Special counsel Jack Smith would very much like to chat with former VP Mike Pence in front of a grand jury. Pence has resisted that idea. Yesterday, chief judge James Boasberg of the US District Court in Washington ruled that this is one invitation that the former VP just can't decline (though there are certain questions that would be off-limits because they involve Pence's duties as President of the Senate).
This is not the final word in the matter, of course, unless Pence decides it is. That is to say, there are still appeals available to the former VP. At the moment, Pence says he is "evaluating the court's decision" and that "I'll have more to say about that in the days ahead." How many days ahead, he did not say.
At this point, we all know that Pence cares about two things: (1) Mike Pence and (2) Mike's Pence's completely implausible presidential bid. From a legal standpoint, he really has no leg to stand on, and further appeals would only buy him a relatively small amount of time. So, what he is "evaluating" right now is the politics of the situation.
On the whole, Pence probably isn't terribly opposed to spilling (most of) his guts. He is undoubtedly angry that Trump has thrown him under the bus, over and over. Further, as the former VP tilts at White House-shaped windmills, Trump is the competition. So, helping take him down would theoretically leave more oxygen for Pence to try to absorb.
That said, Pence (foolishly) believes that he can still win over a part of Trump's base. So, the former VP has to pretend to still be a loyalist, and to give off the impression that he had to be dragged into court, kicking and screaming, in order to testify. Further, if Trump sinks like a stone right now, most of the oxygen that is released would likely be sucked up by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL). Pence would probably prefer that the two men spend at least the next 6 months taking potshots at each other.
We will soon see what Pence decides; yesterday's ruling was sealed, so we can't know how much time has been allowed for an appeal, but it's not going to be all that much. Meanwhile, people who know federal jurisprudence far better than we do say that when a special counsel starts getting to the very inner layers of the onion, that's a sign that indictments are coming soon. So, there should be plenty of excitement on this front before summer arrives. (Z)
By the time you read this, the workweek will be about half over. That alone suggests that Donald Trump isn't going to be arrested this week, since these things take time, and the process would really need to be underway for him to be in handcuffs by Friday.
There's also another pretty good indicator that this isn't the week: the grand jury has other items on its agenda. The members are not going to meet today, and tomorrow and Friday, they have other cases to consider. This does not suggest an imminent indictment.
Next week, then? Possibly. But mid-April seems more likely at this point. And that leaves us with the question of exactly how Trump jumped the gun so badly. Did he misunderstand what his attorneys were telling him? Or did he make a conscious decision to jump the gun because he thought doing so would help him in some way? We'll be very interested to find out the answer to that question once Maggie Haberman gets around to writing a book on the whole affair. (Z)
Who knows why some school shootings get lots of attention and others fade from consciousness fairly quickly. In any case, whatever the reason, there was all kinds of news yesterday related to the mass shooting in Nashville that left three students and three staffers from Covenant Presbyterian Church Elementary School dead. Let's run it down:
In the wake of a transgender shooter targeting a Christian school and murdering kids, every American should know the threat of Antifa driven trans-terrorism.That was the final tweet in the sequence because that was enough to get Greene's account locked by Twitter. It's not so easy to do that in the Elon Musk era, but somehow the Representative found a way.
Twitter should not whitewash the incitement of politically motivated violence.
What does this all mean? All we can say is that whenever there is a shooting like this, it's Republicans who end up running around like chickens with their heads cut off, trying to explain themselves, to create distractions, and to otherwise change the narrative. That suggests to us that they are on the wrong side of the issue when it comes to the moral/human dimension. That said, they do not seem to pay a price for this at the ballot box, while they continue to collect that sweet, sweet NRA money. So, it would seem that they are not on the wrong side of the issue when it comes to cold, hard political reality. (Z)
When the Supreme Court issued its ruling in Dobbs, thus reversing Roe v. Wade and other pro-choice jurisprudence, anti-abortion activists rejoiced. They presumed that they would soon be able to end the procedure in red states, and maybe even nationwide.
