“The mess and the argument after this election was embarrassing,” said one of the voters in the ad.
“It was bad for our state,” mused another.
The ad was paid for by Heritage Action, part of a wide-ranging conservative campaign to support restrictions on voting and voter registration in states where Republicans control state government. Another ad, in Arizona, warns that Democrats are about to make a “partisan power grab,” falsely accusing them of registering undocumented immigrants to vote and creating “taxpayer-funded political ads” — without any mention of what Republicans in Phoenix are doing to curtail mail voting.
As the voting wars intensify, Democrats have thrown their weight behind the For the People Act, a huge restructuring of America’s election system, already passed by the House, that would be difficult to implement before people vote again. Republicans have fought back on two fronts, passing legislation in state capitols and working to make the Democrats’ bill so toxic that there’s no chance the party would change Senate rules, weaken the filibuster and pass it with 51 votes.
The arguments are simple and completely impossible for the parties to reconcile. Democrats increasingly worry that they will not win power again if Republican state legislatures keep restricting ballot access and drawing friendly electoral maps. Republicans argue that Democrats will make it impossible for them to ever win again if those measures aren’t allowed.
“It speaks volumes that this H.R. 1 is the number one priority of Democrats,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) said at Wednesday’s hearing on the For the People Act, using its official legislative title. “It’s keeping Democrats in power for 100 years.”
The threat of a “power grab,” a popular term that comes approved by political linguists and focus groups, runs through most Republican responses to Democrats’ election bills. At an earlier hearing in the House on whether the District of Columbia should become a state, Republicans talked sometimes about a city stuffed with government employees, but talked just as much about the political effect of adding a 51st state that has always reliably supported Democrats. Doing that, said Rep. Jody Hice (R-Ga.), amounted to “a political power grab of obtaining more senators.”
Democrats have supported most of these ideas for decades, letting them founder the last few times they had total control of Washington — with bigger majorities than they have now. The momentum behind H.R. 1, and behind changing the filibuster, comes from Democratic panic at watching restrictions on early voting, registration and absentee balloting move through the states on which their majorities and the presidency have been based. Civil rights activists, who’ve shaped the messaging, argue that the senators who won’t pass the bill and halt the action in GOP legislatures are declaring open season on the Black voters who face the stiffest restrictions.
“They are, in effect, supporting racism,” the Rev. Al Sharpton told Politico this week. “Why would they be wedded to something that has those results? Their voters need to know that.”
On Thursday, during his first news conference in office, President Biden suggested that he agreed with an emerging liberal consensus: Even if the filibuster remains mostly intact, there should be some carveout for voting rights. Echoing Sharpton and the Congressional Black Caucus, Biden compared the restrictions to Jim Crow restrictions that made voting impossible for Black people in the Deep South, and suggested that the state legislation was simply too awful not to unwind at the federal level.
“What I’m worried about is how un-American this whole initiative is,” Biden said. “It’s sick. Deciding, in some states, that you cannot bring water to people standing in line, waiting to vote? Deciding that you’re going to end voting at 5 o’clock when working people are just getting off work? Deciding that there will be no absentee ballots [except] under the most rigid circumstances?”
Democrats have made similar complaints before. What’s new is the overwhelming belief of Republican voters, encouraged by Biden’s predecessor, that the current president did not really win the last election. Hice, the legislator who accused Democrats of trying to grab power by giving statehood to D.C., is also the first candidate endorsed by Donald Trump against a Republican incumbent. When he launched his campaign to defeat Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, Hice said it was because the incumbent had allowed Democrats to cheat.
“What Brad Raffensperger did was create cracks in the integrity of our elections, which I wholeheartedly believe individuals took advantage of in 2020,” Hice said in his campaign announcement.
With the first 2022 primaries nearly a year away, Republicans are frequently linking their decisions to the threat of Democratic voter fraud. Announcing his U.S. Senate campaign on Monday, Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) baselessly insisted that “in 2020, America suffered the worst voter-fraud and election theft in history.” In Georgia, Democrat-turned-Republican Vernon Jones tweeted that “if it weren’t for Brian Kemp, Donald Trump would still be President of these United States,” suggesting that he might challenge the first-term governor.
