There are lots of reasons politicians venerate Winston Churchill. His wartime leadership is the epitome of how great politicians can summon citizens to higher causes. No leader of the past century has used his or her oratory and character to greater effect. He was also hilarious and a natty dresser.
But Sir Winston’s cardinal virtue in the eyes of many politicians may be his refusal to ever give up on his political career despite many, many setbacks. The 1930s saw him deep in the political wilderness, only to be proven right about the Nazi threat. He ascended to the premiership in 1940, and ultimately became quite probably the greatest prime minister in British history.
Political history is full of phoenix-like rises, such as Richard Nixon’s journey from a presidential loss and a humiliating California gubernatorial defeat to the greatest popular-vote presidential landslide in history or Joe Biden’s trip from fifth-place Iowa finish in 2008 to the White House more than a dozen years later.
More often, as with Hillary Clinton, the burnt birds stay in the ashes. But despite all of the two-time losers and perennially frustrated candidates, these return-from-the-wilderness stories are irresistible to politicians. It’s a brutal business. Even the most successful politicians have to have superhuman endurance for public embarrassment and perseverance in the face of reversals. And when they’re down, the thought of Churchill, flashing “V” for victory and chomping his cigar, must be a comfort.
Last week we talked about a different, less-appreciated virtue: The willingness to lose on principle. As former House Speaker Paul Ryan put it about Kevin McCarthy’s tenuous grasp on the gavel: “To truly be good at these jobs, you have to be willing to lose the jobs.” Leaders who aren’t willing to give up power for the right reasons aren’t leaders at all, but really vassals.
This is very much in keeping with Sir Winston’s story. He fought for British rearmament even though he knew it was politically unpopular. He paid the price for it, but was later vindicated and lifted to the pinnacle of power. When the Wehrmacht rolled into Czechoslovakia, no one wondered who the man for the job was because Churchill had been willing to tell the truth even when it was unpopular.
It is indeed good, as he told us, to “never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty” when the stakes are as high as the survival of Western civilization and freedom itself. To be willing to die fighting is the only answer. But what about the other times, which is to say, most of the time? When should we yield to, as Churchill put it: “convictions of honor and good sense.”
That’s the one politicians tend to struggle with. The world might have really needed Churchill’s stubborn refusal or for Abraham Lincoln to return from his own political wilderness to nobly save “the last, best hope of earth.” But what if there had been no second act for Nixon? Was there something so crucial about Clinton or her husband that her party needed her to soldier on and on and on? Biden, born in the third year of Churchill’s first premiership, still seems intent on clinging to power in the belief, Biden’s nemesis said, that “only I can fix it.”
We got a lesson this week from the other side of the world in the value of quitting when you’re behind. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern became a global celebrity for her remarkable success as a young woman, her no-nonsense style, and swift, sweeping response to the coronavirus pandemic. But as is often the case in life and politics, the things that take us up take us right back down again. New Zealanders tired of Ardern and her party’s hardline COVID rules. Her party was poised for a thrashing in upcoming elections, but Arden certainly has enough support in her Labour Party that she could have remained in the fray and started preparing for her own phoenix routine.
But she instead surprised everyone and is stepping down, leaving her party and her country to sort things out without her.
“I’m leaving, because with such a privileged role comes responsibility,” Ardern said in her announcement. “The responsibility to know when you are the right person to lead and also when you are not. I know what this job takes. And I know that I no longer have enough in the tank to do it justice. It’s that simple.”
Jair Bolsonaro, Donald Trump, Benjamin Netanyahu, Xi Jinping, and Vladimir Putin are among those leaders who could not summon the courage to quit at the right time. A country too weak to survive without one specific leader in charge is dead already and leaders who stay too long bring weakness, not strength. Turmoil may follow, as it did the departure of George Washington, but a nation that can be governed only by one man is not really a nation at all but a cult.
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.
Biden Job Performance
Average approval: 42.0%
Average disapproval: 52.8%
Net score: -10.8 points
Change from one week ago: ↓ 1.2 points
Change from one month ago: ↓ 1.0 points
[Average includes: Quinnipiac: 38% approve-53% disapprove; CBS News: 44% approve-56% disapprove; USA Today/Suffolk: 45% approve, 52% disapprove; Monmouth: 43% approve-50% disapprove; Reuters/Ipsos: 40% approve-53% disapprove]
TIME OUT: DEATH BECOMES HER
New York Times: “Late Monday morning, two police officers drove up a gravel driveway to a mobile home in Benton, Tenn., a tiny town in the foothills of the southern Appalachians, to question Susan Meachen, a 47-year-old homemaker and author of romance novels. She had been expecting them. … The police wanted to talk to Ms. Meachen about faking her own death. In the fall of 2020, a post announcing she had died had appeared on her Facebook page, where she had often described her struggles with mental health and complained of poor treatment at the hands of other writers. The post, apparently written by her daughter, led many to assume she had died by suicide. It sent fans and writers into a spiral of grief and introspection, wondering how their sisterhood had turned so poisonous. But she wasn’t dead. Two weeks ago, to the shock of her online community, Ms. Meachen returned to her page.”
