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270 Electoral votes needed to win This date in 2019 2015 2011
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Political Wire logo Giuliani Claims ‘Scientific Evidence’ Election Was Stolen
Stage Nearly Set for Trump-Less Debate
Fox News Hits Back at Trump Over Debate
Carlson’s Trump Interview Showcases Potential
Prosecutors Push Back on Trump’s 2026 Trial Date
Media Seeks Info on Search Warrant for Trump’s Twitter

Trump Won't Debate

The suspense was killing us, but now it's over. Donald Trump has announced that he won't join this Wednesday's Republican candidates' debate after all. He had been teasing his decision for weeks, so as to keep the spotlight on himself. Of course, not being on stage robs him of the spotlight, so he thought of something else to get him back into it: He recorded an interview with former Fox entertainer Tucker Carlson and the recording will be streamed at the same time as the debate.

Who wins and who loses here? One big loser is Fox. Many fewer people will watch the debate without Trump. Fewer expected eyeballs means lower ratings and less money from advertisers. Rupert Murdoch is not going to like that. He can't order his hosts to dump Trump because too many of his viewers worship him, but it will certainly put him in a grumpy mood Wednesday.

Another big loser is RNC Chair Ronna Romney McDaniel. She really wanted Trump on stage to show that the primaries are fair and on the up and up. She even trudged up to his club in Bedminster, NJ, where he hangs out in the summer, to try to talk him into appearing at the debate, but to no avail. She wants to stimulate interest in the Republican primaries and fewer viewers doesn't help. Also, Trump's counterprogramming is going to anger some Republicans. They are going to call him a coward and worse. A split in the party isn't going to help her, either. Remember, her job is to elect Republicans up and down the ballot and starting with a fragmented party is not the best way to kick things off.

Another loser is Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL). To get attention after the debate you need to get off a few zingers. With Trump no longer available as a potential target, many of the other candidates will likely aim their arrows at DeSantis instead. He certainly doesn't want to spend the evening fighting off other Republicans. If Trump were around, DeSantis could hide in his shadow.

Also losers are all the minor candidates. In this contest, even a former Vice President of the United States is a minor candidate. They need all the love and attention they can get, and fewer viewers means fewer donations and less love going forward. In particular, Vivek Ramaswamy expected this to be an opportunity to make a move into second place in the rankings. Now, he's going to be the top target of DeSantis.

Are there any winners? One big winner is Tucker Carlson, who may be on his way back from the dead. His interview with Trump is great PR for him and his show on "Twitter." If he can tie himself firmly to Trump, he can surely monetize it. After all, everyone who tunes into the stream thinks Trump is as pure as the driven snow. Incidentally, Trump knows full well that Carlson disdains him. Clearly, the former president is willing to put those kinds of grievances behind when he has to.

Chris Christie is another likely winner. He will tear Trump limb from limb and Trump won't be there to defend himself. Trump's absence will surely make Christie lose any inhibitions he might have had. He can call Trump a weak imitation of a failed fascist dictator. He can say that Trump is a certified loser and verified coward. He can claim that Trump is the only Republican in the country who could have lost to Joe Biden in 2020. "Hell," he might say, "John McCain could have beaten Biden, even though McCain has been dead for 5 years." Christie can say he talked to Stormy Daniels and Trump's encounter with her was actually the worst 30 seconds of her life, not 90 seconds. It doesn't matter if she goes on TV the next day and says, "No, it really was 90 seconds." Trump certainly doesn't need her in the news again. Christie is likely to get off multiple one-liners that get repeated ad nauseam Thursday.

