washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Ed Kilgore

June 17: Democrats Should Beware the Help-the-Republican-Kooks Tactic in 2022

I am not generally a fan of too-clever-by-half, much less deceptive, political tactics, so having seen one gain ground, I offered a warning at New York.

What was once a rare and controversial tactic — meddling in the other party’s primaries to boost extremist candidates that seem most beatable in a general election — is in 2022 becoming almost routine, particularly for Democrats. It happened in Pennsylvania, where prior to the May primary Democratic gubernatorial candidate Josh Shapiro spent more money on ads about ultra-MAGA Republican Doug Mastriano than Mastriano spent on ads about himself. The ads called him “too conservative for Pennsylvania,” which was cleverly intended to convince conservative Republican primary voters that he was just right for them. The gambit likely helped Trump’s endorsee win the GOP nomination.

In the June 7 California primary, Democrats pulled the same sort of stunts in order to help two right-wing rivals to Republican incumbent congressmen David Valadao and Young Kim. One, from Nancy Pelosi’s House Majority PAC, just blatantly promoted Valadao opponent Chris Mathys. Another, from Democratic candidate Asif Mahmood, raised the visibility of Kim opponent Greg Raths. The idea in both cases was to knock the incumbents out of the general election via a third-place finish in the nonpartisan top-two primary. Kim moved on to November anyway, and Valadao is leading Mathys with a lot of votes still out.

The help-the-kooks strategy is also in full swing in Colorado. In the June 28 GOP primary to select an opponent for potentially vulnerable Democratic senator Michael Bennet, the big ad spender is a group called Democratic Colorado, which is telling voters that election-conspiracy champion Ron Hanks is “too conservative for Colorado,” carefully laying out his issue positions in a way that lines up with Republican rank-and-file sentiment. Similarly, in the primary aimed at choosing a nominee to face Democratic governor Jared Polis, Democrats are spending serious dough to help another ultra-MAGA Republican, Greg Lopez, as Cook Political Report’s Jessica Taylor explains:

“The Colorado Information Network, funded partly by the Democratic Governors Association, has spent or reserved more than $1.5 million on broadcast and cable. One recent ad from the liberal group points out Lopez’s support for Trump and his election lies, opposition to gay marriage and abortion. ‘Greg Lopez is too conservative for Colorado,’ the ad ends — a clear effort to appeal to base conservative voters, which both parties have done before in primaries to boost a weaker potential nominee.”

Republicans cannot really duplicate this strategy at present, in part because there are fewer ideologically polarized Democratic primaries this year, and in part because Democratic voters won’t necessarily rise to the bait. Precisely because the Democratic rank and file are not extremist, attacking a weak Democrat as “too socialist” for this or that jurisdiction won’t necessarily lift them to victory; it might have the opposite effect.

But Democrats trying to nominate Republican extremists really need to ask themselves if they’re helping elect extremists in ways that may be enduringly bad for the country. For one thing, calculations about the electability of this or that opposite-party candidate could turn out to be fatally wrong. In 2016, as my colleague Gabriel Debenedetti explained, Hillary Clinton’s campaign did everything it could to promote Donald Trump’s candidacy early on, when he mostly looked like an irritant to the more electable Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio. Team Clinton couldn’t really fix on a strategy for beating Trump until it was too late. You have to wonder if Democrats looking at polls showing Doug Mastriano running ahead of Senate nominee Mehmet Oz on the Republican ticket in Pennsylvania are having some second thoughts about helping Mastriano win his primary.

Aside from the possibility that 2022 could be a good year for crypto-fascism, there’s another big moral hazard in any Democratic strategy to lift Republican extremists onto the general election ballot: This could be a big-wave election in which anyone bearing the elephant label in a remotely competitive contest will win, kookiness be damned. In that event the net result of Democratic tampering in Republican primaries would be a kookier group of people running America.

Wave elections can be like a large net thrown into the sea, collecting fish of every kind. I learned that a half-century ago as a Democratic precinct chairman in suburban DeKalb County, Georgia, then trending hard Republican in a year when Richard Nixon was routing George McGovern nearly everywhere. Nixon carried DeKalb by a 77-23 margin, and pulled into local office a whole zoo of outlandish and unqualified candidates for judgeships and other positions requiring a bit of brains and experience. It took DeKalb years to get rid of some of those people. And that was back when people split tickets. That’s not much of a thing anymore.

So maybe helping ultra-MAGA extremists win Republican nominations marginally increases the odds Democrats can minimize GOP gains this November. But it also significantly increases the odds that if everything goes wrong the Republicans placed in power will be bad people with bad ideas. It’s not worth the risk.


Democrats Should Beware the Help-the-Republican-Kooks Tactic in 2022

I am not generally a fan of too-clever-by-half, much less deceptive, political tactics, so having seen one gain ground, I offered a warning at New York.

What was once a rare and controversial tactic — meddling in the other party’s primaries to boost extremist candidates that seem most beatable in a general election — is in 2022 becoming almost routine, particularly for Democrats. It happened in Pennsylvania, where prior to the May primary Democratic gubernatorial candidate Josh Shapiro spent more money on ads about ultra-MAGA Republican Doug Mastriano than Mastriano spent on ads about himself. The ads called him “too conservative for Pennsylvania,” which was cleverly intended to convince conservative Republican primary voters that he was just right for them. The gambit likely helped Trump’s endorsee win the GOP nomination.

