Protest Vote Speculation

[ Posted Tuesday, February 27th, 2024 – 16:13 UTC ]

Michigan is holding its primaries today, and the political media's main focus seems to be on the people who won't be voting for the two main candidates in the race. On the Republican side, the question is not whether Donald Trump is going to win or not (he is) but on how many people will vote for Nikki Haley, who is still clinging on to relevance. On the Democratic side, the question is not whether President Joe Biden is going to win or not (he is) but on how many people mark their ballot "uncommitted," in protest over his policies towards Israel and the Gaza Strip. When everyone already knows which two horses are going to win, to put this another way, then they've got to find something else to talk about.

The 2024 presidential election is unusual in a number of ways, but perhaps the biggest is that it is essentially a race between two incumbent presidents. Joe Biden, of course, sits in the Oval Office. Donald Trump, though, used to sit there and wants to sit there again. Only once in American history has a president won a non-consecutive term -- normally losing candidates never even make another attempt. So the dynamic between a president and the ex-president he defeated is rather unique for America to contemplate. But what it also means is that the outcome of the primary season has been a foregone conclusion for months now. Both Biden and Trump are cruising to their respective parties' nomination.

Since this is a boring thing to write about (what else is there to say other than that previous sentence, really?), the pundits seek stories elsewhere. The problem, however, is that nobody really knows what people are going to do. There aren't exactly good prediction models to use for such a unique situation.

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It's Not Just About Abortion

[ Posted Monday, February 26th, 2024 – 15:45 UTC ]

Democrats are beginning to widen their political message in a way that could prove to be a big winner for them not just in November but for years to come. So far, the fallout from the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade has been overwhelmingly positive for Democrats, since the majority of Americans actually favor abortion rights for all women. And now Democrats have the clear opportunity to link a number of other things to the proven political winner abortion rights has turned out to be. In fact, they should adopt a new slogan: "It's not just about abortion."

It's also about in-vitro fertilization. And contraception. And the right of a pregnant woman facing a medical emergency not to have to approach death before she can get treated by a doctor. Republicans will not be satisfied until they have molded American law to conform with their own personal religious beliefs, and this is not some academic hair-splitting -- it is going to affect millions of women's lives for the worse. It has real-world consequences, and some of them are horrific or at least intensely unpopular.

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Friday Talking Points -- A Slow Sort Of Week

[ Posted Friday, February 23rd, 2024 – 18:08 UTC ]

Because this week had a federal holiday at the start of it, Congress is off on vacation for two entire weeks. Nice work if you can get it, eh?

It's not as if they don't have anything to do, either. When they return, the Senate will hold the first impeachment trial for a sitting cabinet member ever (although "trial" may be overstating it, since it may be over before it even begins, with a simple vote to dismiss the nonsensical articles of impeachment the House finally was able to pass), the House will be under pressure to pass some sort of military aid for Ukraine before their soldiers are reduced to fighting with pointy sticks, and Congress will be staring at yet another government-shutdown deadline at the end of the week. Those are just the big things on the congressional plate, mind you. But after all their hard work (at not getting anything done on time), they all needed two weeks of relaxation, obviously.

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A Cosmic Interlude

[ Posted Thursday, February 22nd, 2024 – 18:25 UTC ]

I am playing hooky from politics today, because right in the middle of my usual writing time there will be a cosmic event streamed live. For the first time since 1972, a vehicle launched from the United States of America will attempt a "soft landing" on the Moon. "Soft landing" means it's going to try to land rather than just crashing into the Moon's surface. This is a historic occasion, made even more so by the fact that the spacecraft was launched by a private company, on top of a different private company's rocket. The event will be streamed live by NASA, but unlike the last American landing on the Moon (Apollo 17, which touched down on December 11, 1972) the mission is being carried out completely by private companies.

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Biden Impeachment Investigation About To End Not With A Bang But A Whimper

[ Posted Wednesday, February 21st, 2024 – 16:43 UTC ]

T. S. Eliot wrote a poem that seems entirely appropriate to quote from today, since it aptly sums up the Republican effort in the House of Representatives to find something -- anything! -- to use to impeach President Joe Biden. After more than a year of digging, they have found less than nothing. Their one crown jewel of an accusation was brought by a man who is now being charged with lying about the entire thing to the F.B.I. Which is why the final lines of "The Hollow Men" seemed appropriate to quote (emphasis in original):

This is the way the world ends

Not with a bang but with a whimper.

Or you can go back to the beginning of the poem, if you'd like a description of the Republicans mightily trying to make their fantastical dark vision somehow true:

We are the hollow men

We are the stuffed men

Leaning together

Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!

As I said, it just seems appropriate.

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Biden Should Address The Nation

[ Posted Tuesday, February 20th, 2024 – 16:52 UTC ]

It is a rare event, but every so often I have to fully agree with a Republican. I was going to write this today anyway, begging for the same thing (for broader reasons), so this definitely caught my eye. Here is Representative Chris Smith from New Jersey, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee (which just introduced a foreign aid and border security deal as an alternative to the Senate-passed "foreign-aid-only" bill), advising President Biden to publicly go on offense over Ukraine military aid right now:

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From The Archives -- Moving Washington's Birthday

[ Posted Monday, February 19th, 2024 – 16:35 UTC ]

[Program Note: Since it is a federal holiday and all, I decided to take today off and run a few errands. So I am running this column again, due to its timeless nature (pun intended -- calendarless, maybe?). Or if you remember it from years past and are bored, you can check out the Washington Post today, where intrepid historians have uncovered a remarkable linkage -- the story of how President Joe Biden's great-great-grandfather was pardoned by none other than President Abraham Lincoln, during the Civil War. In any case, we hope everyone (who gets the day off, that is) has a wonderful holiday, no matter what you call it!]


