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After President Donald Trump’s former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to “lying to Congress about the timing and extent of his negotiations,” on behalf of the Trump Organization, to build a Trump Tower in Moscow -- his second guilty plea to a federal crime in three months -- Trump’s sycophants and defenders in the media are proclaiming that Cohen’s guilty plea means “absolutely nothing.” By furiously attempting to spin the potentially devastating news as “a nothingburger,” right-wing media are simply picking up where they left off in August after Cohen pleaded guilty to violating campaign finance laws on Trump’s behalf. And even though Trump’s stooges in the media have openly worried about what may come next for some time now as the special counsel investigation continues, they continue to wage their public relations campaign with laughable spin:
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Laura Ingraham and Shannon Bream give platforms to transphobia
November 20 marks the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance, an observation held in memory of trans people who have lost their lives to anti-trans violence over the past year. It’s a solemn occasion, where trans people and allies hold vigil for those lost and hope for a better future -- a stark contrast to events like Pride.
But Fox News marked the occasion this year by airing two segments sympathetic to anti-trans causes. Fox host Laura Ingraham interviewed Isabella Chow, a student senator at the University of California, Berkeley, about backlash she received after speaking out against a resolution in support of LGBTQ students. Chow is linked to extreme anti-LGBTQ group Family Research Council and has appeared on its leader Tony Perkins’ radio program.
From the November 20 edition of Fox News’ The Ingraham Angle:
LAURA INGRAHAM (HOST): Take us through these past few weeks. We first want to establish what happens. This is a student government kind of proclamation stating what exactly?
ISABELLA CHOW (BERKELEY STUDENT): Yes, so, the main bill that I abstained from opposed Trump’s proposed reform to Title IX and specifically one clause where a person's gender is defined as a person's biological sex. Now the bill that I abstained from, not only did it say, you know, we support freedom from discrimination and harassment for all individuals and especially LGBTQ individuals, but at the end there clauses that asked me to promote and LGBTQ identity and lifestyle and to promote organizations whose primary purpose is to promote the LGBTQ identity and lifestyle. And I said because of my Christian views and because I represent the Christian community on campus, I cannot fully support this bill.
INGRAHAM: OK, so and for that, being a Christian and being unapologetic, you were labeled some pretty terrible things. The Daily Californian said the following: “Isabella Chow made transphobic and homophobic statements during an ASUC meeting, publicly dismissing the identities of individuals on campus. Chow’s language erased and dehumanized individuals,” et cetera, et cetera. How do you respond to that? Did you dehumanize people because of your faith?
CHOW: Yes, I’d like to go back to my original statement on the senate floor on October 31. And what I said was, one, I think that discrimination and harassment is never ever OK. But where I cross a line between, you know, where I can protect you as an individual and where I can promote your identity is a very fine line for me to walk, right?. And so my response is, I don't see a conflict between being able to accept, love and validate you as an individual and yet not fully agreeing with how you choose to identify yourself sexually.
While Chow framed the issue as simply about her decision not to vote on the measure, The Daily Californian’s editorial board wrote:
She chose to abstain from voting on the resolution — and then went beyond simply removing herself from the conversation. Chow, a former member of the Student Action party, also chose to voice her personal — and highly problematic — interpretation of Christian scripture, stating that any “lifestyle” outside of male and female and heterosexual identities was not “right or safe.”
The rest of the segment involved Ingraham lamenting the fact that people will call you a “hater” for saying that you disagree with who they are.
“I think where they are coming from,” Chow told Ingraham, trying to reflect on what her critics think, “is because we can't understand how you can love us and not accept our sexual identity, therefore, we’re going to say your words about love and acceptance are completely worthless. And we are just to take your words about not accepting us and twist that to mean you are a hater and a bigot.”
It’s odd that the most watched news station in the country devotes time and energy to things like student government, as there’s certainly no shortage of newsworthy stuff happening in the world. It’s moments like these when Fox shows itself for what it really is: a conservative advocacy organization.
Later that evening, Fox host Shannon Bream interviewed Robert Oppedisano, a Florida gym teacher who claims that he’s being mistreated for opposing his school’s policy to allow a trans boy to use the boys’ locker room, and his lawyer, Liberty Counsel’s Mat Staver. Liberty Counsel is another extreme anti-LGBTQ group, and Staver regularly traffics in extreme rhetoric such as comparing LGBTQ people to pedophiles and saying that trans youth experience higher rates of suicide because they are defying God.
