Monday, February 27, 2023

BTRTN: “Woke...” How Ron DeSantis Plans to Dog-Whistle His Way to the Nomination

If one of Trump or DeSantis is going to be the Republican candidate in 2024, I would prefer it be DeSantis, only because I know as an absolutely certainty that Trump would be determined to end democracy, but that remains a question with DeSantis. But make no mistake: Ron DeSantis is the more nuanced, cunning, and perhaps more effective racist.   

In a mid-term cycle when Republicans generally underperformed relative to expectation, one candidate blew the roof off, absolutely crushing his Democratic opponent in a landslide of 19.4 points – and that in a state that qualifies as purple. In a dreary day for the GOP, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis was a one-man tidal wave.

Immediately, DeSantis became the focus of frenzied speculation as the man who could finally end the death-spiral stranglehold that Donald Trump has on the Republican Party. During a campaign debate, DeSantis had pointedly refused to commit to serving out a full second term as Governor. Perhaps the most telling indication of DeSantis’s future was that he instantly became the focus of a scathing social media barrage from Donald Trump. Nothing says you’ve arrived in the Republican Party quite like becoming Trump’s public enemy number one.

So how has DeSantis handled all the attention? After all, the man is the chief executive of the third largest state in the nation, a state still rebuilding from a devastating hurricane, the single state perhaps most threatened by climate change, and a state dealing with the challenges of being among the fastest growing in the union.

Essentially, the man has been handed a giant bully pulpit that gives him latitude to address any and all issues facing our nation. Indeed, one might expect a man who is clearly giving serious consideration to a Presidential run to want to make his views on national and global issues better known.

So what does Ron DeSantis do?

He gets furious about the curriculum for an AP class on African-American studies.

He is urgently focused on making sure that all the titles on a Florida elementary school teacher’s bookshelf have been approved by the state.

He wants to prevent any discussion about gender identity in Florida schools.

He speaks in front of a lectern emblazoned “Freedom from Indoctrination.”

And the big, rousing line in his second inaugural address was this: "We will enact more family-friendly policies to make it easier to raise children, and we will defend our children against those who seek to rob them of their innocence. We reject this woke ideology...We will never surrender to the woke mob. Florida is where woke goes to die."

Yes, for Ron DeSantis, the biggest single issue in America today is an overwhelming onslaught of, uh, wokeness.

And if Florida is where woke goes to die, how come DeSantis seems to find so much of it there?

Perhaps what Governor DeSantis meant to say is that “Florida is where woke goes to get killed by Ron DeSantis,” but maybe that phrasing didn’t sound very, uh, woke.

What the hell, exactly, is Ron DeSantis so agitated about?

Let’s start here. You can find a variety of definitions of “woke,” but the general thrust is consistent: it is to be aware of and alert to signs of racial discrimination and bias, and to see systemic bias and racial discrimination in society. Whether all left-leaners use the term or not, it’s fair to say that they generally espouse and endorse “woke” behavior and attitudes, simply in that progressives and liberals are inclined to agree that our country has a long history of racial injustice and believe that such bias that remains virulent to this day.

Not insignificant: the etymology of the term “woke” is vernacular usage in the Black community, using “woke” to talk about an individual who was awake to societal bias against persons of color. It was embraced broadly in the progressive community to signal awareness of systemic racial bias, and its meaning is now consistent across the multi-colored rainbow that is the Democratic melting pot.

But now it has also been hijacked by the right as a term of ridicule, a way to belittle those who believe that our society remains filled with bias. In their sarcastic use of “woke,” right wingers now have a single word that can simultaneously serve to disrespect both liberals who recognize societal bias and the minority Americans who actually bear the burden of endemic bigotry.

To be clear: Ron DeSantis does not disagree with this definition of “woke.” Once asked in a court case to define “woke,” his lawyer provided the official Ron DeSantis definition. “Woke,” according to the lawyer, is “the belief there are systemic injustices in American society and the need to address them.” Not terribly dissimilar that the phrasing used above.

The issue is that Ron DeSantis aggressively takes the position that there are not systemic injustices in American society, let alone that these injustices need to be addressed. He’s just not buying it. You could hand him an encyclopedia of differing real estate valuations and bank applications that otherwise vary only by the race of the owner or applicant, and he would apparently be unmoved. You could point out how school systems funded by local taxes result in a national K-12 education system that dramatically favors the white children in the suburbs with long-standing affluence. You could produce volumes on historical hiring practices at the fancy law firms that hire freshly-minted attorneys from Ivy League law schools like the one that produced DeSantis.  

DeSantis has a very specific “anti-woke” agenda. He has zeroed in on the education system in Florida to find examples that he claims are evidence of a pervasive liberal effort to indoctrinate impressionable young minds into “woke” philosophy. Ron DeSantis has therefore positioned his war on “woke” as a crusade to protect the malleable minds of children, and the right of their parents to decide what their children will be exposed to in school.  It is worth noting that in his specific focus on education, he is attempting to give this persecution a veneer of legitimacy… education is certainly well within the purview of a state governor.

In short, DeSantis does not believe in societal bias, so he is demanding that school children in his state never be exposed to even the possibility that such bias exists.

