Highlights from The Downballot: We recap an amazing election night

This week on The Downballot, hosts David Nir and David Beard unpack the amazing election night we had on Tuesday — especially in Michigan — and talk more about why Democrats need to keep abortion front and center in their platform. They also take a look at how Biden’s approval ratings affected downballot races, why the GOP keeps on choosing “terrible” candidates, and the enduring importance of election fairness and protecting our nation’s democracy.

You can listen below or subscribe to The Downballot wherever you listen to podcasts. You can also find a transcript for this week right here. New episodes come out every Thursday!

Tuesday was, no doubt, a historic election night that defied the odds, with Democrats poised to maintain their majority in the Senate.

“I just feel like the entire life of this podcast has been us warning people. "Oh, it's a midterm, Democratic president, probably going to be a bad year, historically, yada, yada." And now here we are. And it was actually pretty good,” Beard said, relieved.

“I think just about every other Democrat went into Tuesday night with extremely low expectations. I had tried to steel myself for the worst, and it was just one upside surprise after another,” Nir replied. “And I have been following elections for 20 years. I can't recall feeling that way on election night before.”

Beard pointed out that Democrats just had to hold on past Florida, where there was a small Republican wave — “Florida will always break your heart,” he quipped — and then, the rest of the country was just victory after victory.

Democrats have gotten so used to disappointment, Nir said, that we almost forget what winning looks like. The hosts went on to unpack those wins and why we won.

Nir also urged Democrats to continue focusing on the issue of abortion rights. As he put it, “Despite the pundits in the fall who tried to tell us that this was not the right issue for Democrats to be pursuing, that Democrats were making a huge mistake in not focusing on the economy or other issues. Abortion was a massive factor in this incredible upset of a night.”

Beard agreed:

I think all those people, who said that Dobbs would just sort of fade away, and that after three months it was going to no longer be at the front of people's minds, were just crazy. Look at the history of the fight for abortion rights that has been going on for decades or longer, in some places across the world.

And the idea that this massive, massive change was going to cause sort of a temporary spike for a couple of months in Democrats' polling and then just fade away is, in retrospect, just a crazy, crazy idea. That is not how real regular people view politics. They don't view it as this narrative that so many people in DC, in the sort of punditocracy, want to view it as like, "Oh, Dobbs happened."

Then there was a whole story about it, August special elections narrative, and then other things happened. So we have to move on in the narrative to other issues. But for millions and millions of people, this is a huge core issue that they're not going to forget about and they're going to vote on.

Democracy protection also emerged as a main theme of Tuesday night. “It turned out is that a lot of people do care about democracy. A lot of people do care about fairness and election results, and those being treated as important as they really are. And they voted on that,” Beard said. “We [saw] election deniers losing race after race. We saw Democrats, who were going to protect elections rights, winning governor's races, winning secretary of state's races. And I really believe that issue did matter and did break through.”

Nir added that it seemed as though Republicans believed there was no price to be paid for being an extremist, when it comes to authoritarianism, and rejecting democracy, and rejecting the rule of law. He also called out reporters for going along with this narrative and buying into a “both sidesism” that simply ended up painting a false picture of the reality:

The traditional way that the media works, of presenting both sides, and refusing to take a side, or calling out lies on one side and admitting that the other side is actually true and correct and right, that I think gave Republicans a lot of permission to think that there would be no price to pay. Because reporters didn't care. But reporters are not voters, and the voters really, really did care. And there are a lot of ways we can look at this. You mentioned all of the races where the big name GOP election deniers lost.

In a number of secretary of state races in several states, the Democrats won by bigger margins in those races than in a lot of the other statewide races. This is also telling of how much Americans care about protecting election fairness and defending our nation’s democracy, Nir insisted:

[It] blows my mind because I am a massive election nerd. I really care about this stuff. I have been talking about the importance of these kinds of races, especially secretary of state races, for a really, really long time. And most people, they're not going to pay that much attention to what's going on in specific downballot statewide races. But we have some pretty clear evidence this time that they really did, that more people were voting for Democrats running for secretary of state than for other offices. And there's only one possible explanation for that. And the answer is that, wow, they actually really, really care about democracy and fairness and elections, and the rule of law.

In terms of voters taking elections seriously, this past election reinforced the idea that candidate quality still matters. Republicans nominated an array of terrible candidates, some of whom were “genuinely terrible human beings,” Nir argued, which had an impact. Ultimately, GOP paid a price.

Beard thinks it indicates an incentive problem, and that is why it's so hard for the Republicans to fix:

As long as it's Donald Trump's party, the type of people who Donald Trump are going to like and endorse, and probably win primaries. And the type of people who are going to want to run in Donald Trump's Republican Party, are charlatans, are people with bad histories, people who are extremists, who are election deniers. All of that stuff attracts people to Donald Trump's GOP. And as long as it's Donald Trump's GOP, those are the candidates you're going to get.

You can look at the five Republican candidates in the key Senate races this year, which is Dr. Oz in Pennsylvania, Donald Bolduc in New Hampshire, Herschel Walker in Georgia, Adam Laxalt in Nevada, and Blake Masters in Arizona. And that is not a murderer's row. It is some of the worst Senate candidates, probably, that any major party has nominated in recent history, particularly Blake Masters, Herschel Walker, Mehmet Oz. Like just terrible candidates with terrible favorables, lots of scandals.

And as a result, Oz lost. Walker is probably going to a runoff, and is slightly behind heading into the runoff. Masters is, I think, probably going to lose in Arizona. And you can chalk that up, in at least large part, to the fact that they're terrible candidates with terrible favorables.

Strategic Democratic primary meddling also worked out, which Nir expanded on.

Yeah, it 100% worked out, in fact … there was so much hand ringing during the primary season about races where Democrats looked at the GOP primary field and said, you know what? We're going to have a better chance at winning in the general election if this total schmuck beats out the somewhat less bad guy. Democrats very wisely said, we're going to get involved here, and we are simply going to help the ultra-MAGA brigades do what they're already wanting to do, and that is nominate the worst of the worst, and if we do that then we're going to have a better chance at winning. And that's really important because we need the party that believes in democracy, i.e. the Democrats, to win elections. This isn't just about raw power or screwing with the GOP for the sake of it, this is about preserving democracy.

And so in all of these races where Democrats succeeded in helping Republicans to nominate their least acceptable candidate, on Tuesday night the Republican lost in every single one of these races across the country. People make it sound like this was some massive widespread phenomenon. Democrats did this probably in about 20 or so races, maybe in about half of them the worst GOP candidate actually won the nomination, so we're talking about maybe eight to 10. In all of those the terrible Republican lost. And there were so many hand ringers who were worried that Democrats were playing with fire and almost suggesting that it was the Democrat's obligation to help Republicans nominate non-awful candidates, and that's BS, that's their problem not ours.