What about Trump himself? We think it is more of a win than a loss for him. He doesn't need the PR the way, say, Nikki Haley or Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) does. Being on stage and being attacked from all sides would not be a good look. And it is possible he would lose his cool and say something outrageous that would be repeated a million times and could really turn off those much-desired suburban women. Carlson's questions will all be softballs (e.g., "Which aspects of the disastrous Biden administration do you consider the most damaging to America?") and will be nearly impossible to flub. On the other hand, without Trump around, some other candidate might shine and shoot up in the polls, at least for a while. Remember Pete Buttigieg, Herman Cain, and Ben Carson? Surprises happen sometimes. (V)

DeSantis Is Taking Wednesday's Debate Very Seriously

In contrast to Donald Trump, Ron DeSantis is taking the debate very seriously. He is so serious that he has hired the #1 Republican debate coach, Brett O'Donnell, to help him. O'Donnell is legendary. He was a big reason now-Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) trounced former Tennessee governor Phil Bredesen in their debate and went on to be elected to the Senate. One insider said that O'Donnell is William Shakespeare and Vince Lombardi rolled into one.

DeSantis doesn't need any help with the material. He can memorize crime statistics, jobs created in Florida since 2019, and the number of migrants from California to Florida on his own. What he needs help—and a lot of it—with is how to impersonate a normal human being rather than acting like a larger, more wooden version of Pinocchio. Also, with Trump not showing up, DeSantis is going to be the target of many attacks and he has to learn how to fend them off without appearing to be a complete jerk. Training DeSantis to parry attacks and still seem like a nice guy will test all of O'Donnell's skills. DeSantis' plans have leaked out. In short it is attack Joe Biden and Vivek Ramaswamy, defend Trump, and say something positive once in a while.

But debates aren't about content or who knows the most. It is about likability and often about avoiding flubs (see next item). Remember Mitt Romney offering to bet someone $10,000 over something? Nobody remembers what the bet was about or who he challenged. All that anyone remembers is that he is an ultrarich guy for whom $10,000 is something he could find under the sofa cushions in 10 seconds. He has no idea of what life is like for ordinary people. Or do you remember which three cabinet positions are so useless they should be abolished? We don't, but neither did Rick Perry—just after he said he wanted to abolish them. This cemented his image as a dumb hick who was in way over his head. O'Donnell can tell DeSantis to pause for a few seconds to think before responding to incoming fire. Maybe O'Donnell can tell him that a way to stall for 3 or 4 seconds is to say: "Well, Martha, I'd like to say something in response to that." Then pause for 2 more seconds while thinking furiously. But DeSantis largely has to think of the response on the spot.

O'Donnell can also make up a couple of good zingers about Biden, Kamala Harris, and each of the other Republicans on stage and have DeSantis memorize all of them and practice his delivery and timing. Nevertheless, O'Donnell can do only so much. Under pressure, DeSantis could forget some of the advice the master is trying to drill into him. Debates are important because they are the most spontaneous and least stage-managed parts of any campaign and show how candidates manage under great pressure. No president wants to get a call at 3 a.m. from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs saying: "There is a missile from North Korea heading toward the U.S. It will be here in 30 minutes and has a 50-50 chance of wiping out D.C. What are your orders, sir?" But being able to make the right decision under pressure is part of the job description. (V)

When Is a Basket of Deplorables Like a Barrel of Listless Vessels?

We'll never know if Hillary Clinton would have won in 2016 if she hadn't said that half of Trump's supporters were a basket of deplorables. She said they were racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, and Islamophobic. Maybe it's true, but that doesn't matter. What matters is that Trump began using the phrase over and over afterwards to gin up enthusiasm among his followers and paint her as the enemy of ordinary Americans. It was a dreadful unforced error, even if it is completely true.

Fast forward to 2023. On Saturday, Ron DeSantis was interviewed by conservative radio host Erick Erickson. During the interview, he took a potshot at Donald Trump by saying: "A movement can't be about the personality of one individual. If all we are is listless vessels that's just supposed to follow, you know, whatever happens to come down the pike on Truth Social every morning, that's not going to be a durable movement." To us, it sounds like he is calling the basket of deplorables a barrel of listless vessels. Attacking Trump is fine, even necessary. Attacking Trump's supporters is Hillary Clinton-level stupid. He could have said: "Trump is a genius con man and even really smart people have been fooled by him. I even fell for his lies at first until I wised up." That makes the same point without insulting potential DeSantis supporters.

