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Stirewaltisms: Sinema Pops Dems’ Bubble
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Stirewaltisms: Sinema Pops Dems’ Bubble

The Arizona senator announces she’s leaving the Democratic Party.

U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images.)

There were lots of losers in this week’s Senate runoff in Georgia. But today, one who looked like he was heading for a fall—West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin—got a reprieve from his fellow mavericky moderate, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. 

There was much for Democrats to celebrate in the re-election of Sen. Raphael Warnock on Tuesday, but one of the sweetest sugar plums for many in the party is what the loss would presumably do to Manchin. 

In a 50-50 Senate, Manchin has a veto on legislation. His party needs him and the tie-breaking Vice President Kamala Harris to win even simple-majority votes on confirmations and budget bills. Manchin enraged the left wing of the party this Congress by refusing to go nuclear and vote for rule changes to lower the threshold to 51 seats for other legislation. With Warnock back and Republicans down a seat after a bungle in Pennsylvania, Manchin’s kingship appeared to be at an end.

Many Democrats, though, were forgetting about Sinema, who had been Manchin’s +1 on many of his standoffs with President Biden and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. With Warnock’s win and the resulting 51-49 Democratic majority, her support would go from being a comfort for Manchin to a necessity. He can’t stand up to the left wing without her. So what would she do?

Today we got our answer as Sinema extravagantly snubbed her former party by announcing she was changing her voter registration to “independent.” The change doesn’t appear to make any difference in terms of how the Senate will function. As she told CNN in an interview announcing the change: “When I come to work each day, it’ll be the same. I’m going to still come to work and hopefully serve on the same committees.”

Presuming that Democrats don’t cut off their noses to spite her, Sinema will be like fellow independents Angus King of Maine and Bernie Sanders of Vermont and get all the privileges of partisanship without as much of the political baggage. They’d better, or she’s an obvious potential defection. 

The move is symbolic, but still significant. Unlike Manchin who doesn’t have to worry about a primary challenge at home, there is a considerable progressive presence in Arizona. That made Sinema an obvious target for Sanders and the progressive left. With the re-election of her more party-loyal home-state Sen. Mark Kelly last month, the pressure on Sinema to conform was growing. The argument that her McCain-like independence was a political necessity in still-red Arizona wasn’t as convincing after Kelly’s win. If she toed the line in the Senate, Democrats could safely ignore Manchin. 

But she went the other route, and took the pressure off by exiting the party altogether. She can’t be primaried if she’s not running as a Democrat, and has a clear path for the 2024 general election, which now promises to be a three-way mess. 

Now, on to those who, unlike Manchin, did not escape their fates. 

Republican nominee Herschel Walker is nominally at the top of the list of losers, but as his generous concession speech showed, Walker may be more relieved even than most of his fellow Republicans that his foray into campaign politics is at a close.

Much harder hit are Donald Trump and the #lolnothingmatters wing of the Republican Party. Trump’s ill-conceived 2024 campaign launch on November 15 is now bookended by embarrassing losses for candidates backed by his once-dreaded political machine. 

Trump invested the most effort and clout into Walker’s candidacy of any of the misfits the 45th president supported this cycle. He and his team intended Trump’s outsized engagement in the midterms as a show of strength that would clear the field for his third bid for the Republican presidential nomination. Instead, out of all of the controversial candidates Trump pushed through the 2022 primaries for Senate, the only one who succeeded, Ohio’s J.D. Vance, is a former Trumpaphobe whom the former president humiliated on stage at a campaign rally this fall.

Republicans rightly laid losses in New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Arizona—and thereby the missed Senate majority—squarely at Trump’s feet. Georgia, though, was the most effulgently bad move by Trump and his crew. The Peach State offered the easiest potential win for the GOP: A progressive Democratic incumbent who eked out a win for a two-year partial term under flukey conditions running for re-election against the midterm tide in a red state with a popular Republican governor on the ballot. 

Any competent, normal Republican candidate would have won. Instead, at Trump’s demand, the Georgia GOP got sucked into a $500 million quagmire of a race. Even so, had Walker managed to pull out a victory in the runoff, it would have been a balm to Trump’s wounded reputation. A 2-3 record would have looked a lot more formidable than 1-4. 

Instead, Republican turnout sagged, and the missing voters for the GOP tended to be from wealthier and more highly educated precincts. Voters who were willing to vote for Walker as part of the larger Republican slate were not willing to make a second trip to the polls for a troubled candidate who needed minders on set with him for even the friendliest interviews

Trump was figuratively on the ballot three times in Georgia this year—his failed bid to oust Gov. Brian Kemp in the GOP primary, and then twice with Walker—and walked away with bupkis. MAGAists figured that the midterm environment would compensate for their typically undisciplined efforts this cycle and Trump would get to take credit for the GOPs windfall gains.  

