Kerry Eleveld

Appointment of highly regarded special counsel Jack Smith viewed as sign Trump is in legal jeopardy

Attorney General Merrick Garland on Friday named longtime federal prosecutor Jack Smith special counsel to oversee two Justice Department probes of Donald Trump and determine whether he should be indicted.

Smith will now oversee two ongoing federal investigations into Trump's involvement in the violent Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol and his storage of highly sensitive materials at his Mar-a-Lago residence in Florida.

Smith, who is anything but a household name, is well-known within legal circles as a "scrappy... no-nonsense, hard-charger," as former U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade told MSNBC shortly after the announcement.

Smith also appears to be a veteran of navigating highly charged situations. He has overseen war crimes investigations at the International Criminal Court, led the Justice Department's public integrity unit, been appointed the first assistant U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee, and, most recently, served as a war crimes prosecutor at The Hague. In fact, Garland said Smith was flying back from that post to accept his appointment as special counsel.

McQuade took his appointment as a sign the department's investigations into Trump have taken a serious turn.

"The one thing I find most significant," she said, "is you don't need to appoint a special counsel just to decline a case. You don't call in a Jack Smith, someone with incredible credentials, incredible reputation, pull him out of The Hague to do this work, unless you think there is a very high likelihood that one of these cases is going to result in charges. So that's my read."

McQuade's take was shared by some other legal observers. Former federal prosecutor and legal analyst Renato Mariotti tweeted, “If Merrick Garland didn’t think there was a serious possibility that Trump would be indicted, he wouldn’t have appointed a special counsel.”

Mariotti added that Garland “didn’t appoint Jack Smith to wind down these investigations.”

While some legal observers wished Garland had simply made the call himself, Smith was generally embraced as a good choice for the job. Notably, he has not been charged with recreating the work already undertaken by Justice Department prosecutors.

"Jack Smith is a solid pick," tweeted Joyce Vance White, a law school professor and MSNBC legal analyst. "His experience as specialist prosecutor for Kosovo suggests he can move into a serious, difficult ongoing investigation, run with it, & indict cases that should be indicted."

Highly regarded constitutional law scholar Laurence Tribe said he could think of "no one better suited" for the job, and former member of the Mueller team Andrew Weissmann added that Smith is a "very aggressive prosecutor who represents the best of the Department."

If the Justice Department ultimately does indict Trump, it will be ugly no matter who pulls the trigger. No amount of separation between a Biden-appointed attorney general and the career prosecutor who made the call will assuage Trump supporters.

That said, there's a case to be made that by virtue of not being a political appointee, Smith will be better situated to make a decision based on the evidence alone. His appointment could also add an extra layer of transparency. If Smith recommends indicting Trump, and Garland then rejects that determination, Garland will be required to explain that decision to the public.

Trump fumes as his revenge play against Georgia Gov. Kemp turns into epic failure

Among Donald Trump's list of political enemies, Georgia GOP Gov. Brian Kemp ranks right up there with Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming.

Whereas Cheney sought to impeach Trump and end his political career, Kemp certified an election in his state that ultimately contributed to Trump's ousting from the White House.

Trump has arguably gunned with equal fervor to banish both from the Republican Party and end their careers. Cheney still has a tough row to hoe despite the fact that she has been raising historic sums in her bid to beat back her Trump-endorsed primary challenger, among other GOP candidates.

But Kemp currently appears poised to soundly defeat the candidate Trump recruited to challenge the sitting GOP governor—former Sen. David Perdue.

In fact, Perdue—who arguably had the stature and name recognition to compete with Kemp—appears to have entirely cratered, to the point where Trump is now washing his hands of the race.

In the final days of the campaign, Trump plans to make no public appearances with Perdue and has groused to aides about his lackluster performance, according to reporting from NBC News. It's quite the turnaround given that Perdue's race was one of the only contests for which Trump actually parted ways with real money, investing some $400,000 of his own campaign war chest just last month. Perdue also not-so-subtly dangled the prospect of cheating to elect Trump in 2024, if necessary, as a sweetener for his MAGA base.

Lot of good that's done. After loaning himself $500,000, Perdue had raised just $3.5 million in the campaign compared to Kemp's $22 million haul, though Kemp had a head start.

The Kemp campaign promised to sprint through the finish line with roughly $4 million in ad buys in the final month of the race, while Perdue has scheduled $0 in ads for the last week of the contest. The Atlanta Constitution-Journal ran a piece this week titled, “Where in the world is David Perdue?

“It’s hard to see how this race isn’t over,” GOP pollster Matt Towery told NBC. “It’s almost impossible to win a major race when a popular governor is bombarding you on TV and you’re dark.”

In a Fox News poll released Wednesday, Kemp led Perdue 60% to 28%.

Perdue's last big hurrah leading up to Tuesday's primary is (drumroll, please) a Friday event with she's-seen-better-days Republican Sarah Palin.

Trump is predictably bitter about the whole thing.

“Donald Trump has worked harder to elect David Perdue than David Perdue,” a Trump adviser said, noting that Trump held rallies, coughed up cash, and fundraised for him. Trump also cleared the field for a two-way race with Kemp by convincing another candidate, former state Rep. Vernon Jones, to run for Congress instead.

The only question now seems to be whether Trump will take his lumps and move on, or whether he will double down on trying to tar and feather Kemp throughout the rest of the general election. One way or the other, Trump will still be playing in the Peach State with his handpicked candidate for Senate, former Georgia football star and alleged wife beater Herschel Walker—who is likely still Senate Republicans' best bet for a pick up this cycle.

Stunning.

Republican Sen. Rick Scott continues to distance himself from his own tax hike plan

Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, chair of the Senate Republican Senatorial Committee, wants a do-over on the 11-point plan he released in February that seeks to raise taxes on tens of millions of Americans.

So where did he go Friday to lie about his mess and do a little clean up? Fox.

Fox Business host Stuart Varney helpfully explained that Scott wouldn't be "raising taxes" on 75 million Americans.

"What you're trying to do is put more Americans back to work who then pay taxes, is that correct?" asked Varney.

"I will never vote for a tax or fee increase," responded Scott, offering that he routinely cut taxes as governor of Florida.

Then Scott sought to paint all the increases he recommended in platform as a byproduct of putting people back to work who would then pay the attendant taxes on payroll, income, sales, and property.

The problem is, Scott's explanation doesn't even remotely resemble what he wrote in the so-called "Rescue America" platform:

"All Americans should pay some income tax to have skin in the game, even if a small amount. Currently over half of Americans pay no income tax."

Nothing there suggests the taxes are levied only on people who have found gainful employment after being out of the workforce. Far from it. The suggestion is actually that Republicans would raise taxes on the tens of millions of Americans who are actively employed but make too little to pay federal income taxes.

The real problem for Scott is that he revealed what Republicans actually stand for, and the American people think it stinks. In fact, it's never a good idea for Republicans to talk policy and agenda ahead of a general election because their entire platform is so fringe and out of step. That's exactly why GOP Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has refused to say what Republicans plan to do if they regain the Senate majority in November.

Scott has been playing clean up for months now, penning op-eds, tweeting, and making Fox appearances.

But as Howard Gleckman, senior fellow at the Tax Policy Center, told CNN: “Scott has the plan he published, then he has tweets and op-eds where he says he didn’t say what the plan says in plain English.”

Scott’s latest walk back comes a couple weeks after President Joe Biden devoted an economic speech to contrasting his economic agenda with the one proposed by Scott—the Senate GOP's de facto policy agenda.

"Their plan is to raise taxes on 75 million American families, over 95% of whom make less than $100,000 a year, total income," Biden said. "They’ve got it backwards, in my view."

New poll finds double-digit uptick in Democratic enthusiasm following Supreme Court leak on Roe

A new NBC News poll conducted in the wake of the leaked Supreme Court draft found support for abortion rights reaching its highest point since 2003, with 60% of Americans saying abortion should either always be legal (37%) or legal most of the time (23%). Meanwhile, 37% said abortion should be illegal in most cases or without exception.

Similarly, 63% of respondents support maintaining the landmark Roe v. Wade decision, while just 30% wanted to see it overturned.

The poll also found Democratic enthusiasm ticking up. The mismatch between enthusiasm among voters on the right and left has become a focus of concern for Democrats. In the poll, the number of Democrats expressing a high level of interest in the midterms (a 9 or 10 on a 10-point scale) jumped 11 points since March to 61%.

Republicans' level of interest got a modest 2-point bump to 69% in the same period of time.

“How [abortion] plays out in November is to be determined. But for now, it is injecting some much-needed enthusiasm into parts of the Democratic coalition,” said Democratic pollster Jeff Horwitt of Hart Research Associates.

News from the survey wasn't all good. President Joe Biden's approval rating registered at just 39% and, for the fourth straight time in the poll, people saying the country is on the wrong track topped 70%.

"The other times were in 2008 (during the Great Recession) and 2013 (during a government shutdown)," writes NBC.

GOP pollster Bill McInturff of Public Opinion Strategies, who conducted this survey with Horwitt, called the number a "flashing red light."

Still, the generic ballot was dead even, with 46% of Americans saying Democrats should control Congress while another 46% said Republicans should. Republicans held a slight 2-point edge on the question in March, a change within the poll's margin of error.

But given the "wrong track" numbers, Horwitt said, “It is remarkable that preference for control of Congress is even overall, and that the gap in interest in the election has narrowed."

Overall, the NBC survey isn’t exactly cause for celebration, but it does suggest a continued shift in the political landscape we have been seeing in other polls.

Relentless Liz Cheney spares no Republican complicit in Trump's crimes

As the select committee investigating Jan. 6 secured criminal contempt referrals against two top Trump aides this week, the panel's vice chair, Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, meted out a drubbing to Republicans who were and continue to be complicit in Donald Trump's 2020 election-stealing scheme.

Like poetry in motion, Cheney directly impugned her GOP colleagues, starting with Trump and his aides, former Assistant to the President Peter Navarro and former White House Deputy Chief of Staff for Communications Dan Scavino.

"Neither Mr. Trump nor Mr. Scavino nor Mr. Navarro is some form of royalty," Cheney said in her House floor speech preceding the final vote. "There is no such thing in America as the privileges of the crown. Every citizen has a duty to comply with a subpoena." Cheney also made the point this week that the Jan. 6 panel would have much preferred to interview the two men rather than hold them in contempt of Congress.

Here’s a glimpse of Cheney’s work at a series of House hearings and votes this week.

Donald Trump

Cheney informed the public that Trump knew his actions were illegal and would likely lead to violence.

"We have learned that President Trump and his team were warned in advance and repeatedly that the efforts they undertook to overturn the 2020 election would violate the law and our Constitution," she said. "They were warned that Jan. 6 could and likely would turn violent."

The Jan. 6 committee also released a Jan. 3 text written to then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows implicating Trump in a pre-certification planning call.

Dan Scavino

Cheney's testimony at the Rules Committee meeting:

Mr. Scavino worked directly with President Trump to spread President Trump’s false message that the election was stolen and to recruit Americans to come to Washington with the false premise that January 6th would be an opportunity to “take back their country.”

This effort to deceive was widely effective and widely destructive. The Committee has many questions for Mr. Scavino about his political social media work for President Trump, including his interactions with an online forum called “The Donald” and with QAnon, a bizarre and dangerous cult.

Peter Navarro

More from the Rules Committee hearing:

Mr. Navarro will also be a key witness. He has written a book boasting about his role in planning and coordinating the activity of January 6th, and yet, as the Chairman noted, he does not have the courage to testify here.
We have many questions for Mr. Navarro—including about his communications with Roger Stone and Steve Bannon regarding the planning for January 6th. As a federal judge concluded last week: ‘Based on the evidence, the court finds it more likely than not that President Trump corruptly attempted to obstruct the Joint Session of Congress on January 6, 2021.’