The hosts also highlighted one district in particular — Michigan's third congressional district, adn a race we've talked about before on this show. This is a district that was redrawn by the state's new independent redistricting commission, around the Grand Rapids area. With the new map lines, it became significantly bluer, and Republican congressman Peter Meijer, who had voted for Donald Trump's impeachment, ended up with a huge target painted on his back. Democrats nominated a strong candidate there, Hillary Scholten, who ended up winning.

At this point, Beard touched on Biden’s approval ratings and how that had played out, as many wondered what might happen with Biden disapprovers who were undecided. Beard’s assessment was as follows:

The fear would be that they would run to Republicans in the end and cause a Republican year to turn out. And while obviously exit polls have a lot of problems, so you want to take them with a big grain of salt, you can look at and get a general sense of how this turned out. And from the exit poll you can see there are about 44% of people who either strongly or somewhat approved of Biden, and they went obviously overwhelmingly for Democrats. And then there were about 45% of the voters who strongly disapproved of Biden, and they overwhelmingly went for the Republicans, both as you would expect.

And then there were 10% of voters who somewhat disapproved of Biden, you can call it soft Biden disapprovers, and they went slightly for Democrats, 49% to 45%. Now that's not going to be an exact figure, because this is an exit poll, so I wouldn't take that four point margin as gospel, but I do think what it shows you is that there was about 5% of the electorate, give or take, who were Biden disapprovers who voted for Democrats anyway, either because they were actually disapproving of Biden from the left, or they were worried about Republican extremism, or they were worried about abortion rights, whatever the reason was, those voters took the fact that they weren't happy with Biden and they still went and voted for Democrats, and they were key to this result being as good as it turned out to be.

There are also four Senate races that haven't been decided yet, which the hosts walked listeners through.

Alaska is between two Republicans, so they set it aside because that doesn't change the math of the Senate.

Georgia has been called as a runoff between Senator Raphael Warnock and Herschel Walker, so that will be taking place on December 6th.

In Arizona, around 66% of the vote had been counted as of Wednesday evening. Senator Mark Kelly, the Democrat, has an advantage of about five percentage points over his Republican opponent, Blake Masters. There are a lot of votes left to count, obviously most of those votes are votes that were either mailed in and received in the last day or two, so Monday or Tuesday, or mail votes that were dropped off on election day. The difference obviously is that the mail votes have to go through a different verification process than the actual election day votes, those obviously you get checked in and then you just cast your vote, but even if you drop off your mail vote on election day, that still has to go through the regular mail verification process.

So those votes don't really lean significantly one way or the other, looking at past history, compared to the early, early vote, which was strongly democratic, as we expected, or the election day vote, which was strongly Republican. So those have been counted, and so mostly we have a big chunk of votes where we're not entirely sure which way those are going to lean, or if they're going to lean one way or another strongly. But I think the broad expectation is Kelly will probably be okay, but obviously with these many votes out, it's just not possible to make a call for anybody at this point.

Then in Nevada, about 77% of the vote is in. There, Adam Laxalt, the Republican candidate, is narrowly leading incumbent Democratic Senator Catherine Cortez Masto by a couple of points. The good news here is that the ballots remaining are almost entirely mail ballots that were either received Monday, Tuesday in the mail, or that were dropped off in person on election day.

In Nevada, we would expect these to largely favor the Democrat. The question, of course, is exactly how many of those are left. In that state, mail ballots can be received until Saturday as long as they were postmarked on Election Day. And so the question is how many of those ballots are still left to be counted and what exactly that margin will be because the mail ballot margin has jumped around a bit. They've almost always favored Democrats. But the question is, is it a small margin or is it a large margin? So that one is very much still up in the air and we just kind of have to wait for those male ballots to be counted over the next few days.

Nir pointed out one major difference though between this runoff and the one that took place last year, the 2020/2021 runoff that of course Warnock and John Ossoff won. Last year, Republicans in Georgia passed a huge package of voting restrictions to try to suppress the vote — and that bill included a provision that shrunk the runoff period from nine weeks to just four weeks. The runoff last year was in January. This time, it will be on December 6th. “Republicans seem to think that this offers them some sort of advantage. I'm not really clear why especially since Warnock is such a vastly better fundraiser than Herschel Walker is,” Nir quipped.

Beard and Nir also discussed how Donald Trump supposedly has some sort of announcement plan for November 15th, that's a week after election day, and everyone seems convinced that he's planning to announce a third bid for the presidency that day. Regardless of what he says, Nir thinks that a Trump presidential announcement next week would not be good news for Herschel Walker.

Beard moved on to talk about the fact that there is a good chance we'll know who controls the House of Representatives by the time the runoff takes place, and how that could shift the race further in Warnock’s favor:

If Arizona and Nevada are both won by Democrats, that would also cement Democratic control of the Senate regardless of the result of the Georgia runoff. And then the race can become a lot less about which party controls Congress, will there be a check on the Biden administration if there's a Republican House in that case, and focus a lot more on the candidates. Because if there's not, that sort of national issue at the same level as there was when people were voting this past time, I think there's a chance that they're going to be Republicans who really, really don't like Herschel Walker who will either stay home and not bother with the runoff or even vote for Warnock if control of the Senate isn't at stake or if there's already a check on Biden in the House. So I think that could go to Warnock's benefit as well.

Assessing the House races, Nir noted that remains a real moving target. With so many races in play, how should we think about this?

Beard thinks there is a very narrow road for Democrats as they seek to maintain their majority, but that things are still very much shaking out. Either way, he explained, it will be a difficult situation to handle for the GOP given how slim their majority will be:

So I think the Republicans are still pretty clearly favored to eke out at least 218 seats and have a majority. Whether that's a functional majority or not, we'll see, and we can talk about that later. But the Republicans, as I see it, currently either have called are pretty strongly favored in 215 seats and the Democrats either have called are pretty strongly favored in 207 seats, which leave about 13 seats, where it's really not 100% clear who is the favored party at this point, again, as of Wednesday evening. And this will continue to change in the days ahead.

So Democrats would need to win 11 of those 13 seats to actually get a majority of 218 seats. I have them currently, if I absolutely had to push them one way or another, I have them favored in eight, but it's so up in the air a lot of these seats that it's really, I think, not even useful to think about it in that way. I think it's best to think of there being 13 races where it's not clear which party is favored. And so if Democrats can somehow win 11 of those seats, they can win a majority. But I think that's a tough road. I think you most likely end up with Republicans somewhere in the nature of 220 seats, 221, something like that, and just an absolutely crazy majority that have to wrangle for Kevin McCarthy if he does end up becoming speaker.

The hosts closed out with a thorough discussion of the importance of putting abortion on the ballot, and front and center in Democrats’ platform.

