“When the herd moves, it moves.” British PM Boris Johnson, July 7, 2022.
Happy Wednesday. After a jam-packed week of family reunions, a new baby, a wedding, and emotional good-byes, I’ll confess that it is a bit disconcerting to return to the world I’ve been assiduously ignoring.
What did I miss? Other, of course than the en masse movement of the conventional wisdom about GOP prospects in the midterms. We have a bunch of polls, and a whole lot of punditry to sift through, to winnow the wishcasting from the reality. We’ll get to that in a bit.
But, let’s start with this dispatch from the culture wars. (Make sure you read Mona Charen’s discussion of the French food wars in today’s Bulwark.)
It all began when Sandrine Rousseau, a member of Parliament from the Green Party, declared “we have to change our mentality so that eating a barbecued entrecôte is no longer a symbol of virility.”
As you might expect in a country that takes its gastronomy quite seriously, this has set off a Gallic war of words.
Politicians across the political spectrum — from the far-right to the Communist Party — erupted. They accused Ms. Rousseau of impugning the deep Gallic attachment to the marbled beef prepared by the delicate incisions of French butchers, insulting and “deconstructing” men, projecting gender wars onto pleasant summer gatherings and generally spreading gloom.
Rousseau has pushed back, insisting that “I am not against men. I am against a patriarchal system that is taking the planet into a wall.”
“These men react as if I am tearing out their hearts and lungs!” she said. “Yet, after a summer like this, we clearly need to think about how to replace conviviality around raw meat on a barbecue. We can grill bell peppers. We can have a picnic. We can reimagine what has value.”
Guess who isn’t buying it: the Communists.
“Meat consumption is a function of what you have in your wallet,” explained Fabien Roussel, the secretary general of the French Communist Party, “not in your panties or your underpants.”
“What are we going to eat? Tofu and soy beans? Come on!”
Exit take: You know it’s bad when the Communists think you’re too extreme.
A risible decision
This morning, we’re getting this breaking news from the Wapo: “Material on foreign nation’s nuclear capabilities seized at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago.”
A document describing a foreign government’s military defenses, including its nuclear capabilities, was found by FBI agents who searched former president Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence and private club last month, according to people familiar with the matter, underscoring concerns among U.S. intelligence officials about classified material stashed in the Florida property.
Some of the seized documents detail top-secret U.S. operations so closely guarded that many senior national security officials are kept in the dark about them. Only the president, some members of his Cabinet or a near-Cabinet-level official could authorize other government officials to know details of these special-access programs, according to people familiar with the search, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe sensitive details of an ongoing investigation.
This comes just days after the ruling by a federal judge blocking the DOJ from using the documents seized at Mar-a-Lago.
Our discussion of that ruling could probably stop right here: Even Bill Barr thinks the judge blew it.
William P. Barr, who was attorney general under Mr. Trump, took exception to her ruling, saying that the judge did not adequately address a key issue in dispute: whether a former president may invoke executive privilege to keep the executive branch itself from reviewing documents while investigating a potential crime. He said the answer is no.
“The opinion, I think, was wrong,” Mr. Barr said on Fox News on Tuesday. “And I think the government should appeal it. It’s deeply flawed in a number of ways.”
As you may have figured out by now, it gets worse.
As legal experts across the political spectrum have pointed out, the problem is not the decision by Judge Aileen M. Cannon to appoint a special master — it’s all the rest, including what law professor Stephen I. Vladeck calls “an unprecedented intervention by a federal district judge into the middle of an ongoing federal criminal and national security investigation.”
Paul Rosenzweig, a former homeland security official in the George W. Bush administration and prosecutor in the independent counsel investigation of Bill Clinton, said it was egregious to block the Justice Department from steps like asking witnesses about government files, many marked as classified, that agents had already reviewed.
“This would seem to me to be a genuinely unprecedented decision by a judge,” Mr. Rosenzweig said. “Enjoining the ongoing criminal investigation is simply untenable.”
On the question of “executive privilege,” legal scholar Peter M. Shane told the NYT that he opinion “seems oblivious to the nature of executive privilege.”
Other commentators were puzzled by the judge’s pretzel logic. Here’s David Ignatius:
Okay, Judge Aileen Cannon, you’ve got me stumped: How can the U.S. government conduct a national-security damage assessment about possibly leaked classified documents if FBI criminal investigators can’t look at the documents or interview witnesses to figure out who might have had access to the material?
