Thursday, August 4, 2022

What’s up with Kansas?

 Kansas is not a place that is normally very interesting.

There’s a famous phrase from the Wizard of Oz that says, “We’re not in Kansas anymore.” The implication is that Kansas is normal and run-of-the-mill in a way that Oz - or pretty much anyplace else- was not. Kansas and its neighboring states have long been derided as “flyover country” by the coastal elites.

I like Kansas. It would be hard for me to live there because of the unending flatness, but it’s a nice place. Wichita is an aviation hub and I’ve spent a lot of time there over the years. Cessna, Beechcraft, the now-defunct Learjet, and even Boeing have deep roots in Kansas.

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I’m digressing already, but what I really mean to say is that Kansas is not the place where you’d expect controversy. Kansas is friendly, reliable, and bland.

Not so this week.

Deep-red Kansas, where Donald Trump won by 15 points in 2020, shocked the nation as voters rejected an amendment giving the state the authority to heavily restrict abortion by a landslide. The 60-40 margin that killed the amendment was larger than Donald Trump’s margin of victory over Joe Biden. It’s difficult to see this as anything but a catastrophic defeat for the pro-life movement.

So why did it happen?

Let’s start with the obvious. Kansas is deep red, but Kansas is also divided. The state is primarily rural so a few urban counties won by Democrats go a long way towards offsetting the votes of a bevy of thinly populated Republican counties. That may explain why Pew found that the state was split 49-49 between those who thought abortion should be legal or illegal in most cases.

[As an aside, the crosstabs on this poll are interesting. The youngest and oldest Kansans tended to favor legal abortion while middle-aged respondents tend to be more pro-life. Women also tended to be more pro-life than men.]

But even if Kansas was divided on the issue, what could have caused the double-digit shift that defeated the amendment? I have a couple of ideas.

First, let’s look at the text of the amendment. Here is what voters saw on their ballot:

Shall the following be adopted?

§ 22. Regulation of abortion. Because Kansans value both women and children, the constitution of the state of Kansas does not require government funding of abortion and does not create or secure a right to abortion. To the extent permitted by the constitution of the United States, the people, through their elected state representatives and state senators, may pass laws regarding abortion, including, but not limited to, laws that account for circumstances of pregnancy resulting from rape or incest, or circumstances of necessity to save the life of the mother.

[ ] Yes

[ ] No

I wrote last week about the incomprehensible text of the Electoral Count Act. That law was intended to be read by politicians and lawyers, but the Kansas gobbledygook was aimed at voters. What would the average voter without a legal education make of such language? Might they think that “passing laws regarding abortion” would mean keeping abortion legal? I think that is at least a possibility.

When I vote, my default position on constitutional amendments is no. Unless I understand and agree with the proposed amendment, I don’t want it added to my state’s constitution. Normally, I try to educate myself about proposed amendments before an election, but how many voters take those steps for the constitutional questions that are appended to the ballot like an afterthought? Not many.

On the other hand, it looks as if the Kansas amendment was the subject of expensive ad campaigns by both sides. I’d wager that most voters were aware of the amendment and what yes and no votes meant and voted accordingly.

Was it the Dobbs decision? That might have moved the needle a point or two, but, as we’ve seen, about half of Kansas voters should have been expected to be happy about Dobbs.

One possibility is that the pro-choice voters were more motivated by Dobbs than pro-life voters. I think this is a real possibility, but one that cuts against the conventional wisdom of many pundits, especially those on the right.

The argument went that abortion views were already baked into the cake. If you were pro-choice, you already voted Democrat. If you were pro-life, you already voted Republican. The Supreme Court wasn’t going to change anything except to make people vote harder.

That may not be the case.

Another interesting aspect of the election results is that the same voters who rejected the amendment overwhelmingly voted for Republicans in the primary races. There were 908,745 voters who cast ballots in the referendum for the amendment. At the same time, about 438,000 voters cast ballots in the Republican gubernatorial primary while only about 276,000 voted for Democratic gubernatorial candidates. In the Senate primary, about 255,000 Democrats voted compared to 463,000 Republicans.

This is interesting because the 534,134 people who voted against the amendment would have to include a substantial number of Republicans. At the very least, a lot of Republicans must have left the amendment question blank.

So here’s what I think. I think that the Pew poll forced people to choose between two black and white options when their opinions are often more tinged with gray. I think people made their choice because it was what they felt they were supposed to choose.

