Tuesday, March 29, 2022

BTRTN: Biden’s “Nine Words”… What More Can We Do to Save Ukraine from Putin’s Genocide?

Joe Biden has done what great leaders do: he has clearly and precisely defined a short term and long term goal for the United States in our handling of the Ukraine crisis. Today, Steve asks: What more can we all do to achieve those objectives?


Joe Biden waited until the second-to-the-last sentence of his rousing 3,500-word speech in Warsaw on Saturday to lower the boom: For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.”

Woah, Mr. President… what exactly are you saying?

A White House spokesman hastened to Joe-splain the President’s comment. “The president’s point was that Putin cannot be allowed to exercise power over his neighbors or the region,” The New York Times reported. The spokesman continued, “He was not discussing Putin’s power in Russia, or regime change.” Democrats from Amy Klobuchar to Ro Khanna sought to clarify that no one was suggesting that the United States actively take military steps to force regime change in Russia.

Huh? So Joe was not discussing regime change? Isn’t “this man cannot remain in power” sort of a synonym for “regime change?” Fine, Biden was not saying that the United States should be actively involved in a coup… but he sure as hell meant to say Putin must go.  

Hey, Democrats, don’t back-pedal. Your boss was calling it exactly right.

An unfathomably ruthless, inhumanly cruel, genocidal thug is solely in charge of a huge portion of the world’s nuclear arsenal. That does not offer the best odds for our survival as a species. “This man cannot remain in power,” all right.

Putin has been waging a campaign of genocide in Ukraine, mindlessly bombing obvious civilian targets like hospitals, schools, shelters, and apartment buildings in an effort to crush the will of the Ukrainian people. He appears unconcerned that his own soldiers are dying in droves, as he is content with a stalemate in the ground battle while he bombs civilians from distances. It appears that he must emerge with some face-saving gain for his troubles, and he is obviously trying to strengthen his bargaining position by allowing the West to believe he is considering tactical nuclear weapons.  

He clearly harbors ambition to reconquer the sovereign nations of the old Soviet Union and reclaim a sphere of influence throughout Eastern Europe. He is throttling his own people, outlawing dissent, and spewing a geyser of disinformation on his state-run media. He is living in a world of alternative facts of his own manufacture, accusing Ukraine of the very atrocities he is committing.

Biden is right: only the removal of Putin from power can restore the guardrails that governed global coexistence since World War II. To pretend that the world is safe when Vladimir Putin is in control of Russia is foolish. To cave in to his ego by making concessions in the Donbas or accepting a Korea-like division of Ukraine would be wrong. To believe that we can negotiate with him, or that he will be content with a face-saving gesture is to channel Neville Chamberlain’s naïveté.

After weeks of focusing only on the short term objectives, Biden – however inadvertently -- articulated the long term objective that Putin deserves. To spell it out: the Western powers need to continue to economically ostracize, isolate, and strangle Russia as long as it takes until the powers that be in Russia – oligarchs, the military, or the citizenry -- turn on Putin and end his reign. That is the long term objective.

This long term objective is different from the short term objective that has governed U.S. actions since the outbreak of war, which is to keep Ukraine from falling to Russia without triggering World War III.  That is, the United States has been willing to support Ukraine to a point: we are supplying a vast arsenal of munitions and leading a stunning global economic boycott of Russia. But we have publicly stated that we refuse to take steps that will put our military in direct conflict with Russia, risking rapid and massive escalation.  

Ironically, these short-term goals of the United States are actually being served by the current military stalemate: Putin is not succeeding in conquering Ukraine, but the United States has not needed to directly intercede and risk triggering WWIII. The United States is helping Ukraine enough so that it is avoiding being conquered by Russia, but not enough to actually drive the invaders out.

The narrow path of “full support without direct involvement” that Biden has strenuously walked is the most sensible, sober, and prudent… and yet the ironic result is that U.S. policy is now unintentionally contributing to elongating the Russian genocide.

At a certain point, we must recognize that we are asking the Ukrainian people to single-handedly beat back a man who is a clear and present danger to all humanity.

At a certain point, we must realize that standing by and allowing the genocide to continue is morally wrong.

The question of the day is simple: What more could we being doing to achieve both our short and long term objectives? What more could we be doing to end the genocide without triggering World War III? And what more can we do to hasten the end of Putin’s rule?

Four suggestions follow.

1.    Stop telling Russia what we will not do.

Joe Biden has publicly stated that the United States will not be in “direct conflict” with Russia, which, by Biden’s definition means that there will be no ground troops and no American jets in Ukraine. In essence, Biden has drawn his own red lines, unilaterally taking potential actions off the table, limiting his options. This decision may have been intended to mollify a domestic audience, but what it is accomplishing now is giving Vladimir Putin a clear understanding that he can bomb Ukraine to kingdom come without triggering the United States to intervene.

What makes this particularly flawed as a strategy is that the war itself is changing, but the actions of the United States are restricted to positions we articulated at the very outset of the war… before the Russian targeting of civilians became apparent, and before the genocide began.

Now that the Biden White House has publicly declared the Russia has committed war crimes, the administration has every right to announce that it is reconsidering every aspect of its policy concerning the Ukraine war. It would be wise to simply announce that all prior statements that were intended to define and limit the scope of the United States’ role in this conflict are no longer binding, because Russia has changed the nature of their invasion.

Please, Mr. President, stop announcing what we will not do. Ironically, the Biden White House used the withholding of consequences very effectively in regard to the sanctions. Biden never spelled out what the sanctions would be, and Putin was clearly stunned by the extent and severity of the financial punishment. Putin was thrown off guard on the economic front. There is no reason why we should not take the same approach to military conflict.  

To be clear: No one is advocating sending troops into Ukraine. But announcing that we will never do so emboldens Putin to pummel the Ukrainian people with little regard for consequence. Joe Biden should announce that all previous limitations we placed on our role in this conflict are no longer binding.

2.    Re-state our Ukraine aid policy so that fighter jets are correctly viewed as no different from any other form of military equipment.

One maddening aspect about U.S. communications is that we are consistently articulating an inconsistent policy. We are supplying a vast arsenal of weaponry to Ukraine, but we have refused to provide jet fighters, or even provide jets to Poland so that Poland can give Ukraine the MIG jets that the Ukrainians know how to fly.

What, exactly, is the difference between a powerful anti-aircraft missile, an anti-tank weapon, and an airplane? No one is saying that we should be supplying pilots to fly the jets.  But a weapon is a weapon.

Once again, we are needlessly drawing our own red line… and it is only helping Putin.  

Putting more aircraft in the hands of Ukraine could have a significant impact on this confrontation. To date, the stymied and slowed Russian convoys have appeared to be sitting ducks for an effective air assault.

3.    Stop implying that we cannot put troops into Ukraine because it is not a member of NATO.

In Biden’s impassioned speech on Saturday, he said that “American forces are in Europe not to engage in conflict with Russian forces. American forces are here to defend NATO allies.” 

