Rep. George Santos was expelled from the House of Representatives
. A majority of Republicans—including their entire leadership team—voted against expulsion, fearful of undermining their already narrow majority. Yet, the final vote of 311-114 easily exceeded the necessary two-thirds majority threshold, making Santos the sixth member ever ejected from the House and the first who hadn’t fought for the Confederacy or been convicted of a crime.
You guys see this? It was crazy! It was a red-state, blue-state showdown between Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Fox News, with Sean Hannity moderating … and Newsom objectively crushed DeSantis.
If for no other reason, click through and DeSantis’ facial expressions in the various videos
. It’s brutal.
After spending the past two years telling us that a recession is imminent, the media still can’t grapple with outstanding economic news. You won’t believe how they spun the latest round of positive economic indicators. And yeah, that sounds clickbaity, but we truly couldn’t believe it.
Fifty years ago, four young New Yorkers dragged their guitars, amps and drums to a loft on 23rd Street in New York, dreaming of becoming the biggest band in the world.
This weekend, Kiss, the band started by those four — albeit with two different members currently in the fold — will say its goodbyes
about 10 blocks north of that loft. Kiss will play Madison Square Garden, having become if not THE biggest band in the world, certainly one of the biggest, one that’s redefined expectations for the live concert experience.
Here is a look back at major events in Kiss’ history, taken from Associated Press interviews with Kiss members, quotes they gave to other media and material from band members’ autobiographies:
1973: Gene Simmons,
who worked briefly as a teacher and loved horror films and comic books, and cabbie Paul Stanley,
who once dropped passengers off at Madison Square Garden to see Elvis Presley and vowed someday he’d be on that same stage, exit their band Wicked Lester and begin searching for bandmates to put together a true spectacle: an act where the show and the visuals were as important as the music. They find drummer Peter Criss, who had placed an ad in a music paper looking for a band, and Ace Frehley,
who showed up at auditions with one red sneaker, one orange sneaker and a guitar.
Each member adopts a specific stage identity: Simmons
the demon; Stanley the starchild; Frehley the spaceman, and Criss the catman. The band hones their act with tiny club gigs, and by New Year’s Eve, lands a support slot on the bill with Blue Öyster Cult. Simmons accidentally sets his hair ablaze that night while breathing fire. (It would happen many times over the years, to the point where they stationed a roadie with a sopping wet towel nearby.)
1974: Kiss releases its self-titled debut album, and its follow-up, “Hotter Than Hell.”
1975: The band releases its third album, “Dressed To Kill,” which includes a catchy song called “Rock And Roll All Nite.” But it isn’t until that track’s live version comes out later that year as the anchor of Kiss “Alive!” that the band has its first major hit.
1976: Kiss releases what is considered by many fans to be its best studio album, “Destroyer,” which includes the orchestral ballad “Beth” that would, quite accidentally, become one of their biggest hits. “Beth” was the B-side of the hard-rocking single “Detroit Rock City,” but radio disc jockeys began playing the ballad instead and it took off.
1977: The band releases “Love Gun” and a second live album, “Alive II.” The Gallup Poll names Kiss the most popular band in America. The band plays Madison Square Garden for the first time.
1978: In a move unheard of in the music industry, the four members release solo albums simultaneously, each selling over a million copies. But Frehley’s is the only one to spawn a hit, with “New York Groove.” NBC airs a two-hour TV movie starring the band, “Kiss Meets The Phantom Of The Park.” Kiss floods the globe with band-themed merchandise far beyond the usual T-shirts and posters, including lunchboxes, vitamins, transistor radios, trading cards, and pinball machines. Later offerings include Kiss Kondoms and Kiss Kaskets.
1979: Kiss releases “Dynasty,” with the disco-inspired “I Was Made For Lovin’ You.” By this point, their live show features Simmons seeming to fly into the air and land atop speakers above the stage, in addition to the usual fire-breathing and blood-spitting.
1980: They release the pop-y “Unmasked” and later hire drummer Eric Carr to replace Criss.
1981: The band releases “Music From The Elder,” a concept album that evokes “Harry Potter” 20 years before that phenomenon began. But the album, with its medieval theme and departure from their typical musical style, does not appeal to many fans.
1982: Reacting to backlash against “The Elder,” Kiss releases “Creatures Of The Night,” a bombastic, drum-heavy masterpiece that remains one of its heaviest albums to date. Frehley is replaced by Vinnie Vincent on lead guitar.
1983: Deciding it’s time to forsake the trademark makeup, Kiss reveals what they actually look like on an MTV special, timed to the release of the “Lick It Up” album. They remain without makeup until a 1996 reunion tour with the original members.
1984-1990: Kiss releases the albums “Animalize,” “Asylum,” “Crazy Nights” and “Hot In The Shade” as MTV embraces their new look. Guitarist Mark St. John replaces Vincent in 1984, but a painful nerve condition in his hands soon renders him unable to continue. He is replaced by Bruce Kulick.
1991: Carr dies of heart cancer.
1992: Eric Singer, a well-respected drummer for Alice Cooper, Black Sabbath, Badlands and Lita Ford, is hired, having toured with Paul Stanley’s solo band in 1989. The band releases “Revenge,” and records the album “Alive III” on that tour.
1995: The lineup — Stanley, Simmons, Kulick and Singer — is joined by Frehley and Criss during the taping of an MTV “Unplugged” show, telegraphing an upcoming reunion.
1996-1997: “Carnival Of Souls,” a grunge-inspired album that had leaked and was already widely bootlegged, is officially released. The original members of Kiss reunite for what would become the top-grossing tour of the year.
1998: The reunited Kiss releases “Psycho Circus.”
2000-2003: Kiss announces its first farewell tour. Soon after it ends, Stanley and Simmons change their minds. In 2002, Frehley is replaced by Tommy Thayer, a longtime band assistant. The band releases “Alive IV” with a symphony orchestra in 2003. Singer rejoins, cementing a lineup that has remained steady since then.
2009-2012: Kiss releases “Sonic Boom” and “Monster,” their final studio albums. They begin a series of annual autumn “Kiss Kruises” with fans to tropical destinations.
2019: Kiss begins its “End Of The Road” tour,
19 years after its first “farewell” tour. Its final two shows are scheduled for Dec. 1 and 2 at Madison Square Garden, a five-minute subway ride from where they started.
There has been a ton of coverage in recent weeks over a streak of poor 2024 polling for Democrats and Target Smart’s Tom Bonier joins us to help us separate the wheat from the chaff
. We talk about what to take from these polls and how to balance them against the much more positive election results we’ve seen this year. We also discuss how early voting data continues to evolve and how Sen. Sherrod Brown’s campaign will use Ohio’s recent abortion and marijuana referendums to find new persuadable voters next year.
House retirements keep coming and host David Beard and Daily Kos Elections editor Jeff Singer discuss one of the most competitive new open seats, Michigan’s 8th district. They also preview some key state house special elections in Michigan and Pennsylvania and new attempts to put abortion rights on the ballot next year in Montana and Nebraska.
Hello and welcome. I’m David Beard, contributing editor for Daily Kos Elections. “The Downballot” is a weekly podcast dedicated to the many elections that take place below the Presidency, from Senate to city council. Please subscribe to “The Downballot” on Apple Podcasts and leave us a five-star rating and review.
Unfortunately, David Nir was not able to join us this week, but Daily Kos Elections editor Jeff Singer will be joining me as we go through our weekly hits. The two of us are going to talk about Michigan’s 8th district, which is newly open thanks to Dan Kildee’s retirement, and now one of the most competitive seats in the country. We’ll also talk about new abortion rights measures that are going to be (hopefully) on the ballot in Montana and Nebraska next year. We’ll talk about upcoming state House special elections in Michigan and Pennsylvania, as well as the recent spate of rulings on some gerrymandered maps across the country.
Then after the break, Tom Bonier from TargetSmart will be joining me to break down all the data we’ve gotten from the 2022 and 2023 elections and what it all means for 2024. We’ve got a great show, with lots of information, so let’s dive right in.
So despite the Thanksgiving break, there’s still been a fair amount of political news going around in the past couple of weeks, and we want to start off in the House where there’s been a string of House retirements. We’re not going to talk about every one. Most of them are in safe seats, so there’s just going to be a new Democrat or a new Republican replacing the old one. But we do want to focus on one very competitive seat and that’s Michigan’s Eighth District.
Yeah, exactly. This is about as competitive as it gets. This seat is located in Flint in the area known as the Tri-Cities. Very evenly divided turf. Joe Biden won it 50% to 48% — it doesn’t get much closer — and Republicans last year spent millions hoping to flip the seats. Didn’t happen. Dan Kildee won by a surprisingly comfortable 53% to 43% margin, but Kildee isn’t going to be there to defend it anymore. First time in a long time that the Kildee family won’t be running here.
Yeah, I mean, the Kildee family is an institution in Michigan. They’ve had a few of these. Of course, the Levins represented Michigan for a long time, either at the Congressional level or the Senate level. The Dingells continue to represent Michigan and have for close to 100 years, I think. But the Kildees, they also have a long streak. Dan Kildee’s uncle originally represented the area in Congress from 1977 until 2012 when he decided not to run for reelection. Dan Kildee, his nephew, ran and won the seat. He had previously been on the Flint Board of Education and the Genesee County Board of Commissioners. So he had a long elective history of his own. It wasn’t purely a nepotism run, though I’m sure the Kildee name helped.
And he’s been able to hold that seat pretty comfortably. Even as you mentioned last year, when it became a lot more competitive, when the Republicans spent a lot of money against him, he was still able to win 53-43. So we are I think going to lose something there now that we don’t have his name and his really strong brand in this area. But I expect we’ll see a lot of Democrats and a lot of Republicans look to win this seat.
Yeah. In fact, there’s already one Democrat who’s running: state Board of Education President Pamela Pugh. She was running for Senate, but wasn’t gaining traction. This week, she announced she was going to run for this seat. But Pugh’s probably not going to scare anyone off. Her Senate run really raised very little money. She ended September with about $9,000. She can use that for House, but that’s not going to intimidate anyone.
Yeah, that gets you a day’s worth of a Congressional campaign, $9,000, compared to what you actually need to raise. And we’ll have to see, was the issue with raising money, the fact that so much of the establishment had rallied around Elissa Slotkin, who is also running for the Senate seat, or was it actually a problem with Pugh being able to raise money? Because now I think there’ll be a lot more openness around establishment organizations, traditional donors to give her money now that there’s not a clear front-runner where she’s running, but she’s still going to have to be able to prove to have that fundraising skill. There’ve been some other names that have been bandied about. Flint Mayor Sheldon Neeley has said that he’s going to launch an exploratory committee and Mitchell Rivard, who serves as Chief of Staff to Dan Kildee, has also said he’s considering running to replace his boss in this swing seat.
Now, Neeley is obviously the Mayor of Flint. Pugh is from the Saginaw area. So we’ve got three different power bases here. And obviously, Rivard has a lot of D.C. connections, so it’s D.C. versus Flint versus Saginaw. If all of these folks run, there could also, of course, be other candidates running and we expect there’ll be at least one, possibly more, decent Republicans running as well to give them a chance at this seat.