Rudy Giuliani, former Trump attorney of meltdown infamy

Cheney also succinctly laid waste to sad-sack Rudy Giuliani.

"The election claims made by Donald Trump were so frivolous and so unfounded that the president’s lead lawyer did not just lose these cases, he lost his license to practice law," Cheney said.

GOP Colleagues

Cheney and GOP Rep. Jim Banks of Indiana, chair of the Republican Study Committee, exchanged barbs on the House floor after Banks accused Democrats of gleefully abusing their power.

“Today’s vote is not about wrongdoing, and it isn’t about anybody’s character, no matter what they say,” Banks said. “Today’s vote is about the character of this House. It’s about abusing the seat of our democracy to attack American democracy.”

Banks said that for Democrats, it “might feel really good—and in the vindictive sort of way—to vote to put their political opponents behind bars.”

Cheney quickly countered, “It feels sad, and it feels tragic that so many in my own party are refusing to address the constitutional crisis and the challenge that we face.”

A sad and tragic lot, indeed.

Stay tuned—there are bound to be more bombshells along the way. Cheney said more than 800 witnesses have now provided information to the panel, including a dozen former White House staffers. Ivanka Trump was one of them.

GOP’s internal battle over Jan. 6 poises Republicans to tear each other limb from limb in primaries

As Democrats warily eyed a tight Virginia gubernatorial race last fall, one key hope was that Donald Trump’s faithful would stay home the way they had in Georgia’s Senate runoffs in early 2021, delivering two precious seats and the chamber’s majority to Democrats.

But in Virginia, that turned out to be a false hope as Trumpers swarmed the polls, becoming a key part of a coalition that helped lift Republican Glenn Youngkin to victory.

Whether that same enthusiasm will carry Republicans to victory in November remains to be seen. But one big difference between Youngkin’s candidacy and the upcoming bids of other Republicans is the fact that Youngkin never faced a bitter primary. He was effectively chosen to run and then installed by the party apparatus, therefore avoiding what could have been a bitterly divisive primary in which Republicans shredded each other and turned off core parts of their base.

The fact that Youngkin neither had to claim a lane nor malign someone to his right or left gave him a lot of room to maneuver in the general election, thereby sidestepping the impossible choice of seeming sane enough to win over suburban voters or radical enough to inspire Trump’s cultists. On top of that, Youngkin also benefitted from having no history in public service and no corresponding voting record to defend. In other words, he was a blank slate, and that undoubtedly helped his ability to build a permission structure for both suburbanites and Trumpers alike to vote for him.

But on the Trump side of that equation, Youngkin needed only to avoid saying something that was completely disqualifying. Far from being demoralized, Trump voters turned out to be highly motivated. As GOP strategist and never-Trumper Sarah Longwell noted in one of her Focus Group podcasts last fall, Trump voters in Virginia were on a “revenge tour.” They couldn’t wait to get to the polls and vote in such large numbers that the election couldn’t possibly be “stolen” from them (falsely believing that 2020 had been).

One factor that might curb that enthusiasm next fall is for Republicans to field a series of primaries this spring and summer in which pro-Trump candidates and establishment Republicans grind down each other and their supporters until they’re barely a nub of their former selves.

The very public Republican row this week over the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol, whether it was “legitimate” or rather a violent insurrection,” and who exactly speaks for the Republican Party and its base previewed the fact that an epic intra-party battle is brewing that could depress a sliver of GOP voters is indeed in the offing.

As the New York Times reported:

Republican voters’ appetite for Trump-inspired talk of election audits and voting irregularities will be measured in contests throughout the spring and summer — in primaries for Senate in Alaska and North Carolina, for governor in Georgia and Arizona, as well as in dozens of congressional and state legislative races.

The races that could compound that internal disruption within the GOP are those taking place in states that will also be hosting high-profile Senate races, such as in Wisconsin, where Sen. Ron Johnson is running for reelection.

In Wisconsin, Timothy Ramthun, a state assemblyman who has been one of the state’s most aggressive promoters of election conspiracies, is expected to announce his campaign for governor on Saturday. On Wednesday night, he briefly published a website in which he pledged to conduct “an independent full forensic physical cyber audit” of the 2022 election — win or lose.

Trump’s base surely loves that promise, but swing voters who Democrats badly need to survive the worst this fall? Not so much.

Republican primaries for governor in Arizona and Georgia also promise to bleed over into important Senate races in those two states. The bid of former Republican Senator David Perdue to unseat sitting GOP Gov. Brian Kemp is already forcing bitter divisions in the state.

All of these rivalries that play out in critical swing state races are welcome developments that, in the best of all possible worlds, will confound GOP efforts at both the state and federal levels.

The conflict that broke out this week between the Trump and McConnell wings of the Republican Party—and the attendant hostilities—are a sign that the Republican Party is ripe for managing to alienate critical factions of voters that it must win over to retake the House and Senate in November, not to mention locking up governorships in key swing states in both the Rustbelt and Sunbelt.

Trump's drag on Republicans poses bigger midterm threat as his grip on the GOP slips

As Republicans eye the midterms, they find themselves beholden to Donald Trump, the de facto GOP leader whose base is dwindling even as those who remain loyal to him grow more radicalized and intensely devoted.

Trump is still the overwhelming favorite to win the GOP nomination in 2024 if he runs, but his hold on the party is clearly slipping. From his unpopular promotion of vaccines to his polling and his flagging endorsements in high-profile races, Trump no longer resembles the invincible iron man he once was within the party.

As we have noted repeatedly in recent weeks, multiple polls now suggest that Trump could be vulnerable to a challenge from his right flank. His promotions of vaccines and boosters have proven unpopular, and GOP voters who consider themselves a “Trump supporter” rather than a supporter of the Republican Party have dropped by double digits in Civiqs polling over the last year, from 57% in Jan. 2022 to 43% in Jan. 2021.

A recent Associated Press survey found that 44% of Republicans said they do not want Trump to run for president again, according to the New York Times.

Trump’s advantage over top challenger Ron DeSantis, the governor of Florida, has also slipped by double digits since October 2020, when it was 40 points, to just 25 points today, according to GOP pollster Patrick Ruffini.

In the meantime, several of Trump’s endorsements have either failed to consolidate the field or been rejected entirely by his Trumpist base. In North Carolina, former Rep. Mark Walker has decided to stay in the race for the state’s open Senate seat, yielding a far more competitive field for Trump endorsee Rep. Ted Budd.

And in Tennessee, pro-Trump allies have staged a revolt against his endorsement last week of Morgan Ortagus, who had committed GOP apostasy by being photographed with President Joe Biden and having her wedding officiated by the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg.

Very shortly after Trump endorsed Ortagus for Congress if she runs, MAGA fanatic Candace Owens tweeted, “Trump has this completely wrong.”

“Trump is now firmly in the establishment camp,” tweeted John Cardillo, another right-wing personality.

The big dilemma congressional Republicans now find themselves in is the fact that they have hung their hats on Trump and are now largely, if not totally, tied to his fate even as he loses sway among the broader GOP base.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and his caucus are desperate to make the midterm elections a referendum on Biden’s policies. At the same time, Trump continues to obsess over his 2020 election loss and lob messaging grenades into the election cycle.

During a rally in Texas over the weekend, Trump went full fascist, calling for nationwide protests if he is indicted in any one of multiple investigations into his corrupt business practices and efforts to overturn the 2020 election results.

Trump also promised to pardon defendants of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol if he runs and wins in 2024.

“We will treat them fairly,” Trump said of the charged insurrectionists, some of whom have been convicted. “And if it requires pardons, we will give them pardons, because they are being treated so unfairly.”

As much as Republicans have been assuring reporters that 2020 will be about Biden, Trump is making damn sure that he and his 2020 coup attempt will be taking center stage this cycle.

The GOP's red vested charlatan in Virginia gets unmasked

Parents of young children and teens across Virginia this week got a taste of what it means for a purple-ish state to roll the dice on a Republican candidate for governor in the midst of an ongoing pandemic.

Sure, he wore that red vest and mostly kept Donald Trump at arm's length for the duration of his campaign. But the mayhem GOP Gov. Glenn Youngkin injected into the state's school system in order to score points with a political minority of voters proved that he is just as willing to play Russian roulette with the lives of children as Trump mini-mes like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.

In fact, that's the probably the exact point Youngkin meant to make: Don't let the red vest fool ya—I'm just as extreme as the other GOP governors vying for a 2024 audience among the party's radicalized base.

True to pandemic-era Republican form, Youngkin declared he was "having a ball" on the very week that his new optional masking order forced a wave of impossible choices on parents and educators in a state that had mostly grown accustomed to mandatory in-school masking even though some parents didn't favor it.

A September 2021 Washington Post-Schar School poll found that 66% of Virginia’s public school parents said they supported mask mandates for teachers, staff, and students, as did 69% of registered voters overall. Just 28% of Virginians opposed school districts requiring mask wearing, and that's the cohort Youngkin chose to prioritize purely for political gain.

To be clear, Youngkin's order has put both the lives and mental health of teachers, kids and their vulnerable family members on the line. In fact, the Washington Post's Hanna Natanson did a laudable job documenting the impossible dilemmas and mental anguish Youngkin has managed to visit on so many constituents in just two short weeks on the job.

Here's an excerpt depicting the bind of one parent.

In Virginia Beach, the mother of a girl with a heart condition wonders if she should stop sending her child to school, where more of her daughter’s classmates are going unmasked every day. The mother, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect her daughter’s privacy, said one of the children in her medical support group — for parents of children who have congenital heart defects — died of covid-19 this month.
But her daughter suffered during online learning, and the mother is scared what will happen to the 14-year-old’s mental health if she stays home. For now, the mother is sending emails to the school board pleading with them to reestablish a mask mandate.
“Bowing to a morally and scientifically untenable executive order isn’t acceptable,” she wrote on Tuesday. “I hope you will correct this mistake before it causes damage that can’t be undone.”

Another mother in Virginia Beach and one in Chesapeake decided to keep their kids home this week because they were terrified to go to school when some kids wouldn't be wearing masks.

But it's not just the parents of students who feel gutted by Youngkin's human experiment.

A ninth-grade English teacher and mom with a blood-clotting disorder that puts her at mortal risk if she contracts COVID-19 was forced to contemplate her deep desire to live long enough to see her son graduate, get a job, and get married.

“When I was in the Navy, I signed on the dotted line to put my life at risk and I understood that,” Amanda Lambert, 41, told the Post. “This is different.”

A Chesterfield elementary school teacher said optional masking would inevitably lead to spikes in student infections and widespread quarantines followed by a mountain of extra work for teachers forced to develop alternate assignments for students missing class. For the first time in the pandemic, she said she is considering quitting her job.

“All that he’s done is divide our state and made this a political thing — he sees teachers as the villain, is how it feels,” said the teacher, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear that she could be retaliated against. “We are so broken down at this point by how little we are cared about anymore.”

Youngkin's order, which is now the subject of two legal challenges, has also divided Virginia's school districts. Among the state's 131 districts, more than half have chosen to defy the new governor's order while 59 districts adopted optional masking. A Post analysis found the schools that have chosen to continue enforcing mask mandates account for some 67% of the students enrolled in the state's public schools.

Even Loudoun County—a tony northern suburb where education policy controversies erupted during the gubernatorial race—saw just two small demonstrations against mandated masking early in the week. Out of the district's 81,000 students, only about 100 students declined to wear masks.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, a new Public Policy Polling survey released Friday found that Youngkin's approval rating on the pandemic is already underwater, 44% approve - 47% disapprove. In the survey, 56% of respondents said "local school districts should set mask requirements for themselves," while 31% believed Youngkin "should set mask requirements for local school districts," according to The Hill. Asked about Youngkin’s specific order, 40% backed it while 55% opposed.

