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    Is There Anything That Will Make the ‘Former Guy’ Go Away?

    Bret Stephens: Hi, Gail. I know I speak for us both when I say that our thoughts are with everyone who was in the path of Hurricane Ian. In the meantime, mind if I run a possibly crazy idea by you?Gail Collins: Bret, there is nothing I would love more.Bret: A friend of mine, not at all conservative, thinks that Joe Biden would be smart to pardon Donald Trump for taking all those documents to Mar-a-Lago. Insane?Gail: Hmm. Is there a middle ground here? Where the authorities don’t press forward but leave him dangling in the wind?Bret: Eventually everyone gets his day in court. Not sure how long you can wangle the dangle.Gail: I’m not crazy about turning Trump into a martyr to the right by prosecuting him for something as stupid as the document pileup seems to be. But I can’t envision just giving him a pass.So what did you tell your not-at-all-conservative friend?Bret: A pardon does a few things. First, as you suggested, it denies Trump the martyr card. Second, it humiliates him and tacitly requires him to recognize Biden as the legitimate president. Third, it saves the Justice Department from a potentially very tricky prosecution that it very well might not be able to win. And finally, it returns the public’s gaze to the far more important issue, which is Trump’s culpability for Jan. 6, which has oddly fallen off the radar screen.On the downside —Gail: Sorry, my bottom line is no no no no no. Don’t love the idea of trying him at all, but as I see it, the man is a criminal, and we can’t just say that doesn’t matter because he used to be in the White House.Give me your final thought and then let me ask you about the other Big Republican Guy, the governor of Florida.Bret: If Trump faces prosecution for the documents, it all but guarantees that no Republican will challenge him in a primary if he decides to run again. But if Biden pardons him, he will be a more diminished figure, making it likelier that he will face a real challenger. And given the choice — a miserable one, I will admit — I’d much rather see The Ron as the Republican nominee than The Don.How about you? Is there a side of you that’s kinda hoping Trump gets the nomination, on the theory that it would be easier for the Democratic nominee to beat him than to beat DeSantis?Gail: That was indeed my feeling for a while, but watching DeSantis during the hurricane crisis made me feel that maybe he just doesn’t have the … electricity you need to be a presidential candidate.Really, I was sort of shocked by how flat he seemed in his public appearances. Joe Biden — who became president by being the dull guy who wasn’t scary — was more moving when he went on camera to talk about Florida.Bret: I saw it a little differently: DeSantis is smart enough to know that now is the time to drop the political antics and act like a sober, competent governor.Gail: Well, right now our main focus has to be on the folks whose world has been destroyed by the storm. Not dwelling, for instance, on how DeSantis once opposed giving aid to the New York folks who were hit by Hurricane Sandy.Bret: If I had a dollar for every politician who says and does one thing one year and another the next …. My main problem with most G.O.P. hopefuls is that they are what I’ve come to call “one-sheep Republicans.” Not sure if I need to explain —Gail: Oh, let yourself go.Bret: It’s a reference to an old joke about an old man whose lifetime of good deeds on behalf of his little village is undone on account of a single unfortunate moment of passion with a woolly companion. The point is that much as I prefer most Republican policy proposals on stuff like regulation and taxes, the refusal to forthrightly accept the results of the last election is their sheep.Gail: Bret, whenever I look at a Republican on TV, I will now see a little fluffy creature baa-ing softly in the corner. Thanks.We’ve spent a lot of time this election season — all of which I’ve found most enjoyable — talking about the terrible Republican presidential possibilities and the awful Republican Senate candidates in places like Arizona.Give me some Republicans who make your heart sing. There must be somebody out there who isn’t immigrant-bashing and election-denying.Bret: The only politician on earth who makes my heart sing is Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelensky. But in the beggars-can’t-be-choosers department, I admire Chris Sununu, the governor of New Hampshire, who earlier this year said of Trump, “I don’t think he’s so crazy that you could put him in a mental institution. But I think if he were in one, he ain’t getting out.” I also like Ben Sasse, who handily won re-election in Nebraska in 2020 despite being openly anti-Trump, and I’ve come around to liking Mitt Romney after I dumped all over him when he was running for president 10 years ago.Gail: I’ve already publicly apologized for my anti-Romney crusade. Although I’ve still got a plastic dog-on-the-roof-of-a-car someone sent me when I was, um, obsessing on his animal transport policy. Keeping it by my desk.Bret: And I think the former South Carolina governor and U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley has shown at least some political courage, given her presidential ambitions, in accepting Biden’s election and putting some daylight between her and her former boss.Gail: Smart choice, although I have a pretty strong suspicion that if real presidential prospects arise, she’s gonna break your heart.Bret: Probably. And the Republicans I most admire are now fast on their way to becoming statues in the pantheon of political has-beens: Adam Kinzinger, Liz Cheney, Larry Hogan, Charlie Baker, Rob Portman, Jeff Flake. Maybe they could even start a party?Gail: Or a secret society where they could all get together and root for their favorites. Must be secret, since at this point their endorsement would be the equivalent of a karate kick to any serious Republican candidate.Bret: Yeah, if you really want to sink DeSantis, maybe you should start telling rank-and-file Republicans that never-Trumpers like me are his biggest fans.Gail: Meanwhile, all the actual Republican candidates seem to want to talk about is crime and immigration, with a side of inflation. Let me jump off to a topic I’ve been wanting to revisit. Explain your attraction to the idea of a wall along the Mexican border.Bret: Gail, as you know I support a liberal immigration policy in general, not least from Mexico, where my dad was born and where I grew up. But immigrants need to come in, announced, through the front door of the United States, not unannounced from the back. The lack of effective border control encourages the latter, often at a terrible cost in lives. The wall isn’t a panacea, or even feasible along every mile of the border. But it needs to be part of an eventual overall solution where we bolt the back door shut in exchange for widening the front door. The two go together, no?Gail: Um … no. It’s not all that practical. People have gotten pretty good at getting over — not to mention under — it. And it’s a terrible symbol to the world that we’re a country that’s shut its doors. Which, as we agree, would be disastrous given our aging work force and a blow to our reputation as a nation that welcomes immigrants.Bret: We appear to be well on our way to having a record number of people trying to get across the border this year. Countries that can’t control their borders wind up getting very, very right-wing governments, as Sweden and Italy have recently discovered. A wall, or at least some kind of “smart fence” that accomplishes the same thing, doesn’t solve every immigration problem, but it solves a few. And it deprives the rabid right of one of its most effective political cards.Gail: Solves very little and makes an international statement about our hostility toward immigrants. But we’ll revisit this again … and again.Bret: Final question for you, Gail: We spend a lot of time in our conversations talking about conservative craziness. Any liberal or progressive craziness you’d like to vent about?Gail: Well, right now, our news-side colleague Maggie Haberman, one of the greatest reporters I’ve ever known, is being beaten up online for her book about Donald Trump, “Confidence Man.”The fact that Maggie was able to get access to Trump, even though she’s been totally spot on in her critique of his presidency, seems to bother some people. I’d say she deserves a medal.Bret: Viva Maggie!The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips. And here’s our email: letters@nytimes.com.Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook, Twitter (@NYTopinion) and Instagram. More