The public campaign for voting restrictions tends to avoid the partisan angle. Much of it, like the Heritage Action ads, presents election integrity as a problem that grew organically out of the 2020 election. Therefore, Democratic opposition to these bills is about finding an advantage, not fighting for fairness.
“There have never been fewer obstacles to voting than there are today,” Hans von Spakovsky, the Heritage Foundation’s longtime election-fraud scholar, said during a Thursday panel organized by the Committee for Justice. “Remember in 2000, there were no provisional ballots. There was no early voting … so, there is a certain to absurdity what’s going on.”
Making Democrats look paranoid and power-hungry has been an effective way to kill similar federal voting legislation. But every Republican who jumps into an election by decrying the 2020 result makes it harder for Democrats to drop the issue. In the past week, Republican donor Mike Lindell told a crowd in Arizona that some facts — which he did not specify — could emerge about the last election that would be so damaging that Trump would be installed for a second term this summer. Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.), just as cryptically, told an audience that information would come out that would spur “resignations” in Congress, putting Republicans back in power, also before the next election.
“There are two flanks closing on them: the fact that they’re not going to get anything done if they don’t end the filibuster, and the brass-tacks political reality that they are probably doomed to semi-permanent minority status if they don’t get rid of it,” said Adam Jentleson, a former strategist for Harry M. Reid who has become a campaigner to end the filibuster. “And the voter suppression bills in the states are accelerating that second flank.”
The investigation into the insurrection deepens.
Explaining the latest wave of voting restrictions.
Deja vu for a president who’s tangled with the gun industry for decades.
Why California’s governor wants an all-GOP recall ballot.
Democracy in disarray
In a normal political year, next week would kick off the redistricting process in all 50 states. That’s not going to happen. The mess made of the 2020 Census, complicated by the coronavirus pandemic and a failed Trump administration effort to exclude noncitizens from data collection, has delayed the release of apportionment data by months, and an effort by Ohio to obtain the key data was just shot down by a federal judge.
Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, a Republican, sued the Commerce Department last month, arguing that the census delays would “undermine the public’s confidence” in the state’s new maps — and therefore, that available data needed to be shared by the original April 1 deadline to avoid complications with the redistricting process. U.S. District Judge Thomas M. Rose ruled against Ohio, noting that the full data would be needed to determine how many seats Ohio gets in the next Congress. Without that, the state might well draw up a map that wasn’t usable.
“Ohio’s claim [is] that Defendant’s announcement that providing accurate numbers will take more time ‘will undermine the public’s confidence in Ohio’s redistricting process,’” Rose wrote. “Accuracy would seem to be the foundation of confidence, and redistricting plan foresees the possibility of delays in providing numbers. It would seem that the remedy Ohio seeks is more likely to reduce public confidence.”
It’s this factor, the addition and reduction of seats based on population changes, that’s limited what Republican-run states can do. According to back-of-napkin estimates, at least 17 states could lose or gain seats once the new numbers are in, with the Republican-run megastates of Florida and Texas both expecting gains. Alabama, which has also brought a legal challenge to the census delay, faces the same problem as Ohio: It may lose a seat because Florida, Texas, North Carolina and a group of western states have grown faster in the past 10 years.
That’s making Republicans, who control the majority of state legislatures, wait until late summer for data. At a hearing this week, a frustrated Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) pressed Ron S. Jarmin, the acting director of the U.S. Census Bureau, on why data wasn’t coming until mid-August. The Ohio Constitution requires state legislative maps to be finished by Sept. 1, and congressional maps by Sept. 30, which a late data dump would make impossible.
“The fastest way that we can deliver the data to the states is to produce it all at once,” Jarmin said. “We’re trying to optimize and get it out as quickly as possible.”
Virginia Republicans won a Tuesday special election by a landslide, as expected, with residential contractor Travis Hackworth securing 76 percent of the vote to hold the 38th state Senate district. It was the first race between a Republican and a Democrat in the southwest Virginia district since 2014, when the late Ben Chafin flipped it from blue to red in a special election, a stop along the region’s journey from reliably Democratic to solidly Republican.
