Dec 7, 2020

The Georgia Senate runoffs.

The Georgia Senate runoffs.

Where things stand after a tumultuous presidential election.

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, ad-free, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum — then “my take.” You can read Tangle for free, subscribe for Friday editions and you can reach me anytime by replying to this email. If someone sent you this email, they’re asking you to sign up. You can do that by clicking here.

Today’s read: 12 minutes.

The Georgia Senate runoffs, a question about political ads, a jam-packed “Quick hits” section and Friday’s special edition on pardons.

Sen. Kelly Loeffler (left) and Raphael Warnock (right) debate on Sunday night. Screenshot: YouTube / 11Alive


On Thursday, I wrote repeatedly about the $1.6 trillion coronavirus relief bill that Democrats were considering earlier this year. In one of those references, though, I called it a $1.6 billion coronavirus relief bill. Shoutout to Tamsin, the lone Tangle reader (of nearly 16,000!) who spotted the mistake and wrote in about it.

This is the 21st Tangle correction in its 67-week existence and the first correction since November 17th. I track corrections in an effort to be transparent and plan to stop counting when the number becomes embarrassing.


Also on Thursday, my “Have a nice day” section included a piece in The Guardian telling the story of an incredible “discovery” of ancient rock art in Colombia’s Amazon rainforest. Several readers from Colombia actually wrote in about the piece, and one reader pointed me to this Twitter thread lamenting The Guardian story. It turns out the art was not “discovered,” but has been known to indigenous and native Colombians for many decades. In fact, it seems like The Guardian fumbled the story in pretty remarkable fashion, handing credit to a British-led expedition when Colombians on the ground have known about the site for years.

Quick hits.

  1. President-elect Joe Biden told CNN he plans to ask the public to mask up for 100 days on inauguration day. He also said he asked Dr. Anthony Fauci to stay on in the exact same role he’s been serving under President Trump. Fauci accepted the offer.
  2. Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani has been hospitalized with COVID-19. The Arizona legislature, which hosted Giuliani last week in a futile bid to overturn the election results, announced that it was suspending all work for the week.
  3. Joe Biden picked Xavier Becerra, the attorney general of California, as his nominee for secretary of health and human services.
  4. New York City’s Pre-K through 5th grade elementary schools reopened for in-person learning today, adding another twist to the city’s chaotic response to COVID-19.
  5. A federal judge has ordered the Trump administration to fully restore DACA, the program designed to protect undocumented immigrants brought here as children from deportation.
  6. The House of Representatives passed a landmark bill that would decriminalize marijuana at the federal level. The bill is not expected to pass the Senate.
  7. The Pentagon said it was withdrawing 700 troops stationed in Somalia, continuing a post-election push by President Trump to reduce troop levels abroad.
  8. BONUS: Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) published a joint op-ed calling for the Senate to pass their bipartisan COVID-19 relief bill.

What D.C. is talking about.

The Georgia Senate runoffs. Today is the last day to register to vote in the Georgia runoffs, which take place on January 5th. Republican Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue are defending their two Senate seats in races against Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, respectively. Republicans hold a 50-48 Senate majority. If both Warnock and Ossoff prevail, Democrats would have the tie-breaking vote in Vice President-elect Kamala Harris to take the Senate majority, though they would still need 60 votes to pass any major legislation. FiveThirtyEight rolled out its newest polling averages (note: not predictions, but averages) in the state today, which showed Ossoff ahead of Perdue by 0.8% and Warnock ahead of Loeffler by 2.2%. It’s worth noting that Georgia polling in the 2020 presidential race was fairly good, overestimating Biden’s lead by less than a percentage point.

On Saturday night, President Donald Trump held his first rally since losing the 2020 presidential election. Trump traveled to Georgia to campaign for Loeffler and Perdue, but in his remarks from the stage he rarely mentioned the two candidates, instead focusing much of the night on how the race was “stolen” from him. Republican leaders have expressed worries that Trump’s claims of a “rigged election” will suppress the vote in the runoff, and many Georgia voters have told reporters or expressed on social media that they don’t plan to vote in January. The president, clearly aware of the needle he was trying to thread, insisted both that the race was stolen and that voters must turn out to vote for Loeffler and Perdue.

“You know, you’re angry because so many votes were stolen. It was taken away. And you say, ‘Well, we’re not going to do it.’ We can’t do that. We have to actually do just the opposite,” Trump said. “If you don’t vote, the socialists and the communists win, they win. Georgia patriots must show up and vote for these two incredible people.”

