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Will Right-Wing Evangelicals Embrace Herschel Walker's Moral Hypocrisy?

Former football star Herschel Walker has attracted a large following as a commentator over the last decade, carefully crafting an image as an upstanding Black American with a focus on conservative “family values.” So when news broke last week of Walker having a 10-year-old child whom he did not raise, the Georgia Republican Senate candidate's detractors began hammering on the contradictions between his moralizing speeches and his own life.

Walker has made his stance against fatherless households a key component of his personal political brand. In a 2020 interview, he said the Black community has a “major, major problem” with fatherless homes.

Media reports later confirmed that he has two additional previously unknown children, a teenage boy and a woman in her forties. Before the news broke, the public only knew of the son he has raised with his ex-wife and current wife, Christian Walker, also a conservative influencer.

With Walker in a neck-and-neck race with Georgia Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock, the heat has been on the Republican. Recent polls show them in a virtual tie.

Will Conservatives Care?

There’s no question about the hypocrisy of Herschel Walker. He said on a podcast that if you have “a child with a woman, even if you have to leave that woman… you don’t leave the child.” But Walker did not acknowledge his 10-year-old child until the mother took him to court over the matter. The bigger question is whether voters in Georgia will care about the GOP candidate’s indiscretions.

Shortly after the news broke, Walker appeared at an annual meeting of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, a conservative evangelical group. When discussing the recent allegations, Walker brushed them off as political mud-slinging from the left before changing the topic back to his talking points. While it’s a small sample size, his reception by the evangelical right suggests that hypocrisy may not turn conservatives against Walker.

Walker has long been a fan of Donald Trump, and the former president has returned the favor by enthusiastically endorsing the former Heisman Trophy winner. He shares Trump’s penchant for political gaffes and will have to hope to have some of Trump’s imperviousness to scandal.

An old interview has been uncovered in which Walker compared his own multiple personality disorder to Jesus Christ: “Do our Lord Jesus Christ have a mental illness because he said he’s the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit? To me, those are three different personalities.” He also slipped up by referring to the other 51 states besides Georgia, and offered a truly bizarre response to the Uvalde school shooting.

Georgia’s Demographics

What might hurt Walker more than anything else is the changing nature of the Georgia electorate. It’s risky business for a political party to rest on the demographics of a state that is changing. The Peach State is among those growing fastest across the nation and becoming rapidly more diverse. From 2010 to 2020 Georgia’s population increased by 10 percent with the Black, Asian, and Hispanic population seeing large increases while the white population declined.

On paper, conventional wisdom says that this plays into the Democrats’ favor, and it has been a contributing factor to Georgia Republicans’ push in the state to suppress the vote. An East Carolina University poll puts Walker’s support from Black voters at a lowly seven percent, lower than even Governor Brian Kemp’s nine percent in his 2018 reelection victory against Democrat Stacey Abrams. In that poll’s overall tally, however, Walker and Warnock were tied at about 46 percent.

Hammering Walker for his hypocrisy may have impact on the margins, but Warnock’s candidacy depends on turning out his base in an election that may be challenging for Democrats this year.

Palin Returns To National Politics At Top Of Alaska Primary Pack

Sarah Palin is reemerging on the national political scene after she advanced with the most votes in the primary for the special election to fill Alaska’s only seat in the House of Representatives. Palin will contest the special election with three other candidates vying to serve the remainder of Don Young’s term, who died in March after 49 years in the House.

The Alaskan has not held political office since Palin took the national stage as Senator John McCain’s running mate in the 2008 presidential election.

Palin received 30 percent of the votes, 10 percent more than her next competitor, and she received an important endorsement from Donald Trump. In many ways, Palin’s ‘maverick’ political stylings in the 2008 election set the stage for Trump eight years later.

Notably, the election was conducted completely by mail, and with about 25 percent of the vote left to count a clear top tier has emerged. Joining Palin will be Republican Nick Begich who received about 19 percent of the vote, and independent Al Gross with 12.5 percent.

The fourth and final spot will likely go to Democrat Mary Peltola, who received 7.5 percent. A democratic socialist named Santa Claus is the next closest contender with 4.5 percent of the vote.

Republican Split

Much like other primary contests across the nation, the Alaska primary and the special election will have competing factions of the Republican Party vying for political office.

Palin represents the Trump wing of the party with her website highlighting key conservative talking points against abortion, for gun control, and specific to Alaska, drilling for oil.

