Perhaps a Bungled Opportunity on the Debt Ceiling

I haven’t posted much in recent weeks about the growing debt ceiling crisis; it is what it is and we are where we are.  What prompts this note is a May 20 Politico report:

“Looking back on the first two years of [President] Joe Biden’s presidency, [U.S. VA Sen.] Tim Kaine has one big regret about a largely successful stretch of Democratic rule: That his party didn’t try to raise the debt ceiling on its own last year.

The Virginia senator believes that if Democrats had tried to hike the debt limit before the House GOP swept into a majority, even Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) might have gone along with it. But Biden’s party never moved on the issue. And six months later, Democrats are stuck doing exactly what they said they wouldn’t — negotiating on the debt ceiling with Republicans.

‘If I could do one thing different,’ Kaine lamented this week, it would have been a late-2022 debt hike. ‘And I was saying it at the time … “‘hey, we got the votes.”’”

I noted in these pages on November 17, 2022:

“Given the paralysis and partisan histrionics that see overwhelmingly likely to ensue when Republicans take control of the House of Representatives, I would hope that for the good of the nation, during the upcoming lame duck Congressional session Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (due to the power of the filibuster) can agree to pass measures that have received or could garner bipartisan support to blunt some of the most destructive future MAGA impulses. … Below is a short list of such potential measures. …

  1. Raising the federal debt limit to an amount projected to carry the United States through to April 1, 2025.  Our citizenry will really decide the future direction it wishes the nation to take based upon whom it elects president in 2024.  In the meantime, the full faith and credit of the United States should not be held hostage to partisan rabble. …”

Since I don’t claim expertise in the nuances of the U.S. Senate’s filibuster rule, it’s not clear to me, given Mr. Kaine’s comments quoted by Politico, whether Democrats, as I suggested in my post, needed a number of Republican Senators’ support to have raised the debt ceiling in late 2022.  I’ve been assuming that they needed Republican Senate votes, and couldn’t get them.  One could infer from Mr. Kaine’s comments that they didn’t need Republican help.  If six months ago, I – an old retired Midwesterner —  could predict the debt ceiling train wreck we are now facing, it makes one blink to think that Democratic Congressional leadership didn’t see it coming.  If Democrats failed to raise the debt ceiling although they had the votes (alone or with Republican Senate help) to do so — a point I’d like to see definitively addressed – such failure can at best be characterized as shockingly naïve, and arguably more appropriately as startlingly obtuse legislative malpractice.

Break’s Over

I didn’t watch last week’s CNN Town Hall featuring former President Donald Trump; I knew I couldn’t stomach it.  Judging by the clips I’ve seen, the former president showed himself to be who he is:  a delusional, fascist megalomaniac.  Such characterization is obviously inflammatory, highly pejorative, and perhaps melodramatic; I leave it to you to decide whether you agree it is warranted.

While any number of liberal-leaning commentators have intoned that the CNN broadcast was a political gift to President Joe Biden – a claim which would seem to have some merit with regard to the disquieting effect that Mr. Trump’s obvious illiberal instability might well have on Republican-leaning voters in the metropolitan suburbs of swing states – I also sensed a bit of whistling past the graveyard.  The most disconcerting part of the clips I’ve seen isn’t what Mr. Trump said — he is, if nothing else, consistent – but rather the raucous approval his obvious lies and slurs received from a crowd that, while Republican, came from New Hampshire – a state generally considered to be populated by sensible, upright New Englanders who one would have thought would know better.  Although certainly not inconceivable that another candidate could yet wrest the Republican presidential nomination from him, it appears that Mr. Trump, to the enthusiastic alleluias of his cult, is resurrecting. 

We’ve had about 27 months’ respite:  27 months in which we had the luxury (?) of concentrating on the substantive global and domestic challenges we face; 27 months in which we could dream that the spell Mr. Trump has cast over a segment of our citizens would dissipate; 27 months in which we could hope that those who provide Mr. Trump lip service support either out of tribal party loyalty or fear would find the courage to denounce and disassociate themselves from him; 27 month in which we could wish that his legal problems would disqualify him.  We aren’t going to be that lucky.  [Special Counsel Jack Smith’s delay in bringing charges against Mr. Trump either for his part in the January 6th insurrection or for his misappropriation of classified documents has, given Mr. Trump’s maneuvering, now made any future indictment, no matter how strong the evidence, appear a political prosecution.  Mr. Smith – as Special Counsel Robert Mueller before him – has erred (and this is coming from a lawyer, mind you) by being too lawyerlike.  Now, I fear it’s too late.]

All who know me know my fondness for the television series, The West Wing, the account of a fictional President Josiah Bartlet and Mr. Bartlet’s White House staff.  At several points during the series’ multi-year run, the character Bartlet admonished his staff, when their focus had been diverted:  Break’s over.  Time to get back to work.

