Friday, March 17, 2023

BTRTN Election 2024 Point/Counterpoint: Who Will Win the GOP Nomination, Trump or DeSantis?

Tom and Steve took to the podium recently to talk to a local group about the 2024 race.  It was a 'Point Counterpoint' debate about who would win the Republican nomination. We reprise our roles in this written version, with Tom arguing that Trump will get the nod, Steve countering with DeSantis.   

Point:  Don’t Count Trump Out…Math and Logic Rule

Donald Trump has not been having a good stretch over the last five months or so, and he is undoubtedly a damaged candidate in 2024 as compared with 2016 or 2020.  You know the litany of his troubles, but schadenfreude is sweet, so here is a brief recap.

He was widely blamed for blowing the midterms for the GOP.  What should have been a GOP rout – yes, a red wave – was radically diminished and ultimately a GOP loss in the eyes of public perception.  Trump handpicked inept, underqualified and/or radically conservative Senate candidates in Pennsylvania, Georgia and Arizona, when more mainstream and qualified candidates -- who were available – would have likely won all three races, which would have handed the GOP the Senate.  The midterms are usually a referendum on the sitting president.  Less focus on the Big Lie and more on Joe Biden surely would have translated into more GOP House seats, giving Kevin McCarthy a margin he could work with, rather than be embarrassed by.  The midterms gave Biden a “better than expected” boost, the perfect way to kick-off his reelection campaign.

Then Trump announced his candidacy at the worst possible time, right when finger-pointing at Trump for the midterms failure was at full force, and just weeks before the crucial Georgia Senate run-off election.   Instead Trump should have worked to build back some capital from the midterm debacle, and done whatever he could to help Hershel Walker (even simply shutting up would have been better).  Instead Walker, one of his hand-picked candidates, lost in Georgia, setting off yet another round of Trump recriminations on two fronts:  the choice of Walker and the deflection of attention caused by his launch timing.

Worse still, the launch speech itself was about the last thing one might have expected:  it was...boring.  Some advisers got it into his head that Trump needed to be more, um, presidential, somehow.  But that is one thing he is incapable of, and his tepid delivery of conservative talking points did not fool anyone among mainstreamers and disappointed the base, who crave the grievance-laced rants of the madman.   Just a few nights later, Trump hosted an infamous dinner with the notorious Ye and Nick Fuentes, seemingly with the incredulous goal of burnishing his credentials among white supremacists and anti-Semites. 

Then came the mountain legal troubles, with near-certain indictments soon to be announced in Georgia (for actions taken to overturn the 2020 election); and in New York (for buying the silence of Stormy Daniels in the weeks before the 2016 election); and the machinations of a heat-seeking missile named Jack Smith, who is barreling forward apace on the two federal cases related to January 6 and the theft of classified documents. 

At this point, the big money started fleeing, as the Koch family and other super PACs announced they were all in in 2024 for anyone in the GOP save Trump.

Sounds bad, right?  Well, for a general election, sure.  But for the GOP nomination – not so much.  Apart from the boring speech, none of this run of misfortune particularly bothers the Trump base one bit.  In fact, accusations and indictments only add fuel to Trump’s victim-based rantings.  He has and will continue to maintain that everyone is out to get him – a “witch hunt” by the deep state, the elites, the Democrats and even the mainstream GOP.  He will continue to tell the base that he is fighting for them, and that is why all of those evil forces are out to get him.  This is the core belief of the base:  that Trump buys into their own grievance, he identifies with it, his enemies are their enemies, and he is the only one on their side.  And who needs the large donors?  You watch:  if the indictments come, Trump will turn those indictments into massive small donations faster than you can say “Leavenworth.” 

Don’t underestimate Trump.  He may be wounded but he is hardly done.  In fact, Donald Trump will be the GOP nominee in 2024, barring some truly incredible unforeseen circumstance or event.  And by “unforeseen” I don’t mean an indictment or even jail time.  Those, at this point, are foreseeable.  I mean something truly unforeseen.  And it is hard to imagine just what, at this point, that could possibly be.

It all boils down to two essential facts:

1)     Trump has unshakeable control over roughly 40% of the Republican Party, and those “Unshakeables” are far more likely than other Republicans to vote in primaries. 

2)     Trump’s opponents, including Ron DeSantis, cannot afford to attack Trump at will, because they need those Unshakeables behind them to have a prayer of winning in November, 2024.  But here's the catch -- how you can defeat Trump without attacking him?  .

The numbers don’t lie.  Below is a summary of the Republican presidential nomination polls during a variety of periods over 2021, 2022 and thus far in 2023.

There is a lot going on in this simply chart.  First, Trump’s lead, while showing modest slippage over the past two years, remains formidable.  He still leads DeSantis by about 15 points (averaging all polls in calendar year 2023).  Second, it is a two-person race as of now – the others are mired in single-digits.  Mike Pence has actually slipped a bit, Nikki Haley’s announcement hasn’t increased her standing materially, and the rest of the “big” names in the field, all unannounced, barely register a heartbeat.  Third, while DeSantis has made impressive progress over these two years, tripling his support from about 10% to 30%, including a nice jump after his big win in November, only half of that gain has come from Trump’s support; the rest has come from the others or the undecideds.  Fourth, while DeSantis did make that nice jump at the end of 2022, that momentum appears to have stalled in 2023, despite all that bad news for Trump.

There are two other factors about the polls that are important (though not revealed by this chart).  Polls in the year before the primary tend to be stable.  There are not too many “catalysts” for change, apart from how candidates “break from the gate” (how they appeal on the campaign trail at the outset) and how they do in the debates.  For someone as well-known as Trump, it is hard to imagine his 2023 performance revealing anything new.  Once Trump joined the field in late June, 2015, he led the GOP field with between 25% and 30% for the balance of the year (until he jumped to 35% in December) – and that was when he was brand new.  Back then, the other candidates – notably Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Ben Carson -- rose and fell in the “non-Trump” lane.  But the Trump base formed early and stuck with him, and has ever since, through thick and thin, for eight years now.

The “non-Trump lane” reference leads to the other factor.  In polling so far, DeSantis does far better versus Trump, running a few points ahead, when the preference question is framed as a two-person race.  But when the question is framed with a longer list of candidates, Trump’s numbers remain as they were, while DeSantis’s drop precipitously.  Thus the conclusion that a larger field helps Trump, because it divides the non-Trump lane. 

Put all this together, and you can see why Trump’s position is so enviable and perhaps impregnable.  He has 40%+ of the party under his thumb and there is little likelihood that that will change.  They’ve stuck with him thus far, and it is hard to imagine what could possibly make them change their minds.  They tend to vote in primaries.  Bad news that would normally destroy a political career only energizes his base.  News of affairs, lies, truly horrible statements, and likely criminal activity are all simply fundraising opportunities to him – gold mines, in fact.

What is truly ironic is that Trump tried to browbeat potential challenges to prevent them from entering the race, as a loyalty test, yet he is the one who benefits from the larger field.  DeSantis is clearly the lead choice to unify the non-Trump lane, yet he has been slow to enter the race, giving others an opening.  Haley is already in, and Pence, Pompeo, Tim Scott and others are likely to enter.  DeSantis has essentially lost his best chance to try to limit the field.

Let’s not diminish what DeSantis has already accomplished in crashing the field, which is impressive.  It is rare for a non-VP to command 20% or more support of party support a year away from the primaries in a first time run for the White House.  Those that have achieved that in the last 50 years include Ronald Reagan (‘76), Ted Kennedy (‘80), George W. Bush (‘00), Barack Obama (‘08), Rudy Giuliani (‘08), Hillary Clinton (‘16) and now DeSantis in 2024.  Kennedy, Bush and Clinton all had famous lineage and high profiles and Giuliani achieved unique fame post 9/11.  That leaves just Reagan and Obama as comparative with DeSantis.  Both essentially became legendary politicians with remarkable personal charm and charisma.  Is that Ron DeSantis?

