• Trump's Grip Is Slipping...
• ...While DeSantis' Is Getting Firmer
• Hunter Biden, Meet Jared Kushner...
• First Poll of the Alaska House Race Is In
• In Mexican Stunt Election, Nobody Really Won
• March... Sadness, Part XI (Executive Branch, Round 4)
Joe Biden's approval ratings continue to sink, leaving Democrats in a panic that they'll lose both chambers of Congress. So, he's doing everything he can think of, pretty much, to turn things around. On Monday, as part of that effort, the President held a press conference in the White House Rose Garden, and announced two gun-control-related initiatives.
The big announcement, which has been in the works for months, was the promulgation of a new executive order that will crack down on so-called "ghost guns," which are guns built from kits that can be purchased over the Internet. Until yesterday, such guns did not have to carry serial numbers, and did not require background checks. That made them rather popular with the criminal element, as you might imagine. Now, serial numbers and background checks will be required.
Ghost guns have been around since the 1990s, but have become particularly significant drivers of gun violence in the last decade or so, especially in minority communities. Cracking down on them is pretty broadly popular; about two-thirds of the American public support such a move, and there is much support among both gun-control advocates and among law enforcement. In fact, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro (D), who just so happens to be running for governor, was present at yesterday's event in order to emphasize what a positive development this is from a law-enforcement perspective.
Now at this point, you might be wondering: If this was such an easy call, and if it could be done with a stroke of Biden's pen, why did it take so long? Certainly, we were wondering that. The answer has two, related parts: (1A) The new regulation had to be made as airtight as possible, in view of the lawsuits that are going to be filed, probably today, by Second Amendment types, and (1B) To implement a new federal regulation, there's a process that has to be followed, and it's not especially efficient. Donald Trump preferred to skip over this process, which is why so many of the 45th president's executive orders ended up being struck down by judges. Say what you will about Biden, but he certainly has all due respect for red tape, which makes sense for a guy who's been drawing a federal paycheck for longer than (Z) has been alive.
The other big news on Monday is that Biden officially nominated former federal attorney Steve Dettelbach to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). If Dettelbach is confirmed, which is no sure thing, then he'll be the first permanent director of ATF since 2015. This reflects Trump's preference for acting department heads, as well as the feeling of most Republican senators, and some Democrats too, that anyone who is to the left of, say, John Rambo on gun control is probably a little too namby-pamby for this job. Perhaps Dettelbach should show up for his confirmation dressed like this:
Already, one Biden nominee to the post—David Chipman—was shot down by the senators, primarily because he—gasp!—once worked for a gun-control group. You certainly wouldn't want the guy responsible for overseeing the nation's gun supply to have experience with reducing the number of guns out there.
At its root, the President's thinking here is that stronger gun control, particularly of the sort of guns used by criminals, will allow him to blunt concerns that he's not doing enough to fight crime. Again, it's going to infuriate the Second Amendment types, but they're lost to Biden anyhow. And if pretty much everyone else agrees this is a good step, well, then you can't really argue with it as political strategy. Whether it will actually work, and will serve to help right the S.S. Biden is a different question, of course, and one nobody has the answer to. (Z)
When it comes to Donald Trump's desperate attempts to remain relevant, and to maintain his hold on the Republican Party, there was nothing but bad news for him in the last several days. Let's start by talking about his rallies, which he continues to hold, often in towns that are kinda, well, podunk. And at these rallies, he basically says the same exact things he's been saying at rallies for the last 7 years, maybe occasionally subbing in "Nancy Pelosi" or "Joe Biden" for "Hillary Clinton."
This weekend, Trump held his latest rally in Selma. No, not the one in Alabama, that one has far too many Black people. The one in North Carolina, which has a population of less than 7,000. And do you know what happens when you hold the same rally, where you say the same things, in a tiny little town, after more than a year out of power? You don't draw very well (or, to put it in TrumpSpeak, you get poor ratings). Shortly before the 2016 presidential election, Trump held a rally at the same venue, and the place was rocking, with attendance of about 16,000. During the recent trip, by contrast, he drew between 1,000 and 2,000, depending on whose estimate you trust. To put that in a little bit of context, the paragraph you're reading right now will have been read by more people than that within half an hour of this post going live.