Mr. Trump has made his objective plain.  He and his supporters intend to institute an American Apartheid.  (I think the same can be said if Republicans nominate another MAGA, such as FL. Gov. Ron DeSantis, who, while lacking Mr. Trump’s animal magnetism, would have the same ultimate goal and carry less baggage to the race.)  They cannot be reasoned with, they cannot be persuaded; they can only be outvoted.  Although I concede unease about a second term for an 82-year-old president, and retain deep misgivings about Vice President Kamala Harris’ readiness for the presidency, these are the cards we’ve been dealt.  Any obvious physical diminishment by Mr. Biden, a deep recession, a perceived border crisis, a pivotal presidential debate moment, or some other notable event could tip a closely-divided electorate in key Electoral College swing states to Mr. Trump or another MAGA.  The crucible appears to be upon us.  It is time for those who believe in American democracy to get back to work.

Break’s over.

The Great Task

I have indicated before in these pages why I believe former U.S. WY Rep. Liz Cheney could be well positioned to derail the presidential aspirations of former President Donald Trump and any other MAGAs who subscribe to illiberal views.  Given her courageous efforts on behalf of American democracy in her last years in Congress, Ms. Cheney has my wholehearted support, although I am pretty confident that our views on many domestic issues are at odds.  (I am equally confident that our views are pretty closely aligned on foreign policy.)  During her 2022 unsuccessful campaign for the Republican nomination for her Wyoming Congressional seat, Ms. Cheney launched a Political Action Committee (PAC) entitled, “The Great Task,” its title drawn from a phrase in President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.  The Great Task has continued to post video clips since she left office.

Below is a link to a YouTube video which I understand that The Great Task is beginning to run on New Hampshire media outlets dealing with Mr. Trump.

I continue to harbor doubts that Ms. Cheney will have much impact on the electoral fortunes of Mr. Trump or any other MAGA unless she attracts major media attention by declaring for the Republican presidential nomination – a step which would have little chance of ultimate success while involving the clear risk of physical danger to herself in our current toxic and violent environment, and thus, one that any advisor would be understandably reluctant to recommend.  That said, this video shows that she does not intend to leave the stage.  I suspect that this is not the last we’ll hear from Ms. Cheney; I certainly hope it is not.

“… The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.  It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.  It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us – that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion – that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain – that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, November 19, 1863

Treason Doth Never Prosper

Yesterday, four members of the Proud Boys, including their leader, Enrique Tarrio, were found guilty of seditious conspiracy arising from their actions before and related to the riot at the Capitol on January 6, 2021, joining members of the Oath Keepers, including their founder, Stewart Rhodes, who have previously been found guilty of seditious conspiracy related to the insurrection.

I understand that a number of these defendants claimed as part of their defense that they were not guilty of sedition because they were called to action by former President Donald Trump.  Put aside the patent culpability of Mr. Trump; such obviously provides these traitors no excuse.  They are responsible for their own actions.  They forgot their English literature:

“Treason doth never prosper.” English poet John Harrington; Alcilia.

“Men at times are masters of their own fates; the fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.”  Cassius to Marcus Brutus; William Shakespeare; Julius Caesar

Those who cherish American democracy can draw some reassurance from these convictions.  Even so, while Mr. Trump and other MAGAs continue in their endeavors, we cannot let our guard down; but for the actions of former Vice President Mike Pence and a few others, the insurrection incited by Mr. Trump on January 6th might well have succeeded.  The threat to our way of life has not gone away.  When the thought of this note occurred to me, I was pretty sure of my Shakespeare, but looked up Mr. Harrington’s declaration to check my memory.  I found that I had actually only recalled part of it.  The rest constitutes a caution:

“Treason doth never prosper, what’s the reason? For if it prosper, none dare call it Treason [Emphasis Added]”.

That said, today Joe Biden remains president and it’s a warm and sunny Friday in the Midwest. While we need to remain cognizant of Mr. Harrington’s vital warning, one might be excused from also embracing a more pleasant perspective for this early spring weekend.  If so, in addition to outdoor pursuits, one can contemplate the potpourri of television viewing available tomorrow:  commencing with an early champagne cocktail, toasting the coronation of King Charles III; then enjoying several Cherry Cokes with Warren Buffett throughout the day as CNBC – seemingly inordinately proudly, considering the promotion it has offered this week — broadcasts the Berkshire Hathaway Annual Shareholders Meeting; and watching the sun start to set with a Mint Julep as one witnesses the Kentucky Derby.

If the weather holds, we ourselves plan to stain a retaining wall.  We will celebrate any successful conclusion with the appropriate refresher – perhaps even a Schlitz  😉 . 

Stay well.   

On Tanking and Other Random April Notions

A few disparate impressions as we move further into spring:

“Tanking is the art of creating a purposefully bad team with the intention of losing games to gain high draft picks. … Tanking aims to … ultimately win a championship with the core constructed while tanking.”