In the June 7 California primary, Democrats pulled the same sort of stunts in order to help two right-wing rivals to Republican incumbent congressmen David Valadao and Young Kim. One, from Nancy Pelosi’s House Majority PAC, just blatantly promoted Valadao opponent Chris Mathys. Another, from Democratic candidate Asif Mahmood, raised the visibility of Kim opponent Greg Raths. The idea in both cases was to knock the incumbents out of the general election via a third-place finish in the nonpartisan top-two primary. Kim moved on to November anyway, and Valadao is leading Mathys with a lot of votes still out.

The help-the-kooks strategy is also in full swing in Colorado. In the June 28 GOP primary to select an opponent for potentially vulnerable Democratic senator Michael Bennet, the big ad spender is a group called Democratic Colorado, which is telling voters that election-conspiracy champion Ron Hanks is “too conservative for Colorado,” carefully laying out his issue positions in a way that lines up with Republican rank-and-file sentiment. Similarly, in the primary aimed at choosing a nominee to face Democratic governor Jared Polis, Democrats are spending serious dough to help another ultra-MAGA Republican, Greg Lopez, as Cook Political Report’s Jessica Taylor explains:

“The Colorado Information Network, funded partly by the Democratic Governors Association, has spent or reserved more than $1.5 million on broadcast and cable. One recent ad from the liberal group points out Lopez’s support for Trump and his election lies, opposition to gay marriage and abortion. ‘Greg Lopez is too conservative for Colorado,’ the ad ends — a clear effort to appeal to base conservative voters, which both parties have done before in primaries to boost a weaker potential nominee.”

Republicans cannot really duplicate this strategy at present, in part because there are fewer ideologically polarized Democratic primaries this year, and in part because Democratic voters won’t necessarily rise to the bait. Precisely because the Democratic rank and file are not extremist, attacking a weak Democrat as “too socialist” for this or that jurisdiction won’t necessarily lift them to victory; it might have the opposite effect.

But Democrats trying to nominate Republican extremists really need to ask themselves if they’re helping elect extremists in ways that may be enduringly bad for the country. For one thing, calculations about the electability of this or that opposite-party candidate could turn out to be fatally wrong. In 2016, as my colleague Gabriel Debenedetti explained, Hillary Clinton’s campaign did everything it could to promote Donald Trump’s candidacy early on, when he mostly looked like an irritant to the more electable Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio. Team Clinton couldn’t really fix on a strategy for beating Trump until it was too late. You have to wonder if Democrats looking at polls showing Doug Mastriano running ahead of Senate nominee Mehmet Oz on the Republican ticket in Pennsylvania are having some second thoughts about helping Mastriano win his primary.

Aside from the possibility that 2022 could be a good year for crypto-fascism, there’s another big moral hazard in any Democratic strategy to lift Republican extremists onto the general election ballot: This could be a big-wave election in which anyone bearing the elephant label in a remotely competitive contest will win, kookiness be damned. In that event the net result of Democratic tampering in Republican primaries would be a kookier group of people running America.

Wave elections can be like a large net thrown into the sea, collecting fish of every kind. I learned that a half-century ago as a Democratic precinct chairman in suburban DeKalb County, Georgia, then trending hard Republican in a year when Richard Nixon was routing George McGovern nearly everywhere. Nixon carried DeKalb by a 77-23 margin, and pulled into local office a whole zoo of outlandish and unqualified candidates for judgeships and other positions requiring a bit of brains and experience. It took DeKalb years to get rid of some of those people. And that was back when people split tickets. That’s not much of a thing anymore.

So maybe helping ultra-MAGA extremists win Republican nominations marginally increases the odds Democrats can minimize GOP gains this November. But it also significantly increases the odds that if everything goes wrong the Republicans placed in power will be bad people with bad ideas. It’s not worth the risk.


June 16: Becoming Clear January 6 Really Was a Criminal Conspiracy Involving Trump

After watching the first three days of the House Select Committee investigating the events of January 6, I reached a conclusion about where the committee is heading, and shared it at New York:

The third day of hearings by the House select committee investigating January 6 focused on the backstory of Donald Trump’s very public effort to coerce then-Vice-President Mike Pence into stopping the certification of Joe Biden’s election during a joint session of Congress. Witnesses (most critically, former Pence counsel Greg Jacob) made it abundantly clear there was no real support in legal circles within or beyond the White House for the scheme cooked up by Trump campaign attorney John Eastman whereby Pence was expected to either reject Biden electors or suspend the process of counting them in order to give Republican legislators time to flip the election.

In a carefully reconstructed ticktock of discussions involving Trump, Pence, legal advisers to both men, and Eastman, the committee sought to allay any significant doubts that virtually everyone other than Eastman thought his claim of vast vice-presidential powers over the certification of electors was nuts. Indeed, Jacob, who was most directly involved in conversations with Eastman, indicated that Eastman repeatedly betrayed his own lack of faith in his outlandish claims about the veep’s breathtaking 12th Amendment powers. But Eastman and his boss continued to pressure Pence to violate the law and abandon his own clearly stated position right up to the fraught hours on January 6, 2021, when Trump allegedly told Pence in a phone call that he was a “wimp,” then informed a crowd of soon-to-be rioters that Pence had to stop the Biden certification.

