The GOP's Red Wave Gets Tangled Up In Blue
You go to war with the candidates you have
With the Senate primary season almost entirely in the books, the concerns about the candidate slate, their lack of funding, and the backlash against the Supreme Court’s abortion decision have Republicans in Washington worried that they will squander what should have been a wave year.
Amid a Senate primary season that’s seen wins by a number of inexperienced candidates with serious question marks, the attitude of the Republican consultant class in Washington has been straight out of Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: DON’T PANIC!
Yes, the argument goes, these candidates are not ideal; yes, it’s going to take some effort to hold the seats of key retiring Republicans with so many new faces; and yes, the gubernatorial candidates in some key contests aren’t doing the GOP any favors. But overall the attitude remained positive, at least through the first six months of the year.
Now, all of that has changed. Republicans are openly expressing concerns they may squander what could have been a wave election with a series of green Senate candidates drained by fractious primaries. These contenders, they worry, lack the fundraising skills to make up the ground they’ve lost and can’t unify enough independent voters with their MAGA base in time to form a winning coalition in November. While the vaunted red wave is still there, with turnout up across the board, smart GOP consultants believe that it may now be matched by a blue wave of dramatically increased excitement among Democrat voters. This could turn 2022 into something more along the lines of 2020 than 2010.
What changed? Dobbs.
The defeat of Roe v. Wade may not end up altering a single Senate race. The Kansas ballot initiative doesn’t have a direct analog on the ballot this fall. But the Supreme Court ruling has upped the energy of the Democratic coalition in tangible ways. ActBlue, the Democratic online fundraising machine, is seeing an incredible spike in donations. And the fact that many small dollars on the Republican side continue to flow to the Donald Trump machine has proven to be a problem for GOP candidates.
Without exception, the Senate battleground primaries have resulted in the nominations of Trump’s preferred choices of candidates, whether it was one also favored by the Republican establishment — such as Nevada’s Adam Laxalt and Missouri’s Eric Schmitt — or not — like Ohio’s J.D. Vance and Pennsylvania’s Mehmet Oz. The slate is largely what Trump would have chosen, even if his endorsement only really cleared the field in Georgia with Herschel Walker. This is not a cycle where blame for future losses can be easily laid at the feet of Mitch McConnell or the donor class (though some people will certainly try).
You can already see how that will play out given the dynamics in the Senate, where Democrats have without question had several great weeks, pushing through legislation on guns, microchips, and now a massive climate, health care, and tax package. One critical vote in September will be on gay marriage, favored by many GOP senators but with the potential to undermine the motivation of their culturally conservative base. Should this legislation end up as anything beyond a simple codification of gay marriage, should it extend in any way into “you will bake the cake” compliance, cultural conservatives will feel betrayed. This has the makings of a significant enthusiasm gap now and in the future.
Inflation concerns and economic uncertainty are still top of mind for most voters, to such a degree that Kevin McCarthy and House Republicans — who have enjoyed an excellent recruitment cycle — can remain very confident in their chances headed into November. Republicans have a great story to tell on energy and they’re telling it. And while it may have been a good run for Democrats, it hasn’t been a great couple weeks for Joe Biden. How can it be when he remains so depressing and unpopular, AWOL with Covid, and under fire from his own party?
Of course, the ground still favors Republicans. Yet shrinking, fragile Joe Biden isn’t on the ballot this time, and there is no clear and present legislative threat like Obamacare in 2010. Yes, people are furious over the direction of the country, and GOP candidates seem poised to reap the votes of millions of Hispanics fed up with Democrats’ cultural extremism. But Dobbs has still given Democrats fresh motivation and money.
After all their declarations of a red wave, it’s very possible the GOP overshot their limits in the Senate this cycle. A rising Republican tide that covers up a multitude of defects — automatically lifting weak, damaged candidates with less money to spend after fractious primaries to victory in November — seems increasingly less likely. Democrat enthusiasm is real, the fundraising gap is likely to increase, and the red wave is not happening in a vacuum.
