Politics

Dobbs, January 6 and How Conservatives Are Destroying All Three Branches of Government


Tom with the BTRTN June 2022 Month in Review.

June, 2022 was an utterly shocking month.  In stark and vivid terms, conservative
leadership demonstrated, in wielding their power, just how contemptuous they
are of America’s three branches of government.  There was the devastating mountain of sickening testimony
presented at the January 6 committee hearings that depicted former president Donald
Trump orchestrating a coup in his attempt to overturn his 2020 election loss; the complete evisceration by the Supreme Court of Roe v Wade, which buried, in one stroke, not only Roe but the hallowed concepts of
judicial restraint, stare decises and
any shred of non-political objectivity that once typified the Court; and the bare fact that both efforts were essentially
enabled by the machinations of the top  conservative Congressional leaders, the shameless
Mitch McConnell, in packing the Court with arch-conservatives in the Trump era
using unscrupulous, if legal, tactics, and the spineless Kevin McCarthy, in
backing Trump and his lies right on down the line, thereby lending official
heft to Trump’s baseless charges, at a time when he might have helped to take Trump down for good.

It is hard to overstate what the January 6 committee has unraveled.  Culminating with – what else can one call it?
– the explosive testimony of Cassidy Hutchinson, a former key aide to White
House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, the committee laid out in detail the story of
how Trump attempted to overturn the 2020 election results absent any evidence
of fraud.  Trump conceived the plan, inspired
his acolytes to execute it, and tuned out anyone who disagreed.  Among those he chose to ignore were his
campaign manager, the Attorney General, the White House Counsel and his own
daughter, all among his most trusted and loyal advisors.  

He instead relied on the advice and schemes of the lowest of the
lowlifes in Trumpworld, Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell, Mike Flynn and then,
ultimately, Jeffrey Clark and John Eastman, to concoct and implement various
paths to the coup.  Even with that, when
Eastman told Trump days before the insurrection that Eastman’s own legal
argument underpinning Trump’s strategy of choice — pressuring Vice
President Mike Pence to reject the election outcome on January 6 — was an
illegal sham, Trump ignored him too.  On
that fateful day, Trump knew in advance that the mob he had invited to
Washington on January 6 was armed; yet took steps to ensure their weapons were
not confiscated; directed them to the Capitol to disrupt the count of the
Electoral College vote; pressured Pence (as Trump was still following Eastman’s self-discredited
script); and so desperately wanted to join the mob that he assaulted his own Secret
Service officer in an attempt to take control of the wheel of his vehicle.  As the violence unfolded, he failed to call
off the mob for hours while the insurrectionists attacked the Capitol, instead
agreeing with the notion that the mob should “hang Mike Pence.”

The January 6 committee has been stunningly effective, and it’s easy to see
why.  First, they created, with the help
of former ABC News President and noted documentarian James Goldston, a
disciplined narrative that has laid out, chapter by chapter, in crisp two hour
segments, Trump’s criminal culpability for orchestrating The Big Lie and the
insurrection.  Second, through an
absolutely boneheaded decision by Kevin McCarthy, there is no pro-Trump
representation on the committee to counter or disrupt that narrative (Trump and
McCarthy also erred in blocking a bipartisan commission).  Third, the committee used the remarkably
effective strategy of relying heavily on testimony from Trump loyalist after
Trump loyalist, the members of his core team who hung with him through the
election and some until the bitter end, including Bill Barr, Bill Stepien,
Ivanka Trump and, yes, Cassidy Hutchison (as well as local officials who were
bullied by Trump personally, but held firm in protecting the valid local election
outcomes).  Thus we had the spectacle of
a bunch of Trumpsters finally calling out their boss, at times under the
guidance of deeply conservative Committee vice chair Liz Cheney and Republican
representative Adam Kinzinger.

