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The Morning Dispatch: The Groundhog Day Party
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The Morning Dispatch: The Groundhog Day Party

GOP leaders in Congress say they're moving forward from relitigating the 2020 election. But 2022 candidates are embracing Trump's handling of the results as a way to prove their MAGA bona fides.

Happy Wednesday! Congratulations to Guy Fieri, who just signed a contract extension with the Food Network that will pay him $80 million over the next three years. The Dispatch was willing to go to $85 million, but we respect Fieri’s brand loyalty.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who is on his first official Middle East trip as part of the Biden administration, said Tuesday that the U.S. will make “significant contributions” toward the rebuilding of Gaza, which suffered substantial damage from Israeli airstrikes in the recent conflict between Israel and Hamas. Blinken made the remarks in a joint press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, adding that the U.S. would “work to ensure that Hamas does not benefit” from the aid.

  • A CDC study published yesterday found that, among the approximately 101 million Americans who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by April 30, just 706—0.0007 percent—were reported to have been hospitalized due to “breakthrough infections” of the virus. The report noted, however, that “the national surveillance system relies on passive and voluntary reporting, and data might not be complete or representative.”

  • Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill this week intended to significantly curtail social media companies’ discretion to moderate content on their sites. The new law prohibits platforms from banning Florida political candidates and gives Florida residents a new legal pathway to sue companies that “deplatform” them. It is expected to face immediate court challenges. 

  • New data from Moderna’s Phase 3 trial of 3,700 participants aged 12 to 17 found the mRNA vaccine to be 100 percent effective at preventing COVID-19 infection without any “significant safety concerns.” The pharmaceutical company said it plans to submit the data to regulators in early June.

  • An American journalist working in Rangoon, Burma was detained by local authorities Monday and transferred to a nearby prison. Danny Fenster, a 37-year-old Michigan native, was boarding a flight to leave the country when he was taken into custody.

  • The Senate voted 51-48 on Tuesday to confirm Kristen Clarke as the head of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division.

  • The United States confirmed 24,678 new cases of COVID-19 yesterday per the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 Dashboard, with 2.6 percent of the 949,929 tests reported coming back positive. An additional 409 deaths were attributed to the virus on Tuesday, bringing the pandemic’s American death toll to 590,925. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 23,183 Americans are currently hospitalized with COVID-19. Meanwhile, 897,972 COVID-19 vaccine doses were administered yesterday, with 164,378,258 Americans having now received at least one dose.

Meet the New Litmus Test, Same as the Old Litmus Test

In the immediate aftermath of the January 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol, there was a general consensus among Republican leaders about the cause of the violence: Supporters of Donald Trump had been deliberately misled into believing that their man was the rightful victor of the 2020 presidential election and was being denied a second term.

“The President bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters,” GOP House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said on the House floor on January 13. “He should have immediately denounced the mob when he saw what was unfolding.”

“There’s no question, none, that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day, no question about it,” Senate Minority Mitch McConnell said on February 13.

Even Sen. Ted Cruz—who has evolved into quite the MAGA enthusiast since encouraging Republican National Convention delegates to “vote their conscience” approximately six lifetimes ago—said the former president “plainly bears some responsibility” for the violence of his supporters who attacked the Capitol hoping to disrupt the certification of the Electoral College results. 

“I think it was reckless and I think he needs to recognize it,” Cruz—who himself was one of only a handful of senators to object to certifying the election results—told a local Texas TV station one day after the attack.

If uttered today, such statements—true as they may be—would be grounds for almost immediate political ostracization. In February, Rep. Liz Cheney still had the overwhelming support of her colleagues to remain House Republican conference chair after voting to impeach the former president—and making crystal clear exactly what she thought of him in doing so. But she got the boot three months later, despite her positions and rhetoric not changing a whit. So what did?

Republicans’ political reality had sunk in, with poll after poll showing Donald Trump’s grip on the GOP base wasn’t loosening as much as many congressional leaders privately hoped it would. 

In January, just after the attempted insurrection, 48 percent of Republican and lean-Republican voters reported in an Echelon Insights survey they would definitely or probably support Trump in the 2024 GOP presidential primary. That number has steadily rebounded as the events of January 6 have faded, and it now sits at 63 percent. In the same poll, 45 percent of Republicans classify themselves as “primarily” supporters of Donald Trump, compared to 44 percent who consider themselves “primarily” supporters of the GOP. 

Earlier this week, an Ipsos/Reuters poll found that 61 percent of Republican voters believe “the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump” and 53 percent “think Donald Trump is the actual President.” Just over half agreed that “the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol was led by violent left-wing protestors trying to make Trump look bad.”

So instead of confronting Trump’s election lies head on as some did in early January, top GOP officials have instead resigned themselves to downplaying or ignoring them in the hope that they will fade away on their own. McCarthy, for example, tried to speak his own reality into existence on May 12 when he told a group of reporters that he “[doesn’t] think anybody is questioning the legitimacy of the presidential election.”

