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CNN TONIGHT: Bob Dole To Lie In State Thursday At U.S. Capitol; Authorities Searching Home Of Man Accused Of Helping School Shooting Suspect's Parents; NYC To Mandate COVID Vaccines For All Private Sector Workers. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired December 06, 2021 - 21:00   ET



ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: That's it for us. The news continues. Let's hand it over to Michael Smerconish, and CNN TONIGHT.

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST: Anderson, thank you.

I am Michael Smerconish. This is CNN TONIGHT.

And first, a note about this time slot. As you've certainly heard, Chris Cuomo is no longer with CNN. But our job is to continue to bring you the news. And that's what we'll do tonight.

You also know that America lost one of the greats of the greatest generation, yesterday.

Former Senate Majority Leader, war hero, one-time Republican presidential nominee, Bob Dole, will now lie in state, Thursday, at the U.S. Capitol. But his passing was not the passing of just one man. It's a metaphor for the demise of America's productive and civilized governing class.

Think about it. Is there a Bob Dole among us today, in either party? Could a Bob Dole, a model of decorum, get nominated in his party? No way, which is why his passing should be reason, to hit the pause button, a reflection point, as to what's changed, since people like him, ran for office, out of a sense of duty and obligation.

Bob Dole ran to serve, not to be. Consider that Dole cast more than 12,000 votes in Congress. And while he was a loyal Republican, he was not always predictable.

Yes, he opposed many of the Great Society programs of President LBJ, but he supported the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

He joined forces, with Democratic Senator, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, in 1983, to save Social Security, from insolvency. And it was Dole, who handed Ronald Reagan, a veto-proof, 78 votes, to enshrine Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday, as the national holiday.

In Dole's era, the way that you got to stay in Washington, was to bide your time, get reelected, establish seniority, get choice committee assignments, and get things done.

Today, it's a lot easier, and potentially quicker, to keep your job. You say something provocative. You get on cable television. You become a fundraising magnet. In short, you act like a talk show host. Why spend time trying to pass complex legislation, when instead, you can be a verbal or social media bomb-thrower?

It's hard for me to imagine Senator Bob Dole, in the same Capitol building, with House member Lauren Boebert, who likened one of her colleagues, on the other side of the aisle, to terrorists. Or Paul Gosar, who tweeted out an anime murder-fantasy video that depicts him killing a Democratic congresswoman. Or Marjorie Taylor Greene, who compares House mask mandates to the Holocaust. He never would have been comfortable in that environment.

Of course, when the House moved to censure Gosar, GOP Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, singled out five Democrats, and detailed their behavior, which he said, didn't meet the high standard, being set for Gosar. He then summarized the conduct of Ilhan Omar, Adam Schiff, Maxine Waters, Eric Swalwell, and Hakeem Jeffries. And so it goes.

Dole was so much that is missing today, not the least of which is pragmatism and flexibility. His life was a canvas, providing a poignant backdrop, for comparison, to what's gone wrong, in Washington.

And we don't have to speculate as to what Dole would have thought about the news of the day. It turns out that he left behind his final words, a column, written by the late Senator Dole that the "Washington Post" says, was drafted early in 2021, to be published, around the time of his death.

So, listen to the late senator, in his own words. Quote, "I watched the January 6 riots at the Capitol. I thought about the symbol of our democracy consumed by anger, hatred and violence.

There's been a lot of talk about what it will take to heal our country. We've heard many of our leaders profess "Bipartisanship." But we must remember that bipartisanship is the minimum we should expect from ourselves.

America has never achieved greatness when Republicans and Democrats simply manage to work together or tolerate each other. When we prioritize principles over party and humanity over personal legacy, we accomplish far more as a nation.

I will count on tomorrow's leaders to stand up for what is right for America. With full optimism and faith in our nation's humanity, I know they will."

Powerful, right?

We do have some breaking news tonight that's related to January 6. It's exclusive to CNN.

We've learned that Marc Short, former Chief of Staff, to Vice President Mike Pence, is now cooperating, with the January 6 committee. That's a significant development that will give investigators insight, from one of the highest-ranking Trump officials.

Short is a first-hand witness to many critical events that the panel is looking into. So, that sounds positive.


