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Analysis | The complicated, often cynical politics of fighting for democracy – The Washington Post

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Newly elected Rep. Peter Meijer (R-Mich.) voted his conscience on Jan. 13, 2021. A week after rioters overran the U.S. Capitol, he joined with the Democratic majority in the House to impeach President Donald Trump for having stoked the violence that had filled the surrounding hallways. It was a principled stand, if to many an obvious one, and one that Meijer soon understood to be imperiling his own political future.

On Tuesday, that peril was manifested. Meijer’s bid for a second term was blocked when Republican primary voters in his district cast more ballots for John Gibbs, a former Trump administration official who had embraced Trump’s false claims about the 2020 election. One of the first votes Meijer took in Congress would be central to his ouster.

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But, as you may know, that’s not the whole story. Unlike other Republicans who voted to impeach Trump, Meijer represented a district that wasn’t solidly red. To critics of Trump, he deserved praise for being willing to buck his party on the impeachment vote. But to Democrats tasked with holding the House, he was still a Republican, one who was otherwise reliable in casting votes with his party’s caucus against the narrow Democratic majority. So a complicated chain of reasoning ensued: Meijer’s district could elect a Republican but not one who could point to his voting record to appeal to voters from both parties. Get someone like Gibbs in there, someone whose track record would be viewed with unmitigated distaste by Democrats and many independents, and maybe gain more breathing space in the party’s uphill fight for a 2023 majority.

So the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) spent about as much on an ad promoting Gibbs than Gibbs himself had raised as of the middle of last month. And then Gibbs won.

This situation, a distillation of various tensions on the right, on the left and nationally, has been subject to significant scrutiny over the past few weeks. It is, in fact, revealing about all sides involved — but some useful nuance has been lost.

Let’s consider the results in Michigan’s 3rd Congressional District, then, by asking three questions.

  1. Did Meijer lose because of the Democratic intervention?
  2. How much support did Gibbs have?
  3. Was this just the grim art of politics?

Should you not wish to read further, the answers are “probably not,” “enough” and “no.”

Did Meijer lose because of the Democratic intervention?

A quiet secret in politics is that much of it is less science than art. Campaign consultants will tell you they know how to win for the same reason that weight-loss systems will tell you they know how to help you shed unwanted pounds. But in part because elections are increasingly complicated systems with a lot of moving parts and because there are often poor controls for measuring effectiveness, a lot of campaigning comes down to guesswork, instinct, habit and luck.

In close races, things get more complicated still. If your candidate wins narrowly, lots of factors might have contributed to the win — and lots of people who were involved in those factors (creating direct mail, endorsing, calling voters) will try to take credit for the narrow margin.

The Meijer-Gibbs race was relatively close but not a squeaker. Gibbs won by just under 4 percentage points, enough of a margin that observers could call the race on election night. In other words, this was likely not a race in which a small push made the difference.

Was the DCCC ad a small push? The committee spent a bit under $500,000 on a spot that began running in late July. That’s more than a month after early voting began in the contest, though. And in recent years, Republicans have been more likely to vote on Election Day itself. It seems to have been designed to be a last-minute prod for voters — perhaps to reduce the likelihood that Republican primary voters would hear news reports about Democrats being more worried about facing Meijer in November.

It’s hard to argue that the ad — run when election ad time was at its most expensive — was the sole reason that Gibbs got about 4,000 more votes than Meijer. I don’t think many people would argue that individual last-minute TV spots can make a 4-point difference in a House primary. Again, it’s hard to know what would have happened had the spot not run, but there is certainly reason to think that Meijer’s fate was affected more by Trump’s endorsement of Gibbs last year than the DCCC’s intervention in this one.

(Video: DCCC, Photo: DCCC/DCCC)

How much support did Gibbs have?

Speaking to CNN on Wednesday morning, Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) blasted the DCCC’s ad. “If Peter’s opponent wins and goes on in November to win, the Democrats own that. Congratulations,” he said on CNN’s “New Day.”

