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Trump Says He'll Leave if He Loses the Electoral College

Normally, it would not be news if the sitting president conceded that, if he loses the Electoral College, he'll leave office. After all, that arrangement is right there in the Constitution. However, these are not normal times, and so it was front-page news across the country when Donald Trump said for the first time that if he comes up short in the EV department, he will exit the presidency.

Trump's concession to reality came during his first Q&A session with reporters since the election. Specifically asked if he would leave the White House if Joe Biden is declared the winner on Dec. 14, when electors meet to cast their ballots, the President said: "Certainly I will, and you know that." Of course, he could not leave it at that, and so he added: "It's going to be a very hard thing to concede because we know there was massive fraud." When asked a follow-up about his claims of fraud, Trump grew angry and spat: "Don't talk to me that way. I'm the President of the United States. Don't ever talk to the president that way."

In other words, Trump left himself an out, in that he can claim the Dec. 14 results are invalid, and so Biden didn't really "win." Further, when has the Donald ever felt bound by whatever promises he's made? So it could be that he's gently trying to break the news to himself and to his followers that the game is nearly up, but we don't actually see Thursday's admission as particularly meaningful.

What we do see as meaningful is this: If Trump were to attempt to remain in the White House beyond Jan. 20, there are few people in positions of power that would play along with the charade. Certainly not the U.S. Marshals, the U.S. Secret Service, or the military. And without any meaningful backing, even for so much as a temper tantrum (much less an actual power grab), the always-image-conscious Trump would be setting himself up for humiliation, as he is forcibly escorted out of the Executive Mansion. He knows how mortifying that perp walk is; this is why he has forced it upon underlings who particularly displeased him before being fired (for example, Omarosa Manigault). And so, if he "forgets" what he said yesterday, or he tries to walk it back, or he claims the Dec. 14 results aren't valid, it really doesn't matter. He's going, going, gone, regardless of what he says or does not say. (Z)

How Long to Go from the White House to the Big House?

Speaking of perp walks, how long might it be before the law catches up with Trump, and he finds himself in court, facing criminal charges? New York Magazine's Jeff Wise has taken a crack at that question, and he thinks that the answer, per the subhead of the piece, is "sooner than you think."

To start, there may be a federal prosecution of the President, but if there is it is likely to take a very long time to unfold. There are enough thorny legal issues to deal with, particularly if Trump self-pardons, that it could be years and years before actual criminal questions are addressed. By contrast, there are many fewer such obstacles when it comes to state-level prosecutions. Plus, the state-level folks, with Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance at the very front of the line, have been getting their ducks in a row for months or years. So, they are ready to hit the ground running not long after the starter's pistol on Joe Biden's presidency is fired.

Wise suspects that Vance, who knows a thing or two about how to win a case, will keep the list of charges short and sweet, and will go after things that he can prove to a jury beyond all doubt. Falsifying business records and tax fraud are likely candidates here, especially since Vance will soon have the necessary financial records to make that case (if he doesn't have them already), and since he can count on testimony from current/former Trump Organization insiders like Michael Cohen and Allen Weisselberg. Vance may be able to turn the screws on the folks at Trump's accounting firm Mazars and get them to sing, too.

As to timeline, charges could be brought as soon as mid-2021. Trump's lawyers, assuming he is able to afford any, will pull out all the stops when it comes to delaying and objecting and obfuscating. However, something like 18 months of foot-dragging is probably the upper limit for something like this, which means a trial by early 2023. That trial is not likely to take too terribly long, and if Trump is convicted, Sing Sing could very well have a new celebrity inmate by mid-2023. Team Trump will, of course, appeal. However, in contrast to the federal judicial system, state courts generally don't allow convicts to remain free while they exhaust their appeals.

