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Steve Scalise reveals what’s really happened since McCarthy’s fall

Politico -

House Majority Leader Steve Scalise has had one of the most unusual careers in Congress ever since he won a special election in 2008 to replace Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal.

It has been characterized by long stretches of relative anonymity punctuated by a series of life-altering events.

In 2014, Scalise was quickly catapulted into the position of GOP Whip after Eric Cantor was defeated in a shocking upset that reordered the House GOP.

In 2017, Scalise was almost killed by a lunatic gunman while at baseball practice for the annual congressional game.

Earlier this year, Scalise was diagnosed with a blood cancer for which he’s been receiving chemotherapy.

And in October, when Kevin McCarthy was overthrown, Scalise, the number two Republican, thought it was only natural that his colleagues would want him to move up a rung.

But they didn’t — at least not enough of them. Scalise won an internal conference vote but he abandoned his quest for speaker before it ever got to the floor for a final vote.

So what happened?

Well, there was his toxic relationship with Kevin McCarthy.

The back stabbing of a fellow member from Louisiana.

The Trump factor.

And then at the end of the process, the man Republicans promoted — Scalise’s new boss — was Mike Johnson, a junior member of his home state delegation.

On this episode of Deep Dive, host and Playbook co-author Ryan Lizza asks Steve Scalise about all of that and a lot more, including impeachment, why he will vote against expelling George Santos, and how Mike Johnson is trying to use immigration to tame hardliners when it comes to the spending showdown with Joe Biden.

The Bogus Historians Who Teach Evangelicals They Live in a Theocracy

Politico -

I had never seen a sanctuary so full on a Tuesday night.

The people packed into FloodGate Church in Brighton, Mich., weren’t here for Bill Bolin, the right-wing zealot pastor who’d grown his congregation tenfold by preaching conspiracy-fueled sermons since the onset of Covid-19, turning Sunday morning worship services into amateur Fox News segments. No, they had come out by the hundreds, decked out in patriotic attire this October evening in 2021, to hear from a man who was introduced to them as “America’s greatest living historian.” They had come for David Barton. And so had I.

It would be of little use to tell the folks around me — the people of my conservative hometown — that Barton wasn’t a real historian. They wouldn’t care that his lone academic credential was a bachelor’s degree in religious education from Oral Roberts University. It wouldn’t matter that Barton’s 2012 book on Thomas Jefferson was recalled by Thomas Nelson, the world’s largest Christian publisher, for its countless inaccuracies, or that a panel of 10 conservative Christian academics who reviewed Barton’s body of work in the aftermath ripped the entirety of his scholarship to shreds. It would not bother the congregants of FloodGate Church to learn that they were listening to a man whose work was found by one of America’s foremost conservative theologians to include “embarrassing factual errors, suspiciously selective quotes, and highly misleading claims.”

All this would be irrelevant to the people around me because David Barton was one of them. He believed the separation of church and state was a myth. He believed the time had come for evangelicals to reclaim their rightful place atop the nation’s governmental and cultural institutions. Hence the hero’s welcome Barton received when he rolled into FloodGate with his “American Restoration Tour.”

Throughout his decades of public life — working for the Republican Party, becoming a darling of Fox News, advising politicians such as new House Speaker Mike Johnson, launching a small propaganda empire, carving out a niche as the American right’s chosen peddler of nostalgic alternative facts — Barton had never been shy about his ultimate aims. He is an avowed Christian nationalist who favors theocratic rule; moreover, he is a so-called Dominionist, someone who believes Christians should control not only the government but also the media, the education system, and other cultural institutions. Barton and his ilk are invested less in advancing individual policies than they are in reconceiving our system of self-government in its totality, claiming a historical mandate to rule society with biblical dogma just as the founders supposedly intended.

This is what the “American Restoration Tour” was all about: restoring a version of America that never existed.

In a baggy dark suit and bright orange tie, clicker in hand, Barton droned through a slide show that patched together quotes and dates and bygone events to make his case that America is a good nation because it was founded as a godly nation. Inconvenient episodes such as slavery were relegated to a footnote. Barton assured us that America’s misdeeds were relatively minor — “All races, all people, all nations, have had slavery and been slaves at some point themselves,” he said nonchalantly — and that secular progressives were deliberately amplifying them to diminish that goodness and godliness of America.

Inside this house of worship, Barton spent an hour and fifteen minutes exalting a curious version of the Christian ideal. He slammed gun restrictions and progressive income taxes, government health care and state-run education curriculum. At one point, while denouncing critical race theory, he posted an ominous slide showing logos for The New York Times’s 1619 Project and Black Lives Matter framed around a Soviet hammer and sickle. Rounding out the collage were antifa and anarchist symbols. The left, Barton said, was encouraging “rioting, rebellion, and radicalization” that threatened our blessed nation from within.

He closed with a quote from Charles Finney. The famed evangelist, Barton explained, had “led one hundred thousand people to Christ in one year” during the early 19th century. He was central to the Second Great Awakening and preached that revival would only come to people who were pursuing it. Part of that pursuit, Barton said, quoting Finney, was to realize that “politics are a part of religion” in America, “and Christians must do their duty to their country as a part of their duty to God.”

When Barton stepped down from the stage, nodding to acknowledge the standing ovation, Chad Connelly jogged up to take his place. Connelly was Barton’s partner, the other half of the American Restoration Tour. He was also an old acquaintance from my time spent covering campaigns in South Carolina, where he had chaired the state Republican Party. Connelly had jumped to the Republican National Committee in 2013, accepting an appointment as the national party’s first-ever director of faith engagement. After mobilizing evangelicals to vote for Trump in 2016, Connelly launched his own venture, a group called Faith Wins, which sought to replicate that model and turn out conservative Christians on behalf of GOP causes nationwide.

Faith Wins is a nonprofit — like Barton’s organization, WallBuilders — and thus cannot explicitly endorse candidates or parties. But the American Restoration Tour made no secret of its partisan affiliations. Connelly, a husky, energetic southerner, had opened the event by declaring that people like them needed “to take this nation back for God.” By the end of Barton’s presentation, there wasn’t much ambiguity about what the white, conservative Christians in the audience needed to do to take America back — or who they needed to take it back from.

As Connelly launched into his own homily, encouraging people to visit his website and join their movement, it struck me that the American Restoration Tour represented more than another moneymaking scheme. (Though it certainly was that: WallBuilders raised $5.5 million in 2021, while Faith Wins, a smaller organization, collected $800,000 in 2022.) This road show was a call-and-response for American evangelicals. It was a lesson in being under siege and a tutorial in going on the attack. Barton and Connelly had cooked up a slick, codependent rendering of the crisis facing Christians in this country. Theirs was an all-inclusive offering that packaged the problem with the solution.

Barton had convinced the people at FloodGate Church that their kingdom was being overrun. Now Connelly wanted to know: What were they going to do about it?

I was raised in the evangelical tradition: the son of a white conservative Republican pastor in a white conservative Republican church in a white conservative Republican town. My faith in Jesus Christ has never faltered; I believe him to be the Messiah, the mediator between a perfect God and a broken humanity. And yet, as I grew older, my confidence in organized Christianity began to crumble. The disillusionment I felt was rooted in something deeper than sex scandals or political hypocrisies or everyday human failures. Perfection, after all, is not the Christian’s mandate. Sanctification, the process by which sinners become more and more like Christ, is what God demands of us. And what that process requires, most fundamentally, is the rejection of one’s worldly identity.

The crisis of American evangelicalism, I now realize, is an obsession with that worldly identity. Instead of fixing our eyes on the unseen — “since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal,” as Paul writes in Second Corinthians — we have become fixated on the here and now. Instead of seeing ourselves as exiles in a metaphorical Babylon, the way Peter describes the first-century Christians living in Rome, we have embraced our imperial citizenship. Instead of fleeing the temptation to rule all the world, like Jesus did, we have made deals with the devil.


In search of answers, I spent some four years embedded inside the modern evangelical movement to write my new book, The Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory: American Evangelicals in an Age of Extremism","link":{"target":"NEW","attributes":[],"url":"https://www.amazon.com/Kingdom-Power-Glory-Evangelicals-Extremism/dp/006322688X","_id":"0000018c-253f-d9c1-a5dc-bdffa4cf0000","_type":"33ac701a-72c1-316a-a3a5-13918cf384df"},"_id":"0000018c-253f-d9c1-a5dc-bdffa4cf0001","_type":"02ec1f82-5e56-3b8c-af6e-6fc7c8772266"}">The Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory: American Evangelicals in an Age of Extremism. I toured half-empty sanctuaries and standing-room-only auditoriums; I shadowed big-city televangelists and small-town preachers and everyday congregants. I reported from inside hundreds of churches, Christian colleges, religious advocacy organizations, denominational nonprofits, and assorted independent ministries. Each of these experiences offered a unique insight into the deterioration of American Christianity.

