• Shinzo Abe Assassinated
• Today's Shady Trump Behavior
• Senate Democrats Are Making Sausage
• Gas Prices Are Falling
• Youngkin for President?
• Midterm Elections Roundup
• This Week in Schadenfreude
We usually put items about foreign politics at the bottom of the page, not the top. However, it's not every day that the head of government of the United States' most important ally is brought down by (yet another) scandal. Yesterday, as expected, Boris Johnson resigned as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.
Over the course of his political career, but in particular over the last 6 months, Johnson has lurched from self-inflicted crisis to self-inflicted crisis. Here's a pretty good list of them, courtesy of reader M.C. in Swinton, England, UK:
- Being sacked twice for lying (including by a former Tory leader)
- Calling Muslim women who wear face coverings "bank robbers" and "letter boxes"
- Referring to gay men as "tank-topped bumboys"
- Referring to Africans a "piccaninnies" with "watermelon smiles"
- Insulting Barack Obama as "half-Kenyan"
- Making a Russian oligarch a member of the House of Lords over objections from security services
- Allegedly promising to supply the home address of a journalist being targeted for physical attack
- Allowing illegal booze-ups in Downing Street while the 'little people' couldn't see dying loved ones
- Making false denials about said booze-ups in Parliament
- Enabling a sexual predator with a well-founded reputation for being so by promoting him to a position of power over others and then feigning ignorance of this
The last was the straw that broke the camel's back, as more than 60 members of the administration resigned over the course of a couple of days, leaving Johnson's position untenable. Concludes M.C.: "So, there you have it. The Conservatives may be quite happy to tolerate a misogynistic, homophobic, racist bully as their leader but, these fine public servants do have some standards."
Here are reports from a couple of our regular British correspondents. Starting with S.T. in Worcesteshire, England, UK:
Boris resigns—sort of.
It's difficult to know where to start with the latest episode of the Boris Johnson soap opera, but last month's confidence vote—which saw 41% of Conservative MPs voting against him—is as good a place as any. While others might have seen the need to build bridges, BoJo decided to burn a few more, saying he would not change, that he was looking forward to being prime minister into the 2030s, and starting a highly contentious move to unilaterally change part of the Brexit settlement, probably breaking international law in the process. With a drubbing in two by-elections in late June, the scene was set for a final reckoning.
It was not Johnson's fault that one of his leading supporters and Deputy Chief Whip, Chris Pincher MP, got drunk and sexually accosted two men in a private club last week. But a delay in temporarily removing Pincher from the party and a series of equivocating and shifting statements about what was known about Pincher's previous behavior certainly was. When, on Tuesday morning, a retired senior civil servant stated that Johnson's claim that he had not specifically been told of Pincher's predatory behavior was false, the floodgates opened. A claim in the House of Commons by a government minister that Johnson had "forgotten" about the warning provoked incredulity and laughter.
Just after 6 p.m., two cabinet ministers resigned, one of them the Finance Minister. And 24 hours later, nearly 40 ministers or aides, all Conservative MP's, had followed them, and numerous backbenchers, some of whom were previously Johnson supporters, also withdrew their support from the Prime Minister. Remaining cabinet ministers were queueing up to discuss the position with Johnson who apparently informed them that he would not resign, and would "bash on." To add spice—or should that be spite?—he sacked Michael Gove, a senior Cabinet minister, and a long standing frenemy of Johnson.
On Thursday morning, after a further flurry of resignations, Johnson finally agreed to resign but only as leader of his party. He intends to remain Prime Minister until the process of choosing the new leader is completed. In a thoroughly graceless resignation speech, he repeated a carefully selected Greatest Hits (such as the success of the COVID vaccination program, but not the nearly 200,000 COVID deaths in the U.K.). He claimed his Conservative colleagues had reached an "eccentric" decision and accused them of "herd mentality." He promised to give his successor "as much support as I can," which sounds less than fulsome. And there were no apologies, no regrets, no remorse whatsoever. Just a lot of self pity. Very Johnson, very Trump.
Needless to say, many Conservatives are not thrilled about Johnson remaining in office for a further two to four months given that the key issue which has resulted in his dismissal is his fitness to hold office. What further damage could a vengeful "lame duck" do?