Much of this, of course, is guesswork. However, the one immutable fact is this: Vance is a politically savvy fellow who aspires to much bigger things, like the governor's mansion in Albany. So, he is 100% certain to come for Trump, and to come with everything he's got. That, in turn, could blaze a trail for other prosecutors across the country. "There's like 1,037 other things where, if anybody put what he did under a microscope, they would probably find an enormous amount of financial improprieties," observes Scott Shapiro, of Yale Law School. In other words, even if the Biden administration turns the other cheek, Trump is in a world of hurt. (Z)

Trump Complicates Things in Georgia

In his ongoing efforts to protect his ego and his self-image, Donald Trump continues to insist that the election was stolen from him (see above). This has led to much grumbling among members of the base that they should skip the U.S. Senate runoffs in Georgia, either to punish the Republican Party for not doing enough to help the President overturn the "fake" results, or to avoid being part of a "corrupt" electoral system.

It is not clear exactly how widespread these sentiments are, but they are widespread enough that they are putting Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue (R-GA) in a real bind. If you examine those two reasons for boycotting, you may notice that they actually point in opposite directions. In other words, if Loeffler/Perdue insist that the results were legitimate, then they risk angering Trump's base, and losing voters they cannot afford to lose. On the other hand, if they get on board with the President's insistence that the whole election was a scam, then Loeffler/Perdue are effectively encouraging boycotts of the corrupt system, costing them voters they cannot afford to lose. It's a real-life Catch-22. The two senators are trying to walk the tightrope, but that may not be possible.

Trump, for his part, is not helping a whole lot. It is he, of course, who is putting Loeffler/Perdue in a possibly untenable position in the first place. Beyond that, he is not doing all that much to help swing the election in their favor. The President said on Thursday that he will visit Georgia for a rally. However, that rally is scheduled for Dec. 5, and may (or may not) be followed up by one additional visit. One cannot help but think that Trump is just covering his bases so that he cannot be accused of doing nothing, and that holding just one or two events, well before the actual election, suggests his heart is not in it. That said, given that Georgia gave its EVs to Biden, and given that "the election was fraudulent!" is surely going to be a MAGA mantra for years, maybe a little Trump is really more than enough for Loeffler/Perdue. (Z)

Trump Foreign Policy More a Wrong Turn Than a Real Change in Direction

Slate's Joshua Keating has been among the best analysts on the Trump foreign policy beat for the last four years. And with the Donald's term winding down, an overall assessment seemed to be in order. The basic conclusion: a lot of sound and fury, but not much substantive change. To wit:

  • Trump did not end the "endless wars," and even if the recently announced troop drawdown goes into effect (no certainty), the U.S. will have about the same number of troops abroad as it did 4 years ago.

  • Trump's withdrawals from the Paris Climate Accord, the World Health Organization, and U.N. Human Rights Council will soon be reversed. Possibly his abandonment of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Open Skies Treaty, as well (though that is less certain). Perhaps most importantly, Team Trump (especially when John Bolton was a member) strove to undermine multilateral diplomacy of this sort. Ultimately, however, Trumpian diplomacy has had the opposite effect, causing other nations to become more committed to multilateral diplomacy.

  • Similarly, the Iran nuclear deal is likely to come back to life, in some form, once Joe Biden takes office.

  • Trump's signature foreign policy accomplishment is the Abraham Accords, which normalized relations between Israel and United Arab Emirates/Bahrain. However, those accords merely formalized a state of affairs that has existed for a decade. Further, Trump promised to use his negotiating skills to permanently resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict, which obviously did not happen.

  • Trump's other signature foreign policy accomplishment is the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (a.k.a. NAFTA v2.0), which was a relatively limited update to the original version, and one that did not particularly reflect Republican priorities. The careful reader will also notice that it is a multilateral agreement.

  • ISIS is weaker than they were four years ago but that trend was already underway when Trump took office. Meanwhile, Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad is probably stronger.

  • Trump's interactions with North Korea and Kim Jong-Un, for which he expected to win the Nobel Prize, produced little beyond photo-ops. Meanwhile, Kim continues to work on developing nuclear weapons.

  • While the Abraham Accords are Trump's biggest success, his biggest failure may be what has happened with China. Always eager to seize an opening, Xi Jinping has used the last four years to crack down on Hong Kong, assert himself in the South China Sea, harass India, and engage in ethnic cleansing in Xinjiang.

