I Worked for the Church Committee–What Jim Jordan is Leading Bears No Resemblance

The Hill 1/12/2023. https://thehill.com/opinion/national-security/3810212-i-worked-for-the-church-committee-what-jim-jordan-is-leading-bears-no-resemblance/

I worked for the Church Committee — what Jim Jordan is leading bears no resemblance 

Peter Fenn, opinion contributor 

Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and firebrand Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) pushed through a party-line vote to create a House committee designed to investigate the Biden administration and defend Donald Trump. 

They call it a “new Church Committee,” after one of the most consequential investigations of U.S. intelligence agencies, chaired by former Sen. Frank Church (D-Idaho). That committee was established 48 years ago this month after revelations of spying on Americans and assassination plots against foreign leaders. 

As a young 27-year-old, I served on the staff of that committee, one of the greatest privileges of my life. Later, as an aide to Church, I worked on a number of reforms of the intelligence agencies. 

To compare what is about to take place under Jordan with the careful, bipartisan, results-focused Church Committee is like comparing newly elected Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) with Speaker Sam Rayburn (D-Texas).  

The Church Committee was created in January 1975 by a vote of 82-4 and was composed of some of the most liberal and conservative Senators — who pledged to work together to find solutions to the abuses conducted over decades by Democratic and Republican administrations. There was liberal Frank Church as Chairman and conservative John Tower (R-Texas) as Vice Chairman, Walter Mondale (D-Minn.) and Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.), and Gary Hart (D-Colo.) and Richard Schweiker (R-Pa.), among others. 

In contrast, the new committee, to be headed by Jim Jordan, was approved by a strict party-line vote of 221-211, with no Democrats in support. According to the resolution creating the committee, it will have 13 Republicans and five Democrats; the Church Committee was six Democrats and five Republicans. Can anyone see the slightest indication of a bipartisan investigation coming from the Jordan Committee? 

The Church Committee, in 15 months, had 126 full committee meetings, 40 subcommittee hearings, interviewed 800 witnesses in both public and closed sessions, and produced six volumes of public reports totaling 2,702 pages. They had seven volumes of hearings and countless transcripts and reports that remained classified.  

There was not one leak attributed to the Church Committee, despite the political atmosphere under which it was working. 

We investigated the secret actions of the FBI to spy on, and undermine, Martin Luther King, Jr. and many other civil rights leaders. We examined “watch lists” of law-abiding Americans whose communications were intercepted and put under surveillance, because they were protesting the War in Vietnam or engaged in the struggle for human rights. We focused on foreign intelligence agencies that engaged in plotting coups, undermining elections abroad and plotting assassinations of leaders. Many of these activities occurred over decades, across administrations, as intelligence agencies illegally expanded and overstepped their missions. 

Most important, the work of the Church Committee resulted in 96 recommendations, many of which were adopted, such as the critical passage of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) requiring warrants on Americans, the creation of permanent Senate and House Intelligence Committees, and internal reforms of agencies like the FBI, NSA, and CIA. 

Who in their right mind would believe that Jim Jordan’s “new Church Committee” is going to — in any way — resemble what took place so many years ago? 

Will this be at all bipartisan? Hard to imagine. 

Will this be a thorough and serious examination of issues covering both Democratic and Republican administrations? Not a chance. 

Will this become a trial of the “weaponization of government” under Joe Biden, as Jordan and McCarthy and the Freedom Caucus promise? You bet.   

As Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) and Jim McGovern (D-Mass) point out, this committee will itself be a partisan “weapon” and resemble the demagogue Joe McCarthy more than Kevin McCarthy. It will resemble the old House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), not the Church Committee. In a very real sense, this will be a weapon targeting democracy itself, in a crass and partisan manner, not an effort to save our democracy. 

It is sad, really, because one could argue that there is a need for a new Church Committee that looks at legislation of 50 years ago, assumptions about technology and privacy and national security as they have changed so radically over that half century, and the role of our intelligence agencies in the modern age. There are serious issues to explore with a possible joint House and Senate committee, or outside commission, where experts explore some of the complicated issues before our country and seek reasonable solutions. Many of us have contemplated this for some time. 

