The Back Booth will be hosting a weekend edition, The D.C. Brief. Here each Saturday, TIME’s politics newsletter will host a conversation between political professionals on the right and the left, pulling back the curtain on the conversations taking place in Washington when the tape stops rolling. Get The D.C. Brief Here.
It’s a rare day in Washington when one’s colleagues send a subpoena to a boss asking them to come testify about what exactly they did amid an effort to overturn an election, subvert democracy, and retain an incumbent President who insists against all facts that he won the vote.
This week, The D.C. Brief chatted with two pros in the political trenches about the stunning invitation—without a Please enter no box—for House minority leader Kevin McCarthy and four other Republicans to testify before the committee probing the failed Jan. 6 insurrection, as well as the drama unfurling in Pennsylvania’s Senate race and the continuing war in Ukraine.
You can find the link to the right Ethan Eilon is one of the Republican Party’s best under-the-radar tech leaders. His work includes the political arm, the congressional races and the White House bids. He tinkered with the Republican National Committee’s delegate rules and helped the party weaponize its digital fundraising.
To the left: Jesse FergusonHe has always been one of those quiet people in the rooms that have witnessed power being negotiated, gained, ceded or won over the past two decades. He had a hand in running House Democrats’ campaign advertising efforts, worked as their political spokesman, and was one of Hillary Clinton’s most effective attack dogs as she chased a return to the White House.
Both of them are consultants. This conversation is now edited.
Elliott: Welcome to this week’s Back Booth. Dr. Biden is RetourUkraine appears to be Holding. If you’re running in a swing district or competitive statewide, how are you positioning the seemingly endless stream of cash going into that country? It almost seems that the existing aid package has nearly been canceled. Please enter no debate or questions asked.
Ferguson: The overwhelming majority of Americans support Ukraine’s defense against Putin. While some see it is the most compassionate way to act, others believe it’s the only way to preserve freedom and democracy. It’s a faction of GOP politicians and GOP voters who would rather let Putin get away with this and aren’t worried about defending democracy any more.
Eilon – The Biden government has failed as a leader. They stood on the sidelines, watching as war broke out. According to recent polling, the overwhelming majority of Americans feel that Biden is not being tough enough with Ukraine. That failure is going to be top of mind, and consistent with voters’ views of the disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan.
The aid is important, that’s why it passed as quickly as it did, but it doesn’t make up for the failure of leadership that we’ve seen to date. Americans already have to deal with rising inflation and skyrocketing gas prices. The situation in Ukraine only makes matters worse. That is something I am not sure voters will forget.
Elliott: I’m curious what you make of the state GOP’s open AntagonismMadison Cawthron before the North Carolina primary. It looks pretty epic, even by today’s standards.
Eilon: Given the recent press, it shouldn’t surprise anyone. Ultimately, if you’re talking about scandals, that means you’re not talking about what the voters or the state needs, and I think you’re seeing frustration about that popping from the seams.
Ferguson: Yeah. It’s like an orgy of oppo that they’re dropping on him and I have no idea if he’ll get over the hump. I’m far from an expert on GOP primaries; they never invite me to the cloak room. It is an example of how dangerous it can be to have people like him in Congress.
Elliott: Sometimes, the District gets the Candidate it Deserves. Both sides experience it. Many Democratic Representatives are legendary. BadRefer to constituent ServicesPersonal The treatmentBut, we keep coming back.
Ferguson: Over the course of history, it is certain that there have been some Dem electeds who were not qualified for those positions. But, in recent years—from the days of Scott DesJarlais to the days of Madison Cawthorn—the number of members of Congress who shouldn’t be members of Congress has tipped to one side.
Elliott: Although Elliott is swaying slightly, however, it appears that they have always had enough money. Ethan, you’ve been Thinking a lot lately about crypto’s place in the campaign ecosystem. I’m curious what you’re seeing at the 30,000-foot level on that source of political money. (I admit: I don’t really understand how cryptoReal.
Eilon – Actual cryptocurrency giving is still very much in the early stages. This means that you can donate Bitcoin or any other crypto currency directly to a campaign. Only a handful of committees are accepting it, and there isn’t mass adoption from the political donor base on either side of the aisle at this point. It feels a bit like credit cards in politics in the mid/late ‘90s. As tech adoption grows, so will the adoption rate. To me, that’s a WhereNot an If.
In the meantime, there has been a significant uptick in the political giving coming out of the crypto industry as a whole, as players in that space try to bolster the folks who’ve been champions on the issue. That, and the fervor of its user base, will likely kick off a race—especially in the next presidential nominating contests—for which candidates are the most pro-crypto.
Elliott: So, a SubpoenaFor the Potenzial future Speaker isn’t something you see every day. You don’t know what the next step will be.
Ferguson: A live look at the Minority Leader’s reaction.
Eilon: I’m pretty sure what happens next is Democrats lose the House.
Ferguson: Maybe. Kevin McCarthy testifying under oath isn’t going to increase—or decrease—the likelihood that Democrats control the House next year. But he’s spent more than a year trying to avoid this moment which leads to a reasonable question of what he’s trying to hide. He may also have revealed some secrets in the Jan. 6 tapes before he is required to testify.
Eilon: I have a high confidence prediction. After McCarthy’s speech, Dem operatives were on TV claiming that McCarthy was wrong. GOP operatives however are saying that McCarthy was great and right. Americans at home muffle the volume, and then wonder how Joe Biden managed to reduce the cost of food and fuel at an unprecedented rate in over 40 years.
Ferguson: There’s a growing group of voters who are worried about the criminality in this conspiracy and about the long term plot to overturn elections. The whole pattern is about how the GOP has evolved. It’s no longer about a City on a Hill, it’s about a mob of militants. There’s a reason the GOP didn’t want this investigation and have been consistently trying to obstruct it—because they’re scared about what it reveals.
Elliott: This has been a lot of fun for the men. Elliott: Gentlemen, this has been some amusing exchanges. One final question. How is Pennsylvania actually doing? I just watched Hannity all but beg his viewers in Pennsylvania to consider general election electability—during an interview with contenders polling markedly in the second tier. Are Keystone State voters really headed toward nominating someone with a record of, let’s say, divisive rhetoric? Senator McConnell is already a Herschel Walker ProblemGeorgia. He could also be a Kathy Barnette Problem in Pennsylvania?
Eilon: The establishment media are always quick to decry outsiders who don’t fit the preconception of what a candidate from one party or the other is supposed to be. Sometimes they’re right, sometimes they’re wrong, but it seems as though voters are more open to people who don’t conform to what they’ve been told to expect than they have been in the past. The midterms, in any case, are as important as ever for the future direction of this country. With how things look right now I wouldn’t describe McConnell as the one with the problem.
Ferguson: Ethan’s right on this one. Many times, candidates are seen as un-electable in the Beltway and end up winning elections. I’ll remind you about Donald Trump. It does seem like the GOP is freaking out about Barnette at this point, but I’m not sure she’s more of a problem than Oz and others. Many of the GOP’s candidates in Pennsylvania, particularly in the most vote-rich areas, are outside the mainstream. Their biggest obstacle to winning the Senate race is their inability to flip the Pennsylvania Senate seat.
Elliott: Many thanks for the effort.
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