  • What Are The Odds: A Statistical Analysis of Tanking in The NBA;; Brayden Gerrard, March 11, 2019

If there was a Mr. Republican who controlled the party’s national strategy – and if there were such a being, he would, being a Republican, obviously be a white male 😉 – he might well be thinking that having former President Donald Trump as the party’s 2024 nominee would be in the best long term interests of the party:  “Let Trump and [FOX News Commentator Tucker] Carlson take the party over the edge to what is currently looking like it will be a general election shellacking.  After winning the culture war for years with many moderate Americans who are alienated by what they perceive as progressives’ obsession on Americans’ gender, ethnic, religious, and sexual preference identities and disregard for traditional American values and hallmarks, now it is we who are on the wrong side of the American middle with our positions on abortion, health care, book banning, guns and climate; we even seem poised to put ourselves on the wrong side of the American majority on the debt ceiling and perhaps Ukraine.”  Mr. Republican might reason:  “The GOP can’t win in 2024 without the MAGAs, but Trump can’t win without the traditional Republicans; let’s tank and concede a Biden re-election.  We still have the majority of Americans with us on many issues such as immigration and crime [note that at the same time Wisconsinites were providing liberal Judge Janet Protasiewicz an 11-point victory this past April on the strength of abortion rights, they were voting in higher percentages for referenda in favor of tightening state welfare eligibility and keeping criminal defendants in jail before trial].  A Trump debacle will give us years to develop and test positions in areas in which we are now considered too extreme, and we’ll have a great chance to win in 2028 when Americans will be ready for a change, with a fresh candidate against a Democrat almost certainly more progressive than Biden.”

(Is there a Republican master strategist?  Nah.  Are MAGA diehards such as U.S. OH Rep. Jim Jordan seeking to prop up Mr. Trump as part of some long term Republican strategy?  Nah; I know, I know.  They’re just blackguards.)

Next:  There are obviously all different types of smarts.  Since FL Gov. Ron DeSantis went to Yale, and is widely reported to study issues, he seemingly has what might be called, “academic smarts.”  That said, Mr. DeSantis appears to be too politically dumb to be president.  Turning hard to the right on abortion in the face of recent nationwide polls and electoral results is inept enough for a candidate who will need to win swing states to win the general presidential election; but his fight with The Walt Disney Company, the signature employer in his state, over culture issues is so egregiously politically stupid for a Republican that it makes one blink.  Say what you will about Mr. Trump and former WI Gov. Scott Walker [and I’ve said plenty 😉 ]; these men, while campaigning as populists, were politically savvy enough to cultivate and maintain great relationships with the business community.  For Mr. DeSantis to seek to use his office to punish the Disney organization over culture issues is akin to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s crackdown over the last couple of years on mighty Chinese conglomerates perceived by Mr. Xi as being too powerful.  I am confident that many major American CEOs are calculating that if Mr. DeSantis is using his gubernatorial power to go after Disney today, he could use presidential power to go after them for perceived slights tomorrow.  Since I consider Mr. DeSantis every bit as dangerous to America as Mr. Trump, I’m happy to see that he seems to be as politically obtuse as he is boring.

Next:  Unless U.S. CA Sen. Dianne Feinstein can return to Washington by the end of April, she should resign.  There have been plenty of credible reports to indicate that Sen. Feinstein, 89, is no longer physically able to fulfill the duties of her office.  I consider the claims that the calls for her resignation are gender-based – i.e., if she was a man, no one would be calling for her to resign – a progressive spasm irrelevant to the main point:  getting President Joe Biden’s judicial appointments confirmed.  [I would understand the reluctance to pressure Ms. Feinstein if California had a Republican governor; but I’d make the same call for resignation if it involved U.S. MD Sen. Ben Cardin (to be 80 this year, representing a state with a Democratic governor), if it was obvious that Mr. Cardin could no longer serve and his continuance in the Senate was blocking the President’s judicial appointments.]  Someone Ms. Feinstein trusts should go to the Senator and advise her to step down.  Democratic CA Gov. Gavin Newsom will appoint Ms. Feinstein’s successor, and given the already-hotly contested 2024 California Democratic primary battle for Ms. Feinstein’s seat, the appointee should be a “caretaker.”

Two final notes, arguably more significant: 

First, those chortling – and there is a fair amount of chortling in this note – about the Republicans’ seemingly dimming prospects to win the White House in 2024 with Mr. Trump as their nominee, need to keep one thing in mind:  Mr. Biden’s health.  If he appears hale all the way to Election Day in a race against Mr. Trump, I think he wins.  If he has a significant health reversal in the last few weeks before the election – the worst kind of “October Surprise” (recall that U.S. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg just couldn’t quite make it to Inauguration Day, 2021, and the havoc her truly untimely death has caused) – Mr. Trump can win.  Those who believe in democracy should hold their breaths that the octogenarian Mr. Biden remains healthy at least until Wednesday, November 6, 2024.  (I doubt U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris’ readiness for the presidency, but even if my estimation is correct, we will muddle through; Mr. Trump’s illiberalism is an existential threat to our way of life.)

