May 10, 2021
Democrats gained control of the presidency and both chambers of Congress in the 2020 elections. Despite that fact, the period following the 2020 elections has been frustrating and dispiriting for some Democrats. True, Biden has moved aggressively to contain the pandemic and to push the levers of government to full advantage. At the federal level, Republicans are clinging to the filibuster for dear life. But at the state level, Republicans are passing anti-democratic legislation at a furious pace in the 23 states in which they control both chambers of the legislature and the governorship (so-called “trifectas”). Watching Republicans run amok in those states is painful, especially because they are using the Big Lie to justify their regressive legislation.
The outrage provoked by state-level legislation intended to suppress voting among Black Americans and the feeling of powerlessness to stop a party that lacks a moral compass have pushed many Democrats into a funk. Worse, it has created an exaggerated sense of the power and unity of the Republican Party—a dangerous misimpression that can give rise to defeatism. I do not mean to minimize the threat posed by Republicans who believe that attacking the infrastructure of democracy is the best way to remain in power. It is a serious threat that deserves an even more aggressive response than Democrats have mounted to date. But just as we must be honest in assessing our challenges as a party (and there are many), we must also be realistic in sizing our opposition. If you had your druthers, you would much rather be in a vital, contentious, sprawling democratic party than a member of a party in the death grip of a weakened and aggrieved autocrat who views moderation and truthfulness as betrayal.
It can be tiresome reviewing the internecine fights of the opposition party, but the current fight among Republicans deserves our attention. It is a once-in-a-century reckoning that will determine whether the GOP will survive and, if so, in what form. More importantly, the efforts to the Trumpist wing of the GOP to smother all opposition is a better indicator of the health of our opponent than are the voter suppression bills being passed in GOP-trifecta states. Over the weekend, the retreating rearguard of moderate Republicans took to the airwaves to warn of the perilous state of their party. Their assessment was damning.
The Republican Governor of Maryland, Larry Hogan, said the following of the efforts to rid the GOP of members who do not believe in the Big Lie:
Well, it's sort of a circular firing squad where we're just attacking members of our own party instead of focusing on solving problems or standing up and having an argument that we can debate the Democrats.
Hogan heightened his criticism to a rapier point by saying,
And, you know, it just bothers me that you have to swear fealty to the dear leader or you get kicked out of the party. It just doesn't make any sense.
Comparing Trump to “Dear Leader” Kim Jong-un of North Korea is as brutally honest as it gets. As in North Korea, where there is no difference between Kim Jong-un and the state, there is no difference between Trump and the Republican Party. An offense against Trump is an attack on the party. That is not a healthy situation. It is a situation that demands suppression of the truth. That is apparently what happened at the recent “GOP retreat” at Mar-a-Lago. As the GOP rallied around Trump, its leadership concealed from rank-and-file members internal polling data that showed that Trump is a liability in swing states. See HuffPo, “GOP Leadership Reportedly Hid Trump's Weak Numbers At Recent Retreats.” To be clear, the internal polling concealed by GOP leadership does not guarantee Democratic victory in the 2022 midterms. But it is a heck of a lot easier to run a winning campaign when relevant parties have access to the facts.
The other remarkable development on Sunday was that Kevin McCarthy, House Minority Leader, appeared on Fox News to endorse Liz Cheney’s successor in leadership—before there has been a vote to oust Liz Cheney! See HuffPo, “House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy Says He Backs Ousting Liz Cheney From Role.” That turn of events has never happened before in the history of our nation. Indeed, in a healthy party, a leader who has lost the confidence of the caucus would step aside. The fact that Cheney is apparently going down swinging indicates rough sailing for the GOP in the coming months. See WaPo, “Liz Cheney plans lengthy fight over Trump's dominance of Republicans; She says it’s only beginning.”
