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The demise of the GOP.
September 22, 2023
The media is in rapture over the resignation of Rupert Murdoch, but the most significant story of the day was Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s inability to bring a defense spending bill to the floor of the House on Thursday—the third such failure in two weeks. See Politico, House GOP erupts as McCarthy fails to move Pentagon bill.
The power of the Speaker lies mainly in their ability to control the progress of legislation through the House. Absent that power, the Speaker’s office is ornamental—a fascinator on the head of Congress. Kevin McCarthy is all feather and no hat.
The collapse of the Republican Party in the House mirrors the collapse of the GOP as a national party, no longer capable of winning the popular vote in presidential elections. The GOP has not won the popular vote in a presidential election in two decades—and has won the popular vote only once in the last three decades (George Bush in 2004).
The GOP is a failed party at the national level, especially in the House. It is no longer a political party. It is a loose federation of fiefdoms, each run by a petty tyrant who maintains power by transactional graft, shifting alliances, and animal cunning.
None of this means that we can assume victory or relent in our efforts to defeat every Republican in every election henceforth. But it is worth a moment of reflection and introspection on our part. I hear from readers every day who are concerned about the supposed dysfunction and weak messaging of the Democratic Party. I believe that misperception is based on the asymmetry inherent in a two-party system in which one party is dedicated to the truth while the other views deceit as its business model. It is easier to create a soundbite if you are not constrained by the truth.
That asymmetry is inherent in a two-party system in which one party seeks to achieve consensus for the common good while the other inflames grievance to secure votes in gerrymandered districts.
That asymmetry is inherent in a two-party system in which one seeks to preserve the rule of law while the other views it as an impediment to power.
That asymmetry is inherent in a two-party system in which one party recognizes that lasting progress is the incremental product of thoughtful planning and careful execution while the other measures success in soundbites-per-minute on Fox News.
When McCarthy’s third attempt to bring the defense bill to the floor collapsed, he declared a recess and sent members of his party home for the weekend—five business days before the government would shut down in the absence of a budget. McCarthy appears to have surrendered to the chaos of his warring federation of tribes.
If there is a way out of the mess caused by the demise of the GOP as a governing political party, it will involve a bipartisan solution in which a handful of Republicans cross party lines to protect millions of Americans from the devastating effects of a government shutdown.
The demise of the GOP is no cause for joy; it calls us to create a stronger Democratic Party that can rise above the chaos of the failed Republican Party. That challenge—and much more—is on the ballot in 2024.
General Milley’s role in stopping the coup.
Jeffrey Goldberg has written a feature article about General Mark Milley, the retiring Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in The Atlantic, The Patriot. (Accessible to all.) The article is remarkable on many levels, including the fact that General Milley personally assured allies, foreign adversaries, and politicians in the US that the military would not intervene in the 2020 election. In doing so, Milley stepped outside of his role as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs—but may have foiled Trump's coup as a result.
As Goldberg writes,
Until Milley, [no Chief of Staff] had been forced to confront the possibility that a president would try to foment or provoke a coup in order to illegally remain in office. A plain reading of the record shows that in the chaotic period before and after the 2020 election, Milley did as much as, or more than, any other American to defend the constitutional order, to prevent the military from being deployed against the American people, and to forestall the eruption of wars with America’s nuclear-armed adversaries.
As for Trump,
[Milley’s] views of Trump align with those of many officials who served in his administration. Trump’s first secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, considered Trump to be a “f***ing moron.” John Kelly, the retired Marine general who served as Trump’s chief of staff in 2017 and 2018, has said that Trump is the “most flawed person” he’s ever met. James Mattis, who is also a retired Marine general and served as Trump’s first secretary of defense, has told friends and colleagues that the 45th president was “more dangerous than anyone could ever imagine.”
In a passage that could further damage Trump's already damaged reputation with military personnel and veterans, Goldberg recounts the story of Trump's reaction to a wounded veteran who was asked to sing “God Bless America” at a ceremony attended by Trump:
After Avila’s performance, Trump walked over to congratulate him, but then said to Milley, within earshot of several witnesses, “Why do you bring people like that here? No one wants to see that, the wounded.” Never let Avila appear in public again, Trump told Milley.
What kind of person is embarrassed by the sight of a wounded military veteran singing God Bless America”? A weak, frightened, vain, narcissistic, shallow person incapable of empathy.
There is much more that is relevant to Trump's unfitness to be president. Check out the article.
How to support Ukraine if the House GOP surrenders to Putin.
Reactionary Republicans in the House voted against advancing the defense spending bill (in part) because the bill included spending to support Ukraine in its defense against the Russian invasion. See The Hill, Conservatives deal blow to McCarthy with second failure to advance Pentagon funding. While Democrats support funding for Ukraine’s defense, it is not a certainty that it will be included in a final bill.
A group of scholars writing under the auspices of the Renew Democracy Initiative has proposed a solution for funding Ukraine’s defense: To use the $300 billion in Russian central bank assets that have been frozen by the US and its allies. The legal and practical case for using Russia’s frozen assets to fund Ukraine’s defense is set forth in a report by Laurence Tribe, Raymond P. Tolentino, Kate M. Harris, Jackson Erpenbach, and Jeremy Lewin. See a summary of the article here and the full article here: The Legal, Practical, and Moral Case for Transferring Russian Sovereign Assets to Ukraine.
