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Poles at the Polls
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Poles at the Polls

Plus: McKay Coppins previews his upcoming book, Romney: A Reckoning.

Happy Monday! There’s never a great time to see your name alongside “profanity-laced rant at staffer” in the Houston Chronicle, but the recording—allegedly of Democratic U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee—is particularly problematic if you’re … running to be the mayor of Houston. For all our readers in Houston and Harris County, early voting starts today!

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • Clashes continued along the Israel-Lebanon border over the weekend, with the Times of Israel reporting that “six Israeli soldiers, 19 Hezbollah terrorists, and six Palestinian terrorists” have been killed in the exchanges of missiles and artillery fire in recent weeks. Sheikh Naim Qassem, Hezbollah’s deputy leader, said Saturday that the group will escalate its attacks whenever Israel begins a ground operation into Gaza, while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Lebanon against further attacks. “If Hezbollah decides to enter the war, it will miss the Second Lebanon War,” he said. “We will cripple it with a force it cannot even imagine, and the consequences for it and the Lebanese state are devastating.”
  • United States military officials moved to strengthen American forces in the Middle East over the weekend, shifting an additional carrier strike group—the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower—into the region and deploying additional missile and air defense systems. The Eisenhower was originally set to join the USS Gerald R. Ford carrier strike group in the eastern Mediterranean, but will now be deployed to the Central Command area of responsibility, which includes the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea. “These steps will bolster regional deterrence efforts, increase force protection for U.S. forces in the region, and assist in the defense of Israel,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a press release on Saturday.
  • Hamas on Friday released two U.S. citizens—a mother and her 17-year-old daughter—who were being held hostage in Gaza. The release came amid negotiations between Hamas and Qatar—a nation that maintains both friendly relations with the U.S. and lines of communication with the terror group’s leaders. Israel declared it will destroy Hamas regardless of the hostage situation as the IDF readies a potential ground offensive, but progress in negotiations could delay the start of that operation.
  • Rep. Jim Jordan ended his bid to become speaker of the House on Friday after he lost a third consecutive vote on the House floor and a subsequent secret-ballot vote within the GOP conference on whether to keep him as the party’s nominee for the post. Nine candidates announced bids for the position before the conference deadline yesterday, including House Majority Whip Tom Emmer, Rep. Byron Donalds of Florida, Rep. Kevin Hern of Oklahoma, and Rep. Mike Johnson of Louisiana. Former Speaker Kevin McCarthy threw his support behind Emmer, the Minnesota Republican, but didn’t rule out his own return to the speaker’s chair. “I’m supporting Tom Emmer,” he said, “but I’m going to tell you: I’m still a member of Congress, and I’m going to lead in any capacity to protect America.” The Republican conference will hold a candidate forum tonight at 6:30 p.m. ahead of an expected conference vote tomorrow.
  • The Supreme Court on Friday temporarily blocked a lower court’s preliminary injunction that restricted the Biden administration from communicating with social media companies to remove what it considers misinformation from platforms. The court’s ruling temporarily granted the administration’s appeal for a stay, and the court agreed to hear the case in its current term.
  • Kenneth Chesebro, a former lawyer for former President Donald Trump’s campaign, pleaded guilty on Friday in the Georgia election interference case concerning his role in creating alternate slates of fake electors. Chesebro cooperated with prosecutors and pleaded guilty to one felony count of conspiracy to file false documents. As part of the plea deal, Chesebro received up to five years of probation and a $5,000 fine, and agreed to testify against his fellow co-defendants in the case, including Trump. Chesebro is the third of nineteen co-defendants to accept a plea deal requiring future testimony—Sidney Powell, a former Trump attorney, made a similar plea deal with prosecutors on Thursday. 
  • The judge overseeing Trump’s civil fraud case in New York fined the former president $5,000 for flouting a gag order preventing public comments about the court’s staff. Earlier this month, Trump singled out one of Judge Arthur Engoron’s law clerks, Allison Greenfield, posting a picture of her with Sen. Chuck Schumer to his Truth Social account, describing her as “Schumer’s girlfriend.” A spokesperson for Schumer said he does not know Greenfield and takes photos with thousands of constituents. Engoron asked Trump to take the post down—which he did—but the post remained on a Trump campaign website until the court flagged it on Thursday night. Trump’s lawyers said the website posting was an oversight, but Engoron warned that further violations could result in steeper penalties, including holding Trump in contempt of court.

