FEARS OF DOWNTURN POINT DEMS TO MIDTERM OBLIVION
The White House and Wall Street seem to be in accord that the shrunken gross domestic product in the first quarter of this year is a fluke driven by increased imports and the vagaries of the supply chain.
But when Washington tells you, as the saying goes, that “the fundamentals of the economy are strong,” it’s always a good time to make sure you’ve got plenty of canned goods in the root cellar. So, of course, this is the moment when the Federal Reserve is set to blunder in with interest rate hikes to counteract an overheated economy caused in part by its previous blunder of over-pumping.
Right now, Democrats are heading for an electoral drubbing as inflation intensifies the midterm curse for President Biden. And it’s happening with a fast-growing economy. If the optimists who say that the first-quarter contraction was a mirage and that the Fed can curb inflation by intentionally slowing down the economy just maybe happen to be wrong, then imagine what a flogging Dems are in for. A fresh recession or even a stagnant economy combined with inflation would multiply the political pain enormously for the majority party.
The problem with the business cycle is that you can delay it, but you can’t overrule it. Washington decided in bipartisan fashion that it could spend its way out of the massive economic destruction of the coronavirus pandemic. But that helped fuel the inflation that is now soaking Americans and contributing to the economic pessimism that may result in a real recession.
Democratic alarmism is reaching yet new heights, but in the short term, the alarm may still be insufficient. When a party thinks that it may be heading for a loss, it might harden its defenses and unite against the opposition. But when a party knows that as massive defeat is at hand, divisions are deepened, not concealed.
If at some point this summer, or perhaps sooner, Democrats broadly conclude that their party is going to lose four dozen House seats and control of the Senate, individuals and factions will start looking out for themselves and dumping on the other guys. Like the Republicans in 2006 and Democrats in 2010, certain defeat creates incentives for selective blame and post-defeat positioning.
Expect to hear a lot more from Democrats in the Senate and even inside the administration—looking at you, Madam Vice President—about what’s wrong with the party and Bidenism if most of the folks on the blue team conclude the rout is on.
Like a recession, it’s something of a self-fulfilling prophecy.
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Biden job performance
Average approval: 40.8 percent
Average disapproval: 53.6 percent
Net score: -12.8 points
Change from one week ago: ↑ 1.2 points
[Average includes: Ipsos/Reuters: 42% approve-53% disapprove; Quinnipiac University: 38% approve-52% disapprove; Gallup: 41% approve-56% disapprove; AP-NORC: 45% approve-54% disapprove; CNBC: 38% approve-53% disapprove]
Generic congressional ballot
Democrats: 43.4 percent
Republicans: 44 percent
Net advantage: Republican Party +0.6
Change from one week ago: Republican Party ↓ 1.0
[Average includes: Quinnipiac University: 43% Democrat, 42% Republican; NBC News: 44% Democrat, 46% Republican; Fox News: 41% Democrat, 43% Republican; Monmouth University: 46% Democrat, 46% Republican; Pew Research Center: 43% Democrat, 43% Republican]
TIME OUT: HIGH PRICES, LOW POPULATIONS
The Atlantic: “What do the metros of New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, Boston, Seattle, San Francisco, San Diego, Minneapolis–St. Paul, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C., have in common? … [I]n 2021, they all shrank by a combined 900,000 people, according to an analysis of census data by the Brookings scholar William Frey. That’s an urban exodus nearly the size of two Wyomings. … Historically, shrinking cities and towns have major economic and cultural problems. But something pretty strange is happening in America’s biggest metros: Their housing markets aren’t suffering the way you’d expect. In fact, rents and housing prices are going up in almost all of these metros. … So what we have here is a bit of an urban mystery. If America’s biggest metros are shrinking, why are their housing markets on fire? And if rents are rising in almost all of these cities, how can they possibly be shrinking?”
MANDEL VS. VANCE OHIO PRIMARY SPLITS GOP
New York Times: “Not long after Donald J. Trump was elected president, the Club for Growth, a conservative anti-tax group that had opposed his 2016 campaign, reinvented itself as a reliable supporter, with the group’s president, David McIntosh, providing frequent counsel to Mr. Trump on important races nationwide. But this spring, as Mr. Trump faces critical tests of the power of his endorsements, an ugly fight over the Ohio Senate primary is threatening what had been a significant alliance with one of the most influential groups in the country. The dispute broke into plain view days ago when in support of Josh Mandel, the former Ohio state treasurer, for the Republican Senate race, the Club for Growth ran a television commercial showing the candidate Mr. Trump has endorsed, the “Hillbilly Elegy” author J.D. Vance, repeatedly denouncing Mr. Trump in 2016. Mr. Trump’s response was brutish: He had an assistant send Mr. McIntosh a short text message telling him off in the most vulgar terms.”
