Sunday, January 8, 2023

BTRTN: Speaker Crisis Ends with a Bang and a Wimp… and Republicans Voters See the Mess They’ve Made Up Close

Like a victim of Stockholm Syndrome, Kevin McCarthy beamed when his party’s right wing ended their four-day hostage crisis and allowed him to become Speaker. Yes, the entire spectacle portends legislative dysfunction, danger, and disgrace… but  Republican voters needed to see just how dangerous their internecine war has become.

It was C-SPAN’s Superbowl, Grammys, and White Lotus rolled into one, a ratings bonanza for the network previously known only for the single, locked-down camera. The programming itself? A single episode repeated for four days until it was mercifully ended when the arsonists capitulated because they’d already milked it for all it was worth. 

When Kevin McCarthy failed to secure the nomination on the very first ballot, the news networks’ hype machines went into overdrive. We could be here for days! Weeks! Months!!! We were primed for a circus of deceit, hypocrisy, and character assassination, an endless cliffhanger -- Who Shot J.R. McCarthy?  A freak show of naked ambition  untethered to character, principle, or integrity… it’s Succession without the HBO subscription fee!

Or maybe it really was just an ordinary week in today’s Republican Party… finally broadcast so Republican voters could see up close the moral bankruptcy, weakness, and ferocious division in their party.

The cast – led by Matt Gaetz, Lauren Boebert, Kevin McCarthy, and including cameos by George Santos, and one off-camera former President -- had us believing the hype.  We watched the ever-cocky Gaetz, entranced by his own staggering capacity for self-aggrandizement. In quick cuts to Santos, we finally saw the pudgy, unprepossessing nerd who successfully hoodwinked portions of Queens and Long Island. Frequenting the podium, the forty-watt Boebert preened before C-SPAN’s unwavering eye as she undermined a proud institution for sport and spite. Offstage, a former President -- who has suddenly hit his iceberg and is sinking fast under the weight of his company’s conviction of tax fraud and looming accusations of his own criminality and seditious conspiracy -- seized the moment to stay relevant by making frequent calls into the chamber. That’s all we need: Donald Trump collecting still more “IOUs” from Kevin McCarthy as we barrel toward the 2024 election.

And now, the star of our mini-series... Kevin McCarthy. The man who sold his soul to too many people in pursuit of the glory of a title spent the week holding on for dear life, at risk of slipping at any moment from power player to punching bag to punchline. In the early hours of Saturday morning, McCarthy was elected… after having had to prostrate himself, grovel, endure humiliation, and make every concession possible while begging for a job that, as far as we could tell, no other Republican even wanted.

Perhaps it was the delicious swirl of schadenfreude that explains why so many were transfixed by the sight of paint drying culminating with McCarthy being rejected 14 times before prevailing. But don’t try to make us feel bad for watching by scolding us that the four-day hostage crisis was “bad for America.” Sure, I can understand why Joe Biden doesn’t want the United States to appear to be a confederacy of dunces, and we all knew that at some point, the House of Representatives must convene for the important business of debt ceilings, appropriations, and ignoring immigration reform.

But the truth is that what is happened this past week is good for America. Well, good for Republicans.

It is good for everyday Republican voters to stare at the monster they have created.

It is good for Republicans to witness their supposed party leader on his knees groveling before a rat pack of genuine rats.

It is good for Republicans to think about the fact that the two most dominant faces on camera for the week were a man who has been linked with sex-trafficking and an election-denying woman who tweets racially incendiary filth while sending out a Christmas card of her family toting assault rifles.

It is very good for Republicans to watch their own party turn the position of Speaker of the House into a toothless, empty, ceremonial throne -- all because no one had the guts to cut a real deal with Democrats and form a functioning coalition that would render Matt Gaetz once again only threatening to underage women.

It is good for Republicans to realize that it took 200 largely white male complicit wimps in cozy leather seats to turn Matt Gaetz and Lauren Boebert into media superstars.

It is a good time for all the Republicans in the United States to honestly ask themselves if they are proud to be associated with a party whose primary faces are weaklings, criminals, power addicts, bold-faced liars, and soulless enablers. 

As they say down at the corner store, if you broke it, you own it.