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    They Legitimized the Myth of a Stolen Election — and Reaped the Rewards

    A majority of House Republicans last year voted to challenge the Electoral College and upend the presidential election. A majority of House Republicans last year voted to challenge the Electoral College and upend the presidential election. That action, signaled ahead of the vote in signed petitions, would change the direction of the party. That action, […] More

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    America Has a Ginni Thomas Problem

    Clarence and Virginia (Ginni) Thomas don’t discuss their dueling efforts to destroy our democracy when they come home from a day of wreaking havoc.That’s what Ms. Thomas, a conservative activist and an adherent to the lie that Donald Trump won the last election, wants us to believe. That’s essentially what she told the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol when it interviewed her last week.I don’t believe that any more than I believe Trump can declassify documents with his mind.Why does this matter? Because Ms. Thomas pressed the White House and various state legislators to overturn the 2020 election, and her husband has refused to recuse himself from election-related cases. In fact, Justice Thomas was the Supreme Court’s lone dissent when it rejected Trump’s efforts to withhold documents from the Jan. 6 committee.In March, The National Law Journal spoke with several experts who agreed that Justice Thomas should have recused himself from the case. One called his refusal to do so “arguably unprecedented.”Ms. Thomas didn’t just encourage people to overturn the election; she was at the Stop the Steal rally from which the insurrection sprang on Jan. 6, although she told The Washington Free Beacon that she returned home before Trump took the stage.In other words, Ms. Thomas is a one-woman constitutional crisis.According to The New York Times, during her testimony before the committee, Ms. Thomas repeated her assertion that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump. That is a lie. She knows it, and we know it.Because she is repeating this lie, I can’t believe anything she says without proof. Therefore, her claim that she never discussed her election subversion activities with her husband rings hollow.Did she also not share with him her seemingly deranged Facebook posts framing the teenage survivors of the Parkland shooting as “dangerous to the survival of our nation” or espousing the conspiracy theory that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton wiretapped Trump?Is the Thomas household just silent, filled only with the hum of grievance and betrayal? Or do these spend their time talking in trivialities, reminiscing about their polar opposite upbringings — him born in the predominately Black, Gullah community of Pin Point, Ga., her born in predominantly white Omaha, Neb., which at the time was facing its own racial tensions?Maybe they share maleficent chuckles recalling how he rebuffed questions at his confirmation hearing in 1991 over the allegations that he sexually harassed Anita Hill, calling it, absurdly, a “high-tech lynching,” or how Ms. Thomas in 2010 left a voice mail message for Hill, demanding that she apologize to her husband.According to The Times, the message was: “Good morning, Anita Hill. It’s Ginni Thomas. I just wanted to reach across the airwaves and the years and ask you to consider something. I would love you to consider an apology sometime and some full explanation of why you did what you did with my husband.”What?! Ma’am, if you don’t stop playing on that lady’s phone!The ask was brazen. It was disrespectful. It was delusional. But that’s Ginni Thomas.Sure, maybe the woman with the audacity to call her husband’s accuser and ask that person to apologize to the man she says abused her is too bashful at home to raise her most recent antics with her husband. But it seems unlikely; for years, journalists have documented how close and forthright Justice and Ms. Thomas are with each other. As early as 1991, the year he was confirmed, one of his longtime friends, Evan Kemp, told The Washington Post that she was the one person he really listened to.In the same article, one of Ms. Thomas’s aunts is quoted as saying Justice Thomas “was so nice, we forgot he was Black.” She added, “And he treated her so well, all of his other qualities made up for his being Black.”Can you imagine? How must it feel to marry into a family where people think of your Blackness as a weight on the wrong side of the scales and you have to achieve at the highest level to balance it out? Of course, Justice Thomas may not object to that characterization. But he and his wife may still spend their quiet time unpacking it.Ms. Thomas is not a minor player and outside agitator. She is connected and influential. According to The Times, she led a group of hard-right activists in a White House meeting with Trump where “members of the group denounced transgender people and women serving in the military.”According to the paper, one of the people the group asked to have at the meeting was an assistant Ms. Thomas hired after the conservative group Turning Point USA fired the person for texting a colleague, “I hate Black people.”Since Ms. Thomas is married to a Black man, I can’t make any of that make sense. Maybe, like her aunt, she forgot Justice Thomas was Black.But the major issue remains: The wife of a Supreme Court justice has been actively engaged in trying to overturn an election, and the justice won’t recuse himself from any cases related to that issue. They are Mr. and Mrs. Mutiny.The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips. And here’s our email: letters@nytimes.com.Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook and Twitter (@NYTopinion), and Instagram. More

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    Gerrymandering Isn’t Giving Republicans the Advantage You Might Expect

