

Hail to the Victors over Low Expectations

A flip side of yesterday’s Corner post about the overhyped Democrats who are sputtering in this year’s presidential campaign — Kirsten Gillibrand, Beto O’Rourke, Julian Castro, Cory Booker, and Harris — face it, at the beginning of this cycle, almost none of us had heard of Andrew Yang, Marianne Williamson, Amy Klobuchar and maybe we had heard of Tulsi Gabbard as the surfing congresswoman who had met with Bashir Assad. In a cycle where most of the candidates have chased after the same Twitter Woke crowd and sounded indistinguishable from one another, each one of those four has at least brought something surprising and interesting to the table.

ADDENDUM: If you haven’t joined NRPlus yet, hear me out. It’s great value (about 77 cents a day) and gives you everything associated with National Review: full access to everything in the magazine, both through the website and the app, access to the full NR archives, fewer ads, invitations to exclusive events with National Review writers and editors as well as lawmakers and newsmakers from across the conservative spectrum. My favorite part is the members-only Facebook page, hosting Internet debates and discussions without the trolls.

Energy & Environment

Policymakers Played a Role in California’s Wildfire Issues

A firefighting helicopter flies over the Getty Fire as it burns in the hills west of the 405 freeway in the hills of West Los Angeles, Calif., October 28, 2019. (Gene Blevins/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: California burns, but the state’s politicians don’t want to look at the policy choices that led to this point; Kamala Harris starts to see that the light at the end of the tunnel is an oncoming train; the U.S. Army feels compelled to respond to a presidential tweet; and Twitter announces a ban on political advertising that includes at least one glaring loophole.

Watching California Burn

It’s an overstatement to declare that progressivism or the Democrats ruined California — at least by themselves. But as the state burns from gargantuan wildfires, California Democrats are going to have to confront the fact that their state’s serious troubles reflect more than just bad luck. Policy decisions have consequences, and the full consequences are rarely seen clearly by advocates of particular policies.

New York Times columnist Farhad Manjoo is in an apocalyptic mood about his home state, blaming the state’s worsening problems on “a failure to live sustainably.”

I’m starting to suspect we’re over. It’s the end of California as we know it. I don’t feel fine.

It isn’t just the fires — although, my God, the fires. Is this what life in America’s most populous, most prosperous state is going to be like from now on? Every year, hundreds of thousands evacuating, millions losing power, hundreds losing property and lives? Last year, the air near where I live in Northern California — within driving distance of some of the largest and most powerful and advanced corporations in the history of the world — was more hazardous than the air in Beijing and New Delhi. There’s a good chance that will happen again this month, and that it will keep happening every year from now on. Is this really the best America can do?

Probably, because it’s only going to get worse. The fires and the blackouts aren’t like the earthquakes, a natural threat we’ve all chosen to ignore. They are more like California’s other problems, like housing affordability and homelessness and traffic — human-made catastrophes we’ve all chosen to ignore, connected to the larger dysfunction at the heart of our state’s rot: a failure to live sustainably.

Eh, that’s part of it, but it’s not just the usual suspects of not enough environmental regulations and greedy rich people. But don’t knock Manjoo too much, and not just because his state is burning down. He’s among the few left-of-center writers willing to point out that a lot of progressive ideas get blocked by wealthy progressives who don’t want them enacted near their neighborhoods. They embrace grand schemes in theory but turn into vehement activists touting local control as soon as affordable housing proposals get too close to their posh neighborhoods. (He’s also pointed out that America’s biggest and most prestigious universities swoon when any billionaire comes along, even Jeffrey Epstein, and that economic engagement with China has corrupted our values, as demonstrated by the NBA. Are you noticing a theme here?)

You don’t hear as much about Calexit these days, do you? There are currently ten fires burning.

The boss recalled that “In 2016, then-governor Jerry Brown actually vetoed a bill that had unanimously passed the state legislature to promote the clearing of trees dangerously close to power lines. Brown’s team says this legislation was no big deal, but one progressive watchdog called the bill ‘neither insignificant or small.’” How often do you see a bill that passed unanimously get vetoed?

Most progressives blame the wildfires as an inevitable side effect of climate change, which gets their public policy decisions off the hook. Noah Rothman writes, “While utility providers make a convenient scapegoat, public policy is more to blame for California’s conundrum. Most wildfires are not caused by faulty electrical equipment but natural factors and human error. The state’s utilities are required by law to extend their networks to housing developed in high-risk areas, and, in a state with an acute housing shortage, more and more residences are built inside danger zones. What’s more, the patchwork of federal, state, local, tribal, and private interests that are responsible for forestry management have run up against the state’s onerous regulatory environment.” If you can’t clear out underbrush or clear out any trees, you end up with a ton of underbrush that burns quickly and hotter.

If you want to find a surprising development in all of this, it’s that this disaster is bad enough to interrupt the usual partisan passions: “His team is performing above and beyond expectation,’’ [California Gov. Gavin] Newsom said of Trump, following a visit to meet with the senior residents of Las Casitas Mobile Home Park in American Canyon, which has been without power since Saturday. “Every single request we’ve had to the administration has been met.’’

Many parts of California look like paradise — nice weather year-round, a beautiful coast, redwood forests, gorgeous mountain ranges. This leads to many, many people wanting to live there, probably more than the region could reasonably manage, in terms of effective governance, the economy, and ecologically. The progressive response to this is schizophrenic. California’s Democratic political establishment believes that efforts to find and deport illegal immigrants are xenophobic and wrong. They offer driver’s licenses and Medicaid coverage to those who enter the country illegally. Then they lament strained state services, overcrowded schools, sprawl, and unmanageable population growth.

As Kevin observed, “California is great if you are too rich or too poor to care about the marginal costs of living there, but if you have a more average income (and are looking to raise a family on it) then hopping across the border to Nevada must look attractive.” Earlier this year, the New York Times noted the growing philosophy that California was a place for young, bright, ambitious people to make their fortune, which they would then enjoy spending somewhere else.

Despite some folks missing the point, earlier this year I observed that California’s cities earning the worst grades on air quality despite the toughest emissions laws in the country revealed the limits of regulation. Few rules can overcome geography: California’s cities have a lot of people, a lot of cars and traffic, and a lot of sunny days. When you live in a valley surrounded by high mountains, the smog doesn’t disperse easily. And that’s before accounting for the wildfires.

When I was in Silicon Valley in 2015, I remember a pre-apocalyptic mood from strict water use restrictions from a serious drought. This is not the California of a generation ago; as recently as Steve Martin’s L.A. Story in 1991, a filmmaker could plausibly tout California and specifically Los Angeles as a sort of quirky libertarian paradise, where everyone is free to pursue his American dream as he sees fit. In an era when California cities are attempting to ban fireplaces, plastic bags are banned, when Fresno banned permanent markersSan Francisco makes armed self-defense legally impossible, and campus speech codes, could a character plausibly describe the state that way today?

Kamala Harris in Uphill Battle Against Biden, Warren, Sanders, and Reality

For those of us who are conservatives, the best part of the 2020 cycle so far is watching the slow-motion implosion of so many wildly overhyped “rising stars” of the Democratic Party. First Kirsten Gillibrand, then Beto O’Rourke and Julian Castro, and now, Kamala Harris: “Kamala Harris is dramatically restructuring her campaign by redeploying staffers to Iowa and laying off dozens of aides at her Baltimore headquarters, according to campaign sources and a memo obtained Wednesday by POLITICO, as she struggles to resuscitate her beleaguered presidential bid.”

Your Counter-Argument Can’t Just Be Rage and Name-Calling

The president could have countered Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, National Security Council staffer, by arguing with something like, “while I appreciate Lt. Col. Vindman’s service, he and I had fundamental disagreements about what our priority should be in our dealings with the government of Ukraine. I believe Hunter Biden’s position on the board of Burisma Holdings, while his father was vice president, is a legitimate priority for U.S. and Ukrainian anti-corruption investigations, and I refuse to let any of this ge swept under the rug because of who it might embarrass. Vindman saw it differently. He is free to disagree, but in the end I am the commander-in-chief, and the buck stops with me – meaning the decision and the responsibility are entirely mine.”

Instead, Trump tweeted about him being a “Never Trumper witness” joining a “witch hunt.”

This was bad enough to get the U.S. Army to issue a statement:

“Lt. Col. Vindman, who has served this country honorably for 20+ years, is fully supported by the Army like every Soldier, having earned a Purple Heart after being wounded in Iraq in 2004,” Matt Leonard, an Army spokesperson, told Task & Purpose.

“As his career assignments reflect, Lt. Col. Vindman has a long history of selfless service to his country, including combat. Lt. Col. Vindman is afforded all protections anyone would be provided in his circumstances.”

ADDENDUM: Twitter announced that they will soon ban all political advertising.

What happens if someone involved in a political cause hires people with many followers to retweet their preferred messages?

They never think these sorts of proposals through, do they?

White House

Criticism Comes with the Job, Mr. President

President Donald Trump speaks to reporters at the White House, June 18, 2019. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: A president is rarely loved in office, and thus anyone who steps into the Oval Office has to be ready to endure relentless criticism; the White House could have a more coherent argument against impeachment but is so far choosing to simply denounce critics; the House passes a resolution against the Armenian Genocide, raising the question of which reality-show star has the most influence over U.S. policy.

Presidents Are Rarely Loved While in Office

Back when Donald Trump started his presidency, a once-controversial figure who had hosted and interviewed him quite a few times offered a trenchant observation about the new president’s personality and the job he had sought and won.

“I personally wish that he had never run, I told him that, because I actually think this is something that is gonna be detrimental to his mental health too, because, he wants to be liked, he wants to be loved,” said infamous radio talk show host Howard Stern. “He wants people to cheer for him.”

“I don’t think it’s going to be a healthy experience. And by the way, he’s now on this anti-Hollywood kick. He loves Hollywood. First of all, he loves the press. He lives for it. He loves people in Hollywood. He only wants to hobnob with them. All of this hatred and stuff directed towards him. It’s not good for him. It’s not good. There’s a reason every president who leaves the office has grey hair.”

Stern was right. Presidents are rarely widely beloved while in office. Their approval ratings may go up and down with events, but the criticism rarely stops. There are always problems, and the decisions a president makes to address those problems inevitably irk someone. Entire American mass media structures exist to tell people how wrong the president is. Today, CNN, MSNBC, the New York Times, NPR the Washington Post and others greet their audiences with daily updates that amount to, “here is what the president did wrong today.” The late-night comedians, Saturday Night Live and the rest amplify that message. When there is another Democratic president, their coverage will get softer and less critical; the criticism will come from Fox News, talk radio, blogs, and other media will begin telling you, “here is what the president did wrong today.”

