Skip to content
Stirewaltisms: Ukraine Scandal Catches Up to Trump
Go to my account

Stirewaltisms: Ukraine Scandal Catches Up to Trump

Volodymyr Zelensky has become a household name in America, and there is no more ambiguity about the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

STIREWALTISMS: UKRAINE SCANDAL CATCHES UP TO TRUMP

American politics is not quite on hold this week, but we are definitely processing.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine will have dramatic effects on American political attitudes, but we don’t know exactly in what way. President Joe Biden should expect some increase in support as Americans show bipartisan unity in support of the Ukrainian struggle. It’s been many years since we’ve seen this kind of consensus on a major issue, and traditional political rules hold that such unity should be to the benefit of the president.

But Biden is attempting to use that goodwill to try to restart his stalled domestic agenda. This looks like a pretty obvious mistake, especially given the unlikelihood of Congress doing anything of substance for the remainder of this election year. It would seem far wiser for Biden to instead be focused almost entirely on his showdown with Russian ruler Vladimir Putin. Particularly given Biden’s stumble in Afghanistan, now would be a very good time for the president to lean heavily into his job as commander in chief.

This month will see big changes across the country in coronavirus restrictions, too. Will Americans experience relief in a great enough share to shift the discussion? Will high energy prices rob voters of the benefits of a rapidly improving economy? Primary season is now underway. Will personal attacks and performative kookishness reinforce voter concerns about the weirdness of the Republican Party?

Those factors would all have been at play heading into springtime, but having the invasion of Ukraine laid over top of them is likely to produce some changes in direction and intensity. We just can’t know yet how much. There is one thing we do know for certain, though.

Donald Trump’s first impeachment was a hard sell for House Democrats because it required Americans to know enough about Ukraine to be bothered by Trump’s attempted extortion of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

American voters have very low expectations of Trump’s character. The fact, for instance, that his campaign paid hush money to a pornography performer to stay quiet about their tryst was met with something of a collective shrug. Because of a combination of intense partisan siloing and Trump having already anesthetized the electorate to his bad behavior, it was hard to generate too much outrage over his bad acts beyond the third of the country that was perpetually outraged.

Like his former friend, Bill Clinton, Trump had already managed to exhaust the American public’s reserve of moral indignation. When the story broke about him dangling military aid over Zelensky’s head, there weren’t even that many Republicans  who bothered to defend Trump and his “perfect” phone call. The GOP rationalization was that the Trump administration ultimately released the $400 million in military aid appropriated by Congress after the extortion effort came to light, and Zelensky did not provide Trump any help in the form of compromising information about Biden or announce some kind of investigation to create the appearance of scandal. Many Republicans had heard Trump propose crazier, more immoral things in private, so it seemed especially tame to them. The collective answer was “What did you expect? It’s Trump.”

For that low bar to be sufficient, though, it required considerable ambivalence and ignorance about Ukraine itself and its plight. Many Americans were aware that there was tension between Ukraine and Russia, but given the degree of corruption and confusion in previous governments in Kyiv, it was hard to tell a clear story about what Trump tried to do.

Now, though, the story is crystal clear. Zelensky has become a household name in America, and there is no more ambiguity about the Russia-Ukraine conflict. It’s also clear Trump is unwilling to throw his full support behind the effort to repulse Russia’s invasion, preferring instead to use the opportunity to denigrate his successor and continue to try to delegitimize the sitting president. It’s a mistake for Trump, who is courting a Republican Party in which support for or even neutrality toward Putin’s Russia has rapidly become untenable.

We will have to wait to see the longer-term political ramifications of the war in Ukraine, but we know already that the biggest domestic political loser on the subject is Trump.


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: 40.8 percent
Average disapproval: 53.8 percent
Net Score: -13 points
Change from one week ago: ↓ 1.8 points

[Average includes: Ipsos: 43% approve-54% disapprove; Quinnipiac University: 37% approve-52% disapprove; ABC News/Washington Post: 37% approve-55% disapprove; Ipsos: 43% approve-53% disapprove; AP-NORC: 44% approve-55% disapprove]

Generic congressional ballot 
Democrats: 42.6 percent
Republicans: 45 percent
Net advantage: Republican Party +2.4 points
Change from one week ago: Republican Party +1.6 points

[Average includes: ABC News/Washington Post: 42% Democrat, 49% Republican; Quinnipiac University: 44% Democrat, 46% Republican; Fox News: 45% Democrat, 49% Republican; USA Today/Suffolk University: 39% Democrat, 37% Republican; CNN: 43% Democrat, 44% Republican]


TIME OUT: WHAT’S SO FUNNY?