TEAM TRUMP TRIES ‘ESTABLISHMENT’ HIT ON DESANTIS
Rolling Stone: “Former President Donald Trump and his allies have already started charting out possible plans of attack against likely 2024 rival and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, according to three people familiar with the matter. ‘This is where…Trump kicks him in the nuts,’ one person close to the ex-president says. … On a host of issues, Trump and his lieutenants are itching to portray DeSantis as the ‘establishment’ figure… One area in which Trump and his allies smell that kind of weakness in DeSantis is on Social Security … ‘In a Republican primary, only Donald Trump could effectively go after Ron DeSantis for wanting to cut Social Security,’ a Republican close to the 2024 Trump campaign tells Rolling Stone. ‘… DeSantis’ record in the House [on this topic] is very much of the Paul Ryan, privatize Social Security platform, which is just not where our voters are now.’”
Noem echoes: Vanity Fair: “But recently another potential GOP candidate, South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, appears to be jumping in the fray. As the Daily Beast noted, her staff has also been picking fights with DeSantis in what has become a one-sided feud with the Florida politician. … her communications director, Ian Fury, sent a fiery email to a reporter, pitting her against DeSantis. ‘Governor Noem was the only Governor in America on national television defending the Dobbs decision,’ Fury wrote earlier this month. ‘Where was Governor DeSantis? Hiding behind a 15-week ban…’ [O]ne Republican strategist opined to the Daily Beast on why Noem has pitted herself against DeSantis so publicly: ‘I think what Noem gets out of this is currying favor with Trump and raising her stock as a potential VP pick.’”
Michiganian GOPers boost DeSantis: Politico: “A group of prominent Michigan Republicans are encouraging Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to jump into the 2024 presidential race… Bryan Posthumus, the Republican floor leader in the Michigan state House, flew to Florida and hand-delivered DeSantis a letter encouraging him to run for president … The overtures to DeSantis come as Michigan Republicans reel from a series of Trump-era losses. Since 2018, Republicans have lost control of three statewide offices led by the governorship, as well as both state legislative chambers, several congressional seats and other key posts.”
Trump backers complete 2020 recount in Pennsylvania: New York Times: “On the 797th day after the defeat of former President Donald J. Trump, a rural Pennsylvania county on Monday began a recount of ballots from Election Day 2020. Under pressure from conspiracy theorists and election deniers, 28 employees of Lycoming County counted — by hand — nearly 60,000 ballots. … Overall, Mr. Trump gained eight votes against his rival. The former president, who easily carried deep-red Lycoming County in 2020, carried it once again with 69.98 percent of the vote — gaining one one-hundredth of a point in the recount. Did that quell the doubts of election deniers, who had circulated a petition claiming there was a likelihood of ‘rampant fraud’ in Lycoming in 2020? It did not.”
But state party plans rebound: Politico: “The Pennsylvania GOP is trying to figure out what went so horribly wrong in 2022. After the party’s disastrous midterm races, Republicans in the critical battleground state are conducting a postmortem, holding focus groups throughout the state and interviewing thousands of voters about everything from abortion to former President Donald Trump in hopes of getting to the bottom of their losses. … ‘Every aspect of the 2022 election will be examined,’ wrote Lawrence Tabas, the chair of the state Republican Party. … Another major goal of the postmortem … is to figure out how to win back the suburban areas in the state that have trended away from Republicans in recent years, chief among them Philadelphia’s vote-rich collar counties. … Other initiatives that Pennsylvania Republicans are embarking on in the wake of the 2022 midterms include establishing a vote-by-mail strategy.”
Youngkin calls Ford Motor Co. ‘a front for China’: Washington Post: “Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) said this week that he had rejected efforts by Ford Motor Co. to consider locating an electric battery plant in Virginia over concerns that the automaker’s partnership with China created a security risk. ‘We felt that the right thing to do was to not recruit Ford as a front for China to America,’ Youngkin said Wednesday night to reporters after delivering his State of the Commonwealth speech to the General Assembly. Youngkin made the comment in response to questions about a section of his speech that dwelled on the dangers of the Chinese Communist Party, or CCP, which he called “a dictatorial political party that only has one goal: global dominance at the expense of the United States.” … GOP leaders in Congress have set up a committee to investigate Chinese influence, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis — who, like Youngkin, is presumed to harbor ambitions to run for president — also called this week for barring China from state affairs.
