Photo: Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images
Even with earthshaking news sweeping the nation — notably, the recent Supreme Court rulings overturning decades-long laws governing abortion, environmental protection, and the carrying of concealed firearms — New Yorkers held decidedly ordinary primaries for most state offices last week. Politics is how democracies process change, and the basic rules apply to all kinds of change, be it commonplace or cataclysmic.
Rule one: Incumbency and the support of the political Establishment is often decisive. Governor Kathy Hochul, whose ten months in office were preceded by years of crisscrossing the state by car as lieutenant governor, has been making friends, cutting ribbons, and collecting IOUs for years. Since taking office last August, she’d had an incumbent’s power to hand out tax breaks, regulatory rulings, and cash grants, and could call in favors from Montauk to her hometown of Buffalo.
“She dominated what I like to call the iron triangle of New York Democratic primaries,” Democratic consultant Bruce Gyory told me. “It’s the minority vote at the base. It’s highly educated, professional women along one side, and white ethnics along the other. And she was able to win all three.”
On the Republican side, Representative Lee Zeldin was backed by nearly all of the state’s county-level party organizations, winning 85 percent of delegate votes at the GOP state convention in March. As the only elected official in the race, he gained the visibility that comes with the power to steer federal funding to different projects on Long Island, where he racked up huge majorities that powered him to victory.
While progressive candidates didn’t fare as well as they’d hoped, it’s worth noting that parts of New York have a left-leaning Establishment — and like their more mainstream counterparts, these mini-machines dutifully turned out their supporters and performed well in the Assembly primaries. In Manhattan, where Dick Gottfried is retiring after 52 years as the longest-serving Assembly member in state history, his handpicked successor, Tony Simone, was backed by nearly every incumbent on the west side, including Representative Jerry Nadler, State Senator Brad Hoylman, and City Councilman Erik Bottcher.
In Queens, the Democratic Socialists of America claimed a decisive victory for the Assembly seat left vacant by the retirement of Cathy Nolan. Juan Ardila won over 43 percent of the vote in a crowded field, thanks in part to the support of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, State Senator Jessica Ramos, and Councilmembers Tiffany Cabán, Shekar Krishnan, and Jennifer Gutiérrez. And Brooklyn’s DSA-backed incumbent, Phara Souffrant Forrest, won re-election with over 67 percent of the vote, as did self-identified socialist Emily Gallagher with about 80 percent.
In short, this was an ordinary primary in many respects, even coming just days after the repeal of New York’s concealed-carry law and the striking down of Roe v. Wade. People did not surge to the polls — but they didn’t stay away, either. Despite a lot of hand-wringing reporting about low-voter turnout — the Daily News called it “torpid” — Gyory says it’s “a bit of an optical illusion” that some journalists have misinterpreted by not taking into account an explosion of new voter registration over the last 30 years, thanks in part to registration drives and motor-voter laws that make it easy to sign up while renewing driver’s licenses.
“Historically, it’s not a low turnout. It’s actually going to probably hit 900,000. It’s going to wind up being the third-highest gubernatorial turnout since we started having these primaries,” Gyory told me. “The highest turnout ever was just shy of 1.6 [million], four years ago. The previous high was 1.2 million, the famous Koch-Cuomo gubernatorial primary of 1982.”
The state Board of Elections website records over 864,000 votes cast in the Democratic primaries, with another 446,000 among Republicans for a total of over 1.3 million.
As we gear up for congressional primaries in August and the general election in November, it remains to be seen whether big national questions — including responses to the Supreme Court rulings, and the ongoing, explosive revelations from the investigation of the January 6 insurrection — will dominate local contests.
“I believe that come September, October, that the top two issues of this campaign will be the same as the top two issues of this campaign today, and that’s crime and public safety and the economy,” Zeldin told me. “They are as personal as it gets for a broad range of New Yorkers who are seriously thinking about fleeing.”
As an anti-abortion candidate who celebrated the repeal of Roe v. Wade and would not say publicly whether he thinks Donald Trump actually won the 2020 presidential election, Zeldin is out of step with most New Yorkers, who polls say support abortion rights and gun control. His path to victory depends on New Yorkers focusing on local issues like inflation and rising crime rates.
Zeldin has his work cut out for him — but he’s not wrong to assume that, even at a time of major upheavals, New Yorkers will focus on pocketbook issues and the need to walk the streets in safety. We should expect him and Hochul to spend the rest of the year making promises, raising money, doling out government funds, calling in favors, lining up local political clubs, and generally doing what wins elections: politics as usual.
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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.
Opinion | Donald Trump’s Politics of Persecution – The New York Times
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.
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Opinion | Your Blue State Won’t Save You: Why State Politics Is National Politics – The New York Times
Last week, Kansans voted in overwhelming numbers to protect abortion rights in their State Constitution — the first instance since the overruling of Roe v. Wade in which voters have been able to weigh in on the issue directly. But local battles aren’t just limited to abortion. There’s guns. There’s school curriculums. Most crucially, there’s voting rights. As national politics becomes increasingly polarized, how we live is going to be decided by local legislation. It’s time we step into the state houses and see what’s happening there.
So on today’s episode, guests Zack Beauchamp and Nicole Hemmer help Jane Coaston understand what these state-level legislative battles mean for national politics. Beauchamp covers the Republican Party for Vox, and Hemmer is a historian of conservative media and an associate professor at Vanderbilt University. Both share the belief that state governments have become powerful machines in influencing the U.S. constitutional system, but to what extent that influence is helpful or harmful to American democracy depends. “This idea of the states as the laboratories of democracy, being able to try out different policies and different programs and see how they work in the state — that’s great,” Hemmer says. “But they’ve become these laboratories of illiberalism in recent years. And that’s something that we have to reckon with.”
Mentioned in this episode:
“Why the G.O.P. Should Be the Party of Voting Rights” by Nicole Hemmer
“Republican Control of State Government Is Bad for Democracy” by Zack Beauchamp
“Democrats Chase Shiny Objects. Here’s How They Can Build Real Power.” From “The Ezra Klein Show” with Amanda Litman.
(A full transcript of the episode will be available midday on the Times website.)
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