Esquire: Writer Ryan D’Agostino pushes on the sore spots with Ben Stiller in a revealing interview: “Ben Stiller had achieved all the success a person could want, and more. He got a dream job at twenty-four writing for Saturday Night Live only to leave it after four episodes, co-created The Ben Stiller Show, directed Reality Bites, starred in There’s Something About Mary and became Gaylord Focker and Derek Zoolander and the Dodgeball guy, stole his scenes in a seminal Wes Anderson film… It was a pretty amazing run. And there was a clarity to it all. He worked hard, pursued satisfying projects, and repeated the things that worked. He made Ben Stiller movies. He was always ascending. Then, starting with the cancer, he got the crap pounded out of him for a few years. His career, his marriage, his parents, his own mortality—the underpinnings of his whole life cracked, and nothing seemed clear at all anymore. And what does a person do then?”


TEXAS BRACES FOR SLEW OF RUNOFFS

CNN: “Texas Republicans will need a May runoff to decide their nominee for state attorney general after incumbent Ken Paxton fell short of clinching a majority in Tuesday’s primary, setting up a showdown with Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush in May. . ..Paxton led the four-candidate field by a comfortable margin, despite feisty and well-funded challenges from Bush, former state Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman and Rep. Louie Gohmert. … For Democrats, those contrasts have been on vivid display in the 28th Congressional District, where Rep. Henry Cuellar, one of the most conservative Democrats remaining in the House, is locked in a tight race with Jessica Cisneros, the 28-year-old immigration attorney backed by New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who nearly ousted him from the South Texas seat in 2020. … Cisneros had received a late boost in the race when it was revealed that Cuellar is under investigation by the FBI. Cuellar has denied any wrongdoing, and the specifics of the probe largely remain a mystery.”

Texas Rep. drops out amid ISIS-bride scandal: Texas Tribune: “U.S. Rep. Van Taylor, R-Plano, has decided to end his reelection campaign after he was forced into a primary runoff amid 11th-hour allegations of infidelity. Taylor made the stunning announcement Wednesday, hours after he finished his five-way primary with 49% of the vote, just missing the cutoff for winning the primary outright. The runner-up was former Collin County Judge Keith Self. … The day before the primary, the conservative outlet Breitbart News posted a story … that claims that Taylor had a monthslong affair with a Plano woman, Tania Joya, who alleged he paid her $5,000 to keep quiet. The publication reported that she provided it a phone screen shot purporting to be communications with Taylor and a bank record showing that she deposited $5,000 into her account. Taylor is married with three children. Joya is known as a former jihadist who was once married to a commander for the Islamic State. Tabloids have referred to her as ‘ISIS bride.’”

Ohio GOP puts out a long-shot redistricting map: Columbus Dispatch: “Ohio Republicans approved a new 4-year congressional map Wednesday despite pleas from Democrats to work toward a bipartisan solution. Now, the Ohio Supreme Court must decide whether the lines violate anti-gerrymandering language in the Ohio Constitution, approved overwhelmingly by voters in 2018. Without maps, Ohioans can’t vote on statehouse and congressional races in the May 3rd primary. The new map would help the GOP hold onto at least 10 of 15 seats—and win as many as 13 in a solid Republican year. … Republicans currently comprise 12 of 16 members of Ohio’s congressional delegation, but Ohio will lose a seat because its population grew at a slower rate than the nation’s over the past decade. The only seat that would flip from Republican-leaning to Democratic-leaning is the 1st congressional district, currently represented by Rep. Steve Chabot, but the seat is still very competitive.”

What it means to be a mensch: Atlantic: “It’s uncanny in retrospect that the character [Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky] played on television in the series Servant of the People—the role that foretold his actual ascendance to the presidency—is a nobody whose rise begins when a private rant is filmed and goes viral. But there is a kind of logic to this coincidence. Zelensky grabbed the attention of Ukrainians by playing out what has traditionally been the part of the Jew: the outsider. … It may have been this aspect of his Jewishness and the way it came to dovetail with those Ukrainian anxieties that made him such a suddenly popular figure, winning 73 percent of the vote in his 2019 election. … In these days of war and uncertainty, the fact that a Jew has come to represent the fighting spirit of Ukraine provides its own kind of hope. Along with all that seems to be recurring—the military aggression, the assault on freedom—there is also something new: inclusion and acceptance in a place where it once seemed impossible.” 

BRIEFLY

Mitch McConnell plays hardball with Rick ScottPolitico

Arizona State Senate censures GOP lawmaker who spoke at white nationalist rally—NPR

Former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan indicted on racketeering charges—Chicago Tribune

WITHIN EARSHOT: MAKES YOUR EYES WATER 

AP: “While we have certainly seen narcotics in produce before, it’s unusual for us to see this level of detail in the concealment.”—Sidney Aki, U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Director of Field Operations in San Diego, after seizing nearly $3 million worth of methamphetamine hidden among a shipment of onions.


MAILBAG

“It has to be difficult to write a book that has one theme and write numerous articles/newsletters at the same time without having the book bleed over into your day job. Is it difficult and how do you keep the two separate?”—Jim Lafferty, Charleston, West Virginia

Great question, Mr. Lafferty! It isn’t so much the themes, it’s the styles. There’s a kind of pacing and tone I try to use in these newsletters, which is different from the voice I use for my Monday columns, which is different from the style I prefer in writing op-eds, etc. Book writing means I can take long digressions for interesting asides and give all the detail I ever want, which is not the case when writing a 900-word column. Shifting from one mode to another can always be challenging, but when you’re in book mode for a couple of months and spending long hours writing in one style night after night, it gets even harder. I enjoyed book writing far more the second time around, but I am so relieved to be done. Though I’m already thinking about the next one… Hail, West Virginia and thanks for the note!