No, of course not.  The DeSantis package is void of charm and charisma.  The better parallel may be Scott Walker, the former governor of Wisconsin who was the darling of the 2015 field, having achieved a national reputation for standing up to the teacher’s union in swing state Wisconsin as a true conservative.   Eight years ago, Walker, then 47, was leading the pre-Trump GOP field, despite being a rather drab and dull retail politician.  He entered the race and promptly stumbled, going from “first to worst” in just 70 days.  He dropped out well before the Iowa caucuses.

Outside of Florida, not too many people know Ron DeSantis.  He has put himself in a solid position, but he still trails Trump by a healthy margin.  Soon many voters – in Iowa and New Hampshire in particular – will be assessing him, and they will quickly find his personality is more Walker than Trump.  He is never going to fill arenas like a rock star.  The media will begin their deep probes.  He will not be able to attack Trump directly – he can’t inflame the base -- but the reverse is not true.  Trump will try to define DeSantis and then crush him.  And every one of those single-digit candidates will be focused on destroying DeSantis, not Trump, to lay claim to the non-Trump lane throne, and avoid ticking off the Trump base.  The oppo research will come. DeSantis is walking an extremely difficult tightrope.

Trump-Haley 2024. You can print the bumper stickers.


Counterpoint: DeSantis Will Beat Trump By Beating Him at His Own Game

Donald Trump has no idea what is about to hit him.


Sure, the current wisdom is that Ron DeSantis will be eaten alive by the vicious, candidacy-destroying venom of Donald Trump, just as Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz found in 2016.

Well, there’s a case to be made for pretty much exactly the opposite: that Trump has never been put on the defensive by a hyper-aggressive, uber-ambitious killer with an instinct for the jugular. Trump has never faced an opponent who is as natively cruel and soullessly Machiavellian as Ron DeSantis. This is going to be a battle to the death between two velociraptors, and this bet is on the younger, more prepared raptor.

Sure, Trump looks good in the polls. Current poll numbers are mostly knee-jerk reaction and brand name recognition. A year from now?

Let’s start with a key fact: America hates losers. The last time a major political party renominated a candidate who lost a prior presidential election was 1968.

In today’s radically polarized political landscape, there is only one criterion that the party out of power uses to select its nominee: who can win? For the Democrats in 2020, the prospect of four more years of Trump was so terrifying that the party quickly settled on the one candidate who seemed best positioned to beat him.

Now Republicans ask the same question, and it is Trump’s kryptonite. If Trump hosted a reality show today, it would be called “The Biggest Loser.” He is widely viewed as the man who dragged the GOP down to underwhelming performances in 2018, 2020, and 2022.  

Big-time donors see it. American Prosperity Group CEO Emily Seidel announced “to write a new chapter for our country, we need to turn the page on the past. So the best thing for the country would be to have a president in 2025 who represents a new chapter.” Have you noticed all the big-name Republicans who have endorsed Trump for 2024? Neither have we. 

Perhaps you believe that the Republican faithful do whatever Fox News tells them to. Well, Fox began to bail on Trump after the mid-terms. Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post called DeSantis “De Future,” and DeSantis was granted a fawning Tour de Fox to shill for his new autobiography.

Let’s talk about that supposedly uber-loyal Trump base. The percentage of Republicans who favored Trump as the 2024 nominee of the party had slid from 54% in 2021 to 46% in January/February 2023. That’s right… the “non-Trump lane” is now bigger than the “Trump lane.”

By mid-year, there will be indictments on the Stormy Daniels case, Mar-a-Lago documents, the Georgia election interference, and – at the rate Jack Smith is flying – the monster: Trump’s criminal role on January 6. Throw in an actual felony conviction on any of the above, and by primary season, Donald Trump looks more toxic than the fourth reactor at Chernobyl.

Trump’s base will be loyal to the end, but criminal investigations will keep reminding Republicans of the essential issue: can he win? By the time Iowans head to the caucuses, Trump will have more baggage than a Tumi warehouse.

Ok, fine… so that’s why Donald Trump will lose.

Why will DeSantis win?

In 2016 – the last time Donald Trump competed in a primary, he was a political unknown with no track record to defend. He toyed with his opponents with previously unfathomable personal insults, brazen lies, and shockingly racist, xenophobic, and misogynist rants that thrilled the hard right.

Eight years later, Trump is slower, and this time everybody is ready for him. Some say it will be to Trump’s advantage if many candidates enter the GOP primary, arguing that it will splinter the “anti-Trump” lane. But they fail to realize that if a half-dozen or more candidates chant in unison that Donald Trump is too old, too tainted, and too responsible for too many losses, it can’t be good for Trump.  Sure, the Nikki Haleys and Tim Scotts   the ones who are actually running for VP – won’t risk a head-on confrontation with Trump. But when Mike Pence goes ballistic on Trump at the Gridiron Club Dinner,  you know that the sands are shifting.

The hunch here is that Ron DeSantis is savvy enough to know that direct confrontation is the only formula for beating Trump… that if you challenge the King, you have to take him down.  And DeSantis is working all fronts to prepare his assault.

DeSantis will take the risk of saying nasty things about Trump that could well anger Trump’s base, but DeSantis figures that if he wins the nomination, Trump’s base will fall in line… knowing that sitting on their hands will only result in Biden’s re-election.

One reason that 2024 will be different than 2016 is that nobody has ever successfully put Donald Trump on the defensive. Trump was always in “attack mode,” and he had no record to defend. Not this time.

DeSantis has already begun to talk about his governorship as “no drama,” emphasizing a record of disciplined, effective leadership that gets stuff done. The clear implication: Trump is all talk, all chaos, and no action. You can expect to hear Ron DeSantis talk extensively about a wall that never got built, and a country that never paid for it.  

Between now and May – when he is likely to announce -- Ron DeSantis is on a holy crusade in Florida to prove to the right-wing base that he is vastly more effective in passing conservative legislation than Trump ever was. An entirely new fusillade of “anti-woke” laws – building on the base of barely-veiled racist and anti-LGBTQ legislation of his first term – will be rushed through by DeSantis not simply as proof of his right-wing fealty, but of far greater effectiveness than Trump in implementing a right-wing agenda. 

For all Ron DeSantis wants to talk about “woke,” there are far bigger, far more important issues that he can and will lean heavily into once the campaign is cooking. First, he can speak to a record of strong economic vitality during his stewardship. And when Jamie Dimon goes on the record about how “business friendly” Florida is, you know the governor has a story to tell. Who knows where inflation will stand in 2024, but a strong message on economic stewardship is solid campaign gold.

Second: he is a huge, proven winner in what is still by most measures a “purple” state. The man beat a perfectly respectable Democrat – a former Governor – by nearly 20 points. In today’s polarized politics, that is simply unheard of in a swing state. If the only criterion is “who can win,” DeSantis has a vastly better story to tell than Trump.

If Ron DeSantis implements a sound messaging strategy, he has a helluva story to tell… particularly against a President who failed to keep key campaign promises.

Once the campaigning starts in earnest, any gap between the two men will narrow.  A key reason: Ron DeSantis will annihilate Trump in debates. DeSantis may be an asshole, but he is a Yale undergrad and Harvard Law asshole. Watch him behind any podium in Florida. He comes prepared, thinks on his feet, is skilled at reframing a debate to his favor, and only loses his cool for theater. He is a wonk who knows the details. He is constantly on attack mode with the press.  He can do to Trump what Trump used to do to everyone else – initiate the attack, and put Trump on the defensive.

