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A weekly review of the rogues and scoundrels of American politics

The Democrats Are Blowing the 2024 Election

Joe Biden’s reelection hopes have been ill served by his complacent colleagues—who are currently getting pummeled by their more vigorous Republican counterparts.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer
Valerie Plesch/Getty Images
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer

What do Democrats need to do to win in November? The New Republic took up that question this month in a series in which some of the brightest minds offered their best advice to President Biden and his party. But in an essay mapping out the challenges Democrats face, and how to surmount them, editor Michael Tomasky wrote something that has remained lodged in my mind: “It practically goes without saying that the Democrats will do none of the things I suggest.”

I’m pretty sure that Michael didn’t intend that one line to linger the longest. But it’s borne out so far. Here at the precipice of the general election, Biden has important accomplishments to trumpet and significant errors to overcome. But he’s being served poorly by his party, which seems adrift, complacent, and inert. Republicans, by contrast, have been sharper and more savage; at the moment, they are winning.

The recent fallout from the report by special counsel Robert Hur—the Trump-appointed U.S. attorney whom Attorney General Merrick Garland tapped to investigate Biden’s potential mishandling of classified documents—neatly illustrates the differences between the two parties. While absolving Biden of criminal wrongdoing, the report characterized the president at length as someone with worrisome memory lapses.

I don’t know if Hur went about his job with partisan ends in mind, but partisan ends were served nonetheless: The report surfaced derogatory information in a way guaranteed to make news. From there, an exceedingly well-oiled GOP communications machine swung into operation. Democrats have largely responded by complaining about how the media has framed the story. Their complaints may have merits, but what matters is they’re losing.

As The New Republic’s Osita Nwanevu noted, it was a “collision of Democratic pathologies” that put Hur “in the position to shiv Biden” in the first place: “Gerontocratic politics, a culture of hero-worship that gave Garland far more respect and stature than he was ever due, and the commitment to even-handedness” led Garland to believe that the fair thing to do was put a Trump-appointed attorney in charge of the investigation. But the biggest pathology on display here has to do with the way Democrats approach the media and their extreme disinterest in competing on the same playing field as the GOP.

There are always good reasons to complain about the political press—and Republicans do their own share of carping. But Democrats too often operate as if the media they’d prefer to have—temperate and fair, dedicated to substance and nuance, committed to preserving democracy—is the one that actually exists. Republicans don’t believe that the press is a noble institution and they don’t treat its members that way. Instead, they innately understand that the political press is just a ravenous, insensate maw looking for its next hot meal of crassness, chaos, conflict, and controversy—and Republicans always come with a heaping plate.

Once the Hur report became national news, GOP electeds acted quickly and decisively to keep this new shiny ball spinning. As Brian Beutler reported in a recent newsletter, the full-court press is on: “Hur is now negotiating with his fellow Republicans on Capitol Hill over what he can testify to and when he can appear at a hearing. Those same Republicans have insisted that the Justice Department release a transcript of Biden’s interview with Hur, so they can clip and circulate any instance in which Biden’s memory failed him.” Once the GOP gets a scent of some derogatory information, they are prepared to act on it.

The Democrats compare unfavorably to their opponents’ fervent determination and preparedness. In a previous edition of this newsletter, I noted that Representative Jamie Raskin had surfaced evidence that Trump had “pocketed at least $7.8 million in payments from foreign governments during his presidency,” but that the investigation hit an impasse when the GOP took over the House. Democratic senators have a committee where they can pursue open-ended investigations, but they have no interest in advancing Raskin’s case.

And the Hur report, while mainly damaging to Biden, also happens to cast Trump in an unfavorable light regarding his own handling of classified materials. Democrats don’t seem interested in using their own investigatory powers to raise further questions or make a big stink about the matter. Beutler ruefully noted that the media didn’t “swarm to the unflattering contrast between Trump and Biden” because Democrats largely ignored it.

This is malpractice, especially when you consider how swiftly and purposefully the GOP acts on similar shreds of information. But Democrats’ aversion to playing the game in the most effective manner is bone deep. They’re ignoring a myriad of other areas where further unflattering facts can be found. What might be behind Trump’s plan to abandon NATO? What shady arrangement may lurk at the heart of the favorable treatment he’s receiving from his pet judge Aileen Cannon? Democrats don’t seem to want to fill the newshole with these discussions.

Nor do they seem to want to make daily hay of Trump’s many legal woes. They aren’t pouncing on the fact that he recently confused Nikki Haley with Nancy Pelosi. The former president has vowed to repeal and replace Obamacare. Why aren’t Democrats beating him up over that? Republicans’ similar plans to end protections for patients with preexisting conditions were a potent campaign issue for Democrats in 2018. Have they forgotten?

What do the Democrats stand for? Who are their enemies? What fights do they want to pick? Can they even answer these questions? Because while they dither, the public is forming some wild opinions about what should go in the spaces they’re leaving blank. Recent polls indicate that half of Americans think that Biden got favorable treatment from Hur in the document probe. Another recent poll indicates the public blames Biden for killing the border deal, despite the fact that Trump publicly browbeat GOP electeds into nuking it. After the expiration of the expanded child tax credit, voters who had received those benefits swung their support to the GOP, despite the fact that they were the most prominent opponents of the expansion. And majorities of voters still don’t hold Trump responsible for the repeal of Roe’s abortion protections.

Perhaps the press should be doing a better job conveying this information. I certainly harbor little affection for mainstream political reporting; there are definitely patterns of behavior among the elite media that rebound to the detriment of Democrats alone. But at a certain point Democrats simply need to shoulder the responsibility themselves instead of waiting for the media to cure itself of habits that have been entrenched for decades.

Instead, they are getting in their own way, mired in weird pathologies and maladroit tendencies, timidly waiting for nonexistent referees to come and level the playing field on their behalf. There’s no getting around the fact that Joe Biden is old and steadily getting older. It’s up to other Democrats to lend his campaign youth and vigor; instead they are supine and moribund. Watching this party execute its campaign plan—if you can call it that—you’d never suspect that it feels any urgency. But there is much at stake, and Democrats are absolutely blowing it.

This article first appeared in Power Mad, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by deputy editor Jason Linkins. Sign up here.

