Thursday, March 30, 2023

BTRTN: Time to GOTV in Wisconsin - ACTION REQUIRED

Tom urges action in Wisconsin - now!

The most important election – certainly judicial election – in 2023 may well be the one that decides the direction of the Wisconsin State Supreme court.  That election is already underway with early voting, but Election Day itself is this coming Tuesday. April 4.  The election pits the liberal Janet Protasiewicz against the conservative election denier Daniel Kelly.  The race is for the seat held by retiring conservative Judge Patience Roggensack.  If Protasiewicz defeats Kelly, this will flip the court to a 4-3 liberal majority.

This is important, of course, for any number of reasons, but perhaps most germane nationally is the role the court plays in the running of state elections.  The court actively upheld a number of GOP-favoring election cases in the 2020 election year, including cases involving the use of drop boxes (not allowed) and absentee ballots (which cannot be delivered by another person).  The court also ruled that Wisconsin hold its primary in April, 2020 despite the new pandemic, when many other state primaries were postponed for health reasons.  Obviously, if the court balance shifts, many election laws could be revisited. 

No reader of this post (or this blog) likely needs to be reminded that Wisconsin is a true swing state now; after decades of reliable Democratic support in presidential elections, Wisconsin went for Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton in 2016, but swung back to Joe Biden over Trump in 2020.  Both of those elections were decided by less than a point.  Biden’s win was actually protected by the Wisconsin Supreme Court, because one GOP-leaning judge refused to back Trump’s fraud claims and sided with the three liberal justices to preserve the election outcome, by a 4-3 margin.

Apart from election cases, the court could also adjudicate on abortion (there is an 1849 anti-abortion law still on the books), gerrymandering (which has given the GOP an intractable advantage in the state Assembly) and any case requiring interpretation of the Wisconsin Supreme Court (which cannot be reviewed on appeal by the U.S Supreme Court).  Clearly, there are national repercussions at stake in this single election.

BTRTN is not here to predict the outcome of this election for a simple reason:  there is no public polling whatsoever.  All we really know is that it is almost certainly going to be close. 

Instead, we are here to advocate on behalf of Protasiewicz.  There is still time to make a difference in the race.  What can you do?  My friend Melissa of “Like-Minded Friends” offers the following suggestions:

·        You can donate to Janet's campaign:

·        And/or you can volunteer with Wisconsin Democrats (WisDems at; they offer various opportunities (primarily phone banking) to help her get elected, at this link:

Please do your best this weekend.  It is races like these that will shape the destiny of our country.

Thursday, March 23, 2023

BTRTN: Reagan Was Wrong… Government is Not the Problem. Greed Is.

After watching the monopolistic tyranny of the Carnegies, Hearsts, and Rockefellers, the United States implemented rigorous government oversight and regulatory mechanisms to protect consumers, citizens, and our democracy from capitalism gone rogue. Then, over time and to this day, Republicans eroded the mechanisms that protected us. Hello Norfolk Southern, Silicon Valley Bank, and Fox News.

A television network is humiliated by revelations that its leading on-air personalities brazenly lie to their viewers to boost ratings. After years of thinking they deceive and mislead for political purposes, we discover that they are merely vacuous greedy charlatans perfectly willing to subvert our democracy purely for financial gain.

A train derails, delivering a devastating chemical bomb on a small Ohio town. Only then do we learn how much toxic material travels over our rails every day, how carelessly the railroads handle these materials, how frequently derailments occur, and how much money is to be made by cutting corners.  

A huge California bank spontaneously combusts, and with each passing day it becomes more apparent that the cause was simply bad fiscal management practiced in broad daylight. Regulators knew it, saw it, called the bank on it, and were still apparently powerless to stop it.

What’s going on here?

Each of these disasters is complex, years in the making, and defies the type of infantile analysis of Republicans who think a “woke culture” brought down a 200-billion-dollar financial institution. There’s no single cause, and no single responsibility in each case.

But that is not to say that there are not common threads: reckless management – emboldened and enabled by a long-term erosion in government oversight, and prioritizing cash flow growth to the virtual exclusion of safety, integrity, or any societal consideration – creating catastrophic consequences for ordinary consumers, citizens, and our democracy.

Oh, and these events have one other thing in common: Republicans in a constant war to reduce the regulatory role of government, creating the breeding ground for unchecked greed, deceit, and carnage.

The truth is that we the people have no one to blame but ourselves. It is, after all, our government. Or, in this case, our insufficiency and inadequacy of government.

On January 20, 1981, newly inaugurated President Ronald Reagan would put his unique homespun spin onto long-standing conservative orthodoxy, saying the words that would become the mantra of modern Republicanism: “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” Just for the record, no one ever bothers to point out that Reagan put a clear limit on his contention with the caveat “in this present crisis.” Republicans ever since conveniently lopped off that antecedent phrase, went with the bloated generalization, and the rest is no mystery.

Reagan proceeded to articulate a philosophy that was aimed at dismantling a supposedly strangling regulatory environment and a tax system that allegedly stifled all those rugged individualists and high achievers who – if only freed from government burden -- would be the entrepreneurs fueling growth, employment, and a rising tide for all boats.

More myth than math, “supply-side economics” set out to de-fang government regulation and to fundamentally invert the tax code so that the rich and big business paid less in taxes. This would supposedly inspire private enterprise and investors to open the floodgates of investment, turbo-charging economic growth, and raising the standard of living for all.

Trickle-down economics, as it was also dubbed, failed then. As it failed under George H.W. Bush, who, God bless him, had labeled it “voodoo economics,” and sacrificed his Presidency because he knew that higher taxes needed to be restored. It failed under George W. Bush, whose administration’s utter abdication of financial regulation and oversight torpedoed the global banking system. It failed under Donald Trump, whose supporters absolutely refuse to believe you when you point out that a full 25% of our current national debt was created in Trump’s single four-year term in office.

