• It's Trump's Party Again
• This Week in Woke
• Pence Makes the Cut
• The GOP 25: A Rundown
• Today's the Day in Ohio
The Trump legal news came fast and furious yesterday, and from all over the country. Here's the rundown, presented roughly in the order that the news broke:
Florida: Over the weekend, Donald Trump hopped on his boutique social media platform and demanded that Judge Tanya Chutkan be removed from his trial in Washington, and implied that he'd hate to have to reveal the "very powerful grounds" for his demand. In other words, the former president was effectively trying to blackmail Chutkan (though one has to assume it's a bluff, and he doesn't actually have anything blackmail-worthy to back his implied threat).
Trump attorney John Lauro (whose main office is in Tampa, FL) has not impressed thus far with his legal skill. However, even he knows that threatening a federal judge, even indirectly, is not such a good idea. It's an even worse idea when that judge is presiding over a criminal trial in which you are the defendant. So, Lauro quickly got on TV to explain that the former president was merely speaking with his "layman's political sense," and that trying to get Chutkan removed from the case is not a part of the defense's strategy. Undoubtedly, this will be the only time that Trump and his lawyers are not on the same page in this case, and that Trump unwisely runs his mouth in public. Right?
New York: E. Jean Carroll sued Trump for defamation. And then she did it again, and again. Carroll is 1-0 in those suits, so far, with the other two pending. Trump, for his part, thinks the whole thing is ridiculous and without merit, and so he filed a countersuit against Carroll, also claiming defamation. The problem for the former president is that "Trump thinks it's ridiculous and without merit" and "it's actually ridiculous and without merit" are very different things. The two pending Carroll suits are still pending. Trump's suit, on the other hand, was dismissed yesterday by Judge Lewis Kaplan. And while he was at it, Kaplan issued a second order decreeing that Trump depositions from the Carroll lawsuit can be used in other suits, like the one involving Stormy Daniels. That means the former president went 0-for-2 in New York, which means that, this season at least, he is eminently qualified to bat leadoff for the Yankees.
Georgia: Republican Geoff Duncan was the lieutenant governor of Georgia from 2019 through January of this year. He was an outspoken critic of "Stop the Steal," which made him basically unelectable, and so he did not attempt to hold onto his job, or try for a promotion, when his term was up. Yesterday, he was subpoenaed to appear before the grand jury that has been impaneled by DA Fani Willis.
Undoubtedly, Duncan will be happy to tell Willis whatever she wants to know. However, we are not quite sure how to reconcile this with Willis' statement that indictments are "ready to go" in Georgia. Was that not true? Did she just now figure out that Duncan might be a useful person to speak with? Is there some piece of the puzzle that's still missing? Is she getting cold feet, and looking for excuses to avoid pulling the trigger? We don't get it. Still, the fact that Willis is apparently still collecting evidence suggests that when she said an indictment would come down by the end of August, she meant "late August" and not "early August" or "mid-August."
Florida, again: Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) is in Iowa right now, undoubtedly so he can take care of important corn-related business on behalf of the voters who are currently paying his salary. And while he's in the Hawkeye State, the Governor thought he might as well chat with a few Iowans about his 2024 aspirations. During an appearance, DeSantis was asked about "stop the steal" and the resulting criminal cases, and he said "all those theories that were put out did not prove to be true." And this was not a slip of the tongue, as around the same time, NBC News released an interview in which DeSantis said the same thing.
This could well be the first sign that DeSantis is finally going to do the obvious thing, which is turn his sights on Trump and declare that the emperor has no clothes. This might work, or it might not, but it's not like what the Governor is doing right now is paying dividends. That said, if this is his Jeb! moment, it's pretty flaccid criticism. DeSantis is using the most milquetoasty language possible, and is leaving his answer to the question of "Should Trump be on trial?" implicit rather than explicit. If the Governor is going to launch an offensive, he should launch a real one, as opposed to deploying the Quaker guns.