Unfortunately, what we are faced with over the coming months is not that kind of serious examination, designed to focus on, and solve, real issues.  

Rather, it is vitriolic, attack-dog politics at its worst.  

It is hard to imagine for those of us who worked so hard and with such passion those many years ago to make America better. 

Peter Fenn is a long-time Democratic political strategist who served on the Senate Intelligence Committee, was a top aide to Sen. Frank Church and was the first director of Democrats for the 80s, founded by Pamela Harriman. He also co-founded the Center for Responsive Politics/Open Secrets. He serves on the board of the Frank Church Institute. Follow him on Twitter @peterhfenn. 

Democrats’ message and communications problem | The Hill

Source: Democrats’ message and communications problem | The Hill

Democrats’ message and communications problem

Why 2024 Might Be Joe Biden’s Time–Again

In March of 2019, I wrote a piece for The Hill on why 2020 might just be Joe Biden’s time. At that point — early in the primary season — many had written him off. Now, as we approach the 2022 elections and polls and pundits are once again writing off Joe Biden, my advice is ­— be careful, be very careful.

Here are 10 reasons why, once again, I urge the chattering class not to count Biden out, should he decide to run.

Reason #1: Low presidential poll numbers in the off year are notoriously unreliable predictors. Just look at 1982, 1994, 2010. Here is the headline from the New York Times from August 19, 1982: “Approval Rating for Reagan is Lowest Ever in Gallup Poll.” Reagan’s job approval rating was a dismal 41 percent — and yet two years later, Reagan carried 49 states against Walter Mondale.

Bill Clinton was in desperate shape in late August of 1994, when his popularity was at 39 percent. Democrats lost the House for the first time since the 1950s, shedding 54 seats, while losing eight Senate seats. In 1996, Clinton came back to defeat Bob Dole by nearly 10 points.

In August of 2010 this was the headline from Reuters: Obama Poll Slide Mirrors Reagan’s 1982 Midterm Woes. Obama’s job performance number stood at 43 percent, Democrats lost 64 House seats in 2010, and yet Obama dispatched Mitt Romney fairly easily, winning 332 electoral votes two years later.

Thus, projecting the outcome of the 2024 presidential election based on what we are seeing today is risky business indeed.

Reason #2: The likely Republican nominee is Donald Trump. Of course, we said he was the easiest to beat in 2016, but now we really mean it. Yet for Biden, who beat Trump once, he should be able to beat him twice. Trump’s negatives are still through the roof, legal troubles abound, his ego runs wild and now he will have Liz Cheney and others nipping at his heels. Plus, there is also the age factor; he is not much younger than Biden.

Reason #3: Critically important: the economy is improving, inflation is coming down, jobs are plentiful, and salaries are increasing, especially for low- and middle-income Americans. Consumer confidence is likely to rise, and — just as in the case of Reagan, Clinton and Obama — voters are likely to feel “they are better off” as we head into the presidential election year. As Democratic policies improve economic prospects for Hispanic and African American voters, their turnout and support will be crucial in key swing states.

Reason #4: Social issues begin to work for Democrats and Biden. Republicans will increasingly be on the defensive on abortion, gun control, LGBTQ rights, women’s rights. The fear of the far right will motivate and sway not only younger voters, but also many older Americans who can remember life before Roe, even life when interracial marriages were illegal (pre-1968) and when gay marriage was prohibited. Once again, the prospect of turning the clock back will not sit well with suburban and ex-urban voters either.

Reason #5: Biden’s advantage — Debates. Although it is possible that there will not be presidential debates, they do almost always happen. Trump is huffing and puffing, but it is hard to imagine that there will be an empty stage. First, Trump’s ego won’t allow it, and second, his advisors will convince him to agree. Biden will be increasingly confident and in control; Trump will be lucky to have read the morning papers. Watching FOX News won’t cut it. Trump has always been ignorant of policy issues, and this year will be no different. It will remind voters of what an empty suit Trump has always been.

Reason #6: Trump’s MAGA playlist is old and tired; Biden is getting things done. The comparison between Biden as solid, competent, delivering on his promises and Trump’s blowhard rhetoric will be clear and convincing. Who delivered on roads, bridges and broadband? Who brought us out of the pandemic? Who moved us forward on climate change? Who got the economy moving again? Not the carnival barker; rather, the experienced leader with an experienced team.