The committee did its work amidst new, clear evidence that the
Department of Justice’s own investigation — the one that has and can continue to lead to criminal prosecutions — had moved up the food chain from the
January 6 mob of Oath Seekers and Proud Boys to the inner sanctum of the White
House.  First was the news that the FBI had
raided the house of former Justice Department lawyer Jeffrey
Clark, who tried to get himself installed as Attorney General to do Trump’s
bidding, a plot that got far enough along that the White House switchboard
actually referred to Clark as “Acting Attorney General” in their phone logs.  Then came word of the FBI’s seizure of
Eastman’s cell phone.  Both of these conspirators
won Trump’s ear with wild schemes intended to fulfill his wishes.  Their public targeting puts to rest the
notion that the DOJ was going to sit this one out.  Whether any of this leads to criminal charges
against Trump remains anyone’s guess, but the immediate legal commentary was
that Hutchinson’s testimony was at least potentially a smoking gun in making
(even completing) the case for Trump’s criminality on the grounds of seditious conspiracy (at the very least).

The hearings were rigorous in establishing the facts of the crime,
yet laced with humanity (e.g., Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers’ earnest
integrity and the anguish of harassed Georgia election volunteers Shaye Moss
and Ruby Freeman) and surrealism (an out-of-control Trump channeling Captain
Queeg, arm-wrestling with his Secret Service detail, hurling dishes and ketchup
against White House walls).   Barr was a
remarkably effective witness, his gravelly been-there seen-everything bluntness
captured in a single sentence: “I made it clear I did not agree with the idea
of saying the election was stolen and putting out this stuff which I told the
President was bullshit.”  Hutchinson, the eleventh
-hour star witness, absolutely crushed it, over-delivering
against an impossible standard, taking on (and thus making formidable enemies
of) her former bosses Trump and Mark Meadows with soft-spoken but assured
testimony that belied her 26 years.
  And
there is more to come; apart from further planned chapters in the saga, Cheney also
referenced new, clear evidence of witness tampering from Trumpworld,
yet another potential crime for the DOJ to ponder.

The Roe decision was hideously argued in and of itself, a defiant defense
of “originalism,” which essentially grounds modern, unenvisionable issues in
the mindset of men (the framers) who, however noble their work, simply recognized
neither the equality of women (or even non-landholding white men) nor the very
humanity of Blacks.  Constitutional
scholars have had a field day poking Mack-truck sized holes in Justice Alito’s arguments
ever since it was leaked in early May.  The
thinking was so misguided that the reversing justices issued four separate
opinions, each distancing one conservative from another.  The liberals’ unified dissent essentially
said that the only thing that was clear about the majority’s position was that
they just did not like Roe.  They pointed
out that the only rationale offered was that the right was not “deeply rooted
in our history,” which essentially is a far more arbitrary line than the
viability standard, and, of course, is also true of many other “privacy” rights
that the Court, save Thomas, took great pains to say they were not threatening
with Dobbs, including, say, the right to use contraception.

To paraphrase Churchill, never has such a fundamental right
enjoyed by so many, for so long, been ripped to shreds by so few, based on so
little.

But apart from the opinion itself, which reversed a 50-year old
precedent that was reaffirmed by Casey in 1992, was the utter disregard the
five justices displayed for the institutional authority of the Court, which has
also been torn asunder.  As the now fully
emasculated Chief Justice clearly saw, the right formulation for this
particular conservative Court would have been to affirm the constitutional
right to abortion (thereby preventing its criminalization under state laws)
while ditching the viability standard. 
This would have been less a reversal and more of a modification, and
would have preserved some sense of the Court’s dignity in the process.  But in shattering the precedent in, yes,
radical style, using vengeful, dismissive language, the Court has reached the
apotheosis of its politicization. 

There are now simply Republican and Democratic wings of the court.  Some version of Roe will be re-instituted when
the stars align again, when two conservative justices die with a Democratic
president in the White House and a 50+ Democratic majority in the Senate, which
could happen in days or decades.  This is
insane; it’s the opposite from apolitical; it is simply another branch of
politics, unelected and without term limits. 
More to the point, if the Court was unwilling to find a path toward at
least partially sustaining what is arguably the most important opinion rendered
by the Court since Brown v Board of Ed,
then we simply have no continuity of law anymore, and instead will be whipsawed
from one version of the Constitution to the other and back again, on this and
many other issues (such as the role of government administration, which the
Court limited in another landmark cases that limits the EPA’s power to regulate
coal factories, and voting rights, which the Court agreed to hear next year).

