Plus, a question about legitimate news sources and their influence.
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 on the news of the day — then “my take.”
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Today's read: 13 minutes.
The results from Texas. Plus, a question about the influence of news sources.
Last day. Keep going.
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- Russia has taken control of Kherson, a major city in southern Ukraine with a population of nearly 300,000 people. It's the first major city to fall to Russian forces. A second round of peace talks are expected today. (The city)
- Over one million people have fled Ukraine in a week, according to the United Nations. That accounts for two percent of the country's entire population. (The refugees)
- The House panel investigating Jan. 6 said for the first time that its evidence suggests former President Trump and his associates may have committed crimes in their attempts to overturn the 2020 election. (The allegations)
- The White House will ask Congress for $10 billion of relief for Ukraine and another $22.5 billion of Covid funding for global vaccination efforts, testing, oral antiviral treatments, monoclonal antibodies and research on new vaccines. (The request)
- A judge temporarily blocked Texas' child protection agency from investigating the parents of a trans teenager who received gender-affirming medical care. (The ruling)
Our 'Quick Hits' section is created in partnership with Ground News, a website and app that rates the bias of news coverage and news outlets.
Texas primaries. Yesterday, the state held the first elections of the 2022 season. Texas is a fascinating state in national politics, one with a strong mix of rural and urban voters as well as a large Hispanic population, all inside a state that has traditionally been red. This makes it of major interest to the national political parties. Given where the country is, this was our first chance to get the temperature of actual voters heading into the 2022 midterms.
In the state's governor's race, nearly 800,000 more Republicans voted than Democrats. That is likely, in part, because the Democratic primary race, won by Beto O'Rourke (D), was less competitive than the Republican primary race, won by current Gov. Greg Abbott (R). But it should make Democrats uneasy to see a turnout gap far larger than the one they saw in 2018, during the last Texas midterms.
Abbott won his race handily despite being challenged from all sides. Heading into the midterms, he appeared to take a right turn in response to those challengers, easing gun restrictions in the state, enacting legislation to limit how race theory could be taught in schools, passing a restrictive anti-abortion law, and asking the state's health agencies to classify gender-transition procedures and puberty-blocking medications on children as cases of possible child abuse.
Meanwhile, every one of the candidates President Trump endorsed won their races for Congress handily. However, one of the biggest races in the state, where Trump endorsed Ken Paxton for attorney general, is headed for a runoff. So is Dawn Buckingham, a Trump-endorsed candidate for the land commissioner. Neither were able to get the 50% of the vote required to win their races outright. Paxton is running against George P. Bush, Texas' departing public lands commissioner and son of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Paxton is currently under investigation for securities fraud and allegedly abusing his power to help a political donor.
The power of Trump was seen elsewhere. Representative Van Taylor, a two-term incumbent from the Dallas exurbs, was headed to a runoff election despite outspending his opponents 10 to 1. Taylor voted to confirm the 2020 election results and voted for the initial commission to investigate the Jan. 6 riots at the Capitol. Then, yesterday, Taylor announced he was dropping out of the race after news broke about an affair he had.
On the Democratic side, a new slate of progressive candidates could be heading to Congress. "The squad might be getting reinforcements," as The New York Times put it. Former Austin city council member (and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez-endorsed) Greg Casar won his race easily, avoiding a runoff. Jasmine Crockett, another progressive stalwart, is headed for a runoff and looks like the favorite. And in perhaps the most watched race, Jessica Cisneros, an immigration attorney who was also endorsed by Ocasio-Cortez, is headed to a runoff against Rep. Henry Cuellar, the last anti-abortion Democrat in Congress.
Cuellar's home was raided by the FBI in January, which ABC News reported was part of a federal probe into organizations with ties to Azerbaijan (the FBI has released very few details), and many onlookers believe Cisneros has a good chance to unseat the incumbent. Some Republican operatives believe if Cisneros wins the primary, they may be able to flip the seat red. But if she manages to make it to Congress, Texas has the potential to add three progressives in the mold of "The Squad" to the party.
Below, we'll take a look at some reactions to these results, and what they might tell us about the midterms around the corner.
What the left is saying.
- The left says the election shows how Texas Republicans are being driven to the right.
- Some downplay the importance of the Trump endorsements.
- Others note that it was a good night for progressives in Texas.
Nicole Narea said there’s reason to be skeptical that Trump’s endorsements played a decisive role in Texas or that they’ll do so elsewhere.