Yeah. There are two Republicans running. One of them is very much not decent though: Paul Junge. He was the nominee last year against Kildee. He was the one on the other side of that 53% to 43% drubbing. Democrats made sure to emphasize he has weak connections to this area, and that was a pretty good argument. There are other candidates though, like police officer Martin Blank. He served in the Army, was decorated, has a good resume, but he ran twice for the legislature in the last few cycles and didn’t come close to winning either primary. So national Republicans reportedly like him, but local voters so far haven’t, and pretty likely more Republicans are looking at the seat. There have been reports of some names out there. No one’s said anything yet, but there’s a long while to go. This is going to be a big priority for both parties. We’re going to see a lot of action here.
Yeah, we’ll definitely be revisiting this district, I think, a number of times between now and next November. I think it could definitely be a majority maker in the end to determine which party controls the House in 2025.
Now, another topic obviously that we’ve covered a ton on “The Downballot” is abortion rights measures. We’ve got some more of those coming. First of all, in Montana, reproductive rights advocates have announced plans to place a constitutional amendment safeguarding the right to an abortion on the ballot next year in Montana. Montana, of course, has become a bit of an oasis for many folks seeking abortion care in the western United States. A lot of the states around Montana have, obviously, severely banned abortion or made it very, very limited and hard to get.
Montana, thanks to a previous state Supreme Court ruling, has protected abortion rights in that state. But, of course, as we’ve seen, rights from a state Supreme Court can change as the makeup of that state Supreme Court changes. So that is a big reason why these advocates are looking to put this measure onto the ballot to get this written into the Constitution very explicitly so that any future state Supreme Courts in Montana won’t be able to decide, “Oh, that ruling was wrong and now actually you can ban abortion in Montana. Sorry about that. Don’t worry about stare decisis. We’re just going to go ahead and let you do whatever you want.” So this is the way to make sure that can protect reproductive rights for the foreseeable future.
Yeah, exactly. And Nebraska is also looking to do that, although the situation there is very different. The Republicans recently just passed a very restrictive ban on abortion in the state. Activists are looking to overturn that with a constitutional amendment, but getting constitutional amendments before voters is never an easy job. Advocates need to gather signatures from about 10% of registered voters. That’s about 125,000 people, but there’s a little bit of a catch. The exact requirements aren’t actually going to be known until July 5th, which is the filing deadline. You always want to gather a lot more signatures than you need because some of them are inevitably going to be disqualified and this makes the target a little more hard to say, but 125,000 is about what they’re going for.
There are geographic requirements as well. They need to gather signatures from 5% of registered voters in at least two-fifths of the state’s 93 counties, and Nebraska, like many states, has progressives packed into a few large counties and spread out all over the place. So to hit these targets, you have to go into some very, very red turf. That’s not necessarily a disqualifier. Progressives in Ohio had to do the same thing to get their abortion rights amendment on the ballot, and they very much did. But it does require some extra work.
Yeah, I think they’ll be able to do that, but certainly that’s a lot more difficult than being able to collect all of your signatures from a couple of very populous counties, both in terms of the political makeup, but also just the fact that people are a lot closer together so you can just be on a street corner or someplace populous and get a whole bunch of signatures. Anybody who’s lived in a rural county knows it’s not quite so easy to collect a whole bunch of signatures just in one place when there are so few people and they’re so spread out.
The same is true in Montana. They’ll have to collect 60,000 signatures in Montana. That’s equivalent to 10% of the vote in the most recent election for Governor, and 10% of those have to come from at least 40 of the 100 districts in the state House.
So there are some geographic requirements there as well, but that’s a smaller number than 125. The states are around the same size so I think the Montana one will probably have a little bit of an easier time. But I think there’s a good chance that we’ll see both of these on the ballots next year and, as we’ve seen, these have been very successful across the gamut from blue states to red states.
Yeah, exactly. And Montana especially has long had a libertarian streak. Candidates who support abortion rights, like Senator John Tester, have persevered. Montana’s probably the better bet if both of them make it to the ballot box, but like you said, even states like Ohio, that have gone quite far to the right, abortion rights are very popular there.
And, of course, I’m sure Jon Tester won’t mind sharing the ballot with this amendment, particularly if, as expected, it passes comfortably. I think he will definitely be using that to drive some voters to the polls, try to get people to go out, protect abortion rights by voting for this, and send Jon Tester back to the Senate to protect abortion rights federally. So I definitely think there will be some synergy there to his benefit.
But we have some more immediate races in front of us because it’s going to be special election time in two key states, Michigan and Pennsylvania. Beard, last year, Democrats in both states unexpectedly won small but very important majorities in both the Michigan and Pennsylvania state houses. Democrats also won the Michigan Senate in a true shocker, but those majorities are so small that if anyone, say, resigns to, I don’t know, take another elected office somewhere, you have to have a special where the entire chamber is basically on the line. And that’s the case in Michigan where two Democrats, Kevin Coleman of Westland and Lori Stone of Warren, they were elected mayor, on November 7th, of their respective towns. The Michigan state House drops from a 56 to 54 Democratic majority to a 54 to 54 tie.
The Democratic Speaker says, “We’re still in control because the rules only require a power-sharing agreement if there’s an exact 55 to 55 tie, that’s not what’s happening here.” But if Republicans snag one of those seats in the special elections, which are now set for April 16th, that’s a different story. And if somehow they manage to win them both, they have the Speaker’s gavel back. The good news is it’s not likely to happen in either seat. Coleman’s seat is the more competitive of the two, but only just. Joe Biden won 59% of the vote here. Stone’s seat is even more Democratic. Biden won 64%. But April 16th is not a date many people are likely to go to the polls normally. Unexpected things can happen, especially when the stakes are this high.
And I think we’ve seen the Michigan state legislature pass a ton of really great legislation throughout 2023 and these seats are going to be really important in order to allow them to continue passing great legislation throughout 2024. I think we’ll see a good amount of attention paid to these races. There will be investment on both sides, but I think particularly the Democrats are going to want to maintain this majority and they will be spending whatever they need to, to feel comfortable that they’re going to do so. As you mentioned, these are scheduled for April 16th. The Pennsylvania one, which you’re going to talk about, hasn’t been scheduled yet, is my understanding. So we’re still waiting a little bit on that one, right?
Yeah, exactly. The Democratic state representative, John Galloway, he won a local judgeship in Bucks County outside of Philadelphia. He’s going to resign on December 15th. There’ll be a special, but they haven’t scheduled it yet; probably January or February.
It’s appropriate that we’re talking about Punxsutawney Phil’s home state because this is going to be the fourth time in the space of a year where special elections are going to decide control of the Pennsylvania state House of Representatives, a 203-member chamber where Democrats have a one-seat majority. Democrats have successfully defended now five seats across three election nights, easily winning all of them, and hoping to do so again in Galloway’s seats. Biden won 55% of the vote here, but Bucks County, as everyone knows, it’s an area that’s pretty unpredictable. Republicans often do well down the ballot. Special election turnout’s been good for Democrats overall, but it’s unpredictable. This is one where Democrats are going to be keeping watch; we don’t want any surprises. We’ll see if Republicans try to take advantage of anything.
I should note, just like in Michigan, Democrats are going to keep the speaker’s gavel for now. They passed a rule saying, “The party in control of the chamber is the one that won the most seats in the last election, unless the math changes with special elections or party switches.” So, for now, that means in a tied chamber, Democrats win, but if Republicans pick this one up, they’re in control.
I think, this one, the Republicans will definitely be throwing the kitchen sink out a little bit. I think it’s one I would guess they think they can win. As you mentioned, Biden only won this seat with 55% of the vote. That’s lower than either of the two Michigan open seats. It’s definitely got some more Republican tendencies downballot.
We saw in Virginia that despite having some districts that Biden won by single digits, they’re often a lot more Republican downballot, and I think this district shares similarities to those districts we saw in Virginia. And so, this one’s probably going to be really competitive. We’re still waiting, like we said, for the date for the candidates. So it’s still a little up in the air, but it’s definitely one that we’ll be paying a lot of attention to as we get some more definitive information, and as the election becomes closer.
I’ll just note there is one key difference between Michigan and Pennsylvania special elections in Michigan. There’s going to be a primary in both these seats in January, a regular party primary. Pennsylvania? No primary for special elections. The parties pick their nominees. So, those things can also be unpredictable, but it probably means we won’t have some case like in New Hampshire where, oh, I don’t know, the Republicans nominate a guy who just goes on about Moloch.
No Moloch for 2024. It’s a tragedy. Hopefully, he’ll pop up somewhere else, so we’ll see. One last topic we wanted to touch on, there have been a number of gerrymandering rulings in the past couple of weeks, largely upholding some gerrymanders unfortunately.
We’ve seen the New Hampshire state Supreme Court uphold the Republican gerrymanders of the state Senate and the executive council. We’ve seen the Ohio Supreme Court uphold the Republican gerrymanders of the state legislature there, after, of course, the composition of that court changed when a more moderate Republican, willing to enforce the gerrymandering laws, was replaced with a more down-the-line conservative Republican in Ohio.
We also saw the New Mexico Supreme Court uphold a Democratic gerrymander of the congressional seats in New Mexico, basically saying it’s a relatively mild gerrymander. It doesn’t do anything wild, and so it didn’t rise to the level of something that they would strike down, but they did reserve the right to find something strike-downable in a future map.
But in a couple of cases, either a map has been or very well could be struck down. In North Dakota, a federal court struck down the legislative maps that the Republicans enacted after the 2020 Census. They ruled that the map violated the Voting Rights Act by diluting the voting power of Native Americans. Now there’s a good chance there’ll be an appeal in that case, so it remains to be seen if we’ll actually get new maps for 2024 or not.
And then, in Wisconsin, importantly, the Supreme Court heard a case about the state legislative maps in Wisconsin. It seemed from the hearing that the four liberal justices on the court are to strike down the state legislative maps over the fact that more than 70 of the districts are noncontiguous. They have parts that don’t touch each other. There’s a long, complicated history about that and those districts and towns in Wisconsin that I’m not going to get into, but the important thing is that these heavily, heavily gerrymandered maps are likely going to be struck down. And then it remains to be seen what the Supreme Court orders in terms of a resolution there, but we will at the very least, be getting new maps in Wisconsin, and hopefully fairer maps.
That would be remarkable. Democrats have really been locked out in the swing state for a long time. Republicans swept both chambers in 2010. They passed gerrymanders and while Democrats briefly got the state Senate back in 2012 in the summer because of recall elections, Republicans took it back right afterward. And just when a party has such dominant control of the legislature in such a swing state as Wisconsin, you know something’s wrong.
Yeah, absolutely. So that’s definitely something we’ll be keeping a close eye on in the weeks to come. Jeff, thank you so much for stepping in and joining me for the weekly hits this week.
It was great to be here. And on the off chance that anyone is listening who’s a Democratic House member who’s thinking of retiring, please announce your retirement early in the day and don’t announce the day that everyone else is announcing.
Yes, yes. Please, think of Jeff when you retire from your congressional seat. It’s important.