Kentucky had a measure on the ballot that was very similar to the one that was defeated in Kansas this summer that would've amended the state constitution to say it does not include a right to an abortion — and voters turned that back. It was a much smaller margin than in Kansas, but Kentucky is much redder even than Kansas; it was a state where Donald Trump won by about 26 points. “So the fact that there was a pro-choice majority in deep red Kentucky is really, really amazing,” Nir said.

Similarly, in Montana, also another very red state, voters rejected a measure that wasn't directly related to abortion, but that emerged from the same anti-abortion rights movement. The measure would have required doctors to provide life-saving care to infants who are born but have absolutely no chance of living. “It was incredibly cruel … It was absolutely, absolutely evil stuff, and Montana voters rejected it. So again, a huge clean sweep for Progressives on abortion rights,” Nir observed. “We’ve got to put abortion rights on the ballot everywhere every year, don't you think, Beard?”

Beard agreed, noting that it would be hard to fathom a state in the country that would pass an abortion ban if they voted on it through a popular vote after Kentucky defeated theirs — as there aren't many states out there that are more socially conservative than Kentucky. “I say that from love because I was born in Kentucky, but it's a deep, deep red state at this point,” he added.

He also flagged what happened in Michigan, as Michigan was one of the ground zero states for this abortion fight — and a bellwether for what might be to come:

It was one of the ground zero states for the democracy fight, and it had one of the best performances for Democrats in the whole country. They basically want everything at almost every level. And I think that shows that those issues, the more that they mattered and the more that they pushed through, the better Democrats did.

The Downballot comes out every Thursday everywhere you listen to podcasts! As a reminder, you can reach our hosts by email at thedownballot@dailykos.com. Please send in any questions you may have for next week's mailbag. You can also reach out via Twitter at @DKElections.

Highlights from The Downballot: Ben Wikler on how Democrats can win big in Wisconsin

This week on The Downballot, hosts David Nir and David Beard recapped recent elections, including a special election for a congressional seat in Texas and primaries in South Carolina that saw one pro-impeachment Republican go down in defeat. The pair also discussed an unusual Saturday special election in Alaska for the seat that had been held for decades by the late Republican Rep. Don Young.

Nir and Beard welcomed the chair of the Wisconsin Democratic Party, Ben Wikler, as this week’s guest. Wikler shared more about what a state party like his does and the key races they're focusing on this November.

You can listen below or subscribe to The Downballot wherever you listen to podcasts. You can also find a transcript for this week right here. New episodes come out every Thursday!

Beard kicked off the program with the top headlines from Tuesday night.

Texas held a special election to fill the remaining term for Democratic Rep. Filemon Vela, who resigned earlier this year to take a job with a lobbying firm. Conservative activist Mayra Flores flipped this Rio Grande Valley-based district to the GOP, winning about 51% of the vote. There were four candidates on the ballot, but just one major Republican and one major Democrat. Flores won 51% of the vote, and the major Democratic candidate, former Cameron County commissioner Dan Sanchez won about 43% of the vote.

Beard noted that there wasn't a ton of investment in trying to hold this seat on the Democratic side and that Republicans noticed an opportunity and spent heavily on the race:

Republicans spent over a million dollars on this race. They really invested. Democrats only began airing TV ads in the final week. They didn't spend very much money. This district is changing a significant amount. Biden won the current district, which is still from the 2010 redistricting cycle, by a 52-48 margin, but Biden wins the new district that will go into effect this November by a 57-42 margin, so it's getting noticeably more Democratic.

“That being said, that's definitely a shift in the margin from 52-48 Biden to—if you combine the Democrats and the Republicans—about 53% voted Republican and 47% voted Democrat, so that's a noticeable shift. It's certainly in line with a more Republican-leaning year, which is what we've been seeing with the polling and with other information that's been coming in,” Beard added. “The other factor here that's certainly worth noting is that it was very, very low turnout, so that can also be a factor in why there was somewhat of a shift. So you don't want to take this and just say, ‘Oh, we saw this shift. It'll translate all the way to November in every way,’ but it's certainly a signal worth acknowledging that it is certainly a sign of a Republican-leaning environment right now.”

The hosts then recapped primaries in South Carolina, which some have framed as “Trump's revenge.” Trump did, in fact, exact revenge against a Republican congressman in the 7th district, Tom Rice, who was one of the ten GOP House members who voted for impeachment. Rice was soundly defeated by state Rep. Russell Fry, who beat him 51-25. “What was even more remarkable about this is there were five Republicans total challenging race so for Fry to get a majority of the vote was pretty unexpected. Even Fry claimed that his own polling showed the race going to a runoff,” Nir said.

The other South Carolina race that was really closely watched this week was in the 1st District, where Rep. Nancy Mace beat former state Rep. Katie Arrington 53-45, thus avoiding a runoff. Trump endorsed Arrington, as he was furious at a few of Mace’s critical comments of him after Jan. 6, even though she very quickly backed off.

On Saturday, Alaska held a special election for Alaska's at-large congressional seat, which has been vacant since GOP Rep. Don Young passed away earlier this year. Alaska has a fairly distinct electoral system: all of the candidates were on the ballot in this first round, and the top four candidates will advance to a second round on Aug. 16. That ballot will use ranked-choice voting to determine the winner. Ballots are still being counted, but the AP has declared three of the four candidates who will advance to the second round, the first being former Gov. Sarah Palin, who has a clear lead so far with about 30% of the vote.

Beard summarized the outcome so far:

Of course, Palin is a Republican, as is the so far second-place candidate, businessman Nick Begich, who has about 19% of the vote. And then independent Al Gross, who is also the former 2020 Democratic nominee for Senate but is running now as an Independent; he's also been called to advance. He has about 13% of the vote so far. And then, the fourth slot hasn't been called yet, but former Democratic state Rep. Mary Peltola is currently in that spot and will likely advance as well, unless late-breaking ballots are radically different than what's been counted so far.

Palin's strong first-round showing, getting over 30% of the vote, makes it likely that she will be one of the last two candidates standing when this ranked-choice voting takes place. The big question, Beard points out, is: Who is going to make it into that other slot where the fourth-place candidate and then the third-place candidate are eliminated?

While Palin has always been a polarizing figure, she has Donald Trump's endorsement, which makes it much more likely that Begich would pick up Independents and Democrats, if it is those two facing off against each other at the very end of the instant runoff tabulations.

At this point, Wikler joined the hosts to discuss the crucial work of the Wisconsin Democratic Party.

“Let's talk a little bit about what that rollercoaster ride has been like. I'm sure that some of our listeners are probably pretty plugged into their own state Democratic parties. But I'll bet that many folks aren't necessarily all that familiar with what their state parties do. And of course, the goal of any party organization is to get its candidates elected. But what exactly does the Wisconsin Democratic Party do to make that happen?” Nir asked.