Thus far, things have not been working out quite as planned. We refer specifically to the "red state" portion of the equation, where even conservative courts have been less-than-pliant when it comes to implementing the anti-abortion agenda. To wit:
This is not to say that the pro-choice side is winning everywhere; the Kentucky state Supreme Court allowed the state's abortion law to stand, for example. Still, the pro-choice forces are doing a pretty good job of running the same playbook that the women's suffrage movement, the Civil Rights Movement, etc. have run in the past, and slowly poking holes in abortion laws here, there, and everywhere. Between that and the efforts of pro-choice blue states, the anti-choice forces are going to learn that a nationwide abortion ban is a pipe dream, and that the Dobbs victory, while certainly significant, was rather more hollow than it seemed. (Z)
As we noted yesterday, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu has created quite a pickle for himself. He and his far-right allies are very much in favor of a bill that would allow the Israeli parliament (a.k.a. the Knesset) to overrule the Israeli courts. Pretty much everyone else in Israel is opposed. The result has been mass protests that eventually forced the PM to back off the plan, at least for now.
We also noted in that piece that this creates a bit of a headache for Joe Biden. On one hand, Israel is very important to many U.S. voters, and is also pretty important to national security and America's interests in the Middle East, and the President can't afford for the relationship to become too chilly. On the other hand, Biden doesn't want to seem to tolerate anti-democratic action, particularly given the potential consequences for the Palestinian people. Also, he doesn't much care for Netanyahu personally (and the feeling is mutual).
Yesterday, Biden made something of a statement on the situation. He expressed his opposition to the PM's plans: "Like many strong supporters of Israel I'm very concerned. I'm concerned that they get this straight. They cannot continue down this road." The President also said that Netanyahu would not be getting an invitation to the White House anytime in the near future. This is what we might call a diplomatic dog whistle. Most voters aren't going to interpret it as a giant poke in the PM's eye, but Netanyahu certainly is.
And then there is Ron DeSantis, who has made perfectly clear that he's OK with authoritarian-type rulers, and whose only real concern is the presidential hopes of Ron DeSantis. Yesterday, the Governor announced that he will head to Israel to give a speech. Undoubtedly, he will be there because of Florida's vital interests in that country. And en route, DeSantis will also visit Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and Utah in order to safeguard the Sunshine State's vital interests in those states that just so happen to be critical for Republican primary candidates.
While DeSantis is in Israel, he will surely find time for a photo-op or twenty with Netanyahu. As the Governor explained yesterday, "At a time of unnecessarily strained relations between Jerusalem and Washington, Florida serves as a bridge between the American and Israeli people." That's dangerously close to an admission that DeSantis is violating the Logan Act (not that anyone ever gets busted for that). Donald Trump ran this same playbook in 2016, making nice with Netanyahu while Obama held the PM at arm's length. So, once again, the Governor makes clear that he doesn't have an original idea in his head.
We shall see what the response is to DeSantis' plans, given how very unpopular Netanyahu's courts initiative is. The Governor really stepped in it with his politically unwise remarks on Ukraine, and had to backtrack. He could be setting himself up for a repeat. (Z)
Continuing on the foreign affairs front (and the U.K. is up on Friday), Benjamin Netanyahu is not the only leader of a key U.S. ally who is dealing with mass unrest right now. French President Emmanuel Macron has his hands full, too.
The issues in France are pretty simple, actually. France's system of old-age pensions is at risk of becoming illiquid in the near future. Perhaps this problem sounds familiar to American readers. In order to address the problem, Macron decided on some strong medicine, and got the French prime minister to go along, thus bypassing parliament. The plan is to increase the retirement age in France by 2 years, to 64, and to also require workers to contribute more of their paychecks to the pension system.
This did not go over well, to say the least. With trade unionists taking the lead, there have been mass protests across the country. We are talking literally millions of people taking to the streets. There have been 10 general strikes of varying lengths, and while everyone is (reportedly) heading back to work tomorrow, there will be an 11th strike next week. While most protests have been peaceful, there have been a few violent confrontations between police and angry French citizens.
As to what happens next... who knows? If there are French readers who have insights to offer, we welcome them. Macron says that the plan is moving forward, since there's no real alternative. That said, the upheavals are wrecking the French economy and costing everyone, including the government, a lot of money. Plus, everyone knows what can happen to leaders who push their luck too far with the French people (see XVI, Louis the). One wonders if Macron will dial things back a little in an effort to restore the peace.
Meanwhile, this has got to be making politicians in the United States nervous. One of these days, not too far off, the U.S. Social Security system will be in similar straits, and something will have to be done. The U.S. doesn't have the tradition of trade union activism that France does, but it does have plenty of experience with people reacting badly when they feel their financial security is being threatened. So, what's going on in La Belle France right now could be a preview. (Z)
Yesterday, we revealed half of the contenders in the "Imagery" bracket—blunders that did serious damage to the public image of the blunderer and/or their political party. Today, it's the other half of the bracket. We're going to do longer capsules today, in response to feedback in the mailbag, and also because there are a bunch of historical examples that won't be as familiar as "deplorables" or "Mission Accomplished."
