Things are going down the crapper pretty fast for Donald Trump—literally. Early on Monday, there was news about the former president's habit of flushing official documents down White House toilets. And later, there was news that the FBI had raided his residence at Mar-a-Lago, in search of documents that the former president was not supposed to have in his possession.
We'll start with the (literally) shi**y part of the story, since that came out first. On a number of occasions, The New York Times' Maggie Haberman has alleged (as have others) that Trump was in the habit of destroying documents by tearing them up and flushing them down the toilet. The former president fired back that the claim was a load of crap. Well, Haberman has a book coming out, and to drum up some buzz she has backed her claim with art. The photos clearly show documents, in various White House toilets, in Trump's handwriting, waiting to be flushed.
The Donald's habit of tearing up documents is well known, and many times his aides were left to pick up the pieces and tape them back together. For Trump to make certain that some of the pieces ended up in the toilet strongly suggests that there were certain documents that he did not want pieced back together, and that he wanted to stay destroyed. It would appear he's so much of a tightwad that he did not wish to invest in a paper shredder. For just $30, he could have cut documents into thousands of tiny strips that are impossible to put them together again and that cannot be turned into compelling photographic evidence. After all, all confetti looks pretty much the same.
And that leads us to the big story of the day. There's actually no reason to believe that the toilet story and the Mar-a-Lago story are related in any way, other than they both speak to Trump's disregard for the rules and laws regarding presidential record-keeping. Anyhow, in yet another a presidential first, though not one that's likely to end up carved on Trump's tombstone, the FBI raided the residence of a former president. Even Dick Nixon managed to avoid that particular indignity.
The Feds are not in the habit of explaining exactly what they are up to, so we'll start by addressing the facts that are known, then we'll move on to some inferences that are on solid ground. It is known that the FBI is investigating documents that should not have been taken from the White House, but were. They raided Mar-a-Lago while Trump was in New York, and did so without warning. While they were there, they opened his private safe. Note that much of this was facilitated by the U.S. Secret Service, in case there are any questions about what side the USSS might take should there ever be an arrest.
Those are the facts; now the inferences. A federal judge had to sign off on the raid, of course, and it's extremely unlikely that the matter would have even gotten before a judge without sign-off from the highest levels of the Department of Justice (i.e. AG Merrick Garland). The raid wouldn't have happened unless there was strong evidence that some sort of crime has taken place, and it wouldn't have been sprung by surprise unless there was concern about destruction of evidence. It is very unlikely that this was prompted by information that was known a year ago (about Trump's shaky document handling), and it is near-certain that the Feds got new information, recently, from some inside source. We should also note that it is at least possible that Trump himself is not the target, though if you're placing bets...
If Trump is going to end up in hot water here, it would basically require proving that he willfully violated the law. It's a crime to take and/or hold classified documents to which the bearer is not entitled, but the guilty party has to know they were doing something wrong, or has to be careless to the point of negligence. That's where the toilet-trashing comes in, since it speaks to a pattern of behavior. So too does the fact that Trump was already warned about his document hygiene. Oh, and if the feds found something juicy in his safe, well, people do not generally use a safe for things that they think are innocent and no big deal.
As you can surely guess, there was much gnashing of teeth and rending of garments on the right, with the general theme being that the Biden administration has weaponized the DoJ for political purposes (despite the fact that the White House didn't even know about the raid until it was reported by the news media). Fox went wall-to-wall with its coverage of the "scandal," as did Newsmax. We assume that OAN did, too; if any of our readers is among that network's two remaining viewers, please let us know.
As to the politicians, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) came to the defense of his "friend" Trump, decreeing (in a very high-pitched voice) that "The raid on [Mar-a-Lago] is another escalation in the weaponization of federal agencies against the regime's political opponents, while people like Hunter Biden get treated with kid gloves." The careful reader will note that Hunter Biden is very much under the microscope right now, and that between Biden and Trump, only one is a past (and possibly future) President of the United States. The careful reader will also note the casual use of the word "regime;" DeSantis isn't half as clever as he thinks he is.
Republican National Committee Chair Ronna Romney McDaniel echoed DeSantis' sentiment, issuing a statement in which she claimed Democrats "continually weaponize the bureaucracy against Republicans." And wannabe Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) responded exactly as you would expect:
Attorney General Garland: preserve your documents and clear your calendar. pic.twitter.com/dStAjnwbAT— Kevin McCarthy (@GOPLeader) August 9, 2022
If the Republicans gain control of the House, and then spend 2 years and billions of dollars conducting sham investigations that put the 47 different Benghazi investigations to shame, you can't say they didn't warn you.