The biggest part of the organization’s budget and its crown jewel, Wikler asserts, is its organization model, which allows it to reach voters in every corner of the state:

Our state party unusually uses the Obama campaign model, where our organizers actually build teams of volunteers that run door-to-door canvassing and phone banking operations in their own communities. And when you do that on a continuous basis, as we've done now since my predecessor, who launched these neighborhood teams in the spring of 2017, and we've built and built and built them; we now have hundreds across the state. When you do that continuously, you actually build momentum over time. So, every dollar you spend on organizing goes further, because you can have one organizer who's working with multiple teams to coach and support them and make sure they have the data they need.

A robust voter protection operation that is run on a year-round basis is now a mainstay of the organization’s work, as well. Wikler highlighted how the party has increasingly focused on voting rights over these last few years to make sure that local clerks aren't rolling back voting rights. The state Democratic Party also recruits and supports poll workers, poll observers, and lawyers who are able to help voters resolve issues. A voter protection hotline is also available for anyone in Wisconsin to call at 608-DEM-3232.

Last, but not least, the party’s data team helps make sure they’re figuring out where the voters they need to mobilize are and who they need to persuade.

Next, the trio delved into Wikler and his team’s plan to defeat Republican Sen. Ron Johnson this fall. As Wikler put it, “Ron Johnson is so, so appallingly extraordinarily bad”:

It’s not just that he says that COVID can be cured with mouthwash or says that the Jan. 6 insurrectionists were patriots who love their country and love law enforcement—which is something he actually said. He said he would've been scared if it had been Black Lives Matter protestors, but he wasn't scared with the protestors that were actually there. It's not just all that stuff. It's that he's profoundly self-serving. His claim to fame as a senator is that he insisted on an extra tax break on top of Trump's giant tax scam that personally benefited him and his biggest donor massively. It's one of the most regressive tax cuts ever passed through the United States Congress that he insisted on putting in, and that he's been billing taxpayers to fly him back to Congress from his vacation home in Florida.

So we've been making this case against him, and so many independent and grassroots organizations have done the same thing. His approval rating is now 36%, which is stunning in a year that's supposed to be tough for Democrats and good for Republicans. The Political Report called him the most vulnerable incumbent from either party in the Senate in 2022. And meanwhile, on the Democratic side, there's a contested primary. There's a bunch of candidates who've made the ballot, but we won't know our nominee until Aug. 9. And so this is a perfect kind of case in point for why having a strong party matters, because we have to build the whole general election apparatus before Aug. 9. It's like building a spaceship right on the launchpad. And then once we have the nominee, they jump into the cockpit and they hit ignition.

“Can you tell us a little bit more about this spaceship that you're building on the launchpad for the eventual Democratic nominee for the Senate race?” Nir asked.

Wikler discussed the intersection of the digital, the data, the organizing, the voter protection, the communications—all the different elements. He also mentioned that, due to state party rules, the Wisconsin Democratic Party is bound and committed to remaining neutral in the primary. “So we're not putting our thumb on the scale, but all the candidates have told us that once we have a nominee, they will work with the infrastructure that we've put in place,” he added. “As opposed to doing what has often happened in different states around the country, which is: you get a Senate nominee, and they decide they want to reshuffle all the staff and reshape how the program works and all this kind of stuff.”

As far as goals from the point of view of the state party for the state legislative elections that are coming in November, and candidates to highlight for those races, Wikler had the following to say:

Republicans have managed to re-gerrymander the maps, at least for now, with some help, I should mention, from the U.S. Supreme Court, which unlike in other states, decided to reach down and strike down our state legislative maps for reasons that will puzzle constitutional scholars for decades. So we have really, really tough maps this cycle.

Republicans are explicitly trying to get supermajorities in both chambers yet again, and we are explicitly determinedly working to stop them. We have great Democratic leaders in both chambers that we're working closely with: Greta Neubauer in the Assembly, Janet Bewley in the state Senate. We have strong candidates across the state. ...

Then next year, just to squeeze this in, in April of 2023, we have a state Supreme Court race. There will not be a lot happening across the country in elections that spring, but that race will be for the majority in Wisconsin state Supreme Court. If we can sustain the governor's veto and if we have a non-hyper right wing majority in our state Supreme court, that sets us up to have a secure and fair and legitimate election in 2024, when Wisconsin will probably be the tipping point state yet again.

Lastly, Beard asked Wikler how listeners could help: “So how can our Wisconsinite listeners get in touch with the Democratic Party in their state and get more involved?”

Wikler replied:

Wherever you might be, you can support Democrats and the Democratic Party of Wisconsin in fighting for victory for Gov. Evers and defeating Ron Johnson. I think Dems up and down the ballot, including defeating Derek van Orden, who's an insurrectionist currently on probation for trying to bring a gun on a plane. He's running for Congress in the third congressional district, which is an open seat. We need help across the board, and you can get involved. You can become a monthly donor. That is the single, my favorite thing you can do.

If you go to wisdems.org/monthly, you can sign up to give a few bucks a month; that helps us to hire and know that we'll be able to keep our staff on month over month, year over year, and that in turn allows us to do the kind of deep, long term organizing, building neighborhood teams … that help us win, especially in these tough elections like the spring state Supreme Court race next year. And finally, I'll give the link wisdems.org/volunteer. You can join our virtual phone banks. You can join our volunteer operation to turn out every possible Democratic voter. Races here are so close, so often.

The Downballot comes out every Thursday everywhere you listen to podcasts. As a reminder, you can reach our hosts by email at thedownballot@dailykos.com. Please send in any questions you may have for next week's mailbag. You can also reach out via Twitter: @DKElections.

Highlights from The Downballot: Primary recaps and ‘a double whammy of BS’ in New York

This week on The Downballot, hosts David Beard and David Nir were joined by political strategist and fellow elections expert Joe Sudbay to recap a plethora of primary results. They covered, among other things:
  • Madison Cawthorn losing in North Carolina
  • The GOP nominating QAnon ally Doug Mastriano for governor, and the still-undecided Republican battle for the U.S. Senate nomination in Pennsylvania
  • A fantastic win for an Oregon progressive who'd be the state's first Latino member of Congress—which was also a humiliating loss for a crypto-backed super PAC that spent massively on another candidate
The group also discussed DCCC chair Sean Patrick Maloney’s inexplicable, selfish decision to run in a new district where three-quarters of the residents are already represented by a progressive Black freshman, Mondaire Jones.
You can listen below, or subscribe to The Downballot wherever you listen to podcasts. You can also find a transcript for this week right here. New episodes come out every Thursday!

All eyes were on North Carolina this week, where a prominent U.S. Senate Republican primary contest saw Rep. Ted Budd easily defeat former Gov. Pat McCrory, by about 59% to 25%. This ended up not being a close race at all, Beard noted. In November, Budd will face former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley, who narrowly lost reelection in 2020 by about 400 votes. “She is primed to go forward and take on Budd there. She had very nominal primary competition and won in a huge landslide,” Beard added.

