Is Anybody Paying Attention?

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S1: The following program may contain explicit language and.

S2: It’s Tuesday, September 1st, 20-20 from Slate, it’s the gist. I’m Mike Pesca. President Trump visited Kenosha, Wisconsin, today to claim that he and America was under attack. Well, let’s review the casualty count at this point. In Kenosha, two people have been shot to death by a Trump supporter.

S1: Another person was shot in the arm by that supporter and a black man was paralyzed after being shot by the police who Trump was in Kenosha to vocally support. So that to Trump looking at that, Trump says, yes, there is an attack and I’m the one under attack where the one under siege. Hmm.

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S3: And I won’t deny I won’t minimize the fact that there’s property damage and lawlessness and looting that is a societal ill. But who is taking the bullets and who is firing them? That is asymmetric. So last night, Trump was interviewed by Laura Ingraham on guess which network it was FOX and he trafficked in foreboding implications that appeared very much untethered to actual events. People that you’ve never heard of, people that are in the dark shadows. As Trump himself boarded the plane to Wisconsin today, he was asked to clarify his remarks.

S4: Instead, he obscured a person who was on a plane. Said that there were about six people like that person, more or less, and what happened is the entire plane filled up with the looters, the anarchists, the rioters, people that obviously were looking for trouble and the person felt very uncomfortable in the plane. This would be a person, you know, so I will see whether or not I can get that person. I’ll let them know and I’ll see whether or not I can get that person to speak to you.

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S1: But personally, sounds really quite hazy. Upon landing, Trump engaged in an event with him and local officials, though only the local officials who support him. There were some national ones there. And there was Attorney General William Barr who admitted that the federal government had warnings of imminent unrest. I don’t know if the warnings were about people who are the shadowy people on the plane. I don’t know if Bill Barr was the person that Trump was talking about or if the person also was the person who warned Barr. Was it maybe not just a person, but a man, woman, person, camera, TV also unclear.

S5: But here is what Barr said when the shooting occurred here in Kenosha, under the direction of the president, we told the DOJ, the Defense Department, to get ready some National Guard units in case they were needed to help here and from several states, volunteered to supply National Guard if they were needed. And the president directed me to assemble a group of federal law enforcement that could be dispatched here, which we did, and stage them in Chicago. And we were picking up information that that these violent instigators were coming to Kenosha. They were coming from California, Washington state, a lot from Chicago, and they were coming up to Kenosha. So we expected matters to get worse.

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S3: So this is a show of strength and resolve. The attorney general is there to inform America that he’s on top of it. But what he is saying is that he knew that violent unrest was about to occur. And guess what? The violent unrest did occur and nothing was done. He also knew that the violence, the violence that he’s so very concerned about is rubble inducing as opposed to the other violence that he didn’t really talk about, which actually results in body bags. Did Attorney General Barr know about the militia who was intervening? Could have they posted online, didn’t divulge or discuss if his intelligence, shadowy or otherwise, knew about them, even if you believe. Now, here’s what I’m doing. I’m trying to analyze what Trump was attempting to do, who he was attempting to talk to. And I understand on some level, there are many Americans who do not like this looting, who do not like disorder. They like order over disorder. I like order over disorder and are made uncomfortable when protests or jeering or throwing objects at cops goes too far. So that’s a real concern for them. But if you stopped, if you were one of those people and you stopped and thought it through, you would have to find a great deal of problem with the fact that American officials stood by idle while it happened. And you’d have to realize that bar in his admission and Trump in the shadowy talk. He’s not promising and heroic interjection. He’s saying, if elected, I will intervene to stop this, but why not do it now? You were elected once. If you can stop it, why not stop it? And then Trump, who has spoken somewhat approvingly of this stupid 17 year old who brought his gun to Kenosha and killed people. And if you were this person who was open to hearing a message of disorder and being worried by it and maybe voting for Trump, how do you think about that 17 year old? Do you think of him as a force for order or disorder? Because I think there are a lot of crazy Trump supporters, the kid among them, who thinks of him as a hero. And I think Trump is surrounded by such people and Trump is trying to guess at who his persuadable voter is. But he’s guessing wrong because in championing this guy, it doesn’t do much to assuage the nervous person who doesn’t like society falling apart around them. The dumb ass 17 year old who fell on his ass and killed people isn’t a force for order, isn’t reassuring. He’s another example of entropy and disorder. I get that Trump is making this argument and weaving this picture. But this argument, remember, is meant to appeal to a potential voter of a potential predilection. What it is doing is appealing to a voter who has already adopted a firm conviction. I simply I simply think the argument falls short. I think it falls short. If you want to define disorder as an TIFA, some people will be open to that. But I think those very same people who aren’t already on board who says, yeah, antifa is a problem and so is covid, maybe I should. Vote for Trump, because Antifa really worries me. They’re also really worried or should be or will be by a 17 year old dumb ass with an AR 15. And when you champion that guy, you’re only speaking to those who are previously deluded, not currently persuadable.

