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You may have heard that the Democrats meddled in GOP primaries. You may not have heard that “meddling” doesn’t do it justice.
Democrats pumped $53 million into helping Republicans. Not just any Republicans – a crop of some of the most extreme, Big Lie-touting, election-denying, insurrection-apologizing, QAnon-curious, Maga loyalists around.
Now, trying to line up the weakest opponents is not particularly novel. Almost universal condemnation across the punditariat is.
The Dem old guard denounced it. Media commentators were aghast. The rightwingers tut-tutted about the hypocrisy of it all. Indeed, how could Democrats campaign against the Maga threat while spending tens of millions helping the most active Maga threats?
But the pundits were wrong. So was I.
A new analysis shows that six out of the 13 attempts got Democrats their weak opponent. That significantly increased their chances of winning three governors races, two House seats and a Senate seat.
How much does a weak opponent tilt the odds?
But after a few million dollars of “interference” helped MAGA loyalist Don Bolduc (Republican Governor Chris Sununu called a “conspiracy theorist”) eke out a primary win, Hassan is now up by more than 10 points in the latest polls and an 87 percent favorite to win. In a split Senate and a five-seat House majority, races in the bag matter.
But that’s not the reason Democrats were right to meddle.
The reason is that all the criticism assumes that there is a meaningful difference between the Republicans. There isn’t. Not anymore.
No matter how many noises today’s Republican candidates make about moderation, respect for freedom or commitment to democracy – many of them, perhaps, sincere and heartfelt – once in office they will be subject to the same backbone-melting political forces that have assailed all of their fellow party members.
They’ll fold or get rolled.
Most will fall into Team Fold. When presented with unassailable evidence of impeachable behavior, all but 10 House Republicans voted against impeaching Trump. One hundred and thirty-nine of them – a majority – stepped over the glass shards and blood stains of the J6 insurrection to vote to overturn the 2020 election.
The captain of the spine-melt team is House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy. His repeated, clumsy groveling to Donald Trump is even more embarrassing than Trump’s bootlicking abasement to Vladimir Putin in Helsinki. His brief bid for freedom after the insurrection illustrates the point. McCarthy swiftly remembered that he needed Trump to fulfill his own ambitions, lied about ever turning, was presented with audio tape that he had, and stuck with the lie.
Better to lie to reporters’ faces than get Truthed online.
The alternative in today’s GOP is to get rolled. The most famous example is of course Liz Cheney: dumped from her leadership post, ostracized, and ejected from office (as were 8 of the 10 who voted to impeach) for standing up for truth and the US Constitution.
This is all painful to say.
As a congressional staffer, I worked closely with Republican counterparts to help pass important laws to infuse economic development aid to people in poor, rural counties and to expand health insurance coverage for young adults. I continue to feature conservative experts, colleagues and friends on my radio show and podcast to have thoughtful exchanges. I believe that’s healthy for democracy, informative for listeners and entertaining.
But electing a handful of additional Republicans of conscience over their redhat counterparts will not meaningfully reduce the threats to democracy. A Post headline last week laid out why: “Most of the House GOP has opposed each effort to protect elections.” Voter suppression and subversion are part of the GOP platform.
And the case that a pro-choice, or moderately pro-life, Republican Senator would help protect reproductive freedom was definitively crushed when Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins waved Justices Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, Coney Barrett through the turnstile.
Fool me once, senator … but you don’t get fooled again.
On every issue of substance, decades of research has shown that elected Republicans have become not just increasingly conservative, but increasingly cohesive. And today’s elected Republicans stick together on the right-wing agenda about twice as much as they did a decade ago. The few remaining apostates have been subjected to the redhat inquisition, to be converted or electorally beheaded.
Ten years ago, I was the chief of staff for the Democratic US Senate candidate in New Hampshire. The Democrats chose not to interfere in the Republican primary. The Republican widely-perceived as “moderate” defeated a right-wing pro-life extremist by under 1,000 votes, and cruised to victory against us in the red wave of 2010.
Kelly Ayotte then went on to a six-year stint as a “rank and file” Republican senator, voting along with her party whenever it mattered. Just like the more extreme candidate would have.
Would the more extreme Republican have voted differently? No. Might we have fared better against him? We’ll never know.
Simply put, if this year’s meddling lands a few more Maga Republicans in office, we will never be able to tell the difference.
But if it results in the Democrats holding the Senate, or even narrowing losses in the House, it will make all the difference.