One of the Bible’s dominant narrative themes — uniting Old Testament and New Testament, prophets and disciples, prayers and epistles — is the admonition to resist idolatry at all costs. Jesus frames the decision in explicitly binary terms: We can serve and worship God or we can serve and worship the gods of this world. Too many American evangelicals have tried to do both. The consequences for the Church — and our body politic— have been devastating. I saw it firsthand during the American Restoration Tour.

Gary Click, the state representative from Ohio’s 88th House District, explained how his recent Sunday sermon had emphasized that the Buckeye State is the only one in the union with a motto (“With God All Things Are Possible”) lifted directly from the scriptures. Then Click, the senior pastor of Fremont Baptist Temple, reminded us, a crowd of a couple hundred, that November 8, 2016, was “the day Christians changed America” by electing Donald Trump and restoring hope to a nation in decline.

Finally, Click, who was standing for reelection in the fall of 2022 — just six months off — said that despite being pitted against wicked progressives who want to “groom our kids” into sadistic sexual rites, evangelicals must remember they have a “secret weapon” on their side. I assumed he was referring to Jesus.

“Donald Trump appointed three very constitutional judges” to the U.S. Supreme Court, Click said, who were helping Christians to retake control of America.

At that point, he clarified: “This is not a campaign event.”

You wouldn’t know it. We were inside the atrium of the Ohio state capitol building and Click had just run through a list of Republican dignitaries who were on hand: numerous lawmakers, school board members, the state auditor, and two Ohio Supreme Court justices. Detailing the tight margins of that 2016 election — “It was the Christian vote that made the difference” — Click introduced the Republican operative who had mobilized the masses of evangelicals to tip the election to Trump: Chad Connelly.

Theatrical music filled the atrium. Two massive screens flanking the stage showed Connelly striking a patriot’s pose in front of Old Glory. “Faith Wins when people of faith vote their values!” he announced in his boisterous southern twang, eyes boring straight into the camera. The promotional footage told of Connelly’s exploits: Over the past few years, his organization had partnered with 50,000 church leaders and registered more than one million Christians to vote. These reinforcements were desperately needed. Because, according to the video montage of clergymen who vouched for Connelly’s organization, America was flirting with annihilation.

When Connelly took the stage in front of us, he laid the urgency on thick. This was the sixteenth state visited by the American Restoration Tour over the previous three months; he and Barton had spoken to hundreds of churches. Their goal for election year 2022, Connelly said in Ohio, was to double the one million voters they had registered over the previous few years. “We need to make sure everybody in our churches is registered to vote, and all of ’em are voting biblical values,” he said.

Hesitating, just as Click had done a little while earlier, Connelly added: “We don’t tell ’em who to vote for. This isn’t about party or politicians; it’s about policies and principles that most closely align with our biblical worldview.”

This whole roadshow was expressly designed to turn out voters to help the GOP win elections. And yet, Connelly swore to us, this was not about partisanship. He was not fighting to promote Republican values. He was fighting to promote American values. And that meant he was fighting to promote Christian values.

Here in Ohio, Barton built on Connelly’s same theme. America is special because of our ideas, he said. But those ideas hadn’t come from men; they came from God through the mouths of Revolutionary-era preachers who laid the groundwork for the rebellion against Great Britain with their sermons and appeals to heaven. Citing the works of several long-since-forgotten clergymen, Barton made the case that every issue Americans face today, from war to welfare to health care to taxation, was preached about in sermons in early America. His point was that the Bible is not just a spiritual text, but a governing manual, one that explicitly informed our system of self-rule from the very beginning.

Barton unpacked a scary — and, based on the available public polling, mostly inaccurate — collection of statistics. Three in ten Millennials identify as LGBTQ, he said, whereas less than 2 percent of their parents did. Half of Millennials prefer socialism over capitalism, whereas just 14 percent of their parents did. Only a third of Millennials believe in God, whereas 89 percent of their parents did.

There was hope, however. Barton cited Republican Glenn Youngkin’s surprising victory in the Virginia governor’s race a year earlier. It was proof, he said, that evangelicals had finally gotten off the sidelines — with some help, of course, from his partner organization, Faith Wins. Barton claimed that Connelly’s group worked with 312 churches in Virginia to identify 77,000 congregants who had never voted before. Barton built up to a dramatic reveal: “Youngkin won by 66,000 votes.” The crowd buzzed with delight.

Unlike Click and Connelly, who had played dumb about the nakedly partisan aims of this event, Barton didn’t bother speaking in code. It was a refreshing bit of honesty from the most dishonest man in the room. Barton, who once served as vice chair of the Texas GOP — and who had quietly built a super PAC to aid Ted Cruz’s presidential run in 2016— had long been known for hiding his political agenda behind a scholarly veneer. Not anymore. Time was running out. The fate of America was hanging in the balance, and now he was spoiling for a fight.

As the event wound down and attendees made a beeline toward Barton in search of selfies and autographs, I pulled Connelly aside. We had spoken a handful of times over the years, always in the context of South Carolina politics, and I wanted to reintroduce myself. He remembered me right away — and seemed nervous about why I was there. I told him that I was writing a book about how political extremism was infiltrating American evangelicalism.

Connelly frowned.

“Christians have a responsibility, before God, to get involved,” he said. “How can you be salt and light if you’re not engaged with politics? Churches have failed us. Pastors have failed us.”

Before I could respond, Click rushed over. He looked frazzled. “Why aren’t there any books to sell?” he asked Connelly. “All these people want to buy David’s books.”

Connelly winced. “I wasn’t sure of the rules. I thought it might be inappropriate,” he replied, motioning toward our stately surroundings.

Then Connelly perked up. “We’ll be selling them at the church later today,” he told Click. “Tell ’em to follow us there.”

Standing before hundreds of his members inside a cavernous, beige-and-white colored sanctuary in the small city of Vandalia, Ohio, Pastor Pat Murray asked that everyone “stand to your feet and grab the hand of another American” so that he might pray over the proceedings. Beseeching God to “save the nation,” Murray spelled out the path to salvation: “For those who aren’t registered to vote, God, I pray in Jesus’s name you would touch them right now.”

The Americans inside Living Word Church were treated to something extra on this Monday night. Deviating from the standard American Restoration Tour routine, Connelly decided that after showing the Faith Wins promotional video — and before introducing Barton — he would share his own testimony. Hailing from small-town Prosperity, South Carolina, Connelly had been raised to know the Lord, had tried to walk faithfully in his ways, but found himself at a crossroads upon finding his wife “in a pool of blood” after she’d committed suicide. Connelly said he heard a voice from the devil: “You failed.” He was inclined to agree. But the people of his church wouldn’t let him. They wrapped Connelly and his two young sons in the love of Christ. They protected them, nurtured their faith. Eventually a wise older friend from the church — a Democrat, believe it or not — introduced Connelly to a young widow with two children of her own. “I got to watch God work,” he explained.

Transitioning from his own story to the ongoing struggle for America, Connelly said that God’s work is never finished. The nation could still be spared. But, he emphasized, the Lord needs our cooperation.

“We’re losing the country, y’all. We’re losing the country to people who don’t even understand what made it special,” Connelly said. “Christians need to stand up. And to do that, they need the truth.”

Connelly pointed to Barton: “This guy has got the truth.”

As the two men switched places, and Barton launched into his slide show homily, I wrestled with competing impressions of Connelly. He was hard not to like. He was warm and self-deprecating, someone who quoted scripture as naturally as he quipped redneck one-liners. It seemed plausible that he wasn’t just running a gospel-based grift; that unlike Barton, he was a man of integrity and real conviction. But then why would anyone of integrity and real conviction tour the country with a known huckster like Barton? Connelly had to know how silly this operation looked from the outside. How did he justify the damage being done — not to his own reputation, necessarily, but to the witness of the gospel? The American Restoration Tour was turning pastors into pundits and church sanctuaries into Fox News sets. To what end?

As we sat down in the sleek designer coffee shop situated just outside the worship center — Living Word was the finest building development I saw in all of Vandalia — Connelly could sense my skepticism.

“Let’s go. We’ll do the King James Version. I’ve got it marked,” he told me, pulling out his leather Bible and turning to Matthew, chapter five.

“Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men,” Connelly read. “Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”

He put down the Bible and threw up his hands. “How do I be salt and light in a culture, except that I engage the culture?” Connelly asked.

This sounded familiar. Over the past few years, almost every evangelical I’d questioned about the commingling of politics and religion responded with some variation of “salt and light.” The difficulty is, biblical scholars have never agreed on what, exactly, Jesus meant by this. Surely he was encouraging Christians to be distinct — to flavor this world, to shine in its darkness. But people like Connelly were taking it a step further. They supposed — and preached with absolute certainty — that we should be distinct by fighting for Christian values inside America’s secular political arena. Yet plenty of other believers, including believers of a conservative disposition, feel quite confident that we should be distinct by not prioritizing America’s secular political arena at all.