Some of us might argue that the largest problems facing the country stem from political leaders who fear or hate the idea of being disliked, and who do not acknowledge difficult truths. The safest message for any American politician is to assure the public that the answers are obvious and easy and could be quickly enacted if it wasn’t for that dastardly opposition party. The national debt will matter someday, interest payments on the debt will eat up more and more of the federal budget, and we would be better off dealing with it now instead of later. The lesson of health care systems around the world is that they can feature two of three important qualities but not the third: fast, good, cheap. We can withdraw our military forces from around the world, reducing the risk to our men and women in uniform, but the cost is a more violent, chaotic globe that features massacres, invasions, and genocide. It is impossible to build an economy that is dynamic and creates lots of new jobs while never endangering the old industries and the old jobs.

A president has to accept criticism as part of the job, and he has to accept that his advisors will often disagree, both with him and each other, and seek to correct him.

A few days ago, former White House chief of staff John Kelly discussed his departure from the administration and said he had offered a prescient warning. During an interview, Kelly recalled, “I said, whatever you do — and we were still in the process of trying to find someone to take my place — I said whatever you do, don’t hire a ‘yes man,’ someone who won’t tell you the truth — don’t do that. Because if you do, I believe you will be impeached,” Kelly said he does not believe the president would be facing impeachment right now if he had stayed as chief of staff.

The reaction from the White House to Kelly’s comment was appropriate for North Korea: White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement: “I worked with John Kelly, and he was totally unequipped to handle the genius of our great President.”

Trump hired John Bolton to be his national security adviser, presumably because he had some faith in Bolton’s judgment in handling foreign affairs. Bolton reportedly thought Rudy Giuliani’s off-the-books efforts to influence the decisions of the Ukrainian government were outrageous, calling Giuliani “a hand grenade who’s going to blow everybody up,” and comparing their efforts to get an investigation of the Bidens a “drug deal.” Trump had the option of listening to Bolton. He chose not to, and pursued a different path . . . and now, here we are: facing a near-certain impeachment by the House, and a trial in the Senate that will probably end with somewhere around 50 votes to remove — not enough to end Trump’s presidency, but an embarrassment nonetheless.

How to Respond to an Increasingly Inevitable Impeachment by the House

Trump is convinced he has magic instincts, and no amount of counterevidence ever seems to persuade him otherwise. Trump has one card he plays against criticism: counterattacks. This wins applause from the president’s supporters but that’s not going to work much here. Further contentions that Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, a National Security Council staffer and key witness in the House’s impeachment inquiry, has dual loyalties because he was born in Ukraine is only going to alienate Republicans who ought to be his allies, like Rep. Liz Cheney and Sens. Joni Ernst and John Thune. Not only is the charge not persuasive — how many dual loyalists earned a Purple Heart in Iraq? —  it is so weighted with ignorant xenophobia that many Republican lawmakers will feel compelled to defend the administration critic under attack. Like the president, declaration that the Kurdish terrorist group PKK is more dangerous than ISIS, this administration often picks the weakest arguments in support of its positions.

Andy McCarthy is right (as usual) when he declares that this White House desperately needs a coherent strategy to deal with the coming impeachment, instead of complaining about the process — complaints that will become moot once the House formally votes to begin the inquiry and starts holding open hearings.

Andy laid out a much more coherent series of arguments in favor of the president: The aid to Ukraine was delayed but not withheld; no harm, no foul. Most of this criticism is political opportunism; most Democratic lawmakers care little about Ukraine and only started paying attention after the outcome of the 2016 election. Had the request for assistance in anti-corruption investigations gone through official channels, no one would have any legitimate complaint. The deal to put Hunter Biden on the Burisma board was indeed an effort to ensure the company had a well-placed ally in the Obama administration, and it is a legitimate avenue for criminal investigation for bribery. Even if Trump blurred his personal and political interest with the national interests, it does not rise to the level of removal from office, particularly in a country that decided, 21 years ago, that perjury and suborning perjury are not sufficient to remove a president from office.

Finally, I think Republicans have one counter-argument that gets stronger with time. If the Senate trial begins in January and stretches into February, as many increasingly suspect, does it make sense to remove the president about ten months before the country decides whether he deserves another term?

The U.S. Recognizes the Armenian Genocide

Yesterday, the House passed a resolution denouncing the Armenian Genocide, accomplishing a long-sought goal of the Armenian-American community and its allies like Nancy Pelosi. Two factors made this year different: Turkey’s blatant military aggression against our previous Kurdish allies in northern Syria, and . . . I am not making this up: Kim Kardashian.

For years, Kardashian West has evoked the memory of her Armenian-American father, the late Robert Kardashian, to publicly press for the United States to recognize as genocide the massacre of more than 1 million mostly Christian Armenians. But that advocacy has taken on a new dimension in recent months, with Kardashian West discussing the issue in one-on-one meetings with top officials in Armenia, personal chats with members of Congress and text messages to senior presidential adviser Jared Kushner.

Kim Kardashian is pushing U.S. policy in a direction that is tougher against an increasingly Islamist ally, and Kanye West is making gospel music. (Mickey was right all along; who knew watching Keeping Up with the Kardashians counted as political research?)

Back when I lived in Turkey and shortly thereafter, I didn’t think passing the resolution was worth the cost to U.S.-Turkish relations. The Iraq War was still being fought next door, the U.S. needed Incirlik Air Base for resupply and flights, and Turkey was still a vital ally in the fight against al-Qaeda. And while U.S. policymakers never would have made Erdogan their first choice, the Bush administration believed they could do business with him in certain key areas.

By 2010, the calculus of U.S. interests — and the tone of Turkish leadership — had changed. I wrote then, “Staying on good terms with the Turks is still important, but it is not quite as supremely vital as it was in previous years. The decisions of the current Turkish government, headed by Erdogan, are increasingly irksome, pushing the country in a more Islamist direction. The Turks don’t have to make decisions that we like, but they ought to recognize that when they do, there are consequences, including a waning interest in discouraging developments that irk them, like the Armenian Genocide resolution.”

ADDENDUM: Be careful out there tonight; it’s Devil’s Night, or if you grew up in New Jersey, Mischief Night. Apparently Vermonters call it “Cabbage Night,” which doesn’t sound quite so menacing.

White House

Don’t Panic about the Voter Rolls

(Brendan McDermid/REUTERS)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Claims of a voter-roll purge in Georgia use ridiculously generous criteria; a member of the National Security Council paints an ugly picture of the president’s desired goals in Ukraine; Democrats finally agree to have a full vote on an impeachment inquiry and pledge to begin the public portion of impeachment soon; and a note on what separates garden-variety Trump critics from those with full-blown Trump Derangement Syndrome.

This Georgia Voter-Roll Purge Isn’t the Scandal Its Critics Think

When should a voter be removed from the rolls in the United States?

If you’ve moved in recent years, are you still registered to vote at your old address? If you are, isn’t that a bad thing that election authorities ought to fix? In a country where roughly 35 million people move each year, do we want lots of people registered to vote in two different places? If one election authority doesn’t check with another election authority, doesn’t that open the door to people voting twice in the same election in different jurisdictions? Put aside whether it ever happens frequently enough to swing an election — and recall that Virginia state legislative election came down to a tie back in 2017 — don’t election authorities have a duty to make sure that people aren’t registered to vote in two different locations?

The first sentence of an Atlanta Journal-Constitution article creating a stir about so-called voter suppression: “About 330,000 voter registrations in Georgia could soon be canceled because registrants haven’t participated in elections for several years.”

Down in the 26th paragraph, the last one in the story: “That means for most of the 330,000 Georgia voters who could be canceled, the last time they voted or registered to vote was at least six years ago. Voters who participated in elections more recently could also be canceled if mail from county election offices was returned as undeliverable.”

Is the state being unreasonable or unfair by expecting those who have not voted in six years to affirm that they’re still living at their address and want to stay registered?

Cases of people voting twice are not common, but they happen:

North Carolina: “A Haywood County man has been sentenced to probation and community service for voting twice in the March 2016 primary election.”

Iowa: “An Iowa woman charged with voting twice for Donald Trump last fall has pleaded guilty to election misconduct.

New York: “Spiro Colaitis, 57, of Manhasset, New York, was arrested and charged Friday with casting more than one ballot in an election.”

The Heritage Foundation tracks cases and convictions of voter fraud.

Georgia has provisional ballot laws that allow people to vote and straighten out any confusion about where they’re registered after Election Day. Georgia even gives voters who show up in the wrong precinct “partial credit” of sorts: “If you were eligible to vote but voted in the wrong precinct, only the votes for candidates for which you were entitled to vote will be counted, and you will be notified in writing that your ballot was partially counted for your correct precinct.” Let’s say you moved from one congressional district to another but didn’t update your voter registration. They would count your ballot for the statewide races, but not the congressional one.

It will probably not surprise you that Stacey Abrams’ organization objects to the move. What are we to think when one party objects, so regularly and angrily, to actions as mundane as sending a notice to those who haven’t voted in six years?

Another One of Those Left-Wing Deep State Wounded Veteran Army Trump Staffers

I know, I know, this must be another left-wing deep state bureaucrat who could only be motivated by personal animosity to the president; it couldn’t possibly be that he genuinely believes that the United States government is not supposed to communicate a request to a foreign government to announce an investigation of a potential rival candidate through the president’s personal lawyer. Or so we’re likely to be told by the usual suspects:

Lt. Col. Alexander S. Vindman of the Army, the top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council, twice registered internal objections about how Mr. Trump and his inner circle were treating Ukraine, out of what he called a “sense of duty,” he plans to tell the inquiry, according to a draft of his opening statement obtained by The New York Times.

“I did not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen, and I was worried about the implications for the U.S. government’s support of Ukraine,” Colonel Vindman said in his statement. “I realized that if Ukraine pursued an investigation into the Bidens and Burisma it would likely be interpreted as a partisan play which would undoubtedly result in Ukraine losing the bipartisan support it has thus far maintained.”

The colonel, a Ukrainian-American immigrant who received a Purple Heart after being wounded in Iraq by a roadside bomb and whose statement is full of references to duty and patriotism, could be a more difficult witness to dismiss than his civilian counterparts.

Vindman plans to say that he is not the whistle-blower who initially reported Mr. Trump’s pressure campaign on Ukraine.