Instead, Trump’s campaign announcement fundraising was puny by his standards and Republicans are scrambling to undo the damage Trump has done to Republican get-out-the-vote efforts. As it turns out, a strategy that includes increased reliance on lower-propensity working-class and poor voters and discouraging people from using convenience voting was, in a word, stupid. 

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: 39.8%
Average disapproval: 54.0%
Net score: -14.2 points                            
Change from one week ago: ↓ 0.6 points

[Average includes: Quinnipiac: 36% approve-55% disapprove; Emerson College: 39% approve-52% disapprove; Marist College: 42% approve-54% disapprove; Reuters/Ipsos: 38% approve-56% disapprove; NBC News: 44% approve-53% disapprove] 

Polling Roulette

Favorability of institutions:
Amazon: 74% favorable, 17% unfavorable [+57 net]
Facebook: 50% favorable, 38% unfavorable [-12 net]
Twitter: 34% favorable, 46% unfavorable [-12 net]


NPR: “Turns out, bats and death metal singers have more in common than you’d think — and no, it’s not just a love of the dark. Bats have a soaring vocal range — from super-high-pitched clicks outside the realm of human hearing, to lower grunts our ears can perceive. And a new study in the journal PLOS Biology found that for some of the lower frequency sounds, they appear to use the same technique singers use for death metal growling or Tuvan throat singing. … [Coen Elemans] and his colleagues at the University of Southern Denmark used ultra high-speed video, filming up to a quarter million frames per second, to study what’s going on in bats’ vocal tracts. … ‘So the false vocal folds get lowered a little bit towards the vocal folds, and then together they get much heavier and looser and they make a lot of lower frequency sounds. But also their vibrations become very irregular. And that’s what’s giving the rough quality of death metal singing.’”


Politico: “The Democratic National Committee voted on Friday to radically alter its presidential nominating calendar, following President Joe Biden’s recommendations to elevate South Carolina as the first primary state and to eliminate Iowa, breaking with a half-century of historical precedent. … The DNC is on track to reshape its primary calendar after dissatisfaction with the traditional first state, Iowa, boiled over in 2020. … The revised proposal would see South Carolina host the first 2024 presidential primary on Feb. 3, a Saturday, followed three days later by New Hampshire and Nevada. Georgia would then hold an early primary on Feb. 13, and Michigan would hold its contest on Feb. 27. Iowa would be out of the early lineup altogether.”

Goldberg: Ditch the broken primary system: The Dispatch: “I like both Iowa and New Hampshire, but the idea that these two states have some divinely ordained role in our elections is silly — and even costly. … The best illustration of this is the GOP’s inability to squarely deal with the problem of Donald Trump’s election denial and his more recent demand that the Constitution be terminated in order to reinstall him as president. … The GOP won’t act accordingly because of the stranglehold the primaries have on the party and Trump’s ability to fatally wound electable but non-subservient Republicans in primaries. … Elected Republicans are still afraid of primary voters more loyal to Trump than to the party or, now, the Constitution, which is why they’re so reluctant to condemn his lies. … Ideally, we’d go back to something closer to the system that produced Republican nominees like Lincoln, Coolidge and Eisenhower. Nominating conventions where party leaders picked candidates would be a vast improvement.”

Georgia poised to play kingmaker in 2024: New York Times: “For decades, Florida and Ohio reigned supreme over presidential politics. The two states relished their role crowning presidents and spawning political clichés. … But the Georgia runoff, the final note of the 2022 midterm elections, may have said goodbye to all that. The Marietta moms are in charge now. … Mr. Warnock’s race was the final marker for a 2024 presidential road map that political strategists, officials and politicians in both parties say will run largely through six states: Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. … ‘You’re going to have your soccer moms and Peloton dads. Those college-educated voters, specifically in the suburbs, are ones that Republicans have to learn how to win,’ said Kristin Davison, a Republican strategist.”


Politico: “Montana stretches for 147,000 square miles. That still might not be enough room for the ambitions of its two GOP House members. Rep. Matt Rosendale and Rep.-elect Ryan Zinke are weighing whether to run against each other for the right to challenge Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), one of four marquee red-state Senate races taking shape in 2024. … As Senate Democrats grapple with a daunting map and a handful of undecided incumbents, ambitious Republicans are already angling for Democratic-held seats in West Virginia, Ohio and Montana as well as an open GOP seat in Indiana. … Despite the built-in Republican advantage, Tester, [Joe Manchin] and [Sherrod Brown] are a surprisingly durable trio who survived in 2012 and 2018. Which means the GOP can’t afford to get it wrong. Rosendale lost to Tester in 2018, and Zinke resigned as Interior secretary amid a cloud of scandal.”