Meanwhile in the real world, the U.K. is on the verge of recession and heading towards double digit inflation. Happy Days.
And from A.B. in Lichfield, England, UK:
I'm writing this one hour after Boris Johnson resigned as leader of the Conservative Party, but events are by no means settled. Johnson is attempting to cling on as Prime Minister until October, until his successor has been chosen by his party, but his resignation speech has angered many members of that party; it's widely seen by all shades of political opinion as combining a good dose of self-justification with blaming everyone but himself for his fall. A fair number of people also suspect that he'll try and find some new way to cling on between now and October, so there's a non-negligible chance that his party will force him out before the week is out. Don't think this is over. All the same, we've at least managed to avert what was developing overnight as a fairly serious constitutional crisis. Other than an unusual situation in 1931 (where Ramsay MacDonald lost the confidence of most of his party, but stayed in office at the head of a national government with the backing of the opposition), we had no precedent for a Prime Minister manifestly losing the confidence of his own party yet still refusing to resign. That he's finally bowed to the inevitable is a relief.
But in his term in office, Johnson has done significant damage to the conventions and assumptions that underpin our unwritten constitution. It's not just "Partygate," which most of your readers are likely familiar with. A few key highlights include his attempt to prorogue Parliament (i.e., end a parliamentary session), only for our Supreme Court to declare the prorogation illegal. Then there was the scandal that resulted when a friend and sitting MP was found guilty of a breach of parliamentary standards via illegal lobbying, and Johnson attempted to change the rules to keep his friend in office, only to be forced to back down by the strength of the counter-reaction. Then there was the time when evidence emerged that the Home Secretary had breached the Ministerial Code (which defines appropriate behavior for ministers), which would normally be a resignation matter, and Johnson stepped in to protect her and refused to ask for her resignation. And, of course, what finally brought him down was his decision to hire a known sexual predator to a senior position in the party, and then lie about whether he knew about the accusations against Chris Pincher when the latter had to resign following a case of public sexual assault. His own ministers ultimately refused to facilitate him any further, tired of being sent out again and again and again to cover for yet another self-inflicted scandal, only to find out after doing their rounds of media interviews that the line they'd been fed was a lie.
Boris Johnson was always temperamentally unfit to be Prime Minister. His chaotic leadership style, his reliance on lies and bluster, and his unwillingness to follow the rules were well known long before he became leader of the Conservative Party. His party made a devil's bargain to bring in someone they thought was a winner despite knowing that he was unfit to hold office, hoping that the grownups in the room could keep his worst instincts under control. It was a foolish bargain that has ultimately damaged both country and party. I hope we can move on, and the damage hasn't perhaps been as bad to our system as the damage that Donald Trump caused to the U.S. system; but both our unwritten constitution and the increasingly tenuous union that holds the four nations of the United Kingdom together remain under considerable strain as a direct consequence of his three years in office.
A period of boring, normal government—irrespective of who's in power—would be welcome.
We'll have some more commentary in the mailbag this weekend, including messages on the Trump-Johnson parallel. For now, however, let's talk about what happens next. Reader B.C. in Hertfordshire, England, UK explains:
Firstly, Conservative Members of Parliament will announce their candidacies. Then, 300-400 Conservative MP's will vote on the candidates until they have whittled them down to just two.
Finally, the membership of the Conservative Party will vote on the two candidates and thus choose their next leader (who will automatically become PM).
The Conservative Party has 200,000 members. The UK has a population of over 60 million. Yes, that's right, the next British PM will be chosen by 0.3% of the population!
And you thought that the USA has problems with democratic credibility!
Not very democratic, but not much different from how the Senate Majority Leader is chosen, we suppose. As to the candidates to replace Johnson, they are coming out of the woodwork. G.S. in Basingstoke, England, UK has kindly sent in a rundown of the main ones:
- Rishi Sunak: Former Chancellor, showed solidarity with Boris by also receiving a criminal
fine for breaking their own lockdown rules. However, pulled the trigger on Boris with resignation, so may be regarded as
- Priti Patel: Home Secretary, daughter of immigrants, now wants to put asylum seekers on a
one way flight to Rwanda. You thought your southern border was bad?
- Lis Truss: Foreign Secretary, darling of the Tory membership. The apparent running joke in
Westminster is that she is so dense light bends around her.