For everyone who will contend that Vindman is another left-wing deep state bureaucrat, just as they contend the same label applies to acting Ukraine ambassador Bill Taylor, the question will remain why the Trump White House and administration keeps getting staffed by so many left-wing deep state bureaucrats in key positions. Even if you buy into the narrative that all of these objecting officials are the villains in this story, that narrative means this president is constantly hiring and appointing the worst possible people for the job. (Then again, Omarosa, Michael Cohen, Anthony Scaramucci . . . maybe that is the most plausible defense. Of course, the argument, “it’s not the president’s fault, he keeps hiring the worst person for the job” is not really the most compelling defense of this administration.)

Pelosi: Fine, Fine, We’ll Have an on-the-record Vote and Start Public Hearings

Clearly, Thursday’s Morning Jolt was the straw that broke the camel’s back. If you’re going to hold an impeachment, you want to vote to formally start it, and you’re going to want to start the public part as quickly as possible.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi added to that sense of urgency, announcing that after weeks of private fact-finding, the full House would vote on Thursday to initiate a public phase of the inquiry. That vote would establish rules for the public presentation of evidence and outline due process rights for Mr. Trump.

It will be the first time all House lawmakers will be asked to go on record on the investigation since it began in September, something Democrats had so far resisted.

Democrats say they have the votes to formally begin the inquiry, and based upon public statements, they have the votes. But for a nervous Democrat in a swing district, there’s a little wiggle room between publicly saying you’ll support an impeachment effort and actually voting for it.

ADDENDUM: Gail Collins, inadvertently summarizing how a lot of Democrats see the world during Trump’s presidency: “Truly the bottom line rule of this administration is that no news is ever going to be really good. DJT will always find a way to make it awful.”

That’s what separates those of us deeply frustrated with Trump from those who have full-blown Trump Derangement Syndrome. When you cannot take any satisfaction, joy, or other positive feelings in a dead ISIS leader, the end of the Islamic State, low unemployment, a booming stock market, criminal justice reform, Right to Try, or any other development in any realm of social policy, economic policy, or foreign policy, then we are no longer discussing a particular presidency but what criteria you use to see the world. Your lens is permanently darkened and cannot let in light, no matter how brightly it shines. The continued presence of a president you deeply dislike ruins everything for you, and that says a great deal more about you than him.

National Security & Defense

Jihadist Terrorist Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi Is Dead

A man believed to be Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (Reuters/Al Furqan Media Network)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Why the U.S. raid on Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi demonstrates that we’re winning the war on terror; why the president’s flaws don’t always impede good outcomes; the sad story of represetative Katie Hill; and farewell to a friend of National Review.

With Al-Baghdadi Killed, Our Islamist Enemies Are Shadows of Their Former Selves

The world is a safer place today than it was just a few days ago. On Saturday night, U.S. special forces killed ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi during a night raid in the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib. Take a moment to appreciate not only this spectacular mission, but how severe the threat of Baghdadi and ISIS was, and how our military and our allies managed to shut down a kingdom of horrors and smash an army of cruelty.

Back in March 2014, Graeme Wood wrote a lengthy article in The Atlantic that, at the time, was one of the most detailed and extensively researched portraits of ISIS, what fueled its rise, what attracted its members, and what its leadership wanted. A key part of Wood’s profile was laying out how this particular group of Islamists differed from the group of Islamists Americans were already most familiar with, al-Qaeda. After the U.S. Navy SEALS took out Osama bin Laden in 2011, al-Qaeda gradually faded from the list of prominent worries of the average American. The last major al-Qaeda attack on western targets was the Charlie Hebdo shooting on January 7, 2015.

One of the surprising conclusions from Wood — and perhaps one that other terrorism experts might dispute — was that ISIS was less focused on the West than al-Qaeda.

. . . its threat to the United States is smaller than its all too frequent conflation with al-Qaeda would suggest. Al-Qaeda’s core is rare among jihadist groups for its focus on the “far enemy” (the West); most jihadist groups’ main concerns lie closer to home. That’s especially true of the Islamic State, precisely because of its ideology. It sees enemies everywhere around it, and while its leadership wishes ill on the United States, the application of Sharia in the caliphate and the expansion to contiguous lands are paramount. Baghdadi has said as much directly: in November he told his Saudi agents to “deal with the rafida [Shia] first . . . then al-Sulul [Sunni supporters of the Saudi monarchy] . . . before the crusaders and their bases.”

Nonetheless, ISIS repeatedly demonstrated an ability inspire jihadist-minded Muslims to attempt deadly attacks wherever they lived, and this inspiration created a pervasive threat to civilian targets around the world. The list of targets is stunning, even after living through it: the Canadian parliament, the train from Paris to Amsterdam, the Bataclan theater, San Bernardino, a Starbucks in Jakarta, a tourist intersection in Istanbul, Brussels metro stations and airports, Ataturk International Airport in Istanbul, Bastille Day in Nice, France, the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, a church in Normandy . . . ISIS never launched any attack as deadly as the 9/11 attacks, but it set its sights lower and was arguably more effective: it created a sense that it could hit anywhere, not just prominent landmarks. (Many would argue this approach to terrorism inspires even more fear. You can choose to avoid airplanes or the tallest skyscrapers and government buildings; it’s much more difficult to avoid any public space or public transportation.)

Unlike al-Qaeda, ISIS could point to a territory and a spectacularly cruel and brutal government, expanding its territory and conquering new peoples. ISIS argued it was the fulfillment of an ancient promise to Muslims, and that history and the divine were on its side. It represented a threat unlike any other in American history: a hostile state that was comparably technologically primitive but repeatedly demonstrated an ability to kill our civilians in unpredictable ways, often by turning our own legal immigrants and citizens against ourselves. (In a reflection of how our political divisions were starting to consume us, a significant portion of the public refused to believe that an ISIS attack was an ISIS attack, and that it simply had to be primarily driven by homophobia.)

Wood wrote:

If [ISIS] loses its grip on its territory in Syria and Iraq, it will cease to be a caliphate. Caliphates cannot exist as underground movements, because territorial authority is a requirement: take away its command of territory, and all those oaths of allegiance are no longer binding. Former pledges could of course continue to attack the West and behead their enemies, as freelancers. But the propaganda value of the caliphate would disappear, and with it the supposed religious duty to immigrate and serve it. If the United States were to invade, the Islamic State’s obsession with battle at Dabiq suggests that it might send vast resources there, as if in a conventional battle. If the state musters at Dabiq in full force, only to be routed, it might never recover.

The United States did not invade but put together a coalition of most of our NATO allies, Jordan, Morocco, Turkey (although there’s a lot to unpack there) — and perhaps most importantly, the Iraqi Army and the Syrian Democratic Forces who had to do most of the fighting on the ground. (On paper, Russia, Iran, Iraq, and the Syrian government formed their own coalition against ISIS, but somehow their bombs kept landing on rebels fighting against Assad’s regime.)

ISIS isn’t dead and gone, but it’s a shadow of its former self.  Jacob Olidort, special adviser on Middle East policy and Syria country director at the Defense Department in 2016 and 2017, wrote earlier this year that the president and his critics were talking past each other, that while ISIS will have members and followers for a long time to come, it no longer functions as a coherent organization:

New fissures within the group have opened over the past two years, with grievances ranging from issues of authenticity and ideological purity to organizational and bureaucratic failures. The Islamic State’s ideologues have acknowledged its changed circumstances and offered explanations for the defeats and loss of territory since the fall of Mosul. But these defenses haven’t been persuasive for some of the organization’s adepts, who have begun questioning why the Islamic State is experiencing a decline.

Similarly, Al-Qaeda isn’t dead and gone, but it’s a shadow of its former self as well. Ayman al-Zawahiri called for new attacks against Americans last month around the anniversary of 9/11. If any al-Qaeda adherents tried, we didn’t notice, and we live in a world where the tools of terror are not difficult to find: vans and steak knives and propane tanks. (By the way, if you ever worry that you’re not aging well, take a look at Zawahiri. He looks older than Si Robertson from Duck Dynasty lately.) These days Zawahiri is complaining about “backtrackers” not being sufficiently committed to jihad. This is the terrorist equivalent of becoming a grumpy old man.

Depending upon how you want to define the term “major,” the last major jihadist terrorist attack on American soil was the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, June 12, 2016. (Others might point to the Minnesota mall stabbing attacks in September of that year, and the concurrent bombings in New York City and New Jersey that thankfully had no fatalities; the following month a Somali refugee tried to run down people on the campus of Ohio State University, injuring 13, but again, thankfully no fatalities.)

The good news — maybe some of the best news for America in a long time — is that the fear of jihadist terrorism on American soil has gradually faded from our cultural landscape and collective consciousness. We no longer feel terrorized by them, and that is the ultimate failure in terrorism.

The bad news is that mass shooters and domestic terrorists appear eager to fill the void.

While This Isn’t the Most Important Angle, Yes, This Is Good News for President Trump

Readers of this newsletter know what I think of the president’s decision to withdraw troops from Syria  — and, er, then send tanks to protect the oil fields. Readers of this newsletter know what I think of the president’s erratic decision-making, blithe overruling of his top advisors, statements that are only distant cousins from the truth if related at all and tendency to blindside his own staff by announcing decisions on Twitter.

This president gets a lot of grief, and almost all of it is deserved. But it is worth noting that his flaws did not stop this operation from going forward. When push came to shove, Trump gave the “go” signal on the operation. Whenever a president authorizes an operation like this, he accepts the risk of failure.

I don’t like having a reality show host as president — but that doesn’t mean that good things aren’t happening on his watch. The withdrawal of our troops still sounds ad hoc, with contradictory messages and abandoning alienating longtime allies who stood with us in a tough fight. But as laid out above, the Trump presidency and his appointees have managed to defeat the preeminent terrorist threat that loomed large on the world stage the day he was sworn in. That’s a real accomplishment to take to the American people when making the argument for another term.

Down Hill, All the Way

To give the sad, sordid tale of soon-to-be former representative Katie Hill the amount of attention it deserves, members of Congress are not supposed to have affairs or romantic relationships with members of their staff. House rules recognize the inherent imbalance of power and possible legal complications in that circumstance. Most private companies are uncomfortable with bosses having relationships with their employees; there’s just too much potential for abuse, favoritism, and future lawsuits. Back on October 18, RedState’s Jennifer Van Laar wrote an article that contended Representative Hill had done this twice — first with a campaign staffer and her husband, and then a separate relationship with another former campaign staffer who joined her office staff. RedState did not name the first campaign staffer and obscured that staffer’s face in photos. They also obtained “intimate photos” of Hill with the female staffer, but chose not to publish them. Text messages obtained by Red State suggested that Hill had moved on to an affair with a legislative staffer who had also worked on her campaign.