Youngkin, who clearly misled Virginians on the matter, is presently trying to lie his way out of the bait-and-switch he pulled. Shortly after being elected, Youngkin said he would leave school masking policies up to local school boards. But his opt-out order completely undercuts the effectiveness of districts' universal mask mandates. As multiple studies have shown, mask mandates are the best way to both keep kids safe and ensure in-school learning can continue without triggering rolling waves of mass quarantines.

But in a Washington Post op-ed this week, Youngkin claimed he had kept his word even as he empowered some parents to endanger the health of both educators and other parents' children.

“My executive order ensures that parents can opt-out their kids from a school’s mask mandate,” the governor wrote. “It bans neither the wearing of masks nor the issuing of mask mandates. Parents can now choose whether wearing a mask at school is right for their child.”

Republicans in the state are surely over the moon with Youngkin's performance. Pre-Trump, the goal of governing used to be to please most of the people while creating as little havoc as possible and keeping everyone safe.

But in the post-Trump Republican Party, chaos rules. The more damage a politician can do post haste—the more misery they can visit upon their political enemies— the more their star rises in the GOP. Youngkin's first two weeks in office have proven wildly successful by that measure and, as he said himself, he's having the time of his life.

"Virginia’s parents have had enough with the government dictating how they should raise their children," Youngkin wrote in his op-ed. "On the campaign trail, I listened to parents and, as governor, I will continue to listen."

Youngkin listened to some parents—a minority of parents, in fact—and hung everyone else out to dry.

Any Virginian who was on the fence but voted for Youngkin because he seemed nice enough, wore that red vest, and had a business background should have received the message by now: No matter how reasonable any Republican seems while campaigning, their political incentives to create pandemonium once in office far outweigh keeping the peace and ensuring the safety of their constituents.

Biden needs to boost his pandemic approvals. These two new White House initiatives could help

When Americans voted Joe Biden into office in 2020, one of the biggest promises of his presidency was the hope that his administration could get the pandemic under control.

But one swift vaccine roll out and two devastating COVID-19 variants later, the American public isn't so sure about President Biden's leadership on the virus. A Pew Research Center survey released this week found that just 44% of U.S. adults now believe Biden can "handle the public health impact of the coronavirus outbreak," a 21-point drop from last March when 65% of respondents expressed confidence in Biden's ability to tackle the pandemic.

The bottom line is, it's imperative for Democrats that more Americans view Biden as competently tackling the pandemic well before the midterms this November. We have already seen the catastrophic results of GOP stewardship of the pandemic at the state level with Republican governors such as Florida's Ron DeSantis, Texas' Greg Abbott, and now Virginia's Glenn Youngkin injecting sheer chaos into their states and reveling in it.

By this summer, a solid majority of voters must once again have the sense that Biden has a steady hand on the pandemic and that vaccines/tests/masks and other tools to manage COVID-19 have become easily accessible to anyone who wants them.

Two new Biden administration initiatives could help nudge voters back in that direction: mailing free at-home COVID-19 tests to households that want them and making free N95 masks available to everyone.

A new Axios/Ipsos poll found that both initiatives had the support of 84% of Americans, with just 14% opposition. Even 65% of the unvaccinated favored the administration mailing free at-home tests to those who want them. The survey also showed that 44% of Americans have already ordered a free test despite the policy being implemented just over a week ago.

Two bar graphs showing identical support for Biden

That's a good start to President Biden recapturing the narrative on combatting the coronavirus. According to Civiqs tracking, 61% of registered voters currently say they are unsatisfied with the U.S. government's response to the pandemic—an all-time high during Biden's tenure.

To be sure, none of this current COVID-19 polling is helped by the lingering effects of omicron's grip on the nation. But Americans need to see the federal government implementing policies that instill confidence that the Biden administration is engaged and taking tangible action.

Media critics explain why Trump's unlaunched 'Truth Social' network already has lots of competition

Donald Trump's nascent social media network, Truth Social, is reportedly courting influencers for a launch in the next couple months, according to Axios.

The anticipated entrance of Truth Social into a crowded field of conservative media platforms fighting for the same finite audience is sure to trigger a brawl for users. Twitter-esque rivals such as Gettr, run by former Trump aide Jason Miller; Gab.com, which bills itself as the ultimate free speech platform; and Parler, which surged in November 2020 the weekend after major outlets called the election for Joe Biden, have already started hedging their bets.

Gettr, which claims some 4 million users, courted Trump with a multimillion-dollar offer to be its marquee user. Although Trump turned down the offer in favor of his own yet-to-be launched network, Gettr has reserved his handle in hopes he might change his mind. Parler, whose user base was recently surpassed by Gettr, also reportedly made Trump an offer.

The CEO of Gab.com, Andrew Torba, has chosen to go the opposite direction, blasting both Trump and Trump-aligned Gettr as sellouts to the bigger movement of Trumpism. Torba has skewered Trump for promoting vaccines—which he called "the death jab"—as "so cringe," and he has shared clips of conspiracy monger Alex Jones promising to "declare war" on Trump for his vaccine support.

Torba appears to be preemptively trying to cleave his 3 million users away from Trump before the launch of Truth Social. Torba, for instance, recently posted his full response to an inquiry from The Washington Post for an article about right-wing sites.

"President Trump has turned into a vaccine salesman which is a total and complete disconnect with the overwhelming vast majority of his voting base," Torba wrote. "His non-stop vaccine shilling has turned many of his supporters off completely."

Torba continued, "People aren’t and never were coming to Gab for an online Trump rally. People are coming to Gab for the Truth and to speak freely."

Civiqs polling has recorded a softening of support for Trump that backs up Torba's argument to some extent.

But the big problem for all these right-wing and conservative inclusive platforms, including Facebook clone Rumble and the chat service Telegram, is they are all fighting for an audience share that is relatively small and stagnant. For example, a platform like Twitter totally eclipses its right-wing counterparts, claiming more than 200 million active users globally and nearly 40 million in the U.S. alone.

As The Washington Post recently noted, many right-wing influencers who joined the conservative sites following Jan. 6 and Trump's deplatforming on mainstream media experienced a flashpoint of growth. "But those audiences have barely grown in the year since. In some cases, they even declined," writes the Post.

Right-wing sites are now suffering the same phenomenon of infighting and backbiting that has plagued Trump's right-wing provocateurs, such as Trump's former national security adviser Michael Flynn and attorney Sidney Powell.

They are all competing for space and influence among a diminishing audience that shows no signs of growth. So while Trump's base is still passionate and Trumpism remains extremely dangerous, they have not proven to be scalable and largely mainstream-able.

That limiting conundrum could rebound to the benefit of American democracy if right-wing outlets and moneygrabbers turn their followers against each other, splintering both Trump’s base and its malign influence.

Anyone 'aiding and abetting' Jan. 6 panel won't be eligible for legal fund aiding Trump allies

A legal defense fund set up to help former aides of Donald Trump pay legal bills associated with the congressional inquiry into Jan. 6 is making perfectly clear who will and won't be eligible for assistance.

"We are certainly not going to assist anyone who agrees with the mission of the committee and is aiding and abetting the committee," said Matt Schlapp, who chairs the American Conservative Union and oversees the First Amendment Fund.

According to CNN, Trump has declined to dip into his own funds to help any former aides but is consulting with the defense fund on who to help and who to hang out to dry.

"I am in communication with [Trump's] team about those decisions," Schlapp said, adding that the fund has the unilateral authority "to make decisions over whether someone gets assistance or doesn't."

The fund currently amounts to over seven figures, according to Schlapp and, while it hasn't explicitly declined to help anyone yet, Schlapp said that time is surely coming. Schlapp said that "many" former aides have made use of the fund but declined to give an actual number.

But the first and most important criteria for eligibility is how extensively those who request help from the so-called "First Amendment Fund" are cooperating with the select committee investigating Jan. 6—otherwise known as exercising one's free speech.

Trump's attorneys have encouraged former aides to defy the Jan. 6 panel, and Schlapp's fund has given them another tool to encourage obstruction of the investigation into the Trump-inspired assault on the Capitol.

The fund is mainly designed to help younger aides who don't have the means to finance a slew of legal bills, particularly if they have chosen to limit their cooperation with the panel

"Our interest is in helping those who don't have the financial resources to help themselves, especially those from the Trump administration who are from a younger generation," Schlapp said.

In other words, Schlapp's fund wants to make certain that obstructing a congressional probe is an option for everyone—not just the rich and well-connected.

One person who may find himself ineligible for any pro-Trump payouts is former Attorney General Bill Barr, who has already spoken with the committee.

"We've had conversations with the former attorney general already. We have talked to Department of Defense individuals," said committee chair Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, who made the comments Sunday on Face the Nation.

The cooperation of Barr and representatives of the U.S. military have become a point of interest following news of a draft executive order prepared for Trump that would have directed the military to seize voting machines following his 2020 loss.

"We are concerned that our military was part of this big lie on promoting that the election was false. So, if you are using the military to potentially seize voting machines, even though it's a discussion, the public needs to know. We've never had that before," Thompson noted.

That little gem of a memo came to light late last week after the National Archives turned over some 750 pages of Trump's White House records to the Jan. 6 Committee following Trump’s unsuccessful bid to keep them hidden.

Kyrsten Sinema's base of support is crumbling around her

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona tried her damndest to sell the idea that a random Senate rule was far more important than the fundamental right to vote, but Democratic voters and groups don’t seem to be buying that bridge to fascism.

Not only does Sinema have an abysmal 8% favorability rating among Arizona Democrats, many of her biggest progressive backers are giving her the heave-ho after she helped kill critical voting rights legislation in the upper chamber.

Among the most impactful reversals came from EMILY's List, a group dedicated to electing pro-choice Democratic women, and NARAL, which fights for reproductive freedom across the nation. Both high-profile funders backed her in 2018 when she first ran for Senate, but this week they severed ties with the Arizona senator over her refusal to alter the filibuster in order to pass the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Freedom to Vote Act.

"We believe the decision by Sen. Sinema is not only a blow to voting rights and our electoral system but also to the work of all of the partners who supported her victory and her constituents who tried to communicate the importance of this bill," wrote EMILY's List President Laphonza Butler. As a result, Butler added, "We will no longer be able to endorse Sen. Sinema moving forward."

Statements from both groups noted that Sinema's elevation of the Senate GOP minority over the will of a democratic majority automatically dooms any legislation that would advance voting rights, abortion access, immigrant rights, LGBTQ equality, and other Democratic priorities.

“Without ensuring that voters have the freedom to participate in safe and accessible elections, a minority with a regressive agenda and a hostility to reproductive freedom will continue to block the will of the majority of Americans,” wrote NARAL President Mini Timmaraju.

NARAL also said it would no longer endorse any U.S. senator "who doesn’t support changing the Senate rules to pass voting rights legislation."

"Our democracy is on the line," the group added in a tweet.

EMILY’s List’s Butler offered a similar sentiment. “Protecting the right to choose is not possible without access to the ballot box," she said. EMILY's List has been one of Sinema's most dedicated backers, funding her rise through Congress to the tune of $485,000, according to Bloomberg News.

LPAC, a group that focuses on electing LGBTQ women to office, also issued a statement putting Sinema on notice that she would likely lose their endorsement.

"LPAC and its supporters have backed Senator Kyrsten Sinema in the past because of her stated commitment to our shared values. Any candidate wishing to have our support in the future must fully commit to protecting voting rights; anything less will fail to earn our endorsement," read the statement, which urged immediate action on votings rights legislation.

Planned Parenthood Action Fund seemed similarly poised to cut Sinema loose, though the group didn't explicitly mention her by name.