But will Dole's final words, on bipartisanship, resonate with both sides, of a deeply polarized Washington today? That's my question.

I'm wondering tonight what you're thinking, what your answer might be, to that issue. And I want you to reach out to me, via social media, just like I do, on Saturday mornings. And I'll do my best to share some responses, as the program progresses.

Thoughts now from a longtime friend, of Senator Dole, John Danforth, former Missouri senator, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.

Senator, thank you so much for being here. "Have you got it worked out yet?" Whose words are they? And in what context, were they offered?

JOHN DANFORTH, (R) FORMER U.S. SENATOR, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO U.N., LONGTIME FRIEND OF BOB DOLE: Well, that's classic Bob Dole, as you pointed out in your commentary, Michael, which was right on.

So, when Dole was the Republican leader, in the Senate, his idea was to get as many senators, in the act, as he could.

And he had, in the leader's office, there was a relatively small room, with a large table. And when there was a contentious issue, in the Senate, he would get everybody, he could grab, who was concerned about that issue, all the different points of view. And he would invite them to go into that room.

And the room had a large table, in there, where the senators would sit around it, a bunch of staffers, on the outside. It was extremely crowded. If it had any air conditioning, I wasn't aware of it. It was almost an unbearable hotbox. And we stayed in that room. And we hashed out the issues.

And then, I can remember, staggering out of that room, into the Republican Cloakroom, and here would be Bob Dole. And he'd be sitting in an overstuffed leather chair. And he would always say the same thing. "Got it worked out yet?" And that's - that was his method.

Politics was about working things out, and keeping people in a room, until they got it worked out. And that was when government functioned. And that was when the United States Senate functioned.

SMERCONISH: Senator, you heard me tie his passing, to a bygone era, and bring it to the current events, in Washington. How worried are you, about the fate of democracy, in the United States?

DANFORTH: Well, I think that really, one of the points of the country, right, is to keep everything together. And that's the point of politics. And it's the point of our governmental structure.

And it's not just ramming things through. And it's not just taking PR positions, and making speeches, and getting yourself on a news program.

It's about trying to hash through difficult subjects, bring America together, keep it together, reach compromise. And that's what politics is, and should be about. And that's the way Madison drew it up, when he drafted the Constitution.

SMERCONISH: I know this - I know this--

DANFORTH: I know they did flight pattern--

SMERCONISH: --I know this cuts close to home for you, because of an endorsement that you made that you wish you hadn't made.

And I see that as being directly tied, I'm referring, of course, to Senator Josh Hawley, but I see that as directly tied, because of the role that he played, in fighting the election outcome of 2020.

That's why I ask, how worried are you, about the fate of democracy, in the United States?

DANFORTH: Well, I am, because I think there's a political style now, and particularly in my party, to be willing to attack the constitutional structure. And, of course, January 6 was an example of that. But that wasn't all of it.

It was beginning, even before the election, of calling into question, the legitimacy of the election, claiming that the election would be stolen, claiming that the President wasn't a legitimately-elected president. And that's a very serious thing to do to the country.

And it's not just something to do to Democrats, or to Joe Biden. It's an attack on the whole constitutional system, and on the concept that government derives its just power, from the consent of the governed.

So yes, I am concerned about it. And it's a different chapter, in American politics, and it's not a good chapter.

SMERCONISH: So, take our final 60 seconds, and tell me how the middle, how the centrists, seize control of this debate, from the extremists, in America?

DANFORTH: I wish I knew the answer to that, because I believe that there are an awful lot of people, in our country, who are not on the extremes.


I think that they are - they don't - they wouldn't (ph) agree with Biden's, say economic policies, than they certainly don't agree with the style of Donald Trump. And they've been pretty well-thought out about politics. And somehow, it's important for the Senator, to reassert himself, because that's where the action-- SMERCONISH: Yes. I happen to think it's--

DANFORTH: --should be in there, I guess.

SMERCONISH: --I happen to think it's where the greatest--

DANFORTH: That's not great anymore (ph).

SMERCONISH: --where the greatest numbers are, if we would only seize control of this conversation.

Senator Danforth, nice to see you. Thank you for being here. I really appreciate it.

DANFORTH: Thank you.

SMERCONISH: What are your thoughts? Tweet me @smerconish. Go to my Facebook page. I'll try and read some throughout the course of the program.