The fact that Ukraine is not a member of NATO is somehow considered an explanation for why the United States and NATO refuses to send ground troops into Ukraine. This is strange logic. NATO is a defensive alliance, requiring all member nations to respond if any individual member is attacked.

It is not a pact that precludes a NATO nation from entering a conflict in a non-NATO nation. 

In the first Gulf War, the United States led a coalition of nations to halt Iraq’s attack on Kuwait, and then initiated Operation Desert Storm in order to drive Saddam Hussein’s army out. The fact that we did not have a pre-existing mutual defense pact with Kuwait did not stop the United States from military involvement in defending a sovereign nation under threat of military conquest from a hostile authoritarian regime.

Putin felt perfectly free to send his military into the sovereign state of Ukraine for the purpose of conquest. NATO nations have every right to do so for the purpose of aid and defense. We should not be giving Putin a reason why we are not directly involved… we should take the position that the United States of America always has the right to act to stop genocide. 

4.    Most important: Initiate a vast and aggressive communications campaign to educate the Russian people about the truth of their government’s war in Ukraine.

There are only three paths that lead to Putin falling from power in Russia: (1) the military decides that Putin’s war is wrong for any number of strategic, executional, or humanitarian reasons and overthrows him, (2) the oligarchs conspire to have him removed, or (3) the people rise by the millions to change their government. The simple truth is this: neither of the first two are going to happen. Putin puts only people who are loyal to him personally in charge of the military. And the oligarchs appear utterly beholden to Putin, and are likely terrified that Putin’s intelligence operation could sniff out any coup.

Which leaves us with option three: a popular uprising in Russia against the war, and against the economic carnage that the war is bringing.

Right now, the odds of that happening are extremely small. Vladimir Putin is justifying his brutal war in Ukraine through an equally savage assault on any remnants of free and independent press in Russia. All that the Russia people hear is that the Ukrainian government is “Nazi,” that the Ukrainians are contemplating use of chemical weapons, and that the Russian army is only attacking military targets. Indeed, the Russian people are being told that the entire action is not a “war,” but a “special military operation.”

And, now, Putin has put an “electronic iron curtain” in place over Russia, threatening journalists with prison terms for reporting the facts of Russia’s genocide in Ukraine, and throttling the ability of major social media vehicles to virally disseminate truth within the Russian borders.

Sure, you have the very rare and gutsy Russian journalist like Marina Ovsyannikova, who held a protest sign on Russian state-run television labeling the very broadcast she appeared on to be just so much dishonest propaganda. But such outbursts are rare indeed in a communications infrastructure that is wholly beholden to Putin.

In short, the Russian people appear to be generally buying into Putin’s version of Ukraine. A March 8 poll (reported by the Washington Post) revealed that 58% of the Russian population supports the war.

We need to change that number.

In 2016, Vladimir Putin waged a campaign of cyberwarfare in the United States, which exacerbated political polarization and likely influenced the election of a United States president, changing the direction of our government.

It is time we return the favor.

The United States must supply weapons to Ukraine, but we must supply the truth to Russia.

We are not doing enough to make Russian civilians know exactly what their army is doing in Ukraine. We are not doing enough to explain the economic sanctions are in place because of their government’s lawless aggression against a free and sovereign people.

We are not doing enough to make the Russian people understand that Putin’s butchery is the reason that Russia is being ostracized from the world.

We need to wage a massive communications initiative to flood Russia with accurate information about what Putin is doing in Ukraine.

We must launch a comprehensive effort – “Radio Free Russia” – to find every possible way to get the real story of what is happening in Ukraine into cities, villages, and homes in Russia.

We must make sure that the Russian people see the corpses of civilians on the streets, the bleeding pregnant mothers on stretchers, the mortally wounded children, and, yes, the dead babies. They must see the shells exploding into apartment buildings, hospitals, and schools. They must see the refugee mothers and children arriving in shock in welcoming western nations, and understand that these wives and children may never see their husbands and fathers again.

Indeed, the Russians should see and understand that their own soldiers – their own sons, daughters, and neighbors – are being sent to war, poorly prepared, undersupplied, demoralized, and sacrificed needlessly.

They must understand that when Putin says the government of Ukraine is comprised of Nazis, he is lying. That when Putin says the Russians are not targeting civilians, he is lying. That when Putin opens his mouth, he is lying.

We must make the Russian people understand that their economy is in free fall because the civilized world abhors the barbarian cruelty of their government.


Arnold Schwarzenegger just showed us.

In a simple video, looking straight into camera, Schwarzenegger told the Russian people the truth… calmly, confidently, and – most important – respectfully. He did not demonize the Russian people. Quite the opposite: he conveyed that he knows that the Russian people deserve far better than Vladimir Putin. He told the Russian people what was really happening in Ukraine. The video has had 35 million views, and the BBC reports that it is “trending” in Russia.

What is most interesting about Schwarzenegger’s video is that he did not present himself as a representative of the United States government. He was appealing to the Russia people, individual to individual, citizen to citizen.

That is what we need to do.

This campaign of truth should not be the product of the United States government.

It should be by, for, and from the people of one nation to the people of another.

It should begin with millions of individuals acting on their own, doing what they can. Start by asking every American who knows someone in Russia – everyone who knows someone with a working email address inside Russia – to forward real news, real videos, and the truth about the unconscionable carnage the Russian government is unleashing on a peaceful neighbor.

It could actually be quite an opportunity for our private sector to step up. Frankly, in our highly polarized politics, this represents a rare moment for a corporation to make a statement that would be unifying and energizing within our country, and every bit as healthy for their brand as it would be for peace in the world.

Hey, marketing director of American Express, Verizon, Apple, or Google: announce that your company is redirecting $100,000,000 of your advertising budget to a communications program to get the truth into Russia.

Underwrite videos that enlist the biggest names in entertainment – sports, music, film stars, journalists, cultural icons. Ask Paul McCartney to tape a video explaining to the Russian people that their government is not telling about the truth in Ukraine. Taylor Swift. AOC. Zendaya. Reese Witherspoon. Rafael Nadal. Serena Williams. Heck, Will Smith and Chris Rock.

And, yeah, sure, Barack Obama, George Dubya Bush, Mitt Romney, and Bill Clinton.

Hire out best technologists to figure out how to penetrate the electronic iron curtain. Hey, Facebook, want to enhance that tarnished reputation by doing something great for the world?

The message is simple: these videos must explain to the Russian people that the world will ostracize their nation economically, culturally, and politically until there is radical change in their country’s rogue, terrorist behavior.

Explain to the Russian people that when they have a government dedicated to peaceful co-existence and respect for sovereign rights of independent nations, they will be welcomed back.

Joe Biden is right.

“For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.”

Right now, the only way that can happen – and, indeed, the way it should happen -- is if the Russian people rise up and protest in numbers too big for Putin to imprison, brutalize, or kill.