Over the past twenty years, the Republican Party has voted its way to its current incarnation – an unholy alliance forged among an extreme authoritarian right wing that wants to end democracy in America; a confederation of single-issue voters who like guns, hate abortion, fear immigrants, repress women, don’t want minorities to vote; and a sliver of immensely wealthy people who care only about enhancing their own fortunes. The last is a most peculiar group who somehow fail to understand – even when confronted with 100 years of stock market data -- that Republicans are actually very bad at that.

It is a party whose mixed bag of single-issue voters is supposedly unified by a desire to minimize the role and power of government. But it is being taken over by anarchists who have already moved on to the next step: destroying democracy and the institutions that enable it. It is a party that venerates a man who said “government is not the solution, government is the problem,” and has somehow managed to incorrectly conclude that the Gipper wanted government eliminated entirely.

It has become a party of electile dysfunction, riven asunder when the essential incompatibility of those many self-interests are revealed in the cold light of choosing a leader.

When wealthy, educated, “fiscally conservative” Republicans made their deal with the devil – embracing the Tea Party to secure enough votes to take the White House – these elite patricians did not anticipate that they would end up sharing Thanksgiving dinner with Big Lie/Little Brain racist Lauren Boebert. Right-wing Christians hell bent on repealing Roe v. Wade and then outlawing abortion altogether find themselves embracing Hershel Walker, a man who lost track of how many children he had fathered and urged (and paid for) abortions for his girlfriends. Angry, alienated middle-aged Southern white men who feel their livelihoods have been stolen by immigrants vote for a man who employed illegal immigrants, doesn’t pay taxes, and cozies up to foreign dictators. Establishment Republican politicians endorse a preposterously broad interpretation of the Second Amendment to secure the votes of gun extremists, only to witness the fruit of their compromise in horrendous scenes of mass slaughter of toddlers, young children, and teenagers in schools across America. The party of “law and order” orchestrates and executes a murderous attack the United States Capitol, threatening to hang the Vice President of United States… one of their own.

Ordinary Republican voters really ought to pause to consider that the hunger to hang Mike Pence – that is, to destroy an establishment Republican leader – is exactly what Boebert and Gaetz had in mind in Washington this week. Kevin McCarthy was being drawn, quartered, extruded, and humiliated by members of his own party. The only item missing was the actual noose.

There are no tears to be shed for Kevin McCarthy: he has been complicit – indeed, the primary enabler -- of his own misery. A weak and soulless man, vacant any moral compass or driving vision, McCarthy has made it transparent for years that the only organizing force in his life is the possession of a title and an office. In that quest, he surrendered most of the powers that make the Speaker’s effective, and shed every shred of personal dignity along the way.  The Gaetz and Boebert gang could smell it, and they toyed with it for as long as they possibly could, all there on national television. It was a personal branding and fundraising tour de force for Gaetz and Boebert, and McCarthy just let it happen.  

McCarthy has only himself to blame. He gave himself away for good after he initially lambasted Trump for his role in the January 6 Insurrection. But then he realized that Trump’s hold on the party was still strong, and he worried that his chances of becoming Speaker would be diminished unless he apologized.  Trump then proceeded to push his platform of election denial as the centerpiece of the mid-terms in 2022, resulting in weak candidates, weak messaging, and the failure to capture an expected “red wave” of House seats. With a wafer-thin Republican majority in the House, Kevin McCarthy had to kneel before the Freedom Caucus to get his dream job. By choosing to support Trump to preserve his chances at the Speaker’s role, he undermined his chances at attaining it… and then he secured the job by diminishing it. Nice work, Kevin.

Republican voters across America need to stare at this spectacle and understand exactly what they have done. They created this mess. They enabled the people who want to rip down our government, our structures, and our democracy.

It bears mentioning, in a final but nonetheless appalling side note, that Kevin McCarthy has not said a word about the newest member of his caucus, the epic liar from Queens, George Santos. Here’s a bet: if George Santos had opposed him for Speaker, McCarthy would have done everything in his power to prevent Santos from taking his seat in Congress. But because McCarthy needed every vote he could get, he chose to say nothing and do nothing about Santos.

How can we be the least bit surprised that McCarthy and the Republicans embraced George Santos? The Washington Post claims that Donald Trump made 30,573 false or misleading statements during his Presidency. Do you wonder where George Santos got the idea about how to succeed in the modern Republican Party?

