Last week’s terror attack on Egyptian army troops by jihadists whose ultimate aim was to kill Israelis provoked an unexpectedly harsh reaction from Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi. The chaos in the Sinai is the direct result of the revolution that brought down the Mubarak regime. The Hamas government looked to benefit from the triumph of their Muslim Brotherhood allies, but the embarrassing slaughter of Egyptians by anti-Israel terrorists has led the new government in Cairo to shut down the smuggling tunnels between Egypt and Gaza. The prospect of increased security cooperation between Egypt and the United States is slightly encouraging, though Israel’s exclusion from talks concerning its border is both spiteful and foolish.
But while the crackdown in the Sinai and along the border with Gaza may be a hopeful sign the new Egyptian government is unwilling to be dragged into conflict with Israel by the Palestinians, the real news in the aftermath of the shooting is very bad indeed. Morsi’s sacking of Egypt’s intelligence chief (who ignored warnings from Israel about a possible terror attack) is one thing, but the decision of the Egyptian leader to fire two of the country’s leading generals is more than just a personnel shuffle. If Morsi has assumed power of the country’s military, the notion that the army would or could act as a brake on the Muslim Brotherhood has been shown to be a myth. His firing of Egypt’s defense minister and the army chief of staff makes it clear the Brotherhood is now completely in control of the country. This calls into question not just the future of regional stability but the Obama administration’s equivocal attitude toward the Brotherhood’s push to power.
In the aftermath of the Egyptian election in which Morsi triumphed over the military’s preferred candidate, optimists believed the army’s acquiescence to the Brotherhood’s victory was bought by the group’s willingness to share power. The assumption was that the military would remain in charge even if Morsi would have the trappings of power. But the firing of the two defense chiefs has shown foreign observers underestimated both Morsi and the Brotherhood’s will to come out on top. It’s also apparent that such thinking overestimated the ability of the army to retain the influence it had when Mubarak, himself a former general, ran things.
The implications of what Time aptly termed a Muslim Brotherhood “coup” are far-reaching.
Morsi may not be interested in a direct confrontation with Israel or in allowing Hamas’ desire to keep the border in flames. For all of the fraternal bonds between the Brotherhood and Hamas, even Egyptian Islamists may believe, as most of their countrymen do, the Palestinians are ready to fight Israel to the last Egyptian.
But if there are no longer any effective checks on the Brotherhood, the idea that the United States or Israel can rely upon the army to keep Egypt from being transformed into an Islamist country is without any rational basis. This ought to do more than scare the country’s secular community or even the Christian Copts who constitute up to ten percent of Egypt’s population. It will mean the start of a process whereby the Brotherhood obtains control over every segment of Egyptian society and government. Optimists hope this will mean nothing worse than a copy of Turkey’s drift from secular freedom to Islamist authoritarianism under President Obama’s friend Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. But no one should be surprised if a more radical group like the Brotherhood is not satisfied with that and eventually pushes for more radical changes in both Egyptian society and its relations with Israel.
The Obama administration thought it was managing the situation in Egypt via support of the military while conducting outreach to the Brotherhood. But what they find themselves with now is a situation in which the U.S. is giving $1.5 billion per year to a country controlled by an extremist group whose ideology places it in a state of continual conflict with the West. President Obama and his cheerleaders in the media may think he has deftly handled an Arab Spring which has seen the region’s most populous country transformed from a Western ally to an Islamist loose cannon. If this is foreign policy success, I’d hate to see what failure looks like.
Cairo Coup Another Obama “Success”
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The first shots of the Republican civil war.
Maybe it was because Steve Bannon was too close to the president. Maybe he just wasn’t viewed as a worthy adversary. Whatever the reason, Donald Trump’s former chief strategist has up to now mobilized insurgencies aimed at taking down Republican incumbents unscathed by return fire. Now, following his brief stint as the right hand of the president, Bannon’s latest effort to remake the GOP in his own image is finally meeting with some resistance.
“Steve Bannon is dead wrong,” read a statement released on Wednesday evening by Steven Law, president and CEO of the Mitch McConnell-linked Senate Leadership Fund. “Every fact that has come out about James Comey’s handling of the Clinton email investigation has affirmed the rightness of President Trump’s decision.”
There’s a lot to unpack here.