Kinzinger also voted to impeach Trump in January 2021. But he has gone further, serving on the House select committee investigating the Capitol riot and embracing the role of one of the foremost anti-Trump voices within his party.

“Don’t keep coming to me asking where are all the good Republicans that defend democracy,” he continued on CNN, “and then take your donors’ money to spend half a million dollars promoting one of the worst election deniers that’s out there.”

Kinzinger’s “the Democrats own that” is interesting. That’s not simply because of the question of ownership, which we just assessed, but also because it attributes full culpability to the left. The implication for a viewer is clear: Meijer lost because of the DCCC.

Yet consider Kinzinger himself. Like several other Republicans who voted to impeach, Kinzinger decided to retire instead of battling through a Republican primary. (His House district was redrawn to force him into competition with another incumbent representative — one who didn’t vote to impeach. Meijer’s was also redrawn to make it more blue, contributing to the DCCC’s decision to target it.) Kinzinger’s retirement has clearly colored how he understood his party to have shifted and by the recognition that his view of Trump and the 2020 election was unpopular with the GOP.

Consider our first question in a different context. If Michael Jordan scores 90 of the Bulls’ 96 points in a 5-point win over the Nets, should the win be credited to the 6 points scored by Scottie Pippen? Even if those were the last 6 points scored, wouldn’t it be sensible to give Jordan substantial credit for the win? (Extending this analogy to Michigan, of course, we don’t know how many points Pippen scored. Maybe none! But that’s beside the immediate point.)

In other contexts, Kinzinger recognizes that Republicans have moved from a party that might appreciate holding Trump accountable for the Capitol riot to one that demands that its candidates demonstrate loyalty to Trumpism. The DCCC ad, shown above, simply elevates the mutual appreciation between Gibbs and Trump. It explicitly aims to leverage the existing predilection for Trumpism within the electorate. It’s Pippen scoring points because Jordan is under quadruple coverage.

Writing for the Bulwark, Jonathan Last used a different analogy. If he ran ads for poison suggesting that it was healthy, and people drank the poison, it’s his fault that they got sick. If, however, he ran spots noting the poison’s toxic effects, but people drank it anyway — who’s to blame?

Was this just the grim art of politics?

But there is a totally fair point to raise in response to that analogy: If you knew that even your negative spot might lead more people to drinking the poison, why would you run it?

Some Democrats have waved away the DCCC’s intervention as normal political jockeying. There have certainly been past examples of party committees boosting fringe candidates in the (often successful) hope that they will prove to be easier to beat in the general election. The most common example here is Sharron Angle, who Sen. Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) helped win her party’s primary in 2010 just to beat her that November.

What’s happening at the moment, though, is different. Democrats and Republicans like Kinzinger and Meijer have been raising alarms about the threat to democracy itself posed by pro-Trump candidates and rhetoric. The DCCC has the very direct goal of winning as many seats as possible. But in this case it actively sought to do so by helping to increase the likelihood that the House will have one more member who might reject the results of a close election.

Writing for the New Yorker, Amy Davidson Sorkin points out that the effects are not solely electoral.

“[E]ven if it helps the Democrats win some seats … it habituates Republicans — voters, activists, local officials — in the practice of uniting behind extremists after the primary,” she wrote. “It cajoles them into discarding whatever taboos might be left at this point. And making the most conspiratorial voices the loudest changes the tone of the political conversation.”

In other words, the DCCC spot and other similar interventions aim to intentionally leverage and stoke distrust of the system. They’re using reverse psychology to sell poison. As writer Josh Barro notes, this may itself be a cynical long-term play: making it less likely that any moderate (and potentially more-viable) Republican candidate will want to set up shop in a poison-focused bazaar.

“The Democrats are justifying this political jiu-jitsu by making the argument that politics is a tough business. I don’t disagree,” Meijer wrote earlier this week. “But that toughness is bound by certain moral limits: Those who participated in the attack on the Capitol, for example, clearly fall outside those limits. But over the course of the midterms, Democrats seem to have forgotten just where those limits lie.”

