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In this edition: The return of 2016 Twitter, the fizzle of 2022’s stop-the-steal movement, and how t͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌ 
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November 29, 2022


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David Weigel
David Weigel

In this edition: The return of 2016 Twitter, the fizzle of 2022’s stop-the-steal movement, and how the DNC and RNC are already prepping for 2024.

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David Weigel

The return of Twitter’s exiled extremists is a new headache for Republicans

An image of Elon Musk and the Twitter logo.
REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration


Jared Taylor would like to get back on Twitter. “I would be happy,” he told Semafor, “to get back the 40,000 followers I lost on December 18, 2017.”

On that day, Twitter announced new rules to “reduce hateful conflict and abusive behavior,” which meant a crackdown on people like Taylor. He’d founded the white nationalist magazine American Renaissance, called himself a “race realist,” and unsuccessfully sued Twitter on behalf of far-right figures removed after the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, where a Nazi sympathizer killed anti-racist protestor Heather Heyer.

Since then, Elon Musk has purchased Twitter, and endorsed an “amnesty” for banned accounts, “provided that they have not broken the law or engaged in egregious spam.” Activists, academics, and ex-Twitter employees fear a “hellmouth” opening up, re-platforming thousands of bigoted or conspiracy-minded accounts that nobody in mainstream politics wanted to deal with.


The age of de-platforming might be over, making way for Musk’s version of free speech. But it also comes at a moment when the Republican Party is more worried about the political consequences of its ties to extremism than almost any time since 2016. Donald Trump’s dinner with three men banned or suspended from Twitter under the old rules — rapper Ye, white supremacist podcaster Nick Fuentes, and Milo Yiannopoulos — reminds people of what Musk’s predecessors kept a lid on.

“It’s going to suck for Republicans,” said Melissa Ryan, a progressive strategist who tracks far-right activism and speech in her Ctrl+Alt Right+Delete newsletter. “Some of these guys are going to go hog wild as soon as they can.”

No conservative that Semafor talked to was opposed to Musk changing the old Twitter consensus. By the time Musk bought the company, the highest-profile suspensions opposed by the more mainstream right were for users who’d violated Twitter rules against “targeted misgendering or deadnaming of transgender individuals.”

This policy ensnared accounts like The Babylon Bee, an Onion-like conservative publication that named top Biden health official Rachel Levine, a transgender woman, “Man of the Year.” Those rules have been relaxed; the idea that Twitter will no longer enforce progressive or left-wing norms has thrilled critics who saw them as destructive.

“The threat of Twitter mobs ensured quick compliance from corporate executives, and other figures of power, lest the pitchforks be aimed at their necks,” Danish programmer David Heinemeier Hansson wrote last week. “But now Twitter is owned by Elon Musk.”

But Twitter also suspended “more than 70,000” accounts after the Jan. 6, 2021 riot at the Capitol, smothering discussion of QAnon conspiracy theories about cabals of blood-drinking pedophiles and removing Trump’s ability to use the platform. Some fled to conservative competitors, but there hasn’t been a social media site that could build a critical mass of users like Twitter, or survive pressure campaigns from groups that highlighted far-right activity taking place.

Crucially, the bans shrunk the boundaries of political speech on the social network that most reliably drives media coverage. De-platforming took far-right figures out of the place where news outlets were most likely to see them and where hostile interactions with reporters, celebrities, and politicians could generate headlines. It also meant conservatives had to respond to far fewer outrages over Trump, or other politicians, hobnobbing with extremists in public view.

The Republican response to the Nov. 8 elections, and to the Mar-a-Lago dinner, revealed new worries about what the prominence of far-right views mean for their party.

A wide array of Republicans, from former Vice President Mike Pence to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to some of Trump’s top Jewish supporters, made clear he crossed a line by legitimizing hateful extremists.

But that line may be harder to police with a potential flood of antisemites, white nationalists, and conspiracy mongers returning to Twitter to again bait Trump and other conservative politicians with flattery and claims of shared victimhood.

“We’re obviously looking at Elon Musk unleashing a whole new era on Twitter where far right extremists and white supremacists are empowered,” said Dan Schwerin, the co-founder of Evergreen Strategy Group.

In 2016, as Hillary Clinton’s director of speechwriting, Schwerin worked on an address about the far right, highlighting Trump’s retweets of antisemitic and white nationalist accounts — covered, at the time, like a strange distraction from Trump’s effective attacks on her campaign.

“There’s more awareness of what’s out there than there was when Hillary sounded the alarm in Reno,” he said. “But it’s not like things have gotten any better. The only bright spot really, is what we saw in the midterms — that crazy doesn’t necessarily sell with voters.”