Tuesday’s thin turnout demonstrated just how much the district has changed. In 2014, after the incumbent resigned to take a job on the commonwealth’s tobacco commission, Democrats competed to hold it, and got blown away, their nominee winning just 32 percent of 29,380 votes. This time, Democrats didn’t pull out the stops for Laurie Buchwald, their nominee, but she raised and spent almost as much as Hackworth, nearly $149,000 to his more than $161,000. The result: Just 23,706 voters turned out, with 76 percent of them backing Hackworth and 27 percent backing the Democrat.
That was easily the strongest GOP performance in the district’s history, a pure story of partisanship. Chafin’s last opponent had been an independent, and running against a Democrat made Hackworth’s job easier. Buchwald, a nurse and the founder of a group that helped Democrats in the area run for office, campaigned on ending the pandemic and helping small businesses. Hackworth promised to focus on Chafin’s issues of “coal, jobs, life, guns, and our god-given rights.”
Low turnout aside, the election said plenty about GOP strength in modern Appalachia. The closest special election in Virginia this year was a Jan. 5 election for former delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy’s district in the greater D.C. suburbs. Turnout in that district — smaller than a state Senate district — fell more than 50 percent from the usual off-year election, with just 8,518 votes cast. Hackworth ran about even with Donald Trump’s 2020 performance in his district, while Del. Candi Mundon King (D-Prince William), who won the Jan. 5 election, ran far behind Joe Biden.
Pete Snyder, “Illegal Immigration Comes at a Cost.” Snyder, a conservative businessman making his second run at statewide office in Virginia, has continued to focus his gubernatorial campaign on issues lighting up conservatives. Before more schools reopened, Snyder went after outgoing Gov. Ralph Northam (D) and Democratic front-runner Terry McAuliffe for not supporting a faster return to normalcy. This new preroll ad focuses on immigration, with familiar footage of migrants climbing a wall and Snyder’s claim that Democrats “won’t take violent illegals off our streets.” (The party’s unexpectedly bad showing in the last race for governor, in 2017, came after a focus on the threat of illegal immigration.)
Glenn Youngkin, “Send in the Varsity to Stand Up to China.” The former Carlyle Group executive, also running for governor of Virginia, has now run two ads emphasizing his private-sector work as it related to confronting China. Both spots prominently feature former president Donald Trump, who praised Youngkin by name at a January 2020 event announcing “phase one” of a trade agreement with China. (The agreement itself was stymied by the pandemic, which worsened China’s already-bad image with conservative voters.) Trump’s praise consisted of eight words: “Glenn Youngkin, of Carlyle. Carlyle Group. Great group.” It’s repurposed here to argue that voters should send “the varsity” and not “the JV team” if they want to stop China’s exploitation of America.
Phil Rizzo, “Phil Murphy Has Failed Us, I’m Running to Re-Open Jersey.” The primary to find a Republican challenger to Gov. Phil Murphy is in three months, and the leading candidate’s occasional criticism of Trump has created some space for alternatives. Rizzo, a Hoboken pastor, jumped into the race with a video that makes him an avatar of business owners frustrated by shutdowns. “I don’t think it’s the government’s job to decide who’s essential, do you?” says Rizzo, before joining Atilis Gym owner Ian Smith, a shutdown opponent who has said he will give free memberships to people who don’t get a coronavirus vaccine.
After repeatedly limiting how Democratic-led cities could restrict business and movement during the pandemic, Texas’s governor this month declared the state “100 percent open.” Polling on that decision is mixed, with one element, to eliminate the mask mandate, genuinely unpopular. But voters aren’t exactly clear on what they want to be done. By a seven-point margin, Texans say that ending the mask mandate and reopening businesses at full capacity will restore “a sense of normalcy,” but by a 21-point margin, they agree that doing so will increase the risks of death and mass hospitalization.
In the states
California has a new attorney general: Rob Bonta, a Filipino American politician from Northern California’s East Bay. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) made the appointment on Wednesday, his third since the start of the year, with every job — U.S. senator, secretary of state and now attorney general — going to a person of color.
Bonta, a state legislator and former deputy city attorney for San Francisco, was an early favorite for the job. He was not the most well-known candidate. Outside of California, that was Rep. Adam B. Schiff, the 10-term Los Angeles-area congressman whose status atop the House Intelligence Committee made him the face of the Democrats’ investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. He raised more than $19 million for reelection to his safe seat last year, spending just half of it.
