Saturday, May 22, 2021
Nikole Hannah-Jones is an award-winning Black journalist. She is also one of the developers of the 1619 Project, a journalistic examination of slavery’s role in shaping the American present. Last year, that work won her a Pulitzer Prize. Now it appears to have cost her a tenured chair at the University of North Carolina’s Hussman School of Journalism.
The news outlet NC Policy Watch reported on Monday that the university’s dean, chancellor, and faculty had backed Hannah-Jones’s appointment to the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism, a tenured professorship, after a “rigorous tenure process at UNC.” But in an extraordinary move, the board of trustees declined to act on that recommendation. Hannah-Jones was instead offered a five-year, nontenured appointment following public and private pressure from conservatives. . . . . One anonymous trustee told NC Policy Watch that “the political environment made granting Hannah-Jones tenure difficult, if not impossible.”
For the past five years, conservatives have been howling about the alleged censoriousness of the American left, in particular on college campuses. But the denial of tenure to Hannah-Jones shows that the real conflict is over how American society understands its present inequalities.
The prevailing conservative view is that America’s racial and economic inequalities are driven by differences in effort and ability. The work of Hannah-Jones and others suggests instead that present-day inequalities have been shaped by deliberate political and policy choices. What appears to be an argument about reexamining history is also an argument about ideology—a defense of the legitimacy of the existing social order against an account of its historical origins that suggests different policy choices could produce a more equitable society.
The 1619 Project is a particularly powerful part—but not the cause—of a Black Lives Matter–inspired reevaluation of American history that began in the waning years of the Obama administration. Many Americans were struggling to understand how a nation that had elected a Black president could retain deep racial disparities not only in the rate of poverty, access to education, and health care, but also in matters of criminal justice and political power.
[T]he 1619 Project has its flaws—although fewer than its most fanatical critics would admit. But the details of its factual narrative were not what conservatives found most objectionable. Rather, they took issue with the ideological implications of its central conceit: that America’s true founding moment was the arrival of African slaves on America’s shores.
The idea that ugly aspects of American history should not be taught, for fear that students—white students in particular—might draw unfavorable conclusions about America, is simply an argument against teaching history at all.
In truth, the animating premise of the 1619 Project is more threatening to the right—the idea that America can indeed be redeemed, by rectifying racial imbalances created by government policy.
The fight to define the American past is not new. In the middle of the 20th century, a massive conservative backlash erupted in California against a textbook co-written by the celebrated Black American historian John Hope Franklin.
The tone of the textbook Franklin co-authored, Land of the Free, remained “resolutely patriotic,” as Joseph Moreau wrote in his account of the conflict in his book Schoolbook Nation. But this was not sufficient for the textbook’s opponents, who, Moreau wrote, believed that “history teaching existed to cultivate patriotism” and that the “debunking of historical myths or premature attempts to furnish young people with painful truths could not be countenanced.” Anxiety over the civil-rights movement, and this reevaluation of American history, fueled a white backlash against the textbook, and rewarded conservative politicians willing to exploit that sentiment. Franklin’s history was closer to the truth than the version his opponents wanted to promote—but the accuracy of the history was beside the point.
Good intentions do not a good idea make. But to accept that a problem exists is to accept the obligation to find a solution. And conservatives who don’t want to address America’s deep racial disparities are attempting to suppress any reading of history that suggests contemporary inequalities are the product of deliberate choices.
To that end, conservative opponents of what they derisively refer to as “wokeism” are engaged in a campaign to stigmatize such arguments, and where they can, use the state to purge them from the educational system. State legislatures are outlawing the teaching of “critical race theory” which in this context as my colleague Adam Harris reports, is ultimately a shorthand for “anything resembling an examination of America’s history with race.” The Trump administration threatened to investigate institutions of higher education that discussed systemic racism, and conservative state governments are interfering with state institutions of higher education.
In Texas, legislators are seeking to ban the teaching of the 1619 Project, and suppress the role of slavery in the state’s independence. The 1836 constitution of the Republic of Texas not only protected slavery, but also barred slave owners from emancipating the enslaved and denied “Africans, the descendants of Africans, and Indians” the ability to become citizens. The state government is seeking to prevent exhibits at the Alamo from “explaining that major figures in the Texas Revolution were slave owners.” As with the Trump White House’s “1776 Commission,” whose report reads like a Twitter thread from a cocaine-addled right-wing Wikipedia obsessive, the objective here is not a more accurate history but one that justifies the present economic and racial hierarchy, and offers conservatives, as Moreau put it in his book, a “comforting alternative to the burdens of the past.”
