David Nir

Here’s the complete guide to every excuse Republicans have made for Trump’s theft of classified documents

My oh my. It’s been less than a week since federal agents raided Donald Trump’s Florida beachhouse in search of classified documents that Trump stole from the White House, but Republicans have come up with a truly dizzying number of excuses and smokescreens trying to cover up his wrongdoing—often several each day. Honestly, it’s been somewhat hard to keep track of them all, especially as many contradict one another, but we’re here to help. Below, please find our day-by-day catalog of every b.s. pretext Trump’s defenders have tossed out there.


Excuse: Everyone is corrupt except Trump—says Trump himself.

In fairness, if anyone can recognize vintage caudillo behavior, it would be Donald Trump.

Excuse: This warrant and raid business was uncalled for. Trump would have turned over everything had the government simply asked politely.

Oh, wait, they did subpoena him? Nevermind!


Excuse: It’s totally fine that Trump took all of those documents. The only issue is that he racked up some library fines for failing to return overdue government secrets.

Since Trump has never borrowed a library book in his life, he probably doesn’t know the penalty for returning one after the due date, so he can probably be convinced it’s very serious, like they take away one of your golf courses.

Excuse: The FBI put it there!

Trump watched the raid of one country club on closed-circuit television from his other country club, so of course he’ll be releasing the tapes of all this planted evidence (“P. Tapes” for short) immediately.


Excuse: This is all the fault of the Deep State FBI, headed up by ultra-liberal Christopher Wray.

Reminder: Christopher Wray is a member of the Federalist Society and was appointed to his post by Donald Trump.


Excuse: #Whatabout Obama? Obama did it, too. He did it worse, in fact. Also, he’s a secret Muslim.

So true. As the National Archives explained, they maintain Obama’s classified materials “in a NARA facility in the Washington, DC, area” and noted that Obama “has no control over where and how NARA stores the Presidential records of his Administration.” You can think of this facility as Obama’s version of Mar-a-Lago, albeit with a vibe that’s a bit more Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Excuse: LOL, like, the only thing that would justify this would be, I dunno, nuclear secrets.

Narrator: It was nuclear secrets.

Excuse: They didn’t raid Trump quickly enough!

Warrant was issued on a Friday, the seizure took place Monday. Everyone knows that most unlawful sharing of nuclear secrets happens on the weekend.

Excuse: Trump declassified all of this stuff with the power of his OWN MIND.

Just call him President Kreskin.


Excuse: Maybe it was aliens.

Maybe it was aliens.

Excuse: But her emails!

Damn, where was that frenzy?

Excuse: Oh, please, all you need is a smartphone to find the same nuclear secrets Trump took.

Even, like, an iPhone 6 will do!

Excuse: Trump only took a tiny bit of super-duper-classified stuff, and don’t worry about all the other documents.

A standard bankers box holds some 2,500 pages, or around 1.2 million words. It’s a well-known fact that even the smallest nuclear secret needs at least 1.3 million words to describe it.

Excuse: My fellow Americans, when you are busy fomenting a violent coup to overturn the results of an election you’ve lost, it is quite simply inevitable that you will also steal classified secrets in the confusion of it all.

In fact, it should be noted, one crime simply cancels out the other. That’s how it works.

Excuse: They’re only investigating Trump because he might run for president again.

This is definitely how it works. And if Trump follows this advice but changes his mind and does decide to run after all, that’s just tough noogies for the feds.

Excuse: Trump was just trying to prevent World War III. I think this was more or less the plot of Sneakers: Too many secrets!

After all, Donald the Dove, Hillary the Hawk, right, MoDo?

Excuse: Trump installed an Autodeclassifierbot 3000™ at the threshold of the Oval Office.

This is obviously why his attorneys signed a sworn statement telling the feds in June that all classified materials had been given back to the government—because there were none to return!

Excuse: Trump didn’t take those documents intentionally—the General Services Administration just stashed them in boxes that got moved to Mar-a-Lago when Trump exited D.C.

Guess these guys never heard that warning at the airport about accepting items from strangers.


Excuse: This has happened to you: Your landlord gives you three months’ notice that you’ve got to move out, but you just don’t really believe them. Every week they keep telling you until, at long last, you finally realize they mean it, so of course your departure turns into a haphazard mess.

Also, in this case, you live in the White House and your landlord is the people of the United States of America. Very relatable!

What excuses will the coming week bring? Stay tuned! The bullshit never ends.

P.S. We miss any? Lets us know in comments!

Note: This post has been updated with even more nonsense excuses!

Republicans just booked $52 million in TV time — but they left off a key district in North Carolina

The NRCC announced its first batch of fall TV ad reservations on Wednesday, making it the last of the "big four" outside groups that spend by far the most on House races to do so. We've added the bookings, which total $52 million across 28 different media markets, to our tracker, which also includes reservations from the committee's allies at the Congressional Leadership Fund, as well as their Democratic counterparts: the DCCC and the House Majority PAC.

Unusually, the NRCC also listed the specific districts it says these reservations will be used for; typically, only media markets are included, and we're left to figure out which districts are the likely targets. The listed districts differ very little from our previous guesses for the same markets booked by the other three groups, though, and reservations such as these can be used for any applicable races, regardless of whether they're mentioned in a June press release.

Some may be aspirational. For instance, the addition of the Democratic-held 1st and 3rd Districts in New Mexico alongside the vulnerable, GOP-held 2nd, might fall into that category, since Republicans lack notable challengers in both. (All three are covered by the Albuquerque market.) But of course, an election that turns into a wave can bring along all sorts of flotsam.

There is, however, one absence that is telling. Following far-right extremist Sandy Smith's win in the GOP primary for North Carolina's open 1st District last month, the NRCC has pointedly refused to acknowledge her, despite the fact that Republicans would very much like to flip this potentially vulnerable Democratic seat. The reason for this silence? It’s almost certainly not because of Smith's politics but rather because two of her ex-husbands have accused her of physical abuse.

That cold shoulder has now extended further, since the committee reserved TV time in the Raleigh market, which makes up more than half of the 1st District, but only listed the swingy 13th District as the reason for the booking. The NRCC sent out a press release on Thursday outlining its latest nationwide target list and did include the 1st, but money, it hardly needs saying, speaks louder than words. Again, Republicans could always change their minds, but it would have cost them nothing to simply add "(NC01)" to their reservations announcement. The fact that they didn't is noteworthy.

Did you know Kyrsten Sinema did a paid internship at a California winery during the pandemic?

Yeah, I couldn't believe it either. My girlfriend, a political junkie just like me, charged into the kitchen just the other day to ask me, "Did you know that Kyrsten Sinema spent two weeks doing an internship at a winery in California during the pandemic—and got paid for it?"

My response: "What. What!" Yes, said Kaili. She'd just heard about it during a comedy sketch on Jon Lovett's podcast. "How," I asked with extreme incredulity, "could we not have heard about this before?" She wondered the same thing. We're media professionals who follow the news obsessively, and it's not like we've had a whole lot else going on lately, what with COVID-19 and all. So W, we both marveled, TF?

Now at this point I'm guessing the story is probably news to you as well—and that in and of itself is a story. The gossipy D.C. media really has no lower bar when it comes to elevating stories about politicians behaving bizarrely, and a sitting U.S. senator taking time off in the middle of a global pandemic to make wine surely rates. But there has been virtually no coverage.

Credit to reporter Dave Levinthal at Insider for breaking the story … all the way back in May. (Again, I'm gobsmacked that I only learned of it in October, but that's the whole genesis of this piece.) Levinthal cracked the case thanks to a single line item in a new financial disclosure statement Sinema filed that month showing she'd earned $1,117.40 at Three Sticks Winery in Sonoma County.

Insider put the piece behind its paywall, so that may have slowed its uptake, but newsrooms all have subscriptions to one another's sites, and anyhow, there's always Twitter. How did this not light Twitter on fire?

Friend, it didn't. The next time anyone wrote about Sinema's wine country moonlighting wasn't until two and a half months later, when Paul Bomberger at the Press Democrat—the local paper in Sonoma—picked up on Insider's story. Bomberger's calls to Sinema's offices were ignored, but he did narrow down the timeframe of her internship to August of 2020 and was able to score a few quotes from a winemaker at Three Sticks, Ryan Prichard. ("She was full-in and a great asset to the team.")

After that, basically nothing. Politico's Playbook, which normally loves these sorts of tales, gave Bomberger's piece a one-sentence aside in a parenthetical a couple of days later. Perhaps that offhand treatment is why the many reporters who read Playbook each day somehow were not piqued, but come on. The story is as juicy as the grapes Sinema supposedly spent her days sorting.