What do we have gang?

"Decency in decline in American politics? Really? The decline process is over dude. The decline is past tense. It's done."

Not on my watch. The decline has been going on for about the last 30 years. It gets timed actually, to when Senator Dole had the power that he had in the 1980s. 60 percent, of the United States Senate, according to the "National Journal," in that era, comprised of moderates, like Dole.

One more, if we have time for it. What do we got?

"He endorsed Donald Trump in 2016. In the end, that's all that matters."

Ah, I can't pronounce your handle, but I'll say this. He did endorse Trump in 2016. But he didn't do it in 2020. He'd seen enough.

In a country that is sadly almost numb to school shootings, the developments in the Michigan case are almost surreal. The 15-year-old suspect's parents, captured in a warehouse, after a manhunt.

Tonight, the Oakland County Sheriff is here to update us on the investigation, including questions, about the high school's response, to warning signs. And that's next.



SMERCONISH: New developments tonight, in the deadly mass shooting, at the Oxford High School, in Michigan.

Just hours ago, Sheriff deputies interviewed and searched the property of a man, they believe, may have helped the shooting suspect's parents, during Friday's manhunt, for them.

Deputies say a 65-year-old man let James and Jennifer Crumbley use his workspace, in Detroit, over the weekend. He is not currently charged with a crime.

The Crumbleys, however, are now in jail. They're charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter, for giving their son, unrestricted access, to the gun that deputies say he used to shoot and kill four of his classmates. Ethan Crumbley is being held in the same facility as his parents.

Let's bring in Sheriff Michael Bouchard, for the latest.

Sheriff, thank you so much for being with me. The question on all of our minds, did they have assistance, at that time that law enforcement was looking for them?


But the key question that my detectives are attempting to determine, factually, and through evidence, is did the individual know they are wanted, at the time, and then aid and abet them?

SMERCONISH: What did the assistance that you refer to consist of? What is it that he did, to provide them with some advantage?

BOUCHARD: Well, it was his space. It was restricted and secured space. So, he gave them access to that space, it appears before, they were actually wanted. But then was with them again, after they were wanted. And so, we're attempting to determine, if he knew any of those facts, or if so, when he knew it.

So, the part of the search warrant that they're executing, and working on, as we speak, is to collect and seize digital devices, to see if there's anything that will corroborate some of the information that he gave, in our investigative interview, earlier this afternoon. He is cooperating, and so is his attorney.

SMERCONISH: And Sheriff, as you and I speak, all three family members incarcerated in the same facility, what kind of unique dynamics does that present to you?

BOUCHARD: It's something that our professional corrections staff is used to dealing with. A lot of high-profile individuals, in cases, have gone through our facility. And they would all be segregated individually anyway.

One is a juvenile, so he would not be around, and allowed to be with adults. And the male and female populations are separated. So, in any event, none of them will be interacting or seeing each other.

SMERCONISH: You know that attention is now being focused on the school. Heretofore, it's been on the parents.

In a hypothetical, what would have been the protocol that police would have followed, if you get a report from a school that says "We're concerned about a particular student?"

BOUCHARD: Well, that school and school district actually has one of my deputies, as a school resource officer, who is in that school, nearly constantly.

So, our protocols would have triggered, had they invited us in, especially to the second meeting. He would have ascertained, if he was any concern, safety or threat, to the school, at the moment.

Based on the kinds of things that they saw, and heard, and now we now know, we would have asked that the school have him removed, from the school, until we can make safe, and make sure the situation is stable, and not a threat or a danger, to himself or others.

A follow-on protocol that we have is then we then go to their home, speak to the parents, and determine access and availability of weapons.

So, as an example, the day after the shooting, we had another school district, with a different 15-year-old person. The school district did in fact contact us.

We made some interviews, determined that the student, the 15-year-old had said threatening things. Met with the parents, who were super- cooperative. Checked the house. There were weapons. And for safekeeping, we took the weapons into custody, and arrested that 15- year-old.

That would have been our protocol, had we been involved in that meeting, the day prior.

SMERCONISH: So glad you spelled that out. Sheriff Michael Bouchard, thank you so much for your time.

BOUCHARD: Thank you, sir.


