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Questions from the real world
Connecting Elon Musk, Trump and Twitter. Is Russia a paper tiger? What about the midterms?
Every so often I bump into a reader IRL. FTR, I have been writing since 2014, at a near daily pace. At one time, I made money doing it, and thought it would be nice to make a living at it. I found out the hard way that it’s not easy to do, kind of like the hundred thousand Youtubers who think they can all be Mr. Beast or Matpat. Reality bites. DGMW, it’s rewarding to write, even when I don’t make money doing it. I get plenty of satisfaction challenging myself, like seeing how many keyboard acronyms I can stuff into a single paragraph. W00t, I did it, TYVM. TGIF.
Where was I? Oh, right. I have a real life besides The Racket News. Job, wife, kids, all that. As a rule, the two don’t mix, but there’s a certain number of people I work with who read this (to whom I apologize a lot), and a few I see only occasionally (that word vexes me, and I have to spell check it every single time, SMH). I ran into one of these who isn’t submerged in the news and online arguments, and was peppered with questions. I thought to myself: wow, people do care about stuff, and maybe I should spend more time listening to their questions. (This will last about a day before something shiny comes along.)
In deference to the questioner, I am going to share my answers with all of you. It’s only fair that whatever meager punditry I can offer gets widest distribution, like farts in the wind. Maybe someone who hasn’t read this blog before will be incited to subscribe. Who knows?
Q: What do you think will happen in the midterms?
Good question. Honestly I have no idea and neither does anyone else who says they do. There are larger trends, historical trends, national issues, and local issues. While every House seat is up for re-election, not every seat is vulnerable. Only a third of Senate seats are up for election, and not all of those are competitive. My colleague David Thornton did a good job running through the scenarios, and he has concluded that it’s way to early for Republicans to celebrate.
FiveThirtyEight has a good piece about which GOP primaries we should watch. I think that’s important because if the GOP is ever going to move on from January 6th, we need to see if the Big Lie candidates get rejected by voters.
There’s the celebrity class of candidates: Herschel Walker in Georgia, and Dr. Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania. There’s North Carolina’s race between Rep. Ted Budd and former Gov. Pat McCrory. There’s Arizona, where a gaggle of Republicans are trying to knock out former astronaut Mark Kelly. There’s the clown car in Ohio, where Josh Mandel, J.D. Vance and Mike Gibbons played “The Apprentice” but Vance got Trump’s nod.
IMHO, if the Trumpist candidates win the day, Republicans are going to get splattered with January 6th, while their single-issue “stolen election” narrative won’t bite with voters. The only thing keeping Democrats from holding their advantage in both houses is President Biden’s catastrophic messaging ineptitude and low approval.
Many of the Trump-endorsed candidates might be popular in their own right. For example, in Georgia, Herschel Walker is polling at around 60%, despite skipping the candidate debate. He’s a football hero, and therefore many voters forgive his mental health history, given the prevalence of TBI among former NFL stars. Competence is not the leading trait people seem to be looking for in their Senators.
TL;DR: It’s too early to predict the midterms. Statistically, the GOP should take back the Senate, and Mitch McConnell can fully accept his role as Odin. The House is going to be a harder nut to crack.
Q: Will Trump run in 2024?
I’d say no, but he wants it to look like he might. With almost complete control of the RNC’s piggy bank, Trump has built “a mountain of cash” according to POLITICO. Trump’s Save America PAC is sitting on more than $110 million. He isn’t spending it on races; he’s keeping it. The RNC reported $45.5 million cash on hand.
If Trump runs, he has an enormous war chest to draw upon, plus the seething hatred of the media will give him an unbelievable amount of coverage. Maybe we should be looking at Elon Musk’s bid to buy Twitter as the veritable canary in the coal mine.
No, I’m serious. Despite Twitter’s “poison pill” defense, Musk has secured $46.5 billion for a tender offer to Twitter shareholders. Democrats are now saying it out loud: Musk might restore Trump to Twitter.
WaPo: “Who’s afraid of Elon Musk?”
There’s even a fake rumor floating around social media claiming a Trump tweet. “‘It’s good to be back, Thanks Elon!’ reads a screenshot of a purported Trump tweet shared in the post.” Yikes.