The Corporate Crooks Who Got Caught Stealing Workers’ Wages

Investigative reporters exposed these bad bosses, and now comes the hammer of the law.

A New York City laundromat worker hold up a yellow sign that says "Wage Theft Is a Crime" during a protest in November 2020.
Erik McGregor/Getty Images
New York City laundromat workers protesting wage theft in November 2020

The first few weeks of this young year have only resurfaced an old problem: the continuing economic havoc that’s roiling the journalism industry. Hundreds of positions have been cut at venerable institutions like the Los Angeles Times and The Wall Street Journal. Start-up concern The Messenger eliminated itself from existence, leaving behind scorched earth and recriminations. This week, TNR’s Ellie Quinlan Houghtaling dove into this rot and found much of it coming from the top, with a plutocratic ownership class that’s driving good businesses into the ground on the backs of poor choices and bad ideas.

Just about everyone in this business has had some brush with the employment grim reaper—or is glancing over their shoulders in fear of the next encounter. But every once in a while, we catch sight of the ways that journalism, with a little bit of stability and good decisions from the top, can still make a huge difference in the lives of ordinary people. And this week, we can celebrate one such example in the state of New York, where some good old shoe-leather reporting has helped lawmakers craft a new bill to crack down on one of the most costly financial crimes we face: organized corporate wage theft.

Back in September, I highlighted a blockbuster report from ProPublica, who, working in a partnership with Documented New York, dug through federal and state databases and uncovered a staggering degree of wage theft: From 2017 to 2021, “more than $203 million in wages had been stolen from about 127,000 workers in New York.” While it is an inexact science to compare one state to another in this regard, ProPublica reported that its “analysis of cases reported to the U.S. Department of Labor and substantiated by federal investigators shows that New York ranked eighth highest in the amount of back wages owed per worker.”

But the best thing about all that reporting is that it’s been put to very good use. As ProPublica reported this week, New York state lawmakers have proposed a battery of bills that will bring the hammer down on wage thieves by allowing state agencies to strip scofflaws of their ability to do business.

One bill, centered on the restaurant industry—where workers in New York had $52 million stolen from them between 2017 and 20201—would allow the “New York State Liquor Authority to suspend liquor licenses for bars and restaurants that the Department of Labor has determined owe more than $1,000 in back wages to their workers.” The second bill “would enable the Department of Labor to place a stop-work order on any business that has a wage theft claim of at least $1,000”; this has been an effective punishment in other cases. Finally, the third bill “allows the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance to suspend a business’s certificate of authority—which allows it to collect sales tax and conduct business—in cases where wage theft exceeds $1,000.”

Anyone who runs afoul of these new laws can get themselves off the hook using one neat trick: Pay up within 15 days! Otherwise, it’s a pretty severe punishment. But it’s one that fits a truly heinous crime, and if the past is any guide, wage thieves have prospered because of the way the law too often doles out mere slaps on the wrist.

A Popular Information report from January explains that this has been what’s missing: While the Department of Labor can penalize wage thieves, it is only empowered to impose civil penalties against repeat offenders or when it finds that the wage theft was “willful.” Consequently, penalties are only “imposed 41 percent of the time.” And when they are imposed, they’re rarely stiff enough to trouble large firms: “The maximum civil penalty is $2,374 for each violation. In contrast, in Australia, the penalty for wage theft is up to $630,000 per violation.” That these new laws have actual teeth is a big improvement.

Back when I first wrote about the scourge of wage theft, I focused on the way the media industry was dropping the ball by elevating shoplifting and organized retail theft to national panic status. This feeding frenzy over penny-ante crime—one estimate put the real cost of the shoplifting wave at “seven cents per 100 dollars in losses”—was often promulgated through too-good-to-check stories that fell apart under the slightest scrutiny. Wage theft, by contrast, is a massive crime: A 2014 study from the Economic Policy Institute found that wage theft “costs American workers as much as $50 billion a year.” It deserves massive attention.

In terms of how the media has treated both issues, this is a Goofus and Gallant–style comparison. All the shoplifting coverage in the world has produced little more than bogus stories and reactionary fearmongering over crime. ProPublica demonstrated how better journalistic choices lead to an informed public and impact in the form of laws that will help solve a truly rampant problem and actually help ordinary people.

It also earned a ringing endorsement from state Senator Jessica Ramos, a co-sponsor of the aforementioned bills: “We knew from our conversations with labor and from our constituent service caseload that wage theft is a chronic problem,” she said. “We did not have the data to understand the scale of the issue in New York state until the ProPublica and Documented series came out last year.” It goes to show that journalism still works when it’s uncoupled from idiot bosses.

This article first appeared in Power Mad, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by deputy editor Jason Linkins. Sign up here.

The CEOs Are Warming to Trump

Remember when corporate America joined the fight to protect American democracy? J.P. Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon doesn’t, apparently.

JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
J.P. Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon at a White House policy forum with President Trump in 2017

Just about three years ago, Time’s Molly Ball dropped an epic piece of reportage on the wild months from Joe Biden’s presidential victory through the terrifying events of January 6, 2021. During this fraught time, an unusual champion emerged in the fight to protect democracy: corporate America. As Ball documented, “the forces of capital” teamed up with “the forces of labor” to rebuff the loser who refused to admit he had lost, with “hundreds of major business leaders, many of whom had backed Trump’s candidacy and supported his policies, [calling] on him to concede.”

It’s hard to know where we’d be today if this unity campaign hadn’t emerged. Sadly, I have grave doubts that Big Business is going to re-up for another campaign to save America, as some CEOs are already making clear that they don’t find Trump so dangerous after all.

Longtime readers will recall that I take a pretty jaundiced view of the idea that corporate America has a vital role to play as a stabilizing force in our democracy. But I’m happy to acknowledge that the most recent vintage of right-wing rhetoric sometimes makes it seem like Republicans and corporate America are headed for some kind of split. Not long after Ball’s reporting, The Wall Street Journal’s Editorial Board published a lengthy screed about the “left turn of many corporate CEOs” and their failure to remain “a reliable friend of capitalism”—just one of the larger rounds expended in the right’s war on “woke corporations.”