A few smaller sites rehashed the original story, but John Gorgola at The Nation was just about the only person to really pick up the thread, wondering last month why Sinema chose this winery out of the 8,000 or 9,000 across the country. As Insider's Levinthal noted, one of the destinations listed on an invitation for a $5,000-a-person Sinema-headlined fundraiser the same month as her vineyard gig was Three Sticks.

And as Gorgola in turn pointed out, Three Sticks is owned by private equity titan William Price III. (His generational suffix—those triple vertical lines—is also how the hyper-exclusive winery, with a product that's seldom available for purchase, earned its name.) The investment firm Price founded, TPG Capital, has spent more than $10 million on lobbyists over the past decade. What's an extra $1,117.40 for another friendly ear to a man like that, especially for the target of a last-ditch persuasion campaign aimed at preserving a tax loophole beloved by Wall Street?

There, though, the trail more or less goes cold. Even the notoriously gabby Maureen Dowd only tucked in a brief reference to the story at the very end of her most recent column. But Kaili has many, many questions, and so do I—questions that reporters might like to start asking. Consider this a collaborative list from two political fiends burning with a need to know:

  1. A Sinema spokesperson told Insider "that the Senate Ethics Committee preapproved Sinema's work." Could we please see a copy of that letter?
  2. If Sinema, who makes a fetish of her love of wine (a fawning Axios piece recently described her as a "wine-drinking triathlete," as though quaffing vino were some unique trademark), were proud of her work, why didn't she announce her internship at the time?
  3. Relatedly, Sinema's a pretty regular Instagram user but didn't post a single photo from Three Sticks last summer. Beautiful wineries are inherently Instagrammable, so why no pics?
  4. There were extremely important races for president and Senate in her swingy home state last year. Why did she hie off to another (deep blue) state for two weeks not long before Election Day when Democrats were killing themselves to get out the vote in Arizona?
  5. Related to that, did Sinema spend any time during the August congressional recess meeting with constituents? That's what members of Congress claim they do, anyway, during their totally-not-a-vacation breaks.
  6. Did Sinema skip the Democratic National Convention to play winemaker? We don't know the exact dates of her internship, but the DNC was from Aug. 17-20 last year, and her high-dollar fundraiser in Sonoma was a three-day extravaganza running from August 21st through August 23rd. Did she wrap up work at the winery and then go mingle with rich donors?
  7. Did someone flag Sinema's financial disclosure for Insider, and if so who—and why?
  8. How many people applied for this internship? Did Sinema take a slot from someone else without her income ($174,000/year)? Someone who might actually be interested in a career in wine-making?
  9. Did she keep the money she made?
  10. This all went down during a pandemic (let's not forget), and before vaccines were available. What safety precautions did Sinema take? Did she think that risking exposure to COVID-19 while working a completely unnecessary side-hustle was worth it?

And above all else: How in the hell has this not been a bigger story? Every technicolor wig, every empty pronouncement, and every snide dig at fellow Democrats from Sinema merit endless attention from the Beltway press corps. But, somehow, not this—the story of the plucky senator doing a jus' reg'lar folks internship at a salt-of-the-earth winery.

Is this a Watergate-level scandal, just waiting to be blown open by a 21st century Deep Throat skulking down in the wine cellar? Of course not. But it's a really, really weird story, and given the outsize power Sinema holds as a highly disagreeable member of an evenly divided Senate, something this far out of the ordinary merits greater scrutiny. Now, let's see some.

Here's the cynical reason Ohio Republicans punted on drawing a new congressional map

In a very strange development, Ohio's Republican-run legislature has ceded control of congressional redistricting to a so-called "backup" commission by missing a Sept. 30 deadline to pass new maps set in the state constitution.

Given how jealously lawmakers everywhere protect their power, it's necessary to ask why Buckeye Republicans have voluntarily relinquished it in this case. And while state Senate President Matt Huffman claimed that staffers had been too preoccupied with legislative remapping to draw up new congressional lines, there's a likelier explanation that's far more cynical.

Under state law, if lawmakers fail to approve a congressional plan, responsibility is handed over to a panel comprising the governor, state auditor, secretary of state, and four legislative appointees, one from each chamber's party leader. That commission, which has exclusive jurisdiction over legislative redistricting, has a 5-2 Republican majority, which already passed an extreme set of gerrymanders for the state House and Senate.

So why punt to the backup commission when Republicans are already in charge of the legislature? Under a feeble reform passed in 2018, congressional maps passed by legislators require a three-fifths supermajority and the support of at least half the members of each party. There's a way around this, though. The commission must also muster bipartisan support for any such maps, but if it fails to do so by Oct. 31, the task reverts to lawmakers, who can then pass a map that's good for a full 10 years with the backing of just one-third of Democrats—or they can approve one without any Democratic support that will last for four years.

That final option may be the most desirable. It would allow Republicans to fine-tune their gerrymanders after just two elections. In fact, that's exactly what transpired when the commission drew up legislative maps: The GOP majority failed to win the votes of the two Democratic members, likewise leading to a four-year map under a similar provision of the constitution.

And even if Republicans don't exercise the chance to go it alone, the mere fact that they can gives them leverage over Democrats to pressure them into accepting a slightly more modest but still durable 10-year gerrymander. Whatever winds up happening, it's advisable to be very skeptical of the GOP's motives.

Florida's Republican governor will make majority-Black district wait 280 days for new representation

A month after Democratic Rep. Alcee Hastings' death on April 6, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis announced on Tuesday that the special election for Florida's 20th Congressional District would not take place until Jan. 11 of next year, meaning the seat will remain without representation for 280 days. That's almost twice as long as the gap that proceeded the state's two most recent special elections: In 2014, specials were held in the 13th District just 144 days after Rep. Bill Young died and in the 19th District just 148 days after Rep. Trey Radel resigned. Both were Republicans.

Local election officials in Broward and Palm Beach counties initially proposed the dates that DeSantis wound up choosing, including a primary on Nov. 2. Soon after, however, they suggested the primary take place on Sept. 14 and the general on Nov. 9, with one official saying, "People would like it to be earlier."

DeSantis disregarded that advice in a move that Democrats are certain to attack as motivated by a partisan interest in depriving the party's narrow congressional majority of a key vote. (The governor's long delay in waiting to schedule the election was also hotly criticized, with one candidate, Democrat Elvin Dowling, filing a lawsuit late last week demanding a date be set.) The decision further means that the majority-Black 20th District will have no voice in the House for the better part of a year.

It's not yet clear when the filing deadline will be, but in a press conference announcing the dates, DeSantis said, "I think that puts qualifying towards the end of the first week of September."

New York's Conservative Party threatens to spurn GOP congressman who voted to impeach Trump

he Conservative Party in Onondaga County, which makes up most of New York's 24th Congressional District, says it won't endorse Republican Rep. John Katko next year, putting the congressman at risk of losing a ballot line that's played a key role in sustaining his political career. Katko had previously lost the support of Conservatives in the other three counties in the district—Oswego, Cayuga, and Wayne—though the ultimate decision will fall to state party chair Jerry Kassar, who previously said Katko is "in trouble" and reportedly plans to defer to local leaders.

Katko has received a great deal of attention—and, from Donald Trump loyalists, scorn—for his vote to impeach Trump in January, but that's not the only issue putting him at odds with the Conservative Party. Die-hards are also pissed that he backed the Equality Act, which would protect LGBTQ rights, and that voted to boot Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene from her committee assignments due to her violent rhetoric. However, Katko also voted for the Equality Act in 2019 and still retained the Conservative Party's support the next year, so there may be time to repair the relationship.

Katko will certainly hope so: In 2018, he defeated Democrat Dana Balter by 13,694 votes—fewer than the 16,972 he received on the Conservative line. While his victory wasn't dependent on that line in his 2020 rematch with Balter, Katko might not be so lucky next year, especially if Democrats target him in redistricting.

Onondoga Conservatives say they'll ask Kassar to either leave the party's line blank or endorse someone else in 2022. The latter option could prove particularly self-defeating, but it's a tack not unfamiliar to right-wing extremists in New York: Republicans lost a special election in 2009 in what was then the 23rd Congressional District after the GOP and the Conservative Party nominated different candidates, allowing Democrat Bill Owens to flip a seat that had been red since the 19th century.

Here's how Senate Democrats can pass almost anything — without nuking the filibuster

Astute politics observers well know that the Senate filibuster—the Jim Crow relic that requires supermajority support to pass most legislation—is a major obstacle for any hopes that Democrats have of enacting Joe Biden's agenda and righting the country after four years of wicked misrule. But because a handful of Democratic senators (as well as all Republicans) oppose curtailing the rule—for now, at least—party leaders are pursuing an alternative route that will allow them to bypass the filibuster and pass major bills with just a simple majority.

