Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Crime may be Biden’s Achilles heel

 I’ve written a lot lately about the difficulties that the Republican Party faces. A lot of people mistakenly believe that makes me a Democrat. For the record, I’m not. I remain a conservative independent who is continually dismayed and alarmed by both parties, but the Republicans have been such a trainwreck lately that their recent travails have sucked most of the air out of the proverbial room.

Let’s face it. Joe Biden is such a boring president that, even with his gaffes, there just isn’t a lot of big stuff to write about in the Biden Administration. Some people fill that void by claiming that his dementia will become uncontrollable any day now, but we’ve heard that for several years at this point. There’s the border surge, which I did write about in March, but CBP statistics show that “encounters” along the southern border are leveling off, albeit at a high level, and that the surge actually started in the spring of 2020 under Donald Trump. There’s also inflation, which I also wrote about, but some indicators are showing that inflation fears are receding. The pandemic is ending, the stock market is up, and the sense of a neverending crisis is fading. For the most part, the country seems to be doing pretty well.

Photo by David von Diemar on Unsplash

But one exception to the good vibe is the fact that crime rates around the country are skyrocketing. After falling for many years, violent crime rates reversed and started rising last year. The Hill notes that there were 5 murders per 100,000 people in 2019. This increased to about 6.2 per 100,000 in 2020. A New York Times survey found an 18 percent increase in the first three months of 2021 as compared to 2020. That will probably mean two consecutive year-over-year increases, but the good news is that the murder rate was much higher in the past. As recently as 1991, it was about 10 murders per 100,000.

The problem seems to be everywhere. CNN notes that major cities, such as New York and Chicago, are reporting increases, but so are less urban areas. In South Carolina, murders increased by 25 percent in 2020. As a region, the South leads the country in murders with 48 percent of the total despite having only about 40 percent of the population. The deadliest city is not in the South, however. That dubious honor goes to St. Louis.

So, why is the country getting more violent? There are probably several answers to that question. 2020 brought us both the pandemic and the BLM riots, which probably both fed into the rising wave of crime. Social anxiety created by the pandemic may have led to violence while the fact that the BLM riots were a contributing factor is tautological.

Another likely factor is high rate of police officers leaving their departments. A survey by the Police Executive Research Forum found a 45 percent increase in police retirements and an 18 percent increase in resignations in the survey period from 2020 to 2021 compared to the previous year. It’s easy to draw a line between the heavy criticism of police over the past year and the “Defund the Police” movement to officers leaving the profession in droves.

I have mixed emotions about the backlash against police in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death. On the one hand, officers who abuse their position and break the law should be punished and should leave the force, especially if their unlawful actions kill someone. There have been many recent examples of bad behavior by cops. On the other hand, too often good officers are assumed to be bad simply because they are wearing a uniform and a badge. The world is not as simple as saying all cops are bad or all cops are good.

This may be where President Biden can have his most significant impact. As the leader of the Democratic Party, the president should influence Democrats to tamp down on the anti-police rhetoric. The wild-eyed progressive left may think that all cops are evil but rank-and-file Democratic voters likely value police protection.

It’s worth noting here that Biden is not part of the “Defund the Police” crowd. As a candidate, Biden never got on board the defund movement, instead promising to put more officers on the street. Last week, the president approved a plan that allows states and cities to spend unused COVID relief funds to fight the crime wave.

That a shift in liberal attitudes is underway is apparent from the success of Eric Adams in the New York mayoral race. Adams, the frontrunner in the Democratic primary, is a former police captain who has advocated increasing police patrols.

Unfortunately, much of Biden’s focus is on guns, especially “assault rifles,” which is both a nonstarter and a distraction. FBI crime statistics show that it is extremely rare for rifles of any type to be used in murders. In fact, for every year shown on the 2019 crime report (2015-2019), about twice as many people were killed by an assailant’s bare hands or feet as by a rifle.

As I’ve pointed out before, banning “assault rifles” would have little effect even on mass shootings. The “assault weapons” ban in the 1990s had little, if any, statistical effect on mass killings. If we consider Wikipedia’s list of 11 mass shootings so far in 2021, only four involved weapons that could be considered “assault rifles.”