When the poll was taken, the Dobbs decision had not been handed down. It didn’t cost anything to say abortion should be totally illegal because everyone knew that the Supreme Court would never allow a ban.

Except that suddenly it did.

Between the poll and Election Day, things got real. Suddenly, it wasn’t just an abstract poll, it was a constitutional amendment that really meant something. All of a sudden, people had second thoughts.

And Republicans gave them reasons to have second thoughts. All of a sudden, it wasn’t just about birth-control abortions, it was about bans with no exceptions for medical emergencies or rape or incest. It was about attempting to ban residents from traveling to other states for abortions. It was about a 10-year-old rape victim who had to go to another state for her abortion. It was about hospitals forcing women to carry ectopic pregnancies to term.

The crux of the matter is that there is a lot of room to be pro-life/anti-abortion without going to these extremes. A multitude of polling shows that voters don’t want unrestricted abortion, but they also don’t want abortion banned. People draw the line in different places, but in Kansas, voters didn’t trust their state government to draw the line in a sensible way.

Republicans have themselves to blame for that. In many cases, the assumption seemed to be that, with Dobbs as the law of the land, the race was on to see which red state could become the most restrictive. The thinking seems to have been that if banning abortion was good, bigger and broader bans were even better. After Kansas, that seems like a bad idea. (I could have told you so. In fact, I did. The only real surprise is how quickly Republicans overreached and felt the backlash.)

Kansas underscores the fact that Dobbs did not ban abortion. It put the issue back to the states. And Kansas shows that pro-life legislators can easily go too far even in red states.

Maybe Kansas was a fluke. Maybe it was just a question of a poorly-written amendment. Maybe, but I don’t think so.

I think Kansas is a bellwether for the new reality. Republican voters want to restrict abortion but not too much.

This really is not an unreasonable position. Parties and pundits tell us that politics is an all-or-nothing, them-or-us proposition. Reality is a lot more complicated with most voters rejecting both extremes.

It’s tempting to make large assumptions about the abortion debate after Kansas, but we should remember that it is only one data point. There will be more to come. California, Kentucky, Montana, and Vermont have similar measures on their ballots in November.

Another important point to note is that while overreach on the abortion issue likely influenced Republicans to vote pro-choice or skip the question, it does not seem to have moved many to vote Democrat. There are a great many other issues to keep Republican voters from crossing all the way over, but the journey is shorter for independent voters who only vote in general elections. This movement won’t make or break every election, but it could make the difference in some close races.

The abortion battle isn’t over. And the pro-life movement is going to have to reconsider its aims and tactics. In most states, that is going to mean stopping short of a total ban.


From the Racket

Friday, July 22, 2022

Trump fiddled while the Capitol was sacked

I haven’t watched much of the televised hearings of the January 6 committee, but I did watch last night. In fact, last night, was the first time that I had sat down to watch one of the hearings in its entirety. What I found was that to sit down and listen to the testimony and evidence being presented was infuriating.

It wasn’t infuriating because the Democrats were playing up the hearings for political advantage or were presenting “trumped up” evidence against The Former Guy (who I refuse to call “president”), but because there is clear and compelling evidence that Donald Trump encouraged the crowd of MAGA protesters to march on the Capitol and then refused to intervene as they attacked Congress and sought to kill Vice President Pence. This should be infuriating to any patriotic American who cares a whit about the Constitution, the rule of law, and keeping America great.

Last night’s hearing focused on the 187 minutes between Trump’s return to the White House from his speech at the Steal the Election rally at 1:10 pm and when he sent out a video asking his supporters to stand down at 4:17 pm. The answer seems to have been that the president was enjoying the chaos that he created.

One of the most poignant moments of the evening was when an anonymous White House witness testified that Secret Service agents on Vice President Pence’s protective detail were so in fear for their lives that they made calls and sent messages to say goodbye to their families as rioters entered the building. At one point, the insurrectionists came within 40 feet of the vice president and his guards. The insurrection was really a close thing.

Five people, including a Capitol Police officer, did die during the riot. Four other officers committed suicide following the attack.

"The security detail of the vice president was starting to fear for their own lives," the witness testified, adding that these seasoned agents were "screaming and saying goodbye to family."

It seems likely that these personal and panicked messages may have something to do with the mysterious deletion of Secret Service texts from January 6. The investigation into these missing messages is now a criminal investigation by the way.