- Nadhim Zahawi: Current Chancellor, accepted the job "out of duty" and promptly told his
boss to leave within 48 hours. How very Game of Thrones.
- Suella Braverman: Not widely known, but made headlines by declaring her candidacy before
Boris had even resigned.
- Ben Wallace: Defence Secretary, whose chief claim to fame is having the largest bar bill
on record during his time as an officer in the military.
- Matt Hancock: Former Health Secretary. Resigned, not over his catastrophic mishandling of
COVID, but caught on camera breaking social distancing rules kissing an aide while married.
- Nadine Dorries: Rabid Johnson supporter, and our answer to Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA).
Not a real promising field, from where we sit.
As to the impact from an American vantage point, Johnson was a firm supporter of Ukraine and of Joe Biden's maneuvering there. Presumably the next PM will be, too, but you don't know until they put up or shut up. Beyond that, the U.K. economy was already reeling due to Brexit and to the various global issues affecting all countries, and now the government turmoil could precipitate a severe recession or a depression. That's not great for the U.S., given its financial ties to the U.K.
Beyond these two areas of concern, however, the Biden administration won't be terribly sorry to see Johnson go. The President and the former PM got along well enough, since they're both personable, but they don't see eye-to-eye on most non-Ukraine issues. The White House will hope that the next PM will be a little less Trump and a little more Merkel. (Z)
In case the decline and fall of Boris Johnson was not shocking enough, there was also very late news out of Japan this morning that former PM Shinzo Abe has been assassinated.
The details of the incident are shaky enough that you probably shouldn't take them to the bank quite yet, but Abe was apparently in the midst of delivering a speech when he was shot from behind with a homemade shotgun. Struck in the neck, he was reported to be responsive en route to the hospital, then to be in critical condition, then to be registering no vital signs, and then to have perished. He was 67. A suspect has already been taken into custody.
Though the news broke very early Friday morning, Abe has already been praised by Biden administration officials, including ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel, and by Donald Trump. We do not know if there will be domestic political implications here, but one could imagine certain Texas senators using this as evidence that strict gun laws, like the ones Japan has, don't work. (Z)
Even on the day that Boris Johnson's ministry came to an end, he didn't get to monopolize the "sleazy politician" news. Indeed, there were two different brand-new Donald Trump scandals that broke yesterday, either (or both) of which could ultimately add to the extensive criminal and civil exposure the former president already has.
The biggie, which was first reported by The New York Times, comes straight from the playbook of Richard Nixon. Trump, of course, was no fan of former FBI Director James Comey or former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe. And during Trump's term, both men were "randomly" selected for the most invasive form of IRS audit, McCabe in 2017 and Comey in 2019.
Only one person in 30,000 was selected for this particular type of audit in the former year and only one person in 20,000 was selected in the latter year. That means the odds of both men being selected entirely at random is 1 in 600 million. Seems... improbable. The IRS has referred the matter to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration. Trump has already decreed that "I have no knowledge of this," but since that is what he would say if he was behind the audits, or if he wasn't, this isn't exactly instructive.
The second brand-new scandal involves the special purpose acquisition company that funded Trump's social media platform, Truth Social. Just a couple of weeks before the directors of the company were served with multiple subpoenas, Trump, his son Donald Jr. and four others left the board. It's not clear why they did so. And, in fact, the Trumps are using verbal tricks to suggest they never left the board at all, even though they did. In any case, the optics aren't good, and the smell isn't much better.
And those are today's plotlines from As the TrumpWorld Turns. (Z)
On one hand, we are loath to mention this story because we've all heard it a dozen times before. On the other hand, if it really is the start of something, then it could turn out to be big news. So, after debating it a bit, we decided to pass it along. Reportedly, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and various recalcitrant members of his caucus, most notably everyone's favorite West Virginian, have overcome one of the big stumbling blocks to passing a potential reconciliation bill.
The stumbling block in question involves Medicare, which is in danger of reaching insolvency before this decade is out. And the agreement that Schumer has worked out involves closing a loophole that allows some passthrough businesses to avoid paying as much into the pot as they should. Truth be told, we had not heard before yesterday that this particular issue was an issue. But apparently it was, and now the blue team is in agreement on how to fix it.