Last April, Florida passed the “Stop WOKE Act,” which essentially prohibits any commercial venture or educational institution from advancing any notion that individuals are “inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.” It further outlaws teaching that any individuals have inherent advantages or disadvantages based on their race, gender, or national origin. It continues, forbidding the instruction that anyone “bears personal responsibility for and must feel guilt, anguish, or other forms of psychological distress” over historical actions committed by persons of the same race, gender, or national origin.

Talk about irony: the very existence of a law designed to curtail teaching about the possibility of racial bias is the best proof imaginable that a society has an inherent racial bias.

Ron DeSantis does not want young people to be made to feel bad about the fact that great-great grandpa owned slaves.

But I would think – indeed hope – that it impossible to teach American history in a way that is somehow guaranteed to avoid engendering feelings of guilt or anguish about the fact that many of our ancestors enslaved human beings.

But, if you are a teacher in Florida, you are also keenly aware that every single one of your students has an iPhone with a recording device, and you now know that your next sentence could end up in a courtroom and end your career, because it made a student “feel bad.”

The intended result, of course, is a de facto ban on discussion of slavery. It is the soft censorship of an implicit threat.

And it has clearly not occurred to Governor DeSantis that banning such discussion might also cause anguish -- to the young people whose ancestors were enslaved, and to all the young people who really want to know the truth about the country they live in.

It is yet one more measure of the degree to which the post-Donald Trump Republican Party is utterly unrecognizable to a still recent past it claims to venerate.  The Republican Party of Ronald Reagan defined itself as the party of “small government.” “Government is not the solution,” the Gipper would say, “it is the problem.” The Republican Party of Ronald Reagan aggressively championed the freedoms of the individual from government interference, with the first amendment right of free speech at the very top of the list.

Today, in Florida, government micromanages, polices, and constricts educational curricula, public corporation HR policies, and opinions held and offered by any public-facing person or entity in the state of Florida. Today’s Republican Party believes, as Mehmet Oz famously declared, that abortions should be decided by “women, doctors, and local political leaders.” Now Ron DeSantis thinks that government should forbid students from learning about even the possibility of inherent societal bias in a nation where enslaving human beings was legal for most of its first century. First amendment rights? Florida is now America’s home of government censorship.

Why is the governor of the third largest state in the nation focusing so much of his energy and political capital on finding and stamping out examples of opinions and empirical data that present a world view contrary to his own?

Why is he banning books?

Is he really doing this to protect children? 

Or is he doing it to define his personal political brand?

Ron DeSantis wants to run for President, and he urgently needs to send a signal the extreme right wing of his party that he stands for everything Donald Trump stands for. Central to that signal is kowtowing to the extreme right's belief that the United States is first and foremost a nation of white Americans.   

Ron DeSantis is using the word “woke” to belittle the progressive ideology that points out the history of oppression, disadvantage, and persecution that minorities in America have always faced, and to even deny the oppression of minority Americans itself.

DeSantis is weaponizing language formed in the Black community and embraced by the broad rainbow coalition of progressive thinkers in a attempt to stoke the anger of Donald Trump’s base. He is using the word “woke” to signal to Donald Trump’s base of overwhelmingly white, aging people that he despises all the same people that they do.

Ah, Ron. You have found your dog whistle: use the word “woke” as a catch-all to diminish and belittle pretty much everyone in America who is not an aging white Trump stalwart, a right-wing extremist who is certain to vote in a Republican Primary, or the white supremacists who needs proof they can trust a Harvard lawyer.

Dog whistles are nothing new in Republican politics. “States’ rights” has long been a posture of high-minded principle camouflaging the desire to ignore Federal government authority in matters of civil rights. Richard Nixon pandered to a “silent majority,” with its implicit contrast to “loud minorities.”  Republicans like to terrify suburbanites with the threat that “low-income housing” means crime and violence. Glenn Youngkin campaigned for governor of Virginia promising that he would never allow Critical Race Theory to be taught in the schools K-12 educational system. It never had been. Race – and the general threat of “otherness,” be it in immigration, sexual identity, or women’s rights --  galvanizes Republican voter turn-out.

And if you are Ron DeSantis contemplating a run against Donald Trump, you realize that you need the loudest dog whistle you can find.

Indeed, Donald Trump was the “break out” politician who didn’t bother with dog whistles. Donald Trump earned the ferocious loyalty of his base by saying – right out loud, no code, no whispers, no hints -- all the racist, misogynist, xenophobic things that aging white Republicans felt.

Trump said that “Mexicans are rapists,” that you can “grab women by the pussy,” that we don’t want immigrants from “shithole countries,” that there should be a “complete ban of Muslims,” that the Proud Boys should “stand back and stand by,” that women of color in Congress that they should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came,” that suburban women “are thrilled that I ended the long running program where low income housing would invade their neighborhood," that Covid was the “China virus” and “Kung flu,” and that “the second amendment people” might do something about Hillary Clinton.

That’s the problem, isn’t it, Ron? You are running against Donald Trump, and you, sir, are no Donald Trump.

So Ron DeSantis has to somehow prove to that racist, misogynist, xenophobic base that he will pick up where Donald Trump left off.  He knows that he will never get to the nomination – let alone the White House – unless he proves to the far right of the party that he loathes minorities as much as anybody.

So what does Ron do?

He declares war on "woke." Hey, it is the loudest dog whistle he can find.

It is just the latest immature stunt from the man who put frightened, puzzled, and yet hopeful immigrants into an airplane and flew them to Martha’s Vineyard. What kind of man brutally manipulates the poor, the vulnerable, and the powerless for a childish political gag? What kind of coward so shamelessly uses his political power to make human beings pawns for his ambition?

