Why Not Pence?
Plus: Illiberalism at Stanford
Several Questions of the Day:
Are America’s banks run by goldfish? (Didn’t anybody remember what rising interest rates were like?)
Are we back to the Too Big To Fail bullsh*t, again?
Are the idiots responsible for this debacle going to be held accountable, this time?
What’s the difference between a bailout and a backstop? (And can Biden explain it?)
Will calmer heads prevail? Or will we be fed a steady diet of panic porn that will fuel… well, panic?
Can someone please explain the difference between SVB’s business model and a Ponzi scheme?
Profiles in Half-Courage
I’d link to the video or audio of Mike Pence’s remarks on Saturday night, but alas, there is none. Which is kind of a tell, isn’t it?
Politico reports that Mike Pence’s advisers “saw the Gridiron dinner as an opportunity” to go harder with his denunciation of Trump’s role on January 6. “They also believed it would help Pence win over his most skeptical audience these days: Washington insiders and journalists who have given him short shrift in the early 2024 primary.”
So Mike Pence’s Big Moment took place in a room full of media types and politicos, without cameras. The crowd loved it, giving him a partial standing-O. Unfortunately, it was arguably the worst possible focus group in America for a Republican presidential candidate.
Even so, the rhetoric was tough-ish:
“President Trump was wrong,” Pence said. “I had no right to overturn the election. And his reckless words endangered my family and everyone at the Capitol that day. And I know that history will hold Donald Trump accountable.”…
The Doris Kearns Goodwins of the future will definitely kick his ass. The here-and-now Mike Pence not so much.
Pence, of course, refused to testify to the January 6 Committee and is fighting a subpoena from the special counsel to testify in the DOJ investigation. But he was willing to unload to the Gridiron crowd, as he took a not-at-all veiled shot at Insurrection-deniers like Tucker Carlson, and his gofers in the House GOP:
“The American people have a right to know what took place at the Capitol on January 6th,” he said. “But make no mistake about it, what happened that day was a disgrace, and it mocks decency to portray it in any other way.”
“Tourists don’t injure 140 police officers by simply sightseeing,” he said. “Tourists don’t break down doors to get to the Speaker of the House. Tourists don’t threaten public officials.”
It would be better though if Pence said it front of a crowd of actual GOP voters sometime, wouldn’t it? But that’s the problem, and that’s why Mike Pence will never ever be the Republican nominee.
It’s worth reflecting on that for a moment.
Pence is a former governor and vice president of the United States. He is a solid conservative, beloved by the Christian Right, anti-woke before it was super-cool, and and a hyper-loyal defender of the entire Trump agenda. In some ways, he is also an American hero.
So, from the GOP’s point of view, what’s not to like? Why isn’t Pence a strong front-runner? Why is he, instead, utterly hopeless?
One reason: Mike Pence refused to aid and abet the coup. And in the modern GOP that remains the one irredeemable sin.
Stanford’s free speech debacle
The good news is that the president of Stanford University and the dean of the Law school have issued a fulsome apology to the federal judge whose talk was disrupted last week.
Stanford president Marc Tessier-Lavigne and Stanford law school dean Jenny Martinez wrote Judge Kyle Duncan:
As has already been communicated to our community, what happened was inconsistent with our policies on free speech, and we are very sorry about the experience you had while visiting our campus.
As usual with these sorts of things, the story is messy. Students, administrators, and even the judge himself, all behaved badly. What happened at Stanford was not a festival of civility. But it is also a reminder that the fight against illiberalism is a two-front war.
The intrepid and indefatigable David Lat has the most comprehensive coverage of what went down: “Yale Law Is No Longer #1—For Free-Speech Debacles”:
Duncan, who sits on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, was invited to speak by the Stanford Federalist Society on the topic: “The Fifth Circuit in Conversation with the Supreme Court: Covid, Guns, and Twitter.”
As Lat reports, “Ahead of his appearance, [progressive critics] put up posters around the law school like this one, accusing him of being transphobic, homophobic, and racist.”
