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Democrats Hold Pennsylvania House of Representatives

Thanks to the resignation of state Rep. Sara Innamorato (D), who quit to run for a county-level position, the Pennsylvania state House was evenly split, 101-101. Innamorato's district, SD-21, is pretty blue, but special elections are always wonky, particularly when they involve such a limited number of voters. In the end, however, the Democrats pulled it out, with former Congressional aide Lindsay Powell winning the seat.

Truth be told, it wasn't even close. For some reason, few outlets are actually reporting the vote tally, but it is easy enough to find on the website of the Pennsylvania Department of State. Powell collected 7,128 votes (65.3%) while her Republican opponent Erin Autenreith tallied 3,795 (34.7%). That landslide-level result might just have been foreshadowed by the fundraising takes of the two candidates; Powell brought in $53,000 while Autenreith collected just $6,000.

We write this up because it's an election, and there was a little bit of drama, but the result is not that consequential. First of all, resignations are common for the Pennsylvania legislature, and when things are so evenly divided, the state house is often at risk of flipping. This is, in fact, the fifth time this session the Democrats have won a special election to retain their majority. On top of that, the Republicans still have a hammerlock on the state Senate (28-22), while the governor is still Josh Shapiro (D). So, the trifecta was not on the line, regardless of the outcome of yesterday's election. (Z)

Trump Legal News: Happiness is a Warm Gun

A warm gun is one that was just fired, right? And a gun that was just fired will also be smoking, right? Then, by transitive property, happiness is a smoking gun, right? Good, because then the song fits our headline needs perfectly.

It seems there have been a lot of smoking guns that have implicated Donald Trump in criminal wrongdoing. Maybe that is how it works when you get charged with 91 felonies across four jurisdictions. And yesterday, yet another smoking gun came to light. According to ABC News, former Trump aide Molly Michael has been talking to the feds about what she saw at Mar-a-Lago.

So, what did Michael see? Boxes of classified documents, lots and lots of them. She also saw Trump using the backs of classified note cards (from presidential briefings) to write to-do lists. Those note cards were put away in drawers that the feds apparently did not search, such that Michael herself ended up recovering them and turning them over to the FBI the day after Mar-a-Lago was raided. She eventually quit her job because she became concerned about Trump's behavior related to the documents, and his efforts to keep them hidden, and she didn't want any part of it. At one point—and this is the smoking gun—the former president told Michael "You don't know anything about the boxes." In other words, the first rule of Mar-a-Lago is "You do not talk about the boxes." The second rule of Mar-a-Lago is "You do not talk about the boxes."

Assuming ABC's reporting is correct, and assuming Michael's account is truthful (both pretty reasonable assumptions), then that seven-word sentence is a double whammy for Trump. First, it makes it 100% clear he knew he was doing something illegal. Second, it is a textbook case of trying to obstruct justice. We're not the only ones who think so. Elie Honig thinks so. Chris Christie thinks so. Chris Timmons thinks so. Unlike us, all three of those men have spent considerable time as federal prosecutors. So, they presumably know what they are talking about.

Trump isn't the only person in his orbit who isn't having a great week, incidentally. Jeff Clark, the low-level DoJ attorney who nearly parlayed his rear-end-kissing skills into becoming the most powerful law enforcement officer in the land, is making a longshot attempt at getting his case moved from Georgia to federal court. Unlike Mark Meadows, however, Clark did not bother to show up for the hearing in person, and did not testify. Consequently, the judge rejected two pro-Clark sworn declarations, one from Clark himself, and one from Ronald Reagan AG Ed Meese, who is, to our surprise, still alive (it seemed like he was in his seventies way back in the eighties).

On the other hand, Judge Steve Jones, who seems to be involved in nearly every high-profile federal case in Georgia, did hear in-person testimony from former Trump DOJ Civil Division Chief Jody Hunt, who was called by Fulton County DA Fani Willis to testify that trying to overthrow elections is not part of the normal duties of a DoJ environmental lawyer. Jones has not ruled yet, but he does not seem likely to grant Clark's request to move the trial.