TNR’s Osita Nwanevu wasn’t buying it. “It’s preposterous to characterize them as material enemies of the right given that they clearly want to funnel money and resources to Republican lawmakers any way they can without raising hackles from vigilant activists,” he wrote. “They owe their market power and low tax burdens to conservative policies, after all, and for all the right’s moaning and groaning about ‘woke capital,’ Republican rule is still a better deal for them than Democratic governance.”

Faced with the prospect of another four years of Democratic governance—especially under the auspices of a president who has showered more favor on the labor movement than any of his recent Democratic predecessors—corporate America seems to be returning to its old malodorous form. The most telling sign came, naturally, at Davos, where J.P. Morgan Chase head Jamie Dimon began the process of making peace with Trump’s return: “Take a step back. [Trump] was kind of right about NATO, kind of right on immigration. He grew the economy quite well. Tax reform worked. He was right about some of China. He wasn’t wrong about some of these critical issues.”

As Brian Beutler pointed out in his Off Message newsletter, this was worthy of alarm bells: “The question of whether elites, particularly center-right elites, choose to abide fascism is central to the survival of democracy.” In a later post, Beutler dove deeper into Dimon’s rhetoric, and found evidence that whatever ties that might have bound him to the more high-flown ideals of our democracy were fraying:

I’d bet a large sum of money that Dimon knows Donald Trump tried to overturn the 2020 election. I’d bet almost as much that Dimon knows Trump has promised to establish a dictatorship on “day one”; that he has demanded immunity for any crimes he committed from 2017-2020, and any that he might commit from 2025 onward.... And yet to hasten another round of tax cuts and reduced bank regulation, Dimon will tell the world he thinks Trump is a populist everyman who gets a bad rap.

There’s no way to know for sure whether the political media will successfully discern the con of Dimon plumping Trump as a “populist everyman,” especially given the fact that over the course of the Trump era, they have continually conflated “populism” with “boorishness.” Still, this isn’t the worst development from the perspective of those who are running Democratic campaigns this year—it would be ideal to raise the salience of a Wall Street embrace of Trump, especially considering Biden’s vastly superior record on labor. As TNR contributor KJ Boyle documented at length, life for the average worker got vastly worse during Trump’s reign.

Biden’s vital corrections to that grim era may, in fact, be the very reason that Dimon is looking to the orchestrator of the attacks on the U.S. Capitol for relief. It wouldn’t be the first time such an alliance was attempted: Back in 1933, a cabal of financiers attempted to orchestrate what came to be known as “the Business Plot,” a plan to overthrow President Roosevelt’s government via an ersatz uprising of aggrieved veterans. They made the mistake of asking retired Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler, the famously repentant author of War Is a Racket to lead it, only to learn the hard way what a blunder it was to ask a man of great integrity to lead a campaign against democracy when he instead sold the coup plotters out. Suffice it to say, Donald Trump does not offer similar impediments.

This article first appeared in Power Mad, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by deputy editor Jason Linkins. Sign up here.

Republicans Are Starting to Worry That They Suck at Governing

GOP lawmakers have started to grumble about their lack of legislative accomplishments. They should take a good long look in the mirror.

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Representative Chip Roy

It appears that we’re all going to pretend to have a GOP primary a little longer. Eight days after his decisive win in the Iowa caucus winnowed the field to two, Donald Trump comfortably beat Nikki Haley in the New Hampshire primary. The former South Carolina governor is soldiering on, apparently on the grounds that hers was but a minor shellacking and not a campaign-killing blowout. But the end will arrive soon enough—perhaps in her home state next month.

With Trump all but officially the nominee, though, Republican politicians are now turning to the question of how he can win over non-MAGA voters—and there is a scent of uneasiness in the air. In something of a plot twist, GOP lawmakers have grown discontented with the way their party’s rickety platform offers few selling points for the party, with some members “very publicly complaining about [its] lack of accomplishments,” according to reports

NBC News’s Sahil Kapur reported that there is a “dynamic that looms over Republican lawmakers,” in which they’ve “passed little substantive legislation since winning the majority” and are struggling with “the basics of governing” and beset by internal “fractiousness and chaos”—all of which is apparently complicated by the fact that Trump’s policy platform is mainly about “retribution” and spreading “fabricated claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him.”

Last November, we got our first inkling of this strange insecurity when Texas Representative Chip Roy went to the floor of the House to have a nervous breakdown about the deficiencies he saw in his own party. “One thing. I want my Republican colleagues to give me one thing. One. That I can go campaign on and say we did,” Roy ranted. “One!” (Apparently taking credit for the infrastructure bill that most of them voted against doesn’t quite cut it.)

This is a lot like a Girl Scout expressing outrage over the organization’s commitment to cookies. Nearly all of Roy’s disgruntlement can be chalked up to the simple fact that he’s a member of the Republican Party, which hasn’t really been  trying to accomplish anything  for a long while. Three years ago, TNR contributor Katelyn Burns took stock of the GOP and found that it had all but abandoned meaningful policymaking in favor of “entrenching itself in the distant patriarchal mythology of America’s past” and waging culture war against liberals. A Republican adviser to former Senator Rob Portman summed it up: “If you want to spend all your time going on Fox and be[ing] an asshole, there’s never been a better time to serve. But if you want to spend all your time being thoughtful and getting shit done, there’s never been a worse time to serve.”

It is deeply funny that Roy has emerged as one of his party’s foremost critics in this regard. In a profile last year, TNR’s Pablo Manríquez described Roy as a “viral bomb thrower” with scant history of bipartisan accomplishment and a tireless critic of the debt ceiling and funding deals that House Speaker Kevin McCarthy had to make to keep things running. While Roy came out against the motion to vacate that began the process of ousting McCarthy, his replacement pick, Jim Jordan, was even less suited to accomplishing anything—unless his quixotic efforts to invent some sort of reality-based foundation for the party’s incessant culture warring counts as a “thing.” 

In his public remarks, Roy seems to understand that the primary impediment to Republican accomplishments is the fact that Democrats control the Senate and Joe Biden occupies the White House, and that getting things done requires Republicans to engage Democrats and forge deals. From what I can discern from his rantings, though, he has no real plans to do this, preferring instead to shout loudly and indiscriminately at the situation while assailing other members of his party for their lack of magical thinking. 

