Making the click-through worthwhile: An update on the scramble to avoid a government shutdown; a look at yesterday’s market action; and an attempt, via analysis of the widths of individual glyphs in Times New Roman, to figure out exactly what the special counsel wrote behind those black-redaction bars.
The Wall Show
Will Chuck and Nancy Pay For The Wall? Donald Trump says he won’t sign any spending bill that doesn’t contain at least $5 billion in border-wall funding, while Democratic leadership says the maximum they would allow is $1.6 billion. The government will shut down Friday night if no agreement is reached. On Monday, however, the two sides signaled their willingness to kick the can down the road and pass a two-week continuing resolution. So the fight now looms over Christmas Week.
It’s shaping up to be another relatively pointless installment in the government-shutdown annals, but Schumer’s and Pelosi’s willingness to negotiate a dollar amount for the border wall has prompted loud criticism from the activist branch of the party. To fund Trump’s signature campaign promise, they argue, is to abet his and his supporters’ nativism and to legitimate an unacceptable, bigoted approach to the immigration issue. Instead, they should play hardball, as The New Yorker writer Osita Nwanevu recently put it in a Twitter thread:
It’s natural that progressives would be upset at Democratic leadership for entertaining the idea of funding the wall, but there’s something interesting about the logic here. The wall has always been a meaningful symbol — but it’s always been a symbol. Several policy-minded restrictionists have argued that it is far from the most effective way to substantially change the U.S. immigration system. In 2017, visa overstays outnumbered illegal border crossings, leading many restrictionists to prioritize policies such as E-Verify that would discourage overstayers from remaining in the country. The current flashpoint on immigration is the growing number of asylum seekers from Central America, leading the Trump administration to push for changes to the asylum system. Here’s what National Review’s editorial board wrote in April 2017: “The wall Trump often describes may be big and beautiful, but it is also fanciful, and, when it comes to the things we need to do to establish a durable enforcement regime, largely beside the point.”
Robert Moses’s highways and bridges had an enduring effect on the flow of people in New York State. Wantagh Parkway, wrote Langdon Winner, was designed to discourage buses from reaching Long Island’s beaches. The physical structure of a border wall would obviously have enduring political and social consequences, but people have other ways to get to Jones Beach. Trump would surely claim a symbolic victory if Schumer and Pelosi agreed to partially fund the wall — which might be a shrewd way for them to defuse his demands on the immigration issue while not actually making a difference.
No, I Don’t Have Any Investment Tips
If I knew with some level of certainty what was happening in the equity and bond markets, I’d trade on that information, not broadcast it to the public. Very few people know why, exactly, the markets are moving. Even people whose job description is to answer that question often don’t know. But investors are moving in on the risk curve, and markets fell yesterday across the board: Treasury yields tumbled; the S&P 500 fell by 3.2 percent; Eurostoxx fell by 1 percent; the two — ten yield curve — which I wrote about in a Jolt months ago — reached its flattest slope since 2007.
There’s general agreement that the supposed U.S.– China trade deal Trump announced over the weekend is a phantasm. Brexit negotiations also hit a snag yesterday. But Bloomberg has a list of seven other factors that might have precipitated the selloff, including a decline in momentum stocks and softening housing-market fundamentals. It’s worth reading, if only because it carries a reminder for political junkies that markets are not always driven by the day’s big news.
But markets are more jittery than they were in 2017, and there are some warning signs in the real economy, including problems in certain emerging markets and said softening in the domestic-housing market. Trump has been pushing Federal Reserve chairman Jay Powell to stop raising interest rates, but if the markets remain volatile, Powell may stop on his own accord.
What Did Mueller Mean By This?
The special counsel’s office released its sentencing memo for former national-security adviser Michael Flynn last night. Flynn, who pleaded guilty to lying to federal investigators one year ago, has been cooperating with Robert Mueller’s office for months. How much has he been cooperating? From the memo: “Given the defendant’s substantial assistance and other considerations set forth below, a sentence at the low end of the guideline range—including a sentence that does not impose a term of incarceration—is appropriate and warranted.”
People have read quite a bit into that recommendation, but there’s much information to justify some of the sweeping conclusions pinballing around cable news and social media. How commentators can conclude anything from passages like this is beyond me:
Having said that: The supplement to the sentencing memo refers to an ongoing criminal investigation apparently separate from the special counsel’s Russia probe. It also redacts several lines pertaining to Flynn’s cooperation in the Russia probe. In due course, we’ll find out what he means — right?
Business is booming for Robin DiAngelo, a retired sociologist and the author of White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism. Since resigning from Westfield State University three years ago, DiAngelo has become a full-time “writer and presenter.” What she writes about is the pathological inability of white people to understand their passive complicity in America’s “white supremacist culture,” and whom she presents it to is white people looking for lessons in how to overcome it. “Now breathe,” she instructs her readers. “I am not saying that you are immoral. If you can remain open as I lay out my argument” — here, the argument that she can credibly judge your racism by virtue of your whiteness even if she has never met you — “it should soon begin to make sense.” Like therapy, it doesn’t always go over well: DiAngelo recounts a woman’s bristling after being told that her comments “invalidated” another person’s “experience as a black man.” But that is just white fragility in action.
Released this year to positive reviews and making the New York Times best-seller list, DiAngelo’s book draws on her years of experience running cultural-competency seminars for American companies. After its release, she went on a book tour in which she hosted similar seminars for readers interested in overcoming the “racial innocence” out of which she intends to shock them. At one, in Seattle, various participants came away with some observations about themselves. “All correct information that I was ever given was provided by a white person,” said one. “[I had] white friend groups, white peers, white mentors.” “I never had a teacher of a different race.” “It’s been very easy for me to not think about race.” DiAngelo, meanwhile, began the workshop with the necessary confession: “I’m Robin DiAngelo — I’m white.”
The business of a white person’s explaining the evils of whiteness to other white people might seem strange, but DiAngelo provides a service for which there is plenty of demand. The strain of left-wing politics that purports to have the interests of the marginalized in mind happens to have a lot of white adherents. A nonpartisan group called “More in Common” commissioned a survey of the various political types into which Americans fit, and, by its measure, “progressive activists,” those who believe that American institutions were “established by socially dominant groups such as straight white men, for their own benefit,” are the most racially homogeneous political type in the country. The people who “seek to correct the historic marginalization of groups based on their race, gender, sexuality, wealth, and other forms of privilege” are overwhelmingly white, rich, and well educated.
White liberals increasingly think that whites possess too much political power, social capital, and economic resources — and that whites use all of this nefariously to entrench racial inequality. In short, the piece asked “What’s the matter with white liberals?” and the answer, according to them, is that they’re racist. Self-identified white liberals are moving left; toward the end I suggest that their political obsessions might not be so relevant to moderates in the Democratic party’s multiethnic coalition. There are lots of strange things going on, in my view, with white liberals.
Here’s a headline for your consideration: “White Liberals Present Themselves as Less Competent in Interactions with African-Americans.” That’s from a forthcoming study by Yale researcher Cydney Dupree, who found that “white liberals tend to downplay their own verbal competence in exchanges with racial minorities, compared to how other white Americans act in such exchanges.” Dupree says she wanted to know how “well-intentioned whites try to get along with racial minorities,” and what were “their strategies for increasing connections between members of different social groups.”
Dupree first examines speeches by Democratic and Republican presidential candidates to mostly white and mostly minority audiences. They found that, before minority audiences, Democrats would change their language to use words connoting “warmth” rather than words connoting “competence.” Meanwhile: “The researchers found that liberal individuals were less likely to use words that would make them appear highly competent when the person they were addressing was presumed to be black rather than white. No significant differences were seen in the word selection of conservatives based on the presumed race of their partner. ‘It was kind of an unpleasant surprise to see this subtle but persistent effect,’ Dupree says. ‘Even if it’s ultimately well-intentioned, it could be seen as patronizing.’”
This dispatch by Jeremy Harding in the London Review of Books is useful for understanding the recent riots in France. Harding considers what political loyalties can be attributed to the budding movement, which was sparked by anger over France’s regressive carbon tax:
Fighting on the Champs Elysées last weekend between French security forces and the so-called ‘gilets jaunes’ led to more than 100 arrests. According to the police, roughly eight thousand demonstrators took part. Barricades were built — and set alight — by what looked from a distance to be groups of rampaging lollipop people in dayglo yellow tops. But the gilets jaunes are not championing pedestrian safety: their revolt has been prompted by a sharp rise in the price of diesel and unleaded petrol at the pump, which they blame on President Macron’s fossil fuel tax. This is a drivers’ movement, at least at first sight, and despite the turmoil on the Champs Elysées, it is deeply provincial. Macron responded on Tuesday not with a U-turn, but with a concession enabling parliament to freeze the carbon tax — which is set to keep rising year on year — when the oil price goes up. A freeze is a very different proposition from a reduction and the gilets jaunes don’t like it. . . .
Last week the movement appointed eight official spokespeople . . . , but it’s still acephalous and averse to party-political appropriation, whether from the [right-wing] Rassemblement National — likely to make a strong showing in the European parliamentaries next year — or the tatters of the Parti Socialiste. [Left-wing populist party] La France Insoumise has its eye on the gilets jaunes as raw material for a ‘left populist’ project of the kind proposed by the Belgian philosopher Chantal Mouffe, a key intellectual for Jean-Luc Mélenchon.
But LFI will have its work cut out if, as some in the press are saying, the gilets jaunes are really a Poujadist phenomenon. Pierre Poujade led a populist anti-taxation drive in the 1950s, and spoke with an invective against government that the gilets jaunes have yet to surpass. Parliament, Poujade said, was a brothel, and MPs were a bunch of ‘pederasts’. Unlike Thatcher, Poujade was a premature opponent of finance capitalism; like Thatcher, he was an enemy of big government and organised labour, a ferocious chauvinist who championed ‘the little guy’ as a Prometheus in chains. Poujade’s dream died with the reappearance of De Gaulle in 1958 and the founding of the Fifth Republic.
Many local business people in south-west France support the gilets jaunes: bakers, plumbers, roofers, electricians, small farmers, and most of the shopkeepers left standing now that the supermarkets have put weaker contenders out of a job. All depend on their cars and those of their customers to stay afloat. But the small business contingent isn’t enough to justify the description ‘Poujadist’. This is a leaderless, spontaneous surge of impatience against an ‘elite’ which is thought to spurn poorer citizens or milk them dry. . . . I’m guessing that the vests are worn to make a simple point: ‘don’t pretend you can’t see us.’ . . .
Christopher Caldwell has argued that populists “usually internalize the idea of their inferiority and immorality,” and predicted that “they will be subject to a ‘paralyzing apathy’ unless a leader is there to light a fire under them.” Throughout his piece, Harding is clearly interested in whether these riots could be constructive for the French Left — and particularly in whether LFI could harness its energy. If we buy Caldwell’s argument, then Harding is right to note the current headlessness of the gilets jaunes. Because who eventually becomes the head will matter a great deal to both the movement’s success and its ultimate political direction.
I’ll be writing the Morning Jolt this week while Jim Geraghty and others are out to sea. Making the click-through worthwhile: I give some thoughts on Marc Lamont Hill; note Trump’s apparent detente with Xi Jinping at the G20; and share a link to our late 41st president’s activity in World War II.
‘I Was Talking about the Prog-Rock Album!’
In a speech to the United Nations last week, author and former CNN contributor Marc Lamont Hill called for a “free Palestine from the river to the sea.” When it was pointed out that establishing a Palestinian nation that runs from the River Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea would entail the annihilation of Israel and, presumably, the resettlement of millions who live there, CNN fired him. In the avalanche of commentary that’s ensued, Hill’s defenders and critics alike have observed that Hill is deeply educated in the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. In the words of Peter Beinart, “He knows more about Israeli policy towards Palestinians than you do.”
Maybe. In any case, people disagree about the implications of Hill’s putative expertise. To his defenders, Hill must have been expressing a deeply considered position that is being twisted out of context. To his critics, Hill must have understood the implications of what he said and is all the more culpable for saying it.
But Hill’s subject-matter expertise could imply something else: that, as a committed advocate of a position increasingly identified with assorted social-justice causes, he was likely oblivious to the connotations that “from the river to the sea” carries for so many Jews. As best as I can tell, Hill’s framework for understanding the situation pits the plainly evil against the plainly good: a group of settler colonists whose politics tend nationalist, whose economy is capitalistic, and whose military is ruthless, against a group of downtrodden victims who were ejected from their homes and who are repressed both within Israel and in the occupied territories. It’s impossible to know what’s in his head or his heart, but would you wager that Hill could state the various arguments for Israel’s existence in a way that passed an Ideological Turing Test?
Let’s hear again from Hill. Earlier in the speech, he said: “We must recognize the right of an occupied people to defend itself. . . . We must prioritize peace, but we must not romanticize or fetishize it.” (The fight over the connotations of “from the river to the sea” — a phrase that is invoked by advocates as diverse as the PLO, Hamas, and white college kids during Campus Apartheid Week — may have buried the lede.)
After the controversy, he tweeted: “I concluded my remarks with a call to free Palestine from river to sea. This means that all areas of historic Palestine — e.g., West Bank, Gaza, Israel — must be spaces of freedom, safety, and peace for Palestinians.” Stated dispassionately, Hill’s position is to advocate a binational democratic state on the land that is now Israel and was once Mandatory Palestine, an idea famously floated by Tony Judt in a 2003 article for the New York Review of Books. Such a state would be a democracy in which civil society would flourish, religious rights would be equally protected, and the two groups would live side-by-side as demography ceased to be a political concern. If you think there’s something a little delusional about this, so did Judt — but delusional is better than eliminationist, which is the charge Hill was forced to defend himself against.
For Jews in Israel, the argument goes, the phrase carries with it an implicit existential threat. For Jews in increasingly unwelcome places, such as, say, Europe, where anti-Semitism is rising, its connotation is similar. If Hill really is a subject-matter expert, how could he not have understood that many hear “from the river to the sea” and think “I am advocating the elimination of the Jewish state via a military-enforced ethnic cleansing”? How did he not anticipate how American Jews with relatives living in Israel would react? One possibility is that he believed he was on the right side of a morally charged conflict in which his cause has become associated with all sorts of moral goods and the Israeli cause has been associated with all sorts of moral evils.
In the world of American political activism, taking the Palestinian side of the conflict has become increasingly mandatory on the Left. Being pro-Palestine becomes a way to be anti-colonialism (because Israel is a settler-colonial state); anti-imperialism (because of the U.S.’ alliance with Israel); anti-militarism (because the IDF’s capabilities dwarf those of its belligerents); anti-capitalism (because Israel is a leader in the tech sector, where many businesses contract with the military); and anti-nationalism (this one is difficult to explain). Hill may have identified his activism for Palestine with all of these causes and may never have stopped to consider the implications to a Jewish audience of what he was saying. He was simply standing up for a cause associated with other virtuous causes supported by virtuous people who chant virtuous-sounding things at virtuous rallies.
If the Israel-Palestinian conflict has — at least in America — become another front in the culture wars, then it’s no surprise that the pro-Israel side is borrowing certain patterns of activism and rhetoric from its opponent. After Hill’s speech, journalists and advocates rushed to publicize its most incendiary passages, put pressure on his supporters, and contact his employers. In so many words they argued that Hill’s speech encouraged the erasure of the Jewish people. You’ll recognize these tactics as those of progressive activists, but their success means their spread. You, like me, might feel ambivalent about this escalation — but if ever a people were “marginalized,” “erased” . . .
Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal reported in the leadup to the meeting between Donald Trump and Xi Jinping that the two were exploring a sort of ceasefire in the trade war. Sure enough:
Mr. Trump and President Xi Jinping stepped back from the brink of total trade war while giving themselves room to strike a deal over new trading and investment rules. Mr. Trump agreed to hold off on raising tariffs to 25% from 10% on $200 billion of Chinese goods in January. . . .
The White House says China will start buying U.S. farm goods immediately, which will be a relief in farm states where incomes are down. China will also buy an unspecified “but very substantial” amount of farm, energy, industrial and other products to reduce the bilateral trade deficit. . . .
Far more important, the two countries will begin talks this month on China’s predatory behavior including forced technology transfer, intellectual property and cyber theft, and regulatory abuses against foreign companies. The parties have 90 days to agree or Mr. Trump will apply the 25% tariff—and presumably more on top of that.
Markets bounced on the news. The position of NR‘s editorial board is that of both WSJ‘s and plenty of smart China hawks: Chinese mercantilism is a real problem, and an international alliance could help solve it.
George H. W. Bush, RIP
This account of his being shot down near Chichi Jima is worth reading.
Making the click-through worthwhile: President Trump continues to believe he’s a great judge of character, no matter what troubles come his way; the GOP looks at turnout efforts for 2020; Rahm Emanuel surprises everyone by slamming Beto O’Rourke; and there’s another book to add to your holiday shopping list.
This is the last Jim-written Morning Jolt for a week. I’ll be on the National Review cruise next week, so I’ll see a few of you in person in a day or so! For others, traditionally, the off-year cruises are to further afield destinations such as Alaska or Norway, so if you’ve been thinking about a cruise vacation . . . 2019 is coming!
Why Would You Keep a Weak, Not Very Smart Lawyer for Twelve Years in Exchange for a Favor?
THE PRESIDENT: Go back and look at the paper that Michael Cohen wrote before he testified in the House and/or Senate. It talked about his position. What he’s trying to do — because he’s a weak person and not a very smart person. What he’s trying to do is end — and it’s very simple. He’s got himself a big prison sentence, and he’s trying to get a much lesser prison sentence by making up a story…
Q: If Cohen is such a bum, why did you hire him, have him on your payroll for 12 years, and have him do so much of your dirty work like paying off (inaudible)?
THE PRESIDENT: Because, a long time ago, he did me a favor. A long time ago, he did me a favor.
That’s a pretty implausible explanation. You don’t keep someone as your personal lawyer for twelve years as a favor if you think he’s a weak person and not a very smart person.
No doubt Trump thinks he’s a good judge of character and ability. Trump told the Washington Post during an interview on Tuesday, “I have a gut, and my gut tells me more sometimes than anybody’s brain can ever tell me.” No matter how many times his decision of who to trust blows up in his face — Corey Lewandowski, Paul Manafort, Omarosa Manigault, Steve Bannon, Rex Tillerson — Trump remains absolutely convinced his gut feelings can accurately determine who is trustworthy and loyal and helpful and who isn’t.
This is a spectacularly dangerous combination — a terrible judge of character who is absolutely convinced that he’s a spectacular judge of character. He demands absolute loyalty, gives little to none in return, and then is surprised when his underlings turn out to be way less loyal than he expected, over and over again. Trump is easily flattered, attracts and prefers obsequious brown-nosers, and recoils from just about any criticism, no matter how constructive or necessary it might be.
Trump goes through lawyers quickly; the relationship becomes unworkable as the president refuses to heed legal advice. Trump lawyers seem to feel as if they’re more dedicated to keeping the president out of legal trouble than he is — and that he’s not fully honest with them, leaving little confidence that the president would be honest under oath.
Trump likes who he is and doesn’t see any need to change. It wouldn’t take much for Trump to become a much more effective president. He would have to not lash out at every criticism he saw on cable news. He would have to at least feign interest in listening to the people he wants to persuade. The guy who prides himself on authoring The Art of the Deal would have to stop blowing up every working relationship in Washington over every perceived slight, insult, or disrespect. The policy agendas of, say, Senator Ben Sasse and Trump don’t differ that much, particularly in the areas of strengthening the military, standing up to China, reducing regulations, and pushing back against censorious political correctness. But Trump usually wants to vanquish critics, not cajole them and win them over. (Every once in a while, Trump manages to do this, such as with the renegotiated NAFTA treaty, now called the “United States-Mexico-Canada agreement.” (Some free traders aren’t thrilled with the final result, but as Iain Murray concludes, “Overall, the deal will ensure that the continental commerce on which industries and consumers across North America rely will continue uninterrupted — and that is worth celebrating.”)
Can Bigger Get-Out-the-Vote Efforts Help Save Republicans in 2020?
Over the course of the week, eight Republican governors from across the country held a series of closed-door “murder board” sessions with senior party officials vying to become the RGA’s executive director for the next campaign. Governors pressed the applicants on how 2020 hopefuls should run with Trump at the top of the ticket. And they peppered them with questions on a burning topic: How to address the party’s plummeting support from highly-educated and suburban female voters.
“Certainly as we’re talking to the candidates, that’s one of things we’re talking to them about,” said Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts, the RGA’s incoming chairman.
On Wednesday, Paul Bennecke, a veteran GOP strategist and the organization’s outgoing executive director, delivered a presentation to top donors in which he outlined a series of steps the party needs to take to prepare for 2020. He argued that Republicans couldn’t cede the fight to register voters and warned that Democratic groups were spending big to increase their numbers.
The irony is that the GOP turnout effort in 2018 didn’t break down or fall asleep this year. In 2014, 40 million Americans voted for House GOP candidates. This year, 50.6 million Americans voted for Republican House candidates — almost 11 million more! The problem for the Republicans is that the number of Americans who voted for Democrats jumped from 35.6 million in 2014 to 60.1 million — an astonishing leap.
What’s Got Rahm Emanuel Snickering about Beto O’Rourke This Early?
Wow. It wouldn’t surprise anyone if Chicago mayor and former Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel had a favorite in the still-taking-shape 2020 race for the Democratic presidential nomination, but it is surprising to see Emanuel slamming a particular figure this publicly and this early.
“If Beto O’Rourke wants to go and run for president, God bless him, he should put his hat in and make his case. But, he lost. You don’t usually promote a loser to the top of party,” Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Thursday on MSNBC, becoming the highest-profile Democrat yet to air doubts about the excitement swirling around El Paso congressman.
Is Rahm Emanuel secretly pulling for Joe Biden or some other candidate thought of as “the Obama team’s pick”? Deval Patrick? Eric Holder? Julian Castro?
In 2006, Emanuel, the then-DCCC chairman, helped recruit what Democrats thought would be a long-lasting all-star team of new House members. But the 2010 and 2014 GOP waves wiped out that class; almost none of them are still active in politics, never mind still in Congress: Chris Carney, Ron Klein, Brad Ellsworth, Bruce Braley, Paul Hodes, Heath Shuler, Mike Arcuri, Zack Space, Jason Altmire, Joe Sestak, Ciro Rodriguez, Steve Kagen. This year brought the career of Joe Donnelly to a screeching halt.
Going through the list of 2006 Democratic House recruits, I did encounter one name from back then who’s in the 2020 presidential discussion: New York’s Kirsten Gillibrand.
ADDENDA: It is never fun when friends fight, and I wished we lived in a world where my friend Kurt Schlichter and my distinguished colleagues never crossed swords. It will not surprise you that I think “cruise ship conservatives” are just fine, and the notion that they’re some sort of insidious full-spectrum foe to this administration requires ignoring the existence of figures such as Kevin Hassett and John Bolton.
Anyway, Kurt just completed another novel in his series about a not-too-distant future where the red states and blue states have formalized “the Split” and become separate countries — the old United States of America and the new “People’s Republic of North America.” In Wildfire, Kurt does what I’ve wanted to see from the first book in this series, which is give us a sense of how the rest of the world would respond to the United States dividing into two countries and becoming much less responsive to crises around the globe.
The answers may surprise you. Mexico is relatively thriving, but it has an immigration problem . . . and is building a wall to keep out everyone who’s crossing over from California. Russia’s less restrained than ever. Central Europe is facing severe problems, although some countries are adapting to a more dangerous world better than others. Every couple of pages there’s some hilarious twist of how today’s controversies played out within a few decades, walking the line between genuine dystopian nightmare and hilarious social satire. (The reevaluation of the legacy of J. Edgar Hoover alone is worth the price.) Kurt’s portrait of the blue-state PRNA is much more nuanced in this book — it’s actually competent at some tasks of government, or at least preserving its own power, and it’s not a monolithic evil empire — it has factions and rivalries on par with Game of Thrones. Wildfire has a much more diverse palette and variety of tones, beyond the Tom Clancy–esque thriller and 1984 notes struck before — weaving a tale that evokes zombie movies, buddy-cop movies, Mad Max, and the Prayers for the Assassin series from Robert Ferrigno.
Making the click-through worthwhile: an abominable tale of the rich and powerful escaping serious consequence for years of horrific criminal behavior, with disturbing questions about what two presidents knew and when; Stormy Daniels trusts the wrong man again; unnerving new statistics reveal what’s killing Americans; and a strange reboot prepares to exit the stage.
An Ugly Story about Powerful People Escaping Consequences
The Miami Herald writes an extensive, detailed exposé about that long-lingering scandal and stench coming from Palm Beach multimillionaire Jeffrey Epstein, friend to many powerful and politically connected people.
The focus of the story is former U.S. attorney Alexander Acosta, now the U.S. secretary of labor and, according to the rumor mill, a potential option to be the next nominee for attorney general. The Herald’s description of the deal Acosta agreed to with Epstein’s lawyers is jaw-dropping and horrifying:
Not only would Epstein serve just 13 months in the county jail, but the deal — called a non-prosecution agreement— essentially shut down an ongoing FBI probe into whether there were more victims and other powerful people who took part in Epstein’s sex crimes, according to a Miami Herald examination of thousands of emails, court documents and FBI records.
The pact required Epstein to plead guilty to two prostitution charges in state court. Epstein and four of his accomplices named in the agreement received immunity from all federal criminal charges. But even more unusual, the deal included wording that granted immunity to “any potential co-conspirators’’ who were also involved in Epstein’s crimes. These accomplices or participants were not identified in the agreement, leaving it open to interpretation whether it possibly referred to other influential people who were having sex with underage girls at Epstein’s various homes or on his plane.
As part of the arrangement, Acosta agreed, despite a federal law to the contrary, that the deal would be kept from the victims. As a result, the non-prosecution agreement was sealed until after it was approved by the judge, thereby averting any chance that the girls — or anyone else — might show up in court and try to derail it.
You may be wondering what Acosta’s side of the story is. Apparently he chose not to provide it: “Acosta did not respond to numerous requests for an interview or answer queries through email.”
The scale of this criminal enterprise is mind-boggling:
The Herald also identified about 80 women who say they were molested or otherwise sexually abused by Epstein from 2001 to 2006. About 60 of them were located — now scattered around the country and abroad. Eight of them agreed to be interviewed, on or off the record. Four of them were willing to speak on video.
Acosta is about to get tons of criticism, and, from what we can see, deservedly so. But there’s an aspect of the story that the Herald puts off in a separate piece — Epstein’s connections to Donald Trump and to Bill Clinton. The newspaper is quick to point out that there is no evidence of either man engaging in illegal underage sexual activities.
But there’s this unnerving quote from Trump in a 2002 profile of Epstein:
. . . if you talk to Donald Trump, a different Epstein emerges. “I’ve known Jeff for fifteen years. Terrific guy,” Trump booms from a speakerphone. “He’s a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side. No doubt about it — Jeffrey enjoys his social life.”
Er . . . what was Trump referring to? What had he heard?
And then there’s Epstein’s other extremely powerful and well-connected friend:
Former President Bill Clinton was a much more frequent flyer on a registered sex offender’s infamous jet than previously reported, with flight logs showing the former president taking at least 26 trips aboard the “Lolita Express” — even apparently ditching his Secret Service detail for at least five of the flights, according to records obtained by FoxNews.com.
Clinton’s presence aboard Jeffrey Epstein’s Boeing 727 on 11 occasions has been reported, but flight logs show the number is more than double that, and trips between 2001 and 2003 included extended junkets around the world with Epstein and fellow passengers identified on manifests by their initials or first names, including “Tatiana.” The tricked-out jet earned its Nabakov-inspired nickname because it was reportedly outfitted with a bed where passengers had group sex with young girls.
Are we really expected to believe that in all of that time Clinton spent with Epstein, he never saw, heard, or encountered anything that was connected to Epstein’s ongoing criminal activities?
