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Stirewaltisms: Of Gifts and Grifts
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Stirewaltisms: Of Gifts and Grifts

While many of us want to pull back from the excesses of political savagery, others plunge headlong into the bloody fray.

Marjorie Taylor Greene, Tucker Carlson, and former President Donald Trump. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire/Getty Images.)

At a time of year when most of us are quoting lines from a famous work by Charles Dickens, I have been thinking about some other well-worn words from another of his books:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. … Some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

It’s not that I think the guillotines are about to come out like in the Paris of Dickens’ description in A Tale of Two Cities, but I have been very much reminded this year of the human tendency to see things in too-stark terms and how that screws up our politics so badly.

Longtime readers will know my bugaboo about the arrogance of apocalypticism, but for those who have never been subjected, I’ll recapitulate it quickly: The members of every civilization, every generation, every graduating class, etc., are prone to believe that they represent the pinnacle of achievement and are the product of a refining evolutionary process. The bad part about feeling like the culmination of history is that history will go on after you are gone, so the same arrogance that causes us to believe that we are the greatest ever, also requires that we think that we are close to the end.

Some baby boomers who once proclaimed that the Age of Aquarius was dawning now make ominous predictions about the future that awaits the world after their passing. This is partly their regret that they did not achieve “golden living dreams of visions, mystic crystal revelation, and the mind’s true liberation,” but mostly just life stuff. When they were annoying their parents with that flummery 50 years ago, the folks now in their 70s had little idea how hard it would be to just live a good and happy life. Looking back at their own struggles and hearing the flummery of young people today, they may conclude that the world is about to spin off its axis. Such is the condign punishment for many headstrong generations.

Some things do end, some things are the greatest, some things are the worst, some beginnings are auspicious, it’s just that we don’t usually know in real time. We all have moments in our lives or in the little fraction of history we get to experience when we knew that something BIG was happening. But not usually. Most of the time we only see the beginnings of miracles or disasters in hindsight. 

If I would have told you just one year ago that 2022’s midterm elections would be very successfully executed and that almost every candidate would accept the results, you might have rightly expressed great relief. And that’s exactly what happened. This week, Congress passed, with strong bipartisan support, legislation slamming the door on the cockamamie claims from the coup plotters of 2021. Looked at one way, it’s a year too long in coming. Looked at in the broader context, though, it is a cause for real celebration. It’s easy to see how that one could have slipped through the cracks. 

Indeed, the amount of big, bipartisan legislation—for good or for ill—in this Congress suggests that we are not going deeper into our partisan holes, but rather that we are starting to emerge, like naked mole rats blinking against harsh daylight. Or look at the growing number of “crossover” House members: representatives of a different party from their district’s most recent presidential preference.

And yet … we also live in a time when greedy grifters seem to be everywhere. We live in a time of scammy PACs, NFTs, MTG, SBF, and AOC. All of the worst impulses toward demagoguery, bad faith, and deception that have ever been on display in American history are very much with us now. While many Americans seem determined to pull back from the excesses of political savagery that are putting our republic at risk, others plunge headlong into the bloody fray. 

Certainly Dickens would recognize our former president now seeking a return to power: “Noisiest authorities … for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.” But Donald Trump is only an interstate billboard version of much of the superlative abuse in politics that we see. 

Good politics and government are boring compared to the Biff Tannen’s Pleasure Paradise Casino & Hotel version on offer from Trump and the other superlative abusers right and left who preach looming apocalypse. They absolutely may be right, and are certainly doing their part to make it so. But we don’t know. And we may never know, because, God willing, this republic’s greatest glories still lay far in the future. 

And there lies the secret to good citizenship. We do this work without the sure knowledge that it will endure. We plant trees the shade from which we will never enjoy, but do so for posterity, because we wish to leave a legacy of freedom, self-determination, and peace to the generations that come after us. Some day, this American empire of liberty will end. But not today, so we are obliged to build and work as if it would last forever.

I thank you for the work you do for that, and for your generous support for the little labors we do here. We will be on hiatus next week for Christmas, but will return in the New Year. I hope you have time to enjoy the best of everything with the people you love most. For those of you who can’t, I pray for your comfort and send along these famous words that so often apply to our own lives and our nation.

“Until then, we’ll have to muddle through somehow …”


Holy croakano! We welcome your feedback, so please email us with your tips, corrections, reactions, amplifications, etc. at STIREWALTISMS@THEDISPATCH.COM. If you’d like to be considered for publication, please include your real name and hometown. If you don’t want your comments to be made public, please specify.


