Yesterday was primary day! At least in Texas, Georgia, Kentucky, and my home state, Arkansas. I am relieved to report that the woman who made her gun range into a “Muslim Free Zone” did not win Arkansas’s Republican gubernatorial primary, nor even come close. You can find coverage of the most important and interesting races at Vox and FiveThirtyEight.
Also this morning:
- My favorite result of the night: Stacey Abrams won the Democratic gubernatorial primary in Georgia and could become the first Black woman to govern one of the United States. I love her, and I think she has a real shot in November, especially since the Republican primary is going to a runoff, which means that the two top Republican contenders will be fighting with each other instead of Abrams for the next two months. The Nation has complete coverage of the Abrams win from Joan Walsh and Steve Phillips. Here is what Phillips says about Abrams’s strategy:
Especially in light of the resistance to Trump, Democratic voter turnout is up in previously conservative-voting Congressional districts, and those re-energized progressive whites can help pick up crucial seats in Georgia, as well as help capture the governor’s mansion.
Smart investors look at trends, where things are going, not where they were. The plain truth of the matter is that every single day, America—and Georgia—get browner by the hour. Nationally, every single day, 7,000 more people of color are added to the population while the net growth of whites is just 1,000 people (that’s births minus deaths plus legal immigration (which shows why Trump is obsessed with immigration).
It will cost about $10 million to mobilize the 230,000 previously-uninspired voters of color required to close the gap in Georgia. The question and the challenge for the progressive movement is will they put their money where their mouth is?
I don’t think this strategy will work in every single state (I thought it would have been idiotic to try to primary Joe Manchin in West Virginia, for example). But I think Georgia might be a place where it will work, and I’m excited to see how this race goes in November.
- The other big news of the morning (other than the president tweeting nonsense again) is that the death of a major American novelist, Philip Roth. I never could quite warm up to Roth, partly because I couldn’t relate to a sensibility that seemed extremely and specifically male to me (I feel the same way about Saul Bellow, although I did like John Updike for some reason). I also never quite forgave Roth for a passage in his memoir, Patrimony, in which he describes his father having a vulnerable moment and asking Roth not to reveal it to anyone — and then Roth put it in a book. Still, Roth’s work meant a lot of many people and Jeet Heer’s appreciation in the New Republic is well worth reading:
What liberated Roth was popular culture. As a boy he had been an avid radio listener and as an adult he got to see the birth of modern stand-up comedy in Chicago, where Nichols and May, along with Lenny Bruce, were inventing a new form of stage humor based on the interplay of voices (cerebral, sex-obsessed, and often inflected with the language of therapy). It was Roth’s genius to realize that the language of stand-up comedy could reinvigorate literary fiction.
The 1960s were also the great age of pop art, with Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein bringing the stylistic tics of advertising and comic books to canvases. Roth did something similar to literature: He wrote pop novels, where voice (often wise-cracking, satirical, and self-critical) was central, Flaubertian coolness be damned.
- Dahlia Lithwick has a long piece in Slate about the moral dilemma some Republicans are finding themselves in: do they give up their positions in government in hopes of retaining personal dignity, or do they stick around in hopes of possibly mitigating the damage the president is doing to the country?
Moral courage in this setting is almost impossible to define. It’s, in one way, completely understandable and actually quite a relief that so many good people have stayed on at the highest levels of the Justice Department, the State Department, and other agencies, despite the fact that the commander in chief has no compunction about insulting them, their mission, and their leadership almost daily. We need good people to stay on to act as a bulwark against cruelty and instability. But we also need good people to leave, and to speak out, to signal that cruelty and immorality are wrong.
The question remains the same. At what point are Trump’s attacks on his own law enforcement and national security apparatus potentially damaging enough to warrant some kind of response from patriots in both parties? And are the momentary tweets and the occasional rousing speeches and the retirements and subsequent book tours truly the kind of moral and effective responses that are warranted in times that feel imperiled as they now do?
Lithwick doesn’t really come to any conclusion about the answers to her questions, other than yeah, some people need to leave but other people need to stay, and every serious Republican should be considering their options. If I were one of these conflicted GOPers, I don’t think this article would clarify anything for me! But it’s interesting and thoughtful nonetheless.