Trump, of course, never met a policy detail he couldn’t ignore, famously needed pictures and single page summaries to cope with intelligence briefings, and blithely blustered his way through significant public appearances by lying, hopelessly meandering, and – in crucial situations – reading from a teleprompter as if on quaaludes.  Trump was appallingly bad in the 2024 debates when facing Biden, himself a leaden debater at best. Donald Trump is a lazy man who will not do the hard work of campaign debate prep. And he will pay for it.

Just wait until Ron DeSantis starts talking about “winners” and “losers” on a debate stage as Donald Trump seethes with rage. I can already hear DeSantis: “We Republicans are tired of losing! We can’t be the party of losers! We lost in 2018, we lost in 2020, we lost in 2022! We need a proven winner!” Watch as the camera pans to Donald Trump, sweating, smoldering, and absolutely losing his, uh, composure under the scorching, humiliating, withering assault.

If Ron DeSantis is smart, he will take one further step… he will aim at the myth of Donald Trump. As we speak, Ron DeSantis surely has a team of oppo pit bulls combing through the 80s and 90s footage that reveals Trump to have been a classic New York City liberal right up until he ran for President.  DeSantis will draw a hard line between his own consistent right-wing orthodoxy and Trump’s Johnny-Come-Lately, opportunistic, and calculated conservatism.

Let’s rest our case with one final point: Ron DeSantis truly is the coldest, most calculating, most Machiavellian foe Donald Trump has ever faced. This is the man that cruelly forced frightened and vulnerable immigrants into an airplane and flew them to Martha’s Vineyard as a political stunt. How depraved do you have to be to manipulate the poor, the vulnerable, and the powerless for a childish political gag?  Donald Trump does not know what is about to hit him.

Have doubts? Here are the specifics on how this goes down.

Flash forward to the Iowa Caucuses. Trump edges out DeSantis in Iowa by 40% to 35%. Also-rans (led by Haley, Pence, and Scott) are in single digits. The poorest performing also-rans have the oxygen of funding cut off, and must drop out.

But thinning the field just a bit will give DeSantis enough mojo to squeak out a win in New Hampshire.

With each side claiming a win, it is on to South Carolina… where Ron DeSantis swings the deal that seals the deal. He offers his VP slot to South Carolina hometown favorite Nikki Haley. Trump does not take the bait, as he not-so-secretly lusts for the uber-loyal election denier Kari Lake to be his VP. Buoyed by the locally popular Haley, DeSantis scores a big win in South Carolina. Instantly, the wheels come off the “inevitability” of a Trump nomination.

More single-digit losers drop out, giving more and more of the “anti-Trump lane” to DeSantis.  By Super Tuesday, it is Trump v. DeSantis mano-a-mano in a sprint to the convention… and DeSantis has all the momentum.  Then it is just a matter of winning by thin but discernable margins, and DeSantis cleans up the delegate count.

DeSantis closes the deal by offering Trump a face-saving exit. They will cut a secret agreement in which Trump’s doctor supposedly orders Trump to drop out for “health reasons.” (That is, anything but an admission that he is losing!) In turn, DeSantis promises to do everything in his power to cut off all Federal prosecution of Trump, and he will name Jim Jordan his Attorney General so that Trump gets his “retribution,” which is the only reason he has given thus far for running in 2024.

DeSantis-Haley 2024. You can print the bumper stickers.

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Wednesday, March 1, 2023

BTRTN: Joe Biden Appears to be Enjoying Himself Immensely

Tom with the BTRTN February, 2023 Month in Review.

February 2023

At this point it seems a foregone conclusion that Joe Biden will run for reelection.  The main theories out there are that Biden believes that he himself is the only candidate that can hold off the GOP; that he has a fine record of accomplishment; and that, despite his advancing age, he feels fit for the rigors of a reelection campaign and a second term.

While Biden may believe all that, and each is a compelling argument, to varying degrees, here is another theory on why he will run again:  he’s enjoying himself way too much to give it up.

We offer as evidence the month of February, 2023, when Biden seemed positively giddy, whether he was sparring with MAGA crazies, shooting down UFO’s, making an unprecedented visit to a war zone or taking the global stage to defend the causes of freedom and democracy against the authoritarian ways of Vladimir Putin.  In each of these confrontations, Biden not only came out the clear winner, but he also looked vital, in command, and in general positively enjoying himself.  Hand it over to Kamala?  Good luck with that in your senior year!

The State of the Union address was impressive enough on paper, a doubling down on his progressive agenda, even in the face of the loss of the House in the midterms.  We have grown accustomed to first-term presidents using the post-midterm SOTU to accept publicly the humiliation of the election verdict, vowing to take their medicine, listen hard to the message sent by the voters and mend their ways.  Biden may have lost the House in the midterms, but clearly he won the (more important) expectations game by avoiding the rout that befell so many of his predecessors and was expected by most.  So that was Biden grinning and jousting while pushing forward on his agenda, while Kevin McCarthy, who had just fulfilled his lifelong dream of winning the Speakership, sat directly behind him looking rather forlorn, stuck in the hell of an unmanageable caucus with a mere four votes to spare on any issue.

Apart from his SOTU script -- indeed, freelancing off it -- Biden showed, rather startlingly, the nimbleness of Muhammad Ali in his prime as he parried and thrust with the crazy performance artists who are now the face of the GOP.  Biden coolly set them up on Medicare and Social Security, deftly securing an audibled voice-vote agreement with the GOP to not touch Social Security or Medicare in the looming debt ceiling/budget wars.  They did not even seem to understand they’d been had.  Instead, they kept up with their histrionics, shouting that Biden was a liar and booing and hissing him like a mob of unruly Parliament backbenchers.  All of that turns off Americans, as post-SOTU polls confirmed.  Perhaps even worse, the display showed the national audience once again that McCarthy had lost control of his caucus (if he ever had it), since he had admonished them to refrain from such acts.  The picture of McCarthy staring at them, Zombie-like, from his seat on the podium, like the agonized parent of an uncontrollable child, was unforgettable.

The Balloon Saga was similar to the Document Drama that immediately preceded it, in that both seemed like Very Big Deals until it became clear that UFO’s populate the upper atmosphere with the frequency that classified documents show up in former presidential and vice-presidential residences and offices.  (Not to let Trump off the hook, for his document sins are mountains compared to the Biden/Pence molehills.)  Biden and his team deftly disabled the China spy balloon, let it drift out of harm’s way, shot it down over safe waters, and retrieved it to learn much more about its capabilities.  What more could you ask?  The GOP, of course, complained that he was too slow to take the sucker down, but when he quickly shot down three other UFO’s of indeterminate source and threat (hovering above non-populated areas), they howled that he was trigger happy.  (Note to my brother:  we have early contenders here for his BTRTN’s 2024 “Lindsay Grahammies,” which celebrate cases of titanic political hypocrisy.)  

Biden’s historic trip to Kyiv and his speech in Warsaw are destined to appear in the annals of history alongside the Berlin speeches by JFK (1963), Reagan (1987) and Obama (2008), as pillars in clarifying the world order.  Biden, like his predecessors, sought the biggest possible stage to send the most unambiguous of messages to his adversary -- that the West would never abandon Ukraine.  Vladimir Putin’s entire fallback strategy, once he experienced the shock and awe of his initial attack of Kyiv being singularly rebuffed, has been to settle into a war of attrition in the hopes that ultimately the West would divide, lose interest and stop the flow of expensive arms into Ukraine.  But Biden’s strength in the midterms has given him the upper hand with GOP opponents who advocate an America First retreat, and the NATO alliance, refortified by Biden's post-Trump efforts, remains rock solid and unified in support of their ally.  Biden recognized the moment and made the statement of a lifetime.