"Any Senator who chooses to protect arcane Senate rules over the freedom to vote is betraying their constituents & harming the fight for reproductive rights. They will have to live with the political consequences," tweeted Planned Parenthood President and CEO Alexis McGill Johnson.

Following her speech on the Senate floor Wednesday, Sinema was warmly greeted by several GOP senators who clearly applauded her dedication to giving them veto power over our democracy.

Hopefully that GOP receiving line was deeply satisfying to Sinema, because whatever future she might have had in the Democratic Party is over.

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema's polling among Democrats was cratering even before she tanked voting rights

Here’s where the polling of Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona stood, according to Civiqs’ tracking, as of Jan. 14—before she helped tank Democrats’ chances of passing critical voting rights legislation. (Editor’s note: Only the top lines of the tracking poll along with partisan breakdown are publicly available and sharable in chart form.)

The trend line in tracking polls is often times far more important than the exact numbers, in my opinion. But in this case, Sinema’s 8% favorability among Arizona Democrats became a point of interest based on a tweet I sent out. Thus, this follow up post with more information for those who were curious.

Overall favorability rating among Arizona’s registered voters:

Favorability rating among Arizona’s registered Democrats:

Favorability rating among Arizona’s registered Independents:

Favorability rating among Arizona’s registered Republicans:

More Civiqs tracking polls are publicly available here.

'Insane': Trump falls victim to a McConnell trap that McConnell didn't actually set

If you’re rooting for Republicans to spontaneously combust over the next few years on the road to the greater American good, this story is just your speed.

After Donald Trump insinuated last week that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis was “gutless” for failing to admit his booster status, DeSantis lamented that his biggest regret as governor was failing to more forcefully oppose the federal pandemic lockdowns implemented under Trump (though DeSantis declined to implicate Trump by name). Thus begins a parting of the ways between the top two contenders for the 2024 GOP nomination.

We all knew this was coming, right? One could sense DeSantis’ head swelling as he doubled down on Trumpian bravado and pursued far more brash anti-vaccination policies than even Trump himself did in office. DeSantis was clearly getting too big for his britches, and Trump was bound to respond by knocking him down a notch.

So after Trump twice admitted last year to being vaxxed and boosted on two separate occasions and got booed on both, he had little choice other than to take a whack at DeSantis for declining to admit his booster status.

"I watched a couple politicians be interviewed and one of the questions was, 'Did you get a booster?'” Trump told One America News last week. “The answer is 'yes' but they don't want to say it, because they're gutless.”

Trump added, "You gotta say it. Whether you had it or not, say it."

Following Trump’s jab, last Thursday DeSantis told the conservative podcast Ruthless that one of his biggest regrets was not taking a stronger stance against the federal lockdowns early in the pandemic. At the time in 2020, DeSantis had been counseling the White House on its pandemic response.

"I never thought in February, early March, that (coronavirus) would lead to locking down the country," DeSantis told Ruthless host Josh Holmes. "I just didn't. I didn't think that was on the radar."

    DeSantis went on to tag Dr. Anthony Fauci, then a top public health adviser to Trump, for giving the White House bad advice. But even so, the retort seemed more along the lines of, You wanna know what’s really gutless? Shutting down the whole country over coronavirus.

    Trump and his political henchmen were quick to note the clapback from one of the few 2024 GOP hopefuls who has declined to say he would be deferential to Trump if he decided to run.

    That’s a clear point of tension for Trump. Axios reports that Trump has told allies something to the effect of: "What's the big deal? Why won't he just say he's not going to run against me?"

    Well, Trump, because DeSantis is running.

    But Trump also managed to add an extra bit of paranoia to the equation by noting that Josh Holmes, the Ruthless host, is a former McConnell aide who remains close to the minority leader. In other words, the DeSantis sniping was a setup orchestrated by McConnell behind the scenes.“I like Josh. Josh is great. But he’s a wholly owned subsidiary of McConnell World. And there’s no way you can tell me that this was all a coincidence,” a top Trump adviser told NBC News, echoing several other Trump allies.Oh, yes, indeed, let’s draw McConnell into this web of intrigue.

    Holmes called the accusation “insane,” but said he didn’t want to elaborate on the hearsay.

    The bad blood between Trump and McConnell runs thick, and Trump’s addled mind will immediately retreat to the darkest corner of any adverse situation.

    But the truth is really delicious on all fronts. First, McConnell really doesn’t have the political juice to take down Trump, partly because of his unbelievably anemic poll numbers with the GOP base.

    At the same time, Trump has had a pretty desperate run for the last several months between the boos he’s getting from supporters, Senate Republicans’ sudden admission that he lost 2020, and his recent dustup with DeSantis—whom he firmly believes would be a no-name loser without his backing in the Florida’s 2018 GOP primary.

    “Look, I helped Ron DeSantis at a level that nobody’s ever seen before,” Trump said in an interview for a forthcoming book, Insurgency, by New York Times reporter Jeremy W. Peters. Trump added that DeSantis “didn’t have a chance” of winning without his help.

    Last October, Trump told Yahoo Finance, “I'd beat [DeSantis] like I would beat everyone else.”

    That quote is oozing with fright. DeSantis is a legit threat to Trump, who appears to be on shaky ground with a base that has planted its anti-vaxx flag on the hill of “You’re either with us, or you’re against us.”

    So the smart money is on a lot more GOP sparks flying over the coming months, which will ultimately force a lot of people (politicians and donors alike) to place their bets on either Trump or DeSantis.

    In the meantime, the McConnell wing of the party will be dying a slow death due to the tumult in the runup to a November election that, historically, favors their party.

    All the while, the GOP base stands a very good chance of splintering on the road to 2024.

    Biden has his work cut out for him in 2022 as approval rating slumps among Democratic voters

    If there's good news to report about President Joe Biden's approval rating as we close out the year, it's that the hemorrhaging appears to have taken a break, for now.

    Both Civiqs and FiveThirtyEight.com show similar trends with Biden’s downward slide leveling off. The numbers will be outdated by the time this piece publishes (I'm writing on Dec. 21) but at this point, the trend lines are more important anyway.

    But that slight improvement over the last month doesn't do much to blunt the bad news heading into 2022: Biden is sucking wind with Democrats. In fact, at the time of this writing, Biden's approvals had dropped 14 points among Democrats to 76% since passage of the American Rescue Plan in March, when 90% of Democrats approved of the job Biden was doing.

    Biden has taken a similar double-digit plunge among independents, just 26% of whom now approve of the job he is doing.

    But for now, the worst news is President Biden's standing among Democratic voters—if they aren't motivated to vote next year, Democrats will get crushed in the midterms.

    I wrote more earlier this month about Democrats' prospects in 2022 and the necessity of them staging an all-hands-on-deck effort on voting rights next year.

    Joe Biden needs a villain in 2022 — and the right-wing Supreme Court is a perfect foil

    On the final episode of The Brief in 2021, we welcomed Brian Fallon, the executive director for Demand Justice, for a great discussion about the group’s efforts to build momentum for expanding the size of the Supreme Court. (You can YouTube it or catch the podcast here.)

    I was particularly struck by the final five minutes or so of the discussion and Fallon’s insights on how critical it is politically for President Joe Biden to take on the Supreme Court’s extremism as a top issue in 2022.

    Fallon began by saying that when the group conducted polling during the confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh in 2018 and Amy Coney Barrett in 2020, many of the respondents who viewed Roe v. Wade as essential and strongly opposed it being overturned were also among the most likely to say they didn’t believe the landmark abortion ruling was at risk of being overturned. For that reason, Fallon said he believed a ruling that gutted Roe could be a major political event but that it also wasn’t inevitable if Democrats don’t properly rise to the occasion.

    Below, I have excerpted from the final part of our discussion.

    If the court actually acts in a way that explicitly overturns Roe, I think all that support that is right now below the surface but not really galvanized, will finally galvanize.
    I don't think it will just be Planned Parenthood activists that are out in the street. I think you'll have the potential for independents to be outraged because this is no longer something that is going to just be felt in Texas or Mississippi. (Fallon notes that a state like Wisconsin has a trigger law that makes abortion illegal as soon as Roe falls.) So that's suddenly going to be a relevant issue in a very purplish state.
    So I think that the potential is there for people to be animated. ...
    But whether that translates to anything real and any true change on this issue is going to be about whether we can get shows of political courage from elected Ds to actually respond in a proportionate way to an announcement like that.
    I don't think elected Democrats can just come out in the aftermath of a ruling gutting Roe and say, please donate to the DSCC. Help us win the Senate back. We'll protect abortion rights.
    Kerry: What do you want to see immediately? Do you want an address from President Biden in the White House?
    Fallon: I think it would be good politics—there's a rich history in this country of presidents taking on runaway Supreme Courts that take unpopular stands on issues.
    Abraham Lincoln did it in the 1860s. Everybody invokes FDR and the court expansion plan that he floated that wasn't ultimately passed. But the campaign that he waged against the court did carry the day in terms of public opinion. ...
    Abraham Lincoln went to battle with the Supreme Court over the conducting of the Civil War.
    Teddy Roosevelt, when he did his third-party run, one of his big causes was taking on the corporate capture of the Supreme Court during in that Lochner era in that gilded age.
    And so there's a rich history of taking on the court for being captured by partisan or corporate interests.
    And I think if Joe Biden is reacting to a ruling that guts Roe; if he's reacting to a ruling that says that concealed carry permits have to be honored in Times Square—in New York, Texans with concealed-carry permits should be able to pack heat and walk in Times Square; and the EPA's no longer able to regulate greenhouse gasses—those are all winning issues that he should inveigh against the Supreme Court itself.
    Joe Biden in general needs villains, he needs foils, and the Supreme Court would be a great one. And so I want him to take it on—I want him to ultimately support adding seats.
    But the statement he put out the other day in response to the Dobbs argument was milquetoast, it was blather, and he was rightly criticized for it. I want to see him get animated and take on the court as an institution.

    (Here’s more on that statement from Biden when he was asked about the oral arguments on the Mississippi abortion ban.)

    If you want to help Fallon’s group build support for legislation to add seats, you can go to demandjustice.org and input your information, and they'll route you into a Zoom meeting with your Democratic member or senator. Fallon said they have conducted more than 90 of these Zoom meetings with congressional members with over 1,300 constituents participating, and in a dozen instances, members have signed on to the court expansion bill immediately following the meeting—all from the luxury of your own living room!

    The Brief, Dec. 14 www.youtube.com

    Why the Jan. 6 committee's investigation is now giving McConnell a glimmer of hope

    Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, deemed by some to be a master tactician, has missed every chance he had this year to help secure the downfall of Donald Trump and his increasingly ascendant wing of the party. Until now.

    After failing to lead his caucus in January to a Trump conviction and then in May killing off a carefully negotiated independent commission on Jan. 6, McConnell is clearly relishing the fruits of the House select committee cobbled together by Speaker Nancy Pelosi in spite of his dismal efforts.

    “Interesting” has become McConnell’s word of choice for the Jan. 6 committee whenever he is asked about its work and latest revelations. It was a word he repeatedly deployed the week of Dec. 13 as he ginned up interest in the committee’s eventual findings.

    On Tuesday, Dec. 14, McConnell was asked whether he was one of the GOP lawmakers who had personally texted White House chief of staff Mark Meadows as the Jan. 6 assault unfolded. He wasn’t, McConnell told Capitol Hill reporters, adding, “It will be interesting to reveal all the participants who were involved.”

    But that was just the beginning of McConnell’s week-long campaign plugging the committee’s probe.

    “I read the reports every day,” McConnell offered a couple of days later at a different press conference. “And it’ll be interesting to see what they conclude.”

