World

Turkey vs. Saudi Arabia: The Pot Is Calling the Kettle Black

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Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan (Reuters phoot: Umit Bektas)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Turkey continues its campaign of strategic leaks to destroy Saudi Arabia, while few bother to look at Turkey’s own treatment of journalists; a Minnesota senator ducks a debate; Democratic hopes for winning the Senate fade and control of the House comes down to a roll of the dice — or maybe just one six-sided die.

What Is Turkey Getting Out of All of This?

The Saudis went through the trouble of having one of their operatives exit their consulate wearing Jamal Khashoggi’s clothes . . . but they didn’t think that anyone would notice that the faux Jamal Khashoggi had grown a full head of dark hair and put on about twenty pounds? What is this, a disguise aiming to fool observers with cataracts?

CNN reports about the not-so-convincing body double, citing “a senior Turkish official,” and showing images from “law enforcement surveillance footage, part of the Turkish government’s investigation, that appears to show the man leaving the consulate by the back door, wearing Khashoggi’s clothes, a fake beard, and glasses.”

Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan is pledging to reveal many details of the Saudi operation in a speech to the Turkish parliament on Tuesday.

Turkey is bringing a surprising amount of glee to its efforts to torch Saudi Arabia’s reputation in these past weeks. These two countries have never been the best of buddies — the Turks remember that they used to rule Arabia during the Ottoman Empire days, and one of my lessons from my time in Turkey way back in Bush’s second term was that the Turks almost always believe that almost everyone else is out to get them. In the Saudi-Qatar fight of last year, the Turks took the Qatari side.

But this is something from Ankara: new, bolder, more aggressive, almost reckless. There’s no way that Turkish-Saudi relations can be fixed while Muhammad bin Sultan has a high-level position in Saudi affairs.

It’s not as if Erdogan has a moral objection to mistreating journalists; Turkey jails more journalists than any other country in the world. That’s right — more than Saudi Arabia, more than China, more than Russia. As of October 7, “Of those in prison, 169 were under arrest pending trial while only 68 journalists have been convicted and are serving their time. Detention warrants are outstanding for 148 journalists who are living in exile or remain at large in Turkey.”

Is Turkey beating the drums about the Khashoggi murder to distract from Turkey’s record? Probably not, although it is remarkable how little Turkey’s record is getting discussed among the furious denunciations in U.S. media circles. Erdogan is probably motivated by old grudges, opportunism, and a strange alignment of allies of convenience who want to see the U.S.-Saudi relationship broken. Think about it, Erdogan’s got an abysmal record on press freedom and human rights, he’s cozying up with Russia and China, trying to work around sanctions on Iran, and somehow he’s convincing the American press that Saudi Arabia is the most malevolent menace in the region.

Congressman Peter King is now calling the Saudi government “the most immoral government that we’ve ever had to deal with.” Really? Ever? Worse than Stalin during World War II? The Shah? Ferdinand Marcos? Pinochet? Nixon met and had grand summits with Mao. We reached out to Nicolae Ceausescu. We worked with Hafez al-Assad during the Gulf War.

Are today’s Saudis really that much worse than the Iranians that the previous administration wanted to embrace so badly? That much worse than today’s nuclear-armed, double-dealing Pakistanis?

I expect this kind of historical illiteracy from some schmuck on Twitter, not from a congressman! Who has Peter King been hanging around with to have such a morally topsy-turvy view . . .

Oh, the Irish Republican Army. Okay, that explains a few things. I do remember that Congressman King spent much of the 1980s telling people to put their money into an IRA — just not the IRA most people expected.

On the other side of the aisle, we’ve marveled as Democrats became Cold Warriors again. Liberals who yawned at the polonium poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006, the annexation of Crimea in 2014, the destruction of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 over Ukraine in 2014, and Russia’s intervention in the Syrian civil war in 2015 suddenly rage against Moscow because they’ve chosen to believe that Russia helped Trump steal a presidential election. Now it’s Saudi Arabia’s turn. Domestic politics can now redefine our perception of foreign countries on a dime.

Media and political voices that never paid more than intermittent attention to Saudi Arabia’s abysmal human-rights record have spent weeks furiously denouncing the kingdom, both over Khashoggi’s murder, but also for the sin of being on good terms with the Trump administration.

Congressman Joaquin Castro, Democrat of Texas, revealed his hand Friday when he suggested that the key co-conspirator in Khashoggi’s murder is a name and face much more familiar to American news audiences. During an interview with CNN’s Poppy Harlow, Castro said:

The reporting that Jared Kushner may have with U.S. intelligence delivered a hit list — an enemies list — to the crown prince, to [Mohammed bin Salman], in Saudi Arabia and that the prince then may have acted on that, and one of the people that he took action against is Mr. Khashoggi.

Now, you know that you’ve gone way out on a limb when the CNN anchor has to declare, right then and there, that their network hasn’t reported that accusation, hasn’t heard that accusation, and can’t verify that accusation. But Castro was undeterred, declaring, “I’ve seen reporting to that effect. That needs to be investigated.”

Castro knows exactly what the right response to Saudi Arabia is: an investigation of Jared Kushner. Which just happens to be what he wants to do if Democrats take control of the House, anyway.

Maybe Joaquin Castro can blame his unverified accusations on an evil twin.

(I seriously would like to see a poll of Texas voters to see how many know that Joaquin Castro and Julian Castro are not the same guy.)

Minnesota Senator Tina Smith Is Just Too Busy to Debate Opponents

Minnesota has two U.S. Senate elections this year. Incumbent Democrat Amy Klobuchar is running for reelection against Republican Jim Newberger, and Senator Tina Smith, who was appointed to replace Al Franken, is running for the remainder of Franken’s term (two years) against Republican Karin Housley.

It’s Minnesota, so Republicans probably shouldn’t get their hopes up too high. But a new poll does have Housley within six points. I mean, it’s not as if an unelected senator is going to just skip out on debates . . .

Wait, Senator Tina Smith really did skip out on the debate.

This debate has been months in the making. From the start, it’s been our goal to bring the candidates together to help you make an informed decision in November. Unfortunately, one of the candidates will not be present. Democrat Tina Smith declined our invitation to participate due to a “complicated schedule.” We will still feature a 15-minute interview with her opponent, Republican Karin Housley.

Five Eyewitness News understands having a single candidate in a debate may give the impression of unfairness to a candidate who does not participate. We believe it would be unfair to Minnesota voters to allow one candidate not appearing on the only statewide, primetime debate to silence his or her opponent in this important race. We will always put Minnesota citizens first.

They kept the empty podium; it’s a nice visual for the Housley campaign.

Smith refused to debate anyone in the Democratic primary, too. That’s not “Minnesota nice”!

‘Democrat Hopes of Winning the Senate Have Faded’

If we’re being honest, two of the questions that drove much of the 2018 elections coverage are now almost resolved.

No, there’s no sign that Beto O’Rourke is going to beat Ted Cruz in the Texas Senate race.

No, Democrats are not going to win control of the Senate. Politico this morning:

Democratic hopes of winning the Senate have faded in the final weeks of the 2018 election, with the party now needing to win every one of more than a half-dozen competitive races in order to capture control of the chamber.

It’s a far cry from a month ago, when Democrats saw a path to the majority opening wider as several battleground races trended in their direction. But in recent weeks, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp’s (D-N.D.) seat has slipped away and looks likely to be a Republican pickup, and Democrats have not opened advantages in any of the three GOP-held seats where they’re on offense, instead trailing in public polling in Nevada and Tennessee.

You know what that means, right? A lot more confirmations for President Trump’s judicial nominations.

ADDENDUM: Michael Graham points out that if the chances of the GOP keeping control of the House are indeed one in seven, as Nate Silver and FiveThirtyEight calculate, that’s not all that far from rolling a one on a six-sided die — i.e, the sort of thing that is rarer than other outcomes but still happens pretty regularly.

Elections

The Race for Control of the House Narrows . . . Narrowly

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A joint session of Congress meets to count the Electoral College vote from the 2008 presidential election, won by Barack Obama, in the House Chamber of the U.S. Capitol, January 8, 2009. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Making the click-through worthwhile: The range of outcomes for the 2018 House elections starts to get a little narrower; the one way Hillary Clinton could return to the political stage and not be completely irrelevant; expectations for Robert Mueller’s final report are quietly being lowered; and some NR housekeeping.

The Outlook for the House GOP Is Not So Good . . . But It’s Not So Terrible, Either

Politico offers a good roundup that has bad news and good news for Republican hopes of keeping control of the U.S. House of Representatives.

First, the bad news:

Republicans admit that Democrats have already closed out about 15 races, well over halfway to the 23 seats they need to win the majority. Democrats are competing in more than 75 districts currently represented by Republicans, giving them ample room to secure the final dozen seats needed to take the majority.

Then the good news:

Democrats have retreated from an open seat in Minnesota where Democratic Rep. Rick Nolan is retiring and GOP recruit Pete Stauber is ahead in internal GOP polling.

Democrats are also taking money from the race to unseat GOP Rep. Don Bacon of Nebraska, who, Republicans say, has a healthy lead. That came just days after Democrats pulled out of Hispanic-populated districts represented by Rep. David Valadao in central California and Rep. Will Hurd along the Texas border. And they’ve withdrawn $800,000 in planned ads from Rep. Vern Buchanan’s Florida district, where the Democratic challenger, David Shapiro, trails the incumbent.

That’s one GOP pickup and four incumbents that are looking safer. The unnamed Republican sources say their internal polls show leads for Representatives Andy Barr of Kentucky, Steve Chabot of Ohio, Mike Bost and Rodney Davis of Illinois, John Katko of New York, and Brian Mast of Florida.

I have one quibble with the Politico gang’s analysis, which comes in their morning newsletter, and declares, “there are 41 GOP retirements. Seventeen Democrats retired in 2010, when Republicans won 63 seats.”

Yes, there are a lot of GOP retirements this cycle, but as I laid out yesterday afternoon, only about ten of the Republican retirements are in purple or swing-y districts, and I suspect those make up about half of the “those seats are already lost for the GOP” pile. A couple of those open seats look a little worse than expected — Arizona’s second district, Kansas’ second district, and New Jersey’s eleventh.

A whole bunch of seats have absolutely no public polls, and I suspect that’s because they’re just not that competitive. In New Jersey’s second district, which covers the southern part of the state, Frank LoBiondo was hanging on a nominally Republican district. This year, Democrat Jeff Van Drew is running against a gadfly candidate who called diversity “un-American.” Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley-based sixth district hasn’t voted for a Democrat since Lyndon Johnson; Republican Ben Cline is expected to win handily.

In places like Arizona’s eighth and Ohio’s twelfth district, Debbie Lesko and Troy Balderson won special elections earlier this year and are now running with the (modest) advantage of short-term incumbency.

And a handful look better than expected. California’s 39th district was one that looked like a goner, but State Assemblywoman Young Kim is probably as good a candidate as Republicans can hope for in that district. Florida’s 27th district was another one where Hillary Clinton had won by a large margin in 2016, but Democrats nominated Donna Shalala, who was Bill Clinton’s Secretary of Health and Human Services back in the Mesozoic Era the 1990s, and again, Maria Salazar is about as good a candidate as Republicans could get. You may remember the name Dino Rossi from some heartbreakingly close races in the state of Washington; he’s now giving the GOP a really good shot in Washington’s eighth district, one of the few “dead even” districts in the Cook Partisan Voting Index. A ten-point lead in early October is a really good sign.

Mind you, this doesn’t mean that Republicans keep the House. But remember that if the Democrats pick up 20 seats — usually a good year! — there’s a small GOP majority. If Democrats pick up 30 seats, again a good year by most criteria, they have to govern with a margin of just 7 seats. The next Speaker of the House is going to have a lot of headaches over the next two years.

Yes, We’re All Sick of Hillary Clinton. But . . .

Ordinarily, the most lame and unrealistic topic imaginable for a political columnist is some variation of “Hillary Clinton should run for president again in 2020.” But Matthew Walther offers an argument that is so different from usual, it almost ends up being compelling.

Hillary Clinton had plenty of flaws, but high among them was her clumsy inauthenticity. Her 2016 campaign in particular embraced that constant implausible effort to make her seem not all that ambitious, not all that vindictive, touting all of those allegedly humanizing details that painted her as your “abuelita” with “hot sauce in her purse.” The contrived repackaging of her insulted the intelligence of voters who had been watching her for a quarter century.

Walther says she should say, forget all of that, and let out her inner rhymes-with-witch: “the woman who ran a vicious race-baiting primary campaign against Barack Obama, the unwavering supporter of the Iraq war, the architect of our ill-fated Libyan excursion, the Osama-hunter, the would-be Assad-destroyer, the welfare queen shamer, the tough-on-crime denouncer of ‘superpredators.’” Walther imagines Clinton ripping the #MeToo sexual predators, bashing Barack Obama for leaving the country defenseless against Russia’s election shenanigans, and doubling down on her “deplorable” comments by painting Trump’s base voters as whiners and irresponsible blame-shifters.

In other words, she could let out her inner Trump.

This would be more interesting and more authentic than the latest effort to reinvent a well-established career to appeal to the sensibilities of a woke progressive Brooklyn hipster. She would have to denounce Bill to use the #MeToo rallying cry, instead of insisting that Bill Clinton wasn’t abusing his power during his affair with Monica Lewinsky because the White House intern was an adult. Hillary Clinton would have to call for longtime supporter Harvey Weinstein to face the guillotine or something and call out a “long-festering moral decay” in the ranks of powerful Democratic men who claimed to be feminists — Anthony Weiner, Eliot Spitzer, John Conyers, Al Franken, Eric Schneiderman, Keith Ellison. She would make a lot of enemies, but she also might win some long-lost respect for finally not taking the route most expedient to her political ambitions.

Hillary probably won’t run, and precisely for this reason. Some Democrats wanted her to run against Bush in 2004, but she wisely calculated the odds were better when no incumbent president were running. She could have challenged Obama in 2012 but made the same calculation. She only knows how to run with all the advantages as a frontrunner . . . and yet that’s never worked out for her.

Don’t ‘Expect a Comprehensive and Presidency-Wrecking Account’ from Mueller

You notice that ever since the Brett Kavanaugh fight, we’ve heard a lot less than usual about special counsel Robert Mueller’s report?

We’re starting to hear the hints that we shouldn’t expect any bombshells.

That’s the word POLITICO got from defense lawyers working on the Russia probe and more than 15 former government officials with investigation experience spanning Watergate to the 2016 election case. The public, they say, shouldn’t expect a comprehensive and presidency-wrecking account of Kremlin meddling and alleged obstruction of justice by Trump — not to mention an explanation of the myriad subplots that have bedeviled lawmakers, journalists and amateur Mueller sleuths.

Could you imagine a Mueller report concluding “no collusion” after midterms that disappoint Democrats? They’ll be beyond apoplectic . . .

ADDENDA: A little housekeeping here and there: First, thanks to everyone who came to the Leadership Institute’s Conservative Podcasting School. I had a lot of fun, and everyone seemed to find it really interesting. The two nights covered a lot of topics, from the technical side to marketing to booking guests to finding donors and patrons, and I understand that they may do more of these sorts of events, so stay tuned. I saw some old friends of NR and some longtime readers who really lifted my spirits. So thanks, everyone.

Speaking of podcasting, can you believe Greg Corombus and I have been recording the Three Martini Lunch podcast for almost eight years now? I went through the many generous comments on our iTunes page and found everyone seems to love the fact that we’re . . . well, short. Thirteen minutes to half an hour, usually around 15 to 20 minutes. Your time is valuable, and we try not to waste it.

You’ve thought about joining NRPlus, right? If not, you’re missing out on the members-only Facebook page featuring debates and discussion about whether Trump is getting better at the job of being president; the forgotten sides of Hollywood, Communism, and McCarthyism; when the immoral ought to become illegal and when it shouldn’t; and all of the classic works of literature that high school English class ruined for us.

World

How Should We Respond to Saudi Arabia?

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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meets with the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, October 16, 2018. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: the hunt for a proportional response to the Saudis over Jamal Khashoggi’s death that sends a clear message but doesn’t blow up the relationship between Washington and Riyadh; why some of Bernie Sanders’s team from 2016 doesn’t want to see a Bernie Sanders 2020 bid; why the conventional wisdom about the Senate elections is changing so rapidly; and South Dakota’s gubernatorial race becomes a family affair.

The Saudi Question

If people want to argue that Jamal Khashoggi’s death is being treated differently because he was a member of the news media, wrote for the Washington Post, and had a lot of friends in the U.S. foreign-policy media establishment, well . . . welcome to the real world. If you kill somebody who wrote for the Post, then the Post is going to write about that murder a lot. This is personal to them. You would react more strongly if a friend or co-worker was killed than if it happened to some guy who lived on the other side of town.

President Trump emphasized that Khashoggi was not a U.S. citizen but he was a lawful permanent residenta “green card” holder, who under U.S. law may “accept an offer of employment without special restrictions, own property, receive financial assistance at public colleges and universities, and join the Armed Forces. They also may apply to become U.S. citizens if they meet certain eligibility requirements.” About 18,000 lawful permanent residents currently serve in the U.S. armed forces. If we don’t consider Khashoggi “one of us,” then what would we say to those folks in uniform?

Look, Saudi Arabia, you can’t just tell a U.S. permanent resident that he needs documents for his marriage and then kill and dismember him because he wrote some columns and made some speeches criticizing your leader. We expect this kind of behavior from the North Koreans or Iranians or Syrians or Russians. We give your kingdom a lot of slack about how you handle internal dissent. You guys don’t have religious freedom, and we look the other way on that. We look the other way as your justice system institutes punishments such as amputations and flogging. We look the other way as your justice system punishes women for having been raped. We look the other way as you institute the death penalty for crimes ranging from murder, apostasy, adultery, and witchcraft. You still crucify people, which is the sort of thing that really gets under the skin of a Christian country.

In a world where a lot of countries treat guest workers like crap, you stand out as among the worst. Your record on human trafficking is getting a little better but is still pretty bad. Many American feminists may be too committed to multiculturalism to acknowledge this loudly in public, but in your country, The Handmaid’s Tale could be a documentary.

We prefer you guys to the Iranians in your proxy war in Yemen, but reports on the ground say you guys are hitting “residential areas, markets, funerals, weddings, jails, boats and medical facilities.” Are you guys monsters, or do you just have terrible aim? How do you hit a school bus by accident?

We give you guys minimal grief over all of that because you sell the world oil, you help us with some counterterrorism issues and intelligence-sharing, you hate the Iranian regime as much as we do, and you’re probably better than what would emerge if there was ever a popular uprising against you.

But if this is supposed to be an alliance of convenience, you guys are getting awfully inconvenient.

Presuming the accusations about the Saudi government murdering and dismembering are true, the question then becomes what the appropriate consequence is. Senator Lindsey Graham said while appearing on Fox & Friends that Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman “has got to go.” That seems like the most unrealistic demand that the United States could make of the Saudis.

We don’t want to blow up the whole relationship; we just need to send a signal that they’ve done something unacceptable, that they need to make restitution and need to resist the temptation to take similar actions in the future.

Ordinarily, the United States could declare the current Saudi ambassador persona non grata and tell him to leave the country, but the current ambassador already went back to his home country and isn’t expected to return. There’s already buzz that the Saudis might name Princess Reema bint Bandar as his replacement.

Cancel arms sales to Saudi Arabia? We might be cutting off our nose to spite our face. We might not like what Saudi Arabia is doing in Yemen, but we want them as well-armed as the Iranians to deter any further aggression in their direction in the Middle East. Why did Saddam Hussein invade Kuwait in 1990? Because the Kuwaitis didn’t have the military forces to stop him — and neither did Saudi Arabia, really, until U.S. forces started arriving in Operation Desert Shield.

A few ideas:

  • Obviously, identify and indict anyone involved in Khashoggi’s murder and make it impossible for them to ever travel to the United States or its allies. We may have no jurisdiction when it’s a Saudi-on-Saudi crime, but we do when it’s a Saudi-on-U.S.-permanent-resident crime.
  • Tout Khashoggi as a martyr for freedom. The Saudis killed him to silence him and send a message; maximize how much this backfires for them. Cite his reporting in State Department reports. Quote him in speeches. Lots of regimes have resisted murdering their critics because they realize killing them is a form of validation and promotes their message more powerfully and widely than ever before.
  • Khashoggi called for the equivalent of a Radio Free Europe in the Arab World. The United States government may not need to actually do this; even reports that the State Department is contemplating a move like this would sting the Saudi royal family.
  • Lots of wealthy Saudis like to travel to the United States. We don’t necessarily need to bar them from entry, just . . . delay their visas. Require more paperwork. Lose their paperwork and make them resubmit it. Use every lever of bureaucratic incompetence and aggravation. When the Saudis complain, shrug and say, “Look, we all know it’s very easy to accidentally tear something to pieces and leave it scattered around a consulate garden. These things happen, you know?”

Bernie Burnout?

Politico notes that not everybody who loved Bernie Sanders in 2016 is so eager to see a sequel in 2020:

With the Vermont senator kicking off a nine-state tour on Friday with stops in Iowa, South Carolina, Nevada and California, a sizable contingent of the people who helped build his insurgent 2016 campaign is ambivalent about a second run, according to interviews with more than a dozen former staffers. Many of them are looking for a different progressive champion to finish what Sanders started.

“I think that if a younger candidate can pick up the mantle and have Bernie’s support, I think that would be a better option for 2020. I feel like 60 to 70 percent of former staffers are looking around for another Bernie-esque candidate this time around, even if it’s not him,” said Daniel Deriso, a field organizer for Sanders’ 2016 campaign who went on to help run a successful insurgent mayoral campaign in Birmingham, Ala., last year. “But if Bernie called me to have me work on the campaign then I’d do it.”

At the beginning of the year, I noted that the Bernie Sanders post-campaign activist group, Our Revolution, had hit a lot of bumps in the road.

It’s not hard to figure out why Sanders fans yearn for a younger version of the guy they loved in 2016. Sanders himself is 77 years old now, would be 79 on Election Day 2020, and would be 83 years old at the end of his first term if elected in 2020.

President Trump was the oldest president to be inaugurated, at 70 years and 220 days old. Ronald Reagan was 73 years, 274 days old at the time of his election to a second term.

Why Mitch McConnell Is Smiling So Much Lately

For what it’s worth, Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight.com now puts Democratic chances of winning control of the Senate at 19 percent, a 15 percent chance of a 50-50 (in which case Vice President Pence would break ties), a 17 percent chance that things stay as they are with 51 Republicans and 49 Democrats, a 16.5 percent chance that the GOP picks up a seat, a 12.7 percent chance that the GOP picks up two seats, an almost 9 percent chance that the GOP picks up three seats, and a 5 percent chance that the GOP picks up four seats.

ADDENDA: You know you’re having a good election cycle when your opponent’s in-laws are donating to you. The grandmother and great aunt of South Dakota Democratic gubernatorial candidate Billie Sutton have donated to Republican Kristi Noem’s campaign. These aren’t small donations, either; the total donations for the cycle could add up to nearly $20,000. Noem is favored; the state hasn’t elected a Democratic governor since the 1970s and has never had a woman governor.

Credit the Sutton campaign for a good spin: “Sutton marrying into a well-known conservative family shows how truly bipartisan Billie is and how he has never put politics before personal relationships.” Hey, good for him.

This year’s Thanksgiving at the Sutton house could be awkward, though.

“Could you pass the gravy?”

“Why don’t you ask your friend the governor to pass the gravy?”

Elections

Don’t Get Your Hopes Up about Voter Turnout

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Voters at a polling place at John Jay College in New York, November 6, 2012. (Chip East/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: why we shouldn’t put much faith in those polls showing an extremely high percentage of the electorate is certain to vote in November; Beto O’Rourke’s most desperate line in his debate; a long-forgotten figure hints he’ll throw his hat in the ring in 2020; and some dramatic new survey numbers in Florida.

Lots of People Who Tell Pollsters That They’ll Vote . . . End Up Not Voting

Every year, we get told that we’ve never seen young people so fired up to vote.

Back in 2014, the Pew Research Center went back and looked to see if the people they polled actually went and voted. Unsurprisingly, a good chunk of respondents did not vote.

While changed minds contributed to some of the difference between the September poll result and the final outcome, this factor was less important than the turnout differential between Republicans and Democrats. Fully 73 percent of pre-election registered voters who supported a Republican candidate in the pre-election survey ultimately turned out to vote on Election Day, based on verified vote from the voter file. By comparison, only 61 percent of registered voters who supported a Democratic candidate were verified to have voted.

Wait, there’s more! They asked respondents to rate their likelihood of voting on a scale of zero to seven, with zero being the least likely to vote and seven being the most likely. Nearly half of all registered voter respondents characterized themselves as a seven. Out of that group . . . 83 percent voted. In other words, almost one in five people who told the pollster that they are absolutely, positively, definitely going to vote did not vote. What’s more, among the group that answered zero — which was only 4 percent of the whole sample — about one in ten actually went out and voted!

Some people lie to pollsters — or at least they do not keep their word, particularly when it comes to questions of whether they will vote. I suspect there’s a segment of the population that either never votes or votes infrequently but knows that they’re supposed to vote out of civic duty. This group of respondents doesn’t like admitting to some stranger on the phone that they don’t expect to be sufficiently motivated on the first Tuesday of November.

In 2014, 56 percent of respondents told the PRRI survey that they were certain to vote in the midterm elections. The actual turnout of registered voters that year was 36.4 percent, the lowest since 1942. This year, 55 percent of respondents told the same pollster that they were certain to vote.

What has Democrats worried — and ought to worry them! — is that the PRRI survey found just 35 percent of voters from age 18 to 29 saying they’re certain to vote, which is actually a little lower than four years ago. You know what percentage of this demographic turned out back in 2014? Under 20 percent.

It’s a similar story in the latest Washington Post poll, which touted the headline, “Voters say they are more likely to cast ballots in this year’s midterm elections,” and declared that 77 percent of respondents said that they were “absolutely certain to vote” or had already voted early.

Except . . . four years ago, the same survey found 65 percent saying they were “absolutely certain to vote” or had already voted early. And total turnout was only 36 percent!

I can hear the arguments already. “Jim, this time it’s different. Back then, young voters were complacent because of President Obama, and now President Trump has outraged young people. Just look at the Women’s March, Black Lives Matter, The March for Our Lives, younger Democratic candidates, Alexandra Ocasio Cortez, Taylor Swift’s endorsement of Phil Bredesen, and all the rest.”

And yes, that could happen. Over at FiveThirtyEight, Geoffrey Skelley makes a better-than-usual argument for expectations of higher youth turnout, pointing to the higher turnout among young voters in the Alabama special Senate election and Virginia’s statewide elections last year. (Of course, there’s the distinction between “higher turnout” and “high-enough turnout.” The youth vote in Alabama’s special election was about twice the state’s average and Democrat Doug Jones won by about two percentage points against Roy Moore. In Virginia, the youth turnout was 50 percent higher than four years earlier, and while that added up to a Democratic landslide in the governor’s race, it wasn’t quite enough to give Democrats a majority in the House of Delegates.)

Voter registration among young people is up in some places such as Connecticut. Texas now has slightly more registered voters between the ages of 18 and 29 than ages 65 and older.

But Robert Griffin, associate director of research at PRRI, told USA Today that he doesn’t expect to see a dramatic change from the 2014 turnout. In his autobiography Principles, Ray Dalio describes a phenomenon he calls “another one of those” — those moments where you suddenly recognize what’s happening from past experience and history. His point is that the more you study history, the more you recognize similar situations from the past and can apply useful lessons from that past.

Past history teaches us that when 77 percent of respondents tell pollsters that they are “absolutely certain to vote,” turnout is going to be significantly lower than 77 percent.

Beto O’Rourke: Hey, Look What Donald Trump Said about Cruz!

Texas Democratic Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke cited Donald Trump as a supporting witness in his debate with incumbent Ted Cruz last night.

“He’s dishonest,” O’Rourke said. “That’s why the president called him Lyin’ Ted and it’s why the nickname stuck because it’s true.”

This would be the president that O’Rourke wants to impeach, right? The president who O’Rourke called racist? Now he wants everyone to trust Trump’s opinion in his assessment of Cruz?

Julian Castro: Hey, Remember Me? I’m Gonna Run for President . . . 

Speaking of overhyped Texas Democrats, Julian Castro — the former mayor of San Antonio, former secretary of the Department of Housing and former Democratic-party Flavor of the Month — tells Rolling Stone he’s likely to run for president in 2020.

On the subject of his presidential aspirations, he gave the clearest indication yet about his plans for 2020. “I’m likely to do it,” he tells Rolling Stone. “I’ll make a final decision after November, but I’m inclined to do it.”

It’s understandable if you don’t remember this guy, but from 2012 to about 2014, he was the “Next Big Thing” in Democratic politics. He’s the political equivalent of Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe.” “Oh, that song! Man, I haven’t heard it in forever! Wow, back then, that song was everywhere.”

If you need a refresher on what Castro did as mayor — honestly, not all that much — look here. The limits of the power of the mayor of San Antonio are discussed here. If you want to remember how the gushing Castro profiles echoed today’s gushing O’Rourke profiles, look here.

But Castro’s interview with Rolling Stone had this exchange:

RS: Polls show right now a lack of energy among Hispanic voters. It could make a big difference in the midterms in states like Nevada and Texas. You’ve got a racist in the White House with Trump, and the pitch to Latino voters shouldn’t be that difficult. But it doesn’t seem to be landing.

Castro: The party needs to invest more resources more consistently in Latino voter registration and turnout. It’s not enough to just invest a few months before the big election. Whether it’s the Democracy Alliance [liberal donor network] or other individual big donors or organizations, they need to scale up efforts like the Texas Organizing Project, Voto Latino [of which Castro is a board member], and Jolt out of Austin. There needs to be a massive and sustained effort that’s well-funded and well-scaled to create a generation of Latino voters. And until that’s done, Latinos are not going to vote at the rate that they ought to vote at.

We’re constantly told that President Trump is anti-Latino xenophobia personified. If Latinos aren’t registering to vote in this circumstance, then one of two things is wrong. Either Latinos simply don’t care that the personification of anti-Latino xenophobia is now in the Oval Office, or more likely, they reject the characterization of him and don’t find him all that menacing. (Not choosing is a choice; choosing to not register to vote is an endorsement of the status quo.) In all likelihood, quite a few Latinos like some of Trump’s policies. Liberals are now lamenting, “last week’s NPR/PBS/Marist poll, 41 percent of Hispanics approved of Trump’s performance. Another recent poll put Trump’s approval among Latinos at 35 percent.” That’s not great, but that’s really good if you’re supposed to be el diablo.

ADDENDA: Man, is Florida going to be dramatic this year:

The race for Florida governor is essentially tied according to the first public poll conducted after Hurricane Michael devastated the Panhandle — and changed the course of state politics.

Twenty days before Election Day, Democrat Andrew Gillum is at 47 percent, while Republican Ron DeSantis is at 46. However, among those who say they have already voted, DeSantis is at 49 percent, while Gillum is at 45 percent.

A similar scenario is setting up for Florida’s U.S. Senate race: heading into the stretch in dead-heat fashion, according to the new survey by St. Pete Polls. Republican Gov. Rick Scott has a two-point lead over Democratic incumbent U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson.

The poll comes with a definitive asterisk as respondents in portions of the Panhandle, specifically the Panama City the media market, where Michael delivered his lethal blow, are under-sampled. A slight plurality of these voters typically support Republican candidates. end

Gillum led nine polls conducted in September.

Elections

Will Elizabeth Warren’s ‘Woman of Color’ Sham Come Back to Haunt Her?

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Senator Elizabeth Warren speaks during an event to introduce the “Medicare for All Act of 2017” on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., September 13, 2017. (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Why Elizabeth Warren really fears the “woman of color” controversy, President Trump gets a win in the courtroom and some long-overdue questions about whether a self-promoting lawyer is really helping his clients, and an eye-opening article about American mercenaries operating in Yemen.