Now stick with us. We’ve got an interview with Tom Bonier, the CEO of the TARA Group, and a senior advisor at the Democratic data firm, TargetSmart, so we’ll be back right after the break. Joining us today is Tom Bonier, the CEO of the TARA Group, and a senior advisor at Target Smart, a Democratic data firm. Tom, welcome back to the pod.
It’s great to be back.
So 2023, we just had a set of off-year elections, obviously not the same scale as a midterm or, of course, a presidential election, but a good number of elections took place on November 7th. What were your broad takeaways from the results that we saw and the data that you’ve since been able to collect on the elections we saw on November 7th?
At the broadest possible level, the most obvious takeaway was it was generally a good night for Democrats, and I’ll expand on that a little bit in terms of the data. I think there was an open question going into this election. We know what we experienced in 2022, but I think one of the biggest questions was, to what extent the impact that we saw… especially with the Dobbs decision, but generally this rejection of Republican extremism… to what extent that had survived the intervening year?
Some people theorize that, “Well, the Dobbs decision, it might fade in impact over time,” which sounds silly just saying those words, but in reality, there are many very credible people theorizing that, that, “Well, people would just get used to it,” which is, again, insane. But at a deeper level a question of, will it motivate and mobilize voters?
I think the other big question that I was looking at was that we had this dichotomy that we’ve talked about in the past in prior elections, and going back to 2022 where the Dobbs decision and this notion of Republican extremism did have a significant and substantial impact in some states and then other states, it was like it just didn’t exist. It was like the red wave that was expected came in those states. So I think one of the challenges for Democrats and progressives coming into 2023 elections was: can they transfer what we’ve been seeing in states where abortion was literally on the ballot to states where it was more figuratively on the ballot?
So Virginia ended up being, in a way, the perfect test of that because you had both sides agreeing that this was going to be about abortion rights, which surprised me a little bit the extent to which the Republican governor of Virginia, Glenn Youngkin, really leaned into the issue. He didn’t try to shy away from it. In fact, that was really his closing argument was, “This is about abortion rights,” and his 15-week ban. I really think he thought he had cracked the code. This would put him at the front of the field in terms of the ‘everyone but Trump’ field, the race to be who’s the heir apparent, or maybe even who’s the person who could take him on.
So to the extent that it was a test of that, my takeaway is it was a step forward in terms of showing that abortion rights can mobilize and motivate and persuade voters, even when it’s not on the ballot.
I think a big takeaway that I think aligns with that is that it feels like if you took the 2022 results, and you basically fast-forwarded 365 days with almost nothing intervening and ran another election, it seems very close to what we saw in 2023.
It almost seems like there was almost nothing that has happened since the Dobbs decision that changed where we were, where clearly before the Dobbs decision Dems were not in a great place. After the Dobbs decision that got reset. We saw what happened in the second half of 2022. Really, I don’t really feel like anything has really changed where we are since the Dobbs decision, and the election results then pretty much showed that.
Yeah, I agree 100%. It’s sometimes hard analyzing these elections and really internalizing them and figuring out what they mean, which is important because it has a bearing on how we approach future elections. Especially in this case, the 2024 elections, given that there was an argument in the lead-up to 2022 is like, “Are Democrats talking about abortion too much? Are they talking about Republican extremism too much? Do they need to talk about the economy and crime more?” And then, obviously, what happened happens. We know that the fact was that they were talking about all those issues pretty effectively in a lot of places.
So to your point, yes, it was like this continuation. But when I say you have to view these elections in context, it’s almost like grading on a curve, meaning we have a tendency… Well, I say we, but the punditry, the media, especially the media, have this tendency to want to put every election into one box or the other box: “This was a good night for Democrats, a bad night for Democrats.” Sometimes it’s both. In this election, there were some people afterward who were saying, after the initial day or two where it was like, “Oh, this is really good for Democrats,” I think people started looking for reasons to say why maybe it wasn’t as good for Democrats. We saw the New York Times say that in a day or two after that, “Democrats had a good night. Here’s why it’s still bad for Democrats in 2024,” something to that effect.
The reality is when I say you have to grade an election on a curve, there are so many factors that have an impact. And so, to the extent that we want to be able to distill the impact of the Dobbs decision and Republican extremism on this specific election, we have to consider what the election would’ve looked like if those issues didn’t exist. Of course, that’s impossible. We can’t run this election in a parallel universe where the Dobbs decision never happened, but people love to talk about the fundamentals in politics, meaning what’s the general environment? What’s the economy? What’s people’s perception of the economy? What’s inflation like? The President’s approval ratings? All we heard in the run-up to 2022 was the fundamentals were bad for Democrats, which was true.
Similarly, the economy’s gotten a lot better. We’ve got some great economic news, even just recently, in terms of the growth of the economy, but people’s perception of the economy is still not good. The President’s approval ratings are still not great. That hasn’t changed either, to your point, in terms of fast-forwarding. So, grading on that curve, the expectation would have been Republicans would do quite well in places like Kentucky, Virginia, and Mississippi. Mississippi didn’t get as much attention — the governor’s race there — partially because I think the expectations got set a little bit too high because Democrats were spending a decent amount of money.
In the end, that race was decided by just over three points. When a Republican incumbent governor — remember how good things have been for incumbents in the last two years in terms of the elections we’ve had — wins by just over three points in Mississippi is not a good sign for Republicans. So, grading on that curve, yeah, Democrats had a much better night than they would have without putting the issues of Republican extremism and abortion rights in the forefront.
Yeah, And, of course, the media loves to take wins and losses above anything else when the fact that getting 47% or 48% in Mississippi is a really great job for a Democrat, even if you ultimately lose, overperforming by that much is a really impressive sign nonetheless.
Yeah, absolutely. Again, I think it bears more attention — the dynamic there, what that campaign was able to put together. The other question that’s been going in is the question about whether Democrats are losing core components of their constituency. And when you look at the Mississippi results and you look at the strong turnout, especially among Black voters, and the incredibly strong performance — again, it’s one election, but I’ll take election results over polls any day.
Yeah. That’s something I wanted to ask you about, so let’s go ahead and lead into that. Obviously, here at “The Downballot,” we don’t spend a lot of time on the presidential election, but sometimes you can’t help but dip your toe in a little bit because that’s all everyone else more broadly wants to talk about.
Obviously, there have been a lot of polls around Biden and Trump next year, and there’s been a lot of analysis around this issue around voters of color and young voters, and the fact that some of these polls are showing Biden doing significantly worse than he did in 2020 with young voters and voters of color. Did we see any evidence of that coming through in any of the election results that we’ve seen in 2023 that would sort of lead us to believe that there’s a broader departure from the Democratic Party that would actually back up these polls?
We didn’t. I mean, short answer is we didn’t. And I don’t want to discount it entirely, but it does feel a little bit like 2022 where it was like we’re waiting for the red wave, where are the signs of it? We know what red waves look like. We know what the lead-up to red wave elections looks like, and we weren’t seeing any of those signs in place. And this is sort of, I guess, just maybe the beginnings of that where people are looking forward to 2024. And there are a lot of these polls that are suggesting that younger voters, voters of color are not just edging away from President Biden.
I mean poll after poll after poll showing, in some cases, President Biden losing among younger voters, which is just not plausible, in some cases with very narrow margins. And so, when you have that many polls showing something similar, it bears paying attention, but it’s just one element. It’s one blip on our radar when we have to calibrate other data points too, especially election results.
You would expect if Democrats generically … because a lot of Republicans have now been crowing about this supposed multi-ethnic, multicultural working-class emerging majority, that they’re winning over voters of color, younger voters because they’re actually much more culturally conservative and they’re with us. And if that were true, you would expect to see it in places like Mississippi. You would expect to see it in Virginia with an incumbent Republican governor who has molded himself to appear as a moderate, even though his agenda suggests otherwise. And you just didn’t see it.
You saw strong performance from voters of color for Democratic candidates. Kentucky, let’s not forget that in terms of winning that governor’s race in Kentucky with very strong African American turnout and performance. So, it’s worth noting though that those who would argue that this is something that is happening here or is going to happen, they say “Well, it’s actually the lower propensity, as they say.” Meaning those who are less likely to vote in these lower-turnout elections, it’s those voters who are more problematic for President Biden.
So, maybe that could be true to me. To me, it’s more likely that those voters at this point are just not very engaged. Let’s face it, most Americans are not very engaged in the 2024 elections right now, and they won’t be for a long time, and that’s probably healthy. I wish some days I could be like that. But if they’re not very engaged, but you’re asking them a year out who they’re going to vote for, well, the least engaged are more likely to answer those questions just a little bit differently with a little bit of a different framework.
To go back to that multi-ethnic Republican majority, I’ve definitely seen people pushing that whole concept on Twitter, and I think it’s putting the cart way before the horse. Let’s have one election where you get 25% of the black vote before you’ve declared your multi-ethnic working-class party in effect. It seems a little ridiculous.
It’s wild. And this is not to call someone out individually, but there’s literally a book written about this now that came out recently. I’ll name him because it’s not cool to mention someone then that got into it. Patrick Ruffini, who was a very smart Republican analyst, and I generally respect his analysis, but books are weird things, I guess, right? By the time you pitch it and then actually write it, things can have changed. That just has happened with Ruy Teixeira’s book that just came out. So, I’m calling out people who wrote books.
So, yeah, you’re right. Let’s see some elections. Yes, Donald Trump did do a little bit better with voters of color in 2020 than he did in 2016, but we’re talking about … We’re certainly well aware of what happened with Latino voters, and in some communities where you saw a bigger swing with African-American voters. We’re talking about maybe a point or two.
Yeah. Now, I also want to talk about sort of the concept of campaigns. I think that’s also driving this a lot. Obviously, you’ve worked on a ton of campaigns, seeing that side of things. And I think what people often forget is that where people start is often not where they finish, particularly because so many of us on Twitter, probably listening to this podcast, as you said, they’re very engaged. They know all about 2024, they know exactly who they’re going to vote for passionately, and a lot of people aren’t like that. And the course of a campaign engages voters, it persuades voters, it talks to voters. And I assume being on the inside of these campaigns, you can see that happen in polling and as the work goes on.
Yeah. I mean, it’s something that I think we are all sort of forgetting in a way that campaigns exist for a reason. And the good campaigns actually do have an impact. I mean, every campaign has an impact one way or another. And so, to the extent that some of these polls show potential vulnerabilities for the president or for Democrats in general — well, that is why campaigns exist.
I think it’s also just worth noting that we’re existing in an incredibly dynamic environment right now. We talk about the polarization, and sure the polarization exists. But just in terms of what is going on in the world and the impact that’s having on these polls also needs to be taken into account. And it’s not to say that these elements, when you think about two wars going on, two major wars going on in the world right now, again, economic uncertainty, that sort of thing, are going to have an impact.
The polls are certainly picking that up, but I think one of the favorite things that a lot of people like to say when they’re reporting on these polls is, “Well, if the election were held today.” That’s the framework now, if the election were held today, Donald Trump would win or he’d be considered the favorite.