On Sunday, Georgia’s Republican Gov. Brian Kemp said he won’t call a special session of the state’s legislature to appoint pro-Trump electors and swing the election, something the president asked him to do in a phone call on Saturday. “Any attempt by the legislature to retroactively change that process for the November 3rd election would be unconstitutional and immediately enjoined by the courts,’’ Kemp wrote in a statement. Georgia election officials have already conducted a full hand recount of the 2020 presidential race. Last night, the Chief Investigator for the Georgia Secretary of State signed a sworn affidavit in court rejecting many of the most popular conspiracy theories about the election that she’s spent weeks investigating, including security footage of ballots being delivered for counting that purports to show fraud.

On Sunday night, Sen. Loeffler and Rev. Warnock had a nationally televised debate where Loeffler refused to say that Trump lost the election. She repeatedly referred to Warnock as a radical left liberal. Warnock, a reverend, spent much of the night trying to defend himself against ads being peppered across Georgia featuring past sermons where he was critical of police, condemned Israel or praised Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). In the other Senate runoff, Sen. Perdue declined an opportunity for a third debate against challenger Jon Ossoff.

What the right is saying.

The right is hoping Trump and Georgia Republicans will focus on defending their Senate majority. They’ve also written critically about Warnock and made the case for defending the seat.

“The most important story in politics for the next month isn’t the foregone outcome of the presidential race,” The Wall Street Journal editorial board wrote. “It’s the two Georgia runoff races on Jan. 5 that will determine who controls the Senate and the direction of U.S. policy for the next two years. If Republicans lose those seats, President Trump will be the main reason, and the main casualty will be his legacy.”

“The argument that the country needs a GOP Senate to check a President Biden and Speaker Nancy Pelosi should resonate with voters now that it’s clear President Trump has lost,” the board wrote, noting that Georgia still leans center-right. “The problem is that Mr. Trump keeps stepping on that argument, and muddling the GOP message, with his claims that Democrats in Georgia and elsewhere stole the election.”

In The Washington Post, Henry Olsen made the case that Warnock is too radical for Georgia, listing off many of the attack ads Loeffler has leveraged against him.

“A statement that Americans cannot serve both God and the U.S. military; statements about the police that can be characterized as anti-police; a statement disparaging Israel’s protection of its border with the Gaza Strip as violence against Palestinians… If anything, Loeffler soft-pedals Warnock’s views,” Olsen wrote. “Her ads have not yet included clips of Warnock pooh-poohing attacks on socialism, citing Acts 2 for the proposition that the members of the early church held ‘all things in common.’ It is doubtful that moderate suburban Georgians — especially those who voted for Joe Biden and whose swing to the Democrats is why this state is even up for grabs at all — agree with socialism and holding all things in common.”

Erick Erickson attacked Lin Wood, one of the lawyers who is spreading conspiracy theories about widespread election fraud, for insisting that Georgia Republicans refuse to vote in the runoff election.

“Wood has a history of helping the Democrats,” Erickson wrote. “He funded John Edwards's presidential campaign. He funded Barack Obama’s campaign. He funded various other Democratic Senate campaigns to help Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer. He has funded a variety of progressive Democrats in Georgia in both gubernatorial races and state legislative races.”

What the left is saying.

The left is critical of Trump’s claims of fraud and hopeful that they will cost Republicans in Georgia — pointing out the self-defeating nature of the allegations.

The Washington Post editorial board published a piece praising “honest Republican election officials” who have pushed back on Trump’s wild allegations in Georgia and condemned both Loeffler and Perdue for not doing enough to set the record straight.

“The Trump campaign and Georgia’s two GOP senators, who have both aided the president’s baseless attacks on the state’s election officials, offered lip-service condemnations of violence and then immediately returned to stoking the unfounded anger that is driving the threats,” the board wrote. “‘We also condemn inaction and lack of accountability in our election system process — and won’t apologize for calling it out,’ said Sen. Kelly Loeffler. ‘We won’t apologize for addressing the obvious issues with the way our state conducts its elections,’ said a spokeswoman for Sen. David Perdue. No one, including Ms. Loeffler or Mr. Perdue, has provided any real evidence of ‘obvious issues’ with the electoral process. The only obvious issue is Mr. Trump’s, Ms. Loeffler’s, Mr. Perdue’s — and much of their party’s — contempt for the people’s will.”

“Avoiding embarrassment and undercutting President-elect Joe Biden appear to be only part of the motive. Another factor is money,” the board added. “The New York Times reported on Monday that Mr. Trump has raised $170 million since Election Day, the kind of cash candidates draw at the peak of the campaign season… ‘A donor has to give $5,000 to Mr. Trump’s new PAC before any funds go to his recount account,’ the Times reported.”

Jill Lawrence made the case for a Democratic majority in USA Today, arguing what a sweep in Georgia would mean for the country.