Did the 2016 Hillary Clinton campaign never play the Epstein card against Trump because of Bill Clinton?
When Your Own Client Is Publicly Trashing You . . .
There are a lot of snarky jokes to be made about Stormy Daniels right now. But for now, let’s open up a jar of empathy and observe that she keeps trusting men who want to use her. Here’s part of her latest statement:
For months I’ve asked Michael Avenatti to give me accounting information about the fund my supporters so generously donated to for my safety and legal defense. He has repeatedly ignored those requests. Days ago I demanded again, repeatedly, that he tell me how the money was being spent and how much was left. Instead of answering me, without my permission or even my knowledge Michael launched another crowdfunding campaign to raise money on my behalf. I learned about it on Twitter.
I haven’t decided yet what to do about legal representation moving forward. Michael has been a great advocate in many ways. I’m tremendously grateful to him for aggressively representing me in my fight to regain my voice. But in other ways Michael has not treated me with the respect and deference an attorney should show to a client. He has spoken on my behalf without my approval. He filed a defamation case against Donald Trump against my wishes. He repeatedly refused to tell me how my legal defense fund was being spent. Now he has launched a new crowdfunding campaign using my face and name without my permission and attributing words to me that I never wrote or said. I’m deeply grateful to my supporters and they deserve to know their money is being spent responsibly. I don’t want to hurt Michael, but it’s time to set the record straight. The truth has always been my greatest ally.
A sentence I write with surprising frequency: “Avenatti denies the accusations.” For what it’s worth, the Los Angeles district attorney declined to file felony domestic-abuse charges against him, but it could still pursue misdemeanor charges.
This all started, according to Daniels’s own account, because she thought, er, cozying up to Trump would get her on Celebrity Apprentice and further her career. Now she’s much more famous than she probably ever imagined. But is she better off?
Some Deeply Ominous Numbers on What’s Killing Americans
If life in the United States is generally getting better — low unemployment, the threat of terrorism quieter than in years past — why is the suicide rate increasing? According to new numbers from the Centers for Disease Control, “last year, 47,000 people committed suicide, for a rate of 14.0 per 100,000 people. That is up from 10.5 in 1999 and from 13.5 last year. The total number of suicide deaths was the highest in a half century and up more than 2,000 from 2016.”
Considering everything being thrown at the opioid epidemic, why is the rate of drug overdoses still increasing dramatically?
Drug overdoses set another annual record in 2017, cresting at 70,237 — up from 63,632 the year before, the government said in a companion report. The opioid epidemic continued to take a relentless toll, with 47,600 deaths in 2017 from drugs sold on the street such as fentanyl and heroin, as well as prescription narcotics. That was also a record number, driven largely by an increase in fentanyl deaths.
Since 1999, the number of drug overdose deaths has more than quadrupled. Deaths attributed to opioids were nearly six times greater in 2017 than they were in 1999.
ADDENDUM: The Murphy Brown reboot lasted 13 episodes. I barely watched the new one; I had relatively fond memories of the old version and believed that it’s remembered for being more political than it really was. I wrote back in January, “Politics actually made Murphy Brown a worse, less funny, less enjoyable show; it will be interesting to see how political the new version is.” The answer was: extremely political. Outside of the pilot’s pretty funny Hillary Clinton cameo, little in the new sitcom stood out, beyond how much the cast had aged since the early 1990s. It’s fair to wonder what the point was of putting together a weekly sitcom that focused so much on mocking Trump when the average liberal with an appetite for laugh-plause (political jokes that really aren’t that funny but that the audience feels obligated to applaud for because they agree with the argument) had the nightly options of the Daily Show, Jimmy Kimmel, Stephen Colbert, Samantha Bee, and Seth Meyers, and the weekly options of John Oliver and Saturday Night Live.
Making the click-through worthwhile: A newly elected Democratic congresswoman from Minnesota declares that President Trump is ultimately responsible for a higher number of hate crimes in the past year; the last U.S. Senate race of 2018 ends with a Republican win and a potentially tougher road ahead for Democrats; a new report suggests that low-income workers are having a more difficult time finding housing.
Minnesota Congresswoman: Trump Emboldens Racists to Acts of Violence
Ilhan Omar, the newly elected Democratic congresswoman from Minnesota, has wasted no time finding President Trump responsible for hate crimes, writing in the Minnesota Star Tribune:
Hate crimes in this country are continuing to increase at an alarming rate. According to the FBI’s annual report released this month, the number of incidents increased about 17 percent compared with last year. That is the largest increase in these types of cowardly acts since 2001. The culture of intolerance spread by President Donald Trump has clearly emboldened racist individuals to acts of violence.
Trump says a lot of obnoxious, incendiary things. But it’s fair to ask where Omar or anyone else would draw the line separating a “culture of intolerance that emboldens racist individuals to acts of violence” from acceptable and heated political rhetoric. For all of his myriad flaws, Trump has never encouraged anyone to shoot up a synagogue or mail bombs to people, and it’s unfair to insinuate or suggest that he has. This is denouncing a demagogue with more demagoguery.
Trump has gotten blamed for a lot of awful crimes that turned out to not be connected to him at all. You may recall those early 2017 bomb threats called in to Jewish Community Centers across the country. Eight were committed by Juan M. Thompson, a former journalist for the Intercept, who called in the threats in an attempt to frame a woman whom he had previously dated. Dozens more were committed by a 19-year-old Jewish Israeli-American named Michael Ron David Kadar, who was diagnosed with mental-health issues. And the shooter at the Pittsburgh synagogue believed that Jews controlled Trump, wrote that he hadn’t voted for him, and that he had never “owned, worn or even touched” a MAGA hat.
The man who yelled “Heil Hitler” and did a Nazi salute at a performance of “Fiddler on the Roof” in a Baltimore theater said he did so to protest Trump and that he’s a staunch opponent of the administration. He also said he had been drinking heavily.
At least in those cases, there was no sinister anti-Semitic thuggery awoken by the Trump presidency. As many have noted, Ivanka’s conversion to Judaism and Trump’s relationship with Jared Kushner complicate the argument that Trump harbors some lingering anti-Semitism. His outspoken support of Israel doesn’t fit the simple narrative, either.
Why do people commit hate crimes? There are a lot of reasons, but one simple and glaring one is that they’re idiots. They have few reasons for personal pride, so they seize upon their ethnic identity as a reason for pride (as if they somehow chose or earned their allegedly superior ethnic heritage). They need to feel powerful, so they attack the powerless. They need to feel strong, so they seek to intimidate others. They’re likely consumed by shame that their lives are such failures — bad relationships, difficulty finding or keeping jobs, few friends or social-support networks, general alienation from the community around them — and need to externalize that bubbling self-loathing into hating other people.
Did those guys holding the tiki torches on the University of Virginia campus back in the summer of 2017 really look all that menacing, lined up in their polo shirts? A bunch of them looked barely older than the old stereotypes of Dungeons and Dragons players, or an impromptu glee club recruited from guys lingering too long in the magazine section of a convenience store. If you have to put that much effort into looking intimidating, you’re not that intimidating.
Do you do something like that if you’re genuinely happy and confident and at home with yourself in the world? Think about their rallying cry: “Jews will not replace us.” Replace them how? Who’s stepping into their jobs and roles?
Doesn’t their rallying cry sound more like a desperate cry of self-flattery, that they’re in some sort of position of power and wealth and influence, and that interlopers are trying to steal something from them?
Who the hell would ever want to be them?
The Last Senate Race of 2018 Ends with a GOP Win
With 99 percent of precincts reporting, the appointed GOP Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith won election to a full term last night, by a 54 to 46 percent margin, or about 70,000 votes.
Thad Cochran resigned from the Senate in April over health issues, and Hyde-Smith was his appointed replacement.
CNN described the race as “a contest that centered on her actions and comments evoking the state’s dark history of racism and slavery,” and Democrats are boasting that this was their best performance by a Senate candidate in 30 years.
Indeed it was, but the difference was less dramatic than one might think. This year Mississippi had a separate second U.S. Senate election, and Republican Roger Wicker won, 59 percent to 39 percent, against a little-known, underfunded Democratic opponent. In 2014, Cochran won reelection with just under 60 percent, and in 2012, Wicker won with 55 percent, and a similar margin in a 2008 special election.
The end result is a 53 to 47 Republican majority in the Senate, which is a taller order for Democrats in 2020 than they expected. From this early perspective, Democrats have a shot at flipping control of the Senate, but not a great one. If Trump wins reelection, they’ll need to win four seats; if Trump loses, they only need three.
But begin with the fact that Doug Jones is up for reelection in Alabama. If the Republicans don’t nominate another Roy Moore, they should have a good chance of picking up that seat, particularly with Trump atop the ticket. If Jones loses, Democrats need to win five (if Trump wins) or four (if Trump loses).
In Arizona, Jon Kyl, the appointed replacement for John McCain, is expected to retire (again). Kristen Sinema’s victory in this year’s election suggests that this is now a purple state.
In Colorado, incumbent Republican Cory Gardner is proved to be a strong candidate in 2014, but his state is pretty purple and looks pretty blue some years. One wonders if he may follow something like Pat Toomey’s path in Pennsylvania in 2016 — running and winning with a different, more heavily suburban coalition than the president.
The close finish in this year’s governor’s race in Georgia will spur Democratic hopes that they can knock off incumbent GOP senator David Purdue. If Stacy Abrams ran for Senate, she would presumably have a “payback for the stolen election” narrative driving the progressive grassroots and a national fundraising base.
In Iowa, Joni Ernst is up for reelection. Democrats thought they had a good shot at picking up that seat and lost by eight points in 2014.
Undoubtedly, Democrats’ top target will be Maine Senator Susan Collins for her vote in the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation fight. Collins, too, has dashed Democratic hopes in quite a few past cycles, but her Democratic challenger is virtually guaranteed to have massive funds.
North Carolina wavers between being a classic purple swing state or its past status as reliably Republican for the past few cycles. Obama won the state in 2008, with Kay Hagan beating Elizabeth Dole in the U.S. Senate race that year. But the Obama campaign didn’t seriously contest the Tarheel State four years later, and Romney won, 50 percent to 48 percent. In 2014, Republican Thom Tillis beat Hagan in the Senate race, 48.8 percent to 47.2 percent. In 2016, Trump improved on Romney’s margin slightly, beating Hillary Clinton in North Carolina, 49.8 percent to 46.1 percent. But the same year, Democrat Roy Cooper won the governor’s race by two-tenths of a percentage point. Bottom line, the presidential race, the Senate race, and the gubernatorial race are all likely to be hard-fought and come down to the wire.
Democrats may talk themselves into believing that they have a chance to unseat Mitch McConnell in Kentucky. They believed that last time, too, and he won, 56 percent to 40 percent.
You have to wonder if Nebraska’s Ben Sasse will face a serious primary challenge for his perceived apostasy of Trumpism. Nebraska’s probably a sufficiently Republican-leaning state to keep this seat in GOP hands, but . . . Democrats have a good record of capitalizing on GOP divisions in red states such as Alabama and Arizona.
Can Federal Policies Make the Working Life More Rewarding?
One shouldn’t be surprised that a worker making the minimum wage can’t afford much; after all, it’s the minimum wage. We tend to think of minimum wage workers – fast-food employees, store clerks, temps — as teenagers, or people who don’t have to support themselves. But society has people who didn’t start out their working life quite right, and who find themselves in minimum-wage jobs well into adulthood, with adult responsibilities.
A new report finds that someone working a full-time minimum wage job cannot afford to rent a two-bedroom apartment anywhere in the country. The report calculates that in Arkansas, the state with the cheapest housing in the country, a worker would need to earn $13.84 an hour — about $29,000 a year — to afford a two-bedroom apartment there. The minimum wage in Arkansas is $8.50 an hour. And lest you think this reflects unrealistic expectations for housing, “a one-bedroom is affordable for minimum-wage workers in only 22 counties in five states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Oregon and Washington.”
A report like this usually spurs calls to raise the minimum wage, but we know how that can lead to layoffs and increased incentives for automation. But there are other ideas.
I don’t know if I agree with every detail of Oren Cass’s new book and general proposal for wage subsidies — using taxpayer money to add a “Federal Work Bonus,” additional pay as a bonus for working — but I like the motivation behind it: Let’s make work as rewarding as possible, and make public assistance as unappealing as possible.
ADDENDUM:Former president Obama: “Suddenly, America is the largest oil producer . . . That was me, people . . . What are you complaining about? Just say, ‘thank you,’ please.”
To quote a popular phrase from a few years back, Mister President . . . “You didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”
Making the click-through worthwhile: the Obama administration’s history of using tear gas on the border; the ugly decade for General Motors takes another unexpected turn; the question of whether American voters punish politicians who solve problems instead of rewarding them; and another case of progressive activists focusing on the convenient targets instead of the responsible ones.
Tear Gas on the Border: Okay When the Obama Administration Does It, Apparently
From the coverage of the Customs and Border Patrol using tear gas, one could easily be led to believe that this was an unprecedented escalation in tactics from the Trump administration.
The same tear-gas agent that the Trump administration is taking heat for deploying against a border mob this weekend is actually used fairly frequently — including more than once a month during the later years of President Barack Obama’s administration, according to Homeland Security data.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection has used 2-chlorobenzylidene malononitrile, or CS, since 2010, and deployed it 26 times in fiscal 2012 and 27 times in 2013. The use dropped after that, but was still deployed three times in 2016, Mr. Obama’s final full year in office.
Use of CS rose again in fiscal 2017, which was split between Mr. Obama and Mr. Trump, and reached 29 deployments in fiscal 2018, which ended two months ago, according to CBP data seen by The Washington Times.
Border authorities also use another agent, pepper spray, frequently — including a decade-high record of 151 instances in 2013, also under Mr. Obama. Pepper spray, officially known as Pava Capsaicin, was used 43 times in fiscal year 2018, according to the CBP numbers.
A recent Washington Postarticle about the use of tear gas by the Border Patrol talks a lot about the Chemical Weapons Convention, the use of poison gas in World War I, and Saddam Hussein’s use of chemical weapons — as if any of that is comparable to the use of tear gas. The Chemical Weapons Convention explicitly says, “Riot control agents may not be used as a method of warfare but may be used for certain law enforcement purposes including riot control.”
In 2008, the National Review crew was in Saint Paul, Minn., covering the Republican National Convention. Mark Hemingway and I were on our way to tape a “Red Meat” video — remember those? — when we encountered a clash between protesters and police in riot gear. Police fired tear gas to disperse the protesters and then . . . the wind shifted. Those of us watching the clash from what we thought was a safe distance away found ourselves with watery eyes and burning nostrils. (If you feel the need to simulate the experience, find your nearest pepper shaker, remove the cap, hold it right up against your nostril, and inhale deeply.)
It’s unpleasant. But if this tool is unacceptable for dispersing crowds, what tool is acceptable? Rubber bullets can kill people in the wrong circumstances. Water cannons evoke images of the violent crackdown on civil-rights protests. The aim is to avoid physical confrontation between police and the rioters as much as possible.
FactCheck.org examined the use of tear gas after the Ferguson protests in 2014:
“There are few immediate alternatives to tear gas for riot control. There are strategies to prevent riots, including better community relations, a less militaristic appearance, and improved training, all of which have been raised in relation to Ferguson. But once rioting is under way, police need tools to control it — and “even though tear gas is far from perfect,” said David A. Koplow, a Georgetown University law professor, “it continues to be used in that role because there’s nothing else better.”
The current effort to demonize the use of tear gas is offered by folks who don’t really want to see crowds of migrants rushing the border stopped.
Is Government Motors 2.0 Around the Corner?
Rough decade for General Motors, huh?
Years of declining sales and increasing costs bring it to the brink of bankruptcy as the Great Recession kicks off in 2008. Its representatives go to Washington, begging for cash. The new Obama administration creates a Task Force on the Auto Industry.
President Obama, his task force, and Congress come to terms with the company for a limited bailout in the middle of 2009, consisting of various restructuring moves and the government purchasing a lot of company stock and holding it for several years to restore investor confidence. GM closes Hummer, Saturn, and Pontiac. They sell off Opal and Saab. The company gets the “Government Motors” nickname. Taxpayers provided “another $30 billion on top of the $19.4 billion it has already given GM to cover its losses and fund its operations, in exchange for a 60 percent equity stake in the new company after restructuring, as well as $8.8 billion in debt and preferred stock.”
When the government sold its first shares, President Obama boldly predicted, “American taxpayers are now positioned to recover more than my administration invested in GM.” But by the time the last share of GM stock had been sold in 2014, the government would announce it lost $11.2 billion — about a billion more than it had previously estimated. Its fair to wonder whether the bailout stigma did permanent damage to the company’s reputation.
That was a particularly awful year for GM, as that year the public learned that the company had been making cars with defective switches all along — a defect that led to 124 deaths.
The Obama administration’s task force’s job was to get an accurate portrait of GM’s assets, liabilities, and problems, and the source told Bloomberg Businessweek that year that GM’s board and the task force did discuss product-liability claims. In fact, the Obama administration bragged about the thoroughness of its review. But no matter how thorough the review was, the upshot was the same — at the precise moment that the president’s task force was supposedly confronting GM about a dysfunctional corporate culture that had brought the company to the brink of ruin, it accepted everything GM’s leaders told it about the safety of its cars at face value.
On the first day back to work from the Thanksgiving holiday, the Detroit automaker confirmed plans to cut its salaried workforce by 15 percent, to dump most of its car models and to idle five plants in three states, two countries and its hometown.
GM’s latest restructuring details will ratchet higher pressure on rival Ford Motor Co. to detail its own workout plans. They’ll dramatically raise the stakes in next year’s national contract talks with the United Auto Workers, as bargainers haggle over the future of at least four U.S. plants. And the planned plant actions in Michigan and Ohio predictably are drawing rhetorical fire from President Donald Trump.
. . . Fat profits coming from one country are not enough to support a rapidly changing business model steeped in advanced technology. GM makes and sells more vehicles in China than it does in the United States, a trend now several years old and unlikely to change. And the automaker’s doubling-down on what it calls its “growth” plants for trucks and SUVs inevitably would come at the expense of traditional car plants and their hourly workers.
Remember how the Volt represented the future of post-bailout GM? Nevermind. “The automaker will no longer make the Volt semi-electric car and the Cruze compact sedan for sale in North America beginning in March, Chevy spokesman Kevin Kelly confirmed.”
Trump can thunder and rage about GM’s moves, and probably will do so quite dramatically. But he can’t really change the dynamics of what’s motivating the company to make these changes — shifts in consumer demand, and the increasing importance of the foreign market. No, consumers aren’t buying Volts and Cruzes in enough numbers to make them worthwhile — but apparently they’re not buying the Impala, Cadillac XTS, or Buick LaCrosse, either.
David Burge observes, “No elected official should ‘deal’ with GM, other than giving them wide latitude to sink or swim on their own decisions. But let’s face it, that horse left the barn in 2009, and now GM is a government agency in all but name.”
Trump will hate this move, as will Democrats. Will the federal government offer GM some sort of financial inducements to keep making cars that customers don’t want, just to save jobs in Detroit and Warren, Mich., Warren, Ohio and White Marsh, Md.?
Do Voters Punish Politicians for Solving Problems?
Victor Davis Hanson argues that the American electorate is . . . more or less a bunch of ingrates:
Never has suburban America done better economically. It certainly appreciates that North Korea is not threatening nuclear-tipped missile launches at the West Coast. It likes the idea that the U.S. is producing more oil than either Saudi Arabia or Russia. If polls are an indication, it certainly does not want throngs of illegal aliens crashing through the southern border. And it probably thinks that China has no business cheating its way to world dominance.
But suburban dwellers seem embarrassed, of late, that the solutions to these once intractable dilemmas came from someone with a dubious past and a habit of saying and doing things incompatible with their own suburban norms. And they are learning that Trump can no more stop tweeting or ridiculing than Shane could put down his guns (“There’s no going back”). I don’t think the sodbusters in later years ever put up a statue to Shane, the liberator.
Whether Trump rides out wounded in 2020 or 2024, he will likely do so as a lonely figure — and perhaps he will not be appreciated or even especially missed by the very people he benefitted.
VDH writes, “The hostile reaction to Trump is a sort of proof of his success.”
Does it follow, then, that if Trump was widely loved, it would be proof of his failure?
ADDENDUM:Over at the Corner, an observation about progressive activists who would rather chant and shout at store clerks and holiday shoppers than confront the fact that they were fooled by Democratic politicians that they’ve supported in the past.
Making the click-through worthwhile: the only shopping guide you need today, the migrant caravan proves that its critics were right and that its defenders were hopelessly naïve, Russia starts getting aggressive with Ukraine again, and Kamala Harris may not be on the Senate Judiciary Committee for long.
Today is Cyber Monday, which is like Black Friday, except without the riots and camping outside of the shopping mall on Thanksgiving night. It’s also the day for the Morning Jolt Christmas/Hanukkah/Whatever You Celebrate Gift Guide, heavy on books written by my distinguished friends and colleagues — a creative bunch, with works stretching far beyond the realm of daily politics.
We’ll begin with the fresh-off-the-presses offerings:
Since When Do Migrant Caravans Make ‘Shows of Force’?
AP headline: “Caravan marches toward US border in show of force.” If you’re a migrant, you’re not supposed to be showing “force”, are you? Just what exactly are you attempting to “force”?
The whole mess amounted to a vivid live demonstration of why the United States needs a secure border, and why publicity stunts like the caravan undermine the cause of legal immigration. If you really want to become an American, you don’t sneak inside the country. If you’re really claiming asylum, you don’t run away from the law-enforcement officials of the country that can grant asylum. And if you’re throwing rocks and bottles at law enforcement officers, you’re not the kind of person we want to let into the country.
As ugly as the scene was, it could have been much worse:
Clashes erupted at the U.S.-Mexico border Sunday as members of the migrant caravan tried to cross illegally, leading to a closure of the San Ysidro checkpoint and two San Diego County freeways.
Customs and Border Protection confirmed Sunday night that there were multiple instances of people throwing projectiles at CBP personnel, including Border Patrol agents hit with rocks.
CBP officers used crowd-dispersing methods including pepper balls and CS canisters. There were no reports of injuries, officials said. Fumes from the tear gas were blown toward people who were hundreds of feet away and not attempting to enter the U.S., the Associated Press reported.
“As the demonstrations on the Mexican side reached the border area, some members of the demonstration split off to head towards multiple locations along the border. Some attempted to enter the U.S. both directly east and west of the border crossing. These attempts to illegally enter the U.S., and the response to them continue. Some attempted to illegally enter the U.S. through both the northbound and southbound vehicle lanes at the port of entry itself. Those persons were stopped and turned back to Mexico,” CBP said in a statement.
The U.S. Border Patrol also made apprehensions of people who tried to enter the U.S. illegally, including in the vehicle lanes of the border crossing, according to CBP officials. The Mexican Interior Ministry has said it would immediately deport Central American migrants who tried to “violently” breach the border with the U.S. just south of California and that it would reinforce the border.
Back in April we were told by places such as CNN that it was a “myth” that caravans of migrants sought to enter the country illegally; that they merely wanted to apply for asylum; and that “as asylum seekers, these migrants are turning themselves in to authorities at the border and trying to start the formal process of getting protected status.”
See, if you’re trying to run across the border and away from the border patrol, you’re not here to apply for asylum.
Russia Picked a Heck of a Moment to Get Aggressive Again
By the time you get this, the United Nations Security Council will be meeting to address a clash between the Russian and Ukranian navies. The Ukrainian navy says Russian ships fired on and seized two of its artillery ships Sunday in the Black Sea following an incident near Crimea, which Moscow annexed from Kiev in 2014. A tugboat was also seized, and two crew members were hurt.
Unsurprisingly, the FSB says it’s all the Ukranians’ fault: “There is irrefutable evidence that Kiev prepared and orchestrated provocations . . . in the Black Sea. These materials will soon be made public.”
The European Union leadership is being its usual useful self, calling for Russia and Ukraine to “act with utmost restraint to de-escalate” the situation in the Black Sea. Because if there’s anything Putin-era Russia is known for, it’s utmost restraint.
ADDENDUM: The GOP Senate pickups brought an unexpected consequence to the chamber that many conservatives will enjoy. The Senate Judiciary Committee has 21 members, currently split between 11 Republicans and 10 Democrats. Committee seats are usually split to reflect the proportion of the whole Senate; with the GOP pickups, the Judiciary panel would be split 12 to 9, although Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer can negotiate different terms. But if Democrats lose a seat, the newest member gets bumped off the panel . . . which happens to be California Senator Kamala Harris.
Needless to say, she and her allies are apoplectic at the thought — meaning Democrats may need to make other concessions: “That would leave Democrats with limited options: agree to a greater deficit on other committees to preserve Judiciary seats for potential 2020 hopefuls, or convince a more senior Democrat to take one for the team.”
Happy Thanksgiving! May all of your travels be safe and your traffic struggles be bearable. This is the last Morning Jolt until Monday.
Making the click-through worthwhile: a debate about whether capping the state and local-tax deduction was worth it to Republicans, how much it contributed to the GOP’s troubles in the suburbs, and how tough it will be to win back the House; Nancy Pelosi enjoys a bit of Fudge; and a bit of referendum-election fraud out in California.
How Tough Will It Be for Republicans to Win Back the House?
Over on the Corner, Reihan makes the argument that Republicans capping the state and local tax deduction at $10,000 in the 2017 tax cut was worth it: “By limiting the tax subsidy for high-tax jurisdictions, it nudges voters at the state and local level to press for more sensible and sustainable policies and to reject fiscal profligacy, as we’ll see in the years to come.”
Andrew Stuttaford writes that the move “gave the impression that the GOP was ‘punishing’ blue states, and, more specifically, their more affluent urban and suburban residents. This constituency has been slipping away from the GOP for some time for a mix of social and cultural reasons. Many of those who stuck with the party did so because they at least trusted Republicans to defend them from the IRS. Capping the SALT deduction was a breach of that trust.”
Morally or on economic principle, capping SALT may have been the right move, but boy, did it come at a steep political price. There were a lot of right-leaning people in the suburbs who voted for Trump and who probably expected a significant tax cut from Republican-controlled government, and if the SALT cap didn’t eliminate their tax cut, it probably significantly reduced it. As I observed last year . . .
The county that ranks ninth in the nation in deductions for state and local taxes is Morris County, New Jersey, with $11,440. Trump won that county, 49 percent to 45 percent. Not too far from there is Monmouth County, where Trump won, 52 percent to 43 percent. The average return there deducts $9,105.
Trump lost his home state of New York overall by a wide margin, but won several counties in the suburbs of New York City. He won Suffolk County on Long Island 51 percent to 46 percent; the average taxpayer there deducts $8,096. Trump won Putnam County, north of the city, 55 percent to 39 percent; the average taxpayer deducts even more, $8,855.
This month, Democrats won the district that includes Morris County for the first time since 1985. If you look at the districts with highly taxed suburbs represented by Republicans heading into this year — the districts of Leonard Lance and Tom MacArthur in New Jersey, John Faso and Dan Donovan in New York, two suburban districts in Illinois, four GOP House seats in Orange County, Calif. — that’s where the Democrats flipped seats. The SALT deduction wasn’t the only reason that the GOP lost those seats, but it certainly didn’t help.
Add up the seats Republicans lost in New York, New Jersey, California, and Illinois, and you get 14 seats; if Republicans had held those seats, they would be at 213 seats right now instead of 199 — just five away from keeping control.
There are a bunch of seats that Democrats won in 2018 that Republicans could pretty easily win back in 2020 with a better candidate, better effort, a less lopsided fundraising battle, better coordination, etcetera. Start with traditionally conservative, GOP-leaning places such as Oklahoma’s fifth district representing Oklahoma City and South Carolina’s first district, representing the Charleston suburbs and the coast.