Finally, the debt ceiling.  There is no substantive issue – Ukraine, race, abortion, guns, Social Security/Medicare, climate, election reform, or anything else – I consider as important as maintaining the full faith and credit of the United States.  For us to be able to continue to pay our debts, Congress must pass a law raising the debt ceiling by sometime this summer.  U.S. House Republicans, led by Speaker Kevin McCarthy, are posturing (as they always do when a Democrat is president) about budget restrictions they will require in order to vote to raise the debt ceiling.  Safeguarding America’s democracy from provocateurs is existential, more important than any substantive issue, including maintaining its full faith and credit.  If counseling the President, I’d recommend that he get this blunt message to Mr. McCarthy  (if he hasn’t already):  “Kevin, I’m not compromising with you.  I’m not going to accept any budget limitations in order to get your votes on the debt ceiling.  I’m going to sit here and talk about Social Security, Medicare, and our need to protect our troops and our veterans.  There are enough votes in both houses to pass an unrestricted debt ceiling.  If we default, Americans won’t blame me; they’ll blame you and your extremists for the fallout.  In 2025, any Kwik Trip will be big enough to hold the entire Republican House Caucus; and you won’t be there.  You know it.  I know it.  Have a nice day.”

Mr. McCarthy has shown himself to be a gutless hypocrite; I think he’ll cave.  Whether he does or not, and although I am deeply concerned about a U.S. default today and the effect that the mounting U.S. debt will have on our children and grandchildren tomorrow, one cannot appease political terrorists.

More than long enough.  (Could have cut the paragraph on Mr. DeSantis, which added nothing you haven’t already seen, heard, or thought; but just couldn’t resist piling on 🙂 ).  Have a good week.

On the Trump New York Indictment: A Postscript

In the original of this note, I declared:  “If the counts brought against Mr. Trump ultimately amount to no more than falsification of business records under New York law … such charges are highly likely to be seen … as ticky-tack fouls.  Such an impression helps Mr. Trump.”  I have no background in criminal law.  I have seen it reported that the 34 charges brought against Mr. Trump will amount to NY law misdemeanor counts, not felony counts, unless the prosecution can persuade a jury beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Trump falsified his business records in order to evade apprehension for a separate felony crime.  Judging by the muted tones I heard from NY District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s predecessor, Cyrus Vance, Jr., during a CNN interview about the indictment, and by the reserved commentary I have heard from some of the legal experts on MSNBC’s decidedly-liberal Morning Joe, I’d venture that they consider Mr. Bragg to have brought … a whole lotta ho-hum.  (I know, I know; Al Capone.  Even so ….)  Whether this indictment ultimately helps Mr. Trump politically – more on that below — remains to be seen.

Since former WI Gov. Scott Walker’s victory in 2010, I have had a lot of surprises in politics; but rarely have I been stunned.  I was stunned by Mr. Trump’s 2016 presidential election victory; and I was stunned by the margin of Judge Janet Protasiewicz’ victory over former WI S. Ct. Justice Daniel Kelly for a seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court — 11 points – in such a closely divided and deeply polarized state.  Ms. Protasiewicz had campaigned primarily on women’s abortion rights and her concerns with Wisconsin’s despicably gerrymandered legislative districts.  We learned the day after the election that a close woman friend who is fairly apolitical, and who had truly significant personal issues literally coming to a head on election day, nonetheless made the time to vote for Ms. Protasiewicz because of the abortion issue.  It would appear that former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has again been proven too smart by half; if he had either allowed U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland’s ascension to the U.S. Supreme Court or chosen not to proceed with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation, there would not have been five U.S. Supreme Court votes to overturn Roe v. Wade (recall that conservative Chief Justice John Roberts adopted a more limited rationale that would have upheld Roe).  From Republicans’ perspective, the political milk is now spilt; they are seemingly stuck on the wrong side of an emotive, galvanizing issue that appears likely to be the political gift that keeps on giving for Democrats for years.

That said:  into every life, a little rain must fall (at least for us Irish 😉 ).  As Judge Protasiewicz was winning her Supreme Court seat, Republican state Rep. Dan Knodl won a WI state Senate seat to create a Republican supermajority bloc that now has the votes to remove WI Gov. Tony Evers and other Wisconsin office holders – including judges – from office if the Wisconsin Assembly chooses to impeach them.  (As in the federal system, impeachment charges need only receive a simple majority in the lower house Assembly – now controlled by Republicans – to be referred to the state’s Senate.)  This is not comforting; Mr. Knodl was among state lawmakers who signed a letter in 2020 calling for Vice President Mike Pence to reject the certification of the 2020 presidential election.  Even so, do I think that the Republican Wisconsin legislature will seek to remove Mr. Evers from office?  I may be too optimistic, and stand ready to be corrected (some who read these notes have forgotten more about the innards of Wisconsin state politics than I’ll ever know), but I actually don’t believe that Wisconsin Republicans – despite what (or perhaps because of) what recently happened in Tennessee – will undertake such an effort; such would too closely smack of a Republican Wisconsin state coup d’etat, and could be predicted to incite too fierce a political backlash.  Do I think that the Republican legislature will seek to impeach liberal WI Supreme Court Justices if they seem likely to rule that women have abortion rights under the Wisconsin Constitution?  Again, particularly given Ms. Protasiewicz’ margin of victory, I’m guessing that Wisconsin Republicans would consider the political repercussions of such an action for such a reason too great to risk.  On the other hand, do I think they’ll consider attempting to remove a liberal WI Supreme Court Justice on some trumped up (if you will 😉 ) charge if such is necessary to avoid having their perniciously gerrymandered legislative districting – the reason some of them have jobs — declared unconstitutional under the Wisconsin Constitution?  You bet.