George Santos, mind you, is not simply some amateur exaggerator, someone who, in his own words, merely did what everyone else does. “I’m not going to make excuses for this, but a lot of people overstate in their resumes, or twist a little bit. … I’m not saying I’m not guilty of that.” A little bit? Telling people that your mother died in the 9/11 attacks is not the same as claiming that you made varsity when you languished on the J.V. squad.  It is a faux invocation of excruciating human pain, a tragedy that – if true – would warrant deep sympathy and perhaps some consideration and added kindness for your suffering and for overcoming a searing emotional life experience. George Santos claiming that his mother died on 9/11 is a ham-fisted manipulation of an emotional hand-grenade to get a few extra votes.

Is anybody – anyone at all -- in the Republican Party feeling the least bit good about the putrid stew of blind ambition, insult, and mind-numbing repetition that went on in our nation’s capital this week?

You bet someone is! Lauren Boebert is rocking it! Just a few short weeks ago, Boebert was thanking her lucky stars, having squeaked out re-election by a mere 546 votes out of 326,000 cast. But now she gets to stand up on the floor of the United States House of Representatives and speak passionately about how government is broken, somehow missing the irony that she is the one swinging the wrecking ball. But she is compelling on one point: if you think Washington, D.C. is dysfunctional, do you really think that a vision-less empty suit like Kevin McCarthy is the guy to fix it?

So Lauren Boebert wanted this drama to go on as long as possible… and it did indeed end up with roughly the same number of episodes as “The White Lotus.” Hey, who doesn’t want to see Aubrey Plaza play Boebert in an Apple TV docudrama of McCarthy’s humiliation? Lauren Boebert would have been thrilled if the C-SPAN cameras rolled until, well, groundhog day.

Meanwhile, while sifting through classified documents in Mar-a-Lago, the architect of the modern Republican Party is now feeling the water begin to boil around him. The convictions of his company for tax crimes emboldened the Manhattan D.A. to press on and investigate a potentially more serious crime directly involving Donald Trump. The charges leveled by the Attorney General of New York could decimate Trump’s company. The criminal case involving election interference in Georgia seems very far along. And the two monster cases being handled at the Federal level by the Department of Justice – the Mar-a-Lago documents case, and the January 6 Insurrection – now have the full focus of a special prosecutor whose resting face looks like a hungry pit bull.

And yet Donald Trump runs for President. Heck, why not?

Hey, all you Republican voters out there, listen up! If you think Democrats were delighting in schadenfreude now, wait until Donald Trump begins to lose primary elections, and then starts to announce that they are rigged. Wait until Donald Trump starts saying that Ron DeSantis is not the legitimate nominee of the Party. Wait until Donald Trump’s zealots start chanting “stop the steal,” but the target of their accusation is not the Electoral College, but the Republican Party establishment.

No, the internecine bloodbath that we are witnessing in Washington today is just the warm-up act for when Donald Trump decides to turn a flamethrower to the party that will reject his attempt to win a third nomination. Just watch as he takes the 35% of the Republican Party that he owns and uses his hold over those voters to cripple the Republican candidates in the 2024 general election.

Order some more popcorn, Democrats. The producers who brought you this week’s White Republican Lotus mini-series have some even more amazing tales of self-destruction in the pipeline.

To those few sane, smart Republicans out there who are not able to accept that their party is no longer the same lovable mate they married decades ago, it is time to take off the blinders.

If you stick with it, you are enabling it. If you think you are not sending your money to Matt Gaetz, you might just want to tune into C-SPAN to see who is cashing the check.

Republican Party, heal thyself. That means the ordinary voters. The rank and file. You have two years to figure out how stop the madness in your party.

Heal thyself before Matt Gaetz decides that we shouldn’t raise the debt ceiling. Watch what happens to your precious stock market then.

Heal thyself before Lauren Boebert decides that it’s fine if Vladimir Putin wins in Ukraine. Watch what happens in a world where Putin is further emboldened... and our allies no longer trust the United States of America.

Heal thyself before Kevin McCarthy gets blown up as Speaker in his third week. Who’s going to be your speaker then? How about George Santos? I hear he’s already got that on his resume.

C-SPAN spent the last week showing us up close the faces of today’s Republican Party: Gaetz, McCarthy, Santos, and Boebert.

Hope you took a real close look, Republican voters. It is still your party.  You broke it. You own it.


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Tuesday, January 3, 2023

BTRTN: Will DeSantis Run?

Tom with the BTRTN December 2022 Month in Review.

