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Biden Clinches the Deal

On Friday, Joe Biden addressed the nation from the Oval Office and told America that the hostage crisis was over. OK, he didn't put it exactly that way, since he is going to have to deal with the Republicans for at least another year and a half. But that is the reality, of course. It was Biden's first Oval Office address; in addition to his announcement about the debt ceiling, he encouraged Americans to treat one another with dignity and respect. Good luck with that one. He also said: "When I ran for president, I was told that the days of bipartisanship is over and Democrats and Republicans could no longer work together. I refuse to believe that. The only way American democracy can function is through compromise and consensus." Nice try, but most Americans now believe that the only way to save democracy is for their side to have the trifecta and use it to the max.

Biden also used the opportunity to list some of his achievements other than stopping the Republicans from crashing the world economy. These include support for high-tech manufacturing, investments in the infrastructure, and incentives to fight climate change. He also took a few subtle swipes at Donald Trump, noting that the deficit increased in each of the four years of his predecessor's term but now it was decreasing as a result of the bipartisan bill just passed by Congress.

The address was clearly a pitch to the low-information voters who keep saying: "Why can't the parties work together?" (Short answer: Because they want totally incompatible things.) It was bland and nonthreatening. That is his style and with some voters, his strength, especially if Donald Trump is the Republican nominee next year. In his address, Biden also made it clear that he would not accept any cuts in Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. That is not likely to be a campaign issue if he runs against Trump but it will be a huge one if he runs against Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL), who voted to cut them when he was in Congress.

Biden also pointed out his economic achievements: 10 million new jobs, bringing chip production back to America from China and allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices. Additionally he pointed out what he has done to stop climate change and how that will create thousands of good jobs in the clean energy sector.

It was a preview of his stump speech going forward. Though low key, it could well work with independents and swing voters, especially against Trump or DeSantis, who come across as very angry. The speech also showed that Biden is not the doddering old fool the Republicans claim he is. It was a well-structured, well-presented speech—in fact, downright presidential. Of course, he didn't write it and he was reading off a teleprompter mounted on top of the camera, but appearances are what counts in politics. People who watched it are not going to think he is too old for the job. In the end, that could be as important as the content. If you missed it, here it is in its entirety. It's only 10 minutes. Do you think Biden is old and doddering?

On Saturday, Biden signed the debt-ceiling bill and the crisis was officially averted with 2 days to spare. That's how the government works these days. The bill will push the next iteration of this discussion into the next presidential term and the next Congress. If Democrats get the trifecta, which will be tough since the Senate map is brutal, they could try to repeal the debt-ceiling law altogether using the budget reconciliation process, but it would be a tough slog. (V)

Political Winners and Losers from the Debt Deal

The manufactured debt-ceiling crisis is now behind us and the United States will not default on its debt. Whew! Now on to the politics of it all. Who were the winners and losers? The Hill has an article about this, with which we mostly agree. First the winners, then the losers.

  • Kevin McCarthy: The House Speaker came out of the crisis looking good. The Freedom Caucus tried to tie his hands and it didn't work. He could have kowtowed to them but he didn't, choosing instead to work with moderate Democrats. This fight was a really important one for both McCarthy and the FC and he clearly bested his foes. This could well establish a pattern now in which he works with moderates of both parties to get things done, completely sidelining the FC. Any of its members could yet make a motion to vacate the chair, but the problem is that there is no other Republican who can get 218 votes for speaker.

  • Joe Biden: The president initially said you don't negotiate with hostage takers and in the end did exactly that, but he would have had to do it on the budget anyway, so the negotiation just came earlier than expected. On content, he had to give up a few things the Democrats wanted, but surprisingly little, and he kept the Freedom Caucus from getting anything on its wish list except taking some money from IRS, which the Democrats could restore next time they get the trifecta. Most Democrats in both chambers voted for the bill, so Biden didn't take a big hit among Democrats. This whole incident could strengthen his argument in 2024. He will claim that he was elected to bring sanity back to the country and to work with the Republicans to get things done, not to carry out Bernie's program. He could use the debt-ceiling bill as evidence of carrying out his promise.

  • Joe Manchin: For years, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) has been trying to get approval for the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a 300-mile natural gas pipeline through the heart if Appalachia. The debt-ceiling bill gave him that approval. It also includes permitting reform, something he also badly wants. Now he will have something to show the voters in 2024. He will have his toughest fight ever next year facing Gov. Jim Justice (R-WV) and can show that his seniority and clout in the Senate can bring the bacon home, something that Justice won't be able to claim. His pitch could be: "Do you want results or just make a pointless statement?"

