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The Empire Strikes Back

In some ways, this has been building all week long. And in some ways, it's been building for the last few months, or even years. And in some ways, it's been building since 1991, when the Soviet Union dissolved. Vladimir Putin, Soviet KGB agent to his very core, wants badly to rebuild as much of the Soviet empire as he possibly can. And yesterday, he took an aggressive step in that direction, ordering his forces to invade Ukraine.

One wonders why Putin bothered with the song and dance earlier this week, in which he tried to turn an invasion into "not really an invasion." Presumably he was testing how much he could get away with, vis-à-vis Joe Biden and NATO. And when it became clear that the answer was nothing, well, in for a kopek, in for a ruble, as they say. Yesterday's attack began at dawn (local time), and was not limited to the Donbas region. There was violence as far north as Kyiv and as far south as Odessa, which are about 300 miles (475 km) apart, which pretty much covers the vertical span of that country. Clearly, Putin has much broader aspirations than just the separatist region he said he was "liberating."

Consistent with his KGB/propagandist/gaslighting background, Putin gave quite the speech yesterday in which up was down, night was day, black was white, and the clocks in Ukraine were striking 13. "We do not plan to impose ourselves on anyone," he said, while Russian soldiers were busily imposing themselves on the Ukrainian people. The Russian president then addressed himself directly to the Ukrainian army, calling them "dear comrades," and advised them that they had taken an "oath of allegiance to the Ukrainian people, and not to the anti-people junta that is robbing Ukraine and abuses those same people." Putin's suggestion: "I urge you to lay down your weapons and go home." The U.S. used to use that trick in World War II and the Korean War. It didn't work then, and it surely won't work now.

If there is anyone who has the faintest idea what Putin's next move is, we do not know who they are. Presumably Putin himself knows, but he's not talking. He could drop the invasion relatively quickly, pull back to Donbas, and then hope that the allies see giving up that territory as a small price to pay for avoiding something longer and much nastier. Alternatively, he could be in for the long haul. If that's the case, he's going to get cut off from a lot of markets for Russian petroleum and other products, and a lot of sources of imported goods. One would have to assume that, in that case, he made arrangements with China to pick up much of the slack. For what it's worth, the Chinese government has advised its diplomats in Ukraine to put Chinese flags on their vehicles if they wish to remain safe.

For his part, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky has condemned the invasion as an "act of war," and claims that his forces currently have the upper hand, having shot down at least half a dozen Russian aircraft. He has declared martial law, and instructed people in Kyiv and other cities to remain in place. That's not happening, though—the freeways out of Kyiv are jammed with cars, while many people have taken shelter in underground subway tunnels.

The invasion caused a flurry of activity in Europe and abroad, of course. Putin has been denounced by the leaders of nearly all European countries, as well as the leaders of the EU, Australia, Canada, Japan, and South Korea. Several Eastern European countries, including Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, are worried they could be next, and have triggered NATO Article Four, which entitles them to consultations about and potential assistance with national security.

As to the United States' response, that's a story that is still being written. Dawn in Ukraine is nighttime in America, and so while Joe Biden has spoken out against Putin, and warned that harsher sanctions are coming, and has spoken to Zelensky and other leaders on the phone, the full extent of the American response is not yet known. Biden will convene an emergency meeting of the G-7 this morning at 9:00 a.m. ET, and then will address the nation thereafter.

Observing how this plays out in terms of U.S. domestic politics is going to be quite interesting for politics-watchers, such as the readers of this site. Until Donald Trump came on the scene and became Putin's lapdog, Republicans hated Russia and its Godless Communism. As in, hated with the fury of 1,000 white-hot suns. But they also hate Democrats. Now those two visceral hatreds are in direct conflict. Joe Biden and the Democrats hate Russia, leaving Republicans to decide whether they hate Russia more than they hate Democrats (and by extension, America, since Biden happens to be president). It's a tough call.

As a consequence, Republicans are split and are all over the map. Donald Trump called Putin a genius for invading a democratic neighbor. Trump also said that he thinks Putin has sized up Biden and decided that Biden isn't strong enough to stop Putin from rolling into Kyiv and taking it over. Then he added that would never have happened had he been in office. That's brave talk, but we have little doubt what Trump would have decided if Putin had told him: "Here's the deal: I invade Ukraine and put in a puppet government and you approve. In return, you can build a 100-story Trump Tower Moscow with the top floor a penthouse and the basement a bunker for me. Deal?"