Well, it’s a counterfactual that really betrays the logic of the poll itself in that you can’t possibly simulate in a poll the election happening today. It’s not happening today. And the stakes that I internalize when I answer a question about for whom I’m voting are going to be very different a year out than they will be next year.
To your point, the campaigns themselves are going to have a huge bearing on how people think about their vote choices and think about the stakes. And beyond the campaigns, it’s just all the things that we know that will be transpiring over the next year, including multiple trials with Donald Trump having been indicted for several dozen felonies.
Yeah, absolutely. We have no idea where that’s going, and we will continue to see how that unfolds throughout the next 11 months. But I want to turn to a different topic, one that obviously you’ve done a ton of work on, and that is early voting data. It’s something that is in the lead-up to an election now obsessed over and sort of poo-pooed in equal measure. People both look at it multiple times a day, and then they’re like, “Oh, well, don’t look at early voting data. It doesn’t tell you anything.” At the same time sometimes, they’re the same people doing it at the same time.
But, obviously, I think it’s something that has evolved as more and more data becomes available, as more states do this in a bigger way in terms of people voting early. How have you seen, both looking back at 2022, now that all of the possible data has come in and at 2023 to the degree that there was that sort of data around early voting and mail voting? How useful has it been in terms of looking at elections ahead of time? Do you feel like after Election Day you were like, “Oh, I’m glad we had all this information ahead of Election Day?” What’s sort of the state of affairs with that information?
Yeah, there are really two layers of analysis I think are important with early vote. And this is something where we sort of learned painful lessons over the years in terms of what sort of early vote analysis can be helpful and what can’t. The first level is a strategic or tactical level, and that’s less in the realm of the second area, which is the predictive power of the early vote, but it can’t be discounted. Meaning, there’s a common thread where people talk about the early vote and say, “Well, it’s not really relevant because the Democrats, the Republicans, they’re just ‘cannibalizing’ their Election Day votes.”
Meaning, the people who they’re turning out early are people who would have turned out on Election Day had they not had the opportunity. They’re what we would call the higher-propensity voters. They’re people where you look at their past vote history and they voted reliably in previous elections.
And so, that’s true, and from a predictive element, I think that’s something that does need to be taken into account. But there’s a massive advantage if one party is just clearing the roles of their turnout targets early weeks before election day. Whether these are people who would have turned out anyway by having a smaller universe to communicate with, the campaigns have a significant advantage. And that’s something that Republicans had ceded almost entirely to Democrats up through last year’s elections.
The second element, predictive ability, really speaks to the first point in a way. If you just look at the early vote and say, “Well, Democrats are winning by a ton, therefore Democrats are going to win by a ton.” Well, it doesn’t work that way. And so, in 2022, what we were really looking for was some sort of asymmetry in intensity, in turnout, and that you don’t get that by looking at the overall early vote. What we do is look at the low-propensity voters, those who generally might not have expected them to vote in this election or first-time voters.
And like I said before, we know what a red wave looks like. Red waves or blue waves, any sort of wave election happens not just with a persuasive advantage, but with a turnout advantage. So if the election was going to be a red wave election in 2022, you would expect to see, even among the early vote where Democrats have an advantage, you would expect to see it closer among these lower-propensity, less-likely voters. And we didn’t see that except in places like Florida, New York, and California.
So it was actually quite predictive of that dynamic. It’s not predictive to the extent that you can look at it and confidently predict a winner, it’s one data point that you’re triangulating against. I will note, in 2023, I think my biggest takeaway was we heard how Republicans, especially in Virginia, were investing in early voting. Governor Youngkin, I forget what he called his program, but it was some sort of thing where it made it sound like it was like protecting the vote, something like that. That wasn’t the actual name for it that they used, but they said that they invested something like $5 million into getting their voters out early, and you could see the impact in the early vote result. And I will say that in the lead-up to the elections, it made me nervous, because the early vote was much more Republican than it was in 2022, 2021, 2020, which suggested that they were having some success.
They clearly did have some success there. I think the elections wouldn’t have been as close in Virginia, frankly, if the Republicans didn’t invest and didn’t have the successes they had. So we know both chambers, the outcomes were within the narrowest possible margins in terms of seat margin, and when you look at the closest seats, you’re only talking about a few thousand votes swinging one way or another. And we could have had Republicans in control with a trifecta there.
And so, I do think their early vote successes were a key component to that. That said, when we looked at the lower-propensity voters, it was slightly less Republican at that point. So it did suggest that point, okay, well, it’s not that Republicans have a huge intensity advantage, but they have a tactical advantage in terms of their ability to turn out more of their voters before Election Day than they had in prior elections.
And we did see, though Democrats of course took the House and held onto the Senate, they only did each by a one-seat margin. And the following races, if you go to seats 52, 53, 54, and seat 22 in the Senate — they were the really close races. Democrats, obviously the 21st and the 51st seat were close, but they weren’t the closest races of the night. The closest races of the night were the ones right beyond there.
That’s a great point.
And Republicans won those, almost uniformly really the ones that were one or two points, despite obviously still Democrats are happy to have taken the chambers, that’s still a great victory. The narrowness was really in their ability to hold on to those few seats just beyond 51 and to 21.
Yeah, it’s an excellent point, and again, I think it sort of speaks to part of their tactical acumen and how they approached this. When we looked at the early vote and you broke it down statewide, it didn’t look that impressive. It looked much closer to the way it had looked in the last couple of elections. But when you limited the analysis just to the target districts, that’s where you saw the advantage, meaning they were clearly being very tactical about where they were doing the early vote push, and it was effective. And yeah, it’s a very good point. I mean, it easily could have resulted in much bigger Democratic margins than it did, but I think because Republicans did a comparatively good job with getting their vote out, it ended up being as close as it could be.
Now, one last topic I want to pick your brain on. It’s something that David and I talked about a couple of weeks ago in Ohio and the fact that the abortion rights amendment passed comfortably here in November; it did very well in a lot of the suburban areas of Ohio where Sherrod Brown will likely be looking to pick up votes that maybe he hasn’t gotten in his past election victories to sort of counteract Democratic losses in the eastern part of the state.
How does it actually work in terms of a data targeting firm to sort of take these election results and be like, “Oh, we’ve got new targets?” That’s something that I understand from a layman’s perspective to be like, I know there’s a bunch of voters out there, I know some of them voted for this amendment even though they normally vote for Republicans. How do you actually go from that, to actually being like, here’s how you target these folks and try to build on that to get them to vote for Sherrod Brown next year?
Yeah. It’s actually, it’d funny you asked this because I was having a conversation with someone on our team just earlier today about specifically Ohio and this sort of element, and also throwing in the cannabis amendment that was also on the ballot and ran just incrementally ahead of the abortion rights amendment. One of the first things you can do is actually just a precinct-level analysis where you throw in those ballot initiatives, those ballot measures, and then you throw in previous election results in terms of Senator Brown’s previous election.
You look at the Trump race, you look at J.D. Vance and his performances, and you’re looking for those precincts where you have a bigger split, where you have logically more voters who have voted for Republican candidates in these statewide races, but voted with the progressive position on the pro-abortion rights position on the ballot measure or pro-cannabis, and really zeroing in on, well, what are the type of voters, what are the demographic profiles of these voters who are ticket-splitting?
Because for Democrats to win in Ohio as the state has, at least from a partisan performance veered to the right over the last decade or so, those are the voters that you’re most likely to win back at that point. If someone’s not with us on abortion rights, they’re not with us on issues like cannabis, the odds… it’s not that we can’t pull any of those voters back, but they’re much less likely. So that’s one level of analysis.
Then, really, what that leads to is individual-level statistical models where every voter is applied a probabilistic score saying the probability that this is a ticket splitter vote or someone who’s with us on the issues but hasn’t voted with us in these partisan races. It really speaks to something that I was talking about at the beginning of this conversation, which is the challenge for Democrats is how do you draw that sort of organizing and persuasive power that we’ve experienced post-Dobbs with abortion rights issue and turn that into performance and persuasive power in candidate races.
You saw J.D. Vance come out in Ohio, the senator, a Republican Senator, come out the day after the vote there and basically just admit that the voters aren’t with them. They need to do some soul-searching on this issue, but then said, “We should look at federal action on this.” And in my mind, that’s something that Democrats will really need to put in the forefront, because to the extent that we saw this dynamic where voters in New York and in California didn’t really come out in 2022 post-Dobbs, presumably because they didn’t feel like abortion rights were at risk in their states, because let’s face it, they weren’t in the short term. Well, the one way that you put abortion figuratively on the ballot in those states is a federal abortion ban. So I think that will be something to watch for.
And so, to your question about, tactically, how will we be working with campaigns — we have the ability to identify those voters who have not been with us in the partisan races, but are with us on the issues, and then we just have to communicate effectively that these are the stakes, that if you’re voting for these Republican candidates in these races, you are effectively voting for abortion bans, and maybe Republicans will do for us what Governor Youngkin did in Virginia and go out and just say it, which is what they actually planned to do.
Yeah, I mean, I’m all for Republicans being honest with how they’re actually going to govern and tell us all the things they’d like to pass because I don’t think that would be very popular with the public.
No. Well, Donald Trump was pretty honest this week when he talked about reversing Obamacare.
Yeah. I didn’t see a lot of Republicans wanting to talk about that on the Hill today.
Tom, thank you so much for joining us. Always incredibly informative when we have you on. Where can people follow you and then hear more from you?
I’m on all the different social media platforms. I know there are so many. I’m still on Twitter, X, whatever, tbonier, T-B-O-N-I-E-R. Though every day, I feel less good about being there, just trying to the extent that I can get more of the folks who follow me there over to places like Threads, trying to be a little bit more active there, always trying to share analysis and these sort of little nuggets in terms of what we’re seeing in the data. So, on any one of those platforms, I’ll be there in one way or another.
Great. Well, thanks again for joining us.
That’s all from us this week. Thanks to Jeff Singer and Tom Bonier for joining us. “The Downballot” comes out every Thursday, everywhere you listen to podcasts. You can reach out to us by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. If you haven’t already, please subscribe to “The Downballot” on Apple Podcasts and leave us a five-star rating and review. Thanks to our editor Trever Jones. We’ll be back next week with a new episode.
Former Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel announced Thursday that he is running for the Wisconsin Supreme Court against incumbent Justice Ann Walsh Bradley in 2025, casting the race as a chance for conservatives to win back a majority and serve as a check on liberals.
Bradley is part of a 4-3 liberal majority
that took control of the court in August. She has said she will run for a fourth 10-year term. Schimel, a Waukesha County Circuit Court judge, is the first candidate to announce plans to challenge Bradley in the April 2025 election, but other conservatives are considering getting in the race.
In his comments announcing his candidacy as prepared for delivery, Schimel said: “There is no check on this new liberal Supreme Court majority.”
“The only check on them is to take back the majority by winning in 2025,” he said.
Schimel has been outspoken
on abortion and some other political issues that are almost certain to get more attention during the race. Abortion was a key issue
in the Supreme Court race this year won by liberal Justice Janet Protasiewicz, who ran as a supporter of abortion rights.