In the specific case of Hannah-Jones and UNC, the objective is to intimidate those who might share her views by showing that such views could cost them a job. . . . The traditional argument between American liberals and conservatives is over what problems the state can or should remedy; the position of the Trumpist GOP is that the state is an instrument for destroying your enemies—by which its members simply mean Americans who disagree with them.
[T]he same people who insist that harsh criticism of their ideas or behavior is a form of censorship are also highly engaged in using the state to suppress speech, on the grounds that the ideas they oppose are too dangerous to be allowed the usual protections.
The historical record shows that efforts to use the power of the state to settle an argument usually fail, although they can be successful for a time. The irony is that these awakenings about the truths of American history are the result of people attempting to warp the facts into a narrative that reassures them of their essential virtue, and subsequent generations discovering that what they were taught was but a bedtime story. These attempts to use the state to suppress ugly realities about the past are merely setting the stage for the next awakening.
Friday, May 21, 2021
[E]ven with a terrible president out of office, America is still headed in a terrible direction — and at a much faster pace than I expected when Biden took over.
We have four huge problems. I don’t see solutions to any of them.
By far the biggest problem is the Republican Party. Presented with a clear chance to move on from Trumpism after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, the GOP has instead continued its drift toward anti-democratic action and white grievance. The future looks scary. A Republican-controlled House could attempt to impeach Biden in 2023 and 2024 on basically any pretext, as payback for Trump’s two impeachments. If Republicans win the governorships of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin next year, taking total control in those key swing states, they could impose all kinds of electoral barriers for the next presidential election. The Republicans are laying the groundwork to refuse to certify a 2024 Democratic presidential victory should the GOP hold a House majority.
“The radicalization of the Republican Party has outpaced what even most critical observers imagined,” Georgetown University historian Thomas Zimmer told me. “We need to grapple with what that should mean for our expectations going forward and start thinking about real worst-case scenarios.”
Further, Republicans are poised to take a lot of undemocratic actions at the state level, where they already have total control in 23 states. Expect to see Republicans elsewhere gerrymander legislative districts the way they have in Wisconsin, where it is now virtually impossible for Democrats to win a majority in either house of the legislature. . . . America won’t be much of a democracy, Zimmer said, if it has a federal system in which more than 20 states “resemble apartheid South Africa more than a functioning multiracial democracy.”
And all indications are that another group of Republicans, the six GOP appointees on the U.S. Supreme Court, either embrace the party’s anti-democratic drift or aren’t going to do much to halt it.
The Republican path wouldn’t matter too much if it seemed like voters were going to punish them. But the GOP appears unlikely to suffer an electoral backlash because of our second, huge problem: America appears intractably polarized into Team Blue and Team Red.
The Republicans are the favorites to win the House next year and could also win the Senate, as well as key gubernatorial and secretary of state races, putting them in charge of the election process in Michigan and other states. So the Republicans look poised to have a lot of power in 2023 to execute the agenda I laid out above.
America could at least prepare for an anti-democratic GOP, but the past four months suggest our third huge problem: Our institutions aren’t up to it. Many news outlets, particularly at the local level, avoid honestly describing the Republican Party as increasingly at war with democracy. Businesses are backtracking from their initial decisions to stop donating money to Republicans who wouldn’t certify the 2020 election results, and social media companies are wary of acting to stop misinformation, which disproportionately comes from conservative sources. Nonpartisan institutions, faced with a choice of maintaining neutrality or upholding their core values, are often choosing the former.
And finally, moderate Democrats and anti-Trump Republicans either don’t appreciate the direness of the situation or don’t care. Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin III (W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.) seem to value their reputations as being bipartisan more than protecting the voting rights of people who look like me.
I hope I am overly alarmed about all of this. But I don’t think I am. Perhaps democracy dies faster in darkness. But it could also die slowly in the light, as all of us watched but didn’t do enough to save it.