The problem for Trump is that many other Republicans are backing America against Russia. This shouldn't be news, but it is. If the shoe were on the other foot and some Democrats were backing Russia against America, Republicans would call them traitors and demand they be tried for treason and hanged. Among the other Republicans who are backing America are Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Reps. Liz Cheney (R-WY) and Adam Kinzinger (R-IL). Graham said: "To allow Putin to get away with the destruction of Ukraine and to think it won't affect China is naive."

Some Republicans realize that backing Russia might come back and bite them later—but, so could backing Biden. What to do? Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) and would-be senator J.D. Vance (along with Tucker Carlson) have taken a different path: isolationism. They say the U.S. has no business getting involved with Ukraine at all. Ukraine is not a NATO member, so the U.S. should just let it defend itself if it can. These right-wingers also are arguing that expanding NATO (especially to the Baltic states) was a big mistake. They say that America's true enemies are China and Mexico and that the U.S needs to defend its southern border, not Ukraine's border. At the moment, Russian TV is playing clips of Carlson on pretty much an endless loop, which certainly makes a statement. Will Hawley and Vance be Russian TV stars by this time tomorrow, too? Maybe.

This split makes it hard for Republicans to present a unified front against Biden. They are trying to rally around the one thing they agree upon, namely that this must be the President's fault. Some, like McConnell, are focusing on Afghanistan, and saying that the messy withdrawal there is what emboldened Putin. Others, like Reps. Kevin McCarthy (CA), Steve Scalise (LA) and Elise Stefanik (NY) are accusing Biden of appeasement. That trio issued a statement yesterday, decreeing exactly that: "Sadly, President Biden consistently chose appeasement and his tough talk on Russia was never followed by strong action."

In short, it's not the usual disciplined Republican messaging, in part because they are so divided on the fundamental issues here. Steve Bannon is kinda kooky in a lot of ways, but he does know the dynamics of the Republican Party. And he pointed out that what we're really seeing here is the Trump movement against the neocons, Part 127. He says, rightly, that the Trump movement has no interest in what happens to the Russian-speaking provinces in eastern Ukraine. Zero. The more traditional Republicans do, either because they viscerally hate Russia, or else because they understand that isolationism ceased to be a viable geopolitical strategy for countries not named Switzerland right around June 28, 1914. It is not going to be easy for the red team to paper over this. Maybe if Ukraine tries to send a trans woman to the next Olympics they can reach some sort of consensus, but Paris 2024 is more than 2 years away.

The Democrats, by contrast, are quite unified on this issue. That will work to the benefit of them, and to the President. It is also the case that there is no better medicine for a president's approval rating than a foreign policy that appears to be well-executed. President after president got their best numbers following well-received foreign policy moves—the Cuban Missile Crisis for John F. Kennedy, detente with China for Richard Nixon, the Camp David Accords for Jimmy Carter, the bombing of Libya for Ronald Reagan, the Persian Gulf War for George H.W. Bush, the killing of Osama bin Laden for Barack Obama, the summit with Kim Jong-Un for Donald Trump.

Following the Afghanistan withdrawal, our assessment was consistent: The pull-out was messy, but Biden made the best he could of a bad situation. We also speculated that he knew it wasn't going to go well, and that he decided to get it out of the way long before the midterms. The current situation is similar, in that Biden is making the best he can of a bad situation. However, where it differs is that it's not messy, at least not for Americans and their armed forces. Yes, there may be some pain down the road, as stock markets are roiled and supply chains are further disrupted. But for now, it's really hard to see how Biden could have done better. He and his administration kept the American people informed, and projected events with an almost laserlike precision, up to and including the President warning over this past weekend that an invasion was imminent (and it was!). He's managed to shepherd an alliance that has remained firm, acted resolutely, and certainly appears to be entirely on the same page. And he's kept the U.S. from any sort of direct military commitment, and thus from the possibility of another Vietnam, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. We suspect that many Americans will reach the same conclusions.