The third, and final, person who's not having a good week so far is Rudy Giuliani. His now-former lawyers, from the firm Davidoff Hutcher & Citron, just sued him for unpaid legal fees. It would seem that America's Former Mayor has paid $214,000 toward his bill, but he still owes an eye-watering $1,360,196. The lawyer who actually did most of that work, Robert Costello, is a long-time friend of Giuliani's. Or he was; they're now trading pot-shots, so they presumably won't be exchanging Christmas cards this year.

It is not looking probable that the lawyers, or anyone else, will get all (or even most) of the money Giuliani owes them. Political reporter Andrew Kirtzman, who has been on the Giuliani beat for decades, and who has written two biographies of the man, went on TV yesterday to point out how very many legal quagmires Giuliani has gotten himself into in recent years: four investigations (three criminal), nearly a dozen civil suits, and two disbarment hearings. He's already paid out a bundle in settlements, and he's likely to owe much more to Dominion Voting Systems, the two poll workers in Georgia (Ruby Freeman and her daughter Shaye Moss), and the (theoretical) army of attorneys he's going to need in Georgia and elsewhere. Kirtzman believes that due to his legal troubles, and his various divorces, and his long-time profligate lifestyle ($250,000/month), Giuliani is "penniless." He may be able to sell some assets and scrape together some of the money he needs (he put his $6 million condo up for sale), but his means are nowhere near enough to take care of most of his debts, both currently existing and future. No wonder Davidoff Hutcher & Citron filed now; those at the front of the line have a slightly better chance at a recovery than those at the back.

And that's the latest on the Trump legal front. Undoubtedly there will be more soon. (Z)

Tommy Tuberville Will Try to Work Around... Tommy Tuberville

Strange things sometimes happen in the world of politics, and that may never have been truer than it is today. So it is that Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) is currently working on a scheme to circumvent his own blockade of military promotions.

For 99.5% of the un-promoted people, Tuberville plans to stick to his guns. But, for whatever reason, he's decided that the Marine Corps really needs to have a new commandant. It's an important job, but is it really more significant than chairing the Joint Chiefs of Staff? Tuberville thinks so, and so he's gathering 16 signatures for a petition to hold a procedural vote. If the Senator gets the signatures he needs, then it would take 51 votes to bring the promotion to the floor of the Senate. If that happens, then it would also take 51 votes to approve the promotion.

On the whole, Democrats are not going to look favorably upon this course of action. They want maximal pressure on Tuberville. They also don't like to send the message to high-ranking military officers that if you're not the Commandant, you're really not that important. That said, the blue team also does not particularly want to give Republican politicians and right-wing media figures the ammunition needed to say "See! It's really the Democrats' fault the Corps has no Commandant!" So, it's hard to foresee how Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer & Co. will play this.

At the same time, there are also some Republican members who are not happy about this plan, starting with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). They too are not excited about insulting officers who are not the Commandant, nor do they want this blockade to continue forever. On top of that, part of what makes the Senate run is that only the Majority Leader brings items of business to the floor. If the precedent is set that any member can bring up anything as long as 16 other members agree, it could create chaos, not unlike what happens with the Freedom Caucus in the House. Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK) was close to using this same maneuver last month, and McConnell talked him out of it because of the long-term implications for the Senate. So, in short, it's also hard to foresee how McConnell and the non-whackadoodle Republicans will play this.

In the end, it's actually McConnell & Co. who have the greatest power to resolve this whole mess. It is very unlikely the Senate will change its rules, because the 99 non-Tuberville members want to retain their prerogative to block the occasional nominee. However, Tuberville could be made to feel some pain for his shenanigans. Funding for some key project in his state could be pulled, for example. Or his committee assignments could be canceled. Undoubtedly, the Democrats would be happy to do either or both of these things, but neither is going to happen until McConnell gets on board. So, he and his leadership team are really the ones to watch, both in terms of the current maneuvering, and in longer term. (Z)

Just When You Thought It Couldn't Get Worse

We feel safe in assuming that many readers of this site are repelled by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL). The readership leans highly educated, and nearly any educated person will be unhappy by the abuses of power, the culture wars stuff, the often overt bigotry, etc. Among all readers, well, the abuses of power are surely also a problem, and presumably the bigotry, too. We also have conservative readers who appreciate our honesty but surely even they don't like open warfare between a government official and a well-liked billion-dollar corporation. Most right-leaning folks believe that the business of America (or Florida) is business.