This seems meaningful to us for two reasons. First, it's concrete progress, which has been infrequent in these negotiations over the infrastructure bill. Second, West Virginia and Arizona (particularly the former) have an unusually high number of old people. That means that Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) are presumably going to be extra-motivated to make sure that Medicare remains healthy.
That said, even if a bill is passed, we would not expect it to be a game changer when it comes to the midterms. First, because of the aforementioned senatorial duo, the bill is going to be somewhat limited in scope. Second, again because of the aforementioned duo, it's going to take effect too late to help people before the midterm elections. Third, the state of the economy, and very possibly, abortion are shaping up to be the dominant issues of 2022. (Z)
Speaking of the state of the economy, here's some news that is likely more relevant than Medicare when it comes to the midterms: Gas prices are on the decline. A month ago, the average price of a gallon of gas in the United States was $4.96. A few days after that, it jumped to $5.01, which is the highest in American history (not adjusting for inflation). But as of yesterday, it was down to $4.72.
Joe Biden had little to do with the spike in prices, beyond putting his foot down and not allowing Russia to take over Ukraine unchallenged. And we are skeptical that he had much to do with the drop in prices. But we are not the average voter, and the average voter most certainly believes that the president can control gas prices. So, the downward trend is good news for the President and his party, especially since there will almost certainly be another drop in September, once kids are back in school, vacations are over, people are staying in because of cold and rain, etc.
There's little chance that gas prices return to where they were a year ago ($3.14/gallon), but voters like to see progress and they like to believe things are headed in the right direction. And the more that the economy loses salience as an issue, the more the Democrats can make the election a referendum on the Supreme Court, abortion, etc. (Z)
He's ambitious; we'll give him that. Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R-VA) has been on the job for a little less than six months, in the first political office he's ever held. However, he is part of a party that often treats experience and expertise as irrelevant at best, and a liability at worst. And so, the Governor has begun exploring a possible presidential bid in 2024.
The thought process here is not too difficult to discern. Youngkin is the latest Republican to believe that between the "NeverTrump" lane and the "Trump" lane, there's a middle lane for candidates who can unify the two main wings of the Party. Further, if he's up against Joe Biden, he might be able to peel off some independent/centrist support from "throw the bums out" voters. Oh, and by trying for a quick promotion, Youngkin can theoretically avoid having a long record that might be used against him by opponents. Richard Nixon (from U.S. representative to U.S. senator to VP in 6 years) and Barack Obama (only 3 years in the U.S. Senate) used that trick to great effect.
That said, we don't think for a minute that he's actually viable. Youngkin already has a record, whether he likes it or not, and it's a record that just isn't going to play nationwide. Specifically, he's embraced the far-right approach to abortion, and is pushing hard for Virginia to adopt a Mississippi-style 15-week ban. If he were to somehow become the Republican nominee, the Democrats would bring that up approximately 100,000 times a day during the campaign. Beyond that, Youngkin's background is in private equity, which means he's a tycoon with more-than-occasional predatory impulses. Ask Mitt Romney how well equity-multimillionaire-turned-blue-state-governor worked out as a presidential résumé. And finally, we simply do not believe there is some sort of middle lane where the anti-Trump Republicans and the pro-Trump Republicans can gather to sing kumbaya and unite behind a candidate. One might consult Mike Pence or Nikki Haley on that point. (Z)
As noted, we'll probably have to do this most weeks between now and November, as there's just too much news from the various races for office to give each story its own item:
- Governor, Arizona: Maybe Gov. Doug Ducey (R-AZ), who is term-limited, has decided that his
political career is over and there will be no future runs for office. Or maybe he's just been paying attention to the
primary results thus far, and has learned that Donald Trump is something of a paper tiger. Either way, Ducey has now
thrown his weight
behind University of Arizona regent Karrin Taylor Robson to be his successor. Trump is backing former TV anchor Kari
Lake, who is much more of a "stop the steal" fanatic. The polling has been absolutely all over the place, ranging from
Lake +26 to Robson +1. However, the general trend is that Robson is making up ground on Lake. Having the backing of
Ducey's network certainly won't hurt on that front.
- Governor, Florida: Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) is
to Utah later this month for a big-dollar fundraiser. The careful reader will note that Utah is not in Florida. In fact,
it's not even close. This might just suggest that the Governor is raising funds for campaigns and years beyond this
year's reelection bid.