Meanwhile, as noted, the Republicans have a really lousy hand to play. The argument that Mitch McConnell is trying to make, namely that this was all caused by the Afghanistan withdrawal, is just silly. Vladimir Putin knows better than anyone that there's no such thing as a clean withdrawal from Afghanistan, and is not going to base his foreign policy on what happened there. No, Putin is clearly motivated by one or both of these things: (1) Donald Trump's America First policy, and the hope/possibility that NATO would be fatally weakened; (2) domestic troubles at home that call for some sort of distraction. Democrats will be able to point these things out, while also observing that if Biden followed the "stay out of it" advice of Carlson, Bannon, Hawley, and the other isolationists, that would be a de facto engraved invitation to China to go ahead and fully annex Taiwan.

Any week in politics is a long time, of course, and right now it's probably the case that a day in politics is a long time. But for now, that is how matters appear to stand. We shall see today what Biden's response to the crisis is. (Z & V).

Republicans Are Unified on Banning Abortion after 15 Weeks

The Republican Party may be all over the place on Ukraine, but at least there's always abortion. Many Republican state legislators think that late this spring, the Supreme Court will either (1) strike down Roe v. Wade entirely or (2) simply declare that Mississippi can ban all abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. None of them are expecting the Court to leave Roe untouched. The hardliners on the Court would definitely prefer option (1), but Chief Justice John Roberts understands that the political blowback from doing that could turn a red wave into a blue wave in November, and will plead with his colleagues to go for option (2). Many state legislators are already preparing for that possibility.

In particular, Republican legislators in Arizona, Florida, and other states are already working on laws based on the Mississippi one. After all, if the Court says Mississippi can ban abortions after the 15th week of pregnancy, why can't Arizona, Florida, West Virginia, or any other state where the Republicans have the trifecta? They want to be able to get the new law passed before the midterms, so as soon as the Supreme Court gives them the green light, they will be ready to move.

What few states are doing is copying the Texas law that bans abortions after 6 weeks. Legislators in other states don't expect that one to survive, so why waste time copying it when they believe the Mississippi law will get the blessing of five or six of the justices?

In practice, even if every red state copies the Mississippi law, it won't actually ban many abortions. There are no universally accepted statistics on abortions, but the various estimates put the number in the range of 600,000 to 850,000 per year. Lynda Bell, president of Florida Right to Life, estimates that a ban at 15 weeks in all the red states would save 5,000 "babies" a year. That's a relative drop in the diaper. Unspoken is that 15 weeks is completely arbitrary. What happens if Alabama or some other state passes a law putting the cutoff at 12 weeks and takes that to the Supreme Court? There is no logical reason to say 15 weeks is fine and 12 weeks is not, so SCOTUS is likely to approve that law as well. Then some other state will try 9 weeks. You see where this is going. Think of it as the salami attack—slice off a little bit at a time. Republicans see this as a highly viable approach. They may be right. (V)

Democrats Want to Be United

Democrats realize that unless they can come up with a single overriding theme that voters can understand and support, they will be toast in November. So they are working hard on trying to come up with something. Otherwise voters will conclude they are incapable of governing and hand the keys to the Republicans.

David Axelrod, Barack Obama's top strategist, urged Democrats not to brag about how well things are going, as most Americans think the country is on the wrong track. He says they should offer hope. In particular, almost everyone has had enough of the pandemic and Democrats may have to throw caution to the wind and call for a return to normal, even if that means tens of thousands of old people will die. If Republicans win, even more people will die, so the choices are "bad" vs. "worse." What Democrats need to do is announce that they beat the pandemic, it is now over, and we can move forward. That is what people want to hear, even if it is not really true.

Another area where Democrats need to come up with a clear position is schools. Republicans are going to be running on opposing school closings and even school masks. In addition, they are going to be beating the drums on Critical Race Theory. The Democrats need to come up with an answer. That might be something like "teaching children the truth," without getting into the details. That is an attempt to finesse the issue, but just ignoring it while Republicans make it the centerpiece of their midterm platform isn't going to make it go away.

Next week Joe Biden will give the State of the Union address. This is his opportunity to make a break with the past and lay out the Democrats' midterm platform. If he says that everything is fine and we'll just keep muddling along, that won't do the job. He is going to have to address multiple crises, including Ukraine, COVID-19, and inflation. This is a tall order, but the Democrats' chances in November largely depend on the path he lays out. Of course, the fact that the Ukraine situation has now jumped to the front burner and has heated up by several hundred degrees could give a focus to his agenda, and might possibly give the Democrats something to rally around.