And the only way that is going to happen is if they learn the truth.

For the sake of the people in Ukraine, for all the people threatened by Putin, made refugees by Putin, for all the men, women, children, and babies slaughtered by Putin, we must do all we can to achieve Joe Biden’s short term and long term objectives.

Fine, Joe. We should not create a direct military confrontation with Russia.

No. Instead, let’s go to battle using the most devastating weapon known to man – the truth. 


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Friday, March 25, 2022

BTRTN: The Midterms, Part II...Can The Dems Hold the Senate?

Tom is back with Part II of BTRTN’s first in-depth look at the midterms, this time focusing on the Senate.  He’ll be back soon with similar analytic looks at the House and the governor races. 

In Part I of this initial series on the 2022 midterms, we looked at the overall election environment, and concluded that things were not quite as bad for the Democrats as most seem to think.  We noted that neither the redistricting process nor state voting rights legislation are the clear GOP wins they are widely thought to be – in fact, if anything, they both are a wash.  We laid out a “Biden Comeback” path for 2022 that was plausible – not easy, but not out of the question, either.  Other factors also favor the Dems, including underlying demographic shifts and the continuing GOP problem with one Donald J. Trump.  In short, the Democrats certainly do have a chance of keeping both the Senate and the House.  We suggested that the Democrats should stop moping and whining and instead focus on working and winning.  If you want to read the full argument in Part I, here it is:


Of course, it is also true that the Democrats might indeed get crushed in the midterms and lose both houses of Congress and some state houses as well.  If Biden does not turn it around, he will suffer the fate that so many of his predecessors – including Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and Donald Trump – received, a first-term midterm spanking, particularly in the House.

In Part II today, we take a look at the Senate midterms, race by race.


Before we review the Senate, you might be interested in our credentials as election forecasters.  Below is our track record in Senate races over the last dozen years.

Over this period we have only missed 15 senate races out of almost 250 predictions, and our "batting average" on close races is also well above 50%.  To give an indication, in November, 2020, we predicted that both Georgia Senate races would go to runoff, and in January, 2021, we predicted that Democrats would win both of those runoff elections.  Not many of our fellow forecasters went four-for-four on Georgia in those momentous elections.



Here are the main takeaways of this 2022 Senate analysis, then we’ll get into the detail: 

·        It’s early.  We are still six weeks away from the first primaries (May 3) that will set the field.  There has been little cross-party polling among perceived likely contenders, and what polls that do exist are not likely to be terribly indicative of race outcomes in November.  But while early, we can still provide insight on the nature of these races, in particular, which will be the deciding ones and where do they stand at this point.

·       The Democrats have a far better chance of holding onto the Senate than the House.  Senate races are less driven than the House by national politics or presidential performance, though those factors still have some impact. 

·       The Democrats simply need to protect their 14 seats up for reelection to hold the Senate, and only four of those 14 races will be competitive.

·        The GOP not only has to flip a seat, they have to hold all of their 50 seats.  Six GOP seats will potentially be competitive races, and in three of them, the GOP incumbent is retiring, making the seat more vulnerable. 

·        The GOP has had trouble recruiting “A List” candidates to challenge the Democrats in battleground states, and to replace the retiring GOP Senators.  On the other hand, the Democrats are generally putting up strong candidates in those same battleground states. 

·        At this juncture, the odds marginally favor the Democrats, and the defining and deciding race may very well be in the state that has been and continues to be the crucible of voting rights controversy, Georgia.  The outcome in that race could take days, weeks or even months to sort out, and will almost certainly be yet another test of our democracy.   Here is how we peg the outcomes at this very early juncture:



As everyone reading this surely knows, the current Senate is split 50/50 between the Democratic and Republican caucuses.  There are only 48 Democrats, but two Independents, Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Angus King of Maine, caucus with, and typically vote, with the Democrats.  The Democrats control the Senate by virtue of the tie-breaking vote capability held by Vice President Kamala Harris.  As the chart shows, there are 34 seats up for election this November, 14 of them Democrats, and 20 of them Republicans.  

But most of those 34 races will not be terribly close.  Based on our initial BTRTN ratings of those races (which are more or less in line with all the other rating services), at most 10 races will be truly competitive.  Those 10 races will decide which party will control the Senate in 2023.


Let’s take a line-by-line look at each race, then we will drill down to the 10 that really matter.  Keep in mind, race dynamics could change as we move into the primary cycle and ultimately down the stretch drive.  The battleground races may change.  But, frankly, in this polarized environment, they are not likely to change too much.  Swing states are swing states, and it is the rare deep red or deep blue state that will hold a competitive race.  (A recent example was in Alabama, when Democrat Doug Jones won a Senate seat by defeating a terrible GOP candidate, Roy Moore, who had been accused of dating minors.) 



It is somewhat convenient to group these races into “like” categories.  This group features two first-term Democratic incumbents who won very close races in 2016, in states that Biden won by a larger margin in 2020. 

New Hampshire.  Democratic incumbent Maggie Hassan dodged a major bullet when popular GOP Governor Chris Sununu decided to pass on a Senate bid.  His announcement was a bombshell, and immediately materially improved the Democrats’ odds of holding the Senate.  The GOP is now scrambling to find a candidate who can flip this seat that Hassan claimed by a mere tenth of a point in 2016.  It should be noted that Biden won the state by a good margin, +7, in 2020.  So far, three GOP contenders (former Army Special Forces outsider Don Bolduc, State Senator Chuck Morse, and long ago state representative Kevin Smith) are all trailing Hassan in the polls by 7 to 18 points (Bolduc is doing the best).  The primary is not until September 13.  BTRTN Rating: Lean D. 

Nevada.  Like Hassan, Democratic incumbent Catherine Cortez Masto won a close race (+2) to claim her first-term seat in 2016.   Biden also won in Nevada, though by a smaller margin (+3).  Adam Laxalt, the likely GOP challenger (the primary is June 14), is the former State Attorney General and the grandson of former Governor (and Reagan pal) Paul Laxalt.  He is also the son of former New Mexico Senator Pete Domenici.  Despite those mainstream roots, he is a full Trumper, having led Trump’s challenges in Nevada to the 2020 outcome.  Polling thus far has been thin, but the most recent one had Cortex Masto up by +9.   BTRTN Rating: Lean D. 

These next two states feature Democratic incumbents who each won a recent special elections, flipping a red seat to blue, in very high visibility races.  Both are now seeking re-election to full Senate terms. 

Arizona.  Former astronaut Mark Kelly, a Democrat, won a close special election for the seat once held by John McCain in November, 2020, defeating then-incumbent GOP Senator Martha McSally by +2 points.  Now he is running again for a full six-year term in a state that Biden won by only three-tenths of a point.  Kelly is a mega-fundraiser, for sure, and has been a far more reliable Democratic vote than his Arizona colleague Kyrsten Sinema.  His likely opponent (the primary is not until August 2) will be Marc Brnovich, the GOP State Attorney General.  There has been no polling in 2022, though there were a few in 2021 that had Kelly ahead of Brnovich by +4 and +10.  But this one, we expect will end up closer than that.  BTRTN Rating: Toss Up D. 

