Good Friday Morning, especially to the Nashville Predators who are holding on to a very slim lead in the Central Divison for the last spot in the playoffs. They missed out on ensuring a spot by losing their last game, but they’ve got two more chances to cash their ticket over the next few days. If they do, the demeanor of this newsletter and podcast will generally be positive. If they lose, you might encounter more anger, cynicism, and/or moroseness.
A bit of really good news: Johns Hopkins University has the positivity rate on COVID-19 testing at 3.6% right now, falling below 4% for the first time ever, and sitting at the lowest levels of the entire pandemic. It looks like we’re on the downswing, just like Israel’s trendlines collapsed. Vaccines work. In the latest podcast, I gave some of my reasoning for getting vaccinated. If you’re more vaccine-hesitant and want to bounce some of your concerns off of me, feel free to reach out. I’ve done the same with many people, happy to do the same here.
If you read one thing on the origins of COVID-19, make it this long-form piece: Origin of Covid — Following the Clues: Did people or Nature open Pandora’s box at Wuhan? by Nicholas Wade, a long-time science reporter for Nature, Science, and the NYT. He doesn’t make any hard conclusions, but the evidence presented leads the rational mind in only one direction: COVID-19 leaked from a lab. He takes a deep dive through the hard science, the money trails, and history. It’s the most compelling read I’ve encountered yet on the origins story.
Today, we’re doing a deep dive into Republican inside baseball and the internal fights in the House of Representatives. Links to follow.
Where you can find me this week
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Republicans need to nationalize and run on reopening schools – The Conservative Institute.
Biden rolls back Trump’s criminal justice reforms with menthol ban – The Conservative Institute.
Cheney’s fatal mistake is jumping into the mud
A fair warning, this is more of an “inside baseball” newsletter on the Republican Party. That’s not everyone’s cup of tea. Still, I find it interesting and think the dynamics playing out have ramifications down the road. Specifically, I think it could impact the GOP’s messaging plan going into 2022.
I wrote a newsletter three months ago about the House Republican Caucus’s internal votes for two people: Majorie Green Taylor (MGT) and Liz Cheney, the 3rd ranking Republican in the House. In the end, Republicans voted not to punish MGT and to keep Cheney in her role. It was a clash of the Trumpist side of the party versus the anti-Trump side. All things being equal, I thought Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy navigated this clash well:
This won’t be the last bout between those wings of the party. But Minority Leader McCarthy effectively navigated both events, getting Rep. Greene more under control, letting Rep. Cheney call the Trump wing’s bluff, and settling any leadership questions for the near future. That’s not the end, though.
At the time, that last sentence had a double meaning. I knew it wouldn’t be the final clash in the party, and at the time, Pelosi was trying to make everything a much bigger issue. I assumed it would take time to get back to this point, but I was wrong. We’re back less than three months later.
Republicans should hold a second vote on Cheney continuing in her leadership next week. Predictably, this has enraged a good chunk of the right-wing punditry that’d like to return to some form of a pre-Trump or post-Trump status. And the Trump contingent sees this vote as a means of reasserting the former President’s hold over the party.
In reality, especially when you examine the Republican House member statements, it’s far less of a fight between factions and a question of doing a job and whether Cheney is willing to perform hers. Cheney’s spin on it is that she’s getting penalized for speaking the truth. That might make sense if this was the first vote. But Republicans made clear they didn’t care about her personal beliefs in the first vote. This second vote is different, and Cheney’s spin makes little sense.
What has happened?
First off, let’s read you into this issue. Cheney is one of the ten Republicans that voted to impeach Trump in the House after the events on January 6. After that vote, some very pro-Trump Representatives wanted to remove her from leadership as GOP Caucus Chair and the third-ranking Republican in the House. That attempt and vote failed in spectacular fashion 145-61, with one member abstaining.
Notably, the GOP caucus took no action against Cheney for her vote or MGT for her truly insane beliefs. Republicans decided to go with the “big tent” approach. McCarthy used the vote to mend fences and get everyone to unite behind his leadership. In that respect, I think he was successful.