Palin’s endorsements read like a who’s who in the Trump world of GOP politics: Turning Point USA, Kimberly Guilfoyle, Sheriff David Clarke, Donald Trump Jr., in addition to Trump himself.

In 2008, Palin’s "populist" brand of politics was more novel, but now she falls squarely in line with the majority of Republicans.

The second-highest vote-getter, Nick Begich III, represents the other side of the battle within the Republican Party. Begich III is the grandson of former Democratic Representative, Nick Begich, who died in a plane crash in 1972.

Begich III worked on Young’s 2020 reelection campaign and served on the Alaska Republican Party's finance committee. But Begich III entered the race before Young died and had become critical of his spending.

The more traditional Republican is running as a fiscal conservative and touts his collaboration with the conservative Club for Growth. The Club for Growth is a conservative political organization that promotes cutting income taxes and removing the estate tax, among other right-wing positions.

The Club for Growth backed Trump in 2020 and were big backers of candidates who supported overturning the 2020 election results. It backed competitors to Trump-endorsed candidates in key Senate primaries in Ohio and Pennsylvania, however. Trump’s candidates won, but he said of the club, “it’s their right to do it, but it’s a rather hostile act. It doesn’t mean I have to like it.”

Rather than a complete break from Trump’s brand of politics, candidates like Begich III show that powerful organizations like Club for Growth are less interested in dismantling Trump’s political movement, than vying to take it over for their own political ends.

Palin’s Chances

Palin enjoys the highest name recognition and will be the favorite heading into the August 16 general election.

In a new twist in Alaskan elections, the general election uses ranked-choice voting. Alaskan voters will have the option to vote for their top four choices, and if no single candidate gets 50 percent of the vote, a second round is held by eliminating the lowest candidates’ votes and adding those voters’ second choice to the voter’s tally. The counting ends when a candidate receives a majority of votes.

This election structure may harm Palin’s chances. A May poll showed that 59 percent of likely special election voters have a negative view of the former Governor. Yet she clearly has a dedicated base that may turn out for her.

Right-Wing Commissioners In New Mexico Rehearse Theft Of Future Elections

Otero County, New Mexico, home to 66,000 residents, is the scene of an election battle that could portend dark consequences for the future of American elections.

Earlier this week, the three-person county commission refused to certify the results of the June 7 primary. The commission is controlled by three Republicans, and their decision has triggered a crisis at the county level with an emergency meeting held on Friday.

At the time of the emergency meeting, the most high-profile commissioner, Couy Griffin, was in Washington D.C. facing his sentencing for participating in the January 6 riots. Griffin is known as the founder of Cowboys for Trump, and he was found guilty of entering a restricted area and acquitted on a disorderly conduct charge.

He has indicated that he has not changed his mind on the vote and will not vote to certify the election, but it is unknown whether he can phone in his vote.

The New Mexico Supreme Court ruled that the commission had to certify the results of the county’s election, but Griffin has publicly called on his fellow commissioners to stand firm and vote against certification.

Vague 'Concerns'

The three county commissioners have been somewhat vague about why exactly they refuse to certify election results. But just like on the national stage, election fraud has been a major talking point for Otero County since the 2020 presidential election.

Dominion voting machines have drawn the ire of conservatives across the country, and one county commissioner said she does not trust the machines during a public meeting last Monday. They did not cite specific irregularities and fell back on a general distrust of the voting machines.

“I don’t have specific examples that I can point to other than the recent audit and the canvass and the uncertainty of what that produced,” said Griffin during the meeting.

But election officials and other watchdogs have pointed out that the voting machines are available to the public to view prior to an election to see how the certification process works.

Mario Jimenez, a member of the progressive watchdog group Common Cause New Mexico, said, “they have no basis — other than ‘we just don’t trust the machine’ — for not certifying the election.”

Nonetheless, the county commission has received plenty of attention as an example of conservative strongholds refusing to allow votes to be counted properly.

New Mexico’s secretary of state called the situation “a canary in the coal mine.”

Election Unrest

The January 6 riots have a clear through line to election unease heading into the 2022 midterms. Ever since Trump and his allies claimed election fraud as the culprit behind his loss, conservative groups on the ground in heavily red areas have been laying the groundwork to contest election results going forward.

In some cases, it manifests in harmless sore losers like Joey Gilbert, who lost Nevada’s Republican gubernatorial primary and insisted election fraud was the reason for the loss.