But Democrats haven’t lost an AG race in California in this century, and the idea of Schiff moving into the office agitated California civil rights activists. In February, a coalition that included several Black Lives Matter chapters and community groups released an open letter urging Newsom not to pick Schiff, citing the tough-on-crime legislation he sponsored as a state legislator and his votes in Congress for bills that increased the penalties for anyone who attacks law enforcement.
“We urge you to gain our trust and support by appointing someone who has worked throughout their career to uplift the people of California,” the coalition wrote. “Not someone who has used their power to punish Black people, Indigenous people, people of color, and poor Californians in a system marked by extreme racial and class disparities.”
Schiff took steps last year to repair his image with criminal justice reformers, withdrawing his support for the Los Angeles district attorney, who was defeated in November by George Gascón, a Black Lives Matter ally. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), a Newsom ally for his entire political lifetime, was Schiff’s most powerful advocate.
But Newsom didn’t have a strong relationship with the 61-year-old congressman, and another resignation in the House would have brought the Democrats down to 218 seats for at least the next month, pending the runoff between two Democrats in Louisiana’s 2nd Congressional District. While Schiff’s crime record needed explaining to the liberals who’ll be asked to vote for Newsom in this year’s possible runoff, Bonta had ended cash bail in California.
Sen. Alex Padilla, who Newsom appointed to replace Vice President Harris in January, will face voters again in 2022. Newsom’s speculated about what he would do if Sen. Dianne Feinstein leaves before the end of her term in 2024 — and Schiff isn’t a contender. Asked by MSNBC’s Joy Reid if he would appoint a Black woman to fill any new Senate vacancy, Newsom promised that he would.
“We have multiple names in mind,” Newsom said, “and the answer is yes.”
In Missouri, where disgraced ex-governor Eric Greitens is making a comeback run for Senate, a round of largely friendly interviews was interrupted by a grilling from conservative host Hugh Hewitt. As Hewitt asked how the details of Greitens’s 2018 resignation would not help Democrats compete for the seat, Greitens repeatedly accused him of repeating “leftist” talking points.
“They’re going to read into the record witness 1, 2, 3, and 4 in front of the Missouri legislature accusing you of half-rape, of taking photographs,” Hewitt told Greitens, referring to the allegations of sexual misconduct that ended Greitens’s career. “They’re going to do that. How are you going to survive that?
“How are you not going to be Todd Akin?” he asked, referring to a Republican who lost a 2012 Senate race after defending his antiabortion posture by saying that women who suffered “legitimate rape” rarely became pregnant.
Greitens responded by falsely claiming that the accusations against him, which included a woman accusing him of sexual abuse and blackmail, had been exposed as lies.
“Look, we have the people of Missouri with us,” Greitens said. “The people of Missouri know these facts, Hugh. The people of Missouri know what happened. They saw this campaign orchestrated by the establishment and the left. They saw the lies that came. They’ve seen how the lies have been exposed. All of this is known to the people of Missouri, and it’s why the grass roots are with us. It’s why the people of Missouri are with us. And it’s why not only we’ll win a Republican primary, but absolutely we will win a general election, Hugh.”
In Wyoming, state legislators defeated a proposal to require runoff elections if no candidate wins a majority in his or her primary. The proposal was endorsed by Donald Trump Jr., who like his father wants Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) defeated and worries that a divided opposition to Cheney would let her win the GOP nomination with a plurality of the vote.
Meet a PAC
What it is: In Our Hands PAC
Who’s behind it: Rep. Andy Kim, a second-term Democrat from New Jersey.
What it’s doing: Finding, training, and recruiting AAPI candidates for Congress. In an interview, Kim said that he didn’t have a real support network when he got into his race four years ago and wanted to create something different for candidates like him. “I’m the son of immigrants,” he explained, “and when I started thinking about running, it was hard to convince myself that someone like me could win.”
What’s next: For the time being, finding AAPI candidates around the country; spending money on ads and other forms of promotion would come later. Kim had the idea before this year’s increase in violent attacks against Asian Americans, but one reason he was moving now was to find people who might be discouraged by the news and stay out of politics.