Jacobs’s account was strengthened by taped testimony concerning Trump’s other legal advisers, as Above the Law’s Joe Patrice noted when the hearing concluded:

“White House Counsel Pat Cipollone thought it was wrong according to testimony. Eric Herschmann said he told Eastman that it didn’t make any sense beforehand and, according to Herschmann, Eastman concluded that it probably would be a loser at the Supreme Court. Herschmann even testified that he told Eastman before January 6 that “you’re going to cause riots in the streets.” Certainly that also crossed the mind of other lawyers in the building.”

Even Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney, thought it was a bad idea (though he reversed himself in the excitement of January 6 itself). And just to emphasize the point that Eastman’s theory had no respectable support, conservative legal titan J. Michael Luttig was brought in to denounce it as antithetical to the Constitution and democracy and to warn that Republicans might try the same play again in 2024.

The committee went on to describe how Trump’s rage at Pence put the lives of the veep (and presumably many members of Congress) in danger when the insurrectionists stormed the Capitol to stop the Biden certification since Pence didn’t “do his duty.” That provided some gripping images, but the real point of the hearing became plain when Representative Pete Aguilar, who directed much of today’s proceedings, quoted from a March 2022 ruling by California federal judge David Carter, who was reviewing Eastman’s claims that his subpoenaed communications with Trump were privileged. Here is the pertinent language, as I described it at the time:

“Until this week, no one in the U.S. judicial system had officially suggested the 45th president might have committed a crime. Now California federal district court judge David Carter (a Clinton appointee) has ruled that Trump ‘more likely than not … corruptly attempted to obstruct the Joint Session of Congress on January 6, 2021,’ and that Trump and his attorney John Eastman ‘more likely than not … dishonestly conspired to obstruct the Joint Session of Congress on January 6, 2021.’”

All the evidence in today’s hearing reinforced this potentially explosive conclusion: A rogue lawyer and his rogue client cooked up a ridiculous justification for an illegal action that risked lives and endangered democracy itself. Much of the evidence incriminated Eastman, who took the Fifth Amendment 100 times when forced to testify before the committee and had tried to secure a pardon from Trump. A telling exchange between Eastman and Jacob occurred when the latter asked the former via email, as the Capitol riot raged, whether he had finally advised Trump “that in your professional judgment the vice president DOES NOT have the power to decide things unilaterally.” Eastman replied, of Trump, “You know him — once he gets something in his head, it is hard to get him to change course.”

The lawyer and client were a match made in hell. And now they may both be in actual danger of legal consequences, or so the January 6 committee seems to believe. But that will presumably be up to Attorney General Merrick Garland, whose department will have to make the call on potential prosecutions coming out of these hearings.


Becoming Clear January 6 Really Was a Criminal Conspiracy Involving Trump

After watching the first three days of the House Select Committee investigating the events of January 6, I reached a conclusion about where the committee is heading, and shared it at New York:

The third day of hearings by the House select committee investigating January 6 focused on the backstory of Donald Trump’s very public effort to coerce then-Vice-President Mike Pence into stopping the certification of Joe Biden’s election during a joint session of Congress. Witnesses (most critically, former Pence counsel Greg Jacob) made it abundantly clear there was no real support in legal circles within or beyond the White House for the scheme cooked up by Trump campaign attorney John Eastman whereby Pence was expected to either reject Biden electors or suspend the process of counting them in order to give Republican legislators time to flip the election.

In a carefully reconstructed ticktock of discussions involving Trump, Pence, legal advisers to both men, and Eastman, the committee sought to allay any significant doubts that virtually everyone other than Eastman thought his claim of vast vice-presidential powers over the certification of electors was nuts. Indeed, Jacob, who was most directly involved in conversations with Eastman, indicated that Eastman repeatedly betrayed his own lack of faith in his outlandish claims about the veep’s breathtaking 12th Amendment powers. But Eastman and his boss continued to pressure Pence to violate the law and abandon his own clearly stated position right up to the fraught hours on January 6, 2021, when Trump allegedly told Pence in a phone call that he was a “wimp,” then informed a crowd of soon-to-be rioters that Pence had to stop the Biden certification.

Jacobs’s account was strengthened by taped testimony concerning Trump’s other legal advisers, as Above the Law’s Joe Patrice noted when the hearing concluded:

“White House Counsel Pat Cipollone thought it was wrong according to testimony. Eric Herschmann said he told Eastman that it didn’t make any sense beforehand and, according to Herschmann, Eastman concluded that it probably would be a loser at the Supreme Court. Herschmann even testified that he told Eastman before January 6 that “you’re going to cause riots in the streets.” Certainly that also crossed the mind of other lawyers in the building.”

Even Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney, thought it was a bad idea (though he reversed himself in the excitement of January 6 itself). And just to emphasize the point that Eastman’s theory had no respectable support, conservative legal titan J. Michael Luttig was brought in to denounce it as antithetical to the Constitution and democracy and to warn that Republicans might try the same play again in 2024.

The committee went on to describe how Trump’s rage at Pence put the lives of the veep (and presumably many members of Congress) in danger when the insurrectionists stormed the Capitol to stop the Biden certification since Pence didn’t “do his duty.” That provided some gripping images, but the real point of the hearing became plain when Representative Pete Aguilar, who directed much of today’s proceedings, quoted from a March 2022 ruling by California federal judge David Carter, who was reviewing Eastman’s claims that his subpoenaed communications with Trump were privileged. Here is the pertinent language, as I described it at the time:

“Until this week, no one in the U.S. judicial system had officially suggested the 45th president might have committed a crime. Now California federal district court judge David Carter (a Clinton appointee) has ruled that Trump ‘more likely than not … corruptly attempted to obstruct the Joint Session of Congress on January 6, 2021,’ and that Trump and his attorney John Eastman ‘more likely than not … dishonestly conspired to obstruct the Joint Session of Congress on January 6, 2021.’”