Georgia.  Georgia, is, of course, ground zero in the Trump-fraud era, the state where Trump was recorded trying to bully GOP Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find 11,180 votes” to overturn the state presidential election.  On January 5, 2022, the Democrats pulled off an unlikely Senate doubleheader, with challengers Jon Ossoff and Ralph Warnock defeating two GOP incumbents, thereby giving Democrats control of the Senate and thus radically altering the course of Joe Biden’s presidency.  Now Warnock is running for a full six-year term.  He will almost certainly face former Georgia Bulldog football star Herschel Walker, who is drubbing the competition in GOP primary polls.  Walker is a Trump acolyte, and Trump loves him from back in the days the Trump owned the United States Football League franchise that featured Walker.  Walker led Warnock in two recent polls by an average of +2 points, but, truth be told, he is a terrible candidate, one who Mitch McConnell deeply opposed before his nomination became nearly inevitable.  Walker has a history of mental illness, claiming multiple personalities, one of whom happened to abuse his wife.  Warnock, for his part, will be helped by his own mega-fundraising prowess, and also by the power of Stacey Abrams’s voting machine that was so instrumental in the Biden, Warnock and Ossoff wins.  Abrams will also be on the ticket in 2022, as the Democratic candidate for Governor.  This race will surely be close, and subject to post-election challenges, some that could be fundamental to testing the strength of our democracy.  BTRTN Rating: Toss-Up D. 

The next three seats – all in purple states -- are held by GOP incumbents and are the best possibilities for the Democrats to flip.  Two of the incumbents are retiring and the third is the weakest incumbent of them all. 

Pennsylvania.  Republican Senator Pat Toomey has opted not to seek reelection, throwing a purple state Senate seat up for grabs.  The race to replace him on the GOP ticket has already been reasonably epic.  Trump endorsed former Army Ranger Sean Parnell at first, but Parnell was forced to drop out after credible charges of domestic violence emerged.  Then TV personality Dr. Oz announced his candidacy and a few early 2022 polls had him leading a large field.  But he has since been eclipsed by hedge fund CEO David McCormick, who is ahead by 2 to 9 points in three separate polls in late February and early March.  The Democrats also have a large field, led by lieutenant governor John Fetterman and U.S Representative (and former marine) Conor Lamb .  The latter made a national name for himself in March, 2018 by flipping a red district in a special election, and then overcoming redistricting by winning a different district in November, 2018.  There has been no polling among the Democrats, nor any head-to-head cross-party polls. Pending further race dynamics, we give the GOP the nod as current seat holders.  BTRTN Rating: Toss-Up R. 

North Carolina.  Richard Burr is yet another purple state GOP Senator who is retiring.  Burr won the state by 6 points in 2016, but Biden took the state by a point in 2020.  The lead GOP candidate is former Governor Pat McGrory, who lost his race for reelection in 2016 to current Democratic Governor Roy Cooper in a squeaker.  McGrory leads a large field in early polling, but not by much. His leading challenger is U.S. Representative Ted Budd, who has Trump’s endorsement.  The Democrat have no A-List challenger.  The top contenders are former state Supreme Court justice Cheri Beasley and Beaufort Mayor Everette Newton.   BTRTN Rating: Toss-Up R. 

Wisconsin.  GOP Senator Ron Johnson is not retiring – he was the last Senator to declare his 2022 intentions, choosing to run for a third term just two months ago.  While this was a disappointment to Democrats – it’s always easier to beat a newcomer than an incumbent – Johnson nevertheless is a particularly weak GOP incumbent, also in a purple state.  Johnson is a known Trumpster, a trafficker in conspiracy theories, a vaccine skeptic and is notoriously dismissive of January 6 critiques (“largely a peaceful protest”).  He also has an approval rating that is deeply underwater, at 36% approval and 51% disapproval as of December, 2021.  A number of Democrats are vying for the chance to unseat him, including, among others, lieutenant governor Mandela Barnes, state treasurer Sarah Godlewski, and Milwaukee Bucks executive Alex Lasry.  BTRTN Rating: Toss-Up R. 

The last three states are longshots for the Democrats to flip, but may come into play given the presence of a strong Democratic candidate or the potential for a very weak Republican one. 

Florida.  Presumptive Democratic challenger Val Demings is as strong a candidate as they come.  She is the former police chief of Orlando, who made a national name for herself as an impeachment manager in the first Senate trial of Donald Trump, and then was widely touted as a Joe Biden VP contender.  But Florida has been a disappointment for the Dems in many a high profile race in recent years, and GOP incumbent Marco Rubio has led Demings by a good margin in all three 2022 polls, including by 12 points in the most recent one in February.  BTRTN Rating: Likely R. 

Ohio.  Yet another GOP Senator, Rob Portman, is retiring in Ohio, giving the Democrats a small opening in a formerly purple state that has been increasingly red (Trump won it by 8 points in 2020).  This is another wide open race on the GOP side, somewhat similar to Pennsylvania, featuring its own  second-rate and controversial celebrity, Hillbilly Elegy author J.D. Vance, a damaged outsider, Mike Gibbons, a businessman who has made racist comments about Asians, and a ho-hum establishment figure, former Ohio treasurer Josh Mandel, among others, vying for the nomination.  Early polling favors Gibbons slightly over Mandel.  The Democrats have another strong candidate, U.S. Representative and former presidential candidate Tim Ryan, who leads the field.  Absent any head-to-head polling, we have it in the GOP column for now.  BTRTN Rating: Likely R. 

Missouri.  There is only one reason that Missouri, a red state that Trump won by 15 points, holds any hope for the Democrat:  Eric Greitens.  Greitens, you may recall, was the ambitious Governor who was forced to resign in 2018 due to a lurid sex scandal – he not only had an affair, but was accused of blackmailing his paramour by threatening to expose compromising pictures of her.  Greitens’ wife was also levied domestic violence charges against him.  And yet, he’s back, and contending for the Senate nomination, much to Mitch McConnell’s chagrin.  Greitens has led the field in 2022 polling by single digit margins, trailed by Attorney General Eric Schmitt and U.S. representative Vicky Hartzler.  Former Marine Lucas Kunce and former state senator and rep Scott Sifton are among those in the Democratic field.  A recent poll confirmed GOP fears about a Greitens nomination:  Schmitt and Hartzler both led Kunce by double digit margins, while Greitens only topped him by a single point.  On balance, it is hard to envision a Democratic Senator in the Show Me state, so for now we have this in the GOP column.  BTRTN Rating: Likely R. 