Joe Biden -- the man who even many Democrats doubted was up to any public appearances at all – ad-libbing in front of a national audience with the nonchalance of Jerry Seinfeld?  Shooting down UFO’s with the cool precision of Han Solo?  Jetting across the globe, cloak-and-dagger style, a la James Bond?  Thundering from the podium, channeling his inner Obama?

Not running for reelection?  Unthinkable.  He’s having too much fun.

Campaign 2024

The currently announced field for the presidency is as follows:  Donald Trump, Nikki Haley, Marianne Williamson and Vivek Ramaswamy.  Heaven help us.  This is a field that should have America begging for more.  Biden will surely join the fray soon, and Ron DeSantis as well.  Once Biden joins, that will sideline any other responsible aspirants in the suddenly unified Democratic Party.  Once DeSantis enters, they key question will be, how large will the GOP field become?

Trump has never looked more feeble, or beatable.  He received full blame for the GOP losing the Senate; bungled his launch in terms of both timing (just after those midterms but before the Warnock-Walker runoff in Georgia) and style (the launch speech was, of all things, dull, Trump shedding his natural persona for some sanitized version of himself that pleased no one); staged a very public dinner with the utterly despicable Ye and Nick Fuentes; eschewed a return to Twitter and Facebook, proving his interests are more commercial (to help keep TruthSocial alive) than political; lost the support of the big PAC money that backed him in 2016 and 2020; and edged ever closer to real legal danger with potential indictments lining up like dominoes, starting with Georgia.   

Frankly, he’s looked pretty bad in his campaign clips.  He took questions at a “Club 45” gathering recently and was asked, after he became president again, what would he do to stop the war in Ukraine?  This was his reply, verbatim and unedited:  “So I would literally start calling, not from the day I took over, but from the night I won, and I’d called two people, you know who the two people are?  Putin…right, you know who Putin is…and Zelenskyy…and I’d say: ‘We’re gonna meet.  We’re gonna meet.’  And I would…I guarantee that I would work that out.  I guarantee it…I know exactly what I’d say, by the way, I know exactly.  I’d tell one guy this and I’d tell one guy that and I say you better make a deal.  We would have a deal made in 24 hours.”  Ah, diplomatic nuance at its finest.

And yet, he remains the GOP frontrunner for the nomination, leading DeSantis by about 15 points, and that margin could expand with every new candidate entering the ring.  Thus far there are two clear tracks in the GOP, the Trump and anti-Trump tracks, and each new candidate appears to take a bite out of the others, not out of Trump.  DeSantis rose from roughly 10% support to 30% over the course of 2023, but most of that came from Pence's hide or the undecideds.  So while Trump considers running against him to be an act of disloyalty, the irony is, the more who make the leap, the better Trump’s chances of securing the nomination.  For DeSantis to win, he needs the party to coalesce the anti-Trump track around him.

Nikki Haley is certainly a more conventional politician, although as a Republican Indian-American woman, she would certainly set all kinds of firsts if she won the nomination.  Haley was, of course, the former Governor of South Carolina and Trump’s Ambassador to the UN (as well as a three-term rep in Congress), so she has the kind of executive and foreign policy credentials, burnished over nearly two decades, that have long made her a rising GOP star.  But she has been far less successful than DeSantis in traversing the Trump Era, having worked for Trump, defended him to the hilt, castigated him after January 6, meekly returned to the fold, promised not to run against him, and then broke that promise when she announced.  Ron DeSantis has done exactly none of those things, and that distance has served him well, even as he benefited from Trump’s early support and has risen to current heights without it.  Well played, thus far.

Haley is almost surely running more for Vice President than the top job, and she would be attractive to either Trump or DeSantis in that post.  At 51, she has plenty of time to win the presidency (no matter what Don Lemon may think about her “prime”).  She is, however, pushing the “generational change” button hard in the early going, and that might soon rankle Trump.  One wonders whether, if Iowa and New Hampshire are a split decision, Trump or DeSantis might announce Haley as their VP partner before the South Carolina primary, inducing her to drop out.  (If one does, the other may counter by tapping current South Carolina Senator Tim Scott as their VP; Scott may also join the presidential race very soon.)

Perhaps the less said about Williamson and Ramaswamy, the better.  The high water mark Williamson reached in her 2020 run – in an open field, with no incumbent – was 2%.  If Ramaswany hits even that, we’ll be surprised.  At 37, his goal is surely simply name recognition, and he has half-a-billion dollars to spread around to that end.  Tom Steyer certainly achieved that (and a surprising third place finish in South Carolina) with his own multi-billions the last time around.  Ramaswamy is probably playing the long game.

Stay tuned.



Biden’s approval rating increased marginally to 44% in February.  His issue ratings also tended to show modest increases.  (There are few polls on Covid approval anymore, so that drop is likely not terribly indicative of any major change.)  The “Bidenometer,” our BTRTN aggregate measure of economic performance (explained below), dropped slightly to +41, with stock market and consumer confidence declines mitigated by a drop in gas prices.


The Bidenometer is a BTRTN proprietary economic measure that was 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.

The Bidenometer 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 +41 for February, 2023 means that, on average, the five measures are 41% higher than they were when Biden was inaugurated (see the chart below).  With a Bidenometer of +41, the economy is performing markedly better under Biden compared to its condition when Trump left office.  Unemployment is much lower, consumer confidence is higher, the Dow is higher and the GDP is stronger.  On the flip side, gas prices have soared (as has overall inflation, of which gas prices are a primary component).

Using January 20, 2021 as a baseline measure of zero, under Clinton the measure ended at +55.  It declined from +55 to +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 upward from 0 to +41 under Biden. 

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Monday, February 27, 2023

BTRTN: “Woke...” How Ron DeSantis Plans to Dog-Whistle His Way to the Nomination

If one of Trump or DeSantis is going to be the Republican candidate in 2024, I would prefer it be DeSantis, only because I know as an absolutely certainty that Trump would be determined to end democracy, but that remains a question with DeSantis. But make no mistake: Ron DeSantis is the more nuanced, cunning, and perhaps more effective racist.   

In a mid-term cycle when Republicans generally underperformed relative to expectation, one candidate blew the roof off, absolutely crushing his Democratic opponent in a landslide of 19.4 points – and that in a state that qualifies as purple. In a dreary day for the GOP, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis was a one-man tidal wave.

Immediately, DeSantis became the focus of frenzied speculation as the man who could finally end the death-spiral stranglehold that Donald Trump has on the Republican Party. During a campaign debate, DeSantis had pointedly refused to commit to serving out a full second term as Governor. Perhaps the most telling indication of DeSantis’s future was that he instantly became the focus of a scathing social media barrage from Donald Trump. Nothing says you’ve arrived in the Republican Party quite like becoming Trump’s public enemy number one.

So how has DeSantis handled all the attention? After all, the man is the chief executive of the third largest state in the nation, a state still rebuilding from a devastating hurricane, the single state perhaps most threatened by climate change, and a state dealing with the challenges of being among the fastest growing in the union.

Essentially, the man has been handed a giant bully pulpit that gives him latitude to address any and all issues facing our nation. Indeed, one might expect a man who is clearly giving serious consideration to a Presidential run to want to make his views on national and global issues better known.

So what does Ron DeSantis do?

He gets furious about the curriculum for an AP class on African-American studies.

He is urgently focused on making sure that all the titles on a Florida elementary school teacher’s bookshelf have been approved by the state.

He wants to prevent any discussion about gender identity in Florida schools.

He speaks in front of a lectern emblazoned “Freedom from Indoctrination.”

And the big, rousing line in his second inaugural address was this: "We will enact more family-friendly policies to make it easier to raise children, and we will defend our children against those who seek to rob them of their innocence. We reject this woke ideology...We will never surrender to the woke mob. Florida is where woke goes to die."

