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Stirewaltisms: Wee Bits for St. Patrick’s Day
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Stirewaltisms: Wee Bits for St. Patrick’s Day

Plus: Rejected ballots in Texas and Senate primaries get nasty.

SOME WEE BITS FOR ST. PATRICK’S DAY 

There are a lot of ways you could describe President Biden’s political style, but a neglected one is “Irish.” You could say that the Kennedys or Tip O’Neill or Kevin White were “Boston” politicians, but what about Richard Daley, Al Smith, and Mike Mansfield? Politics is high art among Irish Americans, particularly the Roman Catholic side of the family. Often denied the chance to participate politically in their native land, Irish immigrants of the 19th century and early 20th century organized with real enthusiasm and swiftly changed American politics from the city ward to the White House. And that’s not even touching on the Protestant side and leaders like Ronald Reagan and Andrew Jackson

Whatever your own heritage, if you’re fascinated by American politics, you owe a debt to Ireland. No single ethnic group has contributed more than Irish Americans to the practice of the profession. It is a fine day, then, for some newsy nuggets that will be easily digestible along with whatever you’re toasting with today. Céad míle fáilte!

Friend trend: I’ve got my beefs with YouGov’s polling for sure, but even a bad poll is useful if it’s conducted consistently. Like this from the New York Times: “In recent years, American attitudes toward Ukraine have shifted more than toward any other country. When the poll tested U.S. attitudes on Ukraine in September 2019, 36 percent of registered voters were not sure whether Ukraine was friendly or unfriendly. That’s a higher share than for nearly any of the other thousands of instances when YouGov asked voters what they thought about a country over the last five years. Only 41 percent called the nation friendly or an ally. Now, only 10 percent aren’t sure whether Ukraine is friendly, a lower tally than for almost any other country. Nearly 70 percent of Americans now consider Russia an enemy, more than for any other country in the survey, including North Korea and Iran.” And that was before Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s address to Congress.

Party down: How much is brain-dead partisanship hurting America? Just look at right track/wrong track polling, where we see 40-point swings among partisans after a presidential election. The presidency is a very powerful institution, no doubt, but if you believe that the outcome of one presidential election is that important to whether America succeeds or fails, you are part of the problem. Our advantages and disadvantages are mostly in the nature and character (or lack thereof) of our people; political leaders do far more to reflect those traits than to shape them. 

Dynamic duo: I relied on a Fox News poll for my Monday column on Georgia’s Republican gubernatorial primary. Kudos to the network for sticking with its great bipartisan pollster team of Chris Anderson and Daron Shaw even as its corporate cousins at the Wall Street Journal dumped their longtime partnership with NBC News and replaced venerable GOP polling firm Public Opinion Strategies with Trump pollster Tony Fabrizio for its red-team representative.

Counted out: In what may be a sign of things to come, the number of rejected mail-in ballots was sky high for Texas’ March 1 primary. The AP reports that 22,898 mail-in ballots, about 13 percent of the total, were discarded across 187 counties. Rejection rates are typically below 5 percent. It seems a big part of the problem was voters failing to follow instructions around new personal identification numbers. Republicans may be happy to hear that the rejection rate was higher in Democratic-leaning counties (15 percent) than in Republican counties (9 percent). But GOPers shouldn’t ignore the broader implications. Older, less-educated voters tend to be the ones who struggle the most to changes in voting rules. In places where the Republican coalition relies heavily on voters like these, complexity may work to the red team’s disadvantage. 


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: 42.6 percent
Average disapproval: 53.4 percent
Net score: -10.8 points
Change from one week ago: ↓ 1.6 points

[Average includes: Ipsos: 43% approve-53% disapprove; Quinnipiac University: 40% approve-53% disapprove; Pew Research Center: 43% approve-55% disapprove; Ipsos: 45% approve-49% disapprove; Wall Street Journal: 42% approve-57% disapprove]

Generic congressional ballot 

Democrats: 42.2 percent
Republicans: 45.4 percent
Net advantage: Republican Party +3.2
Change from one week ago: Republican Party ↑ 0.8 points

[Average includes: Wall Street Journal: 41% Democrat, 46% Republican; ABC News/Washington Post: 42% Democrat, 49% Republican; Fox News: 45% Democrat, 49% Republican; Quinnipiac University: 44% Democrat, 46% Republican; USA Today/Suffolk University: 39% Democrat, 37% Republican]


TIME OUT: FOOD FOR TALK

The Atlantic: “You don’t have to lick your smack-talking friend to know they’re salty, nor must you nibble on the Hollywood celebrity who took the lead role in a Broadway play to know their performance is hammy. Gym rats with no genetic relationship to cows are beefy, and fishy situations arise all the time in environments completely unsuitable for marine life. … What’s the difference between cheesy and corny? And what does that have to do with the difference between cheese and corn? … The difference in gustatory experience also aptly illustrates the subtle semantic distinction between the two: something corny might be light and sweet, but ultimately small and insignificant, whereas something cheesy pours on a heavy and pleasing coat of coagulated fat to disguise a lack of substantive meat.”