The Pallid Excuses of Harvard Law’s First ‘Woman of Color’

As I noted yesterday afternoon, back in 1997, Harvard Law School was touting Elizabeth Warren as their first “woman of color” law professor. A year earlier, the law school had told the Harvard Crimson, in response to claims that the faculty wasn’t diverse enough, that “although the conventional wisdom among students and faculty is that the Law School faculty includes no minority women, [Mike] Chmura [spokesperson for the Law School] said Professor of Law Elizabeth Warren is Native American.” A year later, a Harvard Crimson editorial declared, “Harvard Law School currently has only one tenured minority woman, Gottlieb Professor of Law Elizabeth Warren, who is Native American.”

This was consistent throughout Warren’s career. As Benny Johnson noted, “Warren self-identified as a ‘Native American’ in the Association of American Law Schools Directory of law professors in every edition printed between 1986 -1995.”

A 2005 report from the University of Pennsylvania’s Minority Equity Committee referred to Warren as a minority award winner.

Back in 2012, Warren initially claimed she didn’t know the schools were referring to her that way, which is extremely unlikely. This would mean that Warren wasn’t following the debate about minority representation at the law school back in the 1990s and that she didn’t realize the law school was citing her as an example of minority representation.

But then a few weeks later she said she “provided that information to the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard.” As we now know, Warren is anywhere from 1/64 to 1/1024 Native American, and does not meet the criteria of “Native American” under anyone’s definition but her own.

She certainly doesn’t meet the Cherokee Tribe’s criteria. Cherokee Nation Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin, Jr. issued a blistering statement yesterday:

A DNA test is useless to determine tribal citizenship. Current DNA tests do not even distinguish whether a person’s ancestors were indigenous to North or South America. Sovereign tribal nations set their own legal requirements for citizenship, and while DNA tests can be used to determine lineage, such as paternity to an individual, it is not evidence for tribal affiliation. Using a DNA test to lay claim to any connection to the Cherokee Nation or any tribal nation, even vaguely, is inappropriate and wrong. It makes a mockery out of DNA tests and its legitimate uses while also dishonoring legitimate tribal governments and their citizens, who ancestors are well documented and whose heritage is prove. Senator Warren is undermining tribal interests with her continued claims of tribal heritage.

What’s more, the story Warren has been telling about her family history for years doesn’t make much sense now:

My mom and dad were very much in love and they wanted to get married. And my father’s parents said, ‘Absolutely not, you can’t marry her, because she’s part Cherokee and part Delaware.’ After fighting it as long as they could, my parents went off, and they eloped. It was an issue in our family the whole time I grew up about these two families. It was an issue still raised at my mother’s funeral.

Warren describes her family being torn apart by racial animosity . . . when everybody in the family is white. The Boston Globe wrote a long article attempting to dispel the notion that minority status played any role in any of Warren’s job opportunities, promotions, or tenure, but it included this quote from David Wilkins, one of the only black law professors on Harvard’s staff who voted for hiring Warren: “Let’s be blunt. Elizabeth Warren is a white woman. She may have some Native American roots, but so do most people.”

Elizabeth Warren is, by just about anybody’s definition, white. At the very least, she was comfortable with Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania describing her as a “person of color” or a racial “minority.”

The “person of color” characterization is what really worries Warren, I suspect. It’s easy to imagine some future presidential debate stage, and Kamala Harris, or Cory Booker, or Deval Patrick turning to Warren and asking, “Did you really think you deserved to be called a ‘woman of color’ in American society?”

Stormy Daniels Defense-Fund Donors Watch Their Money Go to the President

How likely is it that Michael Avenatti is a better self-promoter than a lawyer?

A federal judge on Monday dismissed the defamation lawsuit that Stormy Daniels filed against President Trump, saying his tweet attacking the porn star’s credibility was free speech protected by the Constitution.

“If this court were to prevent Mr. Trump from engaging in this type of ‘rhetorical hyperbole’ against a political adversary, it would significantly hamper the office of the president,” Judge S. James Otero of the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles wrote in a 14-page ruling. “Any strongly-worded response by a president to another politician or public figure could constitute an action for defamation. This would deprive the country of the ‘discourse’ common to the political process.”

As some have noted, if you donated to Stormy Daniels’s defense fund, a portion of your donations will now be going to Donald Trump to cover attorney’s fees. Attorneys familiar with the high bar for defamation would note that Daniels almost certainly qualified as a public figure, and that the case would have to demonstrate “actual malice” on Trump’s part.

Trump threatens to sue people for libel and slander frequently, but rarely goes through and files the lawsuit. Either Trump eventually learned that threatening to sue and getting the headline and then forgetting about it is cheaper and more satisfying, or his lawyers persuade him that his chances of winning the lawsuit are extremely low.

Is Stormy Daniels better off now than when she met Avenatti? Maybe, but if she is, that’s probably more because of her own, er, entrepreneurship and self-promotion than because of Avenatti.

Is Julie Swetnick better off now than when she met Avenatti? Remember her?

How Comfortable Are We with the Idea of American Mercenaries?

BuzzFeed offers a dramatic story this morning about former American solders working for private contractors and killing what the United Arab Emirates government believed were high-value targets in Yemen:

On that night, December 29, 2015, their job was to carry out an assassination.

Their armed attack, described to BuzzFeed News by two of its participants and corroborated by drone surveillance footage, was the first operation in a startling for-profit venture. For months in war-torn Yemen, some of America’s most highly trained soldiers worked on a mercenary mission of murky legality to kill prominent clerics and Islamist political figures.

Their target that night: Anssaf Ali Mayo, the local leader of the Islamist political party Al-Islah. The UAE considers Al-Islah to be the Yemeni branch of the worldwide Muslim Brotherhood, which the UAE calls a terrorist organization. Many experts insist that Al-Islah, one of whose members won the Nobel Peace Prize, is no terror group. They say it’s a legitimate political party that threatens the UAE not through violence but by speaking out against its ambitions in Yemen.

BuzzFeed characterizes it as “militarized contract killing.”

You probably have one of two reactions to a story like this.

One: “This is awesome. I want every anti-American extremist in the world looking over his shoulder and hiding in fear, and if this is the sort of thing that gets a person afraid to join an Islamist group, or that will cut down the next Osama bin Laden early in his career instead of late in it, God bless them.”

Two: “Dear God, this is horrifying. This is an assassination program that is staffed by Americans, targeting and executing foreign political leaders without any charges or trial, and our government is, if not explicitly endorsing these actions, giving these actions a tacit blessing.”

One complicating wrinkle for those who have the second reaction: The BuzzFeed story begins by describing an attempted assassination on December 29, 2015, and discusses the campaign of covert strikes in Yemen progressing throughout 2016. In other words, this isn’t some horrific, brutal Trump-administration policy that enables these actions; all of this started on the Obama administration’s watch.

ADDENDUM: Hope to see you tonight for the second night of Conservative Podcasting School!

Politics & Policy

Rebutting Trump’s ‘Pocahontas’ Jab, Elizabeth Warren Releases Ancestry Test

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Sen. Elizabeth Warren on Capitol Hill (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Elizabeth Warren sort of, kind of, finds her Native American ancestor; why so many American elites fell so hard for the Mohammed bin Salman sales pitch; why you can’t find happiness in a life consumed by politics; and why the media searches so desperately for the next Great Southern Democratic Hope.

Elizabeth Warren: Here’s Proof That I’m 1/32 to 1/256 Native American!

Back in January, the Boston Globe, Elizabeth Warren’s hometown newspaper, wrote a lengthy article about her claims to Native American ancestry, pointing out that beyond the mockery on the right, the Massachusetts senator also faced:

. . . discomfort on the left and among some tribal leaders and activists that Warren has a political blind spot when it comes to the murkiness surrounding her story of her heritage, which blew up as an issue in her victorious 2012 Massachusetts Senate race. In recent months, Daily Show host Trevor Noah mocked her for claiming Native American ancestry and the liberal website ThinkProgress published a scathing criticism of her by a Cherokee activist who said she should apologize.

This morning, Warren revealed results of a DNA test showing that she’s Native American! Technically. She could be anywhere from 1/32 Native American to 1/256 Native American.  That’s anywhere from one-tenth of one percent to three percent.

Is this . . . vindication?

Senator Elizabeth Warren has released a DNA test that provides “strong evidence’’ she had a Native American in her family tree dating back 6 to 10 generations, an unprecedented move by one of the top possible contenders for the 2020 Democratic nomination for president.

He concluded that “the vast majority” of Warren’s ancestry is European, but he added that “the results strongly support the existence of an unadmixed Native American ancestor.”

. . . Bustamante calculated that Warren’s pure Native American ancestor appears in her family tree “in the range of 6-10 generations ago.” That timing fits Warren’s family lore, passed down during her Oklahoma upbringing, that her great-great-great-grandmother, O.C. Sarah Smith, was at least partially Native American.

What Warren’s rollout dodges is the question of whether one ancestor, six to ten generations ago, justifies listing oneself as “Native American” in faculty guides. Warren has long insisted that her self-description as Native never played a role in any academic acceptance, hiring, or promotion decision. But as the Globe noted, earlier in Warren’s career, Harvard sure liked putting the spotlight on her self-proclaimed ethnic identity:

Warren also listed herself as a minority in a legal directory published by the Association of American Law Schools from 1986 to 1995. She’s never provided a clear answer on why she stopped self-identifying.

She was also listed as a Native American in federal forms filed by the law schools at Harvard University and University of Pennsylvania where she worked.

And in 1996, as Harvard Law School was being criticized for lacking diversity, a spokesman for the law school told the Harvard Crimson that Warren was Native American.

Put another way, if you thought you were “X,” and then a DNA test proved you were 1/32 to 1/256 X . . . would you still feel comfortable running around claiming to be X?

And the claim of distant Native ancestry doesn’t quite mesh with the stories Warren has been telling for years, that her parents eloped because her paternal grandparents didn’t want her father to marry her mother “because she is part Cherokee and part Delaware.” Under the rules of the Cherokee Nation, Warren is unlikely to qualify as Native.

Why So Many American Fell So Hard for the Mohammed bin Salman Sales Pitch

The Turkish government’s claim that the Saudi government killed Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi during his visit to the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul is forcing a dramatic, wholesale reevaluation of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in U.S media, business, and political circles.

On Friday, I noted that if you want to say the Trump administration’s been too cozy and naively optimistic about Prince Mohammed bin Salman, fine. But let’s not pretend that a lot of prominent U.S. media didn’t buy into the same Saudi spin.

Let’s also remember that way back in 2002, National Review had a cover piece on the Saudi royal family entitled “Desert Rats.” A lot of foreign-policy conservatives spent the last two decades pushing for a tougher line with Saudi Arabia, generally running into a brick wall of opposition from George W. Bush. (Doesn’t anybody remember the action movie The Kingdom? Didn’t anybody read Christopher Buckley’s Florence of Arabia?)

But the House of Saud always had an almost literal killer counterargument, that they were probably better than any regime that would replace them. Often the world of foreign policy gives you no good options, just lots of variously bad ones. Accepting the Saudis’ help where they offered, and trying to gently nudge them into becoming slightly less brutal and slightly less bad on women’s and minority rights, was probably the safest option.

Decades of American foreign-policy leaders accepting an uncomfortable partnership with the Saudis, particularly after 9/11, set the stage for lots of folks to buy the spin about Mohammed bin Salman being a great modernizer and reformer because they wanted to believe good news, and the Saudi government put a lot of effort into getting Americans to believe it.

The M. B. S. spring tour to the United States hit every major institution of elite Establishment respectability:

He talked about the movie business with Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman and Dwayne Johnson over dinner at Rupert Murdoch’s house. He discussed space travel with Richard Branson in the California desert, and philanthropy with Bill Gates and technology with Jeff Bezos in Seattle. He visited Harvard and MIT, brokered arms deals with President Trump and sat down with Wall Street financiers. He even met with Oprah Winfrey.

And people walked away dazzled:

“I think it’s brilliant and I will tell you why,” said Adam Aron, the chief executive of the movie theater chain AMC, who has met with the prince. “The crown prince is aware that Saudi Arabia has had a difficult image in the United States, because it’s been such a conservative country for so many decades. He wants to transform Saudi society in ways that will be very appealing to Americans.”

Back on April 4, Dwayne Johnson, a.k.a. The Rock, wrote on Instagram, “A pleasure to have a private dinner with the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, his royal family and distinguished cadre. Fascinating experience to hear his deep rooted, yet modern views on the world and certainly the positive growth he desires for his country.” The point of this is not to point out some sort of flaw in Future-President Johnson’s foreign-policy acumen but to illustrate the wide range of the Saudi public-relations offensive.

Don’t begrudge The Rock or a movie-theater mogul for not being sufficiently attuned to M.B.S’s true character or philosophy of consolidating power; that’s not his job. It is more or less the job of America’s foreign correspondents who specialize in covering the region.

Thomas Friedman:

Unlike the other Arab Springs — all of which emerged bottom up and failed miserably, except in Tunisia — this one is led from the top down by the country’s 32-year-old crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, and, if it succeeds, it will not only change the character of Saudi Arabia but the tone and tenor of Islam across the globe. Only a fool would predict its success — but only a fool would not root for it.

CNBC, March 27:

That was just one of many carefully-considered reforms that had taken place at home. The man responsible for them is Mohammed bin Salman, 32, the crown prince in line to be the country’s next sovereign. “MBS,” as he is known everywhere, has been making global headlines for his bold steps to reshape Saudi society. Women driving is but one of them. A dramatic fight against corruption and an ambitious vision for the year 2030 are others.

The New Yorker:

M.B.S. gives the impression of being comfortable with Western mores. In meetings with American women, he shakes their hands and looks them in the eye, which not every Saudi official will do. Once, during a meeting at the home of Secretary of State John Kerry, M.B.S. spotted a grand piano, walked over, and began playing the “Moonlight” Sonata. His favorite diversion is Call of Duty, the video game. But his English is halting, and among his brothers—he has nine — he is unusually bound to Saudi Arabia. “M.B.S. is unlike his brothers, several of whom were educated in the West and one of whom has a doctorate from Oxford,” a longtime friend of M.B.S. told me. “If you look at them and you talk to them, they are basically soft. And there is this quality to M.B.S. — the guy’s not soft. He has a lot of charisma. He’s a lot like Bill Clinton. He makes you feel like you’re super important when you’re talking to him. He really puts on a charm that is unmistakable.

Why did everybody swoon for this guy? Because they really wanted somebody to swoon over.

Searching for Personal Meaning in Politics Is a Quick Route to an Unhappy Life

Leave it to Kevin Williamson to more precisely diagnose the phenomena I described a few weeks ago, the sense that a lot of people in politics are projecting their own personal issues onto the realm of politics:

At that level, this is about something other than politics per se. I have spent about 30 years covering political protests of various kinds, and, of course, people rarely show up at a protest because they are happy about something. But many of the people one encounters at such events (from Occupy Wall Street to the tea-party rallies) are categorically unhappy, bereft and adrift in a way that is only tangentially related to politics. They turn to politics to provide a sense of meaning that might once have been provided by family or religion, two anchors from which many of us enlightened moderns have cut ourselves away. But politics provides a sense of meaning only when we convince ourselves that there is a great deal at stake. I do not know how many planning-and-zoning meetings I have been to, how many suburban school-board meetings and small-town municipal board meetings. Rarely does one get the sense that there is much that is urgent going on. They are boring, and, generally, free of drama. (Not always. A visit with the San Bernardino, Calif., city leadership will cause one to despair for democracy.) That isn’t very much compared to communing with God or being a father. The people who fall into politics as a source of personal meaning must believe that what’s at stake is . . . everything . . . or at least something meaningful, otherwise — well, that’s obvious enough. Political fanaticism is not rooted in ideology. It is the hollow clanging sound that social life makes when banging up against an empty soul.

The angry partisan cannot believe that life is good, because he must then ask himself: If life is good, then why am I not enjoying it? Why do I feel so alone, so frustrated, and so meaningless?

ADDENDUM: If you’re wondering what exactly made the media fall in love with Beto O’Rourke, my piece from the weekend details the endless media search for the Great Southern Democratic Hope.

Culture

The Cable-News Crowd Denounces Kanye

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Rapper Kanye West speaks during a meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump and others in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, U.S., October 11, 2018. (REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

Making the click-through worthwhile: The talking heads choose a revealing moment to start questioning the mental health of Kanye West, the Democratic “blue wave” keeps hitting contrary currents, President Trump and “Cocaine Mitch” get another big win on judges, and some kind praise for The Three Martini Lunch podcast.

The Bold New Era of West-ern Civilization

Kanye West wasn’t my cup of tea back in his “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” days, nor his “comparing himself to Jesus” days, nor his “Imma let you finish, but” Taylor Swift–interrupting days. I don’t really see why I should suddenly change my opinion on the guy just because he’s found a Republican president he likes. I have no doubt that the budding friendship between Donald Trump and Kanye West is genuine, though: They’re both egomaniacal narcissists with model wives who play the media like a fiddle, and as the saying goes, “game respects game.”

What is pretty revealing is how quickly West was denounced for this particular shift in his beliefs. Last night the big talking point on cable news was that West was mentally ill.

They make this accusation now? This is a man who voluntarily signed on to the constant drama circus that is life married to a Kardashian. This is a man whose surname is West — and then chose to name his daughter “North.” This is a man who recorded his debut single with his jaw wired shut after a car accident. This is a man who announced plans to run for president in 2020 back in 2015. This is a man who promoted his sneakers with nude models. This is a man who staged a “fashion show” on Roosevelt Island in New York City where most of the models were wearing translucent outfits and some fainted in the stifling heat.

This is a man who stormed out of the American Music Awards after he didn’t win in 2004; declared himself the voice of his generation in 2008; declared, “My greatest pain in life is that I will never be able to see myself perform live” in 2009; declared, “I would never want a book’s autograph, I am a proud non-reader of books” in 2009; performed for the authoritarian ruler of Kazakhistan in 2013; declared, “Black people don’t have the same level of connections as Jewish people” in 2013; declared himself “the Steve Jobs of the Internet” in 2013 (wouldn’t the Steve Jobs of the Internet be . . . Steve Jobs?); described himself, “I am Warhol! I am the number one most impactful artist of our generation. I am Shakespeare in the flesh,” in 2013; followed up on his interrupting stunt with Taylor Swift with an aborted attempt to interrupt Beck in 2015; declared, “Everyone is a fashion insider, because it’s illegal to be naked” in 2016; contended that Jay-Z was threatening to kill him in 2016; depicted naked celebrities in a 2016 video; and declared himself “50 per cent more influential than any other human being” in 2016.

And now the cable-news crowd deems Kanye crazy?

Come on. Hugging Donald Trump as he’s sitting behind the Resolute Desk doesn’t even crack the top 30 craziest things Kanye West has ever done.

Midterm Roundup

The New York Times/Siena poll surveys Tennessee, and finds Republican Marsha Blackburn ahead of Democrat Phil Bredesen, 54 percent to 40 percent. You know what’s going to be epic? When Taylor Swift debuts her song about breaking up with Bredesen.

I think the battle for control of the House of Representatives will be close, which is different from predicting that the GOP will hold the House. But you never know what can go wrong, even in an alleged “blue wave” year:

Donna Shalala may be in trouble.

Shalala, a Democrat running in a district that President Donald Trump lost by nearly 20 percentage points in 2016, is trailing Republican TV journalist Maria Elvira Salazar by 2 percentage points in a Mason Dixon-Telemundo 51 poll. The independent poll’s margin of error was 4 percentage points and included a pro-Trump non-party candidate who could siphon votes from Salazar.

Salazar’s unique background as a journalist in a party dominated by President Donald Trump and her appeal with older, Spanish-speaking voters has enabled the GOP to remain competitive. Shalala, one of the most experienced first-time congressional candidates, won a competitive Democratic primary by less than 5 percentage points and has faced criticism from liberal Democrats and Republicans alike for her tenure leading the University of Miami, when campus janitors went on a hunger strike over low wages and the school acquired Cedars Medical Center.

This was one of those open-seat House races that Democrats thought would be a fairly easy pickup. And then the local voters went and nominated 77-year-old Shalala. (I suppose if there’s any state that would be comfortable with older candidates, it would be Florida.)

Meanwhile, Democrats have donated about $7 million to the challenger to Devin Nunes, arguably the most secure Republican congressman in the state of California, and now Nunes is “only” ahead, 53 percent to 45 percent. Good thing they didn’t use all that money elsewhere!

Here Come the Judges, Here Come the Judges

Cocaine Mitch wins again.

Senate Democrats accepted an offer Thursday from Senate Republicans to confirm 15 lifetime federal judges in exchange for the ability to go into recess through the midterms, allowing endangered Democrats to campaign.

The calculation by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and his caucus was simple: That Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) would be able to confirm roughly 15 judges if he kept the Senate in session for the next few weeks anyway. So Democrats OK’d an offer to confirm three Circuit Court judges and 12 Circuit Court judges as the price to pay to go home for election season.

McConnell and President Donald Trump will now have confirmed 84 judges over the past two years, including two Supreme Court nominees, after the deal.

I’m running out of Scarface gifs to illustrate Cocaine Mitch’s wins.

If Republicans hold the Senate (and it’s looking good right now), one has to wonder if Justice Clarence Thomas will feel comfortable retiring in the next year. He’s 70, he’s had a long and impressive run, and he could be confident that a like-minded judge would replace him. We’ve all heard the speculation about Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer . . . which means it’s not all that implausible that President Trump could have the most influence on who sits on the nation’s highest court since Richard Nixon.

Donald Trump is not really much of a conservative personally, but he could well be remembered as one of the most important presidents ever for the advancement of the conservative agenda and philosophy.

ADDENDA: Just three days until the Leadership Institute’s Conservative Podcasting School — today’s the last day to register for half-price!

Speaking of podcasting, thanks to The Gospel Coalition for putting The Three Martini Lunch on their list of ten recommended podcasts!

Jim Geraghty of National Review and Greg Corombus offer thoughts on the news of the day, generally speaking to serious matters from a Republican perspective with a light-hearted tone and witty banter. We need to keep a sense of humor in a day when political rhetoric has become so heated and has an outsized influence on too many people.

PC Culture

Democrats Encouraged to Go Rogue on Republicans

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Former Attorney General Eric Holder (Mark Wilson/Getty)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Eric Holder tries out the Avenatti style and steps on a rake; the sun sets on the Beto O’Rourke hype; and why American society can’t turn on a dime, no matter how much progressives want it to change and want it to change quickly.

No Holder Barred

I suppose it was inevitable that a somewhat more reputable Democrat would attempt to emulate Michael Avenatti’s style, and that it would go badly:

“It is time for us as Democrats to be as tough as they are, to be as dedicated as they are, to be as committed as they are,” [former Attorney General Eric] Holder said. “Michelle always says, Michelle Obama, I love her. She and my wife are really tight. Which always scares me and Barack. Michelle always says, ‘When they go low, we go high.’ No. No. When they go low, we kick them.”

The potential 2020 candidate added:

That’s what this new Democratic party is about. We are proud as hell to be Democrats. We are willing to fight for the ideals of the Democratic party. We are proud of our history, we are proud of our present and we are proud of the future that we can create for this country.

He later said:

When I say we kick them, I don’t mean we do anything inappropriate, we don’t do anything illegal, but we have to be tough and we have to fight.

It’s good to see that the man who was once the country’s chief law-enforcement official eventually recognized that he might regret a rallying cry that urges kicking people.

We live in a moment when each political party is utterly convinced that it is a victim of the unfair skullduggery of the other one.

If you ask Democrats, the Senate’s treatment of Merrick Garland in 2016 ranks as one of the modern era’s greatest outrages. They think the media were ludicrously unfair and hostile to Hillary Clinton in 2016 and took it easy on Trump despite glaring scandals. They believe that corporate America is always on the opposition’s side, pointing to fights over taxes and regulations. They feel that the public is misled by the opposition’s well-organized media allies, repeating untruths until the sheep-like public accepts them as truth. As I wrote earlier this week, they deem recent Republican victories illegitimate because of the Electoral College, the population divisions among states, gerrymandering, and voter suppression.

If you ask Republicans, the Senate’s treatment of Merrick Garland in 2016 was constitutional, legal, and in keeping with Senate traditions — and that it was in fact one of the shrewdest and wisest decisions of their party’s leadership in years. They think the media were ludicrously unfair and hostile to Donald Trump in 2016 and took it easy on Clinton despite glaring scandals. They believe that corporate America is always on the opposition’s side, pointing to fights over trade, gay marriage, and most fights involving political correctness. They feel the public is misled by the opposition’s well-organized media allies, repeating untruths until the sheep-like public accepts them as truth. They deem recent Democratic victories illegitimate because of allegations of voter fraud and the belief that large numbers of illegal immigrants are voting in elections.

We don’t run into trouble when American political leaders urge their supporters to go out and beat — er, defeat — the other party. Elections matter. The stakes are real. There’s nothing wrong with firing up your supporters. But we get into trouble when American political leaders tell their supporters that the voters on the other side are the enemy. That’s why Barack Obama expressed regret after using the phrase “punish our enemies” while trying to get out the vote among Latinos.

Bet-Oh, No!

I’ll return to the topic of our societal divisions in a moment, but some quick updates about the midterms. First, Beto O’Rourke is on the verge of accomplishing something extraordinary. He’s about to set a new record for amount of glowing national press coverage for a campaign that never led in a poll. The latest from Quinnipiac doesn’t quite say it’s over . . . but it’s getting close to over.

Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll:

Is the Beto bubble bursting or just hissing away with a slow leak? With less than four weeks until Election Day, Congressman Beto O’Rourke has hit a wall and remains the same nine points behind Sen. Ted Cruz as he was when Quinnipiac University polled the race last month.

The election is far from over, but Sen. Cruz would have to suffer a major collapse for him to lose. That is even more unlikely since 97 percent of Cruz voters say they are sure they won’t change their minds.

Cruz has a 52 – 44 percent favorability rating. O’Rourke has a divided 45 – 47 percent favorability rating.

As I wrote way back in March:

It’s possible, even likely, that Democrats will improve upon their abysmal performance in the 2014 midterms. But it’s difficult to tell if Texas Democrats are really coming back or not, because the national and state media have been so desperate to see a comeback happen that they find the evidence to write this story every single cycle.

American Society Doesn’t Turn on a Dime

The preeminent factor in our intensifying cultural divisions is an effort by the left to redefine what is unacceptable. In 2008, Barack Obama went into Saddleback Church and told Pastor Rick Warren, in a televised event, that “I believe that marriage is the union between a man and a woman.” (Years later, David Axelrod assured readers in his book that Obama never believed that, and that he had merely lied to a pastor in church and the entire country. Rest easier, everyone!) Publicly expressing what was, until 2011, Barack Obama’s position on marriage is now considered something akin to a hate crime. Many have attempted to stretch the definition of xenophobia to go beyond antipathy to immigrants and those who are different to those who believe that immigration laws should be enforced and that the United States should have a secure border. The term “thug” is now racially charged and controversial — nobody tell Tupac, and nobody bother to look up the fact that the term derives from the Thuggee cult in India. (Yes, the bad guys from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.)

For much of the post–Cold War era, both Democrats and Republicans believed in a system of regulated capitalism and disagreed on how much regulation was ideal; now many Democrats are openly socialist. Significant numbers of young people on college campuses believe that speech that offends them is a form of violence, and that punching them in response is a form of free speech. Most Americans still find the concept of 37 genders absurd and contend that no matter what you feel like you are, you’re either one or the other.

You wake up one morning and suddenly clapping is considered insensitive to people with disabilities.

To me the essence of modern progressivism can be found in two lower-court decisions in the past decade and a half that ruled that saying “One nation under God” was unconstitutional, because it amounted to establishing a state religion. Higher courts overruled those decisions, but the point is that some judge felt comfortable telling people, who had been saying the Pledge of Allegiance every school day for their entire lives since 1954, that they had been violating the Constitution all along. Saying the Pledge is one of the few things that about 99.9 percent of all Americans have done (other than perhaps a few religious objectors). In addition to schools, most government meetings and quite a few private organizations begin their meetings with it. It is as woven into the fabric of American life as any other tradition.

Unsurprisingly, people do not like hearing that something they’ve done every weekday since kindergarten is wrong. Some people say it proudly, some people mumble it out of a sense of obligation, and some just stand. School districts know they cannot make students say the Pledge. No one in their right mind could construe the words “under God” being in the Pledge as being the establishment of a state religion. But these two judges felt completely comfortable telling every school in their jurisdictions that they had to stop what they had been doing for five or six decades and change immediately.

You can’t turn American society on a dime, and Americans really don’t like having changes imposed upon them. Just look at the reaction whenever Gmail changes the way it looks. Aspects of American life can change quickly — look at cell phones! — but it has to be organic and freely adopted.

This “The political opposition is the enemy” line is getting Americans to see each other only through the lens of politics, and people are more than their politics.

Did you ever find out that someone you knew and liked had a really weird belief? (Keep in mind, just about any belief is really weird to somebody. We Catholics believe that bread and wine turn into the body and blood of Christ, which probably sounds creepy-zombie-cannibalistic to someone unfamiliar with the faith.)

I’m referring to somebody who believes that the moon landing was faked; that they were abducted by aliens, spoke with angels, or saw ghosts; that the apocalypse is imminent; that the mob/Hoover/CIA/Cubans/Russians/Trilateral Commission/Bilderbergs/Hellfire Club killed JFK; that the Kennedys killed Marilyn Monroe; that the Chernobyl disaster was American retaliation for the Soviets secretly blowing up the Challenger space shuttle; that Michael Jordan’s brief, odd baseball career was a secret agreement to avoid a league suspension for gambling . . . wait, that last one makes a lot of sense.

Would you have to reevaluate your friendship or relationship with someone if they had a really bizarre belief? If so, why? How limited a range of viewpoints are you willing to impose upon everyone you know? Will you carry around a lengthy quiz of political topics to make sure everyone stays within the realm of acceptable perspectives? How will you banish those who deviate from your own personal orthodoxy?

If your auto-repair guy was adamant that the United States should go back to the gold standard . . . would it really matter, if he’s the best guy to fix your care? (Presuming, of course, that his repair shop still takes credit cards and he doesn’t expect payment in bullion.) If your dry cleaner believed that the United States should invade Andorra . . . does it matter, if he or she is really good at getting the stains out? When did we as Americans lose the ability to nod, offer a noncommittal “mm-hmm,” and change the subject?

Are there views beyond the pale? Heck yeah. If I found out my local coffee shop was owned and run by neo-Nazis, I’d get my coffee elsewhere. But we ought to have a little faith in each others’ abilities to discern when to express societal disapproval and when to let it go.

Freedom has to include the freedom to have the “wrong” opinion or beliefs.

ADDENDUM: Don’t look now, but the man crowned the most vulnerable Senate incumbent of the 2018 cycle, Nevada’s Dean Heller, has led the past two polls. Small leads, but not the numbers you’d expect to see from a guy who’s supposedly toast.

Elections

What to Expect in the Midterm Elections for the GOP

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The White House (Wikimedia Commons )

Making the click-through worthwhile: four key takeaways about the state of the GOP as early voting begins in the midterm elections; Hillary Clinton holds civility hostage; the world’s  thuggish regimes start getting cocky; and where you can vote early.

The Big Midterm Election Preview, 27 Days Out

What follows are some cautious assessments about the 2018 midterms, gleaned from looking at recent polling. (Insert all appropriate caveats: Yes, the polls are sometimes wrong; yes, Trump’s victory in 2016 surprised a lot of people even if the final-popular vote split was in line with the polling average; yes, polling response rates are low; yes, everyone should work like they’re ten points down even if they’re ten points up.)

One: Democrats are going to pick up some governorships that slipped away from them for the past few cycles. In Illinois, Democrat J. B. Pritzker is comfortably ahead of incumbent Republican Bruce Rauner. (Some National Review readers may not consider that a significant loss.)

In Michigan, incumbent Republican Rick Snyder is term-limited, and Democrat Gretchen Whitmer is consistently leading Republican Bill Schuette. While many Wisconsin Democrats have counted out Scott Walker before and found themselves eating crow on Election Day, Democrat Tony Evers is consistently enjoying a small lead in autumn polling. In Ohio, Mike DeWine is close to Democrat Richard Cordray, but that one’s a coin toss. When the dust settles after Election Day 2018, one of the biggest topics of discussion might be a state-level collapse of the GOP in these Great Lakes states.

In Nevada, three polls in September showed Democrat Steve Sisolak enjoying a lead over Republican state attorney general Adam Laxalt — many conservatives would be deeply disappointed by a Laxalt loss.