Yes, for Ron DeSantis, the biggest single issue in America today is an overwhelming onslaught of, uh, wokeness.

And if Florida is where woke goes to die, how come DeSantis seems to find so much of it there?

Perhaps what Governor DeSantis meant to say is that “Florida is where woke goes to get killed by Ron DeSantis,” but maybe that phrasing didn’t sound very, uh, woke.

What the hell, exactly, is Ron DeSantis so agitated about?

Let’s start here. You can find a variety of definitions of “woke,” but the general thrust is consistent: it is to be aware of and alert to signs of racial discrimination and bias, and to see systemic bias and racial discrimination in society. Whether all left-leaners use the term or not, it’s fair to say that they generally espouse and endorse “woke” behavior and attitudes, simply in that progressives and liberals are inclined to agree that our country has a long history of racial injustice and believe that such bias that remains virulent to this day.

Not insignificant: the etymology of the term “woke” is vernacular usage in the Black community, using “woke” to talk about an individual who was awake to societal bias against persons of color. It was embraced broadly in the progressive community to signal awareness of systemic racial bias, and its meaning is now consistent across the multi-colored rainbow that is the Democratic melting pot.

But now it has also been hijacked by the right as a term of ridicule, a way to belittle those who believe that our society remains filled with bias. In their sarcastic use of “woke,” right wingers now have a single word that can simultaneously serve to disrespect both liberals who recognize societal bias and the minority Americans who actually bear the burden of endemic bigotry.

To be clear: Ron DeSantis does not disagree with this definition of “woke.” Once asked in a court case to define “woke,” his lawyer provided the official Ron DeSantis definition. “Woke,” according to the lawyer, is “the belief there are systemic injustices in American society and the need to address them.” Not terribly dissimilar that the phrasing used above.

The issue is that Ron DeSantis aggressively takes the position that there are not systemic injustices in American society, let alone that these injustices need to be addressed. He’s just not buying it. You could hand him an encyclopedia of differing real estate valuations and bank applications that otherwise vary only by the race of the owner or applicant, and he would apparently be unmoved. You could point out how school systems funded by local taxes result in a national K-12 education system that dramatically favors the white children in the suburbs with long-standing affluence. You could produce volumes on historical hiring practices at the fancy law firms that hire freshly-minted attorneys from Ivy League law schools like the one that produced DeSantis.  

DeSantis has a very specific “anti-woke” agenda. He has zeroed in on the education system in Florida to find examples that he claims are evidence of a pervasive liberal effort to indoctrinate impressionable young minds into “woke” philosophy. Ron DeSantis has therefore positioned his war on “woke” as a crusade to protect the malleable minds of children, and the right of their parents to decide what their children will be exposed to in school.  It is worth noting that in his specific focus on education, he is attempting to give this persecution a veneer of legitimacy… education is certainly well within the purview of a state governor.

In short, DeSantis does not believe in societal bias, so he is demanding that school children in his state never be exposed to even the possibility that such bias exists.

Last April, Florida passed the “Stop WOKE Act,” which essentially prohibits any commercial venture or educational institution from advancing any notion that individuals are “inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.” It further outlaws teaching that any individuals have inherent advantages or disadvantages based on their race, gender, or national origin. It continues, forbidding the instruction that anyone “bears personal responsibility for and must feel guilt, anguish, or other forms of psychological distress” over historical actions committed by persons of the same race, gender, or national origin.

Talk about irony: the very existence of a law designed to curtail teaching about the possibility of racial bias is the best proof imaginable that a society has an inherent racial bias.

Ron DeSantis does not want young people to be made to feel bad about the fact that great-great grandpa owned slaves.

But I would think – indeed hope – that it impossible to teach American history in a way that is somehow guaranteed to avoid engendering feelings of guilt or anguish about the fact that many of our ancestors enslaved human beings.

But, if you are a teacher in Florida, you are also keenly aware that every single one of your students has an iPhone with a recording device, and you now know that your next sentence could end up in a courtroom and end your career, because it made a student “feel bad.”

The intended result, of course, is a de facto ban on discussion of slavery. It is the soft censorship of an implicit threat.

And it has clearly not occurred to Governor DeSantis that banning such discussion might also cause anguish -- to the young people whose ancestors were enslaved, and to all the young people who really want to know the truth about the country they live in.

It is yet one more measure of the degree to which the post-Donald Trump Republican Party is utterly unrecognizable to a still recent past it claims to venerate.  The Republican Party of Ronald Reagan defined itself as the party of “small government.” “Government is not the solution,” the Gipper would say, “it is the problem.” The Republican Party of Ronald Reagan aggressively championed the freedoms of the individual from government interference, with the first amendment right of free speech at the very top of the list.

Today, in Florida, government micromanages, polices, and constricts educational curricula, public corporation HR policies, and opinions held and offered by any public-facing person or entity in the state of Florida. Today’s Republican Party believes, as Mehmet Oz famously declared, that abortions should be decided by “women, doctors, and local political leaders.” Now Ron DeSantis thinks that government should forbid students from learning about even the possibility of inherent societal bias in a nation where enslaving human beings was legal for most of its first century. First amendment rights? Florida is now America’s home of government censorship.

Why is the governor of the third largest state in the nation focusing so much of his energy and political capital on finding and stamping out examples of opinions and empirical data that present a world view contrary to his own?

Why is he banning books?

Is he really doing this to protect children? 

Or is he doing it to define his personal political brand?

Ron DeSantis wants to run for President, and he urgently needs to send a signal the extreme right wing of his party that he stands for everything Donald Trump stands for. Central to that signal is kowtowing to the extreme right's belief that the United States is first and foremost a nation of white Americans.   

Ron DeSantis is using the word “woke” to belittle the progressive ideology that points out the history of oppression, disadvantage, and persecution that minorities in America have always faced, and to even deny the oppression of minority Americans itself.

DeSantis is weaponizing language formed in the Black community and embraced by the broad rainbow coalition of progressive thinkers in a attempt to stoke the anger of Donald Trump’s base. He is using the word “woke” to signal to Donald Trump’s base of overwhelmingly white, aging people that he despises all the same people that they do.

Ah, Ron. You have found your dog whistle: use the word “woke” as a catch-all to diminish and belittle pretty much everyone in America who is not an aging white Trump stalwart, a right-wing extremist who is certain to vote in a Republican Primary, or the white supremacists who needs proof they can trust a Harvard lawyer.

Dog whistles are nothing new in Republican politics. “States’ rights” has long been a posture of high-minded principle camouflaging the desire to ignore Federal government authority in matters of civil rights. Richard Nixon pandered to a “silent majority,” with its implicit contrast to “loud minorities.”  Republicans like to terrify suburbanites with the threat that “low-income housing” means crime and violence. Glenn Youngkin campaigned for governor of Virginia promising that he would never allow Critical Race Theory to be taught in the schools K-12 educational system. It never had been. Race – and the general threat of “otherness,” be it in immigration, sexual identity, or women’s rights --  galvanizes Republican voter turn-out.

And if you are Ron DeSantis contemplating a run against Donald Trump, you realize that you need the loudest dog whistle you can find.

Indeed, Donald Trump was the “break out” politician who didn’t bother with dog whistles. Donald Trump earned the ferocious loyalty of his base by saying – right out loud, no code, no whispers, no hints -- all the racist, misogynist, xenophobic things that aging white Republicans felt.

Trump said that “Mexicans are rapists,” that you can “grab women by the pussy,” that we don’t want immigrants from “shithole countries,” that there should be a “complete ban of Muslims,” that the Proud Boys should “stand back and stand by,” that women of color in Congress that they should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came,” that suburban women “are thrilled that I ended the long running program where low income housing would invade their neighborhood," that Covid was the “China virus” and “Kung flu,” and that “the second amendment people” might do something about Hillary Clinton.