Drucker: Trump endorsement catapults flailing Vance to the top: Washington Examiner: “For all the valid speculation that this year’s Republican primaries are poised to turn into a political disaster for Donald Trump that knocks him down a peg or two in the party, the former president is on track to score a rather consequential victory in Ohio. Public polling and private prognosticators point to J.D. Vance winning the Republican nomination for Senate in the Buckeye State this coming Tuesday. … Since launching his campaign last May, until Trump endorsed him (and even with the support of millions [Peter] Thiel donated to a pro-Vance super PAC) the first-time candidate was stuck in the pack of Republicans vying to replace the retiring GOP Sen. Rob Portman. … So, what’s changed? What happened prior to a Fox News poll conducted April 20-24 that showed Vance leading with 23%? Trump’s endorsement, that’s what. This goes to show the power of the 45th president’s seal of approval and the close relationship he continues to enjoy with grassroots Republicans.”
HOUSE GOP SUPER PAC BOOKS BIG BUCKS ON OFFENSE
Politico: “House Republicans’ main super PAC is booking $125 million in TV ad reservations in roughly 50 media markets across the country—a massive down payment on the party’s bid to wrest back the majority this fall. This is the first of several rounds of fall TV and digital bookings for the Congressional Leadership Fund, the largest outside group spending in House races and one that is closely affiliated with Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. But this initial purchase is already more than the super PAC spent on those ads during the entire 2020 election cycle. … ‘Our buy is overwhelmingly on offense,’ said CLF President Dan Conston, noting that $111 million of the ad reservations are earmarked for flipping Democratic-held seats. And, he added, there’s more to come: ‘It’s a baseline, and we’re going to keep spending from here.’”
Poll shows Kemp, Walker ahead in GOP primaries: Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “Gov. Brian Kemp has a chance of landing an outright victory against former U.S. Sen. David Perdue, according to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll that shows the Republican incumbent with a hefty advantage over his Donald Trump-backed challenger. Kemp led Perdue 53% to 27% in the poll of likely voters in the Republican primary, which is now less than a month away. That would put the governor above the majority-vote threshold needed to avoid a June runoff. … Herschel Walker had an even greater lead over his Republican rivals in the U.S. Senate race, with his support in the poll at 66%. Ahead in every poll of the race, the former football star has ignored his opponents and focused on a November matchup against Democratic U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock. … The competition for secretary of state was also muddled. Incumbent Brad Raffensperger and U.S. Rep. Jody Hice, his Trump-backed challenger, were neck-and-neck. The poll had Raffensperger at 28% and Hice at 26%—within the margin of error. About 37% were undecided.”
Murkowski bucks MAGA-ism in re-election bid: New York Times: “In a year when control of Congress is at stake and the Republican Party is dominated by the reactionary right, [Lisa Murkowski] is attempting something almost unheard-of: running for re-election as a proud G.O.P. moderate willing to defy party orthodoxy. … Though it leans conservative, Alaska is a fiercely individualistic state where the majority of voters do not align with either major political party. And under a new set of election rules engineered by her allies, Ms. Murkowski does not have to worry about a head-to-head contest with a more conservative opponent. Instead, she will compete in an Aug. 16 primary open to candidates of any political stripe, followed by a general election in which voters will rank the top four to emerge from the primary to determine a winner. … So she has embarked on a re-election campaign that is also an effort to salvage a version of the Republican Party that hardly exists anymore in Congress, as seasoned pragmatists retire or are chased out by right-wing hard-liners competing to take their places.”
Biden still flummoxed by Manchin: Washington Post: “White House officials are confronting the “real fear” that they will fail to reach any deal with [Joe Manchin]—even one that leaves out most of what [Joe Biden] had initially hoped to accomplish. … A year after Biden introduced his climate and social spending plans, the White House is running out of time to get Manchin onboard, with many lawmakers in Congress viewing July 4 as a crucial deadline for action. In recent weeks, White House officials have quietly tried gauging Manchin’s interest in a package that would consist primarily of clean-energy initiatives, prescription drug reform and higher taxes on the rich and corporations. … But despite his support for these provisions generally, Manchin has not yet made clear to the White House precisely what he would support in a final agreement. … [T]he relationship between Manchin and the White House appears to have been badly damaged by negotiations last fall. Manchin was incensed by the administration’s decision to name him in a news release as an obstacle to a deal.”