We’ll be back with our early thoughts on the House soon.

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

BTRTN: What Are We Going To Do About the Putin Within?

Dear God: I am not very religious, but please do something because it sure looks like only You can spare that amazing Zelenskyy and the incredibly brave people of Ukraine from the insanity of an unhinged, amoral, authoritarian monster.

As for the rest of us, God’s work must truly be our own.


Are a people responsible for their government?

In the coverage of Russia’s barbaric attack on a peaceful neighbor, we are learning that the sanctions that are being imposed on Russia are causing economic carnage in the lives of ordinary Russian people.

There are Russian citizens complaining that their own government’s actions in Ukraine have triggered the meltdown that is cratering the value of the Ruble, triggering Russia’s cultural excommunication from the rest of the world, and rendering even the most basic tools of modern commerce – charge cards and app-based payment systems -- useless. A small percentage of Russians are actually protesting the barbarian behavior of its leaders, but many seem to be just pissed off that there are long lines at the subway to pay in cash.

Uh, yes, Russians. This is what happens when your government commits war crimes and atrocities. It’s your government.

Many of us are pleased at the ferocity of the sanctions against Russia, and feel justified at the devastating impact that the sanctions are causing. Wouldn’t it be great, we wonder, if Biden would announce that the sanctions will stay in place until three conditions are met: the Russian army leaves Ukraine, Putin is removed as the leader of Russia, and Russia surrenders its nuclear arsenal. Until then, cut them off. Russia is now proving itself to be – beyond any doubt – a plundering, rogue, terrorist nation that is bombing residential housing, attacking nuclear facilities, and killing children. It is now time to take every step at our disposal to eradicate this criminal, barbarian regime… including severely punishing their citizens.

Is that fair, you ask? To what degree are the citizens who are ruled by a ruthless despot responsible for the actions of their government?

Russians, it seems, are about to discover what citizens of Dresden found out, and what was evident in the fate of Japanese civilians in Hiroshima. Individual citizens may be disinterested in government, or may try to claim that they don’t support the actions of their government, but in war, there is no distinction between the government and the citizens. They are one in the same.

People who believe their government is just will fight to preserve it. (See: Ukraine.) People who disagree with their government have the option to protest it, resist it, or fight it. But people who accept the actions of a criminal government are enablers, complicit in the villainy… and will be treated as such. So, Russian people, get the message: your Apple Pay no longer works because you are paying the price of tolerating and enabling a murderous thug as the leader of your country.

The Russian people can hope that its haughty, yacht-y oligarchy can bring pressure on Vlad, but I’m not betting that those sick-o sycophants are going to confront Putin on the blitz.  Perhaps the Russian military will attempt to educate Putin that the government in Ukraine can indeed be toppled, but at an unacceptable cost of human life, and that such a conquest would lead to an occupation that cannot be maintained as sanctions suck every molecule of oxygen out of the Russian economy. Nothing blows my mind more than the Russian failure to realize that every building, hospital, school, and infrastructure they blow up is something they will have to rebuild. You break it, you own it.

There was Lindsay Graham’s suggestion that someone in Russia should assassinate Putin, noting that such a deed would be “doing your country – and the world – a great service.” Lindsey took a great deal of grief for this on the theory that it’s not a good look for a senior U.S. government official to be advocating the murder of a head of state. But since I say this so rarely, allow me my moment: I agree with Lindsey Graham. If anyone in Russia can get off a clean shot, take it.

The hard truth is that if the Russian people want to stop this war, there is only one way to do it: pour into the streets in the millions, in numbers that Putin cannot ignore, cannot imprison, and cannot kill. Yes, Russians! Start behaving like the brave Ukrainian citizens your barbarian leader is now killing. Take to the streets and defy the tyrants, the authoritarians, and the murderers.

It’s up to the Russian people. In the end, a people are responsible for the government that they submit to.

And what, exactly, do we – as Americans -- learn from this?

In the United States, the people are responsible for our government. That was the entire motivation for the shocking new paradigm that our Founding Fathers advanced in the Constitution: a government of the people, by the people, for the people.

And yet today’s sobering reality today is how many Americans are oblivious to the fact that our government “of, by, and for the people” is under assault from within. We, the people, do not seem to grasp that there are forces in the United States that make this era much closer to Weimar Germany than we seem aware of, let alone capable of grappling with.

Millions of Americans are aghast that Putin is rolling tanks toward Kyiv to overthrow a freely-elected government -- but somehow do not make the connection that Donald Trump tried overthrow our own government.

It is painful and embarrassing to remind ourselves that just three years ago our government was shaking down Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, committing extortion by conditioning the delivery of Congressionally-approved military aid on the delivery of political dirt on Joe Biden, Donald Trump’s political adversary.  

Yes, just three years ago, it was our president, Donald Trump, who was treating this extraordinary Zelenskyy – now a global icon of defiance, freedom, and democracy -- with loathing, contempt, and disrespect. Our leaders were the boorish, barbaric thugs trying to muscle and hustle a fragile democracy for political gain.

That was our government, not Russia.

And we, the people, were responsible for it.

Can you imagine what would be unfolding today if Donald Trump were still President of the United States?

Trump was Putin’s useful idiot. Trump was merely an odious, obsequious ostrich sticking his head in the sand, at once intimidated and enthralled by a real murderous strongman, nodding and smiling at Putin’s every utterance. Trump famously refused to confront Putin in Helsinki over allegations of interference in the 2016 election, publically choosing to side with Putin over the beliefs of the entire United States intelligence community.

No doubt citing his “America First” retreat from global responsibility and his overt hostility to NATO, Trump would never have rallied the global alliance that is bringing Russia to its economic knees. Trump would have expressed his admiration for Putin – as, indeed, he actually did on the first day of the invasion.

It’s popular among Trump loyalists to argue that Putin did not invade Ukraine when Trump was President, implying that Putin was only emboldened to invade due to a perception that Biden was weaker. Indeed, Putin did not invade Ukraine during Trump’s first term, but for an entirely different reason. Having a pliable lapdog like Trump in the White House was more important to Putin than Ukraine, so it is more than likely that he held off his invasion out of concern that it could have damaged Trump’s chances for re-election. And, of course, Putin realized that it would be easier to roll tanks into Ukraine during a second Trump term than a far tougher Democratic President.

Don’t believe me? Believe John Bolton, former national security advisor to Trump, who said in a recent Washington Post interview that “In a second Trump term, I think he may well have withdrawn from NATO, and I think Putin was waiting for that.”

Would Trump have helped unify the world in support of Ukraine? Are you kidding? Today, Tucker Carlson aggressively represents the Trump Party in openly questioning whether the United States should actually be supporting the Russian dictatorship over the Ukrainian democracy.

If Trump were President today and there were only minimal sanctions against Russia, Putin would be emboldened to continue his plunder and invade other sovereign nations, knowing that he could do so with impunity. Guess what, cold war historians? The domino theory lives anew.