The Republicans have chosen Gov. Kim Reynolds (R-IA) to give the reply to Biden's SOTU speech. Last year she signed a bill blocking mask mandates, so they could be a theme of her reply. Of course, if Biden comes out against mask mandates, all she can say is that "we did it first." She also signed a bill that gives unemployment benefits to people who were fired for not wearing a mask at work. In addition, she also signed a bill banning the teaching of Critical Race Theory. It is not actually being taught in Iowa schools, at least not the high-school-and-below schools covered by the bill, but what difference does that make?

Reynolds' reply to the SOTU speech won't be the only one. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) is giving one on behalf of progressives. However, hers is not likely to be carried by all the networks, as Reynolds' will be. Tlaib will speak as a friend of the Working Families party and her address will be livestreamed on their Facebook page. Unfortunately for the Democrats, her speech will display some of the rifts within a Democratic Party that is trying to get unified. She is expected to call out Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) by name and plead for voters to elect more progressives. It will be a tightrope act for her because having members attacking their own president gives the impression of disarray, just when Democrats are desperate to show they are unified. And doing it with a war freshly underway? She might decide that this is the time to tone things down a lot. (V)

Democrats Are Bored with the News

A new poll from Gallup shows that younger Democrats have lost interest in following the national news. It is not a surprise. It is always like this. Younger Democrats tune into presidential elections in the fall of a presidential election year and tune out the year after. Then they don't vote in the midterms and the Democrats get walloped. Same old story. In contrast, older Democrats and Republicans are still consuming lots of national news, as always. Here are the data from Feb. 2018 to Dec. 2021.

Gallup poll of interest in the news 2018-2021; Republicans 
and independents are pretty consistent in that 30-45% of them follow the news at all times, while Democrats spike up to the 60s and 70s at election time
but are down to the 30s right now.

The decline in news consumption among Democrats 18-34 is staggering. A quarter (24%) said they paid attention to the national news in 2021, compared to 70% in November 2020. Independents who lean Democratic are also paying less attention to the news than independents that lean Republican.

Axios previously reported a disengagement with national news last month. Social media interactions with news articles were off 65% in 2021 compared to 2020. Cable news views dropped 36%, downloads of news apps dropped 33%. Visits to the top five news sites was off by 8%. Interestingly, visits to hyperpartisan news sites took a bigger hit than visits to mainstream sites.

Although he was not responding to the massive dropoff in interest in news by (young) Democrats, Mike Bloomberg has warned the Democrats that unless they do something, and fast, they are going to get wiped out in November. He thinks that Democrats are alienating voters by talking about culture wars issues like defunding the police and renaming schools. If the school board recall elections in San Francisco are an indicator, he might just have a point there. On the other hand, those school board elections were pretty easily explainable as overreach by the three members who were cashiered, and this is the same Mike Bloomberg whose prognostication skills told him he'd be a viable presidential candidate. So, maybe he doesn't have a point. (V)

While Congress Is Deadlocked, the States Are Moving--Backward

Congress can barely name a post office, but many red states are hotbeds of legislation. Legislatures in Florida, Georgia, Montana, Texas, and other states are busy passing laws to carry out their culture-war agenda. The laws do things like:

  • Ban or restrict abortion (see above)
  • Limit access to voting
  • Ban books they don't like
  • Retrench transgender rights
  • Constrain teachers' ability to discuss race and sexual orientation
  • Install cameras in classrooms so political officials can monitor teachers' compliance
  • Remove existing restrictions on gun ownership and use
  • Increase penalties for engaging in a protest
  • Empower private citizens to bring lawsuits to enforce these items

It is a veritable cornucopia of right-wing wishes come true. This is a complete switch from the previous Republican desire to see a small government not interfere in citizens' lives. The new Republican Party wants a big active government that uses all of its power to force people to obey its morality or be punished by the state. The change is astonishing. Ronald Reagan, who believed that the smaller and less intrusive government is, the better things are, is no doubt rolling over in his grave. Among other things, the states are now making a concerted attack to repeal as many civil rights and civil liberties as they can, as fast as they can. This is completely unprecedented in American history, which has generally seen an expansion of rights over the years.