GOP GOVERNORS WALK THIN LINE ON ECONOMIC HAPPY TALK 

New York Times: “In speeches and media appearances, Republican governors are savaging President Biden for policies they say are wrecking the U.S. economy as a whole. But in the particulars — in their own states, in other words — the economy’s booming. Somehow, in states as different as Maryland, Florida, Massachusetts and Arizona, Republican governors suggest they’ve found a magic formula for fostering booming growth and reducing unemployment back home. … States run by Republicans have seen their employment levels recover faster as they have emerged from the pandemic, observed Adam Kamins, a senior director of economic research at Moody’s Analytics. But he added that deeper structural issues — demographic patterns, the affordability of housing — have played a larger role in buoying growth in states like Idaho and Utah than any specific policies.”

Senate primary campaigns get nasty: Politico: “For Republicans, there are more than a dozen states where GOP candidates are attacking each other in bids for Senate nominations, while Democrats have unresolved primaries in just two key states — neither of which have turned vicious yet. … The difference is especially pronounced in Pennsylvania. As the Democratic frontrunners Lt. Gov. John Fetterman and Rep. Conor Lamb run ads arguing why they can win in one of the nation’s top battleground states, GOP candidates there have dropped a record-shattering $35 million on TV — the vast majority coming from Mehmet Oz and Dave McCormick, the leading Republicans, whose camps are framing the other as a “liberal RINO” and “Wall Street insider,” respectively. … Oz and McCormick began spending millions of dollars in December on advertisements introducing themselves to voters. By January, the two camps were already running negative ads against each other for a May 17 primary — to the glee of Democrats who are contesting Pennsylvania and other tightly divided states for control of the 50-50 Senate in November.”

BBB needs a re-BBBrand: New York Times: “After offering her customary lavish praise of President Biden, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi got to the business at hand at a White House meeting last month on the midterm elections. Democrats, Ms. Pelosi told Mr. Biden and a group of his aides, need a more succinct and consistent message. The speaker, who has long been fond of pithy, made-for-bumper-sticker mantras, offered a suggestion she had heard from members: Democrats deliver. … What Ms. Pelosi did not fully detail that February evening was that some of her party’s most politically imperiled lawmakers were revolting against Mr. Biden’s preferred slogan, “Build back better,” believing it had come to be a toxic phrase that only reminded voters of the party’s failure to pass its sweeping social policy bill. And what the president and his advisers did not tell the speaker was that they had already surveyed “Democrats deliver” with voters — and the response to it was at the bottom of those for the potential slogans they tested…”

BRIEFLY

RIP Vic Fazio, former California congressman renowned for his dealmaking—Sacramento Bee

Mehmet Oz says he will renounce Turkish citizenship if elected to Senate—Fox News

Widow of Minnesota Republican representative makes headaches for GOP—Politico

WITHIN EARSHOT: DEEP DISH 

“My d***  is bigger than yours and the Italians, I have the biggest d***  in Chicago.” — Mayor Lori Lightfoot who is currently being sued for defamation by former Chicago Park District counsel general George Smyrniotis after allegedly berating him over the removal of a Christopher Columbus statue, as reported by WGN.


MAILBAG

“Building on [the March 10] newsletter’s comment section the discussions of constitutional amendments and term limits stirred up an old idea. With all the heat over confirming judges with lifetime appointments do you think an amendment fixing their terms at, say, 18 years would gather bipartisan support? Very clean, simple, and hopefully lowers the temperatures a bit.—Jeff Fink, Evansville, Indiana

It seems logical, Mr. Fink, that a limit on Supreme Court terms would produce a  corresponding decrease in acrimony over appointments, but I’m not so sure. With the pending retirement of Justice Stephen Breyer, only one member of the court, Clarence Thomas, will have served longer than 18 years. Justices have been starting younger in recent years, so we may see extremely long terms in the future, but I still think that 18 years is more than enough time to produce equivalent levels of rancor to those of lifetime appointments. Look at the battles over Cabinet nominations that won’t even serve full four-year terms or the intensity over special elections for unexpired terms in the Senate and House. I like the lifetime appointment for the Supreme Court for what it does to free justices from the danger of worrying about what comes next. It would be a bad scene to have justices leaving the bench and going to work for clients who had business before the court. They aren’t killing it at $274,200 a year, but it’s very pleasant work, especially in the Roberts era of comity and deference. If they want to stay until they turn 80, I say let them hang out. 