It's called reconciliation, and it's a complicated beast. If you've heard about it, you may have read that it can only be used in a limited fashion. But that's simply not so. Democrats can actually use the reconciliation process for almost anything, including an increase to the minimum wage, a current topic of contention. What's more, in contrast with filibuster reform, they don't need unanimity from their caucus to proceed. A mere 41 votes will do the trick.

Congressional experts usually say that the person who decides what can and can't be included in a reconciliation package is the Senate parliamentarian, an appointed official who advises the chamber on matters of procedure. The key word there, though, is "advises": The presiding officer—that person who occupies the big chair atop the central dais you've seen on C-SPAN, either the vice president or a sitting senator—is free to reject that advice.

So what happens if Kamala Harris (or, if you like, Jon Ossoff) does exactly that? A Republican could object, but in order to sustain that objection—that is to say, in order to override the presiding officer's decision to rebuff the parliamentarian—it would take 60 votes. In other words, all 50 Republicans would need 10 Democrats to join them. There's little chance that would happen.

And it's been done before, in the service of promoting majority rule in the Senate. The last occasion arose in 1975, when a bipartisan coalition, led by Minnesota Democrat Walter Mondale, sought to reduce the threshold for ending a filibuster from two-thirds to three-fifths. Vice President Nelson Rockefeller, a Republican, paved the way for the proposal to move forward by declining the parliamentarian's advice in order to allow a key vote that would buttress reformers' arguments. While pro-filibuster senators staged a revolt after the vote succeeded, the dispute ultimately ended with the filibuster requirement getting lowered to today's familiar 60-vote benchmark.

The same approach can be deployed when dealing with constraining guidance from the parliamentarian regarding reconciliation, and Democrats have no reason to fear doing so. While Republicans will inevitably complain, voters don't care about procedure—they care about results. That's especially so when we're talking about popular legislation like a $15 minimum wage, which poll after poll has shown Americans support in massive numbers.

Some have in fact already called for the Senate to take this tack. "You don't have to override the parliamentarian or get a new parliamentarian," noted one expert on Senate procedure, a likely reference to the occasion when then-Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott fired parliamentarian Bob Dove in 2001 after Republicans grew frustrated with him. "Under the statute, it is the vice president who rules. It is the presiding officer who makes the decision. The parliamentarian advises on that question."

That's precisely right, and it's precisely the approach Democrats should take. And when Republicans howl, Democrats need only point out that the expert who advocated for a robust use of reconciliation was none other than Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

Biden has called for unity, not bipartisanship. There's a big difference

During his inaugural address, Joe Biden returned to the central theme of his campaign—the message that earned him millions more votes than any other presidential candidate in history: unity. In his speech, Biden invoked the word no fewer than eight separate times. "With unity," he said "we can do great things. Important things."

Just as notable, there was one phrase Biden didn't utter even once: bipartisanship. It's easy to conflate the two, and Republicans have done so in bad faith, seeking to weaponize Biden's own mantra against him. But there's a very good reason why Biden has emphasized "unity" rather than "bipartisanship," because the two mean very different things.

So what exactly does unity mean? Biden and his team have defined it very simply: It's the act of coming together to do what the American people want. In this way, it lays out a future guided not by whatever the largest number of politicians are able to agree on but instead by the desires of the people those politicians were elected to represent. It reroots our democracy in the very soil that gives it life in the first place.

It's no surprise that Republicans resent this. Biden's priorities are very popular, while, to the extent Republicans even have any sort of affirmative agenda, their proposals are anything but. This is why they don't want to see Biden succeed, lest a president who passes popular initiatives grow more popular still.

To prevent such an outcome, Republicans are pretending that unity is indeed an interchangeable synonym for bipartisanship and using it as a bludgeon to cow Democrats. By demanding that Biden only pass legislation acceptable to them, only the most watered-down measures could ever become law. More likely, nothing ever would. If Democrats were so weak-willed as to be fooled by this bullying, it would leave the party with no accomplishments to show to voters in two or four years' time—precisely what Republicans dream of.

But today's Democrats, Joe Biden included, are far tougher and savvier than their easily intimidated forebears. They know precisely what game Republicans want to play and refuse to participate. As White House press secretary Jen Psaki noted, if Republicans want bills to pass with bipartisan support, then they can vote in favor of what Democrats are proposing. Republicans have agency, after all. Democrats are not the only party with the power to make bipartisanship happen.

Of course, Republicans won't do any such thing. They'd rather falsely complain that Biden isn't living up to his campaign promises. Such claims have gotten some traction in the traditional press and probably will continue to. But incomparably more important for Democrats is that they succeed in bringing about the change voters elected them to achieve. Those are the only campaign promises that matter, and if Democrats can live up to those, then they'll also stay true to the true meaning of unity.

Democrats are on track to win both Georgia runoffs and retake the Senate

In an historic election with consequences that will reverberate for years, Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff are poised to flip two Republican-held Senate seats in Georgia and hand control of the chamber to Democrats for the first time since 2014.

With most votes tallied, Warnock held a small but insurmountable lead on his Republican opponent, Kelly Loeffler, and declared victory. Ossoff trailed Republican David Perdue by the narrowest of margins but is all but assured of taking the lead when the remaining ballots are counted, since they are almost all in blue counties.

Warnock, a pastor who holds the pulpit at Martin Luther King Jr.'s Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, would not only become Georgia's first-ever Black senator but also the first Black Democrat elected to the Senate from a state of the old Confederacy. Meanwhile, Ossoff, an investigative journalist who shot to prominence in a 2017 special election for the House, would be the first Jewish senator elected from the Deep South, and, at just 33, the youngest Democrat in the Senate since none other than Joe Biden.

The likely victories cap off a remarkable election cycle that saw Biden become the first Democrat to carry Georgia's electoral votes since Bill Clinton in 1992. They would also see Democrats reverse a long history of desultory turnout in runoff elections, which were originally put in place precisely to prevent Black candidates from winning office, making Warnock's impending win all the more extraordinary.

This unlikely turn of events was powered by major shifts in Georgia's electorate, which has both grown more diverse in recent years and seen many once-loyal Republican voters abandon their party out of disgust with Donald Trump. When Democrats last won a Senate seat in Georgia 20 years ago, the victor was the notoriously conservative Zell Miller, who later went on to serve as a keynote speaker for George W. Bush at the Republican National Convention in 2004.

Warnock and Ossoff, by contrast, ran campaigns that reflected a newer South and affirmed mainstream progressive values, including support for $2,000 COVID relief checks—an issue that became central in the final days of the race and put both Republicans at odds with Trump.

Most consequentially, if Warnock and Ossoff's victories hold up, Democrats will find themselves in charge of both houses of Congress and the White House for the first time in a decade. While many challenges will await, this alone will remove the biggest obstacle to Democratic priorities—including Biden's cabinet appointments and judicial nominations—by deposing Mitch McConnell as Senate majority leader.

The durability of Georgia's political transformation will be tested again soon: Because the Warnock-Loeffler race was a special election for the final two years of former Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson's term, Warnock would have to run again for a full six-year term in 2022. Ossoff, by contrast, would not go before voters again until 2026.

P.S. The last time a state's entire Senate delegation changed hands on the same night was in November of 1994, when Republicans won a pair of elections in Tennessee, including a special election for the seat that had previously been held by Al Gore.

Analysts create AI tool that can distinguish between conspiracy theories and real conspiracies

Researchers compared data from a real conspiracy—the "Bridgegate" political payback scheme in which New Jersey political operatives closed down lanes on the George Washington Bridge—with those from "Pizzagate" conspiracy theories to create an artificial intelligence tool.

The eternal problem with conspiracy theories is that we know from both history and current events that there are very real conspiracies at work in the world. How can we distinguish them from the utterly fabricated fantasies that comprise the entirety of the conspiracy-theory universe?

There are some simple ways to distinguish them, but they are also fairly crude and generalized rules, and the distinctions can sometimes be nuanced. So researchers at the University of California at Berkeley have devised an artificial intelligence tool that can help people figure out whether they're tapping into an actual conspiracy or just participating in a cockamamie fantasy.

Cal Berkeley cultural analyst Timothy Tangherlini and his team "developed an automated approach to determining when conversations on social media reflect the telltale signs of conspiracy theorizing," using machine learning tools capable of identifying narratives "based on sets of people, places, and things and their relationships," with the hope of forming "the basis of an early warning system to alert authorities to online narratives that pose a threat in the real world."

Once the layers of the narrative are identified, the model determines how they come together to form the narrative as a whole. It can then map all this data out into charts that show utterly distinct shapes for actual conspiracies and conspiracy theories—indeed, showing that they have little in common.