As Waukesha County district attorney in 2012, Schimel endorsed a Wisconsin Right to Life legal white paper that argued for keeping on the books the state’s ban on abortions except to save the mother’s life. A challenge to that ban
is expected to come to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, though Planned Parenthood has been offering abortions since September based on a circuit court judge’s interpretation of the law. As Wisconsin’s attorney general, Schimel supported laws
in Indiana and Ohio that limited abortion access.
Schimel also was a staunch supporter of Wisconsin’s voter ID law, which he suggested may have been why
former President Donald Trump won the state in 2016. Schimel, as attorney general, joined a multistate coalition that sued to overturn the Affordable Care Act. He also defended Republican-drawn legislative maps
that are being challenged before the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
Schimel, 58, served one term as attorney general starting in 2015. He lost his reelection bid in 2018 to Democrat Josh Kaul
. Then-Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, appointed Schimel
as a judge after his own defeat but shortly before they both left office. Before being elected attorney general, Schimel spent 25 years as a Waukesha County prosecutor.
Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chair Ben Wikler said in a statement Thursday night that Schimel “doesn’t deserve a promotion to our state’s highest court.”
“Wisconsinites rejected Brad Schimel after a single term as attorney general because his extreme politics and inept mismanagement became too great to ignore, with thousands of rape kits left untested at the State Crime Lab and millions of dollars wasted on partisan efforts to suppress voting rights and push new restrictions on abortion access,” Wikler said.
Bradley, 73, was first elected to the Supreme Court in 1995 and is the longest-serving justice on the court. She won her last election in 2015 by 16 points.
Bradley did not return a text message seeking comment.
The court is weighing several high-profile cases that were filed after Protasiewicz’s win in April gave liberals a majority. In addition to the redistricting challenge
, the court is considering whether to hear cases seeking to overturn
Wisconsin’s private school voucher program and to weaken powers
the Republican-controlled Legislature have used to block pay raises for University of Wisconsin employees.
Protasiewicz’s race was the most expensive judicial contest in U.S. history. With majority control in play again in 2025, Bradley’s race is likely to break spending records.
Republicans have floated the possibility of impeaching Protasiewicz
over comments she made during the campaign voicing her opposition to an abortion ban and Republican-drawn electoral maps.
Schimel said the Protasiewicz race set a dangerous precedent.
“We need to restore confidence in the people of Wisconsin that the justice system will be fair and impartial,” Schimel said in his prepared remarks. “I will be honest about my principles, but will never prejudge a case and will never put my views above the law.”
“Would you be OK with taking a pregnancy test to prove your innocence?”
There’s a place where pregnancy is a crime. I’m not talking about some future dystopian fiction
, but rather what happens at Pensacola Christian College. Students who have attended school there say they are encouraged to turn in their peers, whether for a violation of one of their extensive rules, or more serious “crimes” like suspected homosexual activity or becoming pregnant. Lillith was seen
throwing up in a garbage can, so informants reported her to Student Life. She was called to the dean’s office on a Sunday to take a pregnancy test.
What happens at PCC is not unique among Christian colleges. Most fundamentalist colleges require far-reaching control over their student body (both physically and emotionally). Yet these kinds of schools have problematic curriculums as well. That’s why most remain unaccredited, which is a big problem if you want to transfer credits to a better school. Regionally accredited schools have rigorous educational standards and are widely accepted, but it also means you can’t teach nonsense like Earth creationism, flood geology, or archeology that pretends dinosaurs were ridden by humans.
One of my favorite TikTokers is a young woman who was raised in an evangelical fundamentalist Christian household. She was homeschooled and then went through several years at PCC. Today, Cherie Mae has left fundamentalism, is happily married, and shares her stories on TikTok as TheCanceledChristian
. She overcame her years of brainwashing and fear of hell to break free from the religious cult that tried to control her.
Mae chronicled her deconstruction with fundamentalism and put her videos together with clever images and music, with titles like: “Things I got in trouble for at my college,” “What my college did to women,” and “Things fundamentalists say after public tragedies.” It gives a good glimpse into the mindset of the fundamentalist. One of her videos that struck me was about how her fellow students were trained to squash any connection with empathy
Fundamentalists and conservatives are trained to ignore their empathy…
The homeless guy? He needs to get a job.
She got pregnant? She should close her legs.
Mass shootings in school? They’re not taking my guns! People should just homeschool.
These messages are ingrained in us from a young age. We are taught to ignore our empathy and our feelings.
But there is hope. I had a community that accepted me and gently corrected my views. They showed me what real love and acceptance looks like. They allowed me to get my empathy back.
Life is better without fundamentalism.
While most of the content is funny, like exposing her college’s weird rules and the ridiculous things they were forced to learn, there is also a much darker side, such as how women are treated. Women in these schools tend to get blamed for everything, from pregnancy to rape. Mae told me in an interview, “In Sunday school, they would say women are worthless if they are not virgins. I knew girls who had been assaulted as children and were constantly re-victimized by having to hear how ‘dirty’ and ‘worthless’ they are.”
Another former student, Samantha Field, was sexually assaulted at PCC. She reached out to the school’s Student Life Office, as she was told to do, but said she was told she was the one who needed to repent for it
. “I stammered, ‘He—he hurt me.’ She continued as I sat there in disbelief, ‘It’s important, though, that you face what you are responsible for. If you don’t repent, then your relationship with God is broken and can’t be mended. You need God’s grace and forgiveness—and you need to forgive your ex as well.’”
The Pensacola News Journal requested information on the college’s policy and procedures on sexual assault victims but was denied
. Because PCC does not participate in federal student aid programs, it is not required to contribute to the U.S. Department of Education’s national database of alleged criminal offenses reported to local law enforcement agencies. In response to allegations, PCC has claimed
allegations about how they treat rape victims are part of a campaign to harass the school, and President Troy Shoemaker stated that “reports of harassment in any form have been quite rare.”
However, it’s not just PCC that’s the problem. Bob Jones University, according to a multi-year investigation
, shamed sexual assault victims for decades and urged them not to go to the police. A teenager was allegedly forced to confess her “sin” of being raped before a school trustee’s congregation.
At Visible Music College, a fundamentalist college in Memphis, Tennessee, a student rape victim was banned from campus
. Becca Andrews was raped multiple times at Moody Bible Institute
, one of the country’s most prestigious evangelical colleges, but the school wound up investigating her instead of her attacker and simply failed her at every turn
Christian schools are profoundly influenced by a phenomenon known as “purity culture.” Within evangelical educational settings, lessons on sexuality and gender roles begin at a young age, instilling a set of beliefs that place a strong emphasis on sexual and emotional purity, particularly concerning female virginity, prior to marriage. These teachings frequently convey the idea that women are expected to be subservient to men, mirroring the way Christians are called to serve God. It is in this environment that the onus is placed entirely on the women to prevent their own rapes, because men can’t be expected to control their own sexual desires. (To be fair, this is a mindset prevalent in many religions, from Muslim women wearing burkas to Orthodox Jewish women wearing wigs after marriage.)
Furthermore, Mae said her school played deeply into this gender role for women that their primary purpose was to get married and become completely submissive to their husbands, which means never saying “No.” “They would tell women that their job is to have as many kids as possible, and support their husbands. Pastors and staff would comment how Muslims have a higher birth rate than Christians, and so Christians need to have more children. Their goal was to put men into politics and create essentially sex slaves of their wives.”
That’s exactly what is happening. She told me a former PCC student actually helped on the case to overturn Roe v. Wade, and another one of her former student friends became a higher-up in Donald Trump’s campaign. “So many PCC students end up in Washington, D.C.”
Even Liberty University’s former vice president of communication was appalled at how active a role his school was taking in politics, in violation of their tax-free status. He secretly recorded
the new president, Jerry Prevo. Prevo took over after the Falwell scandal
. (Conservative televangelists are infamous for preaching to others how to live while engaging in questionable moral, sexual, and financial behaviors.)
Prevo said he wanted Liberty to become a more effective political player with the goal of helping to influence elections, Politico reported. “Are they getting people elected? Which is one of our main goals.” Prevo holds the Christian nationalist worldview that claims the U.S. isa Christian nation and everyone should be forced to adhere to laws rooted in the right-wing evangelical interpretation of Christianity. (By the way, if Trump returns to power, expect to see these evangelical students assume primary positions of power under the terrifying Project2025 plan
According to Politico, when Scott pushed back, Prevo replied, “For 30 years, I’ve known how to handle that and not get into trouble. The homosexual community has tried to take me down for at least 30 years, and they have not been successful because I know how to work the 50c3.”
There was always a big reason for separation of church and state, and it wasn’t to protect the government from the church, which is what most people believe: It was to protect religion from politics. The cults at these schools are taking everything Christianity is supposed to stand for and twisting it to become a set of right-wing political principles. The students at these schools are told how to vote, even if the people they are told to support contradict all of the church’s teachings in how they live their lives.
Suddenly, Christianity isn’t about Jesus—which many evangelicals now believe is a “weak” figurehead and “doesn’t work anymore.”
It’s about Trump, guns, destroying the environment, and hurting the people you hate. Christianity simply isn’t equated with love anymore. And despite Jesus preaching against the evils of excess wealth in every book of the New Testament, preachers who like the high life created the fake so-called “prosperity gospel” to worship wealth
Ironically, the parents who send their children to these Christian colleges are doing so because they feel they will be kept safe and learn good values. Unfortunately, the opposite can be true. The most frightening belief that can take root is that there are people worth destroying. The world has witnessed too many times what happens when cultish extremism embeds itself. With a combination of propaganda and the systematic erosion of empathy, “normal” people who consider themselves religious become monsters. Less than a century ago, groups within German churches started to embrace many of the nationalistic and racial aspects of Nazi ideology. Once the Nazis seized power, these groups sought the creation of a national “Reich Church” and supported a “nazified” version of Christianity
There was no separation of church and state as the Nazis took over the church. The same thing in the early stages is happening here in America. Right-wing conservatives are trying to stake claim to Christianity, and shape it into their hateful world view. A visiting pastor of Christian colleges who had his own megachurch, Kevin Young, said he supported Trump blindly even though how he treated marginalized communities was at odds with Jesus’ behavior. His final straw was COVID
-19, he wrote in Reconstructing Faith. “I didn’t recognize my Christian and conservative brothers and sisters. Their callous response to the health of others shocked me. All told, I lost 19 people to COVID. All of them would be alive had conservatives and Christians practiced ‘Love Thy Neighbor.’”
The common thread among people caught in these fundamentalist cults is that they found one or more people who challenged their world view. For Young, it was a guy in the church media department who was a closet liberal who he said simply led by example of how to love. For Mae, it was friends who cared enough to be patient with her. She told me, “I had people over and over again send me an article that disputed a point I heard on Fox News. I had people just say over and over how treating the LGBTQ+ with love and acceptance is Christ-like. I am so grateful people stayed as my friend while I had hateful beliefs and helped me work through them and see the error of my ways. I use that now when I talk to my parents or fundamentalist family members.”