Florida, yet again: Thus far, this item has been about mostly neutral-to-bad news for Trump. But late in the afternoon, he got some excellent news out of Florida, as Judge Aileen Cannon reminded everyone she might well be in the bag for the president who appointed her to the bench. Last week, special counsel Jack Smith and his team filed two sealed motions asking for hearings about conflicts-of-interest that arise with Stanley Woodward representing all three defendants in the case (i.e., Trump, Walt Nauta and Carlos De Oliveira). Cannon issued an order yesterday that, while brief, was also... rather unhinged, according to people who know this stuff far better than we do.
To start, Cannon not only denied the request to keep the hearings secret, she ordered that the two motions be stricken from the record. She also questioned why a Florida case is still being investigated by a Washington grand jury. This not only reflects either ignorance or willful disregard of how things work (it's appropriate for the grand jury to be based in either place, since the crime took place in both jurisdictions), it also reveals that deliberations are still underway. That's not supposed to be public information. Cannon also demanded that Smith account for himself, while also using a footnote to remind Trump that he's still free to file a motion to dismiss the whole case.
It is at least possible that Trump's success here will be short-lived. Cannon's order is not only extraordinary, it also invents a grand jury issue where there is none (again, either out of ignorance or deliberate obfuscation), and it also asserts authority Cannon does not have (she doesn't have the power to oversee the operations of a Washington grand jury). So, the insta-response, from people who know what they are talking about (like former U.S. Attorney Joyce Alene and former Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Weissman) is that Cannon has given Smith grounds to appeal her rulings and, quite possibly, to request her removal from the case. We shall see if the Special Counsel plays that particular trump card (as it were).
Washington, DC: Meanwhile, back in D.C., Smith's team and Trump's lawyers are busily arguing about what the former president can and cannot say in public while the gears of justice grind. Judge Chutkan ordered that a hearing on the matter will be held on Friday, unless counsel agree on some earlier date and time.
And that is where things stand, as of the moment. We suspect this won't be the last "Trump Legal News" of the week, even if we don't know for sure what the upcoming days will bring. All we know for sure is that the song never remains the same. (Z)
That headline is hardly a revelation, but there have been a couple of interesting op-eds in the last few days that speak to the extent to which Donald Trump is setting the agenda for the Republican Party, even if much of the rest of the Party would prefer to go in a different direction.
To start, former representative Adam Kinzinger has signed up to be a CNN columnist. And in his latest, he tackles the question of why, per a recent poll from CNN/SSRS, Republicans overwhelmingly want to abandon Ukraine. After all, this is the party that tends to be hawkish, and it also used to be anti-Russia.
Kinzinger actually has two answers to the question. The first is that Ukraine's progress in the war has been slow. This is not much of an explanation, though. After all, Republicans were happy to back the Vietnam War, the Afghanistan War, the Iraq War and others when the conflict was much longer and the progress was much slower. Plus, if this was on the mark, then Democrats should be souring on Ukraine, and they are not. Kinzinger himself clearly doesn't really believe in this answer, because he spends a grand total of one paragraph on it before moving onto the 14 paragraphs devoted to answer #2.
That second answer is "the Trump effect," as Kinzinger describes it. As the former representative notes, Trump hates Ukraine and its leader Volodymyr Zelenskyy because Zelenskyy refused to play ball when it comes to smearing the Biden family. Unstated in the op-ed, but also true, is that Trump is either deeply enamored of Vladimir Putin or in his thrall, and is also generally an isolationist. Add it up, and it results in an anti-Ukraine stand for The Donald. And what The Donald says goes, at least with Republican voters. This forces the Republican politicians to fall in line, even if they know that a Russian victory would be bad news for the U.S., long term.
Meanwhile, Elia Nilsen, also writing for CNN, wondered "why Republicans can't get out of their climate bind." The effects of climate change are becoming too obvious and too damaging to ignore, and many members of the party have warmed up (no pun intended) to getting serious about the issue. And yet, what we actually see is continued denial and magical thinking like "let's plant a trillion trees."
The problem here, once again, is Trump. He's a climate change denier deluxe, calling it a "hoax" and rendering his informed scientific opinion that "it may affect us in 300 years." And so, while there are areas where Republicans and Democrats could potentially reach agreement (like, say, investing in renewable energy projects), Republicans in Congress cannot vote for (or even negotiate about) such things. Consequently, Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) fiddles while Phoenix burns, posting the hottest month ever experienced by an American city (an average temperature of 102.7 degrees in July).