This is where Roy stands out, even among his caucus: He seems to hate some of his Republican peers at least as much as Democrats. At one point during a recent floor speech, Roy professed outrage over the fact that passing a border deal might require Republicans to have to talk to Senator Mitt Romney and other Republican senators to convince them to support the effort. “So what?” he declaimed about his House colleagues’ plans to pass a border security bill out of the House. “Are you going to pass that bill and walk over [to the Senate] and convince that great stalwart of defense of our border, Mitt Romney, that he should vote for it? Are you going to convince any of the 12 who just voted to redefine marriage and stomp all over religious liberty … are you going to convince any one of them to vote for a strong border security bill?”

It’s notable that Romney features here, as Romney is perhaps the last prominent Republican to rise up through the ranks on the back of a famous policy accomplishment. But over the years, the Commonwealth Care health care reform he enacted in Massachusetts has gone from being an acclaimed example of GOP problem-solving to forbidden knowledge of which none must ever speak. 

Romney’s stock within the party has declined in direct proportion to his party’s commitments to policymaking. It’s been an ignominious trajectory—but more so for the country than the GOP. Because for all of Chip Roy’s carping, it’s a simple fact that the modern GOP doesn’t actually need policy accomplishments to win elections. This is a party built to thrive on gerrymandered districts, Senate malapportionment, Electoral College shenanigans, and other well-funded game-rigging and voter-suppression efforts—the better to survive the unpopularity that comes from not ever contributing to the civic fabric or the betterment of the country. 

But Chip Roy should take heart, because Trump’s presumptive nomination suggests that Republicans will have specific things to run on in 2024: another round of tax cuts for rich corporations to fund more stock buybacks, a fresh attack on Obamacare and its protections for patients with preexisting conditions, and, of course, the furtherance of abortion restrictions as dictated by the party’s most sociopathic extremists. I would definitely encourage Republicans to be true to themselves, and run on a promise to accomplish these things.

This article first appeared in Power Mad, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by deputy editor Jason Linkins. Sign up here.

It’s Time for Democrats to Make Some Enemies

With the presidential primary all but over, a yawning void in the news hole just opened up. Biden and his allies should pick some fights—and give the media some fresh material.

Alex Wong/Getty Images
Democratic Representative Jamie Raskin

It’s possible that the 2024 presidential primary will go down as the shortest in American history. This week’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Iowa caucus wrapped up about 34 minutes after polls closed, with Donald Trump the winner by a predictably wide margin. The GOP nomination contest will stumble forward, reeking of anticlimax, but with Trump comfortably dominating the GOP field and the Democratic nominee locked and loaded, the competitive portion of the primary is over (if it ever started). Nothing remains but playing out the string.

So what now? While you shouldn’t underestimate the political media’s desperate need to gin up suspense where none exists, at some point soon it’s going to become impossible to conjure the illusion that it’s still a contest. There will be a huge space in the news hole to fill, and Democrats ought to have an unrelenting plan for filling it.

The New Republic’s editor, Michael Tomasky, in setting the table for this campaign season, has repeatedly stressed the need to name some enemies and pick some broad public fights with these foes. Now, as the media fiends for drama amid a lifeless campaign season, is a ripe opportunity for some good old-fashioned naming and shaming. This can’t be the stuff of wonks and white papers—this is about emotions and morality, a gut punch to the bad guys.

President Joe Biden opened this particular book by going long on the threat that Trump poses to democracy. There’s nothing wrong with restating these terms, especially as it was a winning message in the midterms two years ago. But not every voter that Biden needs to reach is going to be fully convinced that such an existential threat is in the offing. So it pays to locate some less esoteric enemies, to whom everyone can relate. Here, a slew of corporate enemies abound: junk-fee crooks; private equity goons; the gangsters of the pharmaceutical industry; banks plucking high overdraft fees out of the pockets of people living paycheck to paycheck; a small universe of price gougers, wage thieves, and consumer predators.

Democrats should be using their bully pulpit to actually bully these miscreants, drawing down on anyone who’s preventing ordinary Americans from claiming their fair share of a robust economy. Another way you can save democracy, after all, is to give people the belief that they can use it to empower people who’ll fight for them. But Democrats have to earn these stripes through political combat—and they need to force Republicans to pick a side, as well. More often than not, the GOP can be put on the defensive. Trump’s plan to team up with the privateers of the health care industry to dismantle protections for patients with preexisting conditions is already giving his fellow Republicans headaches.

That brings us to the other commodity with which Democrats need to fill the space left by the absent primary: derogatory information about Republicans. This is one area where Democrats simply don’t seem to be on the same page. As The New Republic’s Greg Sargent reported this week, Representative Jamie Raskin and his colleagues on the House Oversight Committee have done yeoman’s work, surfacing a tremendous amount of documentation proving that President Trump “pocketed at least $7.8 million in payments from foreign governments during his presidency” and that the cataloging of “far more such foreign booty” was “thwarted when GOP capture of the House deprived them of subpoena power.” The path to furthering this investigation is blocked in the House, but Raskin has, in recent days, “approached Senate Democrats and made the case that they might consider using their subpoena power to continue the investigation into the unconstitutional payments.”

The problem, Sargent says, is that Raskin is hitting a roadblock in the Senate, which is divided on whether to take the next step and jump into the fray—especially given that “to refer any ignored subpoenas for prosecution, the Senate must marshal 60 floor votes to overcome the inevitable GOP filibuster.” But the point of this exercise shouldn’t be to levy a bunch of criminal convictions—it’s to surface newsworthy information that the media might mill into content. The Senate may prefer to be the “cooling saucer” of democracy, but to provide for democracy’s future, it’s going to have to spill some tea.

The fact that the Democrats are of two minds on the matter is emblematic of the asymmetry of America’s political warfare. Republicans can be counted on to speak with one voice, picking topics on a daily basis on which to do a Two Minutes Hate, keeping the right-wing media Wurlitzer filled with fresh sheet music to call the next dance. Democrats can’t match the GOP in terms of propaganda infrastructure, but they can marshal far more relevant and substantive topics of conflict than the Republican Party’s typical culture-war fare. As Brian Beutler noted in his Off Message newsletter, Raskin did successfully break into the media transom—and if Democrats could learn to parcel such damning information in small portions, that slow drip could keep the media fed for days on end.

