Sunday, July 12, 2020

Last Call For Trump And The Q Balls

People who say Donald Trump doesn't do any work outside the golf course are wrong. It takes effort to be actively boosting not one, but two white supremacist domestic terrorist groups, one military in the "boogaloo"/second Civil War, the other political in this whole Q idiocy conspiracy nonsense.

On July Fourth, before President Donald Trump spoke to the nation from the White House lawn, he spoke indirectly to another community on Twitter: QAnon.

That afternoon, he retweeted 14 tweets from accounts supporting the QAnon conspiracy theory, a sprawling and ever-mutating belief that a mysterious government official who goes by “Q” is leaving online clues about a messianic Trump’s secret plan to dismantle a cadre of Washington elites engaged in everything from pedophilia to child sex trafficking.

It wasn’t the first time Trump has nodded — accidentally or not — to QAnon followers on Twitter. But Trump's QAnon-baiting has gone into overdrive in recent months. According to a Media Matters analysis, ever since the pandemic began, Trump has retweeted at least 90 posts from 49 pro-QAnon accounts, often multiple times in the same day.

Those around Trump have followed suit. Eric Trump, the president’s son, recently posted a giant “Q” on Instagram as well as the hashtag version of the community’s slogan: “Where we go one, we go all.” White House deputy communications director Dan Scavino sparked glee on Facebook when he posted a photo with Q symbology in it back in March. Over on Parler, the niche Twitter alternative and MAGA hub, Rep. Devin Nunes of California, one of Trump’s most strident congressional defenders, directed people to The Dirty Truth, a video producer who has promoted QAnon-related conspiracies in the past.

And over that July Fourth weekend, Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser, recorded a video of himself taking the QAnon loyalty pledge, a slightly altered version of the U.S. oath of office.

All this has occurred with barely any pushback from Trump or Republican leaders — or even much acknowledgment that the phenomenon exists. And the engagement has continued even as the FBI has labeled the amorphous online community a potential source of domestic terrorism after several people radicalized by QAnon have been charged with crimes, ranging from attempted kidnapping to murder, inspired by the conspiracy theory.

To Trump’s critics, the reason is simple enough: QAnon followers are some of Trump’s biggest boosters. They show up at rallies. They promote the president’s narrative online, even coming up with their own conspiracy theories to protect him. And as the president struggles in the polls amid criticism over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and response to nationwide protests over police killings, there are political benefits to engaging Trump’s most fervent fan base.

“It's easy enough for them to say OK, well, because of that, we can accept this other crazy level of behavior because those people love the president,” said Rick Wilson, a former GOP strategist and co-founder of the Trump-critical Lincoln Project. “They unequivocally support Donald Trump.”

For the uninitiated, QAnon refers to a conspiracy theory centered on the existence of a shadowy government official known simply as “Q,” who communicates with his followers through various online channels, dropping cryptic, Nostradamus-esque notes hinting at the elite’s secret machinations. QAnon alleges that the global elite, all part of a pedophile sex trafficking ring in Washington, are responsible for an amalgamate of baseless conspiracies, ranging from the murder of a Democratic National Committee staffer to widespread satanic worship and deliberately spreading the novel coronavirus.

In the QAnon mythos, Q and Trump are working toward an event called “The Storm,” the day that he finally arrests thousands of these elites and ships them to Guantanamo Bay. Occasionally, QAnon followers see various setbacks as The Storm in action; others have attempted to explain the lack of mass indictments through science fiction.

“Supposedly, I'm already in Gitmo and my clone is speaking to you right now,” Wilson said.

QAnon followers are hungriest for signs that the Trump administration is watching them — an errant hand-wave, for instance, can result in hundreds of followers insisting that Trump had drawn a “Q” to acknowledge them. But rather than leave it in the realm of “Da Vinci Code”-esque symbology, Trump’s actions, as well as his repeated insistence that the “deep state” is conspiring against him, have given them even more reason to believe in him.

And to QAnon followers, Trump’s regular retweeting of their messages indicates that he or someone on his team is acknowledging their work.

Yeah, there's a lot of crossover between the Boogaloo Boys and the Q Balls.  But it's all straight up Cult of Dear Leader stuff, Facism 101, here. We've already seen both groups kill. They are straight-up terrorists.

And the closer we get to Election Day, the more likely it will be for Trump to call on them to unleash deadly violence all over the country in order to help him stay in power.

Don't laugh at these guys. We're in the growing stages of a populist uprising that could lead to a death toll on par with COVID-19.

Florida Goes Super-Viral

Florida is now heading directly for a NYC March/April scenario where tens of thousands of daily infections lead to thousands of deaths, and several other states will soon follow.

Florida on Sunday reported a record 15,300 new coronavirus cases, the most by any state in a single day since the pandemic reached the United States.

The staggering number was the result of both increased testing and widespread community transmission that has affected the state’s population centers as well as its rural areas. It shattered the previous highs of 11,694 reported by California last week and 11,571 reported by New York on April 15.