  • Trump basically ignored Latin America, except for: (1) overturning Barack Obama's moves meant to normalize relations with Cuba, and (2) trying to force Nicolás Maduro from power. Time will tell if Biden decides to engage with the Cuba situation again, while Maduro, of course, remains in power.

In short, Trump will leave office with only a very few concrete accomplishments that will survive more than a few months. Meanwhile, he (and Bolton, and Mike Pompeo, and Jared Kushner) utterly failed in terms of changing the underlying philosophy of U.S. foreign relations; the nation will soon resume its regular place on the world stage, while its main partners—the UK, Japan, France, Germany, etc.—largely see Trumpism as nothing more than a blip on the radar, and are eager to return to the way things were before he took office. (Z)

The Last Gasp of Anti-Trans Politics?

In 2004, the George W. Bush campaign (and other Republicans downballot) used gay marriage, quite successfully, as a wedge issue to get conservative voters (particularly evangelicals) to the polls. It worked well, and may even have secured reelection for the 43rd president. Thereafter, however, gay marriage lost much of its saliency. This was due, among other things, to rapid change in favor of tolerance, along with several Supreme Court decisions (most notably Obergefell v. Hodges) that sanctioned gay marriage.

A half-dozen or so years ago, some GOP strategists and politicians, noticing that the LGB part of LGBT wasn't getting so much traction anymore, decided to target the T. This probably wasn't the best tactical analysis the world has ever seen; greater tolerance for the LGB folks also brought greater tolerance for the T folks, to a large extent. At the same time, it's a little harder to get the evangelicals really angry about those who are transgender unless you really, really hammer on the one plausibly anti-trans verse in the Bible, Deuteronomy 22:5 ("A woman must not wear men's clothing, nor a man wear women's clothing, for the Lord your God detests anyone who does this."). Notably, North Carolina Republicans tried to leverage transphobia with HB2 (a.k.a., "the bathroom bill"), and instead triggered a massive boycott of the state that strongly contributed to the defeat of then-governor Pat McCrory in 2016.

Of course, Donald Trump and his team rarely met a wedge issue they didn't like. And the Trump White House is also not one to learn from the mistakes of others. So, the administration pursued a number of anti-trans policies, most obviously banning new trans recruits from serving in the military, and rolling back federal protections for trans individuals. This does not seem to have done Trump much good; as you may have heard, he lost the election. Further, among those who love him, his anti-LGBTQ policies rarely seem to come up as a reason.

Now, the tide appears to be rapidly turning the other way. On Election Day, three trans candidates for state legislatures won reelection, another five won election for the first time, while an incumbent who won reelection promptly came out as non-gender-conforming. Last week, several prominent former military physicians testified before Congress, and said that Trump's ban on trans soldiers hurt the military. And Joe Biden, speaking on the Transgender Day of Remembrance, affirmed that he will re-establish protections for trans folks in health care settings, at homeless shelters, in federal prisons, and in schools. He's also said, several times, that overturning the ban on trans soldiers will be one of his first items of business on taking office.

History makes clear that any "fear of X" political program eventually reaches its expiration date, whether X is Irish Catholics, or Freemasons, or the Chinese, or Communists, or gay people who want to get married. Maybe a Karl Rove (or someone like him) will persuade the GOP that there's still gold in them thar anti-trans politics. But with four years of Joe Biden in the White House, we doubt it. (Z)

The Biden Cabinet: Secretary of Commerce

Another cabinet-post rundown. The positions we've already written up:

And now: Secretary of Commerce.

  • The Job: The stated job of the Secretary of Commerce is to promote the interests of U.S. business, both domestically and abroad. This includes in the Cabinet itself; they generally speak for the needs of businesses, and are counterbalanced by the Secretary of Labor, who speaks for the needs of workers. The two departments (Commerce and Labor) actually used to be one combined department; it was only about a century ago that William Howard Taft concluded that the tycoons that tended to run the Commerce Department might not be giving him the best insights when it came to the needs and concerns of the working class.