Reason #7: More and more and more legal troubles for Trump. After all, how many presidents plead the fifth over 400 times, with more to come? How many members of his clown-car legal team end up in courtrooms? How many investigations can they all endure? From personal taxes, to conflicts of interest, to shady pardons, to undermining national security and hoarding documents … the list goes on and on. And why would we think Trump is going to change in the next two years?

Reason #8: The Jan. 6 investigation is a serious problem. When the House Select Committee hearings began, many were not sure where it was headed and how long and in-depth it would be. This is like peeling back the onion. Trump looks worse and worse, and the far-right Republicans can’t ignore it or explain it away. When you have America’s generals opening up to reporters, more close White House aides telling the truth, and revelations taking all this to Trump’s door, it makes Watergate look like child’s play.

Reason #9: Watch the independents and some moderate/conservative Republicans. There is no question that most Americans are pretty locked in to their political preferences; however, there are clearly persuadable voters, less interested voters and those that move, especially with high turnout elections like we had in 2020. Winning by 7 million votes isn’t exactly chump change, and 2024 may see critical states where Biden increases his narrow lead because he gains support from independents and some Republicans who can’t force themselves to back Trump. And, in the case of Republicans, it won’t take that many!Trump may not be able to control the narrative this timeWhat if Gorbachev had been president of the United States?

Reason #10: Finally, there’s the spoiled child syndrome. Let’s face it: Throwing his lunch and ketchup against the wall, really? The constant tantrums? More and more people close to Trump admit they were forced to deal with a man-boy, with a toddler mentality, who constantly needs diversions, cajoling and convincing. Trump defiled the presidency. Do we want to go through all this again?

The contrast between a Joe Biden Presidency and a Donald Trump Presidency could not be more clear. A re-match between these two would bring that to full flood-light. Just like four years ago, don’t count Joe Biden out.

Peter Fenn is a long-time Democratic political strategist who served on the Senate Intelligence Committee, was a top aide to Sen. Frank Church and was the first director of Democrats for the 80s, founded by Pamela Harriman. He also co-founded the Center for Responsive Politics/Open Secrets. He serves on the board of the Frank Church Institute. Follow him on Twitter @peterhfenn.

The Hill: Why 2024 May Be Joe Biden’s Time … Again!

Trump’s January 6th War Room — A Real Declaration of War on America

Trump’s January 6th War Room —  A Real Declaration of War on America

Over the years, many of us in politics have used the term “War Room” to denote the place where decisions are made to win a political campaign, or to pass critical legislation, or to organize around an important issue, from impeachment to civil rights. There was an Academy Award-nominated documentary about the 1992 Clinton Presidential campaign featuring James Carville and George Stephanopoulos, “The War Room.”

My Macalester College classmate and longtime friend, Vietnam veteran Tim O’Brien, is probably the most celebrated author of our generation writing about war (The Things They Carried; Going After Cacciato).  In his latest Dad’s Maybe Book, dedicated to his sons, O’Brien discusses the use of the word “war” and why it should be eliminated from our vocabulary.  His notion is that politicians should be transparent when using the word – it is about “killing people, including children.”

Tim and I have had conversations about the use of the word “war” —  the War on Poverty, the War on Drugs, yes, now the much over-used “War Room.”  Tim O’Brien is a master of words,  their intent and meaning, and he raises the bar on how to tell stories that expand our minds, our emotions and our understanding.

As we begin to dig deeper into the events before and during January 6th it is becoming increasingly clear that what was taking place was a true declaration of war against the United States. This was violence, this became about killing people, up to and including even the Vice President of the United States, Mike Pence.