Even if “assault rifles” were to blame, a ban would never make it past Senate Republicans (or Joe Manchin). Additionally, the Supreme Court is much more gun-friendly than it was in the 1990s and may well be more responsive to two additional decades of data that show bans on “assault rifles” to be ineffective at reducing crime.

While rising crime rates, like the illegal immigration surge, did start under Donald Trump, it is fair to say that both are problems that Joe Biden must deal with. That’s his job, and if Biden and the Democrats can’t get the rising crime rates under control, it may give Republicans an issue that resonates in 2022 and beyond. This is especially true in the suburbs that swing between red and blue. If voters don’t feel safe, it is a powerful incentive to vote for change.

But it may not be that simple. Democrats can point out that the crime wave started during the Trump Administration as well as the fact that Trump’s 2018 criminal justice reform released about 5,000 inmates from federal prisons. Despite the meme of “Joe Biden’s America” as a place populated by violent thugs, the problem is bipartisan and national.

I think the ultimate answer is to pursue a number of different reforms. First, we need to hire and train new police officers to replace those who are leaving. The new officers need to be well-paid and trained to avoid the deadly mistakes that we have seen all too often in the past.

I’m sympathetic to the “broken windows” school of policing, but we have to take care that more broad police coverage does not translate into more aggressive police tactics or the criminalizing of everyday problems, such as school bullying or truancy. Nevertheless, the presence of cops can deter crime so they should be present as much as possible.

To make this work, however, we need to rebuild the trust between citizens and police officers. At this point, many people, especially minorities, are more fearful of being killed by police than by criminals. This is not a totally unreasonable fear.

Second, we need to take violent criminals off the street. It may be true that we lock up too many nonviolent offenders, but people who habitually hurt or kill others need to go away for a long time.

Finally, we should experiment with different programs and find out what works to reduce recidivism. For some, this may be faith-based programs while others may need an occupational assist. These programs should be scored by results and not by ideological or partisan factors.

Joe Biden and the Democrats have a lot going for them, but the crime problem is something that they will have to address. If the trend can’t be reversed, rising crime rates could prove to be the Democrats’ Achilles heel.

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

The January 6 commission goes partisan

 A few weeks ago, congressional Republicans shot down the proposed independent investigation of the events of January 6. At the time, I argued that an objective investigation into the events of January 6 was sorely needed and that Republicans should get on board or risk getting left behind. Now, it seems that the train is about to leave the station without the GOP on board.

In an entirely predictable move, Speaker Nancy Pelosi has introduced legislation in the House that would create a select committee to investigate the riot and attack on the Capitol. The committee would consist of 13 members, “5 of whom shall be appointed after consultation with the minority leader.” This is a worse deal for the Republicans than the proposed independent commission, which would have consisted of 10 members and been evenly split between the two parties.

Granted, the previous proposal did not give Republicans everything they wanted, but it did give them more than Ms. Pelosi’s unilateral proposal. The Republicans had a choice between a bad deal now or a worse deal later. They took the latter and now must live with their decision.

By Tyler Merbler from USA - DSC09523-2, CC BY 2.0,

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In yet another twist, Pelosi has said that she is "seriously considering" naming a Republican as one of her eight appointments to the committee. This would seem to narrow the Democratic advantage, but if Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy appoints MAGA loyalists - or boycotts the committee entirely - Pelosi’s appointment of someone like Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) or Liz Cheney (R-Wy.) would actually create a third and smaller faction that would not necessarily agree with either major faction.

If Pelosi goes through with the House investigation, she should absolutely appoint an objective Republican (or two) to offset the partisan Republicans likely to be appointed by McCarthy. Many of us felt that Pelosi erred by not including Trump-critical Republicans on the impeachment committees, but perhaps she has learned from those past mistakes.

