Elections

What the Australian Elections May Tell Us about the 2020 Presidential Elections

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison with his family after winning the 2019 election in Sydney, Australia, May 18, 2019. (Dean Lewins/AAP Image/via Reuters)

Good morning. If we could harness the heat from every hot take being offered about the Game of Thrones finale that aired last night, we could solve the world’s energy problems overnight.

Making the click-through worthwhile: How the dynamic in this weekend’s Australian elections may foreshadow next year’s presidential election in the United States, the New York Times travels to blue-collar Ohio and finds working class voters like President Trump “punching China in the face,” the concern about Russian influence in American elections goes in a strange direction, and an example of what Joe Biden can give you that Trump can’t.

The Signs Are There Suggesting a Rerun of 2016

The story down under sounds familiar: The party of the Left entered an election that was declared “unlosable.” That party led in 60 consecutive polls and the exit polls suggested they would enjoy a big victory, sweeping the more conservative party out of power.

The party of the Left promised higher taxes and sweeping new policies to address climate change.

The leader on the Right was dismissed as yesterday’s man, afraid of change, comfortable with old energy, governing over chaos. The leader on the Right insisted he spoke for his “quiet” citizens, who are not outspoken political activists but “they have their dreams, they have their aspirations, to get a job, to get an apprenticeship, to start a business, to meet someone amazing, to start a family, to buy a home, to work hard and provide the best you can for your kids, to save for your retirement.”

And as you probably heard, the party of the Right won; they won the working-class vote, much to the shock of the party of the Left.

The editors note that the politics of climate change are a lot more complicated than environmentalists want to acknowledge:

Labor sought to raise revenue through policies, meant to curb global warming, that would raise the energy bills of hard-pressed blue-collar “battlers” and also shrink their job opportunities in the country’s important energy industries. That probably cost Labor its hoped-for gains in Queensland, where the Left has fought a long campaign to prevent the opening of a new coal mine. As former Liberal prime minister Tony Abbott observed: When climate change is solely a moral issue, Labor wins; when it’s an economic one too, the Coalition wins. The scales tip farther rightward when the voters are informed that Australia’s contribution to carbon emissions is nugatory and that the Greens don’t seem interested in asking China or India to cut their much greater carbon emissions. The Left in politics and the media advertised this as “the climate change election.” And they lost.

Observers compared it to the Brexit referendum and Donald Trump’s victory in 2016. They might also notice other right-of-center leaders who were generally opposed by most of their country’s political and cultural elites and who won anyway: Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, Japan’s Shinzo Abe, Austria’s Sebastian Kurz, Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán, the leaders of Poland’s Law and Justice Party. Now there’s talk that Conservative Boris Johnson may become the next Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

Oftentimes these right-of-center parties hit a lot of populist notes; sometimes the rhetoric on immigration veers into xenophobia and other ugly directions. (Not every populist movement fits this right-left spectrum; neither Italy’s Five-Star movement or the “yellow vests” in France hit some right-of-center notes but also support a lot of left-of-center proposals.)

Whatever term you think best applies to the kinds of leaders warmly welcomed and celebrated at the World Economic Forum in Davos — cosmopolitan, internationalist, corporatist, “globalist,” “Establishment” — that’s the brand and image that is having a tougher time in country after country. It is the image of the Obama-era status quo, perhaps best personified in Europe by Angela Merkel, who first came to power back in 2005 (my coverage from Berlin, way back when, at the link). These are leaders who are comfortable with the free flow of labor and goods across national borders, who believe there is a government duty to redistribute wealth and determine who is most deserving of that wealth, who believe in the power of regulation to improve people’s lives, and who are comfortable partnering with big business but who often forget the small businessman. They believe climate change requires immediate and serious action, which will inevitably affect the cost of living of ordinary citizens; those ordinary citizens are just going to have to accept higher gasoline and energy prices as a necessary sacrifice for the long-term environmental health.

As a particular dragon-riding ruler said last night, “They don’t get to choose.”

If the parties of the Left around the world are becoming too-exclusively urban parties, and if their internal conversations are driven by cultural, political, and economic elites in big cities and on university campuses, and if they’re losing touch with their fellow citizens in suburban and rural areas . . . you would expect to see these sorts of results.

This doesn’t mean that the 2020 presidential election will play out exactly as Australia’s elections did. But this dynamic of urban, political, and cultural elites creating a conversational bubble and charging ahead, oblivious of how their agenda sounds to key demographics, sure sounds familiar. Read further.

Tax Hikes & More Regulation vs. ‘Punching China in the Face’

Kamala Harris wants to have the power to fine companies that don’t meet her administration’s terms of equal pay.

Last night in a Fox News town hall, Pete Buttgieg called for at least four new tax hikes: A “fairer, which means higher” marginal income tax, a “reasonable” wealth tax “or something like that,” a financial transactions tax, and closing “corporate tax loopholes.” He also declared that he supported absolutely no restrictions on any abortion whatsoever.

Meanwhile, out in Youngstown, Ohio, the New York Times finds that those not-so-prosperous working-class communities that turned to Trump . . . are sticking with him.

[David] Betras, who recently stepped down as Democratic chairman of populous Mahoning County, said that while Democrats in Washington harp on President Trump’s unfitness for office, his taxes and possible impeachment, the president is solidifying blue-collar support through an aggressive trade war with China, even if his tariffs mean economic pain in the short term.

“The Democratic Party has lost its voice to speak to people that shower after work and not before work,” he said. “All we’re saying is he won’t turn over his tax returns. He’s saying, ‘I’m fighting China to get you better jobs.’”

He added: “They don’t care about his taxes — they just don’t.’’

The 2020 election could well feature a Democratic candidate who is more supportive of trade with China than President Trump — and if that comes to pass, I would expect Trump to beat the drum on this issue throughout the upper Midwest.

Biden has downplayed China’s global economic threat. “China is going to eat our lunch? Come on, man!” he exclaimed at a rally in Iowa, adding, “They’re not competition for us.”

Democrats in Youngstown said that is exactly the wrong message.

The president is “punching China in the face” with tariffs, while the “leading candidate on our side is saying China is not even an issue,” said Representative Tim Ryan, a Democrat whose district includes Youngstown and who is himself a presidential candidate. “If we go into the election with that as our message, we’ll get beat again.”

. . . “The communities were cut loose and ignored and then they voted for Trump because at least he’s punching somebody in the face, and no one else is,” Mr. Ryan said.

Now there’s a slogan: “Trump 2020: He’s Punching Somebody in the Face.”

Donations from Russians Are Illegal, but Donations from Russophiles?

In case you missed it over the weekend, the Daily Beast writes about Tulsi Gabbard — remember her? She’s still running for president — and declared that her campaign is “being underwritten by some of the nation’s leading Russophiles.” Not donations from Russians, mind you, but a couple thousand dollars in donations from Americans with publicly stated views that are more or less in line with those of Vladimir Putin’s regime.

It will not surprise you to learn that I think Gabbard’s perspective on this is wrong, as well as the views of those donors. But that’s not illegal, nor is it a scandal. Considering the amounts involved, it is unlikely that Gabbard is taking a softer-on-Russia stance in order to get these donations; it is more likely that these folks are making these donations to her because of her softer-on-Russia stance. (One legal note: there is one person who donated under the alias “Goofy Grapes” which is in violation of Federal Election Commission regulations.)

Sometimes you hear talk about the “criminalization of policy differences.” Acting as if a couple of too-cheery-about-Putin Russia scholars is somehow inherently suspect reflects the “scandalization of policy differences.”

ADDENDUM: You know why you ought to join NRPlus if you haven’t already? This weekend, while formally launching his presidential campaign, Joe Biden declared he would reject President Trump’s “clenched fist, closed hand, and hard heart.”

Glen Griffin observed in the NRPlus Facebook page, “But if you want a shoulder rub, a neck stroke, and warm breath in your ear, turn to Joe.”

Politics & Policy

What Challenging Roe vs. Wade Might Look Like Today

Signs at the Supreme Court during the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., January 18, 2019. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Some cautionary notes about those who see the new abortion laws in Georgia and Alabama as a path to overturn Roe vs. Wade, the discussion about Iran and military force is asking the wrong questions, Democrats pursue an extremely familiar strategy regarding the president, and a look at a white-knuckle thriller you won’t want to miss.

Do You Really Trust Justice Roberts with a Challenge to Roe vs. Wade?

David French argues that what we are seeing in two Southern states is an effort to force the Supreme Court to reconsider the issue of abortion, and a bet that this court will see the issue differently than it did in 1973 with Roe vs. Wade and in 1992 with Planned Parenthood vs. Casey.

Georgia and Alabama are saying: “We’ve read Roe, and we’re making the very legal statement that Justice Blackmun says would fundamentally undermine the case for abortion. Under our federal system, we can expand the legal definition of life.” While pro-life Americans can and do engage in good-faith debates about tactics, I prefer the most direct approach. Tell the Court what life means. Make the Court break the federal system once again.

The timing is right. For two generations the Roe decision has distorted American politics. Millions of voters cast their ballots for president primarily to influence that president’s judicial picks, and there is now a majority of justices on the ballot picked by presidents who openly ran on a pro-life platform. Donald Trump would still be the Apprentice host but for his pro-life pledges. Have 20 years of political activism been in vain? Have federal elections polarized to the point of mutual partisan hatred merely to decide whether doctors must have admitting privileges at a local hospital before they kill a child?

Allow me to be uncharacteristically pessimistic for a moment. Think back to 2012, when the Supreme Court was asked to resolve whether the individual mandate of Obamacare/the Affordable Care Act — which required citizens to purchase a product (health insurance) or pay a tax penalty –- was consistent with the U.S. Constitution.

Needless to say, the stakes were enormous; if the court struck down the individual mandate as unconstitutional, it would undo Obamacare, the signature domestic legislation of the president right before the 2012 presidential election. Republicans would be vindicated, Democrats would be humiliated, and in all likelihood, the entire ACA would never go into effect, because the legislation was built like a Jenga tower, where removing one element made the other pieces fall apart. The political earthquake from the collapse of the health -care bill might have been enough to derail Obama’s reelection.

The Democrats and their allies made a full-court press in that other hugely important court, public opinion, arguing that if the court struck down Obamacare, it was destroying public faith in its judgment — and that Chief Justice John Roberts, in particular, would be remembered as the man who destroyed the court’s reputation. Jeffrey Rosen argued:

. . . if the Roberts Court strikes down health care reform by a 5-4 vote, then the chief justice’s stated goal of presiding over a less divisive Court will be viewed as an irredeemable failure. But, by voting to strike down Obamacare, Roberts would also be abandoning the association of legal conservatism with restraint—and resurrecting the pre–New Deal era of economic judicial activism with a vengeance.

Senator Patrick Leahy claimed, “It would be extraordinary for the Supreme Court not to defer to Congress in this matter that so clearly affects interstate commerce.”

President Obama contended, “Ultimately, I’m confident that the Supreme Court will not take what would be an unprecedented, extraordinary step of overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress.” (It would be neither unprecedented nor extraordinary. Just two years earlier, the Supreme Court had struck down significant portions of McCain-Feingold campaign finance-reform law, concluding they violated the First Amendment; McCain Feingold passed with 240 House votes and 60 Senate votes, more House votes than the ACA had.)

Roberts “initially voted in a private conference to strike down the individual insurance mandate — the heart of the law — but he also voted to uphold an expansion of Medicaid for people near the poverty line. Two months later, Roberts had shifted on both.” We don’t know precisely why Roberts changed his views so dramatically, but there is a widespread belief that the public pressure campaign affected Roberts’s decision.

As CBS News Jan Crawford reported at the time:

Over the next six weeks, as Roberts began to craft the decision striking down the mandate, the external pressure began to grow. Roberts almost certainly was aware of it.

There were countless news articles in May warning of damage to the court – and to Roberts’ reputation – if the court were to strike down the mandate. Leading politicians, including the president himself, had expressed confidence the mandate would be upheld.

Some even suggested that if Roberts struck down the mandate, it would prove he had been deceitful during his confirmation hearings, when he explained a philosophy of judicial restraint. It was around this time that it also became clear to the conservative justices that Roberts was, as one put it, “wobbly,” the sources said.

It is not known why Roberts changed his view on the mandate and decided to uphold the law. At least one conservative justice tried to get him to explain it, but was unsatisfied with the response, according to a source with knowledge of the conversation.

Roberts has never laid out, in detail, what drove him to change his mind so dramatically. Maybe he really did rethink it and conclude that the individual mandate was just an unorthodox but constitutional exercise of the Congress’ well-established power to levy taxes.

But if Roberts really was swayed by a fear that striking down a priority of liberals would do irreversible damage to the Supreme Court’s reputation . . . a guy who wasn’t willing to reverse the individual mandate sure as heck isn’t going to reverse Roe v. Wade.

Way back in the second Bush administration, another issue important to many conservatives was headed towards another make-or-break moment before the Supreme Court: the Second Amendment.

The Heller case quickly found a powerful opponent in the National Rifle Association. This surprises nearly every layman I discuss the case with, most of whom assume the NRA was behind the lawsuit in the first place. The Parker lawyers received backroom visits from allies of the NRA before their case was filed, discouraging them from going forward. The Supreme Court (which still had Sandra Day O’Connor back then) would not reliably deliver a victory, they argued, and an authoritative statement from the Supremes that the Second Amendment did not protect an individual right could prove devastating to the long-term cause.

Some gun owners found the NRA far too timid in this particular court battle, at least at the start. But the perspective of the NRA is understandable; a case before the Supreme Court under these circumstances represents playing poker and pushing all your chips to the middle of the table, throwing in next month’s rent money, and taking out a large loan from some guy named “Vinny the Shark.” If you win, you win big; if you lose, the setback is devastating.

Gun owners won with Heller. Will the pro-life movement win a legal challenge to these state laws on abortion? And how much do they want to bet with Roberts as the fifth vote?

The Choice Isn’t War or No War. It’s How Do We Respond if Attacked?

Conor Friedersdorf argues America needs a permanent anti-war movement. (He somewhat acknowledges that the anti-Iraq War movement of the 2000s was mostly an anti-George W. Bush movement, that complained quietly if at all about Obama’s deployment of troops overseas, drone warfare, involvement in Libya, etcetera.)

We don’t know what Iran is going to do in the coming days, weeks or months. But we know they, or their proxies, may attempt to kill Americans. If that happens, the question then becomes, what do we do? Very few Americans want all-out war with Iran, and an attempt to topple their regime. But we also won’t want any attack on Americans to have no consequence.