Then move on to the “jump ball” races, where just a little bit more GOP turnout could have kept the seat red. Mia Love lost by a couple hundred votes in Utah’s fourth district. In New Mexico’s second district, Democrat Xochitl Torres Small won by about 3,000 votes. In Maine’s second district, Bruce Polquin only lost because of the state’s new “ranked votes” system that put him down by about 3,000. In Georgia’s sixth district, Karen Handel lost by . . . once again, about 3,000 votes. Down in south Florida’s 26th district, Representative Carlos Curbelo lost by about 4,000.
In other words, a couple thousand more votes here and there and Republicans could be back in the majority, if they weren’t getting slaughtered in those once-red districts of blue states. Some of that is SALT, and some of that is probably the Republican party’s image under Trump. Still, one wonders, if the cap limit had been set higher, at $15,000 or $20,000, would Republican losses in those suburbs have been as bad?
Oh, Fudge! Looks Like Nancy Pelosi Will Be the Next Speaker of the House
In the meantime, Nancy Pelosi appears to be enjoying a very smooth ride to becoming the next speaker.
Rep. Marcia Fudge endorsed Nancy Pelosi for House speaker on Tuesday, just days after openly mulling a challenge to the California Democrat, providing a significant boost to Pelosi’s quest to regain the gavel.
Fudge’s endorsement is a significant blow to efforts by more than a dozen current and incoming Democrats to oust Pelosi, who has ruled over the caucus for the past 16 years. Fudge’s backing leaves the anti-Pelosifaction without a potential challenger against the longtime Democratic leader.
They’re doing a version of Kirsten Sinema’s maneuver. Pledge that you won’t support the current Democratic leader then shrug and nod along when no challenger to that leader emerges.
‘Officer, I Wasn’t Paying for a Signature, I Was Paying for His Autograph!’
“Voter fraud!” should not be the rallying cry of every Republican candidate bitter about a defeat. But the world has bad people in it, people who do try to cheat the system and who are willing to break the law to do it. The city of Los Angeles caught another bunch yesterday.
A forged signature swapped for $1 — or sometimes a cigarette.
The crude exchange played out hundreds of times on L.A.’s skid row during the 2016 election cycle and again this year, prosecutors said Tuesday as they announced criminal charges against nine people accused in a fraud scheme.
Using cash and cigarettes as lures, the defendants approached homeless people on skid row and asked them to forge signatures on state ballot measure petitions and voter registration forms, the district attorney’s office said. The defendants — some of whom were scheduled to be arraigned Tuesday — face several criminal charges, including circulating a petition with fake names, voter fraud and registering a fictitious person.
State officials said petition signature scams aren’t widespread in California, but Joseph said they do pop up from time to time on skid row. People hired to help qualify initiatives for the ballot are often paid per signature collected, typically $1 to $2, but officials said a recent slew of proposed ballot initiatives had pushed the rate as high as $6 a signature. It is illegal for the collectors, however, to pay people for signatures.
Mind you, this is not casting multiple ballots in the name of another person; this is merely collecting signatures to get a referendum on the ballot. To get a referendum on the ballot, supporters need to collect a number of signatures equal to 5 percent of the most recent gubernatorial election turnout. That meant that this cycle, supporters of a referendum or initiative needed 365,880 signatures.
ADDENDA: Forget all of those idiotic “How to talk to your totally un-woke uncle” articles and just try to enjoy the presence of your friends and family this Thanksgiving. As I said in yesterday’s edition of the Three Martini Lunch podcast, “I know everyone is upset, I know everyone is angry, passionate, and heated, but Thanksgiving traditionally marks the beginning of the holiday season. It is time to unite everyone, to gather everyone from Grandma and Grandpa to the little kids, and come together and watch the greatest Christmas movie of all time: Die Hard.”
Today’s Three Martini Lunch podcast will feature what Greg Corombos and I are thankful for, and Friday’s edition includes our Black Friday shopping list for the likes of Jim Acosta and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Making the click-through worthwhile: Regulation is coming to Silicon Valley, including a proposal to throw tech-company CEOs in jail if they’re not honest about violations of users’ privacy; Ivanka Trump somehow managed to miss all of the controversy about Hillary Clinton’s emails in 2016; and the director of the upcoming film Vice declares he prefers the Trump administration to the Bush administration.
There will be a Morning Jolt tomorrow, before I begin my annual trek up Interstate 95, but there will be no Jolt on Thanksgiving Thursday or Black Friday. The annual Cyber Monday giftlist edition, showcasing all of the new books by my colleagues and friends, will arrive after that.
Senate Democrat Proposes Throwing Social Media CEOs in Jail for Violating Privacy
Back in August, I wrote about all of the reasons to feel optimistic about the future of the United States. In my lifetime, we’ve seen massive improvements in areas like crime, drunk driving, teen pregnancy, abortion rates, infant mortality, AIDS treatments, high school graduation rates, smoking, air travel safety, and teen drug use.
But a lot of what’s changed in American life in the past generation is technology. The Internet, cellular phones, emails, mobile broadband, the almost unlimited options of Amazon and the rise of e-commerce, Uber and Lyft, DARPA’s transformation of warfare, social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, on-demand streaming services for entertainment, ubiquitous hand-held maps on our phones, Fitbits and other wearable health devices, YouTube “stars”, the NSA’s surveillance abilities . . . someone who time traveled from just the year 2000 would not recognize most of that.
Which raises the question of whether those of us who care about politics and who want to shape the future of the country spend too much time focusing on who’s in power in Washington and not enough time thinking about the little ways technology changes our life, bit by bit (no pun intended), year by year.
It increasingly appears inevitable that 2019 will bring serious efforts to more heavily regulate America’s tech goliaths . . . and there’s a strangely broad and bipartisan agreement over it. People think that President Trump and House Democrats won’t be able to work together anywhere, but they both think poorly of Silicon Valley and the social media giants.
Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon, literally wants to threaten tech CEOs with jail time.
Wyden proposes a national “Do Not Track” database that allows US consumers to opt-out from websites storing their personal information.
Wyden is targeting companies that make more $50 million and store information on more than 1 million users.
Those companies would also have to submit an “annual data protection report” ensuring compliance with the law. The report must include any regulations they possibly violated and include statements from the company’s CEO, chief privacy officer and chief information security officer.
If an executive intentionally misleads the government, he or she could be held criminally responsible. Under the proposed bill, executives could be fined as much as $5 million and be imprisoned as long as 20 years if they are found guilty.
Wyden also proposes the FTC hire a new chief technologist and 50 new staffers to monitor privacy abuses.
Apple’s Tim Cook is talking about new regulations as a certainty.
I’m a big believer in the free market. But we have to admit when the free market is not working. And it hasn’t worked here. I think it’s inevitable that there will be some level of regulation,” Cook said in an interview with Axios. “I think the Congress and the administration at some point will pass something.
The odd thing is, the tech executives appear pretty eager to turn on each other, judging by this interview with Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff.
Benioff addressed issues facing Silicon Valley in a wide-ranging interview with journalist Kara Swisher that aired Sunday on MSNBC.
When asked if tech could “redeem itself in 2019,” Benioff answered, “No.”
… Benioff has been a vocal critic of his peers, most recently opposing CEOs including Jack Dorsey of Square and Twitter by favoring a tax on businesses including Salesforce intended to help mitigate San Francisco’s homelessness. During the interview, Benioff said his peers are responsible for the problems that have resulted from actions their companies have taken.
“They’re 100 percent responsible for the disasters that they’re creating, not just for their brand but in society itself because they just won’t say, ‘We’re gonna make sure trust is our highest value,'” Benioff said, adding that the proof was in the fact that executives, employees and customers were “walking out” of these companies. “And that’s gonna continue to happen if they don’t change their values.”
What’s really weird is that Big Tech has millions upon millions of users, but so few defenders.
But Her Emails! Wait, No, Not that ‘Her’, the Other Her’s Emails!
Gee, it’s just a crying shame that the 2016 presidential campaign didn’t include any discussion of the consequences of doing government work on a personal email account. If only the Republican nominee had brought it up from time to time! If only the party had made that sort of thing a central piece of their argument against the Democratic nominee! If only there had been some sort of catchy three-word chant that could summarize the consequences of violating the law on personal email and sensitive government information!
Ah, well, it’s just unfortunate that Ivanka Trump never heard about that whole controversy involving Hillary Clinton and her emails while she was Secretary of State. That scandal certainly didn’t get much media coverage, right?
White House ethics officials learned of Trump’s repeated use of personal email when reviewing emails gathered last fall by five Cabinet agencies to respond to a public records lawsuit. That review revealed that throughout much of 2017, she often discussed or relayed official White House business using a private email account with a domain that she shares with her husband, Jared Kushner.
The discovery alarmed some advisers to President Trump, who feared that his daughter’s practices bore similarities to the personal email use of Hillary Clinton, an issue he made a focus of his 2016 campaign. He attacked his Democratic challenger as untrustworthy and dubbed her “Crooked Hillary” for using a personal email account as secretary of state.
Some aides were startled by the volume of Ivanka Trump’s personal emails — and taken aback by her response when questioned about the practice. She said she was not familiar with some details of the rules, according to people with knowledge of her reaction.
The best, and perhaps most important, defense of Ivanka Trump is that none of the information she dealt with was classified — so this is a breach of policy, but not a prosecutable crime. But other evidence from last year suggests that Ivanka was . . . just part of the crowd:
The disclosures came a day after news surfaced that Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and adviser, used a private email account to send or receive about 100 work-related emails during the administration’s first seven months. But Mr. Kushner was not alone. Stephen K. Bannon, the former chief White House strategist, and Reince Priebus, the former chief of staff, also occasionally used private email addresses. Other advisers, including Gary D. Cohn and Stephen Miller, sent or received at least a few emails on personal accounts, officials said.
The public will take the wrong lesson from this — that as Hillary Clinton claimed, everyone used personal email accounts for government work, and that the practice had no serious consequences.
Is this Really the Moment for an Anti-Neoconservatism Screed in Movie Theaters?
Ben Shapiro warns that the new Dick Cheney biopic, Vice, is just predictable anti-Bush agitprop and spotlights this surprising quote from director Adam McKay: “I would choose Trump over Bush and Cheney . . . Donald Trump has no belief system. So I would take the hyenas, the random wild animals running through the White House over Cheney any day of the week.”
It will be interesting if modern audiences and the chattering class agrees with that assessment.
Dick Cheney didn’t come from fabulous wealth, he’s not stunningly handsome, he’s not a whirling dervish of raw political charisma, although some of us find his bluntness appealing. He grew up far from any center of power in Casper, WY.; got into Yale but nearly flunked out, then transferred to the University of Wyoming, and married his high school sweetheart at 23.
Somehow, despite having no famous family or wealth or connections, Cheney steadily climbed the ladder and the most powerful people in Washington entrusted him with one high-profile job after another: White House chief of staff, presidential campaign manager, congressman, House Minority Whip, Secretary of Defense. The trailer for Vice humorously suggests that if Cheney had been a more traditional vice president, it would have been a step down. And then he becomes vice president and the boss of his old boss, Donald Rumsfeld. (I picked up a vibe of “Don’t hate the player, hate the game” from the trailer, but maybe that’s just me.)
It’s going to be interesting watching the attempt to make Bush-era neoconservatism look scary in today’s environment. This would be the pro-NATO and pro-NATO-expansion, pro-democracy, anti-Russian (at least from Cheney), anti-dictator, human-rights-focused political philosophy that is pretty much everything Trump defines himself in opposition to today.
Neoconservatism includes no white nationalism, it’s pro-women’s rights and gay rights in most contexts, and it supports free trade and legal immigration. It’s the opposite of isolationism and in fact preaches a duty to help the world (by, er, invading other counties and killing dictators). It grew out of disillusioned New Dealers who wanted policies strong enough to stand up to the Soviet Union.
And Adam McKay wants to argue that was a bigger threat to all he holds dear than Trumpism?
ADDENDUM: Every once in a while, I’ll watch two folks in the conservative movement get into a nasty fight with each other, and I’ll wince. We’re always going to have disagreements, but there’s value in trying to keep a respectful tone when arguing with allies. This isn’t that big of a movement, folks, and the person who you’re denouncing one day may be the person who you need a favor from another day. I was reminded of this when I read that Mark Levin had some kind words for something I wrote about the Amazon deal last week. I recall tangling with Levin during that 2010 Delaware Senate primary between Mike Castle and Christine O’Donnell. You may recall Castle was just barely a Republican, O’Donnell was . . . er, “not a witch,” and she won the primary by six points . . . and then lost the general election by 17 points. I had forgotten that in 2011, she wrote a book with the subtitle . . . Let’s Do What It Takes to Make America Great Again. She wasn’t a witch, she was a prophet!
Making the click-through worthwhile: a surprising and pleasing victory for accountability in Florida, why long lines at a polling place aren’t necessarily a reflection of voter suppression or incompetent management, and the tired whine that insufficient “willpower” or “leadership” is what ails congressional Republicans.
A Victory for Accountability: Brenda Snipes Resigns
My goodness, are we starting this week with some . . . actual accountability in government? Someone did a terrible job, and they’re not merely going on paid vacation — er, “paid leave” — or hunkering down and waiting out the storm? And this is happening in Florida? We are truly entering the season of miracles!
Just hours after finishing a tumultuous election recount, Broward Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes submitted her resignation, ending a 15-year tenure full of botched elections, legal disputes and blistering criticism.
“It is true. She did send it,” said Burnadette Norris-Weeks, an attorney who works as counsel to the Supervisor of Elections Office.
Evelyn Perez-Verdia, a former office spokeswoman who left several years ago, said Sunday evening she was told by people in the office that the letter was sent “to Tallahassee” earlier in the day.
Norris-Weeks said she saw an early draft of the letter. In the version she saw, she said Snipes, 75, expressed a desire to spend more time with her family.
I understand that Snipes said she wanted to spend more time with her “whole family, all two to nine of them, or however many members of my family there may be.”
You may recall that one week ago, Andrea Mitchell of MSNBC declared on-air, “We should also point out that Brenda Snipes in Broward County is a Republican appointed by former governor, then-governor Jeb Bush. So she was put in by a Republican governor after the mess that we all remember from 2000. And she’s hardly a Democratic official, or someone doing the bidding of the Democratic candidates there.”
The only part of that sentence that is true is that she was appointed by Jeb Bush, who appointed Snipes after the previous Broward supervisor of elections, Miriam Oliphant, was suspended for “grave neglect, mismanagement, and incompetence.”
(Oliphant has an amazing tale. She was dismissed in part after the 2002 primary elections in Broward, when “23 polls failed to open by 7 a.m. and 32 polls failed to heed an executive order from the governor’s office to stay open past 7 p.m. so voters could cast a ballot in the problem-plagued election.” After getting dismissed as elections supervisor, the county hired her four years later as a high-school guidance counselor, over 55 other applicants, some who had decades of experience but didn’t even get an interview. Within a year, her salary had more than doubled. She only had a temporary teaching certificate, so she had to take state tests to get a permanent one . . . and she flunked the math test. Yes, the woman who once ran elections in Broward County failed the math test. She was dismissed from the school in 2011.)
Long Lines Aren’t Evidence of Voter Suppression or Incompetent Management
A democratic polity depends on losers accepting election results, even if the election was not conducted perfectly. I would hold “stolen” election rhetoric for conduct even more outrageous than Kemp’s decisions, which, while odious, either have not been found to be illegal or that courts allowed to remain in place for this election.
… Saying Kemp tried to suppress Democratic votes and saying the election was stolen are two different things, and making charges of a stolen election when it cannot be proved undermines Democrats’ complaints about suppressive tactics. If Democrats can’t prove it, some people will think the suppression is no big deal when it really is.
It focuses attention on the wrong question: whether there was enough suppression to change election outcomes. As I’ve long argued, the right question is why the state gets to put stumbling blocks in front of voters—such as onerous voter registration requirements and easy voter-purge rules—without offering a good reason for doing so.
Separately, when you hear complaints about really long lines and waits at particular polling places in the context of how allegedly awful American elections are, a few questions should come to mind.
In some places, you’ve just got a lot of offices and questions on the ballot. My dad worked the polls in Hilton Head, S.C., this year, and folks in Beaufort County were voting for governor and their local U.S. congressman, but also lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, treasurer, comptroller, agriculture commissioner, and superintendent of public education. Then voters moved on to state-legislature elections. In some localities, the local sheriff is an elected position, as are probate judge, county auditor, county treasurer, county council, local school board, soil and water district commissioners, county bond referendum, and mayor. And South Carolina had a statewide ballot measure proposing changing the position of superintendent of education from an elected position to an appointed position.
All of that turned into a five-page ballot in some jurisdictions, in a community with a lot of elderly voters — the demographic most reliable about coming out to vote in midterm elections. The amount of time an average voter would take at the polling place in South Carolina would be way longer than up here in Virginia, where we only voted for U.S. Senate, U.S. House, and two proposed amendments to the state constitution. With long ballots and voter demographics like those, you’re going to end up with a lot of long lines!
To Reach a Destination, It Helps If You Can Figure Out How Far Away It Is
Freiberger writes of Jordan’s wish for the Senate to get rid of the filibuster for legislation.
This is another blindingly obvious aspect of leadership: when you’re doing important work only for it to be squandered by colleagues in another department, or in this case another legislative chamber, you confront them about it. You address the problem until it’s resolved one way or the other.
I’m glad this twenty-something is here to explain all of these “blindingly obvious aspects of leadership” to the rest of us. It’s a terrible shame that it never crossed any House Republican’s mind to confront Senate Republicans about the need to abolish the filibuster. It’s another terrible shame that Senate Republicans have never heard these arguments in favor of nuking the filibuster.
Of course, a Google search would reveal that eliminating the filibuster for legislation would take at least 50 votes. Senator Ted Cruz, who supports eliminating the filibuster, told me earlier this year that he thought “about half” of Senate Republicans were willing to vote to get rid of the filibuster. Frieberger’s inspiring call to “address the problem until it’s resolved one way or another” needs to persuade about 25 more Republican senators to get rid of the filibuster. Guess what? It’s been addressed. The filibuster-nukers lost. Those 25 or so Senate Republicans don’t want to get rid of it, because if they lose the Senate in some future election, the filibuster is the only tool they have to slow down or stop the agenda of the Democratic majority. This may be wise or foolish, but you’re unlikely to change the minds of one-quarter of the Senate by wailing that they’re oblivious to those “blindingly obvious aspects of leadership” that you’ve discovered.
Freiberger calls all of this “a damning indictment of the conservative commentariat that such rudimentary concepts are apparently foreign to its upper echelons.” I think that it’s more of a damning indictment that Freiberger doesn’t know what would be required to get rid of the filibuster, and how far away from that goal he is.
Jordan’s made clear that he feels that if the House Republican leader just demonstrated more willpower, the results would be different. As much as I like Jordan, I suspect the problem is less willpower than simple math — there simply aren’t enough Republicans in the Senate and now the House to enact the policies Jordan wants to see enacted. As I wrote last Wednesday, I’m perfectly fine with giving Jordan a chance to take the wheel; maybe he really could generate dramatically different results from sheer force of personality and personal persuasiveness. But the first step to that position of leadership is convincing a majority of his party that he should be the leader. So far, Jordan’s fallen well short of that.
You’ll notice that there’s a narrative that Kevin McCarthy is some sort of hapless Establishment squish with all of the backbone of a Nerf product while Jordan is the heroic defender of conservative principles. Since the beginning of the Trump administration, FiveThirtyEight ranked 97 important votes in the House (leaving out the renaming post offices, etcetera). McCarthy and Jordan voted differently in ten of them, meaning that they voted the same way 87 out of 97 times. Obviously, there’s a difference, but not a glaring difference — yet ConservativeReview ranks Jordan an “A” and McCarthy an “F.”
ADDENDUM: Beto O’Rourke could very well become the Democratic nominee for 2020, as party donors are already gushing about him, comparing him to Robert F. Kennedy, Barack Obama, and Bernie Sanders in this Politico article.
“He’s Barack Obama, but white.” Is there any higher compliment in Democratic circles?
Making the click-through worthwhile: As machine recounts are completed, it’s long past time for a trio of Democrats to concede; an update on construction of the wall — or 18-foot fencing — on the southern border; a long rebuttal to the claim that critics of the Amazon deal are “whiners”; and Mickey and I plan to bring you a podcast today.
Stacey Abrams, Bill Nelson, and Andrew Gillum . . . It’s Time to Concede Your Races
How you know when a race is over: when the losing candidate starts talking about a legal challenge to ask the Supreme Court to invalidate the results of the election and call for a new election. Apparently Stacey Abrams is incapable of conceding that she lost a hard-fought, close race:
The Democrat’s campaign is considering a long-shot legal challenge under a law that allows losing candidates to contest the election in the case of misconduct, fraud or “irregularities.” She would face a tremendous legal burden to prove her case.
Barring successful legal action, the secretary of state could certify the election as soon as 5 p.m. Friday and cement Kemp’s victory in the tightest race for Georgia governor since 1966.
The latest tally showed Abrams is roughly 55,000 votes behind Kemp — and in need of more than 17,000 votes to force a Dec. 4 runoff.
Kemp’s lead was virtually unchanged after elections officials in Gwinnett County late Thursday tallied hundreds of absentee ballots that were rejected solely because of a missing or incorrect date of birth. The ballots were counted after a federal judge’s ruling, but they did not significantly change the race.
Ohio senator Sherrod Brown, yesterday: “If Stacey Abrams doesn’t win in Georgia, they stole it. It’s clear. It’s clear. I say that publicly.” (Heads I win, tails you lose. I don’t to hear any more descriptions of Brown as a sensible moderate.)
Meanwhile, down in Florida, the machine recount changed nothing — Ron DeSantis is Florida’s next governor.
In the governor’s race, it was an anticlimactic finish to the dramatic machine recount — plagued with technical issues and an avalanche of lawsuits — with almost no change in the margin between DeSantis and his Democratic opponent, Andrew Gillum, since this weekend. Still, about 0.41 percentage points separate the two candidates, or just under 34,000 votes.
Two days ago, Andrew Gillum wrote on Twitter: “I believe that we win. #BringItHome”. As of this writing, there is no message of concession, only his retraction of his Election Night concession.
And in the Senate race, the machine recount actually expanded Rick Scott’s lead, but the Democrats will continue to keep fighting through the manual recount.
The race between Nelson and Scott remains extremely tight, and both campaigns continued to fight in court Thursday over ballots and deadlines that could swing how many votes are included in the manual recount and how long elections supervisors have to count them. Following the statewide machine recount over the past five days, new totals showed Scott leading Nelson by 12,603 votes, a tiny increase over his 0.15 percent lead Saturday.
Senator, you can ask for a recount to continue and acknowledge that you don’t expect the process to find an additional 12,604 votes in your favor. The largest vote swing in any recount going back to 2000 is 512 votes.
When a race is close and a Republican is ahead, the message from the national media is: “Take as much time as needed to count every vote. The values of democracy and elected government are at stake.” When a race is close and the Democrat is ahead, the message from the national media is that the Republican candidate is being a sore loser and dragging out a futile exercise and needs to concede and accept defeat gracefully.
Hey, Remember the Wall?
If you’ve wondered how construction of “the wall” — or more specifically, 18-foot-tall bollard fencing — I have an update on NRO today. In the coming weeks, the House and Senate will try to get a lame-duck spending deal done and include at least some funding for “the wall.” You’re going to hear a lot of not-all-that-accurate claims that either “Nothing’s been done” on the wall or that the border is already secure. Neither is quite right, and I hope that today’s piece sheds some light and offers actual information on a topic that is often debated but rarely understood.
It’s a weird piece because it begins by conceding the point that locals have reasons to object to the Amazon deal’s impact on traffic, parking, the tax giveaways, and crony capitalism. But then Mecia writes that those concerns are “way overblown.”
Mecia says that the Amazon job additions are small compared to the overall rate of growth in the cities — a point that raises the question of why Amazon should get these giant financial concessions if their impact on the job-creation rate is so limited — and four paragraphs later he writes, “Will traffic worsen? Will schools become crowded? Will rents rise? Yes, definitely.” Once again, with concessions like that, those concerns don’t seem so overblown!
But the single statement in the piece that stands out for being both not right and not Right is the declaration that in the Amazon deal, “those communities come out ahead economically, because the incentives are tied to the actual creation of jobs and investment, which increases tax revenues above the amount of the incentives.”
No, communities don’t always come out ahead economically when they shell out generous incentives to get a company to relocate. And while it’s probably a safe bet that the revenue paid to Arlington and the Commonwealth of Virginia will eventually surpass the payment to Amazon, it’s likely to take quite a few years to catch up.
Let’s do some back-of-the-envelope math. “Virginia’s state and local governments agreed to shell out as much as $796 million in tax incentives and infrastructure improvements over the next 15 years in exchange for 25,000 well-paying tech jobs. That works out to just under $32,000 per job.”
Assume one of these new Amazon employees is making $150,000 and rents an apartment in Crystal City near work and is single. The average state income-tax payment for a Virginia state resident with that income level is $8,142. If the taxpayer is married with a spouse who doesn’t work, the payment is $7,916. If both spouses are making $150,000 each, they’ll pay $16,541.
Some of those new employees will rent, some will buy homes; the average homeowner in Arlington pays $8,742.
So even if the new workers don’t buy homes and pay property taxes, over four or five years, the state recoups what it paid Amazon, right? Wait, not quite. New residents and workers give states and localities money through taxes and fees, but they also take away money by using state and local government services. More residents in the area because of Amazon means more kids in public schools, more people calling 911, more fires to put out, more emergency-room visits, more public-transit use, more people using parks and libraries, more court cases for the circuit court, more sanitation needs, more leaf collection, and so on. More use of the roads will require more street repairs more frequently.
It’s impossible to calculate the precise balance for each new worker, but the gist is that parents, crime victims, and Medicaid patients cost a state or locality more than non-parents, those lucky enough to not be victimized by crime, and those who are not dependent upon the government to pay for medical costs. Amazon’s new employees probably won’t be on Medicaid and hopefully won’t be calling the cops regularly, but at least some are going to be parents. The public schools in Arlington prides themselves on being among the best in the country and spending a lot of money per student.
The Washington Area Boards of Education, which annually analyzes the budgets of local school districts to provide as close to an apples-to-apples comparison as possible, puts Arlington’s per-student spending at $19,340 for the 2017-18 school year, up 2 percent from a year before and above the all-time record of $19,040 recorded in 2014-15.
If a couple moves to Arlington and each makes $150,000 from Amazon . . . they’ll pay roughly $16,500 in state taxes per year. Good news, that’s almost a quarter of the $64,000 the state paid Amazon for their jobs! But they also bring with them two kids in public school, adding about $38,000 in new costs, or the school lets its per-student spending drop. Suddenly it won’t take four or five years to make the Amazon deal pay off. It will take more years of the couple working and having no kids in the public schools for Virginia and Arlington to make the money back.
One other key variable for these calculations: Some of these new Amazon workers might live in Alexandria, Fairfax County, or across the river in the District of Columbia or Maryland, which alters whether they’re paying property taxes or bringing new children into the public schools. The equation is not, as Mecia suggests, “new taxes paid to the state, minus payment to Amazon.” The equation is “new taxes paid to the state, minus payment to Amazon, then minus cost to state of new worker moving to the jurisdiction.” If those new workers stay for many years, then yes, Virginia and Arlington will eventually get more in new tax payments than they lost in the giveaway to Amazon.
But this is just the financial bottom line, not an examination of the quality of life — traffic, longer commutes from a lack of affordable housing, more crowded and less quality schools, overcrowded hospitals, and so on.
One of the best pieces on the deal came from Josh Barro, who focused on Amazon’s deal up in New York City: “[Michael] Bloomberg, and his successor Bill de Blasio, and Governor Andrew Cuomo all want an East Coast rival to Silicon Valley . . . a borough where Amazon serves as the commercial leader — unlike Chelsea, where Google basically blends in — does more to raise the profile of tech in New York.”