Again, the point of these conflicts isn’t necessarily to get “wins” in the form of defeated enemies or laws passed in the short term, it’s to take back some measure of control over what we spend the next few months talking about, put Republicans on the back foot, and constantly remind Americans that Democrats are on their team and will crush the people who are cheating them out of the good life they deserve.

And for a reelection campaign that’s been dogged by constant critiques of Biden’s advanced age, Democrats need a shot of vitality, which some good old political knuckle-dusting can bring. They can be an energetic, capacious party, filling this liminal space until the general election with fighting words and a promise to crush crooks. The 2024 campaign is looking more and more like it might be a referendum on whether the Democrats can put up a fight or not. I’d strongly advise them to get in the ring.

The Fourteenth Amendment Scolds Abetting Trump’s Return

The pundit class has finally found a section of the Constitution they can’t abide. By coincidence, it’s the part that’s designed to protect the nation from an insurrectionist.

Kamil Krzaczynski/Getty Images

The media spent a large part of Donald Trump’s presidency waiting for the moment that he might become presidential. Like fools, they manned this post in spite of the fact that Trump had very specifically refused to comport with one of the central notions of the constitutional order: that there are reasonable limits on presidential power. Trump was hardly the first to abjure the notion that the chief executive was in any way constrained, but he was perhaps the most flamboyant occupant of the Oval Office at flouting this norm—the weeks he spent cultivating and then inciting an attack on the Capitol being the ne plus ultra of his misrule.

A lack of accountability since then has served our nation poorly. Three years on from the January 6 insurrection, but before the primary elections have even begun, Republican lawmakers are already refusing to commit to certifying this November’s winner. I suppose the silver lining here is that there won’t be much violence a year from now—there’s no need to ransack a Capitol whose occupants have provided for its pillage in advance.

This week, however, Trump’s lawyers upped the stakes considerably, contending that the president could not be prosecuted for ordering SEAL Team Six to assassinate a political opponent, unless he was swiftly impeached by Congress and convicted for the crime in the Senate first. That’s cold comfort to Trump’s murdered rival, to say nothing of any impeachment-minded lawmakers, who in this infernal thought exercise would obviously be the next under the gun of Trump’s mercenaries.

We are, however, not completely unarmed against Trump’s thuggery: Article 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment lays out a fail-safe, disqualifying anyone who played a part in inciting an insurrection from holding office again. Unfortunately, while it is rare for the Supreme Court to disarm anyone, it will, in all likelihood, deny the American people this protection. But the Roberts court has been vastly aided and abetted by our political media, who after waiting so long for Trump to discover virtue, have quickly declared the Article 3 tool to be a vice—either searingly unfair to use in this instance or invalid on its face. When the decision eventually comes, the press will have created an environment in which the Supreme Court’s disregard for the Constitution’s text won’t be viewed as a radical act.

That this consensus was reached so quickly is something of a surprise, as the dominant mode of the pundit class is to venerate the Constitution as a peerless document, the final answer to all questions. As The New Republic’s Osita Nwanevu has written, this reverence may be unearned. But the media has gone to strange lengths to specifically discount this one part of the Constitution that was designed to prevent the crisis we now face.

An indelible example of this rough treatment was published in The New York Times on December 28, the day that Maine’s secretary of state decided that a plain reading of Article 3 compelled her to remove Trump from her state’s ballot. The Times could not let the matter pass without injecting opinion into what purported to be a straight news story, referring to Article 3 in derogatory terms: “an obscure clause of a constitutional amendment enacted after the Civil War.” The Fourteenth Amendment, in toto, is about 400 words long. There are no “obscure” parts to it—no small-print footnotes stuffed away in the back pages or lost-to-memory secret lore that requires Nicolas Cage’s help to unearth.

Those who’ve been more up front about their opinion-mongering haven’t been any less meretricious in their treatment of Article 3. Writing for his newsletter, Indignity, Tom Scocca provides a concise survey of those who’ve recently endeavored to “pretend” that the Fourteenth Amendment doesn’t say what it says, from the “half-baked excuses” from pundits to the “feeble political claims” of legal experts doing business as Constitution doubters.

One example that stands out for its sheer mendacity comes from Yale Law professor (and it’s almost always a Yale Law professor) Jed Rubenfeld, who pooh-poohed Article 3 for The Wall Street Journal’s opinion section, admonishing those who might wield it to save the country from harm that while the “Colorado Supreme Court didn’t exactly get the law wrong” when it plucked Trump from its ballot, the “problem” was “there was no law to get right,” on account of the fact that “almost no case law exists on Section 3 of the 14th Amendment.”

Indeed, one of the big reasons that there’s precious little case law on that particular part of the Fourteenth Amendment is that it’s hitherto proven to be such an adequate bulwark against a president ordering an insurrection that hardly any presidents have tried it. It’s generally pretty hard to generate case law when everyone agrees not to break a law. But Rubenfeld’s reprimands ring pretty hollow if we must, at the first instance of this law being broken, concede that the plain text of the Constitution is invalid.

The most idiotic case against the Fourteenth Amendment solution is the one that’s been made the most often: the idea that the people, and not judges, must decide Trump’s fate. As Kurt Lash recently scolded from the New York Times opinion page, this battle for the Republic must take place in voting booths or not at all: “Let the people make their own decision about Donald Trump.”

But where did Article 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment come from, if not “the people?” These words were ratified through the same democratic process as every other amendment to the Constitution. They weren’t put there by gods or monsters. Moreover, as The New Republic contributor Andrew Koppelman pointed out, “The people” have, on two occasions now, unambiguously rejected Trump. In 2016, their decision was thwarted by the Electoral College; in 2020, Trump reacted to his Electoral College loss by trying to overthrow its decision through the corrupt means that this Constitutional amendment was specifically written to prevent. How many times do “the people” have to render a decision before they’re allowed to use the Constitution to enforce it?

There is every possibility that, this November, the American people will, for a third consecutive time, do exactly what Lash demands and again decide that Trump is unfit to rule. It will be well within the realm of possibility that the popular vote will once again be overruled by the Electoral College—or there may simply be enough Republicans on hand to deny the American people the right to the decision they’ve rendered. How will those chiding the effort to forestall this fate through lawful means account for themselves, should this come to pass? What is it about the broken America they’re helping to usher in through their empty, repetitive screeds that they find so appealing? Are the clicks really that good?