Yes, the crisis of the moment is that a crazed, frustrated, and cornered authoritarian in Moscow is waging an immoral war against a peaceful neighbor, and has the power to initiate a nuclear war.

But there is a crisis here at home that appears to be invisible to many Americans.

The rise of authoritarianism in the United States – and the threat to our democracy that it represents – does not lend itself to the hellish CNN video montages flashed across our screens from the streets of Kyiv.

But – like the months that Putin amassed his troops along the border of Ukraine – the threat of that authoritarianism is a growing cancer in our country. And – again, like Putin -- we are kidding ourselves if we don’t think this building surge of authoritarianism will not metastasize into ever more violent efforts to sieze control of our government.

The crisis at home is that a shocking percentage of Americans – most polls estimate a full one-third -- believe a lying authoritarian’s claims that the election of 2020 was “stolen.”

The crisis at home is that in spite of a four-year term characterized by willful ignorance and aggressive dismissal of scientific and medical fact, Donald Trump received seventy-four million votes in the 2020 election.

The crisis at home is that Donald Trump incited a violent attack on the United States Capitol for the purpose of attempting to overturn the free and fair election of a U.S. President, and now – a year later – his party has formally declared that the insurrection was “legitimate political discourse.” Yes, it is awful to watch Putin’s tanks roll into Ukraine, but why do millions of Republicans fail to make the equation that Putin’s invasion and Trump’s insurrection were both acts of violence intended to undo the rights of citizens in a democracy to choose their government and their leaders?

Yes, there is a crazed, frustrated, and belligerent authoritarian in Moscow… but there is also one in Mar-a-Lago. A man who tried to destroy our democracy, and who may well get another chance to do it.

It happens that in the mad world of coincidence, just as Vladimir Putin was committing numerous violations of international law in his attack on Ukraine, the January 6 Committee here in the United States advanced an argument that Donald Trump had committed crimes in his efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

In the most overt baring of cards yet, the January 6 Committee presented evidence of possible criminal behavior on the part of the former President in order to convince a Federal Judge to reject Trump lawyer John Eastman’s claims of Attorney Client privilege. As reported by The New York Times, the committee alleged that “Trump committed two crimes: obstructing an official proceeding by working to disrupt the vote count, and conspiring with his allies, including lawyer John Eastman, to defraud the United States by working to overturn the election results.”

Many of us read this news with a healthy dose of cynicism, having watched the first impeachment, the second impeachment, and hearing the fresh news that two veteran prosecutors in the Manhattan D.A.’s office resigned after the recently-installed District Attorney Alvin Bragg indicated that he did not support bringing charges against Trump. There’s still more out there: New York State Attorney General’s Letitia James case against Trump and the State of Georgia’s investigation into whether Trump was guilty of interfering with an election.

But we have learned that we cannot trust our legal system to have the courage to bring Trump to justice. The bet has to be that the squeamish Merrick Garland will not allow the DoJ to bring any criminal charges recommended by the January 6 Committee to a Grand Jury.

Which leaves us, once again, solely and nakedly in charge of our government, and our fate.  

We, the people.

I find myself praying that a just God will spare the incredibly brave people of Ukraine from slaughter at the hands of the Hitler of our time.

I pray that the people of Russia will be inspired by the courage of Ukrainians to spill into the streets in numbers that will overwhelm Vladimir Putin, demanding the end of his reign of terror.

And I hope that the people of the United States will see in the example of the brave people of Ukraine that freedom and democracy are under increasing threat by authoritarians, and we must be prepared to fight to preserve them.

It is a call for the few lingering Republicans of conscience to emulate that bravery by standing up and condemning the lying, the cheating, the suppression, the denial, and the enabling that is propping up Donald Trump in his own party.

It is a call for “Independents” to realize they are no longer self-identifying along an axis of “Republican” and “Democrat,” but along an axis of “Authoritarianism” and “Democracy.” To claim to be “independent” by that measure is not principle, it is abdication. There is a huge difference between being “independent” and being “neutral.” Make a choice, independents. Get in the game.

It is a call for Democrats to stop relying on a small cadre of energized volunteers to fight the grassroots, hand-to-hand combat that we call democracy. The party that brings its adherents to the polls in the largest number is the party that wins, and that cannot be accomplished by glitzy ad campaigns, lazy re-posting on social media, or the permanent procrastination of wishful thinking that volunteering is “something I will do someday.”

Please, Democrats, now is the time to stop prioritizing the book group, the Zoom cocktail hour, and the pickle ball game over the hard work of democracy.

Be inspired to volunteer by the screen images from a far-off land where ordinary human beings are lying down in front of tanks, braving bullets, and being recorded on cell phone cameras telling Vladimir Putin to fxxk off, all in their defiant urgency to breathe free.  

Here – as everywhere on this planet -- we the people are responsible for our government.

Here, God’s work must truly be our own.


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Wednesday, March 2, 2022

BTRTN: Ukraine Stands Tall, With US-Led Global Backing

Tom with the BTRTN February 2022 Month in Review.

In February, the world turned its collective attention to Russia’s brutal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, its erstwhile fellow member of the Soviet Union.  The two largest entities from that once-upon-a-time superpower share a long history, stemming back to their common roots in the "Kievan Rus" empire from a millennium ago.  Kievan Rus stretched from the middle of today’s Ukraine straight north for more than 800 miles, through Belarus and the western part of Russia up to the Gulf of Finland, and included Kyiv, Moscow and St. Petersburg.  It was ruled by a man named Vladimir the Great. Most of the millennium, Russia and Ukraine have been together as part of one nation, but even when not, including over the last 30 years, Russians have always considered Ukraine their “brotherly nation.”

As it happens, the two nations are now both ruled by men with the same name as their antecedent, Vladimir Putin of Russia and Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine.  Five years after the Ukrainians threw out a pro-Moscow government in a free election in 2014, Zelensky assumed power in another one, in 2019, winning 73% of the vote.  The Ukraine rejection of pro-Moscow government was an insult that Putin took personally and did not forget, to say the least.

The motivation for Putin’s invasion seems reasonably clear, with this insult fusing with his goal of reestablishing the former Soviet Union, one sovereign country at a time.  Putin successfully pried away pro-Moscow separatist provinces in Georgia (in 2008) and annexed the Crimea province of Ukraine (in 2014).  Perhaps perceiving weakness and division in the West, Putin decided that now is the time to take back Ukraine.

There is apparently no one in his inner circle strong enough to put forth the counterarguments. In the larger historical narrative, it is an exceedingly odd time for Putin to seek to attempt to re-establish Russian imperialism, an anachronistic concept, and resurrect the USSR, a failed country.  And such a blatant move against such a large neighbor, in violation of modern conventions that respect sovereignty, would surely invite worldwide scorn and reduce Russia to pariah status.  This is the first of many miscalculations Putin appears to have made.

