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Morning Digest: Virulent anti-gay zealot joins race for Missouri’s open Senate seat

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Hartzler served in the state House from 1995 to 2001, where she championed an unsuccessful bill that would have allowed prosecutors to file murder charges against women who obtain late-term abortions. But it wasn’t until 2004 that Hartzler truly emerged as a social conservative powerhouse, when she led the successful campaign to ban same-sex marriage at the ballot box in Missouri—where it was already prohibited. She went on to write a book titled “Running God’s Way,” to instruct candidates how to campaign in a “Christian” manner.

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Hartzler decided to test out her approach on a bigger stage in 2010 when she challenged Democratic Rep. Ike Skelton, who had won his 17th term the prior cycle in a 66-34 landslide even as John McCain was carrying southwest Missouri’s 4th District 61-38. The longtime chair of the House Armed Services Committee initially looked secure, but the deteriorating political climate helped give Hartzler an opening that few of Skelton’s previous opponents ever enjoyed, and she even managed to turn his powerful position in Congress into a liability.

During the final weeks Mother Jones published an article titled, “Is Vicky Hartzler the Most Anti-Gay Candidate in America?” but even if the answer was “yes,” that type of publicity was by no means a problem for Hartzler in such a culturally conservative district. She unseated Skelton 50-45 and has never had trouble winning re-election.

During her decade in the House, Hartzler’s generally avoided the spotlight, but she’s continued to make news for her opposition to LGBTQ rights. In 2017, she successfully pressured Donald Trump to issue an executive order banning transgender people from serving in the military. Two years later, the congresswoman was part of an effort to convince Amazon to restock a book championing “conversion therapy” and even gave a group supporting this pseudoscience permission to hold a forum in a congressional office building.

Most recently, Hartzler has vocally attacked the Equality Act, a bill to protect LGBTQ rights that the House passed earlier this year. Hartzler, of course, opposed the measure, which she blasted as “a far-reaching policy that will upend all aspects of life, turning basic decency & common sense into discrimination.” She also joined with a majority of her caucus in voting to overturn Biden’s victory hours after the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol.

Senate

FL-Sen: A day after the launch of her Senate campaign against Marco Rubio, EMILY’s List has endorsed Rep. Val Demings, who is the only notable woman seeking the Democratic nomination (and is likely to remain so).

Governors

OH-Gov: Former Rep. Jim Renacci, who was the GOP’s nominee for Senate in 2018, announced Wednesday that he would challenge Gov. Mike DeWine in next year’s Republican primary.

Renacci has been a loud DeWine critic for some time, but he intensified his attacks last year over the governor’s measures to combat the coronavirus pandemic. The former congressman declared in the fall that the state was “committing economic suicide,” and he went on to trash the governor for considering new restrictions on restaurants and bars as COVID-19 cases were rising.

Renacci tapped into another well of conservative grievances just after the election when he trashed DeWine for recognizing Joe Biden’s victory. The governor’s situation got considerably more serious days later when Donald Trump, who still had a Twitter account, wrote, “Who will be running for Governor of the Great State of Ohio? Will be hotly contested!” However, while Trump has continued to train his venom on two other GOP governors, Arizona’s Doug Ducey and Georgia’s Brian Kemp, he’s largely left DeWine alone of late.

That could change at any time of course, but if Renacci is counting on Trump’s backing, he may be in for a big disappointment: NBC reports that Trump is unlikely to endorse him thanks to his underwhelming 2018 Senate campaign. Indeed, Renacci’s defeat at the hands of Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown that year makes him the one Republican to lose a partisan election in Ohio over the last four cycles (Democrats have prevailed in officially nonpartisan races for the state Supreme Court).

That misbegotten race was, in fact, never meant to be. Renacci had originally entered the GOP primary for governor that year in a field that included DeWine, but he switched to the Senate contest after the presumptive nominee, former state Treasurer Josh Mandel, unexpectedly dropped out. Republicans hoped that the state’s rightward drift would give them a good shot at unseating Brown, but they soon became dispirited by unfavorable polls and what they saw as a weak effort from Renacci.