Barro asked, “Is that an important goal? Does New York need to be the leader in everything, even if that drives up rents for people who don’t work in the tech industry?” He concludes that the answer is no.
New York City doesn’t need to be a national or world leader in the tech sector. It’s already among the world leaders in financial markets, banking, mass media and publishing, advertising, real estate, health care, higher education, garments, chemicals, specialty foods, transportation and shipping, and entertainment, and I’ve probably forgotten a bunch of other industries.
Washington is a government town, and that business is never going to relocate. With that industry comes defense contractors, civilian contractors, nonprofits, media, lobbying firms, trade groups, higher education, health care, embassies, and international organization. And of course, both Washington and New York are among the country’s biggest tourist destinations.
That’s what’s really bonkers about the Amazon choice. The company had dozens of cities begging them to relocate and bring 50,000 tech jobs, and where the relocation would be hailed as an economic blessing. But somehow the company managed to pick the two cities that needed them the least, where the existing residents wanted them the least, and the two places where the local idiot lawmakers didn’t need to give away the store — and those idiot lawmakers went ahead and did it anyway.
Making the click-through worthwhile: Michael Avenatti, self-styled fighter, finds that karma has a hell of a counterpunch; why Nancy Pelosi is somewhat overrated as a House leader; New York governor Andrew Cuomo belatedly realizes that his state has high taxes that drive away businesses; and Kyrsten Sinema gets an early start on breaking campaign promises. Today’s a special “Democrats are awful” edition.
Michael Avenatti, the attorney representing Stormy Daniels in her legal battle with President Donald Trump, was arrested Wednesday in the Los Angeles area on suspicion of domestic violence. He was released on bail hours later.
The police report was filed Tuesday night by an unidentified victim at a residence on the 10000 block of Santa Monica Boulevard in Century City, according to the Los Angeles Police Department.
The LAPD tweeted that it was an “ongoing investigation.” The department would not reveal the identity of the reporting party or the exact nature of the person’s injuries.
Avenatti was arrested and booked on felony domestic charges Wednesday afternoon, police said. He was released from custody around 5:30 p.m. and his bail was set at $50,000, according to jail records.
Avenatti calls the charges “completely bogus.”
Yes, it’s possible this is a false accusation. The accuser is apparently convincing enough to persuade the LAPD to pursue charges. If the short-tempered angry guy who kept talking about how tough he was and how he was a fighter and touts mottos like “If you can’t take a punch, you don’t belong in the ring” and “Don’t tell me what cases you’ve won, tell me who you’ve beaten” ended up having a violent temper . . . it wouldn’t be the most shocking twist in the world. The man’s political-action committee is called “Fight PAC.” If you always boast about how strong you are with metaphors of physical violence, people might start to think you’re physically violent.
Unsurprisingly, groups such as the Vermont Democratic party are beginning to recognize Avenatti’s potential radioactivity:
Vermont Democrats, who planned to host two events with the lawyer Friday and Saturday, will refund ticketholders, said R. Christopher Di Mezzo, the party’s communications director, on Wednesday evening. Avenatti has said he would pursue the Democratic Party nomination for president in 2020.
There was a time when the selection of a party’s presidential contenders consisted mostly of familiar figures from Washington and state capitols — senators and governors and the occasional ambassador or House member thrown in the mix. These figures could be well-known and boring, but that old system had some advantages. The figures who rose to the top were generally known quantities. They had been covered by the press for a long time, their backgrounds had been investigated, and the local rumor-mill checked out.
Those with certain character flaws were generally weeded out by the process to get to that level of political power. Perhaps figures like Thomas Eagleton and Edmund Muskie were treated too harshly by the national press. But we were deciding who would have access to “the button” during the Cold War — this was no position for a man who was temperamental, moody, short-tempered, or who had trouble controlling his emotions. We were hiring the leader of the free world, not casting the protagonist of a drama series.
We can argue about when exactly it changed — Richard Nixon, Gary Hart, Bill Clinton — but it clearly has changed, and I’d argue the country is worse off for that change. Just because anyone can run for president doesn’t mean that anyone should run for president.
Is Nancy Pelosi Really that Good of a Leader of House Democrats?
Insufferable gun-control activist David Hogg, a few months ago: “Older Democrats just won’t move the [expletive] off the plate and let us take control. Nancy Pelosi is old.”
(Hogg sure disappeared in recent months, didn’t he?)
What’s truly absurd about this is the fact that everyone — both her supporters and her opponents — agrees that not only does no one else have Pelosi’s combination of skills and experience, but also that she might be the most effective congressional leader of the past half-century or so. The current speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, had to struggle to pass a tax cut through a Republican-led House; when Pelosi was speaker she passed cap and trade, a huge stimulus, banking reform, and a whole lot else besides. And of course, the Affordable Care Act — the most important issue in the election we just had? It never would have passed in 2010, at a moment when other Democrats were ready to give up, had it not been for Pelosi’s skill and determination.
Er . . . Democrats had 257 seats beginning in 2009! That’s a huge margin — getting 218 votes in that environment isn’t particularly difficult. You can have 15 percent of your caucus vote “no” and still pass a bill. By comparison, Paul Ryan began this last Congress with 241 Republicans and by March 1, 2017, it was down to 237 because of presidential appointments and other vacancies. By May of this year, Ryan was down to 235. Ryan could never lose more than 9 percent or so of House Republicans and still pass a bill.
Waldman makes a fairer point when he observes that as of this writing, there’s no clear alternative to Pelosi among House Democrats. When it comes to knocking off a well-established front-runner, it’s like that story of certain native cultures using the much simpler counting system of “one, two, many” and that all numbers beyond two are indistinguishable. If the House Democratic leadership fight becomes Nancy Pelosi vs. One Alternative Younger New Option, she can be beaten. If the fight becomes Pelosi vs. A Bunch of Other House Democrats, she’ll win easily.
Andrew Cuomo: Whoa, I Just Realized My Own State’s Taxes Are High
Gov. Andrew Cuomo defended the deal, arguing that New York has to offer incentives because of its comparatively high taxes. At 6.5 percent, New York’s corporate income-tax rate is only modestly higher than Virginia’s 6 percent, according to the Tax Foundation. But other business and individual taxes are higher in New York.
“It’s not a level playing field to begin with,” Mr. Cuomo said in an interview Tuesday. “All things being equal, if we do nothing, they’re going to Texas.”
First, what about all the companies in New York that don’t get a special deal the way Amazon does? Why is it okay for them to pay the high taxes, but not Amazon?
Second, if Andrew Cuomo thinks that his state’s taxes are too high and are scaring away businesses, why doesn’t he try to lower them?
ADDENDUM: Kyrsten Sinema, July 2: “I am not going to vote for him,” she said matter of factly when pressed on her view of Democratic leader Chuck Schumer. Notice that there are no caveats, conditions, or wiggle room.
Schumer was reelected as Democrats’ leader in the Senate on Wednesday. Newly elected Arizona Senator Sinema: “Had there been a challenger for minority leader, I would have considered new leadership and a fresh perspective.”
A broken promise on her first day — way to go, Arizonans!
Making the click-through worthwhile: weighing the options of Ohio’s Jim Jordan or California’s Kevin McCarthy to be the next GOP House minority leader; Amazon’s wildly lucrative deal with Virginia and New York appears to have hit a snag; Beto O’Rourke stands out among a geriatric set; and brilliantly simple but powerful words from the late, great Stan Lee.
To Lead the House Minority . . . Air Jordan?
Jim Jordan might make a really good Republican House minority leader. In fact, if being in the minority requires more metaphorical bomb-throwing at the majority and rallying the base and less coalition-building than being speaker of the House, Jordan might be ideal for the job.
Back when Jordan was hoping he would have a shot to be speaker, he criticized the current leadership of outgoing Speaker Paul Ryan and House majority leader Kevin McCarthy as simply not getting it done. Jordan’s attitude towards President Trump is wildly enthusiastic. He characterizes the current leadership as simply lacking the will to enact key parts of the GOP agenda.
It’s not widely known that under Ryan, the House of Representatives “passed 1,032 bills and joint resolutions in the current session, the third highest number in the last 30 years.” Most notably, the GOP House passed its version of health-care reform; it couldn’t pass the Senate once John McCain voted “no.”
Ryan himself notes, that “Of those roughly thousand bills, over 80 percent of them are bipartisan bills. So we’ve tackled opioids. We’ve tackled human trafficking. We’ve rebuilt the military. All of those are bipartisan. But they don’t get reported. It doesn’t sell.” This Congress passed and President Trump signed tax cuts; the repeal of the individual mandate from Obamacare; drilling in ANWR; new sanctions on Iran, North Korea, and Russia; the Right to Try Act for experimental medication; reforms of the Department of Veterans Affairs; laws designed to make it easier to fire federal workers; expansion of job training and technical-education programs; a sweeping change to copyright law; reducing the impact of Dodd-Frank on banks and repeal of at least 15 last-minute regulations enacted under the Obama administration. Sentencing and prison reform may get done before the end of the year.
Jordan wants the Senate to change the rules on the filibuster. But Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell isn’t going to do that, and even if McConnell wanted to do that, he would need 50 votes to change the rules of the Senate. It’s not clear that 50 Republican senators would vote to do that. Earlier this year, Ted Cruz discussed four ways to work around a filibuster, and assessed that only half of the caucus was willing to get rid of it.
Jordan and President Trump saw the filibuster as the primary obstacle to enacting their shared priorities and agenda. That isn’t going to change anytime soon, and now there’s a Democratic House for at least the next two years.
For a long time, some conservatives argued that the primary obstacle to enacting their agenda was their own leadership — that the leaders of the party in either or both chambers were too compromising, too milquetoast, too easily satisfied with half a loaf, and that they weren’t “fighters.” No amount of legislative success could ever really dispel this simple narrative.
Maybe it’s time to let this crowd have a chance at the steering wheel. I think if we could look into alternate universes and see what 2019-2020 looks like with Jim Jordan as minority leader and Kevin McCarthy in the same position, we would not see earth-shaking differences. (I suspect both men will grumble at that assessment.) It’s fascinating to hear Fox News describe McCarthy as “a moderate — some would argue at times liberal — Republican” when he’s got a lifetime American Conservative Union rating of 86.66. McCarthy has voted with Trump’s position 98.9 percent of the time. Jim Jordan scored a perfect 100 score in his lifetime ACU rating, and votes with Trump 85.7 percent of the time. (Jordan disagreed with the administration on the “compromise” immigration bills, the appropriations bills, the farm bill, and FISA reauthorization.)
But if the House Freedom Caucus thinks it can do such a better job, maybe it’s time they were given a chance to put up or shut up. For the next two years, the primary job of House Republican leadership will be making the argument against what the House Democratic leadership is doing.
There are two primary obstacles to enacting the conservative agenda. First, yes, the filibuster; a lot of proposals and ideas might get 50 votes but getting 60 votes is nearly impossible.
There was a time when ten or more Democrats might vote for various GOP ideas, but that time has passed.
But the more consequential obstacle of the conservative agenda is that it simply is not as popular as its adherents wish it were. People like smaller government in the abstract but lash out once spending cuts are proposed for government programs that they like. Far too voters see entitlement programs as ticking time bombs; they will refuse to step away from the explosive devices until the last second, if then. There’s little evidence that a decisive portion of the electorate sees itself as overtaxed. General economic anxiety about health-care costs, education costs, and the impermanence of employment has made people more interested in expanding government-run social-welfare programs, not less. The ideals of social conservatism are more often breached than honored, by both the general populace, less scrupulous GOP lawmakers, and at times the president himself. The general population is tired of war but oblivious or nonchalant about a world with significant and growing dangers and military threats.
That’s the task before conservatives, and it is a mission that is likely to loom large long after the Trump presidency ends.
According to reports this morning, Trump wants to see a compromise — McCarthy as minority leader, Jordan as ranking member of the Judiciary Committee.
Sinking In the Amazon
Yesterday I wrote about how awful the Amazon deal is for northern Virginia residents and Virginia taxpayers. This morning . . . one has to wonder if this deal is actually going to go through after all, at least up in New York City:
City Council members fumed Tuesday after Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo cut them out of a deal to build one of Amazon’s new headquarters in Queens, obviating one of the city legislature’s most important functions…
“This is beyond top-down, I’m not even sure what to call this,” said Council Member Jumaane Williams, also a candidate for public advocate. “This was done with no stakeholders in the room at all.”
“I also don’t understand why a company as rich as Amazon would need nearly $2 billion in public money for its expansion plans at a time when New York desperately needs money for affordable housing, transportation, infrastructure and education,” [Speaker Corey] Johnson said in a statement.
[City Council Member Jimmy] Van Bramer questioned the political wisdom of the move, saying the de Blasio administration and the governor “misread the moment” and the level of outrage that the deal would trigger.
“I think if the takeaway from the recent election in Queens, New York City and nationally is that we should actually step up corporate subsidies and billionaires getting billion-dollar bailouts — if that’s the takeaway, somebody’s not got their fingers on the pulse of Democrats, certainly, but people generally in this country,” he told POLITICO in a phone interview.
As Matthew Walther puts it, “So-called economic development benefits the developers, not ordinary people.”
Beto the Rock Star, in More Ways Than One
Last night, I dreamt Beto O’Rourke had rebounded from his unsuccessful Senate campaign by forming a band and going on a nationwide concert tour. Considering that a new poll shows him to be the third-most popular option among Democrats for the 2020 presidential nomination, maybe that isn’t such a weird dream. The figures around him look like a retirement home: Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren.
ADDENDUM: An absolutely beautiful two-paragraph essay from Stan Lee in the back of a Marvel comic of 1968:
Let’s lay it right on the line. Bigotry and racism are among the deadliest social ills plaguing the world today. But, unlike a team of costumed super-villains, they can’t be halted with a punch in the snoot, or a zap from a ray gun. The only way to destroy them is to expose them — to reveal them for the insidious evils they really are. The bigot is an unreasoning hater — one who hates blindly, fanatically, indiscriminately. If his hang-up is black men, he hates ALL black men. If a redhead once offended him, he hates ALL redheads. If some foreigner beat him to a job, he’s down on ALL foreigners. He hates people he’s never seen — people he’s never known — with equal intensity — with equal venom.
“Now, we’re not trying to say it’s unreasonable for one human being to bug another. But, although anyone has the right to dislike another individual, it’s totally irrational, patently insane to condemn an entire race — to despise an entire nation — to vilify an entire religion. Sooner or later, we must learn to judge each other on our own merits. Sooner or later, if man is ever to be worthy of his destiny, we must fill our hearts with tolerance. For then, and only then, will we be truly worthy of the concept that man was created in the image of God ― a God who calls us ALL ― His children.
Making the click-through worthwhile: the latest on the Florida recount shenanigans, including one county just deciding to improvise the rules in violation of state law; why the outlook for Donald Trump and the Republicans looks darker today than it did a week ago; and the Kansas City local government cracks down on the urban menace of . . . free food for the homeless.
Florida County Blatantly Violates State Laws on Ballots and Voting Restrictions
As counties recount ballots in three statewide races and lawyers battle over the complex vote tallying in court, the top elections official in Bay County said he allowed some displaced voters to cast ballots by email or fax after Hurricane Michael hit the Panhandle, even though there is no provision for it in state law.
Bay County Supervisor of Elections Mark Andersen said Monday that 11 ballots were accepted by email and 147 ballots were domestically faxed in, though state statute does not allow emailed ballots and faxing in ballots is only permitted for military and voters overseas.
But Andersen defended his decision to accept those ballots by email and fax vigorously, noting the mass devastation that rocked the coastal county one month ago.
“You did not go through what we went through,” he said, describing areas that were shut off by law enforcement and people barred from returning to their homes. “If some are unhappy we did so well up here, I don’t know what to tell them. We sure had an opportunity to not do well, I can tell you that much.”
Andersen said that all of those ballots were verified by signature and that voters were required to sign an oath. “If I can validate it with a signature, the ballot is there, how is that different than a ballot that comes in through the post office?”
There’s no doubt that Andersen meant well, and perhaps some subsequent lawsuit will determine that all of these ballots should be counted because all the ‘i’s were dotted and all the ‘t’s were crossed. But until a judge rules otherwise, those 158 ballots are not legal under state law. Before the election, Rick Scott — the governor, who’s running for Senate and who appears to have won the Senate race — issued an executive order that allowed counties to extend early voting days and designate more early voting locations.
Voting by fax or email is not an option under the Executive Order. In the hardest hit areas, communication via phone, fax and email remains challenging and would be an unreliable method for returning ballots. Additionally, past attempts by other states to allow voters impacted by natural disasters to fax or email ballots have been rife with issues. The Department is actively reviewing ways to provide more absentee ballots to those voters in the counties severely impacted by Hurricane Michael.
In the governor’s race in Bay County, Republican Ron DeSantis won 45,695 votes for governor, about 72 percent; and Democrat Andrew Gillum won 16,738, about 26 percent. In the Senate race, Scott won 73.7 percent, and Democrat Bill Nelson won 26.3 percent.
Meanwhile, further south in the Sunshine State, Broward County election officials are still sorting the ballots for the recount, separating the first page with the contested races from the ballot’s other pages; this process will take, by the county’s estimate, 35 hours. Meanwhile, Miami-Dade County is running comparably smoothly, declaring they expect they will complete the recount well before Thursday’s deadline. Scott’s lead is 12,562 votes; DeSantis leads by about 34,000 votes; and in the state’s agriculture commissioner race, Democrat Nikki Fried leads by about 5,300 votes over Republican Matt Caldwell. Based upon history, one should not expect the new numbers to reverse the results:
According to an analysis by the nonpartisan group FairVote, which advocates for electoral reforms that make it easier to vote, out of 4,687 statewide elections between 2000 and 2016, just 26 went to a recount. Of those 26, just three recounts wound up changing the initial result of the race: The 2004 Washington governor’s race, the 2006 Vermont state auditor’s race and the 2008 Minnesota U.S. Senate race. The average swing in those three elections after the recounts? About 311 votes.
What the Miami Herald didn’t note, but that longtime conservative election-watchers probably remember, is that in all three of those recounts, the new count showed the Democratic candidate beating the Republican candidate.
Why Election Day 2018 Looks Worse for the GOP One Week Later
What a difference a week makes, huh? With Arizona’s Senate seat lost, Florida and Georgia down to the wire, and GOP House losses approaching 40 seats, it’s time to adjust Wednesday morning’s “It wasn’t that bad” assessment.”
What’s more, President Trump and his team should be nervous about 2020. There’s still a lot of road between now and the next presidential election. We don’t know what the state of the country will be in autumn of that year. What will the unemployment number be? Will Americans feel prosperous and that American has been made “great again”? Will there be a terrorist attack? Another war?
What should worry Republicans and Trump is that the economy on Election Day 2018 was just about as good as they could want, and the Democrats made those big gains anyway. The economic picture in autumn of 2020 may not be as rosy as it is now. We’re technically overdue for a recession, or at least a slowdown. The U.S. economy could slow down because of global-economic forces; a bubble bursting in the real estate, tech, or financial sectors; instability overseas; tariffs . . . and we’re at trillion-dollar-a-year deficits already.
A rational administration would look at the “excite the base” strategy in the final weeks before Election Day and declare it either a failure (a bit harsh) or insufficient. Maybe President Trump’s focus on repealing birthright citizenship, the caravans, crimes of illegal immigrants, and so on helped ensure GOP wins in the Senate races in Indiana and Missouri. But it sure as heck didn’t help the Republicans who were running in competitive races in Virginia, New Jersey, New York, California, and some parts of Florida . . . you can’t just dismiss those red-to-purple districts in blue or purple states. Republicans can’t just write off all of those soccer moms and white-collar professionals as folks who were always RINOS and closet liberals. You have to win back those suburban districts if you ever want to see a House GOP majority again.
Beyond that, the electoral college map looks challenging once again. The upper Midwest is pretty ominous beyond Ohio. Pennsylvania Republicans got wiped out. Wisconsin wasn’t much better, although Scott Walker kept it close. Beyond John James, there weren’t many bright signs for Michigan Republicans. Without those three states going red in 2016, Hillary Clinton would have won. In these states, a lot of people rolled the dice on Trump and the Republicans in 2016 because they didn’t like Hillary Clinton. By 2018, they weren’t willing to roll the dice again.
Trump doesn’t have many blue states that could easily flip. Minnesota was supposed to be turning purple; that didn’t happen. Nevada, Colorado, Virginia . . . a whole bunch of once-purple states look pretty darn blue.
How confident should the GOP be about Florida in 2020? Or Georgia? Or Arizona? Texas probably won’t flip this cycle, but the trend is not Republicans’ friend.
But Trump is who he is. He doesn’t want to change. So Trump is going to be the soccer-mom scaring guy he’s always been. This makes winning back the House tough, and keeping Senate seats in Arizona, Colorado, Maine, North Carolina, and maybe Alaska difficult, too. (Sure, Republicans probably beat Doug Jones in Alabama if they don’t nominate a walking liability again.)
Good luck, Republicans.
No, Government Is Not ‘The Things We Choose To Do Together’
It’s a small miracle that I don’t explode in rage every time I hear the insipid phrase, “Government is simply the name we give to the things we choose to do together.” It is often attributed to Barney Frank, the former Democratic representative.
I didn’t choose to pour bleach on food for homeless people, did you?
The Kansas City Health Department threw away and poured bleach on food meant for homeless people.
The food was going to be distributed by a group called Free Hot Soup KC. The Kansas City Star saidthat the food, which included home-cooked chili, foil wrapped sandwiches and vats of soup, was destroyed on Sunday, Nov. 5, during a coordinated sting at several parks where volunteers had gathered.
The Health Department said the group did not have a permit and was putting people at risk.
“E. coli or salmonella or listeria can grow in the food,” department director Rex Archer said. “And then you give that to homeless people who are more vulnerable, they will end up in the ER and even die from that exposure.”
The mayor also agreed with the Health Department, tweeting that “Rules are there to protect the public’s health, and all groups must follow them, no exceptions.” END
Really? This was the only option? There was no way a city inspector could examine the food?
And they’ve got “coordinated sting operations” aimed at programs to feed the homeless? What, is there no real crime in Kansas City anymore? All the other problems in the city are solved, the only real issue left to tackle are these dangerous freelance unregulated programs to feed the hungry?
ADDENDUM: Apparently my Ted Cruz impression, exhibited in Jonah’s podcast, The Remnant, is quite convincing. The only way I can explain it is if you listen to enough speeches of lawmakers, their voices just get stuck in your head.
Making the click-through worthwhile: a look at Trump’s would-be two-year agenda, a look at the elections still hanging in the balance, and a look at a book — or my review of that book, anyway.
Economic Populism in Name Only?
Readers of National Review will be familiar by now with a standard midterm diagnosis. The Republican party is hemorrhaging suburban voters, and it is struggling to retain its gains among midwestern whites. Trump has repelled voters in, say, the Philadelphia and Richmond suburbs, turning off those who once might have voted GOP and inspiring a number of women to vote Democratic. Meanwhile, the party has not managed to solidify the inroads Trump made in states such as Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and most of Pennsylvania. To use Henry Olsen’s analysis, the modern GOP has deterred the RINOs while not doing enough to win over the TIGRs (or Trump Is Great Republicans).
Why? Some combination of Trump’s personality and a lack of policy imagination seems to be a reasonable explanation. RINOs are turned off by Trump’s personality and his culture-war fights, while TIGRs have material interests distinct from any allegiances they might have in the debates over NFL player protests and migrant caravans. If the GOP is going to keep its coalition a winning one, it will have to speak to those interests.
So there’s been a renewed call for a genuinely populist economic agenda in the wake of the midterms. There’s also been a simultaneous recognition that, legislatively speaking, nothing is likely to happen for the next two years. Instead of a grand bargain on a sweeping infrastructure bill or a dogged attempt to find some comprehensive solutions to the health-care system, we’re likely to get a series of House investigations into the petty wrongdoing of the Trump administration and escalatory counterpunches by the president. Insofar as anything happens on the policy front, it will come unilaterally. Executive actions will be the extent of policymaking for the next two years.
What Trump’s economic program might look like over the next two years is anyone’s guess. Trade will continue to be a focus, as will taking aim at low-hanging regulatory fruit. One idea: Take aim at Amazon and Google, push for antitrust action against tech companies, and force California to come out on the side of Capital. A rhetorical war against the behemoth company that cajoled midsize cities into jurisdictional competition for its HQ2 only to likely pick Washington, D.C., and New York City as its locations would probably play well for the president.
I suspect that advocates of a more populist economic agenda have more lasting and materially meaningful policies in mind, and business-friendly Republicans would protest were Trump to target Silicon Valley himself. But those in the GOP who plan on being around after Trump ought to start thinking about how they can keep the coalition he built. (Start with Oren Cass’s The Once and Future Worker, and his wage-subsidy, career-track, and labor-reform proposals.)
But the midterms aren’t quite over yet, with the results of races in Arizona, Georgia, and Florida still technically in doubt. But Democrat Kyrsten Sinema, now up in Arizona by 32,000 votes, looks poised to become Arizona’s next senator, while Republican Brian Kemp, up by 58,000 votes, will almost certainly be the next governor of Georgia. Both of these races have been dotted with implausible claims of malfeasance — from the people you would expect — although only one set of these claims has gotten sympathetic write-ups in the press. But the writing is on the wall for Martha McSally and Stacey Abrams.
Things in Florida are less clear, as Rick Scott’s and Ron DeSantis’s leads have shrunk to within the 0.5 percent margin within which a recount is required. There is plenty of drama in Broward County, which has a history of mishandling recounts. NR’s editors called on Broward County elections supervisor Brenda Snipes to be fired over the weekend:
On Friday, a court in Broward County found that Snipes was guilty of violating both Florida’s public-records laws and the state’s constitution by failing to provide mandatory updates to the public, and it ordered the immediate release of the missing information. As that ruling was coming down, Snipes’s office was laying out more lawsuit bait. According to the Miami Herald, an election worker found bags of “uncounted early ballots” in the Broward County office — ballots whose provenance could not be established. Snipes, meanwhile, was busy mixing together rejected provisional ballots and accepted provisional ballots, processing them all together. . . .
Such behavior is by no means out of character. This year alone, Snipes has been reprimanded by the courts twice: once, in May, for illegally destroying ballots during the 2016 Democratic primary, in violation of both state and federal law; and again, in August, for illegally opening mail-in ballots in secret. How long, we wonder, does it take to establish a pattern?
One thought: The Trump administration was banking on McSally and Scott being part of a 54-seat majority in the Senate when it fired Jeff Sessions and appointed Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general, right? The closeness of these elections makes the timing of that decision all the more baffling, as James Hitchcock points out. First there’s the constitutional objection to Whitaker’s appointment — that “principal officers” require Senate confirmation, which is the position of conservative legal writers from George Conway to Jonathan Adler to John Yoo — and then there’s the issue of whether Trump will be able to get Whitaker confirmed to the position full-time if Republicans only hold a two-or three-seat majority.
It’s Not Self-Promotion If It’s Not Your Book
Wesley Yang’s The Souls of Yellow Folk is out this week, one of my favorite books of the year. I reviewed it for National Review in October:
“Is it OK to be white?” [Yang] asked in a column in Tablet magazine last November. “The question is at once disingenuous, facetious, satirical, and self-parodic. It is also one of the consequential questions being posed in earnest by the moral and political vanguards of our time.” He was referring to a then-ongoing alt-right campaign, conceived online by those same disposessed male Internet denizens, to put up posters at universities and high schools that answered the question in the affirmative, and to the media furor that had followed. “The question invites the typical reader to resist its implications — to deny that the question is one that anyone would think to ask, or that people are asking. But people have thought to ask it, they are asking it. It is the sort of question that one doesn’t think to ask at all unless the answer is going to be no.”
