Art dealer and Senate candidate Stefan Simchowitz, 53, poses for a portrait in front of artwork by Gene A'Hern at his home in Pasadena. (Philip Cheung for The Free Press)

The Backlash in Deep-Blue America

‘Why am I running as a Republican? Because I’ve seen up close the hypocrisy of the left and it’s unfathomable.’

A poll published over the weekend found that one in ten 2020 Biden voters now back Donald Trump. It’s a sign that Joe Biden’s reelection bid is in trouble, which will surprise no one who has been paying attention. (More on that in a second.) 

But it’s also a sign of something bigger even than the presidential race: a conservative backlash that is showing up in political fights big and small across the country. Consider the following:

  • In progressive San Francisco, voters frustrated by the twin crises of homelessness and overdose deaths are poised to back a series of law-and-order ballot proposals. Notably, the city’s Democratic mayor, London Breed, supports the measures.

  • In Oregon, the state legislature has just recriminalized drug possession after a two-year experiment in decriminalization that led to a massive spike in overdose deaths.

  • In deep-blue Washington, D.C., council members face recall efforts amid rising violent crime. 

  • In New York last week, Eric Adams called for a major overhaul of the city’s sanctuary city status. 

These are among the most progressive places in the country. And yet all of them are embracing policies and candidates that signal a shift toward what you might call common sense.

Today in The Free Press: two fascinating stories about that shift. 

First: in the California Senate primary, the so-called “patron satan” of the art world has decided to try his hand at politics. As a Republican. 

Suzy Weiss meets Stefan Simchowitz, the outsider art dealer in Los Angeles who is applying his disruptive methods to politics. Simchowitz calls himself a “centrist, progressive, on-the-edge-to-Democrat Republican.” He voted for Biden in 2020, but he won’t do so again. Why? The decline of American cities, including Los Angeles, where he lives. The creep of DEI. The left’s reaction to October 7. 

In other words, Simchowitz is a liberal mugged by reality. In his case, quite literally: Simchowitz says that one of his homes was recently robbed, twice, and that a homeless man used the entry area of one of his galleries as a toilet. He told The Free Press it reminds him of his childhood in South Africa. “When you watch a country fall apart, you understand things can actually fall apart. Americans are complacent.”

“Why am I running as a Republican?” he asks. “Because I’ve seen up close the hypocrisy of the left and it’s unfathomable.”

Read Suzy’s full profile of the art-world enfant terrible who has set his sights on the American project: 

When most Los Angeles residents felt the frustration of Stefan Simchowitz, they didn’t decide to run for office. They fled. Many of them went to Austin, which promised all the urbanity of a coastal city, only with safer streets, no homelessness, and much lower taxes.

Turns out that wasn’t the case. And many of them blame José Garza, a progressive prosecutor who tomorrow is being challenged in the Democratic primary by Jeremy Sylestine.

Like other Soros-supported DAs across the country, including George Gascón in Los Angeles and Chesa Boudin in San Francisco, Garza promised to make the criminal justice system more humane—eliminating most drug possession prosecutions, calling for fewer and shorter sentences, holding the police to account. But this progressive agenda simply hasn’t worked. 

So some Austin centrists got together to do something about it.

Will the moderate they are backing win tomorrow? Read on for more from Joe Nocera. . . 

Ten Stories We’re Reading 

  1. Kamala Harris calls for Hamas to accept an immediate cease-fire. The administration is stepping up their rhetoric, having raised hopes of an imminent end to the fighting. (Washington Post)

  2. No Labels will decide whether to enter the presidential race in the coming week. Some prominent possible candidates, including Joe Manchin, Larry Hogan, and Nikki Haley, have ruled out a run. (NY mag)

  3. A grenade was left in Uber as anti-Israel protesters marched in Manhattan Saturday. The NYPD bomb squad struggled to reach the car because of protesters blocking traffic. (NY Post)

  4. What Navalny’s funeral says about Russia today. (BBC)

  5. Ex–L.A. Dodger Republican Steve Garvey is in first place in California’s Senate race. (L.A. Times)

  6. Climate science must tell the whole truth, writes Patrick T. Brown, who first blew the whistle on climate research in The Free Press last year. (Chronicle of Higher Education)

  7. A permanent stalemate in Gaza suits Bibi. (The Spectator)

  8. Immigration (probably) didn’t bring down inflation. (Noah Smith)

  9. Waymo has been given permission to expand to L.A. (CNBC)

  10. Caitlin Clark is the highest-scoring basketball player in NCAA history. (NBC)

Also on Our Radar. . . 

→ Biden is losing: The polls aren’t looking great for Joe Biden. Okay, that’s nothing new—he’s been trailing Donald Trump for months now. But two recent surveys were especially grisly. Last week, a Bloomberg/Morning Consult poll found the president trailing Trump in seven critical states. Then the latest survey from The New York Times and Siena College, published over the weekend, painted a grim national picture. Here’s what it found:

  • Biden is five points behind Trump, 43 to 48, among registered voters.

  • 47 percent of voters disapprove of Biden’s handling of his job, the highest disapproval rating of his presidency so far.

  • Democratic voters are roughly evenly split on whether Biden should be the party’s nominee.

  • 61 percent of 2020 Biden voters think the president is now “too old to be effective.” 

  • 10 percent of 2020 Biden voters now back Trump. 

Biden’s team brushed the poll aside, effectively denying the president is behind in the race. “Polling continues to be at odds with how Americans vote, and consistently overestimates Donald Trump while underestimating President Biden,” said a Biden campaign spokesperson.