Figuring out why Trump is a climate change truther is a bit harder than figuring out why he's anti-Ukraine. Maybe
he's telling his voters what he thinks they want to hear. Maybe he's kissing up to Big Oil, in hopes they will donate
paying his legal costs his campaign. Maybe he's scared, and in denial. Maybe
he just reflexively opposes anything he perceives as woke, or woke-adjacent. Could be any or all of these things.
In the movie The Godfather, Michael Corleone deliberately allows his enemies to grow overconfident, and then reasserts himself with a vengeance, reclaiming total control of organized crime in New York City. That sure looks like what's happened with Trump; it seemed his grip on the Republican throne might be slipping, allowing people like Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley to delude themselves that the crown might devolve upon them. Wrong-o! He's 100% back, and that includes telling Republican officeholders and media members exactly what to think and say. (Z)
This would not generally be worthy of an item, we suppose, but it's a pretty good real-time example of the general trend we discuss in the item above. So, we're running with it.
Those readers who have been following the Women's World Cup (soccer) know that the U.S. Women's National Team (USWNT) has underwhelmed. The team's defense is stout, but its offense is non-existent, with the result that after beating a mediocre Vietnam squad 3-0, it scored a grand total of 1 goal across its next 3 games. You can't win without scoring, and you can't finish in a tie once you reach the knockout round, which commenced this weekend. So, after a 0-0 result against Sweden on Sunday, and then landing 4 penalty kicks to the Swedes' 5, the USWNT was eliminated from the tournament.
There are hundreds of thought pieces in sports sections right now, trying to figure out what went wrong. Was it using veteran players too much? An approach that was too conservative? Bad coaching? Bad luck? The rest of the world catching up to the U.S.? The time difference? The weather? We are hardly soccer experts, so we are in no position to judge. There is one explanation, however, that we feel pretty strongly is not the correct one.
Which explanation would that be? Why, the one offered up by Donald Trump. Here is his "analysis":
The "shocking and totally unexpected" loss by the U.S. Women's Soccer Team to Sweden is fully emblematic of what is happening to the our once great Nation under Crooked Joe Biden. Many of our players were openly hostile to America—No other country behaved in such a manner, or even close. WOKE EQUALS FAILURE. Nice shot Megan, the USA is going to Hell!!! MAGA
How absurd. Needless to say, everyone knows that the blame lies with Barack Obama, not Joe Biden. Thanks, Obama.
OK, maybe not. It's true that the USWNT is pretty lefty in its activism, roughly keeping pace with the NBA in terms of protesting the national anthem, speaking out for equality, etc. The notion this has anything to do with their performance once the whistle blows, however, is just silly. Equally silly is that a pretty lefty team, which has been known for its outspokenness for at least a decade, is taking its cues from the much more centrist Biden.
Nonetheless, once Trump pronounced judgment, Republicans rushed to second the motion. That includes multiple dozens of Republican politicians, along with right-wing media members like Megyn Kelly, Clay Travis and T.J. Moe. Oh, and Don Jr., too. You know, when Junior speaks, you can see Senior's lips moving. They really need to work on their ventriloquist act. Just make sure you don't tell any of these folks that Lina Hurtig, the Swedish player whose successful PK sealed the USWNT's doom, is a lesbian and, apropos of that, is married to a woman. Uh, oh.
Meanwhile, this was Biden's response to the USWNT's loss:
@USWNT, you've made your country proud.
Congratulations on an incredible run. This team is something special and I'm looking forward to seeing how you continue to inspire Americans with your grit and determination—on and off the field.
It's politician-speak, of course, but it's probably better than ripping into the team and telling the country it's going to hell, right? (Z)
It was touch-and-go there for a while, since Mike Pence doesn't have the money to be showering "supporters" with $20 gift cards. However, the former VP just crossed the 40,000 donor/at least 200 donors in 20 states threshold set by the RNC. So, he'll get to join in on the fun, such as it is.