Some 2,000 words later, after affirming that yes, it is okay to be white, Yang had covered a lot of ground. He explained the goal of the alt-right troll campaign (to invite “dissent that would delegitimize the dissenters”), pointed out the nature of the dissent (social-justice activists take whiteness and masculinity to be “forms of identity rooted in genocide, colonialism, and slavery that reproduce the violent conditions of their emergence everywhere they are treated as neutral”), and located its philosophical source (a shift from neutral liberalism to a post-structuralist Foucauldianism that has seeped into the academy, the media, and human-relations departments, and is coming to a screen near you). By the end of the column, Yang had managed to capture the essence of online social-justice activism in a single sentence: “This intricate system of racial casuistry, worthy of Jesuits, is a beguiling compound of insight, partial truths, circular reasoning, and dogmatism operating within a self-enclosed system of reference immunized against critique and optimized for virality.”
This trenchant essay appears toward the end of Yang’s debut book, The Souls of Yellow Folk. The title is an homage to W. E. B. Du Bois’s look at the souls of black folk at the start of the last century, and Yang’s volume is not really about the alt-right or digital political fights. It is a diffuse collection of previously published essays that coheres, albeit loosely, around the “centrality” of the Asian-American experience to contemporary American life. (Du Bois argued that the African-American experience was central to the larger national story, although later in life he lost that conviction and sadly dove into the murk of Stalinism and Afro-Liberation.) Yang is aware of the excesses of progressivism yet under no illusions about race’s continuing importance in the United States; his major observation is that Asian Americans, at once marginalized and successful, overlooked by whites yet rebuffed by other racial minorities, occupy a unique cultural space in our identity-obsessed country. Mostly, though, Yang’s book is a primer to the wider oeuvre of a perceptive writer with undeniably sharp insights into American life.
Tuesday night’s midterms were a bit of a mixed bag for both parties. Efforts by Republican leadership, and especially by President Trump, to spin the night as a clear-cut win for the GOP were clearly unfounded. Any time the party in power loses control of a chamber of Congress, it isn’t a great time to break out the champagne.
But Tuesday wasn’t an all-out win for Democrats either, and the most politically salient question to consider as the dust settles — aside from “Why did these races turn out the way they did?” — is “Where do we go from here?” And for a Democratic party eyeing 2020, in particular, what lessons will presidential hopefuls, party leadership, and the Left’s most zealous advocates draw from what happened on Tuesday?
The Senate election map this year was, of course, favorable to the GOP, with ten Democrats up for reelection in states that Trump won in 2016, and many of which he claimed by double-digit margins. But losing four Senate seats to GOP challengers (pending a recount in Florida) and flipping only one Republican-held seat (pending the ongoing count in Arizona) isn’t a very thrilling outcome in what was widely billed as The Year of the Anti-Trump Blue Wave.
Given that the Trump administration and GOP Congress have set an agenda during the first half of the president’s term that, aside from last year’s tax reform, has focused almost solely on reshaping the courts, pickups in the Senate are just what the doctor ordered. And the Democratic candidates who flipped congressional districts in the House don’t necessarily foreshadow a host of suburban voters rejecting the entire GOP as a result of Trump — so Democrats shouldn’t count on having the upper hand heading into 2020.
In short: If Tuesday night can be considered the first real fruits of the Resistance, they’ve still got some work to do. Bret Stephens considered some of these questions in his latest New York Times column:
Are you interested in seeing Donald Trump voted out of office in two years? I hope so — which is why you should think hard about that “meh.” This week’s elections were, at most, a very modest rebuke of a president reviled by many of his opponents, this columnist included, as an unprecedented danger to the health of liberal democracy at home and abroad. The American people don’t entirely agree.
We might consider listening to them a bit more — and to ourselves somewhat less.
It also underscores that while “the Resistance” is good at generating lots of votes, it hasn’t figured out how to turn the votes into seats. Liberals are free to bellyache all they want that they have repeatedly won the overall popular vote for the presidency and Congress while still losing elections, and that the system is therefore “rigged.”
Stephens is exactly right about how liberal bellyaching comes across to those outside the progressive movement. The activist portions of the left, whose overblown rhetoric has undoubtedly bled over into how Democratic politicians portray themselves to voters, despise Trump and have radical ideas for what they want their government officials to do in response. There’s no doubt Resistance voters will show up to the polls to vote against Trump as a result, and that matters. But especially after Tuesday — which showed that GOP voters, and Trump voters to the extent they’re a different bloc, will turn out, too — it’s less clear that the Resistance has the ability to convert. More from Stephens on this point:
It didn’t convert when it nominated left-wing candidates in right-leaning states like Florida and Georgia. It didn’t convert when it poured its money into where its heart was — a lithesome Texas hopeful with scant chance of victory — rather than where the dollars were most needed. . . .
It didn’t convert when Chuck Schumer chose to make Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court the decisive political test of the year. It didn’t convert when it turned his initial confirmation hearing into a circus. It didn’t convert when media liberals repeatedly violated ordinary journalistic standards by reporting the uncorroborated accusations against Kavanaugh that followed Christine Blasey Ford’s.
Above all, it didn’t convert the unconverted.
As Stephens rightly notes, this isn’t the most prudent strategy for a party that will need to win folks over in addition to motivating an already-loyal base if it wishes to take down Trump in 2020.
A Showdown with No Winner: Donald Trump vs. Jim Acosta
Wednesday’s power struggle between President Trump and CNN’s White House correspondent Jim Acosta serves as a helpful microcosm of the melodrama we’ve been dealing with since the moment Trump rode down his golden escalator and into the presidency. Absolutely no one benefits from the vicious cycle of Trump fighting with the press — no one, that is, except for Trump . . . and the press.
In the post-midterms press briefing, Acosta’s regular showboating routine went a little too far for the president’s liking and ended with the White House revoking his press pass until further notice. Acosta — who has become known for questions that are less interrogative than they are assertions of his own opinion followed by, “So then why did you say the opposite?” — began badgering Trump when the president failed to satisfactorily answer Acosta’s “question” about the migrant caravan.
The exchange ended with the reporter making some kind of effort to prevent a White House intern from taking away the microphone. (This newsletter will not delve into close readings of whether Acosta “placed his hands” on her, as the White House communications team now attests.) Trump, for his part, responded characteristically, labeling Acosta “a rude, terrible person” and instructing him to “run CNN” and let him run the country.
CNN, always on the lookout for Trumpian threats to the First Amendment, described the White House’s revocation of Acosta’s pass in the starkest of terms: “This unprecedented decision is a threat to our democracy and the country deserves better.” As usual, both sides of the Trump–media skirmish are wrong, although to differing degrees. A president who often calls the press “fake news” and “the enemy of the people” ought to know better; and a journalist who decides to argue with the president ought to know he doesn’t have a constitutional right to be in the room.
These constant, meaningless dustups are a battle with no winner that we’re all forced to watch, a foolish spectacle posing as our politics. As we’ve learned again and again and again over the last several years, a reality-television president will turn our government into reality television, and he’s been aided in that quest by no one more than the press that claims to hate him.
Lest anyone notice how low the stakes in this battle really are, Trump and his media critics behave as if they’ve formed a silent pact to continuously escalate the drama between them, allowing us no time to pause and ask ourselves why we even care.
These theatrics are detrimental to everyone except for Trump and the press: Acosta is now one step closer to hosting his own primetime show on CNN, and the White House has one more anecdote to bolster its narrative of a hostile, disingenuous press corps. Meanwhile, the nation suffers from increasing opacity and a lack of truth.
ADDENDUM: Glad to be filling in for Jim Geraghty this morning. While I have you, I’ll also be filling in for Jim on today’s Three Martini Lunch podcast with Greg Corombos. And if you enjoy that . . . you’re always welcome over at Ordered Liberty, the National Review podcast I cohost twice a week with David French.
I’m out tomorrow and Monday; the next Jim-written Morning Jolt will be November 13.
Making the click-through worthwhile: Liberals win a bunch of elections but just get angrier, an update on the Senate races in Arizona and Georgia, checking the pre–Election Day predictions and polling, and some surprises during my special guest appearance on The Remnant.
The Left Wins, and They Just Get Angrier
Republicans lost a bunch of races on Tuesday that they wanted to win. Since Tuesday night, I haven’t seen any riots. I haven’t seen any violent protests, like the ones that have plagued Portland this year. I haven’t seen any Democratic candidates hung in effigy, the way Marsha Blackburn was in Tennessee earlier this month. I’m sure the “Proud Boys” will pop up again in some form, but they’ve been quiet since the NYPD announced arrest warrants for nine of them after that mid-October brawl.
Democrats, progressives, and liberals won a lot of the races that they wanted to win. And what happened? Did they celebrate with glee and good cheer? Did they relax? Did their anger and rage over the 2016 election dissipate and give way to relief and a more optimistic outlook for the future?
No, apparently some of them just got angrier and more explicit in their threats:
A group of protesters congregated outside what they claimed was Fox News host Tucker Carlson’s home in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday night to chant threatening messages.
Smash Racism D.C., a self-described “anti-fascist” group, posted a video of their members screaming obscenities at Carlson’s house and blaming his “policies” for the deaths of thousands of people.
“Tucker Carlson, we will fight!” the protesters chanted. “We know where you sleep at night!”
This is the same group that harassed Senator Ted Cruz and his wife in the restaurant.
Meanwhile, Judiciary Committee ranking member and congressman Jerrold Nadler made the mistake of sitting next to Mollie Hemingway of the Federalist and Fox News on the Acela train and basically openly discussing everything he planned to do next year, including holding hearings investigating Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh for alleged perjury and investigating the FBI for doing an insufficient job in looking into the claims against Kavanaugh. Indeed, right after the Kavanaugh fight cost Democrats seats in Indiana, Florida, North Dakota, and Missouri, Nadler (and presumably at least some other House Democrats) is ready to have the exact same fight all over again.
House Democrats want to spend the next two years investigating the past two years: Trump’s pre-presidential ties to Russia; the Trump administration’s relationship with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia; the family-separation policy; the deployment of U.S. troops to the southern border; the White House security-clearance process; the travel ban; Cambridge Analytica; the use of private email by White House officials; the response to the Puerto Rican hurricane; Jared Kushner’s business ties; and former national-security adviser Michael Flynn’s contacts with foreign officials. The House of Representatives will be in reruns for the next few years.
Come on! This president doesn’t base his foreign policy and relationships with foreign leaders on bribes! This president bases his foreign policy and relationships with foreign leaders on flattery and perceived slights.
Keeping Up with Those Not-Quite-Resolved Races . . .
Arizona . . . how do you have 600,000 votes uncounted a day after Election Day? “There are more than 600,000 votes left to count statewide after Election Day, according to an Arizona Republic count of votes outstanding in Arizona counties voters as of 5:30 p.m. Wednesday.”
Come on, we need some answers, this was the hottest Senate race in the country! Although being Arizona, it was a dry heat.
Meanwhile, in the land of not-dry-heat, Florida’s Senate race will go to an automatic recount. Few in the state expect the results to change: “The actual raw numbers Wednesday morning — with a trickle of absentee ballots possibly still to be tallied — put Scott ahead of Nelson by 30,162 votes with more than 8.1 million votes cast.”
The loss was crushing, and left some strategists believing that Florida, particularly in midterm elections, isn’t a swing state any longer. Of the last 26 statewide races, including presidential contests and Cabinet elections, Democrats have won just five.
“This Groundhog Day conversation has happened every Wednesday morning after the election every two years,” said Fernand Amandi, a Miami pollster who helped Donna Shalala flip a congressional district blue. “There’s enough of a losing streak now that there’s no longer a question of whether there should be a change or a massive reevaluation, but why it hasn’t already happened.”
If Pundits Are Humble and Reserved in Making Predictions . . . Are They Boring?
I like Peter Hamby, formerly of CNN and now writing for Vanity Fair. I think his coverage of Beto O’Rourke was a little too credulous this year, but I have no doubt that his coverage accurately reflected what he was seeing and hearing on the ground in Texas, and that he genuinely believed he was witnessing a transformative phenomenon in the Lone Star State. Beto-mania was something of transformative phenomenon in the Lone Star State — just not enough of one to come out with more votes than Ted Cruz. Texas Democrats picked up a dozen state house seats and two state senate seats.
Then there’s Texas, where Democrat Beto O’Rourke appears to have reclaimed some late momentum against Republican Ted Cruz, who expanded his lead in the race after the Brett Kavanaugh hearings energized G.O.P. voters. Right-leaning analysts have fallen all over themselves to mock the endless stream of Texas polling and the glowing coverage O’Rourke has received from the national press. Republican pollster Patrick Ruffini tweeted that “Beto is and has always been fanfic.” The Weekly Standard published an otherwise sensible piece about the race on Wednesday under the headline “Beto-Mania Is a Joke (Probably).” Yeah, O’Rourke might lose. That’s the most likely outcome and the best bet. But here’s a wild concept: he also might win.
Well, he didn’t, so maybe that skepticism and mockery wasn’t so foolhardy after all. We’re all vulnerable to the temptation of seeing what we want to see, instead of what’s actually happening. Lord knows I’ve done that plenty of cycles; this is why those of us who cover politics should try to resist the siren’s call of “falling in love” with a particular candidate. It happens.
The overall gist of Hamby’s piece was that some humility is in order when it comes to making predictions about election outcomes. And he’s right! That’s why elections are interesting to cover. If the RealClearPolitics polling average always told us who was going to win, we wouldn’t need to pay attention on Election Night. But predictions are also fun; that’s why the old McLaughlin Group always ended with them. No one ever thought any pundit was psychic. Predictions are our best guesses based on what we’ve observed, what we’ve heard, and what we know. Sometimes that pans out into genuine insight, sometimes that gets clouded by wishcasting.
Still, some of us get better at resisting self-delusion than others. And while every cycle brings some polls being wrong, the polls in a lot of races were pretty accurate this year.
After the apparent defeats of Andrew Gillum in Florida and Stacy Abrams in Georgia, it’s fair to wonder if post-Obama America still has something of a “Bradley Effect” — people who tell a pollster they’ll vote for the African-American candidate, but vote for the opponent on Election Day. Gillum led 16 of the last 17 polls in Florida, although it’s worth noting most of those polls had Gillum up by a point or two, so a DeSantis victory by seven-tenths of a percentage point shouldn’t be quite so shocking. When people gripe about the polls being “wrong,” are they including ones that have candidate A ahead by a small margin, and on Election Day candidate B wins by a small margin?
But it’s also fair to wonder again if America has a “Shy Tory” effect, where respondents don’t want to tell a pollster that they’re voting for conservatives. Josh Hawley won by six percentage points in Missouri’s Senate race, much wider margin than most of the final polls. Three of the final polls in Florida showed Senator Bill Nelson with a lead of four percentage points. That East Tennessee State University poll had Phil Bredesen and Marsha Blackburn tied; Blackburn won, 54.7 percent to 43.9 percent. Maybe they oversampled Taylor Swift fans.
Keep in mind, before we start flaying the pollsters, that no amount of weighting, sample size, or other adjustments to a survey can compensate for respondents not being honest about the candidate they support!
I’ll give partial credit to those who predicted a “red wave.” If you said there would be a red wave in the Senate, you’re excused. But if you thought a “red wave” would lead to GOP gains in the House, take one step back.
Joe Scarborough predicted Democrats would pick up a seat in the Senate. In fact, quite a few Democrats convinced themselves that they were going to gain a Senate seat.
If you thought high turnout automatically meant that the Democrats would win, take a step back. Turnout was astoundingly high in Florida, Ohio, and Texas, and Republicans took five of the six statewide races in those places.
In fact, in Ohio, Republicans won the races for state attorney general, secretary of state, state auditor, and state treasurer. And incumbent Democratic senator Sherrod Brown won by about six and a half points — as recently as early October, polls had had Brown up by 18. For a purple state, Ohio looks awfully red. Maybe it’s more of a “Magenta State.”
ADDENDUM: On the next edition of Jonah Goldberg’s The Remnant, you’ll get to hear both my immediate live reaction to Jeff Sessions’s firing — not thrilled — and I did a bit of my Ted Cruz impression. I like Cruz, I’m really glad he was reelected — both for his viewpoints and that impression remaining relevant for another six years.
That . . . wasn’t so bad after all, was it? This midterm election was like that optical illusion of a duck or a rabbit. If you look at it from one angle, it’s a blue wave with a huge shift in the U.S. House of Representatives! If you look at it from another angle, it’s a red wave with the GOP picking up a bunch of Senate seats! If you look at it from the governor’s races . . . eh, it’s a mixed bag.
The hottest of hot takes: If last night had been a disaster from top to bottom and coast to coast for the GOP, there would have been a much greater appetite for a GOP challenger to Donald Trump in the 2020 primary. The president’s approval among Republicans would have taken a hit, and the anti-Trump voices within the party would have argued, “Look, we tried his approach and it failed. His win in 2016 was a fluke. We’re going to get demolished at every level in 2020 if we re-nominate this guy, it’s time for something different.” But now, states such as Ohio and Florida still look pretty red, and states such as Iowa and Wisconsin don’t feel all that far out of reach.
It’s also worth noting that we’re in a fairly consistent pattern since at least 2006 where a party’s victories generate complacency and a party’s defeats generate outraged enthusiasm. John Kerry’s loss in 2004 begat the 2006 Democratic wave, Obama’s 2008 landslide begat the Tea Party and the 2010 wave, the scare of 2010 got Obama and the Democrats to hit the panic button for 2012, the disappointment of 2012 generated that second GOP midterm wave in 2014, and Democrats started thinking about the 2018 midterms during Hillary Clinton’s concession speech.
That’s What Happens When You Mess with Cocaine Mitch, Punks!
Dear God, did the Senate Democrats’ strategy on Brett Kavanaugh backfire on them on an epic scale. I do think that before the Kavanaugh fight, the Democrats were on the path to that “Blue Tsunami.” And then they decided that rerunning the Neil Gorsuch fight wasn’t going to be enough; they had to fully embrace a bunch of accusations that had no supporting witnesses.
Claire McCaskill, gone. Finally. I laid out her devilish luck in yesterday’s Jolt; for at least twelve years, Missouri Republicans yearned for a chance to take her on in a relatively normal political environment with a candidate who wasn’t a walking Superfund site of toxicity. Lo and behold, with no political wind at her back, no good GOP rivals being knocked out by the political equivalent of anvils falling from buildings or alien abductions, Josh Hawley won . . . by about 144,000 votes. The old “Vote liberal for four or five years, veer back to the center in election years” strategy of red-state Democrats finally stopped working.
Taylor Swift could not deliver Tennessee for Phil Bredesen. In retrospect, the hype around the former governor looks like wishful thinking on the part of Democrats. He last won a statewide race in 2006, and as soon as Marsha Blackburn nationalized this race, it was over. Blackburn won by about 245,000 votes last night. You figure that Democrats will have a hard time recruiting a top-tier candidate anytime soon.
Rick Scott won in Florida! Never underestimate this man again. If aliens invade Florida in 2022, Scott will lead the forces of humanity to a narrow upset victory, because that’s what he does every four years — win something that nobody thinks he has a chance to win, by about one percent. Florida Democrats will console themselves that it was so close, but with the high turnout, four-tenths of a percentage point comes out to . . . about 34,000 votes. After the 2000 presidential election, that’s a Florida landslide.
As of this writing, Mike Braun is on pace to win Indiana’s Senate by 10 points, or about 189,000 votes. A lot of people are pointing to this result as a polling failure, but remember that because of Indiana’s strict anti-robocall laws, pollsters survey this state less frequently because they have to use live interviewers. The lesson here is, trust your instincts! A GOP candidate in a longtime Republican-leaning state, the home state of the current vice president, up against a Democrat who won with 50 percent in a presidential year and who votes against Kavanaugh a month before Election Day . . . has a really good chance to win and win comfortably.
Face it, we’re not even that upset that Joe Manchin won in West Virginia. His victory offers the lesson that any red-state Democrat could have improved their chances for reelection by voting for Brett Kavanaugh.
We should give Beto O’Rourke a bit of credit; coming within three points is better than any Democrat running statewide in Texas since . . . Ann Richards, I think? But that’s . . . not a victory, which is a fair expectation when you raise $70 million and spend $60 million. And because of the scale of the turnout, those three points amount to 213,750 votes. Turnout was more than 8.3 million votes, and I recall seeing O’Rourke fans insisting that if turnout surpassed 8 million votes, then their man was certain to win. Guys, there are a lot of Republicans in Texas.
As of this writing, Matt Rosendale has a narrow lead over Jon Tester in Montana. Sean Trende thinks the precincts that have yet to report are probably more Tester-friendly and should put him over the top.
As of this writing, Martha McSally is narrowly ahead in Arizona, by about 16,000 votes, with eleven precincts still to report. Gee, it’s almost like that heavy-registered Republican advantage in the early vote meant something, huh? I understand that every time Arizona Republicans told exit pollsters that they were voting for McSally, the nearby Democratic volunteers would gasp in surprise, “Martha? Why did you say that name?”
The one GOP frustration for the night? Dean Heller lost, and it wasn’t that close; five percent or about 48,000 votes. Credit Jon Ralston and his analysis of the demographics of Nevada’s early vote.
If my biannual “Hey, Republicans have a shot in New Jersey this year” piece felt pretty skeptical . . . well, experience can be a painful but effective teacher.
And about six years later than I wanted to, I get to write the headline, “MITT ROMNEY WINS; HE’S ON HIS WAY TO WASHINGTON.” He’s been a governor of Massachusetts and will be a senator from Utah; the only other American who’s been a governor and senator of separate states is . . . Sam Houston, who was governor of Tennessee and then governor and senator from Texas. Pretty cool!
The Bad News: Speaker Pelosi. The Good News: Running Against Speaker Pelosi in 2020.
The absolute shocker of the night in my book is Joe Cunningham beating Katie Arrington in South Carolina’s first district — Mark Sanford’s old district! This is Charleston and Hilton Head and parts of Beaufort County.
The Democrats won seats no one saw coming, such as in Oklahoma’s fifth district, where Kendra Horn beat GOP incumbent Steve Russell. Russell won his district, which encompasses Oklahoma City, by 21 points in 2016! No poll had that race closer than ten points! Republicans lost the House district that represents Staten Island, the last Republican stronghold in New York City.
The narrative that Trump is killing his party in the suburbs accumulated a lot of supporting evidence last night, in races such as Barbara Comstock’s and Dave Brat’s districts in Virginia, John Faso’s district in New York, and Mia Love’s in the Salt Lake City suburbs.
The GOP lost three out of four competitive House races in Virginia. (Thanks a lot, Corey Stewart.) A reader in Virginia’s second district wrote in, “At my polling place the Republican table had flyers for Corey Stewart, but none for Scott Taylor who, unlike Stewart, had a chance. Heck of a job, GOP.” The GOP lost three out of four competitive seats in Iowa. The GOP lost at least three competitive seats in New Jersey, and a fourth one is too close to call.
But in Texas, Dan Crenshaw won. Take that, Saturday Night Live.
The Democrats are thrilled with their new investigative powers, but I’m not sure those enthusiastic efforts will be as fruitful as they hope. For starters, this White House may just pull an Eric Holder and ignore the subpoenas and scoff at being found in contempt of Congress. (Separately, this administration may be so disorganized that they simply never get around to responding to the subpoenas.) The problem is that looking at Trump’s tax returns or other investigations of Trump may thrill the party’s base, but it’s not quite the forward-looking agenda that Democrats are going to need to keep this majority. Apparently Nancy Pelosi is already trying to downplay talk of impeachment.
There’s a silver lining or two in here for Republicans. Some of these seats, such as Darrell Issa’s old seat in California, are probably lost for a long, long time. But some of these Democratic wins look like flukes or fairly easy to win back, like the Oklahoma City or coastal South Carolina seats.
And the House Republicans who withstood this wave are probably pretty secure for the future.
Brian Fitzpatrick in Bucks County, Pa.; Ross Spano in that stretch between Tampa and Orlando; Troy Balderson in the suburbs of Columbus; Scott Perry in Harrisburg. At this hour, Bruce Polquin is hanging on in northern Maine, as is Jeff Denham east of San Jose. If Democrats couldn’t take Ed Royce’s old seat in the district covering parts of Los Angeles, Orange, and San Bernardino Counties, in an open-seat race in this kind of political environment, they may never.
The Governors: Not So Bad!
That massacre of the GOP in the upper Midwest wasn’t nearly as bad as I feared. In one of the biggest surprises of the night, Republican Mike DeWine, a senator quite a few years ago, will be the next governor of Ohio. Kim Reynolds won in Iowa. Scott Walker almost hung on in Wisconsin, but fell short by 31,000 votes. Wisconsin Democrats are dancing this morning, but Walker had a huge and lasting impact on how that state is governed. I hope Walker doesn’t stay away from politics for long; competent managers are hard to find.
Remember when I said Republicans were telling me that Stacey Abrams was the most overhyped candidate besides Beto O’Rourke? As of this writing, it appears that the Republicans won the governor’s race in Georgia, but Abrams and the Democrats don’t want to acknowledge it. With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Brian Kemp has 50.5 percent, more than the 50 percent needed to avoid a runoff. He leads by 75,386 votes. Abrams isn’t even arguing that she won; she’s arguing that once all the absentees are counted, Kemp won’t be above the threshold and the race will automatically go to a runoff on December 4.
As of this morning, there are 3,886,414 votes cast in this race. To shave off that half-percent of Kemp’s lead, Abrams and Libertarian candidate Ted Metz would have to gain 19,432 votes out of the remaining absentee ballots. The Abrams campaign calculates that there are about 100,000 absentee ballots out there. Abrmas and Metz would have to win about 60 percent of them to get Kemp under the threshold to avoid a runoff.
The crown jewel for Republicans was Ron DeSantis’s win in Florida, in a year when Democrats were convinced that Andrew Gillum was the next superstar. When you look at where Democrats actually picked up governorships — Janet Mills in Maine, Steve Sisolak in Nevada, Michelle Grisham in New Mexico, Laura Kelly in Kansas – maybe the national hype for a first-time gubernatorial candidate is counter-productive. Or maybe it’s better for Democrats in these red-to-purple states to tone down the claims that the Great Socialist Revolution is upon us.
A couple of good opportunities slipped through Republican fingers, such as Ned Lamont currently leading in Connecticut, as of this hour.
Incumbent Republicans who were on the ballot did pretty well, with the exception of Bruce Rauner in Illinois. Larry Hogan in Maryland, Doug Ducey in Arizona, Greg Abbott in Texas, Charlie Baker in Massachusetts, Chris Sununu in New Hampshire, Phil Scott in Vermont, Bill Lee in Tennessee, Henry McMaster in South Carolina — these are largely no-flash, little-controversy guys.
ADDENDUM: I’m taping Jonah’s podcast today, look for it later this week. There will be no Jolt on Friday or Monday.
New Jersey Senate: No, Bob Hugin’s not going to win. He might make it a little closer than usual, but New Jersey voters do not punish Democrats for corruption. The Garden State endorses and encourages it.
Pennsylvania Senate: Looking back, how did Republicans not give a real challenge to charisma-free Bob Casey in a state Trump won, that Pat Toomey won last year, and in a state where they had, until redistricting, a 13-5 advantage in the state’s congressional delegation? On paper, Lou Barletta looked like a good candidate, former mayor of Hazelton in the northeast corner of the state, classic blue-collar working-class Pennsylvania territory, maybe one of the most naturally “Trumpy” members of the House GOP . . . and yet he never really made Casey sweat. Barely running any television advertising in the Philadelphia market probably didn’t help.
Maryland Governor:Larry Hogan wins, but maybe not quite by the eye-popping landslide numbers in recent polls.
Virginia Senate: Can we permanently retire the idea that Virginia Republicans need to get “Trumpier” to win in this state? Corey Stewart’s campaign is going to be a farshtunken disaster area, and he’s up against Tim Kaine. Tim Kaine! Virginia’s incumbent senator is human oatmeal. You probably already forgot that he was Hillary’s running mate. And Corey Stewart is at 33 percent in the RealClearPolitics average. Stewart will be lucky if he cracks a million votes. By contrast, that allegedly awful establishment squish Ed Gillespie lost by an awful margin last year . . . but he won 1,175,731 votes, the most votes for any Republican candidate ever. It wasn’t that Gillespie was too squishy, it was that the state’s Democrats were too numerous and too motivated by the first year of the Trump era.
Florida Governor: Similarly, it’s fair to ask if Ron DeSantis was a good fit for Florida — yes, a Republican-leaning state, but a diverse and thriving one. A lot of these races might be seen as Trumpist policies and style against the Democratic agenda, without Hillary Clinton. More registered Democrats voted early than registered Republicans. DeSantis went after Andrew Gillum hard on his ethics and his record as mayor, but so far there are only limited signs that it worked. It will be close, but I think Democrats win here . . .
Florida Senate: . . . and pulse-less Bill Nelson somehow beats Rick Scott in the Sunshine State’s Senate race, which should count as one of the biggest disappointments for the GOP this cycle. It will be fascinating to see if Scott’s all-business, even-tempered, I’m-all-about-creating-jobs-and-focusing-on-efficiency style runs well ahead of DeSantis’s attacking style.
Georgia Governor: I’m being told by Republicans that Brian Kemp is going to hold on, and that Stacey Abrams is the second-most overhyped candidate of the cycle. We’ll see. I’m picking Kemp, but if Abrams wins, it means a lot of Georgia Republicans were whistling past the graveyard for the last few months.
Ohio Governor: I think the whole upper Midwest is just going to be ugly for the GOP, and one of their best gubernatorial hopes in this region, Mike DeWine, will fall short against Richard Cordray. Like in Pennsylvania, this is another race where the GOP first thought they might have a chance in the Senate race and just never made it competitive.
Illinois Governor: The worst (or at the very least most disappointing) Republican governor in the country is sent packing after one term. Bruce Rauner tried fighting the Democratic establishment in Springfield, then he tried negotiating with it, and then he tried making ever-more concessions. Nothing worked; nothing will work until Illinois voters stop accepting the same old favor-trading and backroom deals of a long-entrenched power structure.
Michigan Senate: John James might be the GOP’s best surprise candidate this cycle. Incumbent Democrat Debbie Stabenow might win, but the state’s other Democratic senator, Gary Peters, is running for reelection in 2020, and if James keeps it close tonight, you’ll hear a lot of people urging him to run again in what will hopefully be a better election cycle.
Indiana Senate: I’m going out on a slightly shaky limb here and picking Mike Braun. If Braun doesn’t knock off Joe Donnelly with all of the structural advantages in this race — it’s a red state, Donnelly barely won in a presidential turnout year, Donnelly voted against Brett Kavanaugh after voting for Neil Gorsuch — then Braun will probably be remembered as the most disappointing GOP Senate candidate of this cycle. Braun outspent his two rivals, congressmen Todd Rokita and Luke Messer, in a nasty primary, and if the millionaire businessman falls short, Indiana Republicans may wonder if it was wise to nominate the least well-known and least experienced candidate with the deepest pockets.
Wisconsin Senate: After Trump’s win, Scott Walker’s repeated victories, and Ron Johnson’s surprise comeback in 2016, Republicans started asking whether it was safe to classify Wisconsin as a red state. No, not really.
Wisconsin Governor: Losing Scott Walker will hurt and make little sense when the state’s unemployment is so low. But when the Democratic base is so fired up in a state like Wisconsin, it’s hard for Walker to hang on one more time.
Missouri Senate: Man, Claire McCaskill has the luck of the devil. First, way back in 2002, she ran for reelection for state auditor against a Republican who had served nine months in prison after convictions for felony fraud, and the state GOP disowned the nominee. Then she eked out a victory with less than 50 percent of the vote in the Democratic-wave year of 2006. Then Missouri Republicans were dumb enough to nominate Todd Akin against her in 2012. Then earlier this year, Missouri’s Republican governor Eric Greitens resigned in a horrific scandal, depressing and angering the state GOP. I’m picking Josh Hawley to win, but this is the sort of race where McCaskill’s numbers ought to look like Heidi Heitkamp’s. Speaking of which . . .
North Dakota Senate: Kevin Cramer wins, and let’s face it, this race has been over for a month. Heitkamp and North Dakota Democrats managed to lose all dignity and self-respect in the last few weeks, publishing the names of sexual-assault victims without their permission and offering a false claim that voting can lead to losing out-of-state hunting licenses.
Tennessee Senate: Marsha Blackburn wins; sorry, Taylor. This is one of a few states with a competitive Senate race but a gubernatorial race where the GOP should win in a landslide — Texas and Arizona also fit this description. If voters aren’t in a mood to split their tickets, you may see a really good night for the GOP in the Senate.
Montana Senate: It will be close, but incumbent Democrat Jon Tester will win. Another deeply frustrating missed opportunity.
South Dakota Governor: I know there’s been some buzz about a Democratic upset here, but I think former congresswoman Kristi Noem becomes the first woman governor of South Dakota . . . and she gets completely ignored by the talk of the “Year of the Woman” post-election analysis.
Texas Senate: Yup, if by some amazing turn of events Beto O’Rourke pulls this off, I’ll have a lot of egg on my face — but not as much as Texas Republicans, who have been absolutely confident that they will get out the vote. The Beto O’Rourke for Senate campaign ends tonight, the Beto O’Rourke for President campaign unofficially begins tomorrow — and Democrats could do a lot worse than Lone Star Vanilla Obama.
Nevada Senate: The early vote numbers don’t look too good for Dean Heller, according to Jon Ralston’s back-of-the-envelope math. If you’re looking for hope, remember Heller won reelection in 2012 by roughly 1 percentage point while Barack Obama was winning the state by 7 points. I think Jacky Rosen wins narrowly.
Arizona Senate: I keep getting told not to put too much stock into the early voting numbers, but . . . almost 1.6 million Arizonans have voted already, and that’s more than the total vote in 2014! When early voting ended, 656,822 registered Republicans had voted, and 538,174 registered Democrats had voted. That’s 118,648 more registered Republicans voting early than registered Democrats! Insert all appropriate caveats that people don’t have to vote for the party they’re registered in, and Kyrsten Sinema could well be winning among the nearly 380,000 independent or non-affiliated voters, but . . . that would seem to be a nice early advantage for Martha McSally, no?
The great Henry Olsen, who predicts a Sinema win, observed that this is about three percentage points closer for the Democrats than in the last cycle. But last cycle, Arizona Republicans won the governor’s race by about twelve points, the secretary of state’s race by about 15 points, and the state attorney general’s race by five points.
If McSally wins by a more comfortable margin than the polls indicate, please remember that I was paying attention to the partisan split in the registration of early voters, and this was an early sign that the Arizona GOP’s get-out-the-vote-team had eaten their Wheaties. If Sinema wins, forget I said any of this.
This adds up to Republicans gaining two seats, and enjoying a 53-47 majority starting next year. The GOP keeps Texas, Arizona, and Tennessee; the Democrats keep New Jersey, Wisconsin, Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Montana. The GOP flips North Dakota, Missouri, and Indiana; Democrats flip Nevada.The governor’s races are a mess for Republicans, but we expected that.
ADDENDUM: NBC News correspondent Shomari Stone with an astute observation: “Some people complain about Election Day lines. But they have no problem waiting in line for Black Friday shopping, movie premieres, concerts, Jordans and new iPhones.”
Of course, maybe that reflects that Black Friday shopping, movie premieres, concerts, Jordans, and new iPhones are satisfying, whereas voting gets you a sticker and a sense that your vote is a drop in the ocean.
Making the click-through worthwhile: Pete Davidson, the icon of insufferably smug urban progressives; the challenge of predicting what you actually see, as opposed to what you want to see; and the question of whether Beto O’Rourke has been setting himself up for a presidential bid in 2020 all along.
Predicting What You See, Not What You Want to See
Here’s a classic example of a sentence in campaign coverage that strikes me as wrong, from Politico: “The indictments of Republican Reps. Duncan Hunter (Calif.) and Chris Collins (N.Y.) have unexpectedly brought their seats on the map, even though Trump carried both districts easily.”
I wouldn’t mind if these two GOP members of Congress lose, but the goal here is not to predict what we want to see, but what we actually see. I don’t particularly like Duncan Hunter Jr., but he’s led every poll, even after the indictment. One in September had him up by 13 points. Every independent poll has put Collins ahead. If these guys are still ahead in polls after getting indicted, just how vulnerable are they?
Over at the Inquisitr — clearly, no one reads that site for the spelling — an article begins, “The final Tennessee Senate polls show a race that is deadlocked and the potential that the ‘Taylor Swift effect’ could help Democrat Phil Bredesen pull off an upset victory.”
First, we saw no movement towards Bredesen in the polls after Swift’s endorsement.
Second, the polls don’t show a race that is deadlocked. Emerson puts Blackburn up by 8, Fox News puts Blackburn up by 9, East Tennessee State University shows a tie, CNN puts Blackburn up by 4, Marist puts Blackburn up by 5. That’s not deadlocked! You don’t get to pick the poll you like and ignore the other four most recent ones!
Over on the homepage, I have my final House race preview. It’s probably not what National Review readers would prefer to hear, but I don’t predict a big Democratic House majority — in fact, I think that Democrats will just barely eke past the 23-seat threshold for control of the chamber.
I could end up being terribly wrong; every election cycle brings some surprises. But you can rest assured that this is what I see, not what I want to see, because I’m predicting a bunch of my favorite House Republicans losing. I really want to see Barbara Comstock hang on in northern Virginia, Mia Love hang on in Utah, and Maria Elvira Salazar beat Donna Shalala in Florida. But I picked the Democrats in those races because right now, the polling and various other factors — including the demographics of the districts and past margins of victory — point to the seats flipping.
And there are a bunch of jump-ball races I may well have been too pessimistic about. Bruce Poliquin could hang on in Maine. The demographics in Minnesota’s first district are perfect for a GOP pickup, but the candidate isn’t; maybe if the race is sufficiently nationalized, the GOP wins that one.
If you’re a Republican who wants a good day tomorrow, get out there and vote . . . and find some friends to go, too.
Was a 2020 Presidential Bid Beto’s Backup Plan All Along?
You might have thought that everything needed to be said about the Texas Senate race has already been said, but our old friend Tim Alberta writes a long piece in Politico asking a question that might haunt some Texas Democrats in two days: What if Beto O’Rourke had run as a centrist?
The problem for O’Rourke is that his further-left positions — ban AR-15s, impeach the president, consider abolishing ICE — were a big part of what drove all of that national Democratic fundraising excitement, combined with animosity towards Ted Cruz and the significance of a Democratic win in the Lone Star State.
For contrast, do you recognize the name Jayne Raybould? She’s the Democratic nominee in Nebraska running against GOP senator Deb Fischer. She’s running against the tax cuts and school vouchers, endorses “common sense gun measures,” and refuses to take PAC money . . . in other words, her positions are not all that distinguishable than O’Rourke’s. She actually out-raised Fischer in the third quarter!
But you’ve heard almost nothing about Raybould because national Democrats don’t dream of winning Nebraska and its five electoral votes the way that they dream of winning Texas and its 38 electoral votes. Democrats have been telling themselves that demography would make Texas competitive for at least two decades now. And yet in 2014, the party had one of its worst cycles ever.
Since at least 2008, Democrats have put enormous faith in the notion of the “Coalition of the Ascendant”: young voters, Latinos and African-Americans, and single women, who Democrats believed would be ever-expanding parts of the electorate, while older voters, white men and married women would be an ever-shrinking part. It is hard to overstate how much the mentality of The Emerging Democratic Majority influenced Democrats’ approaches to campaigning and governing. If the more conservative demographics in the electorate were destined to die off, Democrats could ignore them and/or demonize them as “deplorable.”
Of course, the elections of the past decade have not turned out the way Democrats hoped. It turns out that the demographics in the “Coalition of the Ascendant” don’t always turn out in the number the party needs, and some Republicans run better among Latinos than Democrats expected. In Texas, Greg Abbott won 44 percent of the Latino vote in 2014, and he’s aiming for a bigger share this year.
Meanwhile, votes for Democrats have collapsed among the demographics in the Coalition of the Allegedly Not Ascendant, and those demographics include the groups most likely to vote, particularly in non-presidential elections.
What Democrats crave is someone who can emulate Obama’s message and agenda without conceding such a large chunk of white-male voters. (Remember Obama won 41 percent of white males in 2008, the best any Democrat has done since Jimmy Carter.)
Some observers of the Texas Senate race have a cynical theory that O’Rourke always knew that beating Cruz was a longshot, but that by running as the 2018 version of Barack Obama, he could catapult himself into the top tier of the 2020 Democratic presidential discussion. After all, a guy who could “almost” win Texas could surely put other purple and red states in play, right?
Pete Davidson, Millennial Icon
I could scream and yell about the classless Pete Davidson, but . . . in the end, isn’t it just sad? There was a time when Saturday Night Live wasn’t just funny, not just less partisan . . . it genuinely brought joy to audiences.
The whole joke in that Weekend Update bit was basically, “Look, this guy has an eyepatch.” That’s a mean thing to say even if the person isn’t a retired Navy SEAL who lost his eye in Afghanistan on his fifth deployment. A room full of well-paid writers, and this is what they came up with? No one around Davidson thought that was a dumb, mean joke? No one objected?
You could even have done an eyepatch joke that wasn’t mean, something such as, “If he doesn’t get elected to Congress, his backup plan is to run SHIELD in the Marvel movies” or something similar. But instead they went with the sneer that he looked like a porn actor, and Davidson — who seems to giggle and snicker his way through most sketches — added, “He lost it in the war or whatever.”
“The war or whatever.” Dear God, you will never hear a more perfect encapsulation of the smug, sneering, impudent, self-satisfied sense of unearned superiority in an insufferable Millennial hipster. Save that video and put it in a museum somewhere, so future generations can witness and appreciate the ultimate vivid example of the disconnect between the urban-progressive entertainment-industry employee and the rest of the country, who, no matter what they think of the wars in Afghanistan, or Iraq, or Syria, or anywhere else, understands that there’s no “or whatever” to a veteran’s injuries. People who roared in laughter at Mort Sahl, and George Carlin, and Richard Pryor, and Eddie Murphy, and Don Rickles, and who relished every joke that pushed a boundary of good taste or jabbed at a sensitive topic or nerve . . . understood you just don’t make fun of a war veteran’s injuries. You just don’t.
Unless you’re Pete Davidson and the writers of Saturday Night Live.
ADDENDUM:Michael Graham writes about Democratic expectations for tomorrow: “If Democrats take the House, and all of your liberal friends are in a lousier mood about it than your Republican ones — don’t be surprised.”
Making the click-through worthwhile: Why the results of this election will be a reflection of Trump’s presidency — for good or for ill — and will provide real data on whether Republicans can win in the suburbs; some fantastic new jobs numbers right before Election Day; why you never know which way the polls will be wrong; and the long-dormant pop-culture podcast returns.
Like It or Not, the 2018 Midterms Are a Referendum on Trump
Back at the Democratic convention in Philadelphia in 2016, I heard Chuck Schumer argue that parties were trading groups of voters in that election cycle and that Democrats were getting the better deal. “For every blue-collar Democrat we lose in western Pennsylvania, we will pick up two moderate Republicans in the suburbs in Philadelphia, and you can repeat that in Ohio and Illinois and Wisconsin.” Either his assessment was wrong (GOP Senator Pat Toomey nearly tied the Democrat in the Philadelphia suburbs, while Trump took about 43 percent) or his math was wrong.
But as you look at the map in 2018, Schumer’s assessment of the demographic trade may be more accurate. If you look at the House districts where GOP incumbents look like they’re in serious trouble, or an open seat looks particularly difficult to retain, you see America’s suburbs.
You see races like Barbara Comstock up against Jennifer Wexton in Virginia’s tenth district, the state’s northern suburbs west of Washington, D.C.; Leonard Lance against Tom Malinowski in New Jersey’s seventh district, covering Scotch Plains, Westfield, South Plainfield, and other suburbs of New York City; Brian Fitzpatrick against Scott Wallace in Pennsylvania’s first district, which covers much of Bucks County; Dave Brat against Abigail Spanberger in Virginia’s seventh district, which includes much of Richmond’s western suburbs; John Faso against Antonio Delgado in New York’s 19th district, covering the Catskills and Hudson Valley; and the open seat race in Florida’s 15th district in the eastern suburbs of Tampa, pitting Ross Spano against Kristen Carlson.
Even suburbs in some pretty red states look shaky. Mia Love’s reelection is not guaranteed in Utah’s fourth congressional district, encompassing the suburbs of Salt Lake City. Keven Yoder looks like he’s in real trouble in Kansas’s third congressional district, which includes the western suburbs of Kansas City, Mo. Andy Barr is hanging on by his fingernails in Kentucky’s sixth district, which includes Lexington and its suburbs.
Trump supporters might scoff, “Fine, suburban women are drifting towards the left and those voters were always destined to fall away eventually.” But it’s extremely difficult to build a House majority if your party can’t compete in the suburbs. And before anyone scoffs that these must be a bunch of weak candidates, Comstock, Fitzpatrick, Brat, Faso, Love, Yoder, and Barr were good enough to win these districts in past cycles. What changed?
One theory is be that the Trump presidency came to town, and it repelled usually winnable voters in these purple-to-light-red districts.
The president’s preferred focus in the closing week of the campaign is crystal clear: immigration, in particular the caravan coming up through Mexico; sending U.S. troops to help secure the southern border; eliminating birthright citizenship through an executive order; discussing the possibility of U.S. troops firing on migrants who throw rocks; and crimes committed by illegal immigrants.
Will that work? We’ll know in a couple of days. Trump may be betting on a ricochet effect, where he expresses some uncontroversial views — migrants should not be allowed to enter the country illegally, violent crimes committed by illegal immigrants should be taken seriously, the trend of “birth tourism” violates the spirit of U.S. immigration law, if not the letter — in a hyperbolic and incendiary way, triggering a furious reaction from Democrats. That furious reaction could reinforce voter doubts about whether Democrats are willing to stop illegal immigration, whether they avert their eyes from violent crimes committed by illegal immigrants, and whether they really believe in U.S. immigration laws at all. After all, progressive grassroots activists were chanting to “abolish ICE” not too long ago, a position most elected Democrats realized was political suicide.
That could work. Or those suburban moms and white-collar, college-educated whites could see Trump’s drumbeat as confirmation of their worst suspicions about him — that he really is a xenophobe, that he really does see caravans of desperate migrants as malevolent monsters, and that he really does see today’s world as a preview of Camp of the Saints, where the good, majority-white democracies are overrun by hordes of Third World migrants that are barely above zombies or some other sub-human being.
One other thought about the midterms: The biggest change to the Electoral College map in 2016 is that Donald Trump succeeded in upper Midwest states where Mitt Romney, John McCain, and to a lesser extent, George W. Bush, failed — Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin in particular, and Iowa, and Ohio. (Trump’s margin in the Buckeye State was double that of Bush’s in 2000.) Trump came within 55,000 votes of winning Minnesota, too. There was a down-ticket effect for the GOP — Toomey won, Ron Johnson won in Wisconsin, and Rob Portman crushed his Senate race in Ohio.
But the outlook for the GOP in the region looks pretty grim, in both the Senate and gubernatorial races and a bunch of the House races. (The new district lines are just going to slaughter GOP members of the House in Pennsylvania.) That swing region may have rolled the dice on Trump and the Republicans in 2016 . . . and fairly or not, they may not be all that impressed with the results in 2018.
The Polls Will Probably Be Wrong . . . But in Which Direction?
Right now, the polls point to the GOP picking up a few seats in the Senate, the House being very close but probably a Democratic majority, and a really bad night for Republican governors.
It is possible that the results will be much better for Republicans than the polls indicate. In 2014, “the average Senate poll conducted in the final three weeks of this year’s campaign overestimated the Democrat’s performance by 4 percentage points. The average gubernatorial poll was nearly as bad, overestimating the Democrat’s performance by 3.4 points.”
It is possible that the results will be much worse for Republicans than the polls indicate — in 2017, the RealClearPolitics average of polling in Virginia indicated that GOP gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie would lose to Democrat Ralph Northam by about three points. Northam won by almost nine points, and the GOP got slaughtered in suburban districts all across the state. (Weirdly, the RCP average was almost right on the button for the New Jersey gubernatorial race, which was always projected to be landslide.)
Hey, Guys, Maybe You Want to Run on the Economy This Year
You can tell that there are some who would like the closing Republican message to be about the economy. In fact, if President Trump and congressional Republicans don’t tout the economy for the next five days after today’s phenomenal jobs report, they’re insane and can’t be saved. This is the kind of monthly jobs report that should be unveiled with the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah.
Job growth blew past expectations in October and year-over-year wage gains jumped past 3 percent for the first time since the Great Recession, the Labor Department reported Friday.
Nonfarm payrolls powered up by 250,000 for the month, well ahead of Refinitiv estimates of 190,000. The unemployment rate stayed at 3.7 percent, the lowest since December 1969.
The ranks of the employed rose to a fresh record 156.6 million and the employment-to-population ratio increased to 60.6 percent, the highest level since December 2008, according to the department’s household survey. That headline jobless number stayed level even amid a two-tenths of a percentage point rise in the labor force participation rate to 62.9 percent.
This economic news, less than a week before the midterm election, is as good as the president possibly could hope for, which means later today we’ll probably get tweets such as “I HAVE HEARD FROM RELIABLE SOURCES THAT ELIZABETH WARREN IS A WEREWOLF.”
Making the click-through worthwhile: a deep dive into separating fact from fiction when it comes to George Soros, and finding that the truth is bad enough without any of the exaggerations; the Washington Post offers another round of white-knuckle polls for control of the House; and a prominent force in past election cycles has been a little quieter in 2018.
On both sides of the Atlantic, a loose network of activists and political figures on the right have spent years seeking to cast Mr. Soros not just as a well-heeled political opponent but also as the personification of all they detest. Employing barely coded anti-Semitism, they have built a warped portrayal of him as the mastermind of a “globalist” movement, a left-wing radical who would undermine the established order and a proponent of diluting the white, Christian nature of their societies through immigration.
This is a good moment to sort out the nonsense claims and Internet rumors about Soros and the verified truth, which is bad enough.
Soros was born in 1930, making him nine when the war broke out and 15 when it ended. There’s no evidence that he played any role in the atrocities of the Nazi regime in World War II.
What is true is that to survive in that time and place, Tivadar Soros had his son George assume a non-Jewish identity — “Sandor Kiss” — and pose as the godson of a Hungarian agriculture ministry bureaucrat named Baumbach, whose job was taking inventory of Jewish properties confiscated by the Nazi occupiers. Soros accompanied Baumbach on one job, traveling to the estate of a wealthy Jewish aristocrat named Moric Kornfeld. What’s not disputed is that Soros hung around the estate while Baumbach did his work for the Nazi-occupying regime; what is disputed is what, if anything, Soros did while Baumbach took inventory.
That isn’t embracing the Nazi cause, and it’s difficult to argue that cooperating with taking inventory once in order to maintain a non-Jewish disguise constitutes an unforgivable sin while sitting in a country that ran Operation Paperclip to win the Space Race.
For what it’s worth, Soros did make his role sound more active in a 1998 interview with Steve Kroft on 60 Minutes.
Kroft: “My understanding is that you went . . . went out, in fact, and helped in the confiscation of property from the Jews.”
Soros: “Yes, that’s right. Yes.”
Kroft: “I mean, that’s — that sounds like an experience that would send lots of people to the psychiatric couch for many, many years. Was it difficult?”
Soros: “Not, not at all. Not at all. Maybe as a child you don’t . . . you don’t see the connection. But it was — it created no — no problem at all.”
Kroft: “No feeling of guilt?”
Kroft: “For example, that, ‘I’m Jewish, and here I am, watching these people go. I could just as easily be these, I should be there.’ None of that?”
Soros: “Well, of course . . . I could be on the other side or I could be the one from whom the thing is being taken away. But there was no sense that I shouldn’t be there, because that was — well, actually, in a funny way, it’s just like in the markets — that if I weren’t there — of course, I wasn’t doing it, but somebody else would — would — would be taking it away anyhow. And it was the — whether I was there or not, I was only a spectator, the property was being taken away. So the — I had no role in taking away that property. So I had no sense of guilt.”
There’s one other wrinkle: Tivadar Soros offered a similar account of the trip in his 1965 autobiography titled Masquerade: Dancing Around Death in Nazi Occupied Hungary, except he described Baumbach as “Baufluss” and made his son’s role sound more active:
The following week the kind-hearted Baufluss, in an effort to cheer the unhappy lad up, took him off with him to the provinces. At the time he was working in Transdanubia, west of Budapest, on the model estate of a Jewish aristocrat, Baron Moric Kornfeld. There they were wined and dined by what was left of the staff. George also met several other ministry officials, who immediately took a liking to the young man, the alleged godson of Mr Baufluss. He even helped with the inventory. Surrounded by good company, he quickly regained his spirits. On Saturday he returned to Budapest.
Did young George Soros help with taking inventory of property seized from Jews? His father’s autobiography says yes, Soros himself says no, aside from that initial answer in the 60 Minutes interview. At the very least, he was hanging around while inventory was being taken; he has, in subsequent interviews and writings, said he “accompanied an official of the Ministry of Agriculture, posing as his godson, when he was taking the inventory of a Jewish estate.”
By the way, Kornfeld “was taken to the infamous Mauthausen concentration camp. In return for permitting the Nazis to assume administration of his family’s vast industrial enterprises, he and his family were allowed to leave for Portugal. Following the war his holdings were nationalized and he never returned to Hungary.”
Whatever Soros’s worldview and philosophies as a boy during World War II were, he’s a committed, outspoken, extraordinarily deep-pocketed liberal progressive now. It is not an exaggeration to characterize Soros’s views as radical, particularly compared to the American mainstream.
Because Soros grew to prominence on the U.S. political scene when he spent more than $25 million trying to defeat President Bush in the 2004 election, most members of the media think of him as just another liberal billionaire — Tom Steyer or Michael Bloomberg with a different accent. But his views are genuinely shocking to middle America when they hear them.
Soros was flatly opposed to the War on Terror after 9/11 and declared the U.S. response to al Qaeda to be morally equivalent to the terrorist attacks: “We abhor terrorists, because they kill innocent people for political goals. But by waging war on terror we are doing the same thing.”
In 2006, Soros said that “the main obstacle to a stable and just world is the United States.” Not Iran, not Russia, not China, not Islamist terrorist groups, not transnational crime . . . the United States.
He has generously donated to groups that call on governments the world over to sever or downgrade their diplomatic relations with Israel and calls for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel. He’s made several comments that some interpreted as blaming Jews for anti-Semitism, such as, “I don’t think that you can ever overcome anti-Semitism if you behave as a tribe . . . the only way you can overcome it is if you give up the tribalness.”
He wrote in 2007, “I do believe that attitudes toward Israel are influenced by Israel’s policies, and attitudes toward the Jewish community are influenced by the pro-Israel lobby’s success in suppressing divergent views.”
Soros’s comments either deliberately or inadvertently feed into the notion of Jewish control of American politics:
The pro-Israel lobby has been remarkably successful in suppressing criticism. Politicians challenge it at their peril because of the lobby’s ability to influence political contributions. . . . Academics had their advancement blocked and think-tank experts their funding withdrawn when they stepped too far out of line. Anybody who dares to dissent may be subjected to a campaign of personal vilification… Some leaders of the Democratic Party have promised to bring about a change of direction but they cannot deliver on that promise until they are able to resist the dictates of AIPAC.
Soros is not a fan of national borders or border enforcement. When criticizing Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban in 2017, Soros said, “[Orban’s] plan treats the protection of national borders as the objective and the refugees as an obstacle. Our plan treats the protection of refugees as the objective and national borders as the obstacle.” In many interviews, Soros has decried nationalism and national identity as a menace.
None of the above quotes are from the rumor mill or secret recordings or secondhand claims. Soros openly lays out his beliefs in interviews, speeches, and articles. His viewpoints are not a secret. And it is completely understandable that those who believe in military responses to terror attacks, secure borders, who support Israel, who don’t believe that anti-Semitism is driven in any part by the actions of Jews, who oppose the Iran deal, and who are wary of the notion that China’s government “functions better,” would see Soros as a malevolent force in politics at home and abroad.
The irony is that the Right’s beliefs about Soros aren’t that different from the Left’s beliefs about the Koch brothers, and before that, Richard Mellon Scaife. The grassroots of each party always loathe the biggest donors of the other side and always sees them as shadowy and nefarious. (Of course, the demonization of the Koch brothers usually involves some fudging of their actual philosophies — they’re civil-society building libertarians, not traditional conservatives.)
The false “Soros was a Nazi” accusation helps out Soros by giving him a glaringly implausible charge that makes his critics sound like paranoid loons. The truth about George Soros today, and the agenda he seeks to enact, is bad enough.
Washington Post: Hey, Those Competitive Districts Look Pretty . . . Competitive
I’ve long wondered why news organizations think nationwide “generic ballot” surveys tell their audiences anything useful about which party will have a majority in the House of Representatives after Election Day. If you win all of your seats 90 percent to 10 percent, and the other guy wins all of his seats 52 percent to 48 percent, you can win the national popular vote by a lot and still have considerably fewer than 218 seats.
Across 69 congressional districts identified by the Cook Political Report and The Post as competitive in late August, the Post-Schar School poll finds 50 percent of likely voters support the Democratic candidate, while 46 percent support the Republican. The Democrats’ four-point edge represents a superficial advantage with Republicans, given the poll’s 3.5-point margin of error.
Of those 69 districts, 63 are held by Republicans. The GOP is going to lose a bunch of seats, but the question is whether they lose 22 or less, or whether they lose 23 or more.
One other important detail: “Voters who did not turn out in the 2014 midterms favor Democrats by 55 percent to 42 percent, while those who did vote split 49 percent to 48 percent in Republicans’ favor.” If all of those who say they’re intending to vote keep their word, Democrats will do well. If, as usual, some people are telling the pollster that they’ll vote but don’t, the Republicans might do better than the conventional wisdom suggests.
That ‘Gun Lobby’ Isn’t Spending As Much As It Used to Spend
The Virginia Democratic party really has to stretch to make it sound as if extraordinarily secure incumbent Gerry Connolly is in danger of being unseated by “the gun lobby” that has spent a whole . . . $32,500 against him. That’s less than the Connolly campaign spent on payroll and administrative costs, polling and consulting, or renting a space for a fundraiser.
The NRA’s Political Victory Fund has been quieter and focused on fewer races this cycle. If the election goes badly for Second Amendment advocates, some may wonder if the group was a little too focused.
We’ve seen some awful headlines in recent days — bombs in the mail, shootings in synagogues, angry mobs in the streets. But the odds are good that despite all the troubles in the world, you’re surrounded by a lot of good, decent people in your community. Tonight is Halloween, otherwise known as one of the few nights that people actually knock on the front door.
There’s a good chance that in the after-school hours and into the evening, your doorbell will ring and you’ll be visited by little ghosts and goblins and Iron Men and about a million Elsas from Frozen. The littlest ones will try to remember what they’re supposed to say; the slightly-bigger-than-the-littlest ones will try to remember to say thank you. There’s a good chance that mom or dad will be standing at the end of the driveway; they’ll appreciate a wave. (God bless the guy in my neighborhood who hands out beers to parents escorting the kids around the neighborhood.)
As usual, leave your porch or outdoor light on if you’re home and giving out candy. Drive slowly. And enjoy it. Halloween gets people to walk around in their neighborhoods and interact with the people who live down the street and around the corner, something we probably ought to do more often.
Are Republicans Falling Short in the Final Week Before the Midterm Elections?
As I mentioned to Glenn Beck yesterday, I don’t know if the past week being dominated by news of the Florida mail-bomber and this week being dominated by news of the synagogue shooter is necessarily hurting Republicans’ chances in the midterms. But it’s not helping.
If nothing else, it gets in the way of the closing message. The White House’s closing ad for the cycle is deliberately reminiscent of Ronald Reagan’s 1984 reelection commercial “Morning in America” — families moving into new homes, businesses breaking ground on new projects, parents beaming at elementary-school concerts. “Things are getting better. We can’t go back. November 6, 2018, Vote Republican.” The actions of two hateful nut jobs shouldn’t make us feel like things aren’t getting better anymore. But some voters might look at the headlines and feel like the country’s in a bad place and that Washington needs a change.
The polls should make Republicans nervous; the early vote numbers should soothe them a little (to the extent that one can draw conclusions from the early vote). Remember, there’s no guarantee that a registered Republican will vote Republican or that a registered Democrat will vote Democrat.
Republican governor and U.S. Senate candidate Rick Scott just can’t seem to get over the hump in most Florida polls. I fear that Sunshine State voters are about to teach their elected officials an awful lesson: If you focus on your duties as governor in the aftermath of a hurricane instead of campaigning, you will lose ground against your opponent.
As of this morning, 1,431,655 registered Republicans in Florida have either voted by mail or voted early. That’s a little ahead of the 1,368,718 registered Democrats who have done so, and 592,136 Floridians with no party affiliation have voted early, and another 22,000 or so in other parties.
As of Tuesday morning, Arizonans have cast 1,098,280 ballots – of those, 475,798 are by Republicans, while 365,642 Democrats have voted, according to the Arizona Secretary of State’s arizona.vote website. Potential swing votes from unaffiliated and minor parties make up the remaining 256,840 votes. The median voting age for the state is 64, and slightly more females than males have voted, at 50.6 percent.
A lot of Democrats are excited by a private firm’s analysis of the early vote that reports that “voters under the age of 30 in Texas have increased their turnout by 508 percent” compared to 2014, while “voters over the age of 65 in TX increased their turnout by 96 percent.” But I’ll bet the total number of young Texans who voted early in 2014 was really low. Voters under 30 years old were 13 percent of the total electorate in the 2014 exit poll; by comparison, those 65 and older were 19 percent. In 2014, young voters had a slight preference for incumbent GOP senator Jon Cornyn; those 65 and older preferred him by a three-to-one margin.
In this year’s Texas primaries, Democratic-primary early voting increased by 98 percent, while the Republican early vote increased only by 16 percent. But when both primaries were done — both early and primary day voting — about a million people voted in the Democratic primary, while 1.5 million voted in the Republican primary. It’s very easy for Texas Democrats to show phenomenal improvement upon the 2014 numbers, because the 2014 numbers were abysmal.
(Notice the arrogance of Democrats in believing that all young voters are their voters.) A CBS News poll found that O’Rourke is winning voters under 30 by a margin of 57 percent to 35 percent. That’s nice, but the same poll found O’Rourke tied Cruz among voters under 44 and Cruz was clobbering O’Rourke among older voters, who are likely to be more than half of the electorate. In 2016, voters over 45 years of age made up 54 percent of the electorate; 65 percent in 2014; and 65 percent in 2006.
In Nevada, Jon Ralston’s back-of-the-envelope math suggests that Senator Dean Heller is slightly trailing Democrat challenger Jacky Rosen. Yes, it’s possible that Heller is winning more Democrats or Rosen more Republicans, but the assumptions are logical and in line with historical patterns.
In Colorado, the early vote is evenly split, with registered Republicans enjoying a roughly 1,000 vote lead out of 801,385 votes cast already. In 2014, Republicans enjoyed a consistent and sizable lead.
You Kanye Have It Both Ways
Apparently just a week or so after meeting with Trump in the Oval Office, Kanye West announces he’s distancing himself from politics, declaring, “My eyes are now wide open and now realize I’ve been used to spread messages I don’t believe in.”
I leave the intense analysis of Kanye-world to Mickey; I’ll just observe we’re not supposed to care that much about what a celebrity thinks about politics. In fact, I know everyone is capable of ignoring the political thoughts of celebrities, because there are far too many celebrities to keep track of and most people tune out their manifestos, declarations, and diatribes.
In fact, the popular perception that celebrities and pop stars help the Democrats might be wrong. If celebrity endorsements really persuaded voters, Republicans would never win a race.
I left one Senate race out above; in Tennessee, Republican Marsha Blackburn looks like she’s in good shape. You may recall that in early October, Taylor Swift announced her endorsement of Democrat Phil Bredesen. People thought this might carry more weight than the usual endorsement; until recently, Swift was relatively apolitical, she has an adoring fan base, and she’s involved in a lot of Tennesseecharities. And yet polling showed no clear sign of a bump for Bredesen; Blackburn appears to have gained strength throughout autumn.
This probably doesn’t represent an anti–Taylor Swift backlash, just a red state reverting to form as Election Day approached. (Unless the percentage of the electorate that self-identifies as “one of Taylor Swift’s ex-boyfriends” has now grown large enough to become a key polling demographic.)
Most celebrities in the worlds of music, television, and movies are going to end up on the left. This really shouldn’t bother conservatives that much. It isn’t really unfair. There’s nothing in the Constitution that says that musicians, actors, comedians, and television personalities are supposed to split 50-50 or represent the popular vote.
Why are pop stars, actors, directors, and the rest more likely to be liberal Democrats? By and large, artists think of themselves as rebels and Bohemians, defying closed-minded conventions and customs and daring to challenge a hidebound culturally conservative establishment. That establishment died off sometime in the 1950s, but they still believe in it. To the extent that those in the entertainment industries are associated with libertine lifestyles, entertainers may believe their lives embody true freedom.
Hollywood is nothing like small-town America because the capital of the entertainment industry is largely populated by people who couldn’t wait to leave small-town America. Someone once theorized that The Simpsons offers such a cynical view of American suburbia, full of bumbling fathers, incompetent cops, power-mad principals, hapless teachers, and insufferable Christian neighbors because each writer came from his or her own personal Springfield and arrived in Hollywood eager to mock the communities that shaped them.
Entertainment’s movers and shakers think of themselves as anti-establishment, even though they became the establishment decades ago. The industries of music and acting have always pursued the youth audience and celebrated young performers; some might argue they’ve always exploited young talent.
The culture in the entertainment industry is self-sustaining and self-reinforcing; we hear how strongly those movie stars and pop stars feel about liberal causes during their speeches at the Oscars and Grammys. In interviews, celebrities sound indistinguishable from a liberal blog’s comment section. It takes a lot of courage and willingness for working performers to dissent from such orthodoxy — and risk repercussions to their careers. Many ideas that conservatives perceive as part of the liberal policy agenda — gay rights, environmentalism, the right to an abortion — are seen by a lot of Hollywood figures as merely commonsense good causes.
Celebrities are generally wealthy and have their wealth managed by others, so taxation isn’t really a high concern. The vast majority are members of unions that they genuinely believe protects them from exploitation — or, after Me Too, even worse exploitation. Hollywood’s casting always seems kind of random, and perhaps some stars feel a sense of guilt. They’re living a life of luxury, while the guy who was almost as good as them gets stuck in an endless series of minor roles in schlocky B-movies. The stories about Harvey Weinstein’s vendetta against certain actresses suggest that actors and actresses were rarely cast on merit.
I recall Andrew Breitbart’s declaration that politics is downstream from culture. It would be nice to have more conservative celebrities, but it’s hardly a priority. The Right looks silly when it throws hosannas at long-forgotten performers such as Scott Baio or Stephen Baldwin. There’s nothing wrong with being a fan, but the reason you pay any attention to those guys are the fond memories you have of their work in Happy Days, or The Usual Suspects, or other television and films. God bless them for standing up for what they believe in, but we shouldn’t be turning to actors and singers for guidance on how to handle Iran, set tax rates, or develop a competitive workforce.
ADDENDA: Senator Joe Donnelly, Democrat of Indiana: “Our state director is Indian-American, but he does an amazing job. Our director of all constituent services, she’s African-American. But she does an even more incredible job than you could ever imagine.”
Man, it must be nice to be a Democrat, knowing that any awful-sounding slip of the tongue won’t be misconstrued as a racist insult and a major issue dominating the final week of the campaign.
Making the click-through worthwhile: President Trump wants to eliminate birthright citizenship through an executive order, a move that is certain to face a legal challenge; Julia Ioffe says something awful, continuing a long pattern; and the Energy Information Administration unveils some new data that should have environmentalists cheering . . . but probably won’t.
A Week Before Election Day, a Birthright-Citizenship Debate Rises
Axios reports: “President Trump plans to sign an executive order that would remove the right to citizenship for babies of non-citizens born on U.S. soil, he said yesterday in an exclusive interview for ‘Axios on HBO,’ a new four-part documentary news series debuting on HBO.”
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
At first glance, the amendment’s language appears straightforward: All persons born in the United States are citizens — leading to the conclusion that if Trump and his allies want to change birthright citizenship, they’re going to have to amend the Constitution.
(We haven’t changed the Constitution since 1992, when the country barred Congress from granting pay raises to themselves in the current session; all raises must take effect in the following session. We on the right get justifiably angry when gun-control advocates choose to ignore the Second Amendment instead of trying to repeal or edit it. Why not set the proper example and make a national effort to amend the Constitution to limit birthright citizenship? Just think of how much this would educate the country. Yes, amending the Constitution is difficult and it’s supposed to be: It requires a two-thirds majority vote in both the House of Representatives and the Senate and then it has to be ratified by three-quarters of the states — 38 out of 50. But if we don’t demonstrate that the plain text of the Constitution must be respected, who will?)
But some constitutional scholars argue that the phrase “subject to the jurisdiction thereof” would exclude illegal immigrants. After all, they’re not subject to our jurisdiction, because they’re not in the country legally. At the time of the adoption and since, there has been broad legal and political consensus that the 14th Amendment excluded some small groups in particular circumstances. Peter H. Schuck and Rogers M. Smith write, “Everyone agrees that ‘subject to the jurisdiction’ was intended to exclude the children of foreign diplomats, occupying enemy armies, and children born to foreigners while on foreign vessels in U.S. waters — even though they are then literally subject to our jurisdiction. Everyone also agrees that the 14th Amendment’s framers intended to exclude tribal Native Americans” who were classified as “domestic dependent nations” by the Supreme Court in 1831.
Michael Anton, the most outspoken advocate for ending birthright citizenship, argued that the birthright-citizenship policy in place since the 1860s is based on a misreading of the amendment, and that it was never meant to apply to the children of those in the country illegally. He contends that any fair-minded judge would have to concede that U.S. policy has been misinterpreting and misapplying the amendment all along.
He may get that assessment from the Supremes soon. An effort to overturn more than a century of precedent with an executive order is going to face an instant legal challenge — some group is probably writing up the request for a preliminary injunction as we speak. But who knows if this Supreme Court, even with Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh on it, will approve of a sweeping change to longstanding policy done by executive order. The Supreme Court has upheld the executive branch having wide latitude on who to allow into the country, but denying citizenship to children born here would be a dramatic new step.
This Isn’t Ioffe’s First Gaffe
GQ correspondent Julia Ioffe on CNN yesterday: “I think this president, one of the things that he really launched his presidential run on is talking about Islamic radicalization. And this president has radicalized so many more people than ISIS ever did.”
After the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, Ioffe claimed “this president makes this possible” and contended that Jews who voted for Trump “have some thinking to do.” (In 2009, an 88-year-old white supremacist shot at the U.S. Holocaust museum, killing one person and injuring another. In 2014, there were two shootings at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City and Village Shalom, a Jewish retirement community in Overland Park, Kan., leaving three dead. Did the president at that time “make those possible”?)
Previously, Ioffe contended that a “silent majority” of Trump supporters are “okay with racism and anti-Semitism.”
She once asked the Trump organization in a list of written inquiries, “Was there ever a time when Donald Trump Jr. felt any oedipal impulses?”
After the appointment of three retired generals, Ioffe said the Trump administration should be called a “junta.”
She contended that Republican animosity towards Susan Rice is driven by racism.
She suggested that President Trump was having sexual relations with his daughter, leading to her dismissal from Politico.
She refers to the attorney general as “Jefferson Beauregard Sessions.” While this is indeed the attorney general’s middle name, use of all three names is an attempt to play into negative stereotypes of the South. The press was rightly wary about those who consistently referred to the previous president with all three names — “Barack Hussein Obama.”
Some of us remember back in 2013, when Ioffe, then writing for The New Republic, suggested President Obama should deal with congressional Republicans the way Boris Yeltsin did, by dissolving parliament and then using military forces to shell the Russian parliament building when they refused to leave.
In other words . . . how many awful things do you have to say before the CNN bookers say, “Hey, let’s leave Julia off the panel?”
Who Has Eliminated Carbon Emissions by 28 Percent Since 2005? You Did!
U.S. electric power sector carbon dioxide emissions (CO2) have declined 28% since 2005 because of slower electricity demand growth and changes in the mix of fuels used to generate electricity. EIA has calculated that CO2 emissions from the electric power sector totaled 1,744 million metric tons (MMmt) in 2017, the lowest level since 1987.
Increases in electricity generation from noncarbon power sources since 2005 also had an effect on emissions from power generation. This growth has been driven largely by state policies and federal tax incentives that encouraged adoption of renewables. In 2005, noncarbon sources accounted for 28% of the U.S. electricity mix. By 2017, that share had grown to 38%. Almost all of this growth was in renewables, including wind and solar, as shares for other noncarbon sources such as nuclear and hydroelectricity remained relatively flat.
The EIA also reports that “U.S. electricity demand has decreased in 6 of the past 10 years, as industrial demand has declined and residential and commercial demand has remained relatively flat.” This has happened as the U.S. population has increased by 21 million people in the past decade.
So why won’t the environmentalists be touting this news? Because they want policy changes, and it’s hard to build momentum for policy changes if the news is good. If carbon emissions are going down because of market forces, consumer choices, and technological development, then there’s no need to force additional changes in people’s behavior through the law. The environmental movement needs you to be worried about your children’s future, because otherwise, you’ll turn your attention to other, more pressing problems.
ADDENDA:Thanks to all who have donated to the current webathon. One of my favorite readers wrote in, pointing out that when she discusses National Review, her friends think that we’re an institution rolling in money. The magazine always looks nice and glossy on the newsstand or in the bookstore, our staff is dressed in suits when you see us on television, and of course, William F. Buckley was debonair sophistication personified.
The suits can run through the numbers in more detail than I can, but you don’t create a political magazine to make a fortune. A lot of traditional magazine advertisers are scared of being associated with anything too controversial. Companies’ interest in web advertising is growing, but slowly. Subscriptions help but are never enough. NR makes some money on the cruises. But we’ve always run on donations from readers — from the beginning. We’ve never been part of a larger conglomerate, never had a billionaire backing us as a hobby. It’s always been the slow accumulation of all of those small donations from readers who are simply the best.
I’m blessed to do what I do, and I thank you for helping make that possible.
Happy Monday. We’re eight days away from Election Day. Making the click-through worthwhile: why we need to push back against conspiracy theories; anti-individualism, and the troubled minds attracted to those ideas; the youth aren’t interested in voting early so far this year; and why the GOP could have a good Election Day but not quite live up to the “red wave” claims.
Take This Conspiracy Theory and Shove It
What do the Pittsburgh synagogue shooter, the Florida mail-bomber, the angry young man who drove a van into a crowd on a Toronto street in April, and last year’s shooter at the congressional baseball field have in common?
Based on what we know at this time, they all subscribed to a worldview where the problems in the world stemmed from a particular group of people they deemed sinister and powerful. The Pittsburgh synagogue shooter believed it was a worldwide Jewish conspiracy. The Florida mail-bomber believed that it was George Soros and prominent Democrats. The Toronto van driver believed that it was a vast, coordinated effort of the world’s women to keep him and other “incels” from relationships and happiness. The shooter at the congressional baseball field believed that President Trump and Republicans had “destroyed our democracy” and that they were the “Taliban of the USA.”
At some point, all of these men became fixated on “them” — some sort of group that they could blame for all of the problems in their lives. The baseball-field shooter was married and had his own business once, but he had been arrested for domestic battery towards a foster daughter; another foster daughter killed herself. The baseball-field shooter eventually dissolved his business and became increasingly obsessed with politics. The Florida mail-bomber had declared bankruptcy, had been arrested nine times, and was living in his van. The Toronto van driver was nearly friendless, awkward, technically proficient, but had difficulty with social skills.
We’re still learning details about the synagogue shooter, but by Sunday, the familiar portrait was coming into focus: “an isolated, awkward man who lived alone and struggled with basic human interactions, neighbors and others who knew him said on Sunday.”
It’s almost always the same, isn’t it? Few or no friends, no relationships, estranged from family, difficulty holding down a job, and a lot of time spent online on chat boards and sites that reinforce growing paranoia, scapegoating, and hatred. It’s safe to assume this shooter’s life, like the others, did not turn out the way that he had hoped.
All of these men shared an inability to face the possibility that the problems in their life were a result of their own decisions and actions. They retreated to the flattering conclusion that only a vast conspiracy of powerful forces could possibly have brought them to this state of perpetual disappointment.
The good news is that very few of us walk around thinking like this. If all it took to turn someone into a homicidal maniac was a Donald Trump speech, or a Bernie Sanders speech, or an anti-Semitic website, or a rant against women, then the world would be nonstop massacres.
To blame Trump or Sanders or anyone else in our political realm for the actions of the homicidal is as arbitrary as blaming video games, heavy-metal music, rap music, violent movies, or Dungeons and Dragons for youth crime.
But if one of the preeminent arguments in our society about the power of the individual — whether we are the captains of our fate and masters of our soul, or whether the quality of our lives is heavily determined by broader societal factors outside of our individual ability to control, influence, or overcome — then the conspiracy theorists are just a more extreme form of a pretty widespread anti-individualist philosophy.
The average progressive activist may or may not be much of a conspiracy theorist in terms of chemtrails, Area 51, the Roswell crash, the JFK assassination, and so on. But they’re likely to believe that the Kochs; Sheldon Adelson; big businesses; top-level Republicans; some of the Supreme Court justices; and variously, “the military-industrial complex;” Diebold voting machines; the Saudis; the Russians; and various other malevolent forces are working in concert to take America towards a dark future.
And Trump-era conservative activists may buy into farfetched notions of secret sinister plots uniting George Soros, illegal immigrants, Silicon Valley moguls, climate-change scientists working together to con the public, “crisis actors,” the Clinton “Arkancide” list, the killing of Seth Rich, Pizzagate, the “deep state,” and so on.
A 2012 poll found that roughly one-third of Democrats believed that the 2004 election was stolen, and one-third of Republicans believed that the 2012 election was stolen, and research in 2009 found that about 40 percent of Republicans believed that President Obama was born abroad, and about 40 percent of Democrats thought that 9/11 was an inside job.
At least all of these folks can come together and unite by refusing to vaccinate their children.
What we need is a broad, society-wide push to hammer hard truths into people’s heads.
If you’re having problems with your career, it’s your own damn fault. If you’re having problems in your relationships, it’s your own damn fault. It’s not because of the Illuminati, or the Trilateral Commission, or the Bilderbergers, or the Stonecutters.
If your life has not turned out the way you wanted it to, do something about it — stop sitting in front of a computer screen, reading a site that is assuring you that it’s because of government false-flag operations, or that the elections are rigged, or they’re putting stuff in the water, or that natural-cause deaths of famous figures were disguised assassinations, or that the weather is being controlled, and that secret government agencies are behind every major news event. You’re not important enough for the world’s rich, powerful, and/or sinister to get together and seek to undermine you. They don’t need to hold you back; you’re doing that job just fine on your own.
(You’ll notice that shooters and bombers don’t get named in my columns. If part of their motivation is the appetite for fame and recognition, let their names be forgotten.)
Maybe Young People Just Aren’t Interested in Voting Early
Young voters may still turn out in big numbers in 2018, but so far they’re not voting early. In Nevada, only 12 percent of early voters are under age 40, as of Saturday. A full half of the early voters are between the ages of 59 and 80 years old.
Politico looks at the numbers in Florida, where one-fifth of all the active registered voters have voted already:
Voters between the ages of 18-29 are 17 percent of the registered voters in Florida but have only cast 5 percent of the ballots so far. They tend to vote more Democratic. Meanwhile, voters 65 and older are 18.4 percent of the electorate but have cast 51.4 percent of the ballots. And older voters tend to vote more Republican.
Republicans Might Have an Okay 2018, But It’s Not a ‘Red Wave’
While I’m mildly bullish on Republican chances in the midterms, the “red wave” talk was always unrealistic. The Democratic base is fired up, and there’s not much that President Trump or the GOP can do about that. They can fire up their own base, and they have. The president has maintained a marathon schedule of rallies in corners of key states where he can do the most good. They can mitigate and attempt to equal the “blue wave,” but they can’t get Democrats to lose interest in voting in the midterms.
Trump and Republicans could take a certain pride in Democratic enthusiasm; the opposition gets fired up when the party in power actually does something consequential. But we saw the consequence of that highly motivated Democratic base in Virginia in 2017, and a whole bunch of states are tough for a Republican to win if the Democratic base shows up in force.
In Michigan, John James is a great candidate who’s closed the gap against Debbie Stabenow by a lot. But she’s still the favorite, and in the governor’s race, Republican Bill Schuette has consistently trailed Democrat Gretchen Whitmer. In Ohio, Jim Renacci never really put incumbent Democratic senator Sherrod Brown in danger, and in the governor’s race, Mike DeWine is no better than neck-and-neck with Richard Cordray. In Wisconsin, Leah Vukmir is a good candidate running in a tough year, and while Governor Scott Walker has overcome doubters many times before, this year looks particularly tough. In Pennsylvania, Congressman Lou Barletta represents a blue-collar district in the northeastern corner of the state, and he looked like the perfect challenger against incumbent Senator Bob Casey, but so far the race looks like a blowout. And Scott Wagner has failed to make his bid against incumbent Democratic governor Tom Wolf competitive.
There are nine big statewide gubernatorial or Senate races in those five Rust Belt/Upper Midwest states that were key to the 2016 election — Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Iowa. Democrats are on pace to win about six of those nine races, which should make the GOP at least a little nervous about Trump’s ability to keep them red in 2020.
ADDENDUM: (Sigh) Well, congratulations to Greg Corombos and Chicago Bears fans everywhere. After the game, New York Jets head coach Todd Bowles said he was “very proud of the way they fought and stayed together.” When you’re praising your team for not retiring or running away from the stadium before the final whistle, you’ve really set the bar low.
Making the click-through worthwhile: a series of scandals and gaffes that hopefully represent the last we’ll ever hear from Michael Avenatti, the latest on the suspicious devices being sent in the mail to prominent Democrats, and a historical perspective on the media hyping a young Democrat in Texas.
Lawyer, Liar, Pants on Fire
What is the legal consequence of providing false evidence to a congressional committee? Michael Avenatti, the lawyer for Stormy Daniels who has been talking about a 2020 presidential campaign, is probably about to find out. You may recall that his client Julie Swetnick walked back a lot of the allegations in her sworn statement about Brett Kavanaugh and a wild accusation of a three-year reign of terror as high schooler organizing group predation of college girls. Now a second woman is saying that Avenatti did not accurately describe what she told him.
NBC News also found other apparent inconsistencies in a second sworn statement from another woman whose statement Avenatti provided to the Senate Judiciary Committee in a bid to bolster Swetnick’s claims.
In the second statement, the unidentified woman said she witnessed Kavanaugh “spike” the punch at high school parties in order to sexually take advantage of girls. But less than 48 hours before Avenatti released her sworn statement on Twitter, the same woman told NBC News a different story.
Referring to Kavanaugh spiking the punch, “I didn’t ever think it was Brett,” the woman said to reporters in a phone interview arranged by Avenatti on Sept. 30 after repeated requests to speak with other witnesses who might corroborate Swetnick’s claims. As soon as the call began, the woman said she never met Swetnick in high school and never saw her at parties and had only become friends with her when they were both in their 30s.