While all this was going on, Donald Trump, who does not deserve the honorific title of president, sat and watched the Fox News coverage of the attack. He made no calls to leaders and White House photographers were told not to take pictures of him at this historic moment… er, in these historic hours. There were gaps in White House records and call logs that spanned the length of the riot.

The commission provides evidence that numerous White House officials including Pat Cipollone, Mark Meadows, and even Jared Kushner urged The Former Guy to stop the riot, yet Trump did nothing. Some officials were concerned about what Trump might say if he did speak, worrying that he would make the situation worse.

We already knew that it was Vice President Pence - not Donald Trump - who ultimately took the initiative to call out the National Guard to aid the beleaguered Capitol Police. Trump and Chief of Staff Mark Meadows were more concerned about appearances, telling Gen. Mark Milley, head of the Joint Chiefs, that they needed to “kill the narrative that the Vice President is making all the decisions.”

Jay Bookman of the Georgia Recorder described that situation succinctly in a tweet.

When Trump finally did speak out, he refused to read the script and clung to the Big Lie that the election was stolen. At 4:03 pm in the Rose Garden, Trump rejected the script calling for an end to the violence and spoke off the cuff telling the rioters to “go home in peace.” Trump said that he loved them.

I have heard rumors about outtake videos from Trump’s address for a long time, going almost back to the riot itself. Last night, the January 6 committee showed them to the world. On January 7, Trump again refused to condemn the rioters. Even after the Electoral vote was certified by Congress, Trump also refused to say that the election was over.

In fact, Trump refuses to acknowledge that the election is over even now. Last week, Wisconsin’s house speaker said that Trump called him “within the last week” still looking for the Badger State Republican to overturn the 2020 election.

If the continuing revelations about Trump’s coup attempt don’t make you livid, then maybe you aren’t the constitutionalist and patriot that you think you are. At this point, there seems to be adequate evidence to indict Trump on a series of charges that include some of the same crimes that insurrectionists are going to jail for. One obvious charge would be obstruction of federal proceedings, a crime that has sent many Trump supporters to prison, but fraud, witness tampering, and seditious conspiracy are other possible charges. Trump was derelict in his duty, but, for better or worse, that is only a crime for members of the military.

As I’ve said before, Americans owe a debt of gratitude to Republicans like Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger who are sacrificing their careers to do the right thing and hold Donald Trump and the MAGA insurrectionists accountable. I see very little indication that other Republicans wouldn’t still rally around Trump even if Mike Pence, members of Congress, and Secret Service agents had been overrun and killed by the mob.

The January 6 commission is what the (second) impeachment should have been. If Democrats had not rushed the process and instead methodically investigated the insurrection, the outcome of the Senate vote might have been different and American politics might be rid of Donald Trump. Unfortunately, the prospect of yet another Trump campaign is rearing its ugly head. Why can’t Republicans get past Mr. Trump, who is apparently living rent-free in their heads?

The investigation isn’t over. The committee will meet again in September to examine more evidence. Donald Trump might never be prosecuted (as he would be in a perfect world), but at the very least, his political career should be destroyed by the evidence of his gross corruption.

Donald Trump tried to steal the election. When that failed, he was more than willing to sit and gleefully watch the coverage on Fox News as he tried his best to burn down the American Republic. It is to the everlasting shame of the Republican Party that they are willing to excuse this abhorrent behavior and consider Trump for a third nomination.

The Republican Party that I used to belong to is dead.

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IS DESANTIS FUELING INFLATION? Republicans blame pandemic stimulus for the heightened inflation of the past several months. A few weeks ago, when California Governor Gavin Newsom announced that Californians would receive gas-price stimulus checks, Republican pundits said that it was precisely the wrong thing to do and that it would make inflation worse.

Fast-forward to yesterday when Ron DeSantis unveiled stimulus checks of $450 per child to offset the cost of inflation.

"This one-time payment assists families who are being affected by rising inflation and preparing to send their children back to school," Laura Walthall, a spokesperson for the Florida Department of Children and Families, said in a statement to Business Insider

So which is it? Do stimulus payments fuel inflation or is it only stimulus payments sent by Democrats? Do the laws of economics apply to Republicans? (I could also point to the payments sent by Donald Trump during the pandemic with another $2,000 proposed by the lame duck.)

The Florida payments are coming out of funds the state received from the American Rescue Plan, the COVID relief bill passed in 2021. I have questions about the legality of using COVID relief to pump government money into the economy to fight inflation in addition to the plan’s economic wisdom.

From the Racket