STATSHOT

Biden Job Performance

Average approval: 42.8%
Average disapproval: 52.6%
Net score: -9.8 points                            
Change from one week ago: ↑ 0.4 points                                    
Change from one month ago: ↑ 3.4 points

[Average includes: Fox News: 44% approve-56% disapprove; USA Today/Suffolk: 45% approve, 52% disapprove; Quinnipiac: 43% approve-49% disapprove; Monmouth: 43% approve-50% disapprove; Reuters/Ipsos: 39% approve-56% disapprove] 

Polling Roulette


TIME OUT: CONIFER CONSPIRACIES
Curbed: “Christmas trees are big business in New York. A lot of people see the quaint plywood shacks that appear on sidewalks just before Thanksgiving, each with its own tiny forest of evergreens, and they imagine that every one is independently owned, maybe by jolly families of lumberjacks looking to make a few holiday bucks. That’s what I thought, anyway. In reality, a few eccentric, obsessed, sometimes ruthless tycoons control the sale of almost every single tree in the city. They call themselves ‘tree men’… I learned early on that they’ve carved up the city into territories, that the same Christmas tree can sell for four times as much in Soho as in Staten Island and that turf wars aren’t uncommon. … Underneath the ribbons and the tinsel, the New York Christmas-tree business is a complicated and sometimes dangerous game with a sordid history. … Theft, sabotage, and at least one murder have been committed in the Christmas-tree game. I almost died myself, selling them.” 


GRANITE STATE DEMS BATTLE TO SAVE ‘FIRST IN NATION’ PRIMARY
Politico: “The New Hampshire Democratic Party is escalating its public battle to maintain its first-in-the-nation primary status, calling the recent proposal to reorder the Democratic presidential nominating calendar a ‘poison pill.’ … Biden does not have a strong electoral track record in New Hampshire. He came in fifth there in 2020, before mounting a comeback in South Carolina, with its heavily Black Democratic electorate. But the rules committee vote met resistance from New Hampshire backers, including Democratic elected officials who are furious about the change. [Sen. Jeanne Shaheen] called the plan ‘tremendously disappointing’ and [Sen. Maggie Hassan] cast it as ‘deeply misguided.’ … The chair laid out the myriad challenges for New Hampshire to comply with the DNC’s requirements, including Republican trifecta control of its state government and Gov. Chris Sununu’s declaration of the plan as ‘dead on arrival.’”


Daniels contemplates Indiana Senate bid: New York Times: Mitch Daniels, 73, is ‘fascinated by the idea’ of running for office again, his allies have said, and is now weighing a run for the Senate seat that will soon be vacated by Mike Braun, who is running for governor in Indiana. … Could this be a perfect test of whether old-school Midwestern conservatism still has a place in Republican politics? … And if a new poll released on Sunday is any indication, Daniels still has plenty of fans. The poll, by Bellwether Research, a firm run by his former pollster, found that 32 percent of registered Republican voters in Indiana preferred the Purdue president over a field of four other potential candidates, including Representative Jim Banks. … For those who don’t remember Daniels, he is revered among conservative intellectuals as a principled thought leader within the Republican Party.”

Run Romney run? Utahn considers second term: Politico: “Many of Mitt Romney’s fellow senators assume his willingness to break from his party — and Donald Trump — means he’s planning for only one term. They may be surprised. … Whether he could win is ‘frankly, not a question in my mind,’ Romney said in an interview. ‘I’ve faced long odds: Getting the nomination in 2012 was a long shot, becoming a Republican governor in one of the most liberal states in America, Massachusetts. … So I’m convinced that if I run, I win. But that’s a decision I’ll make.’ … Romney’s biggest threat is more likely to come in a primary than in the general election. With the state attorney general among the conservatives eyeing a challenge, Utah’s voters are near evenly split over whether Romney should run again. … McConnell already demonstrated he’s willing to defend an anti-Trump Republican against an intraparty challenge.”

Shifting Milwaukee suburbs hold key to Wisconsin victory: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: “It has been eight years since Republican Scott Walker won his last big victory for governor, and the coalition that elected him in Wisconsin three times is showing major leaks. No community illustrates this better than Walker’s onetime home, the populous Milwaukee suburb of Wauwatosa. Walker won Wauwatosa by 5 percentage points in 2014. Then he lost it by 16 in 2018. And in last month’s race for governor, Republican Tim Michels lost it by 40. … If the Democratic collapse in rural western and northern Wisconsin was the most dramatic feature of the state’s 2016 election map, then the unchecked Republican decline in suburban southern Wisconsin is the most arresting feature of the 2022 map. … These broad trends don’t make Democratic victories in statewide Wisconsin elections inevitable.” 