Wherever there are humans organizing themselves according to needs, desires, interests and resources, there is politics. I take this as a given. We all should. The question isn’t whether to permit politics to “interfere” with the business of human affairs. The question is whether to recognize and accept that politics is always already there.
Our political culture prefers pretending, though.
Most of us strive mightily to “keep politics out of it.” On any given issue, from any given politician, at some point they will make concerted appeals to this make-believe ideal of a politics-less world where political debate unfolds coolly, dispassionately, logically and according to highly contingent notions of what counts as reasonable.
I think we cling tightly to this ideal, because politics has a bad reputation. If something gets “political,” it gets messy, confusing and unsolvable. (Think migrants coming to the southern border in historic numbers.) But politics – precisely democratic politics – is not bad. To the contrary, it’s how normal people achieve anything. Where would normal people be without a way to shake the unshakable?
I would argue that the beneficiaries of status-quo power want us to believe that politics is bad. They understand very well that politics is how normal people advance themselves in the face of status-quo elites who work hard to prevent normal people from advancing. They understand that politics is how the status quo became the status quo. They understand that politics is always already there.
We’d all be better off dropping this phony ideal.
We’d all be better off seeing with clear eyes.
Some might say that I’m being cynical – that I believe that everything is as good or bad as everything else and that nothing matters except winners and losers in a war of all against all. I’m suggesting no such thing. Indeed, such accusations are rooted in status-quo anxiety over normal people figuring out that politics is how change happens.
When we drop this phony ideal of a politics-less world, a different and more edifying question comes to light. If we can’t live in a world without politics, what kind of politics is acceptable? In terms of organizing ourselves into a civilized society, what is politics for?
It could be war by other means, as the Nazi philosopher Carl Schmitt asked us to believe. If we accept that definition as valid, then we accept the perspective of status-quo elites who are already engaged in a continuous war by other means against normal people.
In this sense, there is only one truly political party in the US. While the Republicans bring a gun to a gunfight – literally, in the case of the GOP’s armed paramilitaries – the Democrats bring reasonableness. This “asymmetry” has been the butt of jokes and the bane of liberals for decades, but especially since the election of a criminal president.
What if that’s wrong, though? If we accept the perspective of the parties being asymmetrical – that while one party brings a weapon, the other party brings an argument – then we accept the perspective of status-quo elites on what politics is for: war by other means.
Do we – do we liberals – want to accept that? If we do, we accept, though perhaps without knowing it, the claim that democracy is unsustainable, which brings us back to accepting the view of status-quo elites who are already engaged in war by other means.
Liberals believe democracy is sustainable. They believe freedom is a birthright. They believe individuals born with inalienable rights. They believe the government should maximize opportunity and minimize suffering. So liberals must reject the definition of politics as war by other means and replace it with something constructive, creative and liberating. Fortunately, the president is modeling that.
In his historic paradigm-shifting speech earlier this month, Joe Biden said, rightly, that “democracy endures only if … we the people see politics not as total war but the mediation of our differences.” Politics, in other words, is how democracies solve their collective problems.
So we should oppose anyone who wants to “keep politics out of it.” We should fight, using politics, those who depoliticize politics. We should make an example of Republicans like Florida’s Ron DeSantis.
I know this sounds strange, but the governor depoliticized politics when he dispatched state agents to reroute migrants to Martha’s Vineyard. I know. It looks like the exact opposite – that he’s pulling off a political stunt to win over the criminal former president’s base.
To be sure, it’s all that – theatrical, wasteful, possibly illegal.
But by appearing to kidnap vulnerable migrants for the purpose of demonstrating cynically that “elite liberals can’t handle” migrants, DeSantis reduces the scope of understanding to us against them.
If he can convince normal people that the problems of migration, which are real and difficult, can be understood as a matter of racial identity, not politics, then he’s won. He’s taken away the best tool that normal people have for changing their world for the better.
Sadly, the Democrats often help.
Like everyone else, the Democrats tend to believe that it’s best to keep politics out of politics. They lean into reasonableness, data, polling, research – anything that does not seem politically motivated.
While countering DeSantis’ obvious “political stunt” is noble, they end up deepening its impact by appealing to a make-believe ideal of a politics-less world. The unintentional result is depoliticizing politics: surrendering to status-quo elites even before the battle has begun.
The solution is not for the Democrats to adapt politics as war by other means, but to double down on politics as problem-solving - as “the mediation of our differences.” Put another way, the Democrats should drop the idea that politics and problem-solving are mutually exclusive. The GOP knows they are not. That’s why “political stunts” are so effective. They emasculate without appearing to emasculate.