Judge Carroll went out of her way to emphasize that Trump should not be treated like any other citizen. This has drawn barbed responses from critics:
“To any lawyer with serious federal criminal court experience who is being honest, this ruling is laughably bad, and the written justification is even flimsier,” Duke Law Prof Samuel W. Buell said. “Donald Trump is getting something no one else ever gets in federal court, he’s getting it for no good reason, and it will not in the slightest reduce the ongoing howls that he is being persecuted, when he is being privileged.”
1. Democrats Winning Over the “Meh” Voter
The incomparable Amy Walter in the Cook Report:
This year, however, Democratic Senate candidates have been consistently outpolling Biden's job approval ratings in their states. And, when it comes to the House, the share of voters who say they would vote for a Democrat for Congress is anywhere from 1 to 8 points higher than the percentage of voters who say they approve of the job Biden is doing. For example, the most recent Quinnipiac survey showed Biden's job approval rating at 40 percent, yet 47 percent of voters said they were supporting a Democrat for Congress in November.
In other words, many voters who are unhappy with Biden are nonetheless committed to supporting a Democratic candidate in November….
In other words, those who are "meh" about Biden are voting for Democrats. This is not something that we've seen before.
GOP senators are privately alarmed at the cash problems facing Sen. Rick Scott’s National Republican Senatorial Committee, uneasy over his feud with Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell and worried that their internal issues could undercut their already difficult road back to the majority this fall.
Behind the scenes, GOP senators are maneuvering to make up for the committee’s cash shortfall, with discussions underway to take matters into their own hands to circumvent the NRSC entirely and directly help candidates who need critical resources down the homestretch of the high-stakes campaign, according to multiple GOP sources.
A new fear among Republicans: The NRSC won’t be able to bankroll its part to target voters with direct mail and urge them to come to the polls in key battleground states, something that the party committee spent tens of millions of dollars to do during the 2020 cycle.
3. My Neighbor, the Presidential Candidate
In today’s Bulwark, Jim Swift asks: What drives someone like Jay Torres—an Army veteran and political neophyte running for the GOP nomination in 2024—to seek the highest office in the land?
Oddly enough, if you overlook his inexperience and the quixotic nature of his campaign, Jay Torres is closer to my ideal than most Republican candidates who have a realistic chance of competing for the party’s presidential nomination in 2024. (Here, I can admit a preference for the leadership of average citizens, and the occasional technocrat, to that of careerists who are hungry for power—a time-honored conservative principle.) And this is a source of frustration: Why isn’t Torres running for something more achievable? He could even have chosen to compete in the House primary for Virginia’s 7th Congressional District. Our Louie Gohmert–endorsed county supervisor Yesli Vega won the nomination and is running against Democrat Abigail Spanberger for our recently redrawn district’s open seat. I would have happily voted for Torres in that primary.
Christine Emba at the Washington Post is fast becoming my new favorite opinion writer. She authored this gem about a week ago that I'd missed:
The world is taking America’s decline seriously. We should too.
To follow on, this is the reason that I have always rejected the idea that Donald Trump is fundamentally a political problem and that he can only "truly" be dealt with at the ballot box. I think the rest of the world would have taken far more comfort if our institutions had dealt with him directly and not relied on the fickle American electorate to bail them out.
This is why Trump must be prosecuted. Enough is enough. The American electorate has failed to fully hold Trump accountable and insulate our country from his malignant influence and the threat he poses as a legally viable candidate for the office of the President.
This is the reason we rely on certain specific people - elected and unelected - to make important decisions without holding a public referendum on everything. You might call them "elites", but they are in positions of public trust for a reason. Yet ironically, it's the real underlying justification for a principle that Republicans love to parrot in complete ignorance: "we're a republic, not a democracy".
Get used to it folks - if the GOP regains power, we'll have more to worry about than a single MAGA judge showing more concern for "irreparable harm" to a criminal's reputation than she does for the irreparable harm being done to our national security.
VOTE as if our nation depends on it, because unless and until today's GOP is decimated at the polls, they will not reform. It goes well beyond the MAGA Republicans when you have the majority of mainstream elected Republicans acquiescing with their willful silence.