People who believe they are doing God’s work are often those who commit the most heinous of actions. I don’t mind engaging if the opportunity presents itself, even though it likely isn’t going to change someone’s mind, at least not right away. In researching this story, I talked with a number of caring, compassionate people who ironically didn’t become that way until they left their cult. They are now trying to get others to leave as well. Considering the stakes with what their leaders are trying to get them to do, I think it’s worth the attempt—no matter how frustrating it can be.
If you somehow missed Thursday’s big debate between Govs. Gavin Newsom and Ron DeSantis, well, don’t fret. For one thing, Newsom didn’t debate DeSantis so much as curb-stomp him over and over like an increasingly shopworn series of Cabbage Patch dolls.
Secondly, DeSantis is still running for president, so he’s not going anywhere. Other than nowhere, of course. Unless third place in the Iowa caucuses is now considered some kind of milk-and-honey-festooned promised land.
Yes, DeSantis-bot glitched out several times over the course of the debate. It was like watching a deer caught in a car’s headlights … then a car’s grille … then a car’s windshield … and finally a car’s trunk, where the Flailing Florida Man struck a dashing pose alongside the still-purpling corpse of Scott Walker
. Take, for instance, this exchange, previously highlighted by Daily Kos’ Walter Einenkel
Wow. That was something, huh? How are the smiling lessons going, Ron? Looks like you’ve finally mastered “constipated prairie chicken.” Next stop: “inflatable car wash dancer
Of course, we may not have DeSantis to kick around much longer, so we better kick him now. (Figuratively, of course.) And this week he’s on the OG Sunday political show, “Meet the Press,” which promises to be a barrel of awkward, off-putting laughs
So let’s see how that went, shall we?
Off we go!
Have we mentioned how utterly screwed Republicans are on abortion? Oh, yes, we have, haven’t we
? Well, they are, because they don’t have anything that approaches a consistent or coherent message. Democrats do: We need to codify Roe
and ensure that private reproductive health care decisions are made by women in close consultation with their doctors. Democrats can look voters square in the eye and tell them that simple truth.
Meanwhile, Republican presidential candidates are continually asked where they stand on federal abortion bans, and it’s like asking Louie Gohmert
how the CERN supercollider
works. Or Legos. Or underpants, for that matter. In other words, they don’t have the slightest clue what to say.
DeSantis appeared with Kristen Welker on “Meet the Press” to discuss a campaign that’s shrinking in inverse proportion to his pupils whenever he gets asked about this stuff.
WATCH: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) — who signed a six-week abortion ban in Florida — says he supports federal abortion rules that “would have consensus.” But DeSantis says, “Congress is not going to do any type of abortion legislation.” pic.twitter.com/MhFXYMS0zL
WELKER: “You signed a six-week ban in the state of Florida, so voters want to know, people of Iowa want to know, where do you stand on this issue? Would you sign a six-week federal ban if it came to your desk? If you were president?”
DESANTIS: “But we signed a legislation to stand for a culture of life that was done by the Florida Legislature. I mean, this was them bringing the will of the people …”
WELKER: “So is that a yes? Is that a yes?”
DESANTIS: “Well, Congress is not going to do any type of abortion legislation. They haven’t done abortion legislation—the only thing that’s impacted abortion on the federal level, I think the last thing is Obamacare in 2010. So we understand that, and so part of me promoting a culture of life is to do things that are achievable and that obviously would have consensus. No taxpayer funding for abortion. We’re going to eliminate the abortion tourism policy of the Department of Defense, and we’re going to protect the rights of states to enact pro-life protections.”
“Come on, now! Congress won’t pass abortion legislation! Nothing has been done on abortion since 2010. And nothing of note has changed since then. Nope. Not a single thing. It’s moot. Next question! Wait, Dobbs? What is Dobbs? Now you’re just making baby noises. Can we get back to my talking points, please? Lavish Broadway musicals have gone woke!”
DeSantis has a really hard time condemning Donald Trump’s use of the word “vermin” to refer to one’s political enemies. Must be tough trying to continually walk that tightrope between full-blown Nazi rhetoric and the kind of stuff Hitler just randomly thought of in his shower.
WATCH: Former President Trump has called his opponents “vermin.”@kwelkernbc
: Do you condemn the use of that word? Gov. @RonDeSantis
(R-Fla.): “I don’t use the term. … He’s responsible for his words. He’s responsible for his conduct. I’m responsible for mine.” pic.twitter.com/Trgt5UWPH6
Master projectionist Donald Trump has lately been trying to claim that President Biden is actually our nation’s biggest threat to democracy—not the guy who literally tried to end America
. And he’s giving extremely low-energy speeches to make his point.
Former White House Communications Director Alyssa Farah Griffin joined “State of the Union’s” expert panel to discuss this frothy nonsense, telling host Dana Bash that she’s noticed Trump is “slowing down.” Which is the worst euphemism for “turning into a Nazi Chucky doll” anyone’s ever heard.
TRUMP (AT RALLY): “But Joe Biden is not the defender of American democracy, Joe Biden is the destroyer of American democracy. … So if Joe Biden wants to make this race a question of which candidate will defend our democracy and protect our freedoms, I say to Crooked Joe—and he’s crooked, the most corrupt president we’ve ever had—we will win that fight and we’re going to win it very big. Very big.”
BASH: “Welcome back to ‘State of the Union.’ My panel joins me now. Alyssa, this is probably one of the least surprising things you’ve seen Donald Trump do. Right, I mean, if, if—I don’t want to call it ‘evil genius’ because, I don’t—but it’s so classic. To have something wrong with him, a negative, and he says, no, it’s the other guy.”
FARAH GRIFFIN: “And just tries to flip it on its head and you heard the audience eat it up. It’s kind of remarkable—I was watching some of the clips from Trump’s visit to Iowa, and I’m stunned, having spent a lot of time with him in 2020 and years before, he is slowing down. There is a lack of sharpness in what he is saying, and a lack of kind of clarity. There’s another clip where he basically says he’s going to overturn Obamacare but then also says that he’d fix it. Just complete inconsistencies. And for Republicans, our strongest case against Joe Biden is, you know, the age and the decline that some of us have seen. And if I’m being honest, head to head, I’m not sure which is struggling more.”
The fake Biden impeachment is still a hot topic over at Fox News, and veteran journamalist Maria Bartiromo is all over it. There’s no need to rehash how empty and cynical this endeavor is. You can simply read this fact check
or this Daily Kos liveblog of Republicans’ September impeachment hearing
. Or you could just stare into House Oversight Committee Chair Jim Comer’s eyes for 30 seconds and see for yourself that there’s nothing behind them but insensate evil and pingpong balls.
But Republicans are determined to go ahead with the charade—so long as the people they’re accusing aren’t allowed to share their stories
with the same public Comer, et al., have been dishonestly working into a lather for the past two years.
James Comer tells Maria Bartiromo that moderate House Republicans are more willing to to vote for a Biden impeachment inquiry now because they went home over Thanksgiving and heard from their constituents at Walmart pic.twitter.com/gavFiabw0Y
BARTIROMO: “[We want to] understand why you have had to take so long to actually get a vote to impeach, get this impeachment inquiry going. Do you feel that you have the votes within the House right now to get a formal impeachment inquiry?”
COMER: “I do, and I had a reporter ask, well, what’s changed? You know, because the press has been writing we didn’t have the votes forever. And I said, well, I tell you one thing that changed. We were in Washington, D.C., for 10 weeks, and there were about 15 or 20 moderates that they really worry about what CNN says or what the Washington Post writes, and they were getting in their heads, Maria. But a great thing happened during Thanksgiving. The members went home—many of them for the first time and circulated for the first time in over 10 weeks—and they met people in Walmart and people on Main Street, and they’re like, what in the world have the Bidens done to receive millions and millions of dollars from our enemies around the world, and did they not pay taxes on it? So they heard from their constituents—yes, we want you to move forward, we want to know the truth. And we expect the Bidens to be held accountable for public corruption.”
Got that? Those vulnerable House Republicans who represent Biden-leaning districts stopped reading The Washington Post for 10 days and started listening to the constitutional scholars picking out hydrogenated pie toppings at Walmart. Case closed. Joe Biden is as good as gone. Now they can finally go through Kamala Harris’ purse to see how many Sweet ‘N Low packets she’s stolen from IHOP since the inauguration.
National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby appeared on “Meet the Press” with Kristen Welker to discuss the Israel-Hamas war and a recent New York Times report
alleging that Israeli intelligence obtained the battle plan for Hamas’ October terrorist attack more than a year before it occurred.
So why, Welker wondered, didn’t U.S. intelligence have any inkling of this? Isn’t Israel supposed to share intelligence with us?
I suspect you know the likely answer—even if Welker doesn’t. We’ll see if you’ve got your thinking caps on. The big, startling reveal will come … after the jump!
NEW: The U.S. intel community was not aware of Hamas’ attack plan on Israel, NSC Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby says. The New York Times reported that Israel received the attack plan over a year ago. pic.twitter.com/MrYJMIZlZ6
WELKER: “John, I have to ask you about this New York Times reporting which found that Israeli officials received Hamas’ specific attack plan over a year ago. Was the United States aware of this intelligence, and if not, why not?”
KIRBY: “The intelligence community has indicated that they did not have access to this document. There’s no indications at this time that they had any access to this document beforehand.”
WELKER: “Should they have, given how closely U.S. and Israeli intelligence officials coordinate, or are supposed to coordinate?”
KIRBY: “Intelligence is a mosaic, and sometimes, you know, you can fashion things together and get a pretty good picture, other times there’s pieces of the puzzle that are missing. As I said, our own intelligence community said that they looked at this. They have no indications at this time that they had any advance warning of this document or any knowledge of it.”
WELKER: “John, very quickly, was this a failure on the part of Israeli intelligence and U.S. intelligence?”
KIRBY: “I think there’s going to be a time and a place for Israel to do that sort of forensic work. I mean, Prime Minister Netanyahu has already spoken pretty candidly about this, calling it a failure on their part. They’ll take a look at this at the right time. They need to do that. Right now, though, the focus has got to be on making sure that they can eliminate this truly genocidal threat to the Israeli people.”
Gee, why wouldn’t Israel want to share intelligence with us? What might have happened in the past several years that could have given them pause? It’s a huge fucking mystery, isn’t it?
Just days before President Donald Trump’s arrival in Tel Aviv, Israeli intelligence officials were shouting at their American counterparts in meetings, furious over news that the U.S. commander in chief may have compromised a vital source of information on the Islamic State and possibly Iran, according to a U.S. defense official in military planning.
“To them, it’s horrifying,” the official, who attended the meetings, told Foreign Policy. “Their first question was: ‘What is going on? What is this?’”
[B]ehind the public display of harmony, Israeli intelligence officers are angry and alarmed over the U.S. president revealing sensitive information
in a May 10 meeting in the White House with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and the Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak.
Well, maybe Welker doesn’t read Foreign Policy. Or NBC News
. I’m pretty sure People magazine covered it, too, alongside Sergei Lavrov’s favorite braised turnip recipes.
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — With Planet Earth running a fever, U.N. climate talks focused Sunday on the contagious effects on human health.