In North Carolina’s 13th District, which lacked an incumbent, both parties had primaries. On the Democratic side, state Sen. Wiley Nickel easily defeated former state Sen. Sam Searcy, 52% to 23%. The Republican contest featured a plethora of candidates, but one candidate, former North Carolina state football player Bo Hines, managed to eke out 32% of the vote—just above North Carolina's 30% barrier to avoid a runoff.

Looking over at the opposite coast at Oregon, Nir and Beard highlighted another incumbent who is, as of right now, on track to lose: Blue Dog Democratic Rep. Kurt Schrader in Oregon's redrawn 5th District. Schrader once infamously dissented on impeaching Donald Trump, likening his impeachment to a “lynching.” He is currently trailing progressive attorney Jamie McLeod-Skinner. As Nir explained, as of recording this episode on Wednesday evening, Schrader was down 61-39% with around 40,000 votes counted. However, a very large number of votes remain untallied in what is more or less his home base of Clackamas County, and those ballots are going to be slow to be counted. However, the back-of-the-envelope consensus, Nir notes, is that Schrader has way too much ground to make up and that McLeod-Skinner is going to be the likely winner: “If [McLeod-Skinner] is [the winner], either way this remains a somewhat competitive district. It leans blue. It got a little bit bluer, in fact, in redistricting, thanks to Democrats, but the real news will be replacing a moderate like Schrader with a much more progressive alternative.”

At this point, Nir and Beard welcomed Sudbay to the show to discuss some of the bigger pieces of news to come out of the recent primaries.

Sudbay started with Pennsylvania, where a gubernatorial race exposed the chaos happening among Republicans. On the Democratic side, state Attorney General Josh Shapiro ran unopposed. For Repubicans, however, things look very different, as Sudbay elaborated:

They have elected, they have nominated one of the craziest, most extreme politicians that we have seen in a very, very long time. He's basically a Christian ideologist nationalist. I mean, Doug Mastriano was at the January 6th event. He is really Trumpier than Trump, which, that's kind of getting out there. But this guy, I'll tell you one of the ways I knew Republicans were freaking out … A lot of Republican donors said if Mastriano wins, they're going to support Shapiro. The other thing that happened is there was this frenzied effort to try to maybe back Lou Barletta, who used to be a member of Congress; before that he was the mayor of Hazleton. [Barletta is] one of the most extreme anti-immigrant politicians around—well, I mean, he’s just normal now for the Republican Party, but he used to be extreme in the GOP. He lost the Senate race by about 13 or 14 points in 2018. That's how desperate they were—they decided maybe Lou Barletta would be their savior. So they've got Mastriano now.

Turning to the Republican primary in North Carolina’s 11th District, which garnered a storm of media attention due to a steady drumbeat of media coverage of incumbent Madison Cawthorn’s past indiscretions, the hosts shared their thoughts on how the Republican establishment—in a rare moment for today’s GOP—succeeded in pushing back against growing extremism in their party. As Sudbay put it, “It was interesting, because every time there was a new revelation—and there were numerous revelations over the past few weeks about him—[Cawthorn] would tweet, ‘The Libs are trying to destroy me.’ No, dude. It was the Republicans that were trying to destroy you, and the Republicans did.”

The trio also revisited Oregon, where, thanks to population growth, Democrats won a new House seat in reapportionment, leading to the creation of the blue-leaning 6th District, a brand-new open seat. Andrea Salinas won the Democratic primary here. “Democrats unexpectedly had a completely bonkers, out of control and, I will say, obscene primary that really should never have happened. But the good news is the good guys won. So what went down?” Nir asked.

Sudbay recalled that the entire race saw a basically unprecedented amount of money being spent by Sam Bankman-Fried, a crypto billionaire who was financing Carrick Flynn, an artificial intelligence researcher with no prior electoral experience:

Oh my God. The amount of money that was spent in this race by, I call him a crypto brother, who had a super PAC to elect a … I'm just going to call him sort of a no-name Democrat. And also the other thing that really struck me on this one: this crypto bro super PAC is spending money in a bunch of places. And like you said, fortunately, Andrea Salinas won. She will be the first Latina to represent Oregon.

But the other thing that happened was the House Majority PAC decided to invest in this race against her, well, for the other Democrat, which I know I keep not mentioning his name, but I am just so amazed that this was the race they chose to get into. And it really pissed off the … the Democratic House congressional caucus, because they were spending money to defeat a woman who's ... a great Democrat. She's been a state rep, she worked for Harry Reid, and it's like, where did that strategy come from? I just don't get it. I don't get that amount of spending … it was just bizarre to watch.

“It was totally bizarre,” Nir agreed, noting that “our guests from HMP came on before we learned about their decision to put $1 million in this race.” What’s more, he explained that there has been a lot of speculation that HMP made that investment because Sam Bankman-Fried, the crypto billionaire, actually runs an ‘exchange’ for cryptocurrency, and that he had possibly offered to give a donation to HMP in exchange for them getting involved on behalf of his favorite candidate. “We won't know until Friday at the soonest, which is when the next financial reports are due for super PACs like that, but it will cast a cloud over this race, no matter what,” Nir added.

The total spending for Carrick Flynn came close to $15 million for only around 15,000 or so votes—meaning that he spent $1,000 per vote. The race has not been called yet, with Salinas leading Flynn 36-18%, as Nir said: “I hope we don't see this kind of thing happen again. I'm not optimistic but this is a pretty humiliating outcome for the $15 million gang.”

In New York, the court-appointed expert released a new congressional map earlier this week that makes radical changes to existing districts. Right after this map dropped, Democratic Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney announced that instead of running in the district where three-quarters of his constituents currently live, he would run one district to the south, where only a quarter of his constituents live and where three-quarters of the constituents are represented by a progressive Black freshman, Mondaire Jones. “What the hell is Sean Patrick Maloney thinking?” Nir wondered.

Sudbay replied:

I think Sean Patrick Maloney thinks about Sean Patrick Maloney first and foremost and only. And that sounds kind of harsh, but that's just who he has been. As you mentioned, he chairs the DCCC, which should be solely focused on expanding the Democrats’ margin this year. And instead, he put himself first. I saw a tweet today from Jake Sherman, who does Punchbowl News, which I refer to as one of ... the Capitol Hill gossip publications. But he said, ‘Sean Maloney allies are spreading the message that Jones would be ideologically better suited for another district.’

Richie Torres, another member of Congress from New York, retweeted that and said, ‘The thinly veiled racism here is profoundly disappointing. A Black man is ideologically ill-suited to represent a Westchester County district that he represents presently and won decisively in 2020? Outrageous.’