I Feel Like We’ve Been Here Before

Headline over on Talking Points Memo: “Once Again, Democrats Are Betting All Their Chips On Bob Mueller.” Hey, there’s no way that could turn out to disappoint them, right?

ADDENDUM: Time on the plane back from Austria left me a chance to read a thriller I’ve been meaning to get to, Matthew Betley’s OverwatchBetley is fascinating figure; he spent ten years as a Marine officer and was trained as a scout sniper platoon commander, an infantry officer, and a ground-intelligence officer. His experiences include deployments to Djibouti after 9/11, and Fallujah, Iraq, prior to the surge. Over at Townhall, he’s been detailing his experience with the Department of Veterans Affairs in treatment for lung damage, and it’s an eye-opening, sometimes maddening portrait of the frustration our veterans encounter. But Betley is fair-minded about the VA; he sees plenty of good people trying to do their best, but stymied by a Byzantine bureaucratic system.

Overwatch is the first book in Betley’s series featuring Logan West, a retired Marine officer who survived hellacious experiences in Fallujah and who’s dealt with the ramifications of that by turning to the bottle far too frequently. I wasn’t sure about having a not-so-recovered alcoholic as a protagonist at first, but it adds a new sense of tension with the main character. There’s always a chance that at any moment — particularly the not life-or-death moments — that the character may reach for the bottle and put himself in an even more dangerous situation.

Betley knows how to write action sequences, which I’ve found to be way more difficult than it appears — describing each combatant and their actions in specific detail without getting bogged down. Overwatch’s portrait of wartime Iraq brings out the sights, the sounds, the smells, and a constant sense of tension and foreboding. One of the things I love about thrillers is how they explore the real world while running through a fictional story; Overwatch offers a sharp portrait of the Cuerpo de Fuerzas Especiales, the Mexican special forces units, usually deployed against the country’s vicious and notorious drug cartels. (You know those secure metal briefcases you see being used to carry secret plans or gadgets or bombs in the movies? They’re called a “Zero Halliburton.”) And while the story’s MacGuffin initially comes across as baffling – why is everyone so concerned with this seemingly common war souvenir? — it quickly becomes the centerpiece of a spectacular plot that incorporates real-life events in the Middle East.

Betley told me that Overwatch starts the slowest out of all of the books in his series. Keep in mind, Betley’s idea of slow pacing is grab-the-door-handle-and-double-check-your-seat-belt-as-your-friend-driving-exceeds-the-speed-limit “slow.”

World

Technology Has Changed, but Russia Hasn’t

Russian leader Vladimir Putin in Moscow, January 23, 2019 (Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via REUTERS)

Making the click-through worthwhile: everything you ever wanted to know about my talks in Austria about foreign disinformation and social media, a call for a new approach to getting leverage over China, and warnings about how some countries don’t change.

Talking About Russian Hacking . . . In Front of the Russians

I’ll be honest, I was pretty nervous before I departed for this week’s trip to Austria, because I knew I’d be speaking to some pretty important people and feared that I would only be telling them things they already knew.

You can read a version of my presentation here, a pretty complete soup-to-nuts review and assessment of what Russia and the Internet Research Agency did in the 2016 presidential election, what measures have been taken since, why you didn’t hear as much about these problems during the 2018 midterms, and what those of us outside the big-tech companies and the government can do about foreign disinformation on social media. The good news is that I had something new and surprising for just about everyone I spoke to, and the reception was extraordinarily warm and appreciative. My thanks to the U.S. Embassy in Vienna for setting up this guest-speakers program.

My first stop was the Austrian National Defense Academy, speaking to about a dozen representatives of the Austrian military and Ministry of the Interior, hosted by Alexander Dubowy of the Institute for Security Policy, an Austrian think-tank and a member of the science Commission of the Austrian Ministry of Defense.

As you would expect, the men in uniform and gathered officials had terrific questions about where it’s all going. One high-ranking military official pointed out that while right now bots and trolls are fairly easy to spot, like those name-initial-and-random-numbers accounts you’ve probably seen on Twitter, the Russians will adapt and learn. And it’s more than the Russians; in my talk I mentioned recent cases of the Iranians using similar methods. The officers noted that while Russia is probably the near-term risk in this realm, they’re particularly concerned about China as the greater long-term risk, in a wide variety of realms. I was told that a recent group of Chinese military visitors to the Austrian Defense Academy had wandered off and was caught taking pictures of everything.

In the afternoon, I went to the headquarters  of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, probably the most important international-security organization that you’ve heard next to nothing about. While the OSCE name implies that focuses on Europe, its member states include Canada, the United States, Russia, and a good number of other countries in the broader region, including most of North Africa. (My talk was co-hosted by the American delegation and  the Canadian delegation, so I raise my glass of Molson’s in appreciation.  My philosophy can be summarized as anti-Putin and pro-poutine.)

Shortly before I began my remarks, I was informed that the OSCE tries to not focus on criticizing one country during their discussions. As you can probably guess, trying to tell the story of foreign disinformation in the 2016 elections without focusing too much on Russia is like trying to discuss the New Testament without focusing too much on Jesus. I had some discussion about what the Iranian government had done in this vein since 2016, but there was really no way to get around the fact that my talk was going to kick Russia up and down the street for what they did in 2016. Then I was informed that the second person to RSVP for my presentation was . . . part of the delegation from Russia, and they seemed quite interested to hear what I had to say.

Visions of polonium soup and Bulgarian umbrellas danced in my head. We agreed that because I was there as a private citizen and not as a representative of the United States government, I would preface my remarks to emphasize that and then go through my remarks as planned. I didn’t hear any booing, no one threw anything at me and if the Russian representatives were there, they were very well behaved. Speciba, comrade. In all likelihood, I’m just not important enough for them to get all that upset about. Then again, if I keel over in mysterious circumstances in the near future, you know where to point the finger.

Day two was the whirlwind, beginning with an interview with Eva Zelechowski, senior online editor of the Austrian daily Wiener Zeitung. You can read the interview in German here; having run it through Google Translate I think I was pretty accurately quoted although perhaps a few nuances get lost here and there in the translation. Then it was off to the Austria’s bilingual radio station FM4, where host Joanna King had a lot of questions about U.S. policy towards Iran; judging by the tone of her questions, we’re a bunch of warmongering aggressors who are picking on those poor easygoing Iranian mullahs. Go figure.

After that, it was off to lunch with some young journalists hosted by Nikolaus Koller. The European Parliamentary elections are coming up, and posters for candidate and parties are all over Vienna. We don’t have anything quite like this in the United States; I suppose the equivalent for us would be something like electing representatives to a parliament of NAFTA or NATO, with a parliament meeting several countries away. (The EU Parliament actually works in two locations, meeting and operating in Strasbourg, France, for one week every month, adding about $127 million to their operating costs. The current Austrian Chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, thinks the practice is wasteful, and has irked the French government by urging the union to “end the traveling circus of the EU Parliament.”)

But the level of public interest in the EU elections is significantly lower than in the national elections, for a variety of reasons. For starters, it’s further away and feels more distant, but also because the elections process is wildly complicated. They’re reducing the number of seats in the EU parliament in anticipation of Brexit. In some countries, voters cast ballots for parties; in others, they cast ballots for specific candidates. In Austria, everyone 16 and older is allowed to vote, they use preferential voting — meaning you rank your order of preference — and a party has to reach at least four percent to be elected to the parliament. So you see posters for particular candidates, but you rank your vote by party, and then the party selects who gets sent to parliament depending upon the proportion of the national vote. You could call the whole process “byzantine,” but most of Austria was just beyond the borders the Byzantine Empire.

Nonetheless, the young Austrians I spoke with were particularly worried about the sort of social-media mischief in their elections that we saw in the 2016 presidential election — and there’s evidence the Russian government is up to its old tricks. (Keep in mind, this is something of a self-selecting sample; you don’t come to hear a visiting American journalist talk about these issues if you don’t care about these issues.)

After that it was off to University of Vienna where I was able to speak to the students of Professor Homero Gil de Zuniga in the department of communication, another batch of bright young people asking great questions. One of the students had previously served in the Bosnian government and asked about The Weed Agency; we agreed that the frustrations of life in a national government’s bureaucracy is perhaps the one universal constant of governance seen around the world. Another of the students was Turkish, and we talked a little bit about the recent Istanbul mayoral election that represented a significant defeat for President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s party, AKP. Erdoğan basically threw a tantrum and declared that election didn’t count, and that they would have a revote. The stakes for the second vote are significantly higher, essentially deciding whether a symbolic rebuke to the ruling party will be allowed to stand.

Then it was off to the U.S. embassy’s “Amerika Haus,” a forum they use for guest speakers to do Q&A with local journalists expats and anyone else interested in American life and governance, moderated by Anna Maria Wallner of the Austrian daily Die Presse. This audience of about 125 people was a fascinating collection of expats, locals interested in American culture, and students. I heard a few questions and comments in the vein of, “It’s this fair play for all of the times the United States has interfered in other country’s elections” — and, as far as I could tell, these were not Russian propagandists; this perspective was driven by a realism that as long as countries saw stakes for themselves in other countries’ elections, efforts at propaganda and disinformation like this were almost guaranteed to occur. Indeed, this will be nearly impossible to stamp out, but the fact remains, if you’re a foreign intelligence service, we don’t want you messing around in our elections or our public discourse. We’ve got tools to push back, and we will use them.

Meanwhile, in the Trade War with China . . . 

As mentioned above, some of my Austrian hosts asked whether the Chinese government had engaged in similar efforts. As far as I’ve seen they have not, but this may simply reflect that the Chinese government has other methods of shaping its image in the United States and other countries — from having vast swaths of the American business community willing to whatever it takes to maintain access to the Chinese market, to Chinese-government-funded “Confucius Institutes on American college campus.

This morning the editors urge President Trump to revive our participation in a Trans-Pacific Partnership-style agreement, creating a trading bloc that would present a united front against China. They add:

We should also make a new commitment to bringing cases against Chinese abuses before the World Trade Organization. This administration has followed its predecessors in declining to take full advantage of that forum, even though it has had some success in forcing reform. And we should work in concert with other countries that have suffered from these abuses, which may require us to end less pressing trade conflicts with Europe, Canada, and Japan.

If we want to fight a trade war, it’s probably best to do it against the country that presents the most pressing and long-term problems, and with as many allies at our side as possible.

Technology Changes . . . Countries Don’t Always Change

One of my points in my talk is that I discuss the KGB’s disinformation and propaganda efforts on U.S. soil during the Cold War, and I note, “The technology has changed, but Russia has not.” A lot of people nodded in agreement, but a few vehemently disagreed — and made what struck me as good faith arguments.

But I remain unpersuaded, and today’s column by Jay Nordlinger seems particularly pertinent:

People like to emphasize the discontinuity between the Soviet Union and modern Russia. But there are also continuities to consider. I find that I have not considered them enough. Twenty years ago, David Pryce-Jones and others told me that the tragedy of the formerly Communist nations was that they had not had Nuremberg trials. There had been no equivalent of denazification. Everyone wanted to “move on” and sweep under the rug.

I always understood this concept, of course. I’m not sure I grasped the full importance of it.

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More details here. To apply, please email a cover letter, resume, and at least two references to recruiting@nationalreview.com.

Finally, spotted on a bar shelf at a restaurant in Vienna . . . Brexit Whiskey. I hear it doesn’t go down easy, but many insist the taste is eventually satisfying.

Politics & Policy

The Abortion Bill in Alabama Would be the Strictest Pro-Life Law in the Country

(Mana Rabiee/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: The Alabama legislature passes the most pro-life law in the nation, Elizabeth Warren refuses to grace Fox News with her presence, and a new poll shows Joe Biden leading President Trump by five points in . . . Arizona.

The Abortion Debate Comes to Alabama

On Tuesday, the Alabama state senate passed H.B. 314 by a 25-6 vote with one abstention. The bill establishes the legal personhood of unborn children and prohibits nearly all abortion. If Republican governor Kay Ivey signs the legislation — which the bill’s supporters anticipate — it would be the strictest pro-life law in the entire country, though it is highly unlikely that it would survive the inevitable legal challenge from abortion-rights groups.

The bill first received national attention earlier this month, when Democratic state representative John Rogers made a gruesome remark explaining his opposition to the bill. “Some kids are unwanted,” Rogers said. “So you kill them now or you kill them later. You bring them into the world unwanted, unloved, then send them to the electric chair.”

Rogers was roundly and rightly criticized for his comments, including by Alabama’s Democratic senator Doug Jones — though Rogers attests that the senator (who was once Rogers’s attorney) called to tell him privately that he agreed with him but had to condemn him publicly. Jones denies this contention. Rogers announced last week that he’ll challenge Jones for his Senate seat.

Alabama’s effort to pass H. B. 314 takes place against the backdrop of nationwide contention over abortion policy. So far this year, Democratic legislatures in New York, Illinois, Virginia, Rhode Island, Vermont, Nevada, and New Mexico are considering or have passed bills to legalize abortion or loosen abortion restrictions during the last three months of pregnancy.

Meanwhile, in red states such as Ohio, Mississippi, Kentucky, and Georgia, legislatures have passed so-called heartbeat bills, which prohibit abortion after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, usually at about six weeks’ gestation. The most recent of these bills, signed by Georgia governor Brian Kemp last week, has faced significant backlash, including a wide range of media coverage insisting that the legislation would prosecute women for having miscarriages and imprison post-abortive women for life — neither of which accurately reflects the substance of the bill. Our own David French has a great summary of why those interpretations are incorrect.

Both heartbeat bills and stricter abortion restrictions such as Alabama’s have little chance of being upheld by courts given the current framework of abortion-rights jurisprudence instantiated by Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey. But the scathing media coverage that these pro-life laws receive — compared to laws that allow abortion for any reason, even after fetuses are developed enough to survive outside the womb — is telling.

Elizabeth Warren Spurns Fox News

In a Twitter thread on Tuesday, Massachusetts senator and Democratic presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren announced that she had declined an invitation from Fox News to take part in a town-hall event and called the network a “hate-for-profit racket.” Here’s part of what she tweeted:

“I won’t ask millions of Democratic primary voters to tune into an outlet that profits from racism and hate in order to see our candidates,” Warren added in a subsequent tweet. She also touted her many media appearances, claiming to have taken more than 1,100 press questions since January.

Call it a principled stand, but her principles are grounded in over-generalization rather than facts. And, as seems to characterize much of her grandstanding lately, Warren’s stunt is powered by a healthy dose of delusion. Does the senator really believe that her decision not to appear on Fox will have a noticeable effect on the network’s advertising revenue?

