I don’t know about you, but I’ve been in the throes of post-vaccination euphoria, visiting and hugging my 80-something parents, dining in restaurants twice in one week, and buying tickets to see the Philadelphia Union tomorrow night. Thank God the Phillies bullpen always brings me crashing back to earth. Did someone forward you this email? Sign up to receive this newsletter weekly at inquirer.com/bunch, because we’ve never blown a 3-run lead in the 12th inning.
GOP has a democracy-defying plan to win in 2024 regardless of how Biden does
In Washington, D.C., a new president just marked his 100th day in office by celebrating the ambitious start to America’s COVID-19 vaccination program and a relief plan that’s reduced food insecurity by 40%, with an ambitious agenda to fix roads and bridges, tackle climate change, and vastly expand child care, community college, and other government programs.
In Phoenix, Arizona, a team of self-made election auditors is hunting for microscopic fibers of bamboo as they recount 2020 election ballots in a state narrowly won by President Biden — the supposed proof of a wild conspiracy theory floated by an inventor and “treasure hunter” advising the unit that some 40,000 forged ballots were smuggled in from China.
When it comes to the future of American democracy, I’m worried that the bamboo bozos have the upper hand.
As the 2020 election′s tear gas finally begins to clear out and the political picture for 2022′s midterms and 2024′s next presidential extravaganza starts to come into sharper focus, it may not matter much what President Biden accomplishes. The structural advantages — or, flaws in our democracy, some might say — for the GOP in the nation’s statehouses, in gerrymandering 2022 congressional districts, and in historical trends make it highly likely Republicans will take control of the House and maybe both chambers by 2023. Especially if the party succeeds with a coast-to-coast voter suppression based on 2020′s Big Lie — that Donald Trump was fraudulently robbed of victory, the falsehood motivating the bamboo hunters of Maricopa County.
Honestly, I’ve been trying very hard since January 20 to ignore the craziness of the Republican Party or its chief enablers like the Fox News Channel. I hate to even mention, and thus amplify, the insane Medina-Spirit-is-a-”junky” nonsense coming from the Former Guy in Florida exile, and on one level the D.C. drama that’s transfixed CNN and MSNBC for days — will Rep. Liz Cheney lose her GOP House leadership gig for telling the truth about Trump and the January 6 insurrection? — also leaves me cold. Knowing that her dad’s lies killed a lot more innocent people than Trump’s lies makes it impossible to hold Cheney up as some kind of hero.
But Cheney’s imminent ouster is important in one sense — in proving that the truth has finally lost its years-long battle against the GOP. Punishing Cheney for acknowledging the emperor’s new clothes of Trump’s 2020 election shellacking is of one piece with Republicans’ 2021 strategy of not merely bending the truth about Biden but embracing made-up stories that he’s banning your beloved hamburgers.
Biden is playing his political hand the best that he can. He’s betting that America’s persuadable voters will embrace real government help on jobs or raising a family over a Republican “culture war” around fabricated-from-whole-cloth tales about refugee kids getting Vice President Kamala Harris’ children’s book. It just may not be enough and here’s why:
Gerrymandering. Despite Biden’s 7-million popular-vote win, Republicans continued their dominance of state legislatures in the 2020 election — an advantage they’ve maintained in part by drawing the district maps in their favor. Into the mix comes the new 2020 Census and its gains of congressional seats in GOP-dominated states such as Florida and Texas. The new gerrymandered map for 2022 will make it nearly impossible for Democrats to keep their narrow margin (now just 218-212) in the next Congress.
History. What’s more, the party holding the White House typically loses an average of 30 seats in the first-term midterm elections. That can be offset by large, unusual events — most famously, George W. Bush’s GOP did well in 2002, in the aftermath of 9/11 — and Biden is hoping that the coronavirus recovery will bend the trend lines. But the weight of precedent remains massive.
Voter suppression. Through late March, according to the Brennan Center, legislators in 47 states had introduced some 361 bills that in some way would restrict voting — making it harder to cast ballots by mail, eliminating drop boxes, reducing hours at polling places, etc. After a record turnout year produced a Biden victory, Republicans are trying harder than ever to pick their future voters, and the new laws have already been enacted in Georgia and Florida, with Texas on deck.
GOP control of the House — with the now-50-50 Senate very much up for grabs — would end the ambitious pieces of Biden’s agenda, but it also flashes danger for the 2024 POTUS election, regardless of whether the Former Guy or someone else is the Republican nominee. In 2020, Team Trump’s half-baked schemes to overturn Biden’s victory were easily shot down by judges or state election officials, but in hindsight this may have been a trial run for 2024 and making their plan work, even if Biden or his successor gets the most votes.
In Georgia, for example, the most troubling provision in that voter suppression bill that Gov. Brian Kemp signed under a painting of a former slave plantation gives the state’s GOP-led General Assembly effective power over the State Board of Elections and also would allow the state board to take over local county boards in places such as Democratic-controlled Atlanta. Other proposed bills would give state lawmakers powers that they lacked in 2020, to more aggressively probe fraud allegations and possibly certify winners.
