Some Soothing Figures

Among the Substack newsletters I regularly receive are those from Heather Cox Richardson–whom I often quote– and Robert Hubbell. One of Hubbell’s recent missives contained some very welcome information and analysis.

Hubbell began with his frequent admonition that Democrats should be confident, but definitely not complacent–that we will need to work hard to turn out every anti-MAGA voter in November. But that said, he made two very important–and comforting–points:

Trump is running his campaign as an incumbent president. He has accomplished a hostile takeover of the Republican Party apparatus. He has threatened to banish any Republican who supports or donates to his opponents. Under those circumstances, anything less than a Soviet-style win of 100% is a failure.

So, against that backdrop, Trump’s loss of 40% of the vote in the South Carolina primary is devastating. It is particularly bad because he lost 40% in a state that is more favorable to him than almost any state in the union—because of its strong presence of white, older, evangelical voters (60% of voters are white evangelical or born-again Christians). Losing 40% of the vote under those circumstances should send shockwaves through the Republican establishment.

As Hubbell quoted Axios:

If America were dominated by old, white, election-denying Christians who didn’t go to college, former President Trump would win the general election in as big of a landslide as his sweep of the first four GOP contests.

It’s not. That’s why some top Republicans are worried about the general election in November, despite Trump’s back-to-back-to-back-to-back wins in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.

Or, as Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo put it, Face It: This is a Weak Showing for Trump in South Carolina.

It is not merely that Trump lost 40% of the vote. It is also that 50% of those voters said they would not vote for Trump if he became the nominee—which translates into 25% of Republicans who will not vote for Trump!

One quibble: it translates into 25% of the Republicans who went to the polls in the primary who will not vote for Trump in the General. Some of those voters will stay home in November, but that percentage probably is also predictive of the percentage who didn’t vote in the primary but who will vote in the General.

Hubbell’s most reassuring–and eye-opening– analysis, however, was his discussion of contemporary polling, and its demonstrable bias.

Polls do not “predict” outcomes of races; rather, they predict ranges of outcomes at different levels of confidence. But on average and over time, polls should cluster around the actual outcomes. That is not happening with polling regarding Trump.

Instead, the polling averages have consistently overstated Trump’s support—something the media and pollsters have ignored or excused. At some point, they should simply admit that their polling models are broken and overstate support for Trump.

Adam Carlson posted the following on Twitter, comparing Trump’s average margin of victory predicted by versus the actual margin of victory by which Trump won the first three GOP primaries:

In Iowa:

  • Final Average: Trump +37
  • Final Result: Trump +30

In New Hampshire:

  • Final Average: Trump +18
  • Final Result: Trump +11

In South Carolina:

  • Final Average: Trump +28
  • Final Result: Trump +20

Notice a pattern? The average of’s polls overstated Trump’s support by at least 7 percentage points in three primaries.

I will add that is probably the most credible of all the polling sites.

Since Hubbell’s post, Michigan held its primary, and the trend held. Trump won by roughly 42 points; the final 538 polling average had him winning by 57 points, an underperformance of some 15 points.

Hubbell is undoubtedly correct when he says that when polls show a consistent bias, there is likely to be a flaw in the methodology that warrants skepticism. Here, that flaw consistently overstates Trump’s support. As he concludes,

My point is that we should ignore the polls. We should not delude ourselves, but neither should we trust polls that consistently overstate Trump’s support. Just keep working hard and ignore the uncritical, breathless reporting about polls that have shown consistent bias in favor of Trump.

I share these little rays of sunshine to remind you–and remind myself–that the future will be what we make it. Nothing is certain–certainly not the polls.

As unsettling as it is, we live in a time where there simply are no comforting political verities, no outcomes we can confidently predict. Polls are inaccurate, artificial intelligence is creating misleading messages, media fragmentation and online propaganda encourage confirmation bias…The list goes on.

We need to “power through” this very confusing environment, separating wheat from chaff to the extent possible. We also need to reassure ourselves that, since most Americans are sane, we need to GET OUT THE VOTE.


When People Tell You Who They Are, Believe Them

There is a famous Maya Angelou quote: “When people show you who they are, believe them.”

Voters unwilling to recognize that American democracy will be on the ballot in the upcoming election will need to ignore or reject what the proponents of theocracy and autocracy are willingly telling us. 

Heather Cox Richardson recently reported on the candor of a speech at this year’s CPAC convention.