If Democrats are smart, they will do some cherry picking here. A new CBS poll shows that 83% of Americans do not want books banned for being critical of U.S. history and 87% oppose banning them for discussing race or slavery. Even 76% say that schools should be allowed to teach ideas and historical events that make some students uncomfortable. Repeatedly pointing out that Republicans want to "cleanse" American history by banning books that don't agree with their views could be a winner in November.

Nadine Smith, executive director of Equality Florida, summed the situation up by saying: "You have an emerging generation that is multiracial, multicultural, where no single ethnic or racial group is the majority, and it has struck an existential fear within those who are used to controlling everything, from the boardroom to the White House." Deborah Archer, president of the ACLU, said: "We have seen the protection of our civil rights and civil liberties being chipped away, death by a thousand cuts. Today, we are seeing more protections torn down all at once." In other words, straight white Christian men used to run the country and they see that power slipping away so they are using state governments to roll things back to where they were when they had complete control. The result will effectively split the country into red states and blue states, where the laws are completely different in many areas.

Why is this suddenly happening and why at the state level? Probably the reason that it is happening now is that the pandemic demonstrated that state actions often have more impact on people's lives than federal actions. In addition, with Congress perpetually deadlocked and the Democrats holding the federal trifecta, conservative activists have begun to realize that they are not going to get what they want out of Washington any time soon (abortion being the exception). Hence the focus on dozens of states where implementing the conservative agenda is definitely feasible and right now. The activists also recognize that Donald Trump has changed the Republican Party from one that believes in less government to one mostly catering to angry white voters furious about cultural and demographic change. Also a factor is the erosion of resistance from business groups, which once held a lot of sway among Republicans. Now it is pitchfork-wielding firebrands who run the GOP, not boardroom types.

The 2020 census documented a lot of the change Republicans are scared silly about. For the first time ever, kids of color are a majority of the under-18-year olds. Conservatives realize that they had better get their wishes enacted into law now before the kids get old enough to vote in large numbers. Also, white Christians are now only 40% of the population. For people who always took it for granted that they were the majority, this is a rather unpleasant and unwelcome surprise. (V)

Trump Finally Gets Some Good News on the Legal Front

Almost all the news on the legal front relating to Donald Trump has been bad, for months on end. Finally, he got some good news yesterday. The two top prosecutors working on his case in the Manhattan D.A.'s office have resigned. Carey Dunne and Mark Pomerantz submitted letters of resignation to the new D.A. Alvin Bragg, after Bragg told them he had doubts about moving ahead with the case. This is very surprising since Bragg campaigned on a promise to throw the book at Trump. Now he appears to be reneging on this promise less than two months after taking office.

Bragg refused to explain why he was pulling back on prosecuting Trump for financial crimes. He merely thanked the two departing prosecutors. It is possible that Bragg has failed to get any high-profile witnesses, most notably Trump CFO Allen Weisselberg, to cooperate. Time is running out since the grand jury empanelment expires in April. The Manhattan case is the most developed of all the cases looking into possible financial crimes. If the case is dropped, Trump could skate. Although New York AG Letitia James is looking at some of this, she is working on a civil case, not a criminal case. (V)

CPAC Begins Today

The annual gathering of hard-right conservative activists, CPAC, begins today in Orlando. One of the Washington Post's token conservative columnists, Henry Olsen, has an interesting column about CPAC. Years ago, it was open to all kinds of conservatives, including Christian conservatives, economic conservatives, libertarian conservatives, and even mainstream conservatives. In 2012, for example, then-House-Speaker John Bohner and Mitch McConnell got key time slots.

The panels and speeches were somewhat intellectual—for example, whether the replacement of the progressive income tax should be a flat income tax or a value added tax. Many of the speakers and panelists were conservative economists, professors, and others with intellectual heft in addition to their conservative views.

All that is gone now. The list of 2022 invitees gives an inkling of where the movement is now. Donald Trump will speak, of course. Govs. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) and Kristi Noem (R-SD) have coveted solo speaking slots. Other speakers include Donald Trump Jr., and Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Ted Cruz (R-TX). Also getting some podium time are Reps. Madison Cawthorn (R-NC), Lauren Boebert (R-CO), Andy Biggs (R-AZ), and many others on the far right and even farther right.