There are some useful rules of thumb already available for distinguishing between a real conspiracy and a conspiracy theory, beyond recognizing that the former has a reasonable likelihood of being real, while the latter is almost certainly a falsehood intended to scapegoat other people. As I explain in my book Red Pill, Blue Pill: How to Counteract the Conspiracy Theories That Are Killing Us, we're already capable of distinguishing them based on the basic parameters imposed by reality upon conspiracies:

Real conspiracies, by their very nature (including their dependence on secrecy), have three major limitations:
  • Scope. Their purpose is usually to achieve only one or two ends, often narrow in nature.
  • Time. Their actions necessarily occur within a relatively short time frame.
  • Number of participants. All successful conspiracies are the product of only a tiny handful of people.
As the boundaries of all three of these limits increase, however, the likelihood of the conspiracy failing or being exposed rises exponentially. The broader the reach—if it attempts too much—the more likely it is to meet failure simply as a matter of raw odds and the nature of institutional inertia. The longer it takes, the greater the risk of exposure, not to mention for components of the conspiracy to go awry. Similar issues arise when increasing numbers of people are involved in the conspiracy, both the likelihood that they will fail to complete their part of the conspiracy as well as the growing chances of exposure. And exposure is fatal to every conspiracy: once the secret is out, it's no longer a viable plan of action.
Conspiracy theories, on the other hand, almost universally feature qualities that contrast sharply with these limits.
  • They are broad-ranging in nature, and frequently boil down to (or play key roles in) a massive plot to enslave, murder, or politically oppress all of mankind or at least large numbers of people.
  • They are believed to have existed for long periods of time, in some cases for hundreds of years.
  • They involve large numbers of people, notably significant numbers of participants in high positions in government or the bureaucracy.
  • The long-term success of these conspiracies is always credited to willing dupes in the media and elsewhere.

The Cal Berkeley AI model largely reflects these same parameters when it goes to work. The team studied three primary and sometimes overlapping zones of the conspiracy-theory universe: Pizzagate, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the anti-vaccination movement. (It's currently applying to the tool to the QAnon conspiracy cult; the results should be interesting.)

The Pizzagate world (which is closely related to the QAnon phenomenon) was particularly rich with data:

We analyzed 17,498 posts from April 2016 through February 2018 on the Reddit and 4chan forums where Pizzagate was discussed. The model treats each post as a fragment of a hidden story and sets about to uncover the narrative. The software identifies the people, places and things in the posts and determines which are major elements, which are minor elements and how they're all connected.

The analysts then also examined the same kinds of data regarding the so-called "Bridgegate" conspiracy—a very real political payback operation in which New Jersey public officials, mainly members of then-Gov. Chris Christie's staff, deliberately created traffic jams by closing lanes on the George Washington Bridge. The results show the unmistakable differences in basic structure of the respective narratives, and how the facile appearance of similarities between conspiracy theories and the real thing falls apart in ways similar to the theories themselves.

Conspiracy theories, the researchers found, are collaboratively constructed and form quickly. "Actual conspiracies are deliberately hidden, real-life actions of people working together for their own malign purposes," Tangherlini explains. "In contrast, conspiracy theories are collaboratively constructed and develop in the open."

Conspiracy theories are deliberately complex and reflect an all-encompassing worldview. Instead of trying to explain one thing, a conspiracy theory tries to explain everything, discovering connections across domains of human interaction that are otherwise hidden — mostly because they do not exist.
While the popular image of the conspiracy theorist is of a lone wolf piecing together puzzling connections with photographs and red string, that image no longer applies in the age of social media. Conspiracy theorizing has moved online and is now the end product of a collective storytelling. The participants work out the parameters of a narrative framework: the people, places and things of a story and their relationships.

By mapping out how these conspiracy theories originate and spread—and particularly the networks through which they are generated—analysts may be able to anticipate when they explode into their inevitable real-world violence. More to the point, it can help researchers identify the wellsprings of misinformation on social media and elsewhere so that those spigots can be shut off.

As I explain in Red Pill, Blue Pill:

Conspiracy theories are a problem for healthy democracies not only because they encourage people to disengage from their communities and abjure their political franchise by discarding it all as useless, but also because they represent serious pollution of the information stream. Democracies rely on robust debate, but that "marketplace of ideas" cannot function if the debate is founded on falsehoods, smears, and the wild speculations that all combine to take the place of established facts in any discourse with conspiracy theorists.

No longer ‘standing by,’ Proud Boys bring politics of intimidation to streets in defense of Trump

The violence following the November 14 'Million MAGA March' in Washington, D.C., helped establish a pattern for Proud Boys violence that's now expanded to other American cities.

It's become apparent that, even as Donald Trump tries to deny reality and continue claiming he won the election, the hate group that he ordered, on national television, to "stand back and stand by" now considers (per leadership's statements that "standby order has been rescinded," as well as other threatening statements on social media) those orders null and void: The Proud Boys are now playing the role of Trump's goon-squad defenders in the streets—and appear unlikely to stop anytime soon.

Following the initial burst of Proud Boy violence in Washington, D.C., during and after the "Million MAGA March" of November 14, the familiar black-and-yellow polos, red MAGA hats and thug tactics have been showing up on the streets of Raleigh, North Carolina; Sacramento, California; and Staten Island, New York. At each event, brawls broke out amid overheated rhetoric, much of it in Trump's defense.

The violence follows the pattern established over the previous four years—right-wing extremists organizing gangs of out-of-town thugs from rural and exurban areas to invade liberal urban centers on vague political pretexts in order to engage in threatening acts of intimidation and provoke violence that they can then blame on "antifa" and "left." And as with all those events, the Proud Boys' presence has been to act as street enforcers for a variety of far-right causes: Denouncing the election results, protesting about COVID-19 public-health measures, or whatever else might be the right-wing grievance du jour.

Mostly, it's about creating fear and violence on behalf of a white-nationalist agenda. That's what the Proud Boys exist for, and it's why the Southern Poverty Law Center lists them as a "general" hate group.

All during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Proud Boys have been whipping up a sense of public intimidation at the liberal cities where they hold rallies while spreading conspiracist misinformation about the virus, its spread, and the government orders to intended to fight it. These appearances have been part of the Proud Boys' steady drumbeat of bringing the politics of thuggery to American cities throughout 2020, as the Institute for Education and Research on Human Rights has mapped out in detail, for a variety of ostensible causes.

In Raleigh last weekend, Proud Boys came out to protest North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper's pandemic-related business restrictions, particularly those on indoor gatherings. Calling it a "Pilgrims and Patriots Thanksgiving in Raleigh" event, organizers with Reopen Carolina joined arms with the Proud Boys and a Latinos for Trump group at the state Capitol. Then, as usual, they proceeded to provoke brawls with counterprotesters who held an event called "Racists Out Of Raleigh."

There were no fights, since police kept the two sides separated assiduously. So the Proud Boys turned their thug tactics to the press who came to cover the event, including a reporter for the Indy who they harassed. Their report describes it:

A man in a Proud Boys bandana kept the INDY reporter from recording speeches by putting his hand in front of the camera, while others around pretended to sneeze. A woman in a white tank top and MAGA hat also told the reporter to leave. This happened a second time once the group was back at the Jones Street corner; this time, the man who had been blocking the camera told the reporter, "we can ask you to leave, or we can make you leave."

Proud Boys also showed up at another COVID-related protest in Staten Island—this time outside Mac's Public House, a tavern that had recently been busted for offering food and drinks beyond a 10 p.m. cutoff time mandated by New York City officials. A large, entirely maskless crowd gathered outside the pub on Wednesday night to protest the charges.

Inside the pub, there were chants of "Proud Boys in the house." According to the New York Post, a speaker also led a Proud Boys chant: "I am a proud Western Chauvinist." Afterwards, they segued into singing Queen's "We Will Rock You."

According to The Sun, protesters blamed New York Governor Andrew Cuomo for the pandemic measures, with signs reading "Dictator Cuomo." One protester shouted at cops through a megaphone: "Where is your backbone? Where is your morality?"

The event in Sacramento had nothing to do with COVID, but instead was entirely a protest of the election results, and an insistence that Trump won the election—and heavily populated by Proud Boys and their militia cohort. One of the Proud Boys told the crowd that the organization's role was to defend "people like you that come out to rallies."

As Capital Radio reporter Scott Rodd observed, those were hollow words:

But the Proud Boys also played the aggressor. CapRadio observed one Proud Boy take a swing at a member of the press for filming him. Other members, after the demonstrators returned to the barricaded area near the Capitol, remained outside the perimeter and instigated counter-protesters and passersby. Several chased after one counter-protester. Some also followed and taunted observers from the National Lawyers Guild.