But in other cases, like Otero County, Republican officials loyal to Trump have put in work to get into positions of power to hold up voting certification, almost as a proof of concept for future elections.

In all likelihood, the Otero County primary election results will be certified and be recognized as legitimate results.

However, Griffin and his fellow commissioners have successfully proven that you can contest election results by simply seizing power of the county commission.

While Congress attempts to bring details about the January 6 riots to light, conservatives across the country are working at the local level to increase their stranglehold on power in rural, red communities.

In South Carolina Primary, Haley And Trump Candidates Wage Proxy War

Former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley is touring the country, hoping that former President Donald Trump doesn't run again and block her path to the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.

That may be why a pitched primary battle is taking shape in Haley’s home state of South Carolina, a proxy war between her and Trump. Haley has backed the incumbent, Rep. Nancy Mace, who condemned Trump’s actions during the January 6, 2021 insurrection at the US Capitol. She has also said that the rioting wiped out Trump’s legacy.

For his part Trump has endorsed Katie Arrington, who beat defeated an anti-Trump Republican in a 2018 primary before losing to the Democrat in the general election. Arrington is fighting from behind to dethrone Mace, but a Trump endorsement has proved key to several races this primary season.

The high-stakes battle will play out on Tuesday, June 14, when South Carolina Republican voters head to the polls.

Mocking January 5 Hearings

With the January 6 riot back in the news cycle, Arrington has tried to capitalize on Mace’s faltering support for Trump.

Mace condemned Trump’s actions leading up to the storming of the Capitol building, but she ultimately voted against impeaching him for a second time.

On Thursday Arrington tweeted, “The January 6th hearing is tonight, when’s the one for the baby formula shortage?” She has joined the majority of Republican political operatives and news sites that have attempted to downplay the ongoing investigations and prosecutions of the Capitol riots.

In the latest polls, Mace has a six-percent lead on Arrington, but the Trump-endorsed candidate has been closing in on the incumbent

Notably, Haley has committed significantly more resources to the campaign than the Trump camp has. The former Trump cabinet member has appeared in Mace ads and extensively fundraised for the freshman representative.

Arrington has appeared at Trump events and the former president has raised money for her as well.

Yet Trump apparently has decided not to visit the state to give Arrington a final boost in the primary's home stretch. The former president has a penchant for only throwing real resources into battles that he knows he has a good chance of winning.

Trump also is looking to take out another South Carolina Republican incumbent, Rep. Tom Rice, who unlike Mace voted to impeach the President. The two candidates are among the group of Republicans that Trump deemed worthy of attempting to oust for their lack of loyalty to him.

Nikki Haley’s Prospects

Much like Mace, Haley has tried to thread the needle when it comes to opposing her former boss. She endorsed Mace before Arrington entered the race, and she has endorsed other South Carolina candidates that have also enjoyed Trump’s endorsement.

Recently Haley took an equivocal position on Trump's Big Lie, saying “there was fraud in the [2020] election, but I don’t think that the numbers were so big that it swayed the vote in the wrong direction.”

According to inside sources, Haley has insisted that her opposition to Trump in South Carolina was not an intentional slight against him. But her political dance shows the difficulty faced by Republicans who seek a different course than falling purely in the Trump camp. They risk alienating Trump voters, a risky proposition considering the fervor for the former president among the Republican base.

Trump-endorsed candidates have won several key primaries recently including J.D. Vance in Ohio and Mehmet Öz in Pennsylvania.

Haley has indicated that she may be one of the first possible candidates for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024. While the 2024 race is barely in its early days, she has scheduled trips to states like Iowa, clearly showing her interest.

Haley has previously stated that her potential run does not depend on whether Trump is again a candidate, but it’s difficult to imagine anyone as ambitious as Haley challenging the former president if he decides to run.

Legal Documents Shed Light On Christian 'Cult' Tied To Justice Barrett

In court documents obtained by The Guardian, the founder of the People of Praise, a small Indiana Christian sect, was described as making all decisions about a female member’s life, including her finances and dating life. In those documents from a 1973 court case, the group's founder Kevin Ranaghan was also accused of running a home with a sexualized atmosphere in the nine-bedroom house in South Bend, Indiana from which the group operated.

The details of the religious group were revealed when Cynthia Carnick started legal proceedings to end her five minor children's visitations with their father, then a member of the People of Praise and a resident of Ranaghan’s house.