He went on to note (as I have in the past) that this sort of hyperclever selection of preferred candidates is particularly fraught in a year that continues to show significant signs of being a particularly good one for Republicans. The year 2010 was also good for Republicans (for many of the same reasons), but if Sharron Angle won, it meant one fewer Democratic vote. Her win didn’t increase the number of federal officials open to subverting elections themselves.

On Wednesday, Meijer and Gibbs participated in an event in Michigan at which Meijer offered Gibbs his endorsement for November. It was billed as a “unity” event, one in which the two candidates set aside their primary season differences to come together as Republicans.

The irony of such an event is obvious. Meijer lost in large part because he is disunited from his party on a central issue — an issue that was at the center of his fight against Gibbs, who took the opposite position. But for Meijer, as for the DCCC, having that vote for his party in the House took priority.

Not that he would be inclined at this point to make the DCCC’s job any easier.

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Politics Briefing: Nishnawbe Aski Nation opposes possible location for nuclear waste storage site – The Globe and Mail

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Hello,

Nishnawbe Aski Nation’s Chiefs-in-Assembly passed a resolution on Wednesday “vehemently” opposing the possibility of an underground storage site for nuclear waste, which could be built between Ignace and Wabigoon Lake Ojibway Nation in northern Ontario.

Chiefs expressed deep concern over the possibility of such a site during discussions at NAN’s annual Keewaywin Conference, which is being held in Timmins. Ignace, as well as Wabigoon Lake Ojibway Nation, would hold the approval power for the project if their region is ultimately selected. The Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) is also still considering South Bruce in Ontario as a possible location for its deep geological repository, which would see spent nuclear fuel stored roughly 500-metres underground.

“Northern Ontario is not a garbage can,” said Chief Ramona Sutherland of Constance Lake First Nation. “We work for seven generations of our people – I don’t want to pass this down to my son, my grandson, and then his sons.”

Chief Wayne Moonias, of Neskantaga First Nation, called the proposal disturbing, and said “the thought of having a nuclear waste site in our area, it’s just not something that we can live with … Our homelands are at stake with this proposal.”

A potential spill, Mr. Moonias cautioned, would not just affect the site itself. “It’s going to impact our river system. It’s going to impact our sturgeon. Our sturgeon is so important in our community,” he said.

The resolution called for Nishnawbe Aski Nation to take action to prevent the NWMO from placing any nuclear waste in NAN traditional territories, including forming a committee, engaging in civil protests and considering legal action.

Jennifer Guerrieri, a NAN staffer, said in a presentation Wednesday that a choice between the two potential sites is expected roughly within the next six months.

This is the daily Politics Briefing newsletter, written by Marsha McLeod, who is filling in for Ian Bailey. It is available exclusively to our digital subscribers. If you’re reading this on the web, subscribers can sign up for the Politics newsletter and more than 20 others on our newsletter signup page. Have any feedback? Let us know what you think.

TODAY’S HEADLINES

NO NATIONAL TRACKING – Canada does not have a national system for tracking or preventing shortages of nurses and other medical workers, which health leaders say has contributed to hospitals across the country temporarily shuttering emergency rooms and intensive-care units this summer. Story here.

ALBERTA EASES REGULATIONS – The Alberta government has eased some restrictions on the province’s four major universities that prevented them from forming new partnerships with entities or individuals linked to the Chinese government. Story here.

TRUMP HITS BACK WITH VIDEO – Former U.S. president Donald Trump has unveiled a new video to present himself as the best person to lead the country, following an FBI raid on his Mar-a-Lago estate. Story here.

ANALYSIS OF TRUMP RAID – The Justice Department has never before requested, or received, a search warrant to go through the home of a former American leader. Story here.

ALBERTA AWARDS PRIZE – Alberta’s legislature awarded a prize to an essay that equated immigration to “cultural suicide” and argued women are “not exactly equal” to men. Story here.

DENTAL DEAL MAY FACE BUMPS – Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said the Liberal government is working to meet its end-of-year deadline to deliver dental care coverage to children, but that providing new services is complicated. Story by the Canadian Press here.