From the November 20 edition of Fox News’ Fox News @ Night:
SHANNON BREAM (HOST): We are talking about Pasco County, FL, and they actually had a school board meeting today where this came up. A lot of people, Robert, showed up on your behalf to speak out. So let’s clarify a little bit about what happened. There is a student who was born biologically female, now identifying as male, wants to use the boys locker rooms and restrooms in the school. What were you told about having to watch or supervise or be involved with this process in the locker room?
ROBERT OPPEDISANO (PASCO COUNTY PE TEACHER): I was told that this student was going to have full access to the locker room, that it was my job to supervise, and that it was her right to be able to use any part of the locker room, whether it be the locker room, the open showers, or the bathroom.
BREAM: The school departments are saying, “We don't know exactly what to do. We are trying to do our best. We have to think of the rights of these trans students.” But others have said, “What about the parents, what about the other students, the boys in this locker room, what about their privacy rights?” What position are you in now with regard to this case?
OPPEDISANO: I was told that the parents and the students had no rights, just this -- the female student. She was the only one to have rights in there. I had mentioned something that they could get sued, and they said, “We are the largest employer in Pasco county. If we get sued, it's no big deal.”
BREAM: OK. Mat, I want to give you a chance to respond to something, that is in Pascocounty’s best practices guide for working with LGBTQ individuals. This one has to do with questions about whether students come to a teacher or someone to say, “I'm uncomfortable, I don't feel safe because a transgender student is in my bathroom or locker room area.” They are told this, quote: “A student's discomfort does not trump a transgender students right to use the school facility that is consistent with their identified gender identity. If it’s a comfort issue, you may offer an alternative facility to the students experiencing discomfort.” So, here they are saying if a student doesn't want the trans individual in their locker room area, they are the ones who need to leave. Is that a solution that works?
MAT STAVER (CHAIRMAN LIBERTY COUNSEL AND OPPEDISANO’S ATTORNEY): That is not a solution that works and in fact in this particular case, you’d have to have all the boys go to some other place because this girl undressed in front of these boys and the boys came running out. They were disturbed that a girl was in their locker room undressing. So apparently, only that girl can use the boys facility and now all of these boys that ran out have to go someplace else. That’s not workable. That same guideline that they have also says that you should not, in fact you are not authorized to let the parents know what’s happening with their son or daughter in these situations.
In recent days, far-right websites like Lifesite News, The Daily Caller, and The Federalist have been pushing this issue hard, citing information almost exclusively from Liberty Counsel’s complaint, which claimed that the teacher was being persecuted for his refusal to monitor the locker room. Their headlines, which include language like “School Punishes Male Teacher For Refusing To Watch A Naked Girl In The Boys’ Locker Room” and “Male Gym Teacher Allegedly Punished by School for Refusing to Watch Girl Shower,” are more than just misleading: They’re lies and outright propaganda.
As with so many of the too-shocking-to-be-true stories about trans people you’ll find in far-right media, local reporting rebuts the motivated smearing by conservative groups. In Oppedisano’s case, the Tampa Bay Times tells a different story, quoting the district’s superintendent:
Superintendent Kurt Browning told the board Tuesday that the internet is "burning up" with misinformation.
"I want the board and the public to be clear. The teacher coach has not been disciplined at all, in any way shape or form," Browning said, noting the Chasco Middle administrators have monitored the locker room for Oppedisano, whom he called an excellent teacher.
Students "do not undress in the locker room," Browning continued. "There are showers but no one takes showers. … There have not been any issues on this at Chasco Middle."
He said the district provides services to all students who need them, as do districts throughout the nation. He called upon School Board attorney Dennis Alfonso to explain the legal framework for the district's procedures and rules relating to transgender students.
These conservative groups fought hard against the Obama administration’s attempt to clarify what Title IX meant when it came to the treatment of transgender students. The Obama guidance would have put an end to many drawn-out lawsuits brought against schools or students. The argument against it has been that a “one-size-fits-all” approach is almost never the right way to dissuade discrimination (ignoring that the country has “one-size-fits-all” rules when it comes to discrimination on the basis of religion, race, disability, and so on).