If this matters, it is because Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett has been a member of People of Praise for most of her adult lifr. Shr lived at the People of Praise home while she attended law school at Notre Dame, where she graduated in 1997. Her husband also lived at the home, although no public records indicate they lived at the home at the time the alleged events occurred.

In a sworn affidavit in support of Carnick’s claims, a woman who lived with the Ranaghans from 1973 to 1978, Colette Humphrey, said she saw instances of inappropriate sexual behavior.

"Full Life Submission'

Humphrey wrote, “When I was part of the People of Praise I was in full life submission to Kevin Ranaghan, under full obedience to him and he exercised this authority over most areas of my life.”

Not many details about the People of Praise are known publicly, and the latest revelations about the control the group has over women come as Barrett and other conservative justices attempt to roll back Roe v. Wade.

Appointed by President Donald Trump in 2020, Barrett has long been opposed to abortion and called abortion “always immoral.”

When named to an appeals court judgeship by Trump in 2017, Barrett said, “If I am confirmed, my views on this or any other question will have no bearing on the discharge of my duties as a judge.”

She also said in 2016 that she did not think Trump’s appointments to the Supreme Court would overturn Roe v. Wade. She said, “I ... don't think… Roe's core holding that… women have a right to an abortion. I don't think that would change." But leak from of a draft majority opinion on abortion by Justice Samuel Alito confirmed the conservative justices' impending intent to overturn the landmark abortion ruling from 1973.

The latest revelations about the religious organization where Barrett spent her formative years as a law student have once again thrown the conservative Catholic judge in the spotlight.

The Court's Handmaid?

Not only has the People of Praise group been accused of exerting complete control over women’s lives, but accusations by former members of sexual abuse received media attention during Barrett’s confirmation process to become a Supreme Court Justice.

In response, the People of Praise hired an independent firm to conduct an investigation into the accusations, but the results were not made available to the public or the accusers.

Coney Barrett and her family were not linked to the accusations, however, multiple women created support groups and tried to bring attention to the secretive group during her confirmation.

In 2010, People of Praise listed Coney Barrett as a handmaid, a female advisor to young women in the religious group. The title drew comparisons to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, a dystopian novel and TV series detailing a patriarchal theocratic state that completely controls women.

Why Democrats Want Biden To Cancel Student Debt Now

With his approval rating stuck around 40 percent, many in his own party have pressured President Joe Biden to offer student debt forgiveness ahead of the 2022 midterms. The Washington Post first reported that the White House is planning to cancel $10,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower earning less than $150,000 a year.

Some Democrats have been pushing for $50,000 per borrower in student debt cancellation to help the 45 million Americans with student debt. But Biden has remained adamant that he has not considered such an amount.

The White House has thus far denied reports of their $10,000 student debt cancellation plans, but rumors continue to fuel debate on the issue. A substantial dip in Biden’s approval rating has been in two key demographics for the Democratic Party, young people and minorities.

The average student debt for a graduating college student is $31,000, according to the Education Data Initiative. Since 1990, the average debt for a graduating student has doubled, adjusting for inflation.

Student debt also disproportionately impacts Black Americans, who are more likely to hold student debt than their white college graduate counterparts. Up to 86 percent of Black American college graduates owe student debt, at an average of $40,000. That’s $10,000 more on average than white Americans, who hold student debt at a rate of 67.7 percent.

Student loan forgiveness is thus potentially a key component in closing the astronomical racial wealth gap in America. According to the Federal Reserve, Black families have less than 15 percent of the wealth of white families.

Why Now?

Although the longstanding racial wealth gap cannot be solved with a single policy, the Biden Administration is keen to show the party base that it can get things done.

According to Data for Progress polling, 64 percent of Americans under the age of 45 and 77 percent of Democrats of all ages support the idea of canceling $50,000 of student debt per borrower.

But mainstream outlets are filled with opinion bashing student loan forgiveness as elitist and benefitting the rich. On the contrary, however, research from the Roosevelt Institute shows that $50,000 of student debt cancellation per borrower would mostly help poor Black families.

The latest reported plans from the White House of $10,000 are more modest and would cost the government an estimated $230 billion.

A large dip in Biden’s approval rating has been in two key demographics for the Democratic Party, young people and minorities.

Can Biden Cancel Debt?