This article first appeared in Power Mad, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by deputy editor Jason Linkins. Sign up here.

This Is How the Right Is “Rebranding” the Pro-Life Movement

If you want to know what the post-Dobbs future looks like, look at what the state of Texas did to Kate Cox.

Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton speaks outside the U.S. Supreme Court on November 1, 2021, in Washington, D.C.

Ever since the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the Republican Party has gotten a crash course in what it feels like to be the dog that caught the car. To the surprise of no one who’s spent the past few decades warning what might happen if the abortion rights protections offered by the 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade perished at the hands of a conservative court, the Dobbs ruling rather swiftly unleashed dystopia across the land and brought a voter backlash with it—so severe that GOP elites, when last we checked in, were contemplating a “rebranding” of the pro-life movement.

That task will become all the more impossible given the persecution this month of a pregnant woman in Texas, which tells you all you need to know about the Republican vision of a post-Roe America.

In late November, Kate Cox learned that her unborn child had a dire genetic disorder called trisomy 18 that typically leads to a stillbirth or, in rare instances, a very short and unhappy life. Making matters worse, Cox had previously delivered two children by C-section, which created potentially life-threatening consequences for her delivery. And so, understandably, she wished to end her pregnancy.

But Cox lives in Texas, where it is illegal to perform an abortion except in some “narrow exceptions”—to save the life of a pregnant patient or prevent a “substantial impairment of major bodily function.” Her doctor, playing by the new rules of the road and having determined that Cox qualified for such an exception, obtained a ruling from a judge that would have permitted her to have an abortion. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton then went to elaborate lengths to thwart her. Beyond merely getting the Texas Supreme Court to intervene, he sent threatening letters to area hospitals warning of the legal consequences of treating Cox. He also made sure to invoke Texas’s infamous abortion bounty law and sic the Lone Star State’s anti-abortion vigilantes on her and anyone else who might help her obtain the procedure. Cox ended up having to flee the state just to get the care she needed.

It’s worth underscoring some basic facts. Cox was no libertine, seeking to use abortion as a form of birth control in the popular caricature of abortion-seekers that the right likes to promulgate. She has two children and very much wanted a third. Doctors were able to offer her doomed child mercy and keep alive the possibility of her adding to her family at some point in the future. Paxton, however, took the position that the only just outcome would be for her to run the risk of leaving her children without a mother and her spouse without a wife, all for the sake of a warped ideology that’s already failed on its own terms.

The pro-life rebranding is thus proceeding exactly as I predicted it would, with the most extreme elements of the anti-abortion movement driving policy forward and grabbing headlines for the fringe ideas they’re birthing and the militancy by which they carry them to term. 

Texas Senator Ted Cruz is running scared from this story. Meanwhile, among the Republican presidential candidates, who have the most at stake when it comes to putting lipstick on the party’s anti-abortion pig, mealy mouths are the order of the day. As NBC News reported, none of the candidates “were willing to outright say they disagreed with Texas’ decision to deny Kate Cox an abortion, but they also weren’t jumping to defend the Republican politicians in the state.” There never were such sterling examples of courage and conviction. Nikki Haley, who has strained herself trying to locate a middle position on this issue, offered this nonsense: “We have to humanize the situation and deal with it with compassion.”  

What Haley doesn’t grasp is that we don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Humanity and compassion are qualities that were ever-present in the pre-Dobbs status quo. How do we know this? We know this because prior to the Supreme Court’s ruling, whenever people like Kate Cox needed humanity and compassion, they got it from their doctors. Humanity and compassion just ran seamlessly in the background, and these women never ended up in the news, fleeing their states, fearing for their lives, or watching their state’s attorney general try to destroy their families. Humanity and compassion didn’t just vanish by accident—the anti-abortion movement is hunting it to extinction.

I don’t personally believe that Republicans have any deeper thoughts to their extreme hostility to reproductive rights beyond a simple but deeply held belief that women are chattel. But you can judge for yourself. Their talk of humane exceptions to abortion bans is bunkum. Their talk of leaving abortion restrictions to the states: hogwash. Their talk of compromise is a lie. They even lie to themselves about how unpopular their position is. Left to their own devices, they will identify people like Kate Cox—a loving mother who played by the rules—and subject them to stupefying cruelty. And there will always be a next Kate Cox; there already are some next Kate Coxes in the news. The rebranding is well underway.

This article first appeared in Power Mad, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by deputy editor Jason Linkins. Sign up here.

Trump Is Coming for Your Health Care—Again

The Republican Party’s “repeal and replace Obamacare” zombie is back, and it’s even more brain-dead than before.

Scott Olson/Getty Images

The possibility that we might, as The New Republic’s editor Michael Tomasky put it, “sleepwalk” into a second Trump presidency is very real, which is all the more shocking given the mounting evidence that Trump Redux could well end America as we know it. The New Republic’s Matt Ford capably laid out how few guardrails remain in place, including, as Brian Beutler noted in his Off Message newsletter, “the likelihood that Trump will have carte blanche if not active participation from Congress.” The Atlantic, our doughty journal of ruling-class opinion, has even dedicated an entire upcoming issue to the topic.

That Trump poses a unique threat to our civic fabric and our democratic institutions is an important argument to make—and as Democrats proved in the recent midterms, it’s a winning argument as well. Still, it’s important to remember that in addition to being a wannabe despot, Trump is also an extremely conventional Republican politician with very stupid and harmful policy ideas. And lately, he’s been reminding us about one in particular: his plan to throw people off of their health insurance and make coverage worse and more expensive.

Over the Thanksgiving weekend, Trump announced his plan to revive one of the Republican Party’s less-liked vaudeville routines, the two-step known as “repeal and replace Obamacare.” “I’m seriously looking at alternatives,” he wrote on Truth Social. Despite the fact that reports immediately pointed out what a political loser the issue has been for the GOP, which essentially gave up on the idea of scuttling the Obama-era law in the most recent midterms, Trump has done nothing but push it even harder. “I don’t want to terminate Obamacare,” he wrote, “I want to REPLACE IT with MUCH BETTER HEALTHCARE. Obamacare Sucks!!!”