Historic Election in Poland

The leader of the Civic Coalition, Donald Tusk, celebrates the exit poll results during Poland's Parliamentary elections on October 15, 2023 in Warsaw, Poland. (Photo by Omar Marques/Getty Images)
The leader of the Civic Coalition, Donald Tusk, celebrates the exit poll results during Poland's Parliamentary elections on October 15, 2023 in Warsaw, Poland. (Photo by Omar Marques/Getty Images)

Polish citizens voted in droves last Sunday, prompting many polling locations to remain open long after their intended closing time. The result was the largest turnout in a Polish election since the end of communist rule in 1989, and a defeat for the Law and Justice party, which had been in power since 2015.

Last week’s election marked a landmark moment for Poland—and indeed much of Europe—as Poles hit the reset button on a populist government that had grown more isolated in Europe and less democratic in nature. As a centrist coalition—led by former Polish Prime Minister and European Council President Donald Tusk—moves to create a functioning government, Poland could serve as a model for other populist-curious European nations looking for an off-ramp.

The Law and Justice party (or PiS, as they’re known in Poland), won the most votes in last Sunday’s election—but not nearly enough to form a majority in the nation’s parliament. According to official numbers released by the country’s National Electoral Commission on Tuesday, PiS took 35.4 percent of the votes, while Tusk’s Civic Coalition won 30.7 percent. Third Way, a center-right party, and the Left, won 14.4 percent and 8.6 percent, respectively, and the far-right party Confederation captured 7.2 percent of the vote. Civic Coalition, Third Way, and the Left have agreed to form a coalition party to secure a majority in the Polish parliament.

The election capped a tumultuous campaign season, one in which PiS-controlled state-run media attacked the Civic Coalition and Tusk as too beholden to Germany and the European Union. Tusk criticized PiS for threatening democracy—a charge that echoed concerns raised by the EU and apparently resonated with young voters.

EU and PiS officials have feuded since the latter group’s election in 2015, related mostly to what the EU saw as “rule-of-law” violations—including limiting the independence of the Polish judiciary and media. “The value of the rule of law is an integral part of the very identity of the European Union as a common legal order and is given concrete expression in principles containing legally binding obligations for the member states,” the European Court of Justice wrote in a ruling this past summer decrying a 2019 Polish judicial reform. “The measures thus adopted by the Polish legislature are incompatible with the guarantees of access to an independent and impartial tribunal, previously established by law.” The dispute came to a head when the EU froze Poland’s access to €35 billion in pandemic recovery funds, a block that could only be lifted with the restoration of judicial and media independence in accordance with EU rules.

Other factors motivating Poles to vote for a change in government included PiS’ handling of LGBT issues and abortion—which the government banned almost entirely in 2020, prompting large protests in Warsaw. Tusk’s Civic Coalition and his partners in the Left party campaigned on loosening restrictions and allowing abortions up until 12 weeks.

It is now up to Polish President Andrzej Duda to call the first session of parliament to order and nominate a candidate for prime minister, who then must win a majority of the Sejm—the lower house of parliament. Duda, a former member of PiS, has until 30 days after the election to act, and while traditionally a member of the party that wins a majority is nominated first for prime minister, the coalition government has asked for its candidate to be put forth first—for theirs, they say, is the only one with a chance to win.

“PiS won the elections and therefore, according to established custom, it has the right to think of itself as the future ruler and try to form a coalition,” Marcin Przydacz, head of the International Policy Office of the president of Poland, told Polish news station TVN. “On the other hand, the president will take into account political reality.” Duda announced that he will meet this week with leaders from each party ahead of his nomination.

Once the Civic Coalition and its political allies are able to confirm a prime minister—likely Tusk—their work begins, and though there are many issues that divide the three blocs, such as abortion limits, they are united by a much larger goal: defending Poland’s democracy.

The next prime minister will likely start their term by removing many PiS patronage hires in government positions—and even prosecute some who anti-PiS officials believe have violated the constitution. Tusk has already announced he will travel to Brussels this week to begin negotiating the release of billions of frozen funds. His coalition has expressed significantly stronger support for the EU—and should continue to support Ukraine in its war against Russia. However, the coalition in the Sejm will not have carte blanche to pass all of its desired changes. Duda holds veto power as president, which can only be overruled by three-fifths of the parliament—a majority Tusk and his allies simply don’t have.