While the Democrats have a slim majority in the Senate, they have not passed headline-grabbing legislation such as the infrastructure bill. Biden has also appealed to “rational Republicans” on issues like gun control and abortion rights, key issues for young Americans. Such appeals show Biden’s inability to act on his campaign promises unilaterally or through the marginally Democratic-controlled Congress.

Debt cancellation falls under the purview of the executive branch, however, giving Biden a range of executive actions that he could take to cancel any amount of federal student loan debt.

Senate Republicans confirmed the President’s power to cancel student debt when in April they filed legislation that attempted to curtail that power. As David Dayen wrote in The American Prospect, “there would be no need for such a bill if there was not already authority granted by Congress to the executive branch to suspend, defer, or cancel student loan payments.”

Having campaigned on a promise to cancel $10,000 in student debt per borrower, Biden could pitch debt cancellation as a landmark political win.

With his approval rating cratering and Democrats fearful of key midterm elections this fall, Biden may well see student debt cancellation as a shrewd move to win over apathetic voters.

Is Peter Thiel Using Trump To Advance His Own Far-Right Agenda?

With primary season in full swing and the 2022 midterm elections on the horizon, billionaire venture capitalist Peter Thiel has stamped his mark on the slate of Republicans that will be on offer to voters in November.

Thiel was an early backer of Trump in 2016, but since then he has noticeably taken a step back from full-throated support of the former President. While the two endorse similar politicians, most notably J.D. Vance in Ohio’s Senate primary, Vance has sought to differentiate himself from the MAGA world to some degree.

The tech billionaire refrained from public support of Trump during the 2020 election, Thiel is unafraid to be seen socializing with notorious alt-right figures.

Insiders have noted Thiel’s treatment of Trump as a figurehead for the budding political far right. Functionally, Trump and Thiel share similar views on important issues, but Thiel has perhaps more skin in the game than even the Trump family.

Buying Democracy

Large political donations from billionaires are nothing new in modern American politics, but Thiel’s donations have been particularly noteworthy.

Once an early backer of Senator Ted Cruz, Thiel has invested heavily in several outsider candidates that follow his political agenda to a tee. He donated $10 million each to two PACs that supported J.D. Vance in Ohio and Blake Masters in Arizona in the primary races for Senate seats.

Vance and Masters are both outspokenly anti-Big Tech, a seeming contradiction considering their biggest benefactor. Thiel was the first investor in Facebook and a long-time adviser to Mark Zuckerberg, and he is the co-founder of several major tech companies, including PayPal and Palantir.

Furthermore, Vance and Masters both worked for Thiel. Masters was the chief operating officer of Thiel Capital. Vance worked at a venture capital firm founded by Thiel and his own VC firm received huge investments from Thiel.

But their anti-tech rhetoric makes more sense when you consider Thiel’s role and views on big tech firms. Thiel uses candidates like Vance and Masters to criticize big tech companies like Zuckerberg’s Meta and advocate for far-right ideologies.

Senator Ted Cruz, another Thiel acolyte, has forcefully attacked big tech companies like Meta for allegedly censoring conservative and right-wing accounts. Much of this pressure from the right comes in tandem with pressure from Democrats on tech companies like Meta and Twitter to better regulate hate speech and misinformation on their platforms.

And of course, Thiel still has business interests in tech and government policy. Thiel’s Palantir has received massive government contracts to help police departments, federal departments, and other government organizations to surveil American citizens and refugees.

Cozying Up With The Racist Right

In addition to influencing American tech policy, Thiel has been a friend to many on the far, far right. In 2016, he was seen having dinner with Kevin DeAnna a prolific white nationalist author who is influential in alt-right and openly racist circles.

Thiel also has friends and connections who espouse far right views, including writer Ann Coulter and former Trump aide Steve Bannon.

While he keeps extremely outspoken people in his circle, Thiel rarely articulates his personal political views in public. It is fairly easy to discern his political ideology from his political spending and endorsements.

As an extension of Thiel, candidates like Vance and Masters bash immigrants but attempt to do so in a slightly different way than Trump. Rather than swimming in pure racist vitriol, they attack immigration by turning attention to “woke” corporations.

The website of Protect Ohio Values, a Vance-supporting Super PAC, says “Vance has called on Americans to “take a page from President Trump’s playbook” on putting an end to illegal immigration, which benefits woke corporate elites and the Democrat Party.”

But the biggest beneficiaries of anti-immigrant actions on the border have been firms like Palantir and billionaires like Peter Thiel.