The faux pas didn't pass unnoticed. Trump's adviser Jason Miller almost immediately responded with: "Looks like Ron DeSanctimonious just had his 'Basket of Deplorables' moment." DeSantis' press secretary tried to recover by saying the governor meant Trump's supporters in Congress. Nice try, but it won't work. Trump is going to attack DeSantis at rallies all the time now by saying: "Ron DeSanctimonious thinks you are all a bunch of listless vessels. Raise your hand if you are a listless vessel." When no hands go up, he will then say: "Now raise your hand if you are a patriot." Then he'll announce that he's selling "listless vessel" T-shirts on his website for the low-low price of $47.

And Trump won't let up. In fact, he has already demanded an apology from Mr. Never-back-down. Good luck with that. And the former president may not be the only one. At the debate, some of the candidates could ask DeSantis about it or just make snide remarks like: "The governor has no problem with indoctrinating school children in his state as though they were listless vessels. They aren't. They are our children." (V)

Electability Doesn't Matter to Republicans Anymore

Fox has fed its viewers an image of Joe Biden as a frail, feeble, senile, bumbling idiot who can't walk 10 feet without stumbling over something. Cable TV's #1 entertainment network (higher ratings than E!, MTV, or Comedy Central) has done this so often that the viewers have come to truly believe it. Completely. And that has consequences, maybe not such good ones. Specifically, they have come to believe that Biden is a pushover and any Republican who can say: "Let's go Brandon!" can beat him easily. While Biden might be beatable, it is definitely not the case that any random Republican can beat him with one hand tied behind his back. After all, in the past 100 years, only four elected sitting presidents have been defeated by the other party (Herbert Hoover in 1932, Jimmy Carter in 1980, George H.W. Bush in 1992, and Donald Trump in 2020). Beating Biden will require the right candidate, the right message, a well-oiled and well-financed campaign, and a fair bit of luck.

Republican voters think that knocking off Biden will be like playing patty cake. This means that "electability" is now low on their list of important characteristics a candidate needs to have. After the Republicans' poor showing in the midterms, "electability" was #1 in the minds of most Republican voters. Now it is way down the list. Donald Trump's rivals are all making the case that they are electable and Trump, with his myriad legal problems, is not. But if Republican primary voters think any Republican can beat Biden easily, they may prioritize someone they love (but who can't win) above someone they don't love (but who can win). On the whole, this attitude helps Trump, and hurts all the others. It certainly wasn't Fox's goal, in harping on how Biden is a senile old codger who can barely get out of his rocking chair on his own, to make "electability" irrelevant.

The data back this up. Among Republicans who get most of their news from Fox, Trump has the edge on "who can beat Biden" over DeSantis by 40 points. Comments from likely Republican primary voters about Biden make this clear. Joanie Pellett (Georgia) said: "It's just one gaffe after another." Rick Danowsky (Iowa) said of Biden: "What strength as a candidate? Does he have any?" Jack Seward (Iowa) said: "He's a trainwreck." But not all Republicans are so optimistic. Don Beebout (Iowa) said: "He [Biden] may be easy to beat—if we get the right candidate." (V)

Will Trump Go on Trial Before the Election?

One issue that could affect Donald Trump's electability (and maybe make some primary voters care about it) is the timing of his four trials. Three prosecutors want to put Trump on trial in four cities before Memorial Day. It's not going to happen. The logistics alone make it impossible. A more realistic question is: "Will any trial be completed before the 2024 election?"