In 2026, DeSantis will be term-limited, and so will be succeeded by some other politician. Whoever it is surely has to be an upgrade, right? Maybe not. Yesterday, the news broke that Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) is laying the groundwork for a run at the governor's mansion.

It is not easy to out-DeSantis Ron DeSantis, but if there's anyone who can do it, it's Matt Gaetz. They are both ethically compromised. They both have a passion for owning the libs. They both like to bloviate about alleged enemies to the American way of life. They both have no problem doing harm to hundreds or thousands of people if it advances their political ends.

This is worth knowing because it puts everything Gaetz does in context. He's not just trying to get attention, or to raise money, he's actively working on a promotion, and trying to build a power base that will make that possible. No wonder he's getting more press these days than any representative not named Boebert. (When does Beetlejuice come to Miami?) And no wonder Gaetz is not only willing to shut the government down, he desires a shutdown, as he explained yesterday. After all, so what if hundreds of thousands of people have to go without, if it improves his gubernatorial chances by 0.2%?

In short, if you thought Gaetz was obnoxious already, you ain't seen nothin' yet. And it's not just Democrats to whom he is going to give plenty of headaches. The Representative is already in a state of war with Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), and it's surely only a matter of time (weeks? a few months?) until Gaetz tries to vacate the chair. Even if that fails, Gaetz can tell his constituents, and his would-be constituents, that he's done everything possible to fight the good fight against the deep state, including fighting RINOs like McCarthy. (Z)

Welker Blew It

There is a pretty famous story about Lyndon B. Johnson—we've surely mentioned it before—and his dealings with a reporter who was asking about the Vietnam War. "Why are we at war in Vietnam?" was the reporter's question. LBJ at first gave an answer based on geopolitics and fighting communism. The reporter was not persuaded, and repeated the question. The second time, LBJ gave an answer based on the importance of promoting and spreading the American way of life. The reporter was still not persuaded, and asked again. At this point, a frustrated LBJ unzipped his pants, extracted "Jumbo" (Johnson's name for his... well, Johnson), pointed at it, and said "THIS is why we are at war in Vietnam." The reporter did not ask again, so apparently answer #3 addressed the question.

We tell this story as an example of journalistic persistence, which is something that was in short supply during Kristen Welker's Meet the Press interview of Donald Trump. Oh, she called the former president out on the occasional lie, and she re-asked a couple of questions that he deflected, but in general she let him take the lead, and she chose not to challenge many, many things that should have been challenged.

We are far from the only ones who were underwhelmed. Here are the money quotes from a few of the many scathing reviews:

Undoubtedly not the way Welker wanted to start her new job.

In fairness, NBC should never, ever have allowed that interview to happen. Trump is the most difficult interview going right now, and maybe the most difficult interview in the history of American politics. He hasn't got the slightest compunction about lying, he's divorced from reality as most of the rest of us understand it, and he's got the media savvy you would expect of someone who's been on camera on a regular basis for more than 50 years. Sending a rookie into the lion's den like that, in order to start Welker's Meet the Press tenure with a bang, was indefensible.

We are not suggesting, of course, that we could have done better. The standard interview approach, where numerous subjects are addressed, and where the journalist tries to be fair and impartial, clearly does not work with Trump. It didn't work back in 2016, and now Trump has built up another 7 years' worth of confidence in his reality-bending approach.