Team Red was especially pissed that the challenger loaned his campaign $4 million but never spent most of it (almost $3.5 million in loans were repaid to the candidate after the campaign was over), and his actual fundraising from donors proved to be unimpressive. It didn’t help that he managed to attract unhelpful headlines like, “Jim Renacci failed to pay strip club owner for governor campaign flights,” and major outside groups never bothered to spend much money to aid him.

Brown ended up winning 53-47, even as DeWine prevailed 50-47 and the GOP swept every other partisan statewide race that same evening. Even Renacci himself agrees his decision to switch races was a botch: He recently called it “my biggest mistake and my biggest regret.”

TX-Gov: There’d been hints that state Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller was considering a challenge to Gov. Greg Abbott in next year’s GOP primary, but now he’s finally confirmed his interest and says he’ll make a decision “in the next couple of weeks.”

VA-Gov: An internal poll for Republican businessman Glenn Youngkin conducted by WPA Intelligence finds newly minted Democratic nominee Terry McAuliffe with a narrow 48-46 edge in the November general election for Virginia’s open governorship. To date, there’s been no other publicly released polling of this matchup.

House

CA-25: Former Democratic Rep. Katie Hill, who’d reportedly been considering a comeback bid, has now confirmed that she is in fact weighing a return to Congress. Hill, though, sounds ambivalent about the idea. “I don’t feel like I have an obligation to [seek office], other than to show that people can recover from things, and if you’ve had a mission to do something and people try to derail you from it, don’t let them,” she said, referring to the revenge porn attack that drove her to resign in 2019. “But I don’t know if that’s a good enough reason.”

NH-01: Former Trump White House staffer Karoline Leavitt, who is 24 years old, says she is considering a bid for New Hampshire’s 1st Congressional District, which is currently held by Democratic Rep. Chris Pappas but is likely to be targeted by Republicans in the upcoming round of redistricting.

OR-05: Army veteran Nate Sandvig has entered next year’s race against Democratic Rep. Kurt Schrader, making him the second Republican to do so after 2020 nominee Amy Ryan Courser. Sandvig didn’t appear to earn any local media attention with his launch, though his campaign treasurer, Cabell Hobbs, also serves as treasurer for prominent Republicans like John Bolton (who operates a super PAC) and was an assistant treasurer for an arm of George W. Bush’s re-election campaign.

Legislatures

Special elections: There’s a special election in Louisiana on Saturday:

LA-SD-07: This Democratic district in the Algiers neighborhood of New Orleans, as well as parts of neighboring Jefferson and Plaquemines parishes, became vacant after former Sen. Troy Carter was elected to the U.S House in April. Three Democrats and one Republican are vying for this seat, and if no candidate wins a majority of the vote, a runoff will be held on July 10.

Plaquemines Parish Board of Elections Supervisor Joanna Cappiello-Leopold, state Rep. Mack Cormier, and State Rep. Gary Carter (who is Troy Carter’s nephew) are the Democratic candidates, while Patricia McCarty is the lone Republican running. Hillary Clinton won this district 67-30 in 2016, but while this may seem like a sleepy, safely Democratic contest, the outcome could have potential ramifications for Louisiana politics more broadly.

In 2019, Cormier flipped a state House seat, defeating Republican Chris Leopold—who happens to be married to Joanna Cappiello-Leopold— by a 54-46 margin. His victory was critical for Democrats because even though Republicans maintained a healthy 68-35 majority (with two independents) in the state House that year, Cormier’s win prevented Team Red from gaining a supermajority in the lower chamber to match the one they’d already secured in the state Senate.

Should Cormier prevail, therefore, another special election would be held for his seat, which backed Trump 52-45 in 2016. A Republican win in that potential race could therefore put Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards’s veto powers at risk, as Democrats would be completely reliant on both independents to sustain any vetoes.


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‘Beginning of an historic moment’: First group of Afghan allies who aided military arrive in U.S.

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In a statement, President Joe Biden called the first group of allies and families to be evacuated as part of Operation Allies Refuge “an important milestone as we continue to fulfill our promise to the thousands of Afghan nationals who served shoulder-to-shoulder with American troops and diplomats over the last 20 years in Afghanistan.”