With Pence earning an invite, it means there will be eight qualifiers, with Donald Trump, Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley, Vivek Ramaswamy, Chris Christie, Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) and Gov. Doug Burgum (R-ND) clearing the bar, in addition to Pence. There's still time to qualify, but Mayor Francis Suarez (R-Miami), Will Hurd, Larry Elder, Asa Hutchinson and Perry Johnson are having enormous difficulty meeting the donor requirement, the polling requirement, or both. So, the field is probably set.
Pence's qualifying sets up a potentially interesting storyline, namely the battle between the former VP and his former running mate. There's only one person who will be on stage who Trump blames for his not being president right now, and that person is Mike Pence. That said, when it comes to a showdown between the two now-rivals, there is one fly in the ointment: Trump might not show up. He's suggested that it's not worth his time and, despite much pressure from the RNC, he's yet to back off that position. If he skips the event, maybe the RNC can hire Alec Baldwin to appear in his stead. If nothing else, it would definitely motivate Trump to show up for debate #2. (Z)
On Friday, as the introduction to "This Week in Freudenfreude: When Republicans Do Good" we wrote:
We don't often get to talk about a Republican (or multiple Republicans) in this space. That is because the modern Republican Party is largely in the control of slimeballs who cater to their voters' basest instincts. Quick, can you name a plank of the GOP, as currently constituted, that involves making the world into a better place in some way? It's all about undoing one thing or another, or protecting turf of one sort or another (financial turf, religious turf, national turf/borders, etc.).
We got some pushback on that, although the pushback was largely focused on the use of the word "slimeball," which was deemed a cheap shot. Maybe so, but it's hard to think of another word that's substantially more dignified and yet conveys our meaning. In any event, in response to that pushback, we wrote this:
We thought carefully about that characterization before writing it, and while we are happy to share your critique with the readership, we stand by it. If you or anyone else can name, say, five Republicans who can be ranked among the 25 most important Republicans in the country right now (a mere 20%!), and who have not directly engaged in extremely undemocratic behavior, or enabled such behavior, or pointedly looked the other way while such behavior took place, then we are happy to reconsider our assessment once again. We will spot you Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT), but you still need four more.
Even though we provided an e-mail link in the text, we heard from only one reader, and that reader was only able to name two people in addition to Romney (Larry Hogan and Asa Hutchinson). We are disinclined to include medium-state former governors in the Top 25 and, in any case, two is not four.
That said, the fact that Congress is not in session right now means the news cycle is a little slow. So, we thought we would examine our presumption a little more thoroughly. We now present a list of the 25 most important Republicans in the nation, in our view, along with examples of anti-democratic behavior, where applicable (and it usually is):
|Rank||Person||Examples of Undemocratic Behavior|
|25||Kari Lake||Election denial|
|24||Rep. Matt Gaetz||Election denial, Trump apologia, (alleged) sex trafficking|
|23||Gov. Chris Sununu||N/A|
|22||Rep. Scott Perry||Freedom Caucus shenanigans|
|21||Mike Pence||Trump apologia, demagoguery, undermining separation of church and state|
|20||Gov. Kristi Noem||Trump apologia, immigration vigilantism, corruption|
|19||Gov. Glenn Youngkin||Demagoguery, election denial, conspiratorial thinking|
|18||Rep. Lauren Boebert||Trump apologia, abetting insurrection, undermining separation of church and state|
|17||Sen. Tim Scott||Trump apologia, undermining separation of church and state|
|16||Rep. Elise Stefanik||Trump apologia, election denial, abuse of House procedures|
|15||Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene||Trump apologia, abetting insurrection, gross abuse of House procedures|
|14||Sen. Mitt Romney||N/A|
|13||Sen. Rick Scott||Trump apologia, election denial|
|12||House Maj. Leader Steve Scalise||Trump apologia, abetting insurrection|
