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What Is Known about the Gunman

The man who tried to assassinate Donald Trump on Saturday has been identified as Thomas Matthew Crooks. A lot depends on his background and motive. If he was a flaming leftist who thought that Christofascists like Trump need to be wiped out before they can do more damage, that has one type of impact. If he was an abortion hardliner who thought that because Trump agreed that innocent babies could be wantonly slaughtered in blue states, he needed to die, the impact will be different. If he was nonpolitical and just angry at the world, that leads to a different conclusion. So far, we don't know his motive. We might learn more in the coming days as reporters and FBI agents descend on his town like a swarm of cicadas.

What we do know is that he was 20 years old and living in Bethel Park, a suburb 8 miles south of Pittsburgh. Various sources describe it as anything from blue-collar to upper-middle-class. It is about an hour's drive from the rally.

He graduated from high school in 2022. Here is his year book photo and also an AI-enhanced version we made since the original wasn't very sharp:

Thomas Crooks, the man who shot at Trump

Crooks was a registered Republican although years ago he donated $15 to the Progressive Turnout Project. His mother is a Democrat. His father is a Libertarian. Crooks worked as a dietary aide in the kitchen of a local nursing home. Two former classmates who were interviewed said they had never seen any warning signs. One of them said that he was intelligent and seemed slightly right-leaning. Another classmate said he tried out for the varsity rifle team and didn't make it. In fact, he didn't even make the junior varsity team, possibly due to poor marksmanship. No doubt there will be some investigation of this shortly.

The weapon he used to shoot at Trump was an AR-15-type semiautomatic. The owner of the local gun store said that he did not sell the weapon to Crooks. But when a reporter asked if it was sold to a family member, such as his father, the store owner refused to answer. He said it was between him and God. Wrong. By later today, it will be between him, God, and the FBI. Unofficial reports say Crooks' father bought the gun 6 months ago. Crooks did not have a criminal record. He was wearing a T-shirt from Demolition Ranch, a YouTube channel known for guns and explosives. Some explosives were found in Crooks' car. The FBI believes that Crooks acted alone, with no accomplices.

Crooks' parents refused to talk to the media. Reuters has a video interview of a classmate of Crooks. The classmate said that Crooks was a loner and was bullied every day. He was an outcast who sat alone at lunch. Other classmates said that Crooks was not especially interested in politics, but more interested in building computers and playing games.

Reporters asked social media companies if he had accounts and if any accounts of his had been removed. They refused to answer, no doubt on the advice of counsel.

Some Republicans are already talking about "divine intervention" having saved Trump. One said: "Yesterday there were miracles, and I think the hand of God was there too." Occam's Razor says that considering Crooks was rejected by both the varsity rifle team and the junior varsity rifle team, he missed his target by 3 inches at a distance of 400 feet because he wasn't a good shooter, not because God nudged his hand just as he pulled the trigger.

The picture so far seems to be of an outcast who was bullied and turned down by the clubs he tried to join. Maybe he wanted to show the world he was somebody and a pretty good shot after all. Trump just happened to show up near his house. If Biden had been the one to show up nearby, Crooks might have tried to assassinate Biden. Barring new information, the shooting doesn't appear to have been politically motivated. The outcome of the investigation might be something like: "Well, when anyone who wants to buy a military assault weapon can do so and their kids have access to them, this kind of stuff happens. Get used to it." But remember, all this is fragmentary and preliminary.

In the end, if it turns out that there was a lone gunman who was just trying to impress a high school rifle team with his marksmanship and Trump just happened to be the first politician to show up locally, the political impact might be minimal. The argument that the left was after Trump won't convince many independents if it was just one mentally disturbed kid who wanted attention. In fact, the takeaway might end up working for the Democrats: Civilians shouldn't be buying AR-15s. If you want to shoot an AR-15, join the Army and they will give you one and train you to use it so you can kill America's enemies if need be. The bottom line might end up making gun control a campaign issue and some Republicans might be willing to accept it if they thought their guy was a possible target.