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S1: On the show today, I’m beginning not to like politics might not seem so, I did just engage in some political talk. And so I shall in this next segment, wherein I am joined by Gerald Cyb. Cyb is the Washington bureau chief of the Wall Street Journal, and his new book is called We Should Have Seen It Coming.

S2: The official subtitle is From Reagan to Trump A Front Row Seat to a Political Revolution. Gerald Seib sidles up, shares his seat with me up next.

S6: Gerald Seib is the executive Washington editor of The Wall Street Journal, I read him all the time. I love his tone and insight. He is out with a new book called We Should Have Seen It Coming from Reagan to Trump a front row seat to a political revolution. Thanks for joining me. Very happy to be with you. So I understand seeing Trump is part of the continuum. I mean, he is the Republican nominee. But couldn’t you also make a case, a pretty good case that he is? Well, he could be a few things, one of them being sort of a vampire or parasite that leached upon whatever it was that Reagan built. Or another way of looking at it is it’s not a revolution. It’s a quick, chaotic and abrupt break from the tradition that Reagan represented.

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S7: Well, you could argue that it looks like at the point of the book is that it is not that quick break that it actually was building for years and years and years, and that in many ways, Donald Trump walked through a door that was opened already by him and and for him by some previous people, you know, Pat Buchanan and Ross Perot and Sarah Palin and the Tea Party movement, they were all in their own ways, precursors of Donald Trump and this populist nationalist movement within the Republican Party was building over time. And there were years of signs that the conservative movement and the broader Republican Party were, in fact, moving in that direction. And this is a movement that I think started with some significant demographic change in the Republican Party as working class voters, traditional Democrats in many ways drifted into the party for cultural reasons. They didn’t like gay marriage. They didn’t like transgender rights. They were opposed to abortion. They didn’t like the way Democrats talked about and treated religious groups. And then you had a Tea Party revolt, which was kind of a middle class revolt against entrenched financial interests. You had the end of the Cold War, which removed a lot of the glue that held conservatives together. And then I think, above all, you had a debate over immigration within the Republican Party. You had George W. Bush, who had the kind of the traditional immigration is good for us. You John McCain held that Mitt Romney tried to move away from that and couldn’t figure out how to find the formula for doing immigration reform. And all those things built up, a kind of a populist nationalist anger in the Republican Party. And in many ways, as I said, Donald Trump just charged through an open door. So I think a lot of us and I include myself in this category overlooked those things or rationalize them away or saw them as something different in the rearview mirror. I came to see all those things as the forces that led to Donald Trump.

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S6: Like you mentioned, all of those presidents or presidential candidates on an issue like immigration were pro immigration. We’re certainly somewhat sensitive to what degree or another to the plight of the immigrants. But I guess my question is, what is the historical case or what is the suggestion for what a party is supposed to do when that sentiment is out there? I don’t perceive the party as giving oxygen, giving much oxygen to it, but there were always people who came along, you know, Buchanan, he came in second in a couple of primaries, but essentially fringe figures and they could always get a rise over the fact that the sentiment is there. And when the sentiment is always there, it just seems very hard for a political party. Who knows that they that these are essentially their voters who they could tap into to do anything about it. And I don’t fault John McCain for his stances on immigration. I don’t fault George W. Bush for their stances on immigration. I don’t know that I fault the Republican National Party. What are they supposed to do in a democracy when you have so many voters who just want to be nativist?