    Yes, the G.O.P. has a structural edge in the House, but it isn’t anything near insurmountable for Democrats.There is no shortage of reasons Republicans are expected to retake the House this year, including President Biden’s low approval ratings and the long history of struggles for the president’s party in midterm elections.But there’s another issue that looms over the race for the House, one that doesn’t have anything to do with the candidates or the voters at all: the fairness of the newly redrawn congressional maps.You might assume that the House map is heavily gerrymandered toward Republicans, especially after Republicans enacted aggressive gerrymanders in critical states like Texas and Florida. Many of you might even presume that this gerrymandering means that the House isn’t merely likely to go to the Republicans, but that it’s also out of reach for Democrats under any realistic circumstances.In reality, Republicans do have a structural edge in the House, but it isn’t anything near insurmountable for the Democrats. By some measures, this is the fairest House map of the last 40 years. More

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    Ginni Thomas Repeats False 2020 Election Claim in Jan. 6 Interview

    In a closed-door interview with the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack, Ms. Thomas reiterated her false assertion that the 2020 election was stolen from President Donald J. Trump.WASHINGTON — Virginia Thomas, the wife of Justice Clarence Thomas and a conservative activist who pushed to overturn the 2020 election, told the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol that she never discussed those efforts with her husband, during a closed-door interview in which she continued to perpetuate the false claim that the election was stolen.Leaving the interview, which took place at an office building near the Capitol and lasted about four hours, Ms. Thomas smiled in response to reporters’ questions, but declined to answer any publicly.She did, however, answer questions behind closed doors, said Representative Bennie Thompson, Democrat of Mississippi and the chairman of the committee, who added that her testimony could be included in an upcoming hearing.“If there’s something of merit, it will be,” he said.During her interview, Ms. Thomas, who goes by Ginni, repeated her assertion that the 2020 election was stolen from President Donald J. Trump, Mr. Thompson said, a belief she insisted upon in late 2020 as she pressured state legislators and the White House chief of staff to do more to try to invalidate the results.In a statement she read at the beginning of her testimony, Ms. Thomas denied having discussed her postelection activities with her husband.In her statement, a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times, Ms. Thomas called it “an ironclad rule” that she and Justice Thomas never speak about cases pending before the Supreme Court. “It is laughable for anyone who knows my husband to think I could influence his jurisprudence — the man is independent and stubborn, with strong character traits of independence and integrity,” she added.The interview ended months of negotiations between the committee and Ms. Thomas over her testimony. The committee’s investigators had grown particularly interested in her communications with John Eastman, the conservative lawyer who was in close contact with Mr. Trump and wrote a memo that Democrats and anti-Trump Republicans have likened to a blueprint for a coup.“At this point, we’re glad she came,” Mr. Thompson said.After Ms. Thomas’s appearance on Thursday, her lawyer Mark Paoletta said she had been “happy to cooperate with the committee to clear up the misconceptions about her activities surrounding the 2020 elections.”“She answered all the committee’s questions,” Mr. Paoletta said in a statement. “As she has said from the outset, Mrs. Thomas had significant concerns about fraud and irregularities in the 2020 election. And, as she told the committee, her minimal and mainstream activity focused on ensuring that reports of fraud and irregularities were investigated. Beyond that, she played no role in any events after the 2020 election results. As she wrote in a text to Mark Meadows at the time, she also condemned the violence on Jan. 6, as she abhors violence on any side of the aisle.”A spokesman for the committee declined to comment.Ms. Thomas exchanged text messages with Mr. Meadows, the White House chief of staff, in which she urged him to challenge Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s victory in the 2020 election, which she called a “heist,” and indicated that she had reached out to Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, about Mr. Trump’s efforts to use the courts to keep himself in power. She even suggested the lawyer who should be put in charge of that effort..css-1v2n82w{max-width:600px;width:calc(100% – 40px);margin-top:20px;margin-bottom:25px;height:auto;margin-left:auto;margin-right:auto;font-family:nyt-franklin;color:var(–color-content-secondary,#363636);}@media only screen and (max-width:480px){.css-1v2n82w{margin-left:20px;margin-right:20px;}}@media only screen and (min-width:1024px){.css-1v2n82w{width:600px;}}.css-161d8zr{width:40px;margin-bottom:18px;text-align:left;margin-left:0;color:var(–color-content-primary,#121212);border:1px solid var(–color-content-primary,#121212);}@media only screen and (max-width:480px){.css-161d8zr{width:30px;margin-bottom:15px;}}.css-tjtq43{line-height:25px;}@media only screen and (max-width:480px){.css-tjtq43{line-height:24px;}}.css-x1k33h{font-family:nyt-cheltenham;font-size:19px;font-weight:700;line-height:25px;}.css-ok2gjs{font-size:17px;font-weight:300;line-height:25px;}.css-ok2gjs a{font-weight:500;color:var(–color-content-secondary,#363636);}.css-1c013uz{margin-top:18px;margin-bottom:22px;}@media only screen and (max-width:480px){.css-1c013uz{font-size:14px;margin-top:15px;margin-bottom:20px;}}.css-1c013uz a{color:var(–color-signal-editorial,#326891);-webkit-text-decoration:underline;text-decoration:underline;font-weight:500;font-size:16px;}@media only screen and (max-width:480px){.css-1c013uz a{font-size:13px;}}.css-1c013uz a:hover{-webkit-text-decoration:none;text-decoration:none;}How Times reporters cover politics. We rely on our journalists to be independent observers. So while Times staff members may vote, they are not allowed to endorse or campaign for candidates or political causes. This includes participating in marches or rallies in support of a movement or giving money to, or raising money for, any political candidate or election cause.Learn more about our process.Ms. Thomas also pressed lawmakers in several states to fight the results of the election.But it was Ms. Thomas’s interactions with Mr. Eastman, a conservative lawyer who pushed Vice President Mike Pence to block or delay the certification of Electoral College votes on Jan. 6, 2021, that have most interested investigators.“She’s a witness,” Mr. Thompson said Thursday. “We didn’t accuse her of anything.”The panel obtained at least one email between Ms. Thomas and Mr. Eastman after a federal judge ordered Mr. Eastman to turn over documents to the panel from the period after the November 2020 election when he was meeting with conservative groups to discuss fighting the election results.That same judge has said it is “more likely than not” that Mr. Trump and Mr. Eastman committed two felonies as part of the effort, including conspiracy to defraud the American people.Mr. Paoletta has argued that the communications between Ms. Thomas and Mr. Eastman contain little of value to the panel’s investigation.Ms. Thomas’s cooperation comes as the Jan. 6 committee is entering its final months of work after a summer of high-profile hearings and preparing an extensive report, which is expected to include recommendations for how to confront the threats to democracy highlighted by the riot and Mr. Trump’s drive to overturn the election.The interview came just days after the panel abruptly postponed a hearing scheduled for Wednesday, citing the hurricane bearing down on Florida. The hearing has yet to be rescheduled.Representative Jamie Raskin, Democrat of Maryland and a member of the committee, said Ms. Thomas’s interview showed that “people continue to cooperate with the committee and understand the importance of our investigation.”The panel has interviewed more than 1,000 witnesses and has received hundreds of thousands of documents and more than 10,000 submissions to its tip line since June.“There’s a lot more information coming in all the time,” Mr. Raskin said.He said the committee members have viewed thousands of hours’ worth of video images and tape but want to be “disciplined” about how they present them in the next hearing.“There are certain people who are going to denounce whatever we do, no matter what,” he said. “We just want to be able to complete the narrative and then deliver our recommendations about what needs to be done in order to insulate American democracy against coups, insurrection, political violence and electoral sabotage in the future.”Maggie Haberman More