  • Garret Graves and Patrick McHenry: Although McCarthy is getting the credit for negotiating the deal, the actual Republican negotiators were Reps. Garret Graves (R-LA) and Patrick McHenry (R-NC). They got the deal done and are likely to have bright futures in Republican politics. There is already talk about one of them being a future House leader or speaker.

  • Mitch McConnell: Senate Minority McConnell Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) kept his powder dry and stayed out of the debt-ceiling fight, letting McCarthy and his team do all the heavy lifting. He certainly wasn't damaged in any way by the result and he didn't make any enemies in the process, the way McCarthy did. We question whether this makes him a winner, though. We think he was not really a winner but also not a loser.
  • The Freedom Caucus: The House Freedom Caucus turned out to be a paper tiger. It made a lot of noise but in the end demonstrated that it had no power at all. McCarthy got what he wanted—a deal—and the FC was powerless to stop him. You can be sure that McCarthy is fully aware of this and is not likely to pay the FC much heed going forward.

  • Progressives: Like the Freedom Caucus, progressive Democrats didn't get anything. In fact, they actively oppose a number of things in the deal, especially Manchin's pipeline and new work requirements for food stamp recipients. They also opposed the permitting reform, which will make it possible for future energy projects to move forward faster. The whole show demonstrated to everyone in D.C. that when push comes to shove, they don't really have a lot of power and can be safely ignored.

While it is better to be a winner than a loser, it is still 17 months to the election. That is plenty of time for everyone to forget who won and who lost this round since there will be lots of new rounds in the months ahead. In the long run, we don't think these victories and losses will be terribly significant, except perhaps for Biden. It helps to be able to give a speech to the whole country where you brag about what you've done. (V)

It's Cattle Call Time

Cattle calls are events hosted by some group or politician in which all the candidates for president (or, sometimes, some other office) are invited to show up, show their stuff, and mingle with the crowd. The first big one this cycle was hosted Saturday by Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) at the Iowa fairgrounds. It is called "Joni's Roast and Ride" and combines the most delightful elements of a thousand-person backyard BBQ and a motorcycle rally.

Eight POTUS wannabes, from Ron DeSantis down to the bottom of the barrel, showed up. Donald Trump didn't. But lots of reporters did so it got big-time news coverage at Politico, CNN, the AP, The New York Times, The Guardian, and just about everywhere else.

All of the candidates spoke briefly and all of them tiptoed around the tulips—er, around Trump. Where is Chris Christie when you need him? Maybe at the next one. DeSantis signed a Bible (Note to Mike Pence: Don't let Ron steal your thunder). But speaking of thunder, Pence was off riding a motorcycle (the only candidate to do so). Reminds us of Mike Dukakis in a tank, although Dukakis was genuinely a soldier—he served in the Army in Korea—and Pence is no Hells Angel.

Left: Mike Pence in a motorcycle jacket; Right: Mike Dukakis in a tank

When Pence got around to speaking, he mentioned that Kim Jong Un is not our friend. (Hint: Who praised him? Subtle, no?) In her turn, Nikki Haley called for a new generation of leaders (hint, hint). Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) said: "I scare the dickens out of the radical left and Joe Biden—the proof of my life destroys their lies." Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) didn't respond to that, probably because they were quaking in her boots at the thought of the almighty Tim Scott facing down the poor vulnerable Joe Biden.

Perhaps noteworthy is that Casey DeSantis made much better contact with the visitors than her husband. She climbed on a tractor and did photo ops. He didn't. When he holds a rally, she always speaks as well, as if they were the presidential and vice presidential candidates. After a while, the media are going to notice that he is dour and she is cheerful and they are going to accuse him of hiding behind her skirt. When that happens, he will not take it well.

With so many reporters and so few candidates, naturally lots of Iowa voters were interviewed and got their 15 minutes of fame. Gloria said: "I really don't care about people's sexual habits and I don't want to hear about it all the time," which was a poke in the eye at DeSantis. Ron Greiner complained that no Republican was attacking the ACA ("Obamacare"). Mike Clark complained "the rule of law is disappearing" because the FBI is out of control. Marie Kline expressed her love: "I love DeSantis because he is a gentleman." Bill Dunton just got off 28 days of oxygen tanks due to COVID, yet he complained how the country "overreacted" to it. Jill Villalobos bought a Haley T-shirt for her brother but is going to support Scott because "I really like his message." Marie Andries clearly understood what a race featuring Donald Trump and the Seven Dwarfs means: "Everybody has a right to run for president but it kind of hurts the primary process." Victoria Ortiz hadn't heard much about the candidates before the event, but came away with interest in DeSantis, Haley, and Scott. But at the end of the show, a woman stood at the exit handing out Trump bumper stickers. Nine out off ten people took one. (V)

DeSantis' Fundraising Is from Rich Donors

George Orwell might have said: "All dollars are equal but some dollars are more equal" (or pounds sterling. in his case). And he would have been right. At least in terms of campaign donations. Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) bragged that in the first 24 hours after his announcement he raised $8.2 million. This was meant to demonstrate how many people supported him. Impressive? Maybe. Well, The New York Times has a new analysis out that puts DeSantis' fundraising in a different light.