Millions Could Lose Health Coverage When Medicaid Emergency Ends

According to research from the Kaiser Family Foundation, somewhere between 5.3 million to 14.2 million low-income Americans could lose their Medicaid coverage if COVID public health emergency declarations expire on July 15.

The declaration is expected to be renewed, however, the KFF analysis points to the precarious health care faced by many Americans .

Medicaid enrollment increased by nearly 25 percent throughout the pandemic as the federal government implemented a continuous enrollment requirement. This cost $47.2 billion, but the federal government granted Medicaid about $100 billion to cover the costs related to continuous enrollment.

The wide estimate of 5.3-14.2 million Americans at risk of losing their Medicaid coverage is due to uncertainty over how individual states will respond to the looming end of the emergency declaration.

The Department of Health and Human Services has renewed the emergency declaration regularly throughout the pandemic, and HHS is required to provide a 60-day notice to states if the declaration will not be renewed. However, HHS has not yet set an extension date.

More Expensive Healthcare?

In addition to questions about how long continuous enrollment will keep Americans on Medicaid, the federal subsidies that reduced the price of marketplace health insurance could be gone at the end of 2022.

In tandem with increased Medicaid coverage, the federal government subsidized private insurance beyond what the ACA already does. If those additional subsidies end at the end of 2022, millions will likely see their monthly premiums increase.

Not only did Medicaid see an enrollment spike, but Obamacare enrollment reached its highest level ever during the pandemic at 14.5 million Americans. Enrollees received subsidized marketplace insurance as well as a longer enrollment period, and more public messaging was spent on ACA enrollment.

Some healthcare advocates have argued that the increased subsidies for marketplace insurance should remain in place when the public health emergency declaration and continuous enrollment for Medicaid are peeled back. People who lose Medicaid coverage would then have the option to enroll in the subsidized marketplace insurance.

The Build Back Better Act had a provision in place to decouple Medicaid continuous enrollment and subsidized marketplace insurance from COVID emergency measures. The legislation would extend subsidized insurance until 2025, but the bill is currently in legislative limbo after Democratic Senator Joe Manchin pulled his support in March.

What the Future Holds

Another renewal of the COVID emergency declaration would postpone worries of lost Medicaid coverage until mid-October, but many Americans will still be living in healthcare insecurity when the next deadline rolls around.

A lack of clarity about the future also puts healthcare workers, already facing long hours and staffing shortages, in a worrisome position, already facing long hours and staffing issues

Jana Eubank, executive director of the Texas Association of Community Health Centers told The Texas Tribune, “We already have a huge uninsured issue in this state, and this [the end of continuous Medicaid enrollment] just could be a perfect storm. We’re busting at the seams. … The last thing we need are more uninsured people.”

Americans living in red states face a particularly daunting task when acquiring healthcare. Texas has the highest number of uninsured people per capita and is one of the 12 states that has refused to expand access to Medicaid as part of the ACA. The other states are Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

Individual states have considerable power over who can enroll in Medicaid, and their power is set to further expand in the realm of abortion rights after the leaked Supreme Court draft that would overturn Roe vs. Wade.

To expand access to healthcare in these states, some have proposed increasing the subsidies for marketplace insurance to include higher levels of income.

What remains clear in these debates is that a significant number of Americans are at risk of losing health insurance and more permanent action is needed to prevent an increase in the uninsured.

How A Texas Primary Exposed Divisions Within The Democratic Party

It’s a race that has some Democratic voters scratching their heads: a young, progressive primary challenger versus a pro-life, conservative Democrat who received an A-rating from the NRA. The primary race between one of the most conservative Democrats in the House, Representative Henry Cuellar, and Jessica Cisneros has become a lightning rod within the Democratic Party.

Cuellar declared victory, but as of Wednesday morning, major media outlets have said the race is too close to call. He is just a couple hundred votes ahead of his Cisneros in Texas' 28th Congressional District primary. When neither candidate won a majority in the March 1 primary, the two highest vote-getters faced each other in Tuesday's run-off election.

Top House Democrats including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), and Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-SC) backed Cuellar despite his status as the only self-identified pro-life Democrat in the Senate.

Cisneros, 29, was supported by Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), and the young progressive seized on the news of the Supreme Court leak to overturn Roe v. Wade. She closed the gap between her and Cuellar from two percentage points on March 1 to a photo finish on Tuesday.