The second was to underestimate the size, strength and solidarity of the Western opposition response, led by the re-invigorated Biden Administration.  And finally, Putin underestimated the will of the Ukraine people who, at this writing, are fighting for every square inch of Kyiv, having relinquished neither any major Ukraine cities (with the potential exception of Kherson, in late breaking news) nor control of the skies to the Russians.  They have thus, at the very least, delayed the Russian takeover timetable and embarrassed Putin.  

It is somewhat fallacious to assume that wars are won and lost on the relative size of armed forces and the amount and sophistication of weaponry.  Lost in these “on paper” analyses are two other crucial factors:  logistics and fighting spirit.  The Russians appeared to have assumed that the invasion would only last a few days, and thus have run into re-supply issues as the battles drag on.  There are also reports of faltering morale among the Russian soldiers, and much focus on the dogged resistance – and sheer courage -- being displayed by the Ukrainians.  These oft-overlooked factors are mitigating the severe disadvantage the Ukrainians are facing in manpower and arms.

The hero of the hour is Zelensky. The 44-year old is a former actor and comedian, and from 2015-2019 he starred in a very popular Ukraine television show, called Servant of the People.  His role was to portray the President of Ukraine.  One might presume these thin qualifications might not prepare him particularly well for the real deal, and especially as a wartime president.  Yet he has quickly emerged as an inspiring leader with a knack for crisis management.  His response to a U.S. offer to evacuate him from Kyiv was brilliant:  “The fight is here; I need ammunition, not a ride.”  He also made it clear who the Russians were after with their rather antiseptic goal of “decapitating the government”: he himself was Russia’s “target number one” and his own family was "target number two."  This was another way of dramatizing the cold-blooded nature of the Russian enterprise.  He has become a folk hero, and has a keen grasp of how to catalyze world opinion in his country’s favor.  Even with a life expectantly that could be measured in days, holed up in a bunker, he has kept up pressure on the West for more support.  

One can already see that, should Ukraine eventually succumb under the weight of superior Russian firepower, out of the rubble will emerge a vibrant insurgency that could further drain Russians resources, increasing the cost of occupation.

“Further” because the West has already weakened the Russians materially.  The promise (and early implementation) of enormous financial sanctions on the part of the U.S., Europe and other nations around the world has resulted in a mammoth -- roughly one-third -- drop in both the Russian stock market and the ruble.  Russia is no longer able to look to the West for loans to supports its debt; cannot access frozen assets in the US and Europe (this extending to various oligarchs close to Putin); can no longer rely on imports of badly needed technology to support its defense and industrial ambitions; cannot use European air space; and will no longer enjoy the economic benefits of the much-heralded Nord Stream 2 pipeline into Europe, a project the Germans, rather shockingly, have now shut down.  This coalition is the strongest display of Western unity since George H.W. Bush orchestrated the Gulf War; not coincidentally, Biden is the first U.S. president since the elder Bush to have decades of foreign policy experience.  It shows.

One cannot underestimate the breadth and depth of the global response in repudiating Putin.  A total of 87 countries have formally condemned the invasion via a United Nation’s resolution; protests against Russia are occurring in cities all over the world; and Russians are being banned everywhere from the World Cup to the Metropolitan Opera in New York.  Putin set out to transform the European security scheme that has governed the region since the dissolution of the Soviet Empire – and he may just do that, though hardly as he intended.   Finland’s newfound desire to join NATO and the Swiss freezing Russian assets are just two examples of how the West, not Putin, are ever-strengthening their bonds.  Ukraine itself has defiantly applied formally to join the European Union.

Biden has demonstrated not only resolve but creativity in addressing the challenge and, for an administration that has demonstrated a decided lack of communication savvy, he has performed brilliantly on that crucial front.  Biden seems to have taken a page from the NFL game analyst Tony Romo, a former Dallas quarterback, who made a name for himself by predicting from the broadcast booth, with stunning accuracy, the next play being called in the huddle.  Biden and his team – Secretary of State Tony Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan – have essentially done the exact same thing, with unprecedented (in diplomatic channels) near-daily real-time predictions of likely Russian action, with what turned out to be pinpoint precision.  In so doing, they pre-empted and thus undercut the baseless claims upon which Putin would justify his invasion, and accurately forecasted that his end-design went well beyond the separatist Donbas province.  While these predictions were chilling, they restored an enormous amount of confidence in the intelligence upon which they were based -- and U.S. leadership in the crisis.

One can hardly accuse Biden of playing politics in his decision processes.  Sure, he has accurately gauged America’s distaste for direct warfare, as polls showed that, by roughly a 60/20 margin American favored the deep sanctions he threatened over “boots on the ground.”  Since Ukraine is not a NATO nation, neither the U.S. nor other NATO countries have any obligation to commit troops to Ukraine’s defense.   However, Biden knows well that the sanctions will wreak havoc on energy supplies in world markets – Russia is a major energy supplier, particular to Europe – and inevitably drive up prices at the pump in the U.S.  Those prices are already at a high, and already are excising a very high political cost to  Biden.  It is no exaggeration to say that high and rising energy prices – which are driving the 40-year high inflation levels bedeviling Biden today -- may be the single biggest obstacle to Democratic success in the midterms.  And yet he has been leading the charge on developing the most crippling of sanctions and imposing them on Putin and his country, despite the political cost he may bear as a result.

There are political upsides for Biden in all this, however.  While hardly a “Wag the Dog” moment, presidents experiencing troubles with their agendas on the domestic front welcome foreign policy diversion, and, for Biden in particular, this crisis has come at a good time, given his stalled legislative agenda.  But he is making the most of it, as mentioned, by re-establishing America’s prowess in foreign affairs and his own expertise, which were both compromised with the messy Afghan withdrawal.  He has been extremely proactive, which has contrasted sharply with other aspects of his administration, including COVID management, which have seemed reactive.  And he has been extremely visible, addressing the nation numerous times to explain the nature and magnitude of the conflict, and how he is responding to it.

Furthermore, the conflict is extremely complicated for the Republican Party, which is completely split on the proper response.  Mainstream Republicans – foreign policy hawks that seek to limit Russian influence -- such as those found in the U.S. Senate, are generally supportive of Biden’s policies, though chiding him a bit for the timing of his sanctions (and some blaming the Afghanistan exit for given Putin impetus for his thrust).  This argument found little traction, however, as Biden explained that if you unleash the full might of sanctions either before the invasion (as some Republicans wished) or even after the first troops crossed into Donbas, which was already occupied by Russian troops (as championed by others), then one lost any leverage over Putin, and any ability to negotiate some form of peace.

As for the MAGA wing of the party, which is led less by Trump and more by Tucker Carlson of FOX News, they essentially dismissed Ukraine as being unworthy of any attention whatsoever, a classic isolationist position that would have the U.S. bury its nose between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, while China and Russia used their might to expand their influence unabated.  The most outlandish are actually expressing support for Putin, with one well-known conservative podcaster expressing outright that “I’ll stand on the side of Russia right now.”  He was hardly alone.