DeSantis raised the $8.2 million from 40,000 donors, which averages out to $205 per donor. That's an odd number, in multiple senses. In contrast, in 2019, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) raised $5.9 million from 223,000 donors in his first 24 hours. That averages out to $26 per donor. Thus, DeSantis is far more dependent on big donors than small donors. That matters.

The maximum legal donation to a primary campaign is $3,300 per person. Very likely, DeSantis had a bimodal distribution of donations; lots of small ones but also many at $3,300. For example, suppose DeSantis had 2,187 donors who gave the maximum ($3,300), for a total of $7,095,000, plus 37,813 donors who gave $26 each, for a total of $983,138. That would add up to $8.2 million. But it would mean that 87% of the money came from big donors, who are not allowed to donate again until the general election. Small donors can be hit up for money over and over and over. Small donors can be hit up 125 more times for $26 each until they hit the legal limit. Thus having large numbers of small donors is actually much better going forward than a small number of big donors because they are a nearly inexhausible resource, whereas with big donors, it is one and done.

Another data point is the 2019 campaign of Kamala Harris. She got 38,000 donors on day 1 for a total of $1.5 million or and average of $39 per donor. DeSantis got 5.5x more money than Harris from almost the same number of donors, again suggesting that DeSantis had a few thousand donors who maxed out.

Consequently, it is likely that DeSantis' base is a small number of rich people rather than a large number of ordinary people. Tim Tagaris, a Democratic digital strategist who oversaw Sanders' fundraising, said: "40,000 donations in a week for a leading presidential campaign is either a sign that they didn't prepare well enough heading into the launch or there isn't the kind of grass-roots support from regular people they had probably hoped for."

So the tentative conclusion here is that DeSantis support comes from a small number of rich people whereas Trump's support is from a large number of ordinary people. When buying TV ads, it doesn't matter where the money comes from, but in the end, it's votes, not dollars, that matter. (V)

Trump and DeSantis Are Already Getting Nasty with Each Other

Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis are starting to take off the gloves and go after each other. The race is still young and it will take a while before they crank it up to 10, but we are on the way there. It is clear the two men do not like each other, so the sparks will fly in due course.

Trump noticed DeSantis' dust-up with a reporter in Iowa last week and made a wisecrack about DeSantis' fear of the media. Trump is not afraid of the media, so he spent 20 minutes answering reporters' questions in Iowa. If DeSantis keeps blowing off reporters, Trump is going to label him a coward and make a point of talking to reporters a lot to make the contrast obvious. While it is our guess that journalists as a whole don't like Trump, they are going see that he talks to them and answers questions (even if the answers are often lies) and they value access over no access. After all, if you hear the candidate answer questions, you have a story. If the candidates flips the bird at you and huffs off, you don't have a story. That is sure to color their coverage.

In another stunt, a bus paid for by DeSantis' super PAC followed Trump around Iowa mocking him. DeSantis also ripped Trump for failing to get his conservative agenda enacted when he was president. He also hit on Trump for his use of third-grade nicknames for everyone.

Noteworthy is that Trump and DeSantis are going man-to-man already. That normally happens much later in the primary season. In contrast, all the other candidates are hiding in a corner somewhere or mildly chiding each other, not going after the big boys.

It is clear to us already that DeSantis is a phony. He doesn't actually give a hoot about Disney or all this woke stuff he talks about. It is just an act. He is going to be under the biggest microscope in the world for a year and some people are going to pick this up. In particular, the Republican base is divided. Trump's supporters are largely blue-collar workers who are angry at the "elites" for the perceived way they are treated. In contrast, DeSantis' supporters are better-educated "traditional" Republicans (i.e., the "elites" the base hates). In the past, DeSantis' supporters might have supported someone like George H.W. Bush. It is thus not surprising that DeSantis is getting his donations from rich (i.e., traditional) Republicans (see previous item). If the primary gets really nasty and Trump really goes after DeSantis in a dirty way, some of these traditional Republicans may decide that Trump is simply unacceptable, hold their noses, and vote for Biden, thus completing the ongoing process of dividing the electorate primarily along educational lines. If Karl Marx were around, he would say: "I can't define class warfare, but I know it when I see it."