Of course not. It’s progressive virtue-signaling, the latest in a long line of decisions from Warren that do little to mark her as a serious politician or contender but a lot to reveal her desperation, as she struggles to rise from the middle of the Democratic pack.

Aside from being facially ridiculous, though, her rejection of Fox’s invitation also might have been a tactical error. Vermont senator Bernie Sanders accepted an invitation from the network in mid April and his appearance was widely considered to have been a resounding success, especially given that some of his rhetoric and policies seem to echo Trump’s, appealing to working-class voters in a way few other Democratic candidates are capable of doing. In fact, a brand-new Morning Consult poll of Democratic-primary voters shows that Fox News viewers are more likely to back Sanders than are MSNBC viewers.

Minnesota senator Amy Klobuchar has also already participated in a town-hall event on the conservative network. Not two days after Bernie’s Fox town hall, failed Senate candidate and former Texas representative Beto O’Rourke — another Democratic primary contender flailing in the dense mire of the middle-ten candidates — said he’d be willing to appear on the network, too.

South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg, who has dropped in polls recently but remains in contention, also agreed to appear on Fox shortly after the Sanders event. He already has a town hall slated, for this coming Sunday evening, May 19. Even Kirsten Gillibrand, who’s trying to position herself as one of the most progressive candidates in the field, has a Fox town hall scheduled for early June.

But perhaps Warren is content with her decision. To some extent, her effort at virtue-signaling appears to be working: Media Matters president Angelo Carusone praised her decision to reject Fox, calling the network “a destructive, bigoted political-propaganda operation.”

Maybe that’s a win. Warren appears to be running a campaign to appeal to Media Matters, and hardly anyone else.

New Poll Shows Biden Leading Trump in Arizona

New polling from OHPI finds that former vice president Joe Biden is leading President Trump by five points in Arizona, 49 to 44 percent. In the 2016 general election, Trump won the state’s eleven electoral votes by a margin of 3.5 percentage points over Hillary Clinton.

The OHPI survey tested the top six Democratic candidates against the Republican president — Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Pete Buttigieg, Beto O’Rourke, and Elizabeth Warren — and found that Biden was the only one leading Trump. Warren was the next closest, coming in with 42 percent to Trump’s 47.

Here’s what National Journal politics editor Josh Kraushaar had to say about the poll this morning:

In recent years, Republicans have struggled to balance the energy of their activist base with the pragmatism necessary to win over [Arizona’s] critical mass of suburban independents.

At the same time, Democrats are eyeing Arizona as a critical political prize that could make or break their national ambitions. Win Arizona, and the party could withstand a Rust Belt stumble in Wisconsin. . . .

There have been some troubling signs for Arizona Republicans in recent weeks. A statewide poll showed Joe Biden leading Trump by 5 points—with the president failing to hit 50 percent against any of the prospective Democratic challengers (including Bernie Sanders). . . .

“Joe Biden would create a real race here in Arizona,” said Arizona-based GOP operative Barrett Marson. “There’s substantial dissatisfaction with the president among independents and Republican-leaners.” . . .

The upcoming elections in Arizona will also be a test of the salience of two key issues driving Arizona politics: immigration and gun control. Both issues have traditionally played to the GOP’s advantage.

Given that Biden is leading the Democratic field by a substantial margin in nearly every national poll, and most polls out of states with early primaries, this latest general-election survey will likely make Trump supporters a little uneasy.

Politics & Policy

Yet Another Democrat Jumps into the Presidential Primary

Governor Steve Bullock (D, Mont.) gives a toast at the Governors’ Ball, in the State Dining Room of the White House, in Washington, D.C., February 24, 2019. (Al Drago/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Yet another Democrat hops into the 2020 primary field, Brett Kavanaugh sides with some unexpected colleagues to rule that iPhone users can sue Apple over app prices, and U.S. officials say Iran was likely behind the attack on two Saudi Arabian oil tankers and two other ships over the weekend.

Montana Governor Enters the Democratic Primary

Montana governor Steve Bullock has become the latest Democrat to throw his hat in the ring for the 2020 presidential nomination, bringing the grand total of Democrats running to 23. Bullock had reportedly been mulling the run for quite some time before deciding to enter the race, and he’ll officially launch his campaign today with a rally at a high school in Montana before making his way to Iowa for a series of campaign stops.

According to Morning Consult data from the first quarter of 2019, Bullock is among the 15 most popular governors in the country, and one of the top Democrats to make the list (13 out of the top 15 most popular governors are Republicans; the other Democrat is Delaware governor John Carney). But that fact makes Bullock’s decision to run for president a bit more puzzling.

In a field of 23 candidates, where Biden continues to lead the pack by double digits in many polls, it’s hard to imagine the Montana governor will have an easy time making an impression on primary voters. But it’s much easier to imagine Bullock putting up a decent fight against Republican senator Steve Daines, who is up for re-election in 2020.

Bullock is one of several rising Democratic politicians who declined to run for a Senate seat in order to run for president, along with Colorado governor John Hickenlooper and former representative Beto O’Rourke. Some Democrats would like to see Hickenlooper challenge Republican senator Cory Gardner for his seat this cycle, while many believe O’Rourke would have a decent shot at unseating Republican senator and former Senate majority whip John Cornyn.

In Georgia, meanwhile, failed gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams — who has still refused to concede the governor’s race — has already declined to challenge Republican senator David Perdue for his seat this cycle. Abrams does, however, say that she’s still considering whether she’ll hop into the Democratic presidential primary.

These decisions must be frustrating for Democrats, who face a difficult but not impossible map in their effort to take the Senate out of GOP hands in 2020. They need to flip three seats in order to gain the majority, but not many of the Republican incumbents are particularly vulnerable. Susan Collins, the moderate Republican senator from Maine, is perhaps one of the weaker incumbents, but a recent poll found her leading a possible Democratic challenger by more than 20 points.

Meanwhile, Beto, Hickenlooper, and Bullock join nearly two dozen of their fellow Democrats in fighting over the same donors and primary voters, angling for a spot on the debate stage to somehow break out from the shadow cast by Biden and Bernie. Perhaps the problem is that there is essentially no downside to running for president. It’s a fairly easy path to more TV hits, more press attention, the possibility of a book deal, and so on.

Supreme Court Rules against Apple in Big Anti-Trust Case

In a 5-4 decision, Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh sided with the four unexpected members of the Court on Monday in Apple v. Pepper, allowing an anti-trust class-action suit against the tech company to proceed. The majority ruled that consumers can sue Apple over the high app prices that result from its monopolistic control over the “the iPhone apps aftermarket.”

The ruling merely allowed an original lawsuit, brought by a group of iPhone users, to proceed, but did not take a stance on the merits of that case. The class-action lawsuit deals with fees that Apple takes on sales in its App Store, which millions use every day. Apple charges developers up to 30 percent commission when they sell apps through the store, prevents them from selling those apps elsewhere, and has some influence over prices.

Writing for the majority, Kavanaugh upheld the Ninth Circuit’s ruling, determining that Apple, rather than app developers, controls the point of sale and therefore can be sued for exercising a monopoly over prices. From NR’s own Jack Crowe:

“It is undisputed that the iPhone owners bought the apps directly from Apple,” Kavanaugh wrote, splitting with a district court that previously held the app developers responsible for pricing.

Kavanaugh took issue with Apple’s defense that it does not have a monopoly because it doesn’t set the retail price for individual apps, pointing out that the fee the company charges developers (30 percent of sales revenue plus $99 annually) significantly affects retail pricing.

“In the retail context, the price charged by a retailer to a consumer is often a result (at least in part) of the price charged by the manufacturer or supplier to the retailer, or of negotiations between the manufacturer or supplier and the retailer,” Kavanaugh wrote.

Writing for the dissenting four justices, Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote, “If the proximate cause line is no longer to be drawn at the first injured party, how far down the causal chain can a plaintiff be and still recoup damages?” Gorsuch also claimed that the majority opinion relied on “convoluted pass-on theories,” in which damages to the consumer inflicted by app developers are instead passed on to a third party such as Apple.

Iran Likely behind Attack on Saudi Tankers

U.S. officials report that Iran was likely behind the attack on two Saudi Arabian oil tankers and a Norwegian ship over the weekend near the Persian Gulf. From the Wall Street Journal’s reporting on the incident:

The assessment, while not conclusive, was the first suggestion by any nation that Iran was responsible for the attack and comes after a series of U.S. warnings against aggression by Iran or its allies and proxies against military or commercial vessels in the region.

The U.S. official, who declined to be identified, didn’t offer details about what led to the assessment or its implications for a possible U.S. response. The U.S. has said in the past week that it was sending an aircraft carrier, an amphibious assault ship, a bomber task force and an antimissile system to the region after it alleged intelligence showed Iran posed a threat to its troops.

“If they do anything, they will suffer greatly. We’ll see what happens with Iran,” President Trump said while meeting with Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban at the White House earlier on Monday.

Iran’s office at the United Nations didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Neither Saudi Arabia nor the United Arab Emirates has blamed Iran for the attacks, while Iran’s foreign-ministry spokesman has said the incident should be investigated and called it dreadful, according to Iran’s semiofficial ISNA news agency.

It’s going to be a bad problem for Iran if something happens,” Trump said when asked at the White House on Monday about the incident.

The Washington Post reports that the attack is more significant in light of U.S. sanctions on Iran:

The spike in tensions comes after the Trump administration’s decision to lift sanctions waivers from eight countries that import Iranian oil, in a bid to bring Iran’s exports down to “zero,” according to U.S. officials. Iranian imports had already plunged after the United States reimposed sanctions in November, following the Trump administration’s decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear accord. The expiration of the waivers is expected to inflict further pain on Iran’s already reeling economy.

According to a CBS News report, the scale of the alleged sabotage is not yet clear, although one Saudi official has said the tankers sustained “significant damage.” Just after the attacks were reported, oil prices rose and inflamed concerns that global oil supplies would be threatened, especially in light of the ongoing civil war in Libya and the crisis in Venezuela.

Politics & Policy

A Congressional Democrat’s Latest Anti-Semitic Remarks

Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D., Mich.) questions Michael Cohen on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., February 27, 2019. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Democratic congresswoman Rashida Tlaib ignites the latest installment in the controversy over anti-Semitic rhetoric, Senate Democrats mark Mother’s Day by cheering for government-funded abortion, and Trump bestows a nickname on Mayor Pete.

Rashida Tlaib Ignites New Controversy over Anti-Semitism

Over the weekend, Yahoo! News published a new episode of the “Skullduggery” podcast, an interview with Representative Rashida Tlaib (D., Mich.). After she was asked about her support for a “one-state solution” to the conflict between Israel and Palestine, Tlaib noted that the U.S. had recently marked Holocaust Remembrance Day and said she was “humbled” by the fact that her ancestors suffered to create a new home for the Jewish people.

More from Tlaib’s remarks:

There’s, you know, there’s a kind of a calming feeling, I always tell folks, when I think of the Holocaust and the tragedy of the Holocaust, and the fact that it was my ancestors — Palestinians — who lost their land and some lost their lives, their livelihood, their human dignity, their existence, in many ways, had been wiped out. . . . I mean, just all of it was in the name of trying to create a safe haven for Jews, post-the Holocaust, post-the tragedy and the horrific persecution of Jews across the world at that time.

I love the fact that it was my ancestors that provided that [safe haven], in many ways. But they did it in a way that took their human dignity away, right? And it was forced on them. And so, when I think about one-state, I think about the fact that, why couldn’t we do it in a better way?

House Republicans were quick to criticize Tlaib for her comments. “There is no justification for the twisted and disgusting comments made by Rashida Tlaib just days after the annual Day of Holocaust Remembrance,” said House minority whip Steve Scalise (R., La.) in a statement. “More than six million Jews were murdered during the Holocaust; there is nothing ‘calming’ about that fact.”

Congresswoman Liz Cheney (Wyo.), the third-ranking GOP representative, called on House speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) and Democratic majority leader Steny Hoyer (D., Md.) to “take action” against Tlaib and other members of their caucus for their “vile anti-Semitism.”

For her part, Tlaib has refused to back down. Her communications director released a statement on Sunday evening, insisting that the congresswoman hadn’t said the Holocaust brought a calming feeling to her and calling the Republican criticism of her “dangerous.” On Twitter, Tlaib was even less conciliatory:

Though the GOP response was arguably somewhat overblown — Tlaib’s comments were certainly objectionable, but it’s not fair to accuse her of celebrating the Holocaust — the congresswoman’s response is reminiscent of the tactics employed by her fellow Democratic congresswoman Ilhan Omar (D., Minn.), who has provoked GOP outrage with her own anti-Semitic rhetoric. It’s a simple tactic: Say whatever you want and, when the criticism comes, insist that your opponents are trying to silence you and are putting you in danger.

But no one is calling for Tlaib and Omar to be silenced or claiming they shouldn’t exercise their right to free speech. What these Democrats really want is to exercise that right without being challenged. They don’t want freedom of speech, they want freedom from criticism. And to turn the tables on their critics, they dismiss any kind of censure as “dangerous.” 

Senate Democrats Celebrate Mother’s Day by Celebrating . . . Abortion? 

Every year, Planned Parenthood — the nation’s largest abortion provider — runs a morbidly ironic fundraising campaign on Mother’s Day, and this year was no exception:

But this year, Democratic politicians enthusiastically joined the group in its efforts. In a burst of self-delusion and stunning cognitive dissonance, Senate Democrats took to the floor to celebrate Mother’s Day, using their remarks to celebrate “reproductive care” and defend government funding of the abortion provider.

“With Mother’s Day just around the corner, it’s important to make clear that we cannot stand idly by while the administration undermines access to . . . reproductive care for women,” said Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D., N.H.). Senator Tammy Duckworth (D., Ill.) likewise criticized the Trump administration for trying “to defund health clinics that provide routine care and mammograms,” referencing a new policy that would remove about $50 million in federal funding from Planned Parenthood clinics — which have never actually offered mammograms and where provision of most procedures aside from STD tests and abortion have dropped significantly over the last decade.

But falsehoods in support of Planned Parenthood are a staple of Democratic rhetoric. “President Trump is working to sabotage the care moms and their families rely on,” said Senator Patty Murray (D., Wash.). “President Trump is . . . working to strip Title X grants from Planned Parenthood, which serves tens of thousands of women in my home state of Washington each year and millions more nationwide.”