“This morning, the first flight of Operation Allies Refuge has arrived in the United States, carrying Afghans who are eligible for Special Immigrant Visas (SIV) and their families,” the president said. “These arrivals are just the first of many as we work quickly to relocate SIV-eligible Afghans out of harm’s way—to the United States, to U.S. facilities abroad, or to third countries—so that they can wait in safety while they finish their visa applications.”

”These first Afghans are able to come directly to the United States because they have already completed extensive background checks and security screening by the Intelligence Community and the Departments of State and Homeland Security,” he continued. “They will complete the final steps of their visa applications and required medical checks at Fort Lee, in Virginia, before traveling onward to begin their new lives in the United States.”

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In a second statement, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) President Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, one of the fiercest voices advocating for Afghan allies and their families, called the arrivals “the beginning of an historic moment,” and urged the safe evacuation of all allies and families to either the U.S. or a U.S. territory.

The 2,500 being evacuated to Fort Lee represent just a fraction of the thousands of allies and family members who must be brought to safety after aiding our military, and who have already been in danger even before the scheduled withdrawal of our forces. One interpreter, Ramish, told CNN that when Taliban members were unable to find him, they burned his house down. He’d been in hiding after he’d been told they were searching for him. “If he can’t get out, he said, ‘our future will be dark,’” the report said.

“The administration has set an important precedent in where it has moved these first allies, proving the easiest and safest way to relocate others is by bringing them to U.S. soil,” O’Mara Vignarajah said. “Given the weight of our moral responsibility, we need nothing less than a full-scale evacuation of allies to Guam or elsewhere in the U.S. We cannot in good conscience put them at risk in third countries with unreliable human rights records, or where the Taliban may be able to reach them.”

“This flight, and its passengers being processed in Fort Lee, is precedent to bring all these heroes and their dependents to U.S territory while their visa claims are processed,” said Veterans for American Ideals’ Chris Purdy, another leading advocate. “Eighteen-thousand allies and their families are counting on these promises being kept.”

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The arrivals come one day after the House and Senate overwhelmingly approved legislation increasing special visas by 8,000. “I am incredibly grateful that the supplemental includes the HOPE Act to temporarily waive the medical examination for our Afghan partners and core components of the ALLIES Act to expedite the visa process,” Honoring Our Promises Working Group member and Colorado Rep. Jason Crow said. “As the U.S. withdraws troops from Afghanistan, this legislation will allow us to honor our promises and protect those who served alongside us.” The bill now goes to President Biden for his signature.

“We are relieved that Congress has taken decisive action toward fulfilling the United States’ promise to Afghan allies,” said International Refugee Assistance Project policy director Sunil Varghese. “These additional visas and improvements to SIV procedures will go a long way in preventing further unnecessary loss of life. We are proud of advocating for these changes, and we are especially encouraged to see that the spouses and children of murdered SIV applicants will not be left out in the cold.”


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Thanks to Trump, the GOP’s future doesn’t look very bright to Republican voters

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That 18% sliver of GOP voters who’d like to rid the entire party of Trump has remained notably consistent since the beginning of the year. In February, a Politico/Morning Consult poll found what while 59% of Republicans wanted Trump to play a “major role” in the party, 17% said they “no longer” wanted to him play any role.

Interviews conducted for the AP survey suggest Trump’s divisiveness and baseless election lies could depress GOP voting on both ends of the Trump spectrum—among his most devout followers and never-Trumpers alike.

Nicholas Blethrow, a 28-year old Republican who lives in Orange County, California, called the party “pretty much a disaster” and said its continuing efforts to overturn the 2020 election were “ridiculous.”

“Clearly there’s a lot of people that enjoy him. But I don’t think it’s good,” Blethrow said.

Reedsville, Wisconsin, native Dennis Herzog, 36, identified as a staunch Republican but also said he has found the constant tension between the parties exhausting and is dismayed by “the whole system in general.” 

“It’s nonstop,” Herzog said. “I don’t care who is in office. Just do what’s right for the people and stop picking certain sides.”

The repeated takeaway from polling about Trump is the fact that while he remains a powerful figure in the Republican Party, his dominant presence also poses real challenges for the GOP. While Washington Republicans keep trying to will Trump into talking about the future, his constant harping on the 2020 election continues to sow doubt in the electoral system among his followers. At the same time, some noteworthy sliver of GOP voters wishes he would just dry up and go away, even as their party goes all in on his antics. 