Thursday, May 20, 2021
Yesterday evening, New York State’s attorney general, Letitia James, announced, “We have informed the Trump Organization that … We are now actively investigating the Trump Organization in a criminal capacity.” According to The New York Times, James will be sending two of her office’s prosecutors to join the team of Cyrus Vance Jr., the Manhattan DA. With this news, Donald Trump, those around him, and the country as a whole inch closer to the prospect that a former president could face criminal charges, and possibly even prison time. The country has not been through anything like this before.
The ongoing investigation is sweeping. James began it as a civil investigation following the 2019 congressional testimony of Trump’s former attorney, Michael Cohen, that the Trump Organization had lied about the value of its assets in order to secure loans and insurance and to reduce its tax liability. Her focus includes the Trump Organization’s valuation of Seven Springs, a 213-acre estate in Westchester County, which it used to claim a $21.1 million tax deduction for a conservation easement on the property in 2015. James is also looking into a $160 million loan on a property at 40 Wall Street in Manhattan, which Trump personally guaranteed for $20 million, as well as “large portions of debt owed by the Trump Organization” relating to the Trump International Hotel and Tower, in Chicago, that were claimed as taxable income, and the valuation of Trump National Golf Club, in Los Angeles.
Vance’s municipal-level, criminal grand-jury investigation adds other areas of possible criminality to the scope of James’s state-level inquiry, including possible bank and tax fraud.
By law, grand juries operate in secret, but it’s publicly known that Vance has also subpoenaed Mazars USA LLP, Trump’s personal accounting firm, for financial records relating to the former president and his businesses. In July 2020, the Supreme Court rejected a bid to protect those records from disclosure on presidential-immunity grounds, and Vance finally obtained Trump’s returns in February of this year. Vance’s office has reportedly interviewed Cohen at least eight times, and Cohen has stated that: “Unfortunately for Trump, I have backed up each and every question posed by the district attorney’s office” with “documentary evidence.”
Vance has also sought records from two of Trump’s largest creditors, Deutsche Bank AG and Ladder Capital Corp, and from Columbia Grammar & Preparatory School, which is attended by the grandchildren of the Trump Organization’s CEO, Allen Weisselberg, who has worked for the Trump family since 1973.
Only criminal charges can produce jail time. Although indictments can be filed against corporations—which the Department of Justice has deemed “‘legal persons’ … capable of committing crimes” and “criminally liable for the illegal acts of its directors, officers, employees, and agents”—corporations can’t go to jail.
Nonetheless, individual corporate officers can be charged along with a corporation. This is where Trump, his top affiliates, and his family are all in potential trouble. Trump’s tax counsel in 2016 described him as “the sole or principal owner in approximately 500 separate entities [that] do business as The Trump Organization.” It’s hard to imagine a scenario in which none of this comes back to Trump himself.
Whether the joint efforts of the Manhattan DA and the New York State AG will lead to indictments is unknowable at this point, but the matter is clearly ramping up. One question of late is whether either jurisdiction could force Trump to appear in New York in the event that he is criminally charged . . . ultimately the state of New York can go to court and get an order to extradite the former president.” In fact, this is a rare circumstance in which the Constitution is quite explicit regarding a governor’s obligation to respect an extradition request from another state: Article IV, Section 2 provides that “a person charged in any state with treason, felony, or other crime … shall on demand of the executive authority of the state from which he fled, be delivered up, to be removed to the state having jurisdiction of the crime.”
Now his own criminal and civil liability, as well as that of his businesses, his staff, and his children, are squarely within the sights of the rule of law. Former Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell put it plainly in his remarkable speech justifying his vote to acquit Trump for his role in the January 6 insurrection at the United States Capitol: “We have a criminal justice system in this country. We have civil litigation. And former presidents are not immune from being held accountable by either one.”
Wednesday, May 19, 2021
Just 26% of Gen X and 16% of millennials believe that when they die, they will go to Heaven only because they confessed their sins and accepted Jesus as their savior, compared to nearly half of the generation before them, a new study has found.
The American Worldview Inventory 2021, a survey of the philosophy of life on American adults from Arizona Christian University, assessed the worldviews of four generations: millennials (born 1984-2002), Gen X (1965-1983), baby boomers (1946-1964) and builders (1927-1945).
Researchers found that among other recent generations, millennials have gone farther in cutting ties with traditional Christian views and normative biblical teaching.
Additionally, 43% of millennials stated they either don’t know, don’t care or don’t believe God exists compared to 28% of boomers, and 44% of millennials believe Satan is a real and influential, compared to 64% of boomers.