IMAGERY ROUND 1, PART II, MATCHUPS
#6 Mehmet Oz Goes Shopping for Crudité (April 2022): J.D. Vance is pretty good at faking the "man of the people" bit, even though he's not. That is why he is a U.S. senator right now. Mehmet Oz is pretty bad at faking the "man of the people" bit. That is why he is not a U.S. senator right now.
The worst part of Oz's now-infamous "trying to connect with the common folk" campaign video was his use of a chichi term (i.e., crudité) for a relatively plebeian dish (i.e., a veggie platter). Not much better was his inability to get the name of the grocery store right. The video might nonetheless have disappeared down the memory hole, but someone working for Sen. John Fetterman (D-PA) found it several months after it was posted, and in mid-August, "Let them eat crudité" was on everyone's lips, not to mention on mugs, buttons, and t-shirts. Oz might not have won anyhow, but this blunder, which crystallized his upper-crust, carpetbagger status was unrecoverable.
#11 George W. Bush Flyover of Hurricane Katrina Devastation (Aug. 31, 2005): Hurricane Katrina devastated much of the Gulf Coast, particularly the city of New Orleans, with over 1,800 lives lost. It's one of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history, and the photographs of people's ruined homes were absolutely heartbreaking.
When the hurricane hit, then-president Bush was in the midst of a lengthy vacation at his ranch in Texas. He found time to do many things during that vacation, including attend the birthday party of John McCain out in sunny Arizona. On his way back to Washington, Bush decided not to visit Louisiana in person, apparently concluding that his presence would be too disruptive. Instead, he flew over the damage, "inspecting" it from his seat on Air Force One. The President's handlers allowed the press pool to capture photos of that moment, so the world could see how very much Bush cared.
Of course, "Look how much Bush cares!" is not the message most people took from the photo that appeared on front pages across the country (see picture). It was something more like "Look how uninterested Bush is in the suffering of these people." It also did not help that New Orleans was majority-Black, giving an unpleasant racial tinge to the whole affair. Bush himself later wrote: "That photo of me hovering over the damage suggested I was detached from the suffering on the ground. That was not how I felt. But once that impression was formed, I couldn't change it." Having already won reelection, Bush did not have to worry about facing voters ever again. However, his approval rating went into a tailspin, never to bounce back.
#3 Rudy Giuliani Holds a Press Conference at the "Four Seasons" (November 7, 2020): Has any modern politician seen their reputation fall so far as Rudy Giuliani? After the 9/11 attacks, he was king of the world, and was wildly popular with members of both political parties. By 2020, he was a failed presidential candidate who had been reduced to kowtowing to Donald Trump.
America's Former Mayor, who is clearly addicted to attention, took the lead in peddling "stop the steal" conspiracy theories that claimed that Trump actually won the presidential election of 2020. There were many low points for Giuliani during that circus, some of which may ultimately land him in jail. But the single most pathetic moment, and one that removed any remaining vestige of seriousness from the "stop the steal" movement, was the press conference Giuliani held four days after the election to make the case that Trump was actually the winner.
It is pretty obvious that the Trump campaign meant to book the chichi Four Seasons Hotel (and yes, that's our second use of "chichi" today). Where they actually ended up, however, was in front of Four Seasons Total Landscaping, a local business whose neighbors included a crematorium and a sex shop. Giuliani had no real choice but to soldier on, and over the course of slightly more than half an hour, the scene became increasingly ridiculous, to the point of being surreal with hair dye dripping down his cheek. Twisting the knife even further is that while Giuliani was speaking, the Associated Press called Pennsylvania for Joe Biden, thus securing his election as president.
#14 Samuel Burchard Slams the Democrats as the Party of "Rum, Romanism and Rebellion" (Oct. 29, 1884): Although Republicans had a near-stranglehold on the presidency between 1860 and 1912, many of the elections were close. And the mother of all swing states back then was... New York, which was pretty evenly divided between social liberals (Republicans) and very religious working-class people who sometimes indulged in racist thinking (Democrats). It was a different time.