And then there are the governor races featuring a tight race and a stark choice between a conservative Republican and a liberal Democrat. All of the polling in Georgia points to a nail-biter between Republican Brian Kemp and Democrat Stacey Abrams, and in Florida, Democrat Andrew Gillum has consistently enjoyed a small lead in eight polls taken in September.

Two: The blue wave is skipping some states and races. You can probably put Maryland’s governor’s race to bed; On Tuesday morning, the Washington Post poll put incumbent Republican Larry Hogan ahead of Democrat Ben Jealous by 20 points. Democrats have high hopes for the Tennessee Senate race*, but their candidate for governor, Karl Dean, has failed to make the race competitive against Bill Lee. Up in Alaska, there’s a three-way race, and Republican Mike Dunleavy is likely to win handily against incumbent independent Bill Walker and Democrat Mark Begich. Few people think of New Hampshire or Vermont as Republican strongholds, but incumbent GOP governors Chris Sununu in New Hampshire and Phil Scott in Vermont appear to be comfortably cruising to reelection.

Three: Control of the House is probably tighter than the “blue wave” talk suggests. Races for the House of Representatives are toughest to survey, because the House district lines don’t always align with area codes and pollsters have to be more careful to ensure the households that they’re calling are in the right district.

The New York Times/Siena College watch-it-as-it-happens surveys are fascinating, but I’m not sure I buy the idea that showing the results as they happen is influencing the results; this would mean the registered voters that Siena is calling have already checked the Times web page and are altering their choice based upon those results.

If the Siena College polling is correct, a slew of moderately endangered House Republicans can breathe a little easier. Mike Kelly in Pennsylvania, Ted Budd in North Carolina, John Carter in Texas, Lee Zeldin in New York, and Steve Chabot in Ohio all enjoyed leads of six to 16 percentage points. All the standard points about the House remain in effect — the president’s party traditionally does badly in midterm elections, the GOP has to defend a lot of open seats, and Trump isn’t popular in the suburban districts that make up the main battlegrounds. But a prominent House Republican told me last week that he thought that his party’s chances of keeping the majority in the House are 50-50. Even if he’s being overly optimistic, a four-in-ten chance of keeping GOP control is considerably better than just a few weeks ago. For what it’s worth, Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight.com thinks there’s just a 22 percent chance the GOP keeps control.

Keep in mind, right now the House has 235 Republicans, 193 Democrats, and seven vacancies, and Republicans found it challenging to keep their caucus united. A smaller majority for either party would make passing legislation even tougher, and leave any faction much more empowered.

Four: Maybe it’s a temporary Kavanaugh effect, but the GOP has the opportunity for a really good year in the Senate. After trailing for a long while, Marsha Blackburn is surging ahead of Phil Breseden* in Tennessee. After trailing for what felt like forever, incumbent Dean Heller is now ahead by 2 percent in the latest poll in Nevada. (As Liam Donovan keeps pointing out, Heller was a strong enough campaigner to win by about 11,000 votes while Obama was winning the state by about 68,000 votes in 2012, but for some reason the political media keeps describing Heller as the most vulnerable Senate incumbent in this cycle.)

GOP wins in Tennessee and Nevada would take away two of the Democrats’ best opportunities to pick up a seat. Republicans still have some reason to worry about Arizona where Kristen Sinema has a small but consistent lead over Martha McSally, although a new poll out this morning puts McSally up by six.

And no, Beto O’Rourke does not look like he’s going to win in Texas, which will raise tough questions about whether the $23 million donated to O’Rourke’s campaign could have been better spent elsewhere.

You can write off Heidi Heitkamp’s chances in North Dakota now.

Missouri looks really, really close, as does Florida. Polling in Indiana has been sparse, but Mike Braun has a gift-wrapped issue because of incumbent Democrat Joe Donnelly’s vote against Kavanaugh. (Failing to knock off Donnelly would rank as one of the biggest missed opportunities for the GOP in the cycle.) Democrats had felt confident about Jon Tester in Montana, but now his race against Matt Rosendale is getting tighter, too. In West Virginia, Joe Manchin probably made himself electorally bulletproof with his vote for Kavanaugh.

The Republicans’ best realistic expectation is that they keep seats in Texas, Nevada, Tennessee, and Arizona, and then knock off Democratic incumbents in North Dakota, Missouri, Indiana, Florida, and Montana. That five-seat pickup would give them a comfortable 56-44 majority in the Senate. More likely, they’ll win some of those pickup opportunities and fall short in a few.

*As noted on yesterday’s Three Martini Lunch podcast, in light of a certain pop star’s recent endorsement in the Tennessee Senate race, Marsha Blackburn may have been trailing, but she figured out how to shake it off. Yes, there’s some bad blood in this race, but Tennessee voters are figuring out that Bredesen was trouble when he walked in, and they’re likely to tell the former governor that they are never ever getting back together. Blackburn is not out of the woods, but the end game is near. And where Democrats thought they had a Senate pickup on election night, they’ll end up with a . . . blank space.

‘Win Back the House and/or the Senate, That’s When Civility Can Start Again.’

Hillary Clinton:

You cannot be civil with a political party that wants to destroy what you stand for, what you care about. That’s why I believe if we are fortunate enough to win back the House and/or the Senate, that’s when civility can start again.

In other words, civility is a luxury that can only be afforded when Hillary Clinton’s preferred party controls Congress; when the Republicans control Congress, there is no need for civility. Heads she wins, tails Republicans lose.

It’s also absolutely fascinating that Clinton defines the GOP as “a political party that wants to destroy what you stand for, what you care about.” Fairly or not, this is how a lot of Republicans feel about the Democratic party.

If you care about the Second Amendment right to own a firearm, the unborn, a secure border, the enforcement of immigration laws by ICE, limiting citizenship to those who go through the proper legal steps to earn it, and keeping a fair level of what you earn, once you’ve paid your federal taxes, state taxes, local taxes, sales taxes, car taxes, and property taxes — Democrats want to “destroy” all of that. Democrats want to impede, if not destroy, school choice, vouchers, charter schools. They want to bring earmarks — member-chosen spending priorities — back into the budgeting process.

Meanwhile, on the World Stage . . .

The Turkish government claims the Saudis killed Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist who had applied for permanent residency in the United States. The Chinese just detained the head of Interpol. A Bulgarian investigative journalist was just raped and murdered.

It looks like some of the world’s more thuggish regimes feel free to act with impunity. Might be time for our law-and-order, takes-no-grief-from-anybody, never-backs-down, no-time-for-diplomatic-niceties president to get a little more vocal.

ADDENDUM: Early voting has begun in Arizona, California, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming (or parts of them, check your local elections boards). Whether or not you think early voting is a good idea for our country, if you’ve got the option, why not go for it? Avoid the lines on Election Day and you’re set in case your car breaks down or something else goes wrong on that first Tuesday in November.

Politics & Policy

Democrats Don’t View Conservative Victories as Legitimate

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Anti-Trump protesters march in Seattle, Wash., November 21, 2016. (Reuters photo: David Ryder)

Making the click-through worthwhile: how the rise of Donald Trump, or a Trump-like figure, was inevitable in an age when the Democratic party and its media allies team up to destroy prominent conservatives with unverified accusations; and why our politics are poisoned when one side refuses to ever accept that the other side won a legitimate election victory.

The Post-Kavanaugh Landscape

Over the weekend, the circus left town.

Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed to be the next justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, and sworn in. Christine Blasey Ford said she had no interest in pursuing her allegation further. No one ever filed any complaint with the Montgomery County Police Department. Julie Swetnick is left fuming that she has been “re-victimized” and that she “literally put her life in jeopardy” by coming forward. This morning, Michael Avenatti is tweeting about his upcoming appearance at a Harris County, Texas, Democratic-party fundraiser. Elected Democrats are left griping to the public that the Federal Bureau of Investigation helped “cover up” Kavanaugh’s crimes.

Over the past few weeks, the Democrats and their allies in the national media attempted to establish the new standard that an accusation itself was sufficient evidence of guilt in the court of public opinion. The only evidence we have that Kavanaugh ever encountered the three accusers, never mind assaulted them, was their own testimony. All of Ford’s named witnesses said they could not remember the party. Deborah Ramirez claimed that many people witnessed the act she claimed, but Ronan Farrow and Jane Mayer could not find any of them. Avenatti and Swetnick described an ongoing series of crimes that would have dozens of victims and witnesses, but none of them ever came forward.

The Democrats and their media allies attempted to set up new rules, shifting from “anyone who comes forward from past chapters of your life and makes any accusation must be taken seriously” to “anyone who comes forward, without any proof of ever meeting you, must be described as a credible accuser, no matter how outlandish the claim.”

If this is how the Democrats and their media allies want to play the game, or how they always intended to play the game, then the rise of a Trump-like figure in Republican politics was inevitable.

If the Democrats and media planned to insist upon this new rule that accusations amount to guilt, it was inevitable that the leading Republican figure would describe the media as “the enemy” and treat them as such.

If the Democrats were always going to insist upon unveiling an accusation as serious as Ford’s at the end of the confirmation process, instead of at the beginning, it was inevitable that the leading Republican would dismiss it as partisan nonsense, instead of taking it seriously.

If the Democrats and media were always going to insist that accusations amount to guilt, it was inevitable that the leading Republican figure would openly express skepticism of claims of sexual assault. You notice that coverage of #MeToo suddenly quieted down after AMC’s investigation cleared host Chris Hardwick, a CNN investigation cleared contributor Ryan Lizza, and accounts of Asia Argento’s past behavior became more complicated. People began to rightfully wonder whether a movement and rallying cry against patterns of shameless predatory abuse was becoming a tool for score-settling.

If the Democrats and national media insisted upon these new rules, it was inevitable that the leading Republican figure would openly mock accusers and point out gaps in their memories. It was inevitable that the leading Republican figure would begin describing unproven claims as “a hoax.”

If the Democrats and national media were always going to insist that demanding corroborating evidence was morally akin to supporting sexual assault, it was inevitable that the leading Republican figure would tune out that kind of accusation.

Few Democrats Ever See Any Republican Victories as Legitimate

Ronald Reagan won the presidency in 1980, but if you talk to certain aged progressives, they’ll insist that the reason Reagan won was that George H. W. Bush secretly met with the Iranians in Paris to persuade them to keep the hostages in Tehran until after Election Day.

In 1994, Republicans won control of the House and Senate, and ABC News anchor Peter Jennings explained to viewers that it wasn’t a real shift in the electorate, or at least not one to be respected:

Ask parents of any two-year-old and they can tell you about those temper tantrums: the stomping feet, the rolling eyes, the screaming. It’s clear that the anger controls the child and not the other way around. It’s the job of the parent to teach the child to control the anger and channel it in a positive way. Imagine a nation full of uncontrolled two-year-old rage. The voters had a temper tantrum last week . . . Parenting and governing don’t have to be dirty words: the nation can’t be run by an angry two-year-old.

Republicans had technically won the elections, but they hadn’t really won a legitimate victory.

In 2000, Democrats believed that Al Gore really won Florida and that the Supreme Court stopped a recount that would have shown him to be the winner. (Never mind that the court voted 7-2 that the recount method the Gore campaign wanted, using a hand recount in their four best counties, violated the Equal Protection Clause. The 5-4 decision was about whether an alternative method could be completed in time.)

Democrats contended that GOP victories in the 2002 midterms and the 2004 presidential election were the result of Diebold voting machines changing votes for Kerry to votes for Bush.

After the 2010 midterms, Democrats contended that gerrymandering, a bipartisan passion, was suddenly a threat to democracy. No less a figure than Barack Obama enjoyed drawing the lines of his state legislative district “to include some of Chicago’s wealthiest citizens, making the district a powerful financial and political base that he used to win his U.S. Senate seat.” A political fact of life that both parties utilized suddenly became intolerable once Democrats were in the minority again.

After the 2014 midterms, Democrats started complaining that their total vote in all Senate races combined was higher than the Republicans’ total vote in all Senate races combined, and that this somehow made the Republican majority in the U.S. Senate illegitimate, because so many of the GOP states had smaller populations.

The second-least populated state in the union is Vermont, with an estimated 623,000 residents; the 45th is Delaware; the 43rd is Rhode Island; and the 40th is Hawaii, with about 1.4 million. All of those states have two Democratic senators. I don’t hear Democrats complaining that those states are over-represented.

Then there was 2016, when President Trump won the Electoral College but lost the popular vote. The irony is that not only had Hillary Clinton lost a slew of key states that Barack Obama had won four years earlier, but that other Democrats had figured out how to win in those states in recent years. Senator Bill Nelson won in Florida in 2012, Senator Sherrod Brown won in Ohio in 2012, Senator Tammy Baldwin won in Wisconsin in 2012, Governor Tom Wolf won in Pennsylvania in 2014, and Governor Roy Cooper won North Carolina in 2016. In 2014, Iowa Democrats won the state’s treasurer and attorney-general races. These are not impossible states for Democrats to win; they’re just impossible states for a candidate as lousy as Hillary Clinton to win.

But to a lot of Democrats, Hillary Clinton’s ability to run up her margins in states such as California and New York meant that Trump’s win was somehow illegitimate.

To a certain type of Democratic activist, Trump’s victory was illegitimate because of the popular vote, the Republican Senate majority is illegitimate because of the low population of some red states, the Republican House majority is illegitimate because of gerrymandering, and now the Supreme Court is illegitimate because of the allegations against Brett Kavanaugh — and heck, maybe they’ll throw in the allegations against Clarence Thomas, too. Whenever the party they don’t like wins something, they can find a reason why the victory isn’t really “legitimate.” This is “Calvinball,” where the rules of the game are made up while you’re playing, and the purpose of the constantly shifting rules is to ensure that one side always wins.

The notion that every Republican victory is illegitimate in one form or another is not a fringe theory in Democratic circles, and if it’s not a majority within the party, then the minority who believes this is loud.

On Saturday I posted a Twitter poll, asking whether people agreed that if the Democrats won the House, they should impeach Trump, Vice President Pence, and Justice Kavanaugh. (This would make Nancy Pelosi or whomever the Democrats elect as speaker the 46th president and create a new opening on the Court.) The number of responses was insane — more than 37,000 votes — and it ended with 67 percent disagree, but 33 percent agree, and it swung back and forth over the 24-hour period. (The poll also left some Mensa candidates on Twitter convinced that I’m a progressive Democrat.) That puts about 12,000 people who encountered my Twitter poll subscribing to the “impeach them all” theory.

And now expanding the size of the Supreme Court is becoming a priority in Democratic circles.

Their key aim, an expansion of the Supreme Court from nine to twelve members during the next Democratic administration, would thwart the Court’s current majority and bring important procedural reforms to the Court . . .

Why are our politics so angry, accusatory, vicious, nasty, personal, and vindictive? Because when one side refuses ever to recognize that the other side has legitimately won an election, this kind of atmosphere is inevitable.

ADDENDA: Everybody in northern Florida, stay safe . . .

Former Obama national security adviser and notorious liar about Benghazi Susan Rice is thinking about running against Susan Collins in 2020. Oh, by the way, Rice is not a resident of the state of Maine, but she owns a home there.

I suppose if Rice’s Senate bid doesn’t succeed, she’ll just blame it on a video.

Politics & Policy

Who Is Ford’s Unknown Therapist?

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Christine Blasey Ford on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., September 27, 2018. (Michael Reynolds/Reuters)

Monday is Columbus Day, so the next Morning Jolt will be on Tuesday.

Making the click-through worthwhile: The economy reaches a milestone that it hasn’t been able to reach in nearly half a century, someone was pressuring a witness in the Kavanaugh investigation, some hard questions about the unnamed therapist at the heart of Christine Blasey Ford’s account, and an opportunity you won’t want to miss.

Unemployment Rate Lowest in 49 Years — Yes, You Read That Right

It’s understandable that everyone’s focused on the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation fight, including this newsletter, but there is other news going on, and it’s important. In fact, this is exactly the sort of headline that Republicans want to see one month before Election Day:

Job creation for September fell to its lowest level in a year though the unemployment rate dropped to a point not seen in nearly 50 years, according to Labor Department figures released Friday.

Nonfarm payrolls rose just 134,000, well below Refinitiv estimates of 185,000 and the worst performance since September 2017 when a labor strike weighed on the numbers. The unemployment rate fell two-tenths of a percentage point to 3.7 percent, the lowest since December 1969 and one-tenth of a percentage point below expectations.

I know the common argument among Democrats is that Obama did all the hard work of getting companies hiring again and that Trump is just coasting. But Justin Wolfers, a staunch critic of Trump and Republicans in general, is raving about the state of the job market:

The labor market is motoring along . . . You’re seeing average job growth over the past three months of +190k. That’s strong, and even stronger for this point in the cycle. It’s great news to see the recovery — now well into its 8th year — is continuing to draw more people in from the sidelines.

Leland Keyser Told the FBI That She Felt Pressured to ‘Revisit’ Her Initial Statement

The award for the Most Interesting and Consequential Article Behind a paywall goes to the Wall Street Journal today:

A friend of Christine Blasey Ford told FBI investigators that she felt pressured by Dr. Ford’s allies to revisit her initial statement that she knew nothing about an alleged sexual assault by a teenage Brett Kavanaugh, which she later updated to say that she believed but couldn’t corroborate Dr. Ford’s account, according to people familiar with the matter.

Leland Keyser, who Dr. Ford has said was present at the gathering where she was allegedly assaulted in the 1980s, told investigators that Monica McLean, a retired Federal Bureau of Investigation agent and a friend of Dr. Ford’s, had urged her to clarify her statement, the people said.

Remember in Ford’s testimony, when she commented about Keyser?

MITCHELL: Are you aware that they say that they have no memory or knowledge of such a party?

FORD: Yes.

MITCHELL: OK. Do you have any particular motives to ascribe to Leland?

FORD: I guess we could take those one at a time. Leland has significant health challenges, and I’m happy that she’s focusing on herself and getting the health treatment that she needs, and she let me know that she needed her lawyer to take care of this for her, and she texted me right afterward with an apology and good wishes, and et cetera, So I’m glad that she’s taking care of herself. [Emphasis added.]

That seemed a little strange, didn’t it? It didn’t really address the question of why Keyser would not recall the party — other than to perhaps imply that the health issues would impede her memory.

The Missing Therapist and the Withheld Therapist’s Notes

Earlier in the week, I started doing some digging into the therapist described in the account of Christine Blasey Ford. It’s a little surprising that the name of the therapist hasn’t leaked, isn’t it? The therapist could be the very best in the profession, or the therapist could be a quack who specializes in “recovered memories.” There’s been intense debate among psychologists about the reliability of recovered memories and new research raising questions about the reliability of memories in investigating long-ago crimes:

Contrary to what many believe, human memories are malleable, open to suggestion and often unintentionally false. “False memories are everywhere,” she says. “In everyday situations we don’t really notice or care that they’re happening. We call them mistakes, or say we misremember things.” In the criminal-justice system, however, they can have grave consequences.

Until Ford chooses to disclose the therapist’s name, we are likely to never know. And unless Ford gives the therapist permission to discuss what was said in therapy, it is likely we will never hear from the therapist.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) and California state law put tough restrictions on when a therapist can discuss a patient without the patient’s consent — basically, they can discuss their records only when the patients are threats to themselves or others. It is extremely likely that the Fords’ therapist believes he or she cannot come forward and verify (or contradict!) Ford’s account without serious professional and perhaps legal consequences.

A therapist who currently lives in Oregon sold her house to the Fords, and when asked if she was the therapist who treated them by a reporter for RealClearPolitics, refused to say. A few observers interpreted that as confirmation, but I don’t think that’s accurate. (For starters, this therapist appears to have moved to Oregon before 2012, which is when Ford said she discussed it in therapy.)

You may recall that when Ford began her testimony, she said, “My motivation in coming forward was to be helpful and to provide facts about how Mr. Kavanaugh’s actions have damaged my life, so that you could take into a serious consideration as you make your decision about how to proceed.”

And yet . . . she won’t turn over even excerpts of the therapist’s notes. Those notes could be helpful. Or they might contradict her account more than we already know.

There was this odd exchange during the hearing:

FORD: She [presumably the therapist ] helped me go through the record to locate whether I had had record of this conversation that I had remembered.

MITCHELL: Did you show a full or partial set of those marriage therapy records to The Washington Post?

FORD: I don’t remember. I remember summarizing for her what they said. So I’m not – I’m not quite sure if I actually gave her the record.

MITCHELL: OK. So it’s possible that the reporter did not see these notes.

FORD: I don’t know if she’s – I can’t recall whether she saw them directly or if I just told her what they said.

MITCHELL: Have you shown them to anyone else besides your counsel?

FORD: Just the counsel.

MITCHELL: OK. Would it be fair to say that Brett Kavanaugh’s name is not listed in those notes?

FORD: His name is not listed in those notes.

(A question that I wish Mitchell had asked: Do those notes list any other names?)

Ford spoke to the Post sometime between July 10 and September 16. The article ran September 16. The hearing was September 27. Why was it so difficult to remember whether she had given a full or partial set of the therapist’s notes?

The Post wrote in that initial article:

The therapist’s notes, portions of which were provided by Ford and reviewed by The Washington Post, do not mention Kavanaugh’s name but say she reported that she was attacked by students “from an elitist boys’ school” who went on to become “highly respected and high-ranking members of society in Washington.” The notes say four boys were involved, a discrepancy Ford says was an error on the therapist’s part.” [Emphasis added.]

Ford said, “I can’t recall whether she saw them directly or if I just told her what they said.” If it was the latter, then the Post was mischaracterizing what its reporters had seen.

A couple of years back, I saw a therapist for a while. Thankfully nothing traumatic to deal with, just a sense of being overwhelmed and never having enough hours in the day to be the father, husband, worker, son, brother, and friend to everyone that I wanted to be, and always feeling like I was leaving somebody important shortchanged. I don’t think I said anything unbearably embarrassing in there, but I can completely understand being reluctant about putting a therapist’s notes out for public consumption . . .

But if I needed those notes released to strengthen my case to prove that a crime occurred, then it would be worth it, wouldn’t it?

ADDENDUM: Are you interested in podcasting? Are you within driving distance of Washington, D.C.? Then you need to run, not walk, to sign up for the Leadership Institute’s Podcasting School. It’s only $25 if you register in the next eight days, and it’s a two-night program featuring NR’s publisher, Garrett Bewkes; Teri Christoph, host of the Smart Girl Politics podcast; Michelle Cordero, digital content manager for the Heritage Foundation; Beverly Hallberg, president of the District Media Group; Chris Malagisi, the editor-in-chief of the Conservative Book Club; Scott Rank, host of History Unplugged; Katrina Trinko, managing editor of the Daily Signal, and ahem — myself. If you’ve ever wanted to know what went into building the Three Martini Lunch podcast or those other fine programs, come on out and enjoy.

Politics & Policy

The FBI Report That Everyone Wants to Read, but That Only a Few Can

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Senator Chuck Grassley (R, Iowa) speaks with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., October 3, 2018. (Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters)

As of this writing, nothing significant has leaked from the supplemental FBI investigation into the allegations against Brett Kavanaugh. The report arrived on Capitol Hill last night. The longer we go without a leak that is damaging to Kavanaugh, the less likely those kinds of leaks are to exist.

The material was conveyed to Capitol Hill in the middle of the night, just hours after Senate Republicans set the stage for a pair of votes later in the week to move to final approval of Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination. A statement issued by the White House around 2:30 a.m. said the F.B.I. had completed its work and that it represented an unprecedented look at a nominee.

Senators will be permitted to review the materials, in what the F.B.I. calls 302 interview summaries, in a secured room at the Capitol starting on Thursday morning, or they can be briefed by a handful of staff members who are cleared to examine the material. After a day of review, the Senate is on track to take an initial vote on Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation on Friday and possibly a final vote as early as Saturday.

I’m surprised at all of the secrecy involving the FBI report and the steps taken to minimize leaking. The public interest in this dispute is almost off-the-charts. If there’s anything in there that’s bad for Brett Kavanaugh, it’s going to leak from the Senate Democrats. If there’s anything in there that’s good for Kavanaugh, it’s going to leak from the Senate Republicans. You may get completely contradicting interpretations of the same information. It would be wiser to redact any information in the FBI report that is private, sensitive, or embarrassing to those interviewed by the bureau and then release the rest.

The Senate could use the public-address system known as Dianne Feinstein’s office . . . but the problem is that it would take seven weeks for the information to get out.

The New Yorker’s Story Falls Apart

What the heck happened to The New Yorker?

What the heck happened to Ronan Farrow? The dragon-slayer of #MeToo is suddenly co-writing pieces like this:

Kenneth G. Appold was a suitemate of Kavanaugh’s at the time of the alleged incident. He had previously spoken to The New Yorker about Ramirez on condition of anonymity, but he said that he is now willing to be identified because he believes that the F.B.I. must thoroughly investigate her allegation.

Appold said that he was “one-hundred-per-cent certain” that he was told that Kavanaugh was the male student who exposed himself to [Deborah] Ramirez.

Appold said that he initially asked to remain anonymous because he hoped to make contact first with the classmate who, to the best of his recollection, told him about the party and was an eyewitness to the incident. He said that he had not been able to get any response from that person, despite multiple attempts to do so. The New Yorker reached the classmate, but he said that he had no memory of the incident.

So Appold repeated a story that he vaguely remembered and heard second-hand . . . and this was a central piece of supporting evidence at the heart of the previous New Yorker story about Ramirez’s accusation. This is what Jane Mayer dared claim was “the talk of the campus.”

This is bull-a-word-I’m-not-supposed-to-use-in-this-newsletter. The accuser said days before the article that she wasn’t sure it was Kavanaugh and only concluded it was him after “six days of carefully assessing her memories and consulting with her attorney.” Now the only other person who had allegedly witnessed the incident turns out to not remember anything.

Separately, Ramirez tells The New Yorker that the FBI interviewed her, but because the bureau has not followed up with other people she named, “I feel like I’m being silenced.”

See, when the FBI interviews you, you’re not being silenced. That’s the opposite of being silenced. You don’t get to just willy-nilly reinvent the meanings of words because you think it makes a more powerful political argument.

Personal Issues, Bad Experiences, and Modern Politics

Thanks again to Rush Limbaugh for again discussing an item from last week’s Jolt, contending that a significant number of political activists don’t see today’s disputes as questions of governance and policy at all, but as extensions of their own personal-psychological problems and issues. Authority figures, organized religion, members of whole groups or genders — everything is seen through the individual lens and thus every debate instantly becomes extraordinarily personal. In these activists’ minds, merely telling them that you disagree amounts to an extremely deep, cruel personal attack upon them and elicits a volcanically angry reaction.

It’s worth noting that everyone is shaped by their experiences and draws conclusions from those experiences. If you’ve had a good experience with law enforcement, you’re more likely to trust cops, and if you’ve had a bad one, you’re less likely to trust them — and that no doubt shapes how you view accusations of police brutality and groups such as Black Lives Matter. If you live outside the South and had a nice visit to Atlanta, or Charleston, or Raleigh some time, you’re more likely to have a positive feeling when people talk about “the South” — and you’re more likely to bristle when someone suggests it’s a wasteland of ignorant, violent, backwater hicks obsessed with glorifying their side during the Civil War. Similarly, if you’ve ever had a bad visit to a city or part of the country, that bad taste in your mouth probably lingered — leaving you suspecting that New Yorkers are rude, Los Angelenos are self-absorbed, and that everything’s bigger in Texas, including the egos. Everyone laughed at Casey Affleck’s Dunkin Donuts commercial on Saturday Night Live because lots of people have run into a not-quite-sober, chatty-to-loudmouthed Boston lout.

(Lest anyone think I’m not willing to mock my home regions — I grew up south of The Sopranos and north of the Kevin Smith movies in New Jersey, and it would have only taken one or two wrong turns in life to turn me into a character in Mallrats. And I observed last year, “Every time I travel to someplace else in the country, I think, ‘Wow, everyone is so nice and polite here!’ Then I suddenly realized, it isn’t that everyone else is exceptionally nice; it’s that my baseline expectation of human interaction is set by the colder, ruder, nastier people in the Washington area.”)

Everybody has bad experiences. A teacher that castigated us, a relative who relentlessly criticized us, a boss who belittled us, the coworker who took credit for our work, the company that without warning, laid us off. Almost all humor involves some element of shared bad experiences. Comedians’ routines such as, “What is the deal with airline food, huh? Did they scrape this stuff off the engine?” only work if you’ve had airline food that wasn’t so good.

Conservatives like to joke that government handles every problem the way it handles the Department of Motor Vehicles, because lots of people have a lousy experience at the Department of Motor Vehicles: long lines, long waits, tons of paperwork, surly staff who act like they don’t want to be there. (Hey, pal, at least you’re getting paid to be here, we’re not.)

When liberals need to defend government, they point away from the DMV and towards firefighters, and hospitals, and depending upon the day, police. I suspect very few Americans have ever had a bad experience with firemen. They show up fast and save people and save our homes from burning down. Surely some folks have had bad experiences with hospitals, particularly the billing departments, but every day, hundreds of thousands of people go into the hospital with a serious health problem and thankfully most of them walk out okay a few days later.

But we run into problems when we draw sweeping conclusions from our bad experiences. And sometimes the distinctions that people draw in making those classifications and conclusions are so small that they’re imperceptible to others.

Ross Douthat observed that much of the discussion of Kavanaugh’s younger years amounts to fuming about “those damned Ivy League elitist prep school boys” from writers and journalists who went to different prep schools and attended the same Ivy League universities.

The story Miller is telling is about how a jock from the No. 5 private high school in Maryland was a jerk to his roommate who went to the No. 2 private high school in Connecticut, and who years later communicated the story to a reporter who also went to that same No. 2 private high school, who then wrote it up as a tale of social stratification for our times.

A lot of our modern politics is driven by the cultural gap between mostly progressive cities and mostly conservative rural areas, with the suburbs making up the purple parts in between.

I could be wrong, but I suspect most folks on the center and the right would rather not have a cultural war. If San Francisco, Berkeley, Boston, Portland, and other heavily progressive cities want to pursue hard-left policies, knock yourselves out, guys. These things tend to generate their own backlash — like when Seattle tried to enact a new annual $275 tax per employee for big companies, and then rescinded it a few months later once Amazon and Starbucks threatened to leave town.

Let the cities and states be laboratories of democracy and allow other parts of the country be as conservative as they like, as long as their laws are consistent with the Constitution. Let Amarillo and Tulsa and Colorado Springs and Omaha and Huntsville and Jacksonville enact conservative ideas, and the liberal cities enact their ideas, and let Americans vote with their feet. (Some would argue they already are, considering state-to-state migration.)

But as Jonah has noted many times, liberals are the aggressors in the culture wars. They’re fine with banning large sodas, banning guns, requiring religious institutions to provide birth control, public funding for abortion, restricting Airbnb rentals, limiting ride-sharing services, and instituting “bias response teams” on college campuses. They are not comfortable leaving you free to make decisions that they think are wrong.

They appreciate every kind of diversity except people who disagree with them.

ADDENDUM: The latest NPR/PBS/Marist poll: “Just over a month away from critical elections across the country, the wide Democratic enthusiasm advantage that has defined the 2018 campaign up to this point has disappeared.”

Politics & Policy

How the Kavanaugh Fight Will Shape Our Politics

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A demonstrator against the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh protests outside the U.S. Supreme Court building. September 17, 2018. (REUTERS/Mike Segar )

You no doubt recall that during the 2012 presidential campaign, then-Senate majority leader Harry M. Reid accused Mitt Romney of having not paid any taxes over the past decade. It wasn’t true; Romney released tax returns showing that it wasn’t true. In 2015, CNN’s Dana Bash pressed him about telling a blatant lie, Reid responded,“Romney didn’t win, did he?”

That is the only lesson anyone in politics is going to take from everything surrounding the Kavanaugh confirmation.

Did the last-minute leak of Christine Blasey Ford’s name and accusation help Kavanaugh opponents win?

Did the New Yorker article that began with a lurid accusation, but that halfway through admitted could not confirm Kavanaugh’s attendance at the party at the center of the accusation, help Kavanaugh opponents win?

