Harsh Your Mellow Monday: Martyrs, Saints, and Grifters Upon the Waves Edition
The missing blue wave on the beaches of Iowa, the joke of impeachment martyrdom, the Fal-ings of self-awareness, and some places we got it right and others we got wrong in today’s edition of Harsh Your Mellow Monday. Let’s get after it.
[HM1] From Whence Hast the Blue Wave Gone
Lost in the dumpster fire that was the Iowa Caucuses, one nugget of information didn’t make a lot of noise during the week but astute political followers latched on to almost immediately: What happened to that red-hot enthusiasm Team Blue was promised?
For all the drama, including the concern that the mishandling of the results means the end of Iowa’s storied role as an influential early state, there were other lingering worries in the aftermath of Monday’s caucuses. Where were all the people?
According to the state party, an estimated 177,000 people caucused Monday, a slight uptick compared to the roughly 170,000 who turned out to caucus in 2016. But that was nowhere near what the party had anticipated. Many believed turnout would easily surpass the record-breaking 240,000 who caucused in 2008, including droves of young and first-time caucus-goers whose support of Barack Obama effectively launched his bid for the presidency.
For months, Iowa Democrats predicted a big turnout, pointing to polls that showed higher-than-normal enthusiasm about the race among Democrats and the huge crowds at major political events in the run-up to caucuses.
More than 12,000 people turned out in the rain for the Polk County Steak Fry in September, the most in the event’s history. A little over a month later, another 13,000 filled the Wells Fargo Arena in downtown Des Moines for the state party’s Liberty and Justice Dinner, the biggest crowd and venue the event has ever had.
In anticipation of equally big crowds at the caucuses, state and local Democratic officials scouted out and booked larger venues to prevent the overcrowding that had overwhelmed some caucus sites four years ago. But on Monday night, Democratic county leaders across the state were stunned to see small lines and empty seats in precincts that have been known to draw large crowds.
The midterm elections saw an historic blue wave and record turnout. So, the theory went, the momentum for the Democratic party should carry over to the presidential race two years later and sweep away all things Trump. Right?
Well, at least in Iowa, that took a hit. Now there are multiple reasons that could be part of the problem. The arcane caucus system that requires hours and hours of in-person participation is very excluding to folks for whom time is their most precious commodity. With the total turnout numbers being similar to 2016, that means that roughly 15% of Iowa came out to vote. The vaunted “youth vote” that we are promised election after election is going to finally ride in like the Rohirrim to shatter the flank of the Republican party forever was basically what it was before.
New Hampshire and their traditional primary is up next, so if folks blaming just the Iowa Caucus and it’s red rover-looking process are right then it should be pretty apparent. New Hampshire looks to be very competitive, with Bernie Sanders in the lead but no where near the 23 point win he racked up there in 2016, and no top candidates dropping out after Iowa.
Still, though, touting record turnout beforehand should maybe be a lesson New Hampshire learns from Iowa, and wait to see if it actually happens:
New Hampshire officials say they expect independents, who can participate in party primaries, to join Democrats and come out in high numbers: Secretary of State Bill Gardner is predicting more than 500,000 residents will vote in the primary, a turnout of more than 50% of the state’s registered voters.
“I’m not worried about it,” said former Gov. John Lynch, who is supporting former Vice President Joe Biden. “The turnout will be high, and it will be fueled by the number of independents.”
Yet, those predictions may ignore other, worrying signs for Democrats. Viewership for the Democratic debates has fallen since September, with the December face-off in Iowa attracting about 7.3 million people, according to Nielsen.
In less educated and rural areas in Iowa, caucus turnout fell below 2016 levels. In Clarke county, a rural area near the Missouri border, Trump received more than twice as many caucus votes as each of the Democrats running this time. Just eight years ago, President Barack Obama carried the county by two points over Republican nominee Mitt Romney.
For Sanders and the progressive groups backing his bid, the turnout could hint at some worrying signs. His team saw the first-in-the-nation caucus state as a template for its larger strategy, staking its candidacy on an audacious bet that Sanders could expand and change the Democratic electorate.
In his final events before the caucuses, Sanders pivoted his message from one of policy change to turnout, arguing that he could win the caucuses and the general election by motivating a new movement fueled by millions of Americans.
During a stop in Cedar Rapids, he made his goal for Iowa clear: “Let us go forward — today, tomorrow — and create the largest voter turnout in the history of the Iowa caucus,” he said.
Yet, while Sanders’ campaign was counting on a surge in turnout among young voters, turnout did not increase in precincts with large numbers of 18- to 24-year-olds.