A few days ago, Hill admitted to a relationship with a campaign staffer but insisted she had not had a relationship with a congressional office staffer. The House Ethics Committee had no choice but to investigate; there was simply too much photographic evidence and screenshots of texts and such to dismiss the whole thing as crazy rumors.

Katie Hill is resigning, and no doubt she feels the entire situation is terribly unfair; she blames an “abusive husband” and “hateful political operatives.” The sudden resignation after the Ethics Committee announced its investigation does not strengthen her claim that the allegation of a relationship with a congressional employee is a falsehood. If you are a member of Congress and choose to get romantically involved with a staffer, you have an obligation to attempt to remove that conflict of interest. If you don’t, you have to live with the consequences.

ADDENDUM: Rest in peace, Allen Sidor. He was a longtime friend of National Review and one of the nicest guys you would ever want to meet. He will be missed at our gatherings and cruises.

White House

Tim Ryan Dropping Out Shows the Woke Left’s Control over Democrats

Tim Ryan (D., Ohio) speaks in Washington, D.C., April 10, 2019. (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: While Tim Ryan’s presidential campaign proved to be not all that consequential, the reaction of Democrats to what he was saying is extremely consequential; why John Durham is now the most interesting man in the world; and a big name hopes to drop in for the fifth game of this year’s World Series.

Tim Ryan Mattered After All, Just Not the Way He Intended

I’m going to attempt the impossible: I’m going to try to make Tim Ryan’s departure from the presidential race interesting. You probably forgot about him; he certainly wasn’t a whirling dervish of raw political charisma, and his arguments rarely stood out in the teeming crowd of candidates. But even if Ryan’s candidacy fades to the insignificance of a footnote in the story of the 2020 presidential election, the fact that Ryan was so thoroughly ignored and dismissed by the rest of his party is indeed significant.

Here’s a guy who doesn’t just represent the demographic that Democrats lost to Trump in 2016, he embodies it: a 40-something white guy from the Youngstown area who hunts, hates China’s guts because he thinks it steals jobs, and supports natural gas plants because they create union jobs. He wanted a gradual approach to Medicare for All, thinks you can’t pay for health care for illegal immigrants while Americans pay for their own, and when people started complaining about tax breaks to lure Amazon’s headquarters, he declared, “I would love to have Amazon’s HQ2 in northeast Ohio. We need the jobs . . . We need the free enterprise system. If we’re going to try to compete with China, if we’re going to try to innovate our way to reduce carbon in the United States, we need the innovation and entrepreneurship of the free market, we can’t be hostile to business.”

Trumble County, Ohio, voted for Trump, 51 percent to 45 percent, over Hillary Clinton. When reporters want to talk to blue-collar union members who voted for Obama twice and then voted for Trump, they go to Trumble County. About 45,000 people in Ryan’s congressional district voted for both him and Trump in 2016.

Tim Ryan was probably the least wealthy Democrat running for president; according to financial disclosure forms required of members of Congress, his net worth ranged from just under $65,000 to $48,998. He’s a populist who’s done his research, noting in speeches that eighty percent of venture capital goes to three states: California, New York, and Massachusetts. (The most recent figures I can find suggest 82 percent goes to four, which includes Texas.) He could echo Trump’s rhetoric sometimes — “We collectively should be helping the people who have gotten screwed for the last 30 years, and not apologize for it.”

To the extent Ryan got any attention in this race, it was as an ambassador from the rural Midwest, trying to explain his strange and alien culture to the rest of the party: “I think Donald Trump is a complete slimeball, but he doesn’t want to take my job, or take my health insurance. My friends work at GM, in the building and construction trade. These are the guys I drink beer with. I know ‘em. These positions [the rest of the Democrats] are taking are untenable with the vast majority of them.”

Around here, the usual suspects who read the headline but not the rest of the article will scoff that Ryan sounds like a Republican and should run in that primary. Never mind that Ryan is completely pro-choice, denounced the Trump administration’s treatment of children crossing the border, and changed his mind on universal background checks and lost his ‘A’ rating from the NRA. He wanted to ban states from enacting Right-to-Work laws and Janus v. AFSCME. (There goes any hope of a National Review endorsement.) His September 24 statement on impeachment consisted of two sentences: “President Trump is a mobster. We must impeach.” Heck, the guy wrote a book on yoga. He’s voted with the Trump administration position 18 percent of the time. If Tim Ryan isn’t considered a “real” Democrat, it means the criteria for being a Democrat is now set entirely by the Woke Twitter crowd.

Some of Ryan’s ideas don’t fit neatly into any ideological category. He wants a mental health counselor in every American school. He’s a big fan of the Department of Veterans Affairs Whole Health Program, which evaluates a veteran’s work environment, relationships, diet, sleep patterns, etc. and wants it made available to every veteran. He noted that 60 percent of federal agricultural subsidies go to farms growing corn and other grain, but less than half of one percent goes toward fruits and vegetables, a factor that helps shape American dietary habits.

Oddly enough, the more the race wore on, the more Ryan had to argue that where he was from and who he represented should matter to the Democratic party: “I don’t think there’s anybody running in this race who understands people in this region better than I do. They are going to be essential to compete against Donald Trump.”

The strategic value of nominating a candidate like this was clear: If a guy with this kind of background could win back a bunch of votes in Ohio, what are the odds he could do the same in Pennsylvania and Michigan and Wisconsin and Iowa? Maybe even move the numbers a bit in Florida and North Carolina? Ryan could win back the guys in the union halls without alienating the white-collar suburban soccer moms.

By the strict criteria of “to win back voters who we lost the last cycle,” Tim Ryan was one of the candidates who made the most sense for the Democrats, not the least. And this guy just barely qualified for the first debate with that threshold of one percent. In that debate, he argued, “we have got to change the center of gravity of the Democratic Party from being coastal and elitist and Ivy League, which is the perception, to somebody from the forgotten communities that have been left behind for the last 30 years, to get those workers back on our side.”

The Democratic party as a whole was just not interested in what Ryan had to say. And maybe the rest of the 2020 cycle will demonstrate that they didn’t need to listen. Trump has plenty of his own problems.

But if Trump is reelected with an electoral college map that looks similar to 2016, will the Democrats whack their foreheads and think, “we should have listened to Tim Ryan?”

Get John Durham a Dos Equis, Because He’s Becoming the Most Interesting Man in the World

This may be huge news, or it may not live up to the hype and expectations. For now, just see it as one more step on a long path: “Justice Department officials have shifted an administrative review of the Russia investigation closely overseen by Attorney General William P. Barr to a criminal inquiry, according to two people familiar with the matter. The move gives the prosecutor running it, John H. Durham, the power to subpoena for witness testimony and documents, to convene a grand jury and to file criminal charges.”

The idea from a lot of Trump fans is that the entire 2016 investigation into his campaign was driven by a bunch of partisans who wanted to smear Trump with false charges of being a Russian stooge. The notion of a vast left-wing conspiracy targeting a president is a huge accusation, and not to be made or taken lightly.

Shortly after leaving his positions, former CIA director John Brennan declared that Trump committed “treason.” Former National Director of Intelligence James Clapper declared that Putin “knows how to handle an asset, and that’s what he’s doing with the president.” Former FBI director James Comey declared, “I liken President Trump in the book to a forest fire. Going to do tremendous damage” and explained his decisions during the campaign by saying, “I was operating in a world where Hillary Clinton was going to beat Donald Trump.”

This year, many Democrats and Trump critics were surprised when Robert Mueller’s extensive, lengthy and thorough investigation couldn’t find the evidence to back up the accusations about collusion with Russia. It’s easy to believe that, at minimum, a dangerous partisan groupthink was at work at the highest levels of our government. Everybody in charge of our intelligence and law enforcement agencies figured Trump just had to be a foreign agent or a crook, that if they looked hard enough, they would find the evidence, that his nomination by the GOP was a historical accident and that he would never end up president.

Our justice system is not perfect. As the old saying goes, a prosecutor can indict a ham sandwich. Until a conviction, this is all just someone’s accusation of what happened. But the fact that Durham thinks crimes were committed does indeed matter.

You’re inevitably going to hear somebody arguing that John Durham has some sort of partisan axe to grind. Funny, no one made these accusations when Durham was uncovering and prosecuting cops who were on the take for Whitey Bulger, nailing a GOP Connecticut governor on corruption charges, or investigating the destruction of waterboarding tapes at the Central Intelligence Agency. Durham is extraordinarily respected among his peers, has a sterling record as a prosecutor, and almost never speaks to the press. He’s exactly the kind of guy you would want investigating something as delicate and consequential as this.

Meanwhile, on the Baseball Diamond . . .

The White House announced President Trump plans to attend Game Five of the World Series at Nationals Park in the nation’s capital. Today, every Democrat started rooting for a sweep so the series ends in Game Four. Then again, they’re always rooting for Washington to prevail over a bunch of opposing Texans.

For some of us, this series is a win-win. Washington has a great and inspiring comeback story this season, but if the Astros win, viewers at home will at least get lots of happy reaction shots of Kate Upton.

ADDENDUM: This week’s The Editors podcast is not a rerun — even though we are discussing three topics that never seem to change — an effort to impeach President Trump, Joe Biden hanging onto a lead in the Democratic primary despite stumbles, and a British Parliament that can’t seem to decide on Brexit.

White House

There’s Little Justification for the Impeachment Proceedings to Be Private

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi walks behind President Trump and Attorney General William Barr at the National Peace Officers Memorial Service on Capitol Hill May 15, 2019. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: The arguments in favor of keeping the early portion of the impeachment process secret and behind closed doors start to falter; Joe Biden continues to look really good for a candidate who’s supposed to be a dead man walking; and NBC News hopes you’ll forget recent history.

When Does the Open Part of Impeachment Start?

I’m not a fan of bringing cell phones into Sensitive Compartmentalized Information Facilities — although Will Collier, who spent the better part of 20 years working in SCIFs every day, observes on the home page today that a “first offense will result in a verbal scolding and an admonishment to go forth and sin no more.”

Nor am I a fan of big show-y protests by members of Congress. You guys have the powers of your offices, you shouldn’t need to make a scene like Code Pink or Shut Down DC. You notice that Code Pink and Shut Down DC rarely achieve the political goals they set out to accomplish, and mostly succeed in irritating everyone around them.

But yesterday, Amy Walter, the national editor of the Cook Political Report and pretty darn far away from being a partisan of any stripe, asked a simple question: “Can anyone tell me why Dems can’t make these hearings with officials involved in the Ukraine issue open? or, why we don’t have any transcripts?”