“So what happens in 2024 if President Biden or Vice President Harris win the Electoral College, but local Republicans on county boards with majority Democratic votes refuse to certify the election,” writes David Atkins in Washington Monthly, or “when state legislatures who have seized control of certification refuse to certify their state tallies; when a potential Republican majority in the House of Representatives refuses to certify the Electoral College tally?”
Good questions. When Trump supporters who invested heavily in the Big Lie about 2020′s election outcome saw their fantasies collapse, it resulted in the January 6 insurrection on Capitol Hill, where five people died, along with some faith in the stability of U.S. democracy. So how will the other side react in 2024 if an election is actually stolen from the rightful winner? While Democrats are trying to tackle a crisis in real time, Republicans are playing a long game from Phoenix to D.C., with the potential for ripping our nation asunder.
Yo, do this
Who among us hasn’t occasionally wondered if they were Bob Dylan’s secret love child? OK, probably not most of us, but writer Sam Sussman — whose mom’s early ‘70s fling with the future Nobel laureate resulted in some lyrics in Dylan’s masterpiece “Tangled Up In Blue,” and whose last meeting with the singer was roughly nine months before Sussman’s birth — has some questions. In the end, though, Dylan is kind of the MacGuffin for the most moving Mother’s Day piece you’ll read in 2021.
The New Yorker writer Eliza Griswold — who won a Pulitzer Prize in 2018 for her book on fracking in Pennsylvania, Amity and Prosperity — is becoming something of a bard of the Keystone State. This week, she takes a deep dive into a rising political figure in statewide politics — state Sen. Doug Mastriano, hard-core Trumpist and potential candidate for governor — and the roots of his Christian Nationalist philosophy. Prepare to be alarmed.
Ask me anything
Question: What would it take to end gun violence in Philly? — Via Philly Gal (@filly_gal) on Twitter.
Answer: The ultimate example of a question that can’t be answered in 100 words or less! But the carnage has reached epidemic levels — this weekend alone, gun violence in the city killed 7 people and injured 18 — and a newer, bolder approach is needed. There’s no magic solution. There must be fully staffed and dedicated community-based anti-gun-violence programs that are more focused on prevention than on punishment, and they can’t be changed every year or two with a new mayor or police chief. We need these short-term gains to implement the longer-term real solutions that are so elusive — stronger gun-safety laws, reducing poverty, improving schools and youth programs, and a new community policing culture.
A parliamentary by-election in a well-worn, wind-swept northeastern England fishing village called Hartlepool sounds like the set-up for a goofball British rom-com playing down at the Ritz 5. But unfortunately for the UK’s ever-imploding Labour Party, Hugh Grant wasn’t on the ballot this week. Instead, England’s left-ish political party — still reeling from 2019′s nationwide blowout — lost a seat in Parliament that it’s held since rock’s original British Invasion. One by one, Labour’s former “red wall” of working-class districts has fallen to Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party. Analysts say that smaller-town voters increasingly see Labour as the party of young cosmopolitans in London or Manchester, with little to offer for them.
Matthew Goodwin, a professor of politics at the University of Kent, told the New York Times the Hartlepool result “symbolizes the Labour Party’s broken bond with the working class and reflects a deeper realignment in British politics where the old left and right is making way for a new divide, between liberals and conservatives, that is really more to do with identities rather than class or how much money you have.” Sound familiar? Here in the U.S., the Democrats have mostly lost the white working class and have seen slippage among some of their Black and brown peers as the party is increasingly dominated by college-degree holders. President Biden’s middle-class spending plans are arguably the best hope for Democrats to avoid Labour’s fate. Stay tuned.
Inquirer reading list
Speaking of the college-educated, in my Sunday column I wrote about the plight of Pennsylvania’s 14 state universities that are staring into a financial abyss, and the role of (mostly) Republican legislators who placed the burden for educating our young people on struggling families, instead of seeing higher ed as a public good. The impact is hardest on districts these GOPers represent.
Over the weekend, I wrote about a different way that America’s cops are stealing life from mostly Black men: Wrongful convictions, often based on coerced confessions, bad witness IDs, and other lapses that are rooted in systemic racism. In Philadelphia, where 24 men wrongfully convicted of murder have been freed in recent years, the crisis is a factor in the upcoming election for district attorney.
Speaking of that Philly DA primary that takes place on May 18, The Inquirer’s editorial board (including me) interviewed the two candidates, the progressive incumbent Larry Krasner and his opponent Carlos Vega, a former assistant DA who was fired by Krasner and is now endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police. We endorsed Krasner, with the goal of four more years of criminal-justice reform. And when Vega accused us of a “fabrication” in his reaction, we had the receipts! The Inquirer has been advocating for a better Philadelphia since 1829. Help us keep it going — please subscribe.