By day's end, multiple brawls had broken out, and police—who declared an unlawful assembly and issued a dispersal order—reported one arrest on "assault-related charges."

Reporter Gabe Stutman of Jewish Weeklywas also present, and watched as, after their rally speeches ended, "they spilled into the streets of downtown Sacramento, chanting 'Whose streets? Our streets!' and 'F*ck antifa!' while butting up against police cordons that blocked their path. The demonstrators exchanged insults and threats with roughly a dozen people identified as part of antifa ..."

Stutman notes that "each protest has followed a similar pattern," one familiar to reporters covering Proud Boys events elsewhere: First, a peaceful demonstration with speeches in a public space, followed by a march into downtown or other urban areas with the intent of brawling with counterprotesters—or, for that matter, anyone who shouts at them or protests them.

The San Francisco-based office of the ADL for the Central Pacific region issued a statement decrying the event: "First, they bring attention and possibly attract new adherents to extremist agendas and groups like the Proud Boys," it read. "Second, their provocative and divisive rhetoric can and does lead to violence, as we saw in Sacramento and elsewhere."

Stutman also described getting the intimidation treatment from a right-wing protester, who shouted insults and blocked his cell-phone-camera lens. When Stutman asked if he was a Proud Boy, the man responded: "I'm a white boy, motherf*cker."

Veterans swung heavily toward Joe Biden this year. Democrats must keep that forward momentum

While the 2020 exit polls have not yet been finalized, we can already say with certainty that Americans who have served in the military shifted their political preferences dramatically over the last four years. In 2016, voters who served in the armed forces supported Donald Trump by a wide 60-34 margin, but preliminary data from this year shows that this same group gave Trump a much narrower 54-44 edge. In all, that's a 16-point swing—far wider than the national shift in the popular vote over the same timespan.

The reasons for this surge are many. One preelection poll found, for instance, that active-duty service members took dim views of Trump's dismissive approach to reports that the Russian government placed bounties on the heads of American troops in Afghanistan. These same respondents disagreed even more sharply with Trump's desire to send the military into American cities during protests against police violence targeting Black people this summer.

Trump's animosity toward those who've served in uniform, of course, is longstanding. From obtaining a bogus draft deferment for alleged "bone spurs" to calling his effort to avoid sexually transmitted diseases "my personal Vietnam" to smearing the late Sen. John McCain by saying "I like people who weren't captured," he has never tried to hide his disgust for those who would sacrifice for this country. That he's engendered a hostile response is no surprise.

But it's not only about Trump. Our military is more ethnically and racially diverse than ever before—more diverse, in fact, than the country as a whole—and the share of women serving has soared. Service members are all too often stereotyped and misunderstood as uniformly hawkish and conservative, but this election should shatter those preconceptions.

What matters most now is that the Democratic Party capitalize on this success. Organizations like VoteVets and National Security Leaders for Biden have played a crucial role in this transformation, but Democrats can't declare "mission accomplished" and move on. Veterans, according to the exit polling, made up 15% of the electorate this year. They're a group too large and too important to only court every four years.

Politically, Democrats will benefit if more and more members of the armed forces and their families trust the party. But the country would benefit, too, if our military also reflected our nation's political diversity, which is why this work must continue.

Mitch McConnell should be very worried about the Senate. Here's why

It's almost hard to believe: Joe Biden is on the verge of turning Georgia blue, making him the first Democratic candidate for president to do so since 1992. It caps a remarkable transformation for a fast-diversifying state that had long seemed on the brink of flipping but had never quite gotten there—until now.

It also has enormous implications for the future of our country. Biden's impending Peach State victory is icing on his electoral cake, of course, since he's already locked down the 270 electoral votes that have made him president-elect. (And how was your Saturday? Mine was pretty swell!) The most important thing it signals, rather, is that Democrats can win the two all-important runoffs for the Senate that are slated for Jan. 5.

The math is simple: Republicans currently hold or lead in races for 50 Senate seats while Democrats have secured 48 seats. If Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock win their respective contests in January, that'll make for a 50-50 split, with ties broken by (say it with me now!) Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.

These will both be very difficult races, no doubt about it. But Biden has just shown us that there is indeed a path for Democrats to prevail in Georgia. And while Donald Trump demoralizes his supporters by essentially telling them that elections are pointless, Democrats are fired up and energized by Biden's success like never before.

The vision of a blue Georgia has long been a dream. Joe Biden just helped turn it into a reality. Now it's up to us to continue the progress we've already made.

We need to smash the GOP pipeline that produces sycophantic senators. Here's how to do it

Thom Tillis is one of the worst of the worst. The Republican senator from North Carolina has always been a mindless zealot for the conservative cause, but while he's now fighting for his political life as he seeks reelection in a race that could decide control of the Senate, it's critical we remember that craven cowards like him don't just spring forth from nowhere.

Rather, they're cultivated and groomed by the dark architects of the GOP agenda—and the favorite petri dish for the Kochs and their ilk are our state legislatures. That's exactly where Tillis was incubated: For many years before he joined the Senate in 2015, he was a member of the North Carolina state House and was ultimately rewarded for his fealty by getting elevated to speaker.

While he ruled the roost, Tillis did every awful thing imaginable: He blocked Medicaid expansion. He endorsed "personhood" legislation, passed a law requiring women seeking abortions to undergo invasive ultrasounds, and argued states had the right to ban certain types of birth control. He pushed to open up North Carolina's coasts to offshore drilling, said climate change isn't real, and passed a law preventing the state from considering climate science on sea-level rise when making policy. And most notoriously, he enacted a massive voter suppression package that a federal court later struck down, saying it had sought to "target African Americans with almost surgical precision."

With a record like this, it's no wonder he was perfect fodder when Republicans were looking for a Senate candidate six years ago, and it's likewise no surprise that he's performed his duties as a willing Trump sycophant so ably.

But here's the worst part: Thom Tillis never faced a single Democratic opponent in each of his four elections to the legislature. He was unopposed in the general election every single time. And this isn't an isolated story. Far, far too many Republican lawmakers get off with little or no opposition year in and year out. It's why the GOP has been so successful in developing its farm system, producing an endless string of zealots eager to wreck democracy and bow down before Trump.

It's also precisely why we have to crush this pipeline—half of all members of the Senate got their start in state legislatures. The good news is that North Carolina Democrats have put up a fantastic array of candidates for both the state House and Senate this year, and it offers us a three-fer: We can stop the next generation of Thom Tillises, we can develop our own bench, and we can flip both legislative chambers in this crucial swing state right before redistricting starts.

New polling shows Democrats poised to flip the Texas state House — yes, Texas

Reform Austin, a local news site, has released a giant batch of polls testing 22 different races for the Texas state House, and the numbers are eye-popping: Democrats need to flip nine GOP seats to take a majority next month … and they have the lead in 11 Republican-held seats. What's more, five potentially vulnerable Democratic incumbents are also comfortably ahead of their opponents.

That means Democrats are on track to generate the biggest political earthquake in the Lone Star State in a generation. Take a look at the poll results from those 11 Republican districts:

And several more seats are also very close. This really is possible, folks: We could break the GOP's iron lock on the largest red state in the country and bring their entire agenda to a crashing halt.

But it's also extremely possible that it won't happen. Republicans still have a cash advantage over Democrats, and their dark money allies are spending heavily to protect this all-important bastion of far-right conservatism. It's up to us to make sure our team has the resources it needs to fight back over the final weeks of the campaign.

Turning Texas blue has long been a progressive dream. We stand at the threshold of making that dream a reality. Let's do it.

This race could have a major impact on climate change — and give Texas Democrats a statewide win

As Lone Star Democrats seek their first statewide victory in more than a quarter century, their best hope may be Chrysta Castañeda, who's running for a spot on an agency many people haven't heard of: the Texas Railroad Commission.

Despite the name, the commission doesn't actually oversee trains, but it does have jurisdiction over something even more important in Texas: the state's energy industry (oversight of the rails was handed to the state's Department of Transportation in 2005). The panel, often known as the "RRC," is made up of three members, each elected statewide for six-year terms.

The last time a Democrat won a seat on the board was in 1990, when former Rep. Bob Krueger beat a Republican opponent by 56-40 margin. Krueger wound up resigning to accept an appointment to the U.S. Senate when Lloyd Bentsen became Bill Clinton's Treasury secretary, and Republicans comfortably beat his appointed successor in 1994.

