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A Carnival of Shambolism
The CPC, the Debate in PA, and dumb luck in WI
I feel like this edition of Morning Shots should come with a trigger warning. The words FUBAR, clusterbang, omnishambles, botch, debacle, and snafu will be deployed with extreme prejudice and that’s before I even get to last night’s ghastly senate debate in Pennsylvania. I am afraid that coffee may be spat out.
So with those caveats, happy Wednesday!
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The Prog Caucus Massacree
For those of you following along at home, the Congressional Progressive Caucus “withdrew” its 30-signature letter urging direct negotiations with Vladimir Putin. The whole thing was a botch wrapped in a bungle, and the explanations just made it worse. After a day of “clarifications,” walkbacks, and various excuses, CPC chair Pramila Jayapal tried to un-ring the bell by blaming “staff.”
“The letter was drafted several months ago,” she insisted, “but unfortunately was released by staff without vetting.” The Wapo reports:
The withdrawal comes a day after the letter, led by Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), triggered fierce pushback from many Democrats. The retraction was also a stunning misstep for a prominent House liberal who has expressed interest in seeking a leadership position in the party.
But smell tests were not passed. Reports Politico:
A source familiar with the situation told POLITICO that Jayapal personally approved the letter’s release on Monday. Spokespeople for the Progressive Caucus and Jayapal’s personal office, asked for comment, referred back to the group’s statement without denying Jayapal’s direct involvement.
Also, as reporters noted, the original Wapo story included this statement from Jayapal:
“It’s just a disaster,” a Hill staffer told Politico. “The CPC just needs to clean house.”
Clusterf**k in PA
How bad was it? Let’s start with this vignette from the Daily Beast: “The Moment a Room Full of Fetterman Supporters Fell Silent.”
“Uh, I do support fracking, and, I don’t—I don’t—I support fracking, and I stand, and I do support fracking,” Fetterman said.
As he tried unsuccessfully to square the two opposing sentiments, a debate watch party that’d been largely cheery and jabbing at Oz fell silent.
Some viewers turned to one another, scrunching up their faces and gritting their teeth. One person in the back even let out a groan.
The groan spoke for all of us.
Yes, yes, yes, whataboutHerschelWalkerandTrump.
But let’s be honest here. That was brutal. Amanda Carpenter writes in today’s Bulwark:
There’s no delicate way to put this: Fetterman was, at times, barely coherent. His opponent, Mehmet Oz, was able to consistently form complete sentences—but, for an experienced TV personality, he didn’t do much to endear himself to viewers with his relentlessly negative attacks on Fetterman and his self-satisfied smirks. The debate was so unpleasant to watch that the only good thing about it is that Pennsylvania voters won’t have to suffer seeing these two men together on stage again.
Fair or not, Fetterman’s health issues were glaring. In the run-up to the debate, the Fetterman campaign sought to lower expectations for the candidate who suffered from a stroke in May and depended on closed-captioning assistance to understand the questions. Post-game, his campaign spun it this way: “For a guy who’s just been in the hospital months ago, he took it to Dr. Oz pretty fucking hard tonight.” Still, there is only so much staff can do for a candidate who struggled to explain and defend his policy positions.
And while, at the human level, he deserves immense credit for getting on the stage while still recovering, and in political terms, he deserves credit for going through with the debate—unlike, say, Arizona Democratic gubernatorial candidate Katie Hobbs—Fetterman will undoubtedly need to find a way to assure voters in the closing days of his campaign that he is fit for the job.
Some other coverage:
“Fetterman struggles during TV debate with Oz,” Via Politico
“John Fetterman’s performance was center stage in lone Pa. Senate debate against Mehmet Oz,” Via Philadelphia Inquirer
Exit take: If you’d like to try to find the pony buried in all of this merde, the comments section is open for Bulwark+ members. Have at it.
The Democracy Corps Has a Warning
According to a new report, Democrats are losing ground because they are not addressing the top issue: the cost of living. They are also getting hammered on crime and the border.
Right now, voters are more afraid of Democrats than the prospect of a GOP victory.
Fear of Democratic governance generates much greater fear than what happens with Republican control. Voters see growing crime, homelessness, attacks on police, and an open Southern border. Republican voters are 9 points more likely to score 10 on the voter-ladder scale and that is driven by Trump loyalists who are about 46 percent of Republicans.
The Democracy Corps found that Ds have a problem with moderate Democrats — but are gaining among moderate Republican voters.
