Discover more from The Bulwark
It's the Crime, Stupid
Plus: Is mass murder the price of freedom?
San Francisco DA Chesa Boudin (Getty Images)
Can you hear them now?
Last night, voters in one of the nation’s most liberal cities recalled one of the nation’s most progressive prosecutors. And it wasn’t remotely close.
Early returns showed that 60 percent of San Franciscans voted to oust District Attorney Chesa Boudin, “who eliminated cash bail, vowed to hold police accountable and worked to reduce the number of people sent to prison.”
The result is likely to reverberate far beyond San Francisco. Opponents of criminal justice reform and Republicans seeking to depict Democrats as weak on public safety will likely cite Boudin’s rejection in a deeply liberal city as evidence that voters are balking at efforts to ease sentencing and reduce incarceration.
And in the race for Los Angeles mayor, billionaire (and former Republican) Rick Caruso out-polled progressive favorite Karen Bass, after a campaign that also focused on crime and homelessness. The two will face one another in a November run-off.
This is also a BFD. Analyst Ronald Brownstein suggests that the results in SF and LA amount to a “political earthquake.” And the causes are not mysterious.
Linking both these contests -- as well as several Los Angeles City Council races and an ongoing effort to recall George Gascon, Los Angeles County's left-leaning district attorney -- is a widespread sense among voters in both cities that local government is failing at its most basic responsibility: to ensure public safety and order….
Tuesday's California results will likely send a stark message to the Democrats controlling Congress and the White House. The outcome will again underscore how much danger a party in power can face when voters feel that certainty has been stripped from their lives -- a dynamic that extends beyond crime and homelessness to inflation, soaring gasoline prices and continued disruption from the unending Covid pandemic.
Another massive red flag for the Dems? Turnout was down down in California. Way down.
For Democrats already confronting a bleak midterm election landscape nationally, any sign of apathy there is reason for concern.
California-based Doug Herman, who was a lead mail strategist for Barack Obama’s 2008 and 2012 campaigns, said it “portends turnout trouble for the fall if the primary [turnout] is this low.”
For the GOP: a mediocre night for MAGA.
Several incumbents — including California’s Young Kim and South Dakota’s Dusty Johnson — successfully fended off Trumpian challenges. As the Wapo noted yesterday, “Keeping members like Kim in Congress is critical to moderate Republicans’ goal of nudging the party away from Donald Trump — not to mention Representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene, Louie Gohmert and Matt Gaetz.”
And, in California, Representative David Valadao — who voted to impeach Trump — appears likely to advance to the general election
As of this morning, Rep. Michael Guest, the lone Mississippi congressman to vote for the January 6 commission is narrowly trailing his Trumpian opponent, but stays alive for a run-off. And, as David Siders notes, in New Jersey, “where Trump once sought to encourage a primary challenge to Rep. Chris Smith, the veteran incumbent beat back a challenge from Mike Crispi, a Republican podcast host backed by Roger Stone.”
BONUS: Bill Kristol sends me this note:
In CA-41, moderate Democrat Will Rollins easily outpaced a left-wing Democrat in the first round to advance to the November election against Republican Ken Calvert.
Calvert is a longtime hack Republican incumbent who voted to overturn the election results on January 6th. Rollins, 37, a former national security prosecutor, made a big issue of Calvert's vote and of the importance of January 6th. He also ran explicitly as a moderate Democrat (he was, I believe, once a moderate Republican).
Rollins has a decent chance to win in November--it's about a 50-50 district, and would be a stellar addition to the young, moderate Democratic caucus in the House that gets little attention but has some impressive members
Is mass murder the price of freedom?
Just days after a teenage gunman murdered 19 children and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas, nearly half of Republican voters told pollsters that mass murders were “unfortunately, something we have to accept as part of a free society.”
Break that down.
Forty-four percent of GOP voters say that “we have to accept” the slaughter of children on a more or less regular basis, because they are the collateral damage of living in a free society.
Don’t slide past that poll number, because it gives us a glimpse of how broken our discourse has become, when weapons become fetishes of manhood and guns designed to blow human beings are embraced as symbols of “freedom.”