It’s notable that Jesus references “salt” in three of the four gospels. In each account, Jesus warns about salt losing its saltiness, its taste, its character. Jesus talks about salt not as an additive, necessarily, but as something unique that should be guarded against contamination. In Matthew, Jesus says salt without flavor is good only to be trampled beneath our feet along with other ordinary rocks; in Luke, Jesus says it has lost its purpose entirely and should be disposed of.

Most Christians would agree that a healthy dose of civic participation — including political engagement — does not risk contaminating our distinct flavor. But how quickly the unique can become ordinary. Some people hear “We’re losing the country” and decide to run for school board. Others hear it and travel to Washington, D.C., to disrupt the peaceful transition of power. Did Connelly worry, in the context of campaigning inside houses of worship, about a blurry line between engagement and idolatry?

He gave me a puzzled look. “America has been the shining city on the hill for the rest of the world. Just look at the long line of people coming here,” Connelly said. “Our 4 percent of the world’s population gives like 80 cents of total missionary dollars worldwide. So, there’s a reason the enemy would try to take us down and divide us.”

It wasn’t clear if “the enemy” referred to Satan or to the secular progressives he’d been bashing during his American Restoration Tour; the Russians making war in Ukraine or the low-salt-diet adherents here in America; those who wouldn’t buy the Barton books or those who thought it curious that it was just fine to sell them in a church but not in a government edifice.

Before I could ask, a man interrupted us. He was a pastor from a nearby town. Connelly had never met him but quickly vaulted from his seat, shook the pastor’s hand, and complimented his Georgia Bulldogs shirt. The pastor seemed conflicted. He was worried about the country, he said, but wasn’t sure he felt comfortable handing over his church to political operators.

“We do talk about some of the big issues,” the pastor told Connelly. “I just don’t know—”

“Do you do voter registration?” Connelly cut him off.

The pastor shook his head. “We have not. We could, I suppose.”

Connelly was in sale-closing mode. “Listen, hit that QR code,” he said, pointing to a poster nearby. “Here’s my card. Email me. I’ll send you everything you need. We’ll get you set up right.”

The man nodded, still looking torn, and thanked Connelly. As he walked away, Connelly turned to me. “I have a hundred of those conversations a week,” he said. “I don’t think that pastor is going to take things too far. Do you?”

It was evident, I replied, that the pastor himself worried that he might. Not everyone thinks voter registration drives — or any sort of electioneering activity — are appropriate inside a temple of the Lord, much less one that has a tax-exempt status predicated on its avoidance of politics. This returned us to the concept of a slippery slope. The church that wades into politics with a voter registration drive might one day find its Sunday morning worship interrupted with crazed political soapbox speeches like at FloodGate Church in Brighton, Mich.

As we talked, it became obvious that Connelly lived deep inside a bubble. His home church, a Southern Baptist congregation, had only closed for two weeks during Covid-19. The congregation was monolithic: white, conservative, Republican, Trump-supporting. It would make sense that he hadn’t experienced fault lines around elections or vaccines or racism. (“Obama created the race problem in America,” he pronounced at one point, all but confirming the absence of any Black Christians in his Bible study.) I asked Connelly if he could try to understand how these divisions were surfacing in churches different from his own.

“If you keep your focus on Jesus Christ, it washes a lot of those things away, because He keeps preeminence in the Church,” he replied. “If you take the spotlight off Jesus and put it on anything else, you’re going to have division.”

Within moments of these words leaving Connelly’s lips, a man walked out of the sanctuary and approached the coffee area. He was wearing a red Make America Great Again baseball cap. “So,” I said to Connelly, “about taking the spotlight off Jesus . . .”

He gave me a politician’s grin. “I wouldn’t wear any hat to church.”

A few months later, I rejoined the American Restoration Tour in Michigan — not far from where I’d first seen Barton and Connelly in action the previous fall. The pastor of this host church, a young man named Chris Thoma, opened by noting the privilege of sharing the stage with Barton and Connelly. It was Barton, he said, who had inspired him to enter the ministry, and he had recently gotten to know Connelly at an event in San Diego. I knew what Thoma was referring to: It was the first-ever “Pastors Summit” put on by Charlie Kirk — the activist who described Trump as “the most moral president on record” — and his organization, Turning Point USA. Connelly had gone all in. Partnering with Barton was bad enough. There was something especially foul about allying with Kirk, a serial liar and professional political arsonist, in a campaign to advance Christianity.

Connelly announced to the crowd that the American Restoration was closing in on its voter registration goals. This was being accomplished, he noted, with the help of pastors like Thoma, who weren’t “squishy” in their convictions. Sensing an opportunity, Connelly decided to challenge everyone in the room. “Are you going to be a squish, or someone who stands for truth?” he said. The sanctuary rumbled in response.

As Barton began his presentation, I slipped away to a parlor room at the back of the sanctuary. Connelly wanted me to meet three local pastors who stood for truth. Seated around a large, rectangular folding table were Connelly; Donald Eason, the pastor of Metro Church of Christ in Sterling Heights; Jeffrey Hall, the pastor of Community Faith Church in Holt; and Dominic Burkhard, who described himself as “a full-time missionary to the legislature in Lansing.”

Connelly opened by summarizing for his friends the conversations we’d been having about political activism tearing churches apart. Clearly expecting that they would back him up, Connelly announced that he’d seen no such thing in his tour of hundreds of churches around the country, and asked the pastors to weigh in.

“There’s definitely some political divisions here in Michigan churches,” said Hall.

Eason nodded. “Lots of political division.”

“Covid definitely drew some lines,” Hall continued. “I had people calling and emailing our church asking if we were open. They had come from churches that closed, and they wanted to know if we were taking a hard stance against the government. I never wanted to make a war with the government. We closed for about a month. I just wanted to honor God. But some people weren’t looking for that.”

I reminded Connelly of the story of FloodGate Church, which had made war with the government and increased its membership tenfold. The church’s expansive new campus was miles away from where we were sitting. Connelly gave me a far-off look that had become familiar by this point.

“He’s talking about Bill Bolin,” Eason chimed in.

I asked Eason how he knew about FloodGate’s pastor.

“Oh, I know about Bolin,” Eason said with an uneasy smile. “We all know about Bolin.”

Connelly claimed not to know about Bolin. So the others filled him in — the refusal to comply during Covid, the cries of martyrdom, the alliances with far-right politicians and activists, the Nazi salute he’d given from the pulpit to Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

“Well, he’d be a unicorn in our crowd,” Connelly said. “I don’t know any other pastors like that.”

But Connelly had just been in San Diego with Charlie Kirk and a small army of pastors exactly like that. It was true that much of the turmoil in churches was coming from the bottom up, with radicalized members rebelling against the insufficient political efforts of their pastors. But it was also true that a growing number of conservative pastors were doing just what Bolin had done at FloodGate. Meanwhile, it was the pastors who refused — the pastors who didn’t want to host the American Restoration Tour in their sanctuaries — whom Connelly had deemed “squishes.”

We had come full circle from our conversation at the Ohio capitol. Connelly told me then that pastors “failed us” by not getting their churches involved with politics. Now he was doubling down.

“Do you know what the research tells us is the biggest reason people leave church? They say it’s not relevant. Why would they come when the pastor isn’t teaching me how to think through the issues?” Connelly said. “Christianity should permeate the culture, not be separated from it.”

The way for Christianity to permeate the culture, he insisted, was by tackling these great debates of our time: abortion, homosexuality, transgenderism. I didn’t bother questioning why Connelly always listed the same narrow set of topics; the answer was apparent. Talking about other clear-cut biblical issues — such as caring for the poor, welcoming the refugee, refusing the temptation of wealth — did not animate the conservative base ahead of an election.

There were more pressing questions on my mind. Connelly’s organization was called “Faith Wins,” but what did that even mean? Could faith really win or lose something? It all just felt so trivial. If we believe that Jesus has defeated death, why are we consumed with winning a political campaign? Why should we care that we’re losing power on this earth when God has the power to forgive sins and save souls? And why should we obsess over America when Jesus has gifted us citizenship in heaven?

Burkhard, the lobbyist-slash-missionary in Lansing, jumped in.

“People need to be saved and America needs to be saved. It’s perfectly good to want both,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with trying to save America. Somebody needs to try to do it. Somebody needs to try to save America.”