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    Trump Lawyer Boris Epshteyn Appears Before Atlanta Grand Jury

    One of former President Donald J. Trump’s most prominent lawyers, Mr. Epshteyn was involved in efforts to keep Mr. Trump in power despite his loss in 2020. Boris Epshteyn, one of former President Donald J. Trump’s most prominent lawyers, testified on Thursday before a special grand jury in Atlanta that has been convened as part of a criminal investigation into election interference by Mr. Trump and his allies.Mr. Epshteyn played a central role in efforts to keep Mr. Trump in power despite his loss in the 2020 election. He now serves as an in-house counsel for the former president, helping coordinate the Trump team’s various legal defense efforts; a separate federal investigation into Mr. Trump’s mishandling of classified documents is underway, along with the inquiry by the Congressional committee investigating the attack on the Capitol by Trump supporters on Jan. 6, 2021.The grand jury appearance was the latest legal complication for Mr. Epshteyn — one of a number of Trump lawyers who have themselves faced an onslaught of criminal and civil exposure. Earlier this month, federal investigators seized Mr. Epshteyn’s cellphone as part of yet another federal investigation, this one into the attempts to overturn the election results and the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol. His lawyer did not return calls for comment.The investigation is being conducted by Fani T. Willis, the district attorney of Fulton County, which includes most of Atlanta. Ms. Willis is weighing potential conspiracy and racketeering charges in the investigation, among others, documents have shown. Her office is known to have already identified nearly 20 targets who could face criminal charges, including Rudolph W. Giuliani, Mr. Trump’s former personal lawyer. It is not clear whether Mr. Epshteyn also faces potential legal jeopardy in the case or is appearing solely as a witness.As part of her investigation, Ms. Willis has examined the phone call that Mr. Trump made on Jan. 2, 2021, to Brad Raffensperger, the Georgia secretary of state, imploring him to find nearly 12,000 votes, or enough to reverse the outcome in his favor. She is also seeking to question Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina about earlier calls he made to Mr. Raffensperger.The investigation is being conducted by Fani T. Willis, the district attorney of Fulton County.Audra Melton for The New York TimesAnd she is examining Republicans who assembled a bogus slate of electors in an effort to thwart the outcome of the popular vote in Georgia. Mr. Epshteyn played a leading role in that effort. In filings earlier this year that sought to compel his testimony, Ms. Willis’s office said that Mr. Epshteyn “possesses unique knowledge concerning the logistics, planning, and execution of efforts by the Trump Campaign to submit false certificates of vote to former Vice President Michael Pence and others.”Her office highlighted an interview that Mr. Epshteyn did with MSNBC in January, when he said he was “part of the process, to make sure there were alternate electors for when, as we hoped, the challenges to the seated electors would be heard and would be successful.”Mr. Epshteyn was also subpoenaed this year by the Jan. 6 committee, which noted that he had “participated in attempts to disrupt or delay the certification of the election results” and “participated in a call with former President Trump on the morning of January 6, during which options were discussed to delay the certification of election results in light of Vice President Pence’s unwillingness to deny or delay certification.” More

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    Which Midterm Polls Should We Be Taking With a Grain of Salt?