Ever since, the GOP has held all three seats, but Republicans were already preparing for a serious battle this year—which, ironically, might have made their situation even worse. Republican Ryan Sitton, who first won a slot on the RRC in 2014, had stockpiled $2 million in his war chest for the general election, but in March, he lost his primary in an absolute shocker to an unknown named Jim Wright, the owner of an oilfield waste disposal company who had raised less than $13,000.

The 55-45 loss was so inexplicable that some political observers wondered if Wright benefited from sharing a name with the one-time speaker of the House who hailed from Fort Worth, the late Democrat Jim Wright, who died in 2015. It's not such a crazy theory: Perennial candidate Gene Kelly won multiple Texas primaries in the previous decade because voters had him confused with the beloved dancer.

Whatever the explanation, though, Wright's victory has left Republicans with a suddenly open seat and a badly flawed candidate. The RRC—the very body that Wright wants to join—fined him $182,000 for improper storage of hazardous waste in 2017, and he's been sued by his former business partners for fraud stemming from the mess.

Castañeda, an oil and gas attorney, took aim at Wright for his record in her first ad of the race, which went up last month, but the main topic she's focusing on is the issue of "flaring." That refers to the practice of oil producers burning off unwanted natural gas from their wells rather than capturing it for later use, a process that is both environmentally harmful and economically wasteful.

It's also against the law—unless a driller is granted a special permit, of which 7,000 were handed out last year. As Castañeda notes, such permits can only be granted if all three members of the commission agree, meaning she could single-handedly put an end to flaring even if Republicans still hold a nominal 2-1 majority on the board next year.

With this backdrop, The New Republicrecently called this race "this year's most important election for American climate policy." It could also finally put an end to the longest statewide losing streak for Democrats anywhere in the nation.

Trump campaign is plotting to steal Pennsylvania's electoral votes — here's how we can stop him cold

It was one of the most chilling stories in a campaign that's already been one of the most disturbing of all time: Just last week, TheAtlantic reported that Donald Trump's campaign is preparing to ask Republican lawmakers in swing states they control to ignore the popular vote and appoint members to the Electoral College who will vote for Trump—a power explicitly reserved to state legislatures under the Constitution.

Making this nascent effort to slaughter democracy even more alarming, the chair of the Republican Party in Pennsylvania—one of the most critical states up for grabs in the 2020 elections—openly admitted that he'd talked to the Trump campaign about this very possibility. "I hope they're thinking about it," Lawrence Tabas said. "It is one of the available legal options set forth in the Constitution." And state Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, one of the men who'd be responsible for implementing such a scheme, refused to rule the idea out.

But we can stop this despicable plot dead in its tracks by flipping just one chamber of the Pennsylvania legislature, making it impossible for the GOP to defy the will of the people. That's because new legislators in the Keystone State assume office on Dec. 1 every even-numbered year under the state constitution—a much earlier date than in most other states, which typically defer the changing of the guard until January.

Crucially, election results in Pennsylvania typically are not certified until later in December: In 2016, for instance, the Department of State finalized that year's results—and with them the state's slate of electors—on Dec. 12. No matter how dastardly they're feeling, Republicans will have a hell of a time if they try to put forth their own set of electors before election officials even have a chance to finish counting the votes.

That, relatively speaking, is the simple part. The hard part is actually beating Republicans, because they've gerrymandered the district lines to within an inch of their lives. But despite the rigged maps, Democrats made big gains in Pennsylvania two years ago, and they're fielding a fantastic slate of candidates this fall. To capitalize on this energy, Daily Kos has endorsed 11 fierce progressives running for the state House, where we need to win nine GOP-held seats in order to take the chamber:

Emily Skopov
Marlene Katz
Lissa Shulman
Michele Knoll

Brittney Rodas
Lindsay Drew
Nancy Guenst

Anton Andrew
Deb Ciamacca
Claudette Williams
Ann Marie Mitchell

Pennsylvania Republicans know that for Trump to cling to power, they have to cling to power, too, and they'll use every nasty trick they can come up with—and then some. But together, we can make sure our candidates have the resources they need to fight back against the GOP dirty money machine by countering corporate cash with people power. Nothing less than the fate of our democracy depends on it.

How a mask mandate might hurt the re-election chances of Indiana's Republican governor

The Associated Press recently reported that Indiana conservatives who are furious with Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb over his statewide mask mandate are cottoning to Libertarian Donald Rainwater as an alternative, which could make this fall's otherwise snoozy race for governor unexpectedly competitive.

Normally, we'd be skeptical of a largely anecdotal report like this one, but a few pieces of evidence are tugging us the other way. One is a poll earlier this month from Change Research on behalf of the local news site Indy Politics that found Holcomb leading Democrat Woody Myers just 36-30, with Rainwater taking 24%. That's an almost impossibly high figure for a third-party candidate, so the numbers should be viewed with great caution, but it does suggest that there could be a real outflow of support to Rainwater.

More concretely, the AP says that Rainwater has enjoyed unexpectedly strong fundraising and will start advertising on cable and radio this week—something Indiana Libertarians haven't done in "many years," according to his campaign manager. Rainwater had just $6,000 in hand as of Aug. 5, but he's reported some major donations in the last few days, capped off by a $100,000 check from hedge fund manager and poker player Bill Perkins. (Perkins' father, also named Bill, was a Democratic assemblyman in New Jersey in the 1970s, though the younger Perkins has mostly given to Libertarian causes.)

Holcomb also seems to be reacting to this rebellion on his right flank, in the worst possible way: Even though coronavirus case counts in the state remain near record highs, the governor just announced the suspension of nearly all restrictions aimed at stemming the pandemic, including allowing restaurants, bars, and gyms to operate at full capacity. Public health experts, unsurprisingly, expressed deep concern over the move.

Holcomb did, however, renew his mask order, which is likely to perpetuate right-wing furor. As Paul Krugman recently put it, opposition to masks has become "a declaration of political allegiance" to Donald Trump, and if there's one thing we know hardcore Republican voters won't tolerate, it's disloyalty to Trump. We'll still want to see further polling from other outfits before concluding there's real movement in the Hoosier State, but this race bears watching.

An obscure Minnesota law just bumped a key House race from November to February

Democratic Secretary of State Steve Simon announced on Thursday that the race for Minnesota's 2nd Congressional District would not be decided until a Feb. 9 special election because the recent death of Legal Marijuana Now Party candidate Adam Weeks triggered a state law requiring the election to be delayed. As a result, the outcome of Democratic Rep. Angie Craig's bid for a second term against Republican Tyler Kistner will not be known until after the 117th Congress convenes, barring a legal challenge.

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This vulnerable GOP senator was a top recipient of postmaster general's alleged illegal donation scheme

Republican Sen. Thom Tillis was a top beneficiary of a straw donor scheme orchestrated by Donald Trump's postmaster general, Louis DeJoy, according to a lengthy and detailed article published over the holiday weekend by The Washington Post.

The Post reports that DeJoy pressured employees at his logistics firm to make large contributions to Republican candidates for over a decade and then reimbursed them with company bonuses—a ploy that would violate both federal and state laws prohibiting "straw donations" designed to get around campaign finance limits. DeJoy pressed for these donations in a bid to win influence as a political power broker, a strategy that culminated in his heavily criticized appointment as head of the United States Postal Service earlier this year.

But before Trump boosted him onto the national political scene, according to the Post, DeJoy directed his efforts chiefly toward politicians in North Carolina, the home state of New Breed Logistics, which he ran for more than 30 years until it was bought out in 2014. Tillis, who faces a difficult reelection this fall, received almost $300,000 from New Breed employees when he first ran for the Senate in 2014—a race in which he defeated incumbent Democrat Kay Hagan by just a 48.8-47.3 margin.

In a statement, a Tillis spokesperson told the Post, "Neither Senator Tillis nor our campaign had knowledge of these findings." However, Tillis' November opponent, Democrat Cal Cunningham, has called on the senator to return the donations. House Democrats, meanwhile, say they are investigating DeJoy, and North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein said that allegations like those made in the Post's report would "merit investigation," though he declined to comment further.

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New race ratings show just how tough is life getting for Republicans

Donald Trump continues to drag his party down across the ballot nationwide, especially in suburban districts that were friendly to the GOP just a few years ago, which is why Daily Kos Elections is moving our race ratings for nine more contests in the Democrats’ direction. You can find all our Senategubernatorial, and House ratings at each link.

Perhaps most importantly, though, surveys also show Donald Trump in considerably worse shape in South Carolina four years after he carried it by a wide 55-41 margin: FiveThirtyEight’s polling average currently shows him ahead just 50-44 there. It would still be a massive surprise if Joe Biden carried the Palmetto State, but the better he does, the fewer crossover voters Harrison will need to defeat Graham.