The Democrats, on the other hand, united behind Biden, along with the mainstream GOP, and thus the majority of Americans are supporting him.  We’ll see what happens when gas prices rise from their current level of $3.70 a gallon nationally to $4.00. 

As for Russia, it may be stumbling in its efforts to subdue Ukraine, and may well be a near-pariah to the world (China’s support is a bit of a mixed bag), but don’t expect Putin to gracefully withdraw and say “Well played, West.”  If anything he will likely double down, as that ominous 40-mile long convoy of armed forces bearing down on Kyiv attests.

Biden made historic news this month on another front, delivering on a campaign promise two years to the day of making it, when he nominated Ketanji Brown Jackson to fill the vacancy of retiring Justice Stephen Breyer to the Supreme Court.  If confirmed, she will be the first Black woman to so serve.  Judge Jackson – destined to be known informally as “KBJ” – was the favorite from the start, having received bipartisan support from the Senate in 2021 for her current appointment (she received a whopping three votes from GOP Senators, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski and Lindsey Graham).  The nomination was overshadowed – even overwhelmed in the news cycle – by the Ukraine crisis, but her nomination will receive a second chance of headlines with her upcoming confirmation process.

COVID took a nosedive in February, the Omicron virus following its predicted “firecracker” path, with new cases dropping a staggering 81% in February from January, from 18.3 million new cases to 3.5 million.  Deaths barely declined at all, from 66,000 to 60,000.  As indoor mask mandates were dropped by even the Bluest of governors, it was obvious that America was ready to move on from COVID.  This too will be a political asset for Biden, in his quest to deliver on the essential promise of his candidacy in 2020:  to return America to normalcy after the epic aberrations of Trump and COVID.  Whether we are truly rid of either are two monumental questions that will shape both 2022 and 2024.

The Biden comeback thus has several strong pillars in place – kudos on the Ukraine front, for now, COVID receding with no new dangerous variants in sight (while keeping a close eye on the Omicron BA.2 strain), and continued economic growth.  But Biden surely needs an easing from inflation somehow, so the spotlight will soon move to the Fed and its attempts to thread the needle between tamping down on the breaks and bringing the economy to a screeching halt.



Below is Trump’s response on the day the Russians began their invasion.  It sounded insane then and has not aged well.

RIGHT-WING RADIO HOST BUCK SEXTON:  “In the last 24 hours we know Russia has said that they are recognizing two breakaway regions of Ukraine, and now this White House is stating that this is an ‘invasion.’  That’s a strong word. What went wrong here? What has the current occupant of the Oval Office done that he could have done differently?”


TRUMP:  “Well, what went wrong was a rigged election. What went wrong is a candidate that shouldn’t be there and a man that has no concept of what he’s {doing}.


“I went in yesterday and there was a television screen, and I said, ‘This is genius.’ Putin declares a big portion of the Ukraine — of Ukraine. Putin declares it as independent. Oh, that’s wonderful. So, Putin is now saying, ‘Its independent,’ a large section of Ukraine. I said, ‘How smart is that?’ And he’s gonna go in and be a peacekeeper. That’s strongest peace force … We could use that on our southern border.”


“Here’s a guy that says, you know, ‘I’m gonna declare a big portion of Ukraine independent’ — he used the word ‘independent’ — ‘and we’re gonna go out and we’re gonna go in and we’re gonna help keep peace. You gotta say that’s pretty savvy. And you know what the response was from Biden? There was no response.”



Joe Biden’s approval rating for the month of February dipped a single point to a new low of 43%, and a net negative of -9 percentage points.  It is perhaps worth noting, however, that Biden’s approval rating at first fell in the month, to 41%, before rising toward the end of the month at 44%.  Whether this portends a further upswing in his fortunes remains, of course, to be seen.


Biden’s ratings on individual key issues appears to have stabilized at lower levels after declines from July through November.  There is scant evidence of a “Biden Comeback” but yet also no evidence of further erosion.




In February polling, on average the GOP continues to lead the Democrats on the generic ballot by a single point.  Using BTRTN’s proprietary models (which have been extremely accurate in midterm elections), if this lead was still in place on Election Day in 2022, the GOP would pick up about 20 seats and take over the House with some room to spare, though hardly in the magnitude of the losses experienced by Bill Clinton in his first midterms (-54 seats) or Barack Obama (-63), or even Donald Trump (-40).




The “Bidenometer” fell slightly from January to February, from 68 to 65, driven mostly by the drop in the stock market and the rise in gas prices.  Both movements were directly caused by the Russia/Ukraine war. 

As a reminder, this measure is designed to provide an objective answer to the legendary economically-driven question at the heart of the 1980 Reagan campaign:  “Are you better off than you were four years ago?”  We reset the Bidenometer at this Inaugural to zero, so that we better demonstrate whether the economy performs better (a positive number) or worse (a negative number) under Biden than what he inherited from the Trump Administration.

This exclusive BTRTN measure is comprised of five indicative data points:  the unemployment rate, Consumer Confidence, the price of gasoline, the Dow-Jones Industrial Average and the U.S. GDP.  The measure is calculated by averaging the percentage change in each measure from the inaugural to the present time.

The +65 means that, on average, the five measures are 68% higher than they were when Biden was inaugurated (see the chart below).  With a Bidenometer of +65, the economy is clearly performing much better under Biden compared to its condition when Trump left office.

Using January 20, 2021 as a baseline measure of zero, you can see from the chart below that under Clinton the measure ended at +55.  It declined from +55 to only +8 under Bush, who presided over the Great Recession at the end of his term, then rose from +8 to +33 under Obama’s recovery.  Under Trump, it fell again, from +33 to 0, driven by the shock of COVID-19 and Trump’s mismanagement of it.  Now we have seen it move upward to +65 under Biden.

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Notes on methodology:

BTRTN calculates our monthly approval ratings using an average of the four pollsters who conduct daily or weekly approval rating polls: Gallup Rasmussen, Reuters/Ipsos and You Gov/Economist. This provides consistent and accurate trending information and does not muddy the waters by including infrequent pollsters.  The outcome tends to mirror the RCP average but, we believe, our method gives more precise trending.

For the generic ballot (which is not polled in this post-election time period), we take an average of the only two pollsters who conduct weekly generic ballot polls, Reuters/Ipsos and You Gov/Economist, again for trending consistency.

The Bidenometer aggregates a set of economic indicators and compares the resulting index to that same set of aggregated indicators at the time of the Biden Inaugural on January 20, 2021, on an average percentage change basis. The basic idea is to demonstrate whether the country is better off economically now versus when Trump left office.  The indicators are the unemployment rate, the Dow-Jones Industrial Average, the Consumer Confidence Index, the price of gasoline and the GDP.