If the fight between Trump and DeSantis heats up really fast, it could have consequences downstream. Rob Stutzman, a Republican consultant, said: "It's a 15-round boxing match, and when boxers come out pummeling each other from the beginning, they're not pacing themselves for the balance of the match." Will Trump and DeSantis be exhausted by next July if they keep this up? They could be. Also, DeSantis' supporters could come to really hate Trump by the end of a bitter battle and vice versa. In the end, some of them who don't switch teams might just decide to stay home in November 2024 rather than vote for someone they have come to hate. That could hurt Republican candidates for the Senate, House, and lower offices. Restablishing party unity could be a real problem in the fall of 2024. In contrast, Democrats are united and just watching the battle of the giants with glee. (V)

Jack Smith's Grand Jury Will Meet Again This Week

NBC News is reporting that special counsel Jack Smith's grand jury is going to meet again this week in D.C. after a hiatus. It has met many times before and has seen a tremendous amount of evidence relating to Smith's investigations. Is Smith going to ask it to indict Donald Trump this week? Smith is not talking. However the recording that came to light last week in which Trump makes it clear that he knew he had classified documents pretty much destroys all his previous arguments about why he kept them (I didn't know I had them, my autodeclassifier had declassified them, I telepathically declassified them, etc.) Does this mean that Smith feels his case is now so ironclad that he can move to an indictment? Multiple former prosecutors have told the media there is enough evidence to move now, but Smith knows this is the biggest case of his life and he wants to be 100% certain of winning in court before bringing charges. Is he that sure yet? We don't know and he's not saying a word and won't until he writes his report and it is made public. Still, Trump has to be worried because when the grand jury meets, it could hand down indictments.

There are two categories of crimes Trump could be charged with relating to the Mar-a-Lago documents. First is unauthorized possession of defense documents. Formal classification isn't required because the law in question was written before the current classification system was devised. One hurdle for the prosecution is explaining to the jury in court what documents Trump had and why they had to remain secret. Since the documents contain defense secrets, the prosecution can't show the jury the documents or even summarize them. However, the prosecution could call a dozen witnesses who have security clearances, such as (retired) generals, and have them testify to the effect "I read the document and it would harm national security if this leaked out."

Second is obstruction of justice. The prosecution could say that Trump actively hindered the investigation into the documents by intentionally hiding them and then lying about hiding them and having his lawyers also lie. The fact that Trump got a subpoena to turn over all the documents, claimed that he turned all over of them, and then it turned out that he didn't turn over another 300 or so is pretty clear evidence that he lied about the matter.

Trump's motivation for holding onto the documents doesn't matter. Even if he held onto them merely as souvenirs and didn't plan on selling them to the highest bidder or using them to blackmail the DoJ in case it tried to indict him, he could still be found guilty. The law says unauthorized people can't possess secret defense documents. It doesn't matter why he had them. There is no "souvenir defense."

Assuming Trump is indicted on either or both of these charges, the trial might not be until next summer at the earliest. Imagine a jury trial of the Republican nominee in the middle of the general-election campaign. Could a neutral jury be found? The DoJ would want to hold the trial in D.C. Trump would want to hold it in Florida, simply because the chance of getting a gung-ho Trump supporter on the jury is far greater there. Suppose there is a hung jury and there is a second trial after an election Trump has won. Now imagine that he is convicted on Jan. 19, 2025. No, better not imagine it. In any case, yet again, it's very worrisome news for the former president. (V)

Four poops

Willis Is Now Looking Beyond Georgia for Trump's Crimes

Fulton County Prosecutor Fani Willis is leaving no stone unturned in her investigation of Donald Trump's interference with the 2020 election. In fact, she is now examining his activities outside Georgia. Specifically, she is now looking at his hiring two firms to look for election fraud and has sent at least one of them a subpoena. The two companies are Simpatico Software Systems and Berkeley Research Group. Since neither firm found any election fraud, Trump never released the results of their studies. What Willis is up to is seeing if Georgia's Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) statute would apply. To see if it would apply, she needs to know if there were other parties besides Trump involved—for example the two companies he hired. So she wants to know what he told them.