In 1884, the Republicans nominated a pretty weak candidate in James G. Blaine (the continental liar from the the state of Maine), while the Democrats nominated a pretty strong one in Grover Cleveland, who just so happened to be a native New Yorker. Recognizing the Empire State was going to be very, very close, the Republicans organized many campaign events immediately prior to the election, including a prayer breakfast with several hundred pro-Republican Protestant clergymen. The keynote speaker at that prayer breakfast, which Blaine attended, was the widely known Rev. Samuel Burchard.
Burchard, consistent with his profession, gave a speech that was more like a sermon. And at the climax, he thundered: "We are Republicans, and don't propose to leave our party and identify ourselves with the party whose antecedents have been rum, Romanism, and rebellion." The remark received a somewhat tepid response, and it's not clear if Blaine even heard it.
However, people working for the Democratic Party most definitely heard it, and Team Donkey began cranking out handbills (see picture) making hay out of the remark. Slurring the Democrats as the Party responsible for the Civil War was already on its way to being passé in 1884. However, the "rum" and "Romanism" were the real problem, as that was a clear shot at Irish Catholics. In 1884, there just happened to be a very large number of Irish Catholics in New York City. Heck, even today, there happens to be a very large number of Irish Catholics in New York city.
Burchard's remark did not please the Irish Catholic voters, particularly since it appeared to them that Blaine approved the slur. After all, he didn't say anything about it for 3 days, by which time it was far too late. Irish voters turned out in force on Election Day, and New York went for Cleveland by 1,149 votes (0.10% of the total). That decided the election; 219 EVs (including New York's 36 EVs) for Cleveland and 182 EVs for Blaine.
#7 Richard Nixon Debates JFK (Sept. 26, 1960): Presidential primary debates were fairly common by 1960, but this was the first general election debate between presidential candidates. The American public was very curious to see what that might look like, and 70 million of them tuned in to see for themselves.
It's hard to say exactly what went wrong for Richard Nixon on that day. The famous story is that he had 5:00 shadow, which made him look sinister. Maybe so, but photos of the TV broadcast, which are very low-res (see picture), don't capture that. Much clearer in the photos is that Nixon was looking gaunt that day because he had been ill. He was also tired after a long day of campaigning, whereas JFK showed up well-rested. In any event, the overwhelming consensus was that Kennedy came out on top among people who watched on television (although among people who listened to it on the radio, Nixon won).
Whatever the worst blunder was, Nixon certainly felt he had misplayed his hand. He showed up rested for the other debates, and he also allowed his staff to apply some makeup. The problem is that Kennedy pulled ahead in polls after the first debate, while the other debates did not draw nearly so large an audience. Nixon, of course, went on to lose in what is generally regarded as the closest presidential election in U.S. history.
#10 Andrew Johnson Shows up Drunk for His Inauguration (March 4, 1865): Andrew Johnson was not especially suited to being a politician of national stature. He was poorly educated, thin-skinned, and prone to anxiety. Still, he was the only Southern senator not to leave when the Confederacy seceded, and so he had value as a symbol. Consequently, Abraham Lincoln tossed Hannibal Hamlin (of Maine) overboard in 1864 and replaced him with Johnson.
The exact circumstances leading up to Johnson's inauguration will forever remain murky. He may have been suffering from illness, perhaps typhoid. In any event, he arrived in Washington very shortly before his inauguration, and attended a party in his honor at which he over-indulged in liquor. Maybe he was self-medicating for his illness, maybe he was self-medicating for his anxiety, maybe he was just enjoying himself.
Whatever the case may be, Johnson was badly hung over the next day (in addition to possibly being ill and/or anxious). So, he asked for, received, and downed a bottle of whiskey shortly before being inaugurated. He barely made his way through the oath, and then delivered a rambling, drunken speech. The only good news for the administration is that the speech was in the Senate chamber, and so was not seen by the members of the general public. After witnessing one of the worst inaugural performances in history, with much sadness, Abraham Lincoln walked out onto the steps of the Capitol, and delivered one of the best.
Had Lincoln lived, Johnson's shortcomings wouldn't have mattered much, since 19th century VPs were afterthoughts with no meaningful power or influence whatsoever. But Lincoln didn't live, and the ill-suited Johnson took over the big chair with memories of his shameful performance still fresh in people's minds. Things did not get better from there; the same seantors who watched him embarrass himself would later try him in his impeachment trial.
#2 Herbert Hoover Orders an Attack on the BEA (July 28, 1932): After World War I, Congress voted to give veterans of the conflict a "bonus" to be paid... in 25 years. This was a clever strategy to keep costs down, since the members of Congress knew many men would not live to collect their money. It also allowed the members to claim the political benefits of their "generosity" while sticking a future generation of politicians with the bill.