    But the capper to McConnell’s sales pitch came later that evening in an interview with Julia Benbrook of Spectrum News. Asked to comment further about his curiosity in “all the participants,” McConnell responded, “The fact-finding is interesting. We’re all going to be watching it. It was a horrendous event, and I think what they are seeking to find out is something the public needs to know.”

    So not just interesting, but an actual necessity in terms of public knowledge.

    But why the sudden burst of cheerleading from a man who once panned an independent commission on the Capitol siege as a useless exercise unlikely to unearth any “new facts”? Quite simply, the Jan. 6 probe is giving McConnell a do-over on what he was incapable of accomplishing himself—neutralizing the Trump wing of the party. He had chances in 2021, and he either didn’t take them or fumbled the ball at the 1-yard line, particularly in the case of impeachment.

    The prospect that the House probe might implicate and ensnare Trump and pro-Trump members of his own party is both enticing and existential for McConnell. Just imagine what a criminal prosecution of Trump could do for McConnell, not to mention someone like Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas being found complicit in the crime. That’s an entirely possible scenario, especially with a new book out from Trump aide Peter Nevarro claiming that Cruz played a key role in an election-stealing scheme Nevarro concocted with Trump henchman Steve Bannon.

    “We spent a lot of time lining up over 100 congressmen, including some senators. It started out perfectly. At 1 p.m., [Rep. Paul] Gosar and Cruz did exactly what was expected of them,” Navarro told The Daily Beast of the GOP lawmakers’ initial blockade of certification. Gosar, of Arizona, lodged the first objection to certifying his state’s vote, and Cruz officially signed off on it, sending the two chambers of Congress into recess to weigh the objection in their respective chambers. That was before Trumpers breached the police barricades and stormed the Capitol, brutalizing and killing people along the way.

    What has become perfectly clear throughout 2021 is that McConnell entirely misjudged the hold Trump had on the party’s base, even going so far as to call him “a fading brand” at one point.

    But by the end of the year, McConnell had lost so much control that he was reduced to endorsing candidates like alleged wife beater and former football star Herschel Walker for a Georgia Senate seat that offers the GOP one of its best pick up chances in 2022. In other words, Trump is now towering over the supposedly masterful McConnell, who is bending like a wet reed to Trump’s every wish.

    The Jan. 6 panel is now giving McConnell a glimmer of hope. And after fumbling away all his opportunities to dispense with Trump earlier this year, the least he can do is stoke a little interest and intrigue in what promises to be a fascinating year of revelations.

    GOP extremism poses an existential threat to America. Democrats must not let voters forget in 2022

    As I sit here reflecting on 2021, I am struck by how capricious and maddening the pandemic continues to be and what that means for Democrats in the midterms.

    At the moment, we cannot possibly say whether the pandemic will have mercifully retreated in some meaningful way by next November. What we can say with certainty is that roughly a quarter of U.S. adults will still be refusing vaccines and resistant to almost all mitigation efforts like testing and masking. That group—and yes, they are very nearly all Republicans and GOP-leaners—will ensure that if the virus wants to continue ravaging the country and the globe, it surely will.

    From a public health standpoint, that leaves President Joe Biden and Democrats entirely at the mercy of a totally unpredictable and unrelenting virus no matter how competent they prove to be at combatting it.

    Nonetheless, Democrats don't have to be 100% at the mercy of the pandemic politically. What we know beyond a shadow of a doubt is that whatever challenges the pandemic poses under Democratic rule, our country would be a raging dumpster fire under Republican rule. It would truly be every person for themselves without any help whatsoever from the federal government in making lifesaving vaccines and rapid testing available, not to mention any scientifically based guidance from a functional Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

    The Biden administration has done relatively well in this rapidly changing public health environment, though it certainly hasn't been perfect. But just imagine where we would be under Donald Trump or a GOP-controlled Congress after not a single Republican lawmaker voted this year to provide critical pandemic relief to American families and local and state governments. As we already know, even in red states GOP governors and lawmakers are jumping at the chance to tout their "historic" investments in local resources and infrastructure that resulted from the Democrats-only American Rescue Plan.

    But the anti-vaxxing, anti-mitigation holiday nightmare the GOP would have served up to America is just the beginning of the extremism that pervades nearly every one of the party's stances on present-day issues.

    From the pandemic to abortion rights to gun control to climate change, voting rights, and more, Republican lawmakers are solidly out of step with roughly two-thirds of American voters on almost every single issue one can think of. And let's not get started on the Big Lie and Jan. 6, where the entire Republican Party is quite simply living in la la land.

    If the pandemic's future remains a complete mystery, there's one constant Democrats can count on next year: Republicans will be championing extremist views in every facet of American life.

    And if Democrats want to stand any chance of surviving next year, they must spend the year forcefully reminding voters what putting Republicans back in power would mean for the country. In fact, Democrats will have multiple opportunities to do just that as the pandemic rages on and the Supreme Court prepares to wallop Americans with a series of right-wing rulings on abortion, gun rights, and more.

    If Democrats spend 2022 trying to convince Americans of all the good they did, they are dead in the water. Instead, they need to convince voters of the nightmare that will surely unfold in this country if Congress falls back into Republican hands.

    Liz Cheney's moving with the urgency of someone racing against time. Democrats should take note

    In my last column of the year, I wrote about the urgent efforts of Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming to uncover enough evidence against Donald Trump to compel the Department of Justice to criminally prosecute him. She's a woman working against the clock since Republicans stand a good chance of retaking the House next year, and she could conceivably be booted from office.

    It is my fervent hope that congressional Democrats will adopt that same sense of urgency in 2022 to save our republic. Cheney seems to have rightly surmised that her biggest contribution to salvaging American democracy rests with her platform on the select committee investigating Jan. 6 and how well she uses it to publicly indict Trump's crimes against the country.

    Democrats who sit on the panel are obviously helping in that effort. But these Democrats, who still hold congressional majorities throughout next year, also have the ability to help safeguard our democracy by dedicating the year to passing voting rights protections. And if they can't manage to pass them, to at least die trying.

    As Democratic pollster Cornell Belcher recently told Pod Save America, "I don't know if we can change the filibuster or not, but I damn sure believe we better go down in fucking flames fighting to get voting rights passed if we want to have a chance of mobilizing our base going into this midterm."

    At the time of this writing on Sunday, Dec. 19, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia had just told Fox News that he's a "no" on President Joe Biden's Build Back Better bill after months and months and months of negotiations in which Manchin signaled an openness to the framework and most of the priorities, if not the price tag. Democrats whittled down both the priorities and the spending to better accommodate Manchin, but he appears to have stabbed the White House and his Democratic colleagues in the back, according to the White House.

    If Manchin’s comments on Fox connote an end to his negotiations on the legislation, wrote White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, "they represent a sudden and inexplicable reversal in his position, a breach of his commitments to the President and the Senator's colleagues in the House and Senate."

    That's the White House effectively calling Manchin a liar who lied directly to the face of the president, according to Psaki's lengthy statement.

    It's hard to know exactly where things will go from here in the coming weeks and months, but regardless of what becomes of Build Back Better, the far more pressing matter for Biden and congressional Democrats is the preservation of the republic. No legacy bill, no matter how well-intentioned, will matter one lick if the republic is lost to Trump and the GOP's effort to thwart democracy. Bottom line: Biden's entire presidency will come down to whether he managed to save the country from the existential threat he pinpointed at the outset of his 2020 candidacy.

    That's where Democrats could use some of the white-hot fire we are seeing from Cheney. In fact, in order to stay centered and focused on the critical task at hand throughout 2022, every Democratic lawmaker should have a giant sign in their office that reads, "What have you done to save democracy today?"

    The one favor Manchin has now done for Democrats (assuming he doesn’t change his mind) is kill the necessity of having to treat him with graciousness. As Democrats go about informing the country of Republican efforts in the states to rig every election for the foreseeable future, they don’t have to dance around Manchin’s contribution to the GOP’s corrupt project if he refuses to find a workaround for the filibuster. And Democrats better start consistently and forcefully explaining the GOP’s sweeping efforts to subvert the will of the people, because Republicans have been countermessaging for months that Democrats are the real threat to democracy. Check out Trump’s dig on “communist countries and dictatorships” below. (Also, Trump is very afraid of Cheney.)

    Hope for voting rights? Manchin reportedly 'engaged' in filibuster reform discussions

    The last several days have seen several moderate Senate Democrats newly announce their support for filibuster reform in order to pass critical voting rights legislation.

    "The Senate has shown it cannot do its basic duty and find 60 Senators to support basic voting rights," Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia tweeted Tuesday, "so I support changing the rules around the filibuster for voting rights legislation."

    The following day, Sen. John Hickenlooper of Colorado tweeted, "Enough. It’s time to change the filibuster to protect voting rights."

    The public statements of Warner and Hickenlooper were notable precisely because they represent anything but the left wing of the party.

    But even as moderate-to-conservative Democratic Senators start to feel the urgency of saving our democracy, the effort always comes down to a question of two other Senators who can tank the entire enterprise: Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.

    Manchin, fresh off likely killing any chance of passing the Build Back Better bill by year's end, is like the cloud that hangs over everything Democrats hold dear. The latest voting rights bill, almost entirely tailored to gain Manchin’s vote, seems like an easy mark for someone who has seemed far more protective of an arcane Senate rule than of safeguarding the sacred right to vote in this country.

    But the Washington Post's Greg Sargent sees cause for optimism on convincing Manchin to potentially support filibuster reform, smoothing the way to passage of voting rights legislation and helping to insulate the country from GOP efforts to undermine the will of the people. Sargent writes:

    I’m told Manchin and a dozen other Senate Democrats met with an expert on Senate rules and discussed various ways of carving out a filibuster exception or otherwise reforming it to allow passage of voting rights legislation. The meeting was organized by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).

    One source described Manchin as "engaged" in the effort to find a way to pass voting rights by a simple majority threshold.

    Manchin is still resistant to flat-out ending the filibuster or even implementing a simple voting rights carve out, fearing it could lead to a slippery slope of polarizing policy reversals depending on which party holds the majority.

    That said, Manchin appears to be open to more nuanced yet meaningful reforms, according to Sargent's reporting. These include a return to requiring the minority party to hold the Senate floor during a filibuster, or perhaps placing the burden on the minority party to find 41 votes to sustain a filibuster instead of requiring a 60-vote threshold to end one. These types of reforms hold more resonance with Manchin because they can legitimately be sold has "restoring the filibuster" to something more akin to its original form.

    Manchin is also somewhat responsive to the argument that reforms have been made necessary by partisan procedural abuses at the hands of Republicans. Voting rights itself offers one of the best examples of those abuses since the Senate used to regularly pass voting rights bills on a bipartisan basis. The overall argument isn't about fixing the rules so Democrats can pass their agenda, but rather implementing reforms so the Senate can get back to being a functional institution.

    In fact, Manchin has seen Senate dysfunction firsthand as he worked to build support for both forming a bipartisan commission to investigate the Jan. 6 Capitol attack and passing his voting rights bill. In both instances, he needed at least ten GOP votes. In the end, only one Republican showed so much as a lick of interest—Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska on voting rights.

    The key seems to be convincing Manchin that the Senate is broken and changing the filibuster can restore it to being a more functional entity. That's why many of the recent filibuster tweets from the more moderate wing of the party employ the idea of "changing" or "reforming" the filibuster rather than outright ending or overturning it.

    "It’s time to reform the senate rules to reduce gridlock and pass critical legislation like voting rights," Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia tweeted Friday morning.

    So, perhaps a glimmer of hope on voting rights. And while Sinema remains a hurdle too, getting one of them onboard reduces the cover they are providing to each other on the matter.

    Manchin offers America lumps of coal for Christmas

    Senate Democrats are forging ahead with a vote before Christmas on their historic investment in American families and combatting climate change, according to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.