If we had to develop a battle plan for interviewing him, we'd start with the assumption that it's not possible to fact-check him, and that asking his opinions on things is not useful, since he's just going to produce mountains of B.S. The weakest spot in his armor is on policy, and his tendency to dance his way past any sort of firm commitment on any sort of firm position on the issues. If we were told we had to interview Donald Trump tomorrow, we would pick a single issue—say, abortion—and the only goal of the interview would be to get an answer as to what Trump's position on that subject will be. That means coming into the interview armed with a bunch of questions like these:

Clearly, there is some element here of "get the subject off his game, so he says something unwise... and truthful" here. Credit the scene from A Few Good Men where Col. Nathan Jessup is on the stand for inspiration. This might not be appropriate for any other interview, but since Trump enters interviews with non-fawning media with the assumption that it's an adversarial process, it's necessary to meet fire with fire.

We also have another idea. It may seem nutty, so bear with us. If a media outlet lands an interview with Trump, then they should engage the services of a guest interviewer, namely... Howard Stern. Stern is not only a master interviewer who has decades of experience puncturing celebrity armor, he's also interviewed Trump more times than probably anyone on the planet. And even if ABC News or CNN or MSNBC isn't willing to put Stern on the air under these circumstances (though it would get HUGE ratings), then they should pay him whatever he wants to consult and coach the person who actually will conduct the interview.

Alternatively, if the non-fawning media are not willing to accept that the rules for interviewing Donald Trump are different from those for a normal politician or news figure, and to adapt in response, then they just shouldn't interview Trump at all. No need to give him a bunch more earned media that does nobody but Trump any good. (Z)

He Who Has the Power to Destroy a Thing, Controls It

There have been barrels of ink and billions of pixels devoted to why Donald Trump has a cult-like hold on his followers. Somewhat less attention has been devoted to why Republican officeholders have never called him out, especially in light of the revelation in the upcoming book by Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) that Republican senators mocked him in private as unhinged and crazy. The usual short answer is that they are cowards, afraid of his retribution if they go after him.

Jonathan Last, over at The Bulwark, has a slightly different take on this. He goes back to Frank Herbert's science fiction book Dune to illustrate what is going on. In Dune, set 10,000 years in the future, long after faster-than-light travel becomes routine, an advanced empire controls a planet that has the galaxy's only supply of "spice," the key ingredient needed for interstellar travel. The indigenous people use spice only for their quasi-religious ceremonies. How did those people fend off their infinitely more powerful oppressors? They found a leader who threatened to destroy all the spice. Their leader said: "The power to destroy a thing is the absolute control over it."

Donald Trump controls the Republican Party because he threatens to destroy it. He owns maybe 30, 40, 50 percent of the Republican voters. If he formed a new party and told his people to vote only for him and not Republican candidates downballot, they would do it. If he didn't form his own party (or couldn't get on the ballot) and told his people to go fishing on Nov. 5, 2024, they would do it. That would destroy the Republican Party. He has the power to destroy the Party and is not afraid to do it. He cares not a whit about the institutional Republican Party and would not hesitate to destroy it as revenge for failure to obey him. The Republican senators, who do care about the Republican Party, but who mock Trump privately, know this and know he has them by the [insert body part here]. That's why they won't challenge him. They don't want him to destroy the spice.

The Republican Party needs Trump because he is the glue that holds it together. Evangelicals are not especially interested in Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) because he is a generic Italian Catholic and not born-again, and big business types certainly don't like him because he rails against big business. A lot of Republican men don't like powerful women, so there goes Nikki Haley. Vivek Ramaswamy might be acceptable to the billionaire class but probably not to the anti-immigrant class (even though his parents were the immigrants, not the candidate). Evangelicals like Mike Pence, but nobody else does. No, Trump is the glue that holds the Party together so they need him. The leader of the indigenous people in Dune said: "Need is weakness."

So the fundamental truth that Paul Ryan, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), and the rest intuitively understood is that they care a lot about the Republican Party as an institution and Trump doesn't give a rat's a*s about it. If he has to destroy it, so be it. He'd then just move on to the next grift. What the Party leaders should have done in 2016 is gather around Jeb! as long as possible and when he was finally gone, tell people to vote for Hillary at the top of the ticket but Republicans everywhere else, in order to destroy the Orange Menace before he could destroy them.

