Our Best Stuff From a Contentious Week for the GOP

The party appears to be set on removing Liz Cheney from her leadership position.

A few days after the storming of the Capitol, my husband and I were rehashing the events of the day and talking about the fallout. “I’m not really sure the GOP can survive this,” I remember telling him. That day was surreal. I can still picture the police officer who was stuck in a door frame as rioters seemingly tried to crush him, and I can hear the eerie chants of “Hang Mike Pence.” And when it was all over, some GOP lawmakers stepped over broken glass and other detritus from the riot to vote to challenge the official results from Arizona and Pennsylvania. The push that led to those electoral challenges might have been performative theater by Sens. Josh Hawley, Ted Cruz and others, but so many Americans had traveled to the Capitol that day truly believing that the election had been stolen and Congress would overturn the results.

In the weeks that followed, there were a few bright spots. Liz Cheney and nine other House Republicans voted to impeach Trump. Seven Republican senators voted to convict. Cheney subsequently survived a vote to remove her from her position as chair of the House Republican Conference. Donald Trump settled in at Mar a Lago and, without his Twitter account, was reduced to releasing  brief statements, often in the neighborhood of Twitter’s 280-character limit, complaining about the elections and the Republicans who didn’t support him.

This week was much different. On Tuesday, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy was caught in a recording of an off-air conversation saying he’d lost confidence in Cheney.  McCarthy’s deputy, Rep. Steve Scalise, endorsed a proposed replacement. Cheney penned a fiery op-ed for the Washington Post warning that “history is watching us.” By the end of the week, the House GOP conference had planned a vote to remove Cheney for next week—one she’ll almost certainly lose.

This is all happening against a backdrop of the Ohio GOP censuring Rep. Anthony Gonzalez and others (not even from Ohio) who voted for impeachment, Donald Trump attacking Mike Pence and Sen. Mitch McConnell while issuing statements on his new website that recycle long-debunked claims about voter fraud in the 2020 election, and the Arizona State Senate conducting an “audit” of 2 million votes in Maricopa County in a last, last, last, last ditch effort to … what, exactly? Overturn the election? It feels more than a little bit like an existential crisis.

The Cheney-McCarthy feud prompted more than a few pieces in The Dispatch this week, and I highlight those down below. So I don’t need to rehash all of it here. But the future of the GOP again seems shaky. Cheney critics have been making the point all week that she should be ousted from a leadership position because her views and actions no longer reflect the priorities of the party. That says a heck of a lot about the GOP, none of it encouraging.

What has transpired the last few months (and the last few years before that) makes me less emotional about the fate of the GOP itself. But I care enough about what I believe in as a conservative to wish that we had a strong and vibrant party that promoted conservative values and was represented by smart and hardworking lawmakers who offered strong counterpoints and good-faith arguments against what the other side is doing. 

I spent a good chunk of my career in newsrooms where I was the odd one out. The first six or so years were in sportswriting, and—this might surprise you—even sportswriters are pretty liberal. But I learned something really important in those years, especially after the bursting of the dot-com bubble ended my sportswriting career and I landed at Slate, which at the time was a pretty neoliberal publication with a contrarian bent. 

Once I felt comfortable speaking out and jumping into office debates, I learned something important. Well, a lot of important things. But I realized that engaging in debate with someone who was smart and logical but who happened to disagree with me strengthened my own arguments. And sometimes, my good points would encourage others to moderate their own opinions. They would make valid points. And so I would respond carefully, looking up data points that backed my view, or poking (gently) a hole in something the other person said. No one got angry. At least usually.

The same elements that promote healthy debate among individuals, or staffers at politically oriented publications, or think-tank panel discussions can also make our government function better. It’s easy to joke that political dysfunction  means that “at least Congress is spending less of my money this way,” but looking at what goes on in Congress today, it’s also a bad joke.

While the Democrats try to push through pricey spending packages (trillion being the new billion), Republicans have been busy raising money off Dr. Seuss, complaining about “Big Tech censorship” (often on Twitter), and trying (but failing) to organize a congressional caucus to promote “Anglo-Saxon political traditions.”

We would have a better government if the two major parties (one could argue we should have more parties or cite George Washington’s warning about parties in general, but this is our reality) could serve as moderating checks on each other. We actually got a hint of how that could work with infrastructure: President Joe Biden introduced a $2 trillion “infrastructure” package that spends more on health care for the elderly than roads and bridges, and Senate Republicans responded with a leaner proposal, for $568 billion that focused on—get this—infrastructure.

But right now, the number of Republicans who are focused on pushing back against the Biden administration’s ambitious spending plans are outnumbered and overshadowed by unserious and contemptible figures like Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz. 

It’s impossible to say whether the fight over Cheney represents a fissure that will grow until the party is completely broken, or a sign that the party is shifting in a direction such that conservative values don’t matter anymore. But both of those right now seem more likely than the chance that the GOP will come out of the current moment more serious, more functional, and better able to serve as a check on Democratic ambitions. 

Now, here’s the best of our stuff on the fate of the GOP.