- And in Foreign Policy, Terence McNamee uses a novel lens to look at the North Korea problem (at least it’s not something I’d read about or considered before): maybe it’s really like South Africa:
North Korea’s failed promises to dismantle its arsenal in the past and its recent signaling — willing and pragmatic one day, intransigent the next — are obvious reasons to be wary. Yet we can’t assume Kim thinks North Korea can remain a pariah forever any more than de Klerk believed South Africa could. Nuclear weapons may be the only currency North Korea can leverage to rejoin the family of nations. South Africa’s experience offers a glimpse of what a verifiable drawdown of North Korea’s program might deliver internationally.
If we dare imagine that Kim Jong Un — the third-generation Kim to rule North Korea — is a closet reformer like de Klerk, he might also have an eye on what could be achieved domestically. De Klerk used nuclear rollback as a wedge to steamroll opponents of political reform, particularly in South Africa’s security establishment.
No one outside North Korea really knows whether a fundamental shift in the country’s nuclear posture would go smoothly or not. A congruence of interests across the constituencies affected — including the military, scientists, senior officials, and Kim himself — cannot be taken for granted. Indeed, the resistance de Klerk faced from recalcitrant generals could be feeble by comparison. Conversely, Kim could be the most hawkish of the bunch, unable to conceive of any foreign-policy alternative to nuclear brinkmanship.
Unfortunately, McNamee doesn’t offer any ideas about how we get Kim Jong Un to have the same epiphany that de Klerk seemed to have (I mean, sure, I guess he could be a secret human rights devotee who just happens to have tens of thousands of his own people in brutal prison camps), and now that the words “Libya model” have been uttered it’s hard to imagine how it could happen. An intriguing idea nonetheless.
This morning’s reading feels very Trump- and Mueller-centric, which I suppose makes sense given all of yesterday’s news:
- In honor of the Mueller investigation’s one-year birthday, Politico profiles the FBI agents working on the Mueller probe:
Mueller’s FBI crew appears to be a combination of agents who were already working aspects of the investigation before the former FBI director took over a year ago, either because of their expertise or their location, and a set of volunteers who jumped aboard or were invited to join as the special counsel staffed up.
“The agents come two ways,” said Jeff Cramer, a former federal prosecutor in Chicago, now with Berkeley Research Group. “One is geographic. But, as you’re constructing your perfect investigative team, if you have your druthers and there’s agents you’ve worked with in the past, wherever they are in the country, on a case like this you do reach out and say, ‘Would you like to be involved in this?’”
- The Weekly Standard also marks the Mueller probe’s anniversary–with an editorial calling for it to end swiftly:
Special Counsel Mueller is everything we value in a public servant—honest, competent, utterly averse to partisan hackery. He has done valuable work, and—we repeat—the deputy attorney general was right to appoint him. But it has been a year of acrimony. If Donald Trump and his aides received help from the Russian government to win the election, Americans should know it and offenders should stand trial. If they did not, or if such a thing can’t be proved, Americans should be told that, too. The hour is late.
One assumes the Weekly Standard‘s editorial board is beside themselves with outrage over the numerous and extended investigations into Benghazi.
- Joan Walsh writes about Tuesday’s primary results in the Nation, touting the success of women and progressives:
Of course, within the Beltway, where good news for Democrats is always turned into a “Dems in disarray” story line, all of this winning is being spun as… losing. “The far left is winning the Democratic civil war,” screamed The Washington Post on Wednesday morning. But none of the women who won US House nominations in Pennsylvania can be termed “far left.” Susan Wild is excoriated for attacking the anti-choice, anti-immigrant Morganelli, while the fact that she beat an actual Our Revolution candidate is ignored, since it doesn’t fit the narrative. Scott Wallace is attacked, essentially, for being Henry Wallace’s grandson, and for declaring after his victory: “Arise, ye children of starvation…” Just kidding. Wallace declared: “Together, we can make America sane again.” Is that really “far left” today? And sure, Nebraska’s Eastman is well to the left of Ashford—but Ashford already lost the same seat, to Republican Don Bacon in 2016. He sure doesn’t have a magic formula for victory.