In the wake of the catastrophic 2008 global financial meltdown, Democrats sought to dramatically increase regulatory oversight of our banking system with the Dodd Frank act. When Donald Trump was running for President in 2016, he aimed his sights at eviscerating Dodd Frank, and one “accomplishment” of that effort was to dramatically raise the threshold of bank size that would require routine stress testing. You guessed it: under the original Dodd Frank, Silicon Valley Bank would have been required to undergo routine stress testing and its insufficient financial basis would have been revealed. Post-Trump, SVC fell under the asset level qualifying for scrutiny. Poof. Global catastrophe… still unfolding.

What Republican mess would be complete without the blindfolded dance of the hypocrites trying to pin the blame on the donkeys? Ron DeSantis, now fine-tuning his ability to trace every problem in America to “woke culture,” found SVB’s focus on DEI as the primary cause of failure. That is a bit like turning to your teenage son and saying, “do you understand what just happened, Bobby? Putin invaded Ukraine because you didn’t do your homework.” Huh?

We now learn from The New York Times that the Fed in San Francisco saw fundamental problems in SVB’s basic balance sheet math even without the step of government stress testing, and was issuing warnings to the bank to clean up its act since 2021. Somehow, the Fed lacked the clout, the authority, or the gumption to force SVB to take action.  Perhaps both the bank and the Fed never anticipated the dizzying velocity at which rumors on social media could rip a bank limb from limb.

And yesterday, the inadequate oversight of SVB was once again the lead story in The New York Times… with no one able to quite understand how the bank could brazenly ignore years of Fed warnings right up until it imploded.

Note the pattern, because we will see it again: Republicans winnow government oversight and shame those who practice it as anti-business socialists, catastrophe follows, Democrats try to clean up the mess after the fact, and Republicans un-do it at the first possible opportunity.

The train derailment?

The official NTSB report is far in the future, but early findings fingered a clear mechanical failure: an overheated ball bearing that was clearly visible in video footage. But this is the same as saying that a frozen O-ring caused the Challenger disaster. Sure, that is the literal, immediate cause… but the mechanical failure in each case revealed broad cultural behaviors in organizations that had allowed safety concerns to fall to the bottom of the priority list.  Norfolk Southern has long been castigated for practices that clearly prioritize train schedule speed, productivity, and profit over safety.

A report in Freight Waves, an industry journal, noted that the NS-32 train – the one that turned East Palestine into West Chernobyl -- was nicknamed the “32 Nasty” by railroad employees because of its history of problems. Norfolk Southern’s adheres to a practice called “precision scheduled railroading,” which sounds like the exact title you’d find on a management consultant’s PowerPoint explaining how to maximize profit at the expense of safety. The NS-32 train is two miles long – that’s 141 cars – and was operated by three people. Given the time constraints of “precision scheduled railroading,” local unions complain that the train was not properly “blocked” – the term for making sure heavier cars are placed at the front for smoother braking. This dramatically exacerbated the devastation at the derailment.

Yet herein, too, lies a tale of Republican regulatory relaxation. In 2015, the Obama administration instituted a rule mandating that trains transporting toxic materials must be equipped with “ECP” (electronically-controlled pneumatic) brakes. In 2017, the Trump administration repealed the rule.

Sure, upgrading thousands of train brakes would have cost lots of money, and the Trump administration really liked to suck up to donors by making businesses more profitable. Probably Trump believes in “trickle down train economics.” I can hear the speech now: “If we simply reduce the woke regulations strangling the railroad industry, the management and stockholders will be free to use those new-found dollars to invest in infrastructure, safety, adequate staffing, and operational practices.”

Or not.

Perhaps it is time that Republicans wake up to the fact that managers under quarterly pressure from Wall Street are more likely to stuff all that money into profit, pumping up the stock price, and then exercise stock options and retire young while all the men, women, children, pets, and livestock in a small town in Ohio live with a foul stench in the air and the constant threat that homes, neighborhoods, and schools have been contaminated.

You see, Ronald Reagan was wrong.

In saying “Government isn’t the solution, it is the problem,” he not only fingered the wrong problem, he made government into the enemy.

Government should be the check and balance on greedy businesses that protect consumers from liars, cheaters, and hustlers.  But long before Donald Trump, Ronald Reagan took the very institution that he led and branded it as the enemy of the people.

Ever since, Democrats have been on their heels. Every effort to shore up the regulatory role of government is attacked by Republicans as a blaspheme against Ronald Reagan’s sacred canon.

No, Gipper, government is not the problem. Greed is the problem. We live in a country where you have to be pretty naïve to think that heads of business are going to “do the right thing.” Yes, I certainly believe that some businesses and business leaders act with ethics, principle, and even the occasional moral compass.

But Wall Street does not have an excel spreadsheet algorithm that rewards ethics. It is all raw numbers. P&L. Return on capital. Most CEOs chase profits -- and when it comes to safety, they roll the dice and hope the Titanic sinks on the next guy’s watch.  

Government should be strong enough to protect the small, defenseless people in an Ohio town from soulless corporate profiteers before the disaster happens.  Our problem is not big government… it is that we don’t have enough government in place, empowered with all the necessary enforcement mechanisms -- to do the work that needs to be done.

Rinse and repeat: Democrats put safety regulations in place, Republicans repeal them, catastrophe happens. The only shock here is that Ron DeSantis has not yet proclaimed that Norfolk Southern management is woke, the train engineers are liberals, and that the train tracks are dressed in drag.

Which brings us to the Prime-time star of today’s essay, Fox News.

Of all our stories of insufficient government oversight, we have the cesspool of deceit that wants to be called a “news” organization, but fails to realize that “news” that is not grounded in fact is belongs in the “fiction” section of Barnes & Noble. Thank heaven for Dominion Voting Systems having the guts and the determination to unmask Fox, revealing it not to be simply a glitzy, high octane Pravda, but as an organization that brazenly lies to stoke up its partisan audience purely in order to maximize profits.

The texts and emails that have surfaced through the Dominion defamation suit reveal that Fox – its leaders, and its prime-time personalities – did not believe that the election was stolen, and indeed welcomed a future in which Donald Trump was broomed from the national stage.  While worshiping Trump on television, Carlson privately wrote “we are very, very close to being able to ignore Trump most nights. I truly can’t wait… I hate him passionately.”