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Is This The End of Alex Jones?
Alex Jones looks unwell. He lost his bodybuilding figure decades ago but for years he was a veritable tank of a man. Now he looks swollen and exhausted — one piece of bad news away from his heart giving up.
I say that with no relish. Jones is an extraordinary American character. America is like an enormous carnival and, for better or for worse, it is rich in charismatic mountebanks. You don’t have to like them but they are as American as pecan pie.
Jones is an undeniably astonishing performer. His thunderous speech is often imitated, never equaled — a perversely captivating force of nature. His ability to switch tones in an instant — from cussing out the globalists to apologizing like an old Southern gentleman — is used with pinpoint comic timing. His vocabulary is as rich as it is strange.
I have always seen Jones as an odd sort of entertainer. He cut his broadcasting teeth in the Nineties, when societal changes fueled by globalization, and state crimes like the shootings at Ruby Ridge, kept undercurrents of paranoia bubbling. The ability to broadcast and publish from one’s home had given rise to all sorts of backwoods ideologues. Jones was an admirer of Milton William Cooper, who preached conspiracy theories in a rich baritone and would go on to be shot by the police after allegedly opening fire on them. Cooper called Jones a “bold-faced miserable stinking coward liar” after the twenty-five-year-old Jones spent New Year’s Eve 1999 inventing scare stories about Y2K.
Jones’s first taste of mainstream fame arrived when he appeared in a Jon Ronson documentary about Bohemian Grove — a bizarre pagan-inflected country club for rich Republicans. Jones playacting as some kind of yuppie fop as he prepared to infiltrate the meeting was a real highlight.
Becoming the go-to guy for fresh conspiracy theories, Jones, with his ubiquitous bullhorn, was at the center of the 9/11 Truth movement. 9/11 Truthers all but evaporated in the 2010s, leaving us to wonder who had changed their minds, who had never meant it and who now thought the alleged murder of more than 3,000 people by the US government was not worth their time.
I think it would be difficult to argue that truth is one of Mr. Jones’s higher priorities. After all, this is a man who hawked a brand of toothpaste as a cure for Covid. Still, his burning hatred for managerial internationalism has resonated with an audience beyond that of truthers, preppers and alienologists. His talk of a “New World Order,” for all that it referred to something more baroque and omniscient than exists, struck a chord with people legitimately concerned about increasing globalization and techno-paternalism. It made him one of the most prominent, passionate supporters of Donald Trump.
But Jones had already made what might prove to have been his biggest mistake. Now Mr. Infowars finds himself waist-deep in shit. Having confidently declared that the Sandy Hook school shooting was a hoax and that the parents of the dead victims were actors, Jones has found himself being predictably sued. He has been ordered to pay almost $50 million in punitive and compensatory damages and there are more trials ahead.
Jones narrowly avoided crippling lawsuits in the past. He was compelled to issue a groveling apology to the owner of Comet Ping Pong, for example, the DC restaurant he claimed was harboring child traffickers. You can make wild accusations against the American government but you cannot make wild accusations against private individuals. If you were all for Nicholas Sandmann and Kyle Rittenhouse suing people, you can’t hold up a sign saying “Alex Jones Did Nothing Wrong.”
Still, $50 million? At least one of the parents has understandably acknowledged that he hopes the trial will end Jones’s career, though it seems unhealthy to sentence a man based on his previous doings when judgment has been passed over only one act. (I’m a hypocrite here because I found it entertaining when Peter Thiel backed Hulk Hogan to destroy Gawker, but that doesn’t make it right. Plus, which would you rather read: Infowars or Gawker?)