After Clinton’s 2016 “alt right” speech drew attention to Taylor’s role in popularizing online hate, he went on a media tour, telling audiences that “the races are not equal and equivalent.” Asked this week what might have happened had Twitter not banned people like him, Taylor suggested that “race differences in average IQ and crime rates would be better understood and more sanely debated.”


Musk’s decision to grant the right’s wishes for laxer moderation might turn out to be a monkey’s paw for Republicans. But it’s possible the free speech principles at stake here are more important to the GOP than day-to-day politics. House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy and others have argued the White House has overstepped its First Amendment bounds by expressing concern over Twitter’s policies on hateful conduct, which they see as government intimidating a private actor over their decisions on speech. “That is offensive to me,” he said after a meeting with Biden on Tuesday. “Government is going to go after someone who wants to have free speech?”


  • Over at The Intercept, Robert Mackey and Micah Lee see Musk’s hand in a “purge of left-wing activists,” mostly because Musk’s actual hand keeps tweeting with right-wing accounts that want to purge left-wing activists and anarchists. Chad Loder, one of the banned, says that Twitter wasn’t a safe space for leftists, but a “frightening battleground where we managed barely to claw out an uneasy existence amidst the worst violent neo-Nazi extremists who constantly published our home addresses, threatened our kids’ lives, and sent hordes of racist trolls into our mentions.”
The Map

National: Katie Glueck polls Democrats on Biden 2024 after a “stronger-than-expected” election left them “more inclined for now to defer to him”… Morgan Chalfant reviews the first GOP attacks on special counsel Jack Smith… Adam Wren, Holly Otterbein, Natalie Allison, and Lisa Kashinsky talk to Republicans in the states who want to move past Trump… Roger Sollenberger tracks the money flowing into a nonprofit “laser-focused on so-called ‘election integrity’ projects.”

Alaska: Christina Cauterucci explains how ranked-choice voting changed the state’s politics: “The open primary takes power away from political parties.”

Arizona: Jen Fifield has the after-action report on GOP challenges to the midterm vote. “Just as in 2020, the supervisors did not acquiesce.”

California: Jonathan Martin spends the night with Gov. Gavin Newsom, who wants to campaign for Joe Biden: “Put me in, coach.”

Georgia: Tia Mitchell studies how Herschel Walker avoids commenting on issues before the Senate… Maya King probes the GOP and Democratic turnout operations for the runoff; refurbishing Gov. Brian Kemp’s GOTV machine and “fighting for more opportunities to vote.”

Nevada: Tabitha Mueller traces the next steps for a popular ballot measure: “Primary elections in the state would open up to all voters regardless of party registration starting in the 2026 election cycle.”

An ad for Raphael Warnock featuring a puppy.
YouTube/Warnock For Georgia

One week out, with early voting underway, money keeps flowing into Georgia’s U.S. Senate runoff, much of it funding negative ads. Sen. Raphael Warnock entered the early voting period with three times as much cash on hand as Republican Herschel Walker – $30 million to a bit less than $10 million. Walker’s depending on super PAC spending, and sharp character attacks, to pull him back into contention.

Team Herschel, “Character.” Since he started running for this seat three years ago, Warnock has faced nearly $150 million in negative ads, damaging stories about his divorce, and questions about his church evicting residents from low-income housing. Walker’s newest negative ad packs all of that into 30 seconds, trying to whittle away at the senator’s favorable rating.

Warnock for Georgia, “Still Walking.” Alvin the Beagle was the star of Warnock’s much-studied 2020 ad campaign – a furry friend, not actually owned by the Democrat, whose presence made the attacks against him look silly. He’s back for the runoffs carrying the same message.

Senate Leadership Fund, “Change Washington.” Walker’s pre-Thanksgiving rally with Gov. Brian Kemp features in two new positive GOP spots – one from Walker himself, and one from the Senate GOP’s super PAC. Both associate Walker with Kemp and Georgia’s differences with the Biden agenda, without getting specific. Walker, Kemp promises here, would “vote for Georgia.”

The Lincoln Project, “Two Men.” The most in/famous of the Never Trump groups is a minor player in the runoff, adding one more voice that’ll praise Warnock’s character and warn that Walker is “troubled” and unstable. “Walker isn’t honest with his own family, or with us,” a narrator says, over a video of Walker’s social media influencer son Christian denouncing the candidate.

SDP PAC, “Disqualifying.” Save Democracy PAC has been opaque about its funding, but it’s spent to beat Republicans in a number of Senate races, and its closing Georgia message amplifies what Democrats have been saying all cycle. The focus here is on Walker waving an honorary law enforcement badge at his only debate with Warnock: “Every time Walker repeats these lies,” says one deputy sheriff, “it dishonors the men and women who put their lives on the line.”