Under a brown haze over Dubai, the COP28 summit moved past two days of lofty rhetoric and calls for unity from top leaders to concerns about health issues like the deaths of at least 7 million people globally from air pollution each year and the spread of diseases like cholera and malaria as global warming upends weather systems.
World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said it’s high time for the U.N. Conference of Parties on climate to hold its first “Health Day” in its 28th edition, saying the threats to health from climate change were “immediate and present.”
“Although the climate crisis is a health crisis, it’s well overdue that 27 COPs have been and gone without a serious discussion of health,” he said. “Undoubtedly, health stands as the most compelling reason for taking climate action.”
After two days of speeches by dozens of presidents, prime ministers, royals and other top leaders — in the background and on-stage — participants were also turning attention to tough negotiations over the next nine days to push for more agreement on ways to cap global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) since pre-industrial times.
Pope Francis, who was forced to abandon plans to attend because of a case of bronchitis, on Sunday said that “even from a distance, I am following with great attention the work.” In remarks read at the Vatican by an aide, the pope called for an end of what he called “bottlenecks” caused by nationalism and “patterns of the past.”
Protests began in earnest Sunday at COP28: In one, a group gave mock resuscitation to an inflatable Earth.
“Well, I mean, it’s cheesy doing CPR on the Earth,” said Dr. Joe Vipond, an emergency room physician from Alberta, Canada, who took part. “We’re kind of in a lot of trouble right now,” he said, so will do “anything we can do to bring attention to this issue.”
Saturday capped off with conference organizers announcing that 50 oil and gas companies had agreed to reach near-zero methane emissions and end routine flaring in their operations by 2030. They also pledged to reach “net zero” for their operational emissions by 2050.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said “the promises made clearly fall short of what is required.”
In comments Sunday, he called the methane emissions reductions “a step in the right direction.” But he criticized the net zero pledge for excluding emissions from fossil fuel consumption — where the vast majority of the industry’s greenhouse gases come from — and said the announcement provided no clarity on how the companies planned to reach their goals.
“There must be no room for greenwashing,” he said.
Germany’s climate envoy Jennifer Morgan said Sunday the oil and gas industry needs to go beyond just cutting emissions that are generated to make those products and slash emissions from indirect activities too, as well as fossil fuels burned by the end users.
“It’s 2023,” the former Greenpeace International co-director said. “I was already speaking to Shell about this in 1998.”
Temperature rises caused by the burning of oil, gas and coal have worsened natural disasters like floods, heat waves and drought, and caused many people to migrate to more temperate zones — in addition to the negative knock-on effects for human health.
“Our bodies are ecosystems, and the world is an ecosystem,” said John Kerry, the U.S. climate envoy. “If you poison our land and you poison our water and you poison our air, you poison our bodies.”
He said his daughter Vanessa, who works with the WHO chief, “repeats to me frequently that we should not measure progress on the climate crisis just by the degrees averted, but by the lives saved.”
A COP28 declaration backed by some 120 countries stressed the link between health and climate change. It made no mention of phasing out planet-warming fossil fuels, but pledged to support efforts to curb health care sector pollution, which accounts for 5% of global emissions, according to the WHO head.
In the United States, 8.5% of greenhouse gas emissions come from the health sector and the Biden Administration is trying to use funds from the Inflation Reduction Act to try to cut that down, Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services Admiral Rachel Levine said.
U.S. officials said one of the main issues has been waste anesthesia emissions from hospitals and greenhouse gases that escape when patients are treated for respiratory diseases like asthma with albuterol inhalers.
Part of the solution may come through raising awareness: when officials used a system that showed anesthesiologists how much gas they used and how much escaped, emissions fell by as much as half, said Dr. John Balbus, the Health and Human Services climate change and health equity director.
Dr. Yseult Gibert of Montreal said 70 percent of operating-room emissions come from the way patients are given anesthesia. She said some types of anesthesia are more climate-friendly than others, without sacrificing on quality or effectiveness when it comes to care.
A report last week issued by Unitaid, which helps get new healthcare products to low- and middle-income countries, explored how product redesign, improvements in manufacturing and other measures could reduce the carbon footprint of 10 products used for health emergencies, women’s and children’s health, and HIV, malaria and tuberculosis.
Forest fires caused in part by climate change can have dramatic effects on homes, health and lives. Heat waves, which can be deadly, also can weigh on mental health, Gibert said, while poor air quality can make life harder for those facing lung and heart ailments and cause respiratory issues, like asthma in kids.
“Not a lot of people know that the climate crisis is a health crisis,” she said.
The impact of human activity on the climate was visible to conference-goers in Dubai, an oil-rich boom city that often faces higher levels of air pollution than other places on Earth due to its location. Haze is common.
The Dubai government, on its web site, listed its Air Quality Index level mostly at “good” on Sunday.
IQAir, a Swiss vendor of air-quality monitoring products, listed Dubai as the city with the 18th-worst air quality in the world with “moderate” air quality levels as of noon local time on Sunday. It cited high levels of two types of particulate matter in the air and advised mask-wearing for “sensitive groups” and a reduction of outdoor exercise.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says the war with Russia
is in a new stage, with winter expected to complicate fighting after a summer counteroffensive that failed to produce desired results due to enduring shortages of weapons and ground forces.
Despite setbacks, however, he said Ukraine won’t give up.
“We have a new phase of war, and that is a fact,” Zelenskyy said in an exclusive interview Thursday with The Associated Press in Kharkiv in northeastern Ukraine after a morale-boosting tour of the region. “Winter as a whole is a new phase of war.”
“Look, we are not backing down, I am satisfied. We are fighting with the second (best) army in the world, I am satisfied,” he said, referring to the Russian military. But he added: “We are losing people, I’m not satisfied. We didn’t get all the weapons we wanted, I can’t be satisfied, but I also can’t complain too much.”
Zelenskyy also said he fears the Israel-Hamas war
threatens to overshadow the conflict in Ukraine, as competing political agendas and limited resources put the flow of Western military aid to Kyiv at risk.
And those concerns are amplified by the tumult that inevitably arises during a U.S. election year and its potential implications for his country, which has seen the international community largely rally around it following Russia’s Feb. 24, 2022, invasion.
The highly anticipated counteroffensive, powered by tens of billions of dollars in Western military aid, including heavy weaponry, did not forge the expected breakthroughs. Now, some Ukrainian officials worry whether further assistance will be as generous.
At the same time, ammunition stockpiles are running low, threatening to bring Ukrainian battlefield operations to a standstill.
With winter set to cloak a wartime Ukraine
once again, military leaders must contend with new but familiar challenges as the conflict grinds toward the end of its second full year: There are freezing temperatures and barren fields that leave soldiers exposed. And there’s the renewed threat of widespread Russian aerial assaults in cities that target energy infrastructure and civilians.
“That is why a winter war is difficult,” Zelenskyy said.
He gave a frank appraisal of the last summer’s counteroffensive.
“We wanted faster results. From that perspective, unfortunately, we did not achieve the desired results. And this is a fact,” he said.
Ukraine did not get all the weapons it needed from allies, he said, and limits in the size of his military force precluded a quick advance, he said.
“There is not enough power to achieve the desired results faster. But this does not mean that we should give up, that we have to surrender,” Zelenskyy said. “We are confident in our actions. We fight for what is ours.”
There were some positive takeaways from the last few months, he said.
Ukraine managed to make incremental territorial gains against a better-armed and fortified enemy, Zelenskyy said.
In addition, the might of Moscow’s Black Sea Fleet
has been diminished, following Ukrainian attacks that penetrated air defenses and struck its headquarters in occupied Crimea, Zelenskyy added.
And a temporary grain corridor established by Kyiv following Russia’s withdrawal from a wartime agreement to ensure the safe exports is still working.
Zelenskyy, though, isn’t dwelling on the past but is focused on the next stage — boosting domestic arms production.
A sizeable chunk of Ukraine’s budget is allocated for that, but current output is far from enough to turn the tide of war. Now, Zelenskyy is looking to Western allies, including the U.S., to offer favorable loans and contracts to meet that goal.
“This is the way out,” Zelenskyy said, adding that nothing terrifies Russia more than a militarily self-sufficient Ukraine.
When he last met with U.S. President Joe Biden, members of Congress and other top officials, he made one urgent appeal: Give Ukraine cheap loans and licenses to manufacture U.S. weaponry.
“Give us these opportunities, and we will build,” he said he told them. “Whatever effort and time it will take, we will do it, and we will do it very quickly.”
Zelenskyy remains concerned that upheaval in the Middle East, the most violent in decades, threatens to take global attention and resources away from Ukraine’s ability to defend itself.
“We already can see the consequences of the international community shifting (attention) because of the tragedy in the Middle East,” he said. “Only the blind don’t recognize this.”
Ukrainians understand “that we also need to fight for attention for the full-scale war,” he said. “We must not allow people to forget about the war here.”
That change in focus could lead to less economic and military assistance for his country, he said. In an apparent attempt to assuage those fears, U.S. and European officials have continued to visit Kyiv since the Oct. 7 attacks in Israel.
The shift still concerns him, Zelenskyy said.
“You see, attention equals help. No attention will mean no help. We fight for every bit of attention,” he said. “Without attention, there may be weakness in (the U.S.) Congress.”
Turning to the upcoming U.S. presidential and congressional campaigns, where Biden faces skepticism over his staunch support for Kyiv, Zelenskyy acknowledged that “elections are always a shock, and it is completely understandable.”
A recent AP poll i
n the U.S. showed nearly half of Americans think too much is being spent on Ukraine. An increasing number of Republicans are not in favor of sending more aid, and it is not clear if or when a request from the White House for additional aid will be approved by Congress.
When asked about this, Zelenskyy replied bluntly that “the choice of Americans is the choice of Americans.”
But he argued that by helping Ukraine, Americans are also helping themselves.
“In the case of Ukraine, if resilience fails today due to lack of aid and shortages of weapons and funding, it will mean that Russia will most likely invade NATO countries,” he said. “And then the American children will fight.”
Zelenskyy has sought recently to ensure Ukraine’s war machine was running as it should by making a recent shakeup of top-level government officials, touching on another of his goals to fight graft in a post-Soviet institution rife with corruption as a prelude to joining the European Union.
He said he has to know how weapons, supplies, food and even clothing are being delivered to the front — and what fails to get there.
“On one hand, this is not the job of the president, but on the other hand, I can trust those who did not just pass on the information to me, but told me in person,” he said.
The static battle lines have not brought pressure from Ukraine’s allies to negotiate a peace deal with Russia.
“I don’t feel it yet,” he said, although he added: “Some voices are always heard.”
Ukraine wants to “push the formula for peace and involve as many countries of the world as possible, so that they politically isolate Russia,” he noted.
The war has also made it impossible to hold a presidential election in Ukraine, originally slated for March under the constitution, he said.
Although Zelenskyy said he was ready to hold an election, most Ukrainians are not, believing such a vote to be “dangerous and meaningless” as war rages around them.
With a budget anticipating spending 22% of the country’s GDP for defense and national security, Ukraine’s economy is being restructured around a war with no end in sight, much like the day-to-day lives of its citizens.