Ideally, at this point, GOP voters would be galvanizing against President Joe Biden, but Trump is still hogging the spotlight—and that could prove detrimental to GOP hopes heading into 2022.


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‘Bloody shirt’ gaslighting hits fruition as Republicans valorize insurrectionists, attack accusers

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Indeed, Stefanik spent the week defending the insurrectionists by attacking Democrats. A few days before, she had joined the right-wing chorus (including Jordan) blaming Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for what they labeled “the so-called insurrection.” 

“The American people deserve to know the truth. That Nancy Pelosi bears responsibility, as speaker of the House, for the tragedy that occurred on January 6,” Stefanik told a press conference. Republican Congressman Liz Cheney tartly observed that she “would be deeply ashamed of myself” for such remarks.

Media Matters’ Eric Kleefeld recently assembled a nearly comprehensive rundown of the many ways that right-wing media have gone all-in on gaslighting the public about what happened on Jan. 6, as well as their culpability for spreading the very same disinformation about the election beforehand (as well as afterward) that was the fuel for the insurrection itself.

The gaslighting included the runup to Jan. 6, particularly the two months following the election when Fox News and an array of right-wing pundits produced a torrent of disinformation suggesting groundlessly that the presidential election results were fraudulent, and that moreover elected Republicans held statutory power to halt the ballot-counting process, another rank falsehood.

It continued even during the insurrection itself. The far-right Gateway Pundit website referred to the rioters as “patriots,” while an Alex Jones guest declared: “This is what happens when Americans rise up.” On Fox News, anchor Bret Baier opined: “It’s not like it’s a siege. … It seems like they are protesting.” A Fox reporter on the scene credulously repeated insurrectionists’ claims: “Aside from the things that were broken getting into the Capitol in terms of doors, they say there is no vandalism taking place.”

Immediately after the insurrection, the gaslighting intensified, with a completely different version of events: It wasn’t really Trump supporters who did it, it was antifa leftists. Gateway Pundit claimed that “at least one bus load of antifa goons infiltrated the Trump rally as part of a false flag operation,” while Fox’s Laura Ingraham speculated that, because she had “never seen Trump rally attendees wearing helmets” and body armor, it seemed unlikely that the insurrectionists were really Trump supporters. (Ingraham was obviously unacquainted with the kind of gear Proud Boys and Oath Keepers commonly wear at their events.)

The Sunday news talk shows were shortly dominated by Republicans claiming that the election had been stolen as a way to deflect discussion of the insurrection. In short order, the conversation turned from false denials about the nature of the violence to an attack on the motives of the people who were demanding accountability.

Tucker Carlson—who had first argued that “it was not an insurrection” in mid-January, less than two weeks after the event—led this particular parade, with a post-insurrection rant claiming that Democrats were intent on exploiting the Jan. 6 events for political gain and to criminalize their political enemies:

Got that? Vote the wrong way and you are a jihadi. You thought you were an American citizen with rights and just a different view. But no, you’re a jihadi. And we’re going to treat you the way we did those radicals after 9/11. The way we treated Bin Laden. Get in line, pal. This is a war on terror.

… Keep in mind, they’re talking about American citizens here. They’re talking about you. But nobody seems to notice or care.

Carlson went on to claim that the First Amendment had been “effectively suspended,” and that “we’re clearly living under some form of martial law at the moment.”

By May, the denial that Jan. 6 had been an insurrection had spread to Congress, with Republican House members comparing the rioters to ordinary tourists visiting the Capitol. It similarly became the favorite response of an array of right-wing pundits, as well as among the protesters who turned up outside the D.C. Corrections Center where most of the arrested insurrectionists are being held.

Accordingly, Carlson leapt to the fore in claiming victimhood at the hands of the new “war on terror” that right-wing pundits claimed President Biden’s crackdown on white-nationalist violence constituted. Piling falsehood upon falsehood, Carlson simultaneously argued that right-wing extremists were not a threat while claiming that in fact, the National Security Agency was spying on him.