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S7: Well, you know, if this were a parliamentary system we lived in in the United States, there would be a different answer to that question. Well, you go out your garage and. That’s right. Yeah. You go form a new party, right? Well, we don’t have a system that allows that we have a two party system. And having covered over the years, many attempts to break out of that two party system. And Ross Perot was just the most prominent one I covered, believe it or not, I actually covered the John Anderson third party campaign in 1980. So this movie always has the same end. You can’t do it. Our system is built right now for two parties and you can’t break away from them and hope to succeed. So what happens in our system? In our system, the parties evolve. And so that’s what’s happening with the Republican Party. It doesn’t happen overnight. But when a critical mass of people who are within the Republican Party decide they want to go in a different direction, the people who lead the party either shift and move in that direction or and ask you name the number of people, Jeb Bush, for example, if you don’t do that, you’ll get run over by your party. And that’s what we’re seeing here. So, you know, in a way, the Republican Party is where it is on trade and immigration now, because that’s where the people who now make up the foot soldiers of the Republican Party want it to be. And I go back to. What I said at the outset, that this is the result of significant socioeconomic and demographic change within the Republican Party, it is not the same party that it was when Ronald Reagan arrived on the scene. And so therefore, it doesn’t produce the same outcomes. And that’s not surprising if you think of it that way.

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S6: So there’s a significant there’s a significant aspect to the rise of Trump and in fact, the last few Republican presidents in that there are they’re only achieving a minority of the support of the people, but they’re gaining power. And when you go back to Ronald Reagan and even including George Bush against Kerry and Reagan’s second term and George H.W. Bush, they were popular majority parties. There was no relying on the quirks of the Electoral College for Ronald Reagan to roll up his landslide victories. How significant is that that Trump ism necessarily relies on the fact that he’s not going to be popular among most people, but he’ll still have power?

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S7: Well, I think this is a very big deal, not for the Republican Party, but for the country. I mean, and it’s going to be discussed now in a in a very angry way, which I think is unfortunate. But if you think about the situation we’re in now, you have had two presidents since the dawn of the new millennium who were elected with while losing the popular vote, George W. Bush and Donald Trump. And we could have a third one this time around, which is to say Donald Trump could lose the popular vote by three or four or even five million votes and still win the Electoral College this year. Now, whatever you think of Democrat versus Republican, Trump versus Biden, that is, I think, not necessarily a very healthy situation for the country. I mean, it will produce real, genuine anger, much as there will be genuine anger on the Trump side if he loses and he says the election was rigged. I worry about this just as a citizen because I think we’re now in a place where legitimacy of presidential elections are being questioned. And that’s going to may be true. I hope it’s not. It could be true on steroids after twenty twenty. That’s not a partisan issue. I think that’s an American democracy health thereof issue. And I think it’s worth worrying about and thinking about whether there is the possibility of having a healthy conversation, a debate about the question of where do we go in the twenty first century with the choice of presidents in this country? I just don’t know that that healthy, rational, sane conversation is possible right now.

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S6: Do you think this iteration of the Republican Party represents a greater or smaller percent of the American people than the Republican Party has since you’ve been covering politics?

S7: I think it is fairly constant, but I think what has happened is that the constituency within that fairly constant level of Republican Party support has changed significantly. And the same is true, by the way, on the on the Democratic side, the constituency groups within the Democratic Party are vastly different than they were 50 years ago. You have fewer white collar working class whites. You have many more coastal elites. You have a much higher percentage of college and post college graduates in the Democratic Party than back when it was kind of the union led working class party. And the reverse is true. The inverse is true for the Republican Party. But it’s interesting if you look at our poll, our Wall Street Journal NBC News poll over time, and I’m talking about over decades, the share of the country that pledges allegiance, if you will, to one party or the other or that is independent and in the middle stays amazingly constant. It varies a little, but not a lot. And I think that’s the that’s the nature and in many ways the beauty of the American system. It allows people to move around within the system and compels the parties to change face and to change ideas without doing what Charlie Sykes is talking about, which is completely blown up the place.

S6: Do you think the Republican Party of today has less interest in governing than its iterations in the past have had?