"For one, the success of Trump candidates in Texas, a state that has been under trifecta GOP control for decades, might not translate in other parts of the country that are more competitive," Narea wrote. "Republicans in swing states and districts are likely to be warier about seeking a Trump endorsement, fearing it may hinder their chances among moderates. Also, all the candidates the former president backed in Texas were already assured, or at least likely, to win. Six of the 17 House candidates he backed were running uncontested and all but two — Monica de la Cruz Hernandez and Wesley Hunt, who are vying for open seats — were incumbents.
Meanwhile, Narea said, Casar "won with 61 percent of the vote in the 35th District... Casar’s support for progressive policies — including funding cuts to Austin’s police department and opposition to camping bans on the city’s homeless — drew warnings of coming GOP backlash should he win his primary. Like Cisneros, his campaign was supported by national progressives including Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as well as groups like Our Revolution. He made Medicare for All, protections for reproductive rights, job creation, and fixing the Texas power grid, which failed during last year’s deadly winter storm, centerpieces of his campaign."
Reid Epstein said "Tuesday’s primary results illustrated that Democrats still have a long way to go" to flip Texas blue.
"To be sure, Republicans had a more competitive primary than Democrats. Gov. Greg Abbott’s contest against Republican challengers from his right may have been more of a draw than Beto O’Rourke’s glide path to the Democratic nomination," Epstein said. "And Democrats will be quick to note that primary turnout is not always a predictor of big turnout in November. Still, Republicans demonstrated they are energized — even when divided between far-right and mainstream factions — and hardly ceding their hold on the state.
"Before this year, Mr. Abbott had never faced a competitive Republican primary in his 25-year political career. But in a moment of conservative energy, with Republicans furious about the 2020 election and President Biden’s immigration policies, a field of Republicans bet that Mr. Abbott would be vulnerable to a challenger from his right. Turns out they were wrong," Epstein said. "Mr. Abbott’s record was a striking demonstration of how a primary threat can help the right wing of the Republican Party drive the agenda, even in a state that has been trending toward Democrats."
James Moore said the Texas primary is "like a bad Netflix series."
"In the Republican race for state attorney general, the incumbent Ken Paxton is facing off against Land Commissioner George P. Bush, former Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman and Rep. Louie Gohmert. Paxton is currently the frontrunner, despite a securities fraud indictment dating back to 2015 that remains unresolved. He also faces allegations of bribery and corruption from his former staffers," Moore wrote. "In 2020, the embattled attorney general filed a failed lawsuit to challenge Biden's election victory -- a move that probably helped Paxton endear himself to Trump, who endorsed him over Bush. In a sad display of desperation, Bush, the heir to the family's political dynasty, tried to cozy up to Trump to earn his favor -- even though the former president had publicly insulted his parents.
"Still unknown is what impact Trump-inspired voter suppression laws will have on the GOP primary," Moore wrote. "The state's largest counties are rejecting mail-in ballots at record rates, with some turning away as many as 46%. Critics say the added ID requirement is designed to stifle turnout, which could harm both parties. The conservative-controlled Texas legislature says the changes are intended to protect election integrity, a problem the state simply does not have. The energy Texas politicians are wasting on pleasing an extremist former president might be more wisely spent on confronting the state's many troubling issues. A short list includes the closing of rural hospitals, dramatically increasing real estate costs and property taxes, the banning of books, billions of tax dollars spent on police and soldiers at the border and failing infrastructure."
What the right is saying.
- The right said it was a great night for Trump and the GOP.
- They celebrated the fact that more serious candidates won their races.
- And they point to ominous signs for Democrats in November.
Ewan Palmer said Donald Trump-backed candidates dominated in the Texas primary.
"Donald Trump proclaimed victory on Tuesday night after every candidate he endorsed in the Texas primaries won, or advanced into a runoff," Palmer wrote. "In the first sign in whether Trump's backing will have any influence on the midterms, all 33 candidates the former president publicly supported—which ranged from Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbott to Tarrant County judge hopeful Tim O'Hare—either won their election, or look to be on their way to doing so. One minor blip for Trump on the night was that his choice in the GOP primary for state attorney general, incumbent Ken Paxton, failed to win the election outright after not reaching the 50 percent threshold.
"With more than 95 percent of votes recorded, the Associated Press is reporting that Paxton is way out in front with 42.7 percent, with Bush a distant second on 22.8 percent. As noted by Texas Monthly, four other Trump-endorsed candidates forced into a runoff—land commissioner candidate Dawn Buckingham, state senator candidates Pete Flores and Frederick Frazier, and Tarrant County district attorney hopeful Phil Sorrells—have significant leads over their nearest rivals and remain favorites to win their elections," Palmer added. "A number of voters in Texas cited the former president as a reason for them deciding to back his preferred candidates."