That raised another question: How long can Zelenskyy himself cope with being the leader of a country at war?
There are no words to describe how difficult the job is, he said, but he also can’t imagine leaving the post.
“You honestly can’t do that,” he said. “This would be very unfair, wrong and definitely demotivating.”
A Ukrainian artillery spotting drone with a thermal camera hovers in the darkness, silently observing. Small glowing dots scurry across the dark landscape—Russian infantry.
An almost single file of Russian infantrymen, perhaps 20-30 in all, are strung out over a short distance.
Furious shelling occurs, as large explosions (heavy and light howitzers) and smaller explosions (mortar rounds) occur around and amongst the scurrying targets.
Gradually, the Russian platoon reaches its staging area— the treeline. Perhaps the Russians felt safer, huddling close to each other underneath the foliage. Perhaps they thought the trees and vegetation hid them from observation.
You can see in the shelling, the survivors resting, perhaps catching their breath from running the deadly explosive gauntlet to get to this point. They would need their strength to make the final assault on Ukrainian positions beyond the freeline.
Then, a DPICM 155mm cluster munition artillery shell strikes. The characteristic shotgun-like circular explosive pattern rings around the Russian position. Each DPICM shell contains 72 sub-munitions, spraying shrapnel that is highly deadly to exposed infantry across a broad area.
This short video illustrates why Russian attacks around Avdiivka have all but stalled in the past six weeks.
This incident was geolocated to a small treeline
a touch under 2km east of Stepove, a small village north of the heavily fortified Ukrainian held town of Avdiivka.
In the nearly two months since launching its major offensive to capture of fortress town on October 10th, Russia has made small but incremental gains particularly north of the town, around 1.5 kilometers in about two weeks.
However, despite repeatedly fighting their way into and contesting the village of Stepove, Russia has been unable to make any significant advances of more than a few hundred meters.
This isn’t to say that Russian gains have been zero in Avdiivka. Both north and south of the town, waves of Russian infantry assaults have gradually increased the contested area of around Stepove, and north of Vodiane.
But this Russian “progress” has been measured in meters, and the pace of the Russian advance has clearly and significantly slowed since the early days of the assault. This isn’t necessarily to say that Russia won’t eventually win a pyrrhic victory at a horrific cost and capture Avdiivka. But their progress has significantly slowed since the early days of the advance.
However, the first elements of the 47th Mechanized were reportedly on the scene before October 20th
. The Russian drive north of Avdiivka would not truly lose momentum for another 1-2 weeks. While the reinforcements tell part of the story, there may be additional elements to the loss of Russian momentum.
Note how losses vary, presumably depending on the intensity of Russian assaults, but Russia is losing 15-25 armored vehicles on most days, while spikes of losses occur every 5-10 days Where Russia loses 40-70+ vehicles in a single day.
Now look at Andrew Perpetua’s tabulation of losses for November
. Note the shift in scale for the Y-axis.
Whereas in October, Russia was regularly losing 15-25 armored vehicles, including eight days between October 10th — 31st where Russia lost over 30 armored vehicles, Russia only lost more than 30 on two days in all of November,
To understand the difference, it’s probably helpful to see what a mechanized infantry assault looks like in practice. This is a mechanized assault being conducted by the Ukrainian 5th Assault Brigade in the hills near Klischiivka, south of Bakhmut in the Summer of 2023.
The assault is conducted by an M113 Armored Personnel Carrier and a CV90 Infantry Fighting Vehicle (both of which carry squads of infantry) that are supported by a T-80 tank.
The M113 and CV90 advance into the line of trees to the lefthand side of the video, disappearing into the foliage to reportedly drop off the soldiers at their staging area.
Then you see the CV90 and the M113 pull back (again under artillery fire) while the T-80 continues firing at Russian positions and the infantry reportedly begins their assault. The narrator claims the assault was successful, but this is impossible to verify on the video.
This, in a nutshell, is why armored fighting vehicles are important in an infantry war.
While the fire support from the T-80 tank is undoubtedly highly valuable, armored vehicles that deliver the troops from reserve areas to forward staging areas to begin their assault are just as important, if not more so.
Those highly concentrated assault forces are extremely vulnerable to artillery or air strikes. A thousand soldiers spread out over 10 kilometers of front offer small targets of two or three soldiers at a time. An assault force features densely packed troops of 10-30 soldiers or more close to the front lines, making inviting targets for mass casualty events.
The staging area for the assault can vary in distance, but will often be around 1-2 kilometers from enemy positions. The Russians attempting to assemble around 1.5 kilometers outside Stepove in the video above would be highly typical of this type of attack.
In the earliest days of the assault on Avdiivka, Russia moved its infantry in massive columns of armored vehicles to try to protect them. Although Russia lost hundreds of vehicles to artillery fire and drones, the armored vehicles protected their infantry from artillery shrapnel as they were dropped off at their staging areas, vulnerable only to direct artillery, drone, or missile strikes.
Unfortunately for Russia, their armored vehicle losses were unsustainable, so Russia has now switched to fully dismounted infantry assaults, who must now traverse 10 kilometers or more on foot, just to get in position to launch the attack.
Not only do these units suffer significant combat losses just to get to the assembly point, but Russian soldiers accumulate dramatically more fatigue and mental exhaustion before they even begin their assaults.
This, more than anything, likely explains why the Russian advance slowed from around 120 meters per day in the first two weeks of the assault north of Avdiivka, to a less than 20 meters per day crawl for the past month.
This doesn’t mean that the Russian attack on Avdiivka will inevitably fail. If Russia continues to throw hundreds or thousands of Russian infantry at Ukrainian positions, they can continue to advance 10-20 meter a day over the next 10-15 months to close the 5km gap they need to cut the main supply line into Avdiivka.
Without a serious infusion of reinforcing armored vehicles for another major push, it appears the casualty costs and slow speed of the Russian advance are so problematic that it appears unlikely that Russia will capture Avdiivka on any reasonable timeline or cost.
If you need more evidence that Republicans will try to enact forced-birth laws nationwide if they ever retake the White House and Congress, you need look no further than their meager return on investment from the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision. In fact, since conservatives succeeded in vaporizing Roe v. Wade, abortions have actually gone up nationwide. It’s not a huge increase—around 0.2%—but you can rest assured MAGA Mike Johnson has noted it and wondered what ever happened to his glorious cornucopian
In a new episode of The New York Times’ “The Daily,”
Margot Sanger-Katz, a contributor to The Times’ The Upshot column, discusses the counterintuitive results of the Dobbs decision, which ended Roe and threw the abortion question back to the states. The gist? Abortions have indeed gone down in states that prohibit abortions, but they’ve gone up enough in abortion-legal states to make up for those decreases.
“The estimate is that the number of abortions since the Supreme Court decision only went up by like 0.2%, but when you consider that there are all these states that banned abortion totally, where abortions went to zero, what it’s really telling us is that the states where abortion stayed legal increased by so much that they were able to sort of counterweight that reduction,” said Sanger-Katz. “And I think there are a couple of factors that really explain what’s going on here.”
Of course, while forced-birthers no doubt hoped and expected that ending Roe would put a big dent in the number of abortions performed nationwide, they did win some significant battles—if not the war. What they actually appear to have accomplished, though, is to restrict the choices of pregnant people who might otherwise have sought abortion services while boosting the number of abortions performed in legal states.
[The researchers] found that births increased 2.3 percent, on average, in states with bans relative to states where abortion remained legal.
The analysis showed that the increased births were disproportionately among women in their 20s and Black and Hispanic women, which researchers said could be because these groups tend to be poorer, making it harder to travel. They are also the demographic groups that have tended to be more likely to seek abortions
Dr. Alison Norris, who studies reproductive health at Ohio State and was not involved in the study, said she was not surprised to see births increasing, particularly among those groups. She noted that before Dobbs, abortion access was already limited in many states, so “any measure of change that we see will in some ways be an underestimate of the challenges that people experience.”
Of course, it was easy to predict that our nation’s current patchwork of competing abortion laws would lead to unequal outcomes among women in different income brackets, but what’s a little surprising is the failure of new legal restrictions to make any dent in the number of abortions performed nationwide. But a closer look does yield some likely answers.
Most obviously, says Sanger-Katz, a lot of women who live in restrictive states are traveling to neighboring states where abortion access is protected, and “there’s been a big growth in abortion infrastructure to accommodate those women, and they are traveling there and they are getting abortions.”
But that’s not the entire story—and here’s where messaging about the importance of electing Democrats in order to preserve women’s right to comprehensive reproductive health care comes into play. Because it turns out that having a Democrat in the White House when Roe was overturned made a huge difference to women who still wanted a choice.
“Right around the same time that the Supreme Court overturned the Roe decision, the Biden administration changed the rules for how women can get abortion pills in the United States,” Sanger-Katz told “The Daily.” “So the abortion pill has been legal for 20 years, but for most of that time, if you wanted to take abortion pills, you had to go to a physical clinic, meet with a doctor in person, and then they would give you the pill in person and you would take the first pill at the visit and then take additional medicine home with you. … What the new rules allow is that you can get abortion through telemedicine. And with these telemedicine abortions women could talk to a doctor from their home and then have abortion pills mailed to their home and then they could take the abortion pills at home, and that change made abortion less expensive in a lot of cases, and it also made it much more convenient for women who didn’t live near an abortion clinic.”
Meanwhile, states that preserved abortion rights have gone out of their way to protect and expand access. “We’ve also seen a lot of these states that always had legal abortions have started pursuing new policies to make abortion even easier to get and less expensive. States have required insurance companies to cover abortion. They’ve provided extra legal protections for doctors that provide abortions. They’ve allowed nurse practitioners and other kinds of people to provide abortions in their states, and I think all of that is sort of a political reaction to the Supreme Court decision, and those changes might not have happened in the absence of it. And all of those changes probably also helped make abortion a little bit more available to women in those states, and also probably raised their awareness that abortion was an option for them.”
So what does this mean going forward? If you think Republicans will be content to sit back and let women in blue states make their own choices, you haven’t been paying attention. As Daily Kos’ Joan McCarter recently noted, a national abortion ban is definitely on the ballot in 2024
. Influential conservatives are already plotting to use the 1873 Comstock Act
to prevent women from obtaining abortion pills through the mail—all they need is a Republican president to do their bidding.
And facing a counterintuitive uptick in abortions post-Roe, forced-birthers will no doubt be looking to double down. “I think [Dobbs] has backfired,” said Sanger-Katz. “You think about the activists that brought this case to the Supreme Court, their goal is not just to reduce abortions in Texas and Mississippi, they really wanted to reduce abortions across the entire country, and I think we’ve all been really focused on the states that were banning abortion, but there was also this huge change in the states that didn’t ban abortion, which is a lot of states. And I think that’s why we see abortions going up by so much.”
Meanwhile, the law of unintended consequences still holds plenty of sway. “I don’t know that the anti-abortion activists could have ever predicted that this would be the effect of the end of Roe,” said Sanger-Katz, “and I don’t even think that the abortion rights activists saw this coming. I think everyone assumed that the end of Roe was going to mean a decrease in abortion, not an increase.”