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Hillary Clinton should have one goal tonight: delivering a fatal blow to Republicans down ballot.

This debate probably won’t matter at all for the presidential race. Historically, voters have largely made up their minds at this stage in an election. And their opinions about the candidates tend to harden, not change, in these last few weeks until Election Day.

In the 10 days since Clinton and Donald Trump last debated, Trump has dropped in the polls. That means that the real battle this cycle has shifted down ballot, to the handful of states like Pennsylvania and Missouri that will decide which party controls the Senate for the next two years. In several battleground states, the Democratic candidates have stalled, even as Clinton has pulled ahead of Trump nationally. Katie McGinty has been deadlocked with her Republican opponent in Pennsylvania since August. Catherine Marie Cortez Masto in Nevada and Maggie Hassan in New Hampshire are in similar situations.

No one has more motivation to change that than Clinton. She’s watched the Republicans in Congress obstruct President Barack Obama at every turn—including in the last two years, as the Senate punted on his request for funding in the fight against Zika and refused to consider his Supreme Court nominee. If Clinton fails to engineer a slim Democratic majority in the Senate this fall, her first two years in office could be equally painful.

Tonight is her last, best chance to make this race about more than Donald Trump vs. Hillary Clinton—to highlight the importance of having a Senate willing to at least consider her agenda. She could also start calling out specific Senate candidates who are clinging to Trump. It would be unusual move in a presidential debate, but her advisers are signaling that they are open to it. So keep an eye out for phrases like “the party of Trump” tonight. It’ll mean that Clinton is taking steps to yoke Republican incumbents to the unpopular Republican nominee.

February 22, 2017

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Paul Ryan has a terrible definition of freedom.

In his latest effort to make the Republican case for ending the Affordable Care Act, the speaker of the House tweeted this:

The glaring problem here is the “ability to buy” part. Under the old order, far too many people didn’t have the ability to buy insurance in the first place. Or if they could, they were subjected to lifetime coverage limits, no coverage for pre-existing conditions, and any number of other personal barriers and restrictions.

And since Obamacare’s major accomplishment was to counter those forces, and thus enable people to get health insurance, that in turn opened up whole new areas of personal freedom: the ability to take risks and get new jobs, or start new businesses, and or simply have a sense of security and peace of mind.

So how exactly would it be a victory for “freedom” to pull out the rug from those who can finally buy health insurance?

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Betsy DeVos tried to do something good, so of course Donald Trump overruled her.

Against the education secretary’s objections, the administration is moving to reverse the Obama administration’s federal guidelines last year allowing students to use bathrooms corresponding with their gender identities.

“[Attorney General Jeff] Sessions, who strongly opposes expanding gay, lesbian and transgender rights, fought Ms. DeVos on the issue and pressed her to relent because he could not go forward without her consent. The order must come from the Justice and Education Departments,” The New York Times reported Wednesday. “DeVos, faced with the choice of resigning or defying the president, has agreed to go along.”

DeVos’s position isn’t entirely surprising. Her wealthy family has a history of funding anti-gay causes, but she herself quietly advocated for LGBT rights over the years, according to the Times. Yet Wednesday’s reporting suggests her personal moderation on this issue is irrelevant.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer addressed the topic at Tuesday’s briefing, telling reporters, “I think that all you have to do is look at what the president’s view has been for a long time—that this is not something that the federal government should be involved in, this is a states’ rights issue.”

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Keith Ellison just got the worst endorsement possible.

This morning, Howard Dean endorsed Pete Buttigieg for DNC chair on Morning Joe, a segment that Trump surely watched during his allotted TV time. A few hours later, he weighed in on the race:

Back in July 2015, in an appearance on ABC, Ellison urged Democrats to “get ready” for the possibility that Trump would clinch the Republican nomination, which was vigorously laughed down by George Stephanopoulos and Maggie Haberman.

On the one hand, getting a shoutout from Trump is not great for anyone in the DNC race. And we can’t neglect to note Trump’s child-like inability to not make everything about big boy Trump. (Ellison fired back on Twitter with an appropriate response.)

But, on the other hand, Trump is actually pointing out something truly positive about Ellison—that unlike most Democrats, he grasped the threat of Trump’s presidency and gauged the sentiment of the country early on. It’s an instinct that is well-suited for someone who wants to head the DNC. In the most self-congratulatory way possible, it seems that Trump has accidentally made a good point.

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The bar for a sitting president has reached a new low.

President Trump’s rather perfunctory statement yesterday on the new wave of anti-Semitic attacks is earning him some qualified praise in the media.