The study also found that overall, younger Americans are significantly more likely than the two previous generations to embrace horoscopes as a guide and Karma as a life principle, to see “getting even” with others as defensible, to accept evolution over creation, and to view owning property as fostering economic injustice.
On spiritual matters, Americans younger than 55 are far more likely to distrust the Bible and to believe God is uninvolved in people’s lives.
Researchers warn that the beliefs and behaviors of younger Americans, especially millennials, “threaten to reshape the nation’s religious parameters beyond recognition.”
“In fact, this radical spiritual revolution has created a generation seeking a reimagined world without God, the Bible, or churches,” they wrote.
Commenting on the study, George Barna, CRC director of research, said that Gen X and the millennials have “solidified dramatic changes in the nation’s central beliefs and lifestyles,” adding: “The result is a culture in which core institutions, including churches, and basic ways of life are continually being radically redefined.”
The American World Inventory corroborates an earlier study from Barna that found that two-thirds of teens and young adults (65%) agree that “many religions can lead to eternal life” compared to 58% of teens and young adults surveyed in 2018.
Additionally, 31% of teens and young adults “strongly agree” that what is “morally right and wrong changes over time, based on society,” compared to just 25% in 2018.
Recent survey data released by Gallup found that one in six Gen Z adults identify as LGBT — the highest percentage of any generation in history — and that number is likely to continue to increase.
It is no wonder that Republican leaders in the House do not want to convene a truth and reconciliation commission to scrutinize the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. The more attention drawn to the events of that day, the more their party has to lose.
The drop signaled that Republicans would have to pay a price for the Trump-inspired insurrection, the violent spirit of which was captured vividly by Peter Baker and Sabrina Tavernise of The Times:
The pure savagery of the mob that rampaged through the Capitol that day was breathtaking, as cataloged by the injuries inflicted on those who tried to guard the nation’s elected lawmakers. One police officer lost an eye, another the tip of his finger. Still another was shocked so many times with a Taser gun that he had a heart attack. They suffered cracked ribs, two smashed spinal disks and multiple concussions. At least 81 members of the Capitol force and 65 members of the Metropolitan Police Department were injured.
Republican revulsion toward the riot was, however, short-lived.
Arceneaux and Truex, in their paper “Donald Trump and the Lie,” point out that Republican voter identification with Trump had “rebounded to pre-election levels” by Jan. 13. . . . . The same pattern emerged in the Republican Party’s favorability ratings, which dropped by 13 points between the beginning and the end of January, but gained 11 points back by April, according to surveys by the NBC/Wall Street Journal.
While this mass amnesia seem incomprehensible to some, an August 2019 paper, “Tribalism is Human Nature,” by Cory Jane Clark, executive director the Adversarial Collaboration Research Center at the University of Pennsylvania, and three fellow psychologists, provides fundamental insight into the evanescing impact of Jan. 6 on the electorate and on Republicans in particular: Selective pressures have consistently sculpted human minds to be “tribal,” and group loyalty and concomitant cognitive biases likely exist in all groups. Modern politics is one of the most salient forms of modern coalitional conflict and elicits substantial cognitive biases.
[R]ising influence of “tribalism” in politics results in part from the growing “clarity and homogeneity of the Democrat and Republican coalitions,” with the result that “people are better able to find their people, sort into their ideological bubbles, find their preferred news sources, identify their preferred political elites and follow them, and signal their political allegiance to fellow group members (and attain friends and status that way).”
Sarah Binder, a political scientist at George Washington University, adds some detail:
My sense is that the move by Republican office holders to muddy the waters over what happened at the Capitol (and Trump’s role instigating the events) likely contributes to the waning of G.O.P. voters’ concerns. We heard a burst of these efforts to rewrite the history this past week during the House oversight hearing, but keep in mind that those efforts came on the heels of earlier efforts to downplay the violence, whitewash Trump’s role, and to cast doubt on the identities of the insurrectionists. No doubt, House G.O.P. leaders’ stalling of Democrats’ effort to create a “9/11 type” commission to investigate the events of Jan. 6 has also helped to diffuse G.O.P. interest and to keep the issue out of the headlines. No bipartisan inquiry, no media spotlight to keep the issue alive.