However, the president’s actions tell a different story. As Matthew Continetti notes in a sharp column for The Washington Free Beacon, recent Biden activity—including a trip to the border and a late-night television appearance—suggests a campaign all too aware of its candidate’s liabilities. 

Here’s some good advice for the Biden campaign from polling guru Nate Silver: target the swing voters. In a post on his Substack, Silver explains that conventional wisdom sees presidential politics as a turnout game these days: you win by firing up your base and making sure they turn out. This myth has stuck in part because, in a partisan media landscape, it suits many political commentators. As Silver notes, “These pundits tend to be strong progressives (or conservatives) themselves, and the base-turnout theory implies there’s no trade-off between ideologically charged policy goals and electoral ones.” 

But the turnout theory is wrong, Silver writes. The truth is there are quite a lot of swing voters out there. Just look at the one in ten 2020 Biden voters who the Times says is now backing Trump. And as a basic rule of electoral math, swing voters are twice as valuable as a member of your base who might stay home—if you win over someone who was going to vote for your opponent, you don’t just win a vote but knock one of your opponent’s tally too. And so Biden’s path to victory lies not in energizing the base with student debt write-offs or tough talk on Israel, but in “focus[ing] on this group of vote-switching swing voters first, and the base second.” In other words: win the wine moms! Be nice to the normies! 

→ George Galloway’s unwelcome return: How are things going back in Blighty? Last time we checked in on the old country, Konstantin Kisin brought news of members of Parliament who feared for their physical safety if they voted against an Israel-Hamas cease-fire. Before that, we spoke to Mike Freer, the MP forced to wear a stab vest when he meets constituents, now stepping down because of threats from Islamists against him and his husband. On Thursday, a special election saw the return to Parliament of the noxious rabble-rouser George Galloway. 

American readers may remember Galloway from his showboating before Congress during hearings on the Iraq War, or his 2005 debate about that conflict with Christopher Hitchens. Behind Galloway’s showmanship is a politics so poisonous it’s hard to know where to start. Perhaps with the fact that Hamas leadership awarded Galloway honorary Palestinian citizenship. Or his praise for Syrian president Bashar al-Assad as “the last Arab ruler.” Or his praise, shortly after the first Gulf War, for Saddam Hussein: “Sir, I salute your courage, your strength, your indefatigability.” Or his stints as a TV host on both Iran-funded Press TV and Russian propaganda channel Russia Today. Or his dismissal, in 2019, from a job as a talk radio host for reacting to the news that Tottenham Hotspur—a North London soccer club with a large Jewish following—had lost a game by saying at least it meant there would be “no Israel flags” on the trophy.

In other words, a very bad hombre. And an embarrassment for British democracy so long as he remains an MP. 

Watch: Here’s that famous 2005 debate between Hitchens and Galloway. 

→ Honoring Navalny: Last month, we were honored to publish the letters between the Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky and Alexei Navalny. The Putin critic, whose funeral this weekend attracted large crowds in defiance of the Kremlin, had written to Sharansky after reading his book Fear No Evil in a cell in the same gulag where Sharansky had been locked away for nine years. Sharansky mentions those letters in a new op-ed for The Economist and urges the West to do more to help those in Navalny’s position. “The West must understand that political prisoners are its main allies inside Russia,” writes Sharansky. “It should treat them as hostages who must be exchanged for accomplices of Putinism held in Western prisons (as Reagan and his predecessor, Jimmy Carter, did). Rather than simply expressing ‘concern’ for their fate, the West must develop much harder tactics to ensure their freedom.” 

→ Don’t learn to code! The smart view, for at least a decade, has been that kids should learn to code. Tech is the future, parents were told, and your little darlings will get left behind unless they major in computer science or have at least rustled up a few apps before graduating high school. A lot of people took that advice. Just look at this chart, which shows computer science majors to surpass all humanities degrees in the next few years. 

Unfortunately, it might not have been great advice. Last week, Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang suggested people do the exact opposite. “Over the last 10–15 years, almost everybody who sits on a stage like this would tell you that it is vital that your children learn computer science, everybody should learn how to program. In fact, it is almost exactly the opposite,” he said at the World Government Summit in Dubai. “Everybody in the world is now a coder. This is the miracle of AI.” Good news for fellow computing illiterates out there: we weren’t behind the times; we were just playing the long game. 

→ Rob Henderson versus The New York Times: Congratulations to Free Press columnist Rob Henderson on his brilliant memoir Troubled, which we recently excerpted in our pages. Rob’s book has a well-earned place in the top ten bestseller lists. Except, that is, for The New York Times list. Why? Rob wondered the same thing and asked around. Here’s Rob, writing on his Substack

The USA Today list and the Publishers Weekly list seem to be based primarily (though not entirely) on raw sales. In contrast, the NYT list cares about where the books are being purchased (e.g., fancy independent bookstores in NY and SF). Of course, they care about sales (to a point), but the tastemakers who curate the list also concentrate on image and “fit.” Similar to “holistic admissions.” To draw a rough analogy: the USA Today bestseller list is akin to MIT or Caltech; the NYT list is more like Harvard or Yale.

General snobbery and punishment for wrongthink, in other words. Well, we say: three cheers for Rob! If you haven’t already bought a copy of Troubled, it’s not too late to correct that terrible mistake. Do so here. 

Are you part of the 10 percent of 2020 Biden voters now backing Trump? If so, tell us why in the comments. 

Oliver Wiseman is a writer and editor for The Free Press. Follow him on X @ollywiseman

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