Kevin McCarthy's GOP Is Tired of Hearing the Truth

At some point after the election, and after the storming of the Capitol, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy had a decision to make. Early on, after those events, he said on the House floor that Trump “bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters.” He supported Liz Cheney after she survived the vote to remove her from GOP leadership. But then he apparently decided that the best way to become speaker of the House if the GOP were to take control in 2022 would be to (figuratively) kiss the ring. He went to Mar a Lago to meet with Trump. He ignored the problems created by the fringey elements of the GOP like Marjorie Taylor Greene, Madison Cawthorne, and Matt Gaetz. And here we are.  In a well-reported piece on the site, Steve sums it all up succinctly: “McCarthy is moving to push Cheney out of her leadership position for saying in May what he’d said repeatedly himself months before. McCarthy knows that Trump is lying about the election. He knows that Cheney is telling the truth. And he’s choosing Trump anyway.”

Liz Cheney’s Likely Successor

Now that it’s all but a foregone conclusion that Cheney will be ousted when the House GOP Caucus meets Wednesday, it’s useful to look at the woman most likely to replace her. In Uphill, Haley has the details of Elise Stefanik’s evolution from a moderate who sought to bring more women into the GOP to a vocal Trump supporter.  Stefanik represents New York’s 21st District, an area that has turned deep red since Trump ran for president in 2016. Stefanik and Cheney could hardly be more different. Stefanik “voted for the GOP objection to Pennsylvania’s Electoral College results after Trump supporters attacked the Capitol on January 6. And in a floor speech, she amplified baseless conspiracies about the election, alleging widespread fraud in Georgia, Michigan, and Wisconsin. At one point she falsely claimed that ‘more than 140,000 votes came from underage, deceased, and otherwise unauthorized voters in Fulton County alone.’ That would be more than 25 percent of the votes cast in Fulton County.” 

Make No Mistake: The GOP Has a Grassroots Problem

David tackles a very sensitive topic in his Friday French Press (🔐 ) : Are voters themselves part of the problem with the GOP?  He has plenty of criticism of the party’s elite, those who “have stood shamefully silent as they watched a few brave Republicans—men like Mitt Romney and women like Liz Cheney—directly confront the former president.” But he argues those elites are merely giving voters what they want. “Put simply, the Republican base is often unhinged, increasingly radicalized, and intolerant of dissent. The evidence is just everywhere. Are state parties speaking openly about secession? Yep. Are election ‘auditors’ in Arizona really looking for bamboo fibers on ballots to investigate a wild conspiracy theory? Yep. Are Michigan state house Republicans welcoming Naomi Wolf’s thoughts on ‘vaccine passports’? Yep. Does Lin Wood, lunatic conspiracy theorist, really have a whopping 846,000 followers on the messaging app Telegram? He does indeed.”  

Whining Is Winning

Cheney critics keep making the point that she wouldn’t have so many problems if she would JUST. MOVE. ON. from talking about Donald Trump and the events of January 6. The media keep asking her about the election, and she sticks to her guns that it wasn’t stolen. Jonah pushes back against this, reminding everyone that there is someone else who won’t move on from the election, and just maybe he’s the real problem. You know who we mean. “Indeed, he’s still peddling the lie that the election was stolen from him. He’s not doing this for the party. He’s certainly not doing this for conservatism or the country. He’s doing this because his lizard-brain narcissism cannot process the idea that he lost, and because he has long believed that whining is a winning strategy.”

OK, we did actually cover some other news this week. Here’s what you might have missed.

  • The Virginia GOP is having a convention to nominate a candidate for governor this weekend, and Audrey attended a rally for Pete Snyder that was straight out of the MAGA playbook.   “‘Friends, are you excited about meeting Sarah Huckabee Sanders or what?’ conservative commentator Martha Boneta yelled at the crowd. ‘Friends, how many of you wish that Donald J. Trump was in the White House right now?’

  • Admit it: You haven’t spent much time worried about the geopolitics of the Arctic region, have you? Luckily, Charlotte has. She points out how Russia in particular and China (to a lesser degree) are both hoping that we aren’t paying attention.

  • Now that more Americans are getting vaccinated, how do we decide what’s safe and how people should interact. Vaccine “passports” might free up the fully immune to go back to normal, but they come with heavy baggage about privacy rights and equity. It makes sense then that some GOP governors are working to keep them from becoming policy in their state. But others are going farther and preventing businesses from requiring proof of vaccination. That’s not exactly free-market thinking. Andrew investigates.

  • The McCain-Feingold campaign finance law sought to make our politics better by putting limits on campaign contributions. It’s safe to say it hasn’t. But how so? Sarah has a fascinating item in The Sweep about unintended consequences. Read the whole thing to see how it’s led to a situation in which “candidates are best served by stoking the outrage by doubling down on the culture war on both sides.”

  • On the pods: Well, we didn’t have any former presidents dropping by for a chat, but it was still a pretty good week. This was actually the last week of oral arguments  for this Supreme Court term, and David and Sarah cover it all in Advisory Opinions.  On The Dispatch Podcast, both episodes focused on the House leadership fight and Liz Cheney. Do you ever check out Jonah’s solo weekend podcast episodes, which we affectionately call Ruminants? This week he reflects on Liz Cheney and Josh Hawley from very different perspectives.

