Biden’s Wakeup Call
Plus: The center cannot hold.
Is this the new American exceptionalism?
“A bank, a college campus, a parking lot, a nightclub, a restaurant, a grocery store, a Christian school, an ice cream shop, a gas station, a funeral home, a hospital, a dance studio. a concert, & now…an outlet mall.”
In the wake of yet another mass shooting (the 199th of the year), some sobering statistics:
Meanwhile, the death toll mounts in Texas: Allen (8); Uvalde (21); El Paso (23); Sutherland Springs (26); Santa Fe (10); Midland (7); Dallas (5).
Back in January, the Austin American-Statesman reported: “During his two terms as governor, [Greg] Abbott has witnessed six mass shootings in Texas shopping centers, churches, and schools, has not used his executive powers to champion ways to reduce access to firearms. This is in stark contrast to how he has wielded his political clout on such issues as abortion, immigration and tighter election rules.”
It has become a familiar doom loop:
As routine as mass shootings have become in the Lone Star State, so have Abbott’s responses following massacres during his time as governor that together left 90 Texans dead, and dozens of others wounded.
Through the tears, the devastating losses and innocent lives lost, Abbott’s mass shooting response playbook has become well practiced. He blames “madmen” for the carnage. For Abbott, any conversation centered on addressing Texas’ record of easy access to assault weapons has been a non-starter.
He has rebuffed pleas for special sessions on gun violence yet ordered lawmakers back to Austin for issues ranging from rewriting election laws to passing measures targeting transgender people.
A reminder about public opinion on guns:
Let me repeat what I wrote here just last month:
A quick thought experiment:
Instead of talking about the routine slaughter of children and our fellow citizens in schools, banks, nightclubs, and grocery stores, imagine we were talking about Islamic terrorist attacks.
Imagine that there had been 145 attacks from members of the Sinaloa Cartel, or that dozens of airplanes had been hijacked and hundreds of passengers killed….
Would congressmen and legislators simply shrug and say that it was a shame, but that there was nothing — nothing at all — that we could do to confront the horror?
Or would the nation be shocked out of its torpor and mobilize to confront the threat?
We have gone to war for less.
Biden’s brutal poll
I have some bad news, even worse news, and perhaps a bit of good news.
By now, you’ve heard about this: “Biden faces broad negative ratings at start of campaign, Post-ABC poll finds.”
The poll may be an outlier and it is still early, but it’s worse than the headline sounds: “The president’s approval ratings slip to a new low, more Americans than not doubt his mental acuity, and his support against leading GOP challengers is far shakier than at this point four years ago.”
He actually trails Donald Trump by six points — 45% to 39%.
ABC’s George Stephanopoulos called the poll “Just brutal.”
And it could get worse for Biden: debt crisis, economic jitters, Hunter Biden, border surge, etc.
It is also likely to get much, much worse for Trump. He faces the possibility of multiple indictments and civil charges, and a jury this week might find that he is a rapist. And a majority of Americans have no problem with the former president being perp-walked. “The poll finds a 56 percent majority of Americans saying he should face criminal charges in investigations of his efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election results. Similarly, 54 percent support charges against Trump for his role in the events leading up to the storming of the Capitol in January 2021 and, separately, for his handling of classified documents after he left office.”
The poll should also be a wakeup call for Democrats and anti-Trump Republicans, who may have drifted into overconfidence; and a sobering moment for the Biden fanboys.
It also exposes (once again) the Hollow Men of the GOP, who have been wishcasting about the impossibility of Trump’s nomination or election.
Flashback to last November, when former Speaker Paul Ryan declared that he was “a never-again-Trumper. Why? Because I want to win. And we lose with Trump. It was really clear to us in '18, in '20, and now in 2022.”
But when Jonathan Karl asked him the existential question, Ryan punted.
KARL: But - but if - I'm saying if he wins the general election, if he becomes president again, I mean the way Liz Cheney has put it, it's like an existential threat to the country.
RYAN: I just don't think he's going to -- I don't think that's going to happen. I don't think he'll win. I think --
KARL: He's just unelectable?