New York redistricting goes back to the drawing board: New York Times: “New York’s highest court ruled on Wednesday that Democratic leaders had violated the State Constitution when drawing new congressional and State Senate districts, ordering a court-appointed special master to draw replacement lines for this year’s critical midterm elections instead. … The judges … found that the congressional districts drawn by Democrats had violated an explicit state ban on partisan gerrymandering. … To accommodate the drawing of new districts, the Court of Appeals indicated that party primaries for the congressional and State Senate districts would have to be postponed from June until August. … The stricken congressional map, which was adopted by Democratic supermajorities in February, reconfigured three Republican districts into new Democrat-friendly seats on Long Island, Staten Island, and in central New York, and eliminated a fourth Republican district upstate altogether. In total, the map would have given Democrats an advantage in 22 of New York’s 26 congressional districts, compared with 19 seats currently held by Democrats and eight by Republicans.”
MAGA minions breach election security trying to undo 2020 result—Reuters
Census Bureau director encourages door-to-door outreach for Latinos—Axios
Matt Yglesias: Dems should note Macron’s strategy—Slow Boring
Orrin Hatch chief of staff remembers the ‘gentleman of the Senate’—Wall Street Journal
George Will: Keep senators out of the White House—Washington Post
WITHIN EARSHOT: WAS IT THE MENU FOR THE EARLY-BIRD BUFFET?
“I’ve had a good number of discussions with Senator Feinstein, but I’m keeping them to myself.”—Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to NBC News in light of reports that California senator Dianne Feinstein is in cognitive decline.
“Regarding your criticism of Biden’s management of mask policy, it might be useful to revisit the moment that the CDC went from being headed by a career scientist to a political appointee. Michael Lewis tells the story in his pandemic book Premonition (pg 282-290). In the 1976 election campaign, President Gerald Ford was confronted with the possibility of the swine flu becoming a pandemic. A decision had to be made about whether to press ahead with a vaccine and then whether to administer it. CDC Director Dr. David Sencer pulled together all the experts to make the call. Based on the most informed medical probabilities, the expert consensus was to go ahead. Those decisions turned out to be wrong on two counts. The pandemic never materialized, and the vaccine had rare but serious side effects. Ford lost the election, so the next Republican president, [Ronald Reagan], decided to make the CDC director an appointed position. We now know the experts made the wrong decisions in 1976. But only in retrospect. Could the real time decisions actually have been the correct ones, given the limited information available? Or even brave and laudable ones? Similarly, in a few years we will have the perspective to learn what public health policies would be the better for managing any future pandemics similar to Covid. Maybe if the head of the CDC was not appointed, but still a respected career public health official, all the decisions would not have been second-guessed in political discourse. On the other hand, maybe the personalities involved made critiques like yours inevitable. Early in the pandemic, when the president of the United States began to appear at the daily briefings of medical experts, it was clear he was there to align his appointees with his political message.”—John McNeill Lee, Walnut Creek, California
This is such a tough issue because it is about balancing competing decision-making priorities and areas of expertise. Ideally, during a public health crisis, a president would take information and advice from experts across her government. That would include virology, epidemiology, immunology, emergency medicine, psychology, economics, public safety, constitutional law, and more. The president would then balance competing goods to produce the policy with the greatest chance of success with the fewest negative side-effects. Then, the elected president would take responsibility for the project and effectively communicate the plan and its objectives to Congress and the public in such a way that it helped build a bipartisan national consensus behind effective action. That, of course, is not what happened. But I seriously doubt that making the head of the CDC a civil servant instead of a presidential appointee would have made much difference. Anthony Fauci was as close as we had in American public life to an absolute authority on the subject as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and we still ended up here. The CDC’s many, many failures from start to finish in the pandemic all did their damage, particularly on testing. Maybe what’s wrong at the CDC is in part a function of political appointees running the agency, but it sure seems like it runs much deeper. But the problem we’re really talking about is the ability to persuade and convince. Perhaps it would be so that a director selected by someone other than the president would have a better chance of being heard by partisans of the other side, but I still have my doubts. The selection of the head of the CDC has always been a political matter. Jimmy Carter, through his health secretary, fired Sencer and picked his replacement, William Foege. When Foege left in 1983 to focus on global health issues, including in his work as director of the former president’s Carter Center in Atlanta, Reagan picked James Mason of Utah to lead the agency. Mason’s big test came in 1985 when many Republicans were intensely opposed to allowing Indiana middle schooler Ryan White to return to class after his diagnosis with AIDS. It became a huge national controversy with massive political consequences, putting