    As with other executive departments, Commerce also has some specific functions that you might not expect. They oversee the census, although politics-watchers know that because of current Secretary Wilbur Ross' monkeying around with the process. The Secretary also manages the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the National Weather Service. Commerce is one of the smaller federal departments, budget-wise, and is often the subject of shutdown and/or reorganization proposals.

  • Considerations: As noted, the person who leads commerce is usually (though not always) a successful businessperson/entrepreneur of some sort, which makes pretty good sense as a de facto requirement for the job. It's also a department whose responsibilities are more vaguely defined than most other departments', so a go-getter secretary can really take the job in the directions that most suit their interests and tastes. Herbert Hoover, for example, focused on the development of the then-nascent airline industry when he led Commerce under Warren Harding. Malcolm Baldrige Jr., who served under Ronald Reagan, worked to open the Soviet Union to American businesses. Penny Pritzker, working for Barack Obama, negotiated multilateral trade agreements.

    Biden, then, will look for someone with a strong business background whose focus/interests are a good match for the focus/interests of the administration. This is also a pretty good place to put a Republican appointee, since the job largely involves pursuing things that Republicans like. A Republican running the Labor Department, by contrast, or Treasury, would be considerably less acceptable to the Democratic base.

  • Candidate 1, Meg Whitman: She is obviously one of the foremost businesswomen in the country, having served as CEO of eBay and HP, and having accumulated a fortune in excess of $5 billion. She's also a Republican, but not a Trump Republican, so if this is the job where Biden decides to make a nod to bipartisanship, she'd be a good fit.

    That said, while Whitman has done an excellent job of enriching herself, her former employers have not always fared so well. Her tenure at HP, in particular, has been roundly criticized in the business press. Her most recent venture, where she was a founder and co-owner rather than an employee, was Quibi, which went belly-up last month. So, we're not quite talking Steve Jobs here when it comes to entrepreneurial résumé. We also wonder if, given the perception that the Trump administration was made up of a bunch of plutocrats, anyone whose net worth is measured in the billions will be too toxic for Biden's tastes.

  • Candidate 2, Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA): If Biden tries to use a Cabinet post to steal a U.S. Senate seat, this is the most likely place to do it. Toomey has extensive business experience, primarily as an investment banker, so he's certainly qualified to lead Commerce. At the same time, with a net worth of about $3 million, he's nowhere near the rarified stratosphere that Whitman occupies, which could be a selling point. He's already announced his retirement from the Senate in 2022, so this might be an interesting new challenge for him as a concluding chapter to his political career.

    In terms of obstacles to Toomey's appointment, there is really only one: Is he open to giving away a Senate seat? If he wants Commerce, the job is his for the asking. But he obviously knows what the implications would be, and he certainly has some loyalty to his colleagues and to his party. Exactly how much, only he knows.

  • Candidate 3, Andrew Yang: He's young by cabinet standards, he's got a devoted base of support, he's Asian (and thus comes from a demographic that's going to get at least one seat), he's got an entrepreneurial background, and he could be another former rival for Biden's "team of rivals."

    However, for all of these selling points, we don't see how Yang makes all that much sense. His political experience is limited to one, fairly brief, unsuccessful presidential run. His core issue, universal basic income (UBI), is about 20 years early, and is lefty enough to send most or all of the GOP senators (plus, very possibly, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-WV) running for the hills.

  • Candidate 4, Rohit Chopra: If Biden wants to bestow this post on someone of Asian descent, Chopra is probably the better pick, with substantial federal experience as a member of the Federal Trade Commission and an undersecretary of education during the Obama administration. As you may have noticed, Biden has a taste for former Obama administration officials. In addition, Chopra's specialty is...student loans, which figures to be a major focus of this administration. Certainly more than UBI will be. Oh, and the last time Chopra was before the Senate, he was confirmed unanimously, which would make it hard to turn him down this time.

    Chopra's biggest problem is that while he's well situated to assume this post, he can't control the game of cabinet musical chairs. And so, if Biden needs a spot for a Republican, or maybe a Black woman, and Commerce ends up being that spot, then Chopra is out of luck due to no fault of his own.