Yesterday afternoon, Joe Biden gave a speech about the shooting. He no doubt had two motives: to try to pull the country together and to show he was a true leader who could handle a national crisis. Here is his speech:

On a scale of 1 to 10, we'd give the speech a 3. Biden was reading it from a teleprompter and still mashed his words and mangled his sentences. This was a moment to seem presidential. He seemed like a concerned but clearly elderly man. This was the perfect moment to rally the country and show that he was in charge. He didn't pull it off. The speech is only going to increase the number of people calling for him to step down.

If you want to see how Biden SHOULD have responded, watch the response of Gov. Josh Shapiro (D-PA):

If we had to rate Shapiro's speech, it would be at least an 8, maybe a 9. He knew what he had to say and he said it extremely well.

If Biden is ultimately replaced by Kamala Harris, expect a lot of people to be calling for a Harris/Shapiro ticket. For one thing, Shapiro is a good speaker and can handle a crisis well. For another, he has both legislative and executive experience. Before being elected governor in 2022, he served four terms in the Pennsylvania House, two on the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners, and two as state AG. He won the 2022 gubernatorial election by 14.8 points against a Trumpy opponent. And finally, he knows the state very well and could almost certainly bring in its precious 19 electoral votes, the most of any swing state. (V)

The Republican National Convention Starts Today

The Trump National Convention starts today in Milwaukee. It is expected that at least 50,000 people will descend on the city for the event. These include the usual suspects: delegates, alternate delegates, Republican politicians, donors, reporters, media crews, TV anchors, spinmasters, photographers, bloggers, technical personnel, public safety teams, medical personnel, prostitutes, alternate prostitutes, and more. Protesters are probably not included in the RNC count, but you betcha that more than a couple will show up.

Milwaukee itself has only 6,104 hotel rooms. The greater Milwaukee area has 19,831 rooms, which is still not enough, so some folks may have to stay in Racine, Kenosha, Sheboygan, or maybe even Madison, 65 miles away.

The only possible big surprise is the choice of Donald Trump's running mate. But even that may not be a huge surprise. If we had to guess, it would be Sen. J.D. Vance (R-OH) in first place, Gov. Doug Burgum (R-ND) in second place and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) in a distant third place. But with Trump, anything is possible, especially after Saturday. Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R-VA)? Barron is not old enough, but Ivanka, Junior, and Eric are.

This year will be different from 2016 and 2020. In 2016, the party was badly split. In 2020, it was a little bit split. Now the Republican Party is entirely owned by Donald Trump. Don't expect anything like Sen. Ted Cruz' (R-TX) 2016 speech in which he refused to endorse Trump. The full list of speakers hasn't been released yet, but you can be sure every one has been vetted carefully and all will be 100% behind Trump. At the last minute, Nikki Haley was added to the speakers' list. She thinks that being half-Trumper, half not-Trumper is a good strategy for 2028. We think she is very wrong. Nevertheless, her speech will probably mostly attack Joe Biden rather than praise Trump to the moon.

Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) will also get a speaking slot, another last-minute decision. Trump's two eldest sons, Junior and Eric, will speak. His daughters and wife will not speak. Trump skeptics, including Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Rand Paul (R-KY), Mitt Romney (R-UT) and Todd Young (R-IN), are not going to bother showing up due to "conflicts" (i.e., they don't want the stench of Trump to rub off on them). In addition to various politicians, there will also be "ordinary Americans" from all walks of life giving pitches for Trump.

Also different is that in 2016 and 2020, the Democrats were reasonably united behind Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden, respectively. Sure, some of the Bernie folks didn't like Hillary, but they hated Trump. This time, the Democrats are much less united as many of them want Biden out, even at this late date.