And how did that story end? Ron DeSantis thought that he was going to reveal all those smug Northeastern liberals to be hypocrites who would recoil at the sight of poor immigrants “invading” their fancy island retreat. Surprise, Ron. Those people raced out of their homes to offer help. They brought food. Blankets. Provided shelter.

What do you call people like that, Ron? Do you call them kind? Do you say that they care about those that society treats poorly? That they are aware of and alert to societal biases and bigotry? That they will take on a governor who treats people cruelly and manipulates them because of the otherness they represent?

Of course not.

Ron would just sneer and call them “woke.”

Watch out, America. Maybe Ron DeSantis would never say that in Charlottesville you could find “very fine people on both sides.”

But he’s found his very own way to let the right-wing wing-nuts know that he’s as reliable a racist, a misogynist, a xenophobe, and as intolerant of otherness as Trump himself. 

And it’s time we all woke up to that.


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Sunday, February 5, 2023

BTRTN Announces Winners of the 2023 “Lindsey Grahammys” for the Worst in Republican Hypocrisy

On the day of the “Grammy” awards, BTRTN hands out statuettes that memorialize the most egregious examples of wanton deceit, absence of character, and bold-faced two-faced disgrace in today’s Republican Party.   


Greetings! You all looked gorgeous strolling down our Red-State carpet! Sure, later today there will be that “other” Grammys show, but now is the moment Republican golden deceivers have been waiting for: the Lindsey Grahammys, BTRTN’s annual awards for the most epic displays of Republican hypocrisy, disingenuous posturing, unawareness of irony, and moments of well-deserved unintended consequences.

Why did we decide to name our hypocrisy awards for Lindsey? It was the Senator from South Carolina who committed the Hopeless Diamond by which all hypocrisy must be measured. In 2016 Graham justified his opposition to Merrick Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court by publicly declaring that his decision was a matter of principle, and that he was perfectly willing to be held accountable to it:

"I want you to use my words against me. If there's a Republican president in 2016 and a vacancy occurs in the last year of the first term, you can say Lindsey Graham said, 'Let's let the next president, whoever it might be, make that nomination.'"

Sure enough, that exact circumstance came to pass. When Ruth Bader Ginsberg passed away in the final months of Donald Trump’s presidency, Lindsey unabashedly abandoned his “principled” position of 2016, thoroughly endorsing Trump’s right to ram through a new court appointee.

When called on his hypocrisy, Graham justified his flip-flop by accusing everyone else of being equally lacking in moral fiber. “I am certain if the shoe were on the other foot, you would do the same.” Lindsey Graham not only operates in an ethical vacuum -- he thinks we all are as morally bankrupt as he is!

Yes, the post-factual Trump Party has become a confab of contortionists, a breeding ground for slimy mutated creatures with large vocal cords but lacking spines, memories, and dignity. Where once the identifying traits of Republicanism were fiscal responsibility, global obligation, limited government, and rugged individualism, today’s GOP is a pander-fest of wobbly, weak-kneed sycophants whose every action is determined by fear of retaliation from Donald Trump or his army of unhinged insurrectionists.

As we review the year in Republican hypocrisy, the question is increasingly becoming whether there is anything that Republicans do that is not in some manner or measure a hypocritical act. In 2023, “Republican hypocrisy” has become a redundancy.

Let’s test this hypothesis on one of the big issues of the day: the debt ceiling. Republicans in the House vow to refuse to raise the debt ceiling unless there are comparable cuts in government spending with the alleged goal of reducing the national debt. Ah, where to begin? First: everyone knows that the debt ceiling is about financial commitments that have already been made by the United States government – by Republicans and Democrats alike. If you want to reduce the national debt – a fine goal – you propose legislation to reduce future spending or raise future taxes. You do not stiff the people to whom you owe money, and you do not sabotage the very economy that needs to repay its debts. Republicans never threatened to refuse to raise the debt ceiling during Donald Trump’s administration, despite the fact James Carville relentlessly points out: a full 25% of our current national debt was incurred during the four years Donald Trump was President.

Hypocrisy: for Republicans, it’s as natural as breathing, as ubiquitous as oxygen, and as unconsidered as waking up in the morning, discriminating against minorities, repressing women, or vilifying immigrants. It is what Republicans do.

And now, for our first statuette…

1. Legally Blind: the Double-Standard Supreme Court of John Roberts.

In our first award, we recognize the astonishing degree to which sitting Republican Justices have turned the Supreme Court of the United States into a farce of judicial legislation, political overreach, and overt deception under oath.

The most deliciously hypocritical quote on the subject: on September 21, 2022, Samuel Alito told the Wall Street Journal that “questioning the integrity of the Supreme Court crosses an important line.” Really? How dare us cross that sacred line! Well, just watch.

In the opinion he authored overturning Roe v. Wade, Samuel Alito declared that Roe was “egregiously wrong from the start.” (Italics mine, but may as well have been his). In that the Roe ruling was in 1973, and Alito was nominated to the Supreme Court in 2005, it stands to reason that Alito already knew that he thought Roe was “egregiously wrong” at the time of his confirmation hearings. Yet, under oath, Alito spoke of the importance of precedent – stare decisis – and acknowledged that Roe had now been on the books for years and had been been challenged and upheld.  Ted Kennedy would claim that Alito assured him in private meetings that he felt Roe was “settled law.” The cowardly Alito absolutely refused to give any indication that he felt the law was “egregiously wrong from the start,” no doubt fearing that it would put his nomination in jeopardy.