Fortunately, this administration seems to get it. Earlier this month, the president redefined politics according to liberal principles. Over the weekend, his transportation secretary, Pete Buttigieg, took this one step farther. Responding to a question about DeSantis’ scheme to send migrants north, he said: “It’s one thing to call attention to a problem when you have a course of action. It’s another to just call attention to the problem, because the problem is actually more useful to you. That helps you call attention to yourself.”
It depoliticizes politics.
On Sunday’s 60 Minutes, Joe Biden declared the covid pandemic was over. He said, “The pandemic is over. We still have a problem with covid. We’re still doing a lot of work on it. But the pandemic is over.”
That pronouncement was news to the president’s healthcare staff who scrambled for explanations after Biden's comments went viral on social media and prompted a hashtag #TheCovidIsNotOver.
A half dozen unnamed officials told the Post the next day that Biden’s unequivocal statement undermines his own rollout of a new covid booster campaign and also damages coming efforts to get the Congress to authorize $22 billion in pandemic response funding.
But why do it if the pandemic is over?
Biden’s statement also contravened fact.
On the previous Friday, 107,066 cases of the covid were reported. That number does not include people who took a covid test at home and never reported their cases to local public health departments. So there are tens of thousands of unreported cases as well.
Between 400 and 500 Americans are dying each day from the covid – more than 3,000 a week. On Sept. 21, there were 419. There are about 30,000 hospitalizations daily. Among those, about 10 percent land in ICU. One in five covid cases results in the mysterious and disabling syndrome, long covid, which is, apart from the human toll, costing the economy billions in lost wages and unfilled jobs.
As disturbing as these numbers are, Biden is right in that January 2022 saw an average of 800,000 cases per day. From that vantage, it does look like the pandemic has ceased to peak.
But we know from three years of pandemic data that covid cases ebb in the summer and surge in the winter when people are more likely to be indoors and confined in unventilated spaces, unmasked.
The numbers rarely discussed are the vaccination numbers. Set aside for now (a story for another time) the uniformly terrible way the Centers for Disease Control has handled the pandemic.
The shift from the Trump administration to the Biden administration was barely noticeable. Major mistakes have been made by CDC Director Rochelle Walensky – so much so that she investigated the CDC herself and found it, but not her, wanting.
The area of biggest failure is vaccines.
By never clarifying that boosters were not boosters at all, but a third and essential shot to have full immunity, CDC botched their rollout.
The CDC also never stipulated that vaccinations were essential public health tools for schools and workplaces, and should not be viewed as arbitrary. Vaccines, already politicized by the MAGA right as a “woke” trend to “take away personal freedoms,” became even more politicized without the agency tasked with teaching the public.
As a consequence, the vocal phalanx of anti-vaccine protesters grew louder and even those who were not vaccine hesitant simply never bothered with the third “booster.” So while poor nations remain desperate for vaccines, Americans are hand-waving their necessity.
While the CDC website states that 79 percent of Americans age 5 and over have at least one shot, it also states that only 34.9 percent of Americans are fully vaccinated with two shots and a booster.
That’s not just redhat Magaland failing to get vaccinated. That’s also a lot of liberals, Democrats and progressives. Only 24.2 million Americans – that’s 7.2 percent – have had the second shot.
Biden’s dismissal of a pandemic that has killed over 1.1 million and disabled another 25 million with long covid unintentionally polarized the country on the issue of vaccines. People who call themselves not anti-vaxxers but “pro-vaccine choice,” “pro-safe vaccine” or “vaccine skeptical” feed off the administration’s convoluted messaging.
Still, if the only issue were vaccine hesitancy, it could be somewhat manageable – at least until the next eventual surge. But it isn’t.
Anti-vaxxers – people who oppose vaccinations for a range of reasons from religious proscriptions to QAnon to Big Pharma conspiracy theories – are in the forefront of a growing political divide over vaccinations and its implications for public health.
Anti-vaxxers are also making us sicker.
The failure to immunize has resulted in more mutations and more – and more dangerous – variants of the coronavirus.
Anti-vaxxers have also brought back measles, mumps and now polio. As Rolling Stone reported in “Polio Is Making a Comeback. Thanks, Anti-Vaxxers!”: “If it seems like infectious diseases are coming at us faster, spreading more widely and persisting longer than they have in generations, it’s because they are, health experts say.”
"There are some more conservative states where we are likely to see other non-covid vaccine mandates under attack, and it is very worrisome," Marcus Plescia of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials told Newsweek. "If we have some of these pediatric infectious diseases come back, it will be horrific."