Continuing with the bad news for the former president, let's now talk about Elon Musk. What does Musk have to do with anything? Well, as we've pointed out a couple of times, Musk is now the largest shareholder in Twitter. He was also set to assume a seat on the Twitter board of directors and, as an added bonus, the Tesla CEO is a sh**-stirrer par excellence. All of this was pointing to a real possibility that Musk would flex his muscles, and would get Trump reinstated to the social media platform. But on Monday it was announced that Musk will not sit on the board after all. Who made that decision? Well, that depends on whom you ask. In any event, there went Trump's lifeline.
Moving along, the biggest Trump news of the weekend was not his poorly attended rally, but his decision to give his endorsement to Mehmet Oz (R) in the Pennsylvania U.S. Senate race. Trump looks at Oz and, in many ways, sees himself: Penn alum, reality TV star, good at parting fools from their money. The former president cares relatively little about the person's policy positions, since he himself cares relatively little about policy. The problem is that Trump's base actually does care about policy, and they were hopping mad that The Donald endorsed a "closet liberal" who has, in the past, supported Roe v. Wade, restrictions on the Second Amendment and, worst of all... Obamacare. Probably best to just burn Oz at the stake right now and get it over with. Some Trumpers are saying that Trump apparently doesn't understand what Trumpism is really about. But perhaps it is actually the Trumpers who don't actually understand what Trumpism is about.
And Oz isn't the only U.S. Senate candidate who has Trump in hot water with his supporters. A lot of them are increasingly irked by Herschel Walker, who is running a lousy campaign saddled with oodles of baggage. And for all of Walker's lies and past indiscretions, one of the things they are angriest about is his decision to skip the first Georgia candidates' debate. The Trumpers find that, with some justification, to be cowardly. Don't forget that a huge element of Trumpism is machismo.
There were times in the past, from the "grab 'em by the p**sy" tape, to the revelations about blackmailing Ukraine, to the 1/6 insurrection, that we thought the Trump house of cards might collapse all at once. However, it became clear that was not the case, and that the decline of Trump would be death by a thousand cuts (something we've written several times in the last year). Well, over the past few days, he's gotten at least a few dozen of those thousand cuts. (Z)
We cannot speak to how much influence Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) has over Republicans nationwide. Truth be told, he's probably like the Headless Horseman; once he crosses the bridge out of Sleepy Hollow... er, once he crosses the Florida border, his power is probably broken. But within Florida, the Generalissimo... er, the Governor, is achieving near-dictatorial power.
The latest development on this front—and recall, this is a guy who already controls the courts, and who wants to build his own private army, and who ignores federal regulations with impunity—involves the Florida district maps. We've written about this several times, so readers will probably recall that the state legislature wants to gerrymander the maps, but DeSantis wants to gerrymander them even more, with a particular eye toward cracking a couple of majority-minority districts. It's been a pretty ugly fight, with DeSantis vetoing a couple of maps passed by the legislature, and the Florida state courts getting involved, etc.
Yesterday, the leaders of the state legislature called a press conference and... surrendered. They're supposed to return for a special session to hammer out a new map, but they're not even going to try. In a joint statement, state House Speaker Chris Sprowls (R) and state Senate President Wilton Simpson (R) said that they will just approve whatever map the governor sends them.
It's really and truly frightening how far Florida—which, remember, is a purple state that's only about 50.5% Republican—has gone down the road toward authoritarianism. Gerrymandering is enough of an insult to democracy, as it is. But to give that power to one man, primarily because he threw several temper tantrums and refused to play nice? That is a gross abdication of the legislative branch's prerogatives.