Our Best Stuff From a Pretty Good Week

Tim Scott’s big moment, the House GOP retreat, and an interview with former President George W. Bush.

Happy Saturday! The sun is shining, the birds are singing, and I didn’t need a down parka to sit through our son’s baseball game this morning. Maybe it’s the weather, or the fact I got my second vaccine dose this week, but I’m ending this week and heading into the next one feeling optimistic about a lot of things. 

First and foremost, we saw signs that the Republican Party is taking at least tentative steps to forge a path forward from the worst of the Trump era. On Wednesday night, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott delivered a forceful response to President Joe Biden’s address to a joint session of Congress. It’s a fraught assignment that can, at minimum, turn you into a meme if you stumble (see Marco Rubio and his sips of water) and, at worst, help sink your entire political career (remember Bobby Jindal)? But Scott wisely called attention to the divide between Biden’s promise to unite the country and govern in a bipartisan fashion to the reality of the Democrats going it alone in Congress and spending big on the way. He touted the criminal justice reform bill that he introduced in the Senate last summer, and talked frankly about his experiences as a black man in America while at the same time professing his belief that we are not a racist country. 

Scott clearly got under the skin of Democrats and progressives: Late Wednesday night and into Thursday morning, “Uncle Tim” was a trending topic on Twitter. 

Meanwhile, at a House GOP retreat in Florida, Liz Cheney took center stage. Cheney led a group of 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach President Trump after the storming of the Capitol on January 6 and later survived a secret-ballot, closed door vote to remove her as chair of the House GOP caucus 145-61. “We have big differences about [Trump],” Cheney told The Dispatch. “But we’re very united on other areas of substance and policy, and I think we know that’s what we’ve got to be focused on.”

Now it wasn’t all sunshine and unicorns in Orlando. Audrey went to the conference and asked many representatives whether they would endorse Cheney’s 2022 reelection bid. More than a few avoided the question: “I haven’t talked to her about it,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said. “Oh, we all have our own races to run, I don’t know about that,” said House GOP Vice Chair Mike Johnson.

The conference shows that it won’t be easy to get past Trump, but Cheney is doing her part to keep the party focused on its opposition to the Biden agenda while it sorts out how to deal with the divisions within. And she’s not backing down.

On another positive note, we have a lot more time to talk about policy these days. On Friday we ran a great piece from Scott Winship responding to various proposals for child tax credits and family allowances. The impetus behind these proposals—whether from Democrats, Mitt Romney, or Josh Hawley—is that it’s become too expensive to raise a family. There is some merit to this argument, and David has written favorably about Romney’s proposal. But Winship takes an important look at whether declining fertility has more to do with economics or is a matter of changing preferences on family size. This is an important debate to have, and it’s a welcome sign that smart people can engage in it in good faith. 

That’s the kind of work we have been trying to do at The Dispatch, and we look forward to bringing even more of it in the coming year. Whoops, I just wrote myself into a sales pitch. Ssssh, don’t tell anyone, because we ended our 30-day free trial promotion at midnight Friday. But I’ve got a special link RIGHT HERE that gives you until tomorrow at noon to take advantage. Last reminder: 30 days, no obligation. Cancel anytime. Why? Please take a minute to read this from David about why he joined The Dispatch—and consider joining us!

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George W. Bush Paints E Pluribus Unum

Immigration is one of the most divisive issues in America today. Donald Trump’s nativist rhetoric during his campaign and White House tenure was met by calls from the left to “abolish ICE.” So it’s positively refreshing to hear former President George W. Bush speak about the issue with such compassion and appreciation for the contributions of immigrants to this country, and with empathy for those who are concerned about losing jobs. Which, by the way, he just happened to do on The Dispatch Podcast with Steve and Sarah this week. He talks about campaigning in Iowa and realizing that attitudes toward Hispanic immigrants working largely in the meatpacking industry were less than welcoming. He wants skeptics to know, “Without those immigrants, the economies of those areas would be, you know, paltry. … We know, we understand your angst. On the other hand, I hope you take time to learn about the motivations, and the positive contributions these citizens can make.” Bush also discusses his regrets over not passing immigration reform (offering both fascinating insight to the inner workings of Congress and some advice for President Biden), the future of the Republican Party, and oh yes, his new book of portraits and profiles of immigrants, Out of Many, One. Listen to the whole thing to hear Sarah talk to Bush about how he took up painting after leaving office and how he came to love experimenting with color, and to hear Bush get in a few digs at Steve’s expense. (And if you can’t listen, here’s the transcript.)

Americans Color Outside the Lines

Chris Stirewalt opens his weekly column by telling the story of Gregory Williams, who spent his early childhood in rural Virginia in the 1940s and 1950s thinking he was white. At the time, his white mother’s marriage to a black man would have been illegal. Williams only learned the truth when his parents divorced and his father moved them to Indiana. Williams went on to become the president of both the City College of New York and the University of Cincinnati. Stirewalt tells this story in part to explain how far as a country we’ve come on race relations. He compares the attitudes prevalent in the Jim Crow era to the divisiveness we see on race today, when “bigots and the progressive proponents of race science hold fast to the idea of fixed, measurable race and ethnicity.” He has some good news: Americans largely ignore both the bigots and the proponents of identity politics. “While the Census Bureau and professors of critical race theory are trying to salvage ideas about race from a century ago, Americans are going about their business. That means loving whomever they choose. One in five marriages are now between different racial groups. The children of mixed-race marriages take increasingly flexible views on their own racial identity. The results of the 2020 census will surely reveal that the trend is only accelerating.” 