A February 2017 piece at The Federalist argued the case for schools to make their own policies when it comes to trans students. And in the letter announcing that the administration had rescinded the Obama-era guidance, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos (née Prince) wrote, “This is an issue best solved at the state and local level.” Yet, when states and districts do try to provide solutions to accommodate trans students, groups like Liberty Counsel and Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) swoop in to mount a public pressure campaign and file lawsuits against districts that won’t change their rules to be anti-trans. The heavily funded groups bank on the fact that most school districts won’t want the bad press or have the funds to spend defending their policies. Both the DeVos and Prince families have donated substantial amounts of money to ADF, in particular.
It’s reasonable to be sick of hearing about bathrooms. I am a transgender person. Believe me when I say that I am sick of hearing about bathrooms and locker rooms. But the reason these stories are still in the news, that this continues to be talked about at all, is because the groups that claimed they wanted these issues to be handled at a local level don’t seem to actually believe the argument themselves.
But for Fox News to air both of those segments on the one day in a year set aside to mourn people killed by those who believe the negative stereotypes about trans people they hear on networks like this, that’s just shameful.
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Fox hosts with close ties to President Donald Trump are denouncing Sen. Jeff Flake’s (R-AZ) legislative effort to protect special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, blasting the senator for insufficient loyalty to the president and claiming his bill is unnecessary because Trump has said he does not plan to curtail the probe.
Trump forced out Attorney General Jeff Sessions last Wednesday, replacing him with Matthew Whitaker, a Trump loyalist who had frequently criticized the Mueller investigation before joining the Justice Department. In response, a bipartisan group of senators tried to pass legislation to protect the probe yesterday, but they were blocked by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who argued that the bill was unnecessary because Trump has said he does not intend to fire Mueller.
Flake, a co-sponsor of the bill, has said that he will not vote to advance judicial nominations in the closely divided Judiciary Committee or support them on the floor until the legislation receives a floor vote.
The president’s Fox propagandists responded with fury last night.
Trump confidant and Fox Business host Lou Dobbs argued that the “great president deserves the support of all Republican officeholders” and those pushing the Mueller bill are “separating themselves from his agenda and making, really, some rather silly and preposterous noises rather than standing tall and shoulder-to-shoulder with the president.”
Sean Hannity, a close adviser to the president who appeared at a Trump election rally last week, smeared “Sen. Jeff Snowflake” for having “again today exposed himself, well, not as a conservative.” The Fox News host condemned Flake for “threatening the president” in support of a bill that “supposedly protects Mueller from being fired by the president, which isn't happening,” and said that the senator “should be ashamed” for “blocking conservative judges, breaking a promise to the people you represent in Arizona.”
And Laura Ingraham, who was once considered for the post of White House press secretary, told her Fox News audience Flake was “trying to further harm his party before he leaves.” She asked Fox News contributor Andrew McCarthy about whether the bill is unconstitutional and discussed with former independent counsel Ken Starr the “young lawyers” whose confirmations will be put on hold due to Flake’s move. All three agreed that there is no real threat to the Mueller probe.
Since Mueller’s appointment in May 2017, Fox hosts including Dobbs, Hannity, and Ingraham have told their audiences night after night that his work is illegitimate and intended to damage the president and that it should be halted as soon as possible. Now that the president is taking steps to curtail the probe, they are doing everything they can to prevent any action to stop him.
In the wake of the White House’s decision to pull CNN correspondent Jim Acosta’s press pass after a verbal spat with President Donald Trump during a press conference, and CNN’s subsequent lawsuit against the Trump administration to restore Acosta’s credentials, Fox News President Jay Wallace issued a statement saying his network “supports CNN in its legal effort to regain its White House reporter's press credential.” But Wallace’s own on-air talent doesn’t seem to agree.