When Trump advisor John Eastman describes the effort to perpetuate the big lie of election fraud, to overturn the 2020 Presidential election, to orchestrate armed insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6th, and to coordinate what amounted to a coup, he says. “we had a war room at the Willard (Hotel)…kind of coordinating all of the communications.” (https://www.washingtonpost.com/investigations/willard-trump-eastman-giuliani-bannon/2021/10/23/c45bd2d4-3281-11ec-9241-aad8e48f01ff_story.html)

Shortly after the election in November, Eastman and Rudy Giuliani and others, set up shop for their activities at the Mandarin Oriental, another posh hotel in Washington. By December 18th they moved their war room to the Willard Hotel, a block from the White House, where they stayed at least through January 8th.  The Trump campaign picked up the $55,000 hotel tab.

It turns out that December 18th was the fateful day of the six hour meeting in the Oval Office.  Described as “unhinged” by Cassidy Hutchinson it pitted Rudy Giuliani and Sydney Powell and Michael Flynn, among others, against White House Counsel Pat Cipollone and his team of lawyers.  As the House hearing of July 12, 2022 made clear, efforts failed to succeed to appoint Sydney Powell as a Special Counsel, and Trump did not issue an Executive Order to the Secretary of Defense to seize voting machines.  Rather, at 1:42 am on December 19th, after the marathon meeting ended, Trump issued his call to arms, “Big protest in DC on January 6th. Be there, will be wild.”  https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/2022/07/12/january-6-hearing-trump/

The War Room at the Willard swung into action; the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers began coordinating their operations and communications; the internet lit up, hash tags and web sites were created and the focus became January 6th.  Many participants have been charged with “seditious conspiracy to overthrow the government of the United States.”

Trump called in to his War Room and met in the White House with many of the participants.   According to Cassidy Hutchinson, she dissuaded Chief of Staff Mark Meadows from going over on January 5th for meetings, instead he also called in to them by phone that day.  Steve Bannon was there, Giuliani aide Bernard Kerik was there,  Boris Ephshteyn, One America News Reporter Christina Bobb, and many others were part of the “Trump War Room”, as we are beginning to learn. Old hands such as Michael Flynn, Alex Jones, Peter Navarro, Corey Lewandowski, David Bossie, Mike Lindell (My Pillow), Sen. Tommy Tuberville, Nebraska gubernatorial candidate Charles Herbster and even Trump’s sons, Eric and Don, Jr.  (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/11/09/us/politics/jan-6-subpoena.html)

Cassidy Hutchinson testified before Congress that Rudy Giuliani told her about the plans for January 6th in a conversation on January 2nd as she walked him to his car:

“As Mr. Giuliani and I were walking to his vehicle that evening, he looked at me and said something to the effect of ‘Cass, are you excited for the sixth? It’s going to be a great day.’ I remember looking at him and saying, ‘Rudy, can you explain what’s happening on the sixth?’ And he responded something to the effect of ‘we’re going to the Capitol. It’s going to be great. The President’s going to be there. He’s going to look powerful. He’s going to be with the members. He’s going to be with the senators. Talk to the chief about it. Talk to the chief about it. He knows about it.'”

When Ms. Hutchinson brought it up to Mark Meadows, she testified that Meadows said “something to the effect there is a lot going on…but things might get really, really bad on January 6.”  (https://www.cnn.com/politics/live-news/january-6-hearings-june-28/h_d1ca49d1f3e1c58651a882206551eeae)

Really, really bad — that is the least of it.  What we are learning is that the Trump War Room at the Willard Hotel was certainly aptly named. Steve Bannon said on his January 5th podcast, ironically also called War Room — “all hell is going to break loose tomorrow.”

Michael Flynn told Alex Jones in an interview at the Willard Hotel on January 5th that “we are essentially in a national emergency.  The truth is going to come out, Donald Trump will be president of the United States for the next four years.”

This is the man who pled the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination when asked by Rep. Liz Cheney if he believed in “the peaceful transition of power in the United States of America.”  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oyg60yZhdy0  This is the man who was fired as Trump’s National Security Advisor after lying to the FBI.

This War Room was the command post for the coup plot where, just steps from the Oval Office, violent mobs, armed and ready, were called to the Ellipse.  Trump knew they were armed; Trump was ready to lead the assault on the Capitol if only the Secret Service had allowed it; Trump endorsed the calls to hang Mike Pence and no doubt supported a similar fate for Speaker Nancy Pelosi. 