Okay, we get the point. For a long while, repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act was among the Republican Party’s biggest priorities and also one of its most prolonged failures. Its failure was largely due to Obamacare’s ever-growing popularity but also to Republicans’ inability to propose a better replacement. Republicans view health care as a privilege won by those who rise to the top of the free market. Economic dislocation of any kind, in their view, is the result of individual moral failings. The Affordable Care Act, by contrast, literally redistributes taxpayer money to subsidize health care for those who can’t afford it. This is the bill’s cardinal virtue and the thing that enables all of its most popular components. That makes it complete anathema to Republicans.

This is probably why Trump’s own push to replace Obamacare ended up producing the American Health Care Act, which I once described as not so much a health care plan as “the opening salvo in a multi-part revenue baseline manipulation scheme that was supposed to pave the way for a massive tax cut for the wealthy.” While the bill was touted as the Republican alternative to Obamacare, its main feature was to guarantee worse coverage at higher costs—and throw millions of people off of their insurance to boot. In other words, it was a Republican health care plan. In fact, it was so effective at accomplishing standard Republican health care goals that when the White House tried to counter the Congressional Budget Office’s dire estimations of the damage the bill would do, the administration’s own analysis found that the CBO left off an additional two million people who were going to lose their insurance.

Republicans have mostly greeted Trump’s calls for repealing and replacing Obamacare with exasperation. The Hill reported that his renewed interest in gutting the law caused “new political headaches for Republicans locked in a highly competitive battle to win back the Senate majority.” Most Republicans admitted that the legislative margins were too tight to contemplate taking the matter up again and that there was a lack of consensus among members as to what a replacement might look like. Still, Ron DeSantis has also made Obamacare repeal a central plank in his campaign. And at least one Republican vying to flip a Senate seat from blue to red, Tim Sheehy, followed Trump’s call by coming out in favor of the “full privatization” of health care.

Trump may have only opened this political Pandora’s box a crack, but Democrats should pry it open with a crowbar. They have made this a winning issue before and could easily do so again. Obamacare is very popular; as Politico noted last week, roughly three in five Americans like the law. Many undecided voters may be unsure that a second Trump term spells doom for American democracy, but it may be enough to remind them that he and the GOP could spell doom for their health care.

This article first appeared in Power Mad, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by deputy editor Jason Linkins. Sign up here.

Billionaire Philanthropy Is a Scam

A new study describes in grotesque detail the extent to which the ultrarich have perverted the charitable giving industry.

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Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft and co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

Money gets a bad rap in some quarters. It’s said that it “isn’t everything,” that it cannot “buy you happiness,” that loving it is “the root of all evil.” But if there’s one thing that money is absolutely stupendous at doing, it’s solving problems. Naturally, the more money you have, the more problems you can solve. Which is why the fact that we’ve allowed a large portion of an otherwise finite amount of wealth to become concentrated in the hands of an increasing number of billionaire plutocrats is something of a crisis: Since they have all the money, they call the shots on what problems get solved. And the main problem they want to solve is the public relations problem that’s arisen from their terrible ideas.

Naturally, the ultrarich put on a big show of generosity to temper your resolve to claw back their fortunes. Everywhere you look, their philanthropic endeavors thrive: They’re underwriting new academic buildings at the local university, providing the means by which your midsize city can have an orchestra, and furnishing the local hospital with state of the art equipment. And a sizable number of these deep-pocketed providers have banded together to create “The Giving Pledge,” a promise to give away half of their wealth during their lifetimes. It all sounds so pretty! But as a new report from the Institute for Policy Studies finds, these pledgers aren’t following through on their commitments—and the often self-serving nature of their philanthropy is actually making things worse for charitable organizations.

As the IPS notes, the business of being a billionaire—which suffered nary a hiccup during the pandemic—is booming. So one of the challenges that the Giving Pledgers face is that the rate at which they accrue wealth is making their promise harder to fulfill. The 73 pledgers “who were billionaires in 2010 saw their wealth grow by 138 percent, or 224 percent when adjusted for inflation, through 2022,” with combined assets ballooning from $348 billion to $828 billion.

According to the report, those who are making the effort to give aren’t handing their ducats over to normal charities. Instead, they are increasingly putting their money into intermediaries, such as private foundations or Donor Advised Funds, or DAFs. As the IPS notes, donations to “working charities appear to be declining” as foundations and DAFs become the preferred warehouses for philanthropic funds. (As TNR reported recently, DAFs are a favorite vehicle for anonymous donors to fund hate groups—while also pocketing a nice tax break.) This also has spurred some self-serving innovations among the philanthropic class, “such as taking out loans from their foundations or paying themselves hefty trustee salaries.” More and more of the pledgers are conflating their for-profit investments with their philanthropy as well. And wherever large pools of money are allowed to accrue, outsize political influence follows.

The shell games played by billionaire philanthropists are nothing new. The most common of these are the two-step process by which the ultrarich make charitable donations to solve a problem that their for-profit work caused in the first place. It’s nice that the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Institute for Integrative Cancer Research exists, but it’s soured somewhat knowing that the $100 million gift David H. Koch seeded it with was born from a profitable enterprise that included the carcinogens sold by Koch subsidiary Georgia-Pacific. In similar fashion, Mark Zuckerberg’s Chan Zuckerberg Initiative “handed out over $3m in grants to aid the housing crisis in the Silicon Valley area,” a problem that, Guardian contributors Carl Rhodes and Peter Bloom note, Zuckerberg had no small part in causing in the first place.

And at the top of the plutocratic food chain, a billionaire’s charitable enterprise can become a philanthropic Death Star. This week, The Baffler’s Tim Schwab took a deep dive into the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and discovered that the entity essentially exists as a public relations stunt to justify Gates’s own staggering wealth. One noteworthy highlight involved Gates reaching out to his upper-crust lessers during the Covid pandemic, seeking additional money on top of the foundation’s own commitment, creating a revenue stream that could tie an ethicist into a knot. “During a global pandemic, when billions of people were having trouble with day-to-day expenses even in wealthy nations,” Schwab asks, “why would an obscenely wealthy private foundation start competing for charitable donations against food banks and emergency housing funds?”