Graham has the far easier path to victory in this conservative state, and Harrison needs almost everything to go right to pull off an upset, including many factors beyond his control. However, the GOP’s continued decline even in red states like this gives the well-funded Harrison an opportunity that South Carolina Democrats haven't enjoyed in ages.

• GA-06 (Tossup to Lean D)Democrat Lucy McBath narrowly unseated Republican Karen Handel in a major 2018 upset, but now the new incumbent has the advantage for their rematch. The GOP brand has only declined in well-educated suburban seats like this one over the last two years, and McBath ended June with more than three times as much money in the bank as Handel.

Even Handel’s allies agree that McBath has gotten stronger as the cycle has continued. Earlier this month, the National Republican Congressional Committee publicized a poll that showed McBath ahead 48-46, which actually represented a decline for Handel, whom the same pollster found leading 49-47 in April. This district is still competitive enough for Handel to win, but the prevailing winds are against her.

• IN-05 (Lean R to Tossup): Like so many other affluent and well-educated suburban areas, Indiana's 5th Congressional District has shifted sharply to the left in recent years: After voting for Donald Trump 53-41 in 2016, it supported Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly 48.4-47.9 in 2018, and last year, Democrats performed very well in local electionsA late June poll for Democrat Christina Hale, a former state representative, showed the trend continuing, with Joe Biden leading Trump 53-43.

The seat, sited in the Indianapolis suburbs, became considerably harder for Republicans to defend when Rep. Susan Brooks, one of the few women in the House GOP caucus, chose to retire a year ago. To succeed her, Republicans nominated a sub-par candidate, state Sen. Victoria Spartz, whom Inside Elections said was so "stridently conservative" that she wound up with "very few allies in Indianapolis, even among Republicans." Hale's poll found her beating Spartz 51-45, and while Spartz's allies at the Club for Growth finally just responded with their own survey showing the Republican up 47-40, they rather tellingly did not include any numbers for the presidential race.

At this point, we simply wouldn't be surprised if Hale succeeded in flipping the 5th District despite its ancestrally Republican roots.

• NE-02 (Lean R to Tossup): National Democrats made a mistake in writing off nonprofit executive Kara Eastman in 2018, who wound up losing to Republican Rep. Don Bacon just 51-49, but they won't make the same error this year. A pair of Democratic polls taken in the spring and early summer showed a very tight rematch between the two candidates, but most importantly, they also found Joe Biden up by seven and then 11 points. Republicans never answered with contradictory numbers of their own.

It's a familiar story: Nebraska's 2nd Congressional District, centered around the city of Omaha, includes historically Republican suburban areas that have turned on Donald Trump, who won here 48-46 four years ago. Bacon, a retired Air Force brigadier general, is one of the GOP's more formidable incumbents, but Eastman has turned into a strong fundraiser and won't lack the resources she needs this time.

• NY-02 (Lean R to Tossup): This seat along the South Shore of Long Island backed Trump by a solid 53-44 margin and it remains conservative turf, especially further down the ballot, but Democrat Jackie Gordon is running a well-funded campaign to flip it. The same cannot be said for Republican Andrew Garbarino, who ended June with a $1.1 million to $104,000 cash-on-hand deficit.

No one has released any polling here, but we do have one solid indication that the GOP is worried: The conservative Congressional Leadership Fund recently announced that it was reserving $1.9 million to defend this open seat. If Republicans fail to hang on, we won't be surprised.

• OH-10 (Safe R to Likely R): Veteran Republican Rep. Mike Turner has always pulled off decisive wins in this Dayton-based seat that supported Trump 51-44, but he could be vulnerable in a bad political climate against a strong opponent. There are also some indications that Turner isn’t taking his contest for a 10th term as seriously as he should.

Democrat Desiree Tims raised a notable $381,000 during the second quarter while Turner took in just $77,000—the most obvious sign that he may be sleepwalking—and he ended June with an unimpressive $577,000 to $336,000 cash-on-hand lead. It would be a very big deal if Turner were to lose two years after he turned back a credible opponent 56-42, but this district should be competitive enough at the presidential level to make this contest worth watching.

• TX-03 (Safe R to Likely R): While Texas' 3rd Congressional District isn't among the top tier of targets for Lone Star State Democrats this year, it carries the unusual distinction of having the highest proportion of college degree holders of any seat in the country that the GOP still holds. The trends are favorable for Democrats, too, as the 3rd moved from 64-34 Romney to a smaller 55-41 Trump, and Ted Cruz only carried it 51-48 last cycle.

Attorney Lulu Seikaly, who is the daughter of Lebanese immigrants and would be the first woman of color to represent this suburban Dallas district, is still the heavy underdog to freshman Republican Rep. Van Taylor. But even Taylor's own new polling, which put him up 48-35 and, predictably, didn't include presidential numbers, suggests he's not a lock. We saw unexpectedly close margins in a number of House races in Texas last year, and this is the sort of turf that could surprise us if Democrats enjoy a landslide.

• TX-21 (Lean R to Tossup): Like so many other congressional districts in various Texas suburbs, the 21st has charged toward Democrats over the past decade. Despite the extreme Republican gerrymander that sutures Austin and San Antonio together with the Hill Country, the collapse has been particularly swift here: Mitt Romney carried the district 60-38 in 2012, followed by a 52-42 win for Donald Trump in 2016, and then a 49.6 to 49.5 squeaker for Ted Cruz in 2018. A mid-July poll for Democrat Wendy Davis found Joe Biden up 50-47 and freshman GOP Rep. Chip Roy ahead just 46-45. As usual this cycle, Republicans have not responded with any different results.

Roy, a former Cruz chief of staff and a member of the nihilist House Freedom Caucus, hasn't seemed to grasp the changes that are taking place around him and remains a strident Trump ally. Davis, meanwhile, has capitalized on the high profile she brought into the race and become one of the party's best fundraisers this cycle. And though she famously lost her 2014 gubernatorial bid in a landslide, her ability to win Republican turf when she served in the state Senate should not be overlooked: In 2012, she won reelection despite the fact that her district went 53-45 for Romney on the very same day.

• TX-25 (Safe R to Likely R): Stop us if you've heard this one before: Another rock-ribbed Republican district in Texas has edged its way into competitive territory, thanks to the same gyrations that have shaken the GOP nationwide under Trump. To see Texas' 25th do so, however, is as surprising as it gets, but here we are. A recent in-house poll for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which seemed to astonish the committee itself, found Joe Biden edging out Donald Trump 47-46 and gave Republican Rep. Roger Williams just a 45-43 lead on Democrat Julie Oliver, an attorney. If Republicans have polling that paints a different picture, they haven't shared it.

Just four years ago, Williams' district, which is part of a brutal GOP gerrymander that dismembered the state capital of Austin six ways, went for Trump by a wide 55-40 margin. It's moved toward Democrats, but Ted Cruz still won it 52-47 in 2018—and believe it or not, there are nine other Republican-held districts where Cruz did worse. And though Oliver has raised a creditable sum for an under-the-radar race, Williams maintains a huge cash advantage. Nevertheless, it's worth keeping an eye on this one

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GOP congressman reprimanded for 11 ethics violations — including fake loan he made to his campaign

Republican Rep. David Schweikert agreed to pay a $50,000 fine, accept a formal reprimand, and admit to 11 different violations of congressional rules and campaign finance laws in a deal with the bipartisan House Ethics Committee to conclude its two-year-long investigation of the congressman. But while the matter may now officially be closed, Schweikert's already uncertain political future is now only more endangered.

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Democrats are fielding candidates in almost every House race this year

The last filing deadline for major-party candidates anywhere in the country passed on Friday when Louisiana, which always bring up the caboose, closed its books.

This dark-red district in the state's northeast is sure to stay in the GOP's hands, but there's a chance the race won't get resolved until a Dec. 5 runoff in the event that no one takes a majority in November. Challengers, meanwhile, filed to run against incumbents in every other Louisiana House seat, all of which are held by Republicans except the 2nd, which is represented by Democrat Cedric Richmond. Thanks to a GOP-drawn gerrymander, none of these districts will be competitive in the fall.

While some states will still allow independents to qualify for the general election, the roster of major candidates is now set. Both parties have left comparatively few seats uncontested. Republicans will not field anyone in 19 races, which is their lowest total since 2010, when they didn't contest just five seats and retook the House. Democrats, meanwhile, have failed to put up candidates in only eight districts, which follows on the extremely low three seats they left unchallenged last cycle—the fewest since the post-Watergate election of 1974, when the party tied its modern record by leaving only Ohio Rep. Charles Whalen without an opponent.

