It’s Still All and Only About Trump

Today Nikki Haley formally announces her thoroughly hopeless campaign for the 2024 Presidential nomination. Give her the benefit of the doubt and assume she’s running for Vice President. Ron DeSantis has gained most attention in recent days for his continued unwillingness to engage Donald Trump’s mounting attacks. Meanwhile every other conceivable contender for the nomination remains mired in low single-digit support. It’s hard to know what to make of this incipient primary campaign, not least because it’s so unprecedented in modern American politics to have a defeated former President running to be President again. But if we step back from the details we can see a clarifying picture. There is no candidate in the race whose campaign isn’t entirely about Donald Trump. And that is probably the best reason to think Donald Trump will be the eventual nominee.

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The Various Ways to Eliminate and Gut Social Security Prime Badge

Since we’re talking about whether Social Security survives for future generations, we should start with understanding the various ways the program’s foes propose to limit or get rid of it. Since Social Security is one of America’s most popular government programs, virtually no one says they want to get rid of Social Security. (Except Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT).) Plans to cut it or phase it out entirely are almost all framed as ways to “improve it” or “save” it.

So for instance on CNN this weekend Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD) compared Social Security to defense spending. “We’re never going to not fund defense. But at the same time we — every single year, we look at how we make it better. And I think it’s about time we start talking about Social Security and making it better.”

So what are the options?

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DeBamboozling the Social Security Scare Talk

I mentioned a few days ago that political reporters remain way behind when it comes to seeing through the flimflam of Republicans’ schemes to cut or dismantle Social Security. I was reminded in a TPM Reader email a few mornings ago how often the press accounts of the financing of the program itself remain trapped in GOP talking points. In X number of years, we hear again and again, Social Security will become “insolvent.”

But this isn’t true. At best, it’s a totally misleading way to describe how the federal government pays for things.

Social Security and Medicare are funded (almost entirely) by a payroll tax of approximately 15% on wage and salary income up to a statutory cap, which currently stands at $160,200. That tax is split between the employer and the employee. It funds the two programs. A couple generations ago, Congress increased the tax to build up a surplus to pay for the benefits of the baby boom generation. That’s the “trust fund.” Social Security “lent” that extra money to the rest of the federal government, i.e., it purchased government bonds. Eventually the Trust Fund will run out of bonds to cash in. The current estimate is that that will happen in the mid-2030s. This is when Social Security supposedly becomes “insolvent.”

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Inside The Sinema-DC Insider Mind Meld Prime Badge

I’ve had a few readers point me to this new Puck rundown of Kyrsten Sinema’s chances in 2024 and/or her incipient campaign. (It’s subscription-only but you can get like one free article if you really want to read it.) One reader was mystified that reporter Tara Palmeri approached the race on the assumption that Sinema holds all the cards versus national Democrats and the Senate leadership.

So what’s my take?

First of all the reporter, Tara Palmeri, is very much part of the inside D.C. consensus, very much part of the Axios/Politico/Punchbowl “this is excellent news for Kyrsten Sinema!” mindset. Nothing wrong with that. But I just wanted to position the players for you. Palmeri does kind of paint that picture at the head of the article. But perhaps in spite of herself she comes round much closer to the reality of the situation further down in the piece.

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Can We Be Ready #3 Prime Badge

I’ve continued to read up on research into pandemic risks from strains of Avian Flu. I shared TC‘s note in which he argues that the barriers to bird-bound avian flu migrating to contagion among humans are greater than some press reports suggest. But those chances are not nil and they may be growing.

I had two follow up points I wanted to share.

The first is minks. Minks are a problem. A lot of the recent reporting has focused on a avian flu outbreak at a mink farm in Spain. The study behind those reports is published here. It’s somewhat technical but you can still glean a lot from it even if you don’t have any technical background in the relevant science. The group that studied the outbreak concluded that it was likely that the outbreak involved the virus spreading among the minks. So they were contagious to each other. It spread within the population. That’s obviously not good.

They’re not sure though.

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Sen Mike Lee Definitely Positively Doesn’t Want to Ever Phase Out Social Security Prime Badge

Earlier today I posted this video in which Sen. Mike Lee reacts with disbelief and shock that President Biden said some Republicans propose sunsetting Social Security and Medicare. Pure disbelief. Where could Biden get this obviously false crazy idea? Note that he did this while sitting next to Sen. Rick Scott, the guy who actually formally wrote the proposal as the Senate GOP platform position.

Now look at this video from Lee’s first campaign for Senate in which he says, “It will be my objective to phase out Social Security, to pull it up by the roots and get rid of it.”

Watch the video here.

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Press is Way Behind on Social Security FlimFlam Prime Badge

With the future of Social Security and Medicare back under discussion — and not in a good way — we need to review a few points about how these subjects are discussed in the nation’s capital. This morning I saw some very solid, level-headed reporters noting that Rick Scott didn’t say Social Security and Medicare should be sunsetted after 5 years. He said all government programs should be sunsetted. And it just happens that Social Security and Medicare are government programs. In other words, these folks suggested, while Biden’s claim was technically true it amounted to a kind of cheap shot.

That’s malarkey.

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Quick Take on Biden’s Speech Prime Badge

Watching State of the Union addresses is one of my least favorite parts of what I do at TPM. I find them a mix of tedious and stressful to watch. By and large they don’t matter. I’d prefer not to watch them. But it’s part of the job. This was very different from any of the State of the Union addresses I’ve seen in 40-plus years of watching them.

Joe Biden isn’t a particularly rousing public speaker normally. The first 10 or 15 minutes of his address were fairly boilerplate, occasionally halting. The substance was pitched toward mid-sized and small towns in post-industrial America. This was unsurprising but well-executed. But then it went somewhere entirely different, not in substance but in presentation, energy and tone.

I don’t need to describe the speech to you because you presumably saw it. Here are the two points that stood out to me.

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SOTU Blogging Second Thread Prime Badge

10:18 PM: We may try to put some of this together later. But there seem to be a lot of prestige reporters tonight not quite willing to say what happened on the floor in that exchange about Social Security and Medicare, with Republicans hooting and hollering. We all saw what happened.

10:05 PM: There were some feral Republicans there yelling about the border.

10:00 PM: “Equal protection under the law is a covenant we have with each other in America.”

Okay, Let’s Do This Prime Badge

9:47 PM: He’s doing considerably better than I’d anticipated. I didn’t have low expectations. I just find most of these speeches by most Presidents kind of meh. He’s enjoying himself and skewering the opposition with a bear hug.

9:45 PM: Joe, Medicare and Social Security saver …

9:43 PM: A lot of Republicans really don’t like the facts.

9:37 PM: Oy …

9:34 PM: He seems jazzed.

9:29 PM: ‘Jobs are coming back, pride is coming back.’

9:23 PM: “We came together” seems to be the theme.

9:20 PM: McCarthy is trying to follow the GOP vow never to clap but he seems to kind of give in toward the end. Can’t quite manage it.

9:11 PM: I guess we’re charm offensive-ing. I always have equivocal feelings about this. On the one hand, don’t bring a noodle to a knife fight. On the other, the audience isn’t the members in the building. It’s the public at home. That’s what’s important to remember.

9:08 PM: Apparently Biden and Santos made locked eye contact but didn’t say anything or shake hands. The news has been delivered.

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