From today’s Politico Playbook:

WELL, YESTERDAY didn’t go too badly. President Donald Trump went to the African-American History museum, where he disavowed racism and spoke out against a new wave of anti-Semitism. He didn’t tweet his thoughts until 6:23 p.m., when he said the “so-called angry crowds” at town halls around the country were “planned out by liberal activists.” There were no massive blowups to speak of. Sean Spicer seemed spry during his press briefing, too.

Here’s a sample of some headlines:

Is this the low bar we’ve reached? After the administration All-Lives-Matter’ed the Holocaust, Trump condemning anti-Semitism in a monotone voice counts as a comparatively good day. (The Times, to its credit, contextualized the remark by declaring it a “first.”) As for any praise of Sean Spicer being “spry,” this was the same day in which he pushed back against the Anne Frank Center: “I wish that they had praised the president for his leadership in this area.”

These rowdy town halls are really getting under Donald Trump’s skin.

The president last night embraced the GOP’s message for voters who are angry about the party’s plan to dismantle the Affordable Care Act: The popular outrage is artificial.

Mitch McConnell similarly brushed off the protesters by declaring they “did not like the results of the election,” and that “winners make policy and the losers go home.” This was an attitude starkly absent from McConnell’s approach in the Obama years, when he very early on spearheaded a strategy of mass GOP opposition.

Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley—who infamously said in 2009 that health care reform would have government “decide when to pull the plug on grandma”—saw that kind of talk come right back around. As a constituent told him: “With all due respect, sir, you’re the man that talked about the death panel. We’re gonna create one big death panel in this country—the people who can’t afford to get insurance.”

Elsewhere in Iowa, Senator Joni Ernst faced a hostile crowd, which booed loudly when she left the forum:

And Rep. Dave Brat (R-VA), who became a living symbol of Tea Party uprisings when he defeated former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in the Republican primary back in 2014, got his own taste of the new wave of liberal political resistance:

February 21, 2017

Milo Yiannopoulos’s pedophilia scandal has given rise to this weird new parlor game!

Concerned that his defense of adults who have sexual relationships with 13-year-old children might detract from his employer’s core mission of publishing racist agitprop, Milo resigned from Breitbart on Tuesday, just 24 hours after CPAC dumped him as a keynote speaker and Simon & Schuster canceled publication of his book.

His long overdue ejection from polite society has people wondering whether he will eventually repent (or simply disappear for a long time) ahead of a second act in public life.

Here are the best stabs at what that second act might look like.

1. Porn

2. Dancing with the Stars

3. President and CEO of Media Matters for America.

None of these outcomes would be defensible on their own terms, but might be worth it for humankind considering the plausible alternative where he becomes Donald Trump’s third or fourth national security adviser.

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A University of Chicago professor has gone off on Milo Yiannopoulis’s opponents, calling them “spineless c*nts.”

In a blog post, Associate Professor of Medieval History Rachel Fulton Brown frames Yiannopoulis as a messenger of truth preaching to a populace sick of lies. In this passage, she cites the orthodox “lies” that he challenges:

That women don’t need men. That all men are potential rapists. That women should aspire to something other than motherhood or they are wasting their lives. That women should like casual sex with strangers, hooking up just for the sake of the orgasm. That the children will be fine if their parents divorce. That abortion is morally good.

Elsewhere, Brown describes Yiannopolis’s message and its supposed impact:

“Gender roles work,” [Yiannopoulis] told them. “Feminism is cancer. Abortion is murder.” And the young women and men cheered for him, because they loved him for telling the truth.

Yiannopoulis has been accused of a form of “gay minstrelsy” in which he performs parts of stereotypical gayness in such a way that he shores up the beliefs of the hard American right. In the post, Brown appears to applaud him for just these traits:

The young man was an unexpected messenger. He talked all the time about having sex with other men. About wanting to be penetrated by black dicks. About how good he was at giving head. But he told the young women they were right to want babies and the young men they were right to want wives.

Professor Jeffrey Jerome Cohen of George Washington University tweeted a screengrab from Brown’s Facebook page earlier today, in which she compares Yiannopoulis’s cancelled book contract to the crucifixion of Jesus:

As Cohen and other medievalists (including myself) have observed, strong veins of conservatism run through the field. Despite the efforts of scholars like Suzanne Conklin Akbari and Geraldine Heng, contemporary white supremacists and gender traditionalists sometimes look to an imagined version of the Middle Ages for a “purer” time, when (they imagine) sexual, racial, and theological identities were simpler.

The New Republic contacted the chair of the University of Chicago history faculty Emilio Kourí to ask whether Brown’s blog post, which can be reached through her faculty page, could be considered part of her body of scholarship. Kourí responded that Brown is “entitled to express her opinions and to publish them,” explaining that “blogs are not part of any performance or promotion reviews in the History Department.”

