Needed 1215
Haley 21
Trump 116
Other 12
Remaining 2280
Political Wire logo Justices Throw Trump Trial Schedule Into Turmoil
Alabama GOP Scrambles on In Vitro Fertilization
Judge Removes Trump from Illinois Primary Ballot
GOP Senator Blocks Bill Protecting In Vitro Fertilization
Will Trump Face Trial in the Election Interference Case?
Trump to Meet with Viktor Orban Next Week
TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  What's Good for the Goose Is What's Good for the Michigander
      •  One Last Look at South Carolina
      •  The Other Guy Is Out
      •  Story Behind AI Robocall Revealed
      •  Johnson Says He Doesn't Want a Shutdown
      •  IVF Fight Heads to Congress
      •  Looking Forward to 2024, Part IV: Reader Predictions, Donald Trump Edition

We have been advised by several readers, including lawyer-reader R.E.M. in Brooklyn, that Donald Trump does not actually have 30 days to come up with the half-billion he owes in New York, and that his properties could theoretically be seized and sold at any moment. That said, AG Letitia James does not appear to have plans to imminently make that move, though she is live-tweeting daily updates on how much Trump owes with each day's interest included.

Also, as we expected, and as many readers wrote in to tell us, NBC posted clips of Joe Biden's Monday appearance on Late Night with Seth Meyers shortly after yesterday's post went live. The first part is here, the second part is here. We also got several messages from readers insisting that the difference between this week's appearance and Biden's original appearance on the show in 2014 illustrates how very far the President has slipped, mentally. Should you care to do your own comparison, Biden's original appearance on the show is here.

And finally, we are aware that the constitutional requirement that the president update the Congress on the state of the union does not include any particular frequency with which those updates must be offered, nor does it demand an in-person report. That is why the presidents of the 19th and early 20th centuries largely did the job in writing. Our point was that if Biden and House Republicans get in a pi**ing contest over the SOTU, Biden can pull out the "it's in the Constitution" card. Even if he plausibly COULD skip the visit, he doesn't want to, and he will have a pretty compelling argument as to why he shouldn't be asked to do so.

What's Good for the Goose Is What's Good for the Michigander

The good people of Michigan headed to the polls yesterday, and produced results fairly well in line with what we've seen in the other primaries and caucuses thus far.

Starting on the Democratic side because that is where the main (and really only) drama was, Joe Biden easily won all of Michigan's delegates, taking 80.5% of the vote, as compared to about 3% each for his two "rivals," Rep. Dean Phillips (DFL-MN) and Marianne Williamson, with 89% reporting. One wonders what Phillips is still doing in the race, when he struggles to outpace someone who dropped out multiple weeks ago (as of this writing, he's actually behind her by about 2,000 votes).

The other 13.8% of the Democratic vote was for "uncommitted." This option exists to allow primary voters to cast a protest vote. The problem is that such a vote is only a very blunt instrument. Some chunk of the uncommitted vote is coming from people who want Biden to stand down because of his age. Some additional chunk is coming from people who are unhappy about what's going on in Israel. Biden will only have a general idea of what percentage is in the former group, what percentage is in the latter group, and what percentage is in both groups. And he definitely isn't going to know how many of those voters are only mounting a primary-election protest, and how many simply will not vote for him in November.

That said, the candidate can't do anything about the age problem, and so the only thing he can potentially work on is the Israel problem. As of last night, he knows he's got to do that. So, at least some of the uncommitted voters achieved what they set out to achieve. However, he surely also knew that before folks headed to the polls yesterday. After all, he sent every high-profile member of his national defense team to Michigan last week to spread the message that the administration is doing what it can. It also appears pretty clear to us that Biden is going to maneuver very slowly in the Middle East, as is his style, but that the situation in November will be pretty different from the situation today.

Moving on to the Republican side, Donald Trump romped, as he always does. He claimed 68.2% of the vote and 9 delegates, as compared to 26.5% and 2 delegates for Nikki Haley, with 93% reporting. Another 5 delegates will be awarded once the vote tallies are finalized, while 39 more will be awarded at the state GOP convention(s?) this Saturday. So, last night was not exactly decisive when it comes to delegate totals.