- Governor, Pennsylvania: Some Republicans do not care for Doug Mastriano, the fellow their
party nominated for governor in Pennsylvania. That may be due to their perception that he's more of a fascist than a
Republican. Or it could be due to their concern that, if elected, he might become one of the national faces of the GOP,
to the Party's detriment. Whatever it is, numerous prominent Pennsylvania Republicans, including two former governors
(Dick Thornburgh and Tom Ridge), have
Republicans for Shapiro, in hopes of getting the Democratic nominee, AG Josh Shapiro, elected to the governor's mansion.
Polls give Shapiro a small but consistent lead, and our guess is that when the votes are counted, he ends up winning by
a comfortable margin. The number of Democrats and sane Republicans/independents in the Keystone State is greater than
the number of people in Pennsyltucky.
- U.S. Senate, Georgia: Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA)
have a scandal on his hands. He was targeted by a frivolous lawsuit in 2019, and paid for his defense out of his own
pocket. Then, he was sued by the same person in 2021, and this time paid for his defense out of campaign funds. That may
or may not be a violation of campaign finance laws, depending on whether he was being targeted as a private citizen or
he was being targeted as a U.S. senator.
The Senator did get some good polling news this week, however. The latest poll from Quinnipiac has him up 54% to 44% on Republican nominee Herschel Walker. This strikes us as a very plausible result, given how weak a candidate Walker is, and given that the crosstabs of the Quinnipiac poll check out. That is to say, Democrats are all voting for Warnock and Republicans are all voting for Walker, but independents are breaking 2-to-1 for the Senator because they think he has more integrity.
- U.S. Senate, Iowa: There was also good polling news for the Democrats in Iowa, as an internal poll
by Mike Franken (D) says that he is within five points of Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), 49% to 44%. That said, while we
find the Warnock poll above to be plausible, we're not really buying this one. Beyond the fact that it's an internal
campaign poll, Grassley usually wins election by 25-30 points. That said, in the primary, Franken managed to knock off a
former member of the House in Abby Finkenauer, so maybe he's got the magic touch.
- U.S. Senate, Pennsylvania: Since his primary win, Mehmet Oz has been
from the state personally, and has been completely absent from the state's airwaves. This has a lot of Pennsylvania
Republicans upset, as they think—probably rightly—that Oz is ceding ground to Democratic nominee
Lt. Gov. John Fetterman.
Oz did post a new ad to his Twitter account recently. However, he needs to convince voters in the Keystone State that he is a man of the people, and that he's not a carpetbagger. And so, it may not have been the best choice to record the spot from his swanky mansion... in New Jersey.
And there you have it; the most interesting campaign news of the week. (Z)
If there is a culture where the satire is more biting, and the derision more penetrating, than British culture, we don't know which it is. That is particularly true when it comes to the nation's political leadership. For example, some readers may know that, when Margaret Thatcher died in 2013, thousands of Britons hustled to online music stores to make a purchase, such that the song "Ding Dong, the Witch Is Dead" made the singles charts 74 years after its release.
Yesterday, as reader R.B. in Chaska, MN, brings to our attention, the downfall of Boris Johnson (see above) inspired a similar bit. On the suggestion of actor Hugh Grant, who knows a thing or two himself about public humiliation, anti-Johnson protesters outside of Parliament used the speakers they had brought with them to play the Benny Hill theme whenever a Conservative member of parliament was interviewed for British television. For example:
You really should watch it; it's less than a minute, and the effect is quite remarkable.
It is true that high-ranking Tories eventually said enough was enough, and muscled Johnson out, which is commendable. In fact, you may not know this, but there are some countries where the leader of the conservative party did far worse things than Johnson did, and yet their fellow partisans would not lift a finger to do anything about it. Well, unless they were lifting that finger to point at and blame the liberal political party for mounting a witch hunt.
On the other hand, the high-ranking Tories looked the other way for an awfully long time with Johnson, and they declined to remove him when they had the chance just a few weeks ago. Indeed, some of them continued to enable him until the bitter end (looking at you Jacob Rees-Mogg). And when those folks get a very public serving of scorn and derision, British-style? Certainly it inspires a little schadenfreude. (Z)
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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