Senator Mazie Hirono (D., Hawaii) lamented the “unrelenting attacks on women’s health by Donald Trump and Republicans,” including “continuous efforts to defund Planned Parenthood to taking away Title X funds.”

“An investment in family planning is money well spent because it helps moneys cope with reproductive health planning and can help prevent health crises,” said Senator Chris van Hollen (D., Md.).

Democratic politicians are fond of ignoring that GOP defunding proposals would redirect every cent of family-planning funds to community health centers that outnumber Planned Parenthood locations and provide a far greater number of health-care services. Not only that, but it’s beyond perverse to use Mother’s Day to celebrate a group ends the lives of more than 330,000 unborn children every year.

Who Remembers Mad Magazine?

In an interview with Politico on Friday, Trump described South Bend mayor and Democratic presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg with an unexpected nickname: “Alfred E. Neuman cannot become president of the United States,” Trump said. It was a reference to the freckle-faced, gap-toothed cartoon character on the cover of Mad, a satirical magazine.

But Buttigieg claimed not to understand it. “I’ll be honest. I had to Google that. I guess it’s just a generational thing. I didn’t get the reference,” he said. “It’s kind of funny, I guess. But he’s also the president of the United States and I’m surprised he’s not spending more time trying to salvage this China deal.”

Then Mad magazine got in on the action, tweeting on Friday, “Who’s Pete Buttigieg? Must be a generational thing.”

Even if it might require younger folks to do some Googling (I didn’t get the reference either, Mayor Pete), Trump’s comparison is fairly apt. The president’s knack for schoolyard-bully–style nicknames might be an asset on the campaign trail, but his penchant for name-calling is an unfortunate development for our political discourse.

Politics & Policy

Congressional Democrats Cry ‘Constitutional Crisis’

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D, Calif.) addresses the North America’s Building Trades Unions in Washington, D.C., April 9, 2019. (Jeenah Moon/Reuters)

I’ll be off Monday through Wednesday for a speaking engagement; the next Jim-written Morning Jolt will be Thursday, May 16.

Making the click-through worthwhile: If this is a “Constitutional crisis,” it’s a really boring and familiar one that doesn’t live up to the apocalyptic rhetoric; the media continues to discover this previously unknown figure named Beto O’Rourke who — get this! — doesn’t actually have many accomplishments in public life; some lessons about anti-Americanism abroad; and the birth of the ‘woke clickbait mills.’

What Constitutional Crisis?

The big talking point among Congressional Democrats is “CONSTITUTIONAL CRISIS!” In case you’ve lost track, Democratic leaders in the House want an entirely unredacted version of the Mueller report and underlying evidence. The Department of Justice redactions of the report were made in cooperation with special counsel Robert Mueller. The redactions are of grand-jury material, sensitive intelligence, matters that could affect ongoing investigations, and information that would violate the privacy of figures “peripheral” to the investigation. So far, no one has made any accusation that these redactions are improper or made in bad faith.

But the Democrats believe that they should have access to the full report with no exceptions. Attorney General William Barr offered an almost-entirely-unredacted version that could be read by senior lawmakers and committee chairs. The House rejected this offer. The Trump administration invoked executive privilege and declared Barr was in contempt.

You may recall the House of Representatives finding Eric Holder in contempt of Congress for failing to turn over documents relating to the “Fast and Furious” gun scandal; the Obama administration refused to enforce the contempt charge, contending that the documents were covered by executive privilege. Bill Clinton invoked executive privilege 14 times; George W. Bush, six. Executive privilege being a big factor in the Watergate scandal, with the Supreme Court ruling that it exists, but that Nixon had only demonstrated a general need for confidentiality in discussions, not a specific one related to that particular request.

In other words, presidents and Congressional leaders regularly fight over who gets access to what documents in the executive branch. Presidents and Congressional leaders fight over what is legitimately covered by executive privilege every few years. Sometimes they work out an agreement, and sometimes they hash it out in court, and sometimes it goes all the way up to the Supreme Court to resolve.

This process is just how these sorts of disputes are supposed to be resolved . . . under the U.S. Constitution — which raises the question of how this qualifies as a (dramatic voice) “Constitutional crisis!” if everyone is following the process set out under the Constitution.

Mainstream Media Discovers Slacker Empty Suit Named ‘Beto O’Rourke’ Who They Never Encountered Before

Last year, in numerous articles, I rolled my eyes at the gushing profiles of Beto O’Rourke and argued that the image being painted by the coverage presented a heavily airbrushed portrait of Senate candidate’s life:

The ingredients were there for a much less flattering media portrait of O’Rourke — a boarding-school-attending son of a judge who escaped serious consequence for a DUI and burglary charges, used gentrification to jump-start his career in El Paso city politics,supported the use of eminent domain to drive out poor residents, and married into the family of his region’s most influential businessmen. In Congress, O’Rourke was largely ignored until his Senate bid; he’s been the primary sponsor for just three bills that became law. One of them renamed a federal building in El Paso.

But that’s not what the media wanted to see, and you can’t write that story for a national magazine after you’ve submitted expense reports for a flight to Texas, a hotel, plenty of tacos, and God knows how much Shiner Bock.

This morning, Michael Kruse in Politico offers a long profile piece of Beto O’Rourke that finally lays out what was there all along: the candidate’s amazing ability to “fail up” to bigger opportunities.

There’s a reason his biography doesn’t feature much in the campaign. For O’Rourke, the phenomenon on display in that race—failure without negative effects, and with perhaps even some kind of personal boost—is a feature of his life and career. That biography is marked as much by meandering, missteps and moments of melancholic searching as by résumé-boosting victories and honors. A graduate of an eastern prep school and an Ivy League rower and English major, the only son of a gregarious attorney and glad-handing pol and the proprietor of an upscale furniture store, the beneficiary of his family’s expansive social, business and political contacts, O’Rourke has ambled past a pair of arrests, designed websites for El Paso’s who’s who, launched short-lived publishing projects, self-term-limited his largely unremarkable tenure on Capitol Hill, shunned the advice of pollsters and consultants and penned overwrought, solipsistic Medium missives, enjoying the latitude afforded by the cushion of an upper-middle-class upbringing that is only amplified by his marriage to the daughter of one of the region’s richest men.

As a longtime Beto skeptic, Kruse’s piece is great! But . . . where the heck was this last year?  Margaret CarlsonNia-Malika HendersonThe Week, Slate, MSNBC commentators . . .  Only in the cold light of a Democratic presidential primary are left or center-left national race-watchers looking at O’Rourke and seeing flaws that were there all along.

If your assessment of a candidate changes dramatically overnight based upon information that was there all along and that you just never cared to look at, you’re serving your readers and audience poorly.

Back in July 2018, Politico was running those swooning odes to O’Rourke’s sweat:

 Beto O’Rourke is running to replace Ted Cruz. Literally. Sweat pours off his lean, 6-foot-4-inch frame as the El Paso Democrat jogs along the southern bank of the Trinity River surrounded by 300-odd supporters and curious voters jogging along with him. Incredibly, they have shown up at 8 a.m. on a Sunday to join him for a double shot of politics and cardio.

(To their credit, by October Politico’s Jack Shafer mocked the national media for its gushing profiles.)

Kruse’s profile includes this quote from Kim Olson, a staunch O’Rourke ally who unsuccessfully ran for Texas Commissioner of Agriculture last year:

Yeah, you could say his greatest accomplishment was to lose by, you know, 300,000 votes to a guy who almost won a primary for the president. But that wasn’t his greatest accomplishment. It wasn’t the loss—it’s how he did it—that was his greatest accomplishment. It was going to everywhere, all the time, speaking to people, getting out there, not being afraid of anybody or anything and doing that hard grind that it takes. That’s why it makes him an incredible candidate for president, I think.

The contention is that O’Rourke’s greatest accomplishment is the way he attempted to do something, not what he actually did.

Foreign Public Opinion Tends to Be Shaped By, You Know, Foreigners

Our Kyle Smith examines the global popularity of the Avengers movies, and makes this point about attitudes towards the United States overseas:

Polls designed to reassure American progressives, in times of Republican presidencies, that “our image is suffering irreparable harm overseas” are really just measuring opinions about our national leadership, not our American nature. That essence doesn’t fluctuate with U.S. presidential results. It remains consistently impressive worldwide: Others admire our swagger, our friendliness, our purchasing power. During a period of what American liberals imagined must have been a difficult time for an American to be in France, I spent a lot of time in that country in the years following 9/11 and during the Iraq War and never experienced even the slightest hint of anti-American sentiment. If you want bitter animosity toward America, head for an American college campus, not France. For all of the Left’s yelping back home about anti-French propaganda and those fabled “freedom fries,” what gravely concerned the French was not Washington’s diplomatic problems with Paris but the steep drop-off in tourism after 9/11. The French love America because we come and spend our dollars there.

did see and experience (thankfully mild) anti-Americanism back when I was over in Turkey, which was from early 2005 to early 2007, some of the worst times for the Iraq War just over the border. But one of the points that is rarely made in discussions of those “irreparable harm overseas” surveys is that those attitudes are shaped by public discourse over there, not public discourse over here. Turkish attitudes largely reflected what was going on in Turkey, not with the United States. A surprising number of Turks I spoke to believed that the United States was planning to invade Turkey and steal their oil, even though Turkey rarely had enough oil to export (particularly when I was there). A lot of Turkish politics was/is fueled by paranoia and belief in conspiracies, and no amount of evidence was going to dissuade them. Pro-government media organizations constantly speculated that America was secretly plotting to overthrow Erdoğan, even during the Obama years. Looking back, it’s increasingly clear that when I was there — the early Recep Erdoğan years — was the end of an era of U.S.-Turkish partnership. This was not because of Bush or the Iraq War but because American leaders, regardless of party, increasingly saw the world differently than Turkish leaders. (I’d say regardless of party, but it may not matter, because Erdogan will just cancel and re-run elections until his party wins.)

When I was in Ankara, there was at least the shared goal of Turkish membership in the European Union; Turkey wanted in badly and the United States supported that move publicly (although how much pressure the U.S. was willing to put on Europe was debatable). Year by year, the Turks realized that wasn’t going to happen, feeding into deep-rooted insecurities and resentment against what they saw as European arrogance and snobbery.

Our biggest concern in the region is terrorism from Islamist extremist groups; Turkey’s biggest concern in the region is preventing an independent Kurdistan. Beyond the top level of the Obama administration, the U.S. government is wary of Iran at best; the Turks are still eager to do business with them. Turkey wants to be a regional power; we would prefer the status quo remain in place. We don’t want a NATO ally to develop cozy relationships with Russia and China; Turkey sees itself as a free agent.

Over at the Council on Foreign Relations, Steven A. Cook summarizes it well, “Turkey is and will continue to be a member of NATO, but it is not the partner it used to be. In the future, U.S. policy should be based on the fact that while Turkey is not an enemy of the United States, it is also not a friend.”

ADDENDA: This thread from Wesley Yang is absolutely fascinating, and more than a little depressing:

Every venture-capital funded online publication became a woke clickbait mill for a simple reason: the metrics told them this was the best performing type of content . . . It also doesn’t require investment in reporting or expertise. A 23 year old intern being paid a pittance is the best qualified person to write this type of content, and they don’t have to do any reporting.

Yang asks, “The first rule of any competitive business is differentiation. Why did not even one VC funded publication decide against becoming a woke clickbait mill?”

Politics & Policy

U.S. Trade Relations with China Haven’t Changed Beijing’s Bad Human-Rights Record

Chinese and U.S. flags placed for a meeting between Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and China’s Minister of Agriculture Han Changfu at the Ministry of Agriculture in Beijing, China, in 2017. (Jason Lee/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Tough questions about what two decades of ever-increasing trade with China has gotten us, and a look back at the not-so-realized promises of those who contended Permanent Normal Trade Relations would improve China’s behavior; a look at how politics gives some people a form of easily justified hate; and an observation about the danger of defining the value of human life by whether it is wanted.

Increased U.S. Trade with China Was Supposed to Change Beijing’s Behavior. It Didn’t.

What if authoritarian capitalism (or quasi-capitalism, or however you want to characterize the Chinese model) is every bit the threat to a free-market democratic republic like ours that Soviet Communism was?

In the 1992 presidential debate, Bill Clinton hit President George H. W. Bush for being soft on Chinese leaders after Tiananmen Square and pledged to use trade as a form of leverage to pressure China’s rulers on human rights:

I think it is a mistake for us to do what this administration did when all those kids went out there carrying the Statue of Liberty in Tiananmen Square. Mr. Bush sent two people in secret to toast the Chinese leaders and basically tell them not to worry about it . . . I would be firm. I would say if you want to continue Most-Favored Nations status for your government-owned industries as well as your private ones, observe human rights in the future. Open your society. Recognize the legitimacy of those kids that were carrying the Statue of Liberty. If we can stand up for our economics, we ought to be able to preserve the democratic interests of the people in China, and over the long run they will be more reliable partners.

But by 1995, Bill Clinton had completely reversed himself, extending Most Favored Nation status to China, despite little to no sign of progress in how the Chinese government treated its people. Clinton argued, and apparently had convinced himself, that more trade with China would make the Chinese government change its ways. “This decision offers us the best opportunity to lay the basis for long-term sustainable progress on human rights and for the advancement of our other interests with China.”

Back in 1998, when he was arguing in favor of extending Most Favored Nation trade status for China, Bill Clinton argued: “Trade is a force for change in China, exposing China to our ideas and our ideals, and integrating China into the global economy.” Most senior GOP lawmakers concurred: “Seeking to keep China open to the West has proven to be the most effective way to advance our democratic values in this turbulent region of the world — a policy we are committed to maintaining.”

By 2000, the United States contemplated and enacted “Permanent Normal Trade Status,” which meant the U.S. government would not need to periodically renew China’s “most favored nation” status. At the time, Clinton argued “I believe the choice between economic rights and human rights, between economic security and national security, is a false one . . . We can work to pull China in the right direction, or we can turn our backs and almost certainly push it in the wrong direction.”

A lot of seemingly smart people are quite skilled at convincing themselves that giving oppressive regimes more of what they want will somehow make them behave better. In 2001, when the International Olympic Committee contemplating selecting Beijing as a host city for the summer Olympic Games, they concluded that picking Beijing would force the country to improve the country’s human-rights record, because surely Beijing’s rulers would change their ways with the international spotlight on them. But China did not change as the Olympics approached or after; by some measures, their control of the media and press only grew tighter.