Nir added that Maloney’s move could have ripple effects, as there are a couple of other ways this “really selfish move” could affect his colleagues:

First off, and this one is, in a way, the most important to me, is that by abandoning New York's 18th Congressional District—instead wanting to run in the 17th—he's making it more likely that we'll lose the 18th. And that's completely unforgivable. But just as unforgivable is that he wants Mondaire Jones to run in the 16th District. Well, that district is also represented by a first-term, progressive Black man, Jamaal Bowman. Maloney is trying to both risk a vulnerable seat, the 18th, and reduce representation among Black progressive men, by pushing them into a primary against one another. It's really a double whammy of BS.

The Downballot comes out every Thursday everywhere you listen to podcasts. As a reminder, you can reach our hosts by email at thedownballot@dailykos.com. Please send in any questions you may have for next week's mailbag. You can also reach out via Twitter: @DKElections.

This week on The Brief: The ‘existential fight’ for freedom and democracy at home and abroad

This week on The Brief, hosts Kerry Eleveld and Markos Moulitsas analyzed how a month of the Russian invasion of Ukraine has played out, discussed the continued slide of the Republican Party into authoritarianism, and talked about Biden’s approval rating and how the electoral landscape is looking for Democrats heading into this fall.

As the attack on Ukraine continues, Eleveld and Moulitsas considered what the news coverage has gotten right—and wrong—so far, and how Daily Kos is offering important perspective, especially to help readers understand that the situation on the ground may not be as dire as it was initially portrayed.

The conflict between Russia and Ukraine, or Vladimir Putin and Volodymyr Zelenskyy—this battle between Soviet-style authoritarian regime and Western democracy, Eleveld notes, has crystalized for a lot of Americans the fact that this type of battle is still going on in the world. And what’s more, it is ongoing and poses a huge, continuing threat not just externally, but also internally here in the United States. While progressives and Democrats had sounded the alarm throughout Trump’s tenure about where the Republican Party has been headed, few are hearing this message of, “Look, this is an authoritarian party. They want fewer people to vote, they want to control the outcomes of the vote, they’re fine being beholden to one person as long as that person manages to secure power. They really don’t seem that interested in a peaceful transfer of power,” Eleveld added.

Eleveld also thinks that the fact that Republicans haven’t wanted to explore the events of January 6, 2021, examine it, learn from it, make sure it doesn’t happen again—and have instead become denialist— is alarming in and of itself: “And it seems like independents [and those feeling on the fence about both parties] … they haven’t really grasped what this fight, what this existential fight for democracy is about.”

This conflict has really resonated and showed us exactly what’s at stake, both at home and abroad, linking war on the international stage to democracy in the U.S., she explained:

I feel like this horrific and gut-wrenching war that we have seen play out in Ukraine has crystalized for Americans, in a way, that threat that we haven’t felt in a very real way in some way since the end of World War II. I’m not saying there haven’t been instances of attacks and people feeling vulnerable, but the existential threat ... that the whole country feels hasn’t been brought home since WWII in the way that it has been brought home here. We’ve got to win this battle in Ukraine and we’ve got to do what we can to help them and hopefully at the same time deescalate tensions there. But we’ve got to win this battle at home too, and … I don’t want to dismiss what’s happening abroad at all, but this is a fight here at home in the United States. It’s an existential threat. One of our [political] parties is no longer invested in democracy, and you can see what that yields with someone like Vladimir Putin.

Moulitsas offered additional context, tying Trump and the Republican Party’s interests to Russia and Putin: “I don’t want it lost ... that the first impeachment of Donald Trump was because he was extorting Zelenskyy over javelin missiles — the same javelin missiles that have basically stopped the Russian hordes. Those were the missiles that Donald Trump was holding hostage unless Zelenskyy literally made up an investigation against Hunter Biden.”

Highlighting the urgency and interconnectedness of all these issues, Eleveld urged, “If there were ever a time to unmask the Republican Party for how profoundly unserious it is in this serious moment in history, it is now there for the Democrats, and there for their taking.”

Moulitsas agreed, highlighting gas prices—which he noted was “a plank of the Republican 2022 playbook”—as an example of how Democrats could show leadership in this moment:

Right now, the gas companies all have record profits. It’s not like it’s just a percentage or two. We’re talking like massive windfall records. The price of crude oil has been going down; the price of gasoline at the pump has not been going down. They’re pocketing that difference. It’s really easy for Democrats—I don’t understand why this isn’t happening—where you say, ‘We’re going to cut down, we’re going to eliminate the gas taxes and then we’re going to make it up with a windfall tax on energy companies.’ Boom. You’ve just shaved 30-40 cents off of a gallon of gas right off the bat, and you have the gas companies pay for it, and make it indefinite. And go above and beyond that, but there’s a way to shift this narrative [of] ‘this is Joe Biden’s gas prices’—shift that to the gas companies and make that relentless. Gas companies and Putin and war profiteers, there is plenty of that going around. Punish those people. Dare Joe Manchin to vote against it. I don’t even think Joe Manchin would dare vote against a windfall tax on gas companies.

Where does this leave Democrats today? How are things looking as the midterms approach? Moulitsas and Eleveld shifted the conversation to focus on what trends in polling from Civiqs are telling us about this fall. Eleveld signaled that Biden seems to be coming back from a very difficult few months, as polling has shown:

I don’t think we should be super worried about exact numbers right now as much as we should be worried about trends. When I [left for medical leave a few weeks ago], Joe Biden had been on a steady downward trajectory on Civiqs for months on months on end with a few minor breaks, and it might plateau for a second, but then it was going back down. Since then, what we have seen is that it’s started to rebound, right? After the State of the Union address, it started to rebound, and I’m inclined to think that because that rebound on Civiqs has continued, that Joe Biden is getting credit for competent handling of this global response to Putin and his aggression and this completely unprovoked war. It has been, objectively, a great response.

I think that this has been a reminder for both Democrats … and independents; [among them] he’s gotten a net plus gain of about six point or seven points since Russia invaded Ukraine … I think for Democrats, some of them, it’s really reminded them, ‘Oh my God, this is why we elected Joe Biden,’ for competent handling of the pandemic. Some people have different opinions on how competent that’s been. No doubt that the rollout of the vaccine program was incredibly competent and swift—we just couldn’t get everybody to buy into it because the Republican Party was by and large telling people, ‘Don’t do it.’ … I think it reminded independents why they voted for Joe Biden.

The sentiment seems to be common even among Trump-Biden voters, the cohosts noted, citing recent focus groups. As Eleveld summarized, “Over and over, they [are] kind of saying, ‘Look at the situation in Ukraine. Like, can you imagine if Donald Trump was [in office]? We might have World War III right now, because Donald Trump is just that [unpredictable.] I mean, maybe not, but you just don’t know what he would have done. And then [they] were talking about Trump saying Putin is ‘genius’ and just saying how ‘disgraceful’ that was. It’s just disgraceful that he built Putin up for four years and now he feels this need to weigh in.”