Tucker Carlson also understood all of the above. He once said to a colleague at Fox News: "What [Trump's] good at is destroying things. He's the undisputed world champion of that. He could easily destroy us if we play it wrong." That gave Trump more power over Fox than Fox had power over him.

Last, who is at heart a conservative Republican, hates Trump because he is not. In fact, Trump is not a Republican at all. He just uses the Party to help him with his grift. Last's prescription of saving the Republican Party is for Sens. Mitt Romney (R-UT) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), along with Liz Cheney, Adam Kinzinger, Paul Ryan, Jim Mattis, Charlie Baker, Larry Hogan, Chris Sununu, and other actual Republicans, to vigorously support Joe Biden so that Trump is crushed like a bug. Then again in 2028 if need be, until he is gone and hopefully in prison. Then the Republican Party can rise from its ashes, like the Phoenix. But it won't happen. (V)

Put a Cork in It, Bob

As a case in point that even most non-Trumpy Republicans aren't willing to do what it takes to save the GOP, we give you... former Tennessee senator Bob Corker, who recently sat for an interview with Politico about life after Washington.

Roughly half the interview is empty fluff. We're glad for the former senator that he loves serving on corporate boards and playing golf, but, to be honest, we don't really care. Another 48% of the interview is Corker sounding like a very reasonable fellow, and lamenting how hard life in the Senate became for an alleged dealmaker like him. For example: "The number of people who are willing to burn political capital by reaching across the aisle to solve problems was diminishing. So no question: When you reached about year 10, you're impatient, you wanted to get things done, and when you realize that it's unlikely that that's going to happen—yes, you begin to look at other ways of productively living your life."

And then there was the 2% of the interview that actually caught our attention, best embodied by this quote: "I mean, if you look at the presidential race today, neither of the two leading candidates are even discussing solving our nation's biggest issues right now." There are a few more remarks along these lines, but this is the main one.

This is, to be blunt, absolutely ridiculous. Donald Trump does indeed spend most of his time talking about his personal grievances, and other non-essential things. But to suggest that Joe Biden is no better? Please. Take a look, for example, at the White House's "Statements and Releases" page. Not everything on the page ties to a specific issue (like, say, the tribute to Rep. Mary Peltola's husband), but here is a list of things that has come up in just the past week:

Again, that's just a week's worth. And yet, you could take that list and whip up a pretty decent approximation of the Democrats' 2024 platform (which, we assume, will be something more than "Eh. Whatever it was 4 years ago.").

Broadly speaking, we don't engage in advocacy when we write this site. It's not our place to tell readers who to vote for or what to believe about tax policy or whatever. However, was originally created to encourage people (especially people abroad) to vote. So, the one thing we will advocate openly for is democracy.

There are a number of explanations for Corker's ridiculous assessment of the presidential race, but we seriously doubt that he's not paying attention, or that he's so old that he thinks "the issues" are tariff rates and whether or not to re-charter the Second Bank of the U.S. No, we think that Corker is resolving cognitive dissonance. He doesn't want to vote Democratic because he's a Republican, and he doesn't want to vote Republican because he hates Trumpism. By adopting some version of "a pox on both their houses," it allows him to avoid making any tough choices, and to feel basically OK about any vote he might cast (probably for the Republicans). One cannot help but think of John F. Kennedy's paraphrase of the third canto of Dante's Inferno: "The hottest places in Hell are reserved for those who in time of moral crisis preserve their neutrality."

What it boils down to is this: Republicans who claim to hate Trumpism need to radically alter their thinking, and stop considering their votes as being about defense spending or tax rates or school vouchers or whatever. The real issue on the ballot in 2024 is democracy. All those other issues are subsumed under that umbrella, and will be consumed if a proto-fascist is elected president. If Corker can't wrap his mind around that, and put his high-handed words about Trumpism and about America's broken politics into practice, then he is a part of the problem, and everything he says is just hot air. (Z)

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