McConnell, for his part, did not repeat anything close to his remarks from February when asked earlier this month about Republican in-fighting over Trump. “One-hundred percent of our focus is on stopping this new administration,” he responded, adding that he is “looking forward, not backwards.”

There’s an obvious appeal to this approach; we certainly enjoy writing about the Biden administration’s handling of the situation in Israel and Nord Stream 2 pipeline more than we do relitigating January 6 and the rhetoric that led to it. But check out this collection of comments from the former president—just from the last two weeks—and you’ll quickly realize Cheney is not the reason Republicans are struggling to move forward.

  • In a May 15 blog post: “The 2020 Presidential Election was, by far, the greatest Election Fraud in the history of our Country. The good news is, the American people get it and the truth is rapidly coming out! Had Mike Pence had the courage to send the Electoral College vote back to states for recertification, and had Mitch McConnell fought for us instead of being the weak and pathetic leader he is, we would right now have a Republican President who would be VETOING the horrific Socialistic Bills that are rapidly going through Congress, including Open Borders, High Taxes, Massive Regulations, and so much else!”

  • In a One America News Network interview aired May 18: “That’s all people ask me, they say, what’s going on in Arizona? … They want to talk about the election fraud. The weak Republicans don’t want to talk about it. … And yet the voter, the Republican voter, that’s what they want to hear. They want to hear about 2020. They want to find out, is that something that should be turned over? When they rob a jewelry store of all of the diamonds and they get caught, you have to return the diamonds.”

    • “I have people come up to me and they say ‘Sir, focus on the future. You’re going to be the candidate in 2024 … and absolutely win in 2024.’ And I say, ‘Wait a minute, we won already. We won already.’ And people have to know what went on.”

  • On the Joe Pags Show on May 19: “The election was a disgrace and it was a shame. … You don’t win South Carolina and Alabama in record territory and then lose Georgia, as an example. It just doesn’t happen.”

  • In a May 24 blog post: “New Hampshire’s Election Audit has revealed that large-scale voting machines appear to count NON-EXISTING VOTES. State and local communities are seeking confirmation. It’s probably true, but we’ll soon know. Why aren’t Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Republicans doing anything about what went on in the 2020 Election? How can the Democrats be allowed to get away with this? It will go down as the Crime of the Century! Other States like Arizona, Georgia (where a Judge just granted a motion to unseal and inspect ballots from the 2020 Election), Michigan, Pennsylvania, and more to follow.”

It’s true that Trump’s reach today is a fraction of what it once was; the Washington Post reported last week that his online engagement has plunged 95 percent since January. But as long as GOP officials continue to fear an emailed press release like they once did an angry tweet, Trump’s ability to shape the Republican Party will remain more or less intact.

The former president flexed this muscle a few weeks ago, all but clearing the field in the race to replace Cheney in House leadership by enthusiastically endorsing Rep. Elise Stefanik. Although the New York congresswoman scored lower on the conservative political organization Club for Growth’s lifetime voting scorecard than progressive Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar, she trounced her only opponent, Rep. Chip Roy (who has a 100 percent lifetime Club for Growth score), nearly three votes to one.

Whether Trump’s endorsement remains as significant to Republican primary voters as it does to Republican officials has yet to really be tested. But GOP candidates are proceeding as though it does, and their efforts to secure it are leading them to some strange places.

In Ohio, former state GOP chair Jane Timken is seeing her Senate hopes dashed because she did not immediately call for Rep. Anthony Gonzalez’ resignation after he voted to impeach Trump. Josh Mandel, one of Timken’s many opponents, openly declared the 2020 election was “stolen from President Trump” as he announced his campaign.  Eric Schmitt, a U.S. Senate candidate in Missouri, brags on his campaign website about his efforts as Missouri’s attorney general to overturn the results in four swing states.

With the GOP retaining Trump as a central figure heading into the 2022 midterms—the National Republican Senatorial Committee has sent at least 165 fundraising emails mentioning the former president in the past month, and Sen. Lindsey Graham recently told Fox News the party can’t move forward without him—its candidates run the risk of tethering themselves to an increasingly strict litmus test that will hurt them in a general election.

Members of the House GOP are brazenly supporting election audits across the country, most notably in Maricopa County, where Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz held a rally this weekend. “It’s our expectation that Arizona will be the launchpad to election integrity all over the country,” Gaetz told a crowd of supporters on Sunday. He told reporters that they plan to stop this Thursday in Georgia, where Henry County Superior Court Judge Brian Amero granted a motion on Friday to unseal 147,000 ballots in Fulton County.

Georgia’s ballots have already been recounted twice following the initial tally: one hand count and one machine recount requested by the Trump campaign. Gabriel Sterling, the chief operating officer in the office of the Georgia secretary of state, told The Dispatch that Fulton County is somewhat at fault for the upcoming audit. “They were the ones who were sued and they literally didn’t put up a defense, OK? They literally did not file a motion to dismiss,” Sterling said. “The judge said: ‘Look, I don’t have a motion to dismiss in front of me. I can’t do anything other than just move forward.’”