The big picture crystallization of authoritarianism versus democracy has been brought home to the American people as they watch the conflict in Ukraine unfold, and polling is showing a slow but sure uptick in Biden’s approval ratings as this situation in Ukraine continues to play out. Eleveld thinks that ultimately, this has put Biden and Democrats on better footing:

I can’t tell you whether or not they’re going to be able to totally capitalize on this moment here, but I can tell you, as we always say, I’m not just trying to play politics here. This upcoming election is as important to the global fight for democracy and freedom as anything else that is going on, including what is happening in Ukraine. We have to win here at home, we have to win there, we have to win everywhere.

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This week on The Brief: Elie Mystal, the impeachment vote, and potential for a third party

On this week’s episode of The Brief, hosts Markos Moulitsas and Kerry Eleveld talked all things post-impeachment and the potential for the rise of a third major party in American politics. This episode’s featured guest was Elie Mystal, legal expert and writer at The Nation.

Markos and Kerry opened the show by discussing Trump’s second impeachment trial and what the process has shown about his lasting influence on the Republican party. Markos noted that Trump has hurt the party substantially, as demonstrated by the most recent election cycle, when Democrats captured the trifecta of the U.S. House, Senate, and the presidency. Moreover, Trump is the only the third president in 100 years to lose reelection. Yet, Trump’s hold over a significant chunk of GOP voters remained clear from the way Republican leaders responded to his incitement of the insurrection. As Kerry added, “Mike Pence wouldn’t even stand up for himself and his family after it became clear that Trump had targeted him.”

Elie Mystal joined for the first half of the episode to weigh in on the impeachment trial and share his thoughts on its sudden end on Saturday. As Mystal described, the Republicans in the U.S. Senate bore responsibility for what happened on Jan. 6, and that made unifying in convicting Trump more difficult:

The Senate, I think, was cowardly in a way I think we expected them to be. They themselves were complicit in the insurrection. That, I think, was something that was lost during the House managers’ [line of questioning] … They were trying to convince Republicans to come onto their side, and by trying to convince Republicans, that means you can’t call them out for their complicity in the violence … Republicans did everything that Trump did—except try to kill Mike Pence.

Mystal cited the attack on the Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’ campaign bus in Texas, where Trump supporters almost ran the vehicle off the road, and how Trump expressed support for the people who committed that dangerous act. Trump had long been stoking this violence, he said, as well as Republican senators like Marco Rubio, who expressed support for attacks like these.

Regarding the Democrats’ strategy, Kerry wondered aloud about witness intimidation and if it might have occurred the night before the closing arguments were to be heard: “What happened in that negotiation that they ultimately decided not to call witnesses? Was it Democrats backing off? Was it witnesses drying up?”

The trio then discussed the aspect of freedom of speech in the impeachment case and the Brandenburg test, which Markos asked Mystal to explain. The test is one that helps “determine when inflammatory speech intending to advocate illegal action can be restricted,” or basically when free speech isn’t protected.

Lastly, Markos, Kerry, and Mystal discussed Joe Biden’s pick of Merrick Garland for attorney general; the hopes Mystal has for the work Garland will do as AG; and the fact that Trump can still be tried for a multitude of other crimes, especially at the state level in places like New York and Georgia. Ending on a positive note, Mystal said, “I don’t know if ultimate responsibility will come to Trump, but some of these people that have been enabling him for four years, especially people like Rudy Giuliani—one of the things that Trump has shown is is that while he may be Teflon, people around him ain’t.”

After their conversation with Mystal, Markos and Kerry talked about what has happened since Trump left office and how he continues to have a hold on the Republican Party. Kerry floated the idea of a third party becoming a prominent force in the coming years and noted that support for a third American political party is at an all-time high—as evidenced by the results of a recent Gallup poll. As she explains, the infrastructure exists for a third party to rise, led by someone like Rep. Adam Kinzinger (IL-16), a Republican who voted in favor of impeachment. A number of voters are changing their affiliation away from Republicans.

Kerry listed several reasons as to why she believes this:

1. The GOP’s image is plummeting.

2. There’s more support than ever for a third party.

3. Tens of thousands — a unique number of voters — are changing their affiliation away from being Republicans.

4. You have a bunch of former GOP officials who know both the governance side and the political side, the electoral side, of running a party.

Markos indicated that Trump represented a major turning point for the GOP. As he said, “How did Donald Trump get that many more votes? … And it’s one thing for him to win in 2016 when you don’t really know who he is, or you’re smitten by the fact that he’s a celebrity. But to see four years of Trump chaos and say, ‘Yeah, I want more of that.’ That’s what hurt me most on election night.”

Kerry agreed, saying, “The situation from the insurrection has really opened up a gaping wound in the Republican Party that cannot be fixed. They cannot paper over this.”

As Markos and Kerry closed out the discussion with an audience question, they came to agree that a third party is more likely to emerge from never-Trumpers, rather than die-hard Trump fans.

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This week on The Brief: Impeachment, the future of the Republican Party, and Biden’s performance

This week, hosts Markos Moulitsas and Kerry Eleveld talked all things “(im)peach-y,” why Republican senators seem poised to once again protect Trump, and the tasks facing Joe Biden. For this episode, they were joined by political historian Kathleen Frydl, who talked about the potential for a transformative Biden presidency; and Joan McCarter, Daily Kos staff writer, who shared her thoughts on the difficulties the Senate faces with competing priorities thanks to the impeachment and senators’ regular work, as well as on Biden’s first few weeks in office.

The big event looming over this whole week is Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial. With Republican senators once again lining up to stymie impeachment and protect Trump from facing real accountability, Markos wondered if they would “go down with this ship,” anticipating a kind of collapse of the Republican Party. Kerry replied:

It’s a level of stupidity that, frankly, is jaw-dropping. But on top of that, the betrayal of the country that they’re getting ready to pardon is just … this guy has not only been impeached once, and now twice, but in the last impeachment ... in Adam Schiff’s closing arguments, he predicted that Trump was a menace. And that if you didn’t teach him a lesson, if you didn’t convict him, this was going to be a disaster for the country. And then what did [Trump] bring to the country? Disaster. Like, the first president-inspired attack on the homeland, on the seat of national government, right? It’s never been done before. And now, apparently, 45 of them have already voted to set up this whole argument that supposedly you can’t convict a former president, a former official—which isn’t true.

Trump is costing Republicans all the “growth demographics,” Markos noted, as they are falling out of favor with young people, suburban white women, and people of color. Kerry mentioned the fact that the party at large will face inertia without a different strategy that relies on something other than voter suppression.

The pair were first joined by Kathleen Frydl to talk about the potential of the Biden administration and what it would take for Biden to deliver a great and potentially historic presidency. Frydl believes there is great promise for this new presidency and laid out the groundwork for what Biden must do to deliver for the country:

This presidency does have the potential to be a great, a historic presidency … but the task before Joe Biden echoes the task that Franklin Roosevelt faced, which is restoring confidence and legitimacy in government and making the federal government, especially, work on behalf of ordinary Americans. That’s a task that we have drifted away from, and it’s something that Franklin Roosevelt really presented to the American people and really forged an entire Democratic coalition on that precedent.

