May Will Test Donald Trump's Primary Powers
This month we'll find out how much his endorsement matters
The primary power that Donald Trump wields is as yet unmeasured. The next month will finally give us some measurable outcomes to assess how much his word can carry candidates locked in competitive primaries over the finish line. Especially when he has trouble recalling the endorsee’s name:
The risks, as previously noted, are relatively high for Trump because his endorsements could be interpreted as indicating his strength level within the GOP — which may not matter in terms of deciding his approach to 2024, since if his candidates lose he’ll just blame them for the failure, but could matter relative to the strength of the challengers he faces in a third run for the presidency.
The first big test of former President Donald Trump’s clout comes Tuesday in Ohio’s bitterly fought Senate primary, where J.D. Vance surged into the lead after winning Trump’s endorsement. A Vance victory would remind his party that Trump is still king. But the acclaim will be fleeting.
The rest of May looks nowhere near as good for the former president, who has expended his political capital in a series of contests that are already laying bare the limits of his post-presidential influence on the GOP.
In a four-week stretch of primaries running from Nebraska and West Virginia to Idaho, Pennsylvania and Georgia, Trump-endorsed candidates are slogging through difficult races where the former president’s blessing hasn’t proved to be the rocket fuel some expected. In a few cases, his preferred candidates are running far behind.
His record in these contests is no small matter given his own past performance. In his only two appearances on a ballot, he lost the popular vote twice. On his watch as president, the GOP lost the House, Senate and the White House.
To continue in his role as his party’s apex politician — and to press his claim on the 2024 Republican nomination — Trump can’t afford a string of reminders that his defeats are starting to stack up, or that the party base is, on even limited occasions, willing to buck him…
In Nebraska, Charles Herbster, with whom Trump campaigned on Sunday, is in a three-way toss-up after being accused of sexually assaulting eight women. The Trump-endorsed candidate in a high-profile House race in West Virginia is teetering in a close race. In Idaho, Gov. Brad Little is polling more than 30 percentage points ahead of his Trump-endorsed primary opponent, while in Georgia, Gov. Brian Kemp — one of Trump’s most well-worn punching bags — may not only beat Trump’s endorsed candidate, former Sen. David Perdue, but do so by a wide enough margin to avoid a runoff.
“Georgia’s the big one,” said Whit Ayres, the longtime Republican pollster. “Trump took on an incumbent Republican governor and recruited a recent incumbent Republican senator to challenge him. That is the biggest of the challenges where Trump has tried to force his will.”
He said, “If he’s able to take out an incumbent Republican governor, that’s a huge statement of his influence. But if he’s unable to take out an incumbent Republican governor with a recent incumbent senator, it’s a huge statement of his lack of influence on Republican voters.”
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Biden’s Dystopian Disinformation Board
Three views on this disturbing development: Jonathan Turley.
Many politicians and pundits are in full panic over Elon Musk’s threat to restore free speech values to Twitter. While Hillary Clinton has called upon Europeans to step in to maintain such censorship and Barack Obama has called for U.S. regulations, the Biden Administration has created a new Disinformation Governance Board in the Department of Homeland Security. It appointed an executive director, Nina Jankowicz, who is literally pitch perfect as an advocate for both corporate and state censorship.
It would have been hard to come up with a more Orwellian name short of the Ministry of Truth. However, the DGB needed a true believer to carry out the monitoring of political speech in the United States. It found that person in Jankowicz, who has long been an outspoken anti-free speech advocate.
Indeed, Jankowicz put her extreme views to music and posted it on TikTok in a rendition of Mary Poppins’ “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.”You can just call me the Mary Poppins of disinformation 💁🏻♀️I had two on-camera interviews today and still have a face full of makeup; what should I make a TikTok about?Nina Jankowicz 🇺🇦🇺🇸 @wiczipedia
What is clear is that Jankowicz has a far better hold on the musical scale than constitutional values. With what is a remarkably impressive singing voice, Jankowicz croons that “You can just call me the Mary Poppins of disinformation.”
It was a poignant and prophetic line.
Jankowicz was selected by the Biden Administration after years of pushing disinformation on the left while calling for censorship of the right…
On the Hunter Biden laptop, Jankowicz pushed the false narrative that it was a false story and that “we should view it as a Trump campaign product.” She continued to spread that disinformation, including tweeting a link to a news article that she said cast “yet more doubt on the provenance of the NY Post’s Hunter Biden story.” In another tweet, she added “not to mention that the emails don’t need to be altered to be part of an influence campaign. Voters deserve that context, not a [fairy] tale about a laptop repair shop.”
She even cites the author of the Steele Dossier as a guide for how to deal with disinformation. In August 2020, Jankowicz tweeted “Listened to this last night – Chris Steele (yes THAT Chris Steele) provides some great historical context about the evolution of disinfo. Worth a listen.”
In 2012, the Obama campaign launched a ridiculous website called ATTACKWATCH.com, which, together with an email list and a Twitter account, were billed as “new resources to fight back” that would “fact check statements by Obama’s Republican opponents with links to ‘evidence’ to back them up.”
ATTACKWATCH! would watch the attacks from those dastardly Republicans and “support the truth” and “fight the smears.”
ATTACKWATCH!!! was risible and clunky, but it was also one of about four efforts by President Barack Obama to “fight the smears.” He had a website in 2008 called “fight the smears,” and then his White House rolled out a creepier version, FLAG.gov, giving good citizens the place where they could flag “misinformation.”
This week, President Joe Biden's administration announced ATTACKWATCH!!!1!, Homeland Security division. The Disinformation Governance Board will monitor information threats to the homeland.