|11||Sen. Tommy Tuberville||Trump apologia, abetting insurrection, undermining military|
|10||Ronna Romney McDaniel||Extreme Trump apologia|
|9||Sen. Lindsey Graham||Trump apologia, extreme dishonesty|
|8||Sen. Josh Hawley||Trump apologia, abetting insurrection, antisemitism|
|7||Rep. Jim Jordan||Freedom Caucus shenanigans, abetting insurrection|
|6||Sen. Ted Cruz||Demagoguery, Trump apologia, abetting insurrection|
|5||Gov. Greg Abbott||Immigration vigilantism, abortion vigilantism, undermining separation of church and state|
|4||Gov. Ron DeSantis||Demagoguery, immigration vigilantism, policing speech|
|3||Sen. Min. Leader Mitch McConnell||SCOTUS hypocrisy, Trump apologia|
|2||Speaker Kevin McCarthy||Trump apologia, election denial, gross abuse of House procedures|
Having laid it all out, we think we still have the right of it, namely that the modern Republican Party, in contrast to past editions of that political organization, is in the thrall of a mostly undemocratic oligarchy. But did we err? Did we rank someone too high or too low? Omit someone we should have included? Give someone an unfair review? Offer a completely unreasonable assessment of the whole ball of wax? We welcome comments. (Z)
It's probably the most dramatic election of the summer (not that there's a lot of competition), so we've been following it closely. And today is the day that Ohioans will finish the process of approving or rejecting Issue 1. As readers will know, thanks to our numerous items on the subject, should Issue 1 pass, it will get much harder to approve ballot initiatives in Ohio, and it will also get much harder to get such initiatives on the ballot.
Whatever happens, it will set the stage for the already-on-the-ballot abortion initiative that Ohio voters are set to consider in November. That initiative is likely to get 50%+1 votes, but probably not 60%+1. So, today's vote is a de facto proxy vote for the fate of abortion access in the Buckeye State. And abortion is not the only issue that is effectively in play today. Ohio is pretty evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats (the former make up about 4% more of the population than the latter), but the state Senate is 26R/7D and the state House is 67R/32D due to aggressive gerrymandering. So, if Issue 1 passes, the state's sizable Democratic minority will be almost completely silenced for a very long time. That includes issues like marijuana legalization, protections for organized labor and, of course, restrictions on gerrymandering, in addition to abortion.
Reader K.T. in Columbus, OH, was kind enough to break down the latest available numbers (through last Thursday). Defining "blue counties" as the 15 in which Tim Ryan (D) earned at least 45.9% of the two-party vote vs. Sen. J.D. Vance (R-OH) in last year's election (Athens, Cuyahoga, Delaware, Erie, Franklin, Hamilton, Lake, Lorain, Lucas, Mahoning, Montgomery, Portage, Summit, Trumbull and Wood) and "red counties" as the 73 in which Ryan earned no more than 42.1% of the two-party vote, here's how things break down:
2022 turnout: 4,201,368
In person votes cast so far: 390,330
Absentee ballots sent so far: 275,443
Absentee ballots returned so far: 188,162
Absentee ballots outstanding: 87,281
Total votes cast: 578,492
Percent of 2022 total based on votes cast: 13.77%
2022 turnout: 2,310,073
In person votes cast so far: 183,464
Absentee ballots sent so far: 188,712
Absentee ballots returned so far: 129,813
Absentee ballots outstanding: 58,899
Total votes cast: 313,277
Percent of 2022 total based on votes cast: 13.56%
2022 turnout: 1,891,295
In person votes cast so far: 206,866
Absentee ballots sent so far: 86,731
Absentee ballots returned so far: 58,349
Absentee ballots outstanding: 28,382
Total votes cast: 265,215
Percent of 2022 total based on votes cast: 14.02%
By percentage, turnout in blue counties and red counties is pretty even. But the blue counties are more populous, so—without knowing how the ballots are breaking—it looks like the pro-Issue 1 forces are currently in the hole.
The polls also suggest that Issue 1 is in trouble. There have been three recent ones from reputable pollsters, and they average 45% against, 35% for and 20% undecided. Obviously, if more than three-quarters of the undecideds end up voting for the initiative, then it will pass. But three-quarters is a lot, and when voters are undecided on an initiative, they tend to vote for the status quo (so, in this case, against Issue 1).