That’s the problem, isn’t it, Ron? You are running against Donald Trump, and you, sir, are no Donald Trump.

So Ron DeSantis has to somehow prove to that racist, misogynist, xenophobic base that he will pick up where Donald Trump left off.  He knows that he will never get to the nomination – let alone the White House – unless he proves to the far right of the party that he loathes minorities as much as anybody.

So what does Ron do?

He declares war on "woke." Hey, it is the loudest dog whistle he can find.

It is just the latest immature stunt from the man who put frightened, puzzled, and yet hopeful immigrants into an airplane and flew them to Martha’s Vineyard. What kind of man brutally manipulates the poor, the vulnerable, and the powerless for a childish political gag? What kind of coward so shamelessly uses his political power to make human beings pawns for his ambition?

And how did that story end? Ron DeSantis thought that he was going to reveal all those smug Northeastern liberals to be hypocrites who would recoil at the sight of poor immigrants “invading” their fancy island retreat. Surprise, Ron. Those people raced out of their homes to offer help. They brought food. Blankets. Provided shelter.

What do you call people like that, Ron? Do you call them kind? Do you say that they care about those that society treats poorly? That they are aware of and alert to societal biases and bigotry? That they will take on a governor who treats people cruelly and manipulates them because of the otherness they represent?

Of course not.

Ron would just sneer and call them “woke.”

Watch out, America. Maybe Ron DeSantis would never say that in Charlottesville you could find “very fine people on both sides.”

But he’s found his very own way to let the right-wing wing-nuts know that he’s as reliable a racist, a misogynist, a xenophobe, and as intolerant of otherness as Trump himself. 

And it’s time we all woke up to that.


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Sunday, February 5, 2023

BTRTN Announces Winners of the 2023 “Lindsey Grahammys” for the Worst in Republican Hypocrisy

On the day of the “Grammy” awards, BTRTN hands out statuettes that memorialize the most egregious examples of wanton deceit, absence of character, and bold-faced two-faced disgrace in today’s Republican Party.   


Greetings! You all looked gorgeous strolling down our Red-State carpet! Sure, later today there will be that “other” Grammys show, but now is the moment Republican golden deceivers have been waiting for: the Lindsey Grahammys, BTRTN’s annual awards for the most epic displays of Republican hypocrisy, disingenuous posturing, unawareness of irony, and moments of well-deserved unintended consequences.

Why did we decide to name our hypocrisy awards for Lindsey? It was the Senator from South Carolina who committed the Hopeless Diamond by which all hypocrisy must be measured. In 2016 Graham justified his opposition to Merrick Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court by publicly declaring that his decision was a matter of principle, and that he was perfectly willing to be held accountable to it:

"I want you to use my words against me. If there's a Republican president in 2016 and a vacancy occurs in the last year of the first term, you can say Lindsey Graham said, 'Let's let the next president, whoever it might be, make that nomination.'"

Sure enough, that exact circumstance came to pass. When Ruth Bader Ginsberg passed away in the final months of Donald Trump’s presidency, Lindsey unabashedly abandoned his “principled” position of 2016, thoroughly endorsing Trump’s right to ram through a new court appointee.

When called on his hypocrisy, Graham justified his flip-flop by accusing everyone else of being equally lacking in moral fiber. “I am certain if the shoe were on the other foot, you would do the same.” Lindsey Graham not only operates in an ethical vacuum -- he thinks we all are as morally bankrupt as he is!

Yes, the post-factual Trump Party has become a confab of contortionists, a breeding ground for slimy mutated creatures with large vocal cords but lacking spines, memories, and dignity. Where once the identifying traits of Republicanism were fiscal responsibility, global obligation, limited government, and rugged individualism, today’s GOP is a pander-fest of wobbly, weak-kneed sycophants whose every action is determined by fear of retaliation from Donald Trump or his army of unhinged insurrectionists.

As we review the year in Republican hypocrisy, the question is increasingly becoming whether there is anything that Republicans do that is not in some manner or measure a hypocritical act. In 2023, “Republican hypocrisy” has become a redundancy.

Let’s test this hypothesis on one of the big issues of the day: the debt ceiling. Republicans in the House vow to refuse to raise the debt ceiling unless there are comparable cuts in government spending with the alleged goal of reducing the national debt. Ah, where to begin? First: everyone knows that the debt ceiling is about financial commitments that have already been made by the United States government – by Republicans and Democrats alike. If you want to reduce the national debt – a fine goal – you propose legislation to reduce future spending or raise future taxes. You do not stiff the people to whom you owe money, and you do not sabotage the very economy that needs to repay its debts. Republicans never threatened to refuse to raise the debt ceiling during Donald Trump’s administration, despite the fact James Carville relentlessly points out: a full 25% of our current national debt was incurred during the four years Donald Trump was President.

Hypocrisy: for Republicans, it’s as natural as breathing, as ubiquitous as oxygen, and as unconsidered as waking up in the morning, discriminating against minorities, repressing women, or vilifying immigrants. It is what Republicans do.

And now, for our first statuette…

1. Legally Blind: the Double-Standard Supreme Court of John Roberts.

In our first award, we recognize the astonishing degree to which sitting Republican Justices have turned the Supreme Court of the United States into a farce of judicial legislation, political overreach, and overt deception under oath.

The most deliciously hypocritical quote on the subject: on September 21, 2022, Samuel Alito told the Wall Street Journal that “questioning the integrity of the Supreme Court crosses an important line.” Really? How dare us cross that sacred line! Well, just watch.

In the opinion he authored overturning Roe v. Wade, Samuel Alito declared that Roe was “egregiously wrong from the start.” (Italics mine, but may as well have been his). In that the Roe ruling was in 1973, and Alito was nominated to the Supreme Court in 2005, it stands to reason that Alito already knew that he thought Roe was “egregiously wrong” at the time of his confirmation hearings. Yet, under oath, Alito spoke of the importance of precedent – stare decisis – and acknowledged that Roe had now been on the books for years and had been been challenged and upheld.  Ted Kennedy would claim that Alito assured him in private meetings that he felt Roe was “settled law.” The cowardly Alito absolutely refused to give any indication that he felt the law was “egregiously wrong from the start,” no doubt fearing that it would put his nomination in jeopardy.

Later, all of Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Coney-Barrett would play the same disingenuous game of footsie when their turns came before Congress. Each would speak of their reverence for precedent, and each would strongly imply that a ruling that had been in place for 50 years and reconfirmed at the Supreme Court had earned their deep respect. Each was revealed to be nothing more nor less than a posing BS artist deceiving the public about their real views to secure their appointment when they raced to overturn Roe at their first opportunity.

Sadly, John Roberts has proven to be one of the most milquetoast Chief Justices in history: on his watch the Supreme Court has been degraded into a joke. He has stood by on the sideline as Clarence Thomas refused to recuse himself from cases involving the Insurrection that his wife participated in. He presided over a laughable investigation into the leak of the Roe decision. He heard a sitting U.S. Senator – Susan Collins – say that Brett Kavanaugh lied to her about his views on Roe, and he did nothing about it.  

The final irony: The New York Times reported on a credible allegation that Alito himself had been the source of a leak of the court's ruling in the Hobby Lobby case. And yet Samuel Alito thinks that those who question the integrity of the Supreme Court have “crossed a line.”