A UMass April 21-23 national survey asked voters to identify the person or group “you hold most responsible for the violence that occurred at the Capitol building.” 45 percent identified Trump, 6 percent the Republican Party and 11 percent white nationalists. The surprising finding was the percentage that blamed the left, broadly construed: 16 percent for the Democratic Party, 4 percent for Joe Biden and 11 percent for “antifa,” for a total of 31 percent.
The refusal of Republicans to explore the takeover of the Capitol reflects a form of biased reasoning that is not limited to the right or the left, but may be more dangerous on the right.
There is convincing evidence that cultural conservatives are reliably more open to authoritarian and democracy-degrading action than cultural liberals within Western democracies, including the United States. Because the Democratic Party is the party of American cultural liberals, I believe it would be far more difficult for a Democratic politician who favors overtly anti-democratic action, like nullifying elections, to have political success.
These differences are “transforming the Republican Party into an anti-democratic institution,” according to Malka:
What we are seeing in the Republican Party is that mass partisan opinion is making it politically devastating for Republican elites to try to uphold democracy. I think that an underappreciated factor in this is that the Republican Party is the home of cultural conservatives, and cultural conservatives are disproportionately open to authoritarian governance.
Westerners with a broad culturally conservative worldview are especially open to authoritarian governance. For what is likely a variety of reasons, a worldview encompassing traditional sexual morality, religiosity, traditional gender roles, and resistance to multicultural diversity is associated with low or flexible commitment to democracy and amenability to authoritarian alternatives.
The challenge facing Democrats goes beyond winning office. They confront an adversary willing to lie about past election outcomes, setting the stage for Republican legislatures to overturn future election returns; an opponent willing to nurture an insurrection if the wrong people win; a political party moving steadily from democracy to authoritarianism; a party that despite its liabilities is more likely than not to regain control of the House and possibly even the Senate in the 2022 midterm elections.
The advent of Trump Republicans poses an unprecedented strategic quandary for Democrats, a quandary they have not resolved and that may not lend itself to resolution.
Be very, very afraid. Today's GOP would happily overthrow the U.S. Constitution to remain in power. Sadly, they are just as shortsighted as many in the Roman Senate 2000 years ago who aided in the overthrow the Roman Republic thinking they could control the autocrat seizing power. Trump's conduct in the White House should make it clear that, should he ever achieve autocratic powers, he would quickly turn on his Republican enablers who might find their very lives forfeit.
Tuesday, May 18, 2021
DEMOCRATIC AND Republican negotiators agreed last week to create a high-level, expert commission with subpoena power to conduct an examination of the Jan. 6 Capitol invasion, one of the lowest moments in U.S. history. But House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) on Tuesday threw his negotiators under the bus, condemning the compromise and vowing to oppose the bill creating the commission when it comes to a House vote Wednesday. This is cowardice, distilled.
Many Republicans do not want an impartial panel to remind the public of their party’s role in the event. A fair inquiry would examine how GOP lawmakers fed the election lies that inspired the mob, and how they built Jan. 6, which should have featured a pro forma counting of electoral votes, into a showdown over the 2020 presidential election. Republican lawmakers who signed a spurious lawsuit seeking to overturn the results bear some guilt; those who went on to object to the counting of electoral votes from several swing states bear even more.
An honest proceeding would also require Mr. McCarthy to testify under oath about his eyewitness experience of the violence — and to then-President Donald Trump’s apparent indifference. Mr. McCarthy has resisted offering the public a frank accounting of his interactions with Mr. Trump, including on a phone call during which Mr. McCarthy reportedly begged Mr. Trump to stop the mob. Mr. McCarthy has concluded that whatever political benefits he receives from embracing Mr. Trump are worth the price of his integrity.
If there are to be hearings, Mr. McCarthy argued, they should examine not only the Capitol invasion but other politically motivated violence, such as the riots surrounding the Black Lives Matter protests last summer. The point is to draw a false equivalence between a historically unique attack on the nation’s seat of government, in which Mr. Trump and other Republicans are directly implicated, and crimes that left-leaning activists committed — crimes that did not occur in the halls of Congress, that did not aim to interrupt the peaceful transition of power, that did not reflect a plot to overturn a presidential election.
The more Mr. McCarthy and other Republicans try to minimize the insurrection’s significance, the more they encourage the lies on which it was based; the more they instill the sense, widespread on the right, that the other side is at war with them, so they must fight back; and the more they invite the riot’s repetition — perhaps not in the now-locked-down Capitol, but maybe at statehouses, county commission offices, vote-counting locations or other civic institutions.