As the U.S. and China traded more decade by decade, the Chinese threat to U.S. national security has grown instead of shrunk. They continue to expand their military and make it way more technologically advanced, often using stolen intellectual property. The Pentagon has concluded Beijing “is going forward with a plan to dominate the world in AI [artificial intelligence] in the 2025 to 2030 time frame.” They want to control the world’s 5G network and sell technology that they can use to collect data and feed it to their intelligence apparatus. Basically, if your phone or computer or tablet is made in China, there’s a good chance there’s some sort of backdoor that allows the Chinese government to poke around.

FBI director Christopher Wray declared recently that China is “a major counterintelligence threat to the U.S. and other countries. The Chinese intelligence services strategically use every tool at their disposal — including state-owned businesses, students, researchers, and ostensibly private companies — to systematically steal information and intellectual property.”

And China has at least a million — perhaps two million! — religious and ethnic minorities rounded up in concentration camps.

Our old friend Reihan Salam observed that a generation ago, there was at least some pushback against China’s behavior in American political circles, a pushback that is now almost entirely gone.

The Free Tibet T-shirts that were ubiquitous on college campuses in the 1990s, when debates over PNTR were especially fierce, are now nowhere to be seen. That the Uyghur cause has attracted little American interest is par for the course. Calling for a boycott of Israel is, for campus activists of a certain stripe, practically de rigeur. Boycotting China, in contrast, verges on the unthinkable. For one, it would require feats of self-denial that no red-blooded American consumer could hope to endure.

Trade integrated China into the global economy, but if it exposed China to our ideas and our ideals, the Chinese government rejected them. All of this trade and engagement and interaction . . . gave China more leverage over us, instead of giving us more leverage over them.

Today, American tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports could increase from 10 percent to 25 percent, a major escalation in a U.S.-Chinese trade war. No doubt, this is going to carry serious costs for American consumers and American producers who have grown used to relatively easy access to the Chinese market.

But in light of everything has done and continues to do . . . are we certain that less trade with China would be a bad thing? Maybe it would be a mixed-bag kind of thing? If access to China’s market was less important to our producers, and enjoying the benefits of China’s cheap imports became less important to our consumers, maybe our government and our people could raise a bigger stink about their illegal, aggressive, dangerous, oppressive, and provocative behavior? Considering where ever-growing trade and ever-closer interaction with China has left us and them . . . maybe it’s time for a “conscious uncoupling,” as Gwyneth Paltrow would put it?

In that essay above, Reihan concludes, “a bipartisan coalition promised Americans that granting China permanent normal trade relations would help ensure our prosperity and that China would soon be transformed from foe to friend, and we were foolish enough to believe them.” At the risk of sounding like Phil McGraw, how’s that working out for us? And if we keep doing what we’re doing . . . won’t we keep getting what we’re getting?

Politics, Filling a Hole Left by Religion . . . that Religion Probably Never Should Have Left

Our Kevin Williamson rips State representative Brian Sims a new one with his trademark insight, acerbity, and wit. One particularly important observation:

Representative Sims is a low kind of man with a low kind of mind, but Representative Sims is, in fact, representative. In our time, politics has become a very strong part of some people’s identities, fundamental to their self-conception. Partly it fills the hole left by the attenuation of religion, but it is also a kind of identity politics for — Representative Sims surely will appreciate the irony — college-educated white people.

One note to add: Everybody wants a purpose in life, to feel a sense that they matter. They want to feel like their willingness to get up in the morning has an important consequence. It’s why people do everything from volunteering at charities to working extra hours to posting rants on YouTube to, alas, shooting up a school.

Politics gives a lot of people that sense of purpose. And it can manifest itself in a lot of ways — from little old ladies who volunteer to stuff envelopes; to wide-eyed idealistic interns; to marching protesters; to professional activists and lobbyists; to gruff, old strategists; to number-crunching pollsters and researchers trying to figure out what the voters really want and what really motivates them; to lawyers, eager to fight for what they believe is right within the walls of a courtroom.

But politics gives you an opponent, which a lot of people choose to see as an enemy. It can offer someone a group of people whom they feel justified in hating. Sims relished snarling at the woman praying, denouncing her as an “old white lady.” He enjoyed mocking and sneering at her Catholic faith. If you told Sims to go to a funeral and mock the widow, he would probably recoil because berating elderly strangers is a pretty big taboo. But if he was told the widow was a big pro-life activist, he might do it, because in his mind, hating pro-lifers and Catholics is a morally justified form of hate — the kind of hate some of us might reserve for al-Qaeda or ISIS.

ADDENDUM: In yesterday’s Three Martini Lunch podcast, discussing that CNN guest who insisted, “When a woman gets pregnant, that is not a human being inside of her.”

Greg: “‘The ‘Party of Science,’ and I’m making air quotes as I say that, says that it’s a person if you want it.”

Jim: “I mean, Greg, there are a lot of people in this world I don’t want . . . They’re still human beings.”

Elections

The Ironic Implications of Biden 2020

Joe Biden delivers remarks at the First State Democratic Dinner in Dover, Del., March 16, 2019. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: The hilariously ironic implications if Joe Biden’s current polling boost continues and he goes on to win the Democratic nomination; Kamala Harris and the question of what kind of Democrat can win in the Midwest; some news that will probably influence your choice for lunch; and an appeal for a little bit of help.

What If It’s Just Joe Biden All the Way Through the Primaries?

Late yesterday afternoon I raised the possibility that the hype surrounding Pete Buttigieg is peaking. He’s back to modest single digits in most national polls after a quick rise and very few African-Americans are attending his events, even in places such as Orangeburg, S.C. Young, well-educated, ambitious, and articulate, Buttigieg may well be a boutique candidate who mostly appeals to one important but not quite decisive demographic: the kinds of people who end up covering the Democratic presidential primary for major news organizations.

Since formally announcing his presidential run, Joe Biden has enjoyed leads in national polls of 21, 32, 30, 26, and 24 percentage points ahead of Bernie Sanders. Perhaps this will turn out to be a short-term bump, but the people currently preferring Biden probably feel like they know him well. He’s a familiar and liked face amidst a crowd of strangers.

Biden doesn’t need the formal endorsement of Barack Obama because he’s already received the clearest de-facto endorsement imaginable: Obama wanted Biden in the Oval Office if he ever died or was incapacitated. Obama effectively made his 2020 presidential endorsement in the summer of 2008.

And if Biden does become the 2020 Democratic nominee . . . the ramifications will be hilarious. After all the talk of the most diverse group of candidates in American history, and for all the identity-politics obsession gripping the party, the Democratic nominee would be a (very) old, straight, white male. Post-Obama Democratic politics would not be focused on a Generation X or Millennial figure, but (sigh) yet another Baby Boomer.

Here’s Biden’s inspiring message to young people:

“The younger generation now tells me how tough things are. Give me a break. No, no, I have no empathy for it. Give me a break. Because here’s the deal guys, we decided we were gonna change the world. And we did. We did.”

(Paraphrasing what they say on Twitter, “What the heck? I love Joe Biden now.”)

For all of the talk of the Democrats’ move towards socialism, the nominee would be a figure from the party’s establishment, who’s done the bidding of Delaware’s banking industry and credit-card companies for most of his career. Biden might throw out a proposal or two to appeal to the hipster Bolsheviks setting the tone for Democrats on Twitter, but as with Trump, the instincts and attitudes of a septuagenarian rarely change much.

Biden 2020 would, explicitly or implicitly, promise a return to the Obama-era status quo. The Trans-Pacific Partnership would be back. Finally, we would have a Democrat willing to stand up for demonized billionaires: “I don’t think 500 billionaires are the reason we’re in trouble.” Ideas like a new “universal basic income” would be off the table.

As vice president, Biden defended immigration policies in 2014 that were designed to assess asylum claims quickly and return those who did not qualify — and that “the vast majority” would be returning to their countries of origin:

The Department of Justice, Homeland Security, this is what they’re doing.  They are enhancing the enforcement and removal proceedings because those who are pondering risking their lives to reach the United States should be aware of what awaits them.  It will not be open arms.  It will not be ‘come on’ — it will be, ‘we’re going to hold hearings with our judges consistent with international law and American law, and we’re going to send the vast majority of you back.’

. . . we are prioritizing the need to resolve these cases as quickly as position in light of the humanitarian crisis caused by the — number of crossings.  Make no mistake, once an individual’s case is fully heard, and if he or she does not qualify for asylum, he or she will be removed from the United States and returned home.  Everyone should know that.

We expect many of the recent immigrants — migrants I should say to fall into this category.  My guess is a vast majority, and they will be going home.

For all the talk of cultural “wokeness” and progressives’ eagerness to police even casual speech for unintended slights and insults, the Democratic nominee would be a guy who jokes about Indian-Americans owning 7-11s and uses terms such as “Shylocks” andthe Orient.”

After all of the talk about the enormous consequences of #MeToo, the 2020 race would come down to Trump, of the infamous Access Hollywood tape and tawdry payoffs to Stormy Daniels, against Biden, the hair-sniffing habitual toucher of female strangers — whose wife, Jill Biden, recently declared “it’s time to move on” from discussion about the Anita Hill hearings.

For some progressives, Biden winning the nomination would be almost as severe a defeat as Trump’s reelection. It would mean that the Alexandria Ocasio Cortezs, Ilhan Omars, and Rashida Tlaibs of the world were no more than newer versions of Maxine Waters, Sheila Jackson Lee, and Barbara Lee — liberals representing heavily Democratic districts with limited influence over the party as a whole. It would affirm, as some of us have insisted for a while, that the current House majority was built by Democrats in reddish-purple districts running as centrists and — Joe Cunningham of South Carolina, Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey, Kendra Horn of Oklahoma — touting their ownership of guns and support for immigration enforcement and disavowing or at least ignoring a chunk of the progressive agenda. It would mean that Twitter really is a bubble, representing a limited political discourse that is far to the Left of the political spectrum of the real world.

For Democrats who wanted a woke, diverse, intersectional or Socialist candidate, and who find themselves horrified that their party could betray those much-touted values in exchange for a well-known egomaniacal septuagenarian with a runaway mouth . . . well, those of us who thought the Republican nominee should worry about deficits and the debt know exactly how you feel.

Is ‘the Midwest’ Oversimplified?

A side effect of a party obsessed with identity politics is that any supporter or argument in favor of any white male will inevitably face the accusation that it is rooted in racism or sexism.

Kamala Harris, speaking to the NAACP in Detroit:

There has been a lot of conversation by pundits about ‘electability’ and ‘who can speak to the Midwest?’ But when they say that, they usually put the Midwest in a simplistic box and a narrow narrative, and too often their definition of the Midwest leaves people out. It leaves out people in this room who helped build cities like Detroit. It leaves out working women who are on their feet all day — many of them working without equal pay.

And the conversation too often suggests certain voters will only vote for certain candidates regardless of whether their ideas will lift up all our families. It’s shortsighted. It’s wrong. And voters deserve better.

Indeed, Obama proved he could “speak to the Midwest,” winning Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Iowa twice. But he A) was a Midwesterner of sorts himself, having spent most of his adult life in Illinois and B) excelled in making his agenda sound moderate, whether or not it actually was. He wasn’t running on reparations or allowing felons to vote from jail. Despite the fact that under Obamacare, you could not keep your plan, he promised that you could keep your plan and doctor.

Can an African-American win those midwestern states? Obama proved that he could. Can an African-American woman win those midwestern states? Probably. (Wisconsin, Michigan, and Iowa currently have women senators.) Can an African-American woman from California win those midwestern states? Er, again, probably, but the odds are getting a little trickier. Can those states be won by an African-American woman from California running on a platform of . . .

That’s a lot trickier!

Business News That Will Make You Hungry

In today’s Wall Street Journal: “Chik-fil-A is poised to become the third-biggest U.S. restaurant chain by sales behind McDonald’s and Starbucks, according to food-service consultancy Technomic Inc.” And that’s with zero sales on Sunday!

So much for that boycott, huh? The booming popularity of the chain makes the anti-Christian, McCarthyite campaign against the sandwiches look that much more ridiculous.

ADDENDUM: You don’t like being asked for money, and we don’t like asking, but National Review does what it does because of the support of readers like you. And when I say, “does what it does,” I mean, “fight zombies,” and by zombies, I mean “socialism.”

Politics & Policy

The Lawmaker Who Harassed a Woman Praying outside Planned Parenthood

(Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

Oof, what a Tuesday: the worst state legislator in America is identified, a couple hundred former federal prosecutors grumble about the president not being indicted but never quite get around to weighing in on impeachment, and a long-suppressed urge to discuss Avengers: Endgame is unleashed.

The Worst State Legislator in America

Last week we met the worst city councilman in America, Zach Adamson, who accused Indianapolis’ Shapiro’s Deli of “feeding Nazis” when the NRA came to town.

Now meet the worst state legislator in America, Pennsylvania state representative Brian Sims, who decided to film himself confronting and furiously denouncing pro-life demonstrators praying on the sidewalk outside of a Planned Parenthood clinic. You may have heard this video described, but it is worth watching yourself.

Stalker-like, Sims keeps following a protester praying the rosary, declaring “She’s an old white lady who’s going to try to avoid showing you her face.” As far as we can tell, the woman hasn’t said anything to him, but he berates her, “How many children have you clothed today? Have you fed any children today, or have you just stood out in front of a Planned Parenthood shaming people for something that they have a constitutional right to do?” Sims asks, describing her protest as “an attack on the Constitution.” He tells her she can pray at home. “Shame on you! Shame on you for hiding your face! Shame on you, what you’re doing out here is disgusting.” He keeps accusing her of “shaming” other people and telling her that she doesn’t have “a moral right to be out here.” At least on the video Sims recorded, she never says anything towards anyone entering or exiting the clinic. She’s not shouting anything or harassing anyone. She’s praying — and this apparently drives Sims mad with rage.

After she takes out her rosary, Sims starts denouncing the Catholic Church:

How many Catholic churches are you protesting after 400 priests in Pennsylvania indicted for child molestation . . . The amount of mental gymnastics it must take to think that you have a right to tell a woman what’s right for her body and yet you will support a faith that has molested children across the planet? Shame on you.

Everyone needs to find a sense of purpose, and Sims has found his through furious hatred of pro-lifers and Catholics. It is now up to Pennsylvania voters to decide whether this is the man they want representing him.

I’ve discussed in the past the experience of encountering folks on Twitter who say they wish you were dead and who also have “No H8” in their bios. Hatred does not just exist in the form of backwoods losers wearing white robes.

A Whole Lot of Retired Prosecutors: We Would Have Indicted Trump, You Know

Three hundred and seventy former federal prosecutors sign on to a statement declaring, “the conduct of President Trump described in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report would, in the case of any other person not covered by the Office of Legal Counsel policy against indicting a sitting President, result in multiple felony charges for obstruction of justice.”