Dems in disarray
Is the Trump publishing boom over? If you scan the bestseller lists, it may be time to ask.
For most of Donald Trump’s presidency, books about him, his movement, or his politics flooded the market and moved off the shelves. “Negative, positive, left, right — this last three or four years has lifted all boats,” attorney Robert B. Barnett, a broker of some of the biggest deals in publishing, told the New York Times last summer.
On Trump’s first day in office, the No. 1 book in America was “Hillbilly Elegy,” J.D. Vance’s memoir that became penance reading for liberals. One year later, the No. 1 book was “Fire and Fury,” Michael Wolff’s tell-all based on extensive interviews with Trump. One year after that, well into the reign of Michelle Obama’s “Becoming” atop the lists, Bob Woodward’s Trump book “Fear” was enjoying its fifth month on the bestseller list.
But there’s been less interest in these sorts of books since the 2020 election. No book about Trump has made the Times list of best-selling nonfiction books since Jan. 24, the last appearance of “Too Much and Never Enough,” an analysis of the former president by his niece Mary L. Trump. No book about Trump has made the extended list, covering both print and e-books, since mid-November, when Woodward’s second Trump book “Rage” ended its time on the charts after seven weeks.
Books about the new regime in Washington haven’t found the same audience as the Trump books. The New Yorker’s Evan Osnos published a short Biden biography in October, and California journalist Dan Morain published “Kamala’s Way,” the first big biography of the vice president, through Simon & Schuster last month. Both are selling steadily, but neither became a bestseller.
More tellingly, the arrival of the first warts-and-all history of the 2020 election has been greeted with far less interest than the first book about what happened in 2016. “Shattered,” an exposé of Hillary Clinton’s “doomed campaign” by Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes, was a No. 1 bestseller when it arrived in April 2017. “Lucky,” a look at 2020 by the same authors, has not found the same audience. According to NPD BookScan, which tracks print book sales in the United States, “Shattered” moved 13,900 print copies in its first week and 17,500 more copies in its second, benefiting from coverage of Allen’s and Parnes’s scoops. There was far less interest in “Lucky,” which recorded 2,300 print sales in its first week and 1,800 in its second. It’s the fastest-selling political book in the country, but the country isn’t buying as many political books as it used to.
The pandemic dramatically altered the book industry, grounding authors and canceling the sort of tours and festivals that can help build buzz. That’s one reason why celebrity memoirs dominate the bestseller list, but so is Trump’s (probably temporary) exit from the stage. Cable news ratings have been falling since Jan. 20. It stands to reason that the liberal no longer glued to MSNBC is no longer snapping up the latest political book.
More books are coming, about Trump and about the 2020 election. In a few weeks, Atlantic correspondent Edward-Isaac Dovere will release “Battle for the Soul,” a book focusing on the Democratic Party’s contortions and reinventions during the Trump era, ending with Biden’s victory. The book, he said, was coming whether or not Biden won.
“There are huge amounts of important and interesting moments from the last four years which haven’t yet been told,” Dovere said of the 2020 race. “To understand where politics — and certainly where the Democratic Party — is headed, it’s crucial to look at what brought things to this point, with these fragile majorities and uneasy coalitions and complicated personalities. That takes more, though, than what’s become the stereotypical campaign book fare of staff infighting and blind quotes griping.”
The biggest factor in all of this may be Biden, who for victorious liberals doesn’t inspire the same “We made history” fervor that Barack Obama did, or the same “How did this happen?” panic that Trump did. During the campaign, the conservative publishing house Regnery, published just one Biden book, “The Biden Deception,” which didn’t make waves. It has no Biden-related books on the agenda for this year. “The Enemy Within,” the latest offering by conservative activist David Horowitz, will arrive next month. Seven Democrats appear on the cover. Joe Biden isn’t one of them.
… 12 days until off-year elections in Wisconsin
… 30 days until the runoff in Louisiana’s 2nd Congressional District
… 37 days until the special primary in Texas’s 6th Congressional District
… 44 days until the GOP nominating convention in Virginia
… 68 days until the special election in New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District
… 75 days until primaries in New Jersey and Virginia
… 89 days until New York City’s primary
… 131 days until the special primary in Ohio’s 11th Congressional District