As Tribe et al. explain, President Biden can issue an order transferring the frozen assets to Ukraine under the Emergency Economic Powers Act, which
empowers the President to . . . “direct and compel” the “transfer” of “any right, power, or privilege with respect to” Russia’s “property.” Traditional tools of statutory interpretation demonstrate that “transfer” means the conveyance of a property interest from one entity to another.
If the congressional Republicans abandon the Ukrainian people to the Russian invaders, there will be more than enough frozen Russian assets to fund Ukraine’s defense.
The cure for “Mad Poll Disease.”
If you have stopped paying attention to polls, there is no need to read this article. But if you still worry needlessly about made-for-TV polls that show Joe Biden tied with Donald Trump, read on!
Michael Podhorzer has published a compelling, detailed, and exhaustive explanation of why “horse race polling is worse than useless.” See Michael Podhorzer, A Cure for Mad Poll Disease (substack.com).
Podhorzer covers a lot of ground I can’t possibly repeat here, so I suggest you add the article to your weekend reading list. It is excellent. But I wanted to highlight one observation about the ability of “experts” to skew poll results. It involves an effort by the New York Times to determine how much the reported results of polling depend on interpretation by experts:
The Times asked four respected pollsters to independently evaluate the same set of survey data to estimate the margin of victory for Clinton or Trump in Florida, and the answers, including the Times’ own estimate, ranged from Clinton +4 to Trump +1.
The 5 point range had absolutely nothing to do with a statistical margin of error, and everything to do with the opinions those pollsters had about who was going to vote and how to weight the exact same 867 interviews according to that prediction. (Forty-nine days after that piece was published, Trump won Florida by 1 and a half points.)
Podhorzer concludes that “any election that is within the margin of error is within the margin of effort.” The moral of the story is do not give up, no matter what the polls say!
Reader Comment of the Day.
Reader Sheila B. wrote the following Comment, which should give us hope:
I was at my Wednesday night knitting group last night with four other women. Our host, a former Republican, pulled out her phone at the start of the evening and played the video of Swalwell “verbally bitch-slapping” Jim Jordan. Then this usually reserved entrepreneurial small business owner went on a rant about how Republicans are wasting precious time and resources protecting Trump’s treason. I was dumbfounded by her rage and amazed that everyone agreed. Not the usual order of business at knit night!
I think it is safe to say that these four suburban women in Minnesota (formerly a Republican stronghold in elections) are fed up. Seven years ago, I was the only one of the five who was a Democrat (lifelong). Now, all five will vote straight blue in 2024 - and, best of all, we will spend an hour or two once in a while, writing postcards to voters, rather than crafting. Wowsa!
The Biden administration responds to the growing threat of book bans.
The always informative Judd Legum (on Substack) writes about the expanding effort by Republicans to ban books at public libraries. See Popular Information, Book banners target public libraries. Legum documents the growing efforts by Republicans to “automate” the banning of books on a large-scale basis. But Legum also highlights cause for hope:
This month, the U.S. Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights tapped Matt Nosanchuk as its “book ban coordinator,” . . . [who] will be tasked with “monitor[ing] book removal efforts” and determining whether a book ban violates federal civil rights law. Nosanchuk will also “provide new trainings for schools nationwide” on these topics, including on how to “submit complaints about potential violations to the Office for Civil Rights.” So far, the first training, which will be sponsored by the ALA, has “1,000 attendees” registered.
If you become aware of efforts to ban books at your local library, contact the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights to seek help.
Reader Meeting in San Francisco on October 6.
Apologies to all who tried to sign up for the Reader Meeting in San Francisco on October 6 but could not do so. The available slots filled up immediately. A waiting list is here: Waiting List. Two readers have already canceled, so a few slots will be available. The meeting will be at 1:00 PM on Friday, October 6 in the Pacific Heights area of San Francisco.
If you were able to sign up yesterday and need to cancel, please let me know so I can offer your slot to someone else. Thanks!
I spoke at two events on Thursday evening attended by several hundred dedicated volunteers. Every time I speak at such events, I am filled with renewed hope and optimism. Democrats are doing everything they can at the grassroots level to help ensure victory in 2023 and 2024—and don’t let any cynical commentators or pundits tell you differently!
Part of what gives me such confidence is that grassroots organizations are being smart and strategic in their efforts. They are identifying key races that will make a difference in flipping state legislatures and statewide offices that are in a position to protect the integrity of elections and the liberty of state residents. Do you live in a solid blue or deep red state and believe that you can’t affect the outcome? Join a Giving Circle or a Swing Left chapter to help support critical races in swing states.
I was also struck by the palpable sense of community that emerges from such calls. Yes, the “tiles” with pictures of Zoom attendees go on for several screens, but people on the calls know and recognize one another. They work in multiple organizations and cross paths as they engage in multiple activities to register voters, get out the vote, and protect the vote after the fact. None of these organizations existed in 2016.
Today, they are successful, battle-tested, savvy organizations that not only make investments in grassroots organizations and candidates but they test their strategies by evaluating the efficacy of their investments. I will provide more information on this point when it is released, but for now, you should know that many grassroots organizations are moving the needle by several percentage points. In an evenly divided electorate, that difference is huge!
If you are feeling alone, frustrated, or depressed by the incessant negativity on the news, I urge you to join an organization that will convert your anxiety into hope and action.
To everyone who is already involved in grassroots organizations, bless you! You are faithful servants of democracy, and we owe you a debt of gratitude. Stay strong, and keep up the good work!
I will talk to you tomorrow!