There is nothing unconstitutional or inherently wrong with the idea of an investigation into the attack on the Capitol. Over the past few years, we have seen a number of investigations into wrongdoing by both parties. These include Benghazi, Fast and Furious, Solyndra, Hillary Clinton, Russia’s election interference, and Trump’s dealings with Ukraine. I think it is fair to say that none of these incidents were as threatening to American democracy as an insurrection designed to steal a presidential election. It isn’t unfair to point out that if Republicans really thought BLM and Antifa were behind the assault on the Capitol, they would have no problem with an investigation.

It’s true that Republicans would likely find an independent commission report used against them, but this was a result of having the facts against them rather than being the victims of partisanship. Using the ostrich strategy of sticking their collective head into the ground is not making the reality of the insurrection go away.

The fact is that the Republican Party and quite a few of its elected officials are hip-deep in blame for insurrection. That obviously includes Donald Trump but also extends to Reps. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) and Paul A. Gosar (R-Ariz.) who allegedly helped to plan the Stop the Steal rally. There are also persistent rumors that Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Col.), a congresswoman with QAnon ties, led a large group that may have included some rioters on a Capitol tour in the days before the insurrection. Boebert has denied these accusations.

The Republican error here is two-fold and that doesn’t even count losing control of the party to a conspiracy theorist and populist outsider. First, Republicans should have acknowledged that the insurrection was not going to simply go away and embraced an investigation that would have given them an almost equal say in the findings. With any luck, such an investigation would help traditional conservative Republicans purge the more radical elements from their party.

Second, Republicans forgot that the coverup is often worse than the underlying crime. In fighting the investigation, Republicans look as if they are circling the wagons to protect the guilty. That makes the Republican Party look guilty by association.

In many cases, scandals can be shortened or averted by an admission of guilt and a statement of contrition. The rule of thumb is that it is almost always best to get the bad news out quickly and then move past it.

That was never going to happen in this case. The insurrection and the conspiracies surrounding it are so complex and convoluted that such a move was never going to resolve this scandal. Republicans were always going to have to deal with a constant dripping of information over the next year or two as new revelations and indictments surface as we move toward a final report. Now, it looks as though Nancy Pelosi will control both the drip of information and the timing of the report’s release. That’s not a good position to be in.

If you think that I’m supportive of Nancy Pelosi’s House investigation, I’m really not. I do still believe that January 6 needs to be fully investigated, but a partisan investigation by House Democrats ranks at least third in my preferences. The best solution, even at this late date, would be for enough Republicans to come to grips with the need for an objective look into the insurrection that an independent commission could escape the filibuster. Since this requires 10 Republicans to buck Trump and McConnell, it pretty obviously is not going to happen. My second preference would be for the Justice Department to appoint a special counsel.

Obviously, the best way to investigate something as politically charged as the January 6 riots is with an objective and independent body. Republicans are already skeptical of the Justice Department and would definitely think the fix was in regarding a House investigation.

In a fallen world and an atmosphere of distrust on both sides, there is no perfect solution. However, if and when the Democrats launch a House investigation of the insurrection, we should all remember that Republicans had the opportunity for an equally divided commission which would have been much less partisan and they chose to reject that plan.

It is possible that the House can launch an objective and nonpartisan investigation of the facts of the case, but whether they will do so is an open question. There is also the question of whether Republicans will take the matter seriously, or knowing the facts are against them, simply choose to attack the proceedings as they did during President Trump’s impeachments.

That brings us to the one benefit that Republicans gain from a House investigation. If Republicans can claim that the investigation is a partisan sham then it much easier to ignore the fact of a dangerously radical segment within their base. This also means that they do not have to cross Donald Trump and anger the former president’s supporters.

And that may have been the plan all along.

Here is some suggested reading for those who are interested in the Wuhan “lab-leak” theory. Bloomberg recently detailed the experience of Danielle Anderson, an Australian virologist who was working at the Wuhan Institute of Virology during the outbreak of COVID-19.

I know that many of our readers are automatically skeptical of anything from Bloomberg, but the article is interesting and offers some insight into what it was like in the lab. Anderson, who doesn’t claim to know the origin of the pandemic and says it may be years before we learn how the virus spread to humans, if we ever do so, does offer some pushback to the claims that there were shoddy security procedures in the lab and that there was an outbreak of respiratory disease among researchers.