Back to Mr. Trump’s indictment.  Two notions:

First, I was recently asked by someone aware of my legal background why New York Supreme Court (note:  in New York courts, the Supreme Court is actually the trial court) Justice Juan Merchan doesn’t find the former president in contempt and put him in jail for attacking the judge and his family after the Judge instructed Mr. Trump during his arraignment not to make remarks that could endanger others.  My view:  Justice Merchan confronts the horns of a dilemma.  I suspect that the former president may be goading the judge because in his warped view, Mr. Trump wins either way:  either he can significantly tarnish the credibility of the proceedings by consistently casting aspersions upon the judge and the judicial system, or he gets to play the persecuted martyr if Justice Merchan orders his incarceration for contempt of court.  Ultimately, I think Justice Merchan will have little choice but to jail Mr. Trump for contempt if he continues his outbursts; but I would imagine that he’ll wait a bit.  At least were I in his place, I would feel I needed to.  He just shouldn’t wait too long.

Finally, although Mr. Bragg’s charges against Mr. Trump may well ultimately amount to no more than two-pound walking weights when compared to the baggage he’s already carrying, the notion lingers that as Mr. Trump’s legal woes mount, it might be possible for a Republican moderate to run a bit to his left and surpass him for the nomination.  However, even if that happens, Judge Protasiewicz’ victory margin makes clear what a difficult juggling act any GOP presidential nominee will have with the abortion issue in the swing states in the general presidential election campaign.  If the Republican takes the position that s/he will appoint more judges like Mr. Trump did, it will mobilize those seeking to protect women’s abortion rights; if s/he waffles on the issue, s/he will lose the Evangelicals and other religious conservatives, without whom I will venture no Republican can win the presidency.  This issue even seems to help President Biden blunt the ageism issue facing him; in two years, when asked about his obviously advanced age, he can respond, “Justices Alito and Thomas are our oldest Supreme Court Justices.  If they leave the Court during the next four years, who do you want to have appointing their successors – [the Republican candidate] or me?”

On the Trump New York Indictment

As all are aware, former President Donald Trump has been indicted by a New York state grand jury.  Although the indictment is said to involve, as reported by the Wall Street Journal, “[Mr. Trump’s] role in paying hush-money to a porn star on the eve of the 2016 election,” the exact nature and extent of the charges have not yet been revealed.

As liberal commentators intone that such indictment is proof that “No One Is Above The Law,” and right-winger scream, “Witch Hunt” and “Weaponization of Government,” a few feelings of unease emerge in addition to concerns about the prospects for violence arising from the presentation of the charges.  Hopefully, all of the following misgivings are woefully misplaced.

If the counts brought against Mr. Trump ultimately amount to no more than falsification of business records under New York law [e.g., that he intentionally mischaracterized the nature of his business expenses to hide his payment to the porn star, Stephanie Clifford (a/k/a Stormy Daniels)] – since any violation of federal campaign finance law is outside NY State DA Alvin Bragg’s bailiwick – such charges are highly likely to be seen (ironically, in part because of the raft of more egregious offenses for which Mr. Trump is arguably culpable) as ticky-tack fouls.  Such an impression helps Mr. Trump.

The existential significance of any charges hereafter brought against Mr. Trump for his role in the January 6th insurrection by Special Prosecutor John L. “Jack” Smith might well be diluted in the public mind by being conceptually lumped in with the New York state charges.  Mr. Smith and his team may be viewed as simply piling on.  Any such impression also helps Mr. Trump.

If there was a path for another Republican to challenge Mr. Trump for the nomination, today that path seems to me significantly narrower if not completely foreclosed.  Anyone now getting in the race is going to be perceived as being disloyal to the party – the ultimate Republican sin.  While announced candidate Fmr. U.S. U.N. Amb. Nikki Haley will avoid that particular charge, her campaign certainly hasn’t caught fire to date and appears overwhelmingly likely to be swamped in the wake of Republicans rallying to Mr. Trump.  [A bright note for readers of these pages:  I had a post mostly finished outlining how a more moderate credible Republican might make effectively challenge Mr. Trump’s seeming iron grip on the Republican nomination.  I see little reason to run it – at least now – sparing you several minutes of your life  😉 .]

Although the outcome of any charges brought against Mr. Trump won’t be known for some time – he is likely to seek to delay any trial until after the 2024 presidential election – if any charges do go to trial against him before the election, it can’t be denied that Mr. Bragg will need to win – obtain a conviction.  Obtaining a criminal conviction against any defendant in this country obviously requires the prosecution persuade a jury of the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.  This is an extremely high standard, and it should be; but if Mr. Trump is acquitted – as he was in his two Senate impeachment trials, despite patently clear evidence of offenses that unquestionably warranted his removal from office – he and his cohort will, as they did following the impeachment proceedings, claim vindication.  I am sure that Mr. Bragg understood that in obtaining an indictment against Mr. Trump, he was going to need to get a conviction.  I most sincerely hope he knows what he’s doing.