The most common justification is that this is like a grand jury portion of a criminal hearing, and the committee majority and their staff, acting as the equivalent of prosecutors, don’t want the witnesses and potential witnesses to coordinate their testimony. This answer would be a little more compelling if we weren’t getting considerable leaks of information, which would seem to undermine that objective. Bill Taylor’s detailed, 16-page opening statement was first in the Washington Post but eventually posted everywhere – Time magazine, CBS News, CNN, PBS.

And for what it’s worth, committee members Eric Swalwell and David Cicilline contend witnesses are coordinating testimony anyway. The committee has few options to stop witnesses from getting together beforehand and saying, “I’m going to tell them X, don’t tell them Y” or meeting up after to keep their peers updated. In fact, it’s almost inevitable:

Rep. Harley Rouda (D-CA), who said he could not “opine” on whether it was clear that certain witnesses had coordinated with each other in the midst of the impeachment inquiry. “But that doesn’t mean that these witnesses haven’t talked to each other over the last few months, because they’re all operating in the same theater of Ukraine — many of them, obviously.”

As far as we know, nothing involved in impeachment is classified because it would jeopardize national security. No one’s discussing the technical specifications of the military aid we’re sending to Ukraine, or intelligence sources and methods involved in watching Russian forces in eastern Ukraine, or anything like that.

In fact, there’s a big irony about these ongoing secrecy fights. The administration insists that just about every possible administration official and document that the panel wants is covered by executive privilege. The idea behind executive privilege is that the president has a right to keep the advice he gets private, because otherwise people will self-censor themselves if they know their communications and statements could someday be publicly revealed. (Because the boundaries of executive privilege are pretty vague, most preceding presidents have tried to avoid forcing the issue. If you want to get a more restricted definition of what it covers under the law after a lengthy court fight, this is exactly how an administration should behave.)

So the argument of Schiff and friends right now is that this is not an appropriate application of this privilege, that the information must not be kept secret, and that the information must be revealed to the House . . . where it can only be discussed in a closed hearing because it has to be kept secret.

The complaint about the secrecy of these depositions will be greatly mitigated if all of the relevant testimony is repeated under oath in open hearings. And supposedly, that’s coming down the road, although no one knows exactly when. Last week, Schiff wrote in a letter to his House colleagues, “at a time that it will not jeopardize investigative equities, we will make the interview transcripts public, subject to any necessary redactions for classified or sensitive information.”

Today, our Kevin Williamson urges Nancy Pelosi to get the impeachment effort out from behind closed doors: “The time has come to act, Madame Speaker. Enough with the gutless calculation. The country needs leadership and, for our sins, you’re what we’ve got. Do your duty and open the people’s business in the people’s house to the people.”

Back in late September, the word was House Democrats would finish up impeachment by Thanksgiving. That proved wildly overoptimistic; now the thinking is that the impeachment process will begin its public portion in mid-November; Pelosi is hoping to hold the impeachment vote before the December holidays.

That would set up Senate impeachment hearings in January, just about the worst possible time for any senator running for president. If you thought Joe Biden was showcasing his big, toothy, silly grin before . . .

Speaking of Biden, he’s got a lot to grin about.

That Allegedly Inevitable Joe Biden Collapse Keeps Getting Delayed

For a guy who’s supposed to be dead, Joe Biden looks pretty good.

Take your pick of most of the recent polls. Sure, Quinnipiac has a new national poll out this morning that puts Elizabeth Warren up seven. But in Iowa, he’s no worse than tied or maybe behind by a point or two. In New Hampshire he might be down but it’s currently a close second — nothing to panic about yet, and that should be Warren’s best state. He is still comfortably ahead in Nevada, and South Carolina still looks like a firewall. A bunch of the latest national polls are still showing Biden up by one to nine percentage points, and CNN unveiled a shocker yesterday that put him up 15. The latest one in California has him up by 15 points.

A lot of prominent voices of the national media really want to tell the story of Elizabeth Warren overtaking him. The only nagging flaw in that dramatic narrative is it really hasn’t happened yet.

The really good news for Joe Biden is that all of this has happened when he’s had a pretty lousy set of news cycles. The Hunter Biden stuff looks bad and creates a real vulnerability for the general election. Biden’s debate performances of range from okay to pretty bad. His fundraising is really “meh” for a guy who’s the former vice-president and would presumably have a national network of donors.

Biden announced he was running in late April. We are now about a half a year into his campaign and I think it’s safe to say that the Biden we see is the Biden we’re going to get for the rest of this cycle. He is not going to shake the rust off and turn into a sharper or more articulate speaker or debater. And yet despite all these flaws, Joe Biden is still doing okay.

If you’re a Democrat with lingering doubts about Joe Biden’s ability to beat Donald Trump in a general election, you have every reason in the world to start freaking out right now. The one guy in this race who went after Biden hard on his age and mental acuity, Julian Castro, saw no benefit from it and maybe a mild backlash. Bernie Sanders isn’t dropping out anytime soon and even seems a little rejuvenated after his heart attack (the AOC endorsement helps) and so we’re likely to see Sanders and Warren fighting over the same voters well into this primary.

Eric Levitz had a smart piece in New York magazine about the faction of centrist Democrats who “unintentionally placed all of its bets on an old, increasingly lame horse who was infamous for mounting lousy presidential runs when he was in his prime.”

Sure, President Trump appears to be getting more erratic, angrier, less predictable and quicker to lash out at anyone he deems insufficiently loyal. His gaffes are getting odder — “we’re building a wall in Colorado.” It’s quite possible the Democrats will end up nominating Biden, setting up a million political cartoons and memes referring to the Grumpy Old Men movies with Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, or Statler and Waldorf from The Muppet Show. It’s not hard to imagine disappointed woke Democrats feeling tempted to vote for a Green Party candidate again.

NBC News, Feminist Icon

NBC News proudly announces an all-women debate moderator lineup: “the Nov. 20 Democratic presidential debate, co-hosted by MSNBC and the Washington Post, will be hosted by Rachel Maddow, host of “The Rachel Maddow Show” on MSNBC; Andrea Mitchell, host of “Andrea Mitchell Reports” on MSNBC and NBC News’ chief foreign affairs correspondent; Kristen Welker, NBC News’ White House correspondent; and Ashley Parker, a White House reporter for the Washington Post.”

I guess they figure most people will respond, “Yes! You go, girl! If there’s any institution in this world that stands up for women and their rights, making sure that they’re respected and treated properly, and that their mistreatment get addressed quickly and correctly, it’s NBC News!”

ADDENDA: People generally have no idea what “Medicare for All” includes or how it works.

Democratic Congresswoman Katie Hill denies the allegations that she had an affair with a congressional office staffer, but admits she did have an affair with a campaign staffer. That doesn’t quite explain that from not-safe-for-work photo that RedState uncovered, but maybe the complimentary hair care from the boss in that office is just amazing.

Finally, please read this Corner post all the way to the end.

White House

Will Anyone Corroborate the Ukraine Ambassador’s Testimony?

Acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Bill Taylor arrives to testify at a closed-door deposition as part of the House of Representatives impeachment inquiry led by the House Intelligence, House Foreign Affairs, and House Oversight and Reform Committees in Washington, D.C., October 22, 2019. (Carlos Jasso/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Bill Taylor’s claims have to be taken seriously, as they paint a specific and damning portrait of an administration willing to disregard and even shut out the secretaries of defense and state, the CIA director, and the national-security adviser on a key decision made in secret; what keeps parents up at night; and yet another person you have probably never heard of is thinking of running for president.

The Almost Unbelievable Claims of Bill Taylor, the U.S. Envoy to Ukraine

You’re going to hear a lot of furious reactions to the testimony of Bill Taylor, the acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine*, to the House panel preparing articles of impeachment. Perhaps the most mind-boggling sentence in his prepared statement is this one, describing concern at the highest levels of government about aid not getting to Ukraine in July of this year: “My understanding was that the Secretaries of Defense and State, the CIA Director, and the National Security Advisor sought a joint meeting with the president to convince him to release the hold, but such a meeting was hard to schedule and the hold lasted well into September.”

Read that again. Are we honestly to believe that four of the highest-ranking cabinet officials with duties relating to national security couldn’t get a meeting with the commander-in-chief? What, was the president avoiding them?

This should not be an eternal, impenetrable mystery. Either secretary of defense Mark Esper, secretary of state Mike Pompeo, CIA director Gina Haspell, and former national-security adviser John Bolton will corroborate this account or they won’t. If they contradict it, then Taylor is offering a version of events that exaggerates the level of concern about Trump’s blocking the Ukraine aid. If they confirm it — and the President of the United States simply wouldn’t talk to four of his top officials about a decision about aid to an ally against the Russian military — then we have a state of dysfunction at the highest level of our government that is positively nightmarish and that must be remedied immediately, by whatever constitutional methods are available.

The president can think aiding Ukraine is a bad idea all he wants. He could have tried to legally and constitutionally withhold the aid under the Impoundment Control Act, which gives Congress 45 days to effectively veto a president’s attempt to stop such an expenditure. But Trump didn’t do that. Based upon what we know now, it appears the president and his top staff tried to withhold the aid in secret, in defiance of Congress, and in defiance of the advice of his top national-security officials. Refusing to distribute funds that Congress had authorized and appropriated would be a violation of the separation of powers; the president cannot decide to simply refuse to carry out funding decisions of Congress and not tell anyone.

Beyond that, the administration’s repeated insistence that there was no quid pro quo is contradicted by government officials, including the president, stating that U.S. military assistance would only be sent if the Ukrainian president announced the Bidens were under investigation. That’s what a quid pro quo is.

Taylor writes:

“The following day, on September 8, Ambassador Sondland and I spoke on the phone. He said he had talked to President Trump as I had suggested a week earlier, but that President Trump was adamant that President Zelenskyy, himself, had to “clear things up and do it in public.” President Trump said it was not a “quid pro quo.” Ambassador Sondland said that he had talked to President Zelenskyy and Mr. Yermak and told them that, although this was not a quid pro quo, if President Zelenskyy did not clear things up public, we would be at a stalemate. I understood a stalemate mean that Ukraine would not receive the much-needed military assistance. Ambassador Sondland said that this conversation concluded with President Zelenskyy agreeing to make a public statement in an interview with CNN.”