Abortion, Gun Safety At Issue

Key issues for the Democrats this fall, abortion and gun violence, are central to Texas politics. Texas Republicans are leading the pack to peel back abortion rights, and on Tuesday a gunman killed 19 children and 2 teachers at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.

Cisneros attempted to paint Cuellar as a conservative Democrat who would hurt the Democrats’ chance of passing key legislation.

“There's so many key issues where he's always siding with Republicans, and he could become the Joe Manchin of the House. We don't want Henry Cuellar to be the deciding vote on the future of our fundamental freedoms and rights in this country. We just can't risk that,” Cisneros told Meet the Press.

For his part, Cuellar tried to thread the needle, claiming he does not run on his pro-life views and focuses on other important issues.

Top Democrats like Pelosi have come under fire from the progressive wing of their party for directing significant resources to Cuellar’s campaign.

As reported by The American Prospect, a Super PAC with former consultants for President Obama, President Biden, and Senator Sanders donated $241,000 to Cuellar’s campaign. Cuellar also regularly highlighted his endorsements from Pelosi, Clyburn, and Hoyer,

Cuellar came under fire not just for his conservative political views, but also for an FBI raid on his home just a month before the March 1 primary. The FBI raided Cuellar’s home as part of an investigation related to Azerbaijan, but the FBI and Department of Justice have been tight-lipped about the status of the probe.

Democratic Discord

The race put divisions within the Democratic Party on display. And questions remain as to whether those disputes can be set aside before the general election in November -- and whether progresssives will line up with party leaders.

Ocasio-Cortez not only backed Cisneros, but she has spoken out harshly against Cuellar and Democratic leadership. She called the race “an utter failure of leadership," adding, “Congress should not be an incumbent protection racket.”

She continued on Twitter, “on the day of a mass shooting and weeks after news of Roe, Democratic Party leadership rallied for a pro-NRA, anti-choice incumbent under investigation in a close primary. Robocalls, fundraisers, all of it.”

Cisneros was seen as a potential new member of the Squad, a group of more progressive female representatives that has faced backlash from Democratic leadership. Nonetheless, the group has fallen in line with party politics more than conservative Democratic senators such as Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema.

But disagreement over primaries has been a regular source of discord between the progressive wing of the party and party leadership. At the end of the day, the story will likely be that Democratic leadership saved Cuellar’s political career. But, the battle between these two wings of the Democratic Party is far from resolved.

In Ohio, Who Represents The 'GOP Establishment' Now?

The Ohio GOP Senate primary was billed as the top contest to watch ahead of the 2022 midterms, one in which the Republicans are expected to perform well. The primary was set to be an insight into what flavor of Republican looked primed to lead the party in the absence of Donald Trump on the ticket.

The race was wide open, and it came down to the wire, with three candidates receiving more than 20 percent of the vote. But in the end, Trump-endorsed J.D. Vance took the nomination with 32 percent of the vote.

Vance’s victory was no surprise days out from the election, but the author and entrepreneur was not the favorite when the race started. In fact, Vance had a significant stink on him for Ohio Republicans due to the fact that he previously criticized Trump.

Thanks to an endorsement from Trump and significant financial backing from ultra-right billionaire tech entrepreneur Peter Thiel, Vance jumped the crowded field.

Democratic commentators and strategists were quick to find a sliver of hope in the outcome.

“J.D. Vance only won 32 percent of the primary vote with Trump's endorsement. Given the candidates available, almost 70 percent of GOP voters in Ohio chose to go with any other candidate other than the Trump candidate. Stop claiming this is a sign of strength for Trump. It's clearly not,” tweeted activist Charlotte Clymer.

However, only one candidate bucked the Trump trend, Matt Dolan, who finished a close third at 23.3 percent. Dolan outperformed expectations and came on strong at the end of the campaign, but other candidates including Josh Mandel (23.9 percent), Mike Gibbons (11.7 percent), and Jane Timkin (5.9 percent) were all vying to be the “Trump” candidate.

Rather than showing Trump’s weakness, the Ohio results show the former Republican establishment’s weak grip on power and Trump’s potential staying power within the conservative movement.

Room For Anti-Trump?

“It’s a MAGA-MAGA party,” former Republican Representative Joe Walsh told Politico. “Trump’s going to run. But let’s assume he didn’t. You’d have seven to eight MAGA candidates, and maybe you’d have one Larry Hogan or something like that. But they’re not going to get any traction.”

