As we enter 2023, there is no escaping the fact that we are beginning the long march toward the presidential election of 2024. As we start that journey, we have every reason to be confident about our ability to rise to the occasion. We did so in 2022, as we did in 2020 and 2018. The lesson of each of those campaigns is that our biggest challenge is overcoming the persistent media narrative that the Democratic Party is in disarray while the MAGA wing of the Republican Party is ascendant. That has not been an accurate description of the political dynamic in America since 2016, but the media has been like a dog with a bone—it won’t give up the negative narrative about the Democratic Party despite all objective evidence to the contrary.
On the Democratic side of the scale are the results of the last three elections (or four if you consider the popular vote in 2016). On the Republican side are four losing elections and truly daunting challenges entering 2023. While we should never count on Republicans to defeat themselves, the narrative is misleading if we focus exclusively on the challenges facing Democrats—a favorite journalistic technique whenever a story is needed to predict doom for the Democratic Party.
The stories circulating at the top of the news cycle this week highlight the challenges the Republican Party will face as it begins to awake from a six-year binge with a strange bedfellow whose appearance in the harsh morning light of 2023 should give the GOP a sinking feeling of regret and panic. Let’s see what the GOP sees in the mirror at the dawn of a new year.
The impossibility of breaking up with Trump.
A sizable portion of the Republican Party is done with Trump—but it will be impossible for the GOP to break up with Trump. He will either be the 2024 GOP nominee, or he will destroy the party in the process of losing the nomination. Worse, just as MAGA extremism appears to have crested at the polls, Trump is forcing contenders for the nomination to “out-Trump Trump” in their quest for the 2024 nomination. See, e.g., Ron DeSantis, Greg Abbott, and Kari Lake.
Trump began the new year by sending a warning shot across the bow of the Republican Party. Last week, Trump posted an article titled The Coming Split on his vanity social media platform, Truth Social. The article urged Trump to run as a third-party candidate if the GOP does not nominate him for president in 2024. See Huff Post, Trump Appears To Float Third-Party Threat If GOP Won’t Back Him | HuffPost Latest News.
The author of the article, right-wing journalist Dan Gelernter, wrote the following:
Do I think Trump can win as a third-party candidate? No. Would I vote for him as a third-party candidate? Yes. Because I’m not interested in propping up this corrupt [GOP] gravy-train any longer. . . . What should we do when a majority of Republicans want Trump, but the Republican Party says we can’t have him? Do we knuckle under and vote for Ron DeSantis because he would be vastly better than any Democrat? I say no, we don’t knuckle under.
As noted in the HuffPo article, current RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel told Trump that if he runs as a third party, “We [the GOP] will lose forever.” McDaniel is right. If Trump leaves the GOP, it will be nearly impossible for another GOP candidate to win in a general election. And the result will be the same if Trump mounts a third-party challenge or merely sulks at Mar-a-Lago, hurling insults and raising money for Trump-affiliated PACs that he spends on legal defense and tacky parties.
Despite Trump’s weakened state from the midterms and mounting legal problems, Kevin McCarthy’s inability to secure the votes to become Speaker is directly related to Trump’s continuing gravitational pull on the GOP. The Freedom Caucus and assorted crazies in the GOP are demanding that McCarthy veer to the extreme edges of MAGA extremism to garner their support. For example, McCarthy has floated the idea of Jim Jordan leading a Judiciary Committee investigation into FBI Director Christopher Wray because . . . . well, you know. In MAGA-world, “FBI bad, Oath Keepers good.” Trump appointed Wray as FBI Director but has been highly critical of Wray’s unwillingness to pursue Trump’s revenge agenda against Hunter Biden, Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, etc.
Likewise, Ronna McDaniel is trying to keep her job as the Chair of the Republican Committee by saying that the top priority of Republicans in the new congressional term is “getting to the bottom of Hunter Biden’s laptop.” That should be a pretty easy task since Rudy Giuliani has had a copy of the hard drive from Hunter Biden’s laptop since October 2020. If there is anything on the laptop worth getting to the bottom of, it should have emerged by now. More importantly, the obsession with Hunter Biden’s laptop illustrates that the Trump revenge agenda is eclipsing the ability of the GOP to pursue a substantive agenda.
So, there you have it. Trump won’t let the GOP walk out the door without starting an internecine war that may destroy the party. And even without Trump actively trying to destroy the party, he has unleashed reactionary forces that even he cannot restrain. Over the weekend, McCarthy reportedly offered a concession to the radical wing of the Freedom Caucus that would allow a handful of Representative to call for a “no confidence” vote on the Speaker—something McCarthy previously said he would “never” do. As a result, the extremists in the GOP, like Matt Gaetz, will be controlling the GOP agenda in Congress. See Newsweek, Steve Bannon says Matt Gaetz Will Be ‘De Facto’ Speaker After McCarthy Concessions.
[Update: McCarthy’s humiliating offer to allow a “motion to vacate” by five members was rejected in a letter by nine Republican members sent on New Year’s Day.]
Whatever challenges Democrats face as they move toward 2024, those challenges do not include an inevitable struggle for control of the party that will inflict grievous injury no matter the outcome. Democrats face challenges, too, and we will be reminded of them early and often by the media. So, keep in mind that the next two years will be extraordinarily difficult for the GOP, even if the media fails to mention that fact.