Breaking: Fox News says the network "supports CNN in its legal effort to regain its White House reporter's press credentials." Here's the full statement pic.twitter.com/ugOuCmt1BR
— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) November 14, 2018
In fact, several Fox News personalities praised the White House on air for revoking Acosta's hard pass and have been attacking Acosta personally. Sean Hannity said that Acosta's pass had been "rightfully revoked"; Laura Ingraham hosted Matt Schlapp, a frequent Fox guest and the husband of White House Director of Strategic Communications Mercedes Schlapp, who called revoking the pass "the right decision"; and Fox contributor and former Trump deputy campaign manager David Bossie said that he was “so happy that the White House has revoked [Acosta’s] press credential.”
Fox News says it "supports CNN in its legal effort to regain its White House reporter's press credential." https://t.co/LMf8UT1VFe
Also Fox News: pic.twitter.com/KCJapdj6Q0
— Leanne Naramore (@LeanneNaramore) November 14, 2018
Immediately following the November 7 incident, Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace blasted Acosta’s “shameful” behavior. Fox Business hosts Stuart Varney and Trish Regan also went on to trash Acosta; Varney called him “a disgrace to the White House press corps” and Regan suggested that a background in sexual assault was useful for analyzing Acosta's interaction with the White House intern who attempted to wrestle the microphone from his hand during the contentious briefing. Laura Ingraham characterized Acosta’s attempt to ask a question of the president a “disgraceful performance,” and frequent Fox guests Diamond and Silk referred to Acosta as “the enemy of the people” and “the enemy of the truth.”
Conservative commentators are offering Democrats the same old advice: Move to the center.
Just a few weeks ago, I wrote about the tendency among conservatives, particularly of the “Never Trump” variety, to blame liberals and progressives for their own decisions. The idea behind it was pretty simple: Members of the conservative media suggest that if Democrats just made teeny-tiny changes, they could expect a windfall of support from right-leaning independents and disillusioned Republicans. They play the role of Lucy van Pelt, assuring Charlie Brown Democrats that this time would be different, that this time they wouldn’t pull the electoral football away at the final moment and would actually check the box for Dems who heeded their advice. Lulled into a tepid trust, Charlie Brown would declare, “This time I’m gonna kick that football clear to the moon!” before Lucy would pull the ball away, as always.
With the 2018 midterms behind us, I want to revisit this concept and one very specific narrative that’s emerged in the post-electoral wake. That narrative is, simply put, that Democrats have veered too far to the left and need to make a strategic shift to the center if they’d ever like to retake power.
The New York Times has a fantastic visualization, “Sizing Up the 2018 Blue Wave.” The data, as of publication on Wednesday morning, showed that while Democrats were able to flip 30 House seats from Republican to Democratic control, 317 out of the 435 congressional districts voted more Democratic than in 2016. Overall, the average district across all races shifted 10 percentage points left. (Since the Times published its analysis, results have further improved for Democrats.) It’s hard to say with any certainty what this suggests either political party should do in terms of strategy come 2020, but it’s also hard to firmly conclude, as Weekly Standard contributing editor Charlie Sykes did on MSNBC, that “the future for Democrats is, in fact, to move toward the center.”
On Fox News, National Journal’s Josh Kraushaar made three separate pleas for Democrats to avoid moving “too far to the left.” His analysis appeared to hinge on his claim that unabashed progressives Beto O’Rourke, Stacey Abrams, and Andrew Gillum all lost their respective races. (In fact, as of this writing, both Florida and Georgia are still counting votes.) What makes this type of electoral interpretation all the more frivolous is that there’s little reason to believe that O’Rourke, Abrams, and Gillum didn't fare well because they weren’t closer to the center.
The Associated Press declared Republican Ron DeSantis the initial winner of the Florida governor's race, beating Gillum by just 0.4 percentage points in a close contest that may be heading for a recount. In the state’s race for Senate, incumbent and moderate Democrat Bill Nelson (GovTrack’s 2017 Report Card has Nelson pegged as the third most conservative Democrat in the Senate) trails challenger and current Florida Gov. Rick Scott by 0.2 percentage points. It’s not exactly an apples-to-apples look, but it’s pretty close, and looking at these two statewide Florida races would seem to suggest that the ideological gap between Gillum (who Kraushaar might say is “too far to the left”) and Nelson (who seems to be the type of candidate analysts like Kraushaar would have wanted in Gillum’s place) was negligible when it came to vote totals.