As I said yesterday, I’m skeptical that these are wins for progressives as much as they are losses for the conservative wing of the Democratic party. (As Walsh notes above, Susan Wild beat Bernie Sanders’s preferred candidate.) And I’m not at all sure the progressives who won in Nebraska and Idaho can win the general. But I do think these are encouraging signs for the long-term future of the Democratic party. (Also, I just love Joan Walsh, and I was really happy to see her font this morning.)
- Finally, more on Israel in the New York Times, this from Matti Friedman. Friedman argues that the Palestinian casualties in the conflict with Israel are not always what they seem:
At the end of 2008 I was a desk editor, a local hire in The Associated Press’s Jerusalem bureau, during the first serious round of violence in Gaza after Hamas took it over the year before. That conflict was grimly similar to the American campaign in Iraq, in which a modern military fought in crowded urban confines against fighters concealed among civilians. Hamas understood early that the civilian death toll was driving international outrage at Israel, and that this, not I.E.D.s or ambushes, was the most important weapon in its arsenal.
Early in that war, I complied with Hamas censorship in the form of a threat to one of our Gaza reporters and cut a key detail from an article: that Hamas fighters were disguised as civilians and were being counted as civilians in the death toll. The bureau chief later wrote that printing the truth after the threat to the reporter would have meant “jeopardizing his life.” Nonetheless, we used that same casualty toll throughout the conflict and never mentioned the manipulation.
Friedman’s basic point is that everything happening in Israel is complex, and the video of dying Palestinians tells only part of the story. It’s a fair point, but although he notes that “Israeli soldiers facing Gaza have no good choices,” he never acknowledges that the Palestinians also have only bad options. So in the end the piece feels unfinished and incomplete, as unfairly weighted against the Palestinians as he believes the bloody video is weighted against the Israelis.
So when I checked the primary results this morning I was amused to discover these dueling takeaways: Politico says that “moderate Democrats took it on the chin,” while Slate proclaimed that “Democratic voters responded by playing it safe, picking a bevy of establishment-friendly candidates.” And both articles talk about some of the same races! I think the disconnect here is that the candidates Politico considers moderate (specifically John Morganelli in Pennsylvania’s 7th district and Rachel Reddick in Pennsylvania’s 1st) seem more conservative to me, almost in the mold of Joe Manchin or Joe Donnelly. Morganelli doesn’t support abortion rights, which puts him solidly outside the Democratic mainstream; and Reddick was a Republican not too long ago. The winners of these primaries (Susan Wild in the 7th district and Scott Wallace in the 1st) are progressive but more “establishment-friendly” than the Bernie Sanders crowd; in fact, Wild beat Sanders’s preferred candidate, Greg Edwards. So (somewhat to my surprise) I think Slate got this one more right than Politico did.
The most interesting result of the night, to my mind, was Paulette Jordan’s victory over A. J. Balukoff in the Idaho governor’s Democratic primary. Now here is a win that really is progressive over establishment: Balukoff had sewn up most of the Idaho Democratic establishment’s endorsements, while Jordan was endorsed by Cher and Khizr Khan. To a degree, the progressive vs. establishment divide is cosmetic: Balukoff and Jordan have strikingly similar policy positions. But she’s younger and female and, if elected, would be the nation’s first Native American governor; it’s hard not to think (or, maybe, hope) that she represents the future of the Democratic party and Balukoff the past.
Having said that, she’s almost certainly going to lose to Brad Little in November.
Other stories I read this morning:
- In the New Republic, Eric Cortellessa argues that moving the American embassy to Jerusalem without extracting any concessions from Israel is only going to make peace negotiations more difficult than they already were:
It is a foreign policy axiom that the U.S. is the only third party that can give both sides the kind of guarantees they need to make the compromises necessary: It’s why in the past, throughout the Oslo Peace Process, Israelis and Palestinians alike wanted American officials in the room for negotiations, not a delegation from the United Nations, not the European Union. Of course, only Israelis and Palestinians can ultimately cross the rubicon of peace, but the Palestinians now rejecting American leadership has far-reaching ramifications, effectively sidelining the only international actor that can facilitate a deal.