Later, all of Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Coney-Barrett would play the same disingenuous game of footsie when their turns came before Congress. Each would speak of their reverence for precedent, and each would strongly imply that a ruling that had been in place for 50 years and reconfirmed at the Supreme Court had earned their deep respect. Each was revealed to be nothing more nor less than a posing BS artist deceiving the public about their real views to secure their appointment when they raced to overturn Roe at their first opportunity.

Sadly, John Roberts has proven to be one of the most milquetoast Chief Justices in history: on his watch the Supreme Court has been degraded into a joke. He has stood by on the sideline as Clarence Thomas refused to recuse himself from cases involving the Insurrection that his wife participated in. He presided over a laughable investigation into the leak of the Roe decision. He heard a sitting U.S. Senator – Susan Collins – say that Brett Kavanaugh lied to her about his views on Roe, and he did nothing about it.  

The final irony: The New York Times reported on a credible allegation that Alito himself had been the source of a leak of the court's ruling in the Hobby Lobby case. And yet Samuel Alito thinks that those who question the integrity of the Supreme Court have “crossed a line.”

Justice may be blind, but Republican Justices seem to think we are deaf and dumb. Here you go, Roberts, Alito, and the rest of you hypocrites… you’ve earned your “Grahammy” statuettes. Onto our next category…

2. Hershel Walker’s Abortion Stance Makes No Exceptions! (Uh, except for the ones he pays for).

Hershel Walker is indeed a triple threat: he is a whirlwind of dazzling hypocrisy, prodigious ignorance, and a mind-numbing lack of self-awareness. He made misleading pronouncements about his service in law enforcement, and then sought to infuse credibility into his assertion by holding up a toy badge. He proclaimed that his resume compared favorably with Barack Obama. He left the campaign trail for most of Thanksgiving weekend prior to the run-off election, appearing only once, and then apparently to assure voters that he aspired to be a werewolf, not a vampire.

It would be easy to dismiss Hershel Walker and his Senate candidacy as a joke, except for the fact that he is a dangerous, violent, serially abusive man who brandished guns and knives to threaten the lives of the women in his life.

As a hypocrite, the man has absolutely no shame. One of the most critical planks in Hershel Walker’s campaign was his alleged opposition to abortion. And yet he demanded that several of his girlfriends get abortions, and there a cancelled check to prove he paid for one. Perhaps the only thing more disturbing than the hypocrisy of Hershel Walker is the fact that 1,721,244 citizens of Georgia think a violent, abusive, ignorant, misogynistic, and hypocritical moron belongs in the United States Senate.

3. The Riddle of Kevin McCarthy: Can a Man with No Beliefs, Principles, or Self-Esteem be Accurately  Labeled a Hypocrite?

The dictionary defines hypocrite as “a person whose actions contradict their stated beliefs or feelings.” That’s the problem with calling Kevin McCarthy a hypocrite. He has no beliefs. A person who’s entire M.O. is to say whatever is expedient in the moment? Is that a hypocrite? Or just a soulless, empty, groveling wimp named Kevin McCarthy?

Make no mistake: Kevin McCarthy was the man responsible for the most epic hypocrisy of our still young decade when he initially condemned Donald Trump for the January 6 insurrection, and then days later went full-poodle, scraping his nose on the cheap Mar-a-logo carpet as he prostrated himself before his master. McCarthy has demonstrated the capacity for hypocrisy measurable only by the Richter scale.

But that was 2021. That was when Kevin was capable of mustering two faces. Now all we can see are the tire marks on the back his head, left by Lauren Boebert and Matt Gaetz as they gleefully played demolition derby with his dignity during 15 roll call votes on the House floor. Now all we see is Kevin the Bobble-Head saying yes to everybody and everything. Now all we see is a man untethered to any intellectual or philosophical mooring, a man who appears ready to sink the country’s credit rating and abandon our support of Ukraine to keep a title that means more to him than the Constitution, the Institution of Congress, and the idea of standing up for a belief… any belief.

Kevin McCarthy’s statuette is truly for lifetime achievement, for hypocrisy truly on a Biblical scale: For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”

4. Mitch McConnell: The Man Who Had the Chance to Destroy Trump Has His Dreams of Returning as Senate Majority Leader Destroyed by Trump.

The most delicious irony is when one hypocrite gets played by a bigger hypocrite. 

In 2021, Mitch McConnell stood on the Senate floor and delivered a stinging condemnation of Donald Trump’s role in the January 6 Insurrection. "There's no question, none, that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day," McConnell exhorted. The problem is that McConnell made his stirring remarks after having voted against convicting Trump of impeachment charges. There is little doubt that if McConnell had put his muscle as Senate Majority leader into the effort, he could have found the votes to convict Trump, effectively removing any chance of Trump resurfacing in elective politics.

But he chickened out. McConnell recognized that Trump still held sway over his base in the Republican Party, and McConnell knew that if led an impeachment of Trump, that base could turn on him and end his time as Senate Majority Leader, and perhaps his career.

So McConnell let Trump off the hook. He did not seek a Senate conviction on impeachment charges.