S7: Yeah, that’s I think it might be true. I don’t think that Donald Trump thinks a lot about the process of governing. I think he’s an instinctive political figure who reacts as as much as anything. He is you know, he always calls himself a counterpuncher. He’s more reactive than proactive in a lot of ways. And he has in Congress a Republican caucus that doesn’t have the power to overwhelm either the president or the Democrats. That is also reactive. And so what you have is a lack of a clear defining agenda that somebody can actually get enacted. And this may be true if the Democrats were in power, too. That’s just the way the system is right now. So in that environment, a lot of the political debate that happens in Washington where I live. Is about scoring points, not about moving the ball down the field, and I think that’s unfortunate and I don’t think it’s necessarily anybody’s fault. I think it’s the way the system is right now. And until somebody figures out how to break out in a clean way, one direction or the other, that’s sort of what we’re stuck with.

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S6: So I think there’s a lot of evidence that Mitch McConnell is a great obstructionist. Even Barack Obama gives him credit, if you want to call it that, for being that. I don’t know if there’s a lot of evidence that he has a positive agenda. So I was listening to a podcast, The Weeds and Ezra Klein and Matt Iglesias were both agreeing with each other. They can’t figure out what the Republicans game is with us denying American stimulus funding. So that’s great to generally left people agreeing with each other that they don’t get the Republicans. But you’ve been covering both parties for a long time. Do you understand do you understand what the on this particular issue and maybe you want to take it out into broader issues, but what is the actual Republican game plan? What is their theory of the case?

S7: Well, I, I think I have a couple of theories, but their only theories about that first theory is a very short term tactical one, which is that I think Mitch McConnell saw a way to make Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats appear to be the obstructionists on this front. And so, therefore, the person who is standing in the way of a reasonable compromise on stimulus isn’t Mitch McConnell or Donald Trump. It’s Nancy Pelosi. And I think he’s had some success in doing that. I mean, she wants three trillion. I want one trillion. Why can’t we compromise in the middle? That’s not a wildly provocative message for a lot of Americans. And I think that’s the calculation Mitch McConnell is making right now. More broadly, I find I do find a little harder to puzzle out the long term Republican game here, which is to say that the nominal reason to worry about this now is that we’re falling deeper and deeper into debt. Well, this is a party that was in control of Congress and the White House when the debt started moving, the deficit started moving to a trillion dollars a year annually and nobody was concerned then. And so I don’t know how you can now shift course and become the party of fiscal rectitude and use that as your long term argument for reasons you’re taking in the short term. So I see some tactical reasons for the way he’s handled it. I think long term, the Republican Party better figure out whether it’s about fiscal responsibility and fiscal rectitude or not, because right now it’s it’s it’s nowhere clear which it is or if it’s either of those things.

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S6: So now let me just ask you a couple of questions about how you view your job and how you do your job. So one of the things I’ve always admired about your writing and reporting is that you tend not to catastrophe’s things even when things seem tumultuous in the moment. You put them in context and interview a lot of people. And it doesn’t seem as much as with other writers that the that the sky is falling is the point you want to emphasize. But my question is, what about when it is a catastrophe or when the sky might be falling? How do you decide when to strike those tones?

S7: You know, it’s hard because there are two issues here. One is remaining objective while still being analytical. And that’s a hard thing to do. But that’s kind of my job and that’s what I try to do. And my favorite emails are from people. And I get these occasionally and I always want to laminate them or frame them. When people say, gee, I’ve been reading it for years and I don’t know what your ideology is or which party you’re from. And that’s the goal in a lot of ways because I write an analytical column for the news pages of The Wall Street Journal and there’s a lot of balancing involved in doing that. In terms of the tone. Look, I think about this a lot in the last and have in the last couple of years in particular, because there’s no shortage of people who think the apocalypse is upon us and who want to talk and write in those ways. I guess I have always thought, or at least I’ve thought in the last 10 years or so, after watching this passing scene for four decades, that somehow, weirdly, things always work out in the American system, that things balance out and that the ship keeps moving forward, even if it’s through choppy seas. Maybe that’s not true now, but I still believe it’s true. And I think in the end, the wisdom of the founding fathers and the beauty of the system they put in place is that there are genuinely multiple checks and balances and centers of power within the American system, political and governmental. And the institutions have to hold. And this is the question a lot of people discussed during the Trump era. Will the institutions hold? And we’re I think we’re seeing a test of that right now. But I think so far the institutions have held and that’s why I think basically people who think the sky is falling maybe sometimes need to take a deep breath and think about the historical significance of American institutions and how they’ve held this all together for so long.