But suddenly there was a very big problem at Fox: it had angered its viewers by being the first network to call the state of Arizona for Biden. This was viewed by the conservative base as the ultimate betrayal. Audience data and research into audience opinion demonstrated an enormous threat to Fox’s hold over conservative viewers. Suzanne Scott, CEO of Fox News, was blunt in an internal meeting: “Listen, it’s one of the sad realities. If we hadn’t called Arizona those three or four days following Election Day, our ratings would have been bigger. The mystery would have still been hanging out there.

Raj Shah, a Senior VP at Fox Corporation, revealed the real fear at Fox in an internal memo: “We are not concerned with losing market share to CNN or MSNBC right now. Our concern is Newsmax and One America News Network … I’d like to get honest/deeper feedback from Fox viewers on the brand, the handling of the election, if they feel like they have been somehow betrayed by the network.”

Very quickly, it became clear that embracing Trump’s “Big Lie” could be a strategy to regain the trust of conservative viewers. On November 11, a member of Tucker Carlson’s staff spoke bluntly in an internal message to Carlson: “Have you seen last night’s numbers? It’s a stupid story, but that’s all the viewers are into right now.” Carlson’s reply: “I noticed.”

Make no mistake: Carlson knew that the “stolen election story” was bogus, and specifically that the ravings of Trump lawyer – and leading Dominion conspiracy theorist -- Sidney Powell were unhinged. In a text to Laura Ingraham, Carlson said “Sidney Powell is lying by the way. I caught her. It’s insane.”

And so Fox News began pounding away, pushing Donald Trump’s “Big Lie” – not once because they believed it was a valid issue, but because it was a big ratings winner for their audience. They carried on, in spite of the fact that the head of the entire organization did not believe the story. In a sworn deposition, Rupert Murdoch was asked by lawyers for Dominion if he agreed that there was “massive fraud” in the election, and he replied, “No. I have never even studied it.” And yet, under questioning, Murdoch acknowledged that his on-air stars were hawking the unsubstantiated allegations of election fraud: “Some of our commentators were endorsing it. I would have liked us to be stronger in denouncing it, in hindsight.”

Hey Rupert… it’s still happening. Tucker Carlson is still pushing his “stolen election” crap. You can still stop it.

Or would that hurt the ratings? Damage the revenue stream?

It would more dignified if we found out that Fox lies, distorts the truth, and commits libel because it believes so passionately in its political philosophy. But that’s not it! They lie for money. They lie strategically, focusing on the lies that are proven to draw the highest audience.  

It is painful to accept that people can be so depraved: the leaders of Fox News knowingly promulgated lies that would damage the confidence Americans have in their democracy and elected leadership, all to make a few more bucks.

Every bit as galling: it took a private company – Dominion – to fork up its own money for a lawsuit for all the world to finally see that Fox News was sabotaging American democracy for cash.

Where the hell was our government all this time?

Ah, our theme continues. It was Ronald Reagan who dismantled a finely honed regulatory system that oversaw the media industry. Back then, three television networks were only able to broadcast content to homes by leasing public radio spectrum owned by the people and operated by the United States Government. The government could – and did -- demand that broadcasters operate to a code of ethics, standards of decency, and provide equal time to different voices along the political continuum. The threat? If the government felt that a broadcaster was failing to live up to its public obligations, the broadcast license could be pulled and – poof – the National Broadcasting Company would cease to exist in the time it took to air a Chevy commercial on Bonanza.

This was a finely balanced conflict: Edwin R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite served as a powerful check on the Federal government, standing up to corrupt Senators and woefully misguided Presidents. In turn, the FCC stood up to television networks, ripping them in public when they aired fraudulent game shows. That purposeful and often pitched opposition made both government and journalism better.

I know the rigorous standards and protocols that television networks adhered to back then very well. When I was a junior exec at the Ogilvy & Mather ad agency in 1980, one of my responsibilities was securing “network clearance” of scripts for television commercials. Prior to filming a commercial, we had to prove to NBC, CBS, and ABC that the claims we were making in our commercial were factually accurate – or they would not air them. If we wanted to claim that “Country Time tastes like good old-fashioned lemonade,” we had to implement nationwide taste tests among consumers to prove that our claim was valid in the minds of consumers.

Compare that meticulous scrutiny to the howitzer of bullshit flying out of Tucker Carlson’s mouth every night. How did this happen? How did television degrade from public trust to public manipulation in the span of a couple of decades?

It is not as complicated as you’d think. During the Reagan administration, the famous “equal access” law, which required television networks to afford “equal time” to competing ideological perspectives and candidates, was repealed. The rise of cable television created a mechanism for the distribution of content that was not rooted in the “public radio spectrum” model of broadcast television, and the neutered FCC did not assert the same authority over cable programming as it did on broadcast. The result: families had Fox News and pornography streaming into their living rooms without any government oversight, hindrance, or guidelines.

What’s worse: the government had every right to assert the same “public radio spectrum” model for the nascent internet that it had for broadcast television. United States taxpayer dollars paid for the original ARPAnet, the predecessor of today’s internet. The government had every right imaginable to put in rules and regulations about how private citizens and companies used the internet, which was essentially a public utility paid for by taxpayers.  But in our post-Reagan “anti-government, anti-regulation” religion, the United States government ignored the internet, and allowed it to grow like a weed, spurred on by porn sites and pirated music. The United States government just punted, and watched the internet fall under the total control of amoral creeps from Mark Zuckerberg to Elon Musk.  

And now, Mark Zuckerberg tries to justify the freak show of viral streaming deceit on his platform as standing up for “First Amendment Rights.”  Zuckerberg knows that if he was ever required to fully police the hate speech, conspiracy fever, and defamation happening daily on Facebook, he would have to reallocate his entire profit margin to hire an army of lawyers.

And where are our Republican friends in all of this?

Today, Republicans want to arrest drag queens because of the “danger” they pose to impressionable youth. Yet these same Republicans forget that their deregulation of the media industry is why your cable box has an entire menu option devoted to pornography… right there in your living room.   

Once again, too many ironies in the fire.