Eason, seated to Burkhard’s right, shook his head in disagreement. The more we’d been talking about this, he confessed, the more uneasy he felt. He believed, like Connelly did, that Christianity was in the crosshairs of the American left. But he had just preached a sermon that was weighing on him. It was about the uniqueness of the early Christian Church. He had described for his congregation how Christians had gained influence — and won converts — by being countercultural, by rejecting the trends that preoccupied so much of the world around them. American evangelicals, Eason said, would do well to study that tradition.

“Our goal should be to save souls, not to save America. The reality is, we can’t save America anyway, unless we’re saving those souls first,” he said to Burkhard. “We can fight for America all day long, but if we don’t save the people here, it won’t matter.”

The great obstacle to saving souls, I suggested, wasn’t drag queen performances or critical race theory. It was the perception among the unbelieving masses — the very people these evangelicals were called to evangelize — that Christians care more about reclaiming lost social status than we do about loving our neighbor as ourselves. I relayed what one local church leader had told me about evangelicals: “Too many of them worship America.”

Connelly looked incredulous. He turned to his pastor friends. “I don’t see that happening,” he told them. “You see any of that?”

“Oh, I see it,” Hall said. “I know of a pastor who just recently stood up in his pulpit and told people that they’re insane if they vote Democrat this fall.”

Eason had similar stories to tell. I pointed out that Al Mohler, the president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, one of America’s most prominent Christian conservatives, had recently said something similar. This was not an anomaly. Pastors and church officials and evangelical leaders were feeling the pressure to classify Jesus as a registered Republican — and they were feeling it from people like Chad Connelly.

Thoroughly flustered now, Connelly argued that if pastors didn’t address current events head-on, the Christians in their care would resort to “secular sources” to form their political viewpoints. The way to ensure that Christians vote biblical values, he said, was for pastors to preach politics.

This struck me as completely backward. If pastors were doing their job — going deep in the word, discipling their flocks, stressing scripture and prayer above social media and talk radio — their people wouldn’t need to be infantilized with explicit partisan endorsements. Those Christians would know how to vote biblically, because they would know their Bible.

Connelly whipped his head back and forth. “I’d love to meet a pastor who thinks he’s doing a good enough job discipling to where he doesn’t need to engage with this stuff, because that pastor is deceived. He’s badly deceived,” he said. “I’ve told my Sunday School class: Don’t tell anybody you’re doing a good job telling people about Jesus, because we’re losing the culture. If we were doing a good job telling people about Jesus, we wouldn’t be losing the culture.”

This fixation on winning and losing was revealing. In the sanctuary behind us, a body of Christians had just sat through an hourlong lecture that was designed to make them more powerful citizens. They were supposed to take the information Barton had given them, Connelly instructed, then charge into the trenches of America’s political battlefield.

And yet, there was no instruction on how to fight. There was no perspective on the appropriate way to win. There was no lesson on what John Dickson, an Australian theologian I’d met at Wheaton College, described as “losing well.” This was very much by design. Because losing, in the eyes of men like Connelly and Barton, was no longer an option. “The stakes are too high,” Connelly told me at one point, to cede any ground to the opposition.

Unsavory alliances would need to be forged. Sordid tactics would need to be embraced. The first step toward preserving Christian values, it seemed, was to do away with Christian values.

From the forthcoming book THE KINGDOM, THE POWER, AND THE GLORY: American Evangelicals in an Age of Extremism","link":{"target":"NEW","attributes":[],"url":"https://www.amazon.com/Kingdom-Power-Glory-Evangelicals-Extremism/dp/006322688X","_id":"0000018c-253f-d9c1-a5dc-bdffa4d00004","_type":"33ac701a-72c1-316a-a3a5-13918cf384df"},"_id":"0000018c-253f-d9c1-a5dc-bdffa4d00005","_type":"02ec1f82-5e56-3b8c-af6e-6fc7c8772266"}">THE KINGDOM, THE POWER, AND THE GLORY: American Evangelicals in an Age of Extremism by Tim AlbertaCopyright © 2023 by Timothy Alberta. To be published on December 5, 2023 by Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. Excerpted by permission.

Why Biden and Harris Merchandise Doesn’t Sell

Politico -

You know things are starting to look iffy when you get to the Janet Yellen novelty merch.

That’s no slight on Yellen. The Treasury secretary and former Federal Reserve chair has spent a decade as a top steward of the U.S. economy. A trinket with her face on it might make a nice gift for the macroeconomics buff in your life. But for your rabble-rousing aunt with a taste for Stacey Abrams mugs? Not so much.

Yet there was Yellen on Black Friday, in all of her sober, responsible glory, staring out from a pair of knit socks in the political gifts display at Politics & Prose, the highbrow Connecticut Avenue bookstore that can feel like a clubhouse for a certain well-educated, mostly liberal-leaning stratum of Washington.

For the most part, the customers kept on moving. According to Leah Kenyon, the store’s buyer of sideline items — the refrigerator magnets and coasters and bobbleheads that tempt customers from a high-profile display near the front entrance — sales of politics merchandise is down in 2023 after a long boom. On the first weekend of the holiday shopping season, the store’s main line of political novelty socks was off by 36 percent compared with the same span last year.

“I just sense that people are a little bit deflated and weary,” she told me. “When Trump first came into office, people felt like it could make a difference, but not as much now.”

I suspect it might also have something to do with the roster of icons on display in the bookstores and gift shops of America’s blue metropolises.

At least Yellen is still alive and on the job, which is more than you can say for a lot of the other souvenir stars. Ruth Bader Ginsburg is dead — and, in some circles, discredited. Anthony Fauci, who for a time generated almost as much impulse-purchase buzz, is retired. Nancy Pelosi is a backbencher again. Abrams was convincingly defeated in her second Georgia gubernatorial run. The Obamas have been out of the White House for seven years. But they’re all still big merch subjects. Resistance has given way to retro.

Yes, the collection of political sock on display on Black Friday included folks like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, both of whom still draw a federal paycheck, even if their prospects of becoming the future of the American left have dimmed. There were some goods depicting Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sonia Sotomayor. And even though Ketanji Brown Jackson has only been on the Supreme Court for about a year, she was already on a tote bag. Nonetheless, it’s hard to sustain the past decade’s liberal memorabilia craze with this cast of characters.

The odds are probably even longer for the Elena Kagan socks — a distinguished jurist, but someone whose less-blazing trailblazer credentials (fourth woman on the Supreme Court?) and consensus-building tendencies make her an unlikely folk hero for the resistance merch set.

Alas, the same is also true of the action figures depicting Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.

“He’s not a move-merch type, he’s a good manager type,” says Mike Draper, the founder of the progressive T-shirt maker Raygun, of the president. As for the veep, “We [produce] Kamala Harris stuff, which doesn’t sell at all.”

In fact, a lot of the most prominently displayed political icons this season have been dead a lot longer than Ginsburg: Abigail Adams, Alice Paul, Harriet Tubman. “For this gifting season, oh boy, we have a real lack of names,” Bridget Barrett, a University of Colorado advertising professor who researches political merchandise, told me.

There is no tote bag equivalent of the New York Times bestseller list, something that tracks customer data and offers a glimpse into where our culture and politics are headed. That’s a pity. It turns out you can learn a lot from what people buy while they’re waiting for the cash register.

Not so long ago, Blue America was in a moment of peak merch. Partly it was a function of new technology: Direct-to-garment digital printing lets creators print shirts on demand, meaning they can respond to the news and not worry about having to warehouse the gear. It also was an accident of marketing: Progressive organizations popularized novelty gifts as a fundraising vehicle.

And it naturally owed a lot to our much-discussed national polarization: In Barrett’s surveys, one of the top reasons people gave for buying political sideline items was to bother specific family members.

But the boom was also a function of two people: Ginsburg and Donald Trump. The justice’s late-life emergence as a meme machine was irresistible for merch-makers and bag-buyers.

“Seven years ago, I heard the story about Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s dissent collar,” said Nick Jehlen, who runs Resistance Pins, a top source of left-leaning novelties. “I knew an illustrator, made 100 of them, gave them to my friends. Someone said you should sell it.” His company was born. “That was pretty much our business for the first two and a half years.” Even today, RBG iconography, from shirts to Halloween costumes, is the most recognizable part of the national liberal gift market.

Trump, meanwhile, supercharged the liberal desire to advertise loyalties, spurring into being an entire resistance economy of clever (they hope) content creators who set out to turn the 45th president’s antagonists into real-time heroes. “We had a ‘Nevertheless She Persisted’ T-shirt for sale within 24 hours,” of the Senate silencing Warren over her speech against Trump’s attorney general nominee, said Draper.

Like any consumer trend, it wasn’t going to last forever. A few years back, “there were a lot of individuals you could make product for,” Draper told me. The fall-off “almost gets back to the mystery for Democrats” flummoxed by sagging poll numbers. “I think everything on the progressive side of things kind of peaked last summer with the overturning of Roe,” he said of the T-shirt market. “That was the last big thing. It had been one big run kind of starting with the Women’s March.”