So, DeSantis will get the maps the way he wants them. And then there will be lawsuits. And between the rather clear-cut racial gerrymanders he envisions, and the fact that the maps will be adopted in such an irregular fashion, we would imagine that any judge worth their salt will toss the DeSantis maps right in the garbage. That said, we would also have imagined that the Texas abortion law wouldn't even make it past summary judgment, so what do we know? (Z)
And now, a business deal that has a very distinct odor to it, and it ain't the smell of rose petals. Jared Kushner, the former White House senior adviser, and the son-in-law of Donald Trump, has a new project. It's an equity firm called Affinity Partners, a name that really seems to be designed to be forgettable. And Affinity Partners already has over $3 billion from investors, something that was revealed back in December.
Yesterday, it was revealed where the lion's share of that money—$2 billion, to be precise—came from. We bet you can guess without us even telling you, but if you need a hint, think deserts, sheiks, and behavior from Kushner and his father-in-law that was raising eyebrows even while they were in the White House. Yep, it's the Kingdom of Saud.
Is it possible that this is entirely legitimate and above-board? Sure, in the sense that it's possible that you might win the lottery tomorrow. To start, as pretty much every finance-based media outlet observed yesterday (here's Bloomberg's take, for one example), Kushner does not have the track record to justify this kind of outlay. He was born into wealth, and his biggest business decision was the disastrous purchase of 666 Fifth Avenue, which nearly caused his family business to go under (and yes, that's the real address). The next time Kushner makes a successful move in the world of finance will be the first time.
But maybe there's some other legit reason this "opportunity" seemed attractive. For example, maybe Kushner offered his services at such a cheap rate that the Saudis had no option but to accept? Not so much; Affinity Partners is going to charge $25 million annually to manage the Saudis' investment, which is actually on the pricey side. Alternatively, maybe the opportunities that Kushner has uncovered were so appealing that the Saudis just couldn't afford to pass on them? Afraid not. In fact, the panel that oversees the Saudi royal family's investments rejected Kushner's proposal, deeming it to be a poor risk, but was overruled by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Meanwhile, we have the fact that the Trump administration, with Kushner taking the lead, helped make the Jamal Khashoggi murder go away. Oh, and the administration also sold arms to the Saudis at favorable prices. And it backed the Saudis in their incursions into Yemen. And Kushner was in constant contact with bin Salman, often outside of government channels (they liked to use WhatsApp), even when there was no pressing Saudi-U.S. business. No wonder the First Son-in-Law made so little progress on that "opioid epidemic" project. After all, drug addicts do not, in general, have billions lying around to invest.
At best, then, this looks like a golden handshake for a high-ranking government official who used his office to help the Saudis (and former Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin has also secured hundreds of millions from bin Salman, incidentally). At worst, it looks like a potential investment in access to a second Trump White House, should the 45th president also be elected the 47th president.
We would suggest there are three takeaways here. The first is that if the Trump family is not only fleecing their American supporters of hundreds of millions of dollars (until that source dries out; see above), but is also hitting up friendly foreign powers for billions, then there is no way that Donald Trump doesn't run for president again (or, at least, keep his "campaign" alive until the last possible minute to bail out). The second is that if the Trumps are willing to so publicly climb into bed with the Saudis, then it's much more plausible that they're also in bed with Vladimir Putin. We tended to dismiss such speculation, but now we're not so sure our skepticism was warranted.
The third takeaway, meanwhile, is that no Republican should ever again utter the name "Hunter Biden." Even if all the scuttlebutt about him is true (and there's no evidence that any of it, besides his tax issues, is), then the extent of his ill-gotten gains is still only in the millions, or possibly the low tens of millions. Either way, that is a fraction of the $2 billion that Jared Kushner has gotten out of the Saudis, and the $25 million a year he will make for "managing" that money. (Z)
Are you dying to know how viable Sarah Palin really is in her return to politics, after more than a decade on the sidelines? We certainly are. And now, we have our very first poll of the special election in Alaska. Here's how Remington Research Group has it, as of April 9:
|Another candidate not listed||4%|
This poll necessarily comes with some caveats, among them: (1) Polling a wonky election like this is hard, because it's hard to know what the electorate will look like; (2) Alaska is particularly tough to poll, historically; (3) Remington is an OK pollster, but not a great one; and (4) It's only one poll.