How religion and authoritarianism have come together in modern America was on display Thursday, when right-wing activist Jack Posobiec opened this weekend’s conference of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) outside Washington, D.C., with the words: “Welcome to the end of democracy. We are here to overthrow it completely. We didn’t get all the way there on January 6, but we will endeavor to get rid of it and replace it with this right here.” He held up a cross necklace and continued: “After we burn that swamp to the ground, we will establish the new American republic on its ashes, and our first order of business will be righteous retribution for those who betrayed America.”

If there was any doubt that today’s Republican Party has rejected the (small-d) democratic basis of America’s republic, the party’s unrelenting attacks on reproductive rights should be convincing evidence. Not satisfied with Dobbs‘ erasure of the constitutional right to abortion, the party’s theocratic base is now gunning for birth control. The recent Alabama decision that effectively outlawed IVF rested on a state law conferring “personhood” on fertilized eggs. Since Dobbs, sixteen state legislatures have introduced such laws, and four Red states—Missouri, Georgia, Alabama, and Arizona–have passed them.

The cranks and Christian Nationalists who dominate the party in the House of Representatives introduced a national personhood bill immediately after they took control in January 2023. Republicans in the Senate were already on board; Rand Paul had introduced a “Life at Conception Act” on January 28, 2021. Richardson tells us it currently has 18 co-sponsors, including the head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. These lawmakers surely know that these measures are opposed by huge majorities of the voting public; a party that valued either democratic representation or constitutional compliance would not be intent upon passing them.

There are multiple other examples: members of the GOP have demonstrated their willingness to accept and promote Russian disinformation, and to take Putin’s side against Ukraine– behavior inconsistent with the majority’s desire to help Ukraine fend off Russian aggression. And the GOP’s embrace of gerrymandering is also entirely consistent with its devotion to the “end of democracy.” Gerrymandering, after all, is an effort to evade democratic accountability.

If these examples aren’t sufficient, there’s the “show and tell” from Trump himself. As Axios (among others) has reported, in an introduction to a series on the effort,

Former President Trump’s top allies are preparing to radically reshape the federal government if he is re-elected, purging potentially thousands of civil servants and filling career posts with loyalists to him and his “America First” ideology, people involved in the discussions tell Axios.

The impact could go well beyond typical conservative targets such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the Internal Revenue Service. Trump allies are working on plans that would potentially strip layers at the Justice Department — including the FBI, and reaching into national security, intelligence, the State Department and the Pentagon, sources close to the former president say.

During his presidency, Trump often complained about what he called “the deep state.”

The heart of the plan is derived from an executive order known as “Schedule F,” developed and refined in secret over most of the second half of Trump’s term and launched 13 days before the 2020 election.

The reporting for this series draws on extensive interviews over a period of more than three months with more than two dozen people close to the former president, and others who have firsthand knowledge of the work underway to prepare for a potential second term. Most spoke on condition of anonymity to describe sensitive planning and avoid Trump’s ire.

People voting in November can’t say they weren’t warned. 

The Republican Party of today is Trump’s party, and multiple sources are plainly and forcefully telling us who they are. It is not an exaggeration to say that the fate of America going forward rests on enough voters’ listening to them and understanding what they are saying. 

Accept Maya Angelou’s advice. Believe them.


Take An Embryo To Lunch?

First we were told that corporations were people; now, according to the  Supreme Court of Alabama, frozen embryos are people too. (Not sure how you’d take either to lunch…)

Last Friday, the Alabama court ruled that frozen embryos should be considered people and as a result, other people can be held liable for destroying them. (The case focused on whether a patient who mistakenly destroyed other couples’ frozen embryos could be held liable for wrongful death.) As multiple legal and medical experts have confirmed, the decision will effectively end in vitro fertilization (IVF) in Alabama. If similar measures pass in the Red states currently considering them, it would affect hundreds of thousands of patients who depend on IVF and related treatments every year.

At least 11 states have passed state laws broadly defining “personhood” as beginning at fertilization. As one report noted (no link available):

To say that mandating fertilized eggs and frozen embryos be given the same protections as fully-gestated babies sets a terrifying precedent is an understatement. This ruling is a win for the anti-abortion movement, which has long sought to regulate IVF as a means to further expanding the limits of “fetal personhood.” Alabama voters passed a ballot measure in 2018 that granted fetuses full personhood, and after the fall of Roe vs. Wade, the state enacted a near-total abortion ban. According to Pregnancy Justice, nearly half of all criminal cases related to pregnancy in the United States come from Alabama. In Friday’s ruling Alabama State Supreme Court Justice Tom Parker quoted the Bible in his written opinion as justification for the decision, because I guess we’re just treating separation of church and state as a light suggestion these days!