Yes, it is a popular Republican trope to say that our government is “too big.” That’s lazy.

Do we have an imbalance between revenue and expense? You betcha. Should we fix it? Yes, but perhaps by considering raising taxes on the richest Americans and corporations, rather than the knee-jerk response of “cutting government.” Cutting regulations and regulators merely increases the odds that more SVBs will happen… which are astronomically more costly to our economy than the salaries of the regulators who could help prevent the failures in the first place.

We come full circle: we have a government that has convinced itself that “government is the problem.”

It is our own fault. We, the people. We were served a lie by Ronald Reagan, and too many people bought it.

It is our problem.

We, the people, who as a society can no longer tell truth from lie, and right from wrong. 

We have government that bans books in Florida, but gives Tucker Carlson an open microphone to lie about the reliability of our elections, undercutting faith in our own democracy.  

Millions stare at Fox News, and have no idea that Tucker Carlson is lying to them for the precise intent of feverishly stroking the erroneous zone that makes them want to watch more… more lies, more hate, more justification for their bigotry, racism, misogyny, and xenophobia.

All for greed. All for money. We now know that Tucker Carlson does not say what he believes. He says what will make more money… for Fox News, and for himself.

And while everyone else in the country now knows this, the Fox viewer will never learn. Because Fox won’t tell them, and that’s the only news they watch.

What have we learned from this horrendous confluence of greed? 

The rich and powerful stand to make the most money when there is the least regulation. It is the rich and powerful who want the lowest taxes, not only to further enrich themselves, but also to they cut off the oxygen to the government that would police them.  You will recall that one reason Donald Trump was able to get away with paying virtually no income tax was because he had an army of accountants and lawyers pushing every trick to the max to avoid tax payments… and the IRS had but one person assigned to review Trump’s thousands of pages of tax filing.

We need to reverse this death spiral. 

We need new taxes on wealthy individuals and businesses to ensure that our government has the manpower, the laws, and the enforcement mechanisms to regulate the rogues to the full measure required.  

Because Ronald Reagan was wrong.

Government is not the problem. Greed is. 


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Friday, March 17, 2023

BTRTN Election 2024 Point/Counterpoint: Who Will Win the GOP Nomination, Trump or DeSantis?

Tom and Steve took to the podium recently to talk to a local group about the 2024 race.  It was a 'Point Counterpoint' debate about who would win the Republican nomination. We reprise our roles in this written version, with Tom arguing that Trump will get the nod, Steve countering with DeSantis.   

Point:  Don’t Count Trump Out…Math and Logic Rule

Donald Trump has not been having a good stretch over the last five months or so, and he is undoubtedly a damaged candidate in 2024 as compared with 2016 or 2020.  You know the litany of his troubles, but schadenfreude is sweet, so here is a brief recap.

He was widely blamed for blowing the midterms for the GOP.  What should have been a GOP rout – yes, a red wave – was radically diminished and ultimately a GOP loss in the eyes of public perception.  Trump handpicked inept, underqualified and/or radically conservative Senate candidates in Pennsylvania, Georgia and Arizona, when more mainstream and qualified candidates -- who were available – would have likely won all three races, which would have handed the GOP the Senate.  The midterms are usually a referendum on the sitting president.  Less focus on the Big Lie and more on Joe Biden surely would have translated into more GOP House seats, giving Kevin McCarthy a margin he could work with, rather than be embarrassed by.  The midterms gave Biden a “better than expected” boost, the perfect way to kick-off his reelection campaign.

Then Trump announced his candidacy at the worst possible time, right when finger-pointing at Trump for the midterms failure was at full force, and just weeks before the crucial Georgia Senate run-off election.   Instead Trump should have worked to build back some capital from the midterm debacle, and done whatever he could to help Hershel Walker (even simply shutting up would have been better).  Instead Walker, one of his hand-picked candidates, lost in Georgia, setting off yet another round of Trump recriminations on two fronts:  the choice of Walker and the deflection of attention caused by his launch timing.

Worse still, the launch speech itself was about the last thing one might have expected:  it was...boring.  Some advisers got it into his head that Trump needed to be more, um, presidential, somehow.  But that is one thing he is incapable of, and his tepid delivery of conservative talking points did not fool anyone among mainstreamers and disappointed the base, who crave the grievance-laced rants of the madman.   Just a few nights later, Trump hosted an infamous dinner with the notorious Ye and Nick Fuentes, seemingly with the incredulous goal of burnishing his credentials among white supremacists and anti-Semites. 

Then came the mountain legal troubles, with near-certain indictments soon to be announced in Georgia (for actions taken to overturn the 2020 election); and in New York (for buying the silence of Stormy Daniels in the weeks before the 2016 election); and the machinations of a heat-seeking missile named Jack Smith, who is barreling forward apace on the two federal cases related to January 6 and the theft of classified documents. 

At this point, the big money started fleeing, as the Koch family and other super PACs announced they were all in in 2024 for anyone in the GOP save Trump.

Sounds bad, right?  Well, for a general election, sure.  But for the GOP nomination – not so much.  Apart from the boring speech, none of this run of misfortune particularly bothers the Trump base one bit.  In fact, accusations and indictments only add fuel to Trump’s victim-based rantings.  He has and will continue to maintain that everyone is out to get him – a “witch hunt” by the deep state, the elites, the Democrats and even the mainstream GOP.  He will continue to tell the base that he is fighting for them, and that is why all of those evil forces are out to get him.  This is the core belief of the base:  that Trump buys into their own grievance, he identifies with it, his enemies are their enemies, and he is the only one on their side.  And who needs the large donors?  You watch:  if the indictments come, Trump will turn those indictments into massive small donations faster than you can say “Leavenworth.” 

Don’t underestimate Trump.  He may be wounded but he is hardly done.  In fact, Donald Trump will be the GOP nominee in 2024, barring some truly incredible unforeseen circumstance or event.  And by “unforeseen” I don’t mean an indictment or even jail time.  Those, at this point, are foreseeable.  I mean something truly unforeseen.  And it is hard to imagine just what, at this point, that could possibly be.