All the evidence in today’s hearing reinforced this potentially explosive conclusion: A rogue lawyer and his rogue client cooked up a ridiculous justification for an illegal action that risked lives and endangered democracy itself. Much of the evidence incriminated Eastman, who took the Fifth Amendment 100 times when forced to testify before the committee and had tried to secure a pardon from Trump. A telling exchange between Eastman and Jacob occurred when the latter asked the former via email, as the Capitol riot raged, whether he had finally advised Trump “that in your professional judgment the vice president DOES NOT have the power to decide things unilaterally.” Eastman replied, of Trump, “You know him — once he gets something in his head, it is hard to get him to change course.”

The lawyer and client were a match made in hell. And now they may both be in actual danger of legal consequences, or so the January 6 committee seems to believe. But that will presumably be up to Attorney General Merrick Garland, whose department will have to make the call on potential prosecutions coming out of these hearings.


June 10: Mike Pence Deserves Some Thanks, But No Medal, For Doing His Job on January 6

As the country refocuses on the horrific events of January 6, 2021, there’s renewed talk, but little real perspective, about Mike Pence’s refusal to overturn the 2020 election results. I tried to offer some at New York:

I am really glad, even grateful, that then–Vice-President Mike Pence didn’t obey Donald Trump’s order to use imaginary vice-presidential powers to stop the confirmation of Joe Biden’s election on January 6, 2021. He was under a lot of pressure to do so from the Boss, whose other plays to stay in power had failed by then. The more we understand about what was happening that day, the clearer it is that everything else Trump did depended on Pence playing his assigned role. There were never enough votes in the Democratic-controlled Congress to overturn the recognition of Biden electors. And the mob Trump incited to attack the Capitol could not have done anything other than delay the inevitable for a day or two (or, as it happened, a few hours). So yes, Pence’s refusal to take a blatantly unconstitutional and perhaps even treasonous action mattered a great deal.

But let’s not get carried away. As the House committee investigating January 6 prepares to launch public hearings, Jonathan V. Last (whom I greatly esteem) suggested in The Atlantic that Democrats could take away some of the partisan atmospherics of their inquiry by showing some serious love to Pence. And he means serious love:

“Congress can name a building in his honor. The House and Senate could propose nonpartisan resolutions recognizing Pence for his service to democracy. And then Joe Biden could give Pence the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Because while Pence may not be the hero you or I might have wanted, he was the hero America needed.”

Last’s basic argument is that if someone more subservient to Trump (if that’s possible) had been in Pence’s position, then … well, “it’s not clear what would have happened next,” as he puts it. I respect Last for acknowledging it’s not at all likely that the Pence-led coup Trump demanded would have worked. Had Pence tried to recognize fake Trump electors, he would almost certainly have been overruled by Congress. If he had instead abruptly adjourned the January 6 joint session to (as Trump kept putting it) “send it back to the states” … again, where would this have led? Congress could have called itself back into a joint session to do its job with or without Pence’s consent, and the machinery wasn’t in place for Trump to get the electors he needed from Republican legislators. The courts would have almost certainly intervened, and had Trump just refused to leave the White House on January 20 when it was time for Biden to take office, I think military intervention would have been a real possibility. So while Pence’s refusal to act might have saved the Republic from a crisis even worse than the one we experienced on January 6, let’s not credit him for saving the Constitution on his own. There were other protections in place had Pence played the toady.

Last also stresses Pence’s personal courage on January 6, and maybe he has a point. It’s true that some members of the mob looked at Pence as a traitor and might have done him harm if given the opportunity, as they threatened with their “Hang Mike Pence” chant. I’m in no position to judge whether the VP really was in danger that day; perhaps the January 6 committee will cast more light on that.

But didn’t Pence show great courage in defying Trump to begin with? Well, that’s less clear. It seems everyone he consulted while he wavered (and he clearly wavered), including former Republican vice-president Dan Quayle and greatly respected conservative legal scholar J. Michael Luttig, told him that of course he had no authority, constitutional or statutory, to do what Trump was asking. The only person telling Pence he did have the authority was Trump’s attorney John Eastman, whose specious arguments would have probably gotten him bounced from a basic constitutional-law course. Indeed, you have to ask yourself whether Eastman would have made this plea to anyone with less than Pence’s long record of intensely, almost religiously obsequious conduct toward Trump. So the veep’s own craven history led to the order he so bravely denied, which means he would come to any Presidential Medal of Freedom award with unclean hands.

It’s also relevant that Pence’s revolt against Trump was and remains extremely limited, as I noted when he got a lot of praise for tough talk about the “un-American” nature of Trump’s demands of him on January 6:

“Pence has a strong natural interest in limiting congressional or media scrutiny to the isolated events of January 6. Did he ever disagree publicly or privately with the foundation for an election coup that Trump laid for months and months by attacking voting by mail and claiming his ticket could lose only if the election were rigged? Did he remonstrate with Trump when he claimed an immensely premature victory on Election Night? Did he dissent from the strategy of frantically asserted and entirely bogus fraud charges by the campaign bearing his own name as well as Trump’s? Did he object to the self-certification of victory by fake Trump-Pence electors in December 2020? Indeed, did Pence do anything to get in the way of the attempted theft of the election until Trump called on him to accomplish it in a clearly unconstitutional coup with the whole world watching?