Ostensibly, Law’s statement is aimed at comments Bannon made about former FBI Director Comey in an interview with “60 Minutes.” But Law’s comment is a dishonest one. Bannon never said what is being implied here.
“It’s been reported in the media I was adamantly opposed to that,” Bannon confirmed when pressed by Charlie Rose as to whether he agreed with Trump’s decision to terminate Comey. “I am a big believer in this city that it’s a city of institutions, not individuals. . . The FBI is the institution.”
“I don’t think there’s any doubt that if James Comey had not been fired, we would not have a special counsel,” he added.
“Someone said to me that you described the firing of James Comey—you’re a student of history—as the biggest mistake in political history,” Rose concluded. “That’d probably be too bombastic even for me, but maybe modern political history,” Bannon concurred.
At no point did Bannon discuss the merits of the case against Comey; he talked only about its political implications. The former White House strategist suggested that it was dangerous to make an adversary out of an institution in Washington D.C.—particularly one as well-connected and influential as the FBI. He noted that it was a straight line from Comey’s dismissal to the establishment of a vexing and costly special counsel to investigate the Trump campaign. Finally, Bannon asserted that Comey’s removal was among the biggest explicitly political blunders a president has made in living memory. It’s hard to argue with any of that. The Senate Leadership Fund is flailing at straw men.
But why? Obviously, they see that Bannon is a threat today in a way he wasn’t yesterday, and now Bannon knows it. This broadside was fired following reports by Politico and others indicating that the former Trump aide is huddling with deep-pocketed, anti-establishmentarian donors in the effort to secure his place as kingmaker. Bannon hopes to field a slate of non-ideological Donald Trump cutouts to challenge sitting Republicans who don’t seem inclined to bend the knee before the president. Their willfulness must be punished.
That represents a direct assault on the Senate Leadership Fund, which has only one objective: to keep incumbent Republican senators, whatever they believe, in their seats. Outside of the White House but with his working links to the president reportedly intact, Bannon can’t be allowed to organize his mutineers unmolested.
In attacking Bannon, not on the merits of what he actually said but, rather, by echoing sentiments shared by much of the pro-Trump right, Law and his McConnell-backed institution are aiming at Bannon’s support among pro-Trump Republicans. Unfortunately for them, this shot across Bannon’s bow was wildly off the mark. Not only did they attack Bannon for saying something he didn’t say, they’re also going after him for believing something he likely doesn’t believe. That looks desperate, distressed, and disorganized, and it will only embolden the very people they hoped to intimidate.
The good news for the Senate Leadership Fund is that they will get many other opportunities to make up for this missed one. It is, to say the least, unlikely that Bannon has been deterred. Given his reported intention to target occasional Trump skeptics in the Senate, including Tennessee’s Bob Corker, Mississippi’s Roger Wicker, Nevada’s Dean Heller, and Arizona’s Jeff Flake, Bannon’s forces will be coming up against McConnell’s in the near future. For their sake, here’s hoping that by then the Senate Leadership Fund comes up with a more subtle line of attack. Otherwise, the Republican civil war will be a short one.
We all know "What Happened."
So I spent the day reading What Happened, Hillary Rodham Clinton’s simultaneously interesting and dreadful book about the 2016 campaign.
First, let us dispense with the ludicrous idea that she shouldn’t have written or published it, which was bandied about last week on social media by worried Democrats. First, she probably didn’t actually write all that much of it (she gives credit in the acknowledgments to Dan Schwerin and Megan Rooney, her campaign speechwriters, whom she describes “sitting side by side on my couch, computers on their laps, working on a piece of text”). Second, after the personal abuse she received from Donald Trump in 2016, she owed and owes him no honeymoon deference. Third, Democrats who worry her words will somehow harm their path forward are being both unkind and unjust. And finally, because in concept What Happened is a refreshing and original attempt to offer a candid assessment of a political failure from the perspective of the person who failed. Had it been good, it would have been an instant classic.
It isn’t good, but it’s bad in ways that are instructive. It turns out Mrs. Clinton does not have a gift for genuine introspection; most of her acknowledgments of error are grudging and incomplete, or accompanied by passionate self-justifications and accusations of unfair and unjust treatment at the hands of Trump, the Republicans, the media, men, racists, right-wingers, Matt Lauer, and Bernie Sanders. It’s hard to blame her for this; most of us could not examine our own faults comfortably in print. But it makes the experience of reading the book somewhat tiresome.