THIS AND THAT

The House of Commons is not sitting again until Sept. 19. The Senate is to resume sitting on Sept. 20.

MINISTER FOR WOMEN IN WINNIPEG – Marci Ien, the federal minister for women and gender equality and youth, announced $30-million to support crisis hotlines across Canada on Wednesday.

SUPPORT FOR ACADIAN GATHERING – Ginette Petitpas Taylor, the federal minister of official languages, announced $4.6-million to help organize the next Congrès mondial acadien (Acadian World Congress), which will be held in August, 2024 in southwestern Nova Scotia.

THE DECIBEL

During The Decibel’s Food Week, Adrian Lee, a content editor at the Globe and Mail’s Opinion section, came on the show to consider the economic and cultural importance of potatoes. Episode here.

PRIME MINISTER’S DAY

The Prime Minister is on a two-week vacation in Costa Rica.

LEADERS

No schedules provided for party leaders.

OPINION

Andrew Coyne (The Globe and Mail) on Trump’s possible “rendezvous with reality:”When the smoke clears, then, we are probably going to find that Mr. Trump is in a world of trouble. That it came to this, after all, was only because he refuses, more than 18 months after leaving the White House, to give up the documents voluntarily. Which suggests he is every bit as conscious as the DoJ of how explosive they are. And these aren’t the only legal perils he faces … One way or another, the odds are increasing that Mr. Trump will soon face his own Alex Jones moment, a rendezvous with reality.

Gary Mason (The Globe and Mail) on limited support for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: Can Mr. Trudeau rise from the stupor in which he currently finds himself? It’s possible. He has a fairly long runway ahead of him thanks to the NDP. But a lot of the damage that has been done to the Trudeau brand is likely irreversible. The Prime Minister is many things, but stupid he is not. He can see what’s going on. The question is – what will he do about it?

Elaine Craig (Contributed to The Globe and Mail) on compensating women victimized by players: Until we successfully press antiquated organizations such as Hockey Canada to change, we need to accept the inevitable. So why shouldn’t hockey parents pay a small amount each year into a fund to help compensate the women who will be sexually victimized by some of the kids currently being steeped in the sport’s toxic environment? Ultimately, here’s why we should be most angry: It doesn’t have to be this way.

Got a news tip that you’d like us to look into? E-mail us at tips@globeandmail.com. Need to share documents securely? Reach out via SecureDrop.

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Politics Podcast: Republican Outsiders Have Made Their Mark This Cycle – FiveThirtyEight

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FiveThirtyEight

 

In Minnesota’s special general election on Tuesday, Republican Brad Finstad won by only 4 percentage points in the 1st Congressional District, where then-President Donald Trump won by double digits in 2020, adding evidence to the idea that the GOP is experiencing a backlash after the Supreme Court’s decision on abortion.

In this installment of the FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast, the crew breaks down this election as well as notable primary races in Minnesota, Vermont and Wisconsin. They also look at how incumbents are faring in the midterm primaries overall and discuss the FBI’s search of Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s home in Florida, and what that may mean for the Justice Department’s larger investigation.

You can listen to the episode by clicking the “play” button in the audio player above or by downloading it in iTunes, the ESPN App or your favorite podcast platform. If you are new to podcasts, learn how to listen.

The FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast is recorded Mondays and Thursdays. Help new listeners discover the show by leaving us a rating and review on iTunes. Have a comment, question or suggestion for “good polling vs. bad polling”? Get in touch by email, on Twitter or in the comments.

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Opinion | Donald Trump’s Politics of Persecution – The New York Times

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After the Federal Bureau of Investigation searched Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Fla., on Monday — an extraordinary event in the history of the United States — the former president and his allies immediately began to howl that Trump was being persecuted.

Trump issued a statement that said his “beautiful home” was “currently under siege, raided and occupied” and “nothing like this has ever happened to a president of the United States before.” Left out of this victimhood framing was that this wasn’t so much an action but a reaction — a reaction to a president corrupt on a level this country has never seen before.