The Georgia RICO law is patterned on the federal one but more expansive. A conviction requires proving that someone engaged in a pattern of crime as evidenced by two or more criminal acts, not all of which have to have been committed in Georgia. The two criminal acts could be federal or state and one of them could be violations of some other state's laws. It can be applied to many patterns of activity from dogfighting to conspiracy. In 2015, Willis used the RICO law to send eight teachers and administrators to prison for their parts in a massive cheating scandal in the Atlanta schools. In Trump's case there are numerous possible underlying crimes, including intimidating state officials, arranging for false electors to cast fake electoral votes, and more. Coconspirators could include Rudy Giuliani, Jenna Ellis, Sidney Powell, John Eastman, and many others. The penalty for conviction is up to 20 years in state prison.

One of the rules you learn early on in Hole Management 101, is that when you are in a hole, stop digging. Trump seems to have missed that. Last month on his CNN town hall, he explained his infamous call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger by saying: "You owe me votes because the election was rigged." This could show that his intent of the call was to get Raffensperger to switch votes, which would be a crime under Georgia law.

Another area where Willis has probably struck paydirt is in the fake electors scheme. She has offered immunity to 12 of the 16 fake electors. It is rumored that something like half the fake electors are cooperating with her. Their testimony could implicate Trump (and possibly Giuliani) in a second crime (other than the call to Raffensperger), which would be enough to activate the RICO law.

Willis has indicated that she will probably bring charges in the middle of August. The out-of-state connections are interesting, but Trump committed enough crimes in Georgia that the ones in other states aren't really essential to the prosecution. (V)

Two poops

RNC Issues Criteria for Making the Debate Stage

The first Republican presidential debate will take place in Milwaukee on Aug. 23. It will be sponsored by Fox News, Rumble, and Young America's Foundation. All of that has been known for a while. What wasn't known until Friday are the exact criteria for qualifying to get on stage. On Friday, the RNC announced the ground rules. Here are the four main ones:

  1. Poll at least 1% in three national polls or 1% in two national polls plus 1% in two early states.
  2. Have at least 40,000 unique donors and at least 200 donors in each of 20 states.
  3. Sign an agreement not to participate in any debate not approved by the RNC.
  4. Sign a pledge to support the Republican nominee during the general election campaign.

Hitting 1% nationally seems like a very low bar to us, so the stage might be quite full. This could help Donald Trump if all the not-Trump candidates aim their fire at other not-Trump candidates, as happened in 2016. In that year, the strategy all the candidates except Trump used was to try to demolish everyone except Trump so they could end up going man-to-man (or, in the case of Carly Fiorina, woman-to-man) in the end. It didn't work then and almost certainly won't work now. To the extent that many candidates make the stage and they fight with each other, it just helps Trump.

The one possible exception here is Chris Christie, who is expected to enter the race this week or next. He can take it as well as dish it out and might actually be willing to take on Trump on the stage. Of course, trying to take down Trump to his face only works if Trump is there, which is not certain yet. Trump has not said whether he will agree with point four on the list above and might just decide not to show up. If he were to sign the agreement and then run as an independent anyway if he loses the primary, that would clearly demonstrate to independents that his promises mean nothing. That could be fatal if he ran as an independent or third-party candidate because he would need many votes from independents in order to win.

Point four could also be an issue for Christie because he has said he could never vote for Trump in the general election. It could also be a problem for Asa Hutchinson, who lobbied the RNC to reword #4 to "I agree not to run as a third-party candidate in the general election" but failed to convinced RNC chair Ronna Romney McDaniel.

There are also criteria about which polls count. Suffice it to say that the poll must have 800 likely Republican primary voters. This means some polls by legitimate pollsters may not qualify. This could be an issue for candidates just on the edge.

Candidates have until 48 hours before the debate to find enough polls where they get 1%, so it is very early now to predict who will make the cut. Still, there are five candidates who are at 1% now and probably will make the cut:

  1. Donald Trump
  2. Ron DeSantis
  3. Nikki Haley
  4. Tim Scott
  5. Vivek Ramaswamy

They will probably all pass the funding tests as well. Except possibly for Trump, they will also agree to support the Republican nominee.

Now we come to candidates (and pre-candidates) who are right on the edge:

  1. Mike Pence
  2. Chris Christie
  3. Chris Sununu
  4. Asa Hutchinson
  5. Larry Elder

Some of these might make it and some might not. For them, the polling could be a problem, the donors could be a problem, or both could be problems.