Finally, faraway events can have unforeseen repercussions.  I am absolutely confident that Mr. Bragg, in seeking an indictment against Mr. Trump, had no thought of a state Supreme Court race going on in what any New Yorker considers the backwater of Wisconsin.  And yet, as I have earlier asserted that the U.S. Supreme Court’s vitiation of women’s U.S. Constitutional right to obtain an abortion aided Democrats’ better-than-expected showing in the 2022 elections, and have opined that the Roe v. Wade reversal was going to boost liberal Judge Janet Protasiewicz’ campaign for the Wisconsin Supreme Court against conservative former WI S. Ct. Justice Daniel Kelly culminating next Tuesday, I will venture that the Trump indictment being handed down right at this time – a challenge to Mr. Trump intrinsically involving the courts — could literally not have come at a worse time for Ms. Protasiewicz (who even her supporters concede has run a more overtly political campaign than traditionally seen in Wisconsin judicial races).  I fear the Trump indictment will galvanize Republican support for Mr. Kelly in what was already projected to be a very close contest. 

It is very likely that the Wisconsin Supreme Court will ultimately be called upon to decide any challenge mounted to the state’s initially-announced 2024 presidential vote tallies.  The winner of the Protasiewicz-Kelly contest will determine whether liberals or conservatives command the Court’s majority. 

An indictment spawned from a meaningless tryst occurring over a decade ago between a reality TV ham and a porn actress might ultimately have consequences for the direction of America akin to those wrought by a reckless interlude between a president and a White House intern.  Let us hope not.  If anyone wants to take sharp issue with any of the unhappy impressions set forth here, have at it.  I want you to be right.   

Republican 2024 Presidential Politics:  First Inclinations: Part II

If one intends to review this post, but has not yet read Part I (which is immediately below), I would start there.

I generally refrain from posting any part of a multi-part note until all parts are completed.  The original version of Part II of this post – a pretty traditional analysis of lanes to the 2024 Republican presidential nomination — was done and scheduled when Part I was published on March 3.  Events occurring before Part II ran made me pull it back; it’s clear that the two lanes to the 2024 Republican presidential nomination will be markedly less about political philosophy than about personality; there will be a Donald Trump Lane and an Everybody Else Lane. 

At the time this is typed, former President Donald Trump certainly appears to be the frontrunner for the nomination; he retains a core MAGA base that I’ve seen estimated at 30 – 45% of Republicans, which will serve him well in a multi-candidate race.  Perhaps even more unnerving for his declared and prospective adversaries is a recent Emerson College (Massachusetts) poll indicating that Mr. Trump was the preferred candidate for 58% of New Hampshire Republicans – with FL. Gov. Ron DeSantis and NH Gov. Chris Sununu next trailing at, respectively, 17% and 7%.  While the Emerson sample size was tiny — 384 registered Republicans – New Hampshire ain’t Alabama; if the poll’s notable gap in support between Mr. Trump and his opponents has any appreciable relation to Republican sentiment in politically centrist states, such does not bode well for the other aspirants.

Since Part I was posted, the former president, in a rousing speech to a rabid MAGA crowd at the conservative conference, CPAC, claimed that he will continue his presidential candidacy no matter the state of his various legal challenges, and intimated that he wouldn’t necessarily support another Republican in 2024 if he fails to secure the party’s nomination – pronouncements amounting at the same time to a declaration of war on his nomination adversaries and a blackmail threat to Republican traditionalists.  The path Mr. Trump sees back to the White House appears clear:  that he’ll quickly dispatch any opponents for the nomination that have the temerity to take him on; that the entire Republican party will fall in behind him – although I am sure that he is aware that as many despise as adore him – because of Republican tribalism; and that any sign of increasing frailty or significant blunder by President Biden during the next two years will enable him to win over enough swing state swing voters to eke out an Electoral College victory.

First things first:  aside from blind ambition [admittedly, every politician’s failing 🙂 ] trumping [if you will 😉 ] logic, it’s hard to see why potential Republican candidates who have secure positions wouldn’t wait to run until 2028.  (Such a calculation would, of course, be premised on the assumptions that Mr. Trump will win the nomination and that he’ll either lose in 2024 or will indeed give up the presidency in 2028 if he wins in 2024.)  Of Mr. Trump’s potential adversaries for the nomination listed in Part I, sitting back seems the rational play for TX Gov. Greg Abbott, U.S. TX Sen. Ted Cruz, Mr. DeSantis, SD Gov. Kristi Noem, U.S. SC Sen. Tim Scott, Mr. Sununu and VA Gov. Glenn Youngkin.  (Mr. DeSantis’ candidacy may now be too anticipated for him to back out, but given his timidity thus far in confronting Mr. Trump, one certainly cannot rule out the possibility that he will yet quail.)        

The other potential candidates listed in Part I — former NJ Gov. Chris Christie, former AR Gov. Asa Hutchinson, former U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, and former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo – have no secure office from which to wait four years; if they don’t run and win in 2024, they will – as declared candidate former U.S. UN Amb. Nikki Haley obviously believes she will – almost certainly be irretrievably old news by 2028.  (Former MD Gov. Larry Hogan was also listed in Part I, but Mr. Hogan has since indicated that he will not seek the nomination.) 