In The Washington Post, Henry Olsen said the races created another cloud in a sky growing darker for establishment Democrats.
"Progressives did very well in three closely watched congressional races," he said. "Greg Casar, a proud member of the Democratic Socialists of America, won a landslide victory in the Democratic primary for the 35th District. Casar received 61 percent of the vote in a four-way race and won every county in the district. Jessica Cisneros, a progressive endorsed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT), forced Rep. Henry Cuellar into a runoff. The subject of an FBI raid during the campaign, the longtime incumbent ran well in his Rio Grande Valley stronghold but got clobbered in the sizable part of the seat in the San Antonio region. A third candidate, Tannya Benavides, also ran as a progressive, which suggests that Cuellar could fall in the May 24 runoff."
"These races all confirm the leftward shift of recent years among Democratic primary voters. It was only four years ago when Ocasio-Cortez’s unseating of Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-NY), then the fourth-ranking member of the House Democratic leadership, was shocking," Olsen wrote. "Now progressives and socialists regularly win primaries and unseat incumbents, and the rest of the party is shifting to insulate itself. Republicans, on the other hand, can breathe a sigh of relief over their outcomes. Virtually every challenge to an incumbent from the extreme right fizzled, and establishment-backed Morgan Luttrell easily swept aside a candidate endorsed by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) and allies in the open 8th District."
Dan McLaughlin called it "a good day for adults" and the Texas GOP.
"The fundamental divide in the Republican Party today is not ideological, it is not positional, and it is not really even tactical or attitudinal," he wrote. "It is between the normal adults who are looking to capitalize on the customary rules and processes of American politics, and the people who would rather throw rhetorical bombs than actually accomplish goals that require popular support and government power. The first group therefore includes Republicans of all stripes: movement conservatives, social conservatives, populists, moderates, liberals, libertarians, hawks, isolationists, Jacksonians, neoconservatives, free marketers, and supply-siders, you name it. It includes old Establishment types, Tea Partiers, political neophytes, and insurgents, pro-Trumpers, and anti-Trumpers.
"But all are at least united by pursuit of the classic dynamic of a party that is out of power nationally but in power in many states: looking to win over voters who supported throwing the party out of power in the last election, but also looking to develop an alternative model of governance at the state level," McLaughlin said. "Their opposite numbers prefer an off-putting open zealotry and conspiracism that eschews anything that looks like competence, in favor of tantrums that feel good and raise money... We heard a lot of swagger from the nuttier precincts of the Right about how they were going to make Abbott, Crenshaw, and other serious adults in the party pay. As it turned out, they fell flat on their faces with actual Texas Republican voters. Their only hope for salvaging a major win in a contested primary is with an incumbent who fell well below half of the vote."
It's nice to finally have some results to analyze.
One of the interesting things about Texas is that voters don't register by party and are allowed to pick which primary they vote in. That can muddy the results a bit, though it's clear the GOP dominated in this primary. John Couvillon, a political analyst, said suburban voters cast 69% of their ballots in GOP primaries (compared to 59% in 2020 and 62% in 2018). That's good news for Republicans. So is the fact that in border counties, where Hispanic voters make up a large share of the population, just 63% of ballots were cast in the Democratic primary (compared to 76% in 2018).
In total, without all of Harris County's vote in, Texas has already recorded 2.99 million votes in this election. That's up from 2.59 million in the 2018 midterm, when Democratic voters turned out in droves as a referendum on Trump. 65% of the votes in Tuesday's election were in the Republican primary. Again: Ominous signs for Democrats.
It also muddies the water on the "voter suppression" allegations. Voter restrictions have sometimes been shown to actually boost turnout, because they become such a motivator, but it's still not clear what is happening in Texas. The new ID law, which I have been outspoken about as being unnecessary, predictably caused widespread confusion and "unprecedented" ballot rejections. Based on the turnout numbers, though, paired with reports from on the ground, it looks like many voters were able to correct those ballots in time for the election. We'll know for sure soon.
The result of the primary is that pollsters like Split Ticket are now changing their ratings for the House races. TX-15 went from lean Republican to likely Republican. TX-23 went from likely Republican to safe Republican. TX-28 went from lean Democrat to tossup. TX-34 went from likely Democrat to lean Democrat.