They contend that if Trump were anyone but the sitting president, he would be indicted. But the reason Trump was in position to do things like fire an FBI director and attempt to limit the scope of the Mueller investigation is because he’s the sitting president. You don’t see a lot of people in the private sector indicted for obstructing justice because they fired the FBI director. The complaint is that the Department of Justice is treating the president differently than everyone else, but . . . the president, by virtue of the authority of his office, is in a different situation than everyone else.

As many of us have repeated over and over, the Constitution provides a mechanism to address presidential wrongdoing and lawbreaking: the impeachment process. Do these 370 former federal prosecutors think impeachment should be pursued? One might construe that from their tone, but if they had unified agreement on that, you would think they would mention it.

A couple Republicans, including President Trump, are clucking about Texas Democratic representative Al Green’s declaration on MSNBC, “I’m concerned if we don’t impeach this president, he will get re-elected. If we don’t impeach him, he will say he’s been vindicated. He will say the Democrats had an overwhelming majority in the House and didn’t take up impeachment.” The takeaway is that Democrats are pursuing impeachment to impede Trump’s reelection chances.

Allow me to offer a contrary theory. By not pursuing impeachment now, Democrats can keep it in their back pocket as “Plan B” if Trump gets reelected, as long as they keep control of the House in the 2020 elections. Reaching 67 votes in the Senate was always going to be a difficult climb, but Democrats could put Trump through the wringer the way Bill Clinton was in 1998 and 1999. Picture it: Trump gets reelected, Democrats discover some new “serious allegation” after the election and begin impeachment proceedings. Despite widespread acknowledgement that two-thirds of the Senate will never remove a newly-reelected president, the hearings, testimony, debate and House vote, and Senate trial, eat up six months of 2021, mitigating any mandate from reelection, and driving Trump and his supporters bonkers.

If we’re destined to have an impeachment fight, driven by a Democratic party base that will never see Trump as a legitimately elected president, then let’s get this thing over with sooner rather than later.

Marvel’s Greatest Triumph, and Maybe One of their Biggest Mistakes . . . 

It’s safe to discuss Avengers: Endgame now, right? If you’re worried about spoilers, stop here. 

Endgame earns all of the effusive praise it’s received. They mixed, big action scenes, emotional beats and payoffs, a delightful what-else-could-go-wrong heist, a tour of at least five other Marvel movie settings, snuck in a slew of well-kept secret cameos, and stuck the landing.

I left feeling a little bit sad — that no matter what Marvel does in the future, no film they create will ever really feel like this one: a spiritual sequel to about 20 films simultaneously, allowing at least half of their major characters to ride off into the sunset with a satisfying sense that their tale had been completely told.

But there’s one nagging problem that I fear could cause headaches for Marvel movies to come.

By and large, the Marvel films have done a terrific job of continuing their larger meta-narrative story from movie to movie, usually in the background of a character-focused main adventure. But a bit more regularly than anyone likes to admit, Marvel’s creators make a seemingly big and consequential change, and some subsequent creative team finds that change unworkable and reverses it.

Tony Stark blew up all of his suits in Iron Man 3, but then he’s got new suits and a small army of drones by the time Age of Ultron starts. InWinter Soldier, SHIELD was infiltrated by Hydra and publicly disgraced! But by Age of Ultron, the old SHIELD crew brought the heli-carrier out of mothballs and rode to the rescue. Thor 2 ended with Loki on the throne of Asgard in disguise, a seeming formula for disaster . . . and Thor figures it out and fixes it within the first fifteen minutes of Thor: RagnarokCaptain America: Civil War ended with half the Avengers as wanted fugitives! But we saw little to nothing of the fugitive lives of Captain America, Falcon, Black Widow, and Scarlet Witch and by halfway through Infinity War, everybody’s working together again.

It’s not quite Emily Litella, but we now know that the creative team might just conclude “never mind” if a particular plot twist proves unworkable or inconvenient for future stories.

Infinity War ended with the ultimate shock downer (if you hadn’t read the comic series) – Thanos snaps his fingers and instantly eliminates half of all life in the universe. But we in the audience know that it will be reversed somehow. Black Panther made a billion dollars and the movies with Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, and Guardians of the Galaxy weren’t too far behind that. There’s no way Marvel would kill off a slew of their popular characters. (Spider-man: Far from Home trailers came out in between Avengers movies!) We knew Thanos’s act will be reversed, but we didn’t know how.

In Endgame, directors Anthony and Joe Russo pull a fantastic trick on the audience: The heroes hunt down and confront Thanos, even behead him . . .  and realize that it solved nothing. His snap -the “Snapture”? — cannot be reversed. Five years go by, and the world tries to function with half of its population suddenly gone. An atmosphere of persistent grief and gloom pervades the world. And then when the heroes get their Terminator-style opportunity to go back in time and reverse things . . . they make the boldest and most surprising choice imaginable: They bring the missing half back, but five years later. Half the world has experienced five years of grief and misery, and for half, no time has passed at all.

Just try to get your head around what that would be like: The first hours after the snap would be apocalyptic; cars and airplanes with drivers and pilots suddenly gone and crashing everywhere.  Every regime on earth would probably go to DefCon One. Plenty of Christians would think it was the Rapture — with the unnerving implications of being left behind. Every single person on the planet would be grappling with the loss of half their family, friends, colleagues, and community. Think about the upheaval to governments, economies, and societies with half their people gone in an instant. Do wars break out? Rioting? Doomsday cults? Mass suicides? It would be a long while before anything resembling “normal life” returned.

The small glimpse of “Five Years Later” we see in Endgame portrays a world just hanging on, featuring a great scene of Steve Rogers leading a support group for survivors. (There are a ton of docked ships around the Statue of Liberty. Is it a floating refugee camp? Or does it symbolize that people are now afraid of separation and sailing far from shore?)

Now imagine after five years, all the missing people come back! It would be a joyous miracle but also enormously bittersweet and extremely complicated. As Ant-Man discovers, he’s missed five years of his daughter’s life. Everyone who disappeared would find how others had moved on without them. Some people who lost spouses must have remarried. People would return to find their parents had new children. One twin would be five years older than the other. And obviously, death did not take a holiday during those five years. How many people would reappear, only to learn that a loved one had died in the interim?

This is the state of the Marvel cinematic universe is as Endgame finishes, with Spider-Man: Far from Home about two months away. This is the biggest and most consequential sequence of events imaginable. Thanos’s snap and the return of the disappeared ought to be a combination of V-E Day, the Trinity atomic test, the moon landing, 9/11 and the bin Laden raid, only a thousand times more emotionally intense. Nothing would be the same.

And the next movie is going to be about . . . Peter Parker and his classmates going on a school trip to Europe? Doesn’t that seem a little mundane? And doesn’t the (potential) twist suggested in the new trailer seem pretty obvious to anyone who’s even vaguely familiar with the comic books?*

Beyond that, the events of Endgame mean that the world we see in the Marvel movies is now completely different from the one outside our window. The early Iron Man movies emphasized that the Marvel universe was a lot like our own, with a bit more advanced technology: Figures such as Jim Cramer, Bill O’Reilly, Elon Musk, and Christian Amanpour popped up in brief cameos. (I subscribe to David French’s theory that Garry Shandling was playing the Marvel universe’s version of the late Senator Arlen Specter.)  The U.S. was fighting in Afghanistan against warlords. World War Two had ended more or less the same, except for a rogue Nazi science division called Hydra.

The Marvel universe is now completely unlike our own — it’s now taking place in 2023, half the population aged five years while the other half blinked out of existence, and it’s survived a global cataclysm. My fear is that future Marvel movie writers will find this difficult to incorporate into stories and deemphasize these differences over time. I doubt they’ll ever un-do it, we’ll just find that the Marvel universe of 2023 and beyond will look and feel pretty similar to our own, despite these huge events. And then what was meant to be the most hugely consequential event in these movies . . . won’t seem so consequential after all.

*In the comics, Mysterio is a frequent foe of Spider-Man who uses special effects and gadgets to create illusions. In the trailer, Nick Fury describes Mysterio as a hero from another dimension . . . which leaves me thinking he’s successfully conned Fury and creating the elemental-monsters himself in a plot to establish himself as a hero.

ADDENDA: Over on the homepage today, a look at some of the legislation that Democratic presidential candidates have introduced in Congress — price controls and revoked patents, vastly expanded government benefits programs, much higher taxes, bans on the closure of federal-agency field offices, and a general appetite to expand the size of government at all levels.

Elections

Hillary Clinton’s Bad Habit of Questioning Election Results Has Spread to All Democrats

(Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: The Democrats’ position on questioning the results of an election flicks back and forth as if controlled by a light switch; Cory Booker offers some gun-control proposals and offers a hint that he hasn’t updated his notes on this issue in a while; a completely different kind of Sanders flip-flop; and an unnerving tale of violence and police inertia from Portland.

Democrats’ On-Again, Off-Again Fears about Challenging the Legitimacy of Election Results

‘If we win by four seats, by a thousand votes each, he’s not going to respect the election. He would poison the public mind. He would challenge each of the races; he would say you can’t seat these people. We had to win. Imagine if we hadn’t won — oh, don’t even imagine. So, as we go forward, we have to have the same approach.’ In recent weeks, Ms. Pelosi has told associates that she does not automatically trust the president to respect the results of any election short of an overwhelming defeat. – Nancy Pelosi, in an interview with the New York Times, Saturday.

‘You can run the best campaign, you can even become the nominee, and you can have the election stolen from you.’– Hillary Clinton, speaking at an “Evening with the Clintons” event in Los Angeles Saturday.

In 2016, Hillary Clinton lost about by 10,000 votes in Michigan, 22,000 votes in Wisconsin, and 45,000 votes in Pennsylvania.

‘I’m here to tell you a secret that makes Breitbart and Tucker Carlson go crazy: We won. I am not delusional.’ — Stacey Abrams, at the annual Houston fundraiser hosted by Annie’s List Friday.

Brian Kemp won the 2018 Georgia governor’s race by 54,723 votes, a 1.4 percentage point margin of victory.

‘Let’s say this loud and clear: without voter suppression, Stacey Abrams would be the governor of Georgia, Andrew Gillum is the governor of Florida.’ — Kamala Harris, in her keynote speech at the NAACP convention Sunday.

Gillum lost the 2018 Florida governor’s race by 32,463 votes.

Look, Democrats, pick a position and stick to it. Either sore losers who publicly doubt the fairness and legitimacy of results represent a serious problem that undermines public faith in the elections process, or they don’t. You cannot argue, as the Democrats collectively do now, that it’s only a problem when the opposition party does it.

(Pelosi imagined a scenario where a decisive four seats were won by margins of 1,000. Recounts don’t often result in dramatic changes in the vote total or margin, but it’s easier to imagine the vote totals changing by 1,000 votes or so than the tens of thousands that would have been required to change the winner in Michigan, Wisconsin, or Pennsylvania in 2016 or Florida and Georgia in 2018.)

I hate it when candidates who lost by a significant margin start insisting that they couldn’t possibly have lost, and that some sort of fraud or shenanigans must have occurred. I’m the guy who still makes fun of Roy Moore for collecting money for a recount that never happened. (Roy Moore lost by 21,924 votes.) This is a manifestation of “Heads I win, tails you cheated” mentality among narcissists who cannot believe that the electorate could dare prefer someone else.

Words have meanings. “Voter suppression” means not allowing someone to vote.

Harris proposed making Election Day a federal holiday. Whatever you think of that idea, the current state of Election Day not being a federal holiday does not constitute “voter suppression.” If it did, then none of our elections in our history have ever been free or fair.

Cutting back the early voting days from 17 to 10, as North Carolina did, or 14 to 8, as Florida did, does not constitute voter suppression. We can argue about whether it’s a good idea, but everyone who is properly registered is still allowed to vote. Ten states currently have no early or absentee voting without an excuse, and they aren’t all concentrated in the conservative deep South; they include Connecticut, Rhode Island, Delaware, Pennsylvania . . .  if you contend that the elections in North Carolina or Florida are not free and fair because the number of early voting days was reduced, then how can any election in a state with no early voting be free and fair?

Kamala Harris wants automatic voter registration. Roughly 153 million of us figured out how to do this. Thirty seven (soon to be 38) states allow you to do it online. Why is asking voters to register now considered some sort of unreasonable, insurmountable burden?

Back on October 21, 2016, when she thought she was going to win the presidential election handily, Hillary Clinton declared as part of her stump speech, “Donald Trump refused to say that he’d respect the results of this election. By doing that, he’s threatening our democracy.” What do you call not respecting the results of the election afterwards? Last month Clinton claimed, despite the conclusions of Florida elections officials and the Mueller report, “The Russians were in the county election systems of every county in Florida.”

Hillary Clinton is the worst offender, but her mentality has spread to the whole party.

Cory Booker, Promising to Ban Bump Stocks that Are Already Banned

This morning, presidential candidate Cory Booker unveiled his plan to address gun violence, which includes a new requirement that all gun owners be licensed by the federal government. This would supersede all state licensing laws, concealed-carry permits, open-carry permits, and other state regulations and rules and almost certainly face a challenge that would go all the way up to the Supreme Court. Sixteen states passed “Constitutional Carry,” which more or less declares that your permit to carry a gun is the United States Constitution.

Booker is also promises to ban bump stocks. The federal government banned bump stocks earlier this year, and the ban is in effect (even though it doesn’t look like anyone’s turning theirs in). Did Booker . . . not notice?

A Completely Different Kind of Sanders Flip-Flop

Symone Sanders — no relation to Bernie — shortly after the 2016 election:

In my opinion we don’t need white people leading the Democratic party right now. The Democratic party is diverse, and it should be reflected as so in leadership and throughout the staff, at the highest levels. From the vice chairs to the secretaries all the way down to the people working in the offices at the DNC.

Symone Sanders in a fundraising email for Joe Biden’s campaign last night:

I’m on Team Joe because I trust him to get this right. I trust him to run a campaign that has standards and values and a commitment to win the White House. I’m on his team to make sure he does just that — are you?

Ever feel like the news has a lot of people named “Sanders” in it? Bernie, Symone, Sarah Huckabee, Colonel . . .

ADDENDUM: The Portland Police Department issues a press release about protests on May Day declaring, We asked participants to peacefully and safely demonstrate and they did.” That’s an odd way of describing a protester spraying mace into the face of journalist Andy Ngo.