Not all of the candidates listed in Part I can be addressed here – neither your patience nor my stamina could bear it – but a few seem worthy of consideration, and a couple perhaps illustrate manners in which Mr. Trump might be denied the Republican nomination.

First, the most prominent piece of Republican political flotsam:  Mr. Pence.  He hasn’t been sufficiently forthright in calling out Mr. Trump for inciting the January 6th insurrection to redeem himself with those who oppose Mr. Trump, while at the same time he is loathed by MAGAs as the ultimate traitor to Mr. Trump.  I see no path for him.

Mr. DeSantis is, of course, currently being touted as the Great Hope of those that oppose Mr. Trump.  After I posted Part I, a close friend commented that he hoped Mr. DeSantis would pull away from Mr. Trump, which he believed would cause Mr. Trump to form his own party, thereby doing in both his and Mr. DeSantis’ candidacies and the MAGA movement.  I would welcome such an outcome since I consider Mr. DeSantis to be as substantively dangerous as Mr. Trump, but I don’t see how Mr. DeSantis, who has diligently made himself a Trump Mini-Me, bests Mr. Trump for the Republican nomination as long as Mr. Trump remains a viable contender.  Both men visited Iowa recently; Mr. Trump’s crowds reportedly dwarfed Mr. DeSantis’.  If as a voter you like a dark stout, why settle for Near Beer?

That said, the nomination prospects of Mr. DeSantis or any other Trump Wannabe would seemingly improve if, despite Mr. Trump’s claims that he intends to continue his candidacy despite his legal challenges, such challenges ultimately disqualify him from a practical standpoint before he has the opportunity to politically eviscerate them.  They can’t beat Mr. Trump, but one might be able to step over him – if he legally implodes soon enough.  The difficulty with this scenario is that the former president is as good at delaying legal proceedings as he is at sowing sedition; it’s hard to see how a Trump Wannabe can wait long enough for Mr. Trump to legally succumb yet get in the race early enough to mount a viable campaign.  In Mr. DeSantis’ case, the attacks have already begun.

The candidates who seek to create a perceptual contrast between him/herselves and Mr. Trump – let’s call them, “Trump Alternatives”; Ms. Haley now being the only announced candidate in this category – seem to me to have perhaps brighter prospects than those of true Trump Wannabes.  I would offer that any Trump Alternative should want Mr. Trump in the race to clear out the Trump Wannabes.  As Mr. Trump scores some early primary wins, hand-wringing will mount in Republican circles regarding the likelihood of a resounding November defeat.  In the early going, each Trump Alternative should focus on beating the other Trump Alternatives.  Each Trump Alternative’s early core strategy should be the punch line of the two hikers confronted by a charging bear:  “I don’t need to be faster than the bear; I just need to be faster than you.”  A leader among Trump Alternatives will emerge.  The hope here is that there will be tremendous pressure brought to bear on the trailing Trump Alternatives to exit the race before Mr. Trump has garnered enough primary victories to de facto clinch the nomination, setting up a one-on-one between Mr. Trump and the remaining Trump Alternative.  Most prognosticators believe that Mr. Trump will lose primaries if forced to compete one-on-one at an early enough point in the primary season — an assumption admittedly yet to be tested.

One could discount this scenario by rightly pointing out that such didn’t happen in 2016 – former OH Gov. John Kasich stuck around almost to the end of the Republicans’ nominating process, and the party apparatus didn’t get behind him.  I would submit that this time could be different.  There seems a consensus, even among Republicans that maintain sympathy for Mr. Trump’s illiberalism and/or his policies, that it is highly likely that if nominated, he will lose to Mr. Biden.  Republicans want to win.  The party’s establishment undoubtedly realizes in retrospect that in 2016 they just didn’t envision soon enough that Mr. Trump (whom all considered a certain general election loser) could capture their nomination – until the proliferation of mainstream candidates cancelled each other out, and he did.  In 2020, they watched the Democrats learn from Republicans’ 2016 experience, and engineer the withdrawals of moderate candidates U.S. MN Sen. Amy Klobuchar and then-South Bend, IN Mayor Pete Buttigieg from their presidential nomination contest just in time for Mr. Biden to corral all of the moderate Democratic support and snatch the nomination from the surging, and unelectable, progressive U.S. VT Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Then there is the X Factor:  former U.S. WY Rep. Liz Cheney.  She almost certainly can’t win the nomination herself – although if she did, I would submit (somewhat ironically, given the widespread antipathy toward her in the party) that she’d have a good chance to defeat Mr. Biden – but if she elects to get in the race, her attacks on Mr. Trump would undoubtedly divert Mr. Trump’s and his supporters’ venom away from the Trump Alternative.  [Admittedly, Ms. Cheney – substantively still a staunch Republican despite her undoubted devotion to American democracy — would need to craft a message designed not to draw support to her from the Trump Alternative (such a draw would help Mr. Trump) if she was comfortable that the Trump Alternative wasn’t a threat to democracy.]

And there is another factor, one of the few remaining maxims of American presidential politics:  anyone challenging Mr. Trump must – must – defeat him in the challenger’s home state primary.  Mr. Kasich could stay in the 2016 race to the end because he beat Mr. Trump in Ohio primary.  U.S. FL Sen. Marco Rubio dropped out of the 2016 race immediately after he lost the Florida primary to Mr. Trump (while Mr. Trump was still a New Yorker).    