In Abrams’ bid for Georgia governor, she ran so close to Secretary of State Brian Kemp that it’s more than two full days after the election and CNN has yet to even call the race. As of this writing, Kemp’s lead over Abrams is just 63,198 votes. To put this in perspective, the last time a Democrat came this close to winning the Georgia governorship was 20 years ago, when Democratic nominee Roy Barnes beat Republican Guy Millner.
And in Texas, when Ted Cruz first ran for Senate in 2012, he handily defeated Democratic opponent Paul Sadler by 16.1 percentage points. In the run-up to that election, Sadler received an endorsement from The Dallas Morning News, which called him a “moderate Democrat” who could “continue a legacy that puts the state first, rewards civility and embraces moderation and bipartisanship.” In 2018, O’Rourke lost to Cruz by just 2.6 percentage points.
But on Fox, Kraushaar pointed to the Senate as the place where Democrats blew it for not being moderate enough. Looking at the nine states that had been listed as toss-ups by The New York Times -- Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, Tennessee, and Texas -- it’s hard to see exactly how, through any reasonable analysis, that it was progressives that cost Democrats the chance to regain power. I’ve already addressed O’Rourke making Texas unexpectedly competitive, but beyond that, Nevada’s Jacky Rosen took a surprisingly progressive stance on immigration as she flipped the seat from red to blue, and in New Jersey, scandal-plagued Sen. Bob Menendez handily won re-election (he has a track record of being on the more progressive end of the Democratic caucus). The only moderate Democrats who did come away with strong showings were Sen. Jon Tester, winning re-election in Montana, and Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, whose race for Arizona Senate was still too close to call as of Friday. Beyond that, moderates didn’t do so well: Nelson might lose in Florida, Phil Bredesen lost in Tennessee, Joe Donnelly failed to win re-election in Indiana, and Claire McCaskill was ousted in Missouri.
Fox Business anchor Connell McShane questioned whether Democrats need to be more “pragmatic” if they hope to win in 2020. “If you want to win back some of those independents in the middle, and some of those Democrats that voted for Trump in 2016, you’ve got to be very, very careful that you don’t just cater to the liberal base,” Christian Broadcasting Network’s David Brody cautioned during a recent episode of The 700 Club.
But what lesson was there for Republicans to learn? Simply go further to the right, apparently.
“As we watched [the results] unfold, all I could think of is, what in the world were these candidates thinking? Because in so many instances, they had separated themself from rather than embracing the Trump agenda,” said Lou Dobbs on the November 7 edition of Lou Dobbs Tonight. “Most of those who bucked the president on immigration, they crashed and burned!” said Laura Ingraham during the November 7 edition of The Ingraham Angle, calling lockstep support of the president’s hard-line immigration policies “a deciding factor.”
On the one hand, Democrats should move to the right because you can’t elect an extremist, and it’s important to understand that not all districts around the country are the same. On the other, Republicans need to become mini-Trumps or suffer the consequences. Am I getting that right?
It’s almost as if this isn’t meant as an altruistic gesture to help Democrats defeat Republicans at all, and rather it’s just a clever way for conservative pundits to try to push the nation’s politics closer to their own ideals.
That couldn’t be the case -- or could it? Thankfully, the world has Meghan McCain. On the November 7 edition of The View, McCain laid out some of the same move-to-the-center rhetoric heard elsewhere, but it’s at the very end that she gives away the game a bit.
MEGHAN MCCAIN: The serious lesson for Democrats also is that Republicans are not going to vote against their own agenda and against their own interests. Meaning, I think there’s an impression sometimes, if you don’t watch Fox News, that all Republicans if you’re against Trump or you have issues with his rhetoric that automatically I have somehow morphed into a liberal, that every ideology and principle I have ever agreed on, the principles that make me who I am, the conservative that I am, have flown out the window. And all of a sudden, I’m a Democrat. That is not the case.
Republicans are going to vote for their own agenda and they did a lot last night, especially in Senate and gubernatorial races. And I think the Democrats that were really competitive were the ones that were more moderate. So that is a lesson I would take away.
SUNNY HOSTIN: That was disappointing to me, actually, because when you look at the Republicans --
MCCAIN: Of course it’s disappointing. You’re a Democrat. It’s not disappointing for me. I’m a Republican. I’m going to end up voting for Republicans, and there’s a way to differentiate Trump from candidates.