Two other factors make the reversal particularly contemptuous.  First, the decision comes, of course, after all
three of Trump’s SCOTUS appointees foreswore any interest in overturning Roe,
with Justice Kavanaugh, just to name one, strenuously stressing, in both
private Senate interviews and the public Senate confirmation hearings the
sanctity of stare desisis,
emphasizing how Roe was not just
precedent, but precedent upon precedent, as it was reaffirmed by Casey. 
It is difficult to take any other position than that these paragons of
the judiciary were simply lying under
oath
. 

Second, the reversal is opposed by the majority of Americans,
including a healthy minority of Republicans, who generally support abortion
rights.  Ruth Bader Ginsburg often
critiqued Roe for being ahead of public opinion and thus ahead of its
time.  Dobbs, on the other hands, 50
years down the road, is just the opposite, running counter to public opinion
and behind its time.

The third branch of government, Congress, has also been cynically
compromised in enabling these outcomes.  McConnell,
of course, exhibited the ultimate act of party-before-nation in his
back-to-back handling of the last two court vacancies.  No one has forgotten his refusal to consider
Merrick Garland’s nomination in the last year of Obama’s presidency on the grounds
that he thought the American people should speak first or his subsequently
contradictory (and thus hypocritically) rushing through Amy Coney Barrett’s
confirmation in the waning days of the Trump presidency.  The resulting trifecta of ultra conservative
Republican justices, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh and Barrett, joined with Thomas and
Alito to secure a SCOTUS that is generally out of line with the wishes of the
American people.

McConnell, at the very least, though, voiced public objections to
Trump’s behavior in the aftermath of January 6 and never endorsed the Big
Lie.  Kevin McCarthy, on the other hand,
quickly reversed his own public objections to Trump’s actions, ran down to
Mar-A-Lago to beg for Trump’s forgiveness, and, course correction complete,
continued on a path he dreams will land him the Speakership in 2023.  Had he joined with McConnell and stayed the
course in the crucial post-January 6 period, they just might have succeeded in
bringing Trump down. McConnell may have put party before country, but McCarthy
put self before country.  Thus the GOP’s two most powerful active
politicians have their fingerprints all over Dobbs and January 6, and whatever
shred of dignity Congress may have held has also been buried.

The insidious nature of these common threads is perhaps best
exemplified by SCOTUS justice Clarence Thomas, author of the most radical
version of the Dobbs opinions (which threatened directly all “privacy”-based
rights), and his wife Ginni Thomas, a zealous arch-conservative operator who
was manically texting Mark Meadows as the Big Lie plan unfolded, exhorting him
to push it as far as possible, and strategizing with him on how to restore
Trump to power.  In the same time frame,
Justice Thomas participated in at least two 2020 election cases, in Texas and
Pennsylvania, which the court refused to hear, but in one of those rulings,
Thomas dissented.  He also ruled in cases
in which Trump was attempting to limit disclosure of January 6 materials.  How can it be that a member of the Supreme Court
could pass judgment on a case (and arguing for it to be heard) involving aspects
of The Big Lie when his own wife was part of the inner circle that was
supporting it, and, we might add, advocating the overthrow the U.S. government?  “Recusal” seems a positively mild action to
have expected from a SCOTUS Justice – how about turning his wife in for
potential seditious conspiracy? — but the American people did not even get
that from him.

Trump, McConnell, McCarthy and the right wing of the Supreme Court
have both exposed exactly how fragile our democracy really is, how dependent it
is on norms that were understood for over 200 years but not codified, such as
the right of a president to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court, the conscience
required of our leaders to put country before party, as the GOP did in 1974
when they abandoned Nixon for crimes that pale to those of Trump, and the rule
of law embodied in stare desisis.  From there, it is a swift descent, and it is
hard to be optimistic about the fate of our democracy – particularly when so
much has happened when the Democrats actually control both the White House and
the both House of Congress.  But as of
now, each of our three branches of government has been badly damaged, if not
destroyed.