  • Candidate 5, Mellody Hobson: And speaking of a Black Woman, Hobson is one of the most prominent Black female entrepreneurs in the country. She is currently serving as co-CEO of Ariel Investments and is the former chair of DreamWorks Animation, so she knows her way around a board room. Her appointment would please the Congressional Black Caucus, which wants more representation in the Cabinet than just U.N. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield. And she's married to filmmaker George Lucas, so the force will be with her. Always.

    Hobson, however, would not please progressive Democrats, who find her to be just a little too cozy with corporate America. In addition to her own positions, she's on the boards of JPMorgan Chase & Co., Starbucks, and The Estée Lauder Companies Inc., among others. Although that should be something of a selling point for the head of the Commerce Department, so Biden probably won't worry too much about progressives' opinion of his Secretary of Commerce-designate.

The next entry, again assuming we get to the job before Biden does, is Secretary of Labor. (Z)

The Thanksgiving Angle

It's not so easy for politically oriented sites to fill column inches/pixels on Thanksgiving, given that the world of politics pretty much comes to a screeching halt. And, of course, nobody wants to leave a major U.S. holiday unrecognized. So, it's always interesting to see what kinds of things the various outlets come up with, particularly as they try to match their Thanksgiving coverage to their "brand." Here's an overview of what the various sites did this year:

  • The Washington Post focuses on weighty coverage, often being the ones to break "bad news" to the American people. And so, the Thanksgiving-related item on its front page is about the disdain the rest of the world has for the U.S., as Americans hold unmasked gatherings in defiance of COVID-19.

  • Fox News, of course, likes to rail against "the libs" and "the media," often conveniently forgetting that Fox News is itself part of the media. So, Fox had a piece ripping The Washington Post for the story linked above, and another admiring item about Gov. Mike Parson (R-MO), who says that COVID-related limits on Thanksgiving gatherings are not what 'murica is all about, and that he would never be a part of such a thing.

  • MSNBC has a taste for left-leaning screeds and preachiness. So it was this holiday, where it warned about whitewashing the true story of the COVID-19 pandemic, the way that the true story of the Pilgrims has been whitewashed.

  • CNN covers the big news stories, yes, but also tends to give a lot of space to pragmatic advice for readers and viewers, making it something of a cross between The CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite and Reader's Digest. This year, CNN had suggestions for Thanksgiving dishes for small gatherings, and a cheat sheet for how to talk to your relatives about politics. CNN also loves "the lighter side" of the news, so there was also a report on how astronauts celebrate Thanksgiving in space (executive summary: it's pretty much the same as on Earth, except in space).

  • Politico is a serious outlet that likes to look at statistics and trends. Not so easy to merge that with Thanksgiving, but the staff did it, demonstrating (with lots of evidence) that Donald Trump "beat the stuffing out of" Joe Biden in the nation's top turkey-producing areas. Clearly, pollsters are gonna have to add turkey-related questions to their screens from now on.

  • FiveThirtyEight is also interested in statistics and trends, but prides itself on being fun and irreverent (at times). Nate Silver & Co. had a breakdown of the most popular Thanksgiving dish in each region of the U.S. (Surprise: The Midwest likes green bean casserole!), and another one on the most- and least-popular Thanksgiving dishes nationwide (apparently, nobody much likes Tofurky, pineapple casserole, Whoopie pies, or frog eye salad, whatever that is).

  • The Hill has, thanks in particular to John Solomon, earned a reputation for running right-wing op-eds that are so full of holes that even other right-wing outlets won't touch them. It certainly came through this Thanksgiving, with a clumsy Jonathan Turley piece that suggests Joe Biden is about to become Big Brother, and that his insistence on conformity will run entirely counter to the nonconformist Pilgrims who founded the United States. That would be the same nonconformist, nation-founding Pilgrims who regularly ran people out of town for not practicing religion in the correct way, and who got to the U.S. a full decade after the people who settled Jamestown.

  • generally aggregates and comments on items from other sites, often with a snarky tone. So, its Thanksgiving item was a rundown of other outlets' Thanksgiving items, accompanied by a number of snarky comments.

So, there you have it. We'll see what these various outlets come up with for Christmas. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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