Draper, whose Des Moines flagship store has the same status with campaign-season Democrats as Politics & Prose does with bookish Beltway-ites, told me he’s not too worried about the business implications of the resistance-merch dropoff. “We’ve always had these three pillars — funny, Midwestern, progressive,” he said. When the progressive stuff ebbs, the funny and Midwestern goods prop things up with KELCE/SWIFT ’24 and MY FAVORITE RESTAURANT IS THE GAS STATION tees.

All the same, he makes a good case that people who care about politics ought to pay more attention to just whose tchotchkes are selling. “When people say, ‘Oh, who could be president other than Biden, I say, ‘Well, who would you buy on a T-shirt?’”

With fewer heroes, the goods that seem to be moving on the left this year are ones that poke fun at the right. Jehlen says big sellers this season include a pair of Trump-themed handcuffs, a “No one’s treading on you” flag, and a build-your-own-conspiracy-theory kit. “We saw a lot more sincere gifts” before, he said. “It was much more straightforward. You’d make a product that was saying what a person wants to show. Now it’s more clever. More jokes.” (He said a Katie Porter-themed whiteboard that he thought would be a top seller “sells fine, but hasn’t been a big hit.”)

Draper, for his part, says they’ve had good luck around themes like opposition to book bans (he was particularly keen on a shirt reading “FILTHY LIBERAL BOOK-HUGGER”). And he’s perpetually scanning the news for new opportunities. When we spoke late last month, a few days after the Senate hearing-room dust-up between Oklahoma Republican Sen. Markwayne Mullin and Teamsters chief Sean O’Brien, he was pondering ways to make merch off of “STAND YOUR BUTT UP,” the awkward line Mullin used when he dared O’Brien to brawl.

“Our main rule, we’re content-based,” he said. “We sometimes go through slow news days, too. You can’t force anything. You have to go to where interest is. And right now, it’s less interest in the progressive stuff.”

For the record, Draper doesn’t think that’s necessarily doom for the Democrats. He uses an analogy from his sports merch business: The period when “name, image and likeness” sales for athletes typically peak is a couple weeks before the season starts — when it’s all potential, before the reality of interceptions and penalties and flubbed plays complicates things. Someone like AOC, he notes, has gone from being a radical change agent to being a busy legislator. “It’s always easier to sell the new.”

That’s not a problem on the right. Barrett, who studies both sides of the merchandise aisle for a living, says that the motivations of conservative and liberal novelty-buyers are similar. But under the hood, the industries are pretty different. Lefty merch tends to be quite tied up with progressive organizations (Draper does the back-end for Planned Parenthood in the Midwest) with rules about things like using only union labor. Processes can be more bureaucratic.

“On the right you see a lot more successful shops that are from the ground up, coming at it from a money-making perspective,” she said. And the way to make money is selling Trump and owning the libs.

Back at Politics & Prose, that’s not a big part of the agenda. The “Let’s Go Brandon” vibe remains off-brand.

“I try not to have it too much particularly against,” Kenyon said. “I look for more pro- than anti-.” Which makes for tough sledding right now. “There are still a lot of people to admire,” she said. “But there isn’t a standard-bearer.”

A toned-down defense bill is looking likely. That could hurt Johnson.

Politico -

Negotiations between the House and Senate over defense policy legislation are down to the wire — and the final product will be a major test of Speaker Mike Johnson’s durability with his right flank as a potential clash looms with conservatives.

Johnson, now in his second month on the job, is already taking heat from conservatives over government funding, Ukraine aid and other issues. But the Louisiana Republican will soon have to sell his conference on a compromise National Defense Authorization Act that’s certain to be less conservative than the version the House passed this summer.

When the text of the bill is out, conservatives will judge the legislation by whether the culture war provisions they pushed to include — including limits to the Pentagon’s abortion travel policy, funding for medical treatment for transgender troops and military diversity programs — made it into the final product.

But other issues, including a potential extension of foreign surveillance authorities, must still be sorted out by party leaders in both chambers. That wrangling has delayed the likely filing of the compromise bill until early next week, according to three people familiar with the process. All were granted anonymity because the timing has not yet been announced.

For a Congress that hasn’t been terribly productive, passing the bill offers lawmakers at least one major accomplishment to tout to their constituents. And with a 61-year history of passing the NDAA into law, lawmakers often see it as a reliable vehicle for legislation unrelated to defense.

Many conservatives who have opposed defense bills in previous years supported a nearly party-line version this year loaded with right-wing proposals. A compromise bill that waters down or drops many of those proposals in order to pass the Democratic-led Senate will almost certainly lose their support, and could further sour them on Johnson and other GOP leaders.

Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.), an Armed Services member who was named to the conference committee to negotiate the bill, said he's hopeful conservatives will see wins in their fight against diversity efforts and other personnel policies they argue distracts the military from its main missions.

But a compromise NDAA could hurt Johnson within the ranks if Republicans don't come away with wins on that front.

"If the NDA is watered down or weakened and doesn't address some of these core issues to combat wokeism in the military, then that won't be helpful to any of the Republican leaders who are part of it," Banks said. "There will be a lot of Republicans who will not vote for it if it maintains the DEI programs."

It’s unlikely the defense bill will trigger the same kind of clash that brought down Speaker Kevin McCarthy. But recent moves that antagonized conservatives indicate patience on his right flank may be wearing thin, and compromising on the defense bill gives those lawmakers more ammo. Only a handful of dissident Republicans need to break ranks to grind the House to a halt.

A spokesperson for Johnson declined to comment.

When it comes to the defense bill, many Republicans are prepared to accept a more moderate package that passes with the help of Democrats and can win President Joe Biden’s signature.

“In the end, you may lose 30 or 40 [House] Republicans, but you’re going to have a massive bipartisan vote on this when it’s all said and done,” said Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.).

Conservative Rep. Chip Roy of Texas, a member of the Rules Committee that determines what bills go to the floor and who has pushed for more conservative Pentagon legislation, accused GOP leaders of trying to include the Section 702 surveillance authority extension to help pass what far-right members consider a lackluster defense bill.

"They want to use that to move a crap NDAA. We all know it. Everybody knows it. Everybody gets the joke," Roy said. "So if the majority leader, if the speaker, if Republicans want to go out and campaign on this crap they get to own it."

Conservative groups could also put pressure on Republicans if they drop the abortion language. A spokesperson for Heritage Action confirmed to POLITICO that the advocacy group told lawmakers on Thursday that it is considering advocating against passage of the bill if the abortion provision is removed.

Nearly all House Democrats opposed the initial GOP bill in July after an amendment was added that would block the Pentagon’s policy to reimburse the costs for troops who must travel to seek abortions. As negotiations progressed, top Democrats warned that insisting on the provision would tank a final bill.

Lawmakers in both parties contend that, as speaker, Johnson is committed to passing a final bill and continuing the over six-decade streak of defense legislation becoming law each year, even if it means going against his desire to block the Pentagon abortion travel policy.

“The speaker has very clearly stated that everyone realizes we won't get everything we want, and that’s one way to say ‘compromise,’” said Senate Armed Services’ ranking member, Roger Wicker (R-Miss.). “So I think the leadership of both parties at both ends of the building realize there’s been a lot of give and take, and there’ll be a lot, and we’re close to wrapping this up.”

Wicker said the provision is a red line for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and suggested it might come out, with Republicans opting to fight it in other ways.

Defense hawks are also counting on Johnson’s tenure on the House Armed Services Committee, unique among recent speakers, as a sign that he sees bipartisanship as the only path forward.

Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.) said Johnson “understands what he has to balance there in terms of the interests of,” House Republicans and, “what he needs to do to get it through” the Democratic-controlled Senate.

“I think he is focused on getting it done in a form that gets as many votes on our side of the aisle as possible,” Wittman said at the POLITICO Defense Summit this month. Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) also noted at the event that Johnson “has got the muscle memory of voting for bipartisan NDAAs.”

Still, conservatives may not walk away from the negotiations empty-handed.

Both the House and Senate versions of the bill include provisions taking aim at some diversity programs, including a cap on salaries for Pentagon employees involved in diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. Both bills also include GOP-favored language requiring the Pentagon to dispose of unused border wall materials with the aim of allowing states to finish barriers on the U.S.-Mexico border.

It’s unclear whether that will be enough to satisfy conservatives. Asked whether rank-and-file Republicans would fall in line behind a more centrist bill than they passed four months ago, House Armed Services top Democrat Adam Smith said, “We'll see.”

“People bluster and talk and all that, but there's an increasing lack of understanding of how compromise in the democratic process works, and increasingly people are like, 'If I don't get my way, I'm gonna burn the place down,’” said Smith, who has also expressed confidence in Johnson’s ability to compromise. “I will say this: we've had a very fair process. We've got a pretty good balance between Democrats and Republicans.”