The assessment of the peaceful protests comes from Portland Police chief Danielle Outlaw. Her name is a little too perfect for the circumstances.

Elections

Spying on the Trump Campaign Isn’t a Conspiracy Theory Anymore

Then presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Fresno, Calif., May 27, 2016. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: The New York Times confirms that the FBI sent undercover investigators to talk to Trump-campaign officials in 2016 after all; the Washington Post uncovers some unnerving new details about Bernie Sanders’s “honeymoon” to the Soviet Union; and the economy keeps rocking and rolling.

‘Spygate’ Doesn’t Look Like Such a Hyperbolic Label after All

The New York Times, appearing to confirm some details from George Papadopoulos’s interview with the Washington Examiner’s Byron York last month:

The woman had set up the meeting [with George Papadopoulos in a London bar] to discuss foreign policy issues. But she was actually a government investigator posing as a research assistant, according to people familiar with the operation. The F.B.I. sent her to London as part of the counterintelligence inquiry opened that summer to better understand the Trump campaign’s links to Russia.

Wait, it gets weirder, as shortly after the New York Times ran this story, George Papadopoulos tweeted:

 “Azra Turk” clearly was not FBI. She was CIA and affiliated with Turkish intel. She could hardly speak English and was tasked to meet me about my work in the energy sector offshore Israel/Cyprus which Turkey was competing with.

(Was is possible she was only posing as having troubles with English?)

Does the Federal Bureau of Investigation traditionally send undercover investigators to talk to a presidential campaign’s low-level staffers? The term “Spygate” doesn’t seem so hyperbolic now. Quite a few Democrats were livid when Attorney General William Barr said “spying did occur” in testimony last month. (His full quote: “I think spying did occur. The question was whether it was adequately predicated. And I’m not suggesting it wasn’t predicated. I need to explore that.”)

After Barr said that, MSNBC’s Chuck Todd responded:

Every time they’ve brought up this allegation, there has been zero factual basis for it. Every effort to perpetrate the spying conspiracy theory has been debunked.” CNN’s Jeffrey Toobin called the comment part of the “paranoid lunacy of the right wing.

Sending undercover agents to meet with targets and try to get them to divulge sensitive information is . . .  spying, isn’t it? This isn’t a conspiracy theory anymore. As Barr said, this might be on the up-and-up, a bunch of FBI officials hearing odd and troubling things about the Trump campaign being in contact with the Russian government and being obligated to investigate further. But the Times notes that the London operation “yielded no fruitful information” — as we would expect, as Mueller just spent two years investigating this and found no evidence of collusion.

Michael E. Horowitz, the Justice Department inspector general, is looking into all of this and the results of his inquiry could be public in May or June, according to Barr. (This is actually one more reason to wonder if Papadopoulos’s assessment of “Azra Turk’s” affiliation is accurate; if this was a CIA effort, would the Department of Justice inspector general have the authority and jurisdiction to review her actions? The CIA has its own inspector general.)

That IG report might look really bad for the FBI, as Trump and his supporters will fairly ask if the bureau would have taken the initial claims so seriously, or sent undercover investigators to infiltrate a campaign, if the allegations involved the incumbent president’s party. Even if there was demonstrable no abuse of power here, this is the sort of circumstance where an investigative agency has to tread as carefully and lightly as possible.

Also, for those of us who are Jets fans or who merely can’t stand Bill Belichick, this is really “Spygate 2.0.”

Bernie Sanders, Trashing the United States on Russian Soil

The Washington Post does a deep dive into Bernie Sanders’s honeymoon trip to the Soviet Union, and the resulting portrait is not pretty:

As he stood on Soviet soil, Sanders, then 46 years old, criticized the cost of housing and health care in the United States, while lauding the lower prices — but not the quality — of that available in the Soviet Union. Then, at a banquet attended by about 100 people, Sanders blasted the way the United States had intervened in other countries, stunning one of those who had accompanied him.

“I got really upset and walked out,” said David F. Kelley, who had helped arrange the trip and was the only Republican in Sanders’s entourage. “When you are a critic of your country, you can say anything you want on home soil. At that point, the Cold War wasn’t over, the arms race wasn’t over, and I just wasn’t comfortable with it.”

Sanders had visited Nicaragua in 1985 and hailed the revolution led by Daniel Ortega, which President Ronald Reagan opposed. “I was impressed,” Sanders said then of Ortega, while allowing that “I will be attacked by every editorial writer for being a dumb dope.” At the same time, Sanders voiced admiration for the Cuban revolution led by Fidel Castro, whom Reagan and many others in both parties routinely denounced.

Sanders, in turn, said Americans dismissed socialist and communist regimes because they didn’t understand the poverty faced by many in Third World countries. “The American people, many of us, are intellectually lazy,” Sanders said in a 1985 interview with a Burlington television station.

You can tell a lot about a man by what he chooses to praise and what he chooses to criticize.

Back in the 20 things article about Sanders, I noted that he had called for using taxpayer dollars to send thousands of American children to the Soviet Union, contended that bread lines in Communist countries were a sign that the system was working, and regularly met with representatives of the Irish Republican Army. A year earlier, he had gone to Nicaragua and attended a rally where the crowd chanted, “Here, there, everywhere, the Yankee will die.”

You Can See, Smell, and Feel the Prosperity in the Air . . . Or Maybe That’s Just Pollen

Wowsers. When they announced the new job-creation numbers and unemployment rate on the financial-news channels, the anchors reacted like Meg Ryan in the diner scene in When Harry Met SallyThis is a roaring economy: “The U.S. jobs machine kept humming along in April, adding a robust 263,000 new hires while the unemployment rate fell to 3.6 percent, the lowest in a generation, according to a Labor Department report Friday.”

What about wages? “Average hourly earnings up 3.2 percent from a year earlier, the ninth straight month of wage growth of 3 percent or above.” Booyah!

“We’re enjoying the lowest unemployment rate in almost five decades” is a heck of a reelection slogan.

ADDENDUM: As noted in the Corner, I’m enjoying the sudden revisions to Beto O’Rourke’s image and reputation in the national press, but it would be nice to see some media institutions admit that they fell for the hype last year, that they saw what they wanted to see in the once-little-known congressman, and that the conservative media who assessed him as nothing special were right all along.

World

Joe Biden Drastically Downplays China

Former vice president Joe Biden speaks at a rally with striking Stop & Shop workers in Boston, Mass., April 18, 2019. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: On the campaign trail, Joe Biden offers an assessment of China’s leaders that is simply stunning; the Democrats rage about Attorney General William Barr but are vague on what they’re willing do about him; a familiar congresswoman blames the United States for the violence in Venezuela; and the Democrats get yet another presidential candidate.

Joe Biden’s Wildly and Dangerously Naïve Assessment of China

You hear pretty often that this-or-that political figure made a shocking statement, and sometimes it’s genuinely shocking, and sometimes it’s overhyped. But former vice president Joe Biden declaring that the figures running the Chinese government are “not bad folks” and that “they’re not competition to us” has to be the most jaw-dropping assessment of a world power since Gerald Ford’s 1976 assessment that “There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe and there never will be under a Ford administration.”

Biden’s full quote:

China is going to eat our lunch? Come on, man. They can’t even figure out how to deal with the fact that they have this great division between the China Sea and the mountains in the east, I mean in the west. They can’t figure out how they are going to deal with the corruption that exists within the system. I mean, you know, they’re not bad folks, folks. But guess what, they’re not competition for us.”

A few moments earlier, Biden had bragged, “I’ve met virtually every major world leader in my role as vice president, as Foreign Relations chairman over the last 30 years.” We’re left wondering if Biden’s view of the world changed at all in the past three decades.

China’s government is growing more repressive and more belligerent towards the United States. FBI director Christopher Wray said recently,“China in many ways represents the broadest, most complicated, most long-term counterintelligence threat we face.” China is investing in offensive capabilities to disrupt or destroy U.S. assets in orbit. They’re pursuing genetic research with no ethical limitations. They’ve used “Confucius Institutes” to co-opt and influence what is taught about China on American colleges and universities. They’ve got more than a million people in concentration camps for “reeducation.” They are expanding their economic leverage and strategic assets:

China has landed, not only by militarizing artificial islands it built in the South China Sea, but by building or acquiring seaports, logistics terminals, and related transportation, communication, and energy assets in more than a dozen countries around the globe, including U.S. allies in the EU and Latin America.” As Chinese fighter jets regularly violate the airspace of our Asian allies, “The risk of accidental conflict goes up as China becomes more active, more determined, and more belligerent.

An assessment that China’s government are “not bad guys” and are “not competition” is so out-of-whack that I think it’s fair to wonder if the 76-year-old Biden is growing senile.

The White-Hot Democratic Rage Over William Barr

This morning, a lot of the usual suspects are just white-hot livid about Attorney General William Barr.

James Comey says President Trump has “co-opted” him. Michael Tomasky says he’s the “wartime consigliere” of the GOP “racket.” E.J. Dionne accuses Barr of “shamelessly corrupting the debate over Mueller report.” The Washington Post editorial board declares Barr “torched his reputation” and charge that his letter summarizing the top conclusions of the Mueller report was “highly misleading.” House Judiciary chairman Jerrold Nadler is threatening to hold Barr in contempt

Even Charlie Sykes over at The Bulwark looks back to long-forgotten allegations of the George H.W. Bush administration secretly funding Saddam Hussein and concludes, “Barr, it turns out, has for 30 years been the go-to guy for protecting a president, covering up scandals, and obstructing investigations.” (I’m not quite sure how he managed to be the go-to-guy for 30 years when he didn’t work for the government between 1993 and 2019.)

Guys . . .  if you think this is worthy of impeachment, then go and attempt to impeach him. This applies to Trump and to Barr.

We keep hearing from Democrats and like-minded commentators that Trump’s actions clearly constitute obstruction of justice, that the lack of an underlying crime is immaterial, and that Trump passed the threshold requiring removal from office a long time ago. They contend that the evidence is overwhelming, that the counterarguments are weak, and that the precedents are ample.

Okay, fellas, then act like it. Stop talking about what should be done and do it.

Much like celebrities’ apocalyptic rhetoric around climate change and their continued use of private jets, there’s a giant disconnect between what these prominent Democrats and liberal thought leaders are saying and what they’re doing.

Most folks on the Right are looking at liberals’ furious denunciations of Barr with skepticism and maybe even a bit of bewilderment. Why is there so much screaming about Barr’s letter when the Mueller report is now released? Even the contempt threat doesn’t make much sense:

Roughly 10 percent of the public report is redacted to conceal grand jury material, details on ongoing investigations, classified information and details that could impact the privacy of third parties. Barr has allowed a select group of lawmakers, including Nadler, to review a less-redacted version of the report, but Democrats have objected to the arrangement because it leaves many in Congress unable to view information.

Nadler is threatening a contempt citation against Barr for refusing to release an unredacted version . . .  that Nadler is allowed to see! No one has argued that any of the redactions are improper, unethical, or unwarranted. The redactions were made in cooperation with Mueller’s team. But Democrats stare in yearning at those blacked-out portions like those treasure hunters who keep digging deeper on Oak Island. They have unwavering faith that somewhere down deep underneath the black is the presidency-wrecking revelation of their dreams — a revelation that for some unexplained reason, Mueller didn’t feel was necessary to share with the American public.

Stop calling for Barr’s resignation, Democrats. You know he’s not going to resign. Nobody resigns just because figures in the other party call for it to happen. Heck, in Virginia, a slew of Democrats called for Ralph Northam to resign and he just ignored them. If you think Barr’s actions warrant resignation, they should warrant impeachment as well, right? Put your money where your mouth is.

Otherwise, the cynical assessment from the Right is the correct one, that this has little to do with what was actually in Barr’s letter or Mueller’s report and a lot to do with the psychological state of a Democratic party that convinced itself it was getting a second Watergate. They had absolute unwavering faith that Mueller was going to prove Trump colluded with the Russian government, and that this would trigger a tidal wave of public outrage that would sweep the entire Trump crew out of public office and positions of authority.

Omar: Venezuela’s Suffering Is America’s Fault

As we watch armored personnel carriers run over civilians in the streets of Venezuela, Representative Ilhan Omar has found the real villain: Americans.

You know, I mean, a lot of the policies that we have put in place has kind of helped lead the devastation in Venezuela. And we’ve sort of set the stage for where we’re arriving today. This particular bullying and the use of sanctions to eventually intervene and make regime change really does not help the people of countries like Venezuela, and it certainly does not help and is not in the interest of the United States.

To use an old phrase from Glenn Reynolds, she’s not anti-war, she’s pro-the-other-side. She wants trade sanctions on Israel, but not on Maduro’s regime.

ADDENDUM: The bad news is, Colorado senator Michael Bennet is running for president, giving the Democrats 21 candidates — and two Coloradans! — in the 2020 race. The good news is, this means Bennet is cancer-free after a prostate-cancer diagnosis. Glad you’re on the mend, senator . . . now, are you sure you want to do this?

Politics & Policy

The Mainstream Media Doesn’t Grasp the NRA’s Troubles

Attendees at the National Rifle Association annual meeting in Indianapolis, Ind., April 27, 2019. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

Today is the first day of May. You know what we call May Day in the free world? “Wednesday.”

I Know This Will Shock You, but the Mainstream Media Doesn’t Grasp the NRA’s Troubles

Everybody and their brother is weighing in on the troubles of the National Rifle Association, with a lot of conflation of their current financial and legal problems with their overall pro–Second Amendment stance. Jill Filipovic, writing at CNN:

There’s a bottom line to worry about if the group loses its nonprofit status — those tax breaks are nice — but the group should be more concerned about the growing national distaste for people being murdered in houses of worship, concerts, movie theaters and kindergarten classrooms.

This is what happens when you send a gun-control advocate to analyze a story about financial improprieties. The tax breaks aren’t merely “nice.” If the New York attorney general Letitia James found sufficient cause and evidence that the NRA was violating the rules and regulations governing nonprofits, she could attempt to force the dissolution of the organization. This would undoubtedly set off a massive legal fight and ironically, be one of the most galvanizing threats the NRA could ever want. You want to get a lot more donations and renewed memberships? Argue that the New York state government is attempting to destroy the organization.

A more likely scenario is that James puts the organization through the wringer, legally, exposing every bloated contract, every dubious expenditure, and every violation of state regulations. She may not dissolve the organization, but she is likely to attempt to impose a massive fine, crippling the organization’s already-shaky finances. What’s more, depending upon what the investigation found, it could dispirit many NRA members, exacerbating existing concerns among some members that their membership dues and donations are being spent on luxuries.