“If so, we haven’t heard about it.”

Last’s underlying pitch is that Democrats should be trying harder to separate Republican voters who don’t accept Trump’s authoritarian ways from the GOP he still dominates. That makes sense. Is Pence their role model? I certainly hope not since he never repudiated many of the terrible policies the Trump-Pence administration promoted. And as Ross Barkan recently argued, Pence may be a greater threat than Trump going forward, given his rich history of atavistic cultural and economic positions married to the Hoosier respectability that supposedly saved him and his country from perdition on January 6.

I’ll say it again: Thanks, Mike. I’m glad that, like most Americans, you managed to do your job without (on at least one fateful day) undermining its very purpose. We’re the better for it. But you don’t get a medal for refusing to lead a coup d’etat, and I hope you’ll have a few thousand more second thoughts about the president you served so fervently before applying for the same job yourself.


Mike Pence Deserves Some Thanks, But No Medal, For Doing His Job on January 6

As the country refocuses on the horrific events of January 6, 2021, there’s renewed talk, but little real perspective, about Mike Pence’s refusal to overturn the 2020 election results. I tried to offer some at New York:

I am really glad, even grateful, that then–Vice-President Mike Pence didn’t obey Donald Trump’s order to use imaginary vice-presidential powers to stop the confirmation of Joe Biden’s election on January 6, 2021. He was under a lot of pressure to do so from the Boss, whose other plays to stay in power had failed by then. The more we understand about what was happening that day, the clearer it is that everything else Trump did depended on Pence playing his assigned role. There were never enough votes in the Democratic-controlled Congress to overturn the recognition of Biden electors. And the mob Trump incited to attack the Capitol could not have done anything other than delay the inevitable for a day or two (or, as it happened, a few hours). So yes, Pence’s refusal to take a blatantly unconstitutional and perhaps even treasonous action mattered a great deal.

But let’s not get carried away. As the House committee investigating January 6 prepares to launch public hearings, Jonathan V. Last (whom I greatly esteem) suggested in The Atlantic that Democrats could take away some of the partisan atmospherics of their inquiry by showing some serious love to Pence. And he means serious love:

“Congress can name a building in his honor. The House and Senate could propose nonpartisan resolutions recognizing Pence for his service to democracy. And then Joe Biden could give Pence the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Because while Pence may not be the hero you or I might have wanted, he was the hero America needed.”

Last’s basic argument is that if someone more subservient to Trump (if that’s possible) had been in Pence’s position, then … well, “it’s not clear what would have happened next,” as he puts it. I respect Last for acknowledging it’s not at all likely that the Pence-led coup Trump demanded would have worked. Had Pence tried to recognize fake Trump electors, he would almost certainly have been overruled by Congress. If he had instead abruptly adjourned the January 6 joint session to (as Trump kept putting it) “send it back to the states” … again, where would this have led? Congress could have called itself back into a joint session to do its job with or without Pence’s consent, and the machinery wasn’t in place for Trump to get the electors he needed from Republican legislators. The courts would have almost certainly intervened, and had Trump just refused to leave the White House on January 20 when it was time for Biden to take office, I think military intervention would have been a real possibility. So while Pence’s refusal to act might have saved the Republic from a crisis even worse than the one we experienced on January 6, let’s not credit him for saving the Constitution on his own. There were other protections in place had Pence played the toady.

Last also stresses Pence’s personal courage on January 6, and maybe he has a point. It’s true that some members of the mob looked at Pence as a traitor and might have done him harm if given the opportunity, as they threatened with their “Hang Mike Pence” chant. I’m in no position to judge whether the VP really was in danger that day; perhaps the January 6 committee will cast more light on that.

But didn’t Pence show great courage in defying Trump to begin with? Well, that’s less clear. It seems everyone he consulted while he wavered (and he clearly wavered), including former Republican vice-president Dan Quayle and greatly respected conservative legal scholar J. Michael Luttig, told him that of course he had no authority, constitutional or statutory, to do what Trump was asking. The only person telling Pence he did have the authority was Trump’s attorney John Eastman, whose specious arguments would have probably gotten him bounced from a basic constitutional-law course. Indeed, you have to ask yourself whether Eastman would have made this plea to anyone with less than Pence’s long record of intensely, almost religiously obsequious conduct toward Trump. So the veep’s own craven history led to the order he so bravely denied, which means he would come to any Presidential Medal of Freedom award with unclean hands.

It’s also relevant that Pence’s revolt against Trump was and remains extremely limited, as I noted when he got a lot of praise for tough talk about the “un-American” nature of Trump’s demands of him on January 6:

“Pence has a strong natural interest in limiting congressional or media scrutiny to the isolated events of January 6. Did he ever disagree publicly or privately with the foundation for an election coup that Trump laid for months and months by attacking voting by mail and claiming his ticket could lose only if the election were rigged? Did he remonstrate with Trump when he claimed an immensely premature victory on Election Night? Did he dissent from the strategy of frantically asserted and entirely bogus fraud charges by the campaign bearing his own name as well as Trump’s? Did he object to the self-certification of victory by fake Trump-Pence electors in December 2020? Indeed, did Pence do anything to get in the way of the attempted theft of the election until Trump called on him to accomplish it in a clearly unconstitutional coup with the whole world watching?

“If so, we haven’t heard about it.”