    Frank Bruni, a contributing Opinion writer, hosted a written online conversation with Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and Patrick Ruffini, a Republican pollster, to discuss the state of polling and of Democratic anxiety about polls ahead of the midterms.Frank Bruni: Amy, Patrick, as if the people over at Politico knew that the three of us would be huddling to discuss polling, it just published a long article about the midterms with the gloomy, spooky headline “Pollsters Fear They’re Blowing It Again in 2022.”Do you two fear that pollsters are blowing it again in 2022?Patrick Ruffini: It’s certainly possible that they could. The best evidence we have so far that something might be afoot comes from The Times’s own Nate Cohn, who finds that some of the Democratic overperformances seem to be coming in states that saw large polling errors in 2016 and 2020.Amy Walter: I do worry that we are asking more from polling than it is able to provide. Many competitive Senate races are in states — like Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — that Joe Biden won by supernarrow margins in 2020. The reality is that they are going to be very close again. And so an error of just three to four points is the difference between Democratic and Republican control of the Senate.Ruffini: This also doesn’t mean we can predict that polls will miss in any given direction. But it does suggest taking polls in states like Ohio, which Donald Trump won comfortably but where the Republican J.D. Vance is tied or slightly behind, with a grain of salt.Bruni: So what would you say specifically to Democrats? Are they getting their hopes up — again — in a reckless fashion?Walter: Democrats are definitely suffering from political PTSD. After 2016 and 2020, I don’t think Democrats are getting their hopes up. In fact, the ones I talk with are hoping for the best but not expecting such.Ruffini: In any election, you have the polls themselves, and then you have the polls as filtered through the partisan media environment. Those aren’t necessarily the same thing. On Twitter, there’s a huge incentive to hype individual polling results that are good for your side while ignoring the average. I don’t expect this to let up, because maintaining this hype is important for low-dollar fund-raising. But I do think this has led to a perhaps exaggerated sense of Democratic optimism.Bruni: Great point, Patrick — in these fractured and hyperpartisan times of information curation, polls aren’t so much sets of numbers as they are Rorschachs.But I want to pick up on something else that you said — “polls will miss in any given direction” — to ask why the worry seems only to be about overstatement of Democratic support and prospects. Is it possible that the error could be in the other direction and we are understating Republican problems and worries?Ruffini: In politics, we always tend to fight the last war. Historically, polling misses have been pretty random, happening about equally on both sides. But the last big example of them missing in a pro-Republican direction was 2012. The more recent examples stick in our minds, 2020 specifically, which was actually worse in percentage terms than 2016.Walter: Patrick’s point about the last war is so important. This is especially true when we are living in a time when we have little overlap with people from different political tribes. The two sides have very little appreciation for what motivates, interests or worries the other side, so the two sides over- or underestimate each other a lot.As our politics continue to break along educational attainment — those who have a college degree are increasingly more Democratic-leaning, those with less education increasingly more Republican-leaning — polls are likely to overstate the Democratic advantage, since we know that there’s a really clear connection between civic voting behavior and education levels.Ruffini: And we may be missing a certain kind of Trump voter, who may not be answering polls out of a distrust for the media, polling and institutions generally.Bruni: Regarding 2016 and 2020, Trump was on the ballot both of those years. He’s not — um, technically — this time around. So is there a greater possibility of accuracy, of a repeat of 2018, when polling came closer to the mark?Ruffini: The frustrating thing about all of this is that we just don’t have a very good sample size to answer this. In polls, that’s called an n size, like n = 1,000 registered voters. There have been n = 2 elections where Trump has been on the ballot and n = 1 midterm election in the Trump era. That’s not a lot.Bruni: We’ve mentioned 2016 and 2020 versus 2018. Are there reasons to believe that none of those points of reference are all that illuminating — that 2022 is entirely its own cat, with its own inimitable wrinkles? There are cats that have wrinkles, right? I’m a dog guy, but I feel certain that I’ve seen shar-pei-style cats in pictures.Walter: First, let’s be clear. Dogs are the best. So let’s change this to “Is this an entirely different breed?”I’m a big believer in the aphorism that history doesn’t repeat, but it does rhyme.Ruffini: Right. Every election is different, and seeing each new election through the lens of the previous election is usually a bad analytical strategy.Walter: But there are important fundamentals that can’t be dismissed. Midterms are about the party in charge. It is hard to make a midterm election about the out-party — the party not in charge — especially when Democrats control not just the White House but the House and Senate as well.However, the combination of overturning Roe v. Wade plus the ubiquitous presence of Trump has indeed made the out-party — the G.O.P. — a key element of this election. To me, the question is whether that focus on the stuff the Republicans are doing and have done is enough to counter frustration with the Democrats.Ruffini: 2022 is unique in that it’s a midterm cycle where both sides have reasons to be energized — Republicans by running against an unpopular president in a time of high economic uncertainty and Democrats by the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision overturning Roe. It’s really unique in the sweep of midterm elections historically. To the extent there is still an energized Republican base, polls could miss if they aren’t capturing this new kind of non-college, low-turnout voter that Trump brought into the process.Bruni: Patrick, this one’s for you, as you’re the one among us who’s actually in the polling business. In the context of Amy’s terrific observation about education levels and the Democratic Party and who’s more readily responsive to pollsters, what are you and what is your firm doing to make sure you reach and sample enough Republican and Trump-inclined voters?Ruffini: That’s a great question. Nearly all of our polls are off the voter file, which means we have a much larger set of variables — like voting history and partisan primary participation — to weight on than you might typically see in a media poll (with the exception of the Times/Siena polls, which do a great job in this regard). We’ve developed targets for the right number of college or non-college voters among likely voters in each congressional district. We’re also making sure that our samples have the right proportions of people who have registered with either party or have participated in a specific party’s primary before.But none of this is a silver bullet. After 2016, pollsters figured out we needed to weight on education. In 2020 we weighted on education — and we got a worse polling error. All the correct weighting decisions won’t matter if the non-college