The country needs to hear from these officials publicly, and perhaps under oath, really soon. Taylor describes a July 19 phone call that suggests the administration couldn’t even discuss its national-security priorities without partisan politics muddying the waters:

[Fiona Hill, National Security Council Senior Director for Russian and European Affairs and National Security Council European Director Alex Vindman] gave me an account of the July 10 meeting with the Ukrainian officials at the White House. Specifically, they told me that Ambassador Sondland had connected “investigations with an Oval Office meeting for President Zelenskyy, which so irritated Ambassador Bolton that he abruptly ended the meeting, telling Dr. Hill and Mr. Vindman that they should have nothing to do with domestic politics. He also directed Dr. Hill to the lawyers. Dr. Hill said that Bolton referred to this as a “drug deal” after the July 10 meeting. Ambassador Bolton opposed a call between President Zelenskyy and President Trump out of concern that it “would be a disaster.”

Keep in mind, Bill Taylor is still the acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. If President Trump wanted to have a different ambassador, he could have nominated one at any point during his presidency. The president famously complained about Marie Yovanovitch in his conversation with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, but he’s had a GOP-controlled Senate since he took office.

The administration’s countermove has been to contend that Taylor is a “radical unelected bureaucrat waging war on the Constitution.” Er, yeah, he must be one of those left-wing radicals who went to West Point, served in the 82nd Airborne and 101st Airborne in Vietnam, then received a Bronze Star and Air Medal V for heroism. He’s the kind of left-wing radical who would work with NATO during the Reagan administration and that George W. Bush would appoint as ambassador to Ukraine. He’s the kind of left-wing radical who worked for the State Department coordinating assistance to Afghanistan just a few months after the Taliban fell, and oversaw reconstruction in Iraq about a year after Saddam Hussein’s regime fell. Yeah, sure, this guy’s a regular Code Pink Antifa type.

If the administration wants to argue that Taylor ultimately proved to be an internal foe of Trump’s worldview, that’s probably accurate. His entire statement is a giant splash of cold water:

If Ukraine succeeds in breaking free of Russian influence, it is possible for Europe to be whole, free, democratic, and at peace. In contrast, if Russia dominates Ukraine, Russia will again become an empire, oppressing its people, and threatening its neighbors and the rest of the world. With the annexation of the Crimea in 2014 and the continued aggression in Donbas, Russia violated countless treaties, ignored all commitments, and dismissed all the principles that have kept the peace and contributed to prosperity in Europe since World War II. To restore Ukraine’s independence, Russia must leave Ukraine. This has been and should continue to be a bipartisan U.S. foreign policy goal.

From his statements and actions, the president of the United States does not agree with that. His willingness to withhold aid — specifically for information about the Bidens, not for any broad-based anti-corruption initiative — indicates that he does not think that keeping Russian military forces out of eastern Ukraine should be a U.S. priority.

The one time that President Trump addressed Crimea recently, he described the invasion and occupation of Crimea as some sort of Obama-administration problem that he has no responsibility to address.

A certain section of Ukraine that you know very well, where it was sort of taken away from President Obama.  Not taken away from President Trump; taken away from President Obama. President Obama was not happy that this happened because it was embarrassing to him.  Right?  It was very embarrassing to him.  And he wanted Russia to be out of the — what was called the “G8.”  And that was his determination.  He was outsmarted by Putin.  He was outsmarted.  President Putin outsmarted President Obama.

The inevitable response from Trump fans is some variation of, “how many lives are you going to sacrifice over Crimea?” — even though many of these same folks pointed to the occupation of Crimea as a sign of Obama’s weakness back in 2014. As with the Obama administration’s defense of the Iran deal, the argument contends that the only two options are the administration’s preferred course of action or all-out war. The United States never lacks tools in its toolbox, it just lacks lawmakers willing to use them: sanctions, intelligence-sharing, espionage, joint training exercises, the bully pulpit, economic assistance, and perhaps most significantly, arms exports and military assistance.

American military assistance to Ukraine had been the single biggest and most glaring piece of counter-evidence against the accusation that President Trump is a Putin stooge. It’s now clear that Trump was never that strong a supporter of this policy.

*Technically, Taylor’s title is “Chargés d’affaires ad interim,” because he was appointed to the position by the secretary of state but not confirmed by the Senate.

The Questions That Keep You Up at Night

What keeps you up at night? Over on the NR homepage, I wrote about wondering if your kids are going to be prepared for the challenges of adulthood, being taught the right things, able to get into a good school, able to get hired, and able to keep a good job. Government policies at the national, state, and local level, and our society’s values and behavior, can make that path easier or more difficult. These days, a lot of folks who seem to be doing okay still feel like they’re being squeezed by an unseen force, trying to nudge them into choices that aren’t their own.

This Guy Makes Julian Castro Look Like a Household Name

Running for president is the hot new trend, apparently, and everybody’s doing it. “Ed Stack, the CEO of Dick’s Sporting Goods and a longtime Republican donor, is testing the waters for a possible third-party presidential bid that could scramble the dynamics of the 2020 general election.”

This guy is so obscure that Joe Sestak, Andrew Messam, and Irving Schmidlap have never heard of him.

To his credit, I loved him on Unsolved Mysteries. Oh, wait, that was Robert Stack.

ADDENDUM: Ever see a man dunk on an entire league? Last night, Shaquille O’Neal on Tuesday came to the defense of Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey and made almost everyone else associated with the NBA look like a bunch of cowards.

Politics & Policy

It’s Easy to Overlook the Faults of Our Leaders When We Catastrophize the Alternative

President Trump welcomes Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau to the White House in 2017. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Justin Trudeau wins again, and Virginia Democrats appear set to win again, yet people still wonder why Trump voters stand by their man; some Democrats wonder if they have any more options in 2020; and the final trailer for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker arrives, greeting a much more wary fanbase.

Almost Everybody Finds a Way to Excuse the Sins of the Leaders They Prefer

You hear this question from a lot of people, including from colleagues I respect a great deal: “How can Trump voters/Republicans/evangelicals just shrug their shoulders at President Trump and his pressure on Ukraine/abandonment of the Kurds/sordid payoffs to Stormy Daniels/warm and fuzzy talk about Putin and Kim Jong-un/[insert scandal du jour here]?”

Trump voters shrug their shoulders at these scandals probably for the same reasons that so many in the Canadian Liberal party shrugged their shoulders at Justin Trudeau’s multiple embarrassing occasions wearing blackface or his decision to pressure prosecutors who were investigating a politically connected corporation.

They probably do it for the same reasons that so many Joe Biden supporters shrugged their shoulders at all the times powerful institutions paid Hunter Biden enormous sums because he was the son of the vice president.

Probably for the same reasons that so many Virginia Democrats eventually shrugged their shoulders at Governor Ralph Northam and state attorney general Mark Herring wearing blackface, and the sexual assault allegations against Justin Fairfax. Virginia Democrats are expected to have a good Election Day next month, and they’ve doubled their fundraising compared to four years ago.

Probably for the same reasons that so many Hillary Clinton supporters shrugged their shoulders at foreign governments like Qatar making million-dollar donations to the Clinton Foundation, then argued that Donald Trump’s election victory couldn’t possibly be legitimate because of foreign interference, and that he deserved to be impeached because foreign governments were spending lavishly at his hotels.

Probably for the same reasons that so many Democrats believe that Al Franken was unfairly forced to resign.

The reason none of these factions get all that upset about glaring hypocrisy or unethical behavior by their preferred leaders is that as a culture — and perhaps as a species — we’re really good at coming up with reasons as to why the scandals surrounding the leaders we like aren’t that important.

Politics attracts people who dream of doing good on a grand scale. They don’t just want to be good parents, good spouses, good workers, good neighbors, and good friends; they want to save the planet, to make America great again, to preserve the Constitution, to end gun violence, to end poverty, to immanentize the eschaton. Cleaning up the local park in the name of the environment is too modest and humdrum; they want to end carbon emissions. Mentoring a kid who needs it is too time-consuming and labor-intensive; they’re going to remove every AR-15 rifle from all of America’s homes. Political activists, and in particular those who choose to run for office, have big dreams and grandiose ambitions.

And the vast majority of politicians sell an extremely seductive vision: You can make the world a much better place just by voting the right way and convincing other people to vote the right way. Fighting poverty in your own community is tough. It’s much easier to just vote for the right candidate and to believe, despite many decades of contrary evidence, that once in office, that candidate will solve the problem of poverty for the rest of us through the power of government.

Back in 1981, then-Mayor Bernie Sanders contended that supporting the right government policies meant he didn’t need to support charitable causes:

“I don’t believe in charities,” said Mayor Sanders, bringing a shocked silence to a packed hotel banquet room. The mayor, who is a Socialist, went on to question the “fundamental concepts on which charities are based” and contended that government, rather than charity organizations, should take over responsibility for social programs.

Alternatively, politicians like to argue that a victory for their opponent is an apocalyptic catastrophe — the moral equivalent of Flight 93 on 9/11. Most modern political rhetoric is designed to emphasize the all-consuming enormity of our stakes. When debating climate change, we’re told the fate of the planet and all of humanity is at stake. When debating gun control, we’re told that our children’s lives are at stake and that if we don’t agree with the other side, we have blood on our hands.

Quite literally, the leaders of both sides of the political spectrum currently contend the other side is trying to destroy the country. President Trump said recently, “Pelosi, Shifty Schiff, Schumer — these people are trying to destroy the country.” Retired admiral William McRaven — the man who planned the Osama bin Laden raid! — contended President Trump is attacking the country and trying to destroy it, and that “the fate of our Republic” depends upon replacing him quickly. Former CIA director John Brennan repeatedly accused Trump of treason, contending, “he’s bringing this country down.” Earlier this week, Hillary Clinton contended that the previous nominee of the Green Party and that a U.S. congresswoman were agents of the Russian government.

In light of how frequently we’re told that our opponents want to destroy the country, or that Paul Ryan wants to push granny off a cliff, or to put African Americans back in chains, or that armed gangs of Ed Gillespie supporters are hunting minority children, is it really that shocking that some people would shoot up a baseball field of congressmen?

Good heavens! When the political opposition is trying to destroy the country, who can be bothered to care about some payoffs to a porn star, or old party photos in blackface, or arm-twisting a foreign government for dirt on a political opponent or donations. The moral and legal failures of our side’s leader fade to nothingness when compared to the Armageddon-level stakes of the upcoming election, inevitably touted as “the most important election of our lifetimes.”

Because if it ever wasn’t the most important election of our lifetimes, we would have the time and energy and mental real estate to contemplate the moral failings, bad behavior, and perhaps even lawbreaking on the part of the leaders we prefer. And if we did that, we might demand better from our elected officials. And God knows where that could lead!