There's also a little bit of recent historical precedent here, and it argues against Issue 1. Since 2018, South Dakota has tried twice, and Arkansas and Arizona have tried once each, to increase the threshold for ballot propositions, and in all cases the effort went down in flames. The last time such a proposal was successful was back in 2006, with Florida's Amendment 3. Of course, Florida's political situation bears more than a passing resemblance to Ohio's, so maybe that's a good sign for the pro-Issue 1 forces.
And finally, one last indication that the pro-Issue 1 forces may be on the ropes is that the pro-Issue 1 ads are getting desperate. Operating under the assumption that transphobia sells, there are now spots in heavy rotation claiming that voting against Issue 1 will not only help keep abortion legal, it will also help to legalize sex change operations for minors. That is not the case, anymore than it's the case that voting against Issue 1 will increase the minimum wage to $25/hour or outlaw Bible study groups or prohibit gas-powered automobiles. But what's a little lie between friends?
In sum, the crystal ball mostly suggests that Issue 1 is going to fail. We'll know for sure tonight, or maybe tomorrow. And if Ohio readers have reports from on the scene, we'd welcome them. (Z)
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Aug07 At a Trial, Trump Insiders Could Be Called to Testify
Aug07 Trump's Finds His Inner Mafia
Aug07 Ramaswamy Chickens Out
Aug07 Could Trump Be Imprisoned?
Aug07 Poll on Indictments Shows Huge Partisan Split
Aug07 DeSantis' Biggest Donor Pauses Donations
Aug07 Clarence Thomas Is Living the Good Life
Aug07 Neither Trump Nor Biden Can Win
Aug07 Mooney Won't Budge
Aug07 Some Democrats Are Urging Debbie Mucarsel-Powell to Challenge Rick Scott
Aug06 Sunday Mailbag
Aug05 Saturday Q&A
Aug04 Trump Legal News: Only in America
Aug04 Feinstein's Daughter Assumes Power of Attorney
Aug04 The Sharks are Circling McConnell
Aug04 Rep. Dan Bishop to Run for AG in North Carolina
Aug04 Early Voting Is Still Way Up in Ohio
Aug04 DeSantis to Debate Newsom
Aug04 No More AP Psychology in Florida
Aug04 Magic's $50K Donation to DeSantis Has an Unpleasant Odor to It
Aug04 Lamenting the Loss of Local Newspapers
Aug04 This Week in Schadenfreude: Tennessee Republicans go 0-for-2 (Squared)
Aug04 This Week in Freudenfreude: When Republicans Do Good
Aug03 Takeaways from Trump's Indictment
Aug03 How the Other Candidates Responded to the Indictment
Aug03 Georgia on My Mind
Aug03 The Candidates Are Burning Through Their Cash
Aug03 Being a Copycat Isn't a Good Campaign Plan
Aug03 The Rules for the Second Debate Are Now Set
Aug03 No News Is the New News
Aug03 Potential Challenger to Tammy Baldwin Is Staying Put
Aug03 Ranked-Choice Voting Takes a Hit
Aug03 Crossover Governors Are Going Out of Fashion
Aug03 The House Could Be Won or Lost in the South
Aug02 Trump Legal News: Every Breath You Take
Aug01 Trump Legal News: Today Was a Fairytale
Aug01 I, The Jury, Part XI: In the Jury Room, Continued
Aug01 Biden Legal News: Do You Want to Know a Secret?
Aug01 Biden's Running a Pretty Good Campaign...
Aug01 ...And So Is Donald Trump...
Aug01 ...While DeSantis Continues to Circle the Drain
Aug01 Outrunning Karma
Jul31 Can DeSantis Recover?
Jul31 Trump Is Looming over Senate Races
Jul31 Trump's Legal Bills This Year So Far Are over $40 Million
Jul31 California Republican Party Changes the Rules to Help Trump
Jul31 Democrats Are Going to Try a Hail Mary Play in Florida
Jul31 Alito: COTUS Can't Regulate SCOTUS
Jul31 Mitch Daniels Says No to No Labels