Read it or don’t, but the article is compelling and underscores that the lab-leak theory is still just a theory. At this point, there is no smoking gun that shows where COVID-19 originated and we may never know for sure.

From the Racket

Monday, June 28, 2021

Raising the Barr

 Bill Barr was in the news again over the weekend. A new Atlantic piece describes the last days of Barr’s tenure as attorney general and how Donald Trump’s quest to overturn the election finally drove the government lawyer to his breaking point or more specifically, to the point where he broke with Donald Trump.

Barr, who had also served as attorney general under Bush-41, was appointed by President Trump to resume the post after the departure of much-harangued Jeff Sessions. Barr stepped into the role on February 14, 2019, shortly after Trump survived his first impeachment.

Although Barr had good credentials, including serving under a president that I liked and respected (not Trump), like much of the Republican Party, the association with Donald Trump seemed to tarnish him.

By Official White House Photo by Tia Dufour -, Public Domain,


Those of you who have followed me since the Resurgent days may remember that I was very critical of Barr at several points. Barr’s original summary of the Mueller report shaded the special counsel’s findings in a way that was beneficial to Barr’s boss, President Trump and apparently drew criticism from Mueller for its misleading nature. Barr disputed a report by Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz that exonerated the DOJ of wrongdoing in the Russia investigation but he provided no evidence of a conspiracy against Trump. Barr also pushed the unconstitutional idea of an unaccountable chief executive at the expense of congressional power.

To a great extent, Bill Barr covered for Donald Trump and enabled the former president’s ability to abuse his office. But then, one day last December, Barr found a line that he would not cross.

Per the Atlantic piece, which is based in part on interviews with Barr, on December 1, 2020, Barr met with an Associated Press reporter and told him, in a voice so low that he had to repeat himself, “To date, we have not seen fraud on a scale that could have affected a different outcome in the election.” This simple statement blew a hole in President Trump’s claims of massive fraud, claims that Trump is still clinging to today.

Barr also told the Atlantic that Mitch McConnell had been urging him to speak out with the truth about the election. Never mind that McConnell was not speaking out himself.

In Barr’s telling, which is credible on this point because it was reportedly confirmed by McConnell, the then-majority leader was focused on maintaining control of the Senate by winning the Georgia runoffs. This required making the argument that the two seats were needed to check the Biden Administration. The problem was that Republicans couldn’t follow this strategy without undercutting Trump’s claims about the election. If they crossed Trump, they fully expected him to sabotage the Senate races.

In an apparent first, Barr quietly ordered the Justice Department to investigate “substantial allegations” of voting irregularities before the election results were certified. Barr says he did this so that he would be able to explain to Trump that the allegations were unfounded.

“My attitude was: It was put-up or shut-up time,” Barr said. “If there was evidence of fraud, I had no motive to suppress it. But my suspicion all the way along was that there was nothing there. It was all bullshit.”

If you haven’t read the Atlantic piece, you should, even if only for Barr’s description of the epic meltdown when Trump confronted him about the December AP article. Trump allegedly referred to himself in the third person and hurled profanities at his AG for disloyalty. Barr compares the former president in that moment to Gen. Jack D. Ripper in the classic film Dr. Strangelove, the same movie which gave us the line “There’s no fighting in the war room!” and let us see Slim Pickens riding a nuclear bomb. If you aren’t familiar with the scene in question, you can watch it below, but you should really watch the full movie if you’ve never seen it.

I won’t repeat the entire passage here, but one passage is enlightening. Barr says that he told the president, “You know, you only have five weeks, Mr. President, after an election to make legal challenges. This would have taken a crackerjack team with a really coherent and disciplined strategy. Instead, you have a clown show. No self-respecting lawyer is going anywhere near it. It’s just a joke. That’s why you are where you are.”