There is one Trump Alternative whose opportunities – albeit requiring an audacious, Jimmy Carter in 1976-type strategy — intrigue me more than the rest; a notion that, even based upon a couple of references in this Part II, would make you question my mental acuity even more than you already do. 

As Mr. Trump likes to say:  We’ll see what happens. 🙂

Have a Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

Republican 2024 Presidential Politics:  First Inclinations: Part I

I was planning to put this off – former President Donald Trump’s declaration of candidacy for the 2024 Republican Presidential nomination being insufficient incentive for me to dive back into the pandemonium of presidential politics – but former U.S. UN Amb. and SC Gov. Nikki Haley’s recent declaration of her candidacy for Republican Party’s 2024 Presidential nomination and the likelihood that other Republican hopefuls will soon join her means:  It’s that time again.

As all who have read these pages for a while are aware, I consider the winning of general elections to be about matchups – each candidate’s strengths pitted against the other candidate’s weaknesses – but the parties’ nominating processes to be about lanes.  In U.S. presidential politics, I would offer that one should picture a five-lane highway:  the far-left lane, occupied today for purposes of reference by U.S.VT Sen. Bernie Sanders; the center-left lane, occupied by President Joe Biden and former President Bill Clinton; the center lane, occupied by independent and moderate voters but without a politician occupant; the center-right lane, occupied by former President George H.W. Bush (and interestingly, now shared by former President Ronald Reagan and former U.S. AZ Sen. John McCain, who during their lifetimes were considered to drive in the far right lane); and the far right lane, now occupied by Mr. Trump.  A maxim which all except avid Progressives and ardent MAGAs understand:  to win a presidential general election, a Democrat must have sufficient presence in the far-left lane to win the party’s nomination without veering so far left that s/he can’t move back toward the center lane to win the decisive percentage of independent and moderate swing state swing voters who decide the general election, while the Republican must have sufficient presence in the far-right lane to win the party’s nomination without veering so far right that s/he can’t move back toward the center lane to win the decisive percentage of the same swing voter segment.  A candidate’s challenge is further complicated by how many other candidates for his/her party’s nomination seek to run in the same lane s/he chooses.

It appears – despite the sage counsel I dispensed in these pages not long ago 😉 – that Mr. Biden does intend to seek another term; but let’s set the Democrats and the political highway’s two left lanes aside for the present, and consider the right two lanes.

Thus far, pundits have identified the following individuals in addition to Mr. Trump and Ms. Haley as among potential contenders for the Republican nomination, listed in alphabetical order:  TX Gov. Greg Abbott; former NJ Gov. Chris Christie; U.S. TX Sen. Ted Cruz; FL Gov. Ron DeSantis; former MD Gov. Larry Hogan; former AR Gov. Asa Hutchinson; SD Gov. Kristi Noem; former U.S. Vice President Mike Pence; former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo; U.S. SC Sen. Tim Scott; NH Gov. Chris Sununu; VA Gov. Glenn Youngkin; and – not in alphabetical order, given her special status – former U.S. WY Rep. Liz Cheney.  They, as well as any other aspirants for the Republican nomination, drive in one of the two lanes: 

In the far-right lane are Mr. Trump and those that have closely associated themselves with the MAGA movement who, if they declare for the Republican nomination, would in effect be seeking to replace Mr. Trump as its leader:  Messrs. Abbott, Cruz, DeSantis, Pence, Pompeo, and Ms. Noem.  (In fairness, although I consider MAGAism a threat to democracy, I do not consider Mr. Pence himself such a threat.  Although I disagree with his domestic agenda and deplore his obsequiousness as Vice President, I am confident that if reasonable evidence showed that he had lost an election, he would accept the result.  I have significant doubts in that regard about Mr. Cruz, and don’t know enough to venture an opinion about the rest.)

In the center-right lane are those who have managed to maintain a perception of distance from Mr. Trump and MAGAism:  Mses. Haley and Cheney, and Messrs. Christie, Hogan, Hutchinson, Scott, Sununu, and Youngkin.  It is no coincidence that Messrs. Hogan, Hutchinson, Sununu, and Youngkin are governors who have been outside Mr. Trump’s maelstrom, while Mr. Scott, the only black Republican Senator, has been able to stake out his own niche.  Ms. Haley and Mr. Christie, although past advisors to Mr. Trump, have to some extent been able to disassociate themselves from him.  Ms. Cheney’s position needs no elaboration for anyone who hasn’t spent the last two years in a cave in Nome.

I have seen any number of professional political operatives opine that given Mr. Trump’s estimated core 30% support among Republicans, he is the overwhelming favorite to win the party’s nomination and that a large field will almost assure his victory.  I have seen these prognosticators scoff at Ms. Haley’s chances, and suggest that the race will quickly become a two-candidate affair between Mr. Trump and Mr. DeSantis.

They’re professionals and I’m just a retired old blogger, but I see other potential scenarios that I assume at least some of these GOP hopefuls are banking on.  The rest in Part II.