Outrage Overload

Folks, we’re going to need more of you to share these articles. I know some of you do. But Jonah’s midweek G-File demonstrates that his message needs wider circulation. He’s written a couple times debunking the myth that the concept of policing originated with Southern slave patrols. And yet … it persists. Jonah discusses his Twitter spat with Nikole-Hannah Jones over the matter, and how believing the myth requires one to ignore hundreds of years of history. He segues from that into a larger discussion about Twitter and honest discourse and anger.  “Whether it’s Black Lives Matter and their apologists throughout elite left-wing media or the constellation of MAGA propagandists and their apologists throughout elite right-wing media, the order of the day has gone forth: You must be pissed off. You must think the other side hates you and you must hate them for it.” 

New Witnesses Allege Kanakuk Kamps Tried to Cover Up Child Sex Abuse

Back in March, David and Nancy French published their first report on a sex-abuse scandal at a Christian summer camp, Kanakuk Kamps. In 2010, former camp director Pete Newman was convicted and given two life sentences plus 30 years for several counts of abusing children at the camp. But the case went largely unnoticed and the camp required many of its victims to sign non-disclosure agreements. David published a follow-up talking about those NDAs. And now Nancy has yet another update, as families have come forward since our initial article. She has pieced together an answer to one of the lingering questions: How did the camp become aware of Newman’s crimes and why did it take so long for him to be arrested?  As with the other pieces, it’s not an easy read but it’s well worth your time.

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Now for the best of the rest. I’m gonna make this quick.

  • Charlotte talks to some experts about the leaked interview with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif in which he claimed that former Secretary of State John Kerry told him about 200 Israeli covert operations against the Islamic Republic. She also looks into who might have leaked the tape, the motivation behind doing so, and the ramifications.

  • A Department of Education proposal to award grants to school districts to incorporate anti-racist curricula generated a lot of media attention. Andrew investigates and finds the program itself would be small, but could provide a window into the Biden administration’s priorities. 

  • The COVID situation is bad in India. Very, very bad. In Capitolism, Scott Lincicome makes the case that not only should we respond to help India, but that we should be looking to see where other outbreaks could crop up and address them proactively. We have a surplus of vaccines and PPE that we can share, and doing so would benefit us both economically and geopolitically.

  • As for the pods, it might be hard to compete with the George W. Bush interview, but we have plenty of other good listens. Jonah welcomes A.B. Stoddard to The Remnant for some rank punditry and canine conversation—two of his favorite topics. And on Advisory Opinions, getting a heaping helping of Supreme Court analysis from David and Sarah, including an important First Amendment case with a cheerleader at the forefront.

Our Best Stuff From a Week We Flew a Helicopter on Mars

Well, not us, specifically.

Happy Sunday! I’m thinking a lot about science this week. Regular readers probably know by now that one of my pet peeves is that everything is politicized these days. It consumes us and makes us cranky. Sometimes, it makes us stupid, like when Major League Baseball gets woke and ships the All-Star Game and its $100 million in extra economic activity from Atlanta—where 30 percent of businesses are minority-owned—to Denver—where less than 5 percent are—in the name of anti-racism. 

When it comes to science, the politicization is actually dangerous. Like with the pandemic, where some on the right decried masks as an affront to their personal freedoms and teachers unions remained hesitant to send their members back into schools despite evidence that it was reasonably safe.

But there’s a lesser problem that bugs me. It makes science less cool, and it makes us less curious about amazing happenings. Now, science was never one of my best subjects in school, but it was always one of my favorites. So let’s talk about that this week. 

First, as Jonah wrote about in his Friday G-File, the world could have a malaria vaccine soon. Now, that might not seem like a big deal in the U.S., but the disease kills 400,000 people in Africa each year. He gives a brief rundown on how mosquitos and the disease they carry have shaped the course of human history. It’s heady stuff. And now we could have a solution that would save hundreds of thousands of lives a year. 

And … we flew a helicopter on Mars this week. Just think about that. Not only have we perfected the ability to send a spacecraft 293 million miles away and land it on another planet, we are now equipping that spacecraft with its own aircraft. Meanwhile, over here in the Ohio bureau we’ve never even learned to fly a drone in our backyard. 

That’s not all. Just yesterday, SpaceX sent four astronauts to the International Space Station. It barely registered a blip in the news cycle. It’s good for us to pay attention to these stories. A malaria vaccine is a gift to all of humanity. And exploring the universe beyond our planet represents our curiosity, our quest for knowledge, our desire to understand what is out there. 

And celebrating those victories is way more interesting than wondering whether Marjorie Taylor Greene is serious about debating Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, or what various people in Congress are saying on Fox News, or whatever is happening on political Twitter. 

Now, for our best stuff from the week.