Did the implausible claims of Julie Swetnick, released and publicized by Michael Avenatti, help Kavanaugh opponents win?

Did fundraising off of the Kavanaugh accusations help Kavanaugh opponents win?

Did a U.S. senator telling all men in America to “shut up and step up” help Kavanaugh opponents win?

This is binary. Either these efforts derailed the nomination, or they didn’t.

There is no circumstance where everyone involved with those norm-breaking steps suddenly wakes up, has a crisis of conscience, and realizes that they were morally wrong. The only way they decide not to take similar steps in the future is if they conclude that those steps are not effective.

If these sorts of tactics work, we will get more of them. Right now, Kavanaugh could be a squish who wimps out on Roe vs. Wade and I’d still want him on that court, because this isn’t really about him anymore. This is about what kind of proof is needed before you believe a man is a monster. This is about whether decades of respected public and private life can be wiped away by an allegation without supporting witnesses. This is about whether anyone who ever knew you at any chapter of your life can suddenly come forward and paint you as a malevolent deviant of every kind . . . or whether people who never knew you at any chapter of your life can suddenly come forward and paint you as a malevolent deviant of every kind.

Make no mistake, this whole public discussion would be completely different if P. J. Smyth had said, “Well, I remember the party, but I don’t know what happened when the three of them were upstairs.” Or if Leland Keyser had said, “Yes, I remember the party, but I had no idea what happened in that room after they turned up the music.” If Ford remembered the date and the house, and we could go back and check property records and see whose parents owned the house, and whether her description of the house matches the floor plan . . . this would be a different conversation.

But as it is, we have a denial — and three named witnesses who do not corroborate that the party ever occurred, much less an assault. Ford’s claim is just lacking in specifics enough that no alibi can ever be created. For example, if Ford said this occurred on, say, any of the last three weekends in 1982, we would be able to go back and see Kavanaugh’s calendar and attempt to verify the listed weekend trips to St. Michael’s in Maryland or Connecticut to visit his grandmother.

I think the pro-Kavanaugh side is indeed winning the public argument. A weekend Harvard CAPS/Harris poll of 1,330 registered voters found that “once the voters are told that the named witnesses deny any knowledge of the allegation, this shifts to 57 percent who favor confirmation — and that goes up to 60 percent, if the FBI agrees there is no corroboration.” Almost everyone in America has been wrongfully accused of something sometime, and they’re rightfully terrified and outraged at the suggestion that the new standard should be presumed guilty until proven innocent.

But we’ve got at least three GOP senators who seem nervous. They’re used to being considered the “nice” Republicans, who are used to being praised in contrast to their colleagues, heralded as reasonable, and sensible, and centrist. They’re not used to being demonized in the press, and they’re certainly not used to activists yelling at them that they support rape.

Senators, I hate to be the one to tell you this, but there is never going to be enough political cover to stop activists from yelling at you. The only thing that will stop the Left from hating you is total capitulation. There is another option of course, which is to teach them the hard lesson that everything they tried against you did not work in its intended goal, which is to get you to vote against Kavanaugh. All of this is to sway you, frighten you, intimidate you, and bend you to their will.

The future of American politics depends upon Dianne Feinstein, Chuck Schumer, Mazie Hirono, Richard Blumenthal, Jane Mayer, Emily Bazelon, Michael Avenatti, Brian Fallon, and all the rest saying after the confirmation vote and the 2018 midterms, “Wow, that didn’t work.”

Brett Kavanaugh, Scapegoat for Washington’s Sins

Why have Washington’s political and media classes responded to the allegations against Kavanaugh in the way that they have?

We’ve learned over the years that high-level, white-collar Washington, D.C. — including the realms of journalism, politics, academia, and law — includes a lot of creeps. Over the past year, the city’s professional class learned that a bunch of their colleagues, mentors, role models, and industry leaders were a bunch of sexual predators or otherwise sleazy. Sure, there were the politicians such as Al Franken, and Tim Murphy, and Blake Fahrenthold, and John Conyers Jr., and Trent Franks, and Patrick Meehan.

But the media world saw one establishment, center-left to left, often self-proclaimed-feminist man after another suddenly resigning or suffering some other career consequence after horrific stories and allegations of patterns of abuse: Mark Halperin. Charlie Rose. Leon Wieseltier, formerly an editor at The New Republic. Hamilton Fish, publisher of The New Republic. Michael Oreskes, a top editor at NPR. Glenn Thrush, political reporter for the New York Times. Garrison Keillor. In each case, peers and colleagues wondered — who knew? Who witnessed something odd or weird but pretended not to notice? Who turned a blind eye to the behavior? Did anybody ever confront these guys? If not, why didn’t anybody ever confront these guys?

Even if some members of Washington’s white-collar community never encountered sexual harassment or assault, a lot of people — mostly men, but also women — look back on their teen years and their early twenties and cringe. Hopefully their youthful indiscretions never got anywhere near sexual assault. But the college scene of past decades included lots of people getting hammered, having drunken hookups, sleeping with people and then regretting it, sleeping with people whose names they don’t remember and never really learned, dumb things said, dumb reactions to things said, and macho challenges to take it outside.

In the Old Testament, they describe the tradition of the scapegoat:

By the high priest placing his hands on the head of the goat and confessing the sins of Israel, the priest symbolized the transference of the people’s sin to the goat. Together the goat sacrificed and the living scapegoat showed that the goats were substituted for the people and that they bore the penalty of the sin.

The sacrificed goat perished and the scapegoat took away the impurities and sins to the wilderness.

Whatever you think of this theologically, it’s no doubt psychologically appealing to absolve ourselves of all of our own wrongdoings and transfer the blame to one animal or figure to represent all of those bad judgments, bad deeds, and selfish motives.

Kavanaugh is turning into an old-fashioned scapegoat. And he’s perfect, because he checks so many of the boxes: White. Male. Conservative. Raised in the safe, comfortable suburbs. Prep school. Football player. Ivy League. Fraternity. Well-connected in Washington’s legal scene. One of the authors of the Starr Report. Worked on the Florida recount in 2000. Worked for George W. Bush. Openly Catholic. Oh, and he might just be the deciding vote the next time there’s a legal challenge to Roe v. Wade.

Here’s a man that the mostly progressive, Washington, D.C., media and political elites can denounce with relish. They hate the way he’s like them (comfortable upbringing, Ivy League education), and they hate the way he’s different from them (open traditional religious faith, worked for Republicans).

What we’re witnessing is a lot of people in their thirties, forties, and fifties engaging in a public ritual of castigating the behavior they regret from decades earlier.

But don’t worry, this period of neo-McCarthyist witch-trial-style moral panic won’t last forever. Concepts like privacy, the need for forgiveness, and the need to leave the past behind will be rediscovered the moment the public learns of the first embarrassing, career-trajectory-altering story about a real 2020 Democratic presidential contender. 

The Goalposts Shift, Again

Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer said on Monday:

The FBI has ample resources to do this within the one-week period requested by the members of the Judiciary Committee. No one is asking it take longer than a week, but everyone is asking it be done thoroughly and completely within that week.

The news, Tuesday:

The top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee said she thought a Friday vote on the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh would not give senators enough time to evaluate the FBI probe of sexual misconduct allegations against him.

“Well, I believe it is. I believe it’s too soon,” Senator Dianne Feinstein told reporters at the Capitol.

ADDENDA: We’re asking for your help. I know, you don’t like being asked, and we don’t enjoy asking. But if this newsletter or other NR works have brought you some joy, insight, comfort, humor, or news in the past year, maybe you’ll feel it’s worthwhile to chip in a bit, to ensure it keeps going.

Our Charlie Cooke notices that Rachel Mitchell probably knew that there were claims Christine Blasey Ford had some experience with polygraphs, because “during last week’s Senate hearing, because she asked Ford two extremely specific questions on the subject of polygraphs.” Isn’t there an old saying that lawyers almost never ask a question that they don’t already know the answer?

Law & the Courts

Swetnick Walks Back Her Initial Sworn Statement

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Demonstrators protest Brett Kavanaugh in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., September 24, 2018. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Julie Swetnick’s accusation falls apart, Democrats risk a major mistake by putting their faith in Michael Avenatti, and Minnesota congressman Keith Ellison is almost out of the woods.

Scrutinizing a Wildly Implausible Accusation

Should we be mad that MSNBC interviewed Kavanaugh accuser Julie Swetnick and put her on camera, considering the implausibility of her claims? Or should we be pleasantly surprised that MSNBC pointed out all of the ways that her story doesn’t add up?

Before the interview aired, NBC News’ Kate Snow declared:

NBC News, for the record, has not been able to independently verify her claims. There are things that she told us on camera that differ from her written statement last week. We’ve been trying independently to reach out to anyone who remembers attending parties with Julie Swetnick and Brett Kavanaugh and we’ve been asking her attorney for names. So far, we’ve not found anyone who remembers that. She’s also unclear about when she first decided to come forward.

In her sworn statement, Swetnick said:

During the years 1981-82, I became aware of efforts by Mark Judge, Brett Kavanaugh and others to “spike” the “punch” at house parties I attended with drugs and/or grain alcohol so as to cause girls to lose their inhibitions and their ability to say “no.”

In last night’s interview, Swetnick said:

Well, I saw him giving red Solo cups to quite a few girls during that time frame and there was green punch at those parties. And I would not take one of those glasses from Brett Kavanaugh. I saw him around the punch, I won’t say bowls, or the punch containers . . . I don’t know what he did, but I saw him by them.

That’s an astonishing walk-back of the original accusation.

Snow also noted that of the four names Swetnick provided of people who went to these parties with her, “one said he doesn’t even know her, one is deceased, and the remaining two opted not to respond to NBC News.”

Snow also said, “Swetnick says after the alleged attack on her when she was 19, she never returned to those big house parties.” Swetnick was born in 1963; if her birth date has been publicly revealed, I haven’t been able to find it.

But whenever her birthday is, if she never returned to the parties after an attack that occurred when she was 19 as she said last night, she would have stopped attending parties in 1982.

From her sworn statement: “I attended well over ten house parties in the Washington, D.C. area during the years 1981 — 1983 where Mark Judge and Brett Kavanaugh were present.” In her interview she said she stopped attending parties in 1982; in her sworn statement she said she attended until the following year.

What’s more, Swetnick “told NBC that she reported her assault to the Montgomery County police department, but the officer whose name she provided is deceased and the department said it could take as long as one month to locate the relevant report.”

Last night Swetnick’s ex-boyfriend appeared on Fox News and said that during their seven-year relationship, she never mentioned anything about these weekly gang-rape parties that she attended in her college years. He also said she threatened to kill their unborn child.

Deep in a Washington Post article published on Sunday, the paper offered details of Swetnick’s past legal fights that raise serious questions about her credibility:

In its civil complaint in a state court in Oregon, the company said Swetnick, a software engineer, was an employee for a few weeks before its human resources department received a report that she had engaged in “unwelcome sexual innuendo and inappropriate conduct” toward two male co-workers at a business lunch.

The lawsuit said that Swetnick in turn accused Webtrends of subjecting her to “physically and emotionally threatening and hostile conditions” and that she claimed that she’d been sexually harassed by four co-workers. The co-workers denied the allegations, the suit said.

Company officials later determined, the suit said, that Swetnick had provided false information on her employment application. The suit alleged that she had misrepresented the length of time she worked at a previous employer and falsely claimed that she’d earned an undergraduate degree in biology and chemistry from Johns Hopkins University.

Deeper in the same article, there was another case that suggested perjury:

Swetnick, who described herself in court records as a model and actor, claimed she had “numerous modeling commitments” with several companies at the time of the accident but missed out them because of her injuries.

To support her claim for lost wages, Swetnick named “Konam Studios” as one of the companies promising to employ her. A court filing identified Nam Ko, a representative of “Kunam Studios,” as a possible plaintiff’s witness for her case.

Ko, however, told AP on Friday that he was just a friend of Swetnick’s and that he had never owned a company with a name spelled either way and had never agreed to pay her money for any work before she injured her nose. He said he first met Swetnick at a bar more than a year after her alleged accident.

Keep in mind, from her description in her sworn statement, there should be dozens of witnesses.

You’re Making a Big Mistake, Democratic Friends

Democrats are unlikely ever to take my advice, but they need to hear it anyway: Michael Avenatti is bad news for everybody except Michael Avenatti.

I think most Americans would concur that whether or not Christine Blasey Ford is accurate in her claims, she deserved a serious hearing — although she and the country would have been better off if Senator Dianne Feinstein or Representative Anna Eshoo had honored Ford’s request that her identity not be released to the media. We can argue about the claims of former Yale student Deborah Ramirez; she confesses that her memory contains “gaps,” she told other classmates that she wasn’t certain it was Kavanaugh, and so far, no one else can even confirm he was at the party where the incident allegedly occurred. But she at least described a plausible scenario — college freshmen drinking to excess and behavior getting out of control.

But these claims by Swetnick? There’s a reason Avenatti announced the accusations on Twitter. Any journalistic institution — even MSNBC! — would have looked into them, found the lack of corroborating victims and witnesses where there should be many, checked the ages and dates (Kavanaugh was 15 going on 16 in 1981, when these drug-fueled, gang-rape parties that included college students allegedly began), and noticed the credibility issues in Swetnick’s past, and offered a report at least as skeptical as last night’s interview. Avenatti didn’t go the traditional route of bringing these accusations to the public because the traditional route would have doubted their credibility.

False accusations make everything harder for those who have to come forward with true accusations. Avenatti brings a lot of bombast and showmanship to the table, but his priorities are clear:

 A federal judge gave Michael Avenatti a choice Wednesday: If he wanted to represent his client Stormy Daniels in the federal investigation of President Donald Trump’s longtime attorney Michael Cohen, he had to end his “publicity tour” of TV appearances and aggressive tweets about the case.

Avenatti chose instead to drop the case. He was back on MSNBC talking about Cohen less than two hours later.

And if the counterargument from Democrats is, “Trump used Twitter to make outlandish statements and implausible accusations first!” then this is a gut-check time for them. What kind of a society do Democrats want to live in? Do they want to live in a world where anyone can accuse anyone else of anything, put the accusation out on social media, and destroy someone’s reputation forever? Because what is done in this case with Kavanaugh will set the rules in politics and civil society going forward. A huge majority of Republicans are absolutely convinced that a good man is being destroyed.

A USA Today sports columnist wrote that he doubted Kavanaugh should still be allowed to coach girls youth-league basketball. A cartoonist portrayed Kavanaugh’s daughter calling her father a rapist. Every tool, method, and tactic used by one side of the political divide will inevitably be adopted by the other. This is a formula for a society where no one in his or her right mind ever wants to go anywhere near politics and governing. Once this becomes “the new normal,” the inmates truly will run the asylum.

Keith Ellison, Almost Out of the Woods

We don’t know what happened between Keith Ellison and Karen Monahan behind closed doors. Yesterday, the Minnesota Democratic party concluded they could not substantiate her claim of physical abuse but referred the claim to local law enforcement to “determine whether further investigation is warranted.” The party’s investigator, attorney Susan Ellingstad, said a major obstacle to verifying the claim was the video of the assault that Monahan claimed to have had at one point.

“An allegation standing alone is not necessarily sufficient to conclude that conduct occurred, particularly where the accusing party declines to produce supporting evidence that she herself asserts exists,” she wrote in the report. “She has thus repeatedly placed the existence of the video front and center to her allegations, but then has refused to disclose it.”

Monahan said on Twitter that she would not release the video because “you are not entitled to my pain and trauma. You are not entitled to see me getting dragged, when my body is being exposed in more ways than one.”

She’s entitled to make that choice, but she also has to accept the consequences of that choice. Fairly or not, there will be people who will doubt the credibility of an accuser who claims to have video evidence of an assault but refuses to provide it.

ADDENDUM: Color me skeptical that all of these folks who claim “I know a liar when I see one” are as good at determining veracity as they think they are.

Law & the Courts

Jeff Flake Is a Sucker

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(REUTERS/Caitlin Ochs)

I hope this is worth it to you, Senator Jeff Flake.

“Based on some of the reports we’ve seen this weekend, I’m very concerned about this because the White House should not be allowed to micromanage an FBI investigation,” Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

“While the White House decides who to nominate, and then that person is submitted to a background check, I have never heard that the White House, either under this president or other presidents, is saying, ‘well, you can’t interview this person, you can’t look at this time period, you can only look at these people from one side of the street from when they were growing up,’” Klobuchar said.

Asked on ABC’s “This Week” whether she thought the FBI investigation would be credible, Hawaii Democratic Sen. Mazie Hirono said, “That’s going to be the big outstanding question.”

“I would think that Jeff Flake and the other senators who are going for this investigation will call for — there’s time, you know,” said Hirono, who is also a Judiciary Committee member. “The thing is that every Senate vote matters and there is . . . time to get to the bottom of it, even if it’s seven days.

“That’s bad enough,” Hirono continued. “But then to limit the FBI as to the scope and who they’re going to question, that, that really — I wanted to use the word farce — but that’s not the kind of investigation that all of us are expecting the FBI to conduct.”

Democrats don’t want an FBI investigation just into the accusations against Kavanaugh; they want an FBI investigation into whether others remember Kavanaugh drinking more during his college years than he described in the hearing:

As agents conducted their review, which involves interviewing four potential witnesses, a college professor in North Carolina became the latest in a series of former Yale classmates of Judge Kavanaugh’s to accuse him of giving untruthful testimony by minimizing his use of alcohol when he was a student.

The professor, Chad Ludington, said he frequently saw Judge Kavanaugh “staggering from alcohol consumption” during their student years. He said he planned to tell his story to the F.B.I. at its office in Raleigh, N.C., on Monday. A spokesman for the White House declined to comment on Mr. Ludington’s allegations.

Former U.S. attorney Harry Litman, writing in the New York Times op-ed page today:

Any good agent would follow up on [Kavanaugh’s] comment [about his yearbook] by asking the judge to identify the friends he discussed the yearbook with in the week before the hearing. That agent would then proceed to talk to each friend and probably other Georgetown Prep classmates who might shed light on the meaning of terms such as “devil’s triangle,” “boofing” and “100 kegs or bust.”

This is where we are: Democrats are insisting unless we can say precisely what the slang term “boofing” meant amongst teenagers in 1980s suburban Maryland, the investigation is not complete.

I suspect Flake thought he was doing the right thing by giving Kavanaugh a way to dispel the accusations against him, and also by taking away the biggest argument from the Democrats, that “we need an FBI investigation.” But he assumed what few other Republicans did: that these objections from Democrats were made in good faith.

Jeff Flake is a sucker. People acting in good faith don’t leak the name of a woman making sexual-assault accusations when she has asked to remain anonymous. People acting in good faith don’t withhold information about accusations as serious as this from their colleagues for two months. People acting in good faith don’t unveil the accusation after the confirmation hearings. People acting in good faith don’t tout the investigative abilities of the FBI for months and then turn around and express doubt that they’ll get the answers once they get that investigation.

A Democrat acting in good faith would say, “Whatever you think of the allegations by Ms. Ford and Ms. Ramirez, the allegations brought forth by Michael Avenatti’s client — claiming that at age 15, Brett Kavanaugh began organizing weekly gang-rape parties that involved dozens of assailants, victims, and witnesses, that involved acquiring and slipping young women Quaaludes, and continued a relentless gang-rape spree for three years, and not a single victim or witness ever went to police, a parent, a teacher or other responsible adult — are extremely implausible and represent a smear.”

Senator Dianne Feinstein has done the opposite, calling for the FBI to investigate those farfetched claims:

“Each of these stories are troubling on their own and each of these allegations should be investigated by the FBI. All three women have said they would like the FBI to investigate; please do so. All three have said they have other witnesses and evidence to corroborate their accounts.”

We will see what happens in a few days, when the FBI brings back its report.

There’s always the remote possibility that the FBI report comes back with some compelling new evidence of Kavanaugh breaking the law. But if it doesn’t, we already know what Democrats will say; most of us could guess it on Friday. The Democrats will always move the goalposts. They will always point to new vague allegations, new “troubling rumors,” more long-forgotten acquaintances who just happened to remember some stunning new scandalous behavior and who are just coming forward now. Apparently, none of these terrible acts by Kavanaugh were serious enough to report to authorities at the time, somehow all of them managed to escape the attention of the six FBI background investigations over the years, and none of them were worth bringing up when he was nominated to be a federal judge in 2006.

Flake gave Democrats the FBI investigation they demanded; in exchange, they will give him nothing but another week of implausible accusations of horrific crimes by Kavanaugh, and more accusations that he himself as a senator is insufficiently opposed to sexual assault.

Lest There Be Any Confusion . . .

At least one reader had an objection to a section of Friday’s Morning Jolt:

Ford described herself, quite compellingly, as being in a state of relief after getting out of the house, no doubt frightened and shaken and traumatized by what she had just experienced. While anything is possible, one would think that anyone who encountered her immediately after that event — such as someone who drove her home — would notice that something was terribly wrong.

Some interpreted that as a contention on my part that there’s a right and wrong way to respond to sexual assault — which I don’t think is a fair interpretation at all, particularly a sentence that begins “while anything is possible.” But lest there be any doubt, no, there is no right or wrong way to respond to a sexual assault. Perhaps what I wrote reflects the widespread desire to have faith in our own skills of observation — that if someone close to us had recently suffered a terrible, traumatic event, we would be able to tell. No doubt some assault victims try very hard to hide their experience from everyone.

Why Are Recent Events Difficult to Recall As Well?

Sexual-assault investigator Rachel Mitchell provided an analysis of Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony. Among her observations and conclusions:

  • Ford said the alleged assault occurred in “the mid-1980s” in a July 6 text to the Washington Post; by September, she told the paper that it occurred in summer of 1982.
  • Ford refused to provide any notes from her therapist to the committee.
  • The notes of the therapist described in the Post article say that four boys were in the room when she was assaulted; Ford says the therapist made an error. In her letter to Feinstein, Ford said “me and four others” were at the party. Testifying before the committee, she said the party had herself, Leland Keyser, and four boys, but she can only remember three of their names.
  • In the statement to the polygrapher, Ford described P.J. Smith as a “bystander.” In her statement to the polygrapher, she did not list Leland Keyser. While testifying to the committee, she said P.J. Smith was not in the room and did not witness the attack, and that it was inaccurate to describe him as a bystander.
  • Perhaps most oddly, Ford said she could not recall if she showed the Washington Post reporter the full or partial set of therapy notes. Ford said she could not recall if she summarized the therapist’s notes for the reporter or whether she showed the notes to the reporter. These are events that occurred about three months ago, not years ago.
  • She claimed she reached out to the Post because she “did not know how” to contact her senator.
  • She could not remember the date of the polygraph or whether she was video or audio recorded.

ADDENDUM: One year ago tonight was the Las Vegas shooting, the deadliest mass shooting in American history. The official conclusion of investigators is that they could not determine the motive of the shooter.

Politics & Policy

A Heart-Wrenching Accusation, Followed by an Adamant and Impassioned Denial

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Christine Blasey Ford testifies about sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh at the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., September 27, 2018. (Gabriella Demczuk/Reuters)

Everybody’s going to have their own personal response to the testimony by Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh. If you’re interested in the nomination fight, you owe it to yourself to watch her and his opening statements in their entirety.

After watching Ford’s testimony, it is not the least bit surprising that she passed a lie-detector test, despite whatever questions some may have about the test administered to her. I don’t think anyone watching could come away believing that this is all a cynical ruse on her part. She believes what she says, and she is utterly convinced that Kavanaugh was the young man who attacked her. We cannot travel back in time and see the time and place that Ford described — even if we had a time machine, we wouldn’t have a specific date and place to look — but short of that, she convinced almost everyone watching that something absolutely terrible happened to her in a house in suburban Maryland one night in the early 1980s, and that the perpetrator was never held responsible.

A few hours later, Brett Kavanaugh offered a tour de force. I suspect everyone who’s ever been falsely accused of anything will relate to his tone, which was angry, but not, as some axe-grinding reporters exaggerated, enraged or unhinged.

He laid out every piece of counter-evidence and laid out the glaring fact that all four witnesses named by Ford said they couldn’t recall any such event, including “her longtime friend, Ms. Keyser, [who] said under penalty of felony that she does not know me, and does not believe she ever saw me at a party, ever.”

He forcefully denied all of the allegations, and said:

The day after the allegation appeared, I told this committee that I wanted a hearing as soon as possible to clear my name. I demanded a hearing for the very next day. Unfortunately, it took the committee ten days to get to this hearing. In those ten long days, as was predictable, and as I predicted, my family and my name have been totally and permanently destroyed by vicious and false additional accusations.

Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin asked Kavanaugh to urge the president to suspend his own nomination until the FBI investigates the accusations further. But in his opening statement, Kavanaugh had already addressed the question: He welcomes any investigation, but he’s not suspending or withdrawing.

The committee now has conducted a thorough investigation, and I’ve cooperated fully. I know that any kind of investigation — Senate, FBI, Montgomery County Police — whatever, will clear me. Listen to the people I know. Listen to the people who’ve known me my whole life. Listen to the people I’ve grown up with, and worked with, and played with, and coached with, and dated, and taught, and gone to games with, and had beers with. And listen to the witnesses who allegedly were at this event 36 years ago. Listen to Ms. Keyser.

Those are not the words of a man who is afraid others will uncover his long-forgotten crime.

Both Ford and Kavanaugh made emotionally powerful statements — a heart-wrenching accusation, followed by an emotional and adamant denial. This is why cops and prosecutors look for evidence separate from testimony — forensics, DNA, things that can’t be faked and that are not subject to the frailty of human memory. She says it happened; he says he was never there. Unfortunately for her, the witnesses she named aren’t supporting her account.

There are other small incongruities. Ford says she does not remember how she got home after the alleged attack, other than she did not drive home herself. She also testified:

MITCHELL: Would it be fair to say that somebody drove you somewhere, either to the party or home from the party?

FORD: Correct.

MITCHELL: OK.

Has anyone come forward to say to you, “Hey, remember, I was the one that drove you home?”

FORD: No.

Ford described herself, quite compellingly, as being in a state of relief after getting out of the house, no doubt frightened and shaken and traumatized by what she had just experienced. While anything is possible, one would think that anyone who encountered her immediately after that event — such as someone who drove her home — would notice that something was terribly wrong.

Secondly, on the calendar Kavanaugh submitted, the nickname “Squi” pops up 13 times, suggesting that this character and Kavanaugh were friends during that time. During yesterday’s testimony, Ford affirmed that the person nicknamed “Squi” was the Maryland man named by Ed Whelan as a potential doppelgänger for Kavanaugh.

Yesterday, Ford affirmed that she had a preexisting relationship with the man nicknamed “Squi.”

“He was somebody that, I will use the phrase ‘I went out with,’” Ford said, using air quotes. “I wouldn’t say ‘date.’ I would say ‘went out with’ for a few months. That was how we termed it at the time.”

According to her testimony, Ford had been going out with Squi for months before the alleged incident in the summer of 1982. This would mean that in her account, Kavanaugh and Judge didn’t merely attack a casual acquaintance (which is awful enough, and criminal); they attacked a girlfriend of one of their friends, inexplicably confident that she would never tell him or anyone else. In this account, Kavanaugh and Judge look less likedrunken teenagers who ignore consent to the point of criminality and more like absolute sociopaths.

The notion that Kavanaugh was secretly a high-school sociopath, so reckless and malevolent that he would attack his friend’s girlfriend, contradicts every other bit of information we have about him.

(For what it’s worth, Kavanaugh can be confirmed and the FBI could still investigate the allegations. If the FBI investigation found evidence of criminal acts, Kavanaugh could resign or be impeached.)

Kavanaugh spoke for many Republicans when he said the process had become “a national disgrace.” No doubt in the coming days, we’ll get some instant polls, but in addition to the general public, Kavanaugh’s statement and answers were aimed at a handful of wavering Republicans and a handful of nervous red-state Senate Democrats. I suspect he made it exceptionally difficult for them to vote against his confirmation in the near future.

The Vote

Last night, our old friend Elaina Plott reported:

A source close to Senator Manchin tells me now,“Short of claims that definitively prove Dr. Ford’s allegations or a realization that Kavanaugh will gut the healthcare law, Manchin will side with the overwhelming number of people in WV who want Kavanaugh confirmed.”

For what it is worth, it was separately reported that “Donnelly, Manchin, Murkowski and Collins are all expected to vote the same way, per senators and aides.”

If the vote indeed shakes out that way, Indiana’s Joe Donnelly and West Virginia’s Joe Manchin will be able to point to a vote that absolutely outraged the grassroots of the national Democratic party, strengthening the argument that they don’t just follow the party line. Of course, some chunk of Indiana and West Virginia grassroots Democrats are likely to be livid with them, too.

Who Leaked Ford’s Accusation?

Neither Christine Blasey Ford nor Brett Kavanaugh had to go through this ordeal. The Senate Judiciary Committee has a way to handle confidential information and can hold private interviews and closed hearings. The letter containing the accusation could have been passed through appropriate channels, and Ford could have been invited to a closed hearing or chosen to simply submit written testimony. If Senator Dianne Feinstein had used those procedures, Ford’s name might well have never been released to the public, and she would never have been subjected to all of the horrific death threats and reporters showing up at her workplace.

Some Senate Republicans pointed this out yesterday, and Feinstein denied that she leaked the letter, and said she believed no one on her staff had either. (In other news, the man who was Dianne Feinstein’s driver for 20 years turned out to be a spy for the Chinese government.)

For what it’s worth:

The Intercept Washington bureau chief Ryan Grim tweeted Feinstein’s staff did not leak the letter to The Intercept. He followed up with a tweet saying “Nor did she or her staff leak the existence of the letter to The Intercept. After our story, she turned it over to the FBI, which placed it in his background file, which meant that it became widely available and soon after it was leaked to CNN.”

Assuming that Grim is telling the truth, there’s a person and group he didn’t deny leaked the letter and Ford’s identity.

The other member and office of Congress who heard from Ford: Congresswoman Anna Eshoo and her staff.

This Guy Is Such a Richard

Connecticut senator Richard Blumenthal, at yesterday’s hearing:

BLUMENTHAL: “As a federal judge, you’re aware of the jury instruction falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus, are you not? You’re aware of that jury instruction.”

KAVANAUGH: “I am.”

BLUMENTHAL: “You know what it means.”

KAVANAUGH: “You can translate it for me, Senator, you can do it better than I can.”

BLUMENTHAL: “False in one thing, false in everything, meaning in jury instructions, that we — some of us, as prosecutors, have heard many times, is told a jury that they can disbelieve a witness if they find them to be false in one thing. So, the core of why we’re here today really is credibility.

From the New York Times, May 17, 2010:

“We have learned something important since the days that I served in Vietnam,” Mr. Blumenthal said to the group gathered in Norwalk in March 2008. “And you exemplify it. Whatever we think about the war, whatever we call it — Afghanistan or Iraq — we owe our military men and women unconditional support.”

There was one problem: Mr. Blumenthal, a Democrat now running for the United States Senate, never served in Vietnam. He obtained at least five military deferments from 1965 to 1970 and took repeated steps that enabled him to avoid going to war, according to records.

Blumenthal is exceptionally lucky that the voters of Connecticut do not operate under falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus.

ADDENDUM: I know we’re all supposed to hate Hillary Clinton with an undying passion forever, but I thought her cameo on the premiere of the reboot of Murphy Brown was pretty funny. Much funnier than, you know, the rest of the show, but credit where it’s due.

Law & the Courts

Nine Things to Know on Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing Day

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Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh is sworn in at his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing, September 4, 2018. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

You knew the night before Christine Blasey Ford testified in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee that a lot of partisans and reporters would unveil the news they had been holding onto all along. Last night was an avalanche. Grab a cup of coffee, because sorting through all of this might take a while.

One: Let’s start with the two men coming forward and separately claiming that they think they were the ones who encountered Ford at that party in 1982:

However, the unidentified men in question told the committee in separate interviews that they, not Kavanaugh, were the one who had the encounter with Ford in the summer of 1982 that is the basis of her claim, the committee wrote in a timeline of the investigation.

One of the men produced a detailed written statement about his recollection of the evening.