It all boils down to two essential facts:

1)     Trump has unshakeable control over roughly 40% of the Republican Party, and those “Unshakeables” are far more likely than other Republicans to vote in primaries. 

2)     Trump’s opponents, including Ron DeSantis, cannot afford to attack Trump at will, because they need those Unshakeables behind them to have a prayer of winning in November, 2024.  But here's the catch -- how you can defeat Trump without attacking him?  .

The numbers don’t lie.  Below is a summary of the Republican presidential nomination polls during a variety of periods over 2021, 2022 and thus far in 2023.

There is a lot going on in this simply chart.  First, Trump’s lead, while showing modest slippage over the past two years, remains formidable.  He still leads DeSantis by about 15 points (averaging all polls in calendar year 2023).  Second, it is a two-person race as of now – the others are mired in single-digits.  Mike Pence has actually slipped a bit, Nikki Haley’s announcement hasn’t increased her standing materially, and the rest of the “big” names in the field, all unannounced, barely register a heartbeat.  Third, while DeSantis has made impressive progress over these two years, tripling his support from about 10% to 30%, including a nice jump after his big win in November, only half of that gain has come from Trump’s support; the rest has come from the others or the undecideds.  Fourth, while DeSantis did make that nice jump at the end of 2022, that momentum appears to have stalled in 2023, despite all that bad news for Trump.

There are two other factors about the polls that are important (though not revealed by this chart).  Polls in the year before the primary tend to be stable.  There are not too many “catalysts” for change, apart from how candidates “break from the gate” (how they appeal on the campaign trail at the outset) and how they do in the debates.  For someone as well-known as Trump, it is hard to imagine his 2023 performance revealing anything new.  Once Trump joined the field in late June, 2015, he led the GOP field with between 25% and 30% for the balance of the year (until he jumped to 35% in December) – and that was when he was brand new.  Back then, the other candidates – notably Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Ben Carson -- rose and fell in the “non-Trump” lane.  But the Trump base formed early and stuck with him, and has ever since, through thick and thin, for eight years now.

The “non-Trump lane” reference leads to the other factor.  In polling so far, DeSantis does far better versus Trump, running a few points ahead, when the preference question is framed as a two-person race.  But when the question is framed with a longer list of candidates, Trump’s numbers remain as they were, while DeSantis’s drop precipitously.  Thus the conclusion that a larger field helps Trump, because it divides the non-Trump lane. 

Put all this together, and you can see why Trump’s position is so enviable and perhaps impregnable.  He has 40%+ of the party under his thumb and there is little likelihood that that will change.  They’ve stuck with him thus far, and it is hard to imagine what could possibly make them change their minds.  They tend to vote in primaries.  Bad news that would normally destroy a political career only energizes his base.  News of affairs, lies, truly horrible statements, and likely criminal activity are all simply fundraising opportunities to him – gold mines, in fact.

What is truly ironic is that Trump tried to browbeat potential challenges to prevent them from entering the race, as a loyalty test, yet he is the one who benefits from the larger field.  DeSantis is clearly the lead choice to unify the non-Trump lane, yet he has been slow to enter the race, giving others an opening.  Haley is already in, and Pence, Pompeo, Tim Scott and others are likely to enter.  DeSantis has essentially lost his best chance to try to limit the field.

Let’s not diminish what DeSantis has already accomplished in crashing the field, which is impressive.  It is rare for a non-VP to command 20% or more support of party support a year away from the primaries in a first time run for the White House.  Those that have achieved that in the last 50 years include Ronald Reagan (‘76), Ted Kennedy (‘80), George W. Bush (‘00), Barack Obama (‘08), Rudy Giuliani (‘08), Hillary Clinton (‘16) and now DeSantis in 2024.  Kennedy, Bush and Clinton all had famous lineage and high profiles and Giuliani achieved unique fame post 9/11.  That leaves just Reagan and Obama as comparative with DeSantis.  Both essentially became legendary politicians with remarkable personal charm and charisma.  Is that Ron DeSantis?

No, of course not.  The DeSantis package is void of charm and charisma.  The better parallel may be Scott Walker, the former governor of Wisconsin who was the darling of the 2015 field, having achieved a national reputation for standing up to the teacher’s union in swing state Wisconsin as a true conservative.   Eight years ago, Walker, then 47, was leading the pre-Trump GOP field, despite being a rather drab and dull retail politician.  He entered the race and promptly stumbled, going from “first to worst” in just 70 days.  He dropped out well before the Iowa caucuses.

Outside of Florida, not too many people know Ron DeSantis.  He has put himself in a solid position, but he still trails Trump by a healthy margin.  Soon many voters – in Iowa and New Hampshire in particular – will be assessing him, and they will quickly find his personality is more Walker than Trump.  He is never going to fill arenas like a rock star.  The media will begin their deep probes.  He will not be able to attack Trump directly – he can’t inflame the base -- but the reverse is not true.  Trump will try to define DeSantis and then crush him.  And every one of those single-digit candidates will be focused on destroying DeSantis, not Trump, to lay claim to the non-Trump lane throne, and avoid ticking off the Trump base.  The oppo research will come. DeSantis is walking an extremely difficult tightrope.

Trump-Haley 2024. You can print the bumper stickers.


Counterpoint: DeSantis Will Beat Trump By Beating Him at His Own Game

Donald Trump has no idea what is about to hit him.


Sure, the current wisdom is that Ron DeSantis will be eaten alive by the vicious, candidacy-destroying venom of Donald Trump, just as Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz found in 2016.

Well, there’s a case to be made for pretty much exactly the opposite: that Trump has never been put on the defensive by a hyper-aggressive, uber-ambitious killer with an instinct for the jugular. Trump has never faced an opponent who is as natively cruel and soullessly Machiavellian as Ron DeSantis. This is going to be a battle to the death between two velociraptors, and this bet is on the younger, more prepared raptor.

Sure, Trump looks good in the polls. Current poll numbers are mostly knee-jerk reaction and brand name recognition. A year from now?

Let’s start with a key fact: America hates losers. The last time a major political party renominated a candidate who lost a prior presidential election was 1968.