I’m left wondering how Barr would have reacted if the president did have a “crackerjack” team rather than a “clown show.” Would the facts of the case still have mattered or would Barr have shaded the truth as he did in covering the president in the wake of the Mueller report? Did Barr reach his line because Trump’s attempt to steal the election was based on transparent lies or would he have balked at stealing the election even if it was possible to do so? That may seem like an unfair question, but it is Barr’s own actions that make it relevant.

For that matter, how far was McConnell willing to go? The Senate majority leader does have a duty to help his party gain seats in Congress, but he also has a higher duty to the Constitution. Would McConnell have continued to stand by and offer only tepid statements if it had looked possible that Trump would be able to overturn the results of the election? I’m afraid that I know the answer to that.

One of the most disturbing aspects of the Trump era is how quickly and completely so many Republican officials, both elected and appointed, were corrupted by the former president and his base. For every person who tried to hold the line against Trumpian corruption, there seems to have been more who were more loyal to Trump than the country or who lacked the courage to blow the whistle on the corruption.

And for good reason. People like Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, former Inspector General for the Intelligence Community Michael Atkinson, and even John Bolton who crossed Donald Trump or tried to hold him accountable generally saw their careers ending quickly as they were replaced by yes-men.

In the end, I’m left with the impression that Barr was bent but not broken. He allowed himself to be compromised by his loyalty to Donald Trump but only to a point. As I wrote last December after his break with the president, “Attorney General Barr seems to have had a limit to how far he would go to be a ‘wingman’ for President Trump. In the end, he chose to follow the law and do his job honestly. Americans should honor him for that.”

Bill Barr was not a model attorney general before December, but thank goodness he stepped up to tell the truth when he did. Honesty is better discovered late than never.

Your Racketeers aren’t celebrities except maybe in our own minds. Nevertheless, sometimes we do interact with some legitimate heavy-hitters. For instance, this morning, Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) replied to my comment on one of his tweets. Unfortunately, Massie’s reply contained an out-of-context quote from Dr. Fauci and amounted to disinformation.

I looked up the source of Massie’s Fauci quote and found it in a Department of Health and Human Services press conference from January 28, 2020. The relevant portion of the video is about 43 minutes in and relates to CDC doctors responding to a question about Chinese claims of asymptomatic transmission.

CDC Director Robert Redfield, the speaker before Fauci answers:

“The Chinese have reported evidence of transmission in the asymptomatic phase based on data that they have reviewed. CDC has not been given the opportunity to review that data, so what we say is we haven’t been able to confirm by data the impact of transmission during the asymptomatic phase. The Chinese believe they have that data. So, this again, is our hope, that we can get more directly involved in China to be able to review and get more definitive.

We have limited experience here as Dr. Michener has already said. Five cases. We’re evaluating now the number of contacts. In the context of those evaluations, we are trying to address this issue: Is there any evidence of shedding of the virus in any of these contacts before? But we going to present the data that we have and we’re not necessarily going to affirm someone else’s interpretation, so that’s why you see the differences. We haven’t seen that data to confirm that conclusion.”

Then Dr. Fauci steps up and Massie omits the crucial first part of his statement:

“To just add one thing to that seems to get lost in that question is that, as Bob said and I agree, we would really like to see the data because if there is asymptomatic transmission it impacts certain policies that you do regarding screening and et cetera [emphasis mine].

But the one thing historically that people need to realize is that even if there is some asymptomatic transmission, in all the history of respiratory-borne viruses of any type, asymptomatic transmission has never been the driver of any outbreaks. The driver of outbreaks is always a symptomatic person. Even if there’s a rare asymptomatic person that might transmit, an epidemic is not driven by asymptomatic carriers.”

Massie commits several errors here. First, he goes back to the first month of the pandemic when there was a lot we didn’t know about COVID-19. The congressman conveniently ignores the wealth of data that has been amassed over the past 18 months that shows large numbers of people infected with COVID-19 are asymptomatic carriers and spreaders.

Second, Massie ignores Fauci’s preface that additional data might change his understanding of the virus and how to react to it. Fauci’s statement was backward-looking and addressed other diseases from the past. It is a logical fallacy to believe that COVID-19 cannot have asymptomatic transmission because previous respiratory illnesses did not. That is doubly true when where there is evidence to the contrary.