If Trump returns to Twitter, things might get more interesting.
But still, with all that cash in the bank, and the prospect of Trump being able to
launder spend it in ways that benefit himself, I think the temptation of paying off debts and keeping the money outweighs Trump’s motivation to run again.
If you look at his rally attendance numbers, they’ve really fallen. At his Selma, North Carolina rally, where Trump attracted 15,000 in 2016, just 1,000 to 2,000 showed up last week. In Commerce, Georgia, Trump’s rally drew less than 5,000, versus 20,000 to 30,000 in 2016. Atlanta Journal Constitution political reporter Greg Bluestein tweeted that the crowds were markedly lower than Trump’s late 2021 rally in Perry, Georgia.
In Michigan, a pro-Trump candidate garnered only 125 supporters at a March “MAGA” rally in Lansing. Trump showed up a week later and got maybe 5,000 people in a small arena. Perhaps there were more watching on screens outside.
With such small rally crowds, even if Trump had his Twitter back, I don’t see him running. The big crowds give him energy, and if he can’t draw them, other candidates will smell blood in the water. But who knows, I may be wrong. YMMV.
Q: Are the Russians really that bad at fighting a war?
And no. I didn’t think Putin would invade Ukraine in the way he did. I thought his invasion, if it happened, would be along the lines of what we’re seeing now—a slow grind across the Donbas and a land bridge to Crimea.
But actually, Putin’s war plan wasn’t so far-fetched if his intelligence had been competent. Putin sent in his VDV paratroopers, his elite special forces, to take and hold Antonov Airport outside Kyiv. They were only supposed to hold long enough for an air bridge to arrive in 18 transport planes enroute from Belarus, while a long support convoy sped down the highway to link up. If the plan had worked, Kyiv would have been in Russian hands within days.
However, the Ukrainians were waiting, prepared, and expectant of this exact scenario. The Russian force fought hard, but was eliminated, possibly to the last man, by Ukrainian quick reaction counterforces. After a couple of the transport planes were downed by Ukrainian missiles, the rest turned back. The high-speed relief convoy ran straight into an ambush and was stopped cold.
At that point, Putin’s plan for a lightning assault was doomed. He continued to pour in assets hoping to break Ukraine’s fighting spirit, and to deplete their supplies. But the West countered and poured in more weapons. This has been the situation since the beginning of March. The Russians pour in more fodder, and the West pours in more weapons, while Ukrainians sacrifice their lives for their homeland.
Russia’s biggest failure was a built-in flaw. A one-man show dictatorship like Putin’s must have a coterie of yes-men around it. Nobody wants to tell Putin bad news. So when it was time to commit, the generals said, “sure, this plan will work.” But they didn’t know. The people who did know would never speak up. This is why Putin put his (former) intelligence chief in Lefortovo Prison, the famous gulag in Moscow used by the KGB for decades.
Putin told his defense minister, Sergei Shoigu, to cancel plans to assault the Mariupol steel works, where several thousand Ukrainian troops are holed up in basements and buildings. Shoigu is no soldier. He’s a political hack. It’s likely Putin didn’t believe his own intelligence and feared a trap, so he’d rather starve out the defenders, or sit back and reduce the plant to rubble over the course of time.
That’s now the Russian plan. As Mick Jagger sang, “time is on my side.” The Russians have bodies (live ones) to waste, and lots more former Soviet equipment sitting in boneyards that can be made marginally operational, while artillery and missiles rain death on Ukraine. Why maintain anything when Russia has a giant throwaway army sitting in storage?
This is the Russian way. Everything is expendable, and everything expendable will be expended. Unfortunately, the one thing Ukraine doesn’t have to expend is lives. Russia can simply outlast Ukraine, unless there’s some kind of large counterattack. Russians are good at defending against counterattacks.
In the long run, Putin has an advantage. I’m not sure how the West is going to deal with that. But for now, yes, Russia is a paper tiger. A paper tiger with nukes, and Putin isn’t bluffing when he said he’d use them. If he was bluffing, NATO would already be bombing Russian troops.
I think I’ll call it here and end this Q&A. There’s plenty more questions, I’m sure. Feel free to ask them in the comments. Remember, as my dad always said, “I’m not always right, but I’m never wrong.” Have a great Friday.
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