Democrats are losing ground with moderate Democrats. That is a big part of their loss, the Republican vote rising from 7 to 14 points. That means Democrats are slightly less consolidated. But Democrats have gained with moderate Republicans from 9 to 18 percent and Cheney conservatives, going from 4 to 7 percent. So, this is not just changes in one direction. On the 8 to 10 voter engagement scale, our measure of likely voters, Democrats and Republicans are at parity. And we have Democrats tied in the battleground, a slight gain.
But, it’s going to get worse, they warn, “unless Democrats focus on the cost of living and make it their closing message.”
The suggested message?
“Working people haven’t seen a real pay increase in years. And Washington doesn’t get it. The special interests call the shots. But finally, Democrats raised taxes on the big corporations and lowered costs for working families by cutting taxes, reducing health care, prescription drug, and energy costs, and went after price gouging. Republicans get their money from big oil and big pharmaceutical special interests. Republicans don’t get it.”
Polling shows that this cost of living message “is the only message that marginally grows the vote against this onslaught.”
In contrast, they warn, the message currently being used by the White House and national Democrats [which talks about accomplishments, extremism, and abortion] “gets a disastrous reception”, and ends up losing another another 3 points.
1. Republicans Test Their Dumb Luck in Wisconsin
My fellow cheesehead, Bill Lueders, weighs in on our dumbed-down political year.
Beyond a doubt, the winner of Wisconsin’s “Who Considers the Voters Dumbest?” sweepstakes is Sen. Ron Johnson, widely seen as the GOP’s most vulnerable Senate incumbent in the Nov. 8 election yet now leading in the polls. The race could decide whether Democrats keep control of the Senate or possibly even get the two-seat edge they need to bust the filibuster.
Johnson has publicly cast doubt on the 2020 election result while privately conceding that Biden won. He even took part in a scheme to present a slate of fake electors to Vice President Mike Pence to help him steal the election for Trump. He claims his goal is to “protect” Medicare and Social Security even as he has proposed stripping both programs of their status as entitlements and making them subject to the year-to-year whims of Congress.
Amazingly, Johnson even refused to take a stand against a company that decided to move jobs from Wisconsin to South Carolina, where the workers are cheaper, saying “It’s not like we don’t have enough jobs here in Wisconsin.”
Johnson is a fabulist who has spun dangerous misinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic, even refusing to get vaccinated himself. He’s touted quack cures for the virus, from Ivermectin to hydroxychloroquine to mouthwash. He’s called the science of climate change “bullshit,” even as a warming planet is, as climate scientists have long predicted, causing havoc across the nation and world.
In response to the January 6th siege on the Capitol, Johnson proclaimed that the attackers were “people that love this country, that truly respect law enforcement, would never do anything to break the law.” (He added, unnecessarily, that if the crowd beating up cops at this event were “Black Lives Matter and Antifa protesters, I might have been a little concerned.”)
During one of his two debates against Barnes, Johnson accused the FBI of having “set me up . . . with a corrupt briefing and then leaked that to smear me”—a reference to a warning he received from agents in 2020 that he was being cultivated as a tool of Russian disinformation. He said the FBI’s corruption was something “I’ve been trying to uncover and expose.”
Members of the audience burst into laughter. It was the right reaction.
2. Ted Cruz’s Shadow Presidential Campaign
As he winds down, Ted Cruz, who clearly does not want to be a senator anymore, switches into salesman mode.
Anyone know what I did this morning? This morning? I was on The View.
It was more than a little lively, but you gotta go and be a happy warrior with smiles and joy, speak the truth, and we’ve gotta get around the corrupt media. Three years ago, I launched a podcast called Verdict with Ted Cruz. We launched it and shortly thereafter it became the number-one ranked podcast in the world.
We do three podcasts a week. We’ve had over 50 million downloads, and every week we beat CNN’s morning show.
Cruz hawks his wares, encouraging all in attendance to text a word to a number so they can sign up for his show. Meanwhile, Vega and Youngkin just sort of stare off into the middle distance.
3. Remembering Ashton Carter
Ash was the modern incarnation of the “defense intellectual”—someone who combined a deep understanding of the technical side of national defense with an historian’s sensibility about the nature of the national security challenges that the United States faces. He was often, if not always, the smartest person in the room and was noted for not tolerating fools gladly. He was unafraid of going against the grain of his peers, his party, or accepted conventional wisdom— endorsing, for example, the proposed low-yield W-76 warhead on submarine launched ballistic missiles and the nuclear submarine launched cruise missile proposed by the Trump administration’s 2018 Nuclear Posture Review. He valued America’s allies but did not fetishize our alliances. When he was Secretary of Defense, he worried about wayward allies like Turkey and how to deal with them. His tough-minded approach to national defense has, sadly, been vindicated by the challenges the U.S now faces from Russia and China.