or low-turnout voter you’re getting to take surveys isn’t representative of those people who will actually show up to vote.Bruni: Does the taking of polls and the reporting on polls and the consciousness of polls inevitably queer what would have happened in their absence? I will go to my grave believing that if so many voters hadn’t thought that Hillary Clinton had victory in the bag, she would have won. Some 77,000 votes in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin — the margin of her Electoral College loss — are easily accounted for by overconfident, complacent Clinton supporters.Walter: In 2016, there were two key groups of people that determined the election. Those who never liked Clinton and those who disliked Trump and Clinton equally. At the end, those who disliked both equally broke overwhelmingly for Trump. And, those Democratic-leaning voters who didn’t like her at all were never fully convinced that she was a worthy candidate.Ruffini: I don’t worry about this too much since the people most likely to be paying attention to the daily movement of the polls are people who are 100 percent sure to vote. It can also work in the other direction. If the polls are showing a race in a red or blue state is close, that can motivate a majority of the party’s voters to get out and vote, and that might be why close races in those states usually resolve to the state fundamentals.Bruni: Evaluate the news media in all of this, and be brutal if you like. For as long as I’ve been a reporter, I’ve listened to news leaders say our political coverage should be less attentive to polls. It remains plenty attentive to polls. Should we reform? Is there any hope of that? Does it matter?Ruffini: I don’t think there’s any hope of this getting better, and that’s not the media’s fault. It’s the fault of readers (sorry, readers!) who have an insatiable appetite for staring at the scoreboard.Walter: We do pay too much attention to polls, but polls are the tool we have to capture the opinions of an incredibly diverse society. A reporter could go knock on 3,000 doors and miss a lot because they weren’t able to get the kind of cross-section of voters a poll does.Ruffini: Where I do hope the media gets better is in conducting more polls the way campaigns conduct them, which are not mostly about who is winning but showing a candidate how to win.In those polls, we test the impact of messages on the electorate and show how their standing moved as a result. It’s possible to do this in a balanced way, and it would be illuminating for readers to see, starting with “Here’s where the race stands today, but here’s the impact of this Democratic attack or this Republican response,” etc.Bruni: Let’s finish with a lightning round. Please answer these quickly and in a sentence or less, starting with this: Which issue will ultimately have greater effect, even if just by a bit, in the outcome of the midterms — abortion or gas prices?Walter: Abortion. Only because gas prices are linked to overall economic worries.Ruffini: Gas prices, because they’re a microcosm about concerns about inflation. When we asked voters a head-to-head about what’s more important to their vote, reducing inflation comes out ahead of protecting abortion rights by 67 to 29 percent.Bruni: Which of the competitive Senate races will have an outcome that’s most tightly tethered to — and thus most indicative of — the country’s mood and leanings right now?Walter: Arizona and Georgia were the two closest races for Senate and president in 2020. They should both be indicative. But Georgia is much closer because the G.O.P. candidate, Herschel Walker, while he’s still got some problems, has much less baggage and much better name recognition than the G.O.P. candidate in Arizona, Blake Masters.Ruffini: If Republicans are going to flip the Senate, Georgia is most likely to be the tipping-point state.Bruni: If there’s a Senate upset, which race is it? Who’s the unpredicted victor?Walter: For Republicans, it would be Don Bolduc in New Hampshire. They’ve argued that the incumbent, Senator Maggie Hassan, has low approval ratings and is very weak. It would be an upset because Bolduc is a flawed candidate with very little money or history of strong fund-raising.Ruffini: I’d agree about New Hampshire. The polling has shown a single-digit race. Republicans are also hoping they can execute a bit of a sneak attack in Colorado with Joe O’Dea, though the state fundamentals look more challenging.Bruni: You (hypothetically) have to place a bet with serious money on the line. Is the Republican presidential nominee in 2024 Donald Trump, Ron DeSantis or “other”?Walter: It’s always a safer bet to pick “other.” One of the most difficult things to do in politics is what DeSantis is trying to do: not just to upend someone like Trump but to remain a front-runner for another year-plus.Ruffini: I’d place some money on DeSantis and some on “other.” DeSantis is in a strong position right now, relative to the other non-Trumps, but he hasn’t taken many punches. And Trump’s position is soft for a former president who’s supposedly loved by the base and who has remained in the fray. Time has not been his friend. About as many Republicans in the ABC/Washington Post poll this weekend said they didn’t want him to run as did.Bruni: Same deal with the Democratic presidential nominee — but don’t be safe. Live large. To the daredevil go the spoils. Joe Biden, Kamala Harris or “other”?Walter: History tells us that Biden will run. If he doesn’t, history tells us that it will be Harris. But I feel very uncomfortable with either answer right now.Ruffini: “Other.” Our own polling shows Biden in a weaker position for renomination than Trump and Democrats less sure about who the alternative would be if he doesn’t run. I also think we’re underestimating the possibility that he doesn’t run at the age of 81.Bruni: OK, final question. Name a politician, on either side of the aisle, who has not yet been mentioned in our conversation but whose future is much brighter than most people realize.Walter: If you talk to Republicans, Representative Patrick McHenry is someone they see as perhaps the next leader for the party. There’s a lot of focus on Kevin McCarthy now, but many people see McHenry as a speaker in waiting.Ruffini: He’s stayed out of the presidential conversation (probably wisely until Trump has passed from the scene), but I think Dan Crenshaw remains an enormously compelling future leader for the G.O.P. Also in Texas, should we see Republicans capitalize on their gains with Hispanic voters and take at least one seat in the Rio Grande Valley, one of those candidates — Mayra Flores, Monica De La Cruz or Cassy Garcia — will easily be in the conversation for statewide office.Bruni: Thank you, both. I just took a poll, and 90 percent of respondents said they’d want to read your thoughts at twice this length. Then again, the margin of error was plus or minus 50 percent, and I’m not sure I sampled enough rural voters in the West.Frank Bruni (@FrankBruni) is a professor of public policy and journalism at Duke, the author of the book “The Beauty of Dusk” and a contributing Opinion writer. He writes a weekly email newsletter and can be found on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Patrick Ruffini (@PatrickRuffini) is a co-founder of the Republican research firm Echelon Insights. Amy Walter (@amyewalter) is the publisher and editor in chief of The Cook Political Report.The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips. And here’s our email: letters@nytimes.com.Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook, Twitter (@NYTopinion) and Instagram. More