Will there be a platform fight? Probably not, but if Trump says abortion should be up to the states, the anti-abortion forces won't like it. Will they cause trouble? We doubt it. They know that if Congress passes a national ban, Trump will sign it, no matter what the platform says.

The warm-up speakers for the first 3 days will just praise Trump to the moon and call Joe Biden a doddering idiot. Trump will speak on Thursday. There are two things we don't know yet. First, will he focus on the past (the 2020 election) or the future (what he will do as president)? Second, will he make any attempt to woo moderate Republicans, or is this going to be a base-only campaign?

The campaign has announced a theme for each day, as follows:

  • Monday: Make America Wealthy Once Again (economics, oil production, and tariffs)
  • Tuesday: Make America Safe Once Again (immigration and crimes)
  • Wednesday: Make America Strong Once Again (national defense)
  • Thursday: Make America Great Once Again (2020? 2024? Who knows?)

Will there be protests? Yup, but far away. Milwaukee will be totally locked down and protesters have been assigned an area miles from the convention hall. There will be a heavy police presence throughout the city and any attempt by the protesters to get anywhere near the convention will be snuffed out by force very quickly. Besides, the protesters know that no number of protesters will have any effect at all on the Republicans. Instead, they are keeping their powder dry for the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, where riots could have a huge impact—namely, electing Trump. That will teach the Democrats! (V)

Biden's Problem Is Not Going Away

At last count, there are now 19 Democratic representatives openly saying that "Joe, you were a great president, but you promised to be a transition to a new and younger generation of leaders. We're holding you to it. It is time to withdraw." Oh, and one senator, Peter Welch (D-VT), is also on the Joe-it's-time-to-go bandwagon. More Democrats openly support Biden and even more are silent. But once the dam breaks, a dribble could become a flood quickly.

On Friday, Biden held a Zoom call with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. That was already suspicious. Why didn't he do it in person, since it is his ability to field questions in person and give good answers is what the discussion is about? In any event, the organizers decided in advance that only two members, Reps. Sylvia Garcia (D-TX) and Lou Correa (D-CA), would be allowed to ask questions. Biden opened it up to all members, but when Reps. Gabe Vasquez (D-NM) and Marie Gluesenkamp Perez (D-WA) used Zoom's "raise hand" feature to ask a question, the organizers lowered their hands and did not allow them to speak. Not a good start.

One member who was not supposed to speak, Rep. Mike Levin (D-CA), got permission anyway. Rather than ask a question, he stated that it was time for Biden to step down and someone else to lead the party. Painful. A very tightly controlled Zoom call is not the way for Biden to convince people that he is up to four more years in the White House. In fact, it suggests he can't do the obvious thing: Go out and hold town halls in all the swing states, taking all questions for an hour or more.

Also on Friday, the Sunrise Movement, a group focused on dealing with climate change and popular with young people, called on Biden to withdraw. The executive director, Aru Shiney-Ajay, cited "low enthusiasm" for Biden among the young members. She also said that a Trump presidency would cause catastrophic and irreversible damage to our climate, but that Joe Biden is not able to mobilize enough young people to win in November.

After George Clooney wrote an op-ed saying that Biden should step down, other celebrities are following suit. Actress Ashley Judd said: "I'm calling on Biden to step aside. Beating Trump is too important." Basketball Hall of Famer Charles Barkley told CNBC's Dominic Chu: "I have nothing but admiration and respect for President Biden, but it's time for him to pass the torch to a younger generation." Actor and director Rob Reiner posted to his eX-Twitter account: "It's time to stop f**king around. If the Convicted Felon wins, we lose our Democracy. Joe Biden has effectively served US with honor, decency, and dignity. It's time for Joe Biden to step down." Author Stephen King wrote to his followers: "Joe Biden has been a fine president, but it's time for him—in the interests of the America he so clearly loves—to announce he will not run for re-election." There are plenty of others as well.