As you can see from our list of all 25 uncontested seats—which is reflected in the map at the top of this post—virtually all are in territory that is safe for one party or the other. There is one exception, though: Republican Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart is guaranteed a 10th term in Florida's 26th District, which Donald Trump carried by just a 50-48 margin four years ago. However, this area still often votes for Republicans downballot, and Díaz-Balart beat a credible challenger in 2018 60-40, despite the blue wave.

One final note: The number of districts without a Republican on the November ballot could tick up a bit after next week's primaries in Washington state. That's because Washington, like California, uses a top-two system, where all candidates from all parties run together in the primary, and the top two vote-getters regardless of party advance to the general election. That's already the case in half a dozen dark blue California districts this year, and it could happen again in the Evergreen State, mostly likely in the open 10th District.

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A new poll finds Joe Biden ahead in a district Trump won by 15 points four years ago

To showcase just how extensively Trump's decline has shifted the playing field, the DCCC shared with the Washington Post details of an in-house poll it conducted of Texas' deep-red 25th Congressional District that finds Joe Biden edging Donald Trump 47-46 and puts Republican Rep. Roger Williams up just 45-43 on his Democratic challenger, attorney Julie Oliver.

As a result, the 25th is more rural (and whiter) than most of the suburban seats in Texas that are at the top of Democrats' target list. As DCCC executive director Lucinda Guinn put it, the district had only been "maybe on the outer edges of our battlefield," but that may now change. In 2018, Sen. Ted Cruz only carried this seat 52-47 over Beto O'Rourke, so it's plausible that the leftward march here is continuing.

The biggest difficulty for Oliver, though, may be getting her name out: She had just $90,000 in her campaign account as of June 30, versus $1.3 million for Williams. If the DCCC's poll is accurate, Oliver's been buoyed by the rising tide that has lifted so many Democrats, but to get past the incumbent, she'll need the resources to effectively communicate with voters.

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A dive into the latest Texas polling shows why Democrats could actually flip this Senate seat

The first poll out of Texas since Air Force veteran MJ Hegar won last week's Democratic runoff finds Republican Sen. John Cornyn leading their matchup 47-38, but it nonetheless contains plenty of good news for Democrats, who are hoping to win their first Senate race in the Lone Star state since 1988.

Hegar is also far less well-known than Cornyn, who was first elected to the Senate in 2002. Cornyn has a 41-24 favorability rating while Hegar's stands at 24-19, meaning fully 56% of voters don't yet have an opinion of her compared to a third for the incumbent. That gives her space to improve her standing as long as she can get her name out. That's always a difficult task in America's second-largest state, but Hegar says she raised $1 million in the week since she secured her party's nomination—a huge surge compared to the $1.7 million she brought in during the second quarter of the year.

Cornyn's relatively low name recognition for someone who's been in office for two decades also stands out, but that, too, likely reflects Texas' vast size and fast-growing population. One notable thing, though, is that Cornyn hasn't crossed 50% in a single poll all cycle long. That's a contrast to his last race in 2014, which he won in a blowout and regularly polled above 50. Cornyn has always tied himself very closely to Trump, so if Biden does indeed carry Texas—as a number of other polls have also suggested he might—that could spell doom for the GOP's hopes of keeping this seat.

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Republicans didn't think they'd have to defend these 3 Senate seats — but they do

Priority #1 for progressives this fall is beating Donald Trump, but priority #1A is taking back the Senate. That’s why Daily Kos is proud to announce we’re endorsing a trio of candidates who are running to unseat vulnerable Republican senators in November:

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A QAnon supporter just ousted a congressman in a massive upset — creating an enormous headache for the GOP

Businesswoman Lauren Boebert, who runs a gun-themed restaurant where servers openly carry firearms, has defeated Colorado Rep. Scott Tipton in a stunning upset in Tuesday's Republican primary. With most votes counted, Boebert was leading 54-46, prompting Tipton to concede.

More recently, Boebert defied local and state health ordinances aimed at mitigating the spread of the coronavirus to re-open her restaurant, Shooters Grill, which is located in a town named Rifle (yes, really). The authorities shut down the establishment, prompting a court fight that led to more headlines. Unsurprisingly, Boebert's campaign was the only one in the state to tell the Colorado Sun that it would be hosting an in-person party on election night.

Tipton had always presented himself as a fairly typical Republican and had never so much as struggled in a previous primary. Boebert's promise to provide a purer strain of extremism—she's even embraced the bonkers QAnon conspiracy theory—isn't anything unusual. What stands out is that she was able to communicate her grievances with a large enough proportion of the primary electorate to actually get heard.

In that she may have been helped by Tipton's apparent complacency: According to a Republican media buying firm, he didn't spend a penny on the airwaves ahead of the primary and only resumed advertising on Facebook after a long hiatus a week before the primary. Tipton's largest expense, in fact, was for fundraising consultants. Boebert, meanwhile, aired a TV ad that accused Tipton of "teaming up with AOC and her squad to give Boulder a bailout" and siding with Nancy Pelosi "to give amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants."

It's a dispiriting end for Tipton, who arrived in Congress after an upset win of his own during the 2010 Republican wave. Tipton had challenged Democratic Rep. John Salazar four years earlier but was crushed 62-38. Though he won a seat in the state House seat two years later, Tipton looked like he'd be the underdog against Salazar during their rematch. But 2010 was a very different year, and Tipton unseated Salazar 50-46. Democrats made several attempts to defeat him over the following decade, but Tipton always decisively won.

Yet while Boebert celebrates tonight (and helps spread the coronavirus), Republicans in D.C. will be shaking their heads in distress. Colorado's 3rd Congressional District, covering a huge swath of the state from Pueblo to the Western Slope, is red but not implacably so: After voting for Mitt Romney by a 52-46 margin, it moved to the right four years ago, handing Trump a wider 52-40 win. But in 2018's race for governor, it snapped back a considerable distance, giving the Republican candidate just a 50-46 edge.

Despite that contraction, Tipton managed to fend off Democrat Diane Mitsch Bush, a former state representative, by a slightly larger 52-44 spread that same year. But Mitsch Bush, who earned the Democratic nomination again on Tuesday by decisively winning her own primary, will now see increased interest in her candidacy, and with almost $1 million raised so far this cycle, she's already proven herself a vastly superior fundraiser to Boebert. With Republicans already facing long odds to retake the House, Lauren Boebert just made them longer.

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Democrats get a big win in Wisconsin after scandalous election — and Trumps gets a red flag for 2020

Dane County Circuit Court Judge Jill Karofsky has unseated Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Dan Kelly in a key race that will narrow the court’s conservative majority in this crucial swing state. The victory also sets progressives up to take control of the court when its next member is up for election.

Litigation has already been filed over the way the election was handled, though it’s not clear what sort of remedy, if any, a judge might fashion, or whether the courts would be willing to step in to set aside the results.

Should Karofsky’s victory stand, however, conservatives will now hold just a 4-3 edge on the Supreme Court, which has, over the last decade, never restrained the extremist legislative agenda pushed through by state Republicans. That includes efforts to suppress the vote, undermine workers’ rights, and gerrymander electoral maps. With only a one-seat advantage, Republicans may encounter legal roadblocks they had long grown unaccustomed to.

And in a few years’ time, they could be facing a liberal court. In 2023, Chief Justice Patience Roggensack, another conservative, will see her current 10-year term expire. If progressives can flip her seat, they’ll gain a majority on the bench and finally be able to place a check on the GOP. Most importantly, if Republicans are able to gerrymander yet again following this year’s census, a progressive state Supreme Court would be able to revisit any unfair maps.

The outcome is also a black eye for Donald Trump, who repeatedly touted his support for Kelly and is counting on victory in Wisconsin—which he carried four years ago by a margin of less than 0.8 percent—to win a second term. While the electorate could look different in the fall, Republicans cannot be happy to lose a statewide race in one of their most important November battlegrounds.

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Trump's Space Force hilariously mocked for releasing utility uniform nametape with one glaring design problem

The “United States Space Force,” a particularly bizarre Trump fever dream given life to feed the black hole of his ego, released their first uniforms to the public on Friday evening. Get a load of these beauts:

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Federal court puts Obamacare at risk — but is it trying to save Republicans from electoral backlash?

An appellate court dominated by conservative judges just ruled that a central provision of the Affordable Care Act—its mandate that all Americans obtain health insurance—is unconstitutional, a decision that could lead to Obamacare getting struck down in its entirety.

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Trump's favorite 'Democrat' is joining the GOP — but we can make him pay the price for his betrayal

Jeff Van Drew was one of the many fortunate Democrats to ride the blue wave to victory in 2018, benefiting from anti-Trump sentiment to win a swingy, Republican-held congressional district in southern New Jersey.

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