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‘It’s Not Difficult to Win an Election When Your Opponents Are Not on the Ballot’

The eyes of the world are on Russia, where this week thousands of people have protested the regime’s treatment of political prisoner Alexei Navalny. After spending five months in Germany recovering from a poisoning attempt, Navalny returned to Russia in January and was promptly arrested. Fellow Russian opposition figure Vladimir Kara-Murza has also survived two poisonings at the hand of the Putin regime. Kara-Murza sat down for an interview with contributor Danielle Pletka in which they discussed his political career, the revolution of 1991, how the Putin regime works to shut out opponents, and what Navalny is going through right now. “We have now people in Russia who have been born, went to kindergarten, went to school, went to university, got married, got children, they started their first jobs and all this while, one and the same man has been staying in power,” Kara-Murza said.. “A mind boggling fact in itself. It’s just not normal, in a European country in the 21st century, for one man to stay in power for so long. And that’s actually the source of a lot of the recent shifts in public opinion against the Putin regime. It’s not even maybe specific policy disagreements or opposition to specific actions, it’s just the fact that people have had enough. “

Keep Social Justice Out of the Courtroom

A Minneapolis jury convicted Derek Chauvin on second-degree murder charges (as well as third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter) Tuesday in the death of George Floyd. While many Americans celebrated and others sighed in relief, the verdict was just not enough for some activists, who wanted to use the Floyd case to put the whole criminal justice on trial. Jonah points out the many flaws with this idea. “Whatever you make of various claims about ‘systemic racism,’ they have no place in a murder trial of a police officer any more than various claims about ‘black crime’ in a trial of an individual black citizen,” he writes. 

Don’t Create False Villains To Serve a Greater Good

On the same day that Derek Chauvin was convicted, there was a tragic police shooting in Columbus, Ohio. While some were eager to draw a parallel to George Floyd’s death and others--including the ACLU of Ohio--immediately called Ma’Khia Bryant’s death a murder, David cautioned against such kneejerk reactions. A Columbus police officer shot Bryant as she was  lunging with a knife at another young woman. David carefully describes the scene laid out by both the officer’s bodycam footage and a security video from a neighbor’s house across the street and writes, “To say that this video complicated the ACLU’s ‘murder’ allegation was an understatement. All at once, the narrative didn’t just change. It potentially flipped entirely. The available evidence indicated not only that the cop wasn’t a villain, he may be a hero. He may have stopped a murder.” David also walks through why it would have been bad for the officer to use a taser, shoot Bryant in the leg, or attempt to de-escalate the situation. “There are too many police shootings,” he concludes. “But it is simply wrong to try to force every police shooting into the same narrative. It is very wrong to treat cops who stop murders the same as we treat cops who commit murders.” 

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And the best of the rest:

  • In Capitolism (🔒), Scott Lincicome looks at the reasons there are so many job openings while millions of Americans are still out of work. One reason is the federal government’s enhanced unemployment compensation, as Steve wrote about last week. But there’s also the matter of workers feeling unsafe, especially in public-facing jobs in retail and hospitality, and the fact that parents (mostly moms) have left the workforce because schools and daycares have stayed closed or been limited in some places.

  • Congress has been kicking around police reform ideas since George Floyd’s death last May. House Democrats passed a bill, and Senate Republicans introduced their own legislation. But the Senate never voted on the House bill, and Senate Democrats blocked a vote on the GOP bill. In Uphill, Haley reports that GOP Sen. Tim Scott is working with Democrats Sen. Cory Booker and California Rep. Karen Bass on bipartisan legislation. Haley breaks down the various provisions in the House and Senate point by point. 

  • Chris Stirewalt points out that Biden’s refugee cap kerfuffle—when the administration announced it would not be raising the Trump administration’s low refugee cap and then quickly backtracked—highlights the problem the president has trying to govern while also appeasing progressive activists in his party.

  • Progressives like Elizabeth Warren and populists like Missouri GOP Sen. Josh Hawley are both eager to curtail the power of Big Tech by changing antitrust laws. Trace Mitchell argues that abandoning the consumer welfare standard, and with it the idea that regulating mergers and policing business should benefit consumers rather than competitors, would be a terrible idea.

  • On the pods: Sarah interviews former U.S. attorney Zach Terwilliger on the Friday Dispatch Podcast about the Chauvin conviction and what to expect when Chauvin is sentenced. On Advisory Opinions, Sarah and David discuss the week at the Supreme Court and answer listener mail. And if you, like many of us, are still using “scare quotes” in reference to the Biden administration’s “infrastructure” package, you’ll enjoy Jonah’s conversation with economist Brian Riedl on The Remnant.

Our Best Stuff on Afghanistan, the COVID Economy, and J.D. Vance

Plus, coverage of Iran, Infrastructure Week, and more.

Happy Sunday! We had a real “I can’t believe we’re still doing this” moment this week in the Ohio bureau. Our youngest son turned 12, meaning he’s now had two pandemic birthdays. It was certainly better than last year’s—he went to school in person, he got to see his grandparents, and he played his first baseball game of the season. But it still feels like he’s been cheated. 