Not invited are Mike Pence, Nikki Haley, and Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX). None are apparently considered conservative enough. Trump and Trumpism have taken over the movement from beginning to end. Also, the speakers are now all politicians or media personalities. None of them could tell a flat tax from a VAT if their lives depended on it.

The panels have changed correspondingly. One is called "Lock Her Up FOR REAL." Another is about "The Moron in Chief" (presumably about Joe Biden). Others have the titles "Obamacare Still Kills," "Fire Fauci," and "The Invasion." Since the latter hasn't happened yet, we don't know what it is about, but we have a sneaking suspicion that it does not involve Vladimir Putin or Ukraine.

In short, what was once a broad conference with many flavors of conservatism represented, with learned speakers talking about fundamental principles of conservatism (e.g., the tax system), it is now all Trumpism all the time, with empty-headed politicians and media figures competing to yell their slogans the loudest.

Then-governor of California Ronald Reagan gave the inaugural keynote in 1974, talking about his vision of "A Shining City Upon a Hill." When white supremacist Richard Spencer entered the hotel in 2017, he was quickly ejected by force, with the organizers saying that he and his ilk despise everything conservatives believe in. Now it would be the other way around, with Spencer as keynote speaker and Reagan ejected as a left-wing socialist. Boy, how times change. (V)

Online Race for the Presidency Is in Full Swing

It used to be that presidential campaigns waited until the midterms were over before getting going. Among other things, politicians wanted to see how the winds were blowing, which slogans, themes, and ads did well, and whose endorsement would be worth trying to get. Those days are no more. Half a dozen Republican presidential wannabes who are not on the ballot in 2022 are already spending big money to be positioned in case Donald Trump decides not to run. Conceivably, in some cases, if they feel he is sufficiently wounded (e.g., convicted of one or more crimes), some of them might challenge him even if he does decide to run.

The main thrust is building a fundraising base that can handle a national campaign. The wannabes are also gently starting to test their appeal to a national audience in the era of Trump. For example, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) spent a whopping $13.6 million in 2021, even though he is not on the ballot this year. That is more than almost every senator who is on the ballot this year. At least $3.3 million went into digital services. Josh Hawley, who is also not on the ballot this year, spent $1.7 million online last year. PACs started by Nikki Haley and Mike Pompeo spent $2.4 million and $1.4 million respectively last year. For reference, Trump spent $6.4 million online in 2021, and he also is not on the ballot (at least not literally) in 2022.

Alex Conant, a Republican strategist, said: "You can't wait until you launch your campaign to build an online donor base." The candidates seem to be taking that to heart.

Another way to gauge the interest of potential candidates is how often they have visited Iowa and New Hampshire. Next month the New Hampshire Republican Party is holding a fundraiser for itself. Ted Cruz and both Sens. Scott (Tim, R-SC, and Rick, R-FL) will be there. Rick Scott is almost surely running for president. Tim Scott might be running for vice president.

On the Democratic side, all is quiet on the western front. Also the eastern front, northern front, and southern front. Until Joe Biden definitively makes a decision to run or retire, most wannabes are going to lie low. The only one who is not up in 2022 and who spent serious money in 2021 is Sen. Amy Klobuchar (DFL-MN). (V)

Missouri Republicans Hightail It to Mar-a-Lago

Where do you think the Missouri Senate election is being fought? Kansas City? St. Louis? Jefferson City? Nope. The battle is being fought in Palm Beach, FL. Who cares what the voters think or want? All that matters is what Donald Trump wants.

Disgraced former Missouri governor Eric Greitens (R), who is running for the Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), just came back from a visit to Mar-a-Lago to see if he could get Trump's endorsement. After all, he sexually assaulted his hairdresser, tied her up, photographed her nude, and threatened to blackmail her. For someone with Trump's history, that might well be a selling point. And just in case that résumé doesn't do the job, Greitens' campaign ads are running this photo to remind Trump (and the voters) that he is tough. He is a former Navy SEAL and that it is important for senators to be able to shoot AR-15s in case the Senate is attacked... by the wrong mob.

Eric Greitens with AR-15

Other things that Trump might like about Greitens are his two divorces and his almost-impeachment. He avoided a certain impeachment and conviction by resigning as governor before the state legislature could pass a bill to impeach him. Trump probably regards that as "smart."