This isn’t an original argument, I realize, but Cortellessa does a good job here of summing up the issues with the embassy move.
- Marc Thiessen has a Washington Post op-ed that is both weird and dumb: Trump has had two “major foreign policy achievements” over the past week and Democrats are not giving him enough credit. The achievements? Bringing home three North Korea hostages, and moving the embassy to Jerusalem.
I’m sorry, I found this piece completely infuriating. Granted, I am a Democrat and I recently blamed Trump for the leak in my dishwasher so I am not a disinterested observer. However, moving the embassy isn’t a diplomatic achievement; it’s something that any president could have done since 1995–including George W. Bush, the president for whom Thiessen worked. They all chose not to. Moving the embassy didn’t require any negotiation skills; it just required signing something. The reason the three earlier presidents didn’t do it wasn’t because they couldn’t but because it was a bad idea (see Cortellessa’s article above). “Americans see Trump being criticized for doing exactly what Congress demanded, and his Democratic and Republican predecessors promised, and they rightly see hypocrisy,” Thiessen writes, conveniently ignoring the polls that show that only 36% of Americans actually support the move.
Also, Thiessen doesn’t even mention the dozens of Palestinians who were killed in protests during the opening of the embassy. “This is a huge victory for Trump, pay no attention to the dead people behind the curtain” seems to be his thesis.
Meanwhile, as Thiessen himself acknowledges, Democrats aren’t unhappy that the hostages are home; they are unhappy that the president effusively praised Kim Jong Un for returning them. Kissing up to an authoritarian dictator is not a foreign policy achievement and not worthy of praise! (I continue to be shocked by the things that have to be said out loud in 2018.) It is also not particularly effective, as this morning’s news that North Korea will reconsider attending the summit if denuclearization is on the table. So in addition to being weird and dumb, this article has also aged very poorly since it was published at 4:41 yesterday afternoon.
- In Foreign Policy, Dahlia Scheindlin makes the enormously depressing argument that Benjamin Netanyahu’s political survival depends on continual conflict with the Palestinians:
The result of strongman leadership is that people become much less enthusiastic for the foundations of democracy, favoring splashy personal achievements or controversy instead. And the irony of consolidating power is that it harms democracy but simultaneously generates an environment in which one person gets credit for everything going well, reinforcing support for that same leader.
Such a leader could also be blamed for all bad things. But many Israelis have apparently traded personal economic frustrations for an occasional celebration, be it Israel’s victory in the Eurovision contest or the U.S. Embassy moving to Jerusalem. Voters have lowered their standards on personal integrity in return for domestic tranquility, punctured only by the occasional war that most believe could not have been prevented. And, so the logic goes, it’s better to have Bibi fighting that war — or killing those protesters in Gaza who dare to seek a way out after 11 years of closure — than a despised left-winger.
Sooner or later, Netanyahu will eventually exit the political stage. But given the way that every crisis reinforces his power, and what his years in power have done to Israel, the pendulum doesn’t look likely to swing in the other direction soon.
- And in Lawfare, Harry Litman has a fascinating post about how one might go about flipping Michael Cohen:
Step one in that transition is the isolation of the lieutenant from the family and the daily social life, which usually consists largely of a lot of hanging out and killing time and not all that much actual criminal activity. That much seems already to have happened, notwithstanding that Cohen has yet to be arrested. The Times reported recently that Cohen has told associates that he feels isolated since the FBI search.
With the spell of daily connection to the family broken, the feds will seek to persuade the made man that the Don doesn’t esteem him—or worse—doesn’t even respect him. Here, again, Trump has provided the FBI and the New York prosecutors quite a lot of material to work with, should they need to. Cohen appears to have endured years of petty slights from his narcissistic boss. One such humiliation recently reported by the Wall Street Journal was Trump’s boorish speech at Cohen’s son’s bar mitzvah, when he arrived late and gave a speech telling guests he had only come because Cohen called him, his secretary and the Trump children begging Trump to attend.
I’ve just started rewatching The Sopranos for the first time in a decade and it feels very timely. Michael Cohen reminds me forcefully of Big Pussy Bonpensiero. But comparing Trump to Tony Soprano feels a bit insulting to the memory of James Gandolfini.