That said, it is evident that Palin is viable, and will certainly be in the top four, which means she will advance to the second round of voting. Further, since considerably more than 7% of Alaska is Democratic, it's clear that a lot of Democrats are voting for the candidate most likely to beat Palin, with "independent" Al Gross (who was previously a Democrat) currently the preferred option.
Indeed, Gross and Nick Begich are the keys to this race, since both are likely to make it to the next round, both appear to be NeverPalin candidates, and both are members of Alaska political families; the latter is grandson of former U.S. Representative Nick Begich and nephew of former U.S. Senator Mark Begich and Alaska Senate Minority Leader Tom Begich, while the former is the son of former Alaska Attorney General Avrum Gross. With Alaska's new voting system, in the runoff election, if the Begich voters list Gross second and the Gross voters list Begich second, then Palin is in big trouble. If that is not what happens, then Gross is going to need to improve on that 26% support. He does have time; the primary is on June 11 and the runoff is on August 16.
On the other hand, Santa Claus might be coming to town, but that town ain't Washington, D.C. The North Pole, AK-based candidate, previously known as Thomas O'Connor, isn't even making a dent in the polls. Apparently, name recognition isn't everything, no matter what you might have heard from the movie The Distinguished Gentleman. (Z)
France wasn't the only country to head to the polls this weekend; Mexico had an election, too. It was a rather unusual kind of election, designed to fulfill a campaign promise made by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador when he was running for office 4 years ago. That promise was that, halfway through his term, the electorate would be given the opportunity to weigh in, and to deliver a vote of no confidence.
Well, the ballots are now in, and 90% of the voters supported AMLO. So that's good for him, right? Approval more than double that of his presidential neighbor to the north? Maybe not. Turnout was very low for the non-binding election; only about 18% of eligible voters cast ballots. All the opposition parties urged boycotts, as they argued (reasonably, from where we stand) that Mexico could not afford to spend $80 million just to give the President a faux mandate. And with 82% not voting, AMLO surely cannot claim a mandate, even with 90% thumbs up. So, he didn't get what he wanted. Meanwhile, the opposition didn't really get to give him a poke in the eye. So, they didn't get what they wanted. Hence our assessment that nobody really won here. (Z)
We're lagging the NCAA, of course, but one day in the not-too-distant future, we'll have a winner. Or is it a loser? Anyhow, today begins the Not-so-Elite Eight, with the Executive Branch up first:
- #1 Former president Donald Trump (98%) defeats #13 Postmaster General Louis DeJoy (2%)
Our Take: It was a massacre; Trump was the only person in this round, in any bracket, to collect 3,000 votes (he got 3,134 to DeJoy's 64). Can anyone stop the former president? He's like the Duke Blue Devils, in more than one way.
E.R. in Irving, TX: There's one election Trump will absolutely win with no gerrymandering, voter suppression or Russian assistance required: the one you are presently conducting.
M.M. in Centralia, IL: DeJoy attempted to destroy the USPS, which is already recovering given the recent funding boost. Trump corrupted the world, which will not be restored within our lifetimes, if ever.
J.W. in Indianapolis, IN: DeJoy only qualifies to be in the Executive Branch bracket because he was appointed by Trump. If you were to make a Venn diagram of the harm caused by these two men, DeJoy's circle would be almost entirely contained within Trump's.
J.M. in San Jose, CA: DeJoy over Trump. Why? Because I want Trump to be a loser at losing.
- #15 Former attorney general William Barr (79.8%) defeats #11 Former first son Donald Trump Jr. (20.2%)
P.C. in Austin, TX: If these match-ups aren't the most lopsided of the tournament, I'll eat my copy of the Mueller Report. DeJoy is a hack, WAY outside of his comfort zone. Darth Jr. is a hack, without a comfort zone. Both will be forgotten in a year or two. Good riddance.
R.G.N. in Seattle, WA: I am feeling a little conflicted. Rather than fulfilling his duties as Attorney General, Barr functioned as Trump's personal lawyer. However, even if done to cover his butt, Barr's acceptance of the election results and refusal to participate in overturning the election, at long last displayed a sense of shame. Donald Jr. has a perfect track record as a complete waste of oxygen and isn't worth the powder to blow him apart.