To say on the one hand that she won the popular vote and only lost by 77,000 votes in three states and on the other that she lost because of misogyny and racism and nativism is the stuff that would make any reader who isn’t automatically of her camp scratch his or her head in bafflement. Barack Obama won two commanding victories with absolute majorities in 2008 and 2012; how then was her defeat, the defeat of one of the whitest people in America, the result of hatred of black people? The illogic is discomfiting and circular.
She is on firmer ground when she goes after James Comey for his outrageous handling of the email investigation into her. She is right to complain bitterly that his July press conference, in which he all but alleged she had engaged in criminal behavior while announcing no charges against her, was a shocking dereliction of duty. And her argument that his late intrusion into the campaign with his October 28 letter announcing the FBI was examining new information spelled her doom cannot be dismissed.
But this is the problem with examining what happened without really examining it. You could make the claim that Hillary’s defeat was written in the cards at the very beginning of her campaign when she made Huma Abedin her closest aide. Why? Because Abedin was married to Anthony Weiner, the disgraced sex-texting former Congressman and NYC mayoral candidate whose seized-by-the-FBI laptop was the reason Comey reopened the investigation. Clinton could not have known that would happen 20 months earlier, of course. What she could and should have known is that her presidential campaign needed to be as far away from Anthony Weiner as possible because he is a human disease. As unfair as that might have been to her loyal aide Abedin, her political cause on behalf of herself, her party, and the country should have been deemed bigger than the loyalty she might owe any one person. A better and tougher campaign would have kept Abedin on the outside. That is the kind of hard-headed–even hard-hearted–decision a savvy and cool-eyed politician must make. And this is the sort of observation that a tough-minded self-examination would have offered.
She complains that she did everything she should have done and said everything people said she should have said and still lost. She offers convincing proof that this is so and openly expresses bafflement that she was not given credit for speaking to the white working class and its issues, etc. The problem that she cannot face, as her bafflement suggests, is that people didn’t believe she meant what she said, in part because what she said was an endless series of platitudes she could not convince anyone was anything more than platitudes. Whatever Trump is, he’s not platitudinous.
The most interesting part of What Happened comes when she examines the reasons Vladimir Putin had for feeling antipathetic toward her and her own growing concern about Russian intrusion into the West’s political processes. The least interesting, and the most risible, sections involve her effort to come across as a regular person who loves hot sauce (“I’ve been a fan since 1992, when I became convinced it boosted my immune system, as research now shows it does”) and occasionally eats ice cream (“One hot night in Omaha, Nebraska, I was consumed with the desire for an ice cream bar . . .[an aide] called an advance staffer, who kind picked some up from the drug store and met us at the plane on our way out of town”). The falsest moment comes when she explains why she chose to run for president again, which she unconvincingly pretends was a choice that was hard for her to make: “It was the chance to do the most good I would ever be able to do.”
Gimme a break, Tartuffe.
Obama administration follies.
It’s hard to believe Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin understood the controversy he would ignite when he answered a CNBC reporter’s question about whether he replace Andrew Jackson’s portrait on the $20 bill with the hero of the Underground Railroad, Harriet Tubman. “Ultimately we will be looking at this issue,” he said. “It’s not something I’m focused on at the moment.”
“People have been on the bills for a long period of time,” he continued. “And this is something we will consider. Right now, we’ve got a lot more important issues to focus on.”
Given the Trump administration’s revisionist infatuation with Jackson—the controversial populist, law-breaking resettler of Native Americans, and founder of the modern Democratic Party—fears that Mnuchin might scrap Obama-era plans for the $20 are justified. Because his comments followed Donald Trump’s inexplicable refusal to offer an emphatic condemnation of the white nationalists who marched on Charlottesville, it’s equally understandable that some saw Mnuchin’s tepid words as indicative of this White House’s racial insensitivities. But the hostility that greeted his remarks hardly seems warranted.