Note that Trump will not be cooperating. In fact, he will be doing his absolute best to delay all the trials until after the election. First of all, sitting in a courtroom takes time away from campaigning. Second, sitting in court all day will put him in a foul mood, which is never good for any candidate. Third, while he is on trial, the news of the trial will drown out everything else. Fourth, a guilty verdict in any case could move just enough voters in a couple of swing states to cost him their electoral votes. Fifth, if he wins and is inaugurated before any trials, he will kill off all the federal prosecutions. For him, there is no upside to a speedy trial.

Special Counsel Jack Smith wants to start the conspiracy trial on Jan. 2, 2024. Trump's counteroffer was April 2026. Maybe he is hoping the judge will split the difference and make it February or March 2025. That would be fine with Trump. However, Judge Tanya Chutkan has a reputation for moving quickly and not accepting any nonsense. She has also warned him that if he keeps intimidating witnesses, she will hold an early trial to reduce the amount of damage he can do. She probably means it. This case has one of the two most serious sets of charges in it.

The other most serious case is the RICO case in Georgia. Prosecutor Fani Willis wants the trial on March 4. Depending on when Chutkan schedules the D.C. case, that is probably wildly optimistic, but sometime next summer might be doable, even if the D.C case starts in the spring. A complication here is that 19 people will be on trial so there will be 19 lead lawyers, all yelling different things. That doesn't speed things up, although some of the 19 might yet take plea deals in return for flipping. On the other hand, Judge Scott McAfee has a retention election in Nov. 2024 in blue Fulton County, and the best thing he can do to win it is show that he is a fair, but firm, judge, who doesn't get pushed around by defense lawyers. The value to him of a televised trial would be immense. So it is in his personal interest to see the case at least starts before his election, the presidential election be damned, only they happen to fall on the same day.

Manhattan D.A. Alvin Bragg has taken note that his case (falsifying business records) is the least important of the four and is willing to let the others take priority if need be. He won't insist on an early date.

The sequencing of cases is important. Sometimes evidence that comes up in one trial can be used in another. In particular, the D.C. case and the Georgia case involve many of the same people, although none of the supporting players have been indicted in D.C. (yet). Smith undoubtedly has refrained from doing that for the time being to make the case simpler and easier to prove. If a witness says something incriminating about Trump under oath in the first case, that witness could be called to repeat it in the second one.

Also relevant to the timing is that jury selection in all the cases could be time consuming as the lawyers and judges try to find 12 jurors and 2-3 alternates who are unbiased and available every day for weeks, maybe months. Most people who have a job or children aren't going to want to be in court every day for several months, even if they aren't constantly threatened, which they will be. So will we get juries of bored, lonely, apolitical retirees who have nothing else to do? We'll see. (V)

Prosecutors Are Asking for 33-Year Sentences for Proud Boys Leaders

Let us continue with our theme of people who have committed crimes against the United States. Most of the people convicted of storming the Capitol have gotten relatively short sentences; a few years at most. So far, the record holder for the longest sentence is Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes. He got 18 years in prison for his role in the aborted coup attempt. However, he's now being challenged for the top slot by Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio, who urged his followers to remain in the building while the Capitol police were desperately trying to clear it. He was convicted of seditious conspiracy in May and now the issue is his sentence.

The prosecutors are asking for 33 years, nearly double what Rhodes got. Their memo to the judge said, of the Proud Boys: "They unleashed a force on the Capitol that was calculated to exert their political will on elected officials by force and to undo the results of a democratic election. The foot soldiers of the right aimed to keep their leader in power. They failed. They are not heroes; they are criminals." Prosecutors are also asking for 33 years for Tarrio's ally Joe Biggs, 30 years for Proud Boy leader Zachary Rehl and 27 years for Ethan Nordean, another leader. They aren't messing around here.

During the trials, prosecutors described the trauma they caused for members of Congress and the outnumbered Capitol police. They are also calling the Proud Boys "terrorists," which would increase their sentences. The fate of Tarrio and the others rests now with U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly, who presided over the trial.