She also praised Biden’s leadership style, which she indicated has been less about his personal appeal or charisma and focused on “depersonalizing” his political persona—which he is likely bringing with him to the White House. Prior to Trump, Frydl believes, “we were engaged in a very performative political culture,” and a return to substance, policy, and regulation could benefit us. Because Biden centers policy and his Cabinet members, there’s a much better chance they will accomplish their goals and help everyday Americans.

On the future of the Republican Party, she had this to say:

Since 1968, the Republican Party has forged their presidential coalition—so, their national coalition—on a politics of whiteness … I’m talking about a party that’s dedicated to preserving the mechanisms of institutionalized racism … but the political destiny that awaits this country is quite different from the politics of whiteness.

What’s more, Frydl wondered if we will continue living in a country that is predicated on a two-party system, noting the extent to which whiteness is a unifying force in American politics and that, even if its power wanes, new power structures and factional lines will emerge to complement or replace it—especially in the Republican Party—long after Trump is gone. As she explained, “Republicans can’t win with Donald Trump, but they can’t win without him either. He was their Faustian bargain.”

Next, McCarter joined the show and offered her insights into how quickly the U.S. Senate can get its work done with impeachment looming over their heads, how Biden has been doing on the job so far, and if we will see additional financial regulations enacted in the coming years.

McCarter believes that the Senate’s work will still move quickly, especially now that Democrats have captured both the House and the Senate. Despite everything, she believes Biden has done well. As she said,

[He is] trying to get this government up and running [when] … Trump trashed absolutely everything—and the people who are left are downhearted, they are exhausted, they are depressed. They’ve got a lot of building-up of morale to do just to get the government functioning again … They want to get a lot of Obama administration back in to try to shore up where they’ve had losses, but they’ve got to weed through a lot of political people that Trump put in. So, that they’re moving this fast and doing this well considering what they’ve inherited—I’m impressed … Joe Biden, so far, is a really good president.

Markos then brought up Wall Street reform and financial services taxation, as this administration seems less likely to take it on directly. With many Elizabeth Warren allies in the administration, “most of the work done will be regulatory,” McCarter said, and corporate reforms remain at the top of the list of the administration’s priorities. This would be achieved through the Department of Justice and the Treasury and would “start to restore Americans’ view of government and what a government can do for them,” Kerry agreed.

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This week on The Brief: Impeachment round two, more COVID-19 relief, ending the filibuster

This week, hosts Markos Moulitsas and Kerry Eleveld were joined on The Brief by two guests: Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii, who talked about the attempted terrorist coup at the Capitol, another economic stimulus package for coronavirus relief, and priorities under the Biden administration; and Adam Jentleson, former Deputy Chief of Staff to former Sen. Harry Reid and author of the new book “Kill Switch: The Rise of the Modern Senate,” who shared his thoughts on the shifting makeup of the Senate, the emergence of a new centrist Republican contingent in Congress, and ending the filibuster.

Sen. Schatz kicked off the episode by reflecting on last week’s attempted violent coup by Trump supporters and discussing what’s at stake as Democrats move forward with impeachment proceedings and welcome Joe Biden as the new president. In the aftermath of last week’s violence in the Capitol, Schatz emerged with an even stronger resolve to ensure that democratic processes would continue as normal in the face of threats and other acts of intimidation, saying, “We weren’t going to allow an attempted insurrection to intimidate us or to prevent us from discharging our constitutional duties.”

On priorities, Schatz is passionate about climate action, but he believes a COVID-19 relief package is the most crucial priority at this time—which is especially important for the millions of Americans who are jobless and struggling to make ends meet. He also believes that it is not contradictory for Congress to work on impeachment and also help the Biden administration carry out its policy goals within the first few months of his presidency:

I guess I just want to reject as publicly as I can this premise that the Senate can or should only do one thing at a time. The amount of damage that has been done to American institutions, and to Americans, is just too vast for to say, ‘Well, I mean, can we just fit that into a reconciliation bill? I don’t know.’ And the framing, even among liberals, has always been sort of that Rahm Emanuel conversation with Barack Obama: Do you want to do healthcare, or do you want to do immigration, or do you want to do climate, and in what order, because you know, you’ve only have so much political capital you can spend? … I really do think that we should reject that thinking.

In thinking about the impeachment process and passing legislation during the next four years under the Biden administration, Schatz also criticized another roadblock that has been normalized, which is the slow pace of passing legislation — making Congress less efficient: “Our inability to process legislation quickly is a huge part of the problem in the United State Senate.”

Next, the pair welcomed Jentleson onto the show, a veteran U.S. Senate staffer who weighed in on what the new chamber dynamic will like be now that Democrats have regained the majority after last week’s victories in the Georgia runoffs. But even with the majority, Democrats could find themselves obstructed due to the filibuster. To Markos’ question about whether or not Republicans might join in to help bring an end to the filibuster, Jentleson said:

You can sort of see this centrist party taking shape before our eyes, and mainly taking shape in the Senate, where you have Murkowski, Collins … Romney, and on our side, Manchin and King, and the thing about majority rule is that it would actually dramatically empower that group of centrist Republicans. That’s, you know, not my goal here. But it is still a fact that in a majority-rule Senate, those people, like Murkowski, are far more powerful than they would be in a sixty-vote Senate. In a sixty-vote Senate, they’re just one faction among many that you’d have to assemble to get to sixty. In a majority-vote Senate, they are the ones straddling that threshold, and they’ll be the kingmakers on every single bill.

When a minority of the Senate represents as little as 11% of the U.S. population, Jentleson emphasized, the filibuster process can result in particularly skewed policy results. Even the framers of the Constitution understood this:

Fundamentally, the problem that we face, and the reason Democrats are going to face obstruction from Republicans—and the reason that Biden’s agenda is likely to be blocked—is that Republicans will simply use this power to force a sixty-vote hurdle and block everything the Democrats want to do. And so reforming all the hours, and all that stuff, I don’t oppose it. But it doesn’t fix the fundamental problem—which is taking away the power from the minority to block the majority from doing anything … The reason that is such an important dynamic is that we live in such a polarized environment where … once side succeeds by making the other fail.

Ironically, this is exactly what the framers foresaw when they argued vehemently against imposing a supermajority threshold in the Senate. They wrote in the Federalist Papers that you can’t give what they called a ‘pertinacious minority’ the ability to block the majority, because if you did, they would be unable to resist that temptation, and they would use it to embarrass the majority repeatedly. So they knew exactly what was going to happen—they foresaw Mitch McConnell, they saw him coming … We have to take the option away from the minority to just block the majority for the purposes of making them look bad, and then the minority rides voter discontent back to power in the next election.

You can watch the full episode below: