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Bad news for Trump and DeSantis.
March 13, 2023
Before turning to the real news of the weekend (No, not the Oscars, the failure of Silicon Valley Bank), I wanted to return to a poll released by Navigator Research last week. I mentioned the poll in my “Weekend Thoughts” newsletter, but believe it is worth a second look. The poll is a helpful antidote to the incorrect impression that Ron DeSantis is an unstoppable force with an aura of invincibility and inevitability. Not true.
DeSantis is a small-time politician who is the beneficiary of a gerrymandered state legislature willing to indulge his presidential fantasies. Whether his dystopian view of a fascist America will sell in the marketplace of ideas in the rest of the nation is a question that remains profoundly unsettled. Indeed, that will be the question that Americans decide in 2024.
The most recent Navigator Research poll suggests that DeSantis’s dreams of a fascist America will fare poorly outside of Tallahassee—the capital of Florida and the nation’s 126th largest city. I don’t mean to suggest that the size of Tallahassee disqualifies the views of its citizens; I do mean to suggest that it is easier to corrupt and commandeer a small, insular political system than it is to succeed on the national stage in a pluralistic society.
Before examining the Navigator Research poll, let’s recite the usual caveats together: A single poll isn’t meaningful; it’s the trend that matters. Polls can be manipulated, so the quality and professionalism of the polling organization matter. Polls aren’t elections. And, finally, it’s way too early to be consulting polls. In this instance, I would add that Navigator Research is described as a “left of center research and polling organization” by InfluenceWatch—to which I say, “We need more left of center” research and polling organizations to help Democrats communicate the truth about the sentiments of the American people.
Whew! That was a lot of throat-clearing. Now on to my main point:
If you were to ask a random sample of Americans which party they trust to keep children safe at school, ensure students access to healthcare, protect them from gun violence, ensure access to clean air and water, and give kids the skills and knowledge to be successful in life, the answer would be clear: the Democratic Party. Frankly, you wouldn’t need a poll to arrive at that conclusion because, as Stephen Colbert would say, “It has the feeling of truthiness.”
The Navigator poll demonstrates that Americans understand Democrats are more interested in protecting their children than Republicans are and, therefore, trust Democrats more when it comes to educating their children. The main conclusions of the poll are presented in a series of charts here: Americans are Prioritizing Safety and Quality Education While Rejecting Book Bans and Restricted Curriculums | Navigator.
Most tellingly, Governor Ron “Where woke goes to die” DeSantis has picked the wrong top-line message for his campaign. “Preventing children from being exposed to woke ideas” ranks near the bottom in educational priorities for all voters and is supported only by only 54% of Republicans. Legislative bans on “CRT,” transgender participation in sports, and Black history are losing positions with Democrats and Independents, garnering majority support only among Republicans—which means those positions are losers in national elections where Republicans rank third in voter registration.
As I said above, these positions have the feel of “truthiness.” And while we should refrain from fooling ourselves to assuage feelings of anxiety, it would have been odd and counter-intuitive if most Americans supported efforts to limit knowledge, discriminate against LGBTQ people, pollute our air and water, and make guns more accessible near schools and in public places.
I am not saying that we can relax or relent in our opposition to the Trump/DeSantis strain of fascism that underlies their 2024 platforms. I offer the Navigator poll only as a counterweight to balance the unrelenting and unquestioning coverage provided every time the Florida legislature passes another bill to outlaw knowledge, legitimize discrimination, intimidate educators, abrogate liberties, and codify white nationalism. Those may be the beliefs of most members in a gerrymandered legislature in Florida, but they are not the beliefs of most Americans. That is bad news for both Ron DeSantis and Donald Trump.
The failure of Silicon Valley Bank.
On Sunday, the Federal Reserve and US Treasury announced that they were taking extraordinary steps to address a “systemic” threat posed by the failure of Silicon Valley Bank. See Federal Reserve Board - Joint Statement by Treasury, Federal Reserve, and FDIC. As a result, all depositors will have access to all their funds on Monday morning, when the new Silicon Valley Bank opens for business.
There are many causes of the failure, and there will be time to assess them in detail. For now, the major takeaway seems to be that the peculiar mix of bad business decisions and concentration of risk was limited to lending almost exclusively to tech startups in Silicon Valley. See Washington Post, Can the chaos from Silicon Valley Bank's fall be contained?
[I]t appears that Silicon Valley Bank’s failure appears to be a unique situation where the bank’s executives made poor business decisions by buying bonds just as the Federal Reserve was about to raise interest rates, and the bank was singularly exposed to one particular industry [tech] that has seen a severe contraction in the past year.
The second major point is that the “run on the bank” that caused the collapse may have been precipitated by venture capital funds in Silicon Valley advising their clients to withdraw funds from the bank—creating a “liquidity crisis.” The resulting “run on the bank” was potentially devastating to hundreds of tech startups in which those venture funds held substantial ownership positions. The venture funds then demanded that the federal government step in to protect their startup clients by providing emergency funding to cover their clients’ deposits. That, in turn, indirectly protected the investments of the very venture firms that caused the run on the bank in the first instance.
Agreeing to the rescue demands of the venture funds might have been the right decision for the economy—or not. It is too early to tell. But the hypocrisy is ripe! The masters of Silicon Valley are at the head of the line when it comes to lecturing the government about the “moral hazard” of forgiving student loan debt—claiming that freeing students from their debt will allow them to “unfairly” profit from their decision to finance their educations.
If “moral hazard” is a legitimate ground for policymaking (and I don’t think it is), the same moral hazard applies to creating a run on a bank and then demanding that the federal government step in to protect your investments threatened by the bank’s collapse.
I acknowledge that my view of the facts may be wrong. Events are fast-moving, and there may be more to the story, such as a legitimate need to prevent runs on other banks and to protect thousands of innocent employees at the tech startups. But as of Sunday evening, I have not heard any reports of captains of the tech industry warning of the “moral hazard” of bailing out venture funds who caused the run on a bank that threatened their clients—and their investments.
Two Biden decisions surprise and frustrate his base.
I am a big fan of Joe Biden, as are many of you. But we should acknowledge when he makes decisions that are unpopular with substantial portions of his base (although certainly not all).
Biden’s decision not to support the new criminal code passed the by DC Council is one such decision. It has been a challenge to parse the heated rhetoric regarding Biden’s decision to support the Senate’s vote to overrule the revised criminal code passed by the DC Council, but a reader sent an article that clarified the situation for me. See The Washingtonian, What Everyone Is Getting Wrong About DC's Crime Bill.
In short, the DC criminal code has been in force for 120 years without any effort at modernization. As one of the authors of the revised code (Patrice Sulton) said,
Our criminal code was adopted by Congress in 1901, and we have never comprehensively revised it. Having an outdated criminal code means that we have gaps in the law—things that most people would, in modern times, expect to be criminalized that are not. More importantly, our current criminal code is unclear.
Sulton goes on to explain that claims of the new bill being “soft on crime” are false. For example, the penalty for carjacking under the revised code is 24 to 32 years with enhancements. By contrast, in Georgia, the penalty for armed carjacking is 10 to 20 years. Sulton says,
These are not soft penalties. And some of them are higher than they are under current law. We created an entirely new felony offense for shooting in public that doesn’t exist under current law. The penalty for attempted murder under current law is five years. It’s 20 years under the revised code. The penalties for committing some violent crimes have gone up significantly, including the most commonly charged version of sex abuse. That’s a misdemeanor under current law and is a felony under the revised code.
But many Democrats, and Joe Biden, fell for the Republican talking points that the DC revised code was “soft on crime.” Sadly, in second-guessing the DC Council, Biden and other Democrats denied them the home rule and autonomy the citizens of DC deserve. If DC were a state—as it should be—Senators from states with more lenient criminal laws would not be able to impose their views on DC about how it should enforce its criminal laws.
The second controversial decision is the apparent approval of the Willow oil drilling project in Alaska. See NYTimes, Administration to Approve Huge Alaska Oil Project on Monday, Two Officials Say. It is difficult to rationalize the approval of the Willow project with Biden’s promises regarding clean and renewable energy. Although Biden initially adhered to his campaign promise not to approve new oil and gas leases, that promise was effectively invalidated by federal court rulings.
It appears Biden’s decision was driven by short-term political pressures—including the recent spike in gasoline prices. Delivery of oil from the Willow project is years away (in part because of threatened litigation) and will have no impact on gas prices before the election. So, Biden’s decision appears to be primarily about political optics.
I recognize that some readers will disagree with my views. But we should acknowledge that the decision is contrary to an explicit campaign promise by Biden to ban new oil and gas leases. To blunt criticism of his reversal on a major campaign promise, Biden will apparently also announce the prohibition of new offshore oil leases and new leases on the Alaskan North Slope.
A reader sent a note about a National Day of Action on March 21, 2023, sponsored by Third Act. One of the goals of the National Day of Action is to pressure banks to stop lending to the fossil fuel industry. More broadly, Third Act seeks to protect our climate and our democracy. See Welcome to Third Act: Let’s Get Started. Stay tuned for additional actions you can take to protest the approval of the Willow Project.
Two upcoming events.
I will be participating in two upcoming events this week. Join me if you can!
First, on Tuesday I will be moderating a discussion between Bill Kristol and Simon Rosenberg sponsored by Markers for Democracy on March 14, 2023 from 7:30 PM to 9:00 PM EDT. The topic will be The Rise of a Pro-Democracy Coalition. You can register for this event, here: The Rise of a Pro-Democracy Coalition Tickets, Tue, Mar 14, 2023 at 7:30 PM | Eventbrite.
On Thursday, I will be appearing at the Field Team 6 Register Democrats Summit 2023. The event runs all day and is filled with amazing speakers and panels. I will deliver remarks at 12:00 PM. Register here: Field Team 6 Register Democrats Summit 2023.
A quick note to other Substack authors.
Several Substack authors have reached out to me asking why I unsubscribed to their blogs. I have not unsubscribed! Long story short, my spam filter started blocking my own newsletter from being delivered to my inbox. In an effort to fix that situation, I turned “on” and “off” the “Enable email delivery” option three times (in frustration). Many of you received a note (or three!) that I had “turned off” the receipt of your newsletter. If I did things correctly, I am now receiving your newsletters again. So, nothing personal! I was wrestling with the Internet gods in an attempt to overcome my spam filter’s efforts to prevent me from receiving my own newsletter.
I realize that there is some underlying frustration and uncertainty about Joe Biden’s run in 2024—both because of his age and because of an apparent move to “the center” of the Democratic Party. (Many Democrats welcome the move to the center, many are disappointed.) Despite my comments above, we should not waver in our support for Biden. When indictments start to issue against Trump, all heck is going to break loose in the GOP. We have a president who has been impressively successful despite having the narrowest possible majority in the Senate. We should not abandon him now!
No candidate will satisfy every concern of every constituency in the Democratic Party. Now is not the time to flag in our support for Biden. Lobby? Yes. Criticize? Sure, but hopefully not in a way that feeds the right-wing narrative. Abandon? Only if we want to help elect a Republican. We have a good thing going with Joe Biden. Let’s not screw it up.
Talk to you tomorrow!