New Hampshire has the spotlight and attention fully on it, and thanks to the Iowa debacle increased importance assigned to it. If turnout lags or stays flat, then the Democratic Party is going to run out of processes to blame and might have to concede that this batch of candidates is not exciting a base that is long on resistance but short on a leader to match President Trump. The midterms of 2018 can rightfully be pointed at as evidence of the country’s displeasures with the president, but in a presidential election you don’t get to run the eternally popular “generic democrat” or put general angst on the ballot, nor win by default. Someone has to be the face of the party against President Trump, and just because “Anybody but Trump” gets thrown around the debate stage and comments sections, it might not be enough to get the regular folks out to the polls come November.
[HM2] One Martyr Walked Into a Bar, The Others DuckedWhile Mitt Romney was getting all the headlines, and flack, for voting to remove President Trump, the three Democrats that were being watched to make sure they held ranks did so. Senators Doug Jones (D-AL), Joe Manchin (D-WV), and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) all managed to hold the Blue Team line.
Jones, in particular, was being lauded for his “courage”:
Jones may be a Democrat, but he comes from Alabama, where Trump approaches demigod status and has his highest statewide approval rating.
Jones faces a tough reelection campaign this year. His decision all but drives a nail in his political coffin. In fact, a PAC affiliated with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell mockingly announced Jones’ “impending retirement from politics.”
But like Romney, Jones’ own conscience stood in the way of political expediency. In announcing his vote, he quoted from Robert Kennedy: “Few men are willing to brave the disapproval of their fellows, the censure of their colleagues. … Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence.” But, it is “an essential quality for those who seek to change the world.”
Standing before a Congress where many Republicans reportedly say they are “disgusted and exhausted” with Trump’s behavior, Jones added, “country before party, is a rare commodity these days.”
Senator Jones demurred all the praise, to his credit, and folks should calm down a bit. His chances of being re-elected were slim anyway, and voting with the Republicans would have meant he would have been without a seat and without a party. Now he gets to be a hero of one without losing anything to the other. His party position secure, he can go on to other things. Senators Sinema and Manchin both have their own concerns but better prospects. Sinema in particular got attention for being the lone applauder on the left side of the House Chamber during President Trump’s State of the Union speech, and continues to carve her own path in seeking re-election in trending purple Arizona. Manchin isn’t up for re-election until 2024, when he will be 76 and more likely to cash out than buy in to another race. At the rate we are going, we may have done another impeachment or two by then, so who knows.
As for Senator Mitt Romney, he isn’t going anywhere, has office till 2024 (no, he isn’t going to be recalled, despite the caterwauling by some from MAGAland), is vastly wealthy, and despite being a pariah in the Republican Party as long as Trump is the head of it, will personally be just fine. The next big legislative vote, if there are any in this deadlocked congress to be had, will find the junior Senator from Utah voting with the President and Team Red more times than not. If being a rich senator is martyrdom plenty of folks would sign up for that.
Thus the prognostication of who would switch sides ends. I was wrong on Manchin, thinking he might at least split his impeachment vote, and many others speculated on which Republicans might vote against the president and which vulnerable Democrats would defect. But maybe, in the end, the real impeachment was the friends we made along the way. Or, at least, the party lines that we now know who will do what when the money is all in the center of the table.
[HM3] Hypocrisy, Thy Name is Junior
Jerry Falwell, Jr. has thoughts on Senator Mitt Romney invoking his faith as part of his reasoning for voting with the Democrats against President Trump in the impeachment trial. Suffice to say this was not popular among the president’s most loyal followers, and especially to his Praetorian Grifter Guard. Behold, this amazing train of logic and stunningly used analogy, via Mediaite:
Last night on Fox News, it wasn’t only Jeanine Pirro blowing up at Mitt Romney. Jerry Falwell Jr. appeared with Jesse Watters and compared Romney to Scar from The Lion King.
Watters brought on Falwell to react to Romney talking on the Senate floor about how his faith led him to reach his conclusion in voting to convict the president. “When you hear him use God in that way on an impeachment vote in the Senate, how does that square with you?” Watters asked.
Falwell said Romney should “keep his religion in his personal life, how he treats other people”:
“I said the other night on TV that the 1990s movie The Lion King, the animated version, that the Democrats were acting like hyenas in their impeachment. But also I think Mitt Romney fits in that movie a little bit because I don’t know if you remember the character Scar, the lion who pretended to be — well, he was a l… a LINO, I call it. But he was trying to take over, overthrow the king, and he worked with the hyenas to do so and I think that’s what we’re seeing.”
“Some people have always worn halos to hide their horns,” he added, while insisting he’s “not saying that about Romney.”
So the scion of the inventor of the “Moral Majority” who has used the tax-free exemptions of Liberty University which he inherited from his father to build a $2.5B empire in his 13 years at the helm under the banner and branding of “Christian” now thinks religion should be kept to personal life.
Jerry Falwell, Jr. is truly an artist. He has taken hypocrisy, melded it with the interpretive dance of life, monetized it with the 501c3, and turned the ensuing concoction into a grifting art form. Amazing to watch it in the wild.