Since World War I ended in 1918, the bonus would have been paid in 1943. But then the Great Depression hit. And in the midst of election season in 1932, 17,000 veterans (and another 23,000 family members and supporters) descended on Washington to demand early payment of the money they had coming. These 40,000 protesters were known as the Bonus Expeditionary Army (BEA), a mix of the name of the U.S. force that fought in WWI (the American Expeditionary Force) and the bill that awarded the money (the Bonus Bill).
Hoover had no intention of paying the money ahead of schedule. The government didn't have it and, even if it did, the President did not feel it was within his powers to change the timeline. So, the BEA settled in, establishing a massive Hooverville (homeless encampment) up and down Pennsylvania Avenue.
Hoover asked the BEA to leave. Then he pleaded with them. Then he ordered them, as their ostensible commander-in-chief. The BEA did not go. Hoover felt that this made him look weak at a time when he wanted to project strength. And so, he decided to have the BEA forcibly removed by a contingent of Washington police officers and U.S. Army personnel. The fellow who commanded the Army detachment on that day was a promising young officer named Douglas MacArthur. His vice-commanders were two other promising young officers, Dwight D. Eisenhower and George S. Patton.
This did not work at as Hoover expected. As you, and any other person not named Herbert Hoover might guess, it made him look heartless and cruel to attack poor, suffering military veterans. He lost the 1932 election bigly, winning half a dozen states and just 59 EVs. Once Franklin D. Roosevelt took over the White House, the BEA marched again. FDR had a lighter touch, though—he sent First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt out to talk with the marchers, and to give them doughnuts and coffee, and to ask them to head home while the President worked on the problem. And... the leaders of the BEA agreed. "Hoover Sent the Army," read the headlines, "While Roosevelt Sent His Wife."
#15 William Seward Describes an "Irrepressible Conflict" Between Free and Slave States (Oct. 25, 1858): By 1858, it was pretty clear that the Democrats were in deep trouble and that the next Republican nominee for president would likely win the election of 1860. Meanwhile, William Seward was the hands-down favorite to get the nod from the GOP.
In view of his presumed frontrunner status, Seward arranged to give a major address in October of 1858 in which he would lay out his vision for the country. And he not only gave the address; his supporters had copies printed up in pamphlet form, and the text was also provided to the nation's newspapers, many of which ran the speech in its entirety. The key passage from the speech was this characterization of the struggle over slavery: "It is an irrepressible conflict between opposing and enduring forces, and it means that the United States must and will, sooner or later, become either entirely a slaveholding nation, or entirely a free-labor nation."
Seward was entirely correct about this. However, it proved to be an impolitic thing to say in 1858. Abolitionists were thrilled, but Southerners were outraged, and Northern conservatives and moderates were none too pleased, either. The New Yorker earned a reputation as an radical overnight, and prominent Republicans began to have doubts about his electability. That created an opening for a gentleman from Illinois to claim the Party's nomination, instead.
We have now completed the first of the four brackets; here's how it looks prior to any matchups being resolved:
We were asked by several readers who are not sports fans to explain how the brackets work. In short, as with the real March Madness, we picked the 68 entrants and then asked our copy editors to vote on seeding. The #1 seed (Deplorables) was the blunder that the copy editors, at very least, believed was the greatest of the contenders in this part of the bracket. The #2 seed (Hoover attacks BEA) was the second greatest, and so forth. The sequence of matchups (e.g., the winner of #1 vs. #16 faces the winner of #8 vs. #9), which was developed by the NCAA and not by us, is set up in a way to make it easier for higher-seeded (and thus more accomplished) entrants to advance, while lower-seeded (and thus less accomplished) entrants have a tougher row to hoe.
There are still three quadrants that we have not revealed. The contenders in the Venality quadrant will be revealed tomorrow and on Friday. Next week, we will unveil the contenders in the other two quadrants (Strategery and Parapraxery). That means that, as of this moment, there are more than 40 contenders that have not yet been unveiled. So, it's really not necessary, at this point, for folks to send us e-mails about how absurd it is that Watergate or "macaca" or Sarah Palin are not represented. It is not possible to know that these blunders did not make the competition, since the vast majority of blunders that made the cut are unknown to anyone beyond us and the copy editors.
The ballot for this round is here. If you have comments on any or all of these matchups, and why you voted as you did, send them here. (Z)