Ah, Mitch. It must have been so embarrassing to discover that Donald Trump could not care less about your “Republican Party” other than how it served as a mechanism to further his own personal agenda. In 2022, McConnell saw up close and personal that Donald Trump had an entirely different agenda than the party. McConnell saw 2022 as an opportunity take full control of Congress. Donald Trump saw 2022 as an opportunity to relitigate 2020 and resuscitate his assertion that the Presidential election of 2020 had been stolen from him.

So Trump forced the party to nominate the pathetic candidates who would toe his line. Hershel Walker in Georgia. Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania. Don Bolduc in New Hampshire. Blake Masters in Arizona. A stronger Republican candidate in any two of these races could have resulted in a Republican Senate. But Donald Trump was never interested in the success of the Republican Party.

It’s clear that all Donald Trump seeks now is to exorcise the unbearable psychological burden of being the “loser” of the 2020 Presidential election.  Propping up lap dogs who would do his bidding in key Senate races and supporting election deniers in critical state races were all part of his plan to re-litigate the 2020 election, and somehow claim victory.    

Mitch McConnell – who openly spoke about the problem of Republican “candidate quality” -- could have prevented the fiasco, and would very likely have re-emerged as Senate Majority Leader in 2022, if only he had taken down Trump when he had a golden opportunity to do so. Now, he can only blame himself for his cowardice, his flawed calculation of his own self-interest, and his failure to act on the words he knew enough to say.

Take a statuette, Mitch. Well-earned.

5. Lindsey Graham, the Man our Awards are Named For Takes Home Another Statuette!

We have to admit it: it was a quiet year for Lindsey. Sure, he may still be proven complicit in Trump’s attempt to overturn the Georgia election, but that’s not really hypocrisy. That’s being a felon.

But never fear: Lindsey came through in the end. On September 13, 2022, Lindsay Graham introduced a bill that would ban all abortions nationwide after fifteen weeks of pregnancy. Lindsey, known for sticking the landing after spinning like a top with contradictory opinions, may have forgotten that two years earlier, he was quoted as saying “I’ve been consistent. I think states should decide the issue of marriage and states should decide the issue of abortion.”  So, uh, Lindsay – I guess your point is that states should decide -- so long as they decide to agree with you?

 6. Ron DeSantis: Watch Out, Pal. The Woke’s On You.

It seems everybody thinks that Ron DeSantis will save the party from Donald Trump, beating him in the primaries and riding on to victory in 2024. DeSantis blew away a weak Democratic candidate to win re-election in November, and he is the only challenger to Trump scoring double-digits in early Presidential polls.

Yeah, Ron DeSantis has got swagger. He’s the man. He’s gonna take Trump down.  He’s gonna beat Joe Biden.

Eh, maybe.

But there are problems with Ron DeSantis.

For one thing, he is just another Republican hypocrite. For another, he is… um, hey, can we say this on network tv? Ron DeSantis is a world class asshole.

Ron DeSantis loves to position himself as the gritty tough street fighter who takes on the prissy wokeness of the liberal elite, which is un peu de tros from a guy who went to Yale undergrad and Harvard Law. He oozes a childish, smug self-satisfaction when he uses human beings as pawns in grade-school stunts like flying desperate, frightened, and confused immigrants to Martha’s Vineyard. He has all the charm and personality of a stop sign. He centered his personal brand on a culture war against “wokeness,” which is apparently a cute way of saying that he wants to have some fun with gender identity, public health, and the censorship of books in Florida schools to score points with the right.  Ron DeSantis is a cheap-shot artist who exploits the weak for personal gain. Yeah, like I said. A real asshole.

But the far bigger problem with Ron DeSantis is that he will inevitably discover what Mitch McConnell learned the hard way. “When you strike at a king, you must kill him.”

It’s easy to see DeSantis beating Trump in primaries. It’s easy to see the smarmy, sweaty DeSantis fist-pumping as he clears 40% of the vote in New Hampshire.

What’s harder to see is how he ever hopes to win a general election if he has taken a strike at the king, but not killed him. Try winning the Presidency if one-third of Republicans don’t bother to show up at the polls. Try winning the Presidency if Donald Trump announces a third-party run.

And once you’ve really thought all that through, try to strut like a stud when you suddenly realize that it might not be such a good idea to challenge Trump in 2024 after all.  Wait until the “all clear” sign flashes in 2028.

Enjoy your moment in the Florida Sunshine, Ron. You like to say that Florida is where "woke" goes to die… and maybe Florida is where your dreams die, too.

7.  Barr the Door! I have a reputation to salvage!

Oh, the House January 6 Committee! Let the hypocrisy games begin!

Let’s start with a special achievement in the “Law of Unintended Consequences” category for Kevin McCarthy, who made the stupendous blunder of pulling all Trump loyalists off the January 6 committee. Absent any opposition, the Committee steamrolled through a blistering series of punishing public prosecutions of the Trump administration.

There were delicious soupçons of breathtaking idiocy, like when General Michael Flynn pled the Fifth rather than answer questions about whether the January 6 violence was justified, and whether he believed in the peaceful transfer of Presidential power.

But by far the greatest performance was by Bill Barr, who dazzled in the role of a man who realized that his service as Trump’s Attorney General had infused his reputation with the pungent and permanent stench of gas passed. Bill Barr was Donald Trump’s long-sought Roy Cohn, nothing more nor less than a dirty lawyer who used his position as Attorney General to torpedo Robert Mueller’s special prosecutor report in the first Trump impeachment, who initiated and fanned the fruitless Special Counsel investigation by John Durham that sought to undermine the Mueller report, and who said nothing in public as he witnessed the Trump White House make plans to overturn the 2020 Presidential election.