Jordain Carney contributed to this report.

Trump’s campaign thinks it’s getting a surprise assist from Dean Phillips

Politico -

Donald Trump’s campaign believes it’s getting a welcome boost from an unexpected source.

Over the past week, a super PAC closely aligned with Rep. Dean Phillips has been running a series of ads targeting President Joe Biden. Those spots, however, have also directly undercut the argument that Trump’s Republican rivals are trying to make as they scramble to slow the former president’s momentum: that Trump can’t win a general election.

The ads, being run by the pro-Phillips Pass the Torch USA super PAC in New Hampshire ahead of the state’s first-in-the nation primary, all make the point that Trump, currently, is well positioned for the general election.

One shows video footage of the Trump-inspired Jan. 6 Capitol riot on screen, with the script: “The threat is real. Donald Trump is winning.” Another says that “Twenty twenty-four is different. Trump is winning.” Still another offers a state-by-state breakdown of polls showing Trump leading Biden in a handful of battlegrounds.

Trump’s aides like it.

“Yes, Donald Trump is beating crooked Joe Biden, and we approve this message,” said Chris LaCivita, a senior Trump adviser.

The commercials present a surprising obstacle for Trump’s primary rivals. Pass the Torch USA, which was formed by longtime political operative Steve Schmidt, has spent a moderate sum to air the flight of ads. According to media-buying figures, the super PAC is set to spend $263,000 for nine days of advertising in New Hampshire that began on Nov. 26. By comparison, the main pro-Haley super PAC spent more than three times that amount in New Hampshire during the same time period. The principal pro-DeSantis group, meanwhile, is spending nothing.

Jeff Weaver, a Phillips adviser, noted that the super PAC was independent of the campaign. But he also pushed back on the idea that the commercials were inadvertently bolstering Trump. Weaver argued that the ads were simply restating an abundance of publicly available polling showing Trump leading Biden.

"Obviously, we are not involved in the creation of the ads, but let's be clear, making an ad that reports what people already believe doesn't help anyone — by definition, people already believe it,” Weaver said.

Spokespersons for DeSantis and Haley declined to comment. A representative for Pass the Torch USA did not respond to an inquiry.

Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, who has emerged as one of Trump’s leading rivals, has aggressively tried to make the case that she would have better odds of beating Biden than Trump would.

“If you look at the national polls, and you look at electability, you see that Trump is pretty much even with Biden. On a good day, he might be 2 points up. In every poll, we beat Biden by 10 to 13 points,” she said during an appearance this week in the state.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has also made electability a central thrust of his campaign.

“I also think it’s something - and I know a lot of voters in Iowa have remarked to me about this - we know there’s a lot of hurdles for [Trump] to even be elected again in this country. I personally think the media and the Dems, they’ll do whatever they need to. So I don’t think he’ll likely win,” DeSantis said in a press conference last week.

Phillips could affect the race in other ways. According to polling","link":{"target":"NEW","attributes":[],"url":"https://www.politico.com/news/2023/11/24/dean-phillips-chris-christie-nikki-haley-new-hampshire-independents-00128562","_id":"0000018c-253f-d9c1-a5dc-bdffa4e60002","_type":"33ac701a-72c1-316a-a3a5-13918cf384df"},"_id":"0000018c-253f-d9c1-a5dc-bdffa4e60003","_type":"02ec1f82-5e56-3b8c-af6e-6fc7c8772266"}">According to polling, the congressman has been drawing support from independent voters who could otherwise support a Republican candidate, such as Haley or former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. In New Hampshire, independent voters — and voters from either party — are allowed to vote in whichever party primary they prefer.

'This could be the final straw': Realtors face a legal reckoning

Politico -

A wave of legal challenges to the lucrative commissions that real estate agents are paid is threatening to upend an industry that employs 1.6 million people and funds one of the most powerful lobbying operations in Washington.

Lawyers for the Justice Department and the National Association of Realtors will face off on Friday in federal court over the Biden administration’s probe into the way homebuyers’ agents are compensated, a system that critics say inflates the cost of housing and amounts to a monopoly. The Realtors are also being hit with private lawsuits from home sellers around the country and have already lost one major case that could cost them up to $5.4 billion.

The Justice Department probe is part of a broader Biden administration effort to aggressively enforce antitrust law while lowering fees for consumers. But that investigation and the onslaught of lawsuits against a system that has prevailed for decades come at a time when the housing industry is already undergoing a severe test, battered by high interest rates that have sent home sales plunging and the cost of construction skyrocketing.

Yet despite the high stakes — and the political salience of a female-dominated industry at the heart of the middle class — NAR’s formidable lobbying operation has found its hands are tied on one of the biggest issues its members have confronted in the group’s 115-year history.

“This is something that won’t be resolved by lobbyists or any political process in Washington; it’s already fully cemented in the legal process,” said Dave Stevens, former CEO of the Mortgage Bankers Association.

In the Justice Department matter, Realtors had reached a settlement with the Trump-era DOJ to end a sweeping investigation in November 2020, but the Biden administration withdrew from the deal less than a year later — a move that was then rejected by a court. The DOJ challenged that ruling, and the appellate court in Washington will decide whether the agency can proceed with the probe.

“There is a high likelihood that the DOJ will prevail in their appeal, and to the extent that they do, then the DOJ is completely unencumbered in being able to go after commissions,” said Ryan Tomasello, an industry analyst at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods.

Between that investigation and legal challenges brought by private plaintiffs — there are no fewer than 10 lawsuits challenging the way agents are compensated — the industry behind 90 percent of home sales in the U.S. is facing a major reckoning.

Tomasello estimates that more than half of U.S. real estate agents could be driven from the industry if the litigation is successful, saying the $100 billion annual commission pool could shrink by 30 percent.

At issue is NAR’s “cooperative compensation” policy, which requires sellers’ agents to provide a blanket offer of compensation to buyer brokers in order to show the home on the Realtors’ Multiple Listing Service, where 88 percent of sellers listed homes for purchase last year. Critics say the system locks in high commissions — typically the agents for the seller and buyer split a commission of 5 percent to 6 percent — that inflate the cost of housing even as technology has allowed consumers to find homes online.

The typical Realtor is a 60-year-old white woman who attended college and owns a home, according to NAR statistics. Realtors on average worked 30 hours per week in 2022, according to the group, with a median gross income of $56,400.

“We’re already seeing some leave the market, and this could be the final straw,” said Stevens. “No Realtor is going to work for free not knowing if they’re going to get paid.

Stevens testified as an expert witness for industry defendants in a case brought in Missouri. A jury in that case on Oct. 31 found NAR and two corporate brokerages liable for $1.8 billion in damages — a sum that could climb to $5.4 billion with treble damages — after deciding that they had conspired to keep commissions high. Stevens and NAR both say they’re optimistic about the case’s chances on appeal and that the matter won’t be settled for two to three years.

“It was a jury of local Missourians who were dealing with a very complex, difficult subject,” Stevens said, predicting a panel of judges would decide differently. NAR President Tracy Kasper assured the group’s members that “this matter is not close to being final” in a statement released the day of the verdict.

“NAR plans to appeal the verdict and in the meantime will continue to advocate for homeownership and put consumer interests first,” NAR spokesman Mantill Williams said.

Tomasello is skeptical of the multiyear timeline industry allies have cited.

“There is immense pressure for this to get resolved via some sort of settlement sooner rather than later,” he said.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs in the Missouri case are readying a motion for an injunction to prevent commission sharing as a requirement to list a home on the Multiple Listing Service.

“It’s a pretty fluid situation,” said Michael Ketchmark, lead attorney for the plaintiffs. Ketchmark's team is in the process of deciding whether to request that the injunction apply nationwide and plans to file the motion “in the next month or two,” he said.

Ketchmark — who filed a new class-action lawsuit against NAR and seven brokerages nationwide seeking $100 billion in damages on the same day the Missouri verdict was released — said he has been in touch with the Justice Department on the matter.

“We’re supportive of the Department of Justice efforts here, and they’re supportive of ours — we have open lines of communication between us,” he said. “Our goals are aligned.”

Representatives for the Justice Department declined to comment.

If an injunction is issued and the class-action litigation is successful, “it could significantly shrink the ranks of buyer-brokers and buyer representation around the country,” Stevens said.

Purchasing a home “is the most complex transaction any American can make, and in the absence of having professional representation on the buyer’s side, the only professional representation is on the seller’s side — it’s a little bit like throwing minnows into a shark tank,” he said.

NAR and its allies also warn that asking buyers to pay their agents’ commissions directly up front could hurt first-time and minority homebuyers who already have trouble scraping together a down payment.

Stephen Brobeck, a senior fellow at the Consumer Federation of America and longtime critic of the compensation rule, said he’s grown optimistic that “competition will break out” in the industry in the wake of the various legal challenges.