T.T. in Minden, LA: Barr over Junior is a layup, to use the b-ball lingo. While getting this deep into the bracket is and no doubt will remain the biggest achievement of Don the Con Jr's misspent life by far, he has to defer here to Barr, who actually knows how to get evil done in real life.
P.H. in London, England, UK: Four pure scumbags here. But when "them chips are down," nobody can beat the vilest sh** on the ocean floor so it was the two Trumps who won my votes.
The Executive Branch bracket now looks like this:
Here is the ballot:
You've got until Monday, April 18, at noon. As per usual, we welcome comments on the matchups. (Z & V).
If you wish to contact us, please use one of these addresses. For the first two, please include your initials and city.
- email@example.com For questions about politics, civics, history, etc. to be answered on a Saturday
- firstname.lastname@example.org For "letters to the editor" for possible publication on a Sunday
- email@example.com To tell us about typos or factual errors we should fix
- firstname.lastname@example.org For general suggestions, ideas, etc.
To download a poster about the site to hang up, please click here.
Email a link to a friend or share:
---The Votemaster and Zenger
Apr11 Republicans Promise to Rein in Biden If They Capture Congress
Apr11 Democrats Try to Appeal to Ukrainian-American Voters
Apr11 Putin May Interfere in 2024 Elections
Apr11 Is a Coup against Putin Possible?
Apr11 Trump Endorses the Quacker of Oz
Apr11 Judge Likely to Allow Challenge to Greene to Proceed
Apr11 Meet the New Murdoch, Same as the Old Murdoch
Apr11 The Culture Wars Have Gone Global
Apr11 In France, It Will Be Macron vs. Le Pen again
Apr10 Sunday Mailbag
Apr09 Saturday Q&A
Apr08 Jackson Is Confirmed
Apr08 Even More Contemptible
Apr08 Friends of Russia Announce Themselves
Apr08 No Better Man than Fetterman?
Apr08 Capitol Fox Was Indeed Rabid
Apr08 This Week in Schadenfreude
Apr08 March... Sadness, Part X (Others, Round 3)
Apr07 Biden Unveils More Sanctions on Russia
Apr07 Temporary Setback for Arizona Republicans
Apr07 Texas Rejected Almost 25,000 Absentee Ballots
Apr07 Noem Bans Teaching CRT in South Dakota
Apr07 Blue Dogs Fight Back
Apr07 Poll: Clarence Thomas Should Recuse Himself from 2020 Election Cases
Apr07 Ohio House Republican Is Retiring
Apr07 Fox Attacks Democratic Congressman
Apr07 March... Sadness, Part IX (Legislative Branch, Round 3)
Apr06 Ivanka Speaks
Apr06 White House Playing Its Aces in the Hole?
Apr06 Oklahoma Passes Extremely Harsh Abortion Bill
Apr06 Another Republican Politician Is Caught Committing (Potential) Voter Fraud
Apr06 Trump Claims Another Victim
Apr06 California Special Election Headed to a Runoff
Apr06 March... Sadness, Part VIII (Judges and Governors, Round 3)
Apr05 Prediction: Thursday (or Friday), 53 (or 52) to 47
Apr05 Republican AGs Sue over Border Policy
Apr05 A Tale of Two Representatives
Apr05 The Truth about TRUTH Social
Apr05 Maryland Has Its Maps
Apr05 March... Sadness, Part VII (Executive Branch, Round 3)
Apr04 Congress Still Hasn't Passed a Standalone Bill Punishing Russia or Helping Ukraine
Apr04 Ukraine War Is Dividing the Republicans
Apr04 Select Committee Is Studying Gapology
Apr04 A New Way for Trump to Steal the 2024 Election
Apr04 Georgia Republicans Are Panicking about Walker
Apr04 Jen Psaki Will Leave Her Job as Press Secretary
Apr04 Sarah Palin is Running for Congress against Santa Claus
Apr04 Fox News Has Its Presidential Candidate Already