The fair game and list of items for attacking Mitt Romney is legion, owing to a long political career. But attacking his faith from the Falwells of the world particularly rings hollow and hypocritical considering Junior Jerry being on the bleeding edge of turning faith into a constituency that has the sole focus of doing as it’s told. This tactic of attacking faith isn’t even new. Back in January of 2019, I wrote about the lineage of Jerry Falwell, Jr.’s current empire to his father’s Moral Majority days, and how the sequence of homogenizing, monetizing, and weaponizing faith for politics evolved:
The messy consequences of politicizing faith groups became a problem for Jerry Falwell during the Moral Majority days:
In August of 1980, Falwell told the Washington Post, “I am not one of those who use the phrase ‘Christianizing America.’ ” He had not used that phrase, but just a year before the same paper had quoted him as saying that he wanted to “turn this into a Christian nation.” Since then, he had learned better than to equate “Christian” with “moral”: the Moral Majority was, after all, an organization for Christians and Jews. His position now was that he was an advocate of separation theologically but was ecumenical in matters of politics.
Falwell, Jr. has forged his own path across that high wire:
So you don’t choose a president based on how good they are; you choose a president based on what their policies are. That’s why I don’t think it’s hypocritical.
There’s two kingdoms. There’s the earthly kingdom and the heavenly kingdom. In the heavenly kingdom the responsibility is to treat others as you’d like to be treated. In the earthly kingdom, the responsibility is to choose leaders who will do what’s best for your country. Think about it. Why have Americans been able to do more to help people in need around the world than any other country in history? It’s because of free enterprise, freedom, ingenuity, entrepreneurism and wealth. A poor person never gave anyone a job. A poor person never gave anybody charity, not of any real volume. It’s just common sense to me.
He didn’t add that poor people do not enrich Liberty University, or any other school, unless they get a grant, federally subsidized student loan, or VA benefits to pay for tuition. Nor do they become players in the political arena where cash is king, and if it cannot buy results, it certainly buys influence. But they can attend rallies, band together through social media online, and become a force greater than the sum of the parts. That was the origin of the Moral Majority, that the people were there and just needed to be organized.
Patriotic-themed rallies and calls for making things as great as they once were worked in the 70s and 80s. Social media and email have replaced mailing lists, but it’s easy to see the vestiges of Falwell, Sr.’s “I Love America” rallies in President Trump’s MAGA spectacles. Falwell the younger has evolved from organizing conservative Christians to mastering how to monetize them. With Donald Trump and the future of America as the new pitch, they have been politically weaponized.
Thus, any doubt of the cause can be attributed to a lack of faith. From Carter being challenged as an insufficiently conservative Christian to this week’s “it may be immoral for them not to support him (Trump),” comments by Falwell when asked about critical evangelical leaders, the cause is too important to be stymied by dissent.
It will continue. The Christian community, according to the Gospel of the Grifters who are making bank off of it, must support the President because the President cannot fail, only be failed by those without the proper faith. You have the freedom to have whatever faith you want, as long as it is faith in them. Which, if it sounds like hypocrisy, is because it is.
[HM4] Go Harsh Yourself: The Good, Bad, and Indifferent of HYMM So Far
Held Up Good — John Bolton:
John Bolton is masterfully playing folks desperate to buy what he is selling them, knowing full well he won’t deliver, knowing his end will be taken care of in advanced copies and the initial bump up the bestseller list.
Politics come into play with the Senate, but they don’t with Bolton. He hold no office and has no primary to worry about. The Senators who do the voting do have these concerns. Bolton’s incentive is to make noise, appear important, and sell his book. A GOP senator’s is to not get primaried 30 seconds after voting against a president who is going to have a quarter billion dollar war chest to blitz folks he holds a grudge against down ticket.
John Bolton is many things. Unicorn isn’t one of them. Don’t go chasing him looking for impeachment redemption, ’cause it ain’t happening.
The Bob Uecker “Just a Bit Outside” Award — Iowa:
His (Bernie Sanders) recent resurgence in the polls has mostly drained support from fellow Senator Elizabeth Warren’s backslide and Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s return to the distant also-runnings. It has not come at the expense of wire-to-wire leader Joe Biden.
So even if Bernie wins Iowa and New Hampshire, which he should, don’t get overly attached to the Bernmentum. He should win both.
The “OMG, You Can’t Go Back” Moonlight Graham Award — Iowa, Again:
If your big moment in the sun is every four years, you should probably spend the three years or so in the meantime tightening up your operation and decision making processes. Not to mention your leadership. Otherwise, folks might find themselves in 2024 looking elsewhere for the pulse of the caucusing Iowan. Gold standards can be tarnished, after all, if not maintained.