Ah, but in the House hearings, Bill Barr suddenly had the chance to say out loud all the brave stuff that he was too frightened to say when we really needed to know it. And he made the most of it, peppering his testimony with all the salty language that he supposedly told Trump about the Administration’s desperate efforts to claim election fraud.  

Perhaps of all the people in the parade of charlatans, grifters, and low-lifes involved in Donald Trump's desperate efforts to retain power, Bill Barr is the man most self-aware of his corruption. He is a smart man and a knowledgeable attorney. That means that Barr – unlike stooges and 30-watt posers like Eric Trump or Louis Gohmert – knew and understood his deceit, his efforts to mislead, and his failure to tell the American people what they needed to know.

Give Bill Barr his statuette and let’s move on before the stench overwhelms us.  

8. There’s Inflation, Ukraine, Global Warming, Daily Mass Shootings, an Immigration Crisis, Out-of-Control Police Violence, and Rampant Disinformaton on Social Media. But First, We Have to Investigate Hunter Biden!

There is an essential, defining hypocrisy of the modern G.O.P.: it is a political party that actually has very little interest in governing. It is as if the Chicago Bears decided to spend all day crocheting, or the Radio City Rockettes announced that they were shifting their focus to insuring municipal bonds. Republicans do not appear to want to do the one thing that they are in existence to do.

Few noticed that the Republican Party did not even bother to try to write a platform for their 2020 Convention. They literally could not figure out what the Party stood for, other than what Donald Trump said five minutes before.

Republicans claim to be concerned about immigration, but it has been years since they made the slightest attempt to formulate legislation toward that end. Republicans claim to care about financial stewardship, but implement reckless tax policy that just keeps repeating failed “trickle down” theories, balloons the national debt, and widens the wealth and income gaps that strangle our economy. Republicans once were the party of military hawks, stalwart advocates for America’s role as the world’s policeman… but now right wing Republicans want to cut off funding for Ukraine and roll over for Putin.

With mountains of challenges at every turn, what is the first thing the new Republican House majority focused on?

Hearings about Hunter Biden.

Let’s give a statuette to the party of “no.” No ideas. No principles. No mission. No philosophy of governance.

No clue.

9. Maybe Donald Trump Can’t Win, But He Sure Can Destroy.

Notice a theme running through our awards, folks? Like, who nominated the two hypocritical Judges who misled Congress and gave the Republicans the votes needed to overturn Roe? Who pushed to have Hershel Walker nominated for the U.S. Senate? Who forced Kevin McCarthy to his knees? Who played Mitch McConnell like a fiddle? Who would rather destroy Ron DeSantis than let someone else win the Party’s nomination? Who was Lindsey Graham helping in Georgia? Who demanded that Bill Barr bend the law for his purposes?

Donald Trump’s power to lead the Republican Party may be fading, but his ability to destroy it has a radioactive toxicity that will endure.  Trump – the man who literally cannot bear the crippling psychological cataclysm of admitting that he is a loser – will not be able to accept being rejected by the party in favor of Ron DeSantis, let alone DeSantis winning the Presidency after Trump’s failure to do so in 2020.

Donald Trump’s hypocrisy is on the epic scale of Greek tragedy: he who claims to lead the Republican Party will be he who seeks to destroy it. Stay tuned. If the Republicans don’t nominate Trump in 2024, he will announce a Third Party bid, sapping DeSantis of the votes he would need to beat Biden.

10. And now, Our Grand Grahammy goes to -- the Man who Came Out of Nowhere to Steal our Show (and a Seat in Congress!) -- the Incomparable George Santos!!

It’s shocking to realize that just a few short weeks ago, the BTRTN judges were in heated debate about who should win our Grand Grahammy as the biggest Republican Hypocrite of the Year.

And then –  George Santos exploded on our hypocrisy radar full-borne, an apotheosis of all the phoniness, deceit, deception, and corrupt self-aggrandizement of the modern Republican Party in one pudgy, smarmy, oily nerd native of Queens.

He’s a Goldman Sachs banker! A Citigroup star! A founder of a charity that funds medical care for service dogs of wounded veterans! A volleyball hero! The son of a victim of 9/11! A self-made moneyed man, just a generation away from Holocaust survivors!

Uh, no. He is, in fact, none of that.

George Santos is nothing more nor less than the logical endpoint for a party that has no policy, no beliefs, no moral center… a political party with only one motivating and organizing idea: to attain and retain power by any possible means. Given its bankruptcy in genuine charisma and authentic moral leadership, this party defaults to ruthlessly grasping for power by lying, cheating, dividing, and blaming. It is a party that weaponizes the language of deceit to demonize minorities, women, and immigrants. It is a party dominated by a man who told 30,573 false or misleading statements while serving as President of the United States.

George Santos is actually not a phony. He is the genuine, pure breed Republican of the 21st Century. Program a computer to fabricate the quintessential contemporary Republican, and out pops George Santos, an utter figment of the imagination, all artificial and no intelligence.

George Santos has repeatedly been told that he should resign, most pointedly by the leaders of the Republican Party in the district he now represents. He refused, citing the will of “142,000 voters who voted for me," breezily ignoring the fact that those 142,000 had – and still have – no idea who he really is.