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    Seven Years of Trump Has the Right Wing Taking the Long View

    Could there soon be an American counterpart to Viktor Orban, the Hungarian prime minister, a right-wing populist who in 2018 declared, “We must demonstrate that there is an alternative to liberal democracy: It is called Christian democracy. And we must show that the liberal elite can be replaced with a Christian democratic elite”?Liberal democracy, Orban continued,is liberal, while Christian democracy is, by definition, not liberal: it is, if you like, illiberal. And we can specifically say this in connection with a few important issues — say, three great issues. Liberal democracy is in favor of multiculturalism, while Christian democracy gives priority to Christian culture; this is an illiberal concept. Liberal democracy is pro-immigration, while Christian democracy is anti-immigration; this is again a genuinely illiberal concept. And liberal democracy sides with adaptable family models, while Christian democracy rests on the foundations of the Christian family model; once more, this is an illiberal concept.Or could there soon be an American counterpart to Giorgia Meloni, another right-wing populist and admirer of Orban, now on course to become the next prime minister of Italy?Meloni’s platform?Yes to natural families, no to the L.G.B.T. lobby. Yes to sexual identity, no to gender ideology. Yes to the culture of life, no to the abyss of death. No to the violence of Islam, yes to safer borders. No to mass immigration, yes to work for our people.Donald Trump’s entrenched refusal to accept the outcome of the 2020 election and his deepening embrace of conspiracy theory, particularly its QAnon strain; the widespread belief among Republican voters that the election was stolen; and, as The Times reported on Sept. 18, the fact that “six Trump-backed Republican nominees for governor and the Senate in midterm battlegrounds would not commit to accepting this year’s election results, with another six Republicans ignoring or declining to answer a question about embracing the November outcome” — all suggest, to say the least, that all is not well with democracy in America.There are many other signals pointing to the vulnerability of the liberal state.A 2020 study, “Global Satisfaction With Democracy” by the Bennett Institute for Public Policy at the University of Cambridge, found that dissatisfaction with democracy has grown rapidly in developed nations since the recession of 2008, and that one of the sharpest increases in discontent has been in the United States:Now, for the first time on record, polls show a majority of Americans dissatisfied with their system of government — a system of which they were once famously proud. Such levels of democratic dissatisfaction would not be unusual elsewhere. But for the United States, it marks an “end of exceptionalism” — a profound shift in America’s view of itself, and therefore, of its place in the world.It is a reflection of just how remarkable this shift in sentiment has been that a presidential candidate — Donald J. Trump — could arrive at the White House after a presidential campaign that denounced American political institutions as corrupt, and promised to step back from promoting democracy abroad in favor of putting “America First,” treating all countries transactionally based on a spirit of realism, regardless of their adherence to or deviation from democratic norms.Along similar lines, Joshua Tait — a contributor to the volume “Key Thinkers of the Radical Right: Behind the New Threat to Liberal Democracy” — argued in a Q. and A. posted at George Washington University’s Illiberalism Studies Program that “we face potentially massive disruptions over the coming decades as we feel the impacts of climate change, aging populations, and automation.”Tait went on:The right, both in the United States and elsewhere, has the sort of rhetorical and intellectual tools to craft a compelling argument to certain segments of the population in the face of insecurity and transformation. The combination of disruption, transformation and pain creates the conditions where right-wing, often illiberal discourses of heroism, golden age and the threatening Other creates real meaning for some, even as it draws boundaries around communities.In an email response to my follow-up inquiry, Tait wrote:The 2016 election, Trumpism in the United States, Orban, Law & Justice in Poland, and to a lesser extent Brexit in the United Kingdom have validated the intellectual right in the America that long held some or all illiberal positions. Moreover, Trump in particular obliterated right-wing respectability politics and revealed the conservative and Republican establishments had no capacity to discipline views that had previously been beyond the pale — the result of changes in the way the right-wing media ecosystem worked, and the nature of party primaries.The end of the Cold War, Tait contended, prompted the right to shift from an international focus to domestic issues:Without an external ideological foe in global communism, the right faced up to its domestic and in many ways real enemy, progressive liberalism. The right imported its existential and apocalyptic view domestically. The Culture Wars, antipathy toward multiculturalism and so on are part of this, and the great demographic sort (the coming minority status of white Americans) has intensified it dramatically.Many leaders of the social and cultural right in this country are treating Trump’s presidency and his continuing hold on a majority of Republican voters as an opportunity to further mobilize conservatives.The National Conservatism project, created in 2019 by the Edmund Burke Foundation, has taken up this challenge, joining together an array of scholars and writers associated with such institutions, magazines and think tanks as the Claremont Institute, Hillsdale College, the Hoover Institution, the Federalist, First Things, the Manhattan Institute, the Ethics and Public Policy Center, and National Review.On June 22, 75 supporters of the National Conservatism project issued a 10-part statement of principles. The signatories include Rod Dreher, senior editor of The American Conservative; Jim DeMint, a former senator from South Carolina and a former president of the Heritage Foundation; Mark Meadows, a former chief of staff to President Trump; Christopher Rufo of the Manhattan Institute and the venture capitalist Peter Thiel.The principles include a strong commitment to the infusion of religion into the operation of government: “No nation can long endure without humility and gratitude before God and fear of his judgment that are found in authentic religious tradition.” Thus the “Bible should be read as the first among the sources of a shared Western civilization in schools and universities, and as the rightful inheritance of believers and nonbelievers alike.”Perhaps most strikingly, the principles declare that:Where a Christian majority exists, public life should be rooted in Christianity and its moral vision, which should be honored by the state and other institutions both public and private. At the same time, Jews and other religious minorities are to be protected in the observance of their own traditions, in the free governance of their communal institutions, and in all matters pertaining to the rearing and education of their children. Adult individuals should be protected from religious or ideological coercion in their private lives and in their homes.The principles argue for a restoration of traditional family values combined with a rejection of the sexual revolution and of feminist calls for self-actualization in defiance of family obligation:We believe the traditional family is the source of society’s virtues and deserves greater support from public policy. The traditional family, built around a lifelong bond between a man and a woman, and on a lifelong bond between parents and children, is the foundation of all other achievements of our civilization.Their authors warn thatThe disintegration of the family, including a marked decline in marriage and childbirth, gravely threatens the well-being and sustainability of democratic nations. Among the causes are an unconstrained individualism that regards children as a burden, while encouraging ever more radical forms of sexual license and experimentation as an alternative to the responsibilities of family and congregational life. Economic and cultural conditions that foster stable family and congregational life and child-raising are priorities of the highest order.I asked Yoram Hazony, the chairman of the Edmund Burke Foundation, to expand on this phrase in the statement in the principles: “Where a Christian majority exists, public life should be rooted in Christianity and its moral vision.”Hazony replied by email that the statement is intendedto permit a public life rooted in Christianity and its moral vision in those parts of the United States in which a majority of voters support such a public culture. This is in keeping with our endorsement of the federalist principle in