Finally there are five potential candidates who are surely sweating big time now. If they don't make the stage, they're toast, so it only makes sense to jump in if they think they have a decent chance of making the debate. Here they are:

  1. Doug Burgum
  2. Perry Johnson
  3. Ryan Binkley
  4. Mike Rogers
  5. Will Hurd

The one who has the best chance here is Gov. Doug Burgum (R-SD), a self-made software billionaire. He might be able to get 40,000 donors from North Dakota alone and with enough advertising in enough states, could possible meet the other tests. Perry Johnson ran for governor of Michigan in 2022 but was disqualified because he failed to meet the signature requirement, an ominous sign. But he is wealthy and advertising heavily in Iowa and New Hampshire already. We doubt that more than 10 candidates will meet the requirements. There will not be a kddie table this time, so it is the main stage or bust. (V)

Iowa Will Require Caucusgoers to Be Present in Person

The Iowa caucuses will be a big battleground in 2024—in more ways than one. Obviously, the battle between the many Republican candidates will be huge. For some of the minor ones, it could be do or die. An eighth place finish almost certainly spells the end of the line for anyone.

But there is another fight going on in the background about the timing and the format. A caucus is not a primary so maybe a brief description of a common format could be useful. At the start of a caucus, supporters of the various candidates go into separate rooms, discuss their candidate, and elect a chair. Then everyone comes back into a plenary meeting and the chairs get 5 minutes or so to pitch their candidates. Then there is a vote. Any candidate falling below some threshold is eliminated. Then the process is repeated until every remaining candidate has met the threshold. Then there is a vote and delegate slots to the next level up are allocated based on the vote. Finally people run for the delegate slots. After the initial precinct-level caucuses, the elected delegates go to the county-level caucuses, then the congressional-district-level caucuses, then the state caucus, where the delegates to the national convention are chosen.

The Republicans are fine with this scheme. The Democrats are not fine with it and want to allow mail-in voting so that elderly and disabled people can take part easily. However, a mail-in caucus is very much like a primary and New Hampshire law states that New Hampshire must hold the first primary. If the Democrats were to allow mail-in votes, New Hampshire Secretary of State David Scanlan (R) could declare that Iowa was actually running a primary. not a caucus, and set New Hampshire's date before Iowa's.

There are three new developments here. First, Iowa Democrats have released a plan saying that they will hold their caucuses the same day as the Republicans, in defiance of the DNC, which has moved Iowa to the back of the line. The plan also specifies that the precinct-level caucuses will elect unbound delegates to the county-level caucuses. Since there is only one major candidate this time, that doesn't matter much, but in 2028 could matter a lot. Also, there will be a separate mail-in presidential preference vote. To our ears, that sounds very much like a primary in mail-in states like Oregon and Colorado. Separate from what New Hampshire will do, having the Iowa Democrats arguing with the DNC won't matter so much this time but would be huge in 2028.

Second, last week Gov. Kim Reynolds (R-IA) signed a law banning mail-in votes to the caucuses. If you want to take part, you have to show up in person. Now it is not clear what that really means since caucuses are run by the parties, not by the state, and it is far from clear that the state has the authority to tell the parties how to run their caucuses. This could end up in the courts.

Third, Iowa Republicans have said that to vote in the Republican caucus, a voter must be a registered Republican. In the past, any eligible voter who walked in could take part. The goal here is to minimize ratf**king. What the Republicans are trying to avoid is having bored Democrats who are not interested in their own caucuses show up and try to get the least electable Republican to win. Of course, Democrats who are aware of this can go register as Republicans any time between now and the caucuses. After the caucuses, they can switch back, naturally. But the rule makes it harder and may cut down on the mischief. (V)

The Economy Is Roaring

Maybe it's the economy, stupid, and maybe not, but the May economic report saw a red-hot economy create 339,000 jobs in the past month. This is far more than expected. Unemployment is near record lows, which could help Joe Biden in 2024. Basically, anyone looking for a job can probably find one. However, inflation is still with us, although slowing down.

The $64,000 question is whether the Fed's attempt to tame inflation will trigger a recession, for which Republicans would naturally blame Joe Biden rather than Fed Chairman Jerome Powell, who was initially appointed by Donald Trump. After three regional banks collapsed and the House Freedom Caucus tried to shoot the economy, a lot of people were very worried about a possible recession or depression. However, with the new jobs report, the outlook is now brighter. In fact, the Dow Jones index jumped 701 points on Friday after the jobs report came out. That doesn't mean that we are out of the woods though. The Dow Jones index is a good indicator of what investors are thinking right this minute, not whether there will be a recession in 6 months.