Ford will no doubt claim that she’s certain it was Kavanaugh. But she’ll be insisting that her memory — after consuming a beer in her teen years and after 36 years — is correct, when all four people she named at the party (Kavanaugh, Mark Judge, P.J. Smith, and Leland Keyser) have no memory of attending the party, and two other men have come forward and claimed that they’re the guys who had an encounter that matches her description. Either it’s a vast conspiracy to discredit her or she simply isn’t accurately remembering the man who allegedly attacked her.

Keep in mind, there is no statute of limitations for a charge of rape in Maryland.

Two: A Rhode Island man contacted Senator Sheldon Whitehouse and claimed that his friend had been assaulted by Kavanaugh in 1985. Last night the man recanted and apologized: “Do [I think he meant “to”] everyone who is going crazy about what I had said I have recanted because I have made a mistake and apologize for such mistake.”

Three: Senator Kamala Harris wanted the FBI to investigate an anonymous accusation of rape. No date, no location, no name of the accuser.

Four: A separate anonymous allegation was sent to Senator Cory Gardner’s office:

 An anonymous woman wrote to Sen. Cory Gardner’s (R-Colo.) office on Sept. 22 alleging that the Supreme Court nominee shoved another woman “up against the wall very aggressively and sexually” in 1998 after leaving a bar where both had been drinking, the transcript states. Kavanaugh denied any involvement in the events alleged in that complaint, which was first reported by NBC. 

Becket Adams summarizes:

“An anonymous letter quoting anonymous sources regarding a supposed assault on an anonymous woman who wishes to remain anonymous. The author of the letter isn’t talking about herself. She’s not even talking about her supposed daughter. She’s speaking on behalf of her alleged daughter’s alleged friend who is the alleged victim of an event the accuser did not herself witness.”

Five: Ford’s lawyers released the polygraph that she took, and quite a few people were surprised that it consisted of only two questions. You’ll recall that because of their inadmissibility in court and the claims that practice and relaxation exercises can help you beat a lie-detector test, I don’t put a lot of stock into them either way.

But law professor Jonathan Turley finds this one particularly odd and unilluminating:

The passage of a polygraph by Christine Blasey Ford has been a key factor for many in believing her story — a fact cited by various members of Congress.  New details of the polygraph however have been released and some contradictions are being cited within Ford’s account. However, my main interest is the polygraph itself, which does not sound like any legitimate polygraph that I have encountered. I have handled a number of polygraph cases in my career and the description of these questions are nothing short of bizarre as a reliable test.

The examination was administered by former FBI agent Jeremiah Hanafin in a Hilton hotel in Maryland.  It appears that Hanafin worked off a handwritten statement that Ford signed.  That statement refers to “4 boys and a couple of girls” at the party.  That is different from her account to the Committee that the party consisted of “me and 4 others.”

… The most notable aspect of the story however is the only two “relevant” questions asked by Hanafin “Is any part of your statement false?” and “Did you make up any part of your statement?”

Those questions would be effectively useless in an actual case.  Good polygraphers ask specific, clear, insular questions.  They do not use overarching language.  He did not ask specific questions on whether she was assaulted by Kavanaugh — a rather curious omission.

It is not natural way to frame such an examination and the question is whether the examination was framed or limited by Ford’s counsel.  I have never met a polygrapher who would structure questions like these for use in a test.

If this is truly the content of the examination, I would view it as largely useless in an actual case.

Six: Separate from the “how many people were at the party?” discrepancy, there’s another contradiction in Ford’s story. From her account to the Washington Post:

When Donald Trump won his upset presidential victory in 2016, Christine Blasey Ford’s thoughts quickly turned to a name most Americans had never heard of but one that had unsettled her for years: Brett M. Kavanaugh.

Kavanaugh — a judge on the prestigious U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit — was among those mentioned as a possible replacement for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in 2016. When Trump nominated Neil M. Gorsuch, Ford was relieved but still uneasy.

But he wasn’t among those mentioned as a possible replacement for Scalia. Kavanaugh wasn’t on Trump’s list of potential Supreme Court nominees in 2016, and he was only added in November 2017.

Seven: The New York Times did a long profile of the second accuser, Deborah Ramirez, without the cooperation of the subject and includes this interesting detail:

Some of her closest Yale friends said they lost touch with Ms. Ramirez in the last decade. That was in part because she became more politically liberal and conscious of her Latino roots and no longer felt as comfortable among her Yale cohort, several friends said she told them.

I’m reminded of Anna Eshoo’s claim that Ford “didn’t have a political bone in her body,” a statement that, from what we already know, is only true in the biological sense. Again, the partisan affiliation and ideological beliefs of the accusers does not make them any more or less credible, but dishonesty about those partisan affiliations and ideological beliefs does make them seem less credible.

Eight: Then there’s Michael Avenatti and the literally unbelievable claims of his client, Julie Swetnick.

As Jonah points out:

 At this stage I think it is a sure bet that the New York Times, the Washington Post, and countless other media outlets have talked to, or tried to talk to, every single person of consequence in Brett Kavanaugh’s high-school and college life. And yet, until celebrity porn lawyer Michael Avenatti and his client went public with these charges, not a single news outlet had found — or at least reported — any hint that it was just about an open secret that Kavanaugh was part of a crowd where organized rape gangs acted with impunity.

If we must believe Ms. Swetnick, we must also believe that the best journalistic outlets in America completely missed this story. (We also must believe that the FBI as well as the Democratic party’s best opposition researchers missed it too.)

Last night brought a lot of new information about Avenatti’s client. None of these revelations are definitively proof that Swetnick is lying, but they create complications for her credibility.

Perhaps most seriously, an ex-boyfriend filed a restraining order against Swetnick:

“Right after I broke up with her, she was threatening my family, threatening my wife and threatening to do harm to my baby at that time,” Richard Vinneccy said in a telephone interview with POLITICO. “I know a lot about her. She’s not credible at all.”

Webtrends Corporation filed a defamation suit against her in 2000, but the case was dismissed without any court costs or attorney fees incurred to either party. She has two tax liens in recent years from the state of Maryland and the IRS for a combined total of more than $100,000, but they were eventually paid.

She filed a personal-injury negligence case against the D.C. Metro system in1994. The case was dismissed without prejudice three years later.

Nine: Avenatti says his client will not testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee until an FBI investigation is complete. Meanwhile, she did an interview with Showtime.

ADDENDUM: It says something about our political environment that President Trump can give an 81-minute press conference and that’s not even the wildest news of the day.

Politics & Policy

Decision Time: Will Ford Testify Tomorrow?

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A jogger runs past The U.S. Capitol Building at sunset (Zach Gibson/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Public pledges and doubts about accusers testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday; a contradiction in one accuser’s account; and some questions about whether a Democratic politician’s divorce records should be unsealed, just because a Republican’s was ten years ago.

Place Your Bets on Who’s Willing to Testify Thursday

A lot of Republicans strongly suspect that neither Christine Blasey Ford or Deborah Ramirez will ever testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

For what it is worth, as of this writing, Ford is still scheduled to testify Thursday. This morning on NBC’s Today Show, Ramirez’s lawyer John Clune said “That’s a decision I’ll certainly let her make. I would be very concerned about doing that, but it wouldn’t surprise me if she would agree to do that.”

Her lawyer also claimed that the committee hadn’t invited her, but that the Wall Street Journal’s Kimberly Strassel described a series of emails that the committee’s majority staff asked her six times when she was available for an interview or to submit a statement. Strassel writes that during that exchange, Ramirez’s lawyer referred to The New Yorker article as “evidence.”

Yesterday afternoon, Senator John Kennedy, a Louisiana Republican, characterized the exchange as a refusal to testify: “Our counsel repeatedly tried to reach him,” Kennedy said of Ramirez’s lawyer. “They finally did reach him, and he said we are not issuing a statement. He said if you want our statement, read the New Yorker.”

Many Kavanaugh defenders see a clear pattern here of accusers who are willing to make stunning and horrific allegations while talking to the media, but are strangely reticent about repeating the accusations while under oath and penalty of perjury. If this is how things shake out, the accusers are asking the country to make their decision about Kavanaugh — both his Supreme Court nomination and his entire reputation, based upon their claims, but unwilling to say so under oath. And, as Kavanaugh’s defenders keep pointing out, not a single named witness has corroborated Ford’s account, and according to the New York Times, Ramirez told some of her classmates in recent days that she could not remember if the man she described was Kavanaugh.

Republicans should not be quite so quick to conclude that there’s no chance that Ford testifies, and that there’s no danger to Brett Kavanaugh from her testimony. Yes, her social media and any other web presence has been scrubbed. Perhaps she won’t come across as truthful and credible. Then again, maybe she will. She and her lawyers no doubt understand that if she refuses to testify at the eleventh hour, many people, and certainly almost all Republicans, will conclude that the allegations are fabricated or wildly exaggerated. CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin put it succinctly: “If she doesn’t testify, he gets confirmed.”

USA Today reports what initially appears to be a bombshell new development about Ford’s account . . .

In her declaration, Adela Gildo-Mazzon said Ford told her about the alleged assault during a June 2013 meal at a restaurant in Mountain View, California, and contacted Ford’s attorneys on Sept. 16 to tell them Ford had confided in her five years ago.

Except . . . that contradicts Ford’s account to the Washington Post.

“She was like, ‘I can’t deal with this. If he becomes the nominee, then I’m moving to another country. I cannot live in this country if he’s in the Supreme Court,’ ” her husband said. “She wanted out.”

These were the lengths that Ford, a professor and mother of two, once considered to avoid revisiting one of her most troubling memories — one she’d discussed only in therapy and with her husband.

So she remembers the events from the 1980s clearly and accurately, but forgot discussing the events with her friend at dinner five years ago?

Should Keith Ellison’s Divorce Records Be Unsealed?

We’ve relished pointing out how conditional that the slogan “believe all women” is for most partisans, particularly self-described feminist Democrats. “Believe all women when a Republican is accused” more accurately describes their worldview.

As noted earlier this week, Congressman Keith Ellison — the vice chair of the Democratic National Committee and candidate for Minnesota attorney general — faces an allegation of physically abusing an ex-girlfriend. If you’re leaning towards believing the accuser, you focus upon the three friends she told about the abuse before coming forward publicly and the medical record showing that she told a doctor in 2017 that she had been in an abusive relationship with Ellison. You would also note that this isn’t the first woman to come forward alleging abuse.

If you’re leaning towards believing Ellison, you focus upon the accuser claiming she had a video of Ellison pulling her off of the bed, then saying she misplaced it when moving, and then saying she would not share the video even if she found it. (If you had video evidence of someone committing a crime against you, wouldn’t you be exceptionally careful to hold onto that? And if you’ve got open-and-shut, absolutely indisputable evidence that your allegation is true . . . why would you pledge to never release that evidence?)

There’s a small sign that the Minnesota media is getting more interested in the allegations against Ellison:

The Star Tribune has joined a legal effort to unseal the divorce records of U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, the Democratic candidate for attorney general.

Ellison and his ex-wife, Kim Ellison, divorced in 2012. The related records have been sealed, so the public cannot access the information.

The Star Tribune’s motion to intervene and unseal the records follows a similar action by Alpha News, a right-leaning online news and opinion site.

… Ken Martin, the chairman of the Minnesota DFL, said Tuesday that the party’s investigation of the allegations against Ellison will be finished soon, then released to the public. An external investigator was hired to conduct the inquiry.

The Star Tribune argued that, given the public interest around that situation and Kim Ellison’s public support of her ex-husband, the divorce records are a matter of concern to voters. Divorce records are typically public, but judges will often agree to seal them if both parties to the case agree and no one else objects.

The Ellison campaign released a statement from Kim Ellison on behalf of both her and Keith Ellison. “Our divorce simply isn’t the public’s business, and therefore, when we separated, we jointly asked the court to seal the file. Now, one month before a closely contested election for Minnesota Attorney General, a conservative group wants to probe our divorce file in search of something to use against Keith in this race. I am disappointed that the Star Tribune would choose to file this motion.”

Kim Ellison said her ex-husband “never abused me in any way before, during, or after our marriage.” She said release of the file would exploit their privacy and the privacy of their children.

This is “the Jack Ryan maneuver.” For those who have forgotten, let me take you back to 2008 . . .

Republican Jack Ryan seemed to be out of central casting — handsome, independently wealthy, sharing the name of a Tom Clancy hero.

But once again, the [Chicago] Tribune and a local television station launched a crusade to unseal the candidate’s divorce records. Ryan, his ex-wife (actress Jeri Ryan, best known for playing a cybernetic bombshell on Star Trek: Voyager), and his supporters argued that his nine-year-old son ought to be spared the messy details of his contentious divorce. A California judge ordered the records unsealed, and the entire political world heard accusations that the candidate urged his unwilling wife to have public sex in clubs in New York and Paris. Ryan denied the allegations, but no candidacy could survive a revelation like that.

Months later, Ryan would note that no media organization ever sued to open John Kerry’s sealed divorce records, and that the Tribune seemed to be highly selective in its application of its self-described “matter of principle.”

(In light of the Stormy Daniels story, it’s hard to believe what an innocent and naïve country we were just a decade ago.)

At this moment, a lot of Republicans are probably cheering. Turnabout is fair play. But let’s say the unsealed divorce records show something embarrassing but not criminal for Ellison, and his political career is derailed from this. Each party’s lost one rising star because of unsealing divorce records.

What do we want the standard to be for unsealing divorce records of political candidates of either party in the future? Divorces are often messy and ugly, with bitter accusations and counter-accusations. Legal proceedings of the split rarely showcase people at their best and usually at their worst. Do we want to effectively rule out anyone who’s been through a messy divorce from public office?

Because if that’s really what Republicans believe, we wouldn’t have the president we currently do — nor would New York City have ever had Rudy Giuliani. We understandably recoil from married politicians who cheat on their spouses. Do we really want to enact a political price upon any elected official or candidate who had a marriage fail?

ADDENDUM: Thanks to Rush Limbaugh for his kind words about yesterday’s Jolt. As I elaborated yesterday, in today’s micro-aggression-conscious, the-personal-is-political, woke, hyper-polarized environment, no issue is too small to be inflated into a clash between identity groups, and there’s nothing more personal than one’s identity. Every disagreement becomes personal and every dispute becomes enraged.

Of course, you can’t function as a society or a country once enough people become obsessed with the idea that anyone who disagrees with them is a malevolent personal threat to them.

Law & the Courts

Another Day, Another Unidentified Source

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Demonstrators protest against Brett Kavanaugh in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C, September 24, 2018 (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Jane Mayer contradicts her own reporting; the Washington Post calls Texas Democratic messiah/Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke a liar; why we should be wary when people start shifting the debate from specific allegations to nebulous discussions of culture; and Ted Cruz gets attacked in public.

We’re Now In the ‘No One Remembering Means Everyone Secretly Remembers’ Stage

Jane Mayer insisted last night that the allegations against Kavanaugh were “the talk” of campus at Yale University.

From her own article, co-written with Ronan Farrow:

The New Yorker has not confirmed with other eyewitnesses that Kavanaugh was present at the party. The magazine contacted several dozen classmates of Ramirez and Kavanaugh regarding the incident. Many did not respond to interview requests; others declined to comment, or said they did not attend or remember the party.

In the article, Mayer and Farrow cite one unidentified source as claiming he heard about the alleged incident at the party at the time.

From the New York Times, yesterday:

The Times had interviewed several dozen people over the past week in an attempt to corroborate her story, and could find no one with firsthand knowledge. Ms. Ramirez herself contacted former Yale classmates asking if they recalled the incident and told some of them that she could not be certain Mr. Kavanaugh was the one who exposed himself.

That’s not “the talk of the campus.” That’s the opposite of “the talk of the campus.” But Mayer will most likely go unchallenged on her claim that one unidentified source claiming he heard about it at the time means that the allegation was widely known.

The Democrats’ Golden Boy Lies About His DUI

In Friday night’s Texas Senate debate, Democratic candidate Beto O’Rourke claimed that he never tried to leave the scene of a serious accident that he caused after driving while intoxicated.

No fewer than twelve major publications, including quite a few not-so-political ones — Spin!  Town & Country! — wrote glowing profiles of O’Rourke in the past year. Most of those profiles echoed the Democratic line that O’Rourke is Lone Star Jesus. (GQ wrote two!) I doubt many of those publications will get around to mentioning this assessment by the Washington Post:

O’Rourke’s assertion that he did not try to leave the scene of the accident, however, is disputed by the police records. So that’s worthy of a fact check.

The accident had been observed by a witness. He told Carrera that O’Rourke, driving a Volvo, had passed him a high rate of speed through a 75 mph zone and then lost control and “struck a truck traveling the same direction.” O’Rourke’s car then crossed the large grassy center median and came to a stop…

“The defendant/driver then attempted to leave the scene,” Carrera reported. “The reporter then turned on his overhead lights to warn oncoming traffic and try to get the defendant to stop.”

Similar information appears in another document, the incident and crime report: “The driver attempted to leave the accident but was stopped by the reporter.”

The Post notes that the police report describes the then 26-years-old O’Rourke as extremely drunk —  Blood/Breath Alcohol Concentration (BAC) of 0.136 and 0.134, and described as having difficulty standing up — and doubts he could remember the event and its aftermath more accurately than the reports written by sober police officers and witnesses at the scene. The Post’s Fact-Checker gives him Four Pinocchios.

Texas Monthly  wrote an 8,500-word profile of O’Rourke and spent one half of one sentence on it.

When the Debate Shifts from Specific Individuals to ‘Culture’ . . .

In an argument about a highly charged topic such as the allegations against Brett Kavanaugh, be wary whenever someone tries to shift the discussion away from the specific allegations and known facts and over toward the broader and discarnate issues of culture.

It’s entirely probable that someone at a Maryland suburban prep school did something terrible in the early 1980s. Or it’s entirely probable that someone at Yale University or Yale Law School did something creepy at a party with heavy drinking during that time period. But the probability or evidence of those types of actions doesn’t tell us whether Kavanaugh did something like that. Muggings occur in New York City, but that doesn’t tell us whether any particular person in the city mugged someone.

Nonetheless, we’re probably going to hear a lot of talk in the coming days about an allegedly toxic culture in the places Kavanaugh spent his younger years — even, strange as it may seem, at Yale Law School.

In a courtyard just off the main hallway, students have hung signs criticizing the law school’s institutional culture, as rumors swirl about how much a deputy law school dean knew about allegations of sexual harassment against appellate court judge Alex Kozinski, who resigned last year after multiple allegations by former female staffers and clerks and for whom Kavanaugh clerked in the early 1990s. “Sex Sells @ YLS,” one sign reads. “Is there nothing more important to YLS than its proximity to power and prestige?” another asks.

I don’t know who put up that sign, but I’d love to ask . . . isn’t the proximity to power and prestige a big reason why you applied, and why people want to go to the Ivy League schools? What, you think everybody wants to attend because of the winter weather in New Haven or Cambridge?

Before we scoff at the image of Yale Law School being a hotbed of bacchanalian excess and venal corruption, keep in mind. . . Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton went there.

The term “ruling class” gets thrown around wildly and usually stupidly, but if there is a ruling class in this country, it consists largely of Yale Law School alumni: Sonia Sotomayor, Jerry Brown, David Boies, Cory Booker, Richard Blumenthal, Chris Coons, Robert Reich, FBI director Christopher Wray, Gary Hart, Joe Lieberman . . .

You know who else went to Yale Law School? A huge chunk of the conservative legal establishment: Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, John Bolton, John Yoo, Michael Mukasey . . .

The Atlantic article linked above quotes a student who asks, “Where does [the allegations against Kavanaugh] fit into the larger story of the law school?”

If, in an effort to get Kavanaugh, the left wants to retroactively declare that Yale University and its law school are and always were some sort of teeming cesspool of abuse and exploitation and elitist unaccountability . . . go ahead, fellas. Of course, a declaration like that spurs some questions about what the likes of Booker and Blumenthal saw and did when they were there. If this “institutional culture” of harassment and protecting the powerful was so deeply ingrained and so pervasive in the school for so long, how could those men somehow emerge with clear consciences? How could they themselves remain silent about it for so long?

There are a lot of Yale Law School graduates in the highest ranks of the progressive legal world — no doubt all of them should face the same suspicions. Were they complicit in continuing or even promoting and strengthening an exploitational culture?

If the aftermath of this whole angry mess is that Yale Law School has a permanent cloud over it, and everyone who went there is regarded with newfound suspicion . . . which side of the political divide do you think is going to pay the higher price?

When you try to indict a man by indicting the culture around him, you end up indicting a lot of other people in the process. If Yale graduates feel like their school and formative years are being rewritten and smeared, they probably ought to speak up about it now.

ADDENDA: Two observations on the group that harassed Senator Ted Cruz and his wife at an Italian restaurant in Washington, D.C., last night.

Shortly before 1 a.m., the group posted on Twitter, “This is a message to Ted Cruz, Bret Kavanaugh, Donald Trump and the rest of the racist, sexist, transphobic, and homophobic right-wing scum: You are not safe. We will find you.” That’s a straight-up threat, and a job for U.S. Capitol Police and any other police authorities that handle security for lawmakers. Congressional leadership gets around-the-clock protection, but security for other members of Congress is handled on a case-by-case basis.

One of the protesters harassing Cruz and his wife said to the senator, “Beto is way hotter than you.”

Texans are choosing a senator, not a boyfriend. But the comment says a great deal about the mindset of that protester, and perhaps all of his compatriots.

The more time I spend covering politics, the more I’m convinced that a significant chunk of grassroots political activists aren’t really arguing about politics at all. These folks are actually grappling with personal psychological issues and projecting it onto the world of politics. Every problem they had with a parent is projected onto authority figures. Every religious person who ever scolded them or made them feel guilty becomes the embodiment of organized religion and demonstrates its menace. Because they’ve had a bad experience with a member of a minority group, that experience reveals something sinister about every member of that minority group. The cop who wrote them a ticket instead of giving them a warning demonstrates the danger and corruption of law enforcement, the boss who fired them for shoddy work exemplifies the inherent cruelty of the capitalist system, and every frustrating experience they had with an ex-girlfriend demonstrates some defect in all women.

This is why things get so personal with them so quickly. They cannot distinguish their worldview from themselves, and so if you contradict that worldview, they believe that you have attacked them personally. In their minds, expressing doubt about an accusation of sexual assault means you support rape; scoffing at the need for higher taxes means you’re greedy and want them to endure more financial difficulties; and as a Yale freshman puts it in The Atlantic article linked above, “You can’t devalue a woman’s right to choose and respect women.” Only 31 percent of women believe abortion should be legal in all circumstances — meaning, in the mindset of the student, 69 percent of women do not respect women.

U.S.

‘Innocent Until Proven Guilty’ Doesn’t Apply to Conservatives

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Senator Mazie Hirono (D., Hawaii) speaks at a news conference on Capitol Hill with Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D., N.Y.), September 20, 2018. (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Judge Brett Kavanaugh now faces two accusers with no witnesses, a showcase of how journalism standards have changed in just 15 years, Senator Hirono’s conditional belief in the rights of the accused and the allegations against Representative Keith Ellison, and tales from the third-grade soccer field.

Two Accusers, No Witnesses

We now have two named women accusing Judge Brett Kavanaugh of acts that are, if not crimes and are beyond any criminal statute of limitations, repugnant and reflecting a poor character. If either accusation was definitively proven, it would be difficult to picture Judge Kavanaugh serving on the Supreme Court. There are plenty of fine judges and legal minds who haven’t committed acts like this.

But we’re still a long, long way from proving either accusation. Both allegations stem from the accuser’s memory of events of 35 or 36 years ago. In both cases, the accusers say they had been drinking alcohol before the actions; in both cases, the accusers admit they cannot recall key details.

The second accuser, Deborah Ramirez, offered her description of events in The New Yorker in an article published last night. The article includes an explanation of a changing account:

“She was at first hesitant to speak publicly, partly because her memories contained gaps because she had been drinking at the time of the alleged incident. In her initial conversations with The New Yorker, she was reluctant to characterize Kavanaugh’s role in the alleged incident with certainty.”

The magazine says she named Kavanaugh “after six days of carefully assessing her memories and consulting with her attorney.”

Last night’s report included the stunning line that the magazine has “not confirmed with other eyewitnesses that Kavanaugh was present at the party.” That’s a pivotal point to nail down, and the magazine actually did the opposite. All of the witnesses listed by the accuser are denying that the event occurred:

In a statement, two of those male classmates who Ramirez alleged were involved in the incident, the wife of a third male student she said was involved, and three other classmates, Dino Ewing, Louisa Garry, and Dan Murphy, disputed Ramirez’s account of events: “We were the people closest to Brett Kavanaugh during his first year at Yale. He was a roommate to some of us, and we spent a great deal of time with him, including in the dorm where this incident allegedly took place. Some of us were also friends with Debbie Ramirez during and after her time at Yale. We can say with confidence that if the incident Debbie alleges ever occurred, we would have seen or heard about it—and we did not. The behavior she describes would be completely out of character for Brett. In addition, some of us knew Debbie long after Yale, and she never described this incident until Brett’s Supreme Court nomination was pending. Editors from the New Yorker contacted some of us because we are the people who would know the truth, and we told them that we never saw or heard about this.”

Today’s New York Times helps illustrate how much The New Yorker has gone out on a limb:

The Times had interviewed several dozen people over the past week in an attempt to corroborate her story, and could find no one with firsthand knowledge. Ms. Ramirez herself contacted former Yale classmates asking if they recalled the incident and told some of them that she could not be certain Mr. Kavanaugh was the one who exposed himself.

In both cases, the accusers are calling upon the Federal Bureau of Investigation to investigate their claims, despite no claim of a federal crime, nor supporting evidence or witnesses with similar accounts to theirs.

Also since Friday, we’ve learned that everyone that Christine Blasey Ford listed as being at the undated party somewhere in suburban Maryland has denied witnessing or hearing anything to support her account: Mark Judge, Patrick Smyth, and Leland Keyser. Of course, Kavanaugh denies not only committing the act but ever attending a party like the one she described. And all of them have said so in communications to the Senate Judiciary Committee under penalty of perjury. Ford is, as of this writing, scheduled to testify Thursday.

It is easy to forget that Kavanaugh worked in prominent legal positions on Ken Starr’s team investigating Bill Clinton, the 2000 recount, was staff secretary in George W. Bush’s White House, and was nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals in 2003. He was confirmed in 2006 after a lengthy and fairly contentious confirmation hearing. Neither accuser chose to come forward at that point.

All federal judges serve until they choose to retire, die, or are removed from office.

Why News Consumers Hate Anonymous Sources

One unnamed source told The New Yorker “another student told him about the incident either on the night of the party or in the next day or two,” and the unnamed source calls Kavanaugh “aggressive and even belligerent” when drunk.

Let me take you back to 2003, when I was working for a small wire service that occasionally did work for the Boston Globe, covering the small, region-focused stories that the Globe’s Washington Bureau didn’t have the time or manpower to do themselves — fishery regulations, announcements of EPA cleanup sites, stuff like that. I developed a source close to then-senator John Kerry, and the Massachusetts senator was starting to warm up his 2004 presidential bid. For one story, both Kerry and then-senator John Edwards — also warming up a presidential bid — were mentioned, and my Kerry source had strong opinions on Edwards. I don’t remember the exact criticism, but picture it as something along the lines of, “Senator Edwards is a doody-head who talks a lot, but he’s done nothing useful on this issue.” My article included the line with something like, “Not all Democrats see Edwards as leading the way on this issue; one aide to another senator says he’s a ‘doody-head who talks a lot, but he’s done nothing useful on this issue.’”

I sent along my article about the senators to the Globe, and the Washington Bureau chief sent back an edited version with the quote taken out, and the note that the paper would not let an anonymous source trash someone like that in print. (For the record, I have no reason to think this editor was a fan of Edwards. He, and the leadership of the paper at the time, simply believed that if a source wanted to slam somebody, that source had to put his name next to it, barring some really good reason.)

Times have changed, huh? Now you can anonymously call Kavanaugh an “aggressive, belligerent drunk” and The New Yorker is fine with that.

Hirono and the Keith Ellison Allegations

Senator Mazie Hirono’s full answer when asked by CNN’s Jake Tapper, “Doesn’t Kavanaugh have the same presumption of innocence as anyone else in America?”

HIRONO:  I put his denial in the context of everything that I know about him in terms of how he approaches his cases. As I said, his credibility is already very questionable in my mind and in the minds of a lot of my fellow Judiciary Committee members, the Democrats.   So he comes, and — when I say that he’s very outcome-driven, he has an ideological agenda, is very outcome-driven.  And I can sit here and talk to you about some of the cases that exemplifies his, in my view, inability to be fair in the cases that come before him. This is a person that is going to be sitting on our Supreme Court, making decisions that will impact women’s reproductive choice.  He has a — he very much is against women’s reproductive choice. And I can tell you two very important cases in which he applied the same standard, but came to totally different results to make it much harder for women to get this kind of coverage. So there’s — there are so many indications of his own lack of credibility.  And I put that in a context.

TAPPER:  It sounds to me like you’re saying, because you don’t trust him on policy and because you don’t believe him when he says, for instance, that he does not have an opinion on Roe v. Wade, you don’t believe him about this allegation about what happened at this party in 1982?  Is that fair?

HIRONO:  Well, without — this is why it is so important that there be at least an investigation, so that there’s some effort at collaboration.

Many conservatives spent Sunday decrying Hirono for effectively admitting that she believes Kavanaugh doesn’t have the same presumption of innocence as anyone else because of his ideology. She’s concluded that he’s more likely to be guilty because he’s a conservative. As Josiah Neeley put it, “They don’t oppose him because they find the accusation credible. They find it credible because they oppose him.”

Many conservatives have pointed out the wild disparity in coverage between the allegations against Kavanaugh and the allegations of abuse by Democratic congressman, DNC vice chair, and aspiring Minnesota attorney general Keith Ellison.

Karen Monahan, an organizer with the environmental group the Sierra Club, told CNN in August that Ellison was emotionally abusive and on one occasion physically abusive near the end of their relationship in late 2016. Three friends of Monahan “told CNN she had confided in them about the bed incident in the months after she had moved out of Ellison’s apartment.” And Monahan showed CNN a text message to Ellison saying, “We never discussed — the video I have of you trying to drag me off the bed, yelling get the f*** out now, calling me a bitch and saying I hate you bitch.” She also gave an on-camera account to CBS News. She has posted a medical document.

This is not the first allegation of abuse against Ellison.

In 2005, Ellison sought a restraining order against Amy Alexander, saying she was making harassing phone calls and threatening to “destroy” him. The following year, Alexander petitioned the court for a restraining order against Ellison, writing in an affidavit that they had been in a romantic relationship and that he pushed, shoved and verbally abused her, and had a lawyer intimidate and threaten her.

District Judge Robert H. Lynn dismissed the request by Alexander, then a St. Louis Park resident.

Asked if he was confident that no one else would come forward with more allegations, Ellison said, “in this political environment, I don’t know what somebody might cook up.”

But it’s not quite an open-and-shut case. Monahan claimed she had a video of Ellison pulling her off of the bed, but then said she misplaced it when moving, and then said she would not share the video even if she found it.

For what it’s worth, a poll of Minnesota likely voters conducted last week found that 21 percent believed the allegations of abuse, 22 percent did not believe the allegations of abuse, and 57 percent weren’t sure. Only 18 percent of women believed the allegations, while 25 percent of men did; 42 percent of Republicans believed the allegations, while just 5 percent of Democrats believed them.

Do Republicans find the allegations against Ellison more credible because they oppose him politically?

ADDENDUM: Those who have followed me on Twitter for a while may recall my autumn offerings of “#soccerdadlife,” the occasional moments of hilarity that occur when you’re trying to get a bunch of grade schoolers to learn “the beautiful game,” and/or stop chasing butterflies or lying down and look at clouds while they’re playing the game. You would be amazed how many great plays get disrupted by untied shoelaces, knowing which direction is right and which one is left, or who’s ended up playing goalie because the zipper on his windbreaker is stuck and he can’t get it off.

I haven’t tweeted about soccer this fall because I’ve been promoted to assistant coach. The league announced they needed coaches, then a few days later reiterated that they really needed them. Then a few days after that they announced that if they couldn’t find volunteers, they would have to disband some teams, cancel some games, and pay refunds. At that point, I volunteered, cautioning them that I last played soccer when Reagan was president, (okay, maybe George H. W. Bush) and my expertise consists of mocking the flopping during the World Cup, but that I can set up cones with the best of them. Thankfully, they found another dad with experience coaching in another kids’ league and now I’m the assistant coach of the Thunder, or Fairfax United, or the Fightin’ Yellow Clump, or whatever our team will be called once we all agree on a name.