The upshot, to me, is that this was a very bad day for Democrats and a very good day for Republicans. But if you're comparing the power and sway of progressives and Trump, I actually think this is a more significant election for progressives. As many noted above, Trump's endorsements in this race were all pretty safe, save Paxton, who is now headed for a runoff. Progressives are still fighting to get actual members of Congress into office, and now they've got a legitimate shot of getting three more members in the mold of the furthest left in the party. From Texas, no less. That'd be a significant boost for the so-called "Squad" and other progressives like Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).
In moments like this I think the thing to keep an eye on is momentum. I've written before about how corrections in this newsletter often come in bunches. Sports commentators love the phrase "it's a game of runs" for a reason. And right now, one and a half years after a Democratic wave pushed Trump out of office, Republicans have the momentum in every facet of the game: Biden's approval ratings are underwater, the Supreme Court is ticking off conservative victories, Democratic members of Congress are resigning en masse, and former President Trump looks poised to announce a run in 2024. Now, the first results from a midterm election — difficult enough for the party in power in normal times — are showing precisely what we expected: Huge Republican energy and few good signs for Democrats.
I'm not sure what can happen to change it, but this is about the start I anticipated.
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Your questions, answered.
Q: I agree with you that Ben Shapiro, right-leaning social media sites like Gettr, etc are definitely gaining influence, however, I would argue that there is still a stigma with referring to these sources in what I’ll call “polite society.” I am generally embarrassed to say if I heard a story on Joe Rogan, Ben Shapiro, Gettr, etc. But if my friends or I say I heard it on CNN, NYT, Twitter, etc. then it’s totally acceptable. This makes having a discussion on opposing view points start from a place of vulnerability. Do you think this problem is real? Why or why not?
— Alex, Baltimore, Maryland
Tangle: I think, as you said, it depends entirely on what circle you're in. A few weeks ago, I was in West Texas visiting my family when a Tangle reader (and friend) walked into the bar donning an AK-47 lapel pin, slapped me on the back, took a big inhale through his nose and announced to the room that he "smelled a liberal." On the other hand, a few days ago, a reader from Europe explained to me how my most insidious and important bias as a writer was being a white man. My friends in Brooklyn would scoff at the idea of me being a "lefty," just as my neighbors in Texas would scoff at the idea of me being a free speech zealot (I've been accused of both, repeatedly).
Of course Ben Shapiro may not be seen as a credible source by "polite society," depending on how you define that. But Shapiro drives conversations even in “highly educated” liberal circles that you might define as “polite society.” They are spending time and energy responding to his YouTube videos or podcasts. Which was really my point. Central to influence is attention, and Shapiro gets a lot of attention — more than any single writer at The Times, I'd wager.
I do think the dynamic you're talking about makes it really difficult to have these conversations, though. When a liberal in a dominant conservative space is trying to make their point, citing CNN is a good way to get laughed out of the room. And the same goes for a conservative in Brooklyn pointing to Fox News. These fractures in media and information are precisely why we are in such a dangerous moment right now, and definitely serve as an impediment to any kind of mutual understanding.
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A story that matters.
The splintering of the internet is here, and it's getting worse. For decades, a universal internet where global citizens could reach each other and see the same information has been a north star. But the recent crackdown on information in Russia is a reminder that such a goal is still far off — and getting further. Citizens of Russia, China, India, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Ethiopia and Turkey all have limited access to the internet, and now some tech companies are moving to ban Russian state television from their platforms. In China, Twitter and Facebook are blocked. The result? "We don't have a free and open internet on the global level anymore," Alina Polyakova, president and CEO of the Center for European Policy Analysis, said last week. "We just don't live in that reality." Axios has the story.
- 38.2 million. The number of people who watched President Biden's State of the Union address on television.
- 45.5 million. The number of people who watched former President Trump's State of the Union address on television in 2018.
- 1.93 million. The number of Republicans who voted in the Texas Republican governor primary race.
- 1 million. The number of Democrats who voted in the Texas Democratic governor primary race.
- 16,000. The number of foreign troops who have volunteered to fight in Ukraine, according to President Zelensky.
One last time.
(For the people in the back)
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Have a nice day.
I'm excited about raising $2,000 for Ukrainian media outlets, but that pales in comparison to what a Ukrainian cheesecake shop owner just did in San Antonio: She raised $70,000. Laika Cheesecake & Espresso in Alamo Heights said it raised $72,405 over the weekend that will be donated to the Armed Forces of Ukraine. The owner, Anna Afanasieva, announced the total on Instagram, calling it "completely crazy" and clarifying reports that she was donating profits from her sales: "All of the sales that we have made this weekend are going to be donated... every dollar that you spent in our shop is going to be donated," she said. Channel 4 in San Antonio has the story.
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