It is fair to say that Fauci seemed doubtful about the early Chinese data. However, to his credit, Fauci did not allow his preconceptions to overcome the evidence that was presented for asymptomatic transmission. The same cannot be said of Massie.

Finally, Massie uses Fauci’s statement as a criticism of mask mandates on airlines. In reality, Fauci did not discuss masks in the clip and, to my knowledge, has never said that masks were ineffective against Coronavirus transmission.

Fauci’s much-misunderstood comments from March 8 about people not needing to wear masks were driven by a lack of understanding about the extent of asymptomatic spread as well as a desire to reserve masks for healthcare workers. But even in the viral video, Fauci does not say that masks don’t work, just that they provide “imperfect protection” and have “unintended consequences” such as making people touch their faces.

Maybe Rep. Massie didn’t know these facts, but I suspect he did. In any case, he should know them now. The congressman should retract his comments and tell his supporters the truth.

On a final note, I feel vindicated by other news over the weekend. On Friday, I wrote about the infrastructure compromise. At the time, a lot of people were criticizing the deal because Democrats and President Biden had said they intended to go forward with a budget resolution in addition to the compromise bill. Some were even reporting that Biden had threatened to veto the compromise bill if the budget resolution did not pass first.

But Biden never said he would veto the compromise. He said he wouldn’t sign it. And the two are not the same thing since not signing a bill does not prevent it from becoming law (unless Congress adjourns).

In any case, over the weekend Democrats tamped down the rhetoric and backpedaled away from linking the two bills. As of this writing, the Republican partners in the compromise seem satisfied and the infrastructure bill is forging ahead.

It’s a seemingly small thing to see a bipartisan coalition to pass a bill in Congress, but it’s something we haven’t seen much of for the past decade or so.

From the Racket

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Republicans should worry (and so should Democrats)

 My friend, Steve Berman, had a good piece yesterday on why Republicans should not worry about the next few months and years. I agree with just about everything that Steve wrote in that article, but I still think that Republicans should be worried about the coming midterms and the 2024 elections. Even though I think that Steve is correct in saying that a lot of the issues favor Republicans, I also think that most Republicans are not worried enough about the future of their party. That may seem inconsistent but there’s a good reason for it.

A big part of the reason is that I’ve come to realize that many voters are not as attuned to political issues as I and the rest of the Twitterati are. Way back in 2012 as I studied exit polls, I realized that Mitt Romney had a polling edge on a lot of the issues, but an overwhelming 81 percent of voters said that Barack Obama “cared for people like me” while only 18 percent thought that Romney cared about them. A Reuters analysis found that the perception that Obama cared was a major reason given by McCain voters who switched Obama in 2012

Photo by Hello I'm Nik on Unsplash

This seems like nonsense to those of us who care deeply about political issues and are skeptical of government at all levels but especially the highest levels of the federal government in Washington, DC. Why would anyone vote for a presidential candidate that they disagreed with on the issues because they thought he cared about them?

The answer is that not everyone cares passionately about the issues. A lot of Americans don’t care about the issues at all. We call these people “undecideds” or “moderates” or “independents.” They decide elections.

You see, neither party has a majority of voters. The most recent Gallup polling shows Republicans with 24 percent and Democrats with 30 percent of party identification. Independents are a whopping 44 percent of voters. That means that both parties have to appeal to independents, people who don’t care about issues, to win elections.

Okay, you may say, but people are lying when they claim to be independent. They really vote for one party or the other and just don’t want to be labeled.

The Gallup poll also considers “leaners,” people who lean toward one party or the other. In that case, Democrats get 50 percent and Republicans get 41 percent. Republicans almost never lead in the party identification poll, but when they close the gap with Democrats, it often means a Republican victory. So the Republicans start at a disadvantage and have to win a larger share of independents than Democrats in order to win an election.