    "The Senate is moving forward on the reconciliation process so that we can vote on President Biden's Build Back Better Act before the Christmas holiday," Schumer said on Monday from the Senate floor.

    But the successful passage of President Joe Biden's roughly $2 trillion signature piece of legislation by Dec. 25 is going to require a miracle on Pennsylvania Avenue—if you listen to Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, whose vote is essential. Manchin spoke to the president by phone Monday.

    Sure, "anything is possible here," Manchin said, following the call, according to the New York Times. But let's be real, Manchin is on his own holiday timeline, and instead of delivering massive help to pandemic-overstretched families and the promise of a habitable planet for future generations, he's just fine the status quo.

    "People have been in a hurry for a long time to do something, but I think, basically, we’re seeing things unfold that allows us to prepare better,” Manchin told reporters on Capitol Hill Monday, before his call with Biden. “And that’s what we should do."

    Following the conversation, Manchin offered, “Listen, let’s at least see the bill. Need to see what they write, what’s the final print. That tells you everything."

    White House press secretary Jen Psaki framed the Biden-Manchin call as “a conversation between two people who have been in public life for some time and have had good-faith discussions directly.”

    That's a whole lot of nothing in the way of commitments and a clear path forward. The two intend to speak again "in the coming days," according to Politico.

    Part of Democrats' urgency is due to the fact that the child tax credit Democrats folded into pandemic relief earlier this year is set to expire at the end of the year.

    But part of the Democrats' full-court press also reflects the political realities facing the president's party as it heads into the midterm election year. Once the calendar flips to 2022, every passing day tends to make lawmakers squeamish about taking big votes on historic pieces of legislation.

    “There’s nothing more to be gained from more talk,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts told the Times. “We have talked and talked and talked. It’s time to make some final decisions and vote.”

    Democrats also have other pressing priorities next year—voting rights, first and foremost— and they simply can't afford to waste more precious time on inaction. Very early next year, Democrats must turn one and all to the battle for the soul of our democracy.

    The biggest hurdle to both Democratic priorities is Sen. Manchin, who seems quite content to deliver nothing more than a lump of coal, a warming planet, and a fraying democracy to brighten the nation’s holiday season. Republicans are surely loving it.

    Veteran House Republicans are trying to sweep the GOP extremists running the caucus under the rug

    Sure, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is coddling GOP caucus extremists in his caucus in his quest for the speakership. Sure, a small cadre of House Republicans who have gleefully put their colleagues' lives on the line are running the joint with McCarthy's blessing. Sure, some members of that same group are raising money hand over fist by zealously chasing the title of "worst human in the world."

    But it's all just business as usual, says veteran GOP lawmaker Tom Cole, a 10-term Oklahoma Congressman.

    “There’s always some gifted communicator who comes in,” said Rep. Cole, who was elected as part of the 1994 Republican takeover of the House. “We’re a long way of knowing how long they’ll stay. A lot of the brightest stars of the 1994 class were gone within eight years.”

    If it weren't required journalistic practice, it would almost be superfluous to name the infamous names at this point. But we're talking about Republican representatives such as Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, Lauren Boebert of Colorado, and Paul Gosar of Arizona. We can only assume that Cole was singling out one of these ignominious lawmakers as "gifted."

    But it was the follow-up portion of Cole's quote to the Associated Press that really captured the essence of the predicament House GOP leadership has put the country in.

    “The reality is the first six years, the only thing you are going to do is what they let you,” Cole added.

    Bingo. Greene, Boebert, Gosar and several others are simply doing precisely what McCarthy and his leadership team are allowing them to get away with. That includes labeling members of their own caucus "traitors," calling them "trash," inciting intra-caucus feuds, and spurring death threats against colleagues on both sides of the aisle.

    To McCarthy, what's a few death threats—or perhaps a lost life—so long as he has the votes to become speaker if the GOP takes back the House next year? And yet, despite his willingness to put lives on the line for his own benefit, the extremists may well give him the boot anyway. In the meantime, they have free rein.

    Cole clearly intended to dismiss all the dust being kicked up by the newest round of GOP flamethrowers, but instead he squarely put Republican leaders on the line for fostering the environment of permissiveness that the Greenes and Boeberts of the caucus are now exploiting.

    The problem for Republicans now is that the whole point for the MTG caucus is to shock, garner attention, and then escalate. Their big rewards come through fundraising and celebrity, and the more incendiary and rancid their comments, the more they reap the rewards—which can be significant.

    Greene, for instance, has raised $6.3 million this year, according to the AP, and Boebert has scored $2.7 million in donations on the year. That's an extraordinary amount of fundraising for any freshman member of the House who otherwise wields almost no institutional power.

    “If you say something batshit crazy, if you say something extreme, you are going to raise money,” said GOP Rep. Nancy Mace of South Carolina, who became a target of Greene's last week after she dared to condemn Boebert for hurling Islamophobic epithets at Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota. Greene then labeled Mace "the trash of the conference,” the type of thing that apparently thrills the GOP's rabid base into shelling out money. Mace later told the AP that Greene is a “grifter of the first order” who is capitalizing on “vulnerable conservatives.”

    Cole, McCarthy, and others may be happily fooling themselves into believing they're still in charge, but judging by the public discourse in the party, Greene's statement on Steve Bannon's radio show last week carries more water.

    "Here's the deal, in the GOP conference they consider conservatives the fringe," she explained, "We are not the fringe. We are the base of the party.”

    Greene's no conservative—she and her comrades are extremists, through and through. But she's right that they are no longer the fringe of the party. They are wielding the bulk of the power in the GOP conference precisely because McCarthy is too afraid to stand up to them.

    The same thing is true in the Senate, where the supposed establishment has surrendered to Donald Trump to the point where Minority Leader Mitch McConnell endorsed violence-prone alleged wife beater Herschel Walker for the Georgia Senate race.

    Kevin McCarthy's plan to appease the radicals in his ranks is backfiring spectacularly

    GOP Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy's dreams of one day becoming speaker of the House are going up in flames as the Republican caucus devolves into a raging inferno of internecine guerrilla warfare.

    Specifically, House GOP radicals have turned caucus politics into an unsightly brawl more resembling the kicking, screaming, hair pulling, and spitting of a middle-school rivalry than the growing pains of major political party plotting its path to renewed relevance.

    No one is more central to this uniquely embarrassing GOP drama than McCarthy, who has turned spinelessness into an ethic in his quest for power. McCarthy's moral deficit has left any members of the GOP conference who still possess a shred of integrity to condemn the actions of the extremists putting the lives of both their GOP colleagues and Democratic counterparts at risk.

    It started last month with McCarthy allowing Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia to target as "traitors" the 13 House Republicans who voted for a bipartisan infrastructure bill supported by nearly two-thirds of the country. Egged on by Greene & Co., death threats ensued, but McCarthy turned the other cheek, because speakership.

    But death threats left unchecked breed more death threats and, once McCarthy proved his obsequiousness, the GOP extremists were bound to expand outward. Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado got right to work, deploying Islamophobic slurs against Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota.

    After Boebert tagged Omar the "jihad squad” and McCarthy crawled under a rock, GOP Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois called Boebert "TRASH" for hurling the anti-Muslim trope.

    But it was Republican Rep. Nancy Mace of South Carolina who would draw the next trashy moniker after she "100%" condemned Boebert's dangerous antics on CNN Tuesday. In response, Greene labeled Mace "the trash of the GOP Conference" in a Tuesday morning tweet.

    Despite Mace telling CNN Tuesday that she hadn't come to Congress to name-call, the exchange devolved quickly.

    “Marjorie Taylor Greene is a liar. And I’m not going to tolerate lies, racism or bigotry, whether you are Republican or Democrat,” Mace said during a Tuesday interview on Neil Cavuto’s Fox Business show. “She’s crazy. She’s insane. She’s bad for the party. And I’m not going to put up with it.”

    This is exactly what happens in a caucus completely devoid of moral leadership. Indeed, McCarthy has become so useless, some of the GOP's saner caucus members are actually publicly begging him to at least act like a leader.

    “I think when you’re in a position of leadership, you have to stand up. You have to deal with it,” said Rep. Tom Reed of New York, one of the 13 GOP House members who voted for the infrastructure bill. “I appreciate the fact that Kevin called our colleague directly to discuss the matter with her. But at some point in time, you also have to stand up and just call it out for what it is. This type of rhetoric cannot be condoned. It cannot be upheld.”

    If McCarthy had more than two brain cells to rub together, he would realize this truth: His bid for the speakership is over, particularly if he continues to let the GOP radicals roll him like a limbless log day in and day out. Last week, Greene used Rep. Matt Gaetz’s podcast to note that McCarthy doesn't have “the full support" of the caucus to be speaker.

    "There’s many of us that are very unhappy about the failure to hold Republicans accountable, while conservatives like me, Paul Gosar and many others just constantly take the abuse by the Democrats," Greene said.

    It’s over, McCarthy. You appeased the radicals right into burning you at the stake.

    Trump looks to put the screws to both McCarthy and McConnell

    When House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy was asked by a reporter this week when he last talked to Donald Trump, he paused for a millisecond before landing on what was probably the truth.

    "Uhhh, this morning," McCarthy said on Thursday, the day after House Democrats censured GOP Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona over his violent tweet depicting the execution of New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Democrats also rightfully stripped Gosar of his committee assignments as McCarthy did the dirty work of shielding him from any backlash within the GOP caucus. Trump topped off the entire episode of GOP ignominy by endorsing Gosar.

    The whole saga was a reminder of something everyone of us already knew: McCarthy is nothing more than Trump's stooge.

    As the week wore on, McCarthy's antics began to have the whiff of desperation. His 8-hour pre-Build Back Better vote diatribe—perhaps most memorable for uncovering the baby carrot conspiracy—felt less like a Mel Gibson rallying cry in Braveheart than a Steve Carell non sequitur in The Office.

    "@GOPLeader is bringing it on the floor right now!" enthused Florida man, Rep. Matt Gaetz, on the early side of McCarthy's harangue. But by Friday, Gaetz was denigrating McCarthy's speech as "a really long death rattle" and railing against House GOP leadership for starting "this march to socialism because they allowed 13 Turncoats to cross the line."

    Gaetz is an interesting test case in the GOP caucus, since he's a primo Trump-wannabe hack whom McCarthy shielded from repercussions when it was revealed he was under federal investigation for having sex with a minor and potential sex trafficking. In other words, Gaetz is one of at least a handful of House Republicans to whom McCarthy has effectively given a free pass, in order to earn their vote for his speakership. But despite selling his soul, things don't seem to be going as planned for McCarthy.

    In fact, two former GOP strategists and never-Trumpers, Stuart Stevens and Rick Wilson, think McCarthy's days at GOP leader are numbered, particularly if Republicans recapture the majority.

    "His crazy caucus of radicals is going to put his head on a spike & elect Jim Jordan," Stevens tweeted Thursday night, calling McCarthy's speech the "desperate plea bargain of a man who knows he is done."

    Wilson tweeted out a hypothetical Q&A scenario, with a question he apparently gets a lot: "Why don't you pay more attention to Kevin McCarthy?"

    "A: Because if the GOP retakes the House Jim Jordan will be Speaker," Wilson wrote.

    Look, if Republicans win back the House, whoever takes over as Speaker will undoubtedly be nothing more than Trump's mouthpiece. But it does feel as though Trump is making a purity power play to eventually install his handpicked people as heads of both House and Senate Republicans. McCarthy simply won't do after he slipped up one fateful week in mid-January and dared to admit Trump "bears responsibility" for the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

    No amount of groveling or spinelessness is going to make up for that.