“I would be surprised if there wasn’t a settlement by springtime next year,” Brobeck said, given the sheer number of lawsuits and the involvement of the Justice Department.

“I think the industry will realize that the real solution to preserving both listing and buyer brokers is to allow the buyers to finance that, which effectively they are doing now since [the commission is] added to the sale price,” he said.

Still, “they’ve been fighting for 90 years to preserve this compensation arrangement, and they’re not going to just give up,” Brobeck said. “The 1.6 million agents who cannot get access to the MLS without joining NAR generate a lot of income for NAR.”

Asked about a potential settlement, NAR’s Williams responded, “NAR always has been open to a resolution that maintains a way for buyers and sellers to continue to benefit from the cooperation of real estate professionals and eliminates our members’ risk of liability for the claims alleged."

Gavin Newsom’s Smile and Ron DeSantis’ Chin Tell You Everything You Need to Know

Politico -

California Governor Gavin Newsom and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis are both leaders from big states who are sure to have an impact on politics for years to come. But that’s about all they have in common. In every other way, they’re opposites: from opposite sides of the political spectrum, from opposite sides of the country, from two visions of the country that appear irreconcilably opposed. Their debate tonight was billed by Fox News moderator Sean Hannity as “The Great Red vs. Blue State Debate” — a direct engagement over the fault lines that separate America from America. Each governor had plenty to say about why their version of the USA is the right one, often at the same time.

But it was their body language that revealed what they were really thinking throughout the debate.

I’ve studied nonverbal communication for over 50 years, 25 as an FBI agent. Words can lie, spin and mislead, but body language usually tells the truth — if you know how to look. Here’s what it told me about Newsom and DeSantis tonight:

It All Started With a Smile

I’ve written in the past that DeSantis is known for an awkward smile that makes him appear uncomfortable — which makes viewers uncomfortable as well. That trend continued at the opening of the debate tonight. He seems incapable of what is called a Duchenne smile, where the corners of the mouth, or commissures, pull toward the eyes, creating crows’ feet. The visual has primacy over the vocal when it comes to trustworthiness, and DeSantis’ stiff smile undermines his authenticity.

Newsom’s pearly whites were the perfect contrast. Throughout the night, when DeSantis went on the attack, Newsom blunted his blows with that charming smile. He has a broad, genuine smile — a true Duchenne smile, which involves the zygomaticus major muscle pulling toward the orbicularis oculi. That smile is perceived as more genuine, authentic and therefore trustworthy at a subconscious level.

DeSantis Had a Noticeable Tell: His Chin

When DeSantis disagreed with a point, he shifted his lower mandible side to side. His chin acted as a barometer of what bothered him. You could see this when Newsom challenged him on the murder rate in Florida, calling him a “hypocrite.” When he shifts his jaw like that, it’s clear that he’s feeling stressed. The repetitive shifting of the chin indirectly stimulates the masseteric nerve, a branch of the trigeminal nerve that innervates the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) of the jaw, which in turn sends signals to the brain that ameliorate stress. It’s one reason people chew gum more quickly when they are stressed. That repetitive stimulation of the TMJ helps people calm down.

Newsom’s Eyes Gave Him Away

When something DeSantis or Hannity said troubled Newsom, his eyelids fluttered. This behavior is commonly seen when someone is struggling with something they’ve heard, or when they are having difficulty responding to something. This was apparent when Hannity pressed Newsom about what ages certain explicit books were appropriate for. Newsom countered that books with sexual content weren’t part of curriculum for early grades, but his fluttering eyelids showed that the line of questioning shook him.

DeSantis Gestured Like a Fighter

Compared to previous debates, DeSantis looked more comfortable, even if at times some of his gestures (like his chin or his smile) betrayed him. He went on the offensive with assertive hand and arm gestures, using his hands like exclamation points or batons, castigating Newsom and pointing directly at him. These more confident, forceful gestures made him appear much more like a leader and contender than his previous debate style with his fellow conservatives.

Newsom Faced His Foe — Directly

I watched with the sound off to focus in on the nonverbal communication, and over the course of the night, a notable trend emerged: Both governors addressed the camera, but when Newsom criticized DeSantis, he turned toward him — a more intense, confident, authoritative attack posture. DeSantis, on the other hand, tended to more often face the moderator. Over time, it gave the impression that Newsom was a more direct and aggressive debater. The human brain at a subconscious level keeps a tally as to who looks more like a leader; therefore, repetitive engagements where DeSantis failed to stare directly at his adversary worked against him.

DeSantis Can Play Nice — But He Wrung His Hands

Toward the end of the debate, Hannity asked DeSantis about his favorite part of the state of California. DeSantis called its coastline “tremendous,” but as he said nice things about the state — which he spent the whole debate criticizing — his hands gave away his discomfort. Rather than the wide hand gestures he made earlier in the debate, he wrung his hands repeatedly in a very tight clasp; his words were nice, but physically, he was struggling.

And that is the beauty of body language: It reveals what the lips conceal. When the nonverbals don’t agree with the verbals, the message loses heft.

It was Hannity and DeSantis v. Newsom in messy Fox debate

Politico -

Alpharetta, Georgia — The debate between Ron DeSantis and Gavin Newsom was a big mess. There was even some poop. Fox News moderator Sean Hannity didn’t help clean things up.

DeSantis, the Florida Republican and 2024 hopeful, was looking for a campaign spark heading into the fourth GOP primary debate on Wednesday in Alabama to reverse the downward direction of his presidential bid. The governor’s team savored the chance to have the night to themselves on primetime opposite a liberal Democrat from California.

Newsom’s aim wasn’t so much to present his vision for America — he’s not running for president — as to tag DeSantis as an uncaring bully who moved to weaken gun laws after a mass shooting. Newsom also said DeSantis had flip-flopped on key issues like immigration and China in an effort to explain why the Republican governor is trailing so far behind Donald Trump.

“He’s in a death spiral,” Newsom said.

The California governor pleased the White House with frequent defenses of President Joe Biden, “Bidenomics,” and by correcting DeSantis’ pronunciation of Kamala Harris.

Why did they agree to a Fox News-sponsored “debate” hosted by Hannity? Both participants are starved for national attention, and their respective suns have been blocked out by the aging leaders of their parties, 81-year-old Biden and Trump, 77. The extreme hunger for conflict from the next generation of politicians was on display Thursday night between DeSantis, 45, and Newsom, 56.

The 2024 Republican debates have been so devoid of spectacle, and, frankly, so lame, that the unlikely trio of DeSantis, Newsom and Hannity rushed to make their own entertainment. The 90-minute showdown, with the red state and blue state governors frequently talking over each other, included a surprise prop from DeSantis: a color-coded map of San Francisco covered in brown splotches representing human feces.

The Hannity Factor

Benefiting from the one-on-one square off, DeSantis got his shots in on Newsom — with Hannity’s help. The host took a layup from DeSantis to suggest that school districts in California were teaching students about how to masturbate. Hannity also teed up a question on education and LGBTQ+ rights under the banner of “parental rights.” He premised a question about Biden with his own opinion that the president is experiencing “cognitive decline.”

Hannity repeatedly pressed Newsom over whether he supported abortion at any point in a pregnancy but didn’t similarly lean on DeSantis about how his signing a six-week abortion ban into law in Florida was out of step with public opinion.

There was a clear incentive for Hannity himself to prove his relevance and staying power at Fox after the departure of ratings-king Tucker Carlson. Hannity’s ability to host two high profile governors — and convince Newsom to appear on Fox — was an undeniable win. Within the first two minutes of the broadcast, he mentioned being the longest tenured cable TV host.

But Hannity struggled to corral the leading governors on the debate stage, repeatedly begging them not to make him a “hall monitor.” They mostly ignored his pleas as they interrupted each other and appeared to enjoy doing so.

The obsequiousness probably undermined DeSantis’ overall case — giving viewers the sense that the Florida governor couldn’t fend for himself and needed an extra hand from the host. “Hannity basically tried to be a human life preserver for a drowning Ron DeSantis,” Newsom adviser Sean Clegg said of the host’s approach.

DeSantis in his comfort zone

The format with Newsom gave DeSantis an opening that he hasn’t had during the last three GOP presidential debates. At Thursday’s debate, DeSantis was able to mock his opponent without competing for attention from several rivals onstage.

He seemed to have more control over the conversation, elaborating about specific policies he backed as governor of Florida — which could help him attract the attention of big donors. He questioned Biden’s ability to run for a second term given his advanced age and theorized about why Newsom had asked for the exchange in the first place.

“Why won’t you just admit that you’re running?” DeSantis asked.