“A strong coronavirus aid bill to help schools, businesses and people pushed to the edge by pandemic-related job loss, hunger, evictions and other hardship,” she said. “A higher federal minimum wage. Two dozen states raised their minimum wage this year; eight are phasing in a $15-an-hour minimum over several years… A Democratic Senate could also approve a House-passed bill to strengthen the ACA.. It would add insurance subsidies for higher income families and pressure 14 holdout states to expand Medicaid to millions more low-income people. It would also allow Medicare to negotiate for lower prescription prices… it’s up to you, Georgia.”

My take.

I have to level with you: I think I’ve been pushed over the edge. A reader of this newsletter scolded me on Twitter yesterday for a snarky, rude response to an honest question about the 2020 election. “I am amazed at the difference between your Twitter personality and your newsletter personality,” they said. “It’s like two different people.”

And they’re right. It’s true. Tangle is always the best, most level-headed, most thoughtful, most balanced version of myself. This is a sacred place for me. I’m human, and I fall for the trappings of Twitter, a platform that lends itself to snark and quips. And I’ve been unloading my frustration on Twitter recently in a way I never have, perhaps to my own detriment. I just can’t get over what I’m witnessing — it’s infuriating, exhausting, and disheartening. Worst of all is that it’s almost universally the fault of one side, leaving me very little room for the empathy or nuance I preach about so often in this newsletter.

Donald Trump is creating this mess. Many Republicans in Congress — including Loeffler and Perdue — are enabling him. The Washington Post surveyed 249 Republican senators and members of the House — only 25 of them would acknowledge that Joe Biden is president-elect. 25! That’s one of the most embarrassing and shameful statistics I’ve ever seen in politics. That’s despite the fact that the vote has been certified in every single swing state, and that the courts have rejected Trump’s claims of fraud in the most damning terms possible, and that Trump continues to spread comically stupid theories about how the election was stolen.

In a sense, this war on reality has become personal to me. I saw it coming, I warned all of you it was coming, and I tried my best to stop it. Many of you are only reading this newsletter because you came across my viral Twitter thread debunking claims of election fraud. I’ve been entrenched in this “battle” for over a month, watching new claims pop up, die, only to see five more absurd lies spawned in their place. I’ve tried looking at each individual one with an open mind, and while there’s been fraud in this election — there is in every single election — I’ve yet to find anything that would come remotely close to changing the outcome of the presidential race. Nothing.

Remember where we were when this started: Trump and his allies were claiming thousands of dead people had voted in Michigan. Then they were claiming Wisconsin had more votes than they did registered voters. Then they claimed there was a massive ballot harvesting scheme in Nevada where absentee ballots were being stolen. Then they claimed to have USPS workers alleging a widespread voting fraud operation.

These claims all popped up in the first 24 hours after the election. And all of them have been dismissed in court, debunked by reporters, or forgotten about by the people who first peddled them. Many were never even alleged in court because there are actual repercussions for signing false affidavits or peddling bogus conspiracies before a judge. In their place new theories have risen like crabgrass: Dominion Voting Systems switching votes, poll workers in Georgia hauling in “briefcases” of fake ballots, shootouts to retrieve servers in Germany. All complete nonsense. Yet, somehow, still spreading.

At some point, I just snapped. I don’t want these people in control any more. I’m sorry. This is not an “endorsement” — I don’t care about their politics or positions, I just don’t want them at the helm. I hope Loeffler and Perdue lose for what they’re doing — and I hope all the Republicans who are peddling this crap then understand why the runoffs blew up in their faces. I’d rather have Democrats like Jon Tester, Joe Manchin, Kyrsten Sinema — all moderates and some conservative — holding the center in the Senate with deciding votes for a judge or cabinet pick. I’d rather have Republicans like Mitt Romney, Susan Collins, and Lisa Murkowski holding the keys to a larger majority in the upper chamber. Why pay any heed to this nonsense? Why bring back two ultra-wealthy, shady, insider stock trading, conspiracy-peddling Republicans when we’re already headed for a split Senate and a moderate U.S. government anyway?

Regardless of my politics, I can’t lend any credence to candidates who are unwilling to acknowledge the clear outcome of an election. I just can’t. I can’t hedge by saying “I like this” or “like that” about their policy positions, even if I do. Loeffler and Perdue very well may represent the views of Georgians better than their opponents — in fact, I’d bet that they probably do. And yet, I want so badly to live in a country that makes politicians pay dearly for spreading conspiracies and lying to our faces with glee. I hope Georgia voters prove that’s the country we still live in, and I hope the election fraud conspiracies die an epic and fitting death on the way.

Your questions, answered.