Democrats were holding out hope for a Republican Party that would be more fractured between anti-Trump and pro-Trump factions.

What was never up for debate was Trump’s popularity within the Republican voter base. An October 2021 Quinnipiac poll found that 78 percent of Republicans want Trump to run in 2024.

What is still up in the air is Trump’s power when he’s not on the ballot. Trump’s endorsements tend to win, but he often picks favorites such as Texas Governor Greg Abbott.

But with Vance, Trump got a win with a come-from-behind victory, Thiel’s $10 million donation to a pro-Vance Super PAC notwithstanding.

It also begs the question as to who is the Republican "establishment" now. Dolan represented the anti-Trump wing of the Republican party, but on the issues, he largely fell in line with Trump’s positions including building a wall on the Mexican-US border and cutting taxes.

And Josh Mandel, former Ohio treasurer, said he was “not just going to drain the swamp, I'm going to blow up the swamp,” and “with as much ferocity and strength and force, I'm going to take on the squishy establishment RINO Republicans” which he said includes Senator Mitt Romney and Representative Liz Cheney.

Clearly, Mandel’s voting bloc falls in the anti-Republican establishment corner, just like J.D. Vance’s.

While Republican establishment figures may be doomed, the party’s political platform is advancing, with the Religious Right’s goal to overturn Roe v. Wade in sight.

All this presents is a challenge to Democrats: Trumpism is clearly here to stay, and appeals to moderate Republicans within the party fall on dwindling numbers and deaf ears.

Will Abortion Struggle Mobilize Young Voters For Democrats?

Protests across the country, throngs of activists at state capitals, and a Supreme Court cordoned off by high fencing have created a new political landscape that Democrats must carefully traverse. The historic leak of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito’s initial draft opinion to overturn Roe v. Wade has returned abortion rights to the front of the political landscape.

Despite narrow Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, President Joe Biden acknowledged that his party did not have enough votes to codify Roe v. Wade in law. On the campaign trail in 2019, Biden promised to turn Roe into law, and women's rights activists and Democratic voters have been calling on him to fulfill his promise.

Many Democratic voters have expressed disappointment with the Democratic Party and the Biden Administration’s difficulty in keeping the party line. Democratic Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema have routinely held up Democratic legislation and said they will not change filibuster rules, a necessity if the Democrats were to try to pass legislation that would codify abortion rights on the federal level. Biden’s approval ratings have hovered around 42 percent, a level roughly equal to President Trump at the same time in his first term.

However, many Democrats view the anger in the streets as a potential boost for their party.

“Republicans are going to be in a very tough place right now. They have to defend something that Republicans said would never happen,” said Democratic Sen. Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico.

Democratic Strategy

For midterm elections, the biggest worry for Democrats is voter turnout. A key demographic for Democratic success is younger voters, a group particularly keen to protect abortion rights. In recent weeks, Democratic strategists and pollsters have openly worried about President Biden’s and the party’s decreasing support among young voters.

According to the latest NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist National poll, Biden’s approval rating among young people dropped by a dramatic 16 points down to 37 percent, the lowest of any age group. Contributing factors include economic conditions and slow movement on the President’s promise to forgive student loan debt.

At protests across the country, young people feature prominently in the fight to protect abortion rights. The general anger toward the Supreme Court and political system is broad, with the Democrats not escaping unscathed.

Without a drastic departure from the Biden Administration and Democratic leadership’s previous political strategy, the Democrats have limited options to counter the power of the Supreme. In part for that reason, many voters have expressed their anger at the Democratic Party’s lack of action.

What’s Next?

The Democratic Party’s strategy seems to be doubling down on the 2020 electoral strategy, focusing on the danger posed by their right-wing opponents.

In response to the leaked Supreme Court opinion, President Biden said, “if the rationale of the decision as released were to be sustained, a whole range of rights are in question. And the idea that we're letting the states make those decisions would be a fundamental shift in what we've done.”

Alito’s draft opinion makes reference to other rights, including same-sex marriage, leading to worries that conservative judges would target such issues. Said Biden, "a lot more than abortion" is at stake in future elections.

But this could be a risky strategy considering that many young voters and activists are demanding action now.

For the Democrats, the midterms will come down to how well they turn out their voters. The most recent attack on abortion rights will either catalyze youth turnout or reinforce the opinion of more apathetic voters.