Kraushaar: ‘The GOP’s 2024 freeze’: Axios: “Questions about Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ political resilience — and fears of going toe-to-toe with former President Trump — have all but frozen the 2024 Republican field, delaying most of the leading prospects’ timelines for entering the race. … ‘Everyone not named DeSantis is having a hard time figuring out their way around him. So they are waiting for him to screw up or fade,’ said Republican strategist Scott Jennings. ‘So far, he’s doing neither.’ … DeSantis himself is unlikely to make a final decision about running for president until at least May, after Florida’s legislative session ends. Former Vice President Mike Pence…isn’t planning to make any presidential announcement soon. … Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley will be one of the first Republicans out of the gate. … DeSantis has offered more red meat for the MAGA movement lately — including calling for COVID-19 vaccine makers to be investigated for potential wrongdoing.”
Poll: Black Democrats more conservative on trans issues—Pew Research
Club for Growth blasts possible Daniels Indiana Senate run as feud between former gov and club president deepens—Washington Examiner
GOP’s Matt Dolan launches second campaign for Buckeye Senate seat—Politico
North Carolina A.G. Josh Stein emerges as party’s frontrunner to replace term-limited Gov. Roy Cooper—Raleigh News & Observer
With unified control in Lansing, Michigan Dems go big—New York Times
No longer Senate tiebreaker, Harris free to stump nationally—Politico
WITHIN EARSHOT: ALIENS, MAN
“The first chapter of Ezekiel is pretty clear of a UFO sighting…”—Rep. Tim Burchett (R-Tennessee) makes his case for declassifying government information on UFO sightings in an interview with NewsNation’s Natasha Zouves.
“Your share of the Politico article regarding the problems with moving primary elections has me wondering why the states have any skin in that game at all? They certainly have an interest in saying that persons appearing on the ballot must be submitted by such-and-such a date, but beyond that why is there any state law regarding party primaries? Does it all just come down to power plays over ballot access and making us rubes pay for their event?”—Eric Swenson, Winsted, Connecticut
Preach it, Brother Swenson! There is much to dislike in America’s failed experiment with primary elections, but you have pointed to the one that, as another distinguished pundit would say, really grinds my gears. Parties are private institutions, but get public resources to choose their candidates and make public nuisances of themselves along the way. The fact that the publicly run, publicly financed status quo produces outcomes decidedly not in the public interest adds injury to the insult. There may be a good argument to be made for nonpartisan or transpartisan primaries like those held in California, Washington, and Louisiana, but a public election to obtain a private position—nominee—just strikes me as wrong. Holding these elections increases the amount of political vitriol in our lives and fails to produce constructive debate yet we are still obliged to finance them. It’s long past time for parties to go back to picking their own nominees and leave us out of it.
“Once the classified document situation is resolved with both President Biden and former President Trump, and considering the premise that ‘no one is above the law,’ shouldn’t the pertinent question be whether President Biden will pardon anyone currently convicted of violating laws involving the handling of classified documents? And how do we get someone in the media to ask the Biden administration that question?”—Dave Rae, Aberdeen, Maryland
I do like your optimism, Mr. Rae, in believing that the situation will be “resolved.” Accordingly, we humble Stirewaltians will undertake the task of planting that question in the minds of the media and will report back. If anyone else sees it asked or answered, please write in!
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 hale and hearty Nate Moore, and I will look for your emails and then share the most interesting ones and my responses here. Clickety clack!
CUTLINE CONTEST: THE GLOW OF VICTORY
A tougher picture this week still drew scads of great entries from our intrepid readers, but our winner homed in on New Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s beauty ritual, with a nod to antagonist but fellow beauty bro, Rep. Matt Gaetz.
“Appreciate the question Matt. I exfoliate once a week, followed by a light buffing.”—Kathy Wright, Arnoldsville, Georgia
Winner, Hit it by This Much Division:
“‘It’s about this big.’ New House Speaker McCarthy confirms the reduced gavel size he agreed to as part of his concessions to win the speaker vote.”—Michael Johnson, Winston-Salem, North Carolina
Winner, Clintonite Division:
“It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘integrity’ is.”—Douglas Leo, Scottsdale, Arizona
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 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!
CTV: “The Toronto District School says there was no ill intent meant when the principal at an elementary school in Parkdale included an image of an ISIS flag in a message sent out to hundreds of families. The image was sent to some 700 families in an email meant to celebrate Somali Heritage Month and Islamic Heritage Month in October. Parents of students at Dr. Rita Cox – Kina Minogok Public School, near King Street and Jameson Avenue, told CTV News they were shocked by the email sent by Principal Darlene Jones.… In an email to CP24, TDSB Spokesperson Ryan Bird said the inclusion of the image was ‘a mistake.’ … ‘If within an inner-city school we can have something like the ISIS flag sent out for Islamic Heritage month, what else (inside the school) is happening?’ said May Woo, whose daughter is a student at the school.”
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.