How do Republicans narrow the gap? It isn’t by talking about guns and abortion. If a voter cares deeply about those issues, they probably already vote Republican. In fact, focusing on those wedge issues fires up the base but probably drives away some moderate voters who don’t want heartbeat bills or constitutional open carry. You can be pro-life and pro-gun but still think that Republicans go too far on those issues.

No, the way that Republicans close the gap with Democrats is by seeming to be less crazy than the left. And not seeming to be crazy is the party’s Achilles heel in the age of Trump.

A common meme from the past few years shows something far out that the Democrats are doing and then says, “All they had to do was not be crazy.” Well, that works both ways. With a seemingly strong economy and the country looking toward the government for a pandemic response, all Donald Trump had to do was not be crazy, but he couldn’t do it.

And Republicans are still addicted to crazy. For example, recent Reuters polling showed that 53 percent of Republicans believe that Donald Trump is the “true president,” the party is pushing a sore-loser audit of Arizona ballots that is opposed by 55 percent of voters, and the idea that the former guy is going to somehow be reinstated in the middle of Joe Biden’s term is taken seriously. That’s crazy talk and that’s the stuff that Republicans are pushing.

Other big issues that have gotten my Republican friends talking in recent months have been a continuing backlash against masks and vaccines, the war on Dr. Seuss, how Kamala Harris is not really black, and the life and times of Hunter Biden. What these issues have in common is that they all have near-zero relevance to the undecided voters who will decide the next elections.

Part of this insanity that is now inherent in the Republican Party is due to Donald Trump. Even though Ron DeSantis edged out Trump in a recent straw poll, there is little doubt that the 2024 nomination belongs to Trump if he wants it. America is over Trump but for Republicans, the attitude is one of “I wish I knew how to quit you.”

Worse, Trump is a litmus test for other Republicans. Republican candidates must buy into the stolen election conspiracy theories and populism over conservatism if they want to win their primaries. But buying into the Trumpian worldview is problematic when it comes to the 60 or 70 percent of voters who view Trumpworld as crazy and unworthy of wielding power. After January 6, that includes a lot more conservatives than it did in November.

Donald Trump may have profited from this Republican detachment from reality, but he did not create it. Even before Trump rose to prominence, there were conspiracy theories about Barack Obama’s birth certificate and alleged Muslim beliefs as well as the belief that the Clintons were responsible for a long trail of murders. Republican crazy talk goes way back, but it has never been as widespread as it is today.

I think a big part of the problem is the creation of separate, partisan media spheres. Today, Republicans are likely to get most of their news from sources like Fox News, OANN, and Newsmax and never even hear voices from the other side that aren’t selected as extreme examples to be attacked and ridiculed.

Do Republicans know that these outlets and their personalities are losing defamation suits based on their reporting about Dominion voting machines? Do they know that a Republican audit of the Michigan election upheld Biden’s victory this week? Do they know that Rudy Giuliani just lost his law license because of legal malpractice relating to his claims about the election? Too many members of the Republican base are insulated from reality by a bubble of partisan news sources.

When your party is censuring people like Liz Cheney and Mitt Romney but is afraid to challenge people like Marjorie Taylor Greene, you should be worried. Sane Republicans should be very worried.

The Republican Party is in the unenviable position of having to fire up their base with fantasy-based stories about how Donald Trump didn’t really lose the election while simultaneously trying to appear sane to the moderates who fired Trump last fall and who will decide the party’s fate in 2022 and 2024. At the same time, the claims of voter fraud could backfire again and persuade Republican voters that they may as well stay home if the election is already rigged for Democrats. This phenomenon was partly to blame for the GOP loss in Georgia’s Senate runoffs as white, rural Republicans stayed home (or were making their way to the “Stop the Steal” rally in Washington the next day) and allowed Democrats to turn out in favor of Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossof.

Perhaps the best thing that Republicans have going for them as we head toward the next elections is that undecided voters don’t pay much attention to politics. Many of these independents won’t vote in primaries and won’t start thinking about who to vote for until a few weeks before the election. That means that Republicans have some time to get their house in order if they are still capable of doing so.