After the top two Republican finishers, "Uncommitted" got 2.4% of the vote, while the remaining ballots went to the various candidates who have dropped out of the race. Haley did worse than she did in South Carolina and in New Hampshire; in both of those places she checked in with about 40% of the vote. Since the former is her home state and the latter is demographically friendly to her (and she campaigned hard there), the Michigan result is probably more indicative of how she's going to do in the various Super Tuesday contests. Beyond that, we'll see in a couple of days if more fine-grained data tells us anything more about the results (as it possibly does with South Carolina; see below).

In the end, though, there's only one question that's really important. Trump won Michigan by 10,704 votes in 2016 and he lost it by 154,188 votes in 2020. So, the state is surely going to be close in 2024. Yesterday, roughly 20% of Democrats and roughly 35% of Republicans voted for someone other than the presumptive nominee of their party. And the bottom line is that Trump is going to need a much larger percentage of those folks to come home than Biden will. (Z)

One Last Look at South Carolina

South Carolina Republicans cast their ballots on Saturday, which kinda means that election is old news. However, 3 days is enough time to really crunch some data, and there are some interesting things to note:

  • Other exit polls we mentioned found that 50% of Haley voters said they would not vote for Trump in the general election. Fox has now shared their exit polling, and they found that 60% of Haley voters won't vote for Trump. There's clearly a real phenomenon here. Some of those voters are Democrats who crossed over, others will ultimately change their minds and vote for Trump, but clearly some of Haley's rather sizable voter base is NeverTrump. And while that won't matter in South Carolina, it will certainly matter in swing states. To take Michigan as an example, if just one Haley voter in five does not vote for Trump, then that's almost certainly going to cost him the state, even if Arab-American and Muslim voters are angry with Joe Biden.

  • To slice and dice that another way, as former Trump White House official (and now Trump apostate) Alyssa Farah Griffin puts it, a sizable majority of the country does not want Trump as president. That is not going to be easy to overcome, even up against a Democrat who is himself unpopular with the voting public. Griffin thinks this problem is serious enough that the Trump campaign and the RNC should be treating it as a "five-alarm fire," even though they are not doing so.

  • CNN's exit polling found that only 5% of people who voted in the South Carolina primary were registered Democrats. So most of Haley's support is coming from actual Republicans, and not ratfu**ers. To put a finer point on it, if you randomly selected 40 people who voted for Haley, you'd likely end up with roughly 21 Republicans, 14 independents and 5 Democrats. Trump doesn't need those Democrats, but he does need the Republicans and most of the independents.

  • CNN also learned that Trump voters are vastly more likely (by 30+ points) to rate immigration as their top issue. Put another way, Joe Biden would certainly like to do something about the southern border. But if he can't get it done, the voters he's really going to anger are largely the ones who aren't going to vote for him anyhow.

  • Yet another interesting thing from CNN's exit polls is that 87% of Trump voters think he's mentally fit to serve as president, while a staggering 97% of Haley voters think he isn't. So, hammering on his mental fitness would appear to be a winning strategy, particularly if there are more "is that E. Jean Carroll or is that my wife?" incidents.

  • Also, 82% of Haley voters think Biden won in 2020, whereas only 18% of Trump voters think that. Writing for The Bulwark, Jonathan Last argues that the lesson here, for the Biden campaign, is to goad Trump into re-living the "theft" of the 2020 election, over and over, because that sort of talk drives voters out of Trump's arms and into the arms of his opponents.

It's just one election, of course, and an election that only involved voters from one side of the political aisle in a medium-sized, not entirely representative state. That said, the numbers do suggest that the Trump campaign has weaknesses that it's not addressing (and that it's arguably making worse by feeding so much red meat to the base). They also suggest a viable strategy for Joe Biden of hammering on Trump's mental fitness and getting him to keep relitigating 2020. Of course, the Biden campaign has far better data than we do (or CNN does, or Fox does). And it also has people whose job it is to parse what the data really means. So, you can bet the President knows all of these things. Trump could, and should, know all of these things, too, but he tends to be more of a shoot-from-the-hip, I-don't-need-no-pointy-headed-number-cruncher-to-tell-me-what-to-do kind of candidate. (Z)

The Other Guy Is Out

We are not sure how the line between "presidential candidate worth noting" and "unserious candidate running a vanity campaign" is drawn, but somehow megapastor Ryan Binkley ended up on the "worth noting" side of that line. He never had any hope of winning the Republican presidential nomination, or even any delegates, and yet he gets his name listed in the results, as opposed to being lumped in with "Other Candidates."