The woman heading this Ministry of Truth, Nina Jankowicz, has stated her fear of “free speech absolutists.” In 2020, Jankowicz led the charge in claiming that the reports on Hunter Biden’s shady influence-peddling business deals were Russian “disinformation.”
It’s all part of this pathology in the Democratic Party that has spanned at least the entire beginning of the 21st century that believes the only way Republicans ever win is by convincing the public of false things (often with an assist from Russian disinformation agents).
Of course, we know from Democratic and media usage of the word what “disinformation” means. It means “stuff that’s bad for Democrats.”
But the executive branch does not exist in a vacuum. The legislature still has a say. And the formation of a government speech board, months before an election cycle and within days of Musk’s free speech-driven audacious bid for Twitter, should prompt an urgent response.
The most powerful weapon the legislature has is the power of the purse. Agencies cannot carry out their directives or initiate their programs without Congress first authorizing the money for them to do so. House Republicans are reportedly already drafting legislation to defund the formation and maintenance of this disinformation board. But their efforts are not likely to get stand-alone traction in a Democratically controlled House.
Senators, however, have far more options. Regardless of which party is in the majority, each senator has the power to make the body vote on any proposal of his choosing.
Senators can circumvent the committee process under the Senate’s Rule 14, and place legislation directly onto the Senate’s calendar, where they can then move to proceed to it. Provided there is no other business pending, that motion — known as a motion to proceed — automatically is made pending before the Senate, and requires the Senate to vote. Unless cloture is filed, the vote is considered at a 51-vote threshold.
In other words, Republican senators have an option their House colleagues do not. They can force every senator to be on record regarding the Biden administration’s effort to police speech from the Department of Homeland Security.
Creating a public record on such a controversial issue is important in and of itself, but it should also form the basis for both Senate and House Republicans to demand that the effort be defunded as part of the forthcoming omnibus spending legislation, which must be passed in the fall (unless it is replaced by a straight extension of funding known as a continuing resolution).
These must-pass spending bills represent significant points of leverage, particularly for Senate Republicans, whose votes are required for passage. In the split Senate where spending bills require 60 votes, 10 GOP votes are required.
That these leverage points exist, however, doesn’t always mean they’re used. Earlier this year Democrats passed a $1.5 trillion omnibus spending package with GOP votes, but with very few GOP wins beyond preserving a handful of policies that never appeared to be under serious threat.
Is Ukraine Just a Pawn To Weaken Russia?
EA: Well, Austin definitely made headlines when he announced—on his not-so-secret visit to Kyiv—that the U.S. goal in this war is to weaken Russia over the long term. I’m not so sure that was a wise statement.
MK: We might agree on this. A good strategy begins with clear goals, and if the United States and NATO have a desired end state for Ukraine, they have not shared it. At first, it appeared the goal was to help the Ukrainians fight an insurgency after a Russian takeover. Then, it seemed that the West was expecting some kind of negotiated settlement with a divided Ukraine. Increasingly, many analysts are arguing that the goal should be for Ukraine to win and Russia to lose, but U.S. Deputy National Security Advisor Jon Finer seemed to sidestep that formulation this weekend, saying that the war has already been a strategic defeat for Moscow and a victory for Kyiv. Now, we have Austin’s comments about weakening Russia.
If we don’t know where we are going, any road will take us there.
EA: Ouch. I don’t think that’s quite a fair criticism. Facts on the ground in Ukraine have changed substantially over the last two months. I myself had assumed prior to the conflict that the Russians would be relatively competent and that the Ukrainians would be quickly overwhelmed and forced to sue for peace. It turns out, of course, that the Russians pursued a poor strategy with even worse tactics, and the balance has swung in Kyiv’s favor. The Russians may do better in their renewed campaign in eastern Ukraine, but that remains to be seen.
But while I don’t think you can fault the Biden administration for shifting from the assumption that Ukraine would lose, I do think there’s a real lack of clarity on Washington’s current goals. What does “win” even mean in the context of this war? A return to the pre-February status quo? A return to pre-2014 Ukrainian borders? Or, as Austin suggests, to permanently weaken Russia? That last one is especially problematic: It’s not particularly sensible to talk about a nuclear power like that publicly, even if you do privately believe you should seek to weaken them.
MK: I would argue that the goal should be to restore Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity back to the pre-2014 status quo ante. This would mean pushing Russia out of Crimea, ignoring the phony referendum that was held there, and ending Russia’s pseudo-republics in the Donbas. Vladimir Putin will have to rebase his Black Sea Fleet elsewhere, if it is not on the seafloor by then.
Those are the borders widely recognized by the international community and violated by Russia through military force. It is, of course, primarily up to the Ukrainians to decide how much they are willing to fight and for what, but this seems like the most obvious starting point.
I think the main problem with Austin’s statement is that it emphasized the negative goal, not the positive one. Helping Ukraine to restore its sovereignty and reclaim its territory is a positive vision that would also have the side effect of weakening Russia. Elevating the weakening of Russia to the primary goal suggests that Ukraine is simply a pawn the United States is using to achieve other aims.
I don’t think that is an accurate description of what is actually happening, but that is certainly how this statement will be spun by Moscow and read in some European capitals.
Items of Interest
“My current fantasy is to demand being referred to as, in both the first and the third persons, His Majesty — Your Majesty. Asked for further information, I could display the cold impenetrability of royalty and explain that I am a direct descendant of King David (who knows?), and the gophers around the table could, their choice, scream bullshit or go along with the gag. My daughter Clara says, “Dad, this is you at a business meeting: “Person A: ‘It’s an honor to meet you.’ “Me: ‘Then why don’t you go f—k yourself.”
— David Mamet