December 2022

December, 2022 was the post-midterm interregnum when Washington crams in unfinished business and evolves into a New Order with the creation of the 118th Congress.  The final aftershocks of the 2022 midterms resounded in December with the AP call of California’s 13th House district, the last unresolved House election, after 23 days of ballot counting; Ralph Warnock’s convincing win over Herschel Walker in the Georgia Senate run-off; and the exposing of George Santos, the serial liar who flipped a crucial House swing district in Nassau County in New York’s Long Island on the basis of presenting voters with an utterly false life.  We haven’t seen a liar of the magnitude of George Santos since, well, the days of Donald Trump. 

Santos’ public fraud is so clear and so sweeping – he lied about his employment, his education, his religion, his real estate portfolio, the alleged fate of several alleged employees of his alleged business in 9/11, a fraud case in Brazil, even his mother’s death, and more including potential campaign finance fraud -- that booting him before he takes the oath (which he will do today) seems obvious.  Indeed, how will he possibly utter these words?  “I, George Santos (or Anthony Devolder, a name he sometimes uses), do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion, and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.”  Solemnly swear?  True faith?  Without purpose of evasion? So help me god, indeed.

The twin evils of Trumpism and polarization have long buried any shred of dignity that existed within the party of Lincoln, and the party of Hugh Scott, Barry Goldwater and John Rhodes.  They were the distinguished, solemn establishment trio who went to the White House on August 7, 1974 to tell President Richard Nixon that he had lost the support of Congress.  (Nixon resigned two days later.)  But the 21st century version of the Grand Old Party could never bring itself to do the same to Donald Trump, despite two impeachment opportunities, and now they cannot even eject Santos, a virtually unknown fabulist.  The simple truth is that wannabee-Speaker Kevin McCarthy needs every single vote he can get, and, with his silence on Santos, he crawls even deeper into the abyss, dragging this once proud party with him.

The Santos saga (or, if you prefer, the Devolder drama), was probably welcomed by Donald Trump, since it deflected attention from what has been quite possibly the worst start of a presidential campaign in history (or at least since Scott Walker, the erstwhile Wisconsin Wonder who managed a 70-day “first-to-worst” campaign in 2015).  December saw Trump being castigated one last time, with the defeat of Walker, for his midterm idiot-backing madness; ridiculed for launching a set of Trump digital trading cards (on sale for $99 each!); had his Trump Organization found guilty of tax fraud; lost his six-year battle to keep his taxes out of the public eye; and, oh yes, was referred for criminal prosecution by the January 6 committee on four different charges related to The Big Lie.  All this came after his ill-timed post-midterm-debacle launch announcement in November, when Trump blowback was white hot, and his high-profile dinner with two of the leading anti-Semites of our age, Nick Fuentes and Ye (nee Kanye West).  Perhaps the best part of Trump’s December, apart from the Santos deflection, was that another month went by without an indictment.  That streak just might end in January.

Trump remains the only announced candidate for president, and now we await the decisions of President Joe Biden and Trump’s main potential GOP challenger, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.  Biden has said he will make his intentions clear in early 2023 (likely no sooner than mid-February), but any thought that Biden might hang it up ended when it was revealed that Jill Biden supported a reelection run.  Biden himself had a fine month, with inflation now steadily receding, economists raising the odds that the U.S. might avoid a recession altogether, and Biden, Schumer and Pelosi conjuring more legislative magic with bi-partisan passage of a $1.7 omnibus spending bill.  (This got through because the GOP Senate was terrified of what might happen if they had to rely on the GOP-controlled House to pass one in the new session.)  With all that and the continued glow from the better-than-expected midterms (and the Warnock exclamation point), Biden saw a small but material increase in his approval rating, from 41% to 43%.  In these times, that qualifies as momentum. 

Which brings us to DeSantis and his decision.  It may surprise readers to consider that he might not run, because there is one terrifically good reason why he should – it appears to be his “time.” He is fresh off that stupendous 20-point reelection win in Florida, and he will certainly recall the lesson of Chris Christie, who demurred in 2012 when he was cooking on gas, only to see the flame burn out by 2016.  But there are at least two pretty darn good reasons why DeSantis might take a pass anyway, and they are named Joe Biden and Donald Trump.