Taiwan, Thucydides, and U.S.-China War
Fortunately, the American and Chinese governments know that a hot war would be a disaster for both. No serious person in either government wants war. Unfortunately, history offers many examples in which rivals whose leaders did not want war nonetheless found themselves forced to make fateful choices between accepting what they judged an unacceptable loss, on the one hand, and taking a step that increased the risks of war on the other. The classic case is World War I. After a terrorist with shady ties to the government of Serbia had assassinated his successor, the Emperor of Austria-Hungary judged that he had to forcefully punish Serbia. Since Austria was its single ally, Germany felt it had no option but to give it full backing. Russia felt obliged to support its Orthodox Christian brothers in Serbia. One step led to another in a vicious cycle of actions and reactions that had all of Europe at war within five weeks.
On the larger canvas of history, when a rapidly rising power seriously threatens to displace a major ruling power, the rivalry most often ends in war. The past 500 years have seen sixteen cases of such Thucydidean rivalries. Twelve resulted in war. In each case, the proximate causes of war included accidents, unforced errors, and unintended consequences of unavoidable choices in which one of the protagonists accepted increased risks hoping that another would back down. But beneath these were underlying structural drivers that Thucydides highlighted in explaining how the two leading city-states of classical Greece destroyed each other in the Peloponnesian War. As he wrote: “It was the rise of Athens and the fear that this instilled in Sparta that made war inevitable.”
Today, the United States and China are engaged in the GOAT rivalry—the greatest rivalry of all time. In this struggle, is war over Taiwan inevitable? The historical record suggests war is more likely than not. But as the past five decades show, it ain’t necessarily so. Fifty years ago in 1972, when Nixon and Kissinger opened relations with China, the differences between the United States and China over Taiwan were certainly irreconcilable. But statesmen demonstrated that irreconcilable did not mean unmanageable. They created a framework of strategic ambiguity that has provided five decades in which citizens on both sides of the straits have seen greater increases in their incomes, health, and well-being than in any equivalent period in their long histories.
The brute facts about the face-off between China and the United States over Taiwan today are three. First, not just Xi Jinping but the entire Chinese leadership and nation are unambiguously committed to preventing Taiwan from becoming an independent state. If forced to choose between accepting an independent Taiwan and a war that destroys Taiwan and much of China, Xi and his team will choose war.
Second, what Winston Churchill called the “deadly currents” in domestic politics are now running rife in both the United States and China. A fundamental axiom of American politics forbids letting a serious competitor get to one’s right on an issue of national security. Republican and Democratic politicians are thus rushing to show who can be tougher on China than the other. Presidential hopeful Mike Pompeo has called for the United States to recognize an independent Taiwan, and given the dynamics among Republicans, this will likely be a common plank in the Republican Party’s platform in the 2024 presidential campaign. In Taipei, Pelosi heralded the United States’ “solemn vow … to support the defense of Taiwan.” And this week, Sen. Bob Menendez, the Democratic chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican leader on defense issues, introduced the Taiwan Policy Act, which would designate Taiwan a “major non-NATO ally” and commit $4.5 billion in military aid. Meanwhile, as Xi is arranging the political pieces for a precedent-breaking third term as general secretary and virtual emperor for life, the pressure for him to stand up to the United States and stand strong on Taiwan is more powerful than ever.
Third, while most American politicians have yet to recognize it, the military balance in the Taiwan Strait has been transformed in the quarter century since the last Taiwan crisis. The local balance of power has shifted decisively in China’s favor. As I explained in an article published here last year, the United States could lose a war over Taiwan. Indeed, as former Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work has stated publicly, in the Pentagon’s most realistic simulations and sensitive war games, in conflicts limited to Taiwan, the score is eighteen to zero, and the eighteen is not Team USA.
Were the United States to fight a local war over Taiwan, the president would likely face a fateful choice between losing and escalating to a wider war in which the United States would have the upper hand. Despite its huge leap forward in military capabilities, the United States continues to dominate the blue water seas on which China is dependent both for the import of energy and for exporting its products. Of course, that wider war could escalate further. And the upper rungs of this escalation ladder include the use of nuclear weapons.