Tarrio was not present at the Capitol on Jan. 6, in part because he had been arrested 2 days earlier and ordered to stay away. But he commanded his "troops" remotely and urged them to stay in the building and fight. At Tarrio's trial, it came out that he felt he was following Donald Trump's orders by trying to block the certification of the electoral votes. The judge hasn't indicated when he will issue the sentences.

If these four get sentences on the order of 30 years, it raises the obvious question of what Trump will get if he is convicted. If one of the medium fish got 18 years and a larger fish got 30+ years, what should the Biggest Fish get? We're not there yet by a mile, but we could be there in a year, maybe two. (V)

Biden Is Trying to Actually Contain China

Donald Trump's approach to containing China was to make Americans pay $3 more for a T-shirt. Nice try. That had no effect on where U.S. companies bought advanced semiconductor chips and other vital pieces of infrastructure, because so many of them were made in Chinese factories since there were no alternative sources. The U.S. dependence on China was just as big at the end of Trump's term as it was at the beginning.

Joe Biden has a different approach to containing China. For one thing, he cajoled Congress into passing the CHIPS Act and signed it. As a result of that bill (and the funding in it), Intel will be building one of the biggest semiconductor plants in the world in Ohio. The final cost is expected to be $100 billion, most of which will come from the private sector, but Biden played a key role in making it happen. Also, the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company is building a $40 billion factory in Arizona. These two alone will make a real dent in the U.S. dependence on China and reduce the potential damage if China invades Taiwan. That is real progress. By contrast, making T-shirts a bit more expensive with tariffs isn't.

Another thing Biden is doing to box China in is to put together regional alliances of other powers that can challenge Chinese power. The first one is known as the Quad and consists of the U.S., Australia, Japan, and India, all Pacific powers. They are pledged to a free and open Indo-Pacific region. Among other goals are cooperation on cybersecurity and infrastructure. In the case of Australia, it has gone further. The U.S. will equip the Australian Navy with nuclear submarines. China understands that the group threatens it (especially the nuclear submarine stuff) and has lambasted it, but Biden is forging ahead.

This past weekend Biden continued to hem China in. He hosted a meeting at Camp David in the Maryland Catoctin Mountains with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, two Western-oriented leaders whose countries are geographically close to China. Both countries have powerful economies and growing militaries. The three countries will now work closely on economic security, technology and missile defense. They will also hold joint military operations as a warning to both China and North Korea that military action will be met with a swift response. This is not a new Asian NATO, but it does more closely link the three countries economically and militarily. Biden left open the possibility of some kind of trilateral treaty in the future. A formal treaty ratified by the Senate would make it more difficult for a future President Trump to wiggle out of it. None of these things are developments China wants.

Richard Haass, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, called Biden's move a quiet victory for him. Unlike Trump's bragging about tariffs, which did nothing to reduce China's power, Biden's moves on chips, the Quad, nuclear submarines, and now the Camp David agreement all represent moves to limit China's ability to project power.

In a way, none of this should be surprising. Biden's core competency is in fact in foreign policy. He was on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for 30 years, including 2 years as chairman. As vice president, he was also deeply involved in foreign policy, in part because it was an area he knew a lot about and Barack Obama knew nothing about. Finally, with Republicans in charge of the House, foreign policy is one of the few major areas Biden can do most of what he wants to do without Republicans being able to obstruct it. (V)

Hutch Made It

At practically the last minute, former Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson has qualified to be at the debate on Wednesday. He met the polling requirements and has 42,000 individual donors. Had he not qualified, it would have been curtains for him. He is the 10th candidate to qualify, but only nine will be on stage, since Donald Trump is not coming (see above).

Hutchinson, a bitter opponent of Trump, signed the pledge to support the party's nominee, but said he does not expect it will be Trump. He also noted that he is not sure that Trump is even eligible to be president on account of the Fourteenth Amendment. If Trump is the nominee, he is not going to get much help from Hutchinson, pledge or no pledge. Hutchinson might say: "I told my wife I support the nominee. The document didn't require me to tell anyone else and I am not going to."