    Which brings us to the Senate. In a little-noticed multi-page statement Wednesday, Trump upgraded Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell from the "Old Crow" to the "Broken Old Crow," charging that he missed his chance to jam President Joe Biden's agenda.

    "He could have won it all using the Debt Ceiling—they were ready to fold. Now the Democrats have a big victory and the wind at their back," Trump wrote, referring to the infrastructure bill that McConnell keeps praising in his home state of Kentucky.

    "It was extremely good for our state. I'm proud of my vote," McConnell reaffirmed Tuesday, after previously hailing the package as a "godsend" to Kentucky."

    For a solid two weeks, Trump has been stewing about passage of the bipartisan measure that 32 congressional Republicans voted for and, let's face it, much like his 2020 loss, it will never be over for Trump. More than just about anything—including the ouster of McCarthy—Trump hopes to orchestrate McConnell's demise. In fact, Trump has been actively agitating "to depose" McConnell for months.

    That's what made an Axios story about GOP donors being "furious" over passage of the bipartisan deal stand out. At the center of the story was Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, who reportedly informed his Senate counterparts this week that he had been fielding complaints from angry donors about congressional Republicans handing Biden a big win.

    The reporting raised a bunch of provocative questions: Who leaked it, which donors complained, and how many? It's certainly not a story a Republican operative would leak to reflect positively on the Senate GOP conference—19 of whom voted for the bill. It also figured particularly poorly for McConnell, so it likely would have been leaked by a Trump ally trying to make a point.

    If anyone is positioned to potentially oust McConnell as leader at some point, it's Rick Scott, who has buddied up to Trump (in contrast to McConnell) and was one of only eight GOP senators to vote against certification of the 2020 election. In that sense, Scott is a purist, while McConnell is a giant thorn in Trump's side.

    Scott is also busy building his donor list as chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which would help him blunt one of McConnell's biggest leverage points as leader: his ability to dole out campaign funds to members via his massive fundraising network.

    Rick Scott undoubtedly sees himself running for president one day. But if Trump runs in 2024, one could see him vying for Senate leader instead, to bide his time until the time is right for a presidential bid. For Trump, Scott sort of hits the sweet spot between someone like McConnell, an establishment Trump detractor, and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, a Trump convert who is loathed by his colleagues.

    If Trump were going to work to elevate anyone to that post, Scott would be a good pick—with the added benefit of distracting him from a 2024 presidential bid.

    Trump injects himself into West Virginia GOP primary battle after Biden infrastructure win

    Donald Trump's first order of business after escaping his second impeachment conviction (with the blessing of Senate Republicans) was to get revenge on the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach him for inciting the Jan. 6 Capitol attack. His message was clear: Hold Trump accountable and you'll pay for it.

    Back then, what qualified as an affront to Trump seemed directly related to taking an action that immediately harmed him, such as supporting his ouster from office.

    Now Trump is widening his list of offenses to include any action that might benefit one of his political enemies, such as helping President Joe Biden enact a $1 trillion infrastructure bill. In other words: The friend of my enemy is my enemy.

    That's the new bar Trump is demanding GOP lawmakers factor in as they tip-toe around him and his exceedingly fragile ego. And if it prevents a Republican lawmaker from giving their constituents what they want, too bad.

    Trump's new standard became apparent this week when he chose sides in a West Virginia House race that is now pitting two sitting GOP members against each other after redistricting merged their districts into one.

    Rep. David McKinley voted for the infrastructure bill; Rep. Alex Mooney voted against it. Guess who Trump endorsed: Mooney, who traveled down to Mar-a-Lago last Friday in the wake of his "no" vote on the bipartisan measure, according to CNN.

    McKinley told CNN that he gave the voters and local officials what they had been craving for years: new roads and bridges.

    "They've wanted infrastructure," McKinley said.

    Trump injecting himself into a West Virginia primary between two GOP incumbents is just a continuation of the war that has erupted within the Republican Party over the Biden infrastructure win that Trump wasn't skilled enough to pull off. Trump's personal insertion into the drama also guarantees the rift will never heal—just one more way for Trump to turn Republicans against each other as the party further disintegrates.

    Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell appears to be having the time of his life.

    "Seventy-five percent of the American people support infrastructure," McConnell said Tuesday. "From a Kentucky point of view, it was extremely good for our state. I'm proud of my vote."

    Go ahead and yuck it up, McConnell. By the time Trump finishes with GOP voters, two-thirds of them will believe it was treasonous for any Republican to vote in favor of the infrastructure measure. In Trump's GOP, no one is allowed to have nice things unless he's the biggest beneficiary.

    'Traitors': How Biden got Republicans to go to war with themselves

    Shortly after 13 House Republicans joined 215 Democrats last week to pass a $1 trillion infrastructure bill, GOP lawmakers went to war with each other.

    Some House radicals—who are apparently the dominant force in the GOP caucus—labeled the measure "socialist" and called their 13 colleagues "traitors." Presumably, that went for Senate Republicans, too, after they helped negotiate the bill and about 40% of their caucus voted for it.

    The pettiest man alive, Donald Trump, groused that "Old Crow" Mitch McConnell had voted for it while being "incapable" of delivering a similar bill during Trump's tenure. McConnell, in turn, called the Biden bill a "godsend" to his state.

    Republicans are still warring over the bill even as a new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows that 63% of Americans support the bill while just 32% oppose it.

    The survey question was very simple: Do you support or oppose the federal government spending one trillion dollars on roads, bridges, and other infrastructure?

    And yes, nearly two-thirds of respondents said they did support the trillion-dollar investment in roads, bridges, rural broadband, and more, while a fringey 32% opposed the spending.

    The poll—entirely in line with polling of the bipartisan measure over the last several months—highlights that while the American people still broadly support infrastructure investments to benefit everyone, congressional Republicans have become so extreme, they are inciting death threats against their own members for giving the voters what they want.

    In the Republican Party, you can no longer do broadly popular things if it in any way benefits your opponents. Passing good things for your constituents is treasonous if it also helps the other party and their constituency. In other words, backing anything that benefits everyone is an act of treason.

    Republicans are still at each others' throats over the passage of the popular legislation. During a House GOP conference meeting Monday, Rep. Dan Bishop of North Carolina filed a resolution to strip Rep. John Katko of New York of being the ranking member on the Homeland Security Committee.

    But that was relatively mild compared to the screaming match that broke out between Rep. Chip Roy of Texas and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California, according to CNN reporter Melanie Zanona.

    Roy was lamenting that he'll be on the hook to explain to voters in his district why they should support Republicans when just handed Democrats a big infrastructure win.

    "McCarthy then got up and shot back that he's had to explain to voters many times votes that Roy has taken," according to Zanona.

    As Zanona put it: "House Republicans are more angry at the GOP lawmakers who voted for infrastructure than at Paul Gosar for posting a video depicting violence against Dems." Gosar's video depicted him executing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, to be exact.

    But, yes, exactly. In today's GOP, bipartisanship is more unforgivable than fomenting violence against your opponents.

    How Trump is trampling on McConnell's efforts to win back the Senate

    New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu dealt a serious blow to Senate Republicans Tuesday when he took a pass on running for Senate against one of the GOP's top targets—Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire.

    But Sununu is no exception to the rule, and he could very well be the canary in the coal mine for Senate Republicans. While Republicans had been eyeing New Hampshire as a serious pick-up opportunity, they had also dabbled with the idea of making Democrats at least squander some resources on playing defense in blue states like Vermont and Maryland. But as NBC News points out, that GOP aspiration is contingent on one of those state's popular Republican governors showing any interest at all in signing on to be part of the Senate GOP caucus.

    "Vermont Gov. Phil Scott won re-election by 15 percentage points in 2018, the same year his famously progressive state overwhelmingly handed independent Sen. Bernie Sanders a third term," writes NBC. But Scott—really the only Vermont Republican who could pull off an upset against incumbent Sen. Patrick Leahy—didn't even vote for Trump and has no interest in running for Senate.

    Maryland's Republican Gov. Larry Hogan is in the same boat—popular but uninterested in running.

    In short, it appears no moderate, sane-ish Republicans are jumping at the chance to join Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's caucus, particularly because Trump is so clearly calling the shots. Sununu's very public rejection of the Senate GOP also isn't going to make joining the caucus seem any more appealing to the kinds of candidates who would likely fare better in a general election.

    So as moderate Republicans decline to run while fringe GOP candidates dominate the field, the entire Republican line up is getting more extreme.

    That has Brian Walsh, a former Senate GOP campaign operative, hearing "echoes of 2010," when Senate Republicans failed to seize a majority despite the pro-Republican political environment.

    "Arguably, Republicans lost five seats between 2010 and 2012 because of bad general election candidates," Walsh told NBC. "I'm not saying that's necessarily going to happen here. We don't know that yet. But broadly, candidates matter."

    Here's the GOP scorecard so far:

    In New Hampshire, which Republicans had slated as a top target for a pick up, they're now scrambling for a candidate.

    In Georgia, another GOP pick-up opportunity, Republicans will likely be saddled with Trump pick Herschel Walker, who has a violent and allegedly abusive history.

    In Nevada, which Republicans also hope to flip, the state party is in the midst of an epic meltdown. At the same time, they appear to be rallying around former state Attorney General Adam Laxalt, who made stoking Trump's Big Lie his life's mission.

    Laxalt sued to stop the ballot counting in the state's largest county (which Trump lost), sued to overturn Biden's victory, baselessly claimed votes of dead people had been counted, baselessly claimed votes from undocumented immigrants had tipped the state to Biden, and again filed a post-certification lawsuit alleging the GOP secretary of state had allowed non-citizens to vote.

    In Arizona, another GOP flip opportunity, the four-person primary is headed hard right and nasty negative as state Attorney General Mark Brnovich, energy executive Jim Lamon, retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Mick McGuire and Blake Masters duke it out. Brnovich (aka nunchuck guy) likely has the highest statewide name recognition outside of GOP Gov. Doug Ducey (who Trump hates and has declined to run). But Masters runs billionaire Peter Thiel's investment firm and just this week Trump announced a fundraiser for him (because Trump also faults Brnovich for failing to overturn the state's 2020 results).

    In Pennsylvania, one of Democrats' best pick-up opportunities, the GOP primary for the open seat has turned downright embarrassing. Trump endorsed Army vet Sean Parnell, who is embroiled in an ugly custody battle in which his estranged wife testified that Parnell abused her and one of their children. Senate Republicans are dodging questions about the race as Parnell's candidacy spirals.

    In North Carolina, which also has an open Senate seat, Trump complicated the race with an early endorsement of a lesser-known GOP congressman, Rep. Ted Budd, while former Gov. Pat McCrory has a higher profile and a likely edge among Republican voters. If McCrory triumphs, it remains to be seen whether he can win over Trump voters in the general election.

    Other potential Democratic pick ups include Florida and Wisconsin, with incumbent Sens. Marco Rubio and Ron Johnson, and on the outside edge, open seats in Ohio and Missouri, where Republicans just might manage to put the seats in play despite their considerable advantages in each state.

    Notably, Trump is playing key role in nearly every one of those Senate contests. In almost every state, Trump has done at least one of several things: repelled a top-tier candidate, made an endorsement, radicalized the GOP field, or become a complicating factor by incessantly pushing his election fraud lies and demanding absolute fealty.

    New report shows Biden actually has lots of good news to brag about — but the message isn't getting through

    As Republicans scrambled to pass a tax giveaway to the wealthy in late 2017, Donald Trump developed a slogan: "How's your 401(k) doing?"

    Trump floated the inquiry at fundraisers, campaign rallies, and White House events. While less than half of private sector employees even had a 401(k) at the time, some of Trump's most fervent supporters adopted the mantra. As reporters scoured the earth for every last 2016 Trump voter to ask what they thought of the job he was doing, many of them responded like Pavlov's dogs: "My 401(k) has soared under Trump."