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S6: Gerald Cyb, author of We Should have seen it coming from Reagan to Trump a front row seat to a political revolution.

S1: Thanks for sharing your view with me.

S7: Happy to do it. Thank you.

S1: And now the spiel. I think I’m beginning to not like politics seems logical, you might say politics has delivered unto us. Trump gridlock on DACA and the Recovery Act say nothing of the current composition of the Supreme Court. And also without politics, there’d be no place for Devin Nunes to achieve stature. So you might want to blame politics for that, too. But of course, that’s true and long been true. But I still always have like politics. I’m going to guess you might like politics, too, if you listen to the just interest in politics, I should note, is different from liking the outcome of politics. I have certain opinions. I think you might know what they are on, what the outcome of upcoming elections should be. But if those aren’t the outcomes, I might get upset. I might get distraught. I might wonder about the wisdom of my fellow citizens or the system itself doesn’t necessarily mean I will stop liking politics, thinking them unworthy of my time or uninteresting. I mean, if you’re interested in politics, you hear Lyndon Baines Johnson say after he passes the civil rights bill that he fears the Democrats have just lost the South for a generation. And then when you find out that he was wrong and it’s going on three generations, you find it fascinating. So that quote contains a lot of things, a thing you want historically, the civil rights bill, a thing that you cheer. So liking politics could mean liking, liking the passage of the civil rights bill. Liking politics can also mean understanding the choice that LBJ understood. Liking politics could mean you’re fascinated by the outcome and the consequences of that act. Right. It’s a fascination of the implications in the context and the outcome and yeah, the politics of it all. Well, politics and liking and an interest in politics is I majored in political science and I was interested in this aspect of living history as an area of study because it incorporated psychology and economics strategy, civics rhetoric, and I was compelled by it. It’s not because it always incorporated the best psychology and the best angels of our nature and the best understanding of economics. But it incorporated people’s understanding of all those realms. You can even be repelled by politics and like it. A lot of people are repelled by serial killers, but also compelled by them.

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S8: That is often how I think about politics or thought about politics. But in the past few weeks, I’ve been finding politics really pointless, not heartbreaking, not maddening, not frustrating. Those emotions actually applied to politics for many years. For us, for many of us, politics are always those things to some extent, and that’s part actually of the interest in them. Politics have conflict and tension and rules and also breaking the rules. But in the last couple of weeks, there is so much fine grained analysis and poring over polling data and breaking down the implication of the president’s words or tweets and the Democrats answers or rebuttals and watching conventions and figuring out messaging and figuring out imagery. And yet we find and this is true and this is dispiriting, that it all comes down to the idea that none of that probably matters because who is to decide the election are basically people who aren’t paying attention.

S1: The best analysis of both conventions after talk of, oh, that was a finally turn phrase or that was a possibly damaging misstep. The best experts I heard made a really compelling case that none of that will matter. The undecided voters are going to decide the election as they always do, but the undecided voters are overwhelmingly the uninterested voters. Oh, yes, yes, yes. Now is the point where you have to stick up for the great uninterested voter. They’re busy. They’re busy with their lives. There may be working two jobs or if we’re just inventing excuses, they’re working twelve. Yeah, they’re all working twelve jobs. And in commuting between them, none of them have NPR. It’s totally understandable. None of them have formed any opinion on Donald Trump and his stewardship of the country. Totally. Let us not blame the uninterested, but what it does is it makes me less interested in the subject that is to be determined by this uninterested, unplugged in just kind of random group. I mean, for a subject to be interesting, it needs to be dynamic at least a little bit dynamic. And Trump’s range of support in the polls is the tightest for any president they’ve ever pulled. The support of politics is sport or politics as spectacle or politics as a thing of interest.

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S8: It makes sense because sports are interesting and people like them. And spectacle by definition draws one’s attention. But at this point, politics, if it’s a sport, is the kind of sport where the participants don’t even know they’re playing. It’s like being this huge devotee of the sport of elementary school. Recess, kickball, where at any moment a third of the kids might drift off and play hopscotch, and this, of course, we’ve heard both sides saying is they always do, but this time they really meant it.