Nate Cohn: Republicans won at turnout, lost at persuasion: New York Times: “After yet another disappointing showing for Republicans in Georgia’s Senate runoff on Tuesday, some conservatives…have begun to point to a surprising culprit: a failure to take advantage of early voting. … But as more data becomes available on turnout in this year’s election, it is quite clear that turnout was not the main problem facing Republicans. … Instead, high-profile Republicans like Herschel Walker in Georgia or Blake Masters in Arizona lost because Republican-leaning voters decided to cast ballots for Democrats, even as they voted for Republican candidates for U.S. House or other down-ballot races in their states. … Georgia is a fine example. While Mr. Walker may blame turnout for his poor showing in November and earlier this week, other Republican candidates seemed to have no problem at all.”


Spanberger wins House Dems’ new ‘Battleground Leadership Representative’ spot —Richmond Times-Dispatch

Cruz and other Senate MAGA caucus ‘Breakfast Club’ members regroup after midterm setbacks to attack McConnell —Politico

SUPCO seems unimpressed with case that could give state legislatures free rein on elections—NYT

Twenty-five-year-old congressman-elect nixed for D.C. studio apartment over bad credit —WaPo


“Well, back to my Black Santa example…”—Justice Samuel Alito posing a hypothetical question about an African American mall Santa who might want to refuse to be photographed with a child dressed as a Klansman. The question came during Supreme Court oral arguments in 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis, a case about the right of a graphic design firm to not do work for same-sex weddings.


“I’m grateful to have the opportunity to read your work often, Mr. Stirewalt.  I loved your Thanksgiving column, and I also love your defense of your friend, Yuval Levin.  For what it’s worth, I’m a Democrat and a left of center person, but I can’t for the life of me see any offense in what Mr. Levin wrote. I’m deeply grateful for all people of good will, however, and I tend to give most people the benefit of the doubt, so perhaps it takes a lot to offend me. Just keep on with your excellent work and good humor and feel free to always wear comfortable clothes.”—Mary Stine, Prairie Village, Kansas

Ms. Stine, we are thankful for YOU. You are a stalwart supporter and your messages of encouragement mean a lot to me. Keep it up! Have a great holiday season. We are looking forward to another year with you on our side!

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 perspicacious  Nate Moore, and I will look for your emails and then share the most interesting ones and my responses here. Clickety clack!


Former U.S. President Barack Obama campaigns with Sen. Raphael Warnock.  (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images.)
Former U.S. President Barack Obama campaigns with Sen. Raphael Warnock. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images.)

I was sorely tempted by the multiple readers who sent in references to Mr. and Mrs. Miracle Max from The Princess Bride for last week’s photo of the 44th president and the now re-elected senator from Georgia. But the winner (which also saw multiple versions submitted by readers) capitalized on the funniest part of the picture: The contrast between Sen. Raphael Warnock’s cheerful countenance and former President Barack Obama’s expression that seems to say, “Really?”

“Your email said we were going business casual.”—Bob Lepine, Little Rock, Arkansas

Winner, Mutton, Lettuce, and Tomato Division:
“Have fun storming the castle.”—Kevin Hodge, York, Pennsylvania

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!

[Ed. note: In the event of an absolute tie on content, we award the prize to the respondent whose entry arrived first]


Cowboy State Daily: “Six months ago, [Cheyenne Wyoming’s] Bryan Pedersen, a former MMA fighter and state legislator, said he wanted to bring professional ice-fighting to Wyoming. On Tuesday, he delivered. Pedersen, founder of the Wyoming Combat Sports Commission and the person responsible for hosting the first legal American bare knuckle fighting event since the 1800s, said ice fighting is exactly what the name implies: fighting on ice. ‘It’s everything we love about hockey – the fighting,’ Pedersen said. … Pedersen said because the NHL has all but removed fighting from the matches, this new sport replaces what fans really want. ‘Back in the day, each team had an enforcer and you knew there would be some great fights,’ Pedersen said. ‘So, this sport is all enforcers.’ [L]ast May, the first sanctioned ice-fighting event happened in Edmonton, Alberta. It was dubbed ‘Ice Wars I’ and it featured an eight-man tournament and two ‘grudge match’ bouts, all using MMA gloves and full hockey gear (minus the sticks) — with each tournament consisting of two 1-minute rounds.”

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 and Lily Nelson 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.