Indeed, blogs are “by and large not scholarship and are not regarded as such,” in Kourí’s view.

This view defines scholarship very narrowly: An increasing number of academics engage with the media outside peer review, and it is certainly arguable that a scholar’s broader presence in the culture informs their intellectual identity. Young academics are encouraged to build a visible online presence when they are seeking jobs. Brown is tenured so she can do whatever she wants. I cannot imagine a new PhD feeling entitled to use the language Professor Brown does at her site.

Exploiting the full freedom conferred upon her by tenure, Brown ended her blog post with in italicized line, reading, “Shame on all of you. You spineless cunts. The bullies are YOU.

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Donald Trump is taking anti-vaxxers mainstream.

Trump’s ascension to the presidency after years of suggesting vaccinations are unsafe, as well as his associations with the likes of Andrew Wakefield and Robert Kennedy Jr., have helped to bring a truly dangerous conspiracy theory into real influence. And this ideology is spreading to the states, too.

The Washington Post reports on a growing movement of anti-vaxxers in Texas, and an increase in personal exemptions in recent years. Jackie Schlegel, executive director of Texans for Vaccine Choice, told the Post: “We have 30 champions in that statehouse. Last session, we had two.”

As The Hill reports today, a bipartisan group of senators and House members are circulating a “Dear Colleagues” letter on the importance of vaccination. And they lay out some of the actual consequences of modern denialism:

Yet, already this year, states and communities around the country have reported outbreaks of measles, mumps, and whooping cough. The reasons for each outbreak vary, but we know that there are increasing trends around the country that have led to lower vaccination rates in some communities, allowing outbreaks of infectious diseases to take hold with increasing frequency.

While anti-vaxxers exist on both the hippie left and the black-helicopter right, the key difference is that liberals have never put an anti-vaxxer into a position of power. Conservatives have now done it—and many children and other vulnerable people will have to pay a price for that.

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Dear President Trump: condemning antisemitism shouldn’t be a Sister Souljah moment. Yours, Captain Obvious.

Trump and his administration have a curiously hard time treating discrimination against Jewish people as a significant matter of historical fact. So it was notable when on Tuesday—after Jewish Community Centers around the country had faced bomb threats for weeks, and a Jewish cemetery in St. Louis was vandalized—Trump finally condemned anti-Semitism, and managed to do so without referencing or exaggerating his electoral college victory margin.

But he still failed this most basic test of western democratic leadership.

“Anti-Semitism is horrible and it’s going to stop and it has to stop,” he told MSNBC, before issuing a better-prepared statement from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. “This tour was a meaningful reminder of why we have to fight bigotry, intolerance and hatred in all of its very ugly forms,” Trump said. “The anti-Semitic threats targeting our Jewish community and community centers are horrible and are painful and a very sad reminder of the work that still must be done to root out hate and prejudice and evil.”

Absent from either condemnation was any suggestion that federal law enforcement resources will be used to investigate these crimes. And when he spoke extemporaneously about the issue, he did so with the same “I alone can fix it” monomania that defined his campaign. His authority and power are in his mind the key agents of every human drama, even ones whose main antagonists going back centuries have been authoritarians.

Obama’s environmental legacy is toast.

If President Donald Trump’s first month has taught us anything, it’s this: Take his promises seriously. Sure, he may have broken 34 campaign promises on his first day in office. But the biggest, most controversial ones—banning Muslims, increasing deportations, repealing Obamacare—are already becoming reality. And this week, he’s expected to tackle another hefty campaign pledge: tearing up Obama-era environmental regulations.

Trump took a few steps toward fulfilling that promise last week, repealing a rule that prevented coal companies from dumping mining waste into streams and confirming EPA antagonist Scott Pruitt to lead that very agency. Now, The Washington Post reports Trump is preparing executive orders intended to weaken two of Obama’s most aggressive and controversial environmental regulations: the Clean Power Plan, which was created to fight climate change, and the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule, which was created to protect 60 percent of America’s waterways from pollution. Trump will also lift a ban on mining coal on public lands.

The policies Trump is seeking to undo here are the centerpieces of former President Barack Obama’s environmental legacy. Along with the Paris Climate Agreement—which Trump also wants to do away with—the Clean Power Plan was the biggest thing a president has ever done to reduce carbon emissions. What’s more, it represented a national strategy to prioritize climate action and renewable energy development over the revitalization of the coal industry.

Unraveling Obama’s entire environmental legacy won’t be as simple as signing a few pieces of paper. Completely undoing and rewriting regulations takes time. There will be legal battles and protests. But Trump is sending a message that these are campaign promises he intends to keep. Environmentalists should believe him.