Q: I live in Georgia and have been getting the political mailers for the senate runoffs. None of them have said anything about what the candidates' stances are or what they plan to do; however, it is all about what their opponent will do to harm our country if they are elected. My question is, do you think we will ever have adults run for government positions to where they are confident enough in themselves and their stances/policies to just talk about themselves and not mention their opponent?

— Nicholas, Peachtree City, Georgia

Tangle: I very much appreciate the dripping condescension in your question. I’ve heard from a number of friends and readers living in Georgia who have told me about the absurdity of what’s happening down there — non-stop political mail, political commercials during every advertisement break, phone calls all day, people knocking on your door, etc. Both sides appear to be going all out and the money being spent is frankly absurd (more on that in today’s “Numbers” section).

The short, the depressing answer to your question is no. Not until it stops working. The politics of fear is remarkably effective, which is why nearly every political candidate uses it to campaign. Given that ancient Greeks like Thucydides considered fear “one of the three strongest motives for action” and that hasn’t changed since then, I really don’t see it going away unless the human condition is fundamentally altered.

This is all evident in our current moment. Fear is capable of producing some of the most irrational thoughts possible — which is why the fear of a Chinese or socialist takeover is being used to convince people of an irrational and non-existent stolen election right now. Political operatives openly discuss the way they use fear in campaign ads and they understand how easy it is to divorce people from reality with fear. One of the most famous examples was in 2016, when concern about crime was at its highest level in 15 years despite the fact that the crime rate was the lowest it had been in 15 years.

Now, the counterargument here would be the 2020 election. I do think Joe Biden employed fear, mostly around COVID-19, to motivate voters about the threat of another Trump term. But he also leaned into the “heal the country” rhetoric and “restoring the soul of the nation” and all that stuff. Do I think it worked? No. I think most people voted for him precisely because they fear Trump — but I’m sure some people will make the case otherwise.

Anyway, I often hear from readers who say stuff like “why don’t journalists do more to stop click bait?” And my answer is always the same: because you keep clicking. Similarly, my humble suggestion here is if you want candidates who talk about themselves and the good they’ve done rather than demonizing the opposition, you need to start collectively proving to politicians that it's an effective way to win your vote.

A story that matters.

Speaking of clickbait: one of the reasons I started Tangle was to never have to write a clickbait headline again. I also wanted to help kill sensationalism, fearmongering, overt partisanship and all the other plagues in the news industry these days. But I do want to use this section today to state something that’s both true and scary: the COVID-19 pandemic is the worst it has ever been right now. I care about all my readers, and I care about your mental health as well as your physical health, so I try not to ram coronavirus news down your throat every day.

But it’s bad. And it’s rapidly getting worse. Stories of overwhelmed nurses and hospitals are popping up across the country, hospitalizations are the highest they’ve ever been and despite our advancements in treatments, deaths are likely to follow suit. Worse yet, we’re all so tired of this crap that we’re packing into bars, restaurants, airplanes, and having giant family dinners. And we haven’t even hit the Christmas travel bonanza yet.

So I just want to use my “platform” to say: please be safe. Be careful, be conscious, be considerate. I am exhausted by COVID-19 social distancing too. I miss my friends and my parents and my office and concerts and sports and traveling and walking into a restaurant to order a meal someone else cooks for me. I so badly want this to be over… but I try to think about the health care workers on the front lines who are still fighting this thing. And I try to make sacrifices on their behalf. We finally have a light at the end of the tunnel — let’s get there while minimizing any further damage to our country.


  • 7.6. The number of points New York City swung toward Donald Trump between 2016 and 2020.
  • 5.1. The number of points the rest of New York State swung against Donald Trump between 2016 and 2020.
  • 17%. The percentage of America’s counties that Joe Biden won, the lowest share of any winner in U.S. history.
  • 60%. The percentage of Americans who say they would definitely or probably take a COVID-19 vaccine if it were available today.
  • $8,000.The cost to run a television advertisement on Atlanta’s WSB station in July 2020.
  • $18,000. The cost to run a television advertisement on Atlanta’s WSB station right now.
  • 20x. The increase in how much ad rates have grown in Savannah, Georgia.
  • $329 million. The amount of money on political advertising that has already been spent or reserved in Georgia since Election Day.
  • $500 million. The estimated amount of money that will be spent on the twin Georgia Senate runoffs.

Did you know?

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Have a nice day.

In the absence of federal relief, many citizens are stepping up to fill the void and help the unemployed. Few can hold a candle to Guy Fieri, though. The flamboyant celebrity chef started the Restaurant Employee Relief Fund in March, and since then he’s been able to get $500 grants to 43,000 people across the United States. That’s a total of $21.5 million raised — money that’s gone to workers in all 50 states, Washington D.C., Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. 80% of the grant recipients reported earning less than $50,000 a year in household income before being impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

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