Bible-quoting would-be theocrats are increasingly visible in today’s Christian Nationalist MAGA world. Justice Alito–he of the heavily Christianist Hobby Lobby and Dobbs decisions–has once again expressed his view that the Court should “revisit” its decision on same-sex marriage, and Politico has reported on the Christian Nationalist agenda “waiting in the wings” for a second Trump administration.

An influential think tank close to Donald Trump is developing plans to infuse Christian nationalist ideas in his administration should the former president return to power, according to documents obtained by POLITICO.

Spearheading the effort is Russell Vought, who served as Trump’s director of the Office of Management and Budget during his first term and has remained close to him. Vought, who is frequently cited as a potential chief of staff in a second Trump White House, is president of The Center for Renewing America think tank, a leading group in a conservative consortium preparing for a second Trump term.

Christian nationalists in America believe that the country was founded as a Christian nation and that Christian values should be prioritized throughout government and public life. As the country has become less religious and more diverse, Vought has embraced the idea that Christians are under assault and has spoken of policies he might pursue in response.


A No-Win Choice

The Washington Post recently ran a story about the 91-year old Republican woman who is a plaintiff in the Colorado case that removed Donald Trump from that state’s ballot.

In one way, the piece was just one more reminder of how very far today’s GOP is from the political party it used to be. The woman being profiled, Norma Anderson, was described as a trailblazing former GOP legislator, and she joins people like Liz Cheney and other “Never Trumpers” in reminding us that what is on display these days is a very far cry from both conservatism and what the Grand Old Party used to be.

But that article is only one commentary on a critically-important and unprecedented issue: should Trump be barred from the ballot under the very clear language of Section 3 of the 14th Amendment?

That Section reads as follows:

No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice-President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.

The Guardian was among several media outlets that have reported on an amicus brief filed with the Supreme Court by some of this nation’s most eminent historians. Twenty-five historians of the civil war and Reconstruction argued in support of the Colorado decision to remove Trump from the ballot.

“For historians,” the group wrote, “contemporary evidence from the decision-makers who sponsored, backed, and voted for the 14th amendment [ratified in 1868] is most probative. Analysis of this evidence demonstrates that decision-makers crafted section three to cover the president and to create an enduring check on insurrection, requiring no additional action from Congress.”

Sean Wilentz of Princeton is a well-regarded historian who did not participate in the Supreme Court brief, but he too has dismissed arguments for allowing Trump to remain on the ballot.

“By their reasoning,” Wilentz writes, “Trump’s misdeeds aside, enforcement of the 14th amendment poses a greater threat to our wounded democracy than Trump’s candidacy. In the name of defending democracy, they would speciously enable the man who did the wounding and now promises to do much more.”…

 “Whether motivated by … fear of Trump’s base, a perverted sense of democratic evenhandedness, a reflexive hostility toward liberals, or something else, [commentators who say Trump should stay on the ballot] betray a basic ignorance of the relevant history and thus a misconception of what the 14th amendment actually meant and means. That history, meanwhile, has placed the conservative members of the Supreme Court in a very tight spot.”

No kidding. And they’re ducking and weaving…

“Textualists” and “original intent” devotees on the Court are faced with unambiguous language buttressed by reams of contemporaneous evidence submitted by the historians. The hearing Thursday telegraphed the Court’s reluctance to give the Fourteenth Amendment language its obviously intended effect. The decision is likely to be another nail in the coffin of this Court’s eroding legitimacy.

It’s true that a decision following the clear Constitutional language would run the risk of unleashing a violent reaction from the populists and neo-Nazis who support Trump.  Recognition of that probability has led some pundits to argue that the Court should punt–that it should “save democracy” by leaving Trump’s fate to the tender mercies of the voting public.

I understand that desire, which the Court clearly shares.

I truly believe that the likely match-up between Biden and Trump will result in a massive repudiation of Trump and his cult–that Trump’s intensifying and increasingly obvious mental decline, on top of his ignorance, narcissism and generally repulsive persona will lead to a massive rejection of the GOP at the polls. (Discount the polling averages that seem to show Trump even with or defeating Biden; as several scholars have noted, those averages include a large number of low-quality, partisan polls with which GOP propagandists have “flooded the zone.”)