Mr. McCarthy knows Democrats will never endorse a panel designed to mislead the nation about Jan. 6, so his proposal for a broader mandate is a ruse: He simply does not want any investigation at all.
Sadly, McCarthy is apparently as morally bankrupt as Trump himself. He is despicable and the last thing the nation needs is for him to be Speaker of the House. Literally, a tawdry whore has a higher moral standard than McCarthy.
When the National Republican Senatorial Committee sought to attack four vulnerable Senate Democrats in a series of new ads this spring, President Joe Biden was nowhere to be found. Instead, the NRSC juxtaposed photographs of the senators — Raphael Warnock of Georgia, Mark Kelly of Arizona, Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire and Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada — next to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
It’s a phenomenon that’s becoming increasingly pronounced as the outline of the 2022 midterm election comes into focus. Midterms are typically a referendum on the party in power, so the standard opposition-party playbook is to make every down-ballot race about the sitting president. But Biden’s elusiveness as a target is forcing Republicans to rethink the traditional strategy.
Interviews with more than 25 GOP strategists and party officials depict a president whose avuncular style and genial bearing make him a less-than-ideal foil. He doesn’t induce anger or rage, and at the moment, his White House is relatively drama-free.
In response, Republicans are preparing to break with time-honored custom and cast the president less as the central character in the midterm elections than as an accessory to the broader excesses of the left.
“Biden is not a good bad guy,” said Ed Rogers, the veteran Republican lobbyist and strategist. . . . The Uncle Joe life story that he has — the tragedy, the losses, the obvious empathy the man has, I think that’s all legit. So, it’s hard to demonize him.”
The traditional formula worked spectacularly for Republicans in 2010, when the GOP tethered Democratic candidates across the country to then-President Barack Obama’s stimulus spending, health care plan and “arrogant” governance. And it worked for Democrats eight years later, when they retook the House by turning the midterms into a repudiation of President Donald Trump.
Now, however, Republicans are gearing up to run against everything from “defund the police” to socialism and cancel culture. They’ll hit Biden on gun control, spending and immigration. And if the economy stalls, they’ll whack him for that, too. But the emphasis will be less on Biden personally than it was on either Obama or Trump, the Republican strategists and party officials say.
It’s risky. Though Republicans appear to be verging on taking back the House, that expectation is grounded in historical trends based on the opposition party’s ability to bludgeon the president in his first term.
But the GOP may have little choice.
“Because [Biden] is so boring, he’s not as scandalous,” said John Thomas, a Republican strategist who works on House campaigns across the country.
Though Biden “certainly is relevant” as the head of the party in power, Thomas said, “there are bigger bogeymen … We don’t need him as our No. 1 foil.”
Biden’s public approval rating is hardly off the charts, hovering in the low 50s. But it’s also unusually sticky, holding steady since the opening of his term. In addition, the lesson of last year’s election is still fresh in Republicans’ minds. . . . “I mean, he does not evoke the strong emotion that Trump did.”
As a result, Republicans aren’t highlighting Biden, but lumping him in with more polarizing figures like Pelosi, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and progressive Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). That is likely to remain true even when Republicans’ criticisms are based on policies that are explicitly his.
One veteran Republican strategist involved in down-ticket campaigns said the GOP will run in 2022 against “the Democratic Party as a whole.”
“It’s less about vilifying one person,” the strategist said.
That minimization of Biden would mark a significant break from tradition. A president’s approval rating has been closely related in recent elections to how well his party does in the midterms. In the last midterm election, Democrats tied Republicans running for everything from U.S. Senate to school board races to Trump, seizing on his unpopularity to reorder the balance of power in Washington.
"The main problem is it’s Biden and the Democrats versus two Republican parties,” said Republican ad maker Fred Davis, with the GOP still mired in hostilities between Trump loyalists and its traditionalist wing.
Another prominent Republican strategist acknowledged, “We are having a hard time focusing on Biden.”
“Between the clown town in Mar-a-Lago” and the controversies surrounding Cheney and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), the strategist said, “we look like the gang that couldn’t shoot straight.”
The lack of engagement with the president is already evident in early ads — where messages that will define the 2022 campaign are already being formulated. In Virginia, Glenn Youngkin, the Republican nominee for governor, ran a primary ad highlighting the Democratic Party’s “really out-there socialist ideas,” from “defund the police” to “paroling cop-killers” and “canceling Dr. Seuss,” but without mentioning Biden.
