Happy Saturday! Today we’re going to talk about The Hangover. No, I didn’t go on a roaring bender last night (8 a.m. Saturday baseball games tend to prevent such shenanigans). It’s the name of Chris Stirewalt’s forthcoming eight-episode podcast series that will do the dirty work that the GOP has avoided in the wake of the 2020 election: a postmortem.
Stirewalt joined us in February, and in addition to his weekly columns, he’s contributed to The Sweep, joined a Dispatch Live or two, and made the rounds on our podcasts. But I hadn’t had a chance to really sit down and have a personal conversation with him yet. Thank goodness I finally had an excuse! We traded stories about growing up in Ohio (me) and West Virginia (him) and realized we both started our careers as sportswriters at small-town papers. But, more interestingly for you, dear readers, he filled me in on why he wanted to do this podcast series.
“I am not a Republican. I am not a Democrat,” he said. “But every American has a vested interest in having two healthy parties. And what we have right now is like a half of a healthy party. We have a Democratic party that is sort of limping along. They barely have a majority in Congress and they have a president who is very careful, very careful to not flex his political muscle too much, because he knows that his party isn’t really united. And the Republicans are way below the slump line. So we are operating at about 25 percent of where I would like us today. So in taking a look at what’s wrong with Republicans, you know, I hope it helps the Republicans in the sense that I hope we have a healthy party, but everybody has an interest in that.”
In each episode, Stirewalt and a guest will look at a different aspect of the Republican coalition: the traditional pro-business establishment, populists, evangelical Christians, the right-of-center media, and the consultant class. His guests will include historian and journalist Richard Brookheiser, former National Republican Congressional Committee Executive Director Parker Poling, former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, and Commentary editor and author John Podhoretz, among others.
They’ll have a lot to talk about. In 2017, Republicans controlled the White House and both chambers of Congress. Today, they control none. Last fall’s election brought to office a handful of figures who indulge in conspiracy theories and spend more time tweeting than legislating. The party just endured a very ugly and very public leadership battle, ousting Liz Cheney as House GOP Conference chair over her refusal to lie about the 2020 election.
Now, the Democrats have their share of problems, too. (But they’ll have to find their own Stirewalt to help them out.) And at the end of the day, unhealthy parties lead to unhealthy governments.
“We have a shattered Congress that is beyond dysfunctional. It’s malfunctional,” Stirewalt said. “We have an executive branch that is way out of whack and is turning gradually into a premiership. We are not delegating authority to local levels. We’re not embracing the advantages of small-r republicanism. What I’m interested in as a journalist and as an American and as a human has to do not with which piece of legislation would be more liberal or more conservative, but rather trying to get people to work through the system.”
We’ll be rolling out the first couple of episodes this week. There will be a home page for it in the next few days, and you can expect more information in the coming days in our other newsletters. And we’ll do a Dispatch Live event with Stirewalt where members can ask him questions.
Now, here’s the best stuff from the last week.
We hear a lot these days about structural or systemic racism, and Jonah starts his midweek G-File by pointing to some illustrative examples: He defends Pete Buttigieg for saying that there is systemic racism built into our infrastructure (after all, the construction of roads and railroad tracks often affected poor and minority neighborhoods more than wealthier and whiter neighborhoods). But he uses those examples to point out another disturbing trend, what he calls structural antisemitism. He highlights how Israel is treated differently from other nations on the world stage, pointing in particular to the U.N. Human Rights Council, which since 2015 has issued 112 condemnations of Israel. (For comparison, Russia has been condemned 12 times, North Korea six, and China? Zero.) And he looks at how that attitude has affected the debate around the conflict between Israel and Hamas, especially comments by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez suggesting that Israel hasn’t the right to defend itself. “What she and countless others are arguing is that Israel has no right to act like a normal country,” Jonah writes. “You don’t have to hate Jews to believe that the only Jewish country in the world is also the only country in the world that can’t behave like a normal country and defend its citizens. But the policy that flows from that argument is, in important ways, antisemitic—even if it isn’t intended as such.”