This was, no doubt, the final solution to stop the peaceful transition of power to the man who won the election by over seven million votes and over 300 electoral votes, Joe Biden. 

From December 18th on, President Trump and his participants in the War Room plotted and coordinated the effort to keep him in power by taking over the peaceful transition to Joe Biden on January 6th.  If Vice President Pence was not going along with their plan, they were going to storm the Capitol. This was what the War Room at the Willard was all about.

The phrase War Room and the use of the word “war” has a particularly terrifying meaning now in the United States – it is the end of democracy as we know it and came within 40 feet, a whisker, of becoming a reality. Trump’s War Room, as it was unfolding, was about killing people at the Capitol, and also killing democracy. War as my friend Tim O’Brien makes clear, has consequences — devastating consequences. We all might want to take a moment and reflect on who we have become.

Republicans’ true failure since the last election

BY PETER FENN, OPINION CONTRIBUTOR The HIll — 01/09/22 09:30 AM EST  1,755


184. The HIll Opinion Column

Share to Facebook  Share to Twitter 


As a 15-year-old kid, I raked leaves, mowed grass and was part of the grounds crew at the Capitol, paid $1.25 an hour. We navigated all those underground tunnels and hideaways where last January they took the vice president, the speaker and members of Congress to keep them safe.

As a 17-year-old, with a newly-broken leg and a walking cast, I was a page in the U.S. Senate. It was 1965, and we witnessed the passage and signing by President Lyndon Johnson of the Voting Rights Act … and we watched as opposition began to build against the war in Vietnam.

Years later, I served on the Church Committee, the select Senate Committee investigating our intelligence agencies. I worked in the Senate for five more years as a top aide to Sen. Frank Church of Idaho. 

And for the decades since, I have spent countless hours in the House and Senate office buildings, and in the Capitol, as a political consultant to many members.

Never, in all those nearly 60 years, have I not been in awe of the Capitol, its beauty and grandeur, and what it stands for, the rights and responsibilities of a free people.

Always, as I gazed up at the rotunda as the light shone through, saw the paintings, Statuary Hall, the floor of the Senate and House, I felt lucky to be there. I never took that building — or its meaning — for granted.

Like so many others, I took the Jan. 6, 2021, attack personally.

As I watched on television those familiar staircases, passageways, people who were so violently attacked hour after hour, I was beyond emotional. I couldn’t believe it was happening; it was surreal — people from Trump rallies gone berserk, like something out of Game of Thrones.

This was more than a political event — more than a demonstration gone violent. It was, in a real sense, the culmination of a sitting president and his friends and advisors having rejected our system of government, representative democracy, fairness and any sense of propriety.

The fact that over the past year the vast majority of rank-and-file Republicans have continued to embrace a president with no moral compass, willing to say anything or do anything to stay in power, is truly despicable. Even those who were initially shocked and who denounced Trump, like Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), have now embraced him or gone silent. This is also despicable. What message does it send?

That violence is the wave of the future as increasing numbers of Americans seem to believe? That power by any means is, and will be, the future of the Republican Party?

How much honor and dignity and civility will these Republican leaders give up to stay in power — or to gain it? At what point do they say “enough is enough, count me out” as Lindsey Graham did on the Senate floor a year ago … before he flipped and went to Mar-a-Lago to play golf with Trump?

Sadly, most of the Republicans who have spent much of their lives in that Capitol have forsaken the impact of Jan. 6 and all it meant for them and our system of government and instead have embraced a treacherous political calculation: They have decided that they would rather — for the sake of re-election — cozy up to Donald Trump and the cabal peddling the Big Lie than do the right thing. History will judge them.

Truth Is The First Casualty In Taking Down Our Democracy

First published in Morning Consult’s Opinion Page

Truth is the First Casualty in Taking Down Our Democracy

Misinformation and disinformation have taken over our political system, according to a new poll of five western states by Morning Consult, conducted for the bipartisan Frank Church Institute at Boise State University. (The full survey is available here.)

Over 80% of those polled in the five states of Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Utah and Nevada are worried about “misinformation” (54% very worried, 29% somewhat worried). A similar number of 83% are worried about the “misrepresentation of facts”.