It is entirely possible that the GOP has committed the most
predictable error in politics:  overreach.  The degree to which GOP party faithful have
fallen in line behind Trump, and the particularly radical argument forwarded in
Dobbs on abortion, are both so far over the top that the GOP may end up doing
the impossible:  giving the Democrats a
chance in the midterms after all. 
Joe Biden and the Democrats have long been seeking a catalyst or
two that can change the unsightly 2022 midterm dynamics.  These two events give Democrats something they
badly need:  a way to motivate their
base, and talking points that distract from inflation.  Elections these days are won and lost in the
suburbs, and it would be hard to find two more animating issues for that
electoral segment than the curtailing of abortion rights and the criminal
behavior of Donald Trump.  Swing
state/district Republicans are not rejoicing over the Dobbs verdict, rather
they are ignoring it.  Ignoring Trump
himself is more difficult.

As for Biden, while his performance has been overshadowed by the
Trump/SCOTUS news, and is still buffeted by 8% inflation and record gas prices,
he did score some significant wins in June. 
Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut and Republican Senator
John Cornyn of Texas led a bipartisan group that managed to put together a bill
to stem gun violence, the first of its kind in nearly three decades, which
Biden signed into law.  The bill is
modest, to be sure, but Biden has now broken the partisan fever on two gridlock
issues, infrastructure and gun control, with bipartisan legislation.  And while the war in Ukraine drags on, Biden
scored a significant win – and Vladimir Putin an enormous loss — when NATO
issued membership invitations to Finland and Sweden.

Most of the major events of the months – the Roe reversal, the
Hutchinson testimony and the NATO invitation, arrived in the last days of the
month, so it remains to be seen how they will affect the measurable political
environment.

But there is no mistaking one fact – Trump is weakening.  While he is still the leader overall in 2024
polling for the Republican nomination (at least pre-Hutchinson), there is at
least one data point worth noting.  Just
before both Dobbs and Hutchinson there was a University of New Hampshire poll
that showed likely GOP voters in New Hampshire (the all-important first primary
state, of course) breaking for Florida Governor Ron DeSantis 39/37 over Trump
for the 2024 nomination.  Last fall, in a
like poll by the same entity, Trump led DeSantis 43/18.

It is now clear, or clearer than ever, that the days when traditions
that facilitated our democracy, based on handshake agreements and widely
recognized norms, but not codified in any formal way — such as the peaceful
transition and stare decisis — are
gone for good.  And their demise has been
the handiwork of the conservatives who control the levers of power and leverage
at the highest levels of executive, legislative and judicial branches of
government, and we are the weaker for it.

MADNESS

I could simply copy the above paragraphs (save the last few) again
in full and it would be appropriate for this space, where we highlight the most
outlandish event of the prior month.

But in the interest in offering something apart from the regular
news that was outlandish, there is this. 
We have previously used this space to note Sarah Palin’s return to elective
politics, in her quest to fill Alaska’s vacant House seat in the wake of
long-term congressman Dan Young’s death. 
It gets better.

In June there was a special election primary for the seat.  A total of 48 people ran, including,
including not only Sarah Palin but a candidate named Santa Claus.  Not that
one, but rather a real Mr. Claus, who is a member of the city council of
North Pole, Alaska.  We are not making
this up.  Mr. Claus’s given name is
Thomas O’Connor.  He was born in
Washington, DC in 1947, attended NYU, worked in a variety of positions,
including at FEMA, and changed his name to the more memorable regionally
suitable current one in 2009.  As Yogi
said, you can look it up.

Palin made it to the August run-off, but Santa did not survive the
top-four-person cutoff.  

APPROVAL RATING

Joe Biden’s approval rating for the month of June dropped again
down to 41%, the lowest of his presidency.
 