In today’s radically polarized political landscape, there is only one criterion that the party out of power uses to select its nominee: who can win? For the Democrats in 2020, the prospect of four more years of Trump was so terrifying that the party quickly settled on the one candidate who seemed best positioned to beat him.

Now Republicans ask the same question, and it is Trump’s kryptonite. If Trump hosted a reality show today, it would be called “The Biggest Loser.” He is widely viewed as the man who dragged the GOP down to underwhelming performances in 2018, 2020, and 2022.  

Big-time donors see it. American Prosperity Group CEO Emily Seidel announced “to write a new chapter for our country, we need to turn the page on the past. So the best thing for the country would be to have a president in 2025 who represents a new chapter.” Have you noticed all the big-name Republicans who have endorsed Trump for 2024? Neither have we. 

Perhaps you believe that the Republican faithful do whatever Fox News tells them to. Well, Fox began to bail on Trump after the mid-terms. Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post called DeSantis “De Future,” and DeSantis was granted a fawning Tour de Fox to shill for his new autobiography.

Let’s talk about that supposedly uber-loyal Trump base. The percentage of Republicans who favored Trump as the 2024 nominee of the party had slid from 54% in 2021 to 46% in January/February 2023. That’s right… the “non-Trump lane” is now bigger than the “Trump lane.”

By mid-year, there will be indictments on the Stormy Daniels case, Mar-a-Lago documents, the Georgia election interference, and – at the rate Jack Smith is flying – the monster: Trump’s criminal role on January 6. Throw in an actual felony conviction on any of the above, and by primary season, Donald Trump looks more toxic than the fourth reactor at Chernobyl.

Trump’s base will be loyal to the end, but criminal investigations will keep reminding Republicans of the essential issue: can he win? By the time Iowans head to the caucuses, Trump will have more baggage than a Tumi warehouse.

Ok, fine… so that’s why Donald Trump will lose.

Why will DeSantis win?

In 2016 – the last time Donald Trump competed in a primary, he was a political unknown with no track record to defend. He toyed with his opponents with previously unfathomable personal insults, brazen lies, and shockingly racist, xenophobic, and misogynist rants that thrilled the hard right.

Eight years later, Trump is slower, and this time everybody is ready for him. Some say it will be to Trump’s advantage if many candidates enter the GOP primary, arguing that it will splinter the “anti-Trump” lane. But they fail to realize that if a half-dozen or more candidates chant in unison that Donald Trump is too old, too tainted, and too responsible for too many losses, it can’t be good for Trump.  Sure, the Nikki Haleys and Tim Scotts   the ones who are actually running for VP – won’t risk a head-on confrontation with Trump. But when Mike Pence goes ballistic on Trump at the Gridiron Club Dinner,  you know that the sands are shifting.

The hunch here is that Ron DeSantis is savvy enough to know that direct confrontation is the only formula for beating Trump… that if you challenge the King, you have to take him down.  And DeSantis is working all fronts to prepare his assault.

DeSantis will take the risk of saying nasty things about Trump that could well anger Trump’s base, but DeSantis figures that if he wins the nomination, Trump’s base will fall in line… knowing that sitting on their hands will only result in Biden’s re-election.

One reason that 2024 will be different than 2016 is that nobody has ever successfully put Donald Trump on the defensive. Trump was always in “attack mode,” and he had no record to defend. Not this time.

DeSantis has already begun to talk about his governorship as “no drama,” emphasizing a record of disciplined, effective leadership that gets stuff done. The clear implication: Trump is all talk, all chaos, and no action. You can expect to hear Ron DeSantis talk extensively about a wall that never got built, and a country that never paid for it.  

Between now and May – when he is likely to announce -- Ron DeSantis is on a holy crusade in Florida to prove to the right-wing base that he is vastly more effective in passing conservative legislation than Trump ever was. An entirely new fusillade of “anti-woke” laws – building on the base of barely-veiled racist and anti-LGBTQ legislation of his first term – will be rushed through by DeSantis not simply as proof of his right-wing fealty, but of far greater effectiveness than Trump in implementing a right-wing agenda. 

For all Ron DeSantis wants to talk about “woke,” there are far bigger, far more important issues that he can and will lean heavily into once the campaign is cooking. First, he can speak to a record of strong economic vitality during his stewardship. And when Jamie Dimon goes on the record about how “business friendly” Florida is, you know the governor has a story to tell. Who knows where inflation will stand in 2024, but a strong message on economic stewardship is solid campaign gold.

Second: he is a huge, proven winner in what is still by most measures a “purple” state. The man beat a perfectly respectable Democrat – a former Governor – by nearly 20 points. In today’s polarized politics, that is simply unheard of in a swing state. If the only criterion is “who can win,” DeSantis has a vastly better story to tell than Trump.

If Ron DeSantis implements a sound messaging strategy, he has a helluva story to tell… particularly against a President who failed to keep key campaign promises.

Once the campaigning starts in earnest, any gap between the two men will narrow.  A key reason: Ron DeSantis will annihilate Trump in debates. DeSantis may be an asshole, but he is a Yale undergrad and Harvard Law asshole. Watch him behind any podium in Florida. He comes prepared, thinks on his feet, is skilled at reframing a debate to his favor, and only loses his cool for theater. He is a wonk who knows the details. He is constantly on attack mode with the press.  He can do to Trump what Trump used to do to everyone else – initiate the attack, and put Trump on the defensive.

Trump, of course, never met a policy detail he couldn’t ignore, famously needed pictures and single page summaries to cope with intelligence briefings, and blithely blustered his way through significant public appearances by lying, hopelessly meandering, and – in crucial situations – reading from a teleprompter as if on quaaludes.  Trump was appallingly bad in the 2024 debates when facing Biden, himself a leaden debater at best. Donald Trump is a lazy man who will not do the hard work of campaign debate prep. And he will pay for it.

Just wait until Ron DeSantis starts talking about “winners” and “losers” on a debate stage as Donald Trump seethes with rage. I can already hear DeSantis: “We Republicans are tired of losing! We can’t be the party of losers! We lost in 2018, we lost in 2020, we lost in 2022! We need a proven winner!” Watch as the camera pans to Donald Trump, sweating, smoldering, and absolutely losing his, uh, composure under the scorching, humiliating, withering assault.