Between COVID lockdowns and racial justice protests that gave way to violence and riots, it’s been a long and difficult year for many Portland business owners. At least 190 businesses closed, permanently or temporarily, as a result of lockdowns. The city cut $15 million from the police budget in response to calls to defund the police. Crime shot up, and downtown became deserted. Nancy Rommelmann, who used to live in Portland, talked to business owners about what it’s been like. Here is what one source told her: “Am I optimistic or pessimistic about the city? Hmm… on the pessimistic side,” said Sally Krantz, co-owner of a CBD-infused beverage company. “The trash situation is out of control. I know it’s partly because of the pandemic, but there are now rats everywhere. And [Mayor] Ted Wheeler is an ineffective dope. Everything from the riots to the amount of garbage and the fact that the homeless have taken over the city frankly reminds me of when I lived in [New York mayor] Ed Koch’s Manhattan.”
The stars are apparently aligned for the biggest challenge to Roe v. Wade in years. The Supreme Court announced this week that it would hear Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a challenge to a Mississippi law banning abortion after 15 weeks. There are six conservative justices on the court, and the law itself is popular—fewer than one-third of Americans think abortion should be “generally available” after the first trimester. So David thinks it’s understandable that pro-lifers are excited and pro-choicers fearful about the outcome of the case. He looks at all the possible outcomes and predicts: “We shouldn’t be surprised if SCOTUS doesn’t settle the abortion question with Dobbs. The most likely outcome (I believe) is a decision that upholds the Mississippi law and thus effectively introduces a new standard that permits greater abortion regulation without explicitly permitting abortion bans.”
The House this week passed legislation to create a commission to investigate the January 6 riots at the Capitol. Its fate in the Senate is less certain, given that it will require the votes of 10 Republicans. In Uphill, Haley interviews Marco Rubio and many other senators about their opposition to the bill. She noticed two trends: The senators claim not to have read the bill, but they are certain that Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer will exploit the commission for partisan purposes. Unlike Pelosi’s initial proposal for a commission, which was nakedly partisan, this panel would be evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, and subpoenas require the approval of at least one person from each party, but that is not enough for some Republicans. ““At the end of the day, it’s going to be Schumer and Pelosi-driven and this is all about continuing to litigate the impeachment trial of Trump,” Montana Sen. Steve Daines told The Dispatch.
And now for the best of the rest:
Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation, recently testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee that the Taliban has “made substantial progress in delivering on” its commitment to stop supporting al-Qaeda. In Vital Interests, Thomas Josecelyn, backed by a new assessment from the Defense Intelligence Agency, is skeptical.
The COVID lockdowns and last summer’s political violence prompted millions of Americans to become gun owners for the first time. Stephen Gutowski looks at how that trend could change our gun politics.
As the violence between Israel and Hamas abates—at least for now—Danielle Pletka provides an update on the political situation in Israel. She predicts yet another parliamentary election (though not entirely because of the Hamas conflict).
We’ve all seen the “help wanted” signs, and gallons of ink have been spilled debating whether our current labor shortage is the result of fears over COVID, the difficulty families have in procuring childcare, or enhanced federal unemployment insurance benefits. But Brent Orell argues there is another factor, one that can’t be resolved so easily and one that will affect us long into the future: declining fertility.
On the pods: On The Remnant, frequent flier Jim Geraghty of National Review drops by to discuss the pandemic and the “lab leak” theory, as well as the state of Republican Party in the wake of the Liz Cheney kerfuffle. On Advisory Opinions, David and Sarah offer up (extremely early) predictions on how the Supreme Court could rule in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which promises to be the most consequential abortion case in years. Last but not least, Sarah and Steve interview Rep. Chip Roy on The Dispatch Podcast about his decision to run against Elise Stefanik for GOP Conference chair and his opposition to the January 6 commission.