A big question now is what the Fed will do. Powell has said that the labor market needs to "soften" to bring down prices. "Soften" is economist-speak for millions of people losing their jobs. The May report shows the opposite is happening, although the unemployment rate edged up slightly to 3.7% in May, but still close to a historical low. The addition of new jobs and the unemployment rate going up at the same time is not inconsistent. In May, 339,000 new jobs were created but more than 339,000 people who were not seeking jobs started looking for them, thus technically raising the unemployment rate. Some of the new job seekers were probably high school and college graduates suddenly on the job market for the first time. Someone who was a student in April would not be counted as unemployed but if that person graduated in May, he or she would now be counted as unemployed—even if that person had a job lined up starting June 1.

One detail that could be a forewarning of what's to come is that Black unemployment went from 4.7% to 5.6%. This cancels out some of the gains that Black workers made in recent months. Black employment is always seen as fragile and sometimes augurs what's next. On the other hand, Latino unemployment fell from 4.4% to 4.0%.

If the economy continues to create jobs but inflation comes down to normal levels, Joe Biden will be in the catbird's seat in 2024. That will be doubly so if wage gains outpace inflation. If there is a recession, he will have a big problem, especially against Donald Trump who will tout the economy when he was president, even though he simply inherited it from Barack Obama. (V)

Both Parties Hope to Rebound in 2024

Both parties had poor showings in some states in 2022 and are determined to do better in 2024. Here are four states where a lot of effort will be expended by one party or the other next year:

  • Pennsylvania: This was a disaster for the Republicans last year. Doug Mastriano was crushed by 15 points in the gubernatorial race and Mehmet Oz lost in the Senate race. It was that old "candidate quality" thing. Fortunately for the Republicans, Mastriano consulted with his wife and God and apparently one of the two vetoed a Senate run against Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA). Maybe the Republicans can find a better candidate against Casey, although beating a popular incumbent is never easy, even in a swing state. There are also three House races where the Republicans have hopes of knocking off incumbent Democrats. There are Reps. Matt Cartwright in PA-08 (PVI of R+4), Chris Dluizio in PA-17 (EVEN), and Susan Wild in PA-07 (R+2).

  • Michigan: Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D-MI) crushed Tudor Dixon by 11 points in another example of "candidate quality matters." Also, a pro-abortion measure passed by 14 points last year. The big race here is the open Senate seat. The Democrats have a strong candidate in Elissa Slotkin and are pretty unified around her. The Republicans don't have a candidate yet, but are hoping for one better than Dixon. Two key House races are Slotkin's MI-07 open seat (R+2) and Dan Kildee's MI-08 (R+1). They will get lots of attention.

  • New York: Gov. Kathy Hochul (D-NY) won a full term in 2022, but only by 6 points, which may have dragged down some House candidates. Democrats are going to try to knock off six House Republicans next year: Reps. Anthony D'Espositio in NY-04 (D+5), Nick LaLota in NY-01 (R+3), Mike Lawler in NY-17 (D+3), Marc Molinaro in NY-19 (EVEN), "George Santos" in NY-03 (D+2), and Brandon Williams in NY-22 (D+1). In a blue wave, all of these could turn blue.

  • California: Gov Gavin Newsom (D-CA) won reelection by 18 points, but by California standards that is a middling performance. Joe Biden carried the state by 29 points in 2020. There are five House Republicans in districts that Biden won in 2020, and all of them will be big battlegrounds. They are Reps. John Duarte in CA-13 (D+4), Mike Garcia in CA-27 (D+4), Young Kim in CA-40 (R+2), Michelle Steel in CA-45 (D+2), and David Valadao in CA-22 (D+5). In addition, Republicans Kevin Kiley in CA-03 (R+4) and Ken Calvert in CA-27 (R+3) are in for competitive races in districts Trump narrowly won.

The bottom line is that the House is definitely up for grabs with so many vulnerable Republicans in Democratic or swing districts. (V)

How Can Biden Handle It If His Son Is Indicted?

It is possible that the DoJ's investigation of Hunter Biden will lead to one or more indictments. How can the president handle this? Well, he could look to history. It turns out that numerous presidential relatives in the past thought they could cash in on their famous relative. Biden could learn from some of these.

FDR's son James, a paid member of the White House staff, didn't even bother to hide activities that were soley designed to enrich himself. It got so bad that William Douglas, then chairman of the SEC (and later Supreme Court justice) offered to resign out of frustration concerning James' conduct. FDR talked him out of it.

Richard Nixon's brother Donald was a problem for Nixon. Donald received a $200,000 loan from billionaire Howard Hughes. The loan haunted Nixon for years.