Democratic Donors: Are You Sure We Don’t Have Other Candidates Waiting to Jump In?

We keep getting told that this is a huge, varied, and strong field of Democratic candidates . . . but apparently some big donors aren’t quite satisfied with their options:

Would Hillary Clinton get in, the contributors wondered, and how about Michael R. Bloomberg, the former New York mayor? One person even mused whether Michelle Obama would consider a late entry, according to two people who attended the event, which was hosted by the progressive group American Bridge.

“There’s more anxiety than ever,” said Connie Schultz, a journalist who is married to Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, another Democrat who some in the party would like to see join the race. “We’re both getting the calls. I’ve been surprised by some who’ve called me.”

“I can see it, I can feel it, I can hear it,” Mitch Landrieu, the former New Orleans mayor, said of the unease within the party. He said he thinks Mr. Biden is best positioned to defeat Mr. Trump but called the former vice president’s fund-raising “a real concern.”

Most of the time late entries never go anywhere; a candidate just doesn’t have the time or resources to throw together a get-out-the-vote organization and file the right paperwork. But Bloomberg would have the money to buy whatever organization he needed, and Michelle Obama probably has so much accumulated goodwill in the Democratic grassroots that she would instantly become a top contender.

Hillary, on the other hand . . . how many Democrats are itching for a 2016 rerun?

ADDENDA: Last night brought the final trailer for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. The mood among the fans online is significantly less enthusiastic than before The Last Jedi — cautious optimism and perhaps some trepidation. Fans will be debating the qualities of Episode Eight for the rest of time; what’s now indisputable is that director Rian Johnson had no interest in picking up the story threads J. J. Abrams left to continue from Episode Seven — who’s Snoke? Who are Rey’s parents? Who are the Knights of Ren? — and went off in his own direction, “deconstructing” the mythos with the occasional heavy-handed modern political metaphor. (Forget the First Order, the real villains are war profiteers!)

Let’s also point out that The Last Jedi came along at a time when Hollywood’s sequel and reboot mania seemed to grow obsessed with reinventing beloved heroes as bitter, defeated, old men: Wolverine in Logan, Ben Affleck’s Batman in Batman v. Superman, Deckard in Blade Runner 2047. One might add Dale Cooper into that category. It was one part a concession to aging actors, one part an attempt at gritty realism, and one part an attempt to reset a triumphant hero back to underdog status.

This approach to returning characters meant that no matter how much the hero’s previous story seemed to end in success, subsequent developments meant the victory was ephemeral — things still turned out badly for mutants, replicants, Jedi, Gotham City, and the residents of Twin Peaks. (Here’s hoping the new series Picard doesn’t continue the trend.)

. . . This is what happens when I take a week off from denouncing Jets head coach Adam Gase.

White House

Can Trump Still Fix His Mistakes?

President Donald Trump in Washington, D.C., June 23, 2019. (Mike Theiler/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: President Trump suddenly realizes that hosting the G-7 summit at his Doral resort is a bridge too far for many of his Republican allies; some new data shows that the Chinese economy is slowing down, suggesting that Beijing may be feeling the pain of the tariffs more than they’re letting on; and a new election security bill would put the federal government into the business of deciding what is and what is not “legitimate” journalism.

If President Trump Can Change His Mind on the G-7 . . .

For much of the Trump era, there’s been this recurring qualified defense of the president from his fans: Ignore the tweets, look at the policies. Ignore the nonsensical statements that are beneath the presidency and look at the results. Look past the revolving door cabinet and look at the judicial appointments instead. Don’t stare in bewilderment and exasperation at the president’s furious denunciations of his own appointed officials, and stare at your tax return and low the unemployment rate.

That was a strong argument for a while. But it was stronger before the tariffs of the trade war started hitting American manufacturing harder, before the president decided to remain quiet about the Hong Kong protests while griping about the NBA, before Turkey invaded Syria in an effort to wipe out Kurds who had fought alongside us against ISIS, before captured ISIS fighters started breaking out of prison, before North Korea started testing missiles again . . .

Oh, and the outlook for keeping GOP control of the Senate doesn’t look so hot and the GOP could go 0 for 3 in the governors’ races this year. But other than that, everything’s peachy.

When you demand to be graded entirely on results, you had better generate consistently good results. Step one would be to stop stepping on rakes and concentrate your energies and focus on the battles that matter most, and stop dragging your political allies into battles that they have no interest in fighting. A big fight over hosting the G-7 at Trump’s Doral resort would have been the opposite of that. Thankfully, at some point, President Trump realized his party was getting tired of defending him in fights with no public policy gain:

President Trump was forced to abandon his decision to host next year’s Group of Seven summit at his private golf club after it became clear the move had alienated Republicans and swiftly become part of the impeachment inquiry that threatens his presidency.

In a round of phone calls with conservative allies this weekend, Trump was told Republicans are struggling to defend him on so many fronts, according to an administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal matters.

If President Trump can recognize his mistake and correct course on this front . . . why can’t he do it on other fronts?

  • Trump should recognize that Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan doesn’t respect him and stop trying to win him over.
  • That goes double for Kim Jong-un in North Korea.
  • As the Washington Examiner noted, the president should stop boasting about Chinese trade deals until the Chinese government commits in writing. Beijing has pulled the rug out from under him several times, and he never seems to learn.
  • Trump wants the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement passed — and so does the Mexican government! It’s a rare case of the administration working in cooperation with a foreign government, where Nancy Pelosi is being the obstacle to a broadly supported bipartisan deal. Prime Minister Blackface, er, Justin Trudeau reached out to Pelosi to assure her that Canada would hold up its end of the bargain. This is a big legislative accomplishment and campaign promise fulfilled — if he can just get the House to pass the legislation.

Also, the president should probably tell Rudy Giuliani to get off the television.

Is China’s Economy Hurting More Than Beijing Is Letting on?

As noted above, we’re getting the worse end of the tariff war, but that doesn’t mean China is escaping unscathed. Back on September 10, I pointed to a Wall Street Journal report and other evidence that the Chinese economy might be feeling more pain from the trade war than they’re letting on.

Friday, the Chinese government announced its economy “grew by 6 percent in the third quarter from a year earlier. It’s believed to be China’s slowest GDP gain in at least 27 and a half years.” (It’s worth noting that some economists who study China believe the government adjusts the numbers to paint a prettier picture than reality.) And this morning the International Monetary Fund projected even slower growth — declaring “the Chinese economy could grow at 5.8 percent next year — slower than the 6.1 percent forecast for 2019.”

Meanwhile, the Chinese government seems to be getting angrier with the National Basketball Association, not calming down.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver will face “retribution sooner or later” for saying that Beijing wanted him to fire the general manager of the Houston Rockets, state broadcaster CCTV said in a commentary published late Friday.

The government-controlled broadcaster said Silver “crossed the bottom line” by continuing to defend Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey. “To cater to the taste of certain American politicians,” CCTV claims, Silver “fabricated lies out of thin air” and portrayed China as unforgiving.

“I saw that in the news, and I specifically checked that with the competent authority. The answer is, the Chinese government has never raised such demands,” Geng Shuang, spokesman for the Chinese Ministry, said Friday according to a transcript posted on the ministry website.

“Silver is making every effort to portray himself as a defender of free speech and is using so-called ‘freedom of speech’ to cover for Morey, who voiced support for violent elements in Hong Kong,” CCTV said, in a translation by CNBC.

Sure, because the same Chinese government that puts a couple million people in concentration camps would never go so far as to demand somebody be fired and then lie about it.

Both Silver and the rest of the NBA — and the rest of the American business community — have to be asking themselves, is access to the Chinese market worth the risk of suddenly becoming an enemy of a rather ruthless foreign power over a tweet?

An Election Security Bill That Also Determines ‘Legitimate’ Journalism

This week, the House is expected to pass another election security bill, this one called the “Stopping Harmful Interference in Elections for a Lasting Democracy, or SHIELD, Act.”

The bill would require political campaigns to report any attempt by a foreign government or individual to influence an election to the Federal Election Commission and the FBI. It also would apply all of the current FCC rules on political advertising to the Internet and social media, — meaning disclaimers about who paid for the ad — but makes an exemption or “a communication appearing in a news story, commentary, or editorial distributed through the facilities of any broadcasting station or any online or digital newspaper, magazine, blog, publication, or periodical.” All online platforms would have to keep records of requests to advertise on their sites and make those records available to the public if the expenditures are $500 or more.

Those records would need to include a digital copy of the ad, “a description of the audience targeted by the advertisement, the number of views generated from the advertisement, and the date and time that the advertisement is first displayed and last displayed,” the ad rates, the candidate the ad or issue refers to, and the name and address of the person purchasing the advertisement.

But the real wrinkle comes in the section that declares, “Nothing in this subtitle or the amendments made by this subtitle shall be construed to impede legitimate journalistic activities.” At some point, the federal agencies enforcing this law would have to determine what is “legitimate” journalism and what is not “legitimate” journalism. And Republican House members are understandably concerned that having the government decide which journalistic institutions are “legitimate” will set up First Amendment challenges down the road.

Separately, the bill would set penalties of up to five years in prison and fines up to $100,000 for “knowingly disseminating false written, electronic, telephonic, or other statements regarding Federal elections within 60 days of an election.” No word on whether it would apply to the old joke, “because of expectations of high turnout, Republicans will vote on Tuesday, Democrats will vote on Wednesday.”

The SHIELD Act on elections should not be mistaken for the Strengthening Homeland Security, Intelligence, and Essential Law Enforcement Departments Act of 2019 or the Stopping Harmful Image Exploitation and Limiting Distribution Act of 2019.

Regarding the bill’s title, I’m reminded of the first episode of Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD.

Maria Hill: What does S.H.I.E.L.D. stand for, Agent Ward?

Grant Ward: Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division.

Hill: And what does that mean to you?

Ward: It means someone really wanted our initials to spell out “shield.”

ADDENDUM: You’ve probably heard Bill and Hillary Clinton’s 1992 interview with 60 Minutes’ Steve Kroft, the one where Hillary declared, “I’m not sitting here, some little woman, standing by my man like Tammy Wynette. I’m here because I love him.” What you probably didn’t know was that during the interview, a light fell off the wall and nearly hit the Clintons!

Maybe the light just couldn’t take it anymore. Or maybe the lamp simply refused to be part of an activity whose objective was the opposite of illumination.