A series of outlets reported erroneously that Mnuchin previewed his intention to scrap existing plans to print a new set of $20s, which he did not. “The Trump administration is so threatened by the existence of women [and] people of color, they can’t even acknowledge Harriet Tubman on the $20,” the pro-choice activist group NARAL tweeted. “U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin may find himself dragged into the debate about America’s racial history,” Bloomberg reported. “The Trump administration and its supporters are waging a war on America’s fact-based history, so one would be naïve to expect Mnuchin to break ranks,” Daily Beast contributor Barrett Holmes Pitner wrote. Pitner then launched into an informative history of the evolution of American currency, antebellum political affinities, and the nexus of imagery and race in America—most of which seemed divorced from what Mnuchin had actually said.
The Trump administration deserves skeptical inquiry relating to its friendliness toward Jackson. That should be tempered, however, by the fact that the Treasury Secretary inherited this debate from the Obama administration and a full accounting of the last administration’s records on the matter is a complicated one.
The effort to consign Jackson’s portrait to history predates 2015, but the crusade received new life in the wake of a racist terrorist attack on African-American parishioners in Charlotte, South Carolina. That event prompted a backlash against symbols of reverence toward slave owners in American history, including Jackson. The effort to outs Jackson from the $20 culminated in an online campaign drum up support for “Women on 20s.” Over a period of 10 weeks and 600,000 votes later, Harriet Tubman emerged the victor.
Within weeks, Barack Obama Treasury Secretary Jack Lew revealed that Alexander Hamilton was to be banished from the $10 while consultations continued about the fate of the new $20. In 2013, his department determined that the $10 was the next bill slated for redesign and that plan wouldn’t be upended just because public opinion had mobilized against Jackson.
Lew appeased those who were upset by insisting that Treasury would select a woman to grace the face of the new currency note. What woman? Someone “who was a champion for our inclusive democracy,” Lew said. Rather than seem imperious or dismissive of public sentiment, Treasury began soliciting opinions and promoting the hashtag #TheNew10. Suddenly, the compelling cases against Jackson’s place of reverence disappeared. The “Woman on 20s” campaign slouched into the shadows. The activist class had been appeased. Perhaps this movement wasn’t so much about Jackson after all?
Lew could not have known that, within a handful of months, history would intervene in the form of an elite love affair with a Broadway musical “Hamilton” became a sensation, and its creators credited Barack Obama with inspiring its completion. Michelle Obama said it was the greatest piece of art she’d ever seen. Treasury backed off its intention to relegate Hamilton’s portrait to a humble place on the back of the $10. Suddenly, Jackson was a problem again.
Jackson doesn’t deserve his perch on the nation’s most widely circulated currency note. He should be removed, and Tubman is as good a figure as any to replace him. A bipartisan bill introduced by Republican Rep. John Katko and Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings would compel Mnuchin to move the $20’s redesign up ahead of the $10 and ensure Tubman notes are circulating by 2020. It would be a worthy measure. Let’s not pretend the activist class has had its eye on the prize, that Jackson and Tubman have always been the focus of their efforts, or that the mob cannot be sated by any nod in the direction of socially desirable identity politics.
How progressives lose to Trump.
To hear the left tell it, progressives are on the march. The Democratic Party’s left flank has taken hold of the wheel, and they’re angling to take full advantage of Donald Trump’s unique unpopularity ahead of 2018 and 2020. Superficially, it does seem as though Democrats positioned to reject the party’s leftward drift have been intimidated into keeping their objections to themselves. But the enemy gets a vote, too, and Donald Trump is better positioned to frustrate liberal advances than progressive champions seem prepared to admit.
Writing for the Washington Post on Tuesday, the Nation’s Katrina vanden Heuvel reveled in the new and unapologetically progressive direction in which the Democratic Party was headed. She noted that, on Wednesday, self-described socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders would introduce a bill to expand Medicare to all, effectively socializing the country’s health-care system.
The bill will have a number of young Democratic co-sponsors—any of the myriad likely contenders looking ahead to the 2020 Democratic presidential primaries, for example. Moreover, this represents a cost-free vote for the progressive senators who want to appear supportive of nationalizing medical care but don’t want to explain where the measure’s prohibitive costs are going to come from. Vanden Heuvel cited Vox.com’s Dylan Matthews, who asserted that “this is what consensus looks like,” adding, “soon, no Democratic leader will be able to oppose single payer.” That’s perhaps entirely true, but that consensus doesn’t suddenly render the policy feasible.