John Anzalone, a Biden adviser and campaign pollster, said, “The reality is that Democrats are competing on an economic message like they never have before, and part of it is that they have real plans, and part of it is that Republicans aren’t even showing up. They have nothing to offer the American people right now.”
Sunday, May 16, 2021
The reboot began once Glenn Youngkin snagged the Republican nomination for Virginia governor.
A video of former president Donald Trump praising the former Carlyle Group executive by name for helping with a China trade deal disappeared from Youngkin’s YouTube page. Days later, Youngkin was on TV publicly acknowledging that Joe Biden was the nation’s duly elected president — something he’d studiously avoided saying over the previous five months as he wooed Trump supporters.
At the same time, Democrats — still a month from their June 8 primary — were doing some adjusting of their own. The Democratic Governors Association, which typically stands by until its party crowns its nominee, launched an online ad tying Youngkin to Trump and the “big lie” that Biden stole the White House. The Democratic Party of Virginia kicked off a “Where Trump Leads, Glenn Follows” rally on Richmond’s Capitol Square, with plans to take it around the state.The 2021 governor’s race is suddenly at full speed. It’s already clear that this year’s contest — which will help define the national political landscape heading into the 2022 midterm congressional elections — is likely to be a strange, expensive, surprising affair.
Republicans get a one-month head start with a historically diverse ticket chosen in their May 8 convention. Because they don’t yet have a Democrat to run against, they picked one — former governor Terry McAuliffe, who leads in fundraising and polls and is the Bill and Hillary Clinton surrogate the GOP loves to bash.
Democrats, meanwhile, seem set on running against Trump, which is made easier because all the GOP candidates have embraced the former president — but harder because, well, Trump isn’t actually in office or on the ballot.
Whether Trump dominates or disappears from the race could depend on Youngkin’s Republican running mates and Trump himself, who endorsed him the day after his win.
One of Youngkin’s ticket mates could complicate efforts to downplay the connection. Winsome Sears, who bested two better-funded candidates for the lieutenant governor’s nomination, led a national group of Black Trump supporters last year. Her campaign signs featured a photo of herself dressed up as if for church, but armed with an assault rifle.
Youngkin is running on the premise that Democrats, who control the state House and Senate as well as the Executive Mansion, have driven Virginia into a “ditch,” partly with pandemic-era shutdowns of businesses and schools. He also criticizes them for raising taxes and tightening restrictions on guns while loosening them on abortion and voting. He touts his outsider status and expertise as a former executive as strengths.
Gov. Ralph Northam (D), whom the state constitution prohibits from serving back-to-back terms, pushed back on Youngkin’s claim that Virginia has suffered under Democratic leadership. In an interview Thursday, Northam noted that the state has achieved one of the nation’s lowest coronavirus death rates and an economic recovery that saw state revenue increase by a historic 41 percent last month. He also mentioned expanding Medicaid, raises for teachers, gun-control laws, protections for women’s rights, getting schools safely reopened and expanding access to voting.
[H]e’s [Youngkin] aligned himself with the politics of Trump and bringing in folks like Ted Cruz into Virginia. I think he’s going to have a lot to answer for,” Northam said, referring to the U.S. senator from Texas and Trump ally who barnstormed the state with Youngkin just ahead of the GOP convention. Northam, while typically mild-mannered, called Trump a “narcissistic maniac” while running for governor in 2017.
“Virginians have consistently rejected Donald Trump’s politics and policies of fear and division and conspiracy theories, and they’ll do that again this fall. I’m confident in that,” Northam said Thursday.
Taylor, of the Cook Report, said the “big lie” and the resulting riot could resonate with voters, especially in the bluer Washington suburbs, where the local TV news is the national news. But she also said it’s hard to say how much sway it will have by Election Day.
“You have President Trump still focused on this and one of the highest-ranking Republicans in the House ousted this week,” she said, referring to Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), who lost her No. 3 leadership slot for rejecting Trump’s unfounded election fraud claims and blaming him for the Capitol insurrection.
“I do think that swing voters especially are going to want to see a denunciation of what happened,” Taylor said. “Come November, is that going to be the most pressing issue on voters’ minds? I’m not sure it’s the most pressing issue now.”