If Ron DeSantis is smart, he will take one further step… he will aim at the myth of Donald Trump. As we speak, Ron DeSantis surely has a team of oppo pit bulls combing through the 80s and 90s footage that reveals Trump to have been a classic New York City liberal right up until he ran for President.  DeSantis will draw a hard line between his own consistent right-wing orthodoxy and Trump’s Johnny-Come-Lately, opportunistic, and calculated conservatism.

Let’s rest our case with one final point: Ron DeSantis truly is the coldest, most calculating, most Machiavellian foe Donald Trump has ever faced. This is the man that cruelly forced frightened and vulnerable immigrants into an airplane and flew them to Martha’s Vineyard as a political stunt. How depraved do you have to be to manipulate the poor, the vulnerable, and the powerless for a childish political gag?  Donald Trump does not know what is about to hit him.

Have doubts? Here are the specifics on how this goes down.

Flash forward to the Iowa Caucuses. Trump edges out DeSantis in Iowa by 40% to 35%. Also-rans (led by Haley, Pence, and Scott) are in single digits. The poorest performing also-rans have the oxygen of funding cut off, and must drop out.

But thinning the field just a bit will give DeSantis enough mojo to squeak out a win in New Hampshire.

With each side claiming a win, it is on to South Carolina… where Ron DeSantis swings the deal that seals the deal. He offers his VP slot to South Carolina hometown favorite Nikki Haley. Trump does not take the bait, as he not-so-secretly lusts for the uber-loyal election denier Kari Lake to be his VP. Buoyed by the locally popular Haley, DeSantis scores a big win in South Carolina. Instantly, the wheels come off the “inevitability” of a Trump nomination.

More single-digit losers drop out, giving more and more of the “anti-Trump lane” to DeSantis.  By Super Tuesday, it is Trump v. DeSantis mano-a-mano in a sprint to the convention… and DeSantis has all the momentum.  Then it is just a matter of winning by thin but discernable margins, and DeSantis cleans up the delegate count.

DeSantis closes the deal by offering Trump a face-saving exit. They will cut a secret agreement in which Trump’s doctor supposedly orders Trump to drop out for “health reasons.” (That is, anything but an admission that he is losing!) In turn, DeSantis promises to do everything in his power to cut off all Federal prosecution of Trump, and he will name Jim Jordan his Attorney General so that Trump gets his “retribution,” which is the only reason he has given thus far for running in 2024.

DeSantis-Haley 2024. You can print the bumper stickers.

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Wednesday, March 1, 2023

BTRTN: Joe Biden Appears to be Enjoying Himself Immensely

Tom with the BTRTN February, 2023 Month in Review.

February 2023

At this point it seems a foregone conclusion that Joe Biden will run for reelection.  The main theories out there are that Biden believes that he himself is the only candidate that can hold off the GOP; that he has a fine record of accomplishment; and that, despite his advancing age, he feels fit for the rigors of a reelection campaign and a second term.

While Biden may believe all that, and each is a compelling argument, to varying degrees, here is another theory on why he will run again:  he’s enjoying himself way too much to give it up.

We offer as evidence the month of February, 2023, when Biden seemed positively giddy, whether he was sparring with MAGA crazies, shooting down UFO’s, making an unprecedented visit to a war zone or taking the global stage to defend the causes of freedom and democracy against the authoritarian ways of Vladimir Putin.  In each of these confrontations, Biden not only came out the clear winner, but he also looked vital, in command, and in general positively enjoying himself.  Hand it over to Kamala?  Good luck with that in your senior year!

The State of the Union address was impressive enough on paper, a doubling down on his progressive agenda, even in the face of the loss of the House in the midterms.  We have grown accustomed to first-term presidents using the post-midterm SOTU to accept publicly the humiliation of the election verdict, vowing to take their medicine, listen hard to the message sent by the voters and mend their ways.  Biden may have lost the House in the midterms, but clearly he won the (more important) expectations game by avoiding the rout that befell so many of his predecessors and was expected by most.  So that was Biden grinning and jousting while pushing forward on his agenda, while Kevin McCarthy, who had just fulfilled his lifelong dream of winning the Speakership, sat directly behind him looking rather forlorn, stuck in the hell of an unmanageable caucus with a mere four votes to spare on any issue.

Apart from his SOTU script -- indeed, freelancing off it -- Biden showed, rather startlingly, the nimbleness of Muhammad Ali in his prime as he parried and thrust with the crazy performance artists who are now the face of the GOP.  Biden coolly set them up on Medicare and Social Security, deftly securing an audibled voice-vote agreement with the GOP to not touch Social Security or Medicare in the looming debt ceiling/budget wars.  They did not even seem to understand they’d been had.  Instead, they kept up with their histrionics, shouting that Biden was a liar and booing and hissing him like a mob of unruly Parliament backbenchers.  All of that turns off Americans, as post-SOTU polls confirmed.  Perhaps even worse, the display showed the national audience once again that McCarthy had lost control of his caucus (if he ever had it), since he had admonished them to refrain from such acts.  The picture of McCarthy staring at them, Zombie-like, from his seat on the podium, like the agonized parent of an uncontrollable child, was unforgettable.

The Balloon Saga was similar to the Document Drama that immediately preceded it, in that both seemed like Very Big Deals until it became clear that UFO’s populate the upper atmosphere with the frequency that classified documents show up in former presidential and vice-presidential residences and offices.  (Not to let Trump off the hook, for his document sins are mountains compared to the Biden/Pence molehills.)  Biden and his team deftly disabled the China spy balloon, let it drift out of harm’s way, shot it down over safe waters, and retrieved it to learn much more about its capabilities.  What more could you ask?  The GOP, of course, complained that he was too slow to take the sucker down, but when he quickly shot down three other UFO’s of indeterminate source and threat (hovering above non-populated areas), they howled that he was trigger happy.  (Note to my brother:  we have early contenders here for his BTRTN’s 2024 “Lindsay Grahammies,” which celebrate cases of titanic political hypocrisy.)  