In the meantime, Donald Trump has launched a website with a blog resembling a Twitter feed. His team pitched it as a communications platform, but it’s a blog in a Twitter-style format. Trump remains banned from all social media platforms, and it doesn’t appear he will return any time soon. The social media ban is both a gift and a curse. It helps Trump by taking him out of the media spotlight, destroying news organization viewership and bottom lines. But it hurts in that it takes away the thing he prizes most: attention. As I mentioned on a recent podcast, the media is desperate to cover Trump, so they’ll talk about the press releases on his website. Still, it lacks the same impact as Trump’s tweeting.
For Republicans, it’s great. The media has lost its power to hammer them over Trump. And they’re able to focus on other things while still catering to the Trump voters. The Republican politician best at this maneuver is Mitch McConnell, who regularly gets attacked by Trump, but ignores those attacks and goes on with his business. By doing that, McConnell kills the story and denies both the press and Trump what they want: attention.
One of the worst politicians at handling this is Liz Cheney.
On the day Trump launched his website, he posted a small “tweet” saying, “The Fraudulent Presidential Election of 2020 will be, from this day forth, known as THE BIG LIE!”
This statement is, of course, in typical Trump bombast, wrong and utterly nonsensical. It’s also a tiny statement on a website that barely anyone even knows exists. If you’re a Republican, you can ignore it and move on with your life, unless you’re Liz Cheney. Within an hour, Cheney posted (in a now-deleted tweet), “The 2020 Election was not stolen. Anyone who claims it was is spreading THE BIG LIE, turning their back on the rule of law and poisoning our democracy.”
On the merits, I think she’s right. On the politics of it, she’s devoid of any sense. No one saw that Trump statement or gave it any thought until she made it the center of the political universe. Had she ignored it, everyone would have moved on. But she couldn’t. It’s a version of the Streisand Effect. If you don’t know what that is:
The Streisand effect is a social phenomenon that occurs when an attempt to hide, remove, or censor information has the unintended consequence of further publicizing that information, often via the Internet. It is named after American entertainer Barbra Streisand, whose attempt to suppress the California Coastal Records Project’s photograph of her residence in Malibu, California, taken to document California coastal erosion, inadvertently drew further attention to it in 2003.
In this case, Cheney came out firing against a Trump statement and ended up elevating that Trump comment to new heights. In fact, I’m willing to bet some of you reading this now are only seeing that Trump statement for the first time. The only reason I’m talking about it is because Republicans are holding a vote on Cheney over it and other actions.
Proverbs 26:4 says, “Do not answer a fool [a]according to his foolishness, Or you will also be like him.” Mark Twain quipped, “Never argue with a fool. Onlookers may not be able to tell the difference.” Cheney’s mistake is this, and in the process, she’s dragging everyone in the mud with her.
Why this matters to Republicans
I started at the top by pointing out Republicans don’t care what she believes. They voted in her favor in the first vote. What’s changed this time is not that her beliefs are wrong, but that she’s refused to do her job and instead focus on fights with Trump. Kevin McCarthy, who supported Cheney before, is the Republican who has directly lost faith in her:
House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy was caught on a hot mic Tuesday saying he’s lost confidence in Liz Cheney and, in public remarks, gave his biggest signal yet that her days in the party’s leadership are numbered.
McCarthy raised questions about Cheney’s ability to carry out her duties as GOP conference chair and told Fox News he’s heard from fellow GOP lawmakers they are worried she can’t carry out the party’s message.
Ahead of his interview, he was heard, on a hot mic, telling Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy he’s lost confidence in Cheney, Axios reported.
‘I think she’s got real problems,’ McCarthy said. ‘I’ve had it with … I’ve had it with her. You know, I’ve lost confidence. … Well, someone just has to bring a motion, but I assume that will probably take place.’
This point matters because of what Cheney’s job entails as GOP Caucus Chair in the House. The website describes it like this:
The organizational body for all GOP Members of the U.S. House of Representatives, the House Republican Conference is responsible for electing the House Republican leadership, approving GOP Member committee assignments, managing leadership-driven floor debates, and executing a communications strategy that is executed within the party and is conveyed to constituents through the media.
Internally, the Conference provides a wide variety of services to Members and their staff. Such services include daily legislative materials, visual media production, educational events and briefings, training seminars, issue-specific talking points, and assistance with press events and materials.
Externally, the House Republican Conference coordinates media availability for leadership events, schedules GOP Members to participate in TV and radio interviews, and generally communicates the House Republican message to the public.