SMERCONISH: As I said, a lot of our attention, we've just heard the latest, on the investigation. But now, our attention shifts to the school. Prosecutors are looking into school officials' level of culpability in this. There could be much more to have been done, perhaps.

And I want to bring in a school safety consultant. That would be Chris Dorn. He's the Senior Analyst, for Safe Havens International.

Chris, thanks for being here. React to what the Sheriff just had to say, as it applies to your area of expertise.

CHRIS DORN, SCHOOL SAFETY CONSULTANT, SENIOR ANALYST, SAFE HAVENS INTERNATIONAL: Well, it's very troubling, of course, but it's not surprising.

This is a common problem we see with schools, dealing with these types of threat assessment situations, where law enforcement typically, are volitions (ph). They typically - the law enforcement often are not involved as early as they should be.

SMERCONISH: I want to put up on the timeline, on the screen, and go over some of the key points, with a special focus, on one day. So, I think viewers are familiar with the basics.

The 26th, the dad buys the gun. The son posts the photo of the gun, on social media.

The 27th, mom posts about the gun on social media.

The 29th is the day that the teacher sees Ethan Crumbley, searching online, on his phone, for ammunition. Reports this. The school contacts the parents. There's no reply. Then Mom texts her son, "LOL," laugh out loud, "I'm not mad at you. You have to learn" how "not to get caught."

Though November 30 day is the one that I want to focus you on. Teacher finds Crumbley's drawing, showing semi-automatic gun, bullet, words "Blood everywhere," and a person who appears to have been shot twice and bleeding.

The Counselor takes Ethan Crumbley and his backpack to the office. The parents resist taking their son out of school that day. He goes back to class. And then comes the mayhem.

What was the protocol, in your opinion that should have been followed, on the 30th of November?

DORN: Well, ideally, we would have been a little bit further along in the process, before we got to that point, and identified some of these things that we're seeing.

But, at the point, where we have these types of threatening information, such as the written threats, the information about weapons and firearms, some of those other signs, we would want to bring in what we call a multidisciplinary threat assessment team.

That is to have someone, from the education background, looking at the situation, but also someone from mental health, as well as law enforcement. So, we can get those different perspectives.

And that's like what we were just talking about, where that's the chance, for that law enforcement officer, to see, "There's a problem here. We can do something about it."


DORN: Maybe get some mental health--

SMERCONISH: Look, I know hindsight is--

DORN: --person on this.

SMERCONISH: --I know hindsight is 20/20. And I don't want to pile on. But you call the cops, right? DORN: That's typically what we hope to happen - hope to have happen. But it's just, it's very challenging for schools, because we're not - educators aren't designed, to look for the danger, to look for the next active shooter. Their job is to educate, to nurture kids.

SMERCONISH: But in a circumstance - in a circumstance, like this, don't you look in that student's locker? Don't you ask what's in the backpack, and then seek to inspect it?

DORN: Well, hopefully, by that point, we're having law enforcement presence, so they can be the ones, to do that inspection, that search. We won't have law enforcement present, to do any kind of search for weapons. And that definitely would have changed the course of this event.

SMERCONISH: So, what's the takeaway? With your expertise, as one, who provides guidance to schools, what are you saying?

DORN: To look at what we have, in place, for threat assessment, to look at what our resources are, within the district, and outside of the district, or whatever school organization is.

When we receive these different pieces of information that we're all seeing now, on that list, when that information comes about the first time, is that information fall into the right place.

SMERCONISH: A shooting like this is a rarity, thank God. But I discussed this, on radio, today. And I was surprised at how many, who work in a school environment, called and shared anecdotally, situations, in which they've been called upon, to make this kind of an assessment.

It happens with some regularity, right?

DORN: Yes, it's fairly common. We have to keep in mind that threat assessment isn't just looking for the active shooter. But it's looking for the kid that's going to commit suicide. It's looking for the student, who's doing self-harm behavior. It's a harm-reduction process.


DORN: And so, these things happen all the time, and it's difficult to be that one person that has to decide, is the student a threat or not.

SMERCONISH: And Chris, I should also say, it seems that after the gunman started, what he was doing, that the response seemed appropriate, even laudatory, on the part of the school and the students.

Would you agree with that? And if not, explain why.