Long Island congressman-elect’s biography in tatters: New York Times:George Santos, whose election to Congress on Long Island last month helped Republicans clinch a narrow majority in the House of Representatives, built his candidacy on the notion that he was the ‘full embodiment of the American dream.’ … But a New York Times review of public documents and court filings from the United States and Brazil, as well as various attempts to verify claims that Mr. Santos, 34, made on the campaign trail, calls into question key parts of the résumé that he sold to voters. … Citigroup and Goldman Sachs, the marquee Wall Street firms on Mr. Santos’s campaign biography, told The Times they had no record of his ever working there. Officials at Baruch College, which Mr. Santos has said he graduated from in 2010, could find no record of anyone matching his name and date of birth graduating that year. There was also little evidence that his animal rescue group, Friends of Pets United, was, as Mr. Santos claimed, a tax-exempt organization.”

BRIEFLY
Spending deal highlights fractures in House GOP—Wall Street Journal

Bipartisan Electoral Count Act key addition to omnibus—The Hill

MAGA Republicans snub Zelenskyy on House floor—Politico

Dems pick nominee to replace deceased congressman for safe seat—New York Times

Armed with state-government trifecta, Michigan Dems plan to go big—Politico

Dem consultants ditch Sinema after she drops party label—HuffPost

WITHIN EARSHOT: FRENEMIES EDITION
House side: “I’ve been aligned with Marjorie and accused of believing a lot of the things that she believes in. I don’t believe in this, just like I don’t believe in Russian space lasers, Jewish space lasers and all of this.”—Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., taking a dig at her former ally and heckling companion Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, RGa., in response to a reporter’s  question about Greene’s support of Kevin McCarthy’s speakership bid. 

Senate side: “Statements like that and statements coming from House Republicans is the very reason that some Senate Republicans feel they should probably spare them from the burden of having to govern.”—Sen. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota responding to a reporter about Kevin McCarthy’s threat to block Senate Republican bills if they back the omnibus package.


MAILBAG

“After reading your most recent Stirewaltism, I had a question: You suggested that neither Trump nor DeSantis had the political strength to scare off other potential primary challengers. Looking at the RCP averages, it appears to me to be a clear Trump vs. DeSantis vs. the Field, as of right now. I’m curious as to your thinking on why DeSantis’s clear lead over everyone not named Trump won’t scare off others. Is this because of the incredible psychedelic drug known as Presidential Ambition? Or do you think that different groups of potential candidates have reasons for still running (such as former governors and Trump Cabinet members, i.e.: Larry Hogan and Mike Pompeo, running now because their ability to stay politically relevant is limited now that they are out of office, while others, like John Bolton, Mike Pence, and Liz Cheney would run specifically to go after Trump) that overrides their concern over how strong DeSantis appears to be as of now?”—Jared Painter, Westerville, Ohio

Great question, Mr. Painter! At this point in a presidential cycle, polls are of only modest value. That’s for a number of reasons, including: still-low name identification among many candidates, the wide variance of candidates included in different polls, and the fact that many likely voters are not engaged in any meaningful way. This period—the invisible primary, the pre-primary , or whatever you like to call it—is the domain of namers of names and listers of lists. We try to take that role seriously here, which means we don’t do much of it. Whatever I would say is going to happen as it relates to specific candidates is almost certainly wrong, even if I end up being quite right about the shape of the race, the condition of the party, and the attitudes of the electorates. None of the top five candidates in a January, 2015 poll conducted by Fox News would go on to win a single delegate. The Republican Party is in a very different state of mind eight years later, so the mistaken assumptions will move in different directions, but they will be mistaken still. The reason DeSantis won’t scare off the others is, yes, ambition, but also because DeSantis’ lead is still very theoretical. DeSantis vaulted out of COVID as the media champion: beloved by Fox Newsers and the rest of the right-wing press and a famous villain to the rest of the mainstream media. As Scott Walker learned in 2015, that can change quickly. DeSantis has different strengths and weaknesses, but you get the point. Voters don’t know what they want because they don’t really know who is running . Donors and political junkies often try to run past the electorate and are then surprised when normal people move at their own pace. Trump is the greatest proof of that, but others in that cycle and nearly every cycle in the primary era proves the case. Long after we dismiss the Ben Carsons, Mike Huckabees, Pat Robertsons, Ron Pauls, and Herman Cains, voters are only really just finding out about them and beginning to explore their potential. It is just one of the many, many drawbacks of the primary system as operated for the past four decades. The parties parade themselves around for the benefits of media coverage and then watch as the weirdest, most media-enticing candidates rise to the top. The nominees of both parties end up being famous no matter what. Why the heck would you make the ability to get famous quickly such an important part of candidate selection?