As vanden Heuvel and Matthews rejoiced, Democratic leaders are also united behind a substantial hike in the federal minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $15. “Setting a minimum wage, either by statute or through a job guarantee plan, effectively forces the firms to pay more to everyone, which in turn drives more people to apply to work there, and fills the vacancies,” Matthews wrote last week. That’s an enchanting sentiment but also entirely unrealistic. As two 2017 studies ( the University of Washington and University of California, Berkeley) of minimum wage hikes demonstrate, respectively, the effects of such a proposal on incomes and hours worked are either substantially negative or disastrously negative.
After watching how Republicans behaved when their votes could send a bill to the desk of a president who might actually sign it, Democrats in the grassroots should temper their enthusiasm for liberal positioning statements. Meanwhile, as the progressive left celebrates its unchallenged ascendancy, Donald Trump is pulling a Crazy Ivan.
President Trump demonstrated last week that his desire to evince authority over conservative Republicans in Congress is so great that he’s willing to accept Democratic leadership’s first offer. “A senior administration official said of Trump’s deal with Chuck and Nancy: ‘He just wanted to do something popular,’” Axios reported. The feedback Trump received from the “deal” he struck with Democrats was all positive. What’s more, the food pellet dropped down when the president followed his impulses, not the advice of his establishmentarian handlers.
For the better part of his life, Trump’s political instincts—including during the 2015 and 2016 primary season—were conventionally liberal, with the notable exception of immigration policy. He can spend money like the best of them. He has a better and longer working relationship with Chuck Schumer than any other member of Congress. The media Trump consumes—the mechanically pro-Trump right and the skeptical left, too—have all been supportive of Trump’s pivot to Democrats. The president is all but certain to pursue another “deal.” Indeed, he’s laying the groundwork right now.
The Democratic Party in the U.S. Senate isn’t yet like its counterpart in the House, where the Democratic Caucus has been beaten back into their deep blue coastal and urban enclaves. In the Senate, there are still a handful of culturally conservative Democrats representing Trump states, and the president is courting them.
On Tuesday, the president will sit down over dinner with Indiana Sen. Joe Donnelly, North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, and West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin (as well as several key Republicans in the upper chamber) with the aim of striking a deal on tax-code reform. These Democrats have been reluctant to endorse their party’s objectives relating to changes in the tax code. By themselves, they can’t get the GOP to 60 votes, but they represent fissures in the Blue Wall that can be exploited.
The question becomes how far Trump is willing to compromise with Democrats to rescue his presidency? The president already signaled his willingness to side with Democrats not just on a temporary hike in the debt limit but in eliminating the debt limit entirely. “For all of those (DACA) that are concerned about your status during the 6 month period, you have nothing to worry about,” Trump tweeted last Thursday. “No action!” As it happens, Trump’s about-face on DACA was a product of cooperation with Nancy Pelosi. If Trump is willing to compromise enough on his alleged principles to give Democrats victories that Barack Obama couldn’t even secure, who is to say there won’t be more Democratic defections from the glorious progressive future lauded by vanden Huevel and the like.
Now, that is not to say Democrats will become the pro-Trump party. For all vanden Huevel’s assertions to the contrary, Democrats are not united on a platform that will woo back the voters they lost to the GOP from 2010 to 2016. They’re not even entirely convinced that project is worth the effort. Being anti-Trump is the Democratic Party’s most potent unifying principle. They cannot afford to let Trump undermine their core message by being anti-Trump himself. And yet, it’s not hard to envision a scenario in which the president determines that he has more to gain by compromising with Democrats than with conservative Republicans. It’s even easier to conceive of the circumstances in which Democrats become convinced they can more effectively soften Trump’s support among crossover voters by working with him than reflexively opposing him. If that happens, the Great Progressive Revival will be put on indefinite hold.
Anti-Semitism knows no politics.
A debate rages among American Jews as to whether right-wing or left-wing anti-Semitism poses the greater danger. Germany has come up with a novel solution to this dilemma that will undoubtedly delight denialists of the left-wing version: Simply redefine Jew-hatred as a “politically motivated right-wing extremist crime,” and by definition, you’ve eliminated all other kinds of anti-Semitism.