Jimmy Carter's brother, Billy Carter, tried to create a new product, Billy Beer, but the venture failed. It certainly embarrassed the straight-laced president. Even worse were the hundreds of thousands of dollars Billy got from the Libyan government. Carter simply disassociated himself from this brother's activities. The Biblically oriented president could have said: "Am I my brother's keeper?" but he didn't. He just cut the brother off.

Bill Clinton was involved in plenty of scandals as president, but so were Hillary Rodham Clinton's brothers, Tony and Hugh. They got involved in some strange business harvesting hazelnuts in Georgia (the country, not the state). Also, Hugh received $400,000 for work obtaining a pardon for some clients. He was forced to return the money.

More recently we have the Trump administration, which was purer than the driven snow. Well, with one or two exceptions, perhaps. For example, Ivanka Trump was having trouble getting trademarks for her products in China. But after her father become president, she got 18 of them very quickly. Then there was the billion-dollar bailout of Jared Kushner's troubled investment firm. Also, Kushner got $2 billion to invest for the Saudis despite having little to no knowledge of investment banking.

None of these problems led to debilitating political difficulties for the respective presidents. The voters understand that what a president's son or daughter or brother does, is not the president's fault. If Hunter Biden is indicted, Joe could say that unfortunately, Hunter, like millions of Americans, fell into drug abuse and it ruined his life, but no one is above the law and he will let the DoJ handle the case as it sees fit. And then he could talk about all the corruption during the Trump administration and ask what President Trump did for the Saudis that made them give $2 billion to little Jared?

In fact, somewhat perversely, a DoJ indictment of Hunter Biden might actually help the President in a roundabout way. Trump is almost certainly going to be indicted one of these days, and is going to claim it's a witch hunt and that the Biden administration is pulling the strings and has weaponized the DoJ. But if the President's son is also under DoJ indictment? That makes it rather harder to argue that the DoJ is taking its marching order from Biden. (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jun04 Sunday Mailbag
Jun03 Saturday Q&A
Jun02 Our Long National Nightmare Is (Almost) Over
Jun02 DeSantis Blows His Lid
Jun02 The Pride Goeth During the Fall
Jun02 California Republicans May Try Something Different
Jun02 Talking about Abortion, Part VIII: They Lived It
Jun02 This Week in Schadenfreude: Teach Your Children Well
Jun02 This Week in Freudenfreude: The Show Must Go On
Jun01 Debt-Ceiling Bill Advances
Jun01 What about That IRS Funding?
Jun01 DeSantis Hits the Trail
Jun01 Jack Smith Has Tape of Trump Discussing Classified Documents
Jun01 Chris Christie Is Probably In
Jun01 There Could Be Up to Four Black Women in the Next Senate
Jun01 David Cicilline Will Leave Congress Today
Jun01 Oklahoma Supreme Court Strikes Down Two Laws Banning Abortions
May31 Onward and Upward for Debt Ceiling Deal
May31 Trump Says He Will End Birthright Citizenship
May31 Rep. Chris Stewart to Resign
May31 Who Is Winning the Culture Wars?
May31 Talking about Abortion, Part VII: Still More Questions and Answers
May30 Freedom Caucusers Work to Sink Budget Deal
May30 Debt-Ceiling Court Case Postponed
May30 We Have Entered the Blather-for-Blather's-Sake Part of the Presidential Cycle
May30 Paxton Clock Is Ticking
May30 More of the Same for Turkey
May30 Approval Ratings Are a Mystery, Worldwide (Part II)
May29 Biden and McCarthy Have a Deal--in Principle
May29 Texas House Impeaches State AG Ken Paxton
May29 Texas Legislature Changes Election Procedures in Harris County
May29 Musk's Challenge to Murdoch Is Back to Square One
May29 Gov. Doug Who? (R-ND) Is Planning to Run for President
May29 RNC Is Working on Requirements for the Debates
May29 Club for Growth Is Running an Ad Attacking Donald Trump's Social Security "Plan"
May29 Five House Democrats Have Now Called on Feinstein to Resign
May29 The California Senate Race is Heating Up
May29 Noem Is Doing Her Best to Land the Veep Slot
May28 Sunday Mailbag
May27 Saturday Q&A
May26 More Legal Trouble for Trump
May26 DeSantis Spent Thursday as a Punchline
May26 CNN Is Going to Double Down
May26 Mastriano Is Out...
May26 ...And Maybe Texas AG Ken Paxton Is, Too
May26 This Week in Schadenfreude: I WILL HAVE ORDER!
May26 This Week in Freudenfreude: Diplomate-cy
May25 DeSantis Is In
May25 Is DeSantis Typecast Already?
May25 How Conservative Is DeSantis' Florida, Really?