In any event, if things do turn against Trump, and he does end up under indictment, the response on Monday suggests that things probably won't get violent. That is to say, something like this involves step after step after step; it's not like Trump would go from private citizen to inmate 04475-046 overnight. And if, after every step in the process, Republicans behave as if the Spanish Inquisition has reconvened, it will quickly take on a "boy who cried wolf" quality (even if no one expects the Spanish Inquisition). (Z)
As long as we're on the Trumpy crime beat, let's also note this news: Guy Reffitt, who brought a gun to the 1/6 insurrection and intimated that he wanted to use it on Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), was sentenced last week to 7 years in federal prison. This is the longest sentence yet imposed on one of the 1/6 participants.
Reffitt's defense, out the outset, was that he was just behaving as he believed a patriot would. When it became clear that was not going to get it done, he shifted gears and conceded that he was in the wrong and was being stupid, describing himself as a "fu**ing idiot." His attorneys also tried to suggest that their client has untreated mental health issues. Hard to argue with that, but obviously none of these defenses did Reffitt much good.
Thus far, every single 1/6 defendant who has gone before a jury has been found guilty. This is not a surprise, since the feds don't generally move forward with cases unless they are very confident the government will win. Now that most of the easy cases have been dealt with, and the sentences are getting stiffer, one wonders if those insurrectionists who did not accept a plea bargain might be inclined to change their minds. These folks are not the sharpest knives in the drawer, necessarily, but the writing is pretty clearly on the wall, and we assume most of them know how to read. Naturally, anyone who does accept a plea deal is potentially a witness in future trials against much bigger fish, able to speak to how their actions were directly prompted by the words of President [X] or presidential lawyer and former New York mayor [Y] (just to give two hypothetical possibilities). (Z)
One more item on the Trumpy crime beat. There have been plenty of Republican office-seekers this cycle who have claimed the 2020 election was stolen, and who have accused their opponents, or else Democratic functionaries in general, of malfeasance. They have invariably made these claims, of course, without a scintilla of evidence.
Out of Michigan, we have a story that pretty much completely flips the script. In this case, the accusations are coming from a Democrat, namely state AG Dana Nessel (D), who is running for reelection. And, crucially, there is evidence in support of her assertions. She says that her opponent, Matthew DePerno (R), was directly involved in an effort to monkey around with voting machines and that she wants the state to appoint a special prosecutor to pursue the matter. To that end, she sent a petition to the Michigan Prosecuting Attorneys Coordinating Council, a nonpartisan body that is tasked with making that decision.
DePerno was (and is) an enthusiastic participant in "stop the steal" conspiracy theorizing and lawsuit filing. He has become good buddies with Donald Trump as a result, and had the former president's enthusiastic endorsement the primaries (and has it for the general, of course). Allegedly, as part of his efforts to overturn the election results, DePerno and several associates managed to illegally acquire some voting machines, and then illegally tampered with them so as to have "evidence" for one of his lawsuits (which he lost).
It may appear here that Nessel is engaging in a political maneuver designed to harm a political opponent, but the opposite is actually true. As the extent of DePerno's involvement in the scheme became known, and as it became clear that he would be her opponent, Nessel grew uncomfortable with the ethics of her office investigating him. So, asking an independent prosecutor to take over is actually meant to depoliticize things as much as is possible. Note also that the evidence of DePerno's malfeasance was gathered by the Michigan State Police after a monthslong investigation. So, he would seem to have a peck of trouble on his hands. And Michiganders don't have a lot of tolerance for crooks, or for perceived crooks, so we have to assume that his hopes of winning election are growing dim. In fact, although his nomination was assumed, it's not official yet. The state GOP convention could dump him when it meets later this month. It probably won't, but it could. (Z)
Folks in the Volunteer State march a to the beat of their own drums, it would seem, as they held an unusual Thursday primary last week. We're behind schedule in writing this up as a result, but better late than never, so here goes.
To start, Tennessee has a gubernatorial election this year. Gov. Bill Lee (R) wants another term, and was unopposed in the primary, so the question on Thursday was which Democrat would win the right to face him. The answer, by a nose, is Jason Martin, whose 39.4% of the vote was just enough to outpace the 38.8% won by JB Smiley Jr. Smiley, who does not use periods in his first name, would have been the first Black gubernatorial nominee in Tennessee history had he come out on top in the Democratic primary. The same is true of third-place finisher Carnita Atwater (21.8%); it seems fair to guess that they split the Black vote just enough to allow Martin to come out on top.