When asked in the phone interview if she ever witnessed Kavanaugh act inappropriately towards girls, the woman replied, “no.” She did describe a culture of heavy drinking in high school that she took part in and said Kavanaugh and his friend Mark Judge were part of that group.
But reached by phone independently from Avenatti on Oct. 3, the woman said she only “skimmed” the declaration. After reviewing the statement, she wrote in a text on Oct. 4 to NBC News: “It is incorrect that I saw Brett spike the punch. I didn’t see anyone spike the punch…I was very clear with Michael Avenatti from day one.”
NBC then described Avenatti trying to get the woman to change her story again, in response to the network’s questioning. After several days, she texted NBC News, “I will definitely talk to you again and no longer Avenatti. I do not like that he twisted my words.”
“Sworn statements” are supposed to be considered more reliable because the person making the statement is declaring them “under penalty of perjury that the forgoing is true and correct.” They are not press releases or advertising. This is why you should do more than “skim” a legal document being sent to Congress in your name.
(An odd contrast: Donald Trump and his companies have been involved in 3,500 legal actions in the past three decades. He estimates that he’s given about 100 depositions and testified in court about 100 times. He’s got a reputation as a notorious, even pathological liar or at best a serial exaggerator . . . and yet somehow Trump’s never been charged with or convicted of perjury. He backs down from implausible claims, and a lot of the bluster disappears. For a man who loves taking risks, Trump sure knows how to get cautious when the consequences are high enough.)
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley referred all of the contradictions to the sworn statements to the Department of Justice, and noted that the committee spoke with “45 individuals, obtained 25 written statements and reviewed numerous other materials” but could not find “any information to corroborate Ms. Swetnick’s claims.”
It’s good that NBC News did this story. But it raises tough questions about how the media will treat Avenatti from now on. Swetnick’s sworn statement does not match her account of the events told to NBC. This other woman’s sworn statement does not match her account of the events told to NBC. And Avenatti pursued a longshot “defamation” lawsuit on behalf of Stormy Daniels against President Trump and now Daniels has to pay Trump’s legal fees — which, with four lawyers working for six months, is probably going to be a hefty sum. (Avenatti insists that he’ll win bigger damages for Daniels against Trump in a separate lawsuit.)
Does . . . Michael Avenatti really operate in the best interests of his clients? Are these women better off now than before they met him?
The irony is that might not even be Thursday’s most damaging news story for Avenatti. He sat down for an interview with Time magazine, and basically said the Democratic party shouldn’t nominate a woman or a minority for president in 2020.
Besides shameless and self-serving — par for the course for Avenatti — his argument is historically illiterate. We just had a two-term African-American president! Women have been elected to statewide offices in 49 out of the 50 states. The holdout is that notorious bastion of right-wing misogyny . . . er, Vermont. Forty states have elected minorities to statewide office. The electorate didn’t have a problem with a woman president. The electorate had a problem with that particular woman as president.
Then Avenatti told the Daily Caller that he never made such a statement. The Time interview describes him “leaning back in an easy chair in his well-appointed New Hampshire hotel suite” and the article begins with describing Avenatti at a mid-August event in New Hampshire.
And the other irony is that this might not even be the most embarrassing Avenatti news story of the week! Monday was pretty bad, too:
Michael Avenatti, the lawyer for porn actress Stormy Daniels, was hit with a personal judgment of $4.85 million Monday for his failure to pay a debt to a former colleague at his longtime Newport Beach firm.
Less than an hour after his defeat in the Los Angeles lawsuit, Avenatti suffered another setback at a trial in Orange County: The Irvine Co. won a court order evicting him and his staff from their offices because the firm, Eagan Avenatti, skipped the last four months of rent.
That trial described checks bouncing. If Avenatti’s spending way more than he can afford, maybe he’s more suited for government work than we thought.
The Latest on the Suspicious Package Deliveries
We’re up to twelve suspicious packages, as of this writing: George Soros, Bill and Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Eric Holder (addressed to him incorrectly, returned to the office of Debbie Wasserman Schultz), two to Maxine Waters, one to John Brennan care of CNN, two packages to Joe Biden, Robert DeNiro, and just breaking this morning, a package addressed to Cory Booker, and a package addressed to James Clapper, care of CNN again.
You’re going to hear a lot of people arguing whether the devices were meant to merely look like bombs, or whether they could function as bombs. We shouldn’t expect authorities to shed too much light on this until the perpetrator is caught, because the inability to detonate could be accidental. The police can’t say, “yeah, it wouldn’t have gone off because he’s using the wrong kind of wires” or anything like that, to tip him off or any potential copycats out there.
You can see the thinking on the Right: “These are non-functioning bombs because the bomber didn’t really want to hurt anyone. It’s a Leftist who wants to make Trump supporters and Republicans look bad. This is designed to take over the news cycle two weeks before Election Day, and feed the narrative that Trump supporters are violent and dangerous.”
And that could be the case! Or it may not. We just don’t have enough information to rule anything out at this point. It could also be what many of the Left suspect: “This is a dangerous and deranged individual who loves the president and hates all of his critics.”
The sender could be building them to not function, because as angry as he is, he only wants to scare his targets, not kill them. Or he may just not be all that skilled at building bombs.
But a lot of people out there have skipped straight to casting blame, offering some variation of, “We don’t know who’s responsible, but we know who’s really ultimately responsible.” They’re much less interested in determining criminal culpability than establishing political culpability.
Texas Political History Repeats Itself
My article about the media’s passionate love affair with Beto O’Rourke and his campaign in the latest issue of NR is out from behind the paywall. Way back in 1996, I was a hapless and intimidated intern in the Washington Bureau of the Dallas Morning News, just thrilled to get the occasional assignment to cover stories like the National Spelling Bee. I was working in the office after little-known schoolteacher Victor Morales won the Democratic Senate primary, and I remember how most of the reporters and editors at the bureau reacted like it was an earthquake story. Morales’s win was a huge surprise, and marked history as the first Latino Senate candidate of either party, but even back then as a right-leaning polywog I remember thinking, “Okay, slow down, this is a feel-good story, but he’s not going to beat Phil Gramm.” The incumbent Republican senator who had just ended his presidential campaign went on to win by 11 points, but you would never be able to tell from the national ,media coverage of 1996 that Morales had no real shot.
Twenty-two years have passed, and the national media is still getting wildly excited about a young, photogenic Democratic candidate running statewide in Texas.
As Detective Rust Cohle told us, “Time is a flat circle.”
ADDENDUM:All right: “The economy looks like it will expand above a 3% rate in 2018. That hasn’t happened since 2005.”
Making the click-through worthwhile: What we know about the Mail Bomber at this hour, the New York Times offers readers a presidential-assassination fantasy, and selected highlights from the NRPlus elections briefing that you probably missed.
What We Know about the Mail Bomber
Suspicious packages featuring “potentially explosive devices,” in the words of the FBI, have now been sent to addresses associated with George Soros; Bill and Hillary Clinton; Congresswoman Maxine Waters (two packages, to two offices); former President Barack Obama; former CIA Director John Brennan, care of CNN; former Attorney General Eric Holder; and this morning, Robert De Niro’s film and production company. Authorities believe a similar package was sent to former Vice President Joe Biden, but the address was incorrect and returned to sender; authorities are attempting to track it.
The package to Holder was addressed to the former attorney general but sent to the Florida office of Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, whose return address was on the package.
The package sent to Brennan (with his name misspelled) at CNN had U.S. postage stamps on it but appeared to be sent by courier. The Time Warner building in Manhattan has considerable security; guests’ bags are screened before they can proceed through the lobby. It is almost certain that the courier who delivered the package was caught on video; the NYPD is already reviewing the video.
The good news is, authorities will have a lot to work with, and their forensics abilities are remarkable. They’ll dust the package for fingerprints and test the envelope to see if he licked the seal and left DNA. Many of the components used in the device can usually be traced back to the source. The suspects usually have some sort of formal engineering experience in the military, law enforcement, or from other sources. Bomb-makers often have a “signature” that indicates how and where they were taught.
It’s easy to forget, but the city of Austin, Texas, suffered from a serial bomber’s attacks earlier this year. One of the bombs went off inside a FedEx facility in San Antonio, addressed to a location in Austin. Mail bombs are difficult to build; they need to be stable enough to not go off during all the movements involved in the shipping process but to work once the package is opened.
A loud contingent of conservatives on Twitter really want to believe that the perpetrator is someone on the left, who is trying to make Trump supporters look bad. Based upon how little we know, that cannot be ruled out. But it’s rather bizarre to hear the absolute, adamant insistence that this could not possibly be a bomber who identifies himself as being on the right or as a supporter of the president. There are idiots and nut jobs all across the political spectrum, and quite a few who don’t fit neatly on it. The Tucson shooter was a paranoid schizophrenic, and he only became competent to stand trial after being forcibly medicated with psychotropic drugs for more than a year.
Some folks thought that a series of marks on the device resembled the ISIS flag. Closer examination suggests it’s not quite what it seems:
An image on the explosive device sent to former CIA Director John Brennan on Tuesday appears to be a parody of an ISIS flag taken from a meme that has been circulating on right-wing corners of the internet since 2014.
The print-out appears to show a parody flag that replaces Arabic characters with the silhouette of three women in high heels, and a middle inscription reading “Get ‘Er Done” — which is the catchphrase of standup comedian Larry the Cable Guy.
It’s like we’re living in some sort of absurdist parody of 24.
Once again, very little can be ruled out at this point. One would think that an ISIS follower would be able to distinguish the actual ISIS flag from a parody, but you may recall that a protest in support of al Qaeda in October 2001 featured a poster that included many pictures of Osama bin Laden, and the protest organizers included an image that Photoshopped OBL next to Bert from Sesame Street. (One can only imagine U.S. intelligence attempting to make sense of that image and trying to figure out if it was some sort of bizarre al-Qaeda coded signal.)
But in all likelihood, this is not ISIS. From what we know and what we’ve seen of ISIS, are they or their inspired followers the type of guys who mail nonfunctional bombs to high-profile figures? And high-profile Democrats in particular? Isn’t their M.O. more to put bombs in places where they’ll kill at random? And don’t ISIS bombs . . . generally work?
The bomber’s choice of target is always a statement in one way or another. You may recall that in the immediate hours of the Boston Marathon bombing, some speculated that the attack must have been tied to militias in some way. The bombing occurred on April 15, 2013; it was close to tax day, the anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing, and the Waco siege. But that explanation didn’t really fit the choice of target — if you’re a militia-type, mad at the government, convinced they’re coming for your guns, on the watch for black helicopters, etcetera . . . would you choose to blow up the Boston Marathon?
There are some who grumble that we shouldn’t speculate about who’s behind something like this, that we shouldn’t look at the photos of the packages and devices and try to figure out what we can determine. Amateurs playing detective may not make much difference, and their guesses and theories may not turn out to be accurate, but I think that this is a very human act. We live in a world that is unpredictable, scary, and often doesn’t make much sense.
History suggests that serial bombers have certain traits:
Male, detail-oriented, motivated by spectacle through destruction as opposed to merely destructiveness. He takes pride in abilities and planning, is socially isolated and quiet, and feels himself as unsuccessful in intimacy. He has a keen awareness of media and its tendencies in reporting.
This Is a Really Bad Week to Showcase Assassination Fantasies
If we really do want to calm passions and anger in society instead of stirring them up, perhaps the New York Times could refrain from offering assassination fantasies in its pages. This coming Sunday, the book-review section will feature “some of today’s most talented spy and crime novelists — Joseph Finder, Laura Lippman, Jason Matthews, Zoë Sharp and Scott Turow — to conjure possible outcomes” to Trump’s relationship with Vladimir Putin.
Zoë Sharp chose to imagine the Secret Service, so embarrassed by Trump’s presidency, that they choose to assist a Russian assassin:
The Makarov misfired.
The Secret Service agent at the president’s shoulder heard the click, spun into a crouch.
He registered the scene instantly, drawing his own weapon with razor-edge reflexes.
The Russian tasted failure. He closed his eyes and waited to pay the cost.
It did not come.
He opened his eyes. The Secret Service agent stood before him, presenting his Glock, butt first.
“Here,” the agent said politely. “Use mine. . . . ”
Good timing, guys.
The Election Update You (Probably) Missed
If you missed today’s NRPlus conference call with Rich and myself . . . well, shame on you! You’ll only get the short version of my conversations with various GOP campaign staffers, strategists, and fundraisers. (So if you haven’t already, join NRPlus!)
I laid out what I had been hearing from a variety of Republicans working on campaigns this cycle. In the Senate races, Blackburn looks good in Tennessee. Among Missourians who approved of the president, incumbent Democrat Claire McCaskill had the support of 13 percent before the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation fight; now she’s down to 5 percent. We can separately check and see that Trump’s approval in Missouri is 51 percent. That gives her about 2.5 percent, and throw in the 45 percent of respondents who disapprove . . . and that leaves her at 47.5 percent. Tough spot for an incumbent.
Texas is locked up; as one guy who’s worked on campaigns for a long time put it, he never wants to hear about the evils of “money in politics” from Democrats again, speculating that if Beto O’Rourke didn’t have a huge fundraising advantage over Ted Cruz, the Democrat would be consistently trailing by double digits.
I like this metaphor from one veteran strategist about the House races, urging people to picture that we’re on a bicycle, and the midterms are a giant chasm with a ramp in front of it. The GOP is like Evel Knievel, trying to jump over the chasm. He said we’re pedaling in the right direction, and we’re building momentum. It’s not easy, and if we make it, we’re just going to barely make it: “But if we don’t keep pedaling as hard as we can, we’re going to fall short and lose and fall into the chasm.” There was quite a bit of frustration that so many House Republicans were taking on enormously well-funded challengers.
ADDENDUM: As Tevi Troy observes, if you haven’t listened to the Three Martini Lunch this week, you’ve missed some awful attack ads against the Bears and Jets. This weekend brings the matchup between the city that wrongly prosecuted Dr. Richard Kimble against the city that doesn’t actually host the team that plays in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
Making the click-through worthwhile: Some big media voices sound the alarm that the 2018 “blue wave” of Democratic victories is dissipating; Democratic candidates suddenly lose their voices when the conversation focuses on the caravan in Mexico; an upcoming conference call; and the debate on the Three Martini Lunch podcast turns ugly.
Democrats Start to Fear that They Took the 2018 ‘Blue Wave’ for Granted
In the closing stretch of the 2018 campaign, the question is no longer the size of the Democratic wave. It’s whether there will be a wave at all.
Top operatives in both political parties concede that Democrats’ narrow path to the Senate majority has essentially disappeared, a casualty of surging Republican enthusiasm across GOP strongholds. At the same time, leading Democrats now fear the battle for the House majority will be decided by just a handful of seats…
There are signs that the Democrats’ position in the expanding House battlefield may actually be improving. Yet Republican candidates locked in tight races from New York to Nevada find themselves in stronger-than-expected positions because of a bump in President Donald Trump’s popularity, the aftermath of a divisive Supreme Court fight and the sudden focus on a caravan of Latin American immigrants seeking asylum at the U.S. border.
Democrats say they never assumed it would be easy.
The blue wave is real, and it’s a monster . . . What’s staring us in the face is a big blue Democratic takeover in Washington. Not only will it buoy Democrats to retake the House, but it will also propel Democratic Senate candidates in red states and power down-ballot Democrats into state legislative seats in every corner of the country. That’s exactly what happened in Virginia’s elections last year, right? That’s how it feels right now, a total wipeout for Republicans, even ones we assumed were safe.
But then Kavanaugh’s nomination fight happened, and a lot of voters who don’t pay much attention to politics in spring and summer started to tune in. Senate Democrats who insisted that they were moderates — such as Heidi Heitkamp, Joe Donnelly, and Claire McCaskill — suddenly didn’t sound so moderate. Some Republican campaigns held their fire until it mattered — such as the opposition research showing all of the times that Kyrsten Sinema called Arizona the “meth lab of democracy” and other snide criticisms of her home state where she’s running for Senate. And once again, we learned that national polling isn’t all that useful for measuring who’s ahead in a swing House district. The big question may be whether the blue wave dissipated or whether its size was exaggerated from the start.
With two weeks until the election, Republican leaders and President Trump are increasingly bullish about Republican voters and moderate independents rallying behind the party’s candidates rather than taking a chance on a Democratic challenger or a Democratic-controlled House. A healthy economy, Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh’s confirmation fight and, most recently, Mr. Trump’s ominous warnings and baseless charges about a migrant caravan threatening the border have energized supporters at rallies and candidate forums.
. . . In many neighborhoods with key House races, daily life is pretty good. Unemployment is at a five-decade low. Confidence is spilling over among consumers and businesses. The economy is on track to grow at its fastest pace in years.
Those developments benefit people whom Democrats have targeted, too: Women in upscale, right-of-center, white suburbs where Hillary Clinton edged out a victory; Trump voters in struggling rural and industrial areas with deep Democratic roots; and minorities in racially diverse metro areas.
While the president looms large over this election, drawing out both opponents and supporters, local issues like school funding or mining are in the forefront of some races. In others, Republican incumbents’ blend of personality and policy positions has won over independents and moderates.
Some Democrats hitting the panic button are no doubt attempting to dispel complacency, such as Jon Lovett on the Colbert show last night:
“How many times are we going to do this?” Lovett exclaimed. “All right? It doesn’t matter what the early votes look like. It doesn’t matter what the polls look like. We can lose everything! We lost everything two years ago! We can lose everything again! Oh my God! Stop reading polls!”
Lots of Republicans don’t like hearing this, but this is how liberal media bias actually helps the GOP. Folks on the right get used to hearing that they’re going to lose, how the Democrats have all the advantages, and they develop the ability to just keep plugging away in a tough environment. GOP grassroots activists are used to bad news, critical coverage, and ominous poll results. They’ve seen their candidates give amazing debate performances and then watch the coverage declare the Democrat the big winner. They’re used to having their attack ads denounced as vicious and unfair while the Democratic candidate’s ads are merely “hard-hitting” or “tough.” They’re used to seeing unflattering photos of candidates on the front page, comments taken out of context, fact-checkers that get the facts wrong, headlines that leave the wrong impression, and glowing editorial-page endorsements of the opposition. They’re used to having their yard signs stolen.
And they get up every morning and knock on doors and make the calls and participate in get-out-the-vote efforts anyway.
That may or may not be enough to give Republicans a “good” midterm election this year. But it’s preventing the Democratic tsunami that people were talking about just two months ago.
Republicans Drive a Dodge Caravan; Democrats Offer a Caravan Dodge
To govern is to choose, and there’s a certain type of politician who hates to choose. Because making a choice inevitably means upsetting someone, and they have the natural human instinct of not wanting to upset people. Exhibit A, most Democrats and that caravan making its way north through Mexico towards our border.
Democrats are struggling to respond to President Trump and his Republican allies, who are casting the caravan of thousands of migrants headed toward the U.S.-Mexico border as a failure of Democrats to help enact immigration policy in the GOP-controlled Congress.
Some Democrats said Trump is vulnerable to a counterattack on his core campaign issue given that his policies failed to reduce the number of unauthorized immigrants. Yet party leaders and Democratic candidates have largely been silent ahead of the midterm elections, refusing to engage with Trump.
For the most part, Democrats have tried to avoid the issue. Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leaders in Congress, have essentially urged their colleagues to ignore it. “The president is desperate to change the subject from health care to immigration because he knows that health care is the number one issue Americans care about,” they said in a statement over the weekend. “Democrats are focused like a laser on health care and will not be diverted.”
How would a Democratic president and a Democratic congress respond to the caravan? They don’t want to say. Reassuring, huh?
Leonhardt concludes, “It makes it sound as if Democrats aren’t really sure whether they believe that this country should have immigration laws.”
They sound like that, because some Democrats — not all, but some — genuinely don’t believe that this country should have immigration laws. Some Democrats would attempt to prevent the caravan from entering. Some wouldn’t. Some would want to prevent them from entering but would feel very guilty about it. And I suspect quite a few would rather not think or talk about the caravan at all and would prefer to talk about health care.
We all know what the Trump administration will do regarding the caravan: Keep them out.
Noted crazed arch-conservative right-wing xenophobe . . . (squints, checks notes) . . . er, David Frum points out the consequences of this caravan:
The theory behind the caravans — this latest, and its smaller predecessors over the past 15 years — is that Central Americans have valid asylum claims in the United States because of the pervasive underemployment and gang-violence problems in their countries. If that claim is true, that is a claim shared not only among the thousands in the current caravan, but the millions back home.
ADDENDA: If you’re an NRPlus member, I hope you’ll join Rich Lowry and me for an election preview via conference call at 11 a.m. Eastern this morning. If you’re not a member . . . well, you probably should consider becoming one! It’s just five bucks a month, you get access to these conference calls with the likes of Andy McCarthy and other NR editors, full access to the magazine archives, way fewer ads on the site, the members-only Facebook group, and early access and discounts to NR events.
If you haven’t listened to the Three Martini Lunch podcast lately, well . . . there’s been an unfortunate turn of events. Greg Corombos and I usually get along like peanut butter and jelly, but with his Chicago Bears and my New York Jets playing each other this week, tensions are rising. Even worse, some new team-affiliated super-PACs chose to advertise on our show: Ground The Jets PAC is running ads contending that the Jets Super Bowl victory in 1968 is tainted by a crossdressing quarterback, hippie hairstyles, and 1960s rebellion and the ultimate disappointment of the Nixon presidency; while “Americans United Against Chicago” points out that the Windy City has brought us Barack Obama, Al Capone, Rod Blagojevich, John Wayne Gacy, and the city elected Rahm Emanuel as mayor twice. On purpose.
Making the click-through worthwhile: a serious scare at George Soros’s house; a rollercoaster of new polls for Republicans, with good news in Indiana, mixed news in the House, and some ominous news in Florida; and a trio of Democrats had a really lousy Monday.
Who Planted a Bomb at George Soros’s House?
There is one effective solution to political violence: Treat it like violence — that is, investigate, identify, arrest, prosecute, and incarcerate.
We should do this when the target is someone on the Left . . .
An explosive device was found on Monday in a mailbox at a home of George Soros, the billionaire philanthropist who is a favorite target of right-wing groups, in a suburb north of New York City, the authorities said.
A law enforcement official confirmed that the device was found near Mr. Soros’s home. It did not explode on its own, and bomb squad technicians “proactively detonated” it, the official said.
Federal and state law enforcement officials responded to the scene in Katonah, N.Y., a hamlet in the upscale town of Bedford in northern Westchester County, after the Bedford Police Department received a call about a suspicious package at about 3:45 p.m.
“An employee of the residence opened the package, revealing what appeared to be an explosive device,” the police said in a statement. “The employee placed the package in a wooded area and called the Bedford police.”
And we should do this when the target is someone on the right.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s office in California was vandalized and equipment was stolen Monday evening, the Republican congressman said.
In a post on his Instagram account, McCarthy published pictures of the two men he claims “threw a boulder“” through the window of his Bakersfield office and a picture of the resulting damage.
“Does anyone know these two guys? They threw a boulder thru our office window and took office equipment,” McCarthy wrote Monday.
You’ll recall that I have a longstandingposition that politically motivated violence should be blamed on the perpetrators, and more or less only the perpetrators. No one’s rant about George Soros being a sinister force behind leftist politics made somebody place a bomb in his mailbox; somebody made the conscious decision to build that device, place it in that particular place, and commit that crime.
Brace Yourself for a Polling Rollercoaster, Keep Your Hands and Legs Inside the Vehicle
Ready for a polling rollercoaster for the GOP?
Going up high! For the first time in what seems like forever, Mike Braun has a lead in a poll over incumbent Democrat Joe Donnelly! I had been hearing a little bit of grumbling, that Braun had been gift-wrapped a perfect set of circumstances: going up against a Democrat who won with 50 percent in a presidential year; running in a midterm in Indiana, a state Donald Trump won by 19 points, and then the incumbent voted against Brett Kavanaugh about a month before Election Day. In the other Senate race that’s comparable to this one, in North Dakota, Kevin Cramer is beating Heidi Heitkamp by 16 points.
But wait, SurveyUSA had Donnelly ahead by a point yesterday!
The latest survey shows only a marginal change in the race during October, with 50 percent currently supporting the Democratic candidate in their district and 47 percent backing the Republican. Candidates from the two parties collectively are running almost even in 48 contested congressional districts won by President Trump in 2016, while Democrats hold the advantage in 21 competitive districts won by Hillary Clinton. The Democrats’ lead in those Clinton districts has narrowed a bit since the beginning of the month.
The overwhelming majority of the districts surveyed — 63 of the 69 — are currently represented by a Republican in the House.
But hold on, if they split those 48 congressional districts evenly, Democrats would win 24 — which is exactly what they need for 218-seat majority. If they fall short anywhere, they end up falling just short of a majority, barring some huge upset in some race currently considered safe for Republicans. And this calculation doesn’t include those six House seats held by Democrats. For what it’s worth, Republicans feel pretty good about their odds in Minnesota’s first district, Minnesota’s eighth district, and maybe Nevada’s third district. So Democrats probably want to win 27 or 28 out of those most competitive 48 to ensure that they win the majority.
As Alexandra DeSanctis observes, three polls of Florida’s statewide races came out, and two of them are bad for Republicans, and one of them is good. It would seem odd for Scott to slide in the polls as he’s spending his days primarily focused on directing the state’s response to Hurricane Michael; these are usually the sorts of moments where governors look their best. I also wonder if turnout in Florida’s panhandle will be affected by the aftermath of the hurricane.
“Rick Scott has twice won elections for governor by a single percentage point, and in 2014 the 64,000-vote margin he had over Democrat Charlie Crist, half of it was accumulated in the counties now reeling from Michael,” said John Kennedy, a veteran Florida political reporter who runs the Tallahassee bureau for GateHouse Media, which owns a group of state newspapers.
“These eight counties that were devastated by Michael, they’re home to 220,000 voters, and with the exception of really Democratic-heavy Gadsden County, these counties are overwhelmingly Republican-leaning,” Kennedy said on “Inside Florida Politics,” a GateHouse podcast.
Some right-leaning readers in Florida are absolutely convinced that Senate candidate Rick Scott and gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis will be just fine.
Three Democrats Who Had a Bad Monday
Lawyer, potential presidential candidate, and walking caricature Michael Avenatti:
Michael Avenatti, the lawyer for porn actress Stormy Daniels, was hit with a personal judgment of $4.85 million Monday for his failure to pay a debt to a former colleague at his longtime Newport Beach firm.
Less than an hour after his defeat in the Los Angeles lawsuit, Avenatti suffered another setback at a trial in Orange County: The Irvine Co. won a court order evicting him and his staff from their offices because the firm, Eagan Avenatti, skipped the last four months of rent.
As the political climate continues to heat up, challenger Scott Wallace lost his cool during a debate with Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick. Sunday night at the Congregation Tifereth Israel in Bensalem, Wallace used an expletive and “dropped an f-bomb” in front of those attending.
“Ironically, there was a later question about the need for civility in politics,” Fitzpatrick told WBCB. “Well, a good start is to not use vulgarities in the sanctuary of a synagogue in the middle of a congressional debate.”
Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams:
The Democratic gubernatorial nominee in Georgia, Stacey Abrams, helped light a state flag on fire on the steps of the state’s Capitol in June 1992, as part of a protest that her campaign on Monday night characterized as an effort to “overcome racially divisive issues.”
The flag at the time incorporated designs from the Confederate battle flag, and Abrams, then a freshman at Atlanta’s Spelman College, was one of about a dozen demonstrators involved, according to contemporaneous newspaper accounts and several social media posts that surfaced the issue late Monday.
ADDENDUM: Do the early voting numbers look good for Republicans everywhere except Nevada? Yes. But it’s still really early, and the proportion of early votes that have been turned in so far will constitute a small fraction of the overall vote. So, don’t take anything for granted!
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 . . .
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 . . .
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.
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.
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?
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.
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 resident — a “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?”
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?”