And coming back they are – in outbreaks of measles, mumps, whooping cough and tuberculosis.
The CDC’s own database bears this out.
There are fewer vaccinations among under-50 people nationwide, but those numbers are lowest in red states. The reappearance of polio and other diseases in wastewater underscores Plescia’s view that Gen X parents refusing to vaccinate their kids is a trend.
The World Health Organization (WHO) released a report in July with the alarming statistic that the the covid-19 pandemic had fueled the largest continued backslide in [childhood] vaccinations in three decades. In 2019, just before the pandemic hit, WHO listed growing vaccine hesitancy as one of its top 10 threats to global health, citing an “infodemic” on social media and internet websites creating distrust of vaccines and urging it be addressed.
While Biden was making his declaration, Anthony Fauci, the chief medical advisor to the president, was sounding the alarm over vaccines. In a Sept. 18 interview in Financial Times, Fauci said, “I’m concerned the acceleration of an anti-vaxxer attitude in certain segments of the population … might spill over into that kind of a negative attitude towards childhood vaccinations.”
A few days earlier, Fauci had commandeered the Twitter account of HHS to discuss this issue. The longtime head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and world-renowned infectious disease specialist said, “If you fall back on vaccines against common vaccine-preventable childhood diseases, that’s where you wind up getting avoidable and unnecessary outbreaks.”
The covid was the leading cause of death among US law enforcement in 2020 and 2021 due to vaccine resistance. For the second year in a row, the covid was the third leading cause of death in all age groups in the US in 2020 and 2021 and in line to be so in 2022 as well.
Misinformation and disinformation related to covid vaccines fomented by Fox, celebrities and conspiracy theories have caused this dramatic uptick in parents refusing to vaccinate children against diseases that only a few decades ago killed kids on a regular basis.
That these parents are often, as one Times report showed, literal rocket scientists who have still been caught up in these disinformation campaigns and who were themselves vaccinated as children is concerning to pediatricians nationwide.
Kate Williamson, a pediatrician, said she’d seen a rise in vaccine resistance. She told the Times, “I have this worry in the back of my mind — that we’re up against something that we have never seen before. To have something that could be anti-science as part of a political identity and culture is very concerning.”
Peter Hotez, of the Baylor College of Medicine and contributor to CNN and MSNBC, said, “The anti-vaccine movement is so strong, so well organized, so well-funded, I doubt it will stop at covid-19 vaccines.” In August, Hotez published a research paper in Nature on the damage done by this movement. He was unequivocal:
“I think it’s going to extend to childhood vaccinations.”
Vaccines have been settled science since the 18th century when British physician Edward Jenner discovered the smallpox vaccine, saving the world from a ravaging disease that had killed more than 20 percent of the world population. George Washington had a vaccine mandate for his troops at Valley Forge.
The monkeypox outbreak, with its painful and disfiguring pustules similar to smallpox, gave people a glimpse into what might happen if long-dormant diseases resurge.
Smallpox was eradicated in the US in 1949, globally in 1980. Polio was eradicated in the US in 1979, measles in 2000, whooping cough in 1945, mumps in 2003 – all due to vaccine protocols. But in recent years, outbreaks of each of these debilitating and sometimes fatal diseases have reappeared due to failures to vaccinate.
Initially, these outbreaks were local to religious communities, but then spread into suburban communities where families fell prey to internet misinformation about links between vaccines and autism.
Some of that misinformation was spread by celebrity parents of children with autism like Robert DeNiro and Jenny McCarthy.
The most prominent anti-vaxxer is Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Kennedy’s own family has disavowed his stance. He has written an anti-vax book published by Simon & Schuster. He established an anti-vax foundation, Children's Health Defense (CHD). In August, it was kicked off Instagram and Facebook for misinformation. The group had a half million followers at the time. Kennedy was kicked off Instagram in 2021 but has an active account on Facebook and CHD is on Twitter.
Regardless of the source of vaccine misinformation, the result could be catastrophic if the 22 diseases children are vaccinated against prior to their fourth birthday begin a comeback.
The herd immunity that eradicates diseases is created when more than 80 percent of a population is vaccinated. Lower that number even marginally and outbreaks turn into full-blown pandemics.
Hotez told the Times that the anti-vaxxer movement is incalculably dangerous. “This is a deadly movement,” Hotez said. “With things like terrorism and nuclear proliferation, we have lots of infrastructure.
“For this, we don’t have anything.”