DeSantis played the debate pretty straight. He repeated several times that Newsom was being “slick” and “slippery,” casually dismissed entire answers as lies and said Californians were leaving the state “in droves” — an effective attack particularly with the right. “He went on a binge of putting out a lot of left-wing platitudes,” DeSantis said of Newsom at one point.

DeSantis stumbled with more casual viewers as his answers veered into a digital-heavy direction, including dropping bombs on Newsom over his French Laundry dinner with no explanation and trying to tie him to the district attorney of Los Angeles, who is not a household name.

But if voters didn’t like DeSantis before the made-for-TV clash with Newsom, it’s hard to see how he changed any minds Thursday night.

Newsom fought on culture

Newsom was far more emotive than DeSantis when delivering certain responses, especially about the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas in Parkland, Fla., that claimed the lives of 17 people in 2018. He put DeSantis on the spot over loosening gun laws during his term, eliciting an odd response from the Florida governor who delved into a complaint about retail theft in California. It was the flip side of having the floor with only a Democrat — no Republican would have leveled similar charges in the GOP debates.

Newsom also expressed dismay about DeSantis’ policies regarding LGBTQ+ rights — one of his most effective exchanges of the night. It came after DeSantis held up a page from the book “Gender Queer” that depicted oral sex — a book Desantis claimed is in California public schools but has been removed from some Florida districts. In response, Newsom criticized Florida for removing books from school libraries that contain themes about gender identity and sexual orientation.

“I don't like the way you demean the LGBTQ community,” Newsom said. “I don't like how you humiliate people you disagree with. I find this primarily offensive.”

Hannity’s assistance for DeSantis impacted on Newsom but didn’t rattle him. He also accused DeSantis of pursuing culture-war fights because he was trying to compete with Trump to win the 2024 GOP nomination for president. He frequently drew attention to DeSantis’ failure to catch on in the race and asked him at one point when he was going to drop out to allow rival Republican Nikki Haley a chance to catch Trump. The exchanges helped Newsom bring the California versus Florida debate back to 2024 so he could undermine DeSantis’ electability argument.

“You are trolling folks and trying to play political games so you can out-Trump Trump,” Newsom said. “How is that going for you, Ron? You are down 41 points in your own home state.”

Chris Christie on brink of missing next debate

Politico -

CONCORD, N.H. — Chris Christie was always a longshot. Now he might not even make the next debate.

The former New Jersey governor has not met the Republican National Committee’s polling thresholds for qualifying for next week’s debate, with only a few days left before Monday’s deadline, according to a POLITICO analysis.

If he fails to make the stage in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, it would exclude the GOP presidential field’s biggest critic of former President Donald Trump.

The RNC’s rules say candidates must hit at least 6 percent in polls that meet the committee’s requirements. They can use either two national surveys or one national survey plus polls from two separate early nominating states to meet that threshold. Only three candidates have the RNC’s requirements for the debate, according to POLITICO’s tracking of the process: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and businessperson Vivek Ramaswamy. Trump, who would easily meet the polling threshold, is skipping the debates.

Christie has only two qualifying polls in New Hampshire in which he has reached or exceeded 6 percent, according to POLITICO’s analysis. Because they came from the same early state, Christie still needs to hit 6 percent in two national polls or one national poll and a poll from either Iowa, Nevada or South Carolina by early next week.

Christie faces long odds to get those qualifying polls. The RealClearPolitics average of national polls puts Christie at 2.2 percent, far shy of the 6 percent threshold. He’s also at 4 percent in Iowa and 3 percent in South Carolina. (There are so few polls from Nevada that the website has not calculated an average.)

Christie’s campaign, citing polls that don’t appear to meet the RNC’s requirements and saying he is “well over” the 80,000-donor threshold, is confident the former governor will be on the debate stage. His advisers are planning his schedule for next week around being in Tuscaloosa.

“We believe we’ve made the stage, but you don’t know it until you get it confirmed on Monday,” Christie told POLITICO outside a Concord restaurant where he headlined a town hall on Thursday.

Asked what happens if he doesn’t make the debate, Christie said: “I’m going to make it. So why would I even talk about that?”

But Christie could face a hard choice if he doesn’t. He said before the first debate in August that candidates who don’t make the stage should get out of the race. And Christie is already facing questions about doing exactly that. On Thursday, one town hall attendee asked Christie which candidate he would consider backing if he ended his campaign.

“I’m not considering dropping out,” Christie replied.

Christie currently sits in third place, on average, in polls of likely Granite State GOP primary voters. Support for the former New Jersey governor has been rising in recent surveys, but he’s still only registering in the low double-digits. He remains behind Haley, in second place, and far behind Trump.

On the heels of those polls, which also showed support for DeSantis and Ramaswamy slipping, Christie has sought to cast the New Hampshire primary as a “three-person race” between himself, Haley and Trump.

But now that he’s the only one of those five who could get left off the debate stage next week. GOP operatives in New Hampshire said the potential blow to his credibility would be hard to overcome.

“The fact is, if a candidate doesn’t make the debate stage, they no longer are viewed as a serious candidate by most voters. And there is no recovery from that,” said Fergus Cullen, a former New Hampshire GOP chair who is not aligned with a candidate.

“Doug Burgum, Asa Hutchinson, they’re no longer considered legitimate candidates because they aren’t participating in the debates,” Cullen said.

Matthew Bartlett, a GOP strategist who’s worked on several presidential campaigns but is unaffiliated this cycle, said Christie is in a “hard position” because he’s focusing his campaign primarily on one state.

“If he can’t make [the debate stage],” Bartlett said, “he’s got to look in the mirror and figure out if he means what he says, and if he can accomplish it better from the sidelines.”

Tell It Like It Is PAC, a super PAC supporting Christie’s campaign, launched a national cable advertising campaign last week in an apparent effort to boost the candidate’s poll numbers ahead of the debate deadline. According to AdImpact, the group is set to spend $342,000 across seven national cable channels, including Fox News Channel, Fox Business Network and Newsmax, which cater to Republican voters.

A person close to the super PAC and granted anonymity to speak freely about the ad buy said it was made to “communicate with a broader pool of voters, as well as the donor community” nationally.

Christie’s campaign has pointed to two national polls that it says could meet the requirements. The first, from YouGov and a website called The Liberal Patriot, has Christie at 6 percent. But the RNC’s rules say that polls “must be conducted on or after” Sept. 15. The poll was conducted mostly before that date: Sept. 7-18.

The second poll was commissioned by FairVote, a nonprofit group that advocates ranked-choice voting. But it was conducted by the GOP polling firm WPA Intelligence, which is also working for Never Back Down, the chief super PAC supporting Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ presidential campaign.

The RNC’s rules say polls don’t count if they are “conducted by a polling company affiliated with a candidate or candidate committee.” While Never Back Down isn’t officially affiliated with DeSantis, the RNC has previously excluded polls from firms with similar loose ties to groups supporting candidates.

The RNC has declined to comment on the qualification process for the debates.

In Concord on Thursday, even some voters supportive of Christie worried what it would mean if he fails to make the stage — Mary Waples, a Bow independent, among them.

“People need to hear him,” she said.

Judge blocks Montana TikTok ban law

Politico -

A Montana judge ruled on Thursday to block a state ban on TikTok from going into effect — marking a win for the popular video streaming app who alleged the law violated the First Amendment.

TikTok filed its lawsuit in May in the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana seeking for the court to invalidate the law and block the state from enforcing it.

The judge said the law should be blocked and that TikTok’s arguments held merit that the law likely violated the First Amendment.

Montana is the first state with a law seeking to ban app stores from offering TikTok to residents in the state starting on Jan. 1, 2024. Montana’s Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte said the law aimed to protect residents from foreign influence by the Chinese Communist Party since TikTok is owned by Beijing-based ByteDance. App stores continuing to offer the app after the effective date will face penalties starting at $10,000.

The judge agreed that the law should be blocked based on the three claims put forth by TikTkok, which alleged the Montana law violates the company’s constitutionally protected rights to disseminate and promote third-party speech. It also claimed the ban is preempted by federal law as national security are matters controlled by the federal government. Also, it said the law violates the Commerce Clause in the U.S. Constitution that bans state laws that unduly burden interstate and foreign commerce.

“We are pleased the judge rejected this unconstitutional law and hundreds of thousands of Montanans can continue to express themselves, earn a living, and find community on TikTok,” a TikTok spokesperson said in a statement.

Gianforte’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

While Montana, with a population of 1.1 million, is the first state to fully ban the app that has approximately 150 million monthly users in America, the concerns around TikTok’s alleged national security threats has led more than 30 states to ban its use on government-issued devices.

Congress has multiple bills ranging from a nationwide TikTok ban to legislation empowering the executive branch to restrict TikTok and other apps from foreign adversaries. Yet Congress has failed to act in recent weeks after Republicans and progressive Democrats alike came out against a ban.


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