Justice may be blind, but Republican Justices seem to think we are deaf and dumb. Here you go, Roberts, Alito, and the rest of you hypocrites… you’ve earned your “Grahammy” statuettes. Onto our next category…

2. Hershel Walker’s Abortion Stance Makes No Exceptions! (Uh, except for the ones he pays for).

Hershel Walker is indeed a triple threat: he is a whirlwind of dazzling hypocrisy, prodigious ignorance, and a mind-numbing lack of self-awareness. He made misleading pronouncements about his service in law enforcement, and then sought to infuse credibility into his assertion by holding up a toy badge. He proclaimed that his resume compared favorably with Barack Obama. He left the campaign trail for most of Thanksgiving weekend prior to the run-off election, appearing only once, and then apparently to assure voters that he aspired to be a werewolf, not a vampire.

It would be easy to dismiss Hershel Walker and his Senate candidacy as a joke, except for the fact that he is a dangerous, violent, serially abusive man who brandished guns and knives to threaten the lives of the women in his life.

As a hypocrite, the man has absolutely no shame. One of the most critical planks in Hershel Walker’s campaign was his alleged opposition to abortion. And yet he demanded that several of his girlfriends get abortions, and there a cancelled check to prove he paid for one. Perhaps the only thing more disturbing than the hypocrisy of Hershel Walker is the fact that 1,721,244 citizens of Georgia think a violent, abusive, ignorant, misogynistic, and hypocritical moron belongs in the United States Senate.

3. The Riddle of Kevin McCarthy: Can a Man with No Beliefs, Principles, or Self-Esteem be Accurately  Labeled a Hypocrite?

The dictionary defines hypocrite as “a person whose actions contradict their stated beliefs or feelings.” That’s the problem with calling Kevin McCarthy a hypocrite. He has no beliefs. A person who’s entire M.O. is to say whatever is expedient in the moment? Is that a hypocrite? Or just a soulless, empty, groveling wimp named Kevin McCarthy?

Make no mistake: Kevin McCarthy was the man responsible for the most epic hypocrisy of our still young decade when he initially condemned Donald Trump for the January 6 insurrection, and then days later went full-poodle, scraping his nose on the cheap Mar-a-logo carpet as he prostrated himself before his master. McCarthy has demonstrated the capacity for hypocrisy measurable only by the Richter scale.

But that was 2021. That was when Kevin was capable of mustering two faces. Now all we can see are the tire marks on the back his head, left by Lauren Boebert and Matt Gaetz as they gleefully played demolition derby with his dignity during 15 roll call votes on the House floor. Now all we see is Kevin the Bobble-Head saying yes to everybody and everything. Now all we see is a man untethered to any intellectual or philosophical mooring, a man who appears ready to sink the country’s credit rating and abandon our support of Ukraine to keep a title that means more to him than the Constitution, the Institution of Congress, and the idea of standing up for a belief… any belief.

Kevin McCarthy’s statuette is truly for lifetime achievement, for hypocrisy truly on a Biblical scale: For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”

4. Mitch McConnell: The Man Who Had the Chance to Destroy Trump Has His Dreams of Returning as Senate Majority Leader Destroyed by Trump.

The most delicious irony is when one hypocrite gets played by a bigger hypocrite. 

In 2021, Mitch McConnell stood on the Senate floor and delivered a stinging condemnation of Donald Trump’s role in the January 6 Insurrection. "There's no question, none, that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day," McConnell exhorted. The problem is that McConnell made his stirring remarks after having voted against convicting Trump of impeachment charges. There is little doubt that if McConnell had put his muscle as Senate Majority leader into the effort, he could have found the votes to convict Trump, effectively removing any chance of Trump resurfacing in elective politics.

But he chickened out. McConnell recognized that Trump still held sway over his base in the Republican Party, and McConnell knew that if led an impeachment of Trump, that base could turn on him and end his time as Senate Majority Leader, and perhaps his career.

So McConnell let Trump off the hook. He did not seek a Senate conviction on impeachment charges.

Ah, Mitch. It must have been so embarrassing to discover that Donald Trump could not care less about your “Republican Party” other than how it served as a mechanism to further his own personal agenda. In 2022, McConnell saw up close and personal that Donald Trump had an entirely different agenda than the party. McConnell saw 2022 as an opportunity take full control of Congress. Donald Trump saw 2022 as an opportunity to relitigate 2020 and resuscitate his assertion that the Presidential election of 2020 had been stolen from him.

So Trump forced the party to nominate the pathetic candidates who would toe his line. Hershel Walker in Georgia. Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania. Don Bolduc in New Hampshire. Blake Masters in Arizona. A stronger Republican candidate in any two of these races could have resulted in a Republican Senate. But Donald Trump was never interested in the success of the Republican Party.

It’s clear that all Donald Trump seeks now is to exorcise the unbearable psychological burden of being the “loser” of the 2020 Presidential election.  Propping up lap dogs who would do his bidding in key Senate races and supporting election deniers in critical state races were all part of his plan to re-litigate the 2020 election, and somehow claim victory.    

Mitch McConnell – who openly spoke about the problem of Republican “candidate quality” -- could have prevented the fiasco, and would very likely have re-emerged as Senate Majority Leader in 2022, if only he had taken down Trump when he had a golden opportunity to do so. Now, he can only blame himself for his cowardice, his flawed calculation of his own self-interest, and his failure to act on the words he knew enough to say.

Take a statuette, Mitch. Well-earned.

5. Lindsey Graham, the Man our Awards are Named For Takes Home Another Statuette!

We have to admit it: it was a quiet year for Lindsey. Sure, he may still be proven complicit in Trump’s attempt to overturn the Georgia election, but that’s not really hypocrisy. That’s being a felon.

But never fear: Lindsey came through in the end. On September 13, 2022, Lindsay Graham introduced a bill that would ban all abortions nationwide after fifteen weeks of pregnancy. Lindsey, known for sticking the landing after spinning like a top with contradictory opinions, may have forgotten that two years earlier, he was quoted as saying “I’ve been consistent. I think states should decide the issue of marriage and states should decide the issue of abortion.”  So, uh, Lindsay – I guess your point is that states should decide -- so long as they decide to agree with you?

 6. Ron DeSantis: Watch Out, Pal. The Woke’s On You.

It seems everybody thinks that Ron DeSantis will save the party from Donald Trump, beating him in the primaries and riding on to victory in 2024. DeSantis blew away a weak Democratic candidate to win re-election in November, and he is the only challenger to Trump scoring double-digits in early Presidential polls.

Yeah, Ron DeSantis has got swagger. He’s the man. He’s gonna take Trump down.  He’s gonna beat Joe Biden.

Eh, maybe.

But there are problems with Ron DeSantis.

For one thing, he is just another Republican hypocrite. For another, he is… um, hey, can we say this on network tv? Ron DeSantis is a world class asshole.

Ron DeSantis loves to position himself as the gritty tough street fighter who takes on the prissy wokeness of the liberal elite, which is un peu de tros from a guy who went to Yale undergrad and Harvard Law. He oozes a childish, smug self-satisfaction when he uses human beings as pawns in grade-school stunts like flying desperate, frightened, and confused immigrants to Martha’s Vineyard. He has all the charm and personality of a stop sign. He centered his personal brand on a culture war against “wokeness,” which is apparently a cute way of saying that he wants to have some fun with gender identity, public health, and the censorship of books in Florida schools to score points with the right.  Ron DeSantis is a cheap-shot artist who exploits the weak for personal gain. Yeah, like I said. A real asshole.

But the far bigger problem with Ron DeSantis is that he will inevitably discover what Mitch McConnell learned the hard way. “When you strike at a king, you must kill him.”

It’s easy to see DeSantis beating Trump in primaries. It’s easy to see the smarmy, sweaty DeSantis fist-pumping as he clears 40% of the vote in New Hampshire.

What’s harder to see is how he ever hopes to win a general election if he has taken a strike at the king, but not killed him. Try winning the Presidency if one-third of Republicans don’t bother to show up at the polls. Try winning the Presidency if Donald Trump announces a third-party run.