Still, the defeat of PiS in Poland signaled a victory for supporters of liberalism across Europe—though the election of Robert Fico in Slovakia earlier this month suggested that populism still has a hold in parts of the continent.

A Conversation with McKay Coppins

When McKay Coppins, a writer for The Atlantic, met with Sen. Mitt Romney while preparing his biography of the Republican leader, the onetime presidential candidate took a crowbar to a locked filing cabinet in his personal office to give Coppins its contents. The image is an apt metaphor for the level of access the senator provided as Romney: A Reckoning was being written. Romney sat for some 50 interviews with Coppins and turned over reams of files, emails, and text messages—and the senator did not have a final say about what went in the book and what didn’t. On Friday, Coppins joined Sarah and Steve on the Dispatch Podcast for a wide-ranging conversation about the process of writing a political biography unlike any other, and the evolution of both Mitt Romney and the Republican Party.

An excerpt of the interview is below, edited for clarity. You can find the rest of the podcast here or in your podcast player of choice, and Dispatch members will be able to hear a few bonus minutes of the conversation on The Skiff (🔒), our new podcast superfeed. Romney: A Reckoning is set to be published tomorrow.

Steve Hayes: At one point you write that Romney took his 2012 [presidential election] loss with a “stiff upper lip,” your words, and then you quote him saying, “My life is not defined in my own mind by political wins and losses.” Then right after that, you jump in as the narrator and you say, “His journal and personal papers told a different story.” How often did that happen in the course of reporting this book out? And how did he respond when you pointed that out to him?

McKay Coppins: So just to give you a sense of how open Mitt Romney was to engaging in this conversation with me: He gave me the first chunk of his journals without reading them. I was sitting in church on a Sunday and I got a text from Mitt Romney, saying, “Hey, I just sent you something that might be helpful before our next interview.” And I looked at it, and it’s just hundreds of journal entries typed out on his iPad—that’s how he mostly kept his journals—and he hadn’t read them yet. And then what would often happen is he would give them to me, and then he would read them after he had given them to me. 

Sometimes he would give me his account of some period of his life based on how he remembers it—or how he wants to remember it. [The 2012 presidential campaign] is a great example. He would say, “I’ve been a businessman, I have my faith, I have my family—obviously, it was tough to lose a presidential election, but I moved on with my life.” He wanted to see himself as that guy. 

You look at his journals, and he is agonizing over having lost this election, having disappointed so many people, letting his party down. In my more recent interviews, he would tell me, “Look, Barack Obama, we had some disagreements, but I always thought he was a good guy.” His journals do not show that he thought Barack Obama was a good guy in the heat of the presidential campaign, which I think is very common during campaigns. You have to think the stakes are enormously high. And you have to think of your opponent as bad. And so he would write about the breathtaking arrogance of Barack Obama and how deeply dishonest he was. And when I would bring those up to him, he would then go revisit the journals and say, “You know, in retrospect, I probably catastrophized the prospect of a second Obama term more than was reasonable.” And he says in the years since, “I realized how much more important personal character is to a presidential candidate.” The fact that Barack Obama, by all accounts, is a good family man, and a good husband—those things matter a lot to Romney.

So anyway, there were a lot of times where he would tell me one story, give me his journals without having read them, I would see that it was a little more complicated than he was letting on, and confront him about that. And then, to his credit, he didn’t usually become defensive or try to dismiss what he had written, he would then go through the difficult work of reconciling those. And sometimes I think he would come to a point where he would be revising his own memories and say, “Oh, well, yeah, maybe the story I’ve been telling myself all these recent years is actually not quite right.” And, again, I’m not in therapy, but there was something that seemed almost therapeutic and cathartic for him to go through this process. But I also give him enormous credit, because it’s a lot of work. And it takes a certain amount of humility to be willing to do that, let alone with a journalist sitting across from you.

Sarah Isgur: How will Mitt Romney be remembered? 

McKay Coppins: He’s thinking a lot about his legacy these days. He’s thinking a lot about history and his place in it, and he’s thinking a lot about his family’s name. And I think that this final chapter of his career has been an effort by him to do well by the Romney name—by his dad’s legacy, by his ancestors, but also, to give an example to his posterity. He literally told me part of the reason he agreed to do this book is because he wanted some account of his life that he could give to his grandkids. And history is a ruthless editor. There is not that much that’s going to be remembered about Mitt Romney. In fact, he said to me, “You might only get one line in history, but if you do, you want it to be a good line.” And I think he’ll be remembered for this last chapter of his career. I think his decision to stand up to the forces in his party that he believed were polluting the country, the extremist forces in his party, Trump—while it was enormously politically inconvenient to him, and basically ended his career, I think that’s what he’ll be remembered for. And when you read this book, you’ll find a lot that you don’t like about Mitt Romney, probably. But I think there’s actually something kind of hopeful about the idea of being remembered for the best moment in your life. And I hope that we’re all able to kind of be remembered for when we’re at our best.