Clause 3. There are many states in the United States where no such majority exists, and the Statement of Principles does not envision using the national government to impose such a public life on those states. The point is to return “church and state” issues to the states to be resolved through the democratic process.In her March 2022 paper, “Illiberalism: a conceptual introduction,” Marlene Laruelle, a professor of international affairs and the director of the Institute for European, Russian, and Eurasian Studies at George Washington University, provides a four-part definition of the term:Illiberalism is a new ideological universe that, even if doctrinally fluid and context-based, is to some degree coherent; it represents a backlash against today’s liberalism in all its varied scripts — political, economic, cultural, geopolitical, civilizational — often in the name of democratic principles; it proposes solutions that are majoritarian, nation-centric or sovereigntist, favoring traditional hierarchies and cultural homogeneity; and it calls for a shift from politics to culture and is post-post-modern in its claims of rootedness in an age of globalization.Laruelle argues that there are significant differences between illiberalism and conservatism as it has been traditionally understood:The key element that dissociates illiberalism from conservatism is its relationship to political liberalism. Classical conservatives — such as the Christian Democrats in Europe or the Republican Party in the U.S. before Donald Trump — are/were fervent supporters of political rights and constitutionalism, while illiberalism challenges them. For classical conservatives, the political order is a reflection of the natural and family order, and therefore commands some submission to it. For illiberals, today’s political order is the enemy of the natural order and should be fought against.In a 2021 Wall Street Journal op-ed, “Why America Needs National Conservatism,” Christopher DeMuth, president from 1986 through 2008 of the mainstream Republican American Enterprise Institute and now chairman of the National Conservative Conference, reinforces Laruelle’s point: “When the American left was liberal and reformist, conservatives played our customary role as moderators of change. We too breathed the air of liberalism, and there are always things that could stand a little reforming.” But, DeMuth continued, “today’s woke progressivism isn’t reformist. It seeks not to build on the past but to promote instability, to turn the world upside-down.”The doctrines of progressivism have resulted, DeMuth argues, inmayhem and misery at an open national border. Riot and murder in lawless city neighborhoods. Political indoctrination of schoolchildren. Government by executive ukase. Shortages throughout the world’s richest economy. Suppression of religion and private association. Regulation of everyday language — complete with contrived redefinitions of familiar words and ritual recantations for offenders.How deep is the reservoir of support that national conservatism can tap into? The striking pattern in polling data shows that over the years from 2017 to the present, Trump, despite all his liabilities, has retained a consistent favorability rating, ranging from 41 to 46 percent of the electorate, a base that appears virtually immovable.Arlie Hochschild, a professor of sociology at Berkeley and the author of “Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right,” has been interviewing voters in Eastern Kentucky’s Appalachia since 2018, exploring the reasons behind this unwavering loyalty.I asked her about the prospects of illiberalism in this country and she replied by email: “We should keep a close eye on the sense of grievance stored up almost as a springboard within the word ‘stolen.’ ” The background to this, Hochschild argued,is that blue-collar, rural/small town — especially white and male — have since the l970s been the “losers” of globalization, and the two parties now represent two economies. To this demographic, economic loss is compounded with a loss of fallback sources of honor — gender, sexuality, race — for white heterosexual males these, too, seem under attack. This is the “deep story” of “Stop the Steal,” and they see reality through that story.The story does not end there. Hochschild continued:The right believes that it is the left, not the right, that is moving toward fascism. Inside the right wing mind today freedom is threatened “by the left.” Political correctness a form of “thought control.” The left controls the media. The F.B.I. is scanning Facebook to hunt down patriots in Washington. So, ironically, they see themselves as brave upholders of freedom, democracy, civil liberties. They aren’t saying we want strong totalitarian control so we get to impose our values on others. They see themselves as the victims of this control and Trump as their liberator from that control.Still, national conservatism faces significant hurdles. For example, Hochschild pointed out, this country recently saw a dramatic change in the Kansas electorate: “In the days after the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision leaked, Kansans turned out in record numbers in the primary and delivered a victory for abortion rights, a win fueled by Democrats out registering Republicans by 9 points since the Dobbs decision was announced, with a staggering 70 percent of all new registrants being women.”How dangerous, then, is America’s current right populist movement?Tait, the historian of conservatism, is cautious in addressing this question, noting that national conservatism seems to “represent something new in that it seems to explicitly depart from liberalism instead of reproducing it in a compromised, conservative way.” He described the Edmund Burke Foundation’s Statement of Principles asan effort at a mature, sanitized post-Trumpism. But a great many of the guardrails of constitutional liberalism and fusionist conservatism have been undermined and we may see a politics less constrained by liberal constitutional norms and rules. Likewise, the actors prominent in this space are less constrained by right-wing respectability politics, including Ron DeSantis and Josh Hawley.Damon Linker, a senior fellow at the Niskanen Center, sees a strong parallel between trends in the United States and the illiberal developments in Europe. Referring to the recent election in Italy, Linker posted “What just happened in Italy?” on his Sept. 26 substack, Eyes on the Right, arguing thatWe’re left with a picture of a country in which the center-left is supported mainly by the educated, secular, and professional classes, while the right appeals to a cross-section of the rest of the country — the working class as well as the middle and upper-middle classes, along with the religiously pious and the large numbers of Italians who treat religion as a symbol or identity-marker without actually believing in or practicing it.If that sounds familiar, Linker continued,that’s because similar things have been happening in many places over the past decade. The precise political results of these shifts have varied from country to country as they’ve interacted with different electoral systems, but the underlying trends in public opinion can be seen to a greater or lesser extent in France, Great Britain, the United States, and other countries. In each case, the center-left has gone into decline with the center-right and anti-liberal populist right rising to take its place. Until the center-left figures out a way to win back the working- and middle-class, as well as the nominally religious, it will continue to lose precious political ground to the populist and nationalist right.William Galston, a senior fellow at Brookings, points out in an essay, “What Is National Conservatism? The movement could be the future of the American right,” that “Two of illiberalism’s most important intellectuals, political theorists Yoram Hazony and Patrick Deneen, have mounted a frontal attack on the entire individualist, rights-based liberal political tradition that they trace back to John Locke.” In Eastern Europe, this critique resonates, Galston continued, but “it does create a problem for the United States where, historians inspired by Louis Hartz have argued, political liberalism is our tradition.”National conservatives, Galston argued,do not distinguish between the liberal political tradition and the excesses of today’s liberal culture. They see the focus on individual rights — and on the conceptions of equality and liberty that flow from them — as corroding traditional beliefs and practices. They are convinced that they must sacrifice the liberal baby to get rid of the progressive bathwater, and they are all too eager to do so. Embracing unfettered majoritarianism in the pursuit of virtue is no virtue. It is hard to overstate the danger to pluralism and liberty that lies at the end of this road.The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips. And here’s our email: letters@nytimes.com.Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook, Twitter (@NYTopinion) and Instagram. More