    The truth is, President Obama's economy grew the stock market more than Trump's did even before the pandemic hit. But that's beside the point. Trump remained focused on the stock market throughout his tenure, and his cult followers were convinced their personal finances had improved by leaps and bounds.

    In fact, in one of the worst debate performances in modern political history, Trump crassly warned voters of Biden, "If he gets in, you will have a depression the likes of which you have never seen. Your 401(k)s will go to hell."

    The stock market disagreed almost immediately after Biden's victory, and it has logged historic growth ever since. One year after he was elected, the S&P 500 was up 37%, a presidential record. On Friday, following news of the U.S. economy adding 531,000 jobs in October, stocks hit record highs again under Biden (though the day's trading hadn't closed at the time of publication). Here's what that growth looks like in chart form ever since Biden was elected last November.

    Graph showing the Dow Jones climbing from roughly 28,400 points on Nov. 5, 2020 to more than 36,000 points on Nov. 5, 2021.

    Following their Tuesday night drubbing, Democrats have come up with all sorts of explanations for why Democratic gubernatorial candidates in both Virginia and New Jersey had such a bruising night even though New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy ultimately prevailed. The merit of those explanations varies, but here's one thing to consider: Voters don't seem to be getting any good news about the Biden administration. And sure, that's partly a matter of what the media is writing, but it's also a matter of what Democrats are selling. And they simply aren't capitalizing on a heap of good news.

    As former GOP strategist and anti-Trumper Stuart Stevens noted Friday, the Dow Jones is in 36,000-plus territory; Biden has added jobs to the economy—more than 5 million—at a record clip; and in 10 months, the Biden administration has administered 220 million vaccine doses with 70% of the U.S. adult population now fully vaccinated. And yet, less than 30% of voters say the country is on the right track.

    "The Democratic Party has a messaging problem," Stevens concluded.

    MSNBC's Stephanie Ruhle added, "If Trump had 1 OF THESE, he'd be wall-to-wall rose garden ceremonies, prime time speeches & parades."

    The truth is, the summer delta variant surge dealt a giant blow to the American psyche after everyone got a little taste of freedom last spring. But since then, the Biden administration has done such an effective job in its continued vaccination push that the pandemic has receded as a chief concern for most Americans. On Election Day, Civiqs tracking found that just 13% are extremely concerned about outbreaks in their local area.

    Likewise, this week's Civiqs survey asking voters to gauge the issues that cause them the most dissatisfaction found the pandemic ranked so low among their list of concerns that it didn't even break the top 10. Just 36% of voters counted themselves dissatisfied with the handling of the pandemic in their area.

    In that same survey, financial issues such as the price of gas and consumer goods and a lack of personal savings topped the list.

    Civiqs tracking also shows voters' views of the national economy are abysmal, plummeting since late April when the country momentarily began to believe the worst of the pandemic was over.

    Some of Americans' concerns over the cost of gas and consumer goods is justified; prices of certain items are steep (though Democrats also provided most Americans with a financial boost and tax cuts through passage of the American Rescue Plan). And while the national economy certainly suffered a setback during the delta surge, it is both demonstrably trending back in a positive direction and undoubtedly better than it was when Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States.

    So if Democrats in Congress are worried about the midterms, it's time for them to simply pass Biden's agenda so everyone—including the media—can quit talking about it and start selling the Biden administration's considerable number of accomplishments.

    Liz Cheney's revelation about the Jan. 6 committee should terrify McCarthy

    Imagine for a moment House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy leisurely sipping on his morning coffee when he suddenly sees the news that the select committee investigating Jan. 6 has interviewed more than 150 people already in their probe.

    Fun, right? That heart-attack-inducing moment may have actually occurred Thursday when Republican Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming dropped a bomb.

    "We've had, actually, over 150 interviews with a whole range of people connected to the events, connected to understanding what happens, so that just gives you a sense," Cheney, the panel's vice-chair, told Politico. "It is a range of engagements—some formal interviews, some depositions … There really is a huge amount of work underway that is leading to real progress for us."

    In other words, the Jan. 6 panel has been burning through witnesses even as they face reluctance from a handful of holdouts close to Donald Trump. It's been known that the committee has interviewed some Trump officials, like former Trump White House aide Alyssa Farah and former Trump Department of Justice officials like Jeffrey Clark and Richard Donoghue. But by the sounds of it, the committee's work is proceeding urgently and at a break-neck pace. As the other GOP member of the Jan. 6 panel, Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, noted last weekend on ABC's This Week, Republicans will surely kill the Jan. 6 probe if they retake control of the chamber in next year's midterms.

    The Justice Department has yet to act on a two-week-old criminal referral from the House for Steve Bannon after defying a congressional subpoena. That surely hasn't helped the committee's bid to secure testimony from other Trump confidants, including former chief of staff Mark Meadows, former deputy chief of staff Dan Scavino, and former national security and Defense Department aide Kash Patel.

    But the committee's efforts could soon be getting a real boost nonetheless in the form of a treasure trove of information from the National Archives. Trump has sought to block congressional investigators from obtaining key call records, visitor logs, and sensitive files of his inner circle. But the federal judge who heard arguments in Trump's legal challenge Thursday, Judge Tanya Chutkan, appeared to take a very skeptical view of his executive privilege claim.

    President Joe Biden has repeatedly rejected Trump's assertion of executive privilege. Politico reports that unless the court intervenes, Archivist David Ferriero plans to ship the first batch of information to lawmakers on Nov. 12.

    A rejection of Trump's privilege claim could also light a fire under the Justice Department on the matter of Bannon's criminal referral. Bannon has also claimed he is shielded from complying with investigators based on executive privilege, but his claim is even weaker than Trump's is. So an official rejection of Trump's claim by Judge Chutkan could deal a final blow to Bannon's already flimsy argument in the eyes of Justice Department officials.

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    Sean Parnell's 'fictional' novel is not so fictional after all

    Pennsylvania GOP Senate candidate Sean Parnell wrote a fiction thriller in 2018 that coincidentally included scenes where women were violently abused, strangled, pinned down, and called "whore"—all things his estranged wife said she endured at the hands of Parnell in sworn testimony earlier this week in a custody hearing regarding their three children.

    Parnell has the blessing of Donald Trump in his campaign for the Keystone State Senate seat left open by the retirement of GOP Sen. Pat Toomey. But Parnell's candidacy has been rocked in recent months as his personal history of alleged abuse comes into clearer focus. His estranged wife testified that Parnell also slapped one of their children so hard it left welts on the child's skin.

    Details of Parnell's book, Man of War, are just one more piece of the puzzle. And given the testimony of his estranged wife, the book seems far more biographical than fictional. According to Politico, Parnell, who is an Army combat vet, "portrays multiple scenes of men assaulting women in the 2018 novel, the first of four in a fiction series."

    The abusive behavior in the book includes scenes of women being hit, pulled by their hair, and dragged across the floor. Some male characters also relish the pain they are inflicting on their female victims. Politico writes of one scene:

    "Nate grabbed a handful of Meg's hair and roughly forced her head around," Parnell wrote of a female CIA agent being beaten by a rogue military official who "savored the grimace of pain that flitted across her face and the fear that sparked in her eyes."

    "When she tried to jerk free, he struck a blade against her cheek and smiled at the involuntary flinch caused by the cold steel touching warm flesh," the book says.

    The CIA agent was eventually strangled, zip-tied, and punched. She was also dismissed by Parnell as someone her male counterparts objectified and "just wanted to fuck."

    Parnell included another graphic scene in which crying children witness their mother being gang raped by three men, one of them with a "toothy grin spread across his face."

    Parnell's real-life estranged wife provided tearful testimony Monday in which she described being strangled, choked, verbally assaulted, and even forced out of the car by Parnell and left on the side of the road.

    "He tried to choke me out on a couch and I literally had to bite him," she said in one instance. "He was strangling me."

    She also described the whole family—including their children—being "petrified" of Parnell and "walking on eggshells" whenever he was in the home.

    Male candidates with allegedly abusive histories is becoming the norm for the GOP, not the exception, heading into the midterms next year.

    Trump-driven extremism is seeping into every corner of the GOP's upcoming election cycle

    As Donald Trump has consolidated power in the Republican Party this year, his slow-but-steady takeover has sometimes masked the overwhelming creep of extremism into every corner of the Republican Party.

    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's embrace of Herschel Walker this week as the establishment pick to win back Georgia's Senate seat is a perfect example.

    On the one hand, McConnell's cowardly cave to Trump's chosen candidate is such a laughable outcome for a guy who's hailed as a "master tactician" and repeatedly told reporters that his only red line for candidates was electability. While Walker is potentially electable in today's Republican Party, his open struggle with mental illness and alleged history of abusing women makes him a wounded candidate right out the gate. Whatever Walker's upsides might be, he isn't who you pick if ensuring electoral success is truly your North Star.

    Lurking just one layer beneath McConnell's acquiescence to Trump's demands is the unmistakable surrender of the establishment wing of the GOP to Trump. He is 100% calling the shots now about the Grand Old Party's future, and there's no pretending otherwise.

    And as the Republican establishment bows to Trump, his manifest dominance of the party has also convinced candidates running for critical seats that no amount of personal baggage is prohibitive. In fact, men with violent histories are flocking to Republican primaries, often earning Trump's endorsement. That is the case not only for Walker, but also Sean Parnell, an Army veteran running for Pennsylvania's open Senate seat. Parnell, who won Trump's early backing partly by pushing a fraudit of the Keystone State's 2020 election results, is in the middle of a contentious divorce and custody battle over his three children. Parnell's estranged wife once called 911 during a domestic dispute, and also secured two temporary protective orders against him as their marriage crumbled. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, temporary orders only require a hearing with the accuser; making them permanent would have required a judge to hear from both parties, which never happened.

    But now Senate Republicans are in the position of potentially fielding two Trump acolytes, each with a mountain of personal baggage that hasn't even been fully mined, in two seats that will surely play a role in deciding the fate of the upper chamber.

    Trump also might play an outsized role in mucking up the reelection of a man he despises: Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp. This week, we learned that former GOP Sen. David Perdue, who Trump campaigned for in the run up to the state's January runoffs, might mount a primary challenge to Kemp. Trump would love nothing more than to knock off Kemp, who he blames for not overturning the state's 2020 election results.

    Perdue's potential entrance is already radicalizing the race on the Republican side and will surely continue to do so. On Friday, Kemp announced that Georgia was suing President Joe Biden over his vaccine mandate for federal contractors. It's a clear bid to cater to Trump's fringe anti-mitigation, pro-pandemic base—setting up a telling trajectory for a Kemp-Purdue primary that could hamstring Republicans in the general election. On top of that, if Perdue does enter the gubernatorial race, he will lean heavily on the support of Trump, who will spend his every waking breath grousing about 2020 and the supposedly stolen election in Georgia. The net effect would be months of Trump constantly reminding his voters that Georgia elections aren't secure, and that their vote may not even matter in the end. That's on top of the fact that Trump voters already decided to stay home the last time Perdue was on the ballot.

    Beyond Trump's impact at the federal and state level, his toxicity is also permeating local elections. Buzzfeed News reports that at least a dozen Republicans who attended Trump's Jan. 6 festivities at the Capitol are on the ballot for next week's elections. They include incumbent state lawmakers, first-time candidates for statehouses, and local officials—mostly running in New Jersey and Virginia, which have off-year elections. But that also suggests that the number of Jan. 6 participants running for office this year might just be the tip of the iceberg.

    All of this information is just more evidence pointing to the fact that, whether or not Republicans take over congressional majorities next year, the party itself will be uniquely radicalized with an even more profound Trump bent following the midterms.

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