In other words, what the NRA is being investigated about has very little to do with gun laws.

The NRA’s board of directors is operating in extraordinarily tight-lipped manner but referred certain matters to their internal ethics committee Monday. As discussed this weekend, if they did want to remove an officer such as executive vice president Wayne LaPierre, it would take 15 days and a hearing, and three-quarters of the board’s 76 members would have to agree.

Two years ago, at the NRA convention in Atlanta, LaPierre was on top of the world. Donald Trump, once a supporter of certain gun-control proposals, had been elected president with resolutely pro–Second Amendment stance and the help of the NRA. Neil Gorsuch was on the Supreme Court, and a pro–Second Amendment majority on the nation’s highest court appeared secure. A pro-gun GOP majority controlled the House and Senate.

LaPierre has been executive vice president of the NRA — and the guy really running the show day to day — since 1991. His watch has seen the enactment of the Assault Weapons Ban and its expiration, the Columbine shootings and our chilling ongoing era of school shootings, the enormously consequential Heller decision at the Supreme Court, booming gun sales during the Obama years, and the formation of new, exceptionally well-funded gun control groups by former New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg. He’s seen the gradual extinction of pro-gun Democratic elected officials, particularly in Washington. After Trump won, some wondered if he would ride off into the sunset and let someone else take over the NRA.

After this past week, he may wish he had.

Special Counsel Mueller, If You Have Something to Say, Speak up

This is a little irksome.

Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III wrote a letter in late March complaining to Attorney General William P. Barr that a four-page memo to Congress describing the principal conclusions of the investigation to President Trump “did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance” of Mueller’s work, according to a copy of the letter reviewed Tuesday by the Washington Post.

Justice Department officials said Tuesday that they were taken aback by the tone of Mueller’s letter and that it came as a surprise to them that he had such concerns. Until they received the letter, they believed Mueller was in agreement with them on the process of reviewing the report and redacting certain types of information, a process that took several weeks. Barr has testified to Congress previously that Mueller declined the opportunity to review his four-page memo to lawmakers that distilled the essence of the special counsel’s findings.

A day after Mueller sent his letter to Barr, the two men spoke by phone for about 15 minutes, according to law enforcement officials.

In that call, Mueller said he was concerned that media coverage of the obstruction investigation was misguided and creating public misunderstandings about the office’s work, according to Justice Department officials. Mueller did not express similar concerns about the public discussion of the investigation of Russia’s election interference, the officials said. Barr has testified previously he did not know whether Mueller supported his conclusion on obstruction.

When Barr pressed Mueller on whether he thought Barr’s memo to Congress was inaccurate, Mueller said he did not but felt that the media coverage of it was misinterpreting the investigation, officials said.

In their call, Barr also took issue with Mueller calling his memo a “summary,” saying he had never intended to summarize the voluminous report, but instead provide an account of its top conclusions, officials said. Justice Department officials said that, in some ways, the phone conversation was more cordial than the letter that preceded it, but that the two men did express some differences of opinion about how to proceed.

Mueller has a spokesman. The special counsel’s investigation rarely offered public statements, but once in a great while they did, like when they called that BuzzFeed report out for being factually incorrect. Apparently, Mueller’s objections to Barr’s letter are important enough for him to write to Barr, but not important enough for him to issue a public statement or appear before cameras and do a press conference or sit down for an interview.

You may have noticed that many people’s opinions of Mueller shifted rapidly during the investigation. When he was investigating the president, many Trump fans derided Mueller as leading a partisan witch hunt, and many Democrats believed he was the hero who did things right. Comedy shows like Saturday Night Live and James Corden portrayed Mueller as the ultimate tough-guy lawman who always gets his man. Shortly before Mueller’s probe wrapped up, Adam Schiff started to complain that Mueller had been willing to rely on written answers from the president, and suggested that Mueller wasn’t investigating thoroughly enough. After months of furious denunciation, once Trump saw the initial conclusions of Mueller, he declared that he acted “honorably.”

Mueller clearly prefers the Sphinx-like approach to his job. He doesn’t disclose any information that is not required. At a time when so many people in Washington are competing for time in front of the television cameras, the former FBI director wants minimal publicity. Many find that stoic approach professional, dignified, humble, reassuring — a throwback to an earlier era of quiet competence.

But there’s a consequence to that approach. If Mueller wants the public informed of his perspective, there’s no one who can tell his perspective better than he can. If Mueller fears the public is getting the wrong idea from news coverage, he ought to come out and inform the public himself.

Who Watches the Watchmen Who Are Watching the Other Watchmen?

Over at Poynter.org, the International Fact-Checking Network has put together a list of “UnNews,” what they’re calling “an index of unreliable news sites” — and 515 web sites are on their current list.

The good news is that NationalReview.com hasn’t been listed. (Yet, I suppose.) The bad news is that by putting any site they deem “biased,” “unreliable,” “clickbait,” “conspiracy,” and “satire” on the same list, they’ve muddied the waters about sites that are maliciously dishonest, sites that are attempts at humor, sites that are run by people who are unhinged, and sites that are run by people who have a clear point of view. A site being openly conservative or liberal does not automatically make it “unreliable” or in the vaguely-Orwellian term, “UnNews.”

For example, satire sites like ClickHole and DuffelBlog are completely different kinds of sites compared to George Noori’s CoastToCoastAM, which specializes in “paranormal news.” (Do you really need an “International Fact-Checking Network” to tell you to be wary about tales of ghosts and UFOs?) All of those sites are quite different from what you’ll find on DavidDuke.com.

I’d argue that putting redstate.comdailycaller.comdailysignal.com, MRC.org, the Daily Telegraph  – and Daily Kos! – on the same list as pravda.ru, prisonplanet, InfoWars, etc. does more harm than good when it comes to sorting out what’s unreliable and fake news.

ADDENDUM: An even more awesome than usual episode of The Remnant: If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to listen to Jonah interview his wife, writer (and frequent ghostwriter for high-profile Washington figures) Jessica Gavora, here it is.

World

Venezuelan Opposition Push to Oust Nicolás Maduro

Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro attends a gathering in support of his government in Caracas, Venezuela, February 7, 2019. (Carlos Barria/REUTERS)

Making the click-through worthwhile: An uprising in Venezuela, a reminder that fear has been a powerful force in shaping American politics and culture well before 9/11, Joe Biden gets a big polling boost against his Democratic rivals, and the NRA Board of Directors meets for nine hours but doesn’t want to tell anyone what was discussed.

The Push to Topple Maduro Appears to Have Begun

Heads up, the situation Venezuela could get even more volatile quickly: “Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó took to the streets with activist Leopoldo Lopez and a small contingent of heavily armed troops early Tuesday in a bold and risky call for the military to rise up and oust socialist leader Nicolas Maduro.”

Sometimes when the people rise up against an autocratic and brutal regime, you get the end of Nicolae Ceaușescu in Romania; sometimes you get Tiananmen Square. Let’s pray for the former. Gordon Chang predicts, “Maduro will fall today if soldiers don’t follow orders.”

Good luck, Venezuelans. You deserve better than the awful Socialist-kleptoracy you’ve had forced upon you; if this uprising works out, better days are ahead.

Fear Showed Up at Our Doorstep a Long Time Ago

David Brooks, writing this morning in the New York Times:

I wonder if we’ve fully grasped how fear pervades our society and sets the emotional tone for our politics. When historians define this era they may well see it above all else as a time defined by fear. The era began on Sept. 11, 2001, a moment when a nation that had once seemed invulnerable suddenly felt tremendously unsafe. In the years since, the shootings have been a series of bloody strikes out of the blue.

Really? Two years before 9/11 was the Columbine shootings. The same year, EgyptAir flight 990 out of New York City crashed into the Atlantic Ocean with a calm co-pilot at the controls. John F. Kennedy and his wife died in a plane crash the same year; the following year the USS Cole was bombed.

I really dislike the interpretation of history that views the 1990s as the happy times interrupted by the 9/11 attacks on George W. Bush’s watch.

As I discuss in my forthcoming book — ominous foreshadowing, watch this space — there was a real darkness to the zeitgeist of the 1990s. A lot of Clinton-aligned political and cultural voices like to paint that decade as a big national party, a rollicking cavalcade of dot-com profits, harmless presidential sex scandals, and wildly embarrassing dance crazes.

Look a little closer and you see plenty of ill omens, and it feels utterly bizarre to see a period you lived through get so edited and airbrushed in modern reinterpretations.

In the early 1990s, we found out that some guy in Milwaukee had been eating people for more than a decade. In 1997, Heaven’s Gate cult committed mass suicide with the arrival of the Hale-Bopp Comet. Two years earlier, Aum Shinrikyo cult released sarin in the Tokyo subway system, killing 13 and injuring more than 1,000 people. Two years before that, David Koresh brought his Branch Davidian followers to a fiery end after a standoff with federal law enforcement.

I know people think that the news environment is busy today, but think of the summer of 1996:

On June 15, a massive bomb from the Irish Republican Army explodes in Manchester and injures 200 people. On June 25, 19 U.S. Air Force personnel were killed in Khobar Towers and hundreds injured; on July 17, TWA Flight 800 crashed off Long Island, with a great deal of speculation about terrorism (the official investigation concluded an explosion of fuel vapors); on July 27, Centennial Park at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta was bombed. Around this time, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms was investigating a series of suspicious church fires across the South.

The sex scandals weren’t always the stuff of political farce; a murder-minded “Long Island Lolita” become a national anti-hero with three made-for-TV movies about her; the biggest stars in Hollywood feared the revelation of their names in the black book of an infamous madam; and Los Angeles crowds cheered a wife-beating double-murderer on the run. With the first World Trade Center bombing and the Oklahoma City bombing, mass-casualty terrorism arrived on American soil in the 1990s. Los Angeles burned from riots in April 1992. Whether you wanted to know about it or not, you were inundated with coverage of John Wayne Bobbitt, Tonya Harding, Woody Allen’s relationship with Soon-Yi Previn, Marv Albert, and the allegations against Michael Jackson.

Something dark and twisted was working its way through the American psyche in those years. It’s not surprising that The X-Files was a hit; it tapped into this mood that while things may have seemed prosperous and peaceful, something much more dangerous and sinister was lurking underneath.

Fear’s been here a long time.

What if the Democratic Field Narrows Early?

Because the Democratic field is going to be huge — 20 candidates — one of the big questions is, how do primary voters react when instead of the usual five-to-ten candidates, they’re faced with so many? Right now, they’re looking at the political equivalent of the menu from the Cheesecake Factory.

One possibility is that just as you can be overwhelmed with choices in the cereal aisle of the supermarket and default to your standard old favorite of Cheerios, maybe the Democratic electorate never really engages with the lesser-known candidates. They stick to what they know they like, and most of the field never really gets a chance.

And you get a result something like the latest CNN poll:

A new CNN poll conducted by SSRS after Biden’s announcement on Thursday shows 39% of voters who are Democrats or Democratic-leaning independents saying he is their top choice for the nomination, up from 28% who said the same in March.

That puts Biden more than 20 points ahead of his nearest competitor, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont — who holds 15% support in the poll — and roughly 30 points ahead of the next strongest candidate, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren (8%).

Warren ranks about evenly with South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg (7%), former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke (6%) and Sen. Kamala Harris of California (5%), who round out the list of those earning 5% or more in the poll.

Separately, the Morning Consult poll has Biden comfortably ahead at 36 percent, Sanders at 22 percent, Warren at 9 percent, Buttigieg at 8 percent, Harris at 7 percent, and O’Rourke at 5 percent.

Now, here are all the caveats: The first day of the campaign is often the best day of the campaign for many candidates. Biden is going to get hit by the rest of the field a lot in the coming months. He’ll make gaffes. We haven’t had the debates yet.

But this poll should make all of the non-Biden candidates nervous. For Bernie Sanders, being at 15 percent in CNN’s survey when some previous polls had him really close to Biden should make him sweat. (Maybe his declaration that felons should be able to vote from jail went viral and played worse than his supporters think?) Warren’s got a little bit of a better number than the last few polls, and Buttigieg continues to be the early upstart star — keeping in mind that he’s at 7 percent.

Beto O’Rourke and Kamala Harris also have to be a little worried, as they have traits that ought to put them in the top tier on paper — strong fundraising networks, lots of good press — and they’re barely above the teeming rest of the field.

One other point — as much as Biden is going to get deserved grief for his age and not-always-flattering long record in elected office, he’s been in his situation before — two unsuccessful presidential campaigns and two successful vice-presidential campaigns. He knows what to expect. Sanders has his 2016 experience. But the rest of the field is comparably a bunch of rookies. Warren has one difficult race under her belt, beating Scott Brown. Harris has never faced a competitive general election in her life, O’Rourke’s never won a statewide race and Buttigieg has never run for anything bigger than mayor.

The NRA Board of Directors Meets Behind Closed Doors And . . . Doesn’t Say Much

Yesterday, after a nine-hour mostly closed-door meeting, the NRA Board of Directors did . . .  something. They are apparently not willing to tell anyone what happened in the closed door meeting.

According to American Rifleman, the official publication of the NRA:

Executive Vice President/CEO Wayne LaPierre was re-elected unanimously and unopposed by the NRA Board of Directors at their meeting in Indianapolis, Ind., April 29, 2019. Carolyn Meadows was elected NRA President; Charles L. Cotton, First Vice President; and Willes Lee, Second Vice President. All NRA officers were elected unanimously and unopposed.

That is . . . at least somewhat surprising, considering how some board members seemed deeply concerned about the accusations of financial improprieties this weekend, before Monday’s meeting.

NRA Board member Allen West issued a brief statement on Facebook: “I wish we could have delivered on what our NRA members asked of us in the resolution they referred to the Board of Directors. The NRA and our Second Amendment is greater than any one person. It’s about the spirit of those Patriots who took the field on April 19, 1775 at Lexington Green and Concord Bridge.” This weekend a resolution calling upon LaPierre to resign was referred to the Board of Directors.

Alluding to the coming investigation by the New York state attorney general, West wrote, “I fight for that legacy and will never allow my fellow law-biding legal gun owners to be disarmed and rendered subjects by Michael Bloomberg, Andrew Cuomo, or Letitia James. I will fight anyone whose intent is to destroy the NRA and undermine our Second Amendment.”

ADDENDUM: In case you missed it yesterday, a question of whether our anti-Semitism problem, our gun problem, and our mental-health problem are all just variations of a “young men who find normal life unfulfilling or too difficult and choose to risk or end their lives in violent rampage” problem.

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