The heckler’s veto
When Judge Duncan tried to speak last Thursday, things went sideways almost immediately. Lat:
When the Stanford FedSoc president (an openly gay man) opened the proceedings, he was jeered between sentences. Judge Duncan then took the stage—and from the beginning of his speech, the protestors booed and heckled continually.
For about ten minutes, the judge tried to give his planned remarks, but the protestors simply yelled over him, with exclamations like "You couldn't get into Stanford!" "You're not welcome here, we hate you!" "Why do you hate black people?!" "Leave and never come back!" "We hate FedSoc students, f**k them, they don't belong here either!" and "We do not respect you and you have no right to speak here! This is our jurisdiction!"
It got worse.
Throughout this heckling, Associate Dean Steinbach and the University's student-relations representative—who were in attendance throughout the event, along with a few other administrators (five in total, per Ed Whelan)—did nothing.
But then Tirien Steinbach —the Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion — took the podium to join in the denunciation of the invited speaker.
As the free speech advocates at FIRE later wrote, Dean Steinbach removed Judge Duncan “from the podium against his wishes—to offer commentary appearing to promote censorship.”
Dean Steinbach pinballs between praising free speech, accusing Judge Duncan of “harm,” and asking him if what he has to say is important enough to justify upsetting students.”
She ultimately suggests Stanford may wish to consider abandoning its free expression commitments altogether to prevent the “harm” allegedly inherent in hearing views with which one may disagree in the future.
Steinbach read from prepared remarks, leading Judge Duncan to say, “This is a set-up.”
In her statement, Steinbach questioned the value of allowing free speech like the talk that Duncan was attempted to make, by asking, “Is the juice worth the squeeze.”
“What does that mean?” Duncan asked. “I don’t understand.”
When I say “Is the juice worth the squeeze?” that's what I'm asking. Is this worth it? And I hope so, and I'll stay for your remarks to see, because I do want to know your perspective. I am not, you know, in the business of wanting to either shut down speech, because I do know that if they come for this group today, they will come for the group that I am part of tomorrow. I do believe that.
And I understand why people feel like the harm is so great that we might need to reconsider those policies.
Were it to be given serious consideration, Dean Steinbach’s proposed reconsideration of this commitment would present a grave threat to Stanford’s future ability to provide students a world-class liberal arts education.
In their letter of apology the school’s president and law school dean also pushed back against Steinbach’s comments. In a clear and unambiguous reference to the DEI dean, they wrote that “staff members who should have enforced university policies failed to do so, and instead intervened in inappropriate ways that are not aligned with the university’s commitment to free speech.”
Judge Duncan also behaved badly. Lat quotes a source from the event:
[The judge] lost his cool almost immediately. He started heckling back and attacking student protestors…. Someone accused him of taking away voting rights from Black folks in a southern state. He asked the student to cite a case. While she was looking up the case, he berated her, “Cite a case. Cite a case. Cite a case. You can't even cite a case. You really expect this to work in court” [not exact quotes, but something along these lines]. When she eventually cited the one she was referring to, he said something along the lines of, “Was I even on that panel?” When she told him he was, he just moved right along with his tirade.
While some critics on the left have focused on Duncan’s petulance, that’s not really the key issue here, is it?
As is often the case, the after-the-fact defenses and rationalizations were also troubling. Once again, we learned that quite a few folks on the progressive left have no problem with suppressing or disrupting speech that they believe causes “harm.”
One common defense of the disruption was that the heckling was simply “free speech,” and so no harm, no foul.
As FIRE noted, however, this is a bogus argument.
When hecklers disrupt planned speeches on a university campus, they not only infringe a speaker’s right to deliver their message, but also the rights of anyone in the Stanford community who wishes to receive that message. As the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall famously wrote: “The freedom to speak and the freedom to hear are inseparable; they are two sides of the same coin.”
Give us a listen!
1. The Colorado GOP’s Slow-Rolling MAGA Suicide
Tim Miller, in today’s Bulwark:
This weekend, the Boot Barn Mafia got their first scalp, successfully replacing the old (Trump-friendly) leadership with a new chair so ensconced in the MAGA cult that he went to court to have “Let’s Go Brandon” formally added to his name.
