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Our Best Stuff From the Dog Days of Summer
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Our Best Stuff From the Dog Days of Summer

Plus, why are schools going remote, and what the heck was Vivek Ramaswamy suggesting?

Republican presidential candidates Mike Pence and Vivek Ramaswamy shake hands during the first debate of the GOP primary season on August 23, 2023, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Hello and happy Sunday! Donald Trump wasn’t indicted for anything last week, Congress was still in recess, and we don’t have another GOP debate until late September. We published lots of good stuff this week, but we enjoyed having a little bit of a break from national politics, too.

That said, August was a pretty intense month. Trump was indicted twice—once by special counsel Jack Smith and once by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis—for his efforts to overturn the 2020 election. Russian mercenary Yevgeny Prigozhin, whose Wagner Group was doing a lot of the heavy lifting for Vladimir Putin in Ukraine until Prigozhin launched an ill-fated mutiny attempt, died when his private plane fell out of the sky between Moscow and St. Petersburg. Wildfires in Hawaii devastated the town of Lahaina. The Republican candidates for president debated in Milwaukee, where they worked very hard to avoid discussing Donald Trump—who wasn’t even there.

It wasn’t always this way. The sports editor of the Washington Post visited the student paper when I was in college, and while I don’t remember all of the wisdom he imparted, I do recall him joking that interns ran the newsroom in August. Congress is always in recess, the sports world is in a bit of a lull waiting for football to start, and a lot of people are taking vacation.

Flash forward to today, and I can’t remember the last time we had a quiet August. Maybe 2014? That’s why this week felt so refreshing: The relative quiet gave us time to appreciate quirky stories about a Nebraska man who was pulled over for driving down the highway with an exotic Watusi bull riding shotgun. Or get all the way through the 6,000-word investigation by a dogged blogger who wondered why there is a pedestrian bridge across I-494 in a not-very-walkable part of Minneapolis.

The interns can’t run the newsroom for the whole month anymore, but maybe they can hold down the fort for a few days here and there. In the Ohio bureau, we spent yesterday watching college football with friends on Saturday, and today we’ll be tackling the yard work we’ve been putting off since April. Tomorrow, who knows? Maybe, in honor of the great Jimmy Buffett, we’ll have a margarita by the pool. Thanks for reading and enjoy your weekend.

Does any one individual have a more complicated legacy from the Trump era than Mike Pence? It’s one thing for presidential ticketmates to serve different constituencies. It’s quite another to have a thrice-married, billionaire celebrity team up with a staid, Midwestern Catholic-turned-evangelical. The odd partnership disintegrated on January 6, 2021, when Pence refused to indulge Trump’s scheme to overthrow the election. Does Pence deserve our respect for rising to the occasion? Not so much, Kevin argues in Wanderland (🔒). Just maybe, he had his own political career in mind: “To watch him strut and preen today,” Kevin writes, “you’d think that he did more than simply refuse to violate the most basic responsibilities of public life and clear the very lowest bar possible by not going out of his way to nuke his own political career and join an abortive coup attempt organized by a half-organized gaggle of clueless cretins who could not find their own asses with both hands.” 

A number of schools across the country reopened last month, only to close or go remote days later. Not because of COVID outbreaks, but because of lackluster or non-existent air-conditioning systems. Wait a sec. Wasn’t a big part of COVID-era school funding supposed to go toward heating, ventilation, and A/C upgrades? As Harvest found out in reporting this story, it’s complicated. That funding came with few guidelines, HVAC upgrades are complicated, and some districts opted to prioritize other expenses, such as “hazard pay for staff, technology upgrades, tutoring, and health initiatives.” Even for schools that did make upgrades, it’s slow going. One school in St. Louis “is in the process of installing a new air conditioning system,” Harvest writes, “but its current one couldn’t handle temperatures reaching into the triple digits.”

The hosts of the first GOP primary debate didn’t ask Vivek Ramaswamy how he’d have handled the certification of electoral ballots on January 6, 2021, if he’d been vice president. But in a post-debate interview, he told National Review’s John McCormack that he would have seized the opportunity to reach a “national compromise” on electoral reforms and unite the country—a concept he developed further on Meet the Press a few days later.” The details? In return for certifying the election, he would implore Congress to implement Election Day-only voting, paper ballots, and voter ID. Is that even possible? Price explains all the reasons that it’s not: “Had Ramaswamy been Trump’s vice president and wanted to attempt to make the certification of the Electoral College votes conditional on the passage of some other election-related bill, he could have worked with like-minded lawmakers to draft such legislation, while also threatening to somehow thwart the Electoral College certification, in the weeks leading up to January 6,” he writes. “But what he could have actually done to stop the certification of electoral votes is unclear.”

And here’s the best of the rest:

  • President Biden wants to look tough on China, but his actions don’t always live up to his rhetoric. He signed an executive order nominally banning U.S. companies from investing in certain technologies, but, as Arthur Herman notes, it’s pretty toothless.
  • Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell froze up during a news conference on Wednesday, the second such incident in a little over a month. Is he up to the task of guiding the Senate through a series of difficult negotiations when the August recess ends? While the Capitol’s attending physician has cleared him medically and allies are vouching for him, the Dispatch Politics team reports that some Republicans have discussed convening a meeting to talk about his health and next steps. 
  • In The Collision, Mike suggests keeping an eye on the attempt by Mark Meadows to have his case removed from Georgia into federal court. Whether or not Meadows succeeds, we can expect Trump to make a similar effort. 
  • When a shooter killed three black people in Jacksonville, Florida, last weekend, some on the left were quick to blame Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has made an effort to crack down on critical race theory and diversity training in the state. In Boiling Frogs, Nick writes (🔒) that the saga reminds him of the left’s effort to blame Sarah Palin for the 2011 shooting of Democratic Rep. Gabby Giffords of Arizona. 
  • Russian mercenary Yevgeny Prigozhin spent time in Africa before dying in a plane crash in Russia, and Charlotte reports on what the warlord’s death could mean for the Wagner Group’s operations in the region.
  • On the pods: David Lat (covering for Sarah) and David French run through a few legal cases on Advisory Opinions. Come for the Purdue Pharma bankruptcy discussion, stay for the report on a very heated chess lawsuit. Steve, Jonah, and Mike, cover a potpourri of topics on the Dispatch Podcast, including China, the Republican primary, and proud loser Kari Lake. And on The Remnant, Jonah welcomes Luke Coffey for a mildly optimistic conversation about the state of things in Ukraine.

Rachael Larimore is managing editor of The Dispatch and is based in the Cincinnati area. Prior to joining the company in 2019, she served in similar roles at Slate, The Weekly Standard, and The Bulwark. She and her husband have three sons.