That last part is critical. The GOP Caucus Chair is the one who is responsible for delivering the House GOP message to the public. And instead of doing that, Cheney is alienating colleagues and bringing Trump back into the mix. She’s empowering the very thing she hates.
If you’re a Trumpist in the House, this becomes a personal affront to you. If you’re less keen on Trump, this activity forces you to talk about Trump when you have the viable option of ignoring him. In short, Cheney is short-circuiting the GOP message. This bad on two levels: 1) It’s terrible for the immediate fights the GOP faces in the Pelosi-led House, and 2) it harms the GOP’s ability to unite and prepare for the 2022 elections.
When McCarthy and other Republicans talk about Cheney’s job and not being confident in her ability to do that, this is what they’re referencing. It’s not her beliefs; it’s that she’s not capable of putting the party above herself in situations where she applied for the job of representing the overall caucus. That whole caucus is diverse. And if you can’t help all of them, you probably shouldn’t be in that role.
Why punish Cheney, though?
The most common retort to this analysis is that Cheney is getting punished for “speaking the truth.” And there’s some truth to that. But it’s not what she’s saying that’s bad; it’s her strategy in representing that truth. And what this point fails to grasp is that attacking Trump is not the best way of addressing Trump’s influence.
Going back to what I wrote three months ago. I wrote that focusing attention on MGT/Trump gave them what they wanted most: attention. Trump hasn’t changed. He still wants the same thing.
What all these people want is attention. And they get it by saying outlandish things or supporting dumb ideas. The media loves them because these are the politicians who generate money. To put it bluntly, the attention whores want attention. The media loves them. They create a cycle where nothing gets done.
The only way to defeat these kinds of useless legislators long term is to deny them what they want: attention. That’s why I’m against all the attention all these right-wing sites are giving to MTG, making her a Trump-lite. By giving her all this attention, they’re doing the same thing that happened in the 2016 primaries with Trump, she soaks up all the oxygen, and no other legislators can do anything. If everyone just ignored her, she’d become a backbench crank. But now, she’s been given political capital by the right and left because of these attacks.
So far, no one has learned these lessons. Our politics will continue to be dominated by people with loud mouths and empty words.
The best way to defeat Trump’s lies is not to attack them; it’s to starve them of attention. Mitch McConnell does this all the time. Cheney’s media defenders ignore this point. Trump baselessly attacks McConnell regularly, including in the same statements where he hits Cheney. McConnell refuses to get into Trump’s mud and denies oxygen to the story. The story dies, and with it, so do Trump’s lies. Sure, some cranks hold on to those attacks, but they already believed the worst about McConnell. There’s no convincing them, and pretending what the cranks believe is important is an excuse to jump in the mud.
The tweet Cheney sent out above was unprompted. She raised it. In turn, this boosted Trump, and he attacked her more, which encouraged the media to get more statements from her. Then she wrote a dumb Washington Post op-ed and earned praise from Nancy Pelosi, which should tell you that Cheney doesn’t understand what Pelosi and the press do: focusing on Republican infighting and Trump lets them ignore Biden and Democrats. They get to cover Trump again to try and boost ratings while Democrats get cover.
That’s why Republicans will vote on Cheney’s leadership role again, and it’s why she’s likely going to lose this time. The first vote was about her beliefs. Most Republicans don’t care what she believes on Trump. They’re okay with her representing those in her personal capacity. But she’s gone beyond that into making the House GOP’s job impossible.
We’ll see whether or not this all plays out against Cheney next week, but none of the reports are good for her. She’s made no pitch to keep her job and seems like she’s accepted a loss. Never assume anything in a vote, but I doubt McCarthy would bring a vote where he didn’t already know the answer.
Hopefully, whoever holds the GOP Caucus Chair next understands the lesson of politics for the last 5-6 years: don’t give oxygen to the idiots.
Links of the week
Patents are Not the Problem! – Marginal Revolution
The Cold, Hard Facts about the Liz Cheney Saga – Jim Geraghty, National Review
Letter to a Young Conservative – Avi Woolf
Slow Down, You Move Too Fast: Jesse Singal’s ‘The Quick Fix,’ reviewed. – Avi Woolf, The Dispatch
April Sets Gun Sales Record – The Reload
Twitter Thread(s) of the week
Satire of the week
Thanks for reading!