The current wave of voter suppression legislation is a function of the fact that Republicans hold “trifectas” in 23 states. (Ballotpedia: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, Wyoming.) Democrats hold trifectas in 15 states, while 12 states have divided control of government. These numbers highlight the urgency of state-level elections for legislature, governor, and the judiciary. If Democrats can break up the GOP trifectas, we can make significant progress in stopping anti-democratic legislation that is sweeping the nation.
The number of trifectas held by Republicans represents the high-water mark of their efforts to institute a new wave of discriminatory voter legislation at the state level. And the existence of the filibuster is the current high-water mark for GOP influence at the federal level. I know that the political press is filled with dire predictions for Democrats in the 2022 midterms. In my view, those predictions fail to account for the challenges faced by the GOP and the continued strength of a Democratic Party buoyed by the strong start of Joe Biden. If you are a concerned Democrat, don’t give in to defeatism. It could be worse. You could be a member of the Republican Party.
A little oversight goes a long way.
The conspiracy theorists who are running the “audit” of the Maricopa County 2020 presidential vote have retreated from one of their most outrageous plans. The organizers of the audit intended to knock the on doors of voters whose registration forms seemed “suspicious.” The Department of Justice sent a letter to the organizers of the audit in the Arizona Senate cautioning them against tactics that could be viewed as voter intimidation. The Arizona Senate has decided to indefinitely defer the planned tactic. See Talking Points Memo, “Arizona Audit Will ‘Indefinitely Defer’ Voter Interview Plans Over Intimidation Concerns Raised By DOJ.”
Let’s hope that new management at the Justice Department will take a more aggressive stance in protecting civil liberties. A second development suggests that the DOJ is doing just that. Read on.
DOJ advises Washington Post journalists that Bill Barr authorized search of their cell phone records.
Under Bill Barr, the DOJ searched the cell phone records of several Washington Post reporters. The cell phone searches took place in 2020—possibly during the first impeachment trial—but related to stories published in 2017. See WaPo, “Trump Justice Department secretly obtained Post reporters’ phone records.” Presidential efforts to hunt down the sources of leaks are not new. But we must assume the worst if the Attorney General who approves the request to seize cell phone records is Bill Barr acting at the behest of Donald Trump.
Notifying the reporters is a first step by Merrick Garland to bring transparency to a suspicious exercise of an investigative power of last resort. Garland should now move to hold accountable anyone who acted improperly in authorizing the search. For a thoughtful discussion of the challenges Garland faces, see Professor Andrew Kent in The Atlantic, “The Model for Fixing the DOJ.” In short, Merrick Garland has his work cut out for him. The biggest item on his to-do list is determining whether to investigate and, if appropriate, prosecute members of the previous administration, including Trump.
A current fundraising tactic among progressive organizations is to warn that Republican-controlled states will convene a constitutional convention and pass draconian amendments to the Constitution if they gain control over a few more state legislatures. Over the last few weeks, I have received concerned emails from readers asking what I thought about these predictions of a rogue constitutional convention. Here are my thoughts: As noted above, Democrats have every reason to be concerned about Republican control of state legislatures. But there is no reason to fear that Republicans will be able to amend the Constitution by convening a constitutional convention. Let’s skip to the end to dispel those fears: Even if two-thirds of the states called for such a convention, any proposed amendment would require ratification by three-fourths (38) of the states. That is never going to happen. A total of twenty (20) state legislatures are controlled by Democrats or have a split control. So, if you want to donate to a progressive organization to help flip state legislatures, do so generously—but not because you fear that GOP-controlled legislatures will amend the Constitution in a rogue convention.
The Texas legislature is poised to pass a final version of its voter suppression bill. Even though reversing the outcome is a long shot, we should keep up pressure on Texas politicians and corporations. See list of organizations in Today’s Edition (May 7, 2021). Even if we lose in Texas, the more that U.S. corporations hear from their customers about voter suppression, the less likely it is that those corporations will support GOP candidates in the future. Let’s fight the good fight in Texas—and in every state that seeks to deprive Americans of their most basic right.
Talk to you tomorrow!