DORN: It's hard to say so far. Some of the - some of the reports we've heard are concerning. Students arming themselves with scissors, to defend against the attacker. Barricading, in some situations, can be - maybe more dangerous than help, if we don't need to barricade that door, if the door can be simply locked.

So, I'm really interested to see what comes out, during the investigation, as far as what the response actually was, and how that impacted--

SMERCONISH: Yes, me too. I want to know everything.

Chris Dorn, thank you. I appreciate your time.

DORN: Thank you.

SMERCONISH: What are your thoughts? Reach out on social media. We'll include some, during the course of the program.


This comes from Twitter, I think. "Will we actually see any change from the parents being arrested, what does this mean for the future, do we know if safety will win over politics?"

Bray, I think the easy call here, actually I should say it this way, I think the easy call, in this case, seems to be that the parents acted with negligence. Whether that rises to a criminal standard, whether they were legally complicit, that's an open question, in my mind. I need more facts, before I can weigh in on that.

But the more troublesome question seems to be, and the more difficult question seems to be, what about the school? What was the response, during the course, of those two interactions?

And I'm not satisfied, and the expert wasn't satisfied, I'm not sure about the Sheriff, that the school did exactly what they should have done, in a case like this.

Keep the social media reactions coming.

The nation's strictest vaccine mandate is coming to New York City. Should people, who have natural immunity, be afforded the same privileges, as the vaccinated? I'll ask a leading infectious disease specialist, if that's the right call, next.




MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO, (D) NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK: This is how we put health and safety first, by ensuring that there is a vaccine mandate that reaches everyone, universally, in the private sector.

A lot of folks, in the private sector, have said to me, they believe in vaccination, but they're not quite sure how they can do it themselves.

Well, we're going to do it. (END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, taking the vaccine battle, further than anybody, including the President.

He announced today that by December 27, in three weeks' time, all private sector employees will be subject to a vaccine mandate. Unlike the federal mandate that applies to larger businesses, employees won't even have the option, to opt out of the mandate, through regular testing.

The punishment for not complying has yet to be disclosed. But it's yet another instance, where the unvaccinated are facing a new level of restrictions, even though those who have had COVID could have natural immunity. Should we be making exceptions for them?

After all, a look across the pond shows just how many European nations, even the Vatican, are willing to treat people, who have had COVID, the same, who are vaccinated.

For more on this, I want to bring in an infectious disease expert, Dr. Monica Gandhi, of the University of California, at San Francisco.

Dr. Gandhi, if you were advising Mayor de Blasio, would you say to him, "You need to treat those, who've had COVID, the same as you're treating the vaccinated?"

DR. MONICA GANDHI, INFECTIOUS DISEASE SPECIALIST, UCSF: Yes. Actually, I would tell him, to treat the people, who've been recovered, from COVID, the same as the vaccinated.

Why? Because, at this point, December 2021, we have a lot of data that not just immunologically shows us that people, who have recovered from COVID, have strong immunity. And, by immunologic, I mean, B cell data, just this week, actually, in general infectious diseases, and T cell data. Those are called memory cells.

Antibodies will actually be higher, if you've had a severe infection, maybe lower, if you had a mild infection. But they come down, after vaccination anyway. So, it really is about what's called cellular memory. So, we have a lot of immunologic data.

SMERCONISH: Isn't it a very--

GANDHI: And we have a lot of data--

SMERCONISH: Isn't it, Dr. Gandhi, a very individualized process? In other words, millions have gotten the vaccine. And there's a ton of data, as to what we can expect, in those cases.

But, for those, who've had it, how do we really know, in lay terms, that they're resistant, to getting the virus again? Is there really a way to measure that?

GANDHI: There's not, because like I just said, the antibodies will come down, given your distance, from when you've been infected, and also how severe it was.

So, what they're doing in Europe, you just showed a map--


GANDHI: --is they are accepting a PCR test, of a COVID-positive test, in the past, as saying, "OK, you've had natural immunity. You've recovered. That's good enough for us."

And Switzerland is the one that's looking at it the longest. They have a 365-day period, after you've recovered from COVID that you count as vaccinated, or you count as immune.

SMERCONISH: It's pretty - it's pretty jarring, to see that map. I had no idea, until recent developments. But it's pretty jarring to see what an outlier, the United States is. I mean, there it is, again. We're listing all the E.U. and non-E.U. countries that do it differently.