It seems we are way beyond former Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s admonition, “You are entitled to your own opinions, but you aren’t entitled to your own facts.”

Too often we Americans don’t seem to trust in the truth or even the pursuit of the truth. We accept “alternative facts” that conform to our beliefs rather than acknowledging that, very simply, facts are facts. 

The concern about misrepresentation of facts dovetails with the respondents’ concern about the health of democracy – 85% of respondents (50% very concerned and 35% somewhat concerned) indicate their lack of confidence in democracy in America.

For decades we have seen the growing distrust and cynicism about government and politics spread to other institutions such as business, religion and education.  Now that distrust has seeped into almost all our sources of information, including the news.

The era of Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite and Huntley/Brinkley is long over in time and substance.   As Yogi Berra might say, if they were alive today they would turn over in their graves!

From the evening news to local news to the internet, and especially social media, large majorities believe misrepresentation of facts is spread far and wide. A full 73% believe that misrepresentation is “spread a lot” on social media with 18% more saying “some.”  The internet is next highest with 58% saying a lot and 31% saying some. For the regular news media 48% say a lot and 36% say some.  Virtually nobody believes we are not living in an age of misrepresentation of facts.

It is interesting that both Democrats and Republicans seem to pretty much agree on the spreading of misinformation on social media and the internet, but there is a real difference in their views of the regular news media.  Republicans believe by 60% that a lot of misinformation is spread while only 26% of Democrats agree. Clearly the attacks by Trump and others on “mainstream (or ‘lamestream’) media” has taken its toll.

So, who is to blame for this misinformation?  Not surprisingly, in these mostly Republican western states, 22% hold liberal media responsible, while 14% believe conservative media, and 47% say both.  We can’t be shocked to see that 44% of Republicans blame the liberal media and 36% of Democrats blame the conservative media. This is just an example of the political polarization exhibited in the survey – especially regarding the election of 2020, perception of Biden and Trump, and the events of January 6th.  While 79% of Democrats believe that Trump was responsible for the violence at the Capitol, only 13% of Republicans believe Trump was responsible.

Despite the polarization in the country, and tendency to divide up into waring camps, one encouraging finding is that by almost 4-1, 66% to 17%, respondents in these five western states believe that elected officials should find compromise and common ground rather than stand their ground and push their own party’s agenda.

As our country struggles with how to enhance democracy and see to it that it survives and thrives in the 21st century we consider consider focusing on tackling the problem of misinformation, disinformation and the spread of falsehoods and false narratives. If we can begin to agree more on what is clearly true and what is clearly false, we may begin to come together on how best to solve the problems that confront us.

There is growing consensus in Congress and across the country that social media and ubiquitous sites like Facebook have resulted in spreading misinformation and falsehoods.  Regardless of whether you are a Democrat, a Republican or an Independent, or a conservative or a liberal, there is common cause in doing our best to embrace what is true and reject what is false. 

The threat to our democracy is put on steroids when our leaders and our media deliberately misrepresent what is true.  The public does get this.  Democrats and Republicans (84% and 83% respectively) agree that ‘fake news’ is used purposely to mislead people and three-fourths of them believe that politicians use it to dismiss facts that are actually true.

This is a growing cancer and it is up to both political parties, the media and the people, to confront it.  If we shrink from this responsibility our democracy will go from the emergency room to intensive care in a nanosecond.  Pressure must be put on politicians and media outlets who put out lies and falsehoods—whatever their party or ideology.  We can’t dismiss this as “politics as usual”, it is far from it.  Whether it is the false accusations against Trump in the Steele Dossier, or the lie that Obama was not eligible to be President because he was not born in the U.S., or the dangerous falsehood that the 2020 election was rigged and Biden was not legitimately elected – or many more – they lead to conspiracy theories, encourage violence, and the breakdown of confidence and established order in our country.

We need leaders, especially on the Republican side, who have the courage to confront those who dominate the news and whom they know deliberately mislead and disseminate falsehoods that undermine democracy.  History will judge us by what we do now to turn back this trend and rekindle what our founders envisioned.

Democracy is Under Attack and More Violence May be the Future


Democracy is on life support, and voters know it.