Florida is set to hold the Republican National Convention in Jacksonville next month and has ordered schools to reopen five days a week.

Here are some significant developments:

President Trump on Saturday wore a mask in public for the first time, while visiting wounded service members and health-care workers at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. Trump has previously shown disdain toward face coverings amid the coronavirus pandemic and refused to wear them. 
Louisiana’s Democratic governor announced a new requirement that most people wear a mask in public. The state’s Republican lawmakers have opposed coronavirus restrictions
Walt Disney World in Orlando reopened after having been shuttered for nearly four months, even as Florida continued to report record infections. Testing supplies in the state are running low, and some big labs are taking several days to return results, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) said at a news conference. He partly attributed the backlog to testing many asymptomatic people.
Shortly before Florida announced the new cases, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos made the rounds on Sunday news talk shows, where she continued to press schools to reopen even as fresh evidence emerged that the United States was failing to control new waves of infection and death.

In an interview with CNN’s “State of the Union,” DeVos said she would like to see closed schools be the “exception” rather than the norm. “The goal needs to be that kids are learning, full-time, this fall,” she said. “Kids need to get back in the classroom.”

DeVos added on “Fox News Sunday” that the Trump administration was looking at “all the options” for pulling federal funding from schools that don’t open in the fall. “American investment in education is a promise to students and their families,” she said. “If schools aren’t going to reopen … they shouldn’t get the funds.”

So we're right back to where we were around Easter: not enough testing supplies, no political appetite for a lockdown until  it's too late, and a Trump regime actively encouraging more infections and deaths so that the economic numbers don't get worse heading into the election.

Nearly 140,000 Americans have already died from this pandemic, and we could easily see another 140,000 more before the end of the year, and most likely a lot more.

I expect the death toll in Florida will eclipse that of New York by December 31.

Oh, and Texas isn't far behind, either.

Sunday Long Read: Biden's Big Battle

Tim Alberta (again) finds yet another "Biden is doomed!" angle, but this time it's from more than an anecdotal source. Michigan Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin is warning that Joe Biden and the Democrats are heading for another 2016-style loss in the state.

An endangered incumbent, representing a purple district in the most competitive region of one of America’s premier swing states, Slotkin is not an accomplished political player. She is still raw, still at times wobbly on her feet, still learning the secrets of her new craft. What sets the congresswoman apart is a skill set few in her field have—a talent for investigating, researching, crunching data and challenging conclusions and adapting to findings. She is, in short, a shrewd observer of the carnage unfolding in her backyard, if not yet the most lethal combatant. This serves Slotkin well. Rather than rely on outside assessments, she bases every maneuver, every tactical decision, on what she’s seeing and hearing for herself. That means dismissing advice from the national party. That means distancing herself from nascent ideological demands on the left. That means, in the summer of 2020, with a torrent of polling fueling a narrative that Trump has fallen way behind in his campaign for a second term, warning Democrats not to trust what they’re being told.

“I don’t believe it,” Slotkin says matter of factly. “Listen, if anyone tells me they can accurately predict what major events are coming in the remainder of 2020, I’ll give them a thousand dollars. I mean, this has been the year of black swans. … I don’t for one minute think this [presidential] race is safe in anyone’s column. I’ve been literally begging people to ignore those polls. They are a snapshot in time. And if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that we have no idea what’s coming next.”
I stop Slotkin there. Is her gripe that these snapshots—the polling, both public and private, that shows Republicans bleeding support across the board—are accurate in the present, yet subject to so much volatility in the future as to be worthless? Or does she believe the snapshots themselves are inaccurate here and now?

“I think they’re inaccurate,” she replies without hesitation. “Here’s the thing. When I started to run and I had to hire a pollster, I interviewed a bunch of different folks and I decided to do what we do sometimes at the Pentagon, which is to take a ‘bad cop’ approach to the interview. … It was five or six folks that I interviewed, and I said, ‘You got something wrong. You screwed up in 2016. What did you get wrong? And how are you going to fix it?”

Only one pollster, Slotkin says, admitted that he got it wrong. That was the person—Al Quinlan of GQR, a large Washington-based firm—she hired.

“He told me that they fundamentally undercounted the Trump vote; that the Trump voter is not a voter in every single election, that they come out for Trump, so they’re hard to count,” she explains. “On a survey, if someone says, ‘I’m not sure I’m going to vote,’ you don’t usually continue the conversation. And some of them didn’t have any desire to be on those poll calls; they didn’t have the 20 minutes to talk to somebody. They didn’t want to do it. And so, they were fundamentally undercounted.”

Slotkin, ever the intel analyst—identifying trends, compiling a report, presenting a conclusion—tells me, with a high degree of confidence, “I believe that same thing is happening right now.”

Normally I would categorize this in the same box as Tim Alberta's breathless piece last month on middle-class black voters in Detroit saying that they'll vote for Biden, but that they are considering not voting at all.  But Stefanik is a former CIA analyst running for re-election in arguably the toughest House battle in the country right now, and if she says her own internal polls are showing Trump is going to win the state despite everything, I'd pay attention.