What really bummed me out, though, is that I tried to think back on what his birthday was like a year ago, and … I had to turn to my Facebook memories and the camera roll on my phone. I remember the general vibe of those early months of the pandemic—the eeriness of empty highways and parking lots, the jokes about walking the dog six times a day, getting sucked into Tiger King. But a lot of the details kind of run together. Thankfully, the photos reminded me that I actually pulled out the KitchenAid mixer I got for Christmas a few years ago and Wilson and I baked his cake together. One of his presents was a party game, because we did try to have some family activity most nights. But I hated that I couldn’t remember the specifics.  

Which is why I’m looking forward to being on the other side of this thing, for good. I’m at the age where, with my childbearing years barely even visible in the rearview mirror, I like to offer unsolicited advice to new and expectant parents. One thing I tell them is that, “It’s OK. You’ll forget the sleepless nights, the teething, the tantrums. It’s like your brain has a self-defense mechanism.” It’s largely true, I think. And there are definitely a few similarities between being a new parent and living through a pandemic. Your world changes drastically and suddenly, you have to learn whole new ways of doing even basic tasks, and you can’t go anywhere. But there’s no doubt that while your brain might be trying to block out the unpleasantry, you forget some of the good stuff along the way. 

The pandemic and the upheaval it has wrought have exacted far heavier tolls than making us want to forget the last year, obviously. Lost lives, lost businesses and jobs, learning gaps. It’s not crazy to think it contributed at least in part to the spike in murders and violent crime we are seeing. So it feels a little petty to complain about not remembering big days. But another tip I like to give to new parents is that “the days are long but the years are short.” I touched on this a little last week when I wrote about taking our oldest on a college tour.  Even if you’re proud to see them grow up, there are times you just want to go back when they were playing tee-ball or learning how to read. To think that a whole year was spent in a fog is frustrating. 

So, yes, I’m more than ready for this to be over. Which is why I was grateful for the forceful statement Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis made this week about vaccines: “If you get a vaccine ... you’re immune. So act immune.”

It’s hard to say if the overly cautious statements coming from public health experts or the pause on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine are contributing to any vaccine hesitancy. My own social media feeds are full of people bragging about their shots. But it’s harder to think about getting back to normal when the message is that, even when we’re immune, we have to keep living the lockdown life. 

Now, for our best stuff from this week.

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‘We Just Can’t Do This Anymore’

Many small businesses have taken a hit during the pandemic: Lockdowns forced closures and reduced capacities, and people have been reluctant to venture out even amid reopenings. But another problem—less often discussed—is that business owners are finding it nearly impossible to hire workers. Steve talked to the owners of Dale’s Diner in northwest Ohio, of Juana’s Pagodas in the Florida Panhandle, and a textile producer in Wisconsin about their plight. All believe that the government’s enhanced federal unemployment benefits—$300 a week through September, thanks to the Biden administration’s $1.9 trillion stimulus package—are hindering their efforts. Workers can make more by staying home.  “With vaccinations ramping up quickly and more Americans comfortable returning to pre-pandemic activities, these same workers are needed to get the economy moving and to keep businesses open,” Steve writes. “But with the extension of a policy designed to keep workers home, it’s not surprising that many of them are doing just that.”

About That Afghanistan Announcement ...

Okay, we might have gone a little heavy on our reaction to President Biden’s announcement that he would withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by September 11, 2021. But we had the voices you wanted to hear on this. Tom Joscelyn is one of the foremost experts on Afghanistan, al-Qaeda, and the larger war on terror. (Tom and Steve were instrumental to getting the trove of documents from Osama bin Laden’s Abbotabad compound released.) Tom was a big critic of the Trump administration’s withdrawal deal, which could have brought our troops home on May 1. He’s no more impressed by Biden’s plan. He critiques Biden’s reasoning as flawed. “The president believes America can manage terrorism emanating from the region without maintaining a footprint in Afghanistan. This is called the ‘over the horizon’ model, a term Biden used to describe striking targets from afar. But the operation that netted bin Laden is a good example of why this won’t work.” David also weighed in in The French Press (🔒). David served in Iraq and uses his experience there to point out other problems with the withdrawal. For all the talk of this being a “loss,” he points out correctly that the military hasn’t lost. It’s accomplished everything it can. “Yes, we have failed at the nearly impossible, optional tasks that would positively transform nations and cultures, but we have accomplished the necessary, mandatory tasks that keep our enemies at bay and keep Americans safe,” he writes. And don’t miss Jonah’s column chiding Biden for putting feelings over facts. 

New Right, Same as the Old Left

J.D. Vance is an all-but-declared candidate for the Ohio Senate opening created by Rob Portman’s coming retirement. He’s running as a Republican, but Jonah noticed he’s sounding a lot like … Bernie Sanders. In response to the news that representatives from 100 different corporations had a giant conference call to discuss how to react to election reform bills going through state legislatures, he tweeted: “Raise their taxes and do whatever else is necessary to fight these goons. We can have an American Republic or a global oligarchy, and it’s time for choosing.” Jonah sallies all of Vance’s anti-corporate arguments and points out: “And about this ‘global oligarchy.’ The idea is a conspiracy theory, no different than Bernie Sanders’ prattling about the One Percent. Sanders often assumes that any political obstacles he faces are the result of ‘millionaires and billionaires’ manipulating the system. And so does Vance.”