We conclude our program by inviting George Santos to the stage to accept the Grand Lindsey Grahammy for the Most Egregious Hypocrisy of the past year.

What’s that, George? You say you are honored and will put this award on the mantle next to your two Oscars, your Emmy, your Peabody, Pulitzer, and Nobel Prizes? Of course.

There you have it! And so we wrap up another year of Republican hypocrisy. How bad have things gotten for this political party? Perennial hypocrisy superstars didn’t even get nominations! No Josh Hawley – who famously fist-pumped insurrectionists before sprinting out their path like a terrified kitten.  No Ted Cruz – who headed off for a vacation in Cancun while his Texas constituents suffered a massive, freezing power outage.  We didn’t even mention Mark Meadows, Ron Johnson, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Matt Gaetz, Jim Jordan… there just isn’t enough time in our broadcast to name all the deserving hypocrites.

Good night, everybody! Let’s end with the only thing that you can be certain of in today’s Republican party – we will all be back here again next year with all-new examples of Republican hypocrisy.

And, once again, it is sure to get worse.



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Saturday, February 4, 2023

BTRTN: SpeakerRama, DocuDrama, National Trauma

Tom with the BTRTN January 2023 Month in Review.

January 2023

January may have set a post-Trump record for “breaking news” and 64-point headlines.  The month was chock full of eerie echoes of past disasters:  another precedent-shattering succession nightmare, begun on January 6, no less, this time involving the Speaker of the House election; another trove of classified documents discovered on unsuitable presidential (and vice presidential) premises; and more gruesome and dispicable acts of gun violence and police violence, both reprises of unspeakable and seemingly unstoppable tragedies.  The rapid pace of these events recalled the Trump Era, when Trump would manufacture one crisis simply to obliterate a prior one.  Given American attention spans, such strategies are revoltingly effective, whether intentional, in Trump’s case, or not, as in January.  Thus, even a month of review has an “oh, yes, I’d forgotten about that” quality to it.

“Twisting in the wind” was the woefully understated but oft-used phrase to describe Kevin McCarthy’s humiliation as he endured 14 votes rejecting him as Speaker, failing even to surpass Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries in the voting in all but one of them.  This was, of course, the first time in a century the Speaker vote had gone beyond one ballot (since, after all, the majority party has all the votes it needs to elect its own Speaker candidate).  You’d have to go back another 63 years -- to 1860 -- to find more rounds of balloting.  It made for riveting theater – the “best season of C-SPAN, ever,” as Jon Stewart put it -- if not sickening in the most ways.

That is because the real story, ultimately, was neither McCarthy’s days-on-end endurance of GOP self-flagellation, nor the deals he cut to achieve his cherished goal, deals that eviscerated his position and revealed, once and for all, the shallowness of his aims, all personal, none institutional.  The real story was not McCarthy at all, but rather the revelation that our government is now in the hands of five performance artists, the worst of the worst in a profession that rarely attracts the best.  The five have been empowered beyond their wildest dreams, and the even sadder reality is they know not what they want with this newfound muscle,.  They have already achieved what they crave, the kind of perverse fame that is the real goal.  Unfortunately, their job title is “U.S. Representative” not “Social Influencer” and this is not an episode of "Lauren in Congress."

As epic as it was, the McCarthy fiasco was quickly submerged by the Biden DocuDrama, the seemingly endless discovery of classified documents in almost any abode that carried the sign “Joe Biden Slept Here.”  In a period of about a week, DocuDrama went through the full wash and spin cycle, from the shock of the first discoveries through the tortured White House communications “timeline” disaster, on to insta-analysis about what it meant for Trump – positive, despite the Grand Canyon-esque differences in the two cases – and for Biden – negative, potentially fatal (to his reelection).  This breathless reporting and non-sensical commentary was ultimately kyboshed not by the next cataclysm, but rather by the next chapter of this one – that Mike Pence also had whisked away classified documents out west to his home in Indiana.  At this point, one half expected Emily Litella to appear on a CNN panel to sweetly intone: “Never mind!”  

What more can possibly be said about gun violence in the wake of twin mass killings in California (Monterey Park and Half Moon Bay), days apart, that resulted in 19 deaths and 10 more wounded?   According to the Gun Violence Archive, those were just two of 52 mass shooting in the United States in January that resulted in 88 deaths and 211 wounded.  How can a nation with a mere 4% of the world’s population yet 31% of the world’s mass shootings (and 46% of civilian-held hand guns) continue to accept the status quo, or, perhaps the same thing, point to the feeble 2022 bipartisan legislation as a legitimate first step to sanity?  Perhaps that legislation indeed presages a better bill from better angels down the road, as the very weak Civil Rights Act of 1957 presaged the titanic 1964 law.  But if it takes seven years for the better bill to emerge, and countless more to enforce, how many more will die in the meantime at the hands of someone who has all too easily procured a semiautomatic weapon?