Trump wrote in his statement, of course referring to himself in the third person, that “the political persecution of President Donald J. Trump has been going on for years” and “it just never ends.”

The pivotal word there was “persecution.”

Persecution is a powerful social concept. It moves people to empathize with and defend those perceived to have been wronged. It rouses righteous indignation. And it produces the moral superiority of long suffering.

For instance, central to the story of the three Abrahamic religions — Christianity, Judaism and Islam — is the presence of persecution and the ultimate overcoming of it.

The origin story of America itself is of a country born of religious persecution as a group of English separatists searched for a place where they could experience religious freedom.

And many of the most celebrated historical figures around the world — Galileo, Joan of Arc, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela — were persecuted.

Throughout history, political persecutions of whole populations have led to ghastly crimes against humanity. Some continue to this day, like China’s oppression of the Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities in the northwestern region of Xinjiang being subjected to internment camps and forced sterilization.

In January of last year, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called it an ongoing genocide, saying that “we are witnessing the systematic attempt to destroy Uyghurs by the Chinese party-state.”

But alongside these stories of actual persecution are scoundrels pretending to be persecuted, activating the same defensive human instincts in people that genuine accounts do.

American politics continues to be dictated by persecution. There are both the historical and modern iterations of the persecution of women, L.G.B.T.Q. people and racial, ethnic and religious minorities. Where advances have been made, they have often been, generally speaking, pushed by liberals and resisted by conservatives.

But with those liberal victories, conservatives came to see themselves as the new persecuted class, reversing the roles. Restricting their ability to discriminate was to them an undue burden.

They robed their supposed persecution in religion, what the Barnard College professor of religion Elizabeth A. Castelli calls the “Christian persecution complex.” “There is no precise origin point” for the complex, she wrote in 2007, “though political activism organized under the sign of ‘religious persecution’ and ‘religious freedom’ has certainly grown substantially in the last decade and most pressingly in the post-September 11th context.”

As Castelli told me on Wednesday, the presidential elections of Barack Obama on one side and Trump on the other have amplified the complex, instilling in conservatives even greater feelings of loss and of being under siege.

I would argue that the entire MAGA movement was born of Trump weaponizing the siege ideology held by many Americans — white replacement theory, immigrant invasion and loss of culture — and framing himself as their messiah and potential martyr.

Trump’s movement was propped up by what the political theorist William E. Connolly calls the “evangelical-capitalist resonance machine.”

“What is the connection today between evangelical Christianity, cowboy capitalism, the electronic news media and the Republican Party?” Connolly asked in a paper he wrote in 2005. Pointing out that these groups do not always share the same religious and economic doctrines, he argued that a broader sensibility is what connects them. “The complex becomes a powerful machine as evangelical and corporate sensibilities resonate together,” he wrote, “drawing each into a larger movement that dampens the importance of doctrinal differences between them.”

Connolly theorized that these seemingly disparate groups are bound together by a kind of spiritual existentialism, and wrote that “their ruthlessness, ideological extremism, readiness to defend a market ideology in the face of significant evidence and compulsion to create or condone scandals against any party who opposes their vision of the world express a fundamental disposition toward being in the world.”

I don’t think Trump understands this on an intellectual level or is even aware of it. I don’t believe the man reads. But in his own selfish, craven desire to pilfer and prosper, he understands the workings of the machine — and how to exploit it — on a gut level.

On Monday, Trump once again claimed that efforts to hold him accountable were evidence of political persecution, and his followers rallied to his defense.

In fact, reports like one from Reuters on Tuesday claim that the search of Trump’s home may actually have boosted him, placing him in his “political sweet spot,” allowing him to play victim of “institutional forces” — the Deep State — “at a time when his grip on the party appeared to be slipping.”

For Trump, the politics of persecution is both his security blanket and his weapon of choice.

The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips. And here’s our email: letters@nytimes.com.

Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook and Twitter (@NYTopinion), and Instagram.

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