Deborah Birx’s Guide To Destroying America
Deborah Birx, White House coronavirus response coordinator under President Donald Trump, was one of the “trifecta” of three leading public officials who successfully pushed COVID lockdowns in the United States. Virtually every page of Birx’s new book, Silent Invasion: The Untold Story of the Trump Administration, Covid-19, and Preventing the Next Pandemic Before It’s Too Late, reads like a how-to guide from the front lines of subverting a democratic superpower from within. It bears repeating, from the outset, that lockdowns were never part of any democratic country’s pandemic preparedness plan prior to Xi Jinping’s lockdown of Wuhan, China.
The lockdowns that Xi pioneered and Birx so zealously advocated for reportedly led to over 170,000 non-COVID excess deaths among young Americans while failing to meaningfully slow the spread of COVID anywhere they were tried. It would have been impossible for an enemy agent armed with anything less than nuclear weapons to have inflicted so much damage to America’s economy, social fabric, and historical freedoms in such a short period of time.
Notably, though Birx’s memoir has earned relatively few reviews from human readers on Amazon, it’s earned rave reviews from Chinese state media, a feat not shared even by the far more popular pro-lockdown books of professional genuflectors to power like Lawrence Wright.
The glowing response from Chinese state media should come as no surprise. Nearly every sentence of Birx’s book faithfully parrots the Chinese Communist Party’s foreign and domestic propaganda, which helped facilitate Xi’s weaponization of the COVID response to eliminate the independence of the CCP’s private sector rivals…
On January 3, the same day the BBC piece ran, the Chinese government officially notified the United States of the outbreak. Bob Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was contacted by his Chinese counterpart, George F. Gao.
Note that Jan. 3 was also the same day that heroic Chinese whistleblower Li Wenliang was reportedly admonished by Chinese authorities for sending a WeChat message about a “cover-up” of the outbreak. In other words, on the same day Li was “admonished,” the head of China’s CDC personally called U.S. CDC Director Robert Redfield to share the same information Li supposedly shared. Some cover-up.
From here, it gets worse. One page later, Birx tells us how traumatized she still is from having watched videos of Wuhan residents collapsing and falling dead in January 2020, and praises the “courageous doctor” who shared them online:
The video showed a hallway crowded with patients slumped in chairs. Some of the masked people leaned against the wall for support. The camera didn’t pan so much as zigzag while the Chinese doctor maneuvered her smartphone up the narrow corridor. My eye was drawn to two bodies wrapped in sheets lying on the floor amid the cluster of patients and staff. The doctor’s colleagues, their face shields and other personal protective equipment in place, barely glanced at the lens as she captured the scene. They looked past her, as if at a harrowing future they could all see and hoped to survive.
I tried to increase the volume, but there was no sound. My mind seamlessly filled that void, inserting the sounds from my past, sounds from other wards, other places of great sorrow. I had been here before. I had witnessed scenes like this across the globe, in HIV ravaged communities—when hospitals were full of people dying of AIDS before we had treatment or before we ensured treatment to those who needed it. I had lived this, and it was etched permanently in my brain: the unimaginable, devastating loss of mothers, fathers, children, grandparents, brothers, sisters.
Staring at my computer screen, I was horrified by the images from Wuhan, the suffering they portrayed, but also because they confirmed what I’d suspected for the last three weeks: Not only was the Chinese government underreporting the real numbers of the infected and dying in Wuhan and elsewhere, but the situation was definitely far more dire than most people outside that city realized. Up until now, I’d been only reading or hearing about the virus. Now it had been made visible by a courageous doctor sharing this video online.
Items of Interest
“The French will hold on, without even needing a “sursaut national,” a national pushback reflex. They’ll hold on because there’s no other way, and because you get used to everything. No human force, not even fear, is stronger than habit.”
— Michael Houellebecq