The Republican answers to all of these headlines – every one – are silly bromides and false equivalencies.  These are not offered for the purpose of persuasion, but rather to provide glib soundbites that are uttered by fools, broadcast by fools, for the viewing pleasure of fools.  The McCarthy standoff was “democracy in action"; Biden’s document folly “completely exonerates Trump”; there are “gang killings in Chicago every day.”  The absurdity of these claims is beyond the pale.  Can’t you see, with your own eyes, that GOP congressmen are being separated from nearly coming to blows on the House floor and that Kevin McCarthy is going nose-to-nose with Matt Gaetz, of all people?  Is the brain so soft that it cannot easily distinguish Trump’s stealing hundreds of documents, lying about their existence and not cooperating with their return, from Biden’s less-than-two-dozen documents that he immediately returned with complete cooperation?  Can’t you put it together that the Chicago gang killings don’t offset the California shootings, but rather are even more evidence of the shockingly obvious need to dramatically curtail the access to weapons of mass murder?

But even the GOP had no answer for the final tidal wave of January, 2023, which pushed gun violence back to the backburner, returning police violence to the front.  How can it possibly be, in the wake of the killing of George Floyd just three years ago, and the wildly publicized aftermath of protest and reform, that yet another Black man, Tyre NIchols, was killed – horrendously, with zero justification, by a murderous mob of crazed police officers?  Where were they when George Floyd went down?  Were they the only five people in America who did not see the killing video, watch the protests, follow the trial, hear the guilty verdict, and the subsequent scrambling of seemingly every police force in the country to insure that they would not be the next to needlessly kill a Black man?  The mind simply reels.

The month ended (or rather, February began) with a meeting between Joe Biden and Kevin McCarthy on the debt ceiling, with each rather amiably staking out positions without any Venn in the diagram.  None.  Biden said he would refuse to negotiate on the debt ceiling, which is precisely what McCarthy wants to do – or rather, must do if he is to maintain his Speakership.  You see, removing McCarthy as Speaker is rather easy now by virtue of the terms of the deal he cut to get the job way back….well, not quite four weeks ago.  (Thanks to Treasury tricks, McCarthy just might keep his job beyond the Liz Truss standard of 45 days.)

Biden has both the best strategy and the best articulation of that strategy when he said “show me your Budget and I’ll show you mine.”  This is clever, because the GOP performance artists do not know what they want, the GOP caucus cannot agree on what it wants, have no Budget plan, and therefore are negotiating without the standard tools such as an opening position and a desired endgame (what you’ll settle for at the 11th hour).  Ultimately, this will lose them the war of public opinion.  You will recall that the majority of the country supports Democratic positions on abortion, gun control, climate change and a host of other policies – including no changes to Medicare and Social Security and continued support for Ukraine.  Either the GOP will show an unpopular hand in this process -- or they will have to fold.  Or both.

The 2024 Election

As stated, the silliest analyses of the month were by those pundits who somehow saw the Biden Docudrama as the death knell of his 2024 reelection effort.  How could presumably astute Washington observers not have foreseen that the Next Breaking News was bound to bounce the DocuDrama off the front pages, and soon?  And that the news was ebbing well before PenceGate, when Merrick Garland appointed a conservative special counsel to investigate the Biden case in parallel to Trump’s own special counsel?  (This paragraph was the lead theme of the initial draft of this article, penned pre-Pence, pre-mass killings and pre-Tyre and, obviously, altogether prematurely…come to think of it, what was I thinking writing such an early draft?)  For what it’s worth, Biden’s approval rating was unchanged in January, and the likelihood that he will run remains very high.

By this time four years ago -- by the end of January, 2019 -- no fewer than 10 candidates had formally announced their candidacies for president (for the record, in order, John Delaney, Andrew Yang, Elizabeth Warren, Julian Castro, Tulsi Gabbard, Kirsten Gillebrand, Kamala Harris, Pete Buttigieg, Marianne Williamson and Cory Booker) -- all Democrats, all vying to challenge Donald Trump.  Now it is the GOP’s turn to challenge the incumbent, Joe Biden (presumably) and to say they have been slow off the mark would be an obvious understatement.  Trump alone has announced, and his campaign has wallowed in the mire ever since.  It appears that Nikki Haley will be the first to challenge Trump (and break her promise not to) with a mid-February formal announcement.  Many others, including Ron DeSantis, did not show their face before or on Groundhog Day, which may mean six more weeks of silence. 

How many GOP candidates actually jump in to the race is a matter of crucial importance, if one is to believe the earliest polls.  They show that DeSantis, easily the top potential challenger to Trump, fares well against Trump in head-to-head polling, leading Trump 46% to 43% (in a Suffolk poll).  But in that same poll, when presented not head-to-head but with a full field of GOP candidates…not so much.  Trump roughly maintains his support level, at 41%, while DeSantis drops down to 23%, his support more than halved by the rest of the newly-included potential candidates.  

The irony here is, of course, that Trump made it a loyalty test that no one in the GOP should challenge him.  But what he may need to actually win the nomination is….a large GOP field.  As for DeSantis, if he wants to make this a pas-de-deux, (or at least a pas-de-moins-de-cinq) he’d better get out there soon, to preempt more announcements, and hope that he can then ice the field. 

Stay tuned.


As noted, Biden’s approval rating held at 43% in January, despite the DocuDrama.  His issue ratings bounced around on the margins, tending to be down, indicating he did not escape totally unscathed.

The “Bidenometer,” our BTRTN aggregate record of economic performance, took a hit down from +47 to +43, largely due to an underreported rise in gas prices. 


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 +43 for January, 2023 means that, on average, the five measures are 43% higher than they were when Biden was inaugurated.  With a Bidenometer of +43, 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.  

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 +43 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.