Worth Your Time

  • More than two months after wildfires devastated Lahaina in Maui, affected residents are still struggling to find stable housing as the island tries to rebuild while facing an affordable housing shortage. “Some are bouncing from hotel room to hotel room, in some cases to make way for the return of tourists who are crucial to the local economy,” Audrey McAvoy wrote for the Associated Press. “Many are struggling to find places to rent amid a housing shortage—and steep prices—that plagued the island even before the fire wiped out an estimated 3,000 homes and apartments in Lahaina. And it’s not feasible for authorities to bring in the mobile homes used to shelter people after natural disasters elsewhere, given Hawaii’s humidity and the difficulty of shipping them from the U.S. mainland.” Charles Nahale, a local singer and guitarist whose home in Lahaina burned down, still lacks permanent housing. “The government, via the Federal Emergency Management Agency, paid for Nahale and some 8,000 other displaced residents to move into hotels, vacation rentals, and other short-term housing after the Aug. 8 fire,” McAvoy writes, noting that about 6,900 people are still in short-term lodging. “It’s hard to begin the healing process when you’re worried about the essentials,” Nahale said.

Presented Without Comment

Axios: Trump Claims Sidney Powell Was “Never” His Attorney After She Takes Plea Deal

Also Presented Without Comment

Mediaite: [GOP Rep.] James Comer Appears as Guest on Fox For Whopping 200th Time This Year

Toeing the Company Line

  • In the newsletters: Haley covered (🔒) the end of Jim Jordan’s bid for the House speakership, the Dispatch Politics crew explained why three Republican candidates aren’t participating in the Nevada caucuses, Jonah argued the Israel-Hamas war has illuminated the left’s illiberal bent, Nick tackled (🔒) the politics of linking aid for Israel with aid for Ukraine, and Chris predicted (🔒) House Republicans may escape consequences for their dysfunction.
  • On the podcasts: Jonah ruminated on the Israel-Gaza war from the waters of southern Italy, while Sarah and Steve recorded an update on their High Steaks (🔒) wager from the Dispatch member meetup in D.C., available on The Skiff (🔒). 
  • As a reminder, The Skiff (🔒) is a one-stop destination for all of our bonus podcast content! Available for paying Dispatch members only, this feed will host audio versions of Dispatch Live, the Dispatch Book Club, High Steaks, Q&As with Jonah, extended debates between hosts, and a whole lot more. Click here for more information—including a how-to video from Jonah, the most tech-savvy person on staff—about how to add The Skiff to your podcast player of choice.
  • On the site over the weekend: Patrick T. Brown weighed in on the falling U.S. marriage rate in light of Melissa Kearney’s new book on the subject, and James Barnett reviewed Robert Kaplan’s book, The Loom of Time: Between Empire and Anarchy, from the Mediterranean to China. 
  • On the site today: Reuel Marc Gerecht argues that, one way or another, the Biden administration’s Iran policy is dead.

Let Us Know

Besides Mitt Romney, what political figure would you most like to see turn over his or her personal communications and journals to a reporter?

James Scimecca works on editorial partnerships for The Dispatch, and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he served as the director of communications at the Empire Center for Public Policy. When James is not promoting the work of his Dispatch colleagues, he can usually be found running along the Potomac River, cooking up a new recipe, or rooting for a beleaguered New York sports team.

Mary Trimble is the editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, she interned at The Dispatch, in the political archives at the Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po), and at Voice of America, where she produced content for their French-language service to Africa. When not helping write The Morning Dispatch, she is probably watching classic movies, going on weekend road trips, or enjoying live music with friends.

Grayson Logue is the deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he worked in political risk consulting, helping advise Fortune 50 companies. He was also an assistant editor at Providence Magazine and is a graduate student at the University of Edinburgh, pursuing a Master’s degree in history. When Grayson is not helping write The Morning Dispatch, he is probably working hard to reduce the number of balls he loses on the golf course.