And once you’ve really thought all that through, try to strut like a stud when you suddenly realize that it might not be such a good idea to challenge Trump in 2024 after all.  Wait until the “all clear” sign flashes in 2028.

Enjoy your moment in the Florida Sunshine, Ron. You like to say that Florida is where "woke" goes to die… and maybe Florida is where your dreams die, too.

7.  Barr the Door! I have a reputation to salvage!

Oh, the House January 6 Committee! Let the hypocrisy games begin!

Let’s start with a special achievement in the “Law of Unintended Consequences” category for Kevin McCarthy, who made the stupendous blunder of pulling all Trump loyalists off the January 6 committee. Absent any opposition, the Committee steamrolled through a blistering series of punishing public prosecutions of the Trump administration.

There were delicious soupçons of breathtaking idiocy, like when General Michael Flynn pled the Fifth rather than answer questions about whether the January 6 violence was justified, and whether he believed in the peaceful transfer of Presidential power.

But by far the greatest performance was by Bill Barr, who dazzled in the role of a man who realized that his service as Trump’s Attorney General had infused his reputation with the pungent and permanent stench of gas passed. Bill Barr was Donald Trump’s long-sought Roy Cohn, nothing more nor less than a dirty lawyer who used his position as Attorney General to torpedo Robert Mueller’s special prosecutor report in the first Trump impeachment, who initiated and fanned the fruitless Special Counsel investigation by John Durham that sought to undermine the Mueller report, and who said nothing in public as he witnessed the Trump White House make plans to overturn the 2020 Presidential election.

Ah, but in the House hearings, Bill Barr suddenly had the chance to say out loud all the brave stuff that he was too frightened to say when we really needed to know it. And he made the most of it, peppering his testimony with all the salty language that he supposedly told Trump about the Administration’s desperate efforts to claim election fraud.  

Perhaps of all the people in the parade of charlatans, grifters, and low-lifes involved in Donald Trump's desperate efforts to retain power, Bill Barr is the man most self-aware of his corruption. He is a smart man and a knowledgeable attorney. That means that Barr – unlike stooges and 30-watt posers like Eric Trump or Louis Gohmert – knew and understood his deceit, his efforts to mislead, and his failure to tell the American people what they needed to know.

Give Bill Barr his statuette and let’s move on before the stench overwhelms us.  

8. There’s Inflation, Ukraine, Global Warming, Daily Mass Shootings, an Immigration Crisis, Out-of-Control Police Violence, and Rampant Disinformaton on Social Media. But First, We Have to Investigate Hunter Biden!

There is an essential, defining hypocrisy of the modern G.O.P.: it is a political party that actually has very little interest in governing. It is as if the Chicago Bears decided to spend all day crocheting, or the Radio City Rockettes announced that they were shifting their focus to insuring municipal bonds. Republicans do not appear to want to do the one thing that they are in existence to do.

Few noticed that the Republican Party did not even bother to try to write a platform for their 2020 Convention. They literally could not figure out what the Party stood for, other than what Donald Trump said five minutes before.

Republicans claim to be concerned about immigration, but it has been years since they made the slightest attempt to formulate legislation toward that end. Republicans claim to care about financial stewardship, but implement reckless tax policy that just keeps repeating failed “trickle down” theories, balloons the national debt, and widens the wealth and income gaps that strangle our economy. Republicans once were the party of military hawks, stalwart advocates for America’s role as the world’s policeman… but now right wing Republicans want to cut off funding for Ukraine and roll over for Putin.

With mountains of challenges at every turn, what is the first thing the new Republican House majority focused on?

Hearings about Hunter Biden.

Let’s give a statuette to the party of “no.” No ideas. No principles. No mission. No philosophy of governance.

No clue.

9. Maybe Donald Trump Can’t Win, But He Sure Can Destroy.

Notice a theme running through our awards, folks? Like, who nominated the two hypocritical Judges who misled Congress and gave the Republicans the votes needed to overturn Roe? Who pushed to have Hershel Walker nominated for the U.S. Senate? Who forced Kevin McCarthy to his knees? Who played Mitch McConnell like a fiddle? Who would rather destroy Ron DeSantis than let someone else win the Party’s nomination? Who was Lindsey Graham helping in Georgia? Who demanded that Bill Barr bend the law for his purposes?

Donald Trump’s power to lead the Republican Party may be fading, but his ability to destroy it has a radioactive toxicity that will endure.  Trump – the man who literally cannot bear the crippling psychological cataclysm of admitting that he is a loser – will not be able to accept being rejected by the party in favor of Ron DeSantis, let alone DeSantis winning the Presidency after Trump’s failure to do so in 2020.

Donald Trump’s hypocrisy is on the epic scale of Greek tragedy: he who claims to lead the Republican Party will be he who seeks to destroy it. Stay tuned. If the Republicans don’t nominate Trump in 2024, he will announce a Third Party bid, sapping DeSantis of the votes he would need to beat Biden.

10. And now, Our Grand Grahammy goes to -- the Man who Came Out of Nowhere to Steal our Show (and a Seat in Congress!) -- the Incomparable George Santos!!

It’s shocking to realize that just a few short weeks ago, the BTRTN judges were in heated debate about who should win our Grand Grahammy as the biggest Republican Hypocrite of the Year.

And then –  George Santos exploded on our hypocrisy radar full-borne, an apotheosis of all the phoniness, deceit, deception, and corrupt self-aggrandizement of the modern Republican Party in one pudgy, smarmy, oily nerd native of Queens.

He’s a Goldman Sachs banker! A Citigroup star! A founder of a charity that funds medical care for service dogs of wounded veterans! A volleyball hero! The son of a victim of 9/11! A self-made moneyed man, just a generation away from Holocaust survivors!

Uh, no. He is, in fact, none of that.

George Santos is nothing more nor less than the logical endpoint for a party that has no policy, no beliefs, no moral center… a political party with only one motivating and organizing idea: to attain and retain power by any possible means. Given its bankruptcy in genuine charisma and authentic moral leadership, this party defaults to ruthlessly grasping for power by lying, cheating, dividing, and blaming. It is a party that weaponizes the language of deceit to demonize minorities, women, and immigrants. It is a party dominated by a man who told 30,573 false or misleading statements while serving as President of the United States.

George Santos is actually not a phony. He is the genuine, pure breed Republican of the 21st Century. Program a computer to fabricate the quintessential contemporary Republican, and out pops George Santos, an utter figment of the imagination, all artificial and no intelligence.

George Santos has repeatedly been told that he should resign, most pointedly by the leaders of the Republican Party in the district he now represents. He refused, citing the will of “142,000 voters who voted for me," breezily ignoring the fact that those 142,000 had – and still have – no idea who he really is.

We conclude our program by inviting George Santos to the stage to accept the Grand Lindsey Grahammy for the Most Egregious Hypocrisy of the past year.

What’s that, George? You say you are honored and will put this award on the mantle next to your two Oscars, your Emmy, your Peabody, Pulitzer, and Nobel Prizes? Of course.

There you have it! And so we wrap up another year of Republican hypocrisy. How bad have things gotten for this political party? Perennial hypocrisy superstars didn’t even get nominations! No Josh Hawley – who famously fist-pumped insurrectionists before sprinting out their path like a terrified kitten.  No Ted Cruz – who headed off for a vacation in Cancun while his Texas constituents suffered a massive, freezing power outage.  We didn’t even mention Mark Meadows, Ron Johnson, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Matt Gaetz, Jim Jordan… there just isn’t enough time in our broadcast to name all the deserving hypocrites.

Good night, everybody! Let’s end with the only thing that you can be certain of in today’s Republican party – we will all be back here again next year with all-new examples of Republican hypocrisy.

And, once again, it is sure to get worse.



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