Now this year I’m one of the coaches who has to differentiate between Aidan, Jayden, Brayden, Kaiden, Hayden, Peyton, and — oh my God, my wife and I were so convinced we were being original when we named our sons. I think the opposing coach last week had a team of boys entirely named after cities in Texas. “Austin! Dallas! Irving! Move up, you’re strikers! Tyler! Allen! Move back, you’re midfielders! Avery, Bryan, you’re on defense! Bryson, you’re in goal!” Just wait until next year, when their younger brothers San Antonio and Waco are old enough to join the team.

So far in this young season, it’s been about 90 percent delightful and 10 percent maddening as the kids keep finding new ways to surprise me. The kid who initially seemed like a ball hog suddenly remembers to pass to his teammates. The kid who never seemed to listen suddenly wakes up and demonstrates hustle. We’ve made amazing strides in every area of the game, from passing to throw-ins to corner kicks to remembering which goal we’re supposed to aim for when we get the ball. In any given moment, easily more than half of our players know what position they’re playing and many of them have at least a vague sense of where they should be on the field.

We won this weekend, which put a big smile on my face, even though we’re trying to teach the boys that it’s not about merely whether you win or lose but about how you play the game. Seriously, the kids really did seem to remember what we practiced, and I felt ready to burst. It more likely reflects the influence of our head coach, who actually knows what he’s doing. My wife gently reminded me that the terminology I use in my coaching advice from the sideline — “spread out, you’re playing soccer, not holding a staff meeting!” — may not match the frame of reference of third-graders.

Politics & Policy

The Brett Kavanaugh Doppelgänger Theory

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Kavanaugh, President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, speaks as he meets with Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith on Capitol Hill, July 25, 2018. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: An effort to defend Brett Kavanaugh’s reputation goes terribly awry, the legal team for Christine Blasey Ford lists their demands, Ted Cruz and Beto O’Rourke get ready to square off, and I vent my spleen about a perpetually disappointing football team.

Don’t Let Out Your Inner Feinstein

That was . . .  odd. Last night, Ed Whelan, president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center and longtime friend of NRO, laid out a theory in a series of tweets that suggested that someone else attacked Christine Blasey Ford back in 1982. He contended that one of the four boys was the likely host of the party, pointed to a particular house that matched Ford’s description, and named a former classmate of Brett Kavanaugh’s who resembles him, both then and now, as a potential alternative suspect.

The problem is, if we don’t like Ford making this accusation against Kavanaugh with such a dearth of evidence . . . how fair is it to make this accusation against a former classmate with such circumstantial evidence? In the series of tweets, Ed acknowledged that he doesn’t know what happened in 1982 and says at one point in his series of tweets that he doesn’t want to “state, imply or insinuate that [the classmate] or anyone else committed the sexual assault.” Except . . . the series of tweets do just that, don’t they? How else are we supposed to interpret this information?

At another point, Ed says, “It is regrettable that private citizens are being drawn into this. But that is the product of Senator Feinstein’s shockingly shoddy handling of the whole matter.” No doubt Feinstein handled this matter about as badly as possible from the start, but the question is, how do we on the right respond to that? Do we emulate what she does? Or do we demonstrate a different, better standard — that clear and indisputable evidence matters for accusations against Kavanaugh, it matters for accusations against this classmate, and it matters for accusations against everybody?

This morning, Ed recognized the bad judgment he had demonstrated. He tweeted, “I made an appalling and inexcusable mistake of judgment in posting the tweet thread in a way that identified Kavanaugh’s Georgetown Prep classmate. I take full responsibility for that mistake, and I deeply apologize for it. I realize that does not undo the mistake.”

For what it’s worth, Ford denies that this classmate is the one who attacked her.

It’s common on the right to point out that President Trump’s brash methods are bringing out the worst in the Democrats. The question is, do we want the worst in the Democrats to bring out the worst in us?

Either Testify, or Don’t — This Is Not a Contract Negotiation

Meanwhile, Ford’s lawyers laid out a litany of demands for her testimony:

  • Ford will not appear any sooner than next Thursday;
  • No questions to be asked at hearing by any outside counsel — only senators;
  • Mark Judge must be subpoenaed;
  • Kavanaugh would testify first, then Ford would testify, and Kavanaugh would have no opportunity to respond or rebut;
  • Deadline for her to provide written statement before the hearing would be waived;
  • Provide adequate security;
  • Only one pool camera in hearing room;
  • Ford and Kavanaugh allotted the same amount of time to talk

Either she wants to testify or she doesn’t. Her lawyers said she was ready Monday night.

If it were up to me, I’d declare the hearing will be held this coming Monday. Security will be airtight with a recommendation that the hearing be closed to the public and no television cameras at all. (If either Ford or Kavanaugh wish to separately address the press and repeat the arguments from their testimony on camera, they’re free to do so elsewhere.) The public would be granted access to an audio recording and transcript. This arrangement would balance the public’s right to know with Ford’s desire to protect her privacy, and hopefully minimize senatorial grandstanding.

There would be no requirement for a written statement, each side would be free to have either senators or counsel ask questions, and in keeping with tradition, the accused will have the chance to respond to the accuser after her testimony. There would be no time limits on witness testimony; when they’re done, they’re done.

Ford is comfortable detailing her accusation on the record to reporters from the national news media. I don’t see why she would not be comfortable detailing her accusation under oath under penalty of perjury. Kavanaugh has already submitted testimony on this matter to the Judiciary Committee under penalty of perjury.

A cynic would suggest that the strategy of her legal team is not merely to drag out negotiations, but to avoid coming to an agreement — so that her accusation remains out there and that she is never subjected to anything resembling cross-examination or questioning about the portions of her account that are missing or vague. Foes of Kavanaugh would love to establish the narrative, “Ford was willing to testify but the Judiciary Committee silenced her!”– which is why we’ve got the likes of Senator Gillibrand insisting that the invitation to testify amounted to silencing her.

Because of how thoroughly she’s left no social-media footprint — no videos of her teaching or speaking at conferences, no Facebook page, no Twitter or Instagram account, very few recent photos — we have little sense of how she comes across to an audience. Perhaps Ford comes across as exceptionally compelling, authentic, and honest, and the kind of perfect witness that a defense attorney would fear. Or perhaps she doesn’t, and her legal advisers want to keep her away from television cameras, for fear that much of the public simply wouldn’t find her credible.

When Beto Met Ted . . . er, When Robert Met Rafael

Tonight is the first of three debates between Ted Cruz and Beto O’Rourke. Democrats are dancing a jig over the Cook Political Report changing its assessment of the race from “Leans Republican” to “Toss Up.”

Make no mistake, O’Rourke is going to give Cruz the toughest race that any Texas Republican has faced in the past 30 years. He’s got buckets of charisma, the biggest fundraising haul of any Senate challenger, messianic-media coverage on par with early Barack Obama, and he’s going to get presidential buzz, no matter how this race turns out.

(One note on O’Rourke’s fundraising: He takes positions that are not necessarily popular in Texas but are very popular among Democratic donors nationwide, such as support for kneeling NFL players, openness to abolishing ICE, banning AR-15s, and impeaching President Trump. Every time he does this, national donors large and small open up their wallets. Lots of Democrats candidates have these positions, but O’Rourke stands out because he’s a Texan who takes these positions.)

If Cruz were sleepwalking through this general election, there would be good reason to worry. But Cruz has a big structural advantage — perhaps as many as 850,000 more GOP-leaning Texans than Democratic-leaning ones — and it’s very hard to imagine O’Rourke winning if the Texas Republican party get-out-the-vote operation does its job. Cruz isn’t taking this lightly.

ADDENDA: Since everyone will ask . . .

All credit to the Cleveland Browns; after this win, almost beating the Saints on the road and tying the Steelers, they’re clearly nothing like last year’s team. Maybe they need to catch a possum in the stadium every week.

I try not to be the kind of fan who screams “Fire the coach!” after every defeat. New York Jets head coach Todd Bowles undoubtedly has some strengths, and there have been times where he’s gotten players to exceed the limitations of their talent. Lord knows I want to see him succeed. But in his fourth season, with the Monday night excitement fading into the rear-view mirror, it looks like adding an exciting and young quarterback isn’t enough to change the flaws of a team that rarely figures out how to string together back-to-back wins. Whatever new talent gets added, it gets offset by some breakdowns in some other part of the team. Sam Darnold looks good, but his receivers drop passes, or the line gives him almost no time to throw, or the running game stalls. Jamal Adams is a ball-hawk but the pressure disappears and pass coverage breaks down in the clutch.

Last night, Bowles said, “The whole ballgame is on me.” Okay, then. This is the fourth year of the Bowles era, with a record of 21 wins and 30 losses so far. The team is dealing with the same problems that bedeviled them for the entirety of his tenure — slow starts to games, dumb penalties and a general lack of discipline, an offense that sputters and stumbles when a big drive is needed most, and a defense that will look great on one drive and suddenly can’t stop anybody when the game is on the line. No matter the coordinators, the team always looks like it’s playing not to lose, instead of playing to win.

Good franchises don’t change coaches every few years, bringing in their own offensive systems and playbooks and slowing the development of young players. The year is still young. But if we get another year of more of the same . . . why would year five under Bowles be a dramatic improvement over year four?

U.S.

To Testify, or Not to Testify, That Is the Question

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Supreme Court nominee judge Brett Kavanaugh testifies during his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., September 5, 2018. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: How Christine Blasey Ford within three days went from “ready to go” and willing “to do whatever is necessary” to lamenting being rushed, why you can’t let death threats prevent you from living your life, and a Democratic congresswoman near the center of the allegations against Brett Kavanaugh offers an implausible characterization of his accuser.

From ‘Ready to Go’ and ‘Do Whatever Is Necessary’ to ‘Stop the Rush’ within Three Days

Most people can tell that something extremely strange is going on regarding Christine Blasey Ford, accuser of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

Her lawyer had her submit to a polygraph test and she passed. She discussed her accusation, on the record, with the Washington Post. By midday Monday, Ford’s lawyer, Debra Katz, appeared on CNN and seemed irritated that the Senate Judiciary Committee hadn’t yet invited her to testify. “We’ve heard from no one. We’ve seen various statements made on television, but statements that are being bandied about for political reasons. But no one’s asked her, no . . . She decided to take control of this and tell this in her own voice.”

Later that day, the committee delayed the Kavanaugh vote, and scheduled another hearing regarding the accusation for the following Monday. (Senate rules require a week’s notice of hearings, barring extenuating circumstances.) Katz told the New York Times that Ford was “ready to go before the committee.” She told the Washington Law Journal, “My client will do whatever is necessary to make sure that the Senate Judiciary Committee has the full story and the full set of allegations to allow them to make a fully informed decision.”

That all seemed clear and emphatic. The stage was set for the most important, controversial, and high-profile Supreme Court confirmation hearing since Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill.

And then, once the Senate Judiciary Committee offered Ford the option of an open hearing or a closed hearing, whichever she preferred . . . suddenly she and her lawyers insisted that the hearing shouldn’t occur until the FBI had completed an investigation of an alleged crime committed 36 years ago, with no specific date, no specific location, a denial by the accused, and two witnesses that say they don’t remember anything like the accusation happening. Oh, and it’s not a federal crime.

By last night, another one of Ford’s attorneys issued a statement declaring, “The rush to a hearing is unnecessary, and contrary to the Committee discovering the truth.” Three days earlier, her lawyers were declaring publicly that she was “ready to go” and willing to “do whatever is necessary.” Somehow, within three days, the process became “a rush.”

And now there’s some odd evidence that after complaining on CNN about not being contacted by the committee, Katz’s lawyers are ignoring the phone calls and emails from the committee. Around 1 a.m. this morning, Mike Davis, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s chief counsel for nominations, tweeted, “I personally questioned Judge Kavanaugh under penalty of felony and 5 years of imprisonment, if he lies. I’m still waiting to hear back from the accuser’s attorneys, who can’t find time between TV appearances to get back to me.”

New York senator Kirsten Gillibrand is now making the Orwellian claim that “forcing her into a sham hearing is silencing her.” Gillibrand contends that the hearing is a “sham” because the committee has not scheduled an appearance from Mark Judge or Patrick Smyth, who Ford claims were at the party. Both Judge and Smith have issued statements that they have no memory of anything like the described events or party.

Inviting someone to speak, on the record, with their preferred option on the presence of television cameras, is the opposite of silencing them.

As of this moment, it appears that Christine Blasey Ford will not appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee this coming Monday, a turn of events that seems pretty mind-boggling considering how things stood Monday night. And while Democrats no doubt will attempt to shift the debate to how the mean, nasty committee isn’t willing to give Ford everything she wants before testifying, even their sympathetic media observers will be unable to avoid noticing that Ford was willing to make her accusations in a media interview but not willing to repeat them under oath under penalty of perjury.

Jeffrey Toobin on CNN last night:

“If she refuses to testify on Monday, Brett Kavanaugh is getting confirmed. Jeff Flake has said that, Susan Collins has said that, if she maintains that this is a sham investigation and I’m not taking part, he’s getting confirmed… She’s got to decide whether she wants to testify or not. It’s a hard decision. Everybody should be clear about what the stakes are. If she does not testify, he’s getting confirmed.”

You Can’t Let Raging Lunatics on the Internet Make the Decisions for Your Life

Ford’s lawyers also said, “She is currently unable to go home, and is receiving ongoing threats to her and her family’s safety.”

That’s awful; no one should have to go through that. Those who are making the threats should be identified and face the appropriate criminal penalties.

Death threats are terrifying and illegal. But they’re ubiquitous in the Internet age, and they’re sent to everyone who’s in the public eye in any capacity: comedians, movie reviewers, bank employees, sports referees, pollsters. Thankfully, the overwhelming majority of those who send them never actually follow up on their threats. I used to get questions about how to handle death threats back at blogger conferences, and my advice was that after notifying the appropriate authorities, go live your life. The odds are extremely high that absolutely nothing will happen. You’re probably not in a Salman Rushdie situation. If you’re really concerned that this isn’t just some angry loser living in his parents’ basement raging impotently, notify and consult local law enforcement. But beyond that, you can’t let the lunatics win.

Ford may choose to testify, or she may choose to not testify, but if she chooses not to because some nut job found her email account, she’s letting that nut job make the decision for her.

‘She Doesn’t Have a Political Bone in Her Body.’

Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, describing Christine Blasey Ford to the Washington Post: “She doesn’t have a political bone in her body.”

This is a mildly surprising thing to hear about a Palo Alto University psychiatry professor who made small but repeated donations to the Democratic National Committee and Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign, attended the Women’s March, wore a pink-yarned “brain hat” at the March for Science, and signed a letter calling for the end of the policy of separating children from their parents at the border.

Her partisan affiliation doesn’t tell us one thing or another about whether her accusation is credible. So, can we be honest about it? Can we just say she’s a Democrat? She’s got a political bone in her body. That doesn’t mean she’s lying.

But it now appears Eshoo is lying by making a characterization of Ford that is contrary to known facts.

ADDENDA: I offer my pre-congratulations to Hugh Hewitt and his beloved Cleveland Browns; the Jets’ deflated performance Sunday makes me strongly suspect that the Browns non-victory streak will end tonight.

David Bahnsen, a trustee at the National Review Institute, just happens to be named on the Forbes’ 2018 List of Top Wealth Advisors and the Barron’s 2018 List of Top 100 Independent Financial Advisors. Pretty good guy to know!

This is the 490th day of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

Politics & Policy

Another Alleged Witness Denies Seeing or Hearing What Kavanaugh’s Accuser Claimed

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Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh is sworn in to testify at his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., September 4, 2018. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

There is an ugly rumor going around that today is only Wednesday.

BREAKING:

Patrick J. Smyth attended Georgetown Prep — an all-boys school in North Bethesda, Maryland — alongside Kavanaugh. Both men graduated in 1983. Smyth signed a letter this summer, before the allegations against Kavanaugh were made public, testifying that Kavanaugh “is singularly qualified to be an Associate Justice on the U.S. Supreme Court,” along with dozen other of the school’s alumni.

“I understand that I have been identified by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford as the person she remembers as ‘PJ’ who supposedly was present at the party she described in her statements to the Washington Post,” Smyth says in his statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee. “I am issuing this statement today to make it clear to all involved that I have no knowledge of the party in question; nor do I have any knowledge of the allegations of improper conduct she has leveled against Brett Kavanaugh.”

What No One Wants to Openly Discuss about Dianne Feinstein

Tuesday evening, speaking off the cuff, California senator Dianne Feinstein seemed to cast doubt on Brett Kavanaugh’s accuser: “This is a woman, and I really believe, who’s been profoundly impacted by this. Now, I can’t say that everything is truthful. I don’t know.” (Video here.)

Later in the evening, her office issued a statement to CNN: “Based upon what I know at this stage, she is credible.”

This isn’t the first time in the past year that Feinstein quickly reversed herself after making a public statement that turned heads.

In January, Feinstein released the full transcript of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s interview with Glenn Simpson, the co-founder of Fusion GPS, the firm that researched President Trump during the 2016 campaign. This was over the objections of Republicans on the panel, including chairman Chuck Grassley.

CNN congressional correspondent Manu Raju tweeted:

“Feinstein says she’s sorry to Grassley for not giving him a heads-up about the release of the Fusion GPS transcript. ‘I meant to tell him, and I didn’t have a chance to tell him, and that concerns me,’ she told us. ‘I just got pressured, and I didn’t do it.’”

But less than an hour later, when Raju asked who was pressuring her, she said, “I wasn’t pressured” and simply refused to reconcile her statements. The next day, BuzzFeed reporter Emma Loop had this odd exchange with the senator:

Feinstein: I made no statement to that effect.

Loop: But there are recordings of you saying you felt pressured.

Feinstein: I don’t believe there are. I don’t believe I said that.

Loop: Okay. Reporters have the recordings.

Feinstein: It appears in one place, and I saw it, and I’m just telling you, you asked me the question, and the question is, it’s not correct.

Then, later that day, she appeared to be confused about what her own position was on a government-spending bill to avoid a government shutdown:

On Tuesday, Feinstein’s staff said she planned to vote “no” unless Congress reaches a deal to address the legal status of people brought to the country illegally as children. And Thursday morning, Feinstein’s office released a statement affirming that position.

I said in December that I wouldn’t vote for [the spending bill] without the Dream Act, and I won’t do so now,” she said in the statement.

But hours later, Feinstein told CNN in an interview that she had not made her mind up about whether to vote for the measure, saying: “Shutting down the government is a very serious thing. People die, accidents happen. You don’t know. Necessary functions can cease.” She didn’t seem aware of her office’s earlier statement.

“I don’t know if we did today,” Feinstein said, looking toward an aide when asked about the news release.

“I don’t know how I would vote right now on a CR [continuing resolution], OK?” she added, ending the interview.

A Republican senator once told me that it was easier to work with Feinstein herself than her staff; Feinstein would seem amenable in a meeting and then her staff would insist she hadn’t agreed to the discussed solution.

In May, Senator Feinstein issued a statement declaring that Russian bots were behind the hashtag #ReleaseTheMemo, despite contrary statements from officials at Twitter and Facebook, saying they had not found “any significant activity connected to Russia.”

Monday, Feinstein seemed to forget why she didn’t share the letter from Brett Kavanaugh’s accuser with her colleagues on the Judiciary Committee:

Ultimately, after rumors of the letter circulated on Capitol Hill, and she was confronted by Democratic colleagues on the Judiciary Committee, Ms. Feinstein referred the letter to the F.B.I. Asked why she had waited so long, the senator hesitated.

“I don’t know; I’ll have to look back and see,” Ms. Feinstein told reporters, before ducking into the Senate chamber. When she emerged, she said, “The answer is that she asked that it be confidential.”

Dianne Feinstein is 85 years old. God bless the senator; may we all be as active and alert at her age as she is. But the job of a senator is a challenging one, and it’s not hard to see a pattern of Feinstein saying things and then suddenly reversing herself, forgetting things she said a short while earlier, or seeming to not know what her own office has said on her behalf. Maybe that’s simply a matter of the staff not being on the same page as the lawmaker . . . or maybe she doesn’t remember what she told them to do.

Either way, the issue of the senator’s condition is starting to be discussed more openly. The Washington Post, this morning:

Feinstein has been a magnet for attention on Capitol Hill this week. While her aides have sought to shuttle her efficiently to and from meetings and votes, she has stopped to speak with crowds of reporters patiently, sometimes putting her aides on edge, as Feinstein, the oldest member of the Senate, has been known to make comments that sometimes stir confusion.

“Make comments that sometimes stir confusion” is an extremely gentle way of alluding to the possibility that Feinstein herself is confused.

Would Some Senators Prefer to Not Hear from Kavanaugh’s Accuser?

No one knows what will happen at Monday’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing featuring Christine Blasey Ford and Judge Brett Kavanaugh. It will, in all likelihood, be a circus that made the previous round of confirmation hearings look tame.

But as of this writing, there’s a possibility that Ford will not agree to appear at Monday’s hearing. Committee chairman Chuck Grassley offered Ford the option of testifying in open or closed sessions. Her attorneys wrote back to Grassley that there should be an FBI investigation of the crime before she appears — but there’s no federal crime alleged, and it’s unclear what more the FBI could do, beyond interview Ford and Mark Judge, who denied her allegations. (Kavanaugh passed six previous FBI background checks in his career.)

If Ford does not testify on Monday, it is extremely likely that Kavanaugh will get 51 Republican votes to confirm him to the Supreme Court. Many Senate Republicans are eager to hear from her, but if she refuses to appear and discuss the accusation under oath, they will become much more skeptical of her claim.

Senator Jeff Flake:

“When Dr. Ford came forward, I said that her voice should be heard and asked the Judiciary Committee to delay its vote on Judge Kavanaugh. It did so. I now implore Dr. Ford to accept the invitation for Monday, in a public or private setting. The committee should hear her voice.”

Senator Bob Corker: “If we don’t hear from both sides on Monday, let’s vote.”

A scenario where Ford refuses to testify may be the one that leaves most senators comfortable with their options. Republican senators will be able to say, “Kavanaugh testified under oath and categorically denied all of the charges; she refused to appear. I believe his denial and will support him.” Democratic senators — even the red-state ones — will say something like, “I cannot, in good conscience, vote to confirm a nominee with these kinds of serious and unresolved accusations hanging over him.”

The three Democratic senators who voted to confirm Neil Gorsuch in 2017 may conclude that their reelection prospects might not be all that changed by their vote on this nomination. Joe Manchin of West Virginia is polling pretty well, considering Trump’s margin in his state. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota might conclude she’s a goner either way, so she might as well join the majority of her party in voting “no.” Joe Donnelly of Indiana has the most competitive race of the three, but he might be able to survive a “no” vote.

Then again, Republican senators and Senate challengers have a massive argument to spur GOP get-out-the-vote efforts. Senate Democrats such as Hawaii senator Mazie Hirono are already discussing keeping the Supreme Court seat vacant until after the 2020 election. If Democrats take the Senate, they are likely to reject almost all of President Trump’s judicial nominations — not just for the Supreme Court, but for the entire federal judiciary.

Just What Makes a Career-Ending Scandal?

We have a fascinatingly variable definition of a career-ending scandal in politics. Consider three men, all Democrats: Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Congressman and Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke, and former senator Al Franken.

Blumenthal claimed, “I served in Vietnam” when he did not. In 1970, he joined the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves, joining a unit in Washington that “conducted drills and other exercises and focused on local projects, like fixing a campground and organizing a Toys for Tots drive.” In public remarks, he used terms like “when we returned,” strongly implying he had served in Vietnam during the war. After the revelation, he went on to win his first Senate race, 55 percent to 43 percent and he was reelected in 2016.

Many of the glowing profile pieces written about Beto O’Rourke in the past year made passing reference to a DUI charge in his youth. The details paint a much more serious picture:

Although the arrest has been public knowledge, police reports of the September 1998 incident – when the Democratic Senate candidate had just turned 26 – show that it was a more serious threat to public safety than has previously been reported.

State and local police reports obtained by the Chronicle and Express-News show that O’Rourke was driving drunk at what a witness called “a high rate of speed” in a 75 mph zone on Interstate 10 about a mile from the New Mexico border. He lost control and hit a truck, sending his car careening across the center median into oncoming lanes. The witness, who stopped at the scene, later told police that O’Rourke had tried to drive away from the scene.

O’Rourke blew a 0.136 and a 0.134 on police breathalyzers, above the legal limit of a 0.10 blood- alcohol level at the time. (All 50 states now have .08 as their legal limit now.) Only luck and the will of God prevented O’Rourke from killing someone, and you’re no longer a foolish teenager in your mid-twenties. His DUI charge was dismissed after he completed a court-mandated program. So far, there is little sign that the crime will deter O’Rourke’s ambitions.

A lot of conservatives will argue, “This is because Democrats always get away with it.” As much as that may feel true, it is not quite true.

Eight women detailed different incidents of Al Franken either trying to kiss them, groping them, or grabbing their behinds while taking photos. He eventually resigned.

Franken may be currently wondering whether the sin of a nonconsensual kiss or squeeze compares to O’Rourke’s actions, which easily could have killed someone, or Blumenthal’s, which come uncomfortably close to “stolen valor.” The public’s reactions to scandals and wrongdoing is fickle, arbitrary, unclear, ad hoc, and constantly evolving. Ask Bill Clinton, who’s clearly dumbfounded by the fact that he’s getting grief in 2018 for actions the public forgave in 1998. And in the minds of Democrats, Donald Trump has always gotten away with all kinds of misbehavior.

If we want a better society and better governance, we should begin with honest discussion about what we’re willing to forgive and what we aren’t — free from partisan wrangling.

ADDENDUM: This week feels like it’s been eight days long already.

Politics & Policy

The Double Standard for High-Profile Sexual-Misconduct Accusations

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Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh is sworn before a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing, September 4, 2018. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: The ongoing effort to institute a new standard, that an accusation is sufficient evidence of guilt in the court of public opinion; a celebrity publicly bristles at an insult on social media, raising the question of whether anyone can just let a slight pass anymore; and another lesson of why we shouldn’t be too quick to judge anyone depicted in a viral video.

The On-Again, Off-Again Skepticism about High-Profile Sexual-Misconduct Accusations

In 2009, massage therapist Molly Hagerty went to the Portland, Ore., Police and gave a lengthy statement claiming that about three years earlier, former vice president Al Gore “pinned her to a bed in his hotel suite, forcibly French kissed her, and groped her breasts.” She described herself as “petrified during the encounter and how she had to bolt the room to avoid being raped.” She also described Gore as having a violent temper. She had gone to Portland Police three years earlier, but abruptly stopped cooperating with the investigation. Then, without a clear explanation, she returned and gave a full account to investigators.

The Portland Police opened an investigation and interviewed Gore. In June of 2010, news of the investigation broke, and Gore adamantly denied the accusation. Steve Kornacki, then of Salon and currently with MSNBC, told his readers that three reasons to be skeptical jump out: The Portland Police had not initially chosen to follow up on her allegation, a local newspaper had heard her story and chosen to not publish any articles about it, and that several celebrities are falsely accused of sex crimes before.

Alexandra Petri of the Washington Post pointed to the masseuse’s comment that Gore behaved like a “crazed sex poodle” and chuckled, “There are hundreds of jokes to be made here. I won’t make any of them, because I don’t want the world to be destroyed by global warming.” Marc Ambinder, then with The Atlantic, assessed her account with great skepticism:

The narrative is pulpy and riveting and tragicomic. You half expect there to be a reference to a “torn bodice” at some point. Either the masseuse or Mr. Gore has an extremely vivid imagination, and in our system of justice, we must presume that since the police did not file charges, Gore is innocent.

(You notice that there is little of this skepticism and reasoning around for the current accusations against Judge Brett Kavanaugh.)

The Portland District Attorney’s office chose not to press charges against Gore, contending that Hagerty failed a polygraph test, sold her story to the National Enquirer, and had not agreed to turn over certain medical records. “This case is not appropriate for criminal prosecution. The matter is closed and the investigative materials will be returned to PPB [the Portland Police Bureau].” The former Vice President was cleared of the charges, or at least as much as a man can be.

The only two people who know precisely what happened in that room are Al Gore and the masseuse, but there is no fair way to characterize Gore as a sexual predator or a creep. Sexual predators don’t look a certain way, publicly behave a certain way, or vote a certain way.

Nor do they come from particular backgrounds. In the coming days, you’re likely to hear a lot of sneering about wealthy and privileged white guys who attended prep schools and the Ivy Leagues, a lot of fuming about how anyone with a background like Brett Kavanaugh’s — mother who is a judge, father who is a head of a perfume-maker’s trade association, Georgetown Prep, Yale University — must be arrogant, entitled, smug, and elitist. Of course, that background is hard to distinguish from Al Gore’s — father who is a senator, mother who is a lawyer, living in the Fairfax Hotel on Embassy Row in Washington, attending Saint Albans prep school and going on to Harvard University.

Apparently, we only hate the preppies when they’re in the other party.

False, or unprovable, accusations of rape and sexual assault occur. The 2014 Rolling Stone article. The 2006 accusations against the Duke Lacrosse team. Columbia University’s “Mattress Girl.” Those high-profile examples don’t mean one should instinctively refuse to believe every accusation, any more than the cases of Bill Cosby, Roman Polanski, or Mike Tyson mean one should instinctively believe every accusation.

But right now, many Kavanaugh foes are eager to implement a new standard that they would never agree to live under themselves — that the accusation itself is sufficient evidence of guilt. Some are surprisingly explicit about it, such as Matthew Dowd, the chief political analyst of ABC News:

Enough with the “he said, she said” storyline. If this is he said, she said, then let’s believe the she in these scenarios. She has nothing to gain, and everything to lose. For 250 years we have believed the he in these scenarios. Enough is enough.

Senate Democrats want the FBI to investigate the claims, but a Department of Justice spokesman has already pointed out that Christine Blasey Ford’s account does not describe a federal crime.

It is fair to ask just what an investigation at this date would involve. The accuser does not remember the date of the alleged crime; she can only narrow it down to “near the end of her sophomore year.” She cannot remember the location of the scene of the crime. After 36 years, there are no forensic tests to run, and there is no physical evidence to collect or analyze. She names one witness, Mark Judge, who denies her accusation.

In 2012, 30 years after the alleged events, the accuser either told her therapist that there were four boys involved, or the therapist misunderstood and miswrote that she said four boys were involved.

No one at the school remembers hearing about any allegation along these lines involving Kavanaugh during his time there. Two of Kavanaugh’s ex-girlfriends from around that time period have come forward to publicly declare they never witnessed or experienced any behavior similar to what the accuser describes. And of course, Kavanaugh has categorically denied the accusation.

But if the foes of Kavanaugh are determined to implement a new standard — that the accusation itself is sufficient evidence of guilt — then that new standard will be implemented for figures in both parties, whether they realize it or not.

If you believe that Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Keith Ellison, Al Franken, and Bobby Scott are all falsely accused, while Brett Kavanaugh, Clarence Thomas, Donald Trump, Blake Fahrenthold, Roy Moore, and Eric Greitens are all guilty as sin — or vice versa! — you’re part of the problem.

Does Everyone Let Insults Get Under Their Skin?

Last night, model Chrissy Teigen responded on Twitter when the morning-news anchor of the Temple, the Texas, NBC affiliate, asked on the social-media platform, “Chrissy Teigen is beautiful but does she have to be included in everything just because she’s married to John Legend?”

I’m sure that offended Teigen; it’s always insulting to have someone suggest you’re just an appendage to your spouse. (In the diplomatic and military communities, the non-government employee is sometimes called “the trailing spouse.” I suppose that’s one step above “tagalong.”)

But I can’t help but notice that Chrissy Teigen is . . . well, living the life of Chrissy Teigen. She’s ranked among the best-known models in the world since 2007, appearing on calendars and just about every glamorous magazine cover imaginable. Last year, she was the highest-paid model in the world, according to Forbes, making an estimated $13.5 million. She’s been a recurring guest host and contributor to lots of television programs on various networks, and appears in commercials for plenty of products. She’s had a cookbook that became a New York Times bestseller, and has another cookbook on the way. She has her own clothing line.