Dealing with the polls over the next two years.
It was not your imagination. Polling regarding the 2022 midterms was not only wrong, it was so wrong that it may have negatively affected Democratic prospects in some contests. The NYTimes published a lengthy analysis of the polling errors in 2022. See NYTimes, The ‘Red Wave’ Washout: How Skewed Polls Fed a False Election Narrative. Kudos to the Times for engaging in introspection about how the media amplified misleading polls. The Times does not mention its own prominent role in distorting the narrative to the detriment of Democrats.
The lengthy analysis in the Times can be distilled to the following:
- Polls are not elections.
- In a closely divided electorate, polls communicate virtually no useful information.
- Republicans have figured out how to manipulate polls.
- Polling aggregators like Fivethirtyeight.com and the media amplify the misleading polls generated by partisan affiliates of the GOP.
- Misinformation from junk polls depressed Democratic turnout in certain instances.
The ability of Republican pollsters to distort the media narrative had real-life consequences on the outcomes in 2022. Democratic funders abandoned Mandela Barnes in his race against Ron Johnson when garbage Republican polls began to suggest that Johnson was pulling ahead of Barnes by five points (or more). In the end, Barnes lost by one percentage point. But the “negative narrative” resulted in a fundraising edge by Ron Johnson of $26 million.
What if Democratic funders had not abandoned Barnes based on misleading polling? Would Barnes have fared better if the Democrats had not ceded the fundraising advantage to Ron Johnson? We will never know the answers to those questions for certain. But we can stop falling for the same stupid Republican games in the future.
So, here’s the point: Don’t stress out over polls during the next two years. We must go about our business as if every vote might be the deciding vote in every election.
Don’t expect Chief Justice John Roberts to fix the Court in the next two years.
The Supreme Court is in crisis. Justice Thomas has repeatedly failed to recuse himself from cases in which his wife is a material witness. Justice Alito is implicated in the leak of a 2014 result in the Hobby Lobby case (and possibly the Dobbs decision). The Court has converted its “shadow docket” into a GOP “Get Out of Jail Free Card” for Republicans objecting to Democratic legislation. The Court has abandoned the concept of stare decisis. These issues (and more) resulted in a presidential committee to study reform and rehabilitation of the Court.
Last week, John Roberts issued his annual letter on the state of the Supreme Court. He mentioned none of those issues. Instead, he reached back in history to discuss the aftermath of Brown v. Board of Education, decided in 1954. See NYTimes, In Year-End Report, Chief Justice Roberts Addresses Threats to Judges’ Safety. In short, Roberts has neither the inclination, ability, nor leadership skills to navigate the crises facing the Court. Instead, over the next two years, we should expect that the reactionary majority will continue to disregard the law and facilitate the religious and social agenda of Christian nationalism.
From 2020 through 2022, Democrats had the theoretical ability to enlarge the Court to dilute the power of the reactionary majority. We failed to do so. We will not have that ability again until we control both chambers of Congress and the presidency. When that moment arrives, we must seize the opportunity. We cannot afford to hesitate out of fear that Republicans might enlarge the Court when (if) they control both chambers of Congress and the presidency. If fear about Republican countermeasures is a reason to desist from action, then there is no point in passing any legislation that might be undone by Republicans acting in the future.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy released a video with his New Year’s greeting to the Ukrainian people and the world. The video is here: New Year greetings of President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy (with English subtitles).
I strongly urge you to listen to the entire greeting. It is a masterpiece of oratory combined with video and graphics that will overwhelm you with admiration and humility as Zelensky describes the bravery and suffering of the Ukrainian people.
At this point in my pitch, you could understandably be saying to yourself, “Yeah, I know. Another video about the cruelty of the war. I’ll pass.” But this speech is truly extraordinary. It is so extraordinary, it will make you a better person for having listened to it. I guarantee it!
There are so many lines in the speech that are significant and memorable I hesitate to call out a single sentence. But I was particularly struck by these two:
On February 24, we woke to another life. To another Ukraine.
There are no small matters in war.
The first line refers to the day that Russia began its attack on Ukraine. The second reflects Zelenskyy’s gratitude for every contribution to the war effort, no matter how seemingly insignificant or small.
Those lines resonated with me because of the parallels to January 6th. When we witnessed a Republican mob attack the US Capitol over the outcome of a free and fair election, we awoke to another life in our democracy. We can never go back, never return to our former innocence. It happened once; it can happen again—unless we are eternally vigilant.
After January 6th, every act of democracy is important, no matter how seemingly small or insignificant. The election in Arizona for Attorney General was won by a Democrat by a margin of 280 votes. That margin may have been the result of postcards by a dozen dedicated citizens, or texts by a single person, or door knocks by two teams of canvassers. There are no small acts in defense of democracy.
I hope you will take the time to watch Zelenskyy’s speech. In today’s fast-paced world, eighteen minutes is a lot of time. But making the conscious decision to slow down to listen to a speech that rivals Winston Churchill’s best is a wise investment of your time.
Robert B. Hubbell is an attorney in Los Angeles. He publishes a daily news letter opining on and analyzing the current political scene from a left of center position.
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