S1: This is the most important election of our lifetimes. OK, it’s overblown, but it really is important. I think it’s quite important, is more important than usual. And it will be decided. This important election, perhaps just very, very important. It will be decided mostly by people not paying attention. In fact, those people might not even vote. In fact, that is how it might be decided by who just decides not to vote for days of RNC, four days of DNC, every day of ridiculous presidential statement. And here’s the guy who will decide it for you. He’s joining me now. He does tech support for a company in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Yeah, I’m just not paying that much attention. I don’t like politics that much.

S3: No, not really. Firm opinion. Well, but he say something about Michigan Wolverines. What was that? They just played it. And this is how it’s going to play out. I mean, how do you get that guy? How do you get that woman who’s not paying attention to pay attention? The answer is you advertise. And if you’re in a small state like Maine where ads are cheap and the money is pouring in, you advertise, advertise, advertise. There is seemingly no limit to the ads that you can buy.

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S1: And I say this because every single ad break had an ad against Susan Collins. I’m coming back from Maine. That’s all I saw. I don’t watch that much TV right now. I watch all the conventions and so many ads for Sarah get in the Democratic challenger against Republican incumbent Susan Collins. They don’t have to be good ads. And I have to be true ads. They just have to be repetitive ads in case we get 30 seconds with that guy who’s not into politics and he’s not really paying attention. We can inundate him with the same message over and over and over. Does it work? It does. And I can prove it. You know, it’s not really paying attention to a Maine Senate race, an 11 year old who’s visiting from New York. And yet that kid, my kid from memory, told me what he heard for two weeks during every commercial break. This was almost 48 hours upon our return, still seared in the memory of my 11 year old Emmett.

S9: Maine can’t afford to have the Postal Service fail, but Susan Collins led passage of a bill that weakened the Postal Service. Susan Collins, how could you let this happen?

S1: Is he right? Well, he does rightly have almost perfect recall of that script.

S10: Maine can’t afford to have the Postal Service fail, but Susan Collins led the passage of a bill that weakened the post office. Susan Collins, how could you let this happen?

S1: Are the charges in the ad right? Not really. There’s a big ad against Susan Collins and her stance on drugs. It’s taken out by the Senate Majority PAC, which is affiliated with Chuck Schumer. Guess what? Chuck Schumer was the co-sponsor of the bill that his PAC is slamming Susan Collins for. But why does it matter if it’s right or wrong or if the argument is even good? The person who’s not following along closely and didn’t even want to see this ad still imbibes it, can’t avoid it. It becomes just one factoid lodged in their brains. It’s not like music with a jingle that becomes an earworm. It’s just like bludgeoning with an anvil. A huge percentage of energy put forth by politicians is for fundraising, for chasing money, and a huge percentage of that money that is chased goes to ads, Facebook ads, TV ads, radio ads, ads. So politics is a little bit about positioning and strategy and arguments, which I enjoy.

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S3: And it’s a little bit about cajoling and convincing, which I also enjoy and think is interesting. But these days, most of politics is about spending time to raise the money and spending the money so that the least interested people, including prepubescent out of staters, can perform this really useless party trick.

S9: Remember when Susan Collins said this today to many of our seniors who are literally choosing between filling prescriptions and paying their bills? Yeah, but then she challenged to one point five billion dollars out of driving insurance and Collins voted to allow companies to keep cheaper generic drugs off the market. Susan Collins, she’s not for you anymore.

S1: It is a sorry state. No, not just Maine, which actually has two normal adult human Senate candidates. Politics. I mean, politics itself. It is dispiriting. And I don’t know exactly who to blame.

S9: Susan Collins, how could you let this happen? And you go outside and play.

S2: And that’s it for Today Show. Margaret Kelly and Daniel Shrader produced the gist that Leach Montgomery is executive producer of Slate podcasts to rush through the credits to get to this important message about Susan Collins. Please bear with me. The gist perdu Peru.

S9: And now from my little disclaimer, this ad is probably not real, but it was just loaded into my mind based on how many ads had Susan Collins, who was the most horrible person in the world. Let me begin.

S11: Do you like hurricanes, disasters, wildfires, SHENISE, burning down, mass shootings, mass murder? And most of all, the letter G. Then Susan Collins is for you. But if you’re like the classic Mainor and you think that natural disasters and all of that crap is bad, then you have to vote for Sharon Gideon. Thanks for listening.