She has what appears to be a happy marriage, other than her husband constantly taking all the phone recharging wires, and two beautiful children. From what we in the public can see, she has oodles of friends and admirers, travels around the world, and meets fascinating people. It is about as charmed and blessed a life as one can imagine; the world is her oyster.

And yet, a snarky and disrespectful comment from a little-known news anchor with about 1,250 followers . . . bugged her.

Should it bother her this much? Should it bother anyone that much?

ADDENDUM: Social media is turning us into judgmental jerks, example No. 1 million: “A man who was mocked online after he was recorded shaving at his seat on a commuter train headed out of New York City said he was just trying to clean up after days spent in a homeless shelter.”

White House

This Week Will Make the Clarence Thomas Confirmation Hearings Look Civil and Agreeable

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Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh at his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing, September 4, 2018. (Jim Bourg/Reuters)

We need a way to evaluate accusations of sexual misconduct against public figures beyond “I like the accused person” or “I don’t like the accused person.”

Up until Sunday afternoon, the vague-but-ominous-sounding accusation against Kavanaugh didn’t have a named accuser, and those of us who prefer to see the judge confirmed had an exceptionally strong argument: You can’t destroy a man’s career and reputation on the basis of an anonymous allegation and no evidence.

Now it’s no longer an anonymous accusation; the Washington Post printed the account of Palo Alto University professor Christine Blasey Ford Sunday afternoon, and the accusation now has some more specifics. But there’s a catch:

After so many years, Ford said she does not remember some key details of the incident. She said she believes it occurred in the summer of 1982, when she was 15, around the end of her sophomore year at the all-girls Holton-Arms School in Bethesda. Kavanaugh would have been 17 at the end of his junior year at Georgetown Prep.

Ford said she does not recall the date “around the end of her sophomore year” or the exact location, or “who owned the house or how she got there.” It’s natural that some memories would be hazy after 36 years and alcohol consumption at the time of the incident; in Ford’s account, she had a beer. But this means that if anyone can contradict any detail of her account, she has the built-in excuse of a hazy memory. Perhaps Kavanaugh could prove he was away from the D.C. area during some periods of late spring or the summer of 1982, but because the allegation can’t even be narrowed to a particular month, that would be pointless.

There is evidence that Ford discussed her experience and allegations before now, but that has complications:

Ford said she told no one of the incident in any detail until 2012, when she was in couples therapy with her husband. The therapist’s notes, portions of which were provided by Ford and reviewed by The Washington Post, do not mention Kavanaugh’s name but say she reported that she was attacked by students “from an elitist boys’ school” who went on to become “highly respected and high-ranking members of society in Washington.” The notes say four boys were involved, a discrepancy Ford says was an error on the therapist’s part. Ford said there were four boys at the party but only two in the room.

As noted, Kavanaugh denied the accusation. The White House points out that Kavanaugh has undergone six FBI background checks over the course of his career and none of them uncovered this event, or any other events like it. The one other witness that Ford names, Kavanaugh’s friend and classmate Mark Judge, denied her allegations in a statement to The Weekly Standard:

Now that the anonymous person has been identified and has spoken to the press, I repeat my earlier statement that I have no recollection of any of the events described in today’s Post article or attributed to her letter. Since I have nothing more to say I will not comment further on this matter. I hope you will respect my position and my privacy.

The Post writes, “Ford named two other teenagers who she said were at the party. Those individuals did not respond to messages on Sunday morning.”

As of this writing, there are no photographs of the two together, no letters between them, no physical evidence proving that the two met each other, much less that the events occurred as she described.

The allegation against Kavanaugh is almost certain to get lumped into the discussions about #MeToo and powerful men engaging in wanton sexual misconduct. Unless more women come forward, this will be exceptionally unfair to the judge; all of the most infamous cases of #MeToo have involved multiple accusers and patterns of abuse. In at least two cases that were briefly high profile, the accusations were found to be either false or insufficiently provable to carry consequences. CNN reinstated Ryan Lizza, formerly of The New Yorker, after conducting what it called “an extensive investigation” and concluding, “based on the information provided and the findings of the investigation, CNN has found no reason to continue to keep Mr. Lizza off the air.” AMC reinstated television host Chris Hardwick after a suspension for allegations of being abusive in a past relationship, declaring “given the information available to us after a very careful review, including interviews with numerous individuals, we believe returning Chris to work is the appropriate step.”

The Post‘s story ends with Ford’s husband declaring:

“I think you look to judges to be the arbiters of right and wrong,” Russell Ford said. “If they don’t have a moral code of their own to determine right from wrong, then that’s a problem. So I think it’s relevant. Supreme Court nominees should be held to a higher standard.”

Indeed, but . . . Kavanaugh has been a federal judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals since 2006. If this allegation is serious and important enough to deter his confirmation by the Senate now . . . why was it not serious and important enough to deter his confirmation by the Senate twelve years ago?

The coming week is going to be an ugly one, with half of the political world screaming at the other, “How can you be so certain that she’s telling the truth?” and the other half yelling back, “How can you be so certain that she’s lying?” The problem is that if Kavanaugh is confirmed, a (likely vocal) segment of the public will forever accuse him of committing sexual assault and getting away with it — and if Ford is telling the truth, he did. If Kavanaugh is rejected, it means an accuser can come forward after 36 years, with no evidence beyond her own account, and not able to remember key details, and ruin the life and career of a man.

Why Democrats Think $40 Trillion in New Spending Is Reasonable and Feasible

On Sunday morning, Jake Tapper tried to get Democratic congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to explain where she would find the $40 trillion needed to pay for her agenda. I know this will shock you, but she didn’t have many good answers.

TAPPER: Your platform has called for various new programs, including Medicare for all, housing as a federal right, a federal jobs guarantee, tuition-free public college, canceling all student loan debt. According to nonpartisan and left-leaning studies friendly to your cause, including the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities or the Tax Policy Center, the overall price tag is more than $40 trillion in the next decade.   You recently said in an interview that increasing taxes on the very wealthy, plus an increased corporate tax rate, would make $2 trillion over the next 10 years. So, where is the other $38 trillion going to come from?

OCASIO-CORTEZ:  Well, one of the things that we need to realize when we look at something like Medicare for all, Medicare for all would save the American people a very large amount of money. And what we see as well is that these systems are not just pie in the sky.  They are — many of them are accomplished by every modern, civilized democracy in the Western world.  The United — the United Kingdom has a form of single-payer health care, Canada, France, Germany. What we need to realize is that these investments are better and they are good for our future.  These are generational investments, so that not just — they’re not short-term Band-Aids, but they are really profound decisions about who we want to be as a nation and as — and how we want to act, as the wealthiest nation in the history of the world.

Tapper pressed again, and she continued:

 OCASIO-CORTEZ:  What these represent are lower costs overall for these programs. And, additionally, what this is, is a broader agenda.  We do know and we acknowledge that there are political realities.  They don’t always happen with just the wave of a wand.  But we can work to make these things happen.  And, in fact, when we — when you look at the economic activity that it spurs, for example, if you look at my generation, millennials, the amount of economic activity that we do not engage, the fact that we delay purchasing homes, that we don’t participate in the economy and purchasing cars, et cetera, as fully as possible, is a cost. It is an externality, if you will, of unprecedented — unprecedented amount of student loan debt.

TAPPER: So, I’m assuming I’m not going to get an answer for the other $38 trillion.

We can scoff at how, when pushed for specifics, Ocasio-Cortez provides a steady stream of gobbledygook. But if you’re wondering why today’s Democrats are embracing socialism and new spending programs that are wildly expensive and ambitious even by the standards of the past generation of Democrats . . . how much of it reflects the end of the Republican party as the debt-focused party? We used to have one party that ignored the debt and another that paid lip service to it. Now we have two parties that ignore it.

We’re on pace for a trillion-dollar deficit this year, during an economic boom. And this is with the amount of money collected by the federal government in terms of taxes, fees, and tariffs increasing :“Receipts totaled $2,985 billion during the first 11 months of fiscal year 2018, CBO estimates — $19 billion more than during the same period last year.” Even with the tax cuts, the government is taking in oodles of money, but it’s still spending it at a faster rate.

Many Democrats consciously or subconsciously notice, “If there’s no political or noticeable economic consequence to running a $1 trillion-per-year deficit, why not spend even more and have a $2 trillion or $3 trillion annual deficit?”

ADDENDA: Yesterday was a deep disappointment for my Jets, but probably the team that had it roughest was the Buffalo Bills, who had cornerback Vontae Davis decide to retire at halftime of yesterday’s game against the Chargers. That’s not a metaphor for playing half-heartedly in the second half; he decided he “didn’t feel like himself” and took himself out of the game.

I hope Bills coach Sean McDermott’s halftime pep talk wasn’t about the importance of not quitting.

“Okay, guys, I know we’re trailing and it looks tough, but let’s go out there and show them that we never give up!”

“Coach, I’m retiring immediately.”

Politics & Policy

Wait, That Allegation Sat on Dianne Feinstein’s Desk Since Late July?

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Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh at his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill, September 4, 2018. (Jim Bourg/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Senator Dianne Feinstein promises a vague bombshell and Ronan Farrow fills in the details; Mr. Nanny State himself is allegedly running for president; and Democrats say they expect to see another old, familiar face return to the campaign trail in 2020.

The FBI Tip Line Has to Deal with a Lot of Cranks

Yesterday afternoon, California senator Dianne Feinstein said she referred unspecified information about Brett Kavanaugh to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, but refused to offer any specifics.

By Thursday night, reports suggested the information was wildly vague.

A source who claimed to have been briefed on the contents of the letter said it described an incident involving Kavanaugh and a woman that took place when both were 17 years old and at a party. According to the source, Kavanaugh and a male friend had locked her in a room against her will, making her feel threatened, but she was able to get out of the room. The Guardian has not verified the apparent claims in the letter. It is not yet clear who wrote it.

Kavanaugh was 17 years old in 1982. Quick, call Agents Mulder, Scully, Cooper, Booth, Dunham, Terranova, and Erskine! Get all the forensics teams out to that party house! Alert the U.S. attorney! Ready the hostage-rescue teams! Alert Quantico!

By the middle of Friday morning, Ronan Farrow of The New Yorker added some details that made it sound much more serious.

The allegation dates back to the early nineteen-eighties, when Kavanaugh was a high-school student at Georgetown Preparatory School, in Bethesda, Maryland, and the woman attended a nearby high school. In the letter, the woman alleged that, during an encounter at a party, Kavanaugh held her down, and that he attempted to force himself on her. She claimed in the letter that Kavanaugh and a classmate of his, both of whom had been drinking, turned up music that was playing in the room to conceal the sound of her protests, and that Kavanaugh covered her mouth with his hand. She was able to free herself. Although the alleged incident took place decades ago and the three individuals involved were minors, the woman said that the memory had been a source of ongoing distress for her, and that she had sought psychological treatment as a result.

In a statement, Kavanaugh said, “I categorically and unequivocally deny this allegation. I did not do this back in high school or at any time.”

Kavanaugh’s classmate said of the woman’s allegation, “I have no recollection of that.”

The woman declined a request for an interview with The New Yorker.

The FBI responded as one would expect: “The bureau does not plan to launch a criminal investigation, according to a person familiar with the matter — a probe that would normally be handled by local authorities if it were within the statute of limitations.”

We have an allegation of a very serious crime by an accuser who doesn’t want to go public, with no corroborating witnesses or evidence.

Other unidentified sources characterized the letter’s content to the New York Times on Thursday as an allegation of “possible sexual misconduct.” Assuming Farrow’s description is true, the sources of The Guardian are seriously misleading about the contents of the letter. (Of course, no news organization has provided the public with a copy of the letter.) While it’s conceivable that the letter mentions both, it doesn’t make sense that one source would only describe one part of the allegation while the other source only described another part. It is more plausible that either The Guardian’s sources describing a “locked in a room” scenario or the Times sources describing “sexual misconduct” are lying.

If the letter is ever released, and any of these characterizations were inaccurate, will any news organization reveal its sources for giving them wrong, or at best extremely misleading information?

The White House Is Understandably Outraged

Farrow’s article mentions that Feinstein has had the letter since “late July.” And she issues a vague press release about it days before the committee’s vote?

“Throughout his confirmation process, Judge Kavanaugh has had 65 meetings with senators — including with Senator Feinstein — sat through over 30 hours of testimony, addressed over 2,000 questions in a public setting and additional questions in a confidential session. Not until the eve of his confirmation has Senator Feinstein or anyone raised the specter of new ‘information’ about him,” said White House spokeswoman Kerri Kupec. “Senator Schumer promised to ‘oppose Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination with everything I have,’ and it appears he is delivering with this 11th hour attempt to delay his confirmation.”

Every Supreme Court nomination brings some antics and political stunts, but the Democrats have really turned it up to eleven with Kavanaugh. The constant interrupting protesters throughout the confirmation hearing, Cory Booker’s “I am Spartacus” routine, Kamala Harris’s blatant dishonesty about Kavanaugh’s positions and writing, the implausible “Kavanaugh refused to shake my hand” stunt from the father of a Parkland-shooting victim, and now this last-minute evidence-free vague accusation. Even by the standards of shameless political stunts and grandstanding, this feels . . . disproportionate. The Neil Gorsuch confirmation fight wasn’t that long ago, and Democrats didn’t resort to all of this in 2017.

Democrats are reacting to everything about Kavanaugh with alarm and horror, even though every step of the process was predictable. Rumors about Justice Kennedy retiring grew louder each year. Judge Kavanaugh is well known and well respected in Washington’s legal community. He wasn’t on Trump’s initial list of potential justices, but he was one of five additions Trump made to the list back in November 2017, eight months before Kennedy announced his retirement. Everyone knew that a five–four originalist/strict constructionist/conservative majority was likely to happen . . . but if we’re being honest with ourselves, replacing Kennedy with Kavanaugh doesn’t really change the dynamics of the court that dramatically. Kennedy’s decisions on gay rights and gay marriage set his reputation, but he voted with the conservative/strict constructionist/originalist wing on most other issues.

Some Democrats will inevitably argue that this is simply payback to Republicans for the refusal to consider the nomination of Merrick Garland. But Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell operated within the rules of the Constitution — that is, there’s nothing in the Constitution or law that said that the Senate had to consider Garland.

You can argue that Senate Republicans should have given Merrick Garland a hearing. But at the end of the hearing, Republicans could have and should have said, “The fights over Justices Roberts and Alito established the precedent that senators can vote against the confirmation of a well-qualified, scandal-free judge if he disagrees with the philosophy and legal vision of the nominee. Therefore, I vote against Judge Garland.”

Perhaps Democrats have convinced themselves that if Garland had gotten a hearing and vote, they could have persuaded four of the then-54 Senate Republicans to vote for him. That would have been a tall order. Perhaps Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, although remember Murkowski was up for reelection in 2016? Maybe Illinois’s Mark Kirk . . . and then who? Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire? No way she’s voting to confirm a Supreme Court nominee from President Obama while running for reelection. Thirty-one Republicans voted against Sotomayor, and 37 voted against Elena Kagan.

And mind you, this would be happening in the heat of the Trump-Hillary campaign. Do you think four Republicans would vote to give Obama one more Supreme Court justice, right before facing the voters? Extremely unlikely.

So you’ve got this volcanic, rule-smashing, evidence-free-accusing, decorum-obliterating, dishonest, code-red nuclear meltdown of a reaction from Democrats in response to a well-respected, rigorous, mild-mannered judge . . . who some conservatives (such as David French) doubted was the best possible pick.

Yes, some of this reflects 2020 ambitions on the part of Booker and Harris, some of this reflects anti-Trump rage, some of this reflects Democratic certainty that on day one Kavanaugh would say to his colleagues, “Hey, everybody, what do you say we ban abortion?” But one almost wonders if there’s something else at work here. Everyone could see that with 51 Republican senators and a bunch of red-state Democratic senators who had voted for Gorsuch seeking reelection, Kavanaugh was a very safe bet for confirmation. Why are Democrats concentrating so much energy and time and focus on a battle they’re certain to lose?

It leaves one wondering, is there some other X-factor at work in all this?

Are some people worried about the health of Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg or Stephen Breyer or something?

He’s Coming for Your Large Sodas, America

Finally, an egomaniacal septuagenarian New York City billionaire will run for president, to save the country from having an egomaniacal septuagenarian New York City billionaire as president.

Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire founder of a business news empire, is preparing to run for president as a Democrat, The Times understands.

Mr Bloomberg, 76, a former mayor of New York with a personal fortune of more than $50 billion, has previously considered running as an independent but decided against it in 2012 for fear of splitting the Democratic vote.

He has told confidants that he is planning to join the presidential race, in which several leading business figures could follow the example of Donald Trump and throw their hats in the ring.

This is actually good news for the president. If Bloomberg runs for president the way he ran for mayor, he will attempt to overwhelm all of his Democratic opponents with a tidal wave of spending. Forget about it, Kirsten Gillibrand, Cory Booker, and the rest of the also-rans. You would probably see Howard Schultz countering with his own big-ticket advertising blitz, and those of us watching the primary from the outside will laugh ourselves silly as the self-proclaimed party of the working man has two billionaires throwing around tens of millions in television advertising. Bloomberg has most of Schultz’s weaknesses coupled with the fact that he was a registered Republican for his first seven years in the political world. Bloomberg embodies wealth, Wall Street, and “the Establishment,” meaning he would be the perfect primary target for . . .  [dramatic cliffhanger music]

Are Sequels Always Worse Than the Original?

. . . Bernie Sanders, who is apparently expected to run again.

Allies to Bernie Sanders say the Vermont Independent senator is increasingly likely to make a second bid for the White House in 2020 — once again as a Democrat.

“I expect him to run,” said Larry Cohen, the chairman of Our Revolution, a movement formed by Sanders operatives after their candidate lost the Democratic primary to Hillary Clinton in 2016.

I wondered if Bernie Sanders would prefer to be king-maker rather than the king in 2020 — sit back, let the various candidates court his endorsement, let him probe them on how they would enact the agenda he prefers, and then anoint someone like Elizabeth Warren as his rightful successor.

Sanders is four and a half years older than President Trump. The Vermont senator just turned 77 and, if nominated, would be 79 on the campaign trail in the general election. (How much do you think the questions about health were a factor in Hillary Clinton’s defeat in 2016?) And there have to be more than a few Clinton supporters who blame Sanders in part for her defeat.

ADDENDA: The New York Times continues to live down to its critics’ accusations.

Headline on a piece: Nikki Haley’s View of New York Is Priceless. Her Curtains? $52,701.

The sixth paragraph: “A spokesman for Ms. Haley said plans to buy the curtains were made in 2016, during the Obama administration. Ms. Haley had no say in the purchase, he said.”

White House

The Word ‘Hypocrisy’ Doesn’t Do It Justice

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U.S. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner is pictured as President Barack Obama meets with China’s President Hu Jintao at the G20 Summit in Los Cabos, Mexico, June 19, 2012. (REUTERS/Jason Reed )

Back in July, the Washington Post revealed how the private-equity firm of Tim Geithner — Treasury secretary during the Obama administration — profited from unsolicited high-interest loans that many would characterize as “predatory.”

Mass-mailing checks to strangers might seem like risky business, but Mariner Finance occupies a fertile niche in the U.S. economy. The company enables some of the nation’s wealthiest investors and investment funds to make money offering high-interest loans to cash-strapped Americans.

Mariner Finance is owned and managed by a $11.2 billion private equity fund controlled by Warburg Pincus, a storied New York firm. The president of Warburg Pincus is Timothy F. Geithner, who, as treasury secretary in the Obama administration, condemned predatory lenders.

Since the revelation of Mariner Finance’s loan program, Tim Geithner’s life has gone on . . .  more or less as normal. Shortly after the Post report, he gave the keynote address at a CNBC conference with (ahem) Larry Kudlow, formerly of National Review  and currently advising President Trump. Geithner is invited to the Brookings Institution to talk about the 10-year anniversary of the Wall Street meltdown and the financial crisis. He heads up the “Group of 30” forum that studies the health of the financial markets. He’s invited to speak at Yale University.

In other words, Timothy Geithner is a predatory lender, and no one around him cares.

He’s doing a lot of panel discussions and speeches about the 10-year anniversary of the financial crisis, and predatory lending isn’t coming up in those discussions. Back when Obama was president, he regularly denounced Americans being “treated unfairly by a credit card company, misled by pages and pages of fine print, or end[ing] up paying fees and penalties you’d never heard of before,” and consumers who are “targeted by the predatory practices of unscrupulous lenders.” Geithner is doing exactly what Obama denounced, but the former president just never quite gets around to criticizing Geithner publicly. No, instead, former President Obama is going around the country urging Americans to elect Democrats in the midterm elections, so that government will protect them from predatory lenders . . .  like the former Treasury secretary.

Geithner’s gotten a little bit of grief from left-of-center writers here and there, but clearly it’s had minimal consequence on his life and career. No leftist protesters greet Geithner at his house and none (thankfully) scream at his children, the way they do for certain U.K. members of Parliament, such as Jacob Rees-Mogg. You’re not seeing Democratic senators line up and compete to denounce him in the most furious terms, the way they’re doing to honest, well-respected federal judge Brett Kavanaugh. Geithner is still welcome at CNBC conferences, and the Brookings Institution, and Yale.

It’s not that liberals no longer dislike predatory lending. It’s just that if you’re a prominent enough Democrat, you get a pass on things like that. Once you reach a high enough level in the hierarchy of the progressive aristocracy, you’re exempt from a lot of the rules.

This morning, the New York Times reports about the internal reaction at CBS as sexual harassment and assault allegations against CEO Les Moonves piled up.

We are going to stay in this meeting until midnight if we need to until we get an agreement that we stand 100 percent behind our C.E.O., and there will be no change in his status,” said one board member, William Cohen, a former congressman and senator who was defense secretary under President Bill Clinton, according to directors who heard the remarks and other people who were briefed on them.

A former Clinton cabinet official was insistent that everyone back the boss when he’s accused of sexual misconduct. I guess old habits die hard, huh?

Cohen declined to comment to the New York Times, and he’s not likely to face any further consequence of his stance. He was once a Republican senator but he quickly became part of bipartisan establishment Washington upon retiring from the Pentagon — making a fortune lobbying for defense contractors. He endorsed Hillary Clinton in 2016. He regularly appears on MSNBC and criticizes the Trump administration. He’s a powerful senator-turned-lobbyist and corporate board member defending a CEO accused of sexual harassment, everything progressives claim to hate, but I’ll bet very few of them remember him or perhaps have ever heard of him.

Perhaps liberal rage against the Norm Macdonalds, In-N-Out Burgers, and Kevin Williamsons of the world represents displacement. If a sense of partisan or ideological loyalty forces you to ignore and/or forgive sexual harassment by Bill Clinton, dysfunctional websites under Kathleen Sebelius, Veterans Affairs incompetence under Eric Shinseki, runaway firearms to drug cartels under Eric Holder, the largest breach of sensitive government data in American history under Katherine Archuleta*, and a total disregard for classified information under Hillary Clinton, you’ve probably got a simmering volcano of repressed anger to vent out disproportionately.

The concept of membership in the Democratic party being the modern equivalent of an indulgence, instantly washing away sin, is going to be appealing to some citizens and repellent to others. Some see a public reputation as a feminist as an excuse to harass and abuse others. Harvey Weinstein attended the Women’s March at Sundance Film Festival and when his horrific actions came to light, he tried to hide behind his support for progressive causes: “I am going to need a place to channel that anger, so I’ve decided that I’m going to give the NRA my full attention.”

Some progressives still insist that Al Franken was merely guilty of “boorishness” — as if they would ever hand-wave away similar allegations made against a senator whose positions they oppose.

Loudly supporting raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour doesn’t mean you have to pay your interns anything. Progressive candidates who court union endorsements oppose the unionization of their own campaign workers. The New Yorker, which has written numerous times about the need for affordable health insurance for everyone, does not offer any health-insurance plan at all to its writers. You can demand everyone else make sacrifices in the name of reducing carbon emissions while enjoying a jet-setting life and racking up the frequent-flyer miles.

I’m sure it looks different from over there, but from over here, being a self-proclaimed progressive or outspoken Democrat looks like a way to be a jerk and treat people terribly but still think of yourself as a good person.

A liberal counterpart of myself would probably argue that the Right exhibits this same hypocrisy, and to a certain extent, that’s true. The world has plenty of self-proclaimed Christians who don’t practice much Christian charity or mercy. The Catholic Church, whose main purpose is to provide moral guidance and leadership, can’t go a week without some high-ranking figure sounding like an amoral maniac when discussing sex abuse. There are self-proclaimed patriots who will set fire to their Nikes because Colin Kaepernick “disrespected the troops” but who have never sent a care package to a soldier. There are no doubt enthusiasts of the free market who tout “creative destruction” but who don’t like to think too long about the fact that this process ends up with hardworking people getting laid off and whose lives are suddenly filled with uncertainty and anxiety, through no fault of their own. We call for decorum but enjoy the shock-jocks on our side. We denounce the “victimhood mentality” and then embrace it when convenient.

There are folks who have an American-flag bumper sticker and who say they love their country but denounce kids as bratty, college students as stoned drones, young African-American men as thugs, young Latino men as gang members, big-city residents as decadent snobs, everyone on public assistance as a leech (except their own Social Security; they earned that), every government employee as a parasite, and everyone who works in the news media as an unscrupulous propagandist. These folks claim to love America, but they can’t seem to stand Americans.

Mona Charen wrote earlier this year, “A key conservative insight is that character is a matter of behavior, not professed beliefs. Judge people by their conduct, not their branding.” Of course, judging people by their conduct requires paying closer attention.

*I looked up what Archuleta is doing these days, after resigning from OPM in the aftermath of the worst data breach in U.S. government history. She’s on the board of trustees at the University of Denver, serves on the board of the Swanee Hunt Foundation, founded a political consulting firm, and helps pollsters manage data. Once again, if you reach a certain level in the Democratic party, you will always find opportunities and doors open to you, no matter what went wrong or how poorly you performed in your previous duties.

Fear-Mongering

I wonder how many jobs the Trump administration is creating in the publishing industry:

Simon & Schuster announced that Bob Woodward’s Fear sold more than 750,000 copies in all formats through Tuesday, Sept. 11, when the book officially went on sale. Pre-order sales were the largest for any title in the company’s history. The publisher has ordered a ninth printing, bringing the number of hardcover copies to more than 1,150,000.

President Trump, Always Fighting on the Weakest Ground

And then this morning, the president insisted that the death-toll numbers from Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico were a hoax: “This was done by the Democrats in order to make me look as bad as possible when I was successfully raising Billions of Dollars to help rebuild Puerto Rico.”

(Fascinating that Trump sees the appropriation process as “successfully raising” money. As though Congress wouldn’t have sent aid to Puerto Rico without his lobbying.)

What’s particularly infuriating is that Trump could make a legitimate argument that the FEMA response to the hurricane was impeded by problems at the local level. I mean, how do you lose track of millions of water bottles on an airport tarmac?

But even that egregious example demonstrates that FEMA was getting aid to the island, refuting the never-quite-plausible argument that the federal government didn’t care or dragged its feet in getting aid to the island. Former Bush-administration officials pointed out that the island’s government had severe problems long before the hurricane hit:

Puerto Rico was a catastrophe of corruption, mismanagement, incompetence and ignorance long before the added misery wrought by Hurricane Maria, which exposed to the world what was there to be seen all along: an island ill-prepared for a sunny day, much less a stormy one. For at least a decade, the media has been sounding the alarm about the crumbling infrastructure and financial mismanagement of Puerto Rico.

Any fair assessment would take all of this into account and conclude that no matter how cheesy the images of the President of the United States throwing paper towels to people were, Puerto Rico’s problems with the hurricane were more than a simple narrative of “Trump didn’t care enough.”

But instead, Trump wants to argue that the death toll is a hoax.

ADDENDA: I’m joining my friend Cam Edwards on NRATV at 2 p.m. today.

Elections

Don’t Get Too Excited about Election Day Yet, Democrats

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A woman in the crowd holds up a “Take It Back” sign as she attends a political rally with former U.S. President Barack Obama for California Democratic candidates during in Anaheim, California, U.S., September 8, 2018. (REUTERS/Mike Blake )

Making the click-through worthwhile: Why you shouldn’t quite buy the hype about the Democrats winning control of the Senate this November, NBC finds a convenient scapegoat for #MeToo concerns, and a bit of intrigue about a disputed recount in Massachusetts.

Why the Democrats’ Senate Chances Are Overhyped

The past week brought another round of buzz that Democrats could win control of the Senate. The Washington Post declares this morning, “Republicans have grown increasingly worried about losing control of the Senate.” Roll Calls Stuart Rothenberg pronounces “the Senate is now in play.” Even Fox News concurs, “for Republican leaders seeking to maintain control of the Senate, some races are becoming a little too close for comfort.”

But Josh Kraushaar’s column at National Journal is called “Against the Grain,” and it’s apt because he regularly enjoys puncturing the balloon of the political conventional wisdom.

He’s not quite so convinced about the latest Democratic optimism.

If Republicans can defeat two of the six vulnerable Democratic senators up for reelection, they’ve locked down their majority for another cycle. Strategists from both parties agree that Republicans have pulled ahead in North Dakota, where Sen. Heidi Heitkamp is facing a spirited challenge from Rep. Kevin Cramer. Public polls show Missouri’s and Florida’s contests as pure toss-ups, while Indiana remains highly competitive. Democrats have the momentum in West Virginia and Montana, but the conservative nature of those electorates give Republicans an outside chance.

If North Dakota already leans in their direction, Republicans would need just one more of these red-state races to clinch a majority—regardless of what happens with the several seats they have to defend. Even if Republicans fall short, Democrats would still need to win a GOP-held seat on deeply conservative turf, either in Tennessee or in Texas.

Take another look at those vulnerable Democratic seats. While Florida should be a close race, incumbent Bill Nelson hasn’t led a public poll since June. Missouri’s looking very similar, with several surveys showing ties or small leads for Republican Josh Hawley; incumbent Claire McCaskill hasn’t led a public survey since May. We haven’t had a public poll of North Dakota since June, but that one had Republican Kevin Cramer up by four. And note, this is with the political wind at Democrats’s back, at least nationally.

(There’s mixed evidence of whether undecided voters tend to break to the challenger. A Washington Post analysis pooh-poohed that conventional wisdom in 2014, but then later that year Republican Senate candidates across the map overperformed their final polling averages,sometimes by double digits.)

If Republicans win in Florida, Missouri, and North Dakota, it means the drama ends early on Election Night, at least for control of the Senate.

Democrats can assure themselves that Indiana’s Joe Donnelly, West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, and Montana’s Jon Tester are in stronger shape than expected. But there’s another shoe that hasn’t dropped yet. All of these incumbents have to vote for or against Brett Kavanaugh to be the next justice on the Supreme Court. A “yes” vote probably frustrates the Democratic grassroots in their states; a “no” vote outrages and energizes the grassroots Republicans.

Now let’s go through the vulnerable Republican seats. A new poll of Arizona’s Senate race out this morning put Republican Martha McSally up by three points over Kyrsten Sinema; the previous poll put McSally up by one. Nevada’s Senate race has only seen one recent survey, and that put Democrat Jacky Rosen up by one point.

Progressives are really excited about Beto O’Rourke in Texas, and he’s no doubt performing much better than the typical Democrat in Texas. But he still hasn’t, you know, led a poll. If O’Rourke wins, it will indeed be a huge deal. But if Cruz wins this closely, I wonder if Democrats will be kicking themselves over the national hype and attention paid to O’Rourke throughout the summer. If you’re aiming to pull off a huge upset, sometimes the best option is to be under the radar for as long as possible to let the incumbent get complacent. Ask Dave Brat or Scott Brown. In fact, building strength under the radar while the incumbent puts in minimal effort is a big part of how O’Rourke won his House seat. No doubt Team Cruz will be pulling out all of the stops between now and November.