Originally published February 17, 2014

Happy Presidents' Day to all!

Well, to all who live in Hawai'i, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, and Vermont, at the very least. These are the states which officially recognize today as "Presidents' Day." Unlike other federal holidays, however, there is much disagreement and controversy surrounding the holiday. Not so much the holiday itself, but over what to call it (and when to celebrate it). In states such as California and Alaska (and, notably, the state of Washington), the apostrophe moves and it is known as "President's Day." This can be read as either snubbing all the other presidents (since the holiday originally celebrated one president's birthday), or celebrating the presidency itself (or the day of the president, to put it another way). But even without such grammatical gymnastics, the day has plenty of other official titles. Some states such as Michigan and New Jersey dispense with the apostrophe altogether and just call it "Presidents Day." Some states get flowery ("Recognition of the birthday of George Washington" in North Dakota), and some get inclusive ("Lincoln's and Washington's Birthday" in Montana, "Lincoln/Washington/Presidents' Day" in Arizona, and "Washington and Lincoln Day" in Utah), and some even throw in a local personage to the mix ("George Washington's Birthday and Daisy Gatson Bates Day" in Arkansas). Wikipedia lists ten separate official state titles for the holiday, in fact.

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Friday Talking Points -- Grinding Exceedingly Fine

[ Posted Friday, February 16th, 2024 – 18:04 UTC ]

That headline comes from the end of an aphorism that goes back to the time of the ancient Greeks: "The wheels of justice turn slowly, but they grind exceedingly fine." Today, the wheels of justice just ground out a penalty of $355 million for Donald Trump, for committing serial fraud in his New York businesses -- which we certainly found to be an "exceedingly fine" result of the case (an "exceedingly fine fine," maybe?). The $355 million can now be added to the $88 million Trump is already on the hook for, after losing two other civil cases (the defamation cases brought by E. Jean Carroll). Plus, in today's ruling, two of Trump's children were fined $4 million each, as well as a $1 million fine for another member of the Trump Organization (making it a $364 million penalty, in all). This was the capstone to a week watching the slow grind of multiple court cases Trump is currently ensnared in, so we thought it was an appropriate place to start our column this week.

The biggest other Trump legal news of the week is that for the first time in history, an ex-president will face a criminal trial for paying "hush money" to a porn star. Actually, every word after "trial" in that previous sentence is superfluous in a way... but it's still fun to point out.

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Scheduling Trump's Trials

[ Posted Thursday, February 15th, 2024 – 16:58 UTC ]

Donald Trump will finally be forced to sit in a courtroom to answer criminal charges against him in a trial before a jury of his peers. This trial will begin on March 25th, the judge overseeing the case ruled today. This was the originally-scheduled date for the courtroom drama to begin, which Trump's lawyers tried unsuccessfully to push back as far as they possibly could. The judge just flat-out rejected their pleas for delay, so jury selection will begin late next month.

Just to be clear, this is the New York state-level trial over charges that Trump illegally tried to hide hush-money payments to a porn star and broke campaign finance laws by doing so. Trump is facing 34 felony counts in this trial, which carry a total maximum penalty of 136 years in prison. While that certainly sounds serious, it is in fact the least serious of the four criminal trials Trump is currently facing. It also may be the hardest case to make, at least in the court of public opinion, as it involves legal niceties that aren't immediately apparent to the layman. And even if Trump is convicted in this trial, it is doubtful whether he would even be sentenced to any prison time at all (since he will be a first-time offender in a very white-collar crime).

The other three criminal cases against Trump are all much more serious and much easier for the public to understand, so it is kind of a shame that the porn-star case will be the first one heard in court. These other three trials are all slogging through various roadblocks, which has made even coming up with a firm scheduling date for them impossible so far.

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Republicans' Refusal To Do Anything About The Border Costs Them A House Seat

[ Posted Wednesday, February 14th, 2024 – 16:59 UTC ]

The House seat once held by George Santos is back in Democratic hands once again, after an impressive 8-point victory in a special election last night. Once Tom Suozzi is sworn in, this will leave Republicans with a smaller majority, meaning Speaker Mike Johnson will only be able to lose two votes from his own party when passing purely partisan bills. This may not have that big an effect, since Johnson already struggles to pass partisan bills with the majority he's currently got (a bill on spying powers had to be pulled today, for instance, since Republicans can't agree among themselves over what to put in it). If Johnson had been wildly successful up to this point and his new smaller margin put that at risk then that'd be one thing, but the reality is the only bills he's been able to move with any chance of becoming law are ones with wide bipartisan support. Not much about that dynamic is actually going to change, even with one more Democrat in the chamber.

Still, last night was good news for Democrats. In 2022 Santos initially won the district -- which flipped the seat to the Republicans -- by eight points too. His odiousness had to have been a factor in the race to replace him, but it wasn't like Democrats won in a solidly red district or anything. They (obviously) won some voters back to their side, which is indeed good news for them heading into this year's regular elections. Democrats could retake control of the chamber by picking up only four seats in November, and New York may be the place where this happens. House Republicans had a very good cycle in New York in 2022, so if four or five more Democrats can win seats back (as Suozzi just did), that could be the whole ballgame.

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