Mark Zuckerberg Takes a Surprising Stand for Freedom

Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg answers questions about the improper use of millions of users’ data by a political consultancy, at the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium, in this still image taken from Reuters TV May 22, 2018. (ReutersTV)

It’s been a rough week, with Washington awash in conflict, anger, lies, betrayals, finger-pointing, implausible denials, and blithe denial of glaring problems. It’s like the whole town has taken on the spirit of the Redskins.

Let’s close out this week with four bits of good news: In an era where a lot of prominent voices are eager to label ideas they disagree with “hateful,” itching to play censor, and chomping at the bit to “de-platform” those who challenge them, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg refused to play ball. The prospect of impeachment means that all of those Democratic senators running for president will have to put their campaigning on hold. For everyone who was waiting for America’s business leaders to stand up to socialists in politics, Seattle’s about to offer a key test case. And finally, a former head of Planned Parenthood is publicly discussing the moral complications of abortion.

Mark Zuckerberg Refuses to Bend the Knee

You may hate Mark Zuckerberg or you may love him — probably more in the former than the latter — but you have to give him credit: At this moment, a whole lot of powerful political, social, and economic entities would like to see him bend the knee and pledge that Facebook will remove statements from politicians that are deemed “misinformation.” Clearly, these powerful forces are most outraged — arguably exclusively outraged — by social media posts from President Trump and his supporters. You never hear that Facebook should take down posts saying Elizabeth Warren’s health care plan will not require tax increases on the middle class, or that Michael Brown was “murdered in Ferguson.” Nobody ever got all that mad about Warren skewing research data from the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau. No, it’s always Uncle Floyd sharing that WARREN IS AN AGENT OF COMMUNIST CHINA screed from PatriotFreedomEagle.net that is deemed the preeminent threat to democracy.

Zuckerberg’s speech is long, nuanced, and willing to dive into the details of what choices his company has to make and what influenced his decisions. A couple of highlights:

Some people believe giving more people a voice is driving division rather than bringing us together. More people across the spectrum believe that achieving the political outcomes they think matter is more important than every person having a voice. I think that’s dangerous.

I believe we have two responsibilities: to remove content when it could cause real danger as effectively as we can, and to fight to uphold as wide a definition of freedom of expression as possible — and not allow the definition of what is considered dangerous to expand beyond what is absolutely necessary. That’s what I’m committed to . . .

Political advertising is more transparent on Facebook than anywhere else — we keep all political and issue ads in an archive so everyone can scrutinize them, and no TV or print does that. We don’t fact-check political ads. We don’t do this to help politicians, but because we think people should be able to see for themselves what politicians are saying. And if content is newsworthy, we also won’t take it down even if it would otherwise conflict with many of our standards. I know many people disagree, but, in general, I don’t think it’s right for a private company to censor politicians or the news in a democracy.

Zuckerberg and Facebook have taken a lot of criticism, much of it deserved. But he’s right to draw distinctions. Organized Russian-government-driven disinformation efforts are not the same as some yokel spouting off, and shouldn’t be treated the same.

This section of Zuckerberg’s speech might be particularly relevant to the National Basketball Association:

It’s one of the reasons we don’t operate Facebook, Instagram or our other services in China. I wanted our services in China because I believe in connecting the whole world and I thought we might help create a more open society. I worked hard to make this happen. But we could never come to agreement on what it would take for us to operate there, and they never let us in. And now we have more freedom to speak out and stand up for the values we believe in and fight for free expression around the world.

Notice that Zuckerberg’s angriest critics just hand-wave away the concerns about freedom of expression in their denunciations.

“Zuckerberg attempted to use the Constitution as a shield for his company’s bottom line, and his choice to cloak Facebook’s policy in a feigned concern for free expression demonstrates how unprepared his company is for this unique moment in our history and how little it has learned over the past few years,” said Bill Russo, a spokesman for the presidential campaign of former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.

Right, right. Facebook is taking this position because of that $20 million in ad spending from the Trump campaign, otherwise the company would have to struggle to get by on a mere $55 billion in annual revenue. (Can we just observe that after the Hunter Biden foreign investor stuff, it’s a bad idea for Joe Biden’s campaign to denounce a company that said it refused to work with China because of censorship complaints?)

For Six Senators, the Impeachment Trial Could Come at the Worst Time

No human being can be in two places at once, and BuzzFeed notices that if you’re a Democratic senator, you can’t be sitting in judgment of an impeachment of a president and campaigning in Iowa and New Hampshire at the same time. If your name is Cory Booker, Michael Bennet, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders, or Elizabeth Warren, that’s a problem. No one knows exactly when a Senate impeachment trial would start — talk of November sounds really early, so December or January seems more likely — and how long it would last. But for those six, it’s likely to come at just about the worst possible time:

It’s not as if senators can rely on showy moments during the trial like dressing down a witness during a committee hearing. Because senators are the jurors of an impeachment trial, they must live through every politician’s nightmare of sitting and watching the proceedings without speaking . . .

Sanders and Warren would have to fly out to places like New Hampshire and Iowa for evening events and then back to Washington in time for the next day’s hearings.

You can almost see Joe Biden’s Cheshire cat grin right now. The former vice president is currently in a close second to Warren in Iowa and New Hampshire. Retail politics, shaking hands in diners, showing up for every little event can only move the needle so much, but it can make a difference. (Best example I ever saw was Mark Sanford against Elizabeth Colbert Busch in 2013. He just outhustled her, doing five or so events a day open to everyone, while she was doing one tightly-scripted one with no questions from reporters.) If you’re Biden, while the Senate is tied up in impeachment, you do events all day every day, and perhaps even more importantly, you focus on the future. Impeachment is going to be an angry, ugly slog focused upon the past and for a candidate who wants to win on Election Day 2020, it’s a sideshow.

Amazon Decides It’s Had Enough Socialism in Seattle Politics, Aims to Deliver New City Council

Two interconnected facts of our modern American life: corporate America is bigger, wealthier, and more influential than ever before, and socialism is more accepted, embraced and touted in American life than at any point since the end of the Cold War or even earlier. On paper, America’s biggest corporations and business leaders have the most to lose from socialism. Yet we rarely see a consistent pushback; all too often, America’s big companies push a sort of soft corporatism — which is on paper, the opposite of socialism, although maybe in practice it just means big business and big government teaming up against the little guy — and tout it as progressive or “woke capitalism.” A lot of America’s biggest businessmen think of themselves as forces for progressive change; think of Howard Schultz.

For those of us who believe in free peoples and free markets, this is the worst of both worlds. It was infuriating to watch big health insurance companies, endlessly demonized by Democrats, eagerly jump into bed with them to create the rules for Obamacare. Wall Street and big banks were the perpetual villains in Democratic stories, but they and their employees kept writing big checks to the party. Big corporations love regulations that give them a competitive advantage over newer, smaller companies.

But there’s one under-the-radar sign that one of America’s biggest companies has had enough trying to placate self-proclaimed socialist lawmakers.

On Tuesday, Amazon gave an additional million dollars to support business-friendly members of the City Council like [City Council candidate Egan] Orion. The tech giant has now poured an unprecedented $1.45 million into the local elections, and ballots are being sent to voters this week. (Washington votes by mail.)

[Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant] has long been an outspoken critic of large corporations, and it’s not surprising that she’s ended up in Amazon’s sights. During a contentious City Council meeting last summer, she called Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos the “enemy.”

. . . Amazon has donated huge sums to the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce PAC. The Amazon-backed PAC is backing challengers against all but one of the three incumbents running for reelection, which has left many predicting that the City Council is going to look a lot different next year. The Washington Technology Industry Association, the state’s largest tech trade group, which this year endorsed political candidates for the first time, also backed Orion. Top executives at Amazon, Boeing, and Microsoft have donated to Orion’s campaign, including Jay Carney, the PR and policy chief for Amazon and former White House press secretary to President Barack Obama; and Sam Whiting, director of Boeing Global Engagement. “It’s clear now to the majority of people that big corporations like Amazon are absolutely going to war against ordinary people in this city, in this election, and are attempting to buy this election,” said Sawant.

When asked if Orion felt comfortable with executives’ donating money to his campaign, he responded with his own question: “Are you referring to my neighbors? There’s a large number of Amazon executives that live in district 3.”

Here’s the perfect irony: for all extents and purposes, this is Seattle, which means there are no Republicans or conservatives in this story. This is a story of people in the private sector who think of themselves as good progressives getting sick and tired of being painted as the bad guy by other people who think of themselves as good progressives.

Socialists, and perhaps even more importantly, the demographic we could characterize as socialism-curious, tell themselves a happy little fairy tale that America can thrive without a private sector that competes in a marketplace to provide the best goods and services. This fairy tale contends that capitalism is just a name for an egregiously unjust system of endless little demonstrations of greed and selfishness, and that we’ve all just been waiting for an enlightened generation to come along and demonstrate that we can all be happier if the government takes over. Never mind that government at all levels regularly demonstrates waste, mismanagement, scandals, unaccountability, over-promising, under-delivering, etcetera. The problem is not the system of government; the problem is that the system is full of human beings and human beings are flawed.

In the socialists’ mind, every success of government is a demonstration of the government’s inherent superiority, and every failure of the government is just an example of a hidden sinister “corporate influence.” Do Amazon executives want to live in a city that’s struggling to deal with runaway real estate prices and rampant homelessness? Socialists frequently insist this is the case because they need a villain in their narrative. But Amazon executives and employees want to live in a thriving city too. They just have different ideas about how to achieve the goal.

Is Amazon above criticism? Hell no. But they comply with existing tax law, pay roughly $250 million in state and local taxes in Washington annually, and pay the single biggest property tax bill in the city. They have a right to argue that they do a lot for the city of Seattle and are tired of being the perpetual scapegoat for the city’s problems.

Another important point: “Labor groups have funneled $2,432,230 toward Seattle elections.”

ADDENDUM: Holy smokes, no wonder Leana Wen didn’t fit in with Planned Parenthood. Speaking at the “TIME 100 Health Summit,” the recently deposed Wen declared, “A lot of us believe that abortion is a complex moral issue. And we may not want to have an abortion ourselves but would never get in the way of somebody else making this deeply personal medical decision for themselves. Or maybe we’re even uncomfortable about abortion but would not want women to die because they don’t have access to safe, legal abortion either.”

Pro-lifers obviously won’t agree with that in full but give Wen credit for recognizing moral complexities and moral discomfort, at a time when the Democratic party and her previous employer are increasingly adamant that the issue isn’t complicated, and that any limitation under any circumstances represents a draconian patriarchal injustice. Wen sounds like the kind of pro-choice advocate that a pro-lifer could have a good conversation with, and in this era, that’s a small miracle.

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