Biden’s historic trip to Kyiv and his speech in Warsaw are destined to appear in the annals of history alongside the Berlin speeches by JFK (1963), Reagan (1987) and Obama (2008), as pillars in clarifying the world order.  Biden, like his predecessors, sought the biggest possible stage to send the most unambiguous of messages to his adversary -- that the West would never abandon Ukraine.  Vladimir Putin’s entire fallback strategy, once he experienced the shock and awe of his initial attack of Kyiv being singularly rebuffed, has been to settle into a war of attrition in the hopes that ultimately the West would divide, lose interest and stop the flow of expensive arms into Ukraine.  But Biden’s strength in the midterms has given him the upper hand with GOP opponents who advocate an America First retreat, and the NATO alliance, refortified by Biden's post-Trump efforts, remains rock solid and unified in support of their ally.  Biden recognized the moment and made the statement of a lifetime.

Joe Biden -- the man who even many Democrats doubted was up to any public appearances at all – ad-libbing in front of a national audience with the nonchalance of Jerry Seinfeld?  Shooting down UFO’s with the cool precision of Han Solo?  Jetting across the globe, cloak-and-dagger style, a la James Bond?  Thundering from the podium, channeling his inner Obama?

Not running for reelection?  Unthinkable.  He’s having too much fun.

Campaign 2024

The currently announced field for the presidency is as follows:  Donald Trump, Nikki Haley, Marianne Williamson and Vivek Ramaswamy.  Heaven help us.  This is a field that should have America begging for more.  Biden will surely join the fray soon, and Ron DeSantis as well.  Once Biden joins, that will sideline any other responsible aspirants in the suddenly unified Democratic Party.  Once DeSantis enters, they key question will be, how large will the GOP field become?

Trump has never looked more feeble, or beatable.  He received full blame for the GOP losing the Senate; bungled his launch in terms of both timing (just after those midterms but before the Warnock-Walker runoff in Georgia) and style (the launch speech was, of all things, dull, Trump shedding his natural persona for some sanitized version of himself that pleased no one); staged a very public dinner with the utterly despicable Ye and Nick Fuentes; eschewed a return to Twitter and Facebook, proving his interests are more commercial (to help keep TruthSocial alive) than political; lost the support of the big PAC money that backed him in 2016 and 2020; and edged ever closer to real legal danger with potential indictments lining up like dominoes, starting with Georgia.   

Frankly, he’s looked pretty bad in his campaign clips.  He took questions at a “Club 45” gathering recently and was asked, after he became president again, what would he do to stop the war in Ukraine?  This was his reply, verbatim and unedited:  “So I would literally start calling, not from the day I took over, but from the night I won, and I’d called two people, you know who the two people are?  Putin…right, you know who Putin is…and Zelenskyy…and I’d say: ‘We’re gonna meet.  We’re gonna meet.’  And I would…I guarantee that I would work that out.  I guarantee it…I know exactly what I’d say, by the way, I know exactly.  I’d tell one guy this and I’d tell one guy that and I say you better make a deal.  We would have a deal made in 24 hours.”  Ah, diplomatic nuance at its finest.

And yet, he remains the GOP frontrunner for the nomination, leading DeSantis by about 15 points, and that margin could expand with every new candidate entering the ring.  Thus far there are two clear tracks in the GOP, the Trump and anti-Trump tracks, and each new candidate appears to take a bite out of the others, not out of Trump.  DeSantis rose from roughly 10% support to 30% over the course of 2023, but most of that came from Pence's hide or the undecideds.  So while Trump considers running against him to be an act of disloyalty, the irony is, the more who make the leap, the better Trump’s chances of securing the nomination.  For DeSantis to win, he needs the party to coalesce the anti-Trump track around him.

Nikki Haley is certainly a more conventional politician, although as a Republican Indian-American woman, she would certainly set all kinds of firsts if she won the nomination.  Haley was, of course, the former Governor of South Carolina and Trump’s Ambassador to the UN (as well as a three-term rep in Congress), so she has the kind of executive and foreign policy credentials, burnished over nearly two decades, that have long made her a rising GOP star.  But she has been far less successful than DeSantis in traversing the Trump Era, having worked for Trump, defended him to the hilt, castigated him after January 6, meekly returned to the fold, promised not to run against him, and then broke that promise when she announced.  Ron DeSantis has done exactly none of those things, and that distance has served him well, even as he benefited from Trump’s early support and has risen to current heights without it.  Well played, thus far.

Haley is almost surely running more for Vice President than the top job, and she would be attractive to either Trump or DeSantis in that post.  At 51, she has plenty of time to win the presidency (no matter what Don Lemon may think about her “prime”).  She is, however, pushing the “generational change” button hard in the early going, and that might soon rankle Trump.  One wonders whether, if Iowa and New Hampshire are a split decision, Trump or DeSantis might announce Haley as their VP partner before the South Carolina primary, inducing her to drop out.  (If one does, the other may counter by tapping current South Carolina Senator Tim Scott as their VP; Scott may also join the presidential race very soon.)

Perhaps the less said about Williamson and Ramaswamy, the better.  The high water mark Williamson reached in her 2020 run – in an open field, with no incumbent – was 2%.  If Ramaswany hits even that, we’ll be surprised.  At 37, his goal is surely simply name recognition, and he has half-a-billion dollars to spread around to that end.  Tom Steyer certainly achieved that (and a surprising third place finish in South Carolina) with his own multi-billions the last time around.  Ramaswamy is probably playing the long game.

Stay tuned.



Biden’s approval rating increased marginally to 44% in February.  His issue ratings also tended to show modest increases.  (There are few polls on Covid approval anymore, so that drop is likely not terribly indicative of any major change.)  The “Bidenometer,” our BTRTN aggregate measure of economic performance (explained below), dropped slightly to +41, with stock market and consumer confidence declines mitigated by a drop 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 +41 for February, 2023 means that, on average, the five measures are 41% higher than they were when Biden was inaugurated (see the chart below).  With a Bidenometer of +41, 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 +41 under Biden. 

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