It isn’t just about the inflated, angry rhetoric or the videos depicting grotesque violence directed from one Member of Congress to another. It isn’t just about the violent attack on the Capitol and the organized attempt at insurrection on Jan. 6. Or even the rise in violent incidents over the past few years, as horrendous as all this has been.

It is about the deep-seated alienation of Americans and the willingness of our citizens to accept taking up arms as the solution. A recent poll from the Frank Church Institute at Boise State University raises the alarms, especially in the Mountain West. Attitudes are changing.ADVERTISEMENT

The poll by Morning Consult covers citizens in five states: Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Utah and Nevada. It has an overall sample size of 1,899 (about 400 per state) and was designed to look at rural areas in particular. The pollsters discovered that 74 percent of these citizens often or sometimes felt alienated from the federal government and 54 percent from their local government. Even three in five believe that “the federal government works to benefit other groups of people but not people like me.”

Some of this is not new, but what is new is that a vocal and increasing minority believe that violence may be the answer to their concern for, and distrust of, our democracy.

Republicans and Democrats show their fear in similarly large numbers: a total of 85 percent are “very concerned or somewhat concerned about the health of democracy.”

CNN national poll recently indicated that 56 percent of Americans believe “democracy is under attack,” 75 percent of Republicans and 46 percent of Democrats; 93 percent believe that democracy is either under attack or being tested.

When you couple this with the polarization and very different perspectives on the 2020 election, we are on a very dangerous road. ADVERTISEMENT

While voters in the Mountain West believe 51 percent to 38 percent that Biden was legitimately elected, the breakout of Republicans and Democrats tells a different story. A full 87 percent of Democrats say he was elected while only 26 percent of Republicans do. Nearly 50 percent of Republicans say that Biden was definitely not elected legitimately, and 71 percent believe the election was “rigged.”

It is little surprise — given the rhetoric and continuous drumbeat from Donald Trump and many Republican supporters — that these numbers are that high. Despite the rulings by all the courts, the recounts, the vast majority of press reports calling the election fair and legitimate, the lie persists. But the point is that many still believe it, just as they believed that Barack Obama was not born in the United States or that Comet Ping Pong Pizza in Washington, D.C., was the scene of child trafficking run by Hillary Clintona conspiracy theory which resulted in a man with an assault rifle arriving to shoot people at the restaurant.

Even though 55 percent of citizens in the Mountain States say that violence at the Capitol was “definitely not justified” and 58 percent believe that “political violence is not justified in a democracy, the better solution is the ballot box,” a remaining 20 percent (including 25 percent of Republicans) believe that “political violence is justified in a democracy when you believe things have gotten so bad that the government is not acting in the best interests of the people.” And a full 22 percent were “not sure” whether violence is justified or not.

Here is the bottom line: Things have not gotten better since the election or the inauguration, they have gotten worse.

When we have one in four or one in five Americans who support violent behavior and taking up arms, that is a nation on the brink, a country in real danger.ADVERTISEMENT

Add to that the behavior of some of our elected officials, the former president and those closest to him, as well as the fact that few national leaders on the Republican side make any attempt to tamp down the tendency toward violence, and the trend is heading in the wrong direction. In the Mountain States, 61 percent of the people surveyed believe that it is very or somewhat likely that we will see violence similar to what we saw at the Capitol on Jan. 6.

The bright light from this poll is that most people surveyed want America to turn back from the abyss. By a margin of nearly four-to-one — 66 percent to 17 percent — they want “an elected official to find compromise and common ground between political parties” not one “who stands their ground and pushes their political party’s own agenda.” They want leaders to get the job done, to solve the problems that confront our nation, to work to make Americans’ lives better. They want progress, not bickering, and they want leaders who can — and will — work across the aisle. They want common ground, not stand your ground.

Now is the time for those of all political parties and persuasions to reject the politics of extremism and violence and set our nation back on a course toward civility and a democracy that works.

Peter Fenn is a long-time Democratic political strategist who served on the Senate Intelligence Committee, was a top aide to Sen. Frank Church and was the first director of Democrats for the 80s, founded by Pamela Harriman. He also co-founded the Center for Responsive Politics/Open Secrets. He serves on the board of the Frank Church Institute. Follow him on Twitter @peterhfenn.