Mason in a jam. But Mason, a devout Mormon, stood up for science and White and declared there was no reason that the boy could not safely return to school. In looking at the history of the agency, I see lots of institutional problems, but not evidence that there was a significant shift in the caliber of leaders in the post-1976 era. Indeed, it seems like Sencer, who you say was the last of the independent CDC leaders, fell victim to intense pressure from Ford to deliver a maximal response to the swine flu—a political attitude intensified by the legionnaires’ disease outbreak that summer. That’s why it has to fall to the president to make decisions about the use of extraordinary powers in wartime or in a public health emergency. Our executive branch works on the idea that multiple agencies will compete and collaborate to offer solutions to problems, and that the president either chooses one of the plans or synthesizes a new one based on the offerings of his Cabinet. We wouldn’t want the CDC to have sole authority on public health issues any more than we would want the Pentagon to have sole authority on military questions. Expertise always has been and always will be subject to its own kinds of blindness and misprioritization. It has to be tested against the judgments of generalists and be one tool available to an accountable leader. Since there will always be blind spots and “unknown unknowns,” we have to interpose political control between expertise and action not because it will always avoid mistakes, but because leadership has to be accountable and representative. When failure comes, it is a collective one, not one imposed by an unaccountable elite. We live in a time when the sum of knowledge and expertise exceeds all of history that came before it, and yet, Americans have never been more distrustful of experts. There are many reasons for this, including the access to lots of information without context, learning, etc. But one big reason for the death of expertise has been the excessive confidence in its capacity to replace judgment – both on the part of experts and the public. Our mistaken belief that risk can be eliminated and that there is a complete and correct answer for every problem leads us to be angry when reality intrudes and reveals that life doesn’t work that way.
“I just read a Dispatch summary saying Orrin Hatch played the long game to get legislation through Congress. Most readers commented that few Congress persons do. I am not convinced this is true. Democrat Congress persons seem to play the long game for moving social changes forward. Otherwise, I am not sure we would have had all their successful social legislation adopted into law. You know much more than I ever will about Congress. Is it rare for a Congress person to play the legislative long game? Generally, does one party play the long game better than the other?”—Suzanne Hoh, Salado, Texas
Great questions, Ms. Hoh! I think certainly there was a time when Democrats were the masters of the legislative branch. They controlled the House for a 40-year span from 1955 to 1995, during which time the Senate was only in Republican control for only six years. Over the same period, Republicans dominated the presidency. No Democrat was re-elected to the presidency between 1944 and 1996. Over time, the Republican Party came to see itself as the enemy of Congress and Democrats tended to see themselves in opposition to the executive branch. Prior to that era, conservatives strongly identified with the legislative branch, but that was mostly lost in the clashes of the late 20th century. Since then, of course, the battle for control of Congress has become much more evenly matched, but Republicans have remained skeptical about congressional power. So perhaps we still give Democrats the edge. I think the truth, though, is that BOTH parties have lost their legislative chops. For a lot of reasons related to, among other things, our awful primary election system and screwy campaign finance rules, the partisan leaders in Congress have taken an extraordinary amount of control over the process. Without regular order and the normal committee system at work, the House and Senate careen from one fiscal cliff or crisis to another but don’t work on new ideas. That’s a big part of why our Congress doesn’t work, which is a major contributor to our problems with populist outrage. The body that’s supposed to mostly reflect the popular will can’t reflect much more than the desire of partisans to hold power for its own sake.
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 gimlet-eyed Samantha Goldstein, and I will look for your emails and then share the most interesting ones and my responses here. Clickety clack!
CUTLINE CONTEST: MASK OPTIONAL
President Biden’s partially exposed face prompted thoughts of game shows for readers.
Our winner is:
“Fox unveils next Masked Singer! Judges stumped—don’t recollect why he’s famous.”—Michael Johnson, Winston-Salem, North Carolina
Time is running out for the April contest! 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!
KOIN: “A woman who accidentally dropped her cellphone into the hole of an outhouse in a national forest and fell in while trying to retrieve it had to be rescued by firefighters in Washington state. Brinnon Fire Department Chief Tim Manly said the woman, who was at the top of Mount Walker in the Olympic National Forest northwest of Seattle, had been using her phone when it fell into the toilet on Tuesday. … Manly said she disassembled the toilet seat and used dog leashes to try and get the phone and eventually used the leashes to tie herself off as she reached for it. That effort failed and she fell into the toilet headfirst. She was washed down and ‘strongly encouraged to seek medical attention after being exposed to human waste, but she only wanted to leave,’ the department said.”
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.