Why the, disconnect? Final question, why doesn't the United States go the way, of those nations, in your opinion?

GANDHI: I can't quite figure it out. It seems a little bit political. And I'm not even sure, where that - what the politics means.

But I will tell you that no one in Europe isn't a good immunologist, and they're not good virologists there. They know what they're talking about. And I think we should make an exception, for those that have recovered from COVID.

SMERCONISH: Dr. Monica Gandhi, thank you for your time.

GANDHI: Thank you.

SMERCONISH: Why is a former Democratic governor, and presidential candidate, telling members of his party, to hit the road? Steve Bullock doesn't want them quitting their jobs, or campaigns. But he's going to tell us why, he thinks, so many on the Left, need to take a real detour. That's next.



SMERCONISH: Willie Sutton famously said that he robbed banks because that's where the money is. The political equivalent would be to spend your time, where the people are.

Census data would seem to say the Democrats are on the right track. More people are moving in and around cities. And the Left's playbook is now firmly entrenched, try to run up the numbers, as much as they can in those areas.

But in our constitutional system, getting more votes doesn't always win an election. Democrats got more votes, in five, of the last six presidential elections, yet only one, or kept the White House three times.

The issue was even more glaring, in the Senate, the 50 Republican senators represent 42 million fewer people than the same number of Democratic senators. That's why my next guest is imploring his fellow Democrats, to quote, "Get out of the city more." He's the former Governor of Montana, Steve Bullock.

Governor, nice to see you again. Thank you for being here.

You're sounding an alarm. And some might say "Wait a minute. Democrats control the House of Representatives, the White House, and the Senate. On those days that there's a tie, and the Vice President is there to break it. Why the need for alarm?"


The genesis of this article came right after the elections, in New Jersey and Virginia.

You look at in Virginia, almost half of the counties, in Virginia, were lost by Democrats by over 70 percent, 45 of the 95 counties. Go back to 2008, President Obama only lost four of Virginia's counties by 95 percent.


So, we're continuing to not necessarily do, as well as we need to be doing, outside the cities. And you got to show up. You've actually got to have issues and a discussion about things that matter in people's lives. And I think we can do that.

So, this was more or less the clarion to say, look, we've got a - we've lost 900 legislative seats, over the last 15 years. We've lost Senate seats, in places like North Dakota, or South Dakota, or Louisiana, or Indiana. And that's in part because we're not connecting to folks outside of cities. And we need to rededicate ourselves to doing so.

SMERCONISH: As I read your essay, you make the case that Democrats are out of touch with ordinary voters. And I could just hear critics saying, "No, it's Governor Bullock, who is out of touch, with ordinary Democrats. Maybe it's time for you to cross the aisle."

I'm sure you heard some of those comments. Your response is what?

BULLOCK: Yes. And not at all. Look, you can go back, and half of America hasn't had a pay increase, in real terms, in 40 years. It's always Democrats that are actually fighting, for the middle-class, to actually have a better life.

Time and time again, what we see is though, that - and there's - the divides are greater and greater. But if you're voting on your economic interests, your health care interests, your education interests, that's where we've always been. And that's urban and rural. And what we've got to do is make sure that we're talking to folks about the issues that they're speaking about, at the bar, or maybe at their own kitchen table, or at the diner, or across the fence line.

And most of those issues are, "Look, am I in the safe community? Do I have a roof over my head? Do I have a decent job? How are my kids doing? Can I do something better for them than even for me? Clean air and clean water." Those are the issues that we need to be focusing on.

SMERCONISH: Governor, you say that Democrats have allowed themselves to be typecast, coastal, overly-educated, elitist. What in that isn't correct?

BULLOCK: My perspective, Michael, all of it. Look, I think, at the end of the day, the Democratic Party is, and should be, and has been, the one that's going to fight for people, to make sure that their lives can be improved. And that's economically - the base of that is economically.

So look, I don't view most Democrats, certainly that I know, in places like Montana, or around the country, as sort of the elitist, and certainly not coastal. But look, we need to do both, right, like this isn't an either/or.

This isn't a, do you bring out the base, or do you persuade voters that used to be voting with us? We have to do both--


BULLOCK: --if we're going to be successful.