“As you are probably aware of, the Dispatch has an online store where Dispatch merch is sold. There are Dispatch hats, shirts, coffee mugs, and tumblers. What I would like to know is: when are we going to get a “Holy Croakano!” t-shirt?”—Jack Funke, Poplar Bluff, Missouri

Imagine the possibilities, Mr. Funke! The barbeque and salad dressing options alone boggle the mind. What about Holy Croakano Croquettes? The mind reels! 

“Being the same age as the President, I was intrigued by your argument for age limits in elected office.  The more I think about it, however, the more I think the best answer is term limits.  Something like four terms for Congress, two for the Senate and the current two for President.  The speaker and party leaders could serve one or two more terms for continuity. Term limits would take care of the age issue ultimately anyway.  And to those for whom diversity is so important, term limits would do more to bring about diversity than almost anything else.”—Dave West, Sr., Nashville, Tennessee

I think you’re probably right, Mr. West. If I had to choose between the two, I would pick term limits. But if I could actually have what I wanted, it would be to abolish primary elections, the most terrible holdover from the 1970s this side of bell bottoms. I’d repeal the 17th Amendment while I was at it, too as part of an effort to push more power down to state legislatures. So I’m well accustomed to supporting unlikely political reforms. 

“‘While our well-sorted, evenly divided electorate is hard to move on any issue, Americans still show significant tendencies to a rally-round-the-flag effect in times of crisis.’ This is absolutely a powerful effect. I know a serious liberal and American history buff with uniformly progressive opinions. But the moment that tugs most at his heartstrings is Bush in the rubble of the towers: “I can hear you, the rest of the world can hear you, and the people who knocked these buildings down are gonna hear from all of us soon.” How many people are subconsciously waiting for a reason to let surge forth their patriotic fervor which they mostly ignore or suppress? Recent events have suggested otherwise, with a trauma that has divided us. So not all crises are created equal. Are we so polarized that my friend would no longer jump from pronouns and Priuses to pledging allegiance to the flag? Because despite hating Bush about as much as anything can be hated, he yearns for that time of supposed unity and purpose. I suppose we shall see, as it doesn’t seem like the crises intend to take a break from accosting us.—Jake Jefferson, Golden, Colorado

You know the adage: “Hard times create strong men. Strong men create good times. Good times create weak men. And, weak men create hard times.” America’s astonishing wealth and power allowed us to pretend like there were no consequences for our selfish, petty public life. But the road does not go on forever and the party most certainly does end. My sincere hope is that the hardships already caused by our mean-spirited national discourse has been enough to make more strong men and women who can carry on the work of a free republic.  


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 ever-resourceful Samantha Goldstein, and I will look for your emails and then share the most interesting ones and my responses here. Clickety clack! 


CUTLINE CONTEST: NYET 

It’s a new month and that means a new cutline contest! The submissions last month were pretty dang good, and we’re expecting a lot for March. Last month’s winner is Joel Stewart from Edmonds, Oklahoma, whose caption on the photo of Punxatawny Phil on Groundhog’s Day read, “Unvaccinated groundhog is forcibly removed from ZZ Top concert.” You are now the proud owner of  a 1924 Calvin Coolidge campaign sticker. Email us with your address to redeem your prize!

This week our winner is …

“Putin listens intently to reporters asking if he has heard of Chris Stirewalt’s proposal for age limits on office holders.”—Dennis Zickerman, Sierra Vista, Arizona

Honorable mention: 

“Nostalgia for the days when Russian leaders could order impudent reporters to the Gulag Archipelago overcomes Mr. Putin.”—Bill Brockman, Kenner, Louisiana 

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! 


KICKER: THE KINK OF QUEENS

The Guardian: “New York is no stranger to noise complaints—New Yorkers file as many as 75,000 a month—but new 311 call data obtained by Patch has revealed that many recent complaints arise from those disturbed by their neighbors’ late-night ventures. From [Feb. 19, 2021] to [Feb. 9] February this year, the website reported, the official helpline received 277 complaints about noisy sex. Queens produced the most, with 103. Manhattan came second with 66 while Brooklyn produced 55, the Bronx 48 and Staten Island four. In Cross Bay Boulevard, in Queens, 56 complaints were logged about ‘hippies’ allegedly dressing up as Freddy Krueger, Pennywise and the Easter Bunny while engaging in coital revelry as the theme song of Velveteen Dream, a pro wrestler, blasted in the background. ‘They’re still here causing a sex mayhem,’ a neighbor complained one day at 6am. ‘Thought it was too cold outside for an orgy party. Doesn’t stop this guy.’”

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 due out in August. 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.