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And here’s the best of the rest: 

  • In The Sweep, Sarah gets a jump on the 2022 Senate races in Georgia and North Carolina and the governor’s race in Arkansas, looking at how candidates decide when to enter the race—early to raise money, or late to “wait until other candidates lose that new car smell.”

  • Talks began in Vienna this week on reviving the Iran nuclear deal that the Obama administration negotiated in 2015 and that the Trump administration withdrew from in 2018. But Iran just announced it would begin enriching uranium at 60 percent purity. Is now the time to jump back in? Check out Charlotte’s great piece.

  • Infrastructure Week was a long-running joke during the Trump administration, but it’s happening for real now as senators began discussing a potential $800 billion package for roads, broadband, water systems, and other traditional forms of infrastructure. Haley has the details in Uphill (🔒). 

  • President Biden announced a commission to look into expanding the Supreme Court and other judicial branch reform. The Cato Institute’s Ilya Shapiro is not impressed.

  • For the history buffs, Thomas Koenig has a review of Dennis C. Rasmussen’s new book, Fears of a Setting Sun: The Disillusionment of America’s Founders, about how the Founding Fathers came to despair over the future of the American experiment.

  • It was a banner week on the pods: On Advisory Opinions, David and Sarah discuss the Derek Chauvin trial and whether he’s likely to be convicted. On The Dispatch Podcast, the gang talks about the Johnson & Johnson vaccine pause. Lastly, pour yourself some Jameson: on The Remnant, Jonah and Mike Gallagher reunite to debate “half-baked ideas” like buying  Greenland, requiring presidential candidates to pass the Presidential Physical Fitness Test, and something about babies generating static electricity by crawling over shag carpeting.

Our Best Stuff From a Week Where Everyone Else Was on Spring Break

David French on Ron DeSantis, a look at the state of the race to replace Rob Portman in Ohio, and two warnings about China.

The past and future collided in an interesting way in the Ohio bureau this week. While my social media feeds were full of photos from friends’ trips to Florida or the Carolinas or the Great Smoky Mountains, we kept our spring break a little more low-key. Our oldest is a high school junior, so we kicked off the college tour process with a quick trip to my alma mater, Ohio University. 

I’m a little in denial about the whole process—it seems not that that long ago that he was learning how to ride a bike, and then Friday he drove part of the way home—so there was comfort in starting the process in a familiar place. I still mostly know my way around, and I was able to point out my dorms and apartments, buildings where I took classes, and bars and restaurants that are somehow still in business despite their bathrooms being permanent health code violations. 

But there is something remarkable in watching your child take steps toward adulthood, even when you’re not entirely ready for it. When kids are little, it’s easy to know whether you’re doing the right thing. If you read them books, play Legos with them, teach them their pleases and thank yous, and try to make sure that once in a while a vegetable makes it into their stomachs, you can feel pretty good about yourself. The early years might be physically exhausting, chasing them around and trying to make sure they don’t fall down the stairs or run out into the street, but the later years are more mentally taxing. As they head toward puberty and then young adulthood, parenting is a different kind of exhausting. Their friends influence them more—are those positive influences or not? They start having their own opinions about politics and the way the world works—did you give them enough perspective for them to seek out good information? They are more guarded about privacy—should you give them room or be more involved? If they are up to something, you risk missing out on warning signs. And if they’re not, you risk hovering and keeping them from figuring out things on their own.

There have been plenty of times during the last year where I lamented that we were hardly winning the whole “parenting in a pandemic” thing. Our kids spent too much time playing video games somedays, and I ran out of good answers when they expressed frustration about not seeing friends, or having to deal with school quarantines, or why they had to go to practices for various sports when there were very few competitions. 

But the weekend in Athens, Ohio, left me feeling a little better. When I chose to go to OU all those many years ago, it was in many ways a practical decision. It had a highly ranked journalism school, which is what I wanted to study, and in-state tuition made it affordable. I was close enough to home that I could visit occasionally, but not so close that I could show up at home on a Saturday morning and beg my mom to do my laundry. 

I got to see a little bit of history repeating itself through our son. He is interested in the military, but not so much through the service academy route. He learned that OU has a highly ranked ROTC program and is strong enough in the academic fields he might end up studying. He feels at home on campus. He’s using the information he has at hand to make a pragmatic decision. He’s growing up, and thinking on his own. It could definitely be worse. 

One last note—I also came away from our tour with a deep sense of gratitude that he is still just a junior. The campus wasn’t deserted, exactly, but neither did it look like you’d expect during beautiful spring weather. We saw students in restaurants and out exercising. But classes are almost exclusively online, and during our tour, the guide showed us a dining hall from the outside and then explained that all meal service is carry-out. I’ve spent a lot of time over the last year worried about the state of our K-12 education system. But college students have had a rough year, too. The staff and students we talked to were all hopeful that next year will be more normal. I’m just very glad that by the time we drop our oldest off at college—whether it’s at my alma mater or someplace he’s yet to consider—that his experience will be a positive one that he’ll be happy to tell his own kids about someday.