Last week, the German Interior Ministry released a report on anti-Semitism which stated that during the first eight months of this year, a whopping 92 percent of anti-Semitic incidents were committed by right-wing extremists. That sounded suspicious for two reasons, which I’ll get to later, but since I don’t speak German, I couldn’t scrutinize the report for myself. Fortunately, the German daily Die Welt found the results equally suspicious, and this week, Benjamin Weinthal of the Jerusalem Post reported on some of the problems it flagged.
Weinthal explained that in a federal report on anti-Semitism issued by the German government earlier this year, “the crime of ‘Jew-hatred’ is classified in the category of ‘politically motivated right-wing extremist crime.’” But once Jew-hatred has been declared a right-wing crime by definition, most of its perpetrators will inevitably be classified as far-right extremists, even if they shouldn’t be.
Die Welt cited one particularly blatant example from summer 2014 when Israel was at war with Hamas in Gaza. The war sparked numerous anti-Israel protests, and during one, 20 Hezbollah supporters shouted the Nazi slogan “Sieg Heil” at pro-Israel demonstrators in Berlin. Hezbollah supporters are Islamic extremists, not neo-Nazis, even if they chose to taunt German Jews by hurling Nazi slogans at them. Nevertheless, the incident was classified as a far-right extremist crime, thereby neatly removing a case of Islamic anti-Semitism from the statistics.
There are two good reasons for thinking the linguistic acrobatics, in this case, represents the rule rather than the exception. First, a 2014 study of 14,000 pieces of hate mail sent over a 10-year period to the Central Council of Jews in Germany and the Israeli embassy in Berlin found that only three percent came from far-right extremists. Over 60 percent came from the educated mainstream–professors, PhDs, lawyers, priests, university and high-school students. And these letters were definitely anti-Semitic rather than merely anti-Israel; they included comments such as “It is possible that the murder of innocent children suits your long tradition?” and “For the last 2,000 years, you’ve been stealing land and committing genocide.”
Sending hate mail is an anti-Semitic incident in its own right, even if it’s not reported to the police (as most of these letters undoubtedly weren’t). Thus unless you want to make the dubious claim that Germany’s educated mainstream–unlike that of other Western countries–consists largely of far-right extremists, it’s clear that far-right extremists aren’t the only people actively committing anti-Semitic acts.
Second, in other Western European countries, Islamic extremists are a major source of anti-Semitic crime. Thus it’s hard to believe that Germany–which, as several terror attacks over the last two years have shown, is hardly devoid of such extremists–would be the one exception to this rule. In contrast, it’s easy to believe the German government would manipulate its definitions to downplay Islamic anti-Semitism because German courts have already done the same.
In perhaps the most notorious case, a German court ruled in 2015 that three Palestinians who firebombed a synagogue in July 2014 didn’t commit an anti-Semitic crime, but were merely trying to draw “attention to the Gaza conflict.” That ruling was upheld by an appeals court earlier this year. I can’t imagine a German court ruling that firebombing a church to draw attention to, say, the U.S. war in Iraq was a mere political expression rather than a hate crime. But neither the lower court nor the appellate one saw anything anti-Semitic about bombing a Jewish house of worship to protest Israel’s actions (the men were convicted of vandalizing the synagogue, but given only suspended sentences). So presto, Islamic anti-Semitism has been eliminated from the picture.
Far-right anti-Semitism is, of course, real. But so are left-wing and Islamic anti-Semitism. And by pretending the latter two don’t exist, the German government has made it impossible to combat those types of anti-Semitism effectively, since you can’t fight something whose very existence you refuse to acknowledge.
This might not matter to Berlin; the German government clearly cares more about fighting the far right than fighting anti-Semitism, and evidently considers redefining all Jew-hatred as right-wing extremism a legitimate means to that end. But it ought to matter to Jews of every political stripe.
Thus both sides of the American Jewish community need to call out Germany on its whitewash. They should also avoid replicating its despicable practice of redefining anti-Semitism to suit its own political purposes since doing so will only allow the strains of anti-Semitism they deny to metastasize. And in the end, as history has proven time and again, neither right-wing nor left-wing anti-Semites offer immunity to any Jew, even when they’re on the same political side.