SMERCONISH: --I would just submit to you, I think that many Democrats, look at the most prominent of Democrats, and don't see themselves. Those who have command of the microphones are not representative of the sort of people you're talking about.

Nice to see you again, Governor. I appreciate you coming back.

BULLOCK: Great seeing you, Michael.

What are your thoughts? Make sure you're reaching out to me, during the course of social media. I'll share some, coming up, in just a moment.

I want to show you what may be the most unusual card this holiday season. This is from a United States congressman, posting for all the world to see. What do you think when you see it?

John Avlon is here to show us, what the attention-getting move may really mean. And that's next.



SMERCONISH: Tonight, Republican Congressman Thomas Massie, digging in, vowing to never delete, his controversial gun-toting family Christmas photo.

Remember, the picture was posted, just days after four kids were killed, in a Michigan school. And Massie's stance continues to fuel more outrage. But that may be the point.

John Avlon is here with the Reality Check.

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST, AUTHOR, "WINGNUTS": Yes, 'tis the season for Christmas cards, right? Those annual snapshots that show everything's all right, on the home front, usually accompanied, by wishes for peace on earth, and goodwill to men.

And then there's this guy, who decided to deck his whole family, out with weapons of war, along with a Christmas wish, for Santa, to bring more ammo. Talk about a war on Christmas!

Now, if you're anything resembling a normal, sane, sentient being, you might be asking yourself, "What the hell's wrong with these people?" And it's a fair question, only partially answered by the fact that dad is a Republican member of Congress.

See, that's Thomas Massie, from Tennessee. And whether you think his Christmas card was simply trolling, or Second Amendment bravado, it did come just days after America's latest school mass shooting.

Now, Thomas Massie isn't a brand-named Republican troll, like Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert, or Paul Gosar. He's presumably a smart guy though. He's a tech entrepreneur, with a Master's degree from MIT.

But he's also the kind of congressmen, who voted against giving Capitol police officers, the Congressional Gold Medal, after January 6, who voted against anti-lynching laws, claimed that the military would all quit, because of vaccine mandates, and tweeted and then deleted a comparison between vaccine mandates and the Holocaust. Yes.

And yet, he's largely flown, under the radar, because he's considered just a run-of-the-mill wingnut by the standards of Republicans in Congress. And that's the problem.

Because the palpable weirdness, of picturing your family, with automatic weapons, for Christmas card, is a win, if you're trying to play to the base, or own Libs, or both. And that's the situation that Massie is in.

You see? His district is rated R-plus-18, in The Almanac of American Politics, which means it has an 18 percent Republican-registration advantage. In other words, the only meaningful election, for him, is the primary, if he wants to stay in power.

Now, consider the flip side, the plight of those few independent- minded Republican congressmen and women, who had the courage, to stand up for real conservative principles, and condemn attempts, to overturn the election, at the behest of a violent mod.

They've all got political targets on their back now, from Trumpists, as well as Democrats. For example, five of the Republicans, who voted to impeach Trump, after the attack on our Capitol, represent GOP districts, in states Biden won.


Illinois' Adam Kinzinger decided not to run again, after his district was functionally eliminated, by State House Democrats.

And Michigan's Fred Upton, Peter Meijer, are both facing Trump- endorsed primary opponents.

In New York, and California, Representative John Katko and David Valadao, both won districts that Biden won easily. And now, they're facing possible extinction by redistricting, while charter members, of the Sedition Caucus, like New York's Elise Stefanik, look likely to emerge unscathed, from the process.

Think about the message that sends, trying to overturn an election, is politically safer, than standing up for basic principles of our democracy. Because we need more of these independent-minded folks, in Congress, not less. But all the trends seem to be going in the wrong direction.

Take Texas, which gained two congressional seats, after the latest census, due to massive population growth. In urban areas, 95 percent attributable, to people of color.

But Republicans, who control the state legislature, increased the number of safe GOP districts, while reducing competitive and Democratic leaning districts, throwing (ph) a voting rights challenge, from the DOJ, earlier today.

Or states like Ohio, which voted for nonpartisan redistricting, in 2018, overwhelmingly, only to have the State GOP push through an absurd 13 to two map, which is now headed to the State Supreme Court.