That’s not to say Sterling thinks the audit has any merit. “The whole story is like ‘Oh, they were scanning thousands of ballots two and three times,” he said in reference to conspiracy theories surrounding the hand recount. “If that was true, there would have been many more votes than there were ballots. That was not true.”

Still, Sterling isn’t surprised that GOP officials continue to call for election audits in Fulton County and beyond. “The human brain is designed for storytelling as a way to process information,” he continued. “And when I or any other election official throws data at somebody, that is not nearly as mentally satisfying. It’s: ‘Bad people did things and stole your vote.’”

Worth Your Time

  • With antisemitic violence in the streets of major U.S. cities and antisemitic rhetoric in the halls of Congress, Blake Flayton’s recent piece for The Bulwark offers a timely reminder that both sides of the aisle must condemn hatred against Jews—even when doing so isn’t politically expedient. “Those so quick to (rightly) condemn Marjorie Taylor Greene for her theory about the Rothschilds’ secret space lasers can’t seem to concern themselves with throngs of ‘Pro-Palestinian’ demonstrators in Los Angeles attacking Jewish men on the street simply for being Jewish,” Flayton writes. “They’re not speaking up when marchers for Palestinian liberation attribute Israel to Nazi Germany and call for its destruction. They’re not speaking up when Jews are assaulted in Times Square for holding an Israeli flag, or when a firecracker is thrown in The Diamond District at visibly Jewish people.”

  • A Floridian himself, National Review’s Charlie Cooke is generally a fan of Gov. Ron DeSantis. But he’s not a fan of the bill targeting Big Tech that DeSantis signed into law this week. “Yes, Twitter, Facebook, and Google are precisely the hives of hypocrisy and inconsistency that their critics say they are. But, under present American law, those companies are allowed to be hives of hypocrisy and inconsistency—not only as a result of statutes such as Section 230, but as a result of the plain text of the First Amendment itself,” Cooke wrote a few weeks ago. “To force private entities to host or disseminate speech that they abhor is, ultimately, to force them to violate their conscience.”

  • Friend of Advisory Opinions Marina Koren breaks alien-loving hearts everywhere in her latest for The Atlantic, where she outlines a few very rational, very terrestrial explanations for unidentified flying objects ahead of the Pentagon’s UFO briefing to Congress next month. While the studies of ufology and extraterrestrial intelligence both occupy important places in academia, they’re largely distinct from one another. “Many mundane objects can masquerade as something otherworldly: experimental aircraft, atmospheric quirks, drones, balloons, even the planet Venus,” Koren writes. “Camera glitches and distortions can manifest something that isn’t really there. Consider these explanations, and the magic starts to dissipate.”

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Toeing the Company Line

  • In a short-and-sweet Tuesday Uphill, Haley offers an update on congressional haggling over a potential police reform compromise. Sen. Tim Scott “sounded optimistic about the talks on Monday night,” Haley writes, when he told reporters that he and Democratic Rep. Karen Bass and Sen. Cory Booker made progress over the weekend. The biggest question now might not be whether the working group can reach a deal, but whether it’s one progressives in the House are willing to support. 

  • Sarah’s latest Sweep offers a smorgasbord of recent Dispatch 2022 Senate campaign offerings: Andrew’s piece on Missouri, Audrey’s on Alabama, and Ryan’s on Pennsylvania. Sarah also walks through why the path back to a GOP Senate isn’t necessarily as easy as it might seem: “Republicans already have four big retirements to deal with … and that doesn’t count either Iowa’s Chuck Grassley (who is 87 years old) or Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson (who said in 2016 he wouldn’t run again), neither of whom have yet declared their intentions.”

  • David provided his own take on Florida’s new social media law in his French Press yesterday, and he didn’t mince words. “One of the incredibly bizarre developments of this dysfunctional modern time is the extent to which a faction of the Republican Party is now rejecting the crown achievements of the conservative legal movement,” he writes. “Increasingly, the GOP is looking at remarkable legal advances in the fight against speech codes, against government regulation of corporate speech, and against government-mandated viewpoint discrimination—and declaring that it prefers power over liberty. It wants more government control over speech. It wants speech codes.”

  • On the site today: Jonah confronts the disconnect between GOP arguments about last summer’s riots around the country and the January 6 attack on the Capitol. And Dan Lips writes about the Senate’s sweeping research and competition bill and potential new security measures for higher education.

Let Us Know

Most of your Morning Dispatchers worked together in person from the Dispatch office for the first time in over a year yesterday, and it was great. Are any of your workplaces still holding on to full remote work? If so, how do you feel about that? Are you eager to get back, or dreading the prospect of having to start, say, ironing your shirts again?

Reporting by Declan Garvey (@declanpgarvey), Andrew Egger (@EggerDC), Haley Byrd Wilt (@byrdinator), Audrey Fahlberg (@FahlOutBerg), Charlotte Lawson (@charlotteUVA), Ryan Brown (@RyanP_Brown), and Steve Hayes (@stephenfhayes).

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The Dispatch Staff