Martin, for his part, is a political newbie who has spent his career practicing medicine as a pulmonologist and critical care specialist. He initially jumped into the race in protest of Lee's handling of COVID, but that's not a winner now, so Martin's focus has shifted to abortion rights. He's also making much hay of other potential Lee vulnerabilities, such as the Governor's decision not to comment after he attended a banquet at which it was said that Tennessee teachers "are trained in the dumbest parts of the dumbest colleges." Martin is a big underdog here, since no Democrat has won statewide in the last 15 years. That said, polling suggests that Lee has the firm backing of only about 45% of the state's voters, so there is a lane there. And that last Democrat to win statewide was a governor (Phil Bredesen), whose term ended just over a decade ago (that is, in recent memory).
The other big race was the Republican primary in TN-05. That district is centered on Nashville, and used to be solidly Democratic, but was gerrymandered in the most recent round of mapmaking to lean Republican. Rep. Jim Cooper (D) announced his retirement rather than run again, leaving it to state Sen. Heidi Campbell (D), who was unopposed, Campbell learned on Thursday that she's going to be matched up against Maury County Mayor Andy Ogles, who took 36.9% of the vote to outpace eight other would-be challengers. Ogles is ultra-far-right; his victory speech contained the line "We're at war. This is a political war, a cultural war, and it's a spiritual war." That really tells you all you need to know, but if you want specifics, Ogles wants Joe Biden and Kamala Harris to be impeached, he demands that DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas be tried for treason, he worships Donald Trump, and he believes the 2020 election was stolen. If Campbell is going to hold the seat, this is the kind of opponent she needed to draw.
That's pretty much it for the Tennessee primaries. Nashville used to be entirely within TN-05, but was split across three districts as part of the gerrymander. In November, another one of those three, TN-07, could be interesting. However, there was no primary on either side on Thursday, as Rep. Mark E. Green (R) and activist Odessa Kelly (D) were unopposed. The third district that was part of the Nashville split is TN-06, but that one has been drawn to be staunchly Republican, so Rep. Jim Rose (R) has little to worry about. He did learn on Thursday that his victim will be Randal Cooper (D), who seems like a nice enough fellow, but who is running a campaign more suited for the district of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) rather than a district in Tennessee. (Z)
Another day, another poll that shows that the folks most likely to lead the Democratic ticket in 2024—namely, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris—are outpolling the folks most likely to lead the Republican ticket—namely, Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis.
The latest is from Yahoo/YouGov, and it tracks with virtually every other way-too-early presidential poll. According to Yahoo/YouGov, if the presidential election was held today, Joe Biden would win the popular vote over Trump 41% to 39% and would triumph over DeSantis 40% to 36%. Harris, for her part, would outpoll Trump 42% to 41%.
Polling a presidential race more than 2 years in advance, particularly since we all know that the popular vote is not what determines the winner, is not all that instructive. However, we point this result (and the others, which, again, tend to say the same thing) for two reasons. The first is that it's clear that if the Republicans nominate Trump, or a Trump clone, there are certain fundamentals that will be deeply baked into the race. A Trump/Trumper ceiling is clearly somewhere in the 40s, and probably the lower half of the 40s. This would appear to be the case regardless of how unpopular the Democratic candidate is. And if Biden's approval bounces back, or the Party moves on to someone more appealing, it is absolutely plausible the blue team could get more than 50% of the popular vote. We honestly do not see how a Trumper, whether the man himself or a clone, can get much above 45%.
The second, related, point is this: There are many Republican operatives who see DeSantis as their great, white hope in 2024. In a nutshell (or a nut case), he's Trump without the baggage. We are very much unpersuaded that it will work out like this. For the Democrats, independents and Republicans who are repelled by Trump, it's not just the man, it's the ideology and the political style. These folks already know full well who DeSantis is. So, we are puzzled as we try to figure out who these voters are who won't back Trump, but who are willing to embrace DeSantis.
At the same time, we can absolutely envision voters who will vote Trump but who will stay home or vote third party if the candidate is DeSantis. Most obviously, there are some cultists out there for whom it is the Dear Leader or bust. Nobody is wrapping their truck with a picture of DeSantis as a Greek God, or a centaur, or a golden idol, or an eagle. Secondarily, we could imagine the existence of voters who are willing to swallow hard and vote Trump, but who might conclude that the more competent DeSantis is too great a risk. Note that the existence of this latter group is just speculation on out part, but that we know for sure that folks in the first category exist.