And while Tennessee Democrats have reason to cheer over Phil Bredesen’s two-point lead over Republican Marsha Blackburn in the latest poll, I can remember 2006, when Harold Ford Jr. was on the cover of Newsweek, under the headline “Not Your Daddy’s Democrats“one week before Election Day. Newsweek declared Ford had “Republicans running scared,” yet he was the only Democrat to lose a competitive Senate race that year, as Bob Corker beat him by three points. In other words, the last time Democrats enjoyed a big blue-wave midterm election, Tennessee bucked the trend.

There’s no doubt that there are some disappointments for the GOP this cycle. There’s not yet any sign that Minnesota or Michigan have gotten really competitive.

NBC: Hey, We Can’t Have Any Sexual-Harassment Commentary Around Here!

Right, right, because if there’s any institution that’s covered itself in glory since the #MeToo movement arose, it’s NBC.

Norm Macdonald’s appearance on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” was hastily canceled Tuesday after the comedian stirred controversy with remarks about the #MeToo movement and the treatment of Louis C.K., Chris Hardwick and Roseanne in recent scandals.

“Out of sensitivity to our audience and in light of Norm Macdonald’s comments in the press today, ‘The Tonight Show’ has decided to cancel his appearance on Tuesday’s telecast,” NBC said in a statement. “Tonight Show’s” decision to drop Macdonald came even after he apologized for his comments later in the day.

In an interview with Hollywood Reporter, Macdonald said he was “happy the #MeToo movement has slowed down a little bit.” He further opined: “It used to be, ‘One hundred women can’t be lying.’ And then it became, ‘One woman can’t lie.’ And that became, ‘I believe all women.’ And then you’re like, ‘What?’ Like, that Chris Hardwick guy I really thought got the blunt end of the stick there.”

NBC might tolerate Matt Lauer’s secret-door-lock-button and predation for years, and throw roadblocks in front of Ronan Farrow, but boy, they sure as heck come down hard on Norm Macdonald.

Then again, Norm Macdonald might be used to getting a raw deal from NBC. Back in 1998, Macdonald was fired from Saturday Night Live, and the rumor was that an NBC executive who was friends with O. J. Simpson found Macdonald’s relentlessly scathing O. J. jokes intolerable. (Because if there’s any demographic NBC couldn’t afford to offend, it’s the O. J. Simpson fanbase!)

Ironically, in 2017, Macdonald said he saw Simpson slightly differently: “I’m not completely sure he’s guilty anymore. I’m almost completely sure, but I’m not completely sure.”

Recount Intrigue among Massachusetts Democrats? What Are the Odds?

Keep your eyes on the Massachusetts third congressional district, as the state is stepping in after problems with the regular recount process in the Democratic primary:

A recount to settle the tightly contested Democratic primary in the Third Congressional District will take place over the next week under the watchful eye of Secretary of State William Galvin, who said Monday he was taking over the election departments of Lawrence and Lowell due to understaffing in one city and the irregular certification of primary ballots in the other.

Galvin ordered the district-wide, hand recount of almost 89,000 ballots after Andover’s Dan Koh, who is currently sitting in second place 122 votes behind the leader Lori Trahan, filed the requisite signatures by last Friday’s deadline.

The state’s chief elections officer, Galvin said the recount must be completed by Sept. 17 in order for him to have enough time to print ballots and get them to overseas and military voters ahead of the Nov. 6 general election.

This is a pretty heavily Democratic district, scoring a D+9 in the Cook Partisan Voting Index, but who knows whether the recount fight will stir up bad blood on the Democratic side. Meanwhile, Republican candidate Rick Green is unveiling a funny new ad this morning, depicting himself swimming across the Merrimack River in Lowell, Mass., while his brother waits in traffic on Rourke Bridge. Green is a former aerospace engineer with NASA and founder of 1A Auto, an auto-parts manufacturer. Plus, apparently, he’s a pretty good swimmer.

ADDENDUM: Deroy Murdock with a sobering thought:

Perhaps the absence of the fear and loathing that legitimately followed 9/11 has let us shift our energies from repelling a largely exterior threat to devouring each other instead. As America’s civil discourse devolves into a bloodless civil war between two sides that increasingly loathe each other, maybe this is — ironically — a luxury. Seemingly freed of the dangers posed by al-Qaeda, ISIS, and their ilk, we now have moved on to clobbering our fellow Americans.

National Security & Defense

Have We . . .  Won the War on Terror?

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(REUTERS/Andrew Kelly)

It doesn’t feel like 17 years have passed since that day, does it? It feels like it was just a few years ago.

Those of us who lived through it are going to be dealing with a flood of memories on this date until the day we die. Maybe the date falling on a Tuesday makes the gut punch of dread, sadness, and anger — and our awe of the heroes of that day — and all of the other emotions a little more intense.

The day is bringing its share of grim assessments, such as the Los Angeles Times writing, “Seventeen years after Sept. 11, Al Qaeda may be stronger than ever” and Foreign Policy magazine declaring, “Al Qaeda won.”

Really?

On a day-to-day basis, Americans . . .  don’t think that much about terrorism anymore. That in and of itself is a remarkable victory. People talk about the fear that day, and then they remember the fears in the days afterwards. Anthrax and the fear of white powder in the mail. Every forgotten backpack being treated as a bomb, sudden evacuations of subway stations and office buildings and malls and airports. I’m struck by the . . .  un-empathetic mentality of so many people today, who look back in hindsight and indict the American people for panicking and somehow overreacting.

Americans went from knowing very little about the varieties and methods of terror attacks to learning all about them — biological, chemical, radiological dirty bombs, nuclear. We were still grieving from an unparalleled attack, and the nightly news kept bringing us a catalog of nightmares. Remember the worries about crop-dusters? The hijackers had spent time in California, New Jersey, Florida, Arizona, Virginia, New York, Georgia, Connecticut — and suddenly lots of people were convinced they had seen Mohamed Atta and the others. Some really had, while others merely believed they had after seeing Atta’s ghoulish mugshot with the soulless eyes.

If you had asked Americans whether there would be another 9/11-scale attack, or worse, in the coming 17 years, most would have feared or guessed yes. We thought terror would be a regular presence in our lives in the years to come.

It’s not that terrorism hasn’t touched Americans on our own soil at all since that day — Fort Hood, the Boston Marathon, San Bernardino, Orlando. But terrorists of any stripe haven’t managed anything even remotely on the scale of 9/11. There have been plenty of failed or intercepted attempts — the shoe-bomber on American Airlines flight 63, the Fort Dix Six, the Times Square bombing plot, the underwear bomber on Northwest Airlines flight 253.

But if we’ll never get back to the pre-9/11 sense of normal — was that just another word about our naiveté about our own vulnerability in an open society? — we’ve gotten to a new normal. Yes, the Transportation Security Agency pat-downs at the airport are annoying. Yes, just about every federal building has heavy concrete planters that at least look nice with flowers and that serve the purpose of trying to make a blockade against truck bombs. But on any given day, most Americans are worrying about their job, their kids’ schools, maybe crime, maybe traffic, and maybe what their least favorite politician said or tweeted that day. We’re not afraid to visit landmarks, gather in groups, work in a skyscraper, get on a plane, or open the mail. Yes, terrorists exist, but we are not terrorized.

That Foreign Policy essay declares, “They convinced America that the only way to protect itself from this threat was to suspend civil liberties.” Nonsense. Even Khalid Sheik Mohammad is getting a long legal battle about exactly how and where he’s going to be tried. This may be a long, messy, and complicated legal process, but that’s the whole point — in the American system, even the mastermind of the worst terror attack in American history gets lawyers arguing for his defense, even though he’s probably itching for martyrdom. (Ha-ha-ha, KSM, we’re not going to kill you. We’re going to make you listen to lawyers argue for the rest of your life.)

Oh, some analysts say al-Qaeda won? I notice Osama bin Laden didn’t make it to the victory party. Every once in a while, his former lieutenant and al-Qaeda’s new leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, issues some new video, but the American people barely hear about it. I don’t think that’s a reflection of bad news judgment on the part of the U.S. media producers. When bin Laden issued videos after 9/11, the whole world stopped and listened in fear. When Zawahiri talks, the world shrugs, or doesn’t notice at all. He’s turned into a remote-Pakistani podcaster.

Al-Qaeda’s not even the top “brand name” in Islamist terrorism anymore. ISIS turned into the big name in the headlines, the preeminent threat, the most feared producers of those nightmare-inducing videos. And the Islamic State has been reduced from a sprawling terror-nation the size of Britain to a bunch of guys making their last stand in Hajin, a town of about 60,000 people. Intelligence analysts say that the group still has as many as 25,000 fighters, but they’re now spread out and in hiding. Yes, ISIS as an ideology and movement will be tougher to defeat than ISIS as an army and a territory. But the Islamic State claimed they were the true new caliphate, capable of conquering and controlling territory. And we, and our coalition allies, and the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, and the Iraqi army put that aspiring legend to an end.

A lot of foreign-policy and culture writers like to write essays on this day and about how we haven’t lived up to the example set by the heroes of that day (as if that’s an easy thing to do). Yes, more than 400 anti-Muslim hate crimes were reported in 2001, according to the FBI, but that figure was cut roughly in half the following year and stayed at that level until 2016. (Year after year, the group that is most targeted by hate crimes is Jews, and it’s not even close.) In a country of 325 million people, you’re going to get a couple hundred hateful thugs. Our police investigate, prosecute, and incarcerate the perpetrators. We are human and flawed, but we strive to be a safe, just, and fair society.

Amidst all of the other emotions you feel today, leave room for some pride. No, we’re not a perfect country, but no country is. Those of us who have lived abroad know that not every country would respond to an attack like 9/11 the way America did. Had, God forbid, multiple airliners crashed and killed thousands in Moscow, Beijing, Istanbul, or Mecca, the reactions of those governments and peoples would have been quite different, and probably much more violent and indiscriminate.

The Storm Approaches

If you’re living in the Carolinas, be careful. Prepare, and if you’re in an area where they’re urging evacuation, think about visiting that cousin who lives inland.

Hurricane Florence will lash the Carolinas beginning late Thursday as an intense Category 4 hurricane with life-threatening storm surge, destructive winds and massive inland rainfall flooding in one of the strongest strikes on record for this part of the East Coast.

Tuesday morning, a hurricane watch and storm surge watch were issued for the entire coast of North Carolina, including Albemarle and Pamlico Sounds, and the South Carolina coast as far south as Edisto Beach. This includes Charleston, Myrtle Beach, Wilmington and the Outer Banks.

The Tough Competition for ‘Kerry’s Worst Decision’

John Kerry’s autobiography, Every Day Is Extra, is hitting bookstore shelves now. I went back to see what he wrote about the 2004 campaign and found he more or less admits he botched one of the biggest and most important decisions of his career:

The political world is rarely kind to the vice-presidential candidate on the losing ticket. Today you rarely hear Democrats asking, “What does Tim Kaine think?” Paul Ryan became speaker of the House and got his tax cuts passed, but he’s ending his career in Congress surprisingly early in his life. Sarah Palin became a superstar pundit but never took another role in government after resigning as governor. Joe Lieberman continued in the Senate, but lost a primary, ended his career as a pariah to his party, and became a McCain-campaign surrogate in 2008. Jack Kemp faded from the scene after 1996, and Dan Quayle never ran for office again.

But Edwards probably stands out as the worst vice-presidential selection in modern history. The lone general-election victory of Edwards’s career came against 70-year-old Lauch Faircloth in a Democratic wave year. His Senate record was unremarkable, and only two of his bills were ever enacted into law; one renamed a post office. His critics had him pegged from the beginning: an empty suit driven by slick speeches and photogenic charisma. His Democratic allies noticed it, too. In his memoirs, longtime Democratic strategist David Axelrod wrote of his former client, “His one-on-one interactions with people were plastic, and out of the public eye, his interest in the substance of issues was thin. He wanted only as much information as he needed to glide by — and he was bright and glib enough to glide a long way.”

Edwards was shameless enough to pitch himself to both the Obama and Hillary Clinton campaigns as a potential running mate while hiding his child with Hunter. Once the façade crumbled, there was nothing left; he will be remembered as a catastrophe dodged by the Democratic party. After the revelation that he cheated on his wife while she was fighting cancer, a Democratic polling firm revealed that Edwards was “the most unpopular person it had ever polled.”

ADDENDUM: And how did you enjoy Monday Night Football last night?

Elections

How the 2018 Midterms Will Shape 2020

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The facial reactions of an unidentified man (center) in a plaid shirt standing behind U.S. President Donald Trump led to the man’s ejection from where he was standing and then went viral on the internet as videos spread of his reactions at the president’s words at a “Make America Great Again” rally in Billings, Montana U.S., September 6, 2018. (REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

Every midterm election is, in one form or another, a referendum on the president. What’s more, the last three consecutive midterms have been awful for the president’s party — 2006, 2010, and 2014.

There are intermittent signs that the midterm won’t be quite so bad for Republicans as the “blue wave” talk predicts. Polling finally has Martha McSally up ahead of Kyrsten Sinema in the Arizona Senate race, although it’s close. The recent live-updated New York Times/Siena surveys show Republicans hanging on in Illinois’s sixth and twelfth congressional districts, Kentucky’s sixth district, and close in California’s 48th, and with a decent shot of picking up a seat in Minnesota’s eighth. The Tennessee Senate race has an echo of the Texas one — to believe Democrats are going to win in a GOP-leaning state, you have to believe that Ted Cruz will lose while incumbent governor Greg Abbott wins by a wide margin, and that Marsha Blackburn will lose while Bill Lee is winning the governor’s race by double digits. It could happen, but . . .

Republicans can’t complain that President Trump hasn’t thrown himself into campaigning for them enough. He’s done 15 rallies tied to the midterm elections, with possibly nine more between now and election day. This week he’s scheduled to appear at two — one in Cape Girardeau, Mo. (Rush Limbaugh’s old hometown!), another in Jackson, Miss. He’s appeared at plenty of closed-door fundraisers.

And yet, there’s no getting around the fact that there’s still a good chance that this year’s midterms turn out to be a disaster for Republicans. There are roughly 60 GOP-held House seats that are considered competitive, and Democrats just need to win 23 of those. An astonishing 44 House Republicans announced their retirement this term, leaving tougher-to-win open-seat races in their wake. The generic-ballot numbers look awful in most polls. A bunch of vulnerable Senate Democrats like Joe Manchin in West Virginia and Joe Donnelly in Indiana are hanging on, according to polling. (Before you scoff “the polls were wrong in 2016!” the polls also show Rick Scott in strong shape in Florida. So some Democratic incumbents are showing vulnerability in polls, just not some of the ones who were expected to be in trouble.) The governor’s races in previously deep-red states like Florida and Georgia look like toss-ups. Democrats could win a bunch of governors’ races in those Trump-won Great Lakes states. In Michigan, Democrat Gretchen Whitmer’s enjoying a consistent lead. In Wisconsin, Scott Walker’s in trouble. In Pennsylvania, Tom Wolf looks assured of another term. Ohio’s Mike DeWine and Iowa’s Kim Reynolds look a little better, but they can’t breathe easily yet.

The media is itching to write a “The Democrats are back!” narrative, and Election Day is likely to give them enough evidence to justify that analysis. (It really shouldn’t be that difficult for the Democratic Party to perform better than its worst finish since 1929.)

Republicans can rightfully fume that they shouldn’t be in this spot, as unemployment is beneath 4 percent, the economic boom is finally reaching blue-collar workers, wages are finally increasing, the country only rarely sees flag-draped coffins returning, the Islamic State is smashed and (knocking on wood) there haven’t been any major terror attacks lately. The GOP has largely delivered peace and prosperity, and the public is still in a “throw the bums out” mood.

So why are Republicans in trouble? Whether Trump fans want to hear it or not, their man is a trade-off. He’ll drive up turnout in blue-collar whites and he’ll alienate the suburban soccer moms. What’s more, his constant appetite for conflict and controversy means he leaves almost no oxygen in the room for any other Republican message. He loves emphasizing the issues of illegal immigration and crime, whether or not those are the preeminent concerns of the district or state he’s campaigning in. And of course, he drives up Democratic enthusiasm to get out and vote to perhaps its peak.

Donald Trump is to Democrats as Obama is to Republicans.

Many Republicans saw Obama as more of a celebrity than a leader; full of himself; misinterpreting his helped-by-outside-circumstances electoral victory as a wide-ranging and permanent mandate from the people; arrogantly telling Congress what to pass; stubborn and refusing to compromise; disrespectful to his political opponents and eager to demonize them; the embodiment of some alien force that was anathema to America’s traditional values; eager to fundamentally transform the country into some European-style vision of a people micromanaged and indoctrinated by government and living lives in service to the state and a demagogic leader.

Democrats see Trump as . . . well, more of a celebrity than a leader; full of himself; misinterpreting his helped-by-outside-circumstances electoral victory as a wide-ranging and permanent mandate from the people; arrogantly telling Congress what to pass; stubborn and refusing to compromise; disrespectful to his political opponents and eager to demonize them; the embodiment of some alien force that was anathema to America’s traditional values; eager to fundamentally transform the country into some European-style vision of a people micromanaged and indoctrinated by government and living lives in service to the state and a demagogic leader!

Rank-and-file Republicans are sticking with Trump because he’s something they haven’t enjoyed in a long time: a winner, both in terms of the ballot box and in terms of getting most, but not all, of his agenda enacted. Right now, there doesn’t seem to be too much appetite for an anti-Trump candidate among self-identified Republicans. I use that term carefully, because I suspect that conservatives who find Trump intolerable no longer self-identify as Republicans. Nebraska senator Ben Sasse said on Meet the Press this weekend that he thinks about leaving the GOP “every day.”

But if the midterms are a disaster for Republicans, does that support hold? How much does Trump’s 2016 victory look like political genius and how much looks like the luck of running against Hillary Clinton? How bad does 2018 have to go to make a significant percentage of grassroots Republicans start to wonder if Trump is really in such strong shape for 2020?

Goodbye, Les Moonves

I’m just thinking about all of the times that CBS News let celebrity activists take the floor and fume on-air about, “what Democratic and progressive politicians have dubbed the Republican and conservative ‘war on women.’” Because between Les Mooves, and Matt Lauer, and Charlie Rose, and Mark Halperin . . . the war on women was coming from inside the newsroom.

Six additional women are now accusing Moonves of sexual harassment or assault in incidents that took place between the nineteen-eighties and the early aughts. They include claims that Moonves forced them to perform oral sex on him, that he exposed himself to them without their consent, and that he used physical violence and intimidation against them. A number of the women also said that Moonves retaliated after they rebuffed him, damaging their careers. Similar frustrations about perceived inaction have prompted another woman to raise a claim of misconduct against Jeff Fager, the executive producer of “60 Minutes,” who previously reported to Moonves as the chairman of CBS News.

One of the women with allegations against Moonves, a veteran television executive named Phyllis Golden-Gottlieb, told me that she filed a criminal complaint late last year with the Los Angeles Police Department, accusing Moonves of physically restraining her and forcing her to perform oral sex on him, and of exposing himself to her and violently throwing her against a wall in later incidents. The two worked together in the late nineteen-eighties. Law-enforcement sources told me that they found Golden-Gottlieb’s allegations credible and consistent but prosecutors declined to pursue charges because the statutes of limitations for the crimes had expired.

But he never used an awkward phrase like “binders full of women,” so he was never called a threat to women. At the end of the year, see who’s had more ink spilled denouncing him — Moonves or Brett Kavanaugh. At the end of the day, a lot of people are a lot more worried about a pro-life Supreme Court justice than about a media CEO doing what Ronan Farrow describes.

Obama’s Return to Public Speeches Is . . . Disruptive?

New York Times columnist Charles Blow: “[Obama’s] very presence in the fight, as a presidential voice — even if former, for some he’s forever — is disruptive.”

Is it? Do you think there was anyone out there asking, “Hey, what do you think President Obama thinks of the guy who’s pulling the U.S. out of the Iran deal, withdrawing from the Paris accords, bombing chemical-weapons users in Syria, cutting taxes, signing the repeal of the mandate within Obamacare, scrapping the EPA and allowing drilling in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge?”

Did anything Obama said late last week surprise anyone?

ADDENDUM: I’m scheduled to join the gang at HLN today, sometime around 12:30 Eastern.

White House

‘I Am Schmuck-acus.’

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Sen. Cory Booker at a Senate Judiciary hearing, March 2018 (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

“This is about the closest I’ll have in my life to an ‘I am Spartacus’ moment,” New Jersey senator Cory Booker declared during yesterday’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, in one of the lamer and less convincing efforts by an aspiring presidential candidate to give himself a cool nickname.

Alas, Booker’s lame stunt — announcing that he would defy Senate rules and release confidential documents, and daring the Republicans to expel him, only to later find that the documents had been cleared for release — is getting an exceptionally sympathetic assessment from the mainstream media. Here’s the Washington Post’s description:

Sen. Cory Booker (N.J.), soon joined by other Democrats, released documents he said were marked confidential. There’s some dispute as to whether, at the time Booker released an email chain of Kavanaugh talking about his views on racial profiling, they were actually still confidential. Aides on both sides of the aisle said they were set for release Thursday morning.

Then what, exactly, is the dispute? If aides on both sides agree that the documents were set for release Thursday morning, then they weren’t confidential, now were they? Cory Booker is walking up to the free-sample tray and announcing to everyone that it’s shoplifting.

Booker boasted that he was willing to risk expulsion from the Senate, with way too much “don’t throw me into that briar patch” tone. For starters, Article I, Section 5, of the United States Constitution says, “Each House [of Congress] may determine the Rules of its proceedings, punish its members for disorderly behavior, and, with the concurrence of two-thirds, expel a member.” You’re not going to get two-thirds of the U.S. Senate to expel Booker — although Democrats might vote to keep Booker around for a different reason than you might think.

Cory Booker seriously wants to be the next president, and right now, a day job in the Senate is a hindrance. For a while, the day job gave him a platform for publicity stunts, like fiercely denouncing the man he praised and cosponsored legislation with just two years earlier, or calling the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh “evil.” (Notice how quickly everyone forgot about that? These publicity stunts and over-the-top rhetoric are political junk food, with little-lasting effect or consequence.)

But serving in the Senate has now become a time commitment that keeps Booker away from where he wants to be: campaigning in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, etcetera before the small army of rival candidates descends upon those states. It’s also difficult to stand out in the Senate; right now at least six of Booker’s colleagues are also thinking about running in 2020: Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Kamala Harris of California, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Bernie Sanders of Vermont, and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. (Don’t feel bad, I had forgotten about Klobuchar and Merkley too.)

If you’re Booker, why not end your Senate career with a bang, pose as a martyr to those secretive, nasty Republicans, and get a couple months head start on the rest of the Democratic field?

The problem for Booker is that so far, no one’s taking the bait. The only person talking about expelling Cory Booker is Cory Booker. Senate Republicans can see what’s going on here, and if Booker wants out of the Senate, he can always resign. Of course, that would allow Booker’s 2020 rivals to accurately call him a quitter.

It’s not often you see senators so gleefully trashing a colleague. Marco Rubio, this morning: “On this day in 71 b.c. the Thracian gladiator Spartacus was put to death by Marcus Licinius Crassus for disclosing confidential scrolls. When informed days later that in fact the Roman Senate had already publicly released the scrolls, Crassus replied, ‘Oh, ok, my bad’.”

(I hate to say this, but the shameless combativeness of former Stormy Daniels lawyer Michael Avenatti and his willingness to jab at potential rivals for the 2020 Democratic nomination . . .  makes for some entertaining Tweeting. He really is the Trump of their side. He doesn’t feel any obligation to be nice to anyone else in the Democratic party, so when their arguments in the Kavanaugh hearings turn out to be sound and fury signifying nothing . . .  Avenatti gleefully points it out.)

The problem for Cory Booker is that right now, there’s not a lot that makes him stand out from the rest of the Democratic field, particularly the other senators. Honest assessments of his time as mayor of Newark point out that “Booker cared more about the optics of a social media moment than actually delivering on basic city services” and “Newark has a steep climb before anyone deems it the model city Booker envisioned.” Democrats with long memories will recall the then-mayor defending private equity and taking intermittent potshots at the 2012 Obama campaign. His speeches drag on far too long, and he shouts them, convinced he’s leading a spiritual revival. Booker has always been a little too transparently ambitious, a little too shamefully self-promoting, a little too obviously bursting with self-regard.

As a young African-American senator with roots in a big city, Cory Booker will get compared to President Obama in the coming two years, but the figure he reminds me of the most is John Kerry: vain, supercilious, utterly convinced of his own historical importance, and completely oblivious to how he’s actually coming across to other people.

The Wall Street Journal’s Byron Tau yesterday: “I asked Senator Booker if his remarks in committee were a stunt. He told me I [was] violating the Constitution by being in his way.”

So What Difference Does the Op-Ed Make, Really?

For what it’s worth, U.S. Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman publicly denied being the senior administration official who wrote that op-ed trashing the president. Of course, the author would almost certainly have to deny writing it, unless the second half of his sentence was, “and I am resigning immediately.”

If the author thought the op-ed would generate goodwill and appreciation, it’s not working out as planned. Our David French:

Let’s put this as bluntly as possible: If you’re actively defying the president to pursue your own preferred policies, you’re subverting an American presidential election. If you’re withholding from the American people actual hard evidence of presidential unfitness, then you’re placing your own career before your country. If you’re lying or badly exaggerating the facts for the thrill of constant media contact or the approval of your peers, then you’re just despicable.

Elsewhere, our Jay Nordlinger asks why everyone’s more focused on who wrote the op-ed than the content of it.

I’d guess it’s because the descriptions of Trump in the op-ed, and the new Woodward book, aren’t that different from the portrait painted by other unnamed sources in the White House the past two years. Trump is described as erratic, uninformed, inattentive, temperamental, obsessed with what’s being said about him on television, prone to angry outbursts, and a general pain in the rear. What’s more, very little of that description of the private Trump contradicts what we see in the public Trump. We all know who this guy is.

People react to that portrait of Trump in one of several ways. Some of his diehard fans dismiss it all and insist that real life is a variation of the classic Saturday Night Live “Mastermind” sketch. Some shrug and conclude that volatile outbursts and Twitter tirades are an acceptable price for good judges, tax cuts, and an aggressive policy against ISIS. Others point out that even if this is the worst possible personality to entrust with the powers of the presidency, you’re not going to get 67 votes to impeach him in the Senate without hard evidence of high crimes and misdemeanors. Republican primary voters had a choice, and the general electorate had a choice, and they made their choice. They’ll get another one in 2020, with this year’s midterm election being something of a referendum on the president’s performance so far. The president has had some of his priorities stymied by Congress and overturned by judges. These are the constitutional measures in place to limit the powers of a president, and until there are 67 (or so) votes in the Senate to remove him from office, the president’s foes and critics will have to make do with those measures.

There’s No Use Crying Over Spilled Uranium

Now we know what the Obama administration used as leverage during negotiations with the Iranians . . .  literally crying at the negotiating table. Wendy Sherman, the chief American negotiator of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, a.k.a. the Iranian nuclear deal, has a new book out. Matthew Continetti observes:

“After dinner on the 25th day, I met with Abbas Aragchi, Iran’s lead negotiator, with his partner, Majid Takht-Ravanchi to go over one final UN resolution.” Aragchi agreed. Then he backtracked. He wanted to re-open a matter previously considered closed. What happened next is the most stunning thing I have ever heard a diplomat reveal.

“I lost it,” Sherman continues. “I began to tell [sic], and to my frustration and fury, my eyes began to well up with tears. I told them their tactics jeopardized the entire deal.”

The Iranians sat there, “stunned” and “silent,” as the representative of the United States of America, the global economic and military superpower, broke down in the middle of a conference room inside a posh hotel in the Austrian capital. “Women are told early in life that it’s not socially acceptable to get angry,” Sherman laments. “And it’s a sign of weakness to let people see you cry.” Men are told that too, by the way.

What’s fascinating is that Sherman thinks this is a good anecdote to share. When your negotiating partner suddenly backtracks on a commitment, and your response is to cry, do you think that makes the other side feel chastened or emboldened?

ADDENDUM: It’s been a busy week. If you find yourself craving football talk, you can find Jets-focused talk here and general league-focused talk here.

White House

Who Wrote the Op-Ed?

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Outside the New York Times building in Manhattan, N.Y. (Gary Hershorn/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: A theory about the author of that instantly infamous New York Times op-ed revealing a “resistance” against the president within his own administration, early market research suggests Nike completely misjudged consumer sentiment, and the big Morning Jolt NFL season preview.

The Mystery Trump-Administration Official Is . . .

We can draw a few conclusions about the anonymous senior official in the Trump administration who wrote the New York Times op-ed about the “stable state” “resistance” within the executive branch.

The writer is a traditional Republican, referring to “ideals long espoused by conservatives: free minds, free markets and free people.”

The writer is particularly informed about, and concerned about, the president’s views on Russia:

On Russia, for instance, the president was reluctant to expel so many of Mr. Putin’s spies as punishment for the poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain. He complained for weeks about senior staff members letting him get boxed into further confrontation with Russia, and he expressed frustration that the United States continued to impose sanctions on the country for its malign behavior. But his national security team knew better — such actions had to be taken, to hold Moscow accountable.

The writer looked up to John McCain: “Senator John McCain put it best in his farewell letter. All Americans should heed his words and break free of the tribalism trap, with the high aim of uniting through our shared values and love of this great nation. We may no longer have Senator McCain. But we will always have his example — a lodestar for restoring honor to public life and our national dialogue.” The writer may well have been compelled to write this op-ed after McCain’s passing and the eulogies and reaction at his memorial service.

The writer did not work on the campaign — obviously, he holds Trump in low regard — but he’s probably been around the administration a while: “Given the instability many witnessed, there were early whispers within the cabinet of invoking the 25th Amendment, which would start a complex process for removing the president.”

The writer must understand that being uncovered would end his career in GOP politics and torpedo any hopes of running for the Republican nomination someday. This is probably the last stop of his career. He probably considers himself to be part of a knowledgeable bipartisan consensus policy establishment and is worried about how his current work for Trump is perceived and will be remembered. This person is probably worried about his reputation and whether or not working for Trump will tarnish his legacy.

Traditional Republican, focused on Russia, inspired by McCain, been around a while, no future ambitions, part of the establishment. There is more than one figure in the administration who fits these criteria, but not many.

But I notice the recent article, “Aside from his father, Huntsman Jr. had ‘no greater mentor’ than McCain,” August 27, in the Desert News:

“Aside from my own dad, there’s been no one more impactful in my life,” [U.S. Ambassador to Russia] Jon Huntsman told the Deseret News from Moscow after initially declining to comment on his relationship with the Arizona senator, who died Saturday after battling brain cancer.

“It was the highest honor to associate with him. He was a mentor in many ways. Country first and bipartisanship were deeply ingrained due to his influence,” Huntsman said of his longtime friend.

Huntsman attended John McCain’s memorial service at the Washington National Cathedral. And Huntsman has already addressed calls for him to resign after Trump’s summit with Putin.

Huntsman responded:

Representatives of our foreign service, civil service, military and intelligence services have neither the time nor inclination to obsess over politics, though the issues of the day are felt by all. Their focus is on the work that needs to be done to stabilize the most dangerous relationship in the world, one that encompasses nuclear weapons, fighting terrorism, stopping bloodshed in Ukraine, and seeking a settlement of the seemingly intractable Syrian crisis. Their dedication to service to their country is above politics, and it inspires me to the core. It is my standard. (Emphasis added.)

I have taken an unscientific survey among my colleagues, whom you reference, about whether I should resign. The laughter told me everything I needed to know. It also underscores the fragile nature of this moment.

The unnamed official who wrote the New York Times op-ed concludes, “There is a quiet resistance within the administration of people choosing to put country first.”

Just a theory.

Did Nike Just Make an Epic Mistake?

I thought Nike did a ton of market research. Did they just completely misread consumer sentiment?

A new report from Morning Consult reveals consumer opinions of Nike have shifted rapidly since announcing their new campaign with former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Across nearly every demographic, perceptions of Nike’s brand have fallen, including among key consumer groups. 

Before the announcement, Nike had a net +69 favorable impression among consumers, it has now declined 34 points to +35 favorable . . .  Among younger generations, Nike users, African Americans, and other key demographics, Nike’s favorability declined rather than improved . . .  Before the announcement, 49 percent of Americans said they