Last’s underlying pitch is that Democrats should be trying harder to separate Republican voters who don’t accept Trump’s authoritarian ways from the GOP he still dominates. That makes sense. Is Pence their role model? I certainly hope not since he never repudiated many of the terrible policies the Trump-Pence administration promoted. And as Ross Barkan recently argued, Pence may be a greater threat than Trump going forward, given his rich history of atavistic cultural and economic positions married to the Hoosier respectability that supposedly saved him and his country from perdition on January 6.

I’ll say it again: Thanks, Mike. I’m glad that, like most Americans, you managed to do your job without (on at least one fateful day) undermining its very purpose. We’re the better for it. But you don’t get a medal for refusing to lead a coup d’etat, and I hope you’ll have a few thousand more second thoughts about the president you served so fervently before applying for the same job yourself.

 


June 8: Primary Shows California Democrats Mostly Need to Get Out the Vote

Having read some insta-reactions to the June 7 California primary that treated it as some sort of massive validation of right-wing law-and-order politics, I pushed back at New York:

The big headlines from yesterday’s California primary were unsurprisingly driven by high-profile contests in the state’s two most prominent cities — San Francisco and Los Angeles. And the results, with the recall of the highly conspicuous progressive district attorney Chesa Boudin in San Francisco and strong showing by ex-Republican developer Rick Caruso in the L.A. mayoral race, lent themselves to a law-and-order narrative — with an undertone of panic among progressives that the GOP wave expected to convulse the nation in November might extend even into deep-blue California.

Democrats don’t need to panic just yet; turnout in the primary was too low to sustain any excited interpretations. We won’t know the final numbers for a good while in a state that’s careful to count every vote (California allows mail-in ballots postmarked by Election Day to count if received within seven days and has generous procedures for “curing” faulty ballots). But with ballots received now at 19 percent of registered voters, the Golden State could challenge the record-low primary turnout of 25 percent in 2014. While low primary turnout is normally a danger sign for Democrats (and may be this year as well), it could just reflect a year when there were no red-hot statewide contests — a dampening effect compounded by the sense that California’s top-two primary system makes the first contest a dry run with few real winners and losers.

The idea that the primary showed a state convulsed with reactionary tough-on-crime sentiment is an overreaction to what actually happened on June 7. Boudin was happily tossed over the side by much of San Francisco’s Democratic political establishment — who regarded him as an embarrassing and not terribly competent outlier, not a national symbol of criminal-justice reform (as some have treated him). And while Caruso’s emergence as a freshly minted Democrat running a viable race for mayor of L.A. was startling, it took a ten-to-one spending advantage over Karen Bass to make the general election. His best shot at winning may have passed in this low-turnout primary; Bass should be favored to win in November.

In addition, there were statewide races that didn’t confirm the “law-and-order spring” hypothesis. Appointed incumbent attorney general Rob Bonta should have been a prime target for tough-on-crime agitation. As The Appeal noted: “Bonta’s record on criminal justice reform, and his ties to groups doing the frontline work to transform prisons and policing, are stronger than either [Xavier] Becerra or [Kamala] Harris,” his two predecessors. (The former is Joe Biden’s Health and Human Services secretary; the latter is his vice-president.) As a novice statewide candidate, Bonta could have been especially vulnerable, but in a primary against four opponents, he has received almost 55 percent of counted votes — a higher percentage than U.S. senator Alex Padilla and a bit below that of Governor Gavin Newsom. Bonta’s most conspicuous tough-on-crime opponent, Sacramento district attorney Anne Marie Schubert (running as an independent after ditching her Republican affiliation as impolitic), tried hard to tie Bonta to Boudin and his L.A. counterpart, George Gascón. Schubert was endorsed by several major law-enforcement organizations and a majority of her fellow county prosecutors, but she finished a poor fourth and is currently running 47 points behind Bonta — who will face one of two not terribly impressive actual Republicans in November.

In general, the overall California returns belie the idea that it was some sort of conservative-backlash election. The top-performing statewide Republican candidate, Lanhee Chen (known nationally as chief policy adviser to Mitt Romney in his 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns), made the general-election contest for state controller. But he did well mostly because he faced four viable Democrats and, at present, is only winning 37 percent of the vote. Chen has distanced himself from his national party and is running on a claim that California needs a non-Democrat in this position to avoid fiscal recklessness by the dominant party. He remains a long shot, at best, to break the GOP’s 16-year losing streak in California statewide elections.

At the congressional level, there’s no sign of an anti-Democratic wave so far. Candidates from both parties expected to make the general election have done so. Probably the weakest performances by incumbents were posted by Republicans David Valadao and Young Kim, who are both struggling a bit to put away challengers running to their right.

It’s a long way until November, and there are many dynamics that will shape the outcome — from inflation rates to gun-violence incidents, the Supreme Court’s decision on abortion rights, and efforts by Donald Trump to steal the spotlight. But California Democrats weathered Republican midterm waves in 2010 and 2014 quite well. And while California voters are expressing concerns about crime and (more prominently) homelessness and housing policy that may hurt some Democratic incumbents, talk of a law-and-order tsunami in the Golden State is premature. Like their colleagues everywhere, California Democrats should most urgently focus on getting their voters to the polls.