What DeSantis has to hope for is that there are a substantial number of life-long Republicans who hate the Democrats but who have painfully concluded that Trump is simply a bridge too far. Then with a heavy heart and three clothespins firmly attached to their noses, they pulled the lever for Joe Biden in 2020. The votes of this group could potentially get DeSantis more votes than Trump could get. But we have no idea how big this group is. (Z)
Primarily, the Democrats running for federal office this year will brag about the benefits of the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, pointing out—rightly—that the Party spent more money to protect the environment than at any time in U.S. history, and bragging—again, rightly—that there are people who will have health insurance in 2023, 2024, etc. who otherwise would not have.
However, there is also potential to squeeze some mileage out of Republican decisions to vote against the bill. A large number of Republican House members, along with a few Republican senators, have been compelled to choose between party loyalty and support for programs that might help some of their constituents. The senators chose party loyalty, of course, and the representatives will presumably follow suit once they get the chance later this week. And that could come back to haunt them.
Case in point: Florida. The latest poll of the U.S. Senate race there has it as a dead heat, with both Sen. Marco Rubio (R) and Rep. Val Demings (D) at 45%. That's from a progressive polling house, so don't put too much stock in it, but nearly every poll of the race has had Demings within shouting distance of her rival (5-6%).
Consequently, Demings is looking for every edge, anything that might let her pull ahead in a race that is sure to be close. She has taken note that Rubio voted against the Inflation Reduction Act, and that afterward he said some very pointed things about how useless the bill is. Specifically, he complained that "there isn't a single thing in this bill that helps working people lower the price of groceries, or the price of gasoline, or the price of housing, or the price of clothes."
Those words are rather carefully crafted to avoid commenting on prescription drugs and health insurance, which the bill most certainly will help with. Demings has also taken note that 21.3% of Floridians are above the age of 65 (only Maine, at 21.8%, has a higher percentage) and that there are 4.6 million Florida voters above the age of 65 (only California, with 5.9 million, has a higher number). Demings suspects that many of those 4.6 million people will not appreciate their senator's vote, and that they also will not appreciate his remarks that seem to downplay their needs and concerns. So, she's going after him with a hammer that reads "Inflation Reduction Act."
We would not presume to speculate exactly how effective this will be, but it certainly could swing a few points in the Representative's direction. We'll have to keep an eye on trendlines in the Sunshine State. If there's a clear break in Demings' favor this month, we'll pretty much know why. (Z)
The Senate races that are getting the lion's share of the attention this year—Pennsylvania, Arizona, Georgia, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Florida, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Colorado—are the ones most likely to take a seat out of one party's column and put it into the other party's column. In other words, the ones that are potentially a +2 (-1 for one side, +1 for the other).
However, there is one seat that doesn't follow that math, as it's a potential -1 for the Republicans without being a +1 for the Democrats. That would be the seat in Utah, of course, where Sen. Mike Lee (R) may well be facing the race of his life against Evan McMullin (I), who is trying to fashion a winning coalition of Democrats, independents, and NeverTrump Republicans. To a large extent, these various factions are doing what they can to help—the Democrats fielded no candidate this year, and the only third party to make a nomination is the Libertarians (who are probably more likely to take votes from Lee rather than from McMullin).
The polling of the race, so far, has been limited, and is all over the place. However, the one nonpartisan pollster that has produced numbers so far (three times) is Dan Jones & Associates. That firm's latest, released a couple of weeks ago, has Lee at 41%, McMullin at 36%, other candidates at 14%, and 8% undecided. If that is at all on the mark (and it's consistent with the firm's other results), then McMullin has considerably more than a puncher's chance at this thing. It's also worth noting that in the 2016 presidential election, Donald Trump took 45.54% of the vote in Utah while Hillary Clinton and McMullin combined for exactly 49% (27.46% and 21.54%, respectively).
McMullin has insisted that, if elected, he will join no caucus in the Senate. That could still open up some interesting possibilities if he's elected and the Senate remains close. For example, in a 50-49-1 body, his vote could certainly be available for some legislation, weakening the power of a Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) or a Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ). It's also not at all impossible that he would be open to killing or weakening the filibuster, since he doesn't have a "turf" to protect. Anyhow, this race is certainly worth keeping an eye upon. (Z)