How to Prevent Democrats from Digging Their Own Grave in 2022

The Hill Newspaper—-8/22/2021


Earlier this month a coalition of progressive groups announced they were going to spend upwards of $100 million on television and digital ads to boost President Biden and the Democrats. When in doubt, flood the airwaves. What a waste!

I have a serious confession: For decades I have specialized in doing television and radio ads for Democratic candidates and groups. From the 1980s to the early 2000s our firm’s primary method of delivering a message and communicating with voters was paid ads. In a course on campaign advertising that I taught at George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management for 20+ years, and in counseling candidates, I used to hold fast to the notion that 70-80 percent of most candidates’ budgets should be devoted to paid ads.


Is paid media important? Of course, but these ads don’t do what they used to in the era of three major networks, very limited cable and no such thing as the internet. Not to mention when Amazon and Netflix and a myriad of other ways to watch programming without advertising came on board.

Yet we are stuck in the practices of yesteryear — and instead of using our funds to enhance political organization, personal door-to-door campaigning, sophisticated targeting and communication, we throw what we have against the wall and see what sticks.

Democrats have tended more than Republicans to focus on the shiny objects of TV ads, instead of organizing and motivating our base to reach out and convince potential voters on the ground.

To be blunt: Democrats are not putting nearly enough of the billions raised into early, hard-core organization and way too much into glitzy TV ads.

How much of that $100 million goes to organizing? How much PAC money or candidate money goes to hiring staff and paying people to contact voters? How much goes to identifying voters’ interests and learning about what interests them?ADVERTISEMENT

Look what is happening to rural voters. Trump won rural voters with 59 percent of the vote in 2016; he won with 65 percent in 2020, despite losing the overall popular vote by over 7 million votes. Have you driven through rural America lately? Have you seen the signs and the barns painted “TRUMP,” the caravans during opening day of fishing season in Minnesota with flags flying and horns honking, even the t-shirts being worn at Target and Walmart?

Where are the Democrats? Where are the yard signs and supporters outside metro areas? Where are the local neighborhood headquarters in people’s living rooms? Have we given up on independent minded, less politicized citizens who may not always vote in every election? That is a big mistake.

An important recent Pew poll shows that of those who did not vote in the high-turnout election of 2020, Biden was favored over Trump by 15 points. Many of these were voters under 50 years of age and are not obviously committed voters by any means. These are critical voters for Democrats to target.

Many pundits and prognosticators have written the Democrats’ political obituary for the 2022 off-year elections. They are usually a disaster for the party in power, losing on average 26 House seats and 4 Senate seats. Their other reasons are many: the razor thin margin of less than a half dozen Democratic seats in the House and an even count of 50 in the Senate; redistricting that will cost Democrats seats, as Republicans game the system in southern and western states; a polarized nation where President Biden hovers around 50 per cent popularity.

Now, those are serious head winds. But one way to counter them is to increase our focus as Democrats on voter identification, turnout, and serious persuasion. We have the right messages for many of these voters — child care and early childhood education, expanded community college, child tax credits for struggling families, direct care worker help for seniors, expanded Medicare coverage for dental care and prescription drugs. This is a “pro-work,” “pro-families” and “pro-community” agenda. And, by the way, solve COVID, pass the infrastructure and budget legislation before Congress that truly helps people — and show ourselves to be the party “that gets the job done.”

If we organize around these messages and go after voters with sophisticated targeting, starting early, and “go back to the future” with person-to-person and door-to-door engagement, we might find ourselves maintaining the majority. This means real political money for rural areas, tracking our base, keeping a focus on less-likely voters and convincing them of what is at stake in 2022 and, yes, not wasting so much on expensive and less impactful TV ads.

Peter Fenn is a long-time Democratic political strategist who served on the Senate Intelligence Committee, was a top aide to Sen. Frank Church and was the first director of Democrats for the 80s, founded by Pamela Harriman. He also co-founded the Center for Responsive Politics/Open Secrets. Follow him on Twitter @peterhfenn.

Bye, Bye Miss American Pie….Whatever Happened to the Republican Party