There is no confusion or misunderstanding here, because the wording of the question was clear and blunt ("Do you feel that mass shootings are___"), and the memories of the murders in Uvalde, Texas and Buffalo, New York, were still fresh. Media reports were still showing images of the victims and scenes of mourning.
The result is shocking, but it shouldn’t be surprising. For years, despite the rising death toll, the gun lobby has continued to insist that guns were the foundation of the nation’s liberty — and none more than the deadliest of semi-automatic weapons.
Just days after the massacre of fourth graders in Uvalde, the National Rifle Association’s Wayne LaPierre declared, “We know there can be no freedom, no security, no safety without the right of the law-abiding to bear arms for self-defense.”
And if that means that millions of Americans have to surrender other rights, including their right to life, and the freedom to live and move about without fear, that’s all right, as long as the nation is awash in firearms.
This is now the GOP orthodoxy, but it is still worth noting that this is a bizarre twist for the “law and order” party, and one that claims to be “pro-life.”
Consider that conservative Republicans never argued that we ought to “accept” attacks from Islamic terrorists as the price of freedom. They certainly do not think that urban violence or street crime is the acceptable price of living in an open, tolerant society.
They have never hesitated to support legislation that limits the rights of violent criminals; or to strip other national security threats of various civil liberties. (See the Patriot Act.) Conservatives continue to insist that we prioritize the right to life — include the rights of unborn children — over other personal freedoms.
But the polarities of our politics are reversed when it comes to mass murder by domestic gunmen.
When a person armed with a gun walks into a synagogue, a grocery store, a nightclub, or a classroom filled with terrified children, the party of the mailed fist transforms itself into a champion of absolutist personal freedom.
The “right to life party” becomes a party of depraved indifference to human life.
This is not a new position for talking heads on the right.
In 2017, after a gunman murdered more than that 50 people in Las Vegas, former Fox News anchor Bill O’Reilly declared that the carnage was "the price of freedom.”
A personal note
My best buddy and constant companion passed away last night. Pete was 17 1/2 years old.
He had a great run. And many bonus years. I was lucky enough to be able to hold him in his last moments.
1. How to Think About the January 6th Hearings
Here’s just a sample platter of the stories the committee has to nail down:
How the GOP and its many aligned advocacy organizations fundraised off Trump’s meritless legal challenges to cancel Democratic votes.
The efforts to squeeze state officials to “find the votes” in swing states Trump lost.
The schemes inside the Department of Justice to launch sham investigations into voter fraud.
The wild ideas entertained inside the White House to seize voting machines in order to “rerun” the election.
The pressure campaign on Republican members of Congress and Vice President Mike Pence to deny Electoral College votes for Biden.
How Trump summoned a real-life mob, bearing tactical gear and weapons, that resorted to physical violence to stop Congress from certifying Biden as president.
It’s a lot. Give it time to sink in. And do not let the political junkies rush the process with their relentless questions about whether or not the hearings will “work” in changing public opinion.
Give the facts a chance to speak for themselves.
2. Liz Cheney’s Star Turn
Forget the primary, Mona Charen writes in today’s Bulwark. Her moment happens this week.
Unseating her is a top Trump priority and a recent poll found her lagging her challenger by 30 points. Unimaginative people ask, “What’s her endgame? She’s going to lose so what was this all about?”
Well, for those who couldn’t see it, she has explained what this is about. It’s about her love for this “incredible jewel, this incredible blessing of a country.” It’s about the “danger of this moment.” It’s about her reverence for the Constitution that several generations of Cheneys have fought to defend. Here is how she explained it in February:
Republicans used to advocate fidelity to the rule of law and the plain text of the Constitution. In 2020, Mr. Trump convinced many to abandon those principles. . . . The Jan. 6 investigation isn’t only about the inexcusable violence of that day: It is also about fidelity to the Constitution and the rule of law, and whether elected representatives believe in those things or not. . . . My friend the late Charles Krauthammer once said: “The lesson of our history is that the task of merely maintaining strong and sturdy the structures of a constitutional order is unending, the continuing and ceaseless work of every generation.” Every generation of Americans has fulfilled its duty to support and defend the Constitution. That responsibility now falls to us.
Those words will ring hollow to the Trumpified GOP who have lost the capacity to love their country more than their party. But for many of us, they rekindle a spark of hope that some leaders will serve as a saving remnant.