Assuming Biden runs (which as noted is almost a foregone conclusion), he will run, of course, as the incumbent, a huge advantage, and a pretty well-positioned one at that.  Biden has already built a solid track record of accomplishment both domestically and overseas; he may be riding a rising economic tide by 2024; and he’ll still have that decent, likable, centrist, high-integrity Middle American profile that got him elected in the first place.  That adds up to a pretty formidable position, assuming, of course, he handles the next two years well and maintains his reasonably vigorous level of health (neither a given).  From DeSantis’s perspective, running against an incumbent is a risk, and it is notable that the only ones who have been successful at it since FDR’s time are Jimmy Carter, who was running against an unelected president, and Ronald Reagan and Joe Biden, both of whom, at their ages, did not have time to wait.  Such is not the case with Ron DeSantis, who is a mere 44 years old, only four years older than Pete Buttigieg.

The other factor to consider also poses grave challenges to DeSantis -- the Trump factor.  While Trump is clearly wounded, that could very well be when he is most dangerous.  He still has a firm grip on at least 30% of the GOP, probably higher among those who will participate in the primaries, which will make him a formidable opponent.  Trump will doubtless denigrate DeSantis mercilessly during his campaign, contuning his propensity of making a mockery of Ronald Reagan’s famous Eleventh Commandment (“thou shall not speak ill of any fellow Republican”).  DeSantis will become Trump’s sworn enemy the day he throws his hat in the ring.  If DeSantis loses the nomination to Trump, he is political toast, and if he defeats him for the nomination, he will somehow have to win over the Trump faithful to have any chance of beating Biden.  He certainly cannot count on Trump’s support in the general election; indeed, he may face Trump’s full wrath and perhaps even an independent run.

No matter what happens in 2024 in a Trump-Biden repeat, the field will be clear in 2028.  No matter who wins, they will serve a second term and then be done.  If Biden wins, the Democrats will have served for eight years, and the country will be ready for a change.  Only George H.W. Bush defied that metronome-like swing when he won in 1988 after eight years of Republican rule under Reagan.  If Trump wins, he will be eternally grateful to DeSantis for supporting him, and probably anoint him in 2028.  (If Trump loses, he could conceivably run again in 2028, but that seems highly unlikely.)

DeSantis’s biggest risk in this wait-for-2028 scenario is that Trump may tap him for Vice President.  DeSantis would hardly want to lash himself, Pence-like, to Trump by accepting, but obviously, if he declined, it would elevate a competitor for 2028.  DeSantis may offer Trump a deal – I’ll back out in 2024 if you don’t offer me the VP slot, and take no sides in 2028. 

DeSantis may also be waiting to see what Biden does.  If Biden decides not to run, that shifts the calculus, in that one obstacle – running against an incumbent – will be removed. 

All in all, it is no laydown that DeSantis is running.  He is nothing if not astute in reading political terrain, and there is little doubt he is considering all of these factors as we head into decision season.  The odds on choice is that he will make a go of it, because, apart from political astuteness, DeSantis appears to have a healthy supply of hubris, and thus the lure of the moment will win out, with the sense that he can handle the obstacles as they arise.

Next up:  today’s vote on McCarthy’s speakership, with GOP dysfunction fully on display.  Stay tuned.


As noted, Biden’s approval rating edged up to 43% in December, in the aftermath of the unexpected showing by the Democrats in the midterms.  His issue ratings were unchanged, except for some slight upward movement in “direction of the country.”  While the monthly movement was modest, + 2 points, and the absolute level now is still low at 29%, it is noteworthy that the measure has climbed +10 points since July.

The “Bidenometer,” our BTRTN aggregate record of economic performance, made another significant jump upwards from +41 to +47, as gas prices continued to fall and consumer confidence improved (more on the Bidenometer below).



The Bidenometer is a BTRTN proprietary economic measure that was 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.

The Bidenometer 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 +47 for December, 2022 means that, on average, the five measures are 47% higher than they were when Biden was inaugurated (see the chart below).  With a Bidenometer of +47, the economy is performing markedly better under Biden compared to its condition when Trump left office.  Unemployment is much lower, consumer confidence is higher, the Dow is higher and the GDP is stronger.  On the flip side, gas prices have soared (as has overall inflation, of which gas prices are a primary component).

Using January 20, 2021 as a baseline measure of zero, under Clinton the measure ended at +55.  It declined from +55 to +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 from 0 to +47 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.