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If you’re a Democrat and you’ve been nodding along up until now, brace yourself.

The Democrats are ascendant mainly because they are not Donald Trump. The 2020 election was not a grand mandate for the progressive platform of their dreams. It was a mandate to not be Donald Trump. That mission was accomplished on January 20.

So where do Democrats go from here? They have two alternatives. One is to veer hard left and the other is to play to the middle.

The smart move would be to play to the middle because, as we’ve established, it is the middle voters who determine the winners of elections, but neither party is likely to make the smart move. Partisans on both sides take the attitude that they need to ram their agenda through while they are in power because they may not be in power very long. When they do so, they appear out of control and scary to the moderate voters and the possibility that they will become a minority again soon becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

In the case of the Democrats, Alexandria Ocasio Cortez is one of the Democrats vying for the role of Ted Cruz in the 2021 remake of the Republican Party’s internal civil war. AOC tweeted a warning in early June that Obama’s Democratic majority in 2009 only lasted four months and spurred her party to action.

But AOC misses the point that Democrats took a “shellacking” in 2010 precisely because they forged ahead with unpopular bills that angered voters. We cannot say how the 2010 midterms would have turned out if Democrats had not rammed through Obamacare since the opposition party usually gains in midterms, but they might have avoided the Republican landslide that they got.

AOC is also among the Democrats urging for the nuclear option to eliminate the filibuster, but the filibuster is actually the Democrats’ best friend right now. With the filibuster in place, Democrats can put forward any bill they want to in order to appease the base with the full knowledge that it won’t pass and tick off the voters.

Whether it’s election reform, gun control, a minimum wage increase, or whatever, Democrats can propose the bill and Republicans will filibuster it. Democrats can then use the filibuster as a tool for the upcoming elections.

”See?” they’ll say. “We wanted to enact a progressive wish list but Mitch McConnell stopped us. We need more Democrats in Congress.”

The problem is that when more Democrats get to Congress then they have to show results. That’s one of the things that drove the Republican Party crazy.

For years, Republicans were told that the party would repeal Obamacare if they just sent more Republicans to Washington. Republican voters obliged with control of the House, the Senate, and finally the White House, but the GOP never got to the point where they could overcome a Democratic filibuster. Republican voters finally decided that the party leaders were closet liberals and gave their allegiance to an outsider.

So, the Democrats have two things to worry about. The first is that the AOC wing of the party will get loud and successful enough to make moderate voters think that the Trump GOP isn’t so scary after all. Democrats are currently winning moderates and independents because the GOP has gone so far… not right but Trumpward… but that is not a permanent condition. If Democrats shift too far left, they could lose the middle. If you don’t think this is a real possibility, just refer back to the 2016 election.

Actually, you just have to refer back to 2020. Given the unpopularity of the Trump Administration, Democrats should have done well in congressional elections, but Biden had virtually no coattails. Democrats lost 12 seats in the House and only won a bare Senate majority after two months of Trump’s attempts to overturn the election angered Georgia voters into voting for two Democrats. 2020 was a repudiation of the radicals of both parties, not just the Republicans.

The other concern for Democrats is that if they aren’t able to show real progress to the progressive base over the next few years that the Democratic base might follow the Republicans into Cloud Cuckoo Land.* If this happens, Democrats might end up with their version of Donald Trump, a fate which they narrowly avoided in the 2020 primary.

The bottom line here is that political power is fleeting. No party is going to be a permanent majority (under our current system at least), but they can take steps to prolong their majority by not scaring the undecided voters in the middle. For better or for worse, however, both parties seem to only care about the radicals in their base.

If Democrats nuke the filibuster and veer left, it may well put Donald Trump back in the White House in 2024. If that happens, Democrats will have no one to blame but themselves.

* I recently learned this was what Rommel called Hitler’s fantasy land in which Germany still had armies capable of winning in 1944. I am not calling anyone a Nazi here, but I thought it was a delightful bit of trivia and applicable to today’s political arena. The German word is wolkenkuckucksheim if you’re interested.)

From the Racket