This claim shortly mutated into a new accusation: Namely, that the real cause for the Jan. 6 insurrection was an FBI plot using informants to manipulate Trump fans into committing acts of violence. This conspiracy was quickly picked up not only by far-right Congressmen Marjorie Taylor Green and Matt Gaetz, but also onetime progressive hero Glenn Greenwald, who devoted a long screed on Substack to the claim. The problem, however, was that the theory was built on a crude misunderstanding of how federal informant programs, as well as the process used by federal prosecutors to obtain cooperating witnesses in cases like the Jan. 6 prosecutions.

This clear departure from reality—and the insistence on inverting it on its head—for right-wing media was, as we have seen, largely fueled by the increasingly radicalized nature of the right-wing audience for outfits such as Fox News, which corrected course after its accurate but wildly unpopular election-night reportage caused its ratings to plunge. The gaslighting that now fills its programming is a reflection of its audience’s demands, suggesting that the right’s increasing radicalization is now stuck in an unstoppable feedback loop.

The final component in “bloody shirt” narrative entails demonizing and discrediting the actual victims of and rendering them into bullies, thugs, and would-be tyrants. After the recent opening hearing of the House Jan. 6 commission, Fox contributor Julie Kelly tweeted out an attack on Michael Fanone, the Capitol Police officer who was brutalized during the insurrection and testified before the panel, in which she made fun of him for crying. Kelly dismissed him as a “crisis actor,” adding that “he has many tattoos.”

In a similar vein, right-wing pundit Matt Walsh sneered at Congressman Adam Kinzinger of Illinois—one of only two Republicans on the Jan. 6 commission—for his tears during his remarks at the hearing: “Men should not cry in public. It is unmanly and dishonorable.”

But the focus of the demonization, as Stefanik’s remarks suggest, has been on Pelosi. Two of the Republican congressmen initially appointed by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to the Jan. 6 commission and then removed by Pelosi—Jim Jordan and Jim Banks—have claimed that the speaker herself was to blame for the breakdown in security that led to the insurrection.

“Why wasn’t there a proper security presence?” Jordan asked. “And that’s a question that … only the speaker of the United States House of Representatives can answer.”

But in fact, as CNN notes: “The Speaker of the House is not in charge of Capitol security. That’s the responsibility of the Capitol Police Board, which oversees the US Capitol Police and approves requests for National Guard assistance.”

Moreover, the D.C. National Guard has a sole commander: The sitting president, which at the time was Donald Trump. Its website explains that “the Commanding General of the D.C. National Guard is subordinate solely to the President of the United States. This authority to activate the D.C. National Guard has been delegated, by the President, to the Secretary of Defense and further delegated to the Secretary of the Army. The D.C. National Guard is the only National Guard unit, out of all of the 54 states and territories, which reports only to the President.”

That hasn’t prevented right-wing pundits from trying to concoct an image of Pelosi as the secret overseer of the insurrection, apparently with the intent of eventually imprisoning all Trump supporters and Republicans.

Calling her “Nancy the Insurrectionist,” Ingraham told her Fox News audience that Democrats are engaging in a plan to take total control of the nation’s politics: “They’re following Nancy Pelosi and her efforts to poison the well, to accuse Republicans of fascism and otherwise drive their opponents from public life.”

Far-right cartoonist Ben Garrison concocted a caricature version of the “Gulag Archipelosi,” with a grim, dingy prison cell jammed with Jan. 6 insurrections wearing “Trump Won” T-shirts and miserable expressions, overseen by a Nazi-esque House Speaker (while Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn chides readers: “I warned you!”).

Turning the insurrectionists into victims and martyrs was the intent of a publicity stunt by Greene, Gaetz, and other far-right Congress members on Thursday, when they turned up at the D.C. Corrections Center demanding to be allowed inside to see the Jan. 6 prisoners. They were turned away, which infuriated Greene, who told Real America’s Voice: “We were completely rejected, and we were told that we were trespassing. They locked us out! They locked the door and wouldn’t let us back in!”

“I know that the people there, just from what little we saw from the outside, they’re being treated worse there than the bloodthirsty terrorists at Guantanamo,” Congressman Louie Gohmert of Texas told reporters.

This is how the age-old “waving the bloody shirt” trope has always worked: Invert reality on its head, claiming innocence of violent intent, shifting the blame for violence onto the victims, always taking the rhetorical offensive. Thus, the bullies become victims, and the victims bullies. So far, it has worked every time.


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