At the debate, Hutchinson and Chris Christie are de facto going to team up taking turns at taking down Trump. Christie is by nature very aggressive, but having Hutchinson as his sidekick might help a bit, especially if most of the others are pro-Trump. We have repeatedly written that people like Vivek Ramaswamy and Nikki Haley are wasting their time running (although Haley would probably accept the #2 slot if offered). While Hutchinson is polling just over 1%, we are less inclined to write off a friendly white guy who was once governor of Arkansas. Lightning has struck there before. His real hope is that Trump has been convicted of one or more felonies by next July, Ronna Romney McDaniel frees all the bound delegates, and in a brokered convention, Hutchinson emerges as a compromise candidate who is also the most electable of the bunch. It is the longest of long shots, but at least conceivable. (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Aug20 Sunday Mailbag
Aug19 Saturday Q&A
Aug18 Trump Legal News: In the Year 2525
Aug18 DeSantis Debate Disaster: Everybody's Talkin'
Aug18 Can You Identify the Woke Movie?, Part V: Suspicious Minds
Aug18 This Week in Schadenfreude: Games People Play
Aug18 This Week in Freudenfreude: Hot Fun in the Summertime
Aug17 Trump Legal News: Nobody's Fault but Mine
Aug17 The Trump Indictment in Memes
Aug17 Trump Is Toxic... Except Where He's Not?
Aug17 Who Is the Current GOP Runner-Up?
Aug17 Ohio Republicans May Be About to Learn a Painful Lesson
Aug17 Fifth Circuit Guarantees Abortion Issue Isn't Going Anywhere
Aug17 Can You Identify the Woke Movie?, Part IV: The Middle Five
Aug16 Takeaways from Georgia
Aug16 Georgia Case Is Probably Going to Be Handled by Judge Scott McAfee
Aug16 The Co-conspirators Are Starting to Turn
Aug16 Could Trump Serve as President If He Is a Convicted Felon?
Aug16 Debate Prep Is Tough When You Don't Know Who Will Be There
Aug16 Republicans Are Worried That Without Trump on the Ballot, Turnout Would Nosedive
Aug16 People Who Knew DeSantis Expected Him to Fail
Aug16 Nevada Leapfrogs South Carolina
Aug16 Even Turtles Get Old
Aug16 The Newsom-DeSantis Debate Is on Hold
Aug16 David McCormick Is Planning to Run for the Senate in Pennsylvania--Again
Aug15 Trump Legal News, Part I: Peach Pickin' Time in Georgia
Aug15 Trump Legal News, Part II: Dare to Be Stupid
Aug15 I, The Jury, Part X: Does the System Work? (Part I)
Aug15 Republicans' Nightmare Could Be Playing Out in PA-01
Aug15 CNN Resets Its Lineup
Aug15 Can You Identify the Woke Movie?, Part III: The First Five
Aug14 It's Pork-Chop-on-a-Stick Time
Aug14 Republican Presidential Candidates Now Admit It: Trump Lost
Aug14 Why DeSantis Failed to Launch
Aug14 Willis Will Present Her Case to the Grand Jury Early This Week
Aug14 Mike Pence's Memory Is Failing
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Aug14 Ronald Reagan Is Really Dead
Aug14 Trial of Fake Electors in Wisconsin Will Take Place Sept. 3, 2024
Aug13 Sunday Mailbag
Aug12 Trump Legal News: I Am The Law
Aug12 (Hunter) Biden Legal News: Strange Days
Aug12 Saturday Q&A
Aug11 Trump Legal News: Writing's on the Wall
Aug11 Trump To Skip Debate Pledge: Que Sera, Sera
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Aug11 Biden Impeachment: It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp
Aug11 Manchin and Sinema: We Belong Together
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Aug11 Can You Identify the Woke Movie?, Part II: The Ballad of High Noon