It would be far more satisfying to defeat Trump at the polls, but America is facing a crucial test of our commitment to the rule of law. Are we, as John Adams famously proclaimed, a “nation of laws, not men”? Or are we a nation of scofflaws, ready to abandon rules when we find them inconvenient or unpopular?

The Court appears ready to place us among the scofflaws.


The Stakes

Bret Stephens is a regular opinion writer for the New York Times. He is a self-described conservative who shares a Monday column with liberal Gail Collins. Stephens is a “never Trumper”–and very clear-eyed about the threat posed not just by Trump, but by the current GOP, and he has a wicked way with words. A few days ago, when Collins asked him what the remaining sane Republicans would do about the immigration bill, his response was dead-on perfect:

So-called sane House Republicans are basically passengers in a car being driven at high speed by a drunk. There’s no getting out of the car. And they don’t dare tell the driver to slow down because who knows what he’ll do then.

As Hoosiers are being inundated with advertisements from the candidates vying for the GOP nomination for Governor, the accuracy of Stephens’ description is evident. 

On the one hand, we have the MAGAs. Mike Braun is promising to fix problems that are matters of federal jurisdiction (why not stay in the Senate, Mike, if those are your issues?) and repeatedly reminding voters that he is Trump’s choice. Creepy Eric Doden is quoting the bible,  promising to “protect life” and “always back the Blue.” And we have Brad Chambers– the least scary of the lot (which isn’t saying much)–trying to avoid climbing into the drunk driver’s speeding car by focusing on job creation and his “outsider” claims.

I’ve missed ads from Lt. Governor Susanne Crouch and disgraced former Attorney General Curtis Hill–I assume we’ve been (mercifully) spared those due to the lack of zillionaire status that allows the others to spend lots of their own and their families’ money.

All of them support Indiana’s abortion ban. And that raises a question: how much weight will Hoosier voters place on the abortion issue when it is one issue among others on the candidates’ agendas?

Every state that has voted on the issue of reproductive rights in a stand-alone vote has upheld those rights, even deep-red states. Pundits argue, however, that voters will be less likely to vote against candidates whose anti-choice positions are only one position among many. When  the issue is separated from a campaign for public office, presumably, it is simpler for voters to understand what’s at stake and to register an “up or down” preference.

That belief may have been what  has convinced pro-Trump groups to formulate an “Anti-Abortion Plan for Day One.”

In emerging plans that involve everything from the EPA to the Federal Trade Commission to the Postal Service, nearly 100 anti-abortion and conservative groups are mapping out ways the next president can use the sprawling federal bureaucracy to curb abortion access.
Many of the policies they advocate are ones Trump implemented in his first term and President Joe Biden rescinded — rules that would have a far greater impact in a post-Roe landscape. Other items on the wish list are new, ranging from efforts to undo state and federal programs promoting access to abortion to a de facto national ban. But all have one thing in common: They don’t require congressional approval.

“The conversations we’re having with the presidential candidates and their campaigns have been very clear: We expect them to act swiftly,” Kristan Hawkins, the president of Students for Life, told POLITICO. “Due to not having 60 votes in the Senate and not having a firm pro-life majority in the House, I think administrative action is where we’re going to see the most action after 2024 if President Trump or another pro-life president is elected.”

The Heritage Foundation’s 2025 Presidential Transition Project — a coalition that includes Students for Life, Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America and other anti-abortion organizations — is drafting executive orders to roll back Biden-era policies that have expanded abortion access, such as making abortions available in some circumstances at VA hospitals. They are also collecting resumes from conservative activists interested in becoming political appointees or career civil servants and training them to use overlooked levers of agency power to curb abortion access.

The linked article details the plans, and makes it very clear that the the right of a woman to choose to terminate a pregnancy will be at the very center of the 2024 federal election.  It will also be at the center of Indiana’s election for U.S. Senate–a contest that will likely pit “anti-woke” culture warrior Jim Banks, who supports a national ban with zero  exemptions, against Marc Carmichael, who wants to codify Roe v. Wade.

In November’s election, we’ll see whether voters understand that they are choosing between “forced birth” candidates and those who will protect women’s health and equality.

I’m pretty sure they will.