On Twitter, CNN’s Amanda Carpenter, a self-described conservative and former staffer for Sens. Ted Cruz and Jim DeMint (R-SC), offered a similar point of view:
Serious lesson for Dems I can’t believe they haven’t learned yet: Republicans are not going to vote against their own interests (taxes, judges, guns, etc) because President Trump says bad things. Dems have to offer Republicans something.
— Amanda Carpenter (@amandacarpenter) November 7, 2018
“I can’t believe it. She must think I’m the most stupid person alive,” says Charlie Brown.
IL-03, which covers some of Chicago’s southwest side and surrounding suburbs, is about as reliably Democratic as it gets. The district hasn’t been held by a Republican since 1975. For the past 25 years, it’s been held by the Lipinski family -- Bill from 1993 until 2005, and his son Dan from 2005 until today. In the past four elections in which the current Lipinski faced off against a Republican in the general election (he ran unopposed in 2016), the Republican challengers won 35.4 percent, 31.5 percent, 24.3 percent, and 21.4 percent of the vote, according to Ballotpedia.
In this year’s election, Lipinski’s Republican opponent, Arthur Jones, received 56,350 votes, or 26.5 percent. There is nothing out of the ordinary about this number. In fact, it falls neatly in the middle of the previous range.
The one thing that is out of the ordinary: Lipinski’s opponent was a Nazi.
Now, you’re probably thinking something along the lines of, You know, you can’t just call everyone you disagree with a Nazi. Let me be clear: He’s a literal neo-Nazi. In a 2012 interview with Oak Lawn Patch about plans to run for Congress, Jones said, “As far as I’m concerned, the Holocaust is nothing more than an international extortion racket by the Jews. It’s the blackest lie in history. Millions of dollars are being made by Jews telling this tale of woe and misfortune in books, movies, plays and TV. The more survivors, the more lies that are told."
Oak Lawn Patch continues, describing him like this:
A member of the Nationalist Socialist Party in his younger days, Jones took part in the Nazis’ march on Chicago’s Marquette Park in 1978. While he doesn’t deny nor repudiate his “past affiliations,” he says he votes Republican “90 percent of the time.”
“Philosophically, I’m a National Socialist,” Jones said. “Officially, I don’t belong to any party except my own, the America First Committee.”
Finally making it on the ballot in 2018, Jones racked up a lot of attention for, well, being a Nazi who ended up running unopposed in that district’s primary and winning the nomination.
On Twitter, Illinois’ Republican governor, Bruce Rauner, urged people to vote for “anybody but Arthur Jones,” adding, “Nazis have no place in our country and no one should vote for him.” The Illinois Republican Party told the Chicago Sun-Times, “The Illinois Republican Party and our country have no place for Nazis like Arthur Jones. We strongly oppose his racist views and his candidacy for any public office, including the 3rd Congressional District.” The right-leaning Chicago Tribune editorial board said not to “accidentally vote for the neo-Nazi.”
Easy enough: Don’t vote for the Nazi. But then people voted for the Nazi.
This was a perfect time to test the theory that if Democrats run centrist candidates, they’ll win over Republicans when the Republican nominee is, say, a Nazi. For a Democrat, and especially one representing a reliably blue district, Lipinski holds many extremely conservative positions. He is anti-abortion, anti-Obamacare, anti-LGBTQ, and anti-immigration reform. A proud “Blue Dog,” Lipinski is about as close to being a “Democrat In Name Only” as possible.
This could have been a slam-dunk, 100 percent to zero. So why wasn’t it? Like Meghan McCain said, Republicans are “going to end up voting for Republicans.” (The opposite is also true.) When the Sun-Times caught up with one Jones voter, she told the paper, “If I’d known I would not have voted for him. I regret it.”
Sadly, for many people on both sides of the aisle, their vote isn’t as much about a candidate’s ideology or specific positions as it is about the tiny “D” or “R” next to their names. I have no advice for political parties or candidates, but I would urge political media figures to dial it back on half-baked analysis that always just so happens to support their personal political worldviews. It does none of us any favors. Perhaps it’s best that rather than trying to prescribe who candidates should be and what they should believe, we let candidates tell and show us who they are. It’s certainly a more productive use of our platforms.
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