“In your most recent Stirewaltisms, you express hope that Republicans pick a governor for 2024. What do you think of popular former governors without the Trump baggage, in the mold of, say Bill Haslam? (He’s not personally expressed interest so far as I know, and he declined to run for Senate last cycle, but  what would you think of someone generally in that mold?)”—Brian Kaul, Knoxville, Tennessee 

Whoa now, Mr. Kaul! I said “Republicans would be well-advised to pick a governor for 2024.” It may seem like a small difference, but to me, there’s a lot of space between observing and hoping. I do my best to stay away from hoping for anything in politics much beyond some decency and the competent execution of elections. Partisans should do whatever they like, and I will try to call balls and strikes. All that said, Haslam is a very impressive potential candidate. He’s got a record of achievement in your home state and a very easy manner that works well in contentious situations. Haslam’s book last year, Faithful Presence, also points to his potential strength with conservative Christian voters in GOP primaries. Nor does it hurt that he is richer than Croesus. If Haslam opts to run, he will get a serious look from the people looking for candidates of good character and a serious conservatism.

“Should the elections of all federal offices—the president, House and Senate—be publicly funded? No more campaign donations from corporations, unions, special interests and what not.”—Richard Baier, Pataskala, Ohio

Heaven help us, Mr. Baier! There is a lot that is wrong with America’s current campaign finance scheme. Right now, one of our biggest problems is that as a result of campaign finance restrictions, outside groups with unlimited budgets play an oversized role in campaign advertising. The counterweight against what Democrats call “dark money”  are small-dollar donations generated from highly engaged users online to candidates and parties. The problem is that the best way to obtain those contributions is to engage in demagoguery and emphasize fear and hate. To get attention to drive donations, candidates and incumbents do and say crazy things to generate online and media buzz. Publicly financed elections are appealing because of the promise of a level playing field. In America, that would first require a constitutional amendment limiting free speech for other individuals and groups so that they could not engage in outside spending. Assuming that could be accomplished, I’m still not sure it would be a good idea. For a long time, the conventional wisdom around restricting campaign contributions was that politicians did things that were not in the interests of their constituents because they wanted to gain favor with big donors. Certainly that was, and still is, a problem. It seems to me, though, the bigger problem we have right now is that politicians do things that are not in the interests of their entire constituencies or of the country as a whole out of a desire to please the most important special interest group of all: high frequency primary voters. If you were to “take money out of politics”  by banning political contributions and passing a constitutional amendment forbidding anybody else from spending any money to say anything about government, there would be even less incentive for candidates to forgo demagoguery. The need to raise money acts as a check on some of politicians’ baser instincts. Large-dollar donors tend to dislike radicalism generally, even as they tend to favor radical self-interest on narrow issues related to their own concerns. Rage-click donations have muted that effect to some degree, but in a world where there was no “donor class,” I bet the radicalism and brain-dead partisanship of our current climate would be worse, not better. Ending contributions would also be a huge boon to already-advantaged incumbents who would bring superior name recognition and a platform for higher visibility to every election. The only way around that would be to have higher name identification before taking on an incumbent. I see a world of more celebrity candidates and more demagogic incumbents with publicly financed elections. One day soon, I promise I will lay out my idea for campaign finance, but I can tell you in advance it will be about as unpopular as a Pitt jersey on High Street on a game day.  


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 anonymous. My colleague, the indispensable Samantha Goldstein, and I will look for your emails and then share the most interesting ones and my responses here. Clickety clack! 


CUTLINE CONTEST: SPIRIT FINGERS 

“We don’t have mask mandates in Texas but I still use hand sanitizer—look!”—Reginald Killingley, Big Sandy, Texas

Honorable mention:

“So how does this Jazz Hands thing work again?”—Luke Sherman, West Allis, Wisconsin

Readers should send in their 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 this 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! 


OH, IF YOU WERE JUST LICKING THEM, THAT’S FINE 

WTVT: “A Florida teacher was suspended, reassigned to a different school and now faces charges after being accused of biting two students over a jar of pickles. … According to the affidavit, last October, [middle school teacher Rhonda Rice] was in her classroom when she observed two students taking items from the kitchen/storage area. Rice then grabbed a jar of pickles off the shelf and the students thought she was taking them for herself. One student grabbed the jar in an attempt to place it back on the shelf when Rice bit him in order to release the jar, according to the affidavit. The second student then also tried to grab the jar and Rice bit him as well. The school district said last November, the two students reported Rice. Rice told the school district she was ‘playing with both students over the jar of pickles’ and when they grabbed it, she ‘licked their arms to get them off.’”

Chris Stirewalt is a contributing editor at The Dispatch, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and the author of Broken News, a book on media and politics available August 23. Samantha Goldstein 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.