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‘The Only Defense You Have Is to Shine a Light’

Maria Ressa is a Filipino-American journalist who was Time’s Person of the Year in 2018 and has been nominated for the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize. She has faced harassment and trumped-up legal charges in response to her work exposing the corruption and abuse of power by the Rodrigo Duterte regime in the Philippines. Ressa spoke with our Charlotte Lawson about her rise to prominence as a journalist for CNN and how she opted to focus her work on her homeland. Ressa helped launch a news site called Rappler in 2012, a move that angered Duterte and led to him touting false information about the publication. Ressa remains undeterred. “Courage comes from being prepared,” she told Charlotte. “It’s not a pill you take, it’s from knowing exactly what you’re facing.” 

Ron DeSantis and the Most Politically Potent Path Past Trump

As Donald Trump slowly recedes from public view, many are eager to be considered his political heir. And plenty of politicians have garnered attention for adopting Trump’s fighting stance: Josh Hawley saluting the Capitol election protesters, Ted Cruz trying to own the libs. In his Thursday French Press (🔒), David asks an important question: But what if a person can fight and govern at the same time? Which brings us to Ron DeSantis. DeSantis was the subject of what David calls an “extraordinarily unfair hit piece” by 60 Minutes accusing DeSantis of making a vaccine deal with the grocery store Publix (which also has pharmacies), a company that donated to his campaign.  David looks at DeSantis’ record on COVID —Florida is doing better than most states—and concludes: “How do you hold an angry base while recapturing suburbanites who were repulsed by the incompetence and corruption of the Trump administration? Perhaps by governing well and fighting hard for a righteous cause.  

‘This Race Needs To Be About Ohio’

Ohio Sen. Rob Portman announced in January that he would not seek re-election this fall, and the race to fill his seat is heating up on the GOP side. Donald Trump might have lost the 2020 election, but he won Ohio by more than 500,000 votes, and it’s easy to see how that is shaping the race. Declan reports on his illuminating conversation with Jane Timken, who leads the Ohio Republican Party and has already declared her candidacy. Back in January, when Ohio Rep. Anthony Gonzalez voted to impeach Trump, Timken called his choice “rational” though she said she didn’t necessarily share it. These days? She wants him to resign. “Let me be clear,” she told Declan. “I always took the position that Anthony Gonzalez’ vote was wrong. The impeachment was unconstitutional and a scam, and I’ve made a very clear statement that he can no longer be effective representing the 16th District because he’s gone against the wishes of his constituents.” Declan also profiles candidates Josh Mandel, Rep. Mike Turner, and Rep. Bill Johnson*, and looks at whether Hillbilly Elegy author J.D. Vance will enter the race.

China, China, China!

We published two different articles on China on two different days, but they are worth looking at together because they demonstrate a theme. On Tuesday, Danielle Pletka looked at how China has responded to various—and normal—diplomatic moves in Australia by implementing heavy-handed tariffs. She views it as a cautionary tale: “Beijing once circumscribed its range to China’s actual and claimed territories (think Taiwan, Hong Kong, the India-Chinese border in the Himalayas, the South China Sea), and has steadily been venturing further abroad using its police state tactics to influence Europe, the United States, and most easily, Australia.” In our other piece, Tim Morrison details how China is targeting Western corporations who’ve moved to make sure their supply chains don’t involve products or materials generated by forced labor in Xinjiang province, where the Chinese are detaining Uyghur Muslims. 

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And now for the best of the rest:

  • In the G-File, Jonah considers whether Joe Biden is trying to be like LBJ or FDR, and it sends him down a rabbit hole on the New Deal. “That stuff was a grab bag. … Some stuff was good, some arguably good, some bad, and the rest arguably bad. But it wasn’t some coherent program with a serious public policy theory stitching it all together.”

  • When you think infrastructure, you think roads and bridges, right? But maybe not long-term elderly health care or retrofitting private homes. Those are just two of the many more unusual things packed into Joe Biden’s “infrastructure” package. Brian Riedl breaks it down.

  • Chris Stirewalt uses Matt Gaetz’s current travails as an opportunity to look at how both sides are more than happy to police each other’s moral failings but fall back on excuses when it’s one of their own.

  • Biden can’t say he wasn’t warned. Thomas Joscelyn has been beating the drum on the badness of the Trump administration’s Afghanistan withdrawal agreement since it was signed, and now a deadline looms for Biden to remove U.S. troops. Joscelyn warns in Vital Interests (🔒) that now is not the time to make concessions to the Taliban.

  • On the pods: Former Virginia Rep. Denver Riggleman joins Jonah on The Remnant. Come for the political talk, stay for the booze (Riggleman’s family owns a distillery) and Bigfoot talk. Are social media platforms “common carriers,” public accommodations, or something else? David and Sarah discuss an opinion by Justice Clarence Thomas that probes that very question on Advisory Opinions. Is there any infrastructure in the infrastructure bill? The gang discusses that and more on The Dispatch Podcast. And on the Friday episode, Steve and Sarah talk to Julia Galef, who’s out with a new book Tuesday on The Scout Mindset, an approach to seeking information that elevates truth over affirmation and aligns quite nicely with the editorial approach of The Dispatch.

*Correction, April 11: The article originally referred to U.S. Rep Bill Johnson as a member of Ohio’s state legislature.

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