 Supporters of Republican candidate for Arizona Governor Kari Lake and Republican U.S. Senate candidate Blake Masters protest outside the Maricopa County Tabulation and Election Center. November 28, 2022.
REUTERS/Jim Urquhart

“This is a war between good and evil,” Chris Hamlet told the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors on Monday. “You all are on the side of evil.”

Another frustrated voter, Lydia Avril, splayed out a Bible and read Psalm 58’s condemnation of wicked politicians. “Break their fangs!” she said. “Tear out the teeth of these young lions, Lord! Let them disappear like water into thirsty ground!”

The supervisors were not convinced. After two hours of public comment, they voted to certify the Nov. 8 election in Arizona’s largest county, defending the long ballot count and explaining how they handled Election Day issues that briefly affected nearly half of their ballot tabulators. By the end of Monday, all but one county — Cochise, which Republican gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake won by 18 points — had certified its 2022 vote count.

Attempts to halt vote counts that went against Republicans didn’t reach the heights of two years ago, when a defeated Donald Trump supported efforts to toss out ballots, block election certifications, and give him victories in states he lost. This year’s margins in swing states were larger, and the protests were more scattered.

In Pennsylvania’s Luzerne County, which votes more Republican than the rest of the state, the election board deadlocked after complaints about a ballot shortage on election day; a board member who abstained from the vote said he’d now vote to affirm it, ending the standoff.

In Michigan, the job of protesting a Democratic election win went to Kristina Karamo, the unsuccessful GOP nominee for secretary of state, who had refused to concede her 14-point defeat to incumbent Joceyln Benson.

“Our freedom is hanging in the balance here,” Karamo told a bipartisan board that voted unanimously to certify the election. Michigan voters passed a package of election reforms this month that would prevent the board from rejecting results certified by local officials, making a future campaign to block certification impossible.

Blocking the certification in Arizona isn’t possible, either. Supervisors in three other Lake-won counties had delayed their own certifications until Maricopa acted. In two of them, Mojave and Yavapai, the holdout supervisors reluctantly acted, explaining to conservatives they’d be charged with felonies if they didn’t sign off on the vote. Two GOP supervisors in Cochise County refused, prompting a lawsuit from Hobbs.

If the state’s election was certified without Cochise County, Republicans would lose thousands of votes — enough, on paper, to reverse the GOP’s state superintendent of education victory and its win in the 6th Congressional District. Democrats are trying to prevent that, while the “stop the steal” campaign is willing to risk it.


Pollsters continue to find support for Donald Trump at a low ebb since the midterm elections, particularly in states where Republicans did poorly. Communications Concepts, which conducted interviews for one of Pennsylvania’s benchmark pollsters this year, finds a lot of interest in a Trump alternative. Only DeSantis is named, but Trump won the 2016 Pennsylvania primary by a landslide, and had the clout to anoint both of the party’s 2022 statewide nominees. When they lost, some of that clout went with them.

Party Crash

The Democrats’ years-long debate over their presidential primary calendar will start to wrap up on Thursday, when the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws committee meets to discuss which four states should vote first.

Since 2008, the primaries have started with a race across Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina, in that order. Those four, and thirteen others, applied for an early spot in the 2024 primary, with Nevada arguing that it should vote first, dislodging Iowa and New Hampshire.

“If we disproportionately focus on a state with more highly educated, more affluent, and less representative voters,” Nevada Democratic strategist Rebecca Lambe wrote in a Nov. 15 memo, “then we are setting our party up for long-term failure.” The close and indecisive 2016/20 Iowa caucuses badly damaged that state’s chances of going first; Michigan and Minnesota are being most seriously considered as Midwest alternatives.

The RNC is committed to the current calendar, and preparing for 2024 in two other ways: A midterm autopsy and a race for party chair. As first reported by Polico’s Alex Isenstadt, RNC chair Ronna McDaniel created a new “advisory council” to study the midterms, finding out “where the party excelled and where we need to improve,” roping in former Trump advisors (Kellyanne Conway), successful 2022 candidates (Alabama Sen.-elect Katie Britt), and one 2022 candidate who didn’t make it (Arizona’s Blake Masters).

McDaniel, who’s led the RNC since 2017, got a challenger on Tuesday: MyPillow founder Mike Lindell, who announced his candidacy on Steve Bannon’s “War Room” podcast. “The RNC collects money and then they don’t do anything with election crime,” he explained. New York Rep. Lee Zeldin is still considering a run, after telling RNC members in a letter that the party needed to “retool, transform, [and] win back the Presidency in 2024.” McDaniel has been circulating a letter of support from most of the RNC’s 168 members.

  • 7 days until Georgia’s runoffs
  • 42 days until a swing-seat special senate election in Virginia
  • 87 days until Chicago’s mayoral election
  • 125 days until Wisconsin’s state Supreme Court election
  • 706 days until the 2024 presidential election
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