Today’s read: 8 minutes.
Trump draws challengers. Plus, who is the Democrats’ dark horse?
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A chart worth looking at.
People’s views on what’s important are changing in fascinating ways.
What D.C. is talking about.
Joe Walsh. The former Illinois Republican congressman announced that he was going to mount a primary challenge against President Donald Trump. This comes after a year in which Walsh, who had previously supported Trump, abandoned the #MAGA train and started tweeting critically of POTUS nearly every day. Earlier this month, Walsh penned an op-ed in The New York Times calling for a primary challenge. It received such widespread attention that he finally decided to throw his own hat in the ring. Yes, former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld is already challenging Trump, but Walsh says Weld is “challenging him from the center” and Trump is “more vulnerable to a challenge from the right.”
What Republicans are saying.
Good luck! Trump’s approval rating within the Republican party has consistently been around 90 percent. Walsh also served just one term — for two years — in Illinois before losing to Rep. Tammy Duckworth, a Democrat. That’s his only political experience. Otherwise, he’s just been a “fireband” conservative with a track record for making controversial and gross comments. Pro-Trump folks on the right see Walsh as little more than an opportunistic D.C. swamp creature whose allegiances change based on what he wants or needs. Still, some in the never-Trump crowd are showing early signs of support. Among his early complimenters are Republican lawyer George Conway, the husband of White House advisor Kellyanne Conway (yes, dinner is about to be veryyyyyy awkward). He also got a nod of approval from Bill Kristol, a prominent never-Trump Republican who was the founder of The Weekly Standard, the now-defunct conservative magazine.
What Democrats are saying.
Thanks but no thanks. While plenty of Democrats would be happy to see Walsh and Trump eat each other alive, he’s not getting the welcoming vibes a more moderate politician like Bill Weld did. Walsh was one of the loudest “birther” conspiracy theorists who claimed that former President Barack Obama was not American (and also Muslim). As recently as May of 2018, Walsh tweeted that “Obama got elected because he's black, not because he accomplished anything significant.” During the 2016 election, he said he was going to grab his “musket” if Trump lost and take to the streets. He’s defended the use of racial slurs on his radio show and once called Stevie Wonder “another ungrateful black millionaire” for taking a knee during one of his own concerts.
Joe Walsh @WalshFreedomObama is a Muslim Happy New Year!
For Walsh’s part, he’s been on a bit of an apology tour. “I have—I helped—I helped create Trump. There’s no doubt about that, the personal, ugly politics. I regret that. And I’m sorry for that,” Walsh said on ABC. “I went beyond the policy and the idea differences and I got personal and I got hateful. I said some ugly things about President Obama that I regret.” Democrats’ response: apology not accepted.
Neither Weld nor Walsh have any real shot against Trump, but that doesn’t mean they should be ignored. Both should cause serious alarm for the Trump campaign: it’s significant that there are Republicans to the left and the right of POTUS who are disgruntled enough to mount their own challenges. Regardless of how abysmal their chances are, I don’t think that’s worth just sweeping under the rug. There is also another interesting question at play: how does our society forgive? And why? For the left, Walsh is about as loathsome a figure as it gets. He has a sordid history of racist and inflammatory language and he is on the opposite end of basically every liberal issue. Some could make the case he should be considered even more “evil” through the lens of the left than Trump. Will liberals give him a warm embrace now because he’s apologized and going after the man in the White House? It’ll be an interesting thing to keep an eye on. I, for one, am curious to see which Democrats or liberals start elevating Walsh’s criticisms of Trump in the months to come.
Your questions, answered
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Q: Outside of the top Democrats (Biden, Warren, Sanders, Harris), who do you think has the best shot of winning the Democratic nomination?
- David, Pittsburgh, PA
Tangle: Just three or four weeks, I would have answered this question with zero hesitation: Pete Buttigieg. Mayor Pete has a charming nickname, an agreeable appearance, and — on paper — a fantastic resume. He’s a liberal, gay, Harvard graduate who has served in the military and as a semi-successful mayor in small-town Indiana. In case you’re counting, that’s military service, LGTBQ rights, Ivy League credentials, and big league Rust Belt street cred all in one candidate. It’s the kind of resume political operatives could only dream up in a lab.
But, as the saying goes, timing is everything. Buttigieg’s media love fest seems to have passed, and he’s struggling to make blips on the radar these days. He’s also taking fire from the left, who view him more as a pro-military corporate suit than the kind of left-wing revolutionary they want. So, my new answer, which is liable to change, is Andrew Yang.
Yes, Andrew Yang.