David Atkins is a member of the Democratic National Committee. He just wrote an op-ed in the Washington Monthly. In it, he raised six points:

  1. Biden's polling is dire.
  2. There is no reason to think the polling will get better and many reasons to think it will get worse.
  3. Biden has owned the airwaves in the swing states. It hasn't helped. Now Republicans are about to go big there.
  4. The debate gambit backfired spectacularly.
  5. Biden has not overperformed his polling in past elections.
  6. Democrats' overperformance over the polls in 2022 and 2023 is unlikely to be repeated.

His conclusion is that Kamala Harris is the only one who can beat Donald Trump.

Seven members of the San Francisco Democratic Committee agree. They have signed a letter saying that the candidate with the best chance to beat Donald Trump is Harris. The letter says that more and more Democrats are questioning Biden's chances and there is so much at stake that the risk of him losing is too great. It also says that a Biden campaign could cost the Democrats the House. (V)

Trump Continues to Have a Slight Lead in the Polls

Polls taken 2 weeks after the disastrous debate and released yesterday show Trump with a slight lead both nationally and in the swing states. Here is a summary of the results:

Sponsor Pollster Type Trump Biden Current Previous When
CBS YouGov Swing states 50% 48% Trump +2 Trump +3 1 week ago
Fox News Beacon+Shaw National 49% 48% Trump +1 Biden +2 Mid-June
NBC Hart+POS National 45% 43% Trump +2 Trump +2 April

All the results are within the margin of error. Nevertheless, it appears that Biden has not been damaged yet by the debate, although when the Republicans show footage of his performance five times per hour for the rest of the campaign, that could change. Remember, only about a third of the electorate watched the debate. However, in the NBC poll, 79% of the voters said they are concerned about Biden's age and mental and physical health. Trump is going to try to ride that to victory, especially after demonstrating on Saturday that he is immortal (at least when shot in the ear).

On the other hand, given how the Electoral College is a gerrymander of the entire country, it is generally believed that to win the electoral vote, a Democrat needs to win the popular vote by about 3 points. In 2016, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by 2.1 points and still lost the Electoral College by a margin of 304 to 227. So it appears that Biden is probably about 5 points below what he needs to be.

The CBS poll breaks it down by state as follows:

State Trump Biden Difference
Arizona 51% 49% Trump +2
Georgia 51% 49% Trump +2
Michigan 51% 49% Trump +2
Nevada 51% 49% Trump +2
North Carolina 52% 48% Trump +4
Pennsylvania 51% 49% Trump +2
Wisconsin 51% 49% Trump +2

The race has been remarkably stable. Will the shooting on Saturday change the pattern? We might know in a couple of weeks. But so far, virtually nothing has changed the race. Chances are that by September, this incident won't either. (V)

Democratic Donors Are Withholding $90 Million as Long as Biden Remains on the Ticket

A group of major Democratic donors has collected pledges of $90 million. However, they are not turning the money over to Joe Biden's campaign or the DNC. In fact, they told the largest Biden super PAC, Future Forward, that they will not give it to the Democratic candidate if Biden is the candidate. This is the kind of message that politicians tend to notice.

A group closely associated with Future Forward has been polling races between Donald Trump and each of Biden, Kamala Harris, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA), Gov Gretchen Whitmer (D-MI) and Pete Buttigieg. Biden does the worst of all of them. Could a woman really win? They know that a woman, Hillary Clinton, actually got 3 million more votes than Donald Trump in 2016, even though she was personally widely disliked. Could a Black man be elected president? One actually was—two times, in fact. The combination of Black and woman hasn't been tried yet, however. (V)

Ultrawealthy Christian Donors Are Spending Big to Urge and Purge

Pro Publica, which does a lot of top-notch investigative journalism, has an article out about a secret group of extremely wealthy conservative Christians that is spending $12 million to urge and purge. They want to urge Republican-leaning marginal voters to get to the polls and purge potentially Democratic-leaning voters from the voting rolls.