Primary Shows California Democrats Mostly Need to Get Out the Vote

Having read some insta-reactions to the June 7 California primary that treated it as some sort of massive validation of right-wing law-and-order politics, I pushed back at New York:

The big headlines from yesterday’s California primary were unsurprisingly driven by high-profile contests in the state’s two most prominent cities — San Francisco and Los Angeles. And the results, with the recall of the highly conspicuous progressive district attorney Chesa Boudin in San Francisco and strong showing by ex-Republican developer Rick Caruso in the L.A. mayoral race, lent themselves to a law-and-order narrative — with an undertone of panic among progressives that the GOP wave expected to convulse the nation in November might extend even into deep-blue California.

Democrats don’t need to panic just yet; turnout in the primary was too low to sustain any excited interpretations. We won’t know the final numbers for a good while in a state that’s careful to count every vote (California allows mail-in ballots postmarked by Election Day to count if received within seven days and has generous procedures for “curing” faulty ballots). But with ballots received now at 19 percent of registered voters, the Golden State could challenge the record-low primary turnout of 25 percent in 2014. While low primary turnout is normally a danger sign for Democrats (and may be this year as well), it could just reflect a year when there were no red-hot statewide contests — a dampening effect compounded by the sense that California’s top-two primary system makes the first contest a dry run with few real winners and losers.

The idea that the primary showed a state convulsed with reactionary tough-on-crime sentiment is an overreaction to what actually happened on June 7. Boudin was happily tossed over the side by much of San Francisco’s Democratic political establishment — who regarded him as an embarrassing and not terribly competent outlier, not a national symbol of criminal-justice reform (as some have treated him). And while Caruso’s emergence as a freshly minted Democrat running a viable race for mayor of L.A. was startling, it took a ten-to-one spending advantage over Karen Bass to make the general election. His best shot at winning may have passed in this low-turnout primary; Bass should be favored to win in November.

In addition, there were statewide races that didn’t confirm the “law-and-order spring” hypothesis. Appointed incumbent attorney general Rob Bonta should have been a prime target for tough-on-crime agitation. As The Appeal noted: “Bonta’s record on criminal justice reform, and his ties to groups doing the frontline work to transform prisons and policing, are stronger than either [Xavier] Becerra or [Kamala] Harris,” his two predecessors. (The former is Joe Biden’s Health and Human Services secretary; the latter is his vice-president.) As a novice statewide candidate, Bonta could have been especially vulnerable, but in a primary against four opponents, he has received almost 55 percent of counted votes — a higher percentage than U.S. senator Alex Padilla and a bit below that of Governor Gavin Newsom. Bonta’s most conspicuous tough-on-crime opponent, Sacramento district attorney Anne Marie Schubert (running as an independent after ditching her Republican affiliation as impolitic), tried hard to tie Bonta to Boudin and his L.A. counterpart, George Gascón. Schubert was endorsed by several major law-enforcement organizations and a majority of her fellow county prosecutors, but she finished a poor fourth and is currently running 47 points behind Bonta — who will face one of two not terribly impressive actual Republicans in November.

In general, the overall California returns belie the idea that it was some sort of conservative-backlash election. The top-performing statewide Republican candidate, Lanhee Chen (known nationally as chief policy adviser to Mitt Romney in his 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns), made the general-election contest for state controller. But he did well mostly because he faced four viable Democrats and, at present, is only winning 37 percent of the vote. Chen has distanced himself from his national party and is running on a claim that California needs a non-Democrat in this position to avoid fiscal recklessness by the dominant party. He remains a long shot, at best, to break the GOP’s 16-year losing streak in California statewide elections.

At the congressional level, there’s no sign of an anti-Democratic wave so far. Candidates from both parties expected to make the general election have done so. Probably the weakest performances by incumbents were posted by Republicans David Valadao and Young Kim, who are both struggling a bit to put away challengers running to their right.

It’s a long way until November, and there are many dynamics that will shape the outcome — from inflation rates to gun-violence incidents, the Supreme Court’s decision on abortion rights, and efforts by Donald Trump to steal the spotlight. But California Democrats weathered Republican midterm waves in 2010 and 2014 quite well. And while California voters are expressing concerns about crime and (more prominently) homelessness and housing policy that may hurt some Democratic incumbents, talk of a law-and-order tsunami in the Golden State is premature. Like their colleagues everywhere, California Democrats should most urgently focus on getting their voters to the polls.

 

 


June 4: Gen Z Could Be Crucial For Abortion Rights

Public opinion on abortion hasn’t really changed much since the 1970s. But that could be about to change as I explained at New York:

There are some “culture war” issues, notably involving LGBTQ+ rights, in which public opinion shows really sharp generational divisions. To put it bluntly, homophobia appears largely to be a geriatric illness, born of inadequate experience with real live LGBTQ+ people and rigid views of acceptable conduct. Even among conservative Evangelical youth, hostility toward marriage equality has ebbed.

But until recently, there have been few persistent generational divisions on abortion rights. As Gallup noted in 2010, older and younger generations steadily converged in their views on legal access to abortion in the early years of this century. And the millennial generation has confounded expectations that it would lead a liberalizing trend on abortion like it has on same-sex marriage, as Daniel Cox explains at FiveThirtyEight:

“Over the past decade, one of the most confounding trends in public opinion has been why millennials (those born between 1981 and 1996) who are less religiousmore educated and more liberal than previous generations — are not stronger supporters of abortion rights. Polls have generally shown that millennials express considerable ambivalence about abortion, views that do not distinguish them from the broader public.