Yang has all the makings of a dark horse candidate who could go deep in the election if enough people don’t take him seriously and the right people do. His central campaign promise is the most eye-catching of any candidate’s: he’s going to give every American citizen, regardless of wealth, $1,000 a month. It’s called a “Freedom Dividend” and it’s essentially Universal Basic Income (UBI), a concept that is catching fire globally. Yang is one of its most articulate advocates. Like other politicians, Yang is fantastic at leveraging fear. But his fear about the future doesn’t scapegoat any people. Instead, he scapegoats technology. Yang’s message resonates with both Sanders and Trump voters because it starts from the premise that things are broken and going to get worse for American workers. He doesn’t blame rich people (Sanders) or immigrants (Trump). Instead, he blames automation. It’s the robots that are stealing your job, not the Mexican family down the street. And, in case you haven’t heard, this message is working: Yang is surging.
A recent Fox News poll has him in fifth place behind Biden, Warren, Sanders and Harris and his numbers are climbing. He’s in for the next debate, which will keep him in the race for a few more months and give him an opportunity to deliver his message to millions of Americans. More than 200,000 people have donated to his campaign, according to Yang. He’s popular with Trump voters and far-left liberals, who view the Freedom Dividend as a kind of revolutionary legislation that could lift millions out of poverty.
I can’t stop thinking to myself what’s going to happen when he stands up there on stage and says it: “I am going to give every American $1,000 a month.” How will those words reverberate through the family rooms of struggling low-income and middle-class folks? I imagine they will go over quite well. Better, even, when Yang explains why. He’s not going to sell Americans on the government being a well-run machine, which very few Americans believe it to be. Instead, quite the opposite: his message is that the only thing the government can do well is write and cash checks.
To make him even more of a threat, Yang has an army of online supporters known endearingly as the Yang Gang. These supporters are persistent, pleasant, and very, very good at the internet. They know how to make funny memes and pepper people with facts about Yang. I recently tweeted about him and within a few minutes my tweets had caught the attention of the Yang Gang and were being retweeted and liked for the rest of the day.
But Yang has more than just a good central campaign promise and a group of small, loyal fans doing a lot of free promotional work. Yang is funny; his go-to line is he’s the “opposite of Donald Trump, an Asian man who likes math.” He’s also cunning; he started a nonprofit that creates jobs in struggling cities. He’s authentic; he rarely gives the usual politician interview or stump speech. He has a story of struggle; he’s the children of Taiwanese immigrants and has written about being bullied and called racial slurs during his time in public school. He has a funny Trump knockoff saying; instead of MAGA (Make America Great Again), Yang sells MATH swag: Make America Think Harder. He’s also pulling in a diverse group of support; Yang has been endorsed by everyone from Elon Musk to former Democratic mayors and heads of unions. He’s still a long shot for the nomination, but so is everyone else besides The Big Four. If I had to bet on anyone breaking through, I’m putting my money on Yang.
P.S. The most interesting interview I’ve heard with Andrew Yang was done by Kmele Foster on the WeTheFifth podcast. You can listen here.
A warning shot.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren is drawing massive crowds across the country, the likes of which we’ve only seen from President Trump and Sen. Bernie Sanders. It’s tough to glean much from crowd size, but lots of political analysts see them as a reflection of enthusiasm about a candidate. You can bet the other campaigns, and Trump, have noticed the crowds Warren is drawing.
A wild one.
Late last night, Axios broke the story that President Trump repeatedly suggested bombing hurricanes with a nuke in order to disrupt them before they made landfall. One senior administration defended the story, saying, “His goal — to keep a catastrophic hurricane from hitting the mainland — is not bad… His objective is not bad." Trump isn’t the first one to think of this idea (it was once floated by a government scientist), but it’s playing right into the narrative that he is mentally unfit. Trump is denying the story, but Axios is sticking by “every word” of their report, which looks pretty well sourced. You can read more here.
Donald J. Trump @realDonaldTrumpThe story by Axios that President Trump wanted to blow up large hurricanes with nuclear weapons prior to reaching shore is ridiculous. I never said this. Just more FAKE NEWS!
Jonathan Swan @jonathanvswanScoop: Trump suggested nuking hurricanes to stop them from hitting U.S. https://t.co/qy3H1avs8l
A story that matters.
Voters may create false memories after they see fake news stories, especially if those news stories align with their political beliefs, a new study says. The research was published in Psychological Science and is the most unsettling piece of “fake news” real news that I’ve seen yet. Participants in a study were read fake news stories alongside real news stories, then asked if they had heard about the events depicted in the fake story. Nearly half of the respondents reported a memory for one of the made-up stories, and they were more likely to fabricate a memory that reinforced their political views. It’s another sign of the power disinformation has on voters. You can read more here.
Have a nice day.
As fires rage in the Amazon, the global citizenry is realizing its importance. Leaders at this week’s G7 summit committed $20 million to fight the fires. Leonardo DiCaprio’s Earth Alliance organization committed $5 million. Ecosia, an eco-friendly search engine that plants trees in Brazil, saw a 1150% increase in its daily downloads. The fires are a devastating wake up call, but seem to be activating a wave of activism to preserve the Amazon and plant trees across the planet. You can read more about the people saving the trees here.
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