State Rep. Dave “LGB” Williams won on the third ballot over a buffet of other election-denying freaks, most notably Tina Peters, whose collaboration with QAnon leaders to tamper with voting machines in order to “prove” the Democrats did the fraud (brilliant!) I reported on back in 2021.
Peters went on to a failed bid for the secretary of state nomination and ran her chair’s race while simultaneously being a defendant in an ongoing criminal trial. She was charged with six election-related felonies, and found guilty on the count of “obstruction of government operations.” She is set to be sentenced on April 10.
For a sense of who wields the power in the Colorado GOP, it was this felonious conspiracy theorist’s decision to buck party bylaws and give a pro-Williams endorsement speech between the second and third ballot that gave the new chair the votes he needed to win
2. Inside Ron DeSantis’s Politicized Removal of an Elected Prosecutor
As he travels the country promoting a new book and his expected presidential campaign, Mr. DeSantis repeatedly points to his ouster of Mr. Warren as an example of the muscular and decisive way he has transformed Florida — and could transform the nation. He casts Mr. Warren as a rogue ideologue whose refusal to enforce the law demanded action.
But a close examination of the episode, including interviews, emails, text messages and thousands of pages of government records, trial testimony, depositions and other court records, reveals a sharply different picture: a governor’s office that seemed driven by a preconceived political narrative, bent on a predetermined outcome, content with a flimsy investigation and focused on maximizing media attention for Mr. DeSantis.
3. Trump Is Losing His Grip on the Grassroots
Republican grassroots leaders are increasingly losing interest in former President Donald Trump — and eyeing Ron DeSantis for the 2024 presidential campaign.
That’s according to a new survey I conducted with GOP county chairs across the country….
He seems normal and not at all completely batshit crazy.
I'm going to pick apart a very narrow part of this Morning Shots because I think a lot of the right-wing
(and even FIRE) takes on the have been maybe lacking context or understanding of just what respect the 5th Circuit (which this Judge is a member of) has in the broader legal community? I'm also going to ignore the students' heckling as it's outside the specific points I'm getting at, though I do acknowledge it's an important aspect of the situation there in total.
For one, the 5th circuit has no respect amongst the broader legal community, outside of the few who take the position that one must respect all federal judges by virtue of their station as judges (a view I don't take, to be clear). It's a lawless circuit that regularly decides that it is unconstrained by Supreme Court precedent, whose judges on the bench often act more like Trump (and Republican) press spokespeople than actual impartial observers of the law. Would we expect people to treat Kash Patel with respect if a college invited him to talk just because he was the Principal Deputy of National Intelligence?
I'm being a bit hyperbolic with the last point, but context absolutely matters. MAGAing from the bench erodes credibility. Would I want law students to not shout him down/heckle him such that he can't speak or would I want the administration to interrupt him? No. But we're treating this judge as if he has inherent credibility when he's established, repeatedly, that he has none.
One more quick nitpick - "while some critics on the left have focused on Duncan's petulance, that's not really the key issue here, is it?" I think is completely wrong. First, if we're to afford him enhanced respect due to his station, we would expect him to act better than law students on campus, no? And wouldn't his failure to act better than the law students affect our relative weighing of his value as a speaker? And finally, this is a point I don't see brought up a ton, is the rest of the campus supposed to react politely and respectfully when the right-wing organizations on campus invite trolls to the podium who are just there to own the libs?
Like, you look at his responses to questions (valid questions about his prior rulings!) and he was clearly not there to discuss his legal jurisprudence with any sort of criticism. You might say, then, that he was mad that Stanford didn't afford him a safe space to air his views without pushback. Again, while I appreciate and hope students act more respectfully in general, Duncan was clearly there to own the libs - do the libs have a responsibility to just sit there and take it because it's the libs responsibility alone to be polite?
Tellingly, SVB went nearly eight months without a Chief Risk Officer. A good part of my career was spent at a bank that took risk seriously--risk management was an essential part of its culture. Plainly, that wasn’t the case at SVB. It’s an incredibly complicated endeavor that requires resources, stamina, and commitment from the Board on down.