The donors are united in a group named Ziklag, a little-known 501(c)(3) tax-exempt charity. It is named after a city mentioned in the Bible as a place David used as a base for a war he was fighting. Donors include the billionaire Uihleins, who made their fortune in packing materials, the Greens, who own Hobby Lobby, and the Wallers, who own the Jockey clothing company. They give money to Ziklag and it, in turn, gives money to groups like the Alliance Defending Freedom, Turning Point USA, and many other right-wing groups. Alliance Defending Freedom is the Christian legal group whose lawsuit led to the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade.

How did ProPublica discover this? Somehow it obtained thousands of Ziklag's newsletters, internal videos, strategy documents, and fundraising pitches. Presumably it had a mole within the organization who spilled the beans. Needless to say, it is not talking about how it obtained all the material.

Ziklag's strategy documents say that its mission is to "redirect the trajectory of American culture toward Christ by bringing back Biblical structure, order and truth to our Nation."

While the strategy document is biblical, the operational documents read like they were written by experienced Republican political operatives. There are three separate activities being funded. First is "Checkmate," which funds so-called "election-integrity groups," better known as voter-suppression groups. Second is "Steeplechase," which focuses on having churches get out the vote (on the assumption that churchgoers, especially in certain areas, tend to vote Republican). Third is "Watchtower," which tries to galvanize parents, especially by opposing transgender rights and healthcare for transgender people.

Funneling money through a registered charity basically allows the donors to get a tax deduction for political donations. It also allows them to keep the identities of the donors secret. What's not to like? Well, it is almost certainly illegal. Groups claiming 501(c)(3) status are supposed to use their money for the public good, not politics. The United Way and the Make-a-Wish Foundation are more typical examples of 501(c)(3) organizations. These groups may not be involved in politics, either directly or indirectly.

ProPublica consulted six legal experts on the legality of this arrangement. Prof. Lloyd Mayer of the Notre Dame Law School said: "I think it's across the line without a question." He also said: "It boils down to tax evasion at the end of the day." Prof. Roger Colinvaux of Catholic University said it "casts serious doubt on this organization's status as a 501(c)(3) organization." The other lawyers said similar things.

The article goes on and on about the history of the group and how the political activities operate. Check out the link above for more. (V)

Judge Tanya Chutkan on Jan. 6: "It Was Horrifying"

Joe Biden isn't the only one who's got to make a couple of decisions soon. His include: (1) Can I hold out any longer? and (2) If not, should I endorse Kamala Harris to avoid a free-for-all at the convention? But U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan also has some tough calls ahead, all involving the Jan. 6 coup attempt case Special Counsel Jack Smith has brought. She hasn't announced yet what her plans are, but on Friday she leaked how she felt about the riot at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

On Friday, in a Jan. 6 case, Chutkan sentenced Spencer Offman to 30 days in prison for illegally entering the Capitol. That kind of case is by now routine. But what she said to Offman was not routine. She said: "The effects of that day are still being felt." She also characterized the attack as a "violent attempt to stop the peaceful transfer of power" in which rioters were "desecrating the center of our government."

Chutkan also noted that many of the Capitol police who were defending the building that day have PTSD or physical limitations merely from doing their job of protecting the senators and representatives. She also said that some of them were still getting vile threats. She told Offman that several officers killed themselves in the weeks following the riot. She blamed Offman and the others in the mob for terrorizing them.

Chutkan didn't mention Trump, but these remarks do not bode well for Trump trying to claim that the rioters were tourists who just got a bit rowdy. She's not going to buy that. If she thinks that the rioters did grievous harm to the police and country, surely she is not going to be kindly disposed to the guy who egged them on.