In fact, out of the nine states that have completed their congressional maps, to date, there are only 10 competitive congressional seats, out of 116. That's roughly half the number of competitive seats, from those same states, in the last election cycle, according to analysis, by Princeton University's Gerrymandering Project.

Anyone with an interest in a smooth-functioning democracy should see the danger in this. After all, bipartisan margins are the way most meaningful legislation passes, from Biden's signature infrastructure bill, to criminal justice reform, and NAFTA renegotiation, under Trump.

But the numbers of competitive swing seats have declined dramatically over the past 25 years. Get this. There were 164 swing seats, back in 1997. By 2017, it was down to 72, with safe seats skyrocketing, for both parties. And it's about to get much worse.

The decline in swing districts has led directly to the decline in centrist lawmakers, from both parties. And that's a problem for the whole Republic, not just the Republican Party. And that's your Reality Check. Michael?

SMERCONISH: You know, John? I said at the outset of the program that in Bob Dole's era--


SMERCONISH: --the way to stay in Washington, was to get something done. You've just underscored the point that I made. Because today, you just need a clever Christmas card.

And everything you said made sense to me with one addition. I'm sure it's a fundraising magnet, as a result, for him, so.

AVLON: 100 percent. Troll, play to the base, you don't have to ever worry about a competitive general election. That makes people more crazy.

SMERCONISH: John Avlon, thank you. We appreciate it.

AVLON: Thanks, Michael.

SMERCONISH: We'll be right back with some of your social media reaction.



SMERCONISH: So, let's take a look at some of the social reaction, the social media reaction that would be, to tonight's program. What do we got?

"Smerconish, that opening segment seemed full of bothsiderisms. Those five Ds that minor L called out did what they," I get it.

You're saying "Hey, why didn't you mention the DS?" I'll tell you exactly why. Because I think this partisanship is a pox on both their houses. Thank you so much for giving me the chance to say that.

I'll also say that the conduct that I identified, Boebert, Gosar, Marjorie Taylor Greene, absolutely worse than what I referenced from the Democrats. But I'm sorry, I am an equal opportunity offender.

What else? I also asked you, your thoughts, on the deadly mass shooting, in Michigan, and if the school should be held accountable. Here's some response that came into that.

"If all other circumstances were the same, and Crumbley, were a Black, Latino, or Asian kid, he would have been searched, suspended, expelled, then arrested for having a gun on school grounds. Because he's White, he was assumed not to be a threat."

Tony, you might be right. Here's my reaction to it. If the circumstances that we think we know about that timeline, apply to somebody who's pink, brown, or any other color, that backpack ought to be searched, and the kid gets sent home, from school. To me, that seems quite obvious.

I said earlier that the case against the parents is certainly one of negligence, maybe a criminal level of complicity. But I'm really troubled by the school, given the diagrams that he had, and the facts that have come out so far. So, we'll stay tuned.

One more, if I've got time for it. I think that I do.

"No! Schools have kids all the time with violent art and gun references. They were taking the proper steps. And it all happened fast. Ethan told them the drawings were a video game that he was designing. They did their best. I'm sure they're heartbroken and suffering!! Punish the parents!"

Hey, I am sure that all those folks, in the school community, are hurt and are suffering. And I'm sure that those in the guidance counselor's office, who met with him, are apoplectic, about all this.

But we still need to Zapruder the chronology of what went on here, right? And on two successive days - what's unclear to me is whether it was the same teacher, who made the report.

But in two successive days, you had concerns that were being raised, about this young man, one, searching for ammunition, the second with bloody images. And you can't just take his word for it that he says, "Oh, I wish to someday design video games."

You also weighed in about our electoral reality. I think I've got time for this. This is fun. Thank you.

"Electoral reform is seemingly the only solution. Open primaries and ranked choice voting would be a good start. Need to create an incentive structure to move politicians away from the fringes."

All of that is true. Gerrymandering is playing a role, media polarization, the biggest driver of all.

And there's something else going on out there. We're self-sorting. We are making a conscious choice, to live with the like-minded. That's not gerrymandering. And that's equally problematic.

Well, thank you for watching. I will be back here, tomorrow night.

"DON LEMON TONIGHT" starts right now. Don?