Millennials’ attitudes on abortion rights stand in stark relief to the way they tend to approach other issues of sex and sexuality. For instance, they were among the strongest proponents of legalizing same-sex marriage at the height of debate in the mid-2000s, and they have generally liberal views on contraception, sex education and premarital sex. Abortion has always been the exception.”

As the steadily increasing fragility of abortion rights has raised the issue’s visibility in recent years, Generation Z (those born in or after 1997) looks likely to break the mold and lead a backlash to the impending revocation of a constitutional right to abortion by the U.S. Supreme Court. A new Pew survey released in May showed that 74 percent of adults ages 18 to 29 believe abortion should generally be legal, and that includes 30 percent who say it should be legal in all cases without exception. That’s a 12-point jump from the percentage of adults ages 30 to 49 taking the “generally legal” position and the difference between a solid majority and a supermajority.

This generational trend could solidify the anti-abortion movement’s isolation as an ideological group that is only dominant among white Evangelicals (who oppose legal abortion by a 74-24 margin, according to the same Pew survey). Pew shows Catholics now favoring legal abortion by a 56-42 margin (in sharp contrast to the largely monolithic official position of the Catholic Church in opposing legal abortion). Non-Evangelical white Protestants favor legal abortion by a 60-38 margin, and Black Protestants take the same position by a 66-28 margin. And among the religiously unaffiliated (an increasingly large group in both the millennial and Gen-Z cohorts), support for legal abortion soars to 84 percent.

According to Cox, there is an emerging gender gap in the overall ideological positioning of Gen Z that is less apparent in older generations:

“An analysis of Gallup surveys over the past decade conducted by the American Enterprise Institute’s Survey Center on American Life, which I lead, found a critical shift in political identity among young women. In 2021, we found that 44 percent of 18- to 29-year-old women identified as liberal, whereas only 30 percent of 18- to 29-year-old women identified as such a decade earlier. Among men in this age group, the share who identified as liberal was essentially unchanged during the same time period.”

In any event, the national divide over abortion isn’t as immutable as it has often seemed.  If the Supreme Court is indeed going to relegate abortion policy to the political realm to be fought out state by state in hand-to-hand legislative and electoral combat, there are some grounds for optimism about what might happen down the road.


Gen Z Could Be Crucial For Abortion Rights

Public opinion on abortion hasn’t really changed much since the 1970s. But that could be about to change as I explained at New York:

There are some “culture war” issues, notably involving LGBTQ+ rights, in which public opinion shows really sharp generational divisions. To put it bluntly, homophobia appears largely to be a geriatric illness, born of inadequate experience with real live LGBTQ+ people and rigid views of acceptable conduct. Even among conservative Evangelical youth, hostility toward marriage equality has ebbed.

But until recently, there have been few persistent generational divisions on abortion rights. As Gallup noted in 2010, older and younger generations steadily converged in their views on legal access to abortion in the early years of this century. And the millennial generation has confounded expectations that it would lead a liberalizing trend on abortion like it has on same-sex marriage, as Daniel Cox explains at FiveThirtyEight:

“Over the past decade, one of the most confounding trends in public opinion has been why millennials (those born between 1981 and 1996) who are less religiousmore educated and more liberal than previous generations — are not stronger supporters of abortion rights. Polls have generally shown that millennials express considerable ambivalence about abortion, views that do not distinguish them from the broader public.

Millennials’ attitudes on abortion rights stand in stark relief to the way they tend to approach other issues of sex and sexuality. For instance, they were among the strongest proponents of legalizing same-sex marriage at the height of debate in the mid-2000s, and they have generally liberal views on contraception, sex education and premarital sex. Abortion has always been the exception.”

As the steadily increasing fragility of abortion rights has raised the issue’s visibility in recent years, Generation Z (those born in or after 1997) looks likely to break the mold and lead a backlash to the impending revocation of a constitutional right to abortion by the U.S. Supreme Court. A new Pew survey released in May showed that 74 percent of adults ages 18 to 29 believe abortion should generally be legal, and that includes 30 percent who say it should be legal in all cases without exception. That’s a 12-point jump from the percentage of adults ages 30 to 49 taking the “generally legal” position and the difference between a solid majority and a supermajority.

This generational trend could solidify the anti-abortion movement’s isolation as an ideological group that is only dominant among white Evangelicals (who oppose legal abortion by a 74-24 margin, according to the same Pew survey). Pew shows Catholics now favoring legal abortion by a 56-42 margin (in sharp contrast to the largely monolithic official position of the Catholic Church in opposing legal abortion). Non-Evangelical white Protestants favor legal abortion by a 60-38 margin, and Black Protestants take the same position by a 66-28 margin. And among the religiously unaffiliated (an increasingly large group in both the millennial and Gen-Z cohorts), support for legal abortion soars to 84 percent.

According to Cox, there is an emerging gender gap in the overall ideological positioning of Gen Z that is less apparent in older generations:

“An analysis of Gallup surveys over the past decade conducted by the American Enterprise Institute’s Survey Center on American Life, which I lead, found a critical shift in political identity among young women. In 2021, we found that 44 percent of 18- to 29-year-old women identified as liberal, whereas only 30 percent of 18- to 29-year-old women identified as such a decade earlier. Among men in this age group, the share who identified as liberal was essentially unchanged during the same time period.”

In any event, the national divide over abortion isn’t as immutable as it has often seemed.  If the Supreme Court is indeed going to relegate abortion policy to the political realm to be fought out state by state in hand-to-hand legislative and electoral combat, there are some grounds for optimism about what might happen down the road.