As the IPS study notes, perhaps the worst aspect of all of this is that ordinary taxpayers essentially subsidize these endeavors: According to their report, “$73.34 billion in tax revenue was lost to the public in 2022 due to personal and corporate charitable deductions,” a number that goes up to $111 billion once you include what “little data we have about charitable bequests and the investments of charities themselves,” and balloons to several hundreds of billions of dollars each year “if we also include the capital gains revenue lost from the donation of appreciated assets.”

The IPS offers a number of ideas for reforming the world of billionaire philanthropy to better serve the public interest. There are changes to the current regime of private foundations and Donor Advised Funds that would ensure that money flows to worthy recipients with greater speed and transparency. Regulations could ensure that such organizations aren’t just another means by which billionaires shower favors on board members—and that would give foundation board members greater independence to act on their own ideas and prevent the organization from being used as one rich person’s influence-peddling machine. But for my money, the one way we could solve this problem is to institute one of the most popular policy positions in the history of the United States, and tax the rich to the hilt.

This article first appeared in Power Mad, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by deputy editor Jason Linkins. Sign up here.

Poor Josh Hawley Can’t Help Himself

The Missouri senator’s dumb Citizens United stunt is the epitome of his political career.

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Missouri Senator Josh Hawley

Josh Hawley is at it again. Over a brief career in Washington, the elfin senator from Missouri—when he’s not egging on and then fleeing from insurrectionists—has attempted one pseudo-populist or culture-war gimmick after another to propel him to a higher level of celebrity than he currently enjoys. Alas, while his ideas have gained some prominence on the right, Hawley’s own star isn’t ascending at nearly the same rate. But he is nothing if not undaunted, and this week he unveiled a plan to “overturn Citizens United.” I’m putting that in scare quotes for a reason. Hawley’s latest legislative burlesque is wholly fake—and threadbare even by his gutter standards.

There are many—mainly on the left—who’d like to somehow overturn Citizens United v. FEC, the execrable 2010 decision that unleashed a tidal wave of funny money into our politics and demonstrated that the Supreme Court didn’t need to have a 6–3 conservative tilt to cock up the entire country. It would be great if we could pass a law and set things right, but here’s the rub: Congress can’t fix it, sorry! As MSNBC’s Jordan Rubin explained, overturning the decision would require one of two unlikely events: the Supreme Court choosing to reverse itself or the successful enactment of a constitutional amendment. “That’s because the 2010 case was decided on constitutional grounds—under the First Amendment—as opposed to statutory grounds,” writes Rubin.

The fact that Hawley, even with the assent of Congress and the president, literally cannot “overturn” Citizens United makes this matter done and dusted. But it’s still worth prodding his proposal to assess the full measure of his ambitions—which turn out to be appropriately deceptive. You see, for all of Hawley’s bluster, he’s only targeting one sliver of the boodle that the Supreme Court’s allowed to come sluicing through the gates: corporate money. For all this posturing, Hawley would leave unchecked the flood of dark money.

If you’re authentically aggrieved by the Citizens United decision, this is where the profound misrule lies: Political nonprofits—mainly 501(c)(4)s—can accept unlimited donations and don’t have to disclose their donors, even when the nonprofit then sends the money to super PACs, which do have to disclose donors. As Open Secrets has documented, contributions from shell companies and dark money sources have ballooned in the last two election cycles, with more than $612 million flowing into federal political committees in 2022. Rubin reports that “the nonprofit One Nation donated $53.5 million to the GOP-aligned Senate Leadership Fund, the largest political contribution of any organization that election cycle.”

“Safe to say,” Rubin concludes, “leaving nonprofits out of the equation wouldn’t solve the dark money problem.” But this is what Hawley’s proposal pointedly does.

It really doesn’t take a ton of spelunking to get to the bottom of what Hawley’s trying to do with this sudden stance against Citizens United: This is just a new layer of the senator’s song and dance against what he terms “woke” corporations, and of the broader project of conservative nationalism that TNR contributing editor Osita Nwanevu characterized as “Trumpism for intellectuals,” in The New Yorker back in July 2019.

TNR’s Matt Ford saw a similar level of playacting in a previous Hawley proposal to belatedly jump into the right’s war against Disney with a stunt bill purportedly aimed at reducing the value of the entertainment conglomerate’s valuable copyrights. As Ford pointed out, however, not only was that proposal extremely unlikely to pass constitutional muster, it would very likely “lead to taxpayers giving a multibillion-dollar payout to Disney for its property losses” if it was successfully enacted.

It’s extremely unlikely that Hawley doesn’t understand the fatal flaws in the ideas he’s going to such flamboyant lengths to promote. The senator, after all, has degrees from the two schools that are locked in tight competition to be America’s Slytherin—Stanford University and Yale Law. As Rubin notes, Hawley also used to clerk for Chief Justice John Roberts, so surely he understands the difference between constitutional and statutory grounds.

But even if Hawley’s anti–Citizens United measure is a complete joke, he’s probably getting exactly what he wants out of the effort: favorable headlines from credulous media outlets such as Real Clear Politics, which announced “Sen. Josh Hawley To Introduce Bill Reversing Citizens United,” or Above the Law, which took the cake with “Unlikeliest Of Heroes Josh Hawley Takes On Mitch McConnell To Get Big Corporate Money Out Of Politics.” Even some liberals fell for it: a DailyKos poster titled their blog post, “I agree with … Josh Hawley?” (Don’t worry, “Greg from Vermont,” you really don’t!)

The political press has been on a recent tear of ignominy lately. Media Matters’ Matt Gertz caught multiple outlets selling the GOP’s recent proposal to pay for the proposed Israeli aid package with deficit-ballooning cuts to the IRS as an “offset” this week, in another example of a framing that could have been avoided if anyone bothered to acquire some basic literacy about the legislative process and operating budgets. That Hawley’s sham of a bill has no chance to “overturn Citizens United” doesn’t take a deep dive into the particulars to figure out. To be honest, many of the ruses perpetrated by George Santos, who survived an expulsion vote on Wednesday, were a lot harder to penetrate than Hawley’s latest caper, if only anyone would bother to try.

This article first appeared in Power Mad, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by deputy editor Jason Linkins. Sign up here.