HOW BIDEN IS HANDLING KEY ISSUES

Biden’s “key issue” ratings generally dropped a point or so from
May levels, although there was a full 3-point dip on the question of whether
America was on the “right track” or not. 
That particular number, now down to 22%, is extremely concerning for the
Biden Administration.

GENERIC BALLOT

In June polling, on average the GOP continues to lead the
Democrats on the generic ballot by +2.6 percentage points, which has actually
expanded the gap by another point.  There has been some excitement
about Democrats about a new Marist poll which showed a +10 gain for Democrats
in the genetic ballot, from -3 to +7 since April.  Alas, the Marist poll also showed a +8 swing
in May versus April, and no other generic poll showed such movement.  The Marist poll is likely an outlier.

Using BTRTN’s proprietary models (which have been extremely
accurate in midterm elections), if this lead was still in place on Election Day
in 2022, and adding in +4 seats for the net impact of redistricting, the GOP
would pick up about 26 seats and take over the House with some room to spare.  While this would be quite a decisive move, it
would be of lesser magnitude than the losses experienced by Bill Clinton (-54
seats), Barack Obama (-63) and Donald Trump (-40).

 

 

BIDENOMETER

The “Bidenometer” dropped all the way down to +2 in June, which
means Biden can barely made the claim that from an economic standpoint, America
is “better off” than it was when he took over from Trump.

The drop down was mostly driven by a double-digit drop in the
stock market and skyrocketing gas prices. 
Consumer confidence also fell. 
Unemployment remains very low, and we await a new GDP update next month.

As a reminder, this measure is designed to provide an objective
answer to the legendary economically-driven question at the heart of the 1980
Reagan campaign:  “Are you better off than you were four years
ago?”  We reset the Bidenometer at this Inaugural to zero, so that we
better demonstrate whether the economy performs better (a positive number) or
worse (a negative number) under Biden than what he inherited from the Trump
Administration.

This exclusive BTRTN measure is comprised of five indicative data
points:  the unemployment rate, Consumer Confidence, the price of
gasoline, the Dow-Jones Industrial Average and the U.S. GDP.  The
measure is calculated by averaging the percentage change in each measure from
the inaugural to the present time.

The +12 means that, on average, the five measures are 12% higher
than they were when Biden was inaugurated (see the chart below).  With a Bidenometer of +2, the economy is performing
only slightly better under Biden compared to its condition when Trump left
office.
  Unemployment is much lower, the consumer
confidence is higher, and the GDP is stronger. 
On the flip side, gas prices have soared and the Dow is below where it
was when Trump left office.  .

Using January 20, 2021 as a baseline measure of zero, you can see
from the chart below that under Clinton the measure ended at +55.  It
declined from +55 to only +8 under Bush, who presided over the Great Recession
at the end of his term, then rose from +8 to +33 under Obama’s recovery.  Under
Trump, it fell again, from +33 to 0, driven by the shock of COVID-19 and
Trump’s mismanagement of it.  Now we have seen it move slightly
upward to +2 under Biden.

 

 

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borntorunthenumbers@gmail.com.

Notes on methodology:

BTRTN calculates our monthly
approval ratings using an average of the four pollsters who conduct daily or
weekly approval rating polls: Gallup Rasmussen, Reuters/Ipsos and You
Gov/Economist. This provides consistent and accurate trending information and
does not muddy the waters by including infrequent pollsters.  The
outcome tends to mirror the RCP average but, we believe, our method gives more
precise trending.

For the generic ballot (which is not polled in this post-election
time period), we take an average of the only two pollsters who conduct weekly
generic ballot polls, Reuters/Ipsos and You
Gov/Economist, again for trending consistency.

The Bidenometer aggregates a set of
economic indicators and compares the resulting index to that same set of
aggregated indicators at the time of the Biden Inaugural on January 20, 2021,
on an average percentage change basis. The basic idea is to demonstrate whether
the country is better off economically now versus when Trump left
office.  The indicators are the unemployment rate, the Dow-Jones
Industrial Average, the Consumer Confidence Index, the price of gasoline and
the GDP.


 





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