RYAN: That - yes, I think he's unelectable…
But what if he is electable? What if the GOP decides that he can win? What happens to that argument? They have believed that the best hope for convincing GOP voters to finally take the off-ramp from Trump is by emphasizing that the former president is a stone cold loser. Last November I wrote:
That may be necessary, but without any real substance, it’s not sufficient, is it?
Unless these Republican critics also make the moral and constitutional case that Donald Trump is unfit for office — that he is a disgrace and a danger who should never be entrusted with power again— we’re likely to see a replay of 2016, when the Hollow Men of the GOP fell into line after a series of Trump wins. “Perhaps,” my colleague Bill Kristol tweeted yesterday, “Paul Ryan should be a Never Again Trumper not because ‘I want to win’ but because Donald Trump should never again be president of the United States.”
The Thomas Family Grift
Clarence and Ginni are enjoying the grift that keeps on giving, Fox’s PR moves are not helping, seditious conspiracy doesn’t require actually being at the Capitol on Jan 6. The weekend pod with Tim Miller.
The poll on trans policies
No one who has been paying attention should be surprised by these results. “Most Americans support anti-trans policies favored by GOP, poll shows.”
Even so, the poll suggests some nuance in American attitudes: Despite their doubts, most Americans oppose discrimination against trans people; make distinctions between gender-affirming counseling and medication for youth and teens; and draw the line at participation in sports.
“More than 6 in 10 adults in the Post-KFF poll said trans girls and women should not be allowed to compete in girls’ and women’s sports, including professional, college, high school and youth levels.”
Counseling vs. medication:
“The Post-KFF poll found significant opposition to gender-affirming medical care for children and teens. Nearly 7 in 10 adults said they oppose allowing children ages 10 to 14 access to medication that stops the body from going through puberty, and nearly 6 in 10 oppose giving 15- to 17-year-olds access to hormone treatments. (There was, however, majority support for gender-affirming counseling or therapy, with more than 6 in 10 supporting this for both age groups.)”
There is also wide support for limits on classroom conversation about gender identity with younger children. More than 3 in 4 adults said it was inappropriate to discuss trans identity with students in kindergarten through third grade, and nearly as many said the same for fourth and fifth grades.
The center cannot hold
Tough, smart read from Josh Kraushaar in Axios: “Extinction of the moderates.”
It's been a tough start to 2023 for moderates hoping for a return to normalcy in our politics.
The big picture: For all the talk of a No Labels third-party effort, the reality is that politicians —and by extension, many of their constituents — are still in a no-compromise mood.
Donald Trump is barreling his way to the Republican nomination, gaining more momentum by the day. President Biden, who has made some moves to the center, hasn't won over many swing voters for his efforts.
Moderating forces in the Senate like Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) are facing long odds returning after 2024, despite their bipartisan appeal.
A partisan gerrymander is now likely in North Carolina (after a new state Supreme Court ruling), jeopardizing the prospects of some of the most-moderate Democratic lawmakers in the House.
If Trump is at the top of the ticket, the 18 House Republicans in districts Biden carried will face existential danger. One House GOP strategist told Axios another Trump nomination would shrink the battleground map and limit the party's appeal in the suburbs.
1. American Publishing’s Literary Apartheid
In a recent Wall Street Journal essay, I described the unwelcome novelty of having numerous publishers reject my latest novel after publishing twenty-two prior novels, sixteen of them New York Times bestsellers. But most dispiriting was confronting the new regime in publishing: that as a white author, I should not have presumed to write fiction which featured black characters grappling with issues of racial justice.
Happily, I found an independent publisher willing to defy the strictures of literary apartheid. They are publishing Trial on June 13, and we have started releasing installments on Substack (see richardnorthpatterson.substack.com), so that readers can judge for themselves. But the larger story is what I learned from writing fiction about racially charged topics, and what that experience says about the toxicity of creative segregation. And the larger question raised by that experience is whether, and how, writers of fiction can continue to engage compelling social and political issues—as they’ve done for centuries.
2. The Kremlin Drone Ding and the Wagner Rant
The past week has seen two strange developments related to the Ukraine war that have raised more questions than answers: the drone strike at the Kremlin last Wednesday and a rollercoaster drama involving the head of the Wagner Group.