Before too long she will have to decide how to proceed. One option would be full-blown hearings in open court on Trump's role in the riot. Was he executing his official duties as president or was he merely acting like a candidate? In the latter case, he could be prosecuted. Whatever she decides will be appealed, but the hearings could be very damaging to Trump as Smith basically presents his case, reminding voters of what he did that day. (V)

Project 2025 Would Dismantle Public Education

Media outlets are now starting to pay more attention to the Heritage Foundation's Project 2025, which would radically reshape the country in many ways. Donald Trump claims he knows nothing about it. He's lying. Many of his closest advisers have been helping write the 900-page document. It is not a pie-in-the-sky plan. It is a concrete plan that a Republican Congress and president could enact into a series of laws to completely change the country to be in line with conservatives' wishes. One of the biggest items is concentrating power in the president by taking it away from Congress and the federal agencies and replacing tens of thousands of federal civil servants with presidential appointees. It would also ban mifepristone and forbid people from traveling from states where abortion is illegal to states where it is legal. But the plan also gets into the weeds, like making the creation or distribution of pornography a felony. And it suggests defining "pornography" as more than dirty photos and movies—for example, discussions of transgenderism or homosexuality could be considered pornography. We better get a jump on this, and register before someone else does.

One of the many areas the plan addresses is public education. The plan would devastate it. Among other proposals, Project 2025 would abolish the U.S. Department of Education, student loans would be privatized, and some parents' views would be prioritized over educators' views. It would also create and fund alternatives to the public schools, including charter schools, religious schools, and other schools, which would take funds away from, and compete with, public schools. This would be done by giving parents education vouchers that they could spend at the school of their choice. It would also end "wasteful" programs, like providing kids with free breakfasts and lunches. The long-term goal is to get the federal government out of the education business altogether. It would be up to the states, and, where the states approved, the local government.

The plan would take an axe to Title I, which funds schools in low-income areas. For 10 years, the funds would be given to states as block grants, with no strings attached. If a state wanted to use the money to build tennis courts and hockey rinks at schools in wealthy areas, that would be up to them. After 10 years, the federal funding would stop altogether. (V)

Poll: Ted Cruz Leads Colin Allred by Just 3 Points

A new poll by the University of Houston on the Texas Senate race has Ted Cruz at 47% and Rep. Colin Allred (D-TX) at 44%. Another 3% said they would vote for Libertarian Party candidate Ted Brown. The remaining 6% were undecided. Texas is deep red, but Cruz is deeply unpopular. He is one of the few things all the other 99 senators agree on: They think Cruz is a big jerk. He is also very unpopular in Texas, but Texas is very red, so it is tough for any Democrat to win statewide, even against an unpopular candidate.

In 2018, Cruz beat Beto O'Rourke by about 2½%. That is where Allred is now. One thing Allred has going for him is he is not that well known, so he has room to grow and pick up some of the undecideds. Cruz is very well known, with 49% having a favorable opinion of him and 48% having an unfavorable opinion of him.

Moneywise, Allred is doing well. He raised $10.5 million in Q2 vs. the $12.6 Cruz raised. For a two-term sitting senator to barely outraise a representative is not a great showing. The Cook Report rates the race as likely Republican simply because the state is so red. But the fact that so many Texans dislike Cruz along with Allred's good fundraising could make it a real horse race. (V)

Meta Will Allow Trump Back on Facebook and Instagram

After the Jan. 6 coup attempt, Meta, the parent company of Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, and Threads, banned Donald Trump for inciting a riot. Now it (meaning CEO Mark Zuckerberg) has changed its mind. Nick Clegg, former British politician and Meta's president for global affairs, issued a statement that said: "In assessing our responsibility to allow political expression, we believe that the American people should be able to hear from the nominees for president on the same basis."

This means that Trump will be free to lie and incite violence to his heart's content now. Meta said that what he posts will be checked and there will be penalties if he violates Meta guidelines. But in practice, the guidelines are ambiguous and Meta will not be keen on punishing someone who might be president on Jan. 20, 2025, and is famous for getting revenge. Trump will also be able to use Facebook to raise money, something he did very successfully in the past. (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jul14 This Is What They Call an "Unknown Unknown"
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