So what does Biden need to do to win?

Run a campaign like Slotkin did in 2018.

Shaped like a mirror image of Oklahoma—panhandle to the right—the territory stretches roughly 100 miles. To the far west lies Lansing, the diverse and economically barren capital city, as well as East Lansing, home to the behemoth campus of Michigan State University and its tens of thousands of students. To the far east is a cluster of wealthy, majority white townships in Oakland County, the executive hub of suburban Detroit. And in the middle, a vast region that defies easy definition, affluent exurbs run up against forgotten farmlands, diverging areas that are bound by little except a shared consistency of culture: The areas are overwhelmingly white, deeply religious and reliably conservative.

What the district lacks in ethnic diversity—it is more than 80 percent white—it makes up for with a rare geographic mix. Slotkin, unlike most members of Congress, has constituents that are urban, suburban, exurban and rural.

“The district is unique because it’s really three districts—west, central and east,” says John Sellek, a local Republican consultant. “The west is Ingham County, a place that does not elect Republicans. Then, you’ve got Livingston as the anchor for Republicans in the center of the district, a conservative, high-turnout area. And then in the east, you’ve got the northern suburbs of Oakland County, which is still considered a Republican area, but without the hard-core conservative voters you find in Livingston.”
Sellek, who lives in Brighton, an idyllic, affluent bedroom community inside Livingston County, adds: “What scares Republicans is the change in Livingston. It’s a high-growth area, and that growth is coming from suburbanites who aren’t sure they identify as Republicans anymore.”

While many of the once-red districts that flipped in 2018 had witnessed considerable shifts in voting behaviors and were thus long overdue for a Democratic takeover, the 8th remains at its core a messy, self-contradicting political universe. Its red-to-blue conversion in 2018 was hardly a reflection of a lurch leftward; rather it was a unique repudiation of Trump and his new right, a verdict made possible by lopsided advantages in money, energy and, ultimately, turnout.

“This isn’t the story of a district that’s moving toward Democrats,” says Dave Wasserman, the ace congressional handicapper for the Cook Political Report. “It’s still a very polarized district between some of the true Detroit suburbs on one side, and a very liberal state capital and college campus on the other side, and a lot of deeply conservative areas in between.”

This polarization is embodied by Ingham and Livingston, adjacent counties, both of which are contained fully within the 8th District. Ingham County is 75 percent white, has a median household income of roughly $53,000 and a poverty rate of 21 percent; Livingston County is 97 percent white, has a median household income of more than $78,000 and a poverty rate of less than 6 percent. One county has virtually no recent history of electing Republicans; the other, virtually no recent history of electing Democrats. If these are the political extremes, the middle is represented by a narrow strip of Oakland County, the last piece of the district’s puzzle. It’s a competitive, if right-leaning, stretch of mostly affluent suburbs, meaning it’s all a matter of margins: Whereas a Republican blowout all but guarantees a Republican win in the district, a relatively close race there gives Democrats a chance. (Slotkin lost Oakland County by some 14,000 votes in 2018, which allowed her to win the district by 13,098 votes thanks to huge turnout in Ingham County; during the previous midterm, in 2014, Bishop carried Oakland County by some 32,000 votes and won the district by roughly 30,000 votes overall.)

Slotkin won because she was able to turn out the anti-Trump vote on the left and middle.  She freely admits she's in trouble in November for that reason, and that Biden will be too if he mistakes anti-Trump sentiment for pro-Democratic policies.

As overly pragmatic as I am, I tend to agree with her. I don't believe that Biden is headed for a loss. But I do believe that he could lose, and that he needs to assume that he may be behind.

Don't believe the polls.  Fight like you're down by 10 points every day.

Indepen-Dunce Week: Lowering The Barr

Oh, and while Roger Stone was being let off the hook, Attorney General Bill Barr has reassigned a third US Attorney looking into Trump's criminality.

Attorney General William Barr has pulled Richard Donoghue from his role as U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York to take on a new role at Main Justice. 
After rumors of a reshuffling last week, the Justice Department confirmed the news in a statement on Friday, announcing that Donoghue will be leaving his role to serve as Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General, or top deputy to Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen. 
Donoghue, seen as close to Barr, was tasked with supervising all DOJ investigations involving Ukraine in February. His office also played a major role in the federal investigation into President Trump’s inaugural committee, and oversaw cases against drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman and Chinese telecommunications company Huawei, among others. 
Seth D. DuCharme, the current principal associate deputy attorney general, will take over as acting U.S. attorney in Brooklyn.

So that's Jessie Liu out at DC, Geoffrey Berman out at Manhattan, and now Richard Donoghue out at Brooklyn. All were overseeing Trump cases.  All have been reassigned by Bill Barr while investigations of Trump were still ongoing.

There's still a tremendous amount of damage that Barr can do between now and January, but should he still be Attorney General next year as part of a second Trump term, all is lost.
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