Not to be oudone, Missouri AG Eric Schmitt (R), who is also running for Blunt's seat, has announced that he will hold a fund-raiser at Mar-a-Lago on March 10. It will cost $1,000 to attend and $5,800 to host a committee. Schmitt has visited Mar-a-Lago four times in the past couple of months. These might have been planning meetings. Remember, with Trump it is always all about the grift. We very much doubt that Trump has given Schmitt permission to use Mar-a-Lago for free. We strongly suspect that either Schmitt is paying Trump a flat fee for use of the property or perhaps a percentage of the take. Maybe that is why it has taken four meetings to pull this off: Trump was greedy and Schmitt wanted to make sure at least some of the money the attendees paid went to his campaign.

As of the most recent filings, the cash on hand of the various Republican Senate candidates is as follows:

  • Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-MO): $1.78 million
  • State Sen. Dave Schatz: $1.16 million
  • Rep. Billy Long (R-MO): $577,000
  • Eric Greitens: $290,000
  • Mike McCloskey: $99,300

Many people in Trump's orbit have endorsed Greitens, but Hartzler got Josh Hawley and Schmitt got Ted Cruz and billionaire Peter Thiel. (V)

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Draws a New Congressional Map

After the Republican-controlled Pennsylvania state legislature and Democratic governor could not agree on a new congressional map, the job fell to the state Supreme Court. The Court hired a Stanford professor, Jonathan Rodden, an expert on political maps, as a special master. He drew a map that creates nine districts that went for Donald Trump twice and eight districts that went for Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden. Of these, six are strongly Republican, five are strongly Democratic, and three each lean toward one of the parties but are somewhat competitive. The current delegation is 9R, 9D, but the state is losing a House seat and it was a Democratic seat that got cut. Given a 17-member delegation, a 9-8 split was the best Rodden could do to produce a fair map. It's the Democrats' bad luck that they were the ones to lose a seat. Here is the new map.

Final PA congressional map; no particularly strange district boundaries

Democrats would have liked to have a 9-8 edge, but they are happy with a map that is far better for them than the one the legislature drew. Gov. Tom Wolf (D-PA) called it a "fair map that will result in a congressional delegation mirroring the citizenry of Pennsylvania." Republicans immediately criticized the Court, which didn't use a highly gerrymandered map approved by a conservative lower-court judge.

Only two incumbents now live in the same district, namely Reps. Fred Keller (R) and G.T. Thompson (R). If both want to stay in Congress, they may have to fight each other, although members don't have to live in their districts. No Democrat has been lumped in with another Democrat.

Justices on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court are elected and the Democrats have a 5-2 majority although one of them defected, so the new map was approved 4-3. (V)

Biden Has Interviewed All the Short-Listed Supreme Court Candidates

Joe Biden has a short list of four possible replacements for retiring Justice Stephen Breyer. Now, he has interviewed all of them. He has also studied their writings, legal experience and personal backgrounds. Sources say he is very close to making a decision, although developments in Ukraine could push that back a bit.

Three of the candidates are widely believed to be J. Michelle Childs (55), Ketanji Brown Jackson (51), and Leondra Kruger (45). The fourth one is not known. Each of these three has something going for her. Childs (University of South Florida and University of South Carolina Law School) is backed by Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC), who singlehandedly saved Biden's flailing campaign back in 2020. Biden owes him big time. Also, she would get at least one Republican vote, that of Lindsey Graham, which would be enough to make bipartisanship fetishists swoon. She also would the rare justice these days who didn't go to an Ivy League law school. Jackson (Harvard magna cum laude and Harvard Law School), meanwhile, once clerked for Breyer, providing some continuity in the seat. She is also the most progressive of the three. Kruger (Harvard magna cum laude and Yale Law School) is 10 years younger than Childs and would presumably serve 10 years longer on the Court. Also, she breaks the pattern of naming Supreme Court justices from the federal bench. She is on the California Supreme Court.

Biden has done a pretty good job of not leaking what he is thinking. It could be any of the three or even the mystery candidate, although we tend to doubt that. When news reports said that Lyndon Johnson was going to do [X], he often specifically did not do [X], just to make the media look foolish. Biden is not like that. The announcement could come as early as this week. (V)

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