You should email us! Write to STIREWALTISMS@THEDISPATCH.COM with your tips, kudos, criticisms, insights, rediscovered words, wonderful names, recipes and, always, good jokes. Please include your real name—at least first and last—and hometown. Make sure to let me know in the email if you want to keep your submission private. My colleague, the Yuletastic Nate Moore, and I will look for your emails and then share the most interesting ones and my responses here. Clickety clack!



CUTLINE CONTEST: INCA DINKA DOO

(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images.)
(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images.)

People are saying that this may have been the best week in Cutline Contest history. What a showing! You guys really closed out the year on with a flourish. Of course, our generous patron, Managing Editor Rachael Larimore, provided you with a real feast for the eyes. It was a photo of an unusual-looking person, making an unusual gesture, while doing an unusual thing, in an unusual place: former President Donald Trump looking to the back of the room as he announced the sale of $99 digital images of himself dressed up in costumes at a press conference at the Hispano-Moresque-style mansion built for a cereal heiress where Trump lives and which he operates as a business, and is the focus of a criminal investigation regarding Trump’s mishandling of state secrets. If you couldn’t do something with that, you wouldn’t have been worth your club sauce. But our winner and the runners up exceeded even those high expectations. While I usually prefer simple jokes over conceptual ones, this week’s winner gave us a word picture fit for an emperor.

Winner:
“Señor Donaldo Pizarro y Trump indicates to the MAGA tribe how high they must pile the gold tribute before he will release his hostage, Pence-ahualpa.”—Chris Lee, Corvallis, Oregon

Winner, Knights Who Say “Ni!” Division:
“The Least Popular Trump NFT: ‘Trump Demonstrates Ideal Christmas Tree Height’”—Tripp Whitbeck, Arlington, Virginia

Winner, Retina Rage Division:
“My laser beam eyes will incinerate you unless you turn down that light now.”—Dennis Trask, St. Louis, Missouri

Winner, The Grift That Keeps on Grifting Division:
“Yep! The money pile is now *this* tall!”—Jack Funke, Poplar Bluff, Missouri

Winner, Madison’s Lament Division:
“Folks, haven’t we had it up to here with the Constitution?”—Lynne Van Horn, Yakima, Washington

Winner, Ripped From the Headlines Division:
“The pile of classified documents I shouldn’t have taken from the White House came up to here.”—Nathan Wurtzel, South Riding, Virginia

Winner, When You’re Short on Your Dough Division:
“Donald Trump provides the ‘C’ as he leads the crowd in the singing of the Village People’s Y.M.C.A.”—Richard Basuk, New York, New York

That also brings us to this month’s contest winner. We won’t be with you next week as Nate and I spend some time with the folks who we love even more than we love you, gentle readers. Your entries for this week’s contest will roll over to January. December’s winner kept it simple and perfectly matched the picture of a chagrined-looking and comfortably attired Barack Obama campaigning with a cheery and suited Rapahel Warnock. Reader Bob Lepine of Little Rock, Arkansas came down the chimney with this gift to us all: “Your email said we were going business casual.” Please send us your address, Mr. Lepine, so that we can send you your prize: What appears to be a towel (!) promoting Obama’s first presidential bid. 

To enter next month’s contest, send your proposed cutline for the picture that appears at the top of this newsletter to STIREWALTISMS@THEDISPATCH.COM. We will pick the top entrants and an appropriate reward for the best of next month—even beyond the glory and adulation that will surely follow. Be hilarious, don’t be too dirty, and never be cruel. Include your full name and hometown. Have fun!


EYE OF NEWT, HAIR OF MARADONA
New York Times: “In recent weeks, hundreds, if not thousands of Argentine women who call themselves ‘brujas,’ or witches, have taken up arms — in the form of prayers, altars, candles, amulets and burning sage — to protect their nation’s beloved soccer team in its quest to secure a third World Cup title. … Several witches started a WhatsApp group to instruct other witches on how to help the national team. They called it the Argentine Association of Witches, or La Brujineta, a play on ‘bruja’ and ‘La Scaloneta,’ Argentina’s nickname for its national team. … ‘We got tired of being closet witches,’ said Andrea Maciel, 28, a witch and graphic designer in Buenos Aires. The witches said their main focus is to use rituals to absorb negative energy from Argentina’s players and exchange it with good energy. … While many of the witches said they are working to look after Messi and his teammates, others are attempting to cast spells on opposing players, particularly the goalkeepers.” 

Chris Stirewalt is a contributing editor at The Dispatch, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and the author of Broken News, a new book on media and politics. Nate Moore contributed to this report.

Chris Stirewalt is a contributing editor at The Dispatch, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, the politics editor for NewsNation, co-host of the Ink Stained Wretches podcast, and author of Broken News, a book on media and politics.