In any event, whatever he was trying to do—Get some publicity for his ministry? Position himself for a run at some other political office? Make the case that he should play the next incarnation of The Doctor?—he either did it, or concluded he's not going to be able to do it. And so, he dropped out yesterday and promptly endorsed Donald Trump. That means that, among the "serious" candidates, it's just Trump and Nikki Haley still standing.

Over the course of his "campaign," Binkley spent $10 million of his own money, and for that, he collected about 2,000 votes across four primaries/caucuses. That means he spent $5,000 per vote, which isn't exactly very efficient. We guess it means that inflation is even affecting the cost of tilting at windmills. Sorry, Don Binkley-ote. It is ironic, we would say, that his main and only campaign plank was reining in reckless spending. Physician, heal thyself. (Z)

Story Behind AI Robocall Revealed

As you may recall, there was a fake Joe Biden robocall deployed before the New Hampshire primary (you can hear it here, if you wish). What it said, in brief, was that Democrats should not vote in the primary, because that would only "help" Donald Trump, and that they should instead save their votes for November.

Thanks to an investigation from the New Hampshire AG's office, as well as the work of enterprising reporters, the full story on that AI call is now known, and it involved three key players. The first is Dean Phillips, who footed the bill for the whole operation. The Phillips campaign claims they paid $250,000 to political operative Steve Kramer to secure ballot access for the candidate, and that beyond that, they have no knowledge of what Kramer did with the money. Readers can decide for themselves how much they believe that.

The second key player is Paul Carpenter, a street magician based in New Orleans, who actually did the computer work to create the message. Carpenter claims he is apolitical and also that he did not know how the message was going to be utilized. "I created the gun. I didn't shoot it," he told reporters. Readers can decide for themselves how much they believe that.

The final key player is Kramer, who was clearly the linchpin of the scheme. He is eager to avoid prosecution, of course, not to mention a lawsuit from the Phillips campaign. So, he claims that the robocall was just an experiment, and that the message only went out to about 5,000 New Hampshire voters. Readers can decide for themselves how much they believe that.

In the end, we wonder how effective these stunts will really be. The FEC has now made clear that doing this is illegal, although the sort of buck-passing we see with the New Hampshire situation may make it difficult to finger an actual perpetrator. However, while the technology is very good right now, it's not perfect, and there are telltale signs that the voice is not real. Considering the Biden message, for example, listen to the phrase "elect... Donald Trump... again." The pauses that appear just aren't natural, especially the one between "Trump" and "again."

Eventually, the tech will get better, while the people who apply the tech will presumably be more skilled than a guy who bends forks on the street for a living. But by the time that happens, won't the message about the possibility of AI fakery be out there? How many people these days REALLY believe Bill Gates is e-mailing them about an opportunity to win $100 for testing a new version of Windows, or that the bank needs to double-check your ATM PIN so just click on this link, or that a prince in Nigeria needs your help expatriating $10 million from that country? If a robocall or a YouTube video or a photograph doesn't pass the smell test (and the Biden robocall does not, since it makes no sense that voting would help Donald Trump), then won't people just dismiss it as fakery? (Z)

Johnson Says He Doesn't Want a Shutdown

The government is on pace to partially shut down on Saturday, and Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) has finally joined the list of prominent folks saying they do not want that to happen.

That appears to be a good sign, but we suggest you regard it with at least some skepticism, for three reasons:

  1. Johnson has already shown himself to be rather duplicitous, even by politician standards. He could just be posturing so that, if a shutdown comes, he can claim he was trying his best to make a deal and it's not his fault.

  2. Johnson's GOP colleagues in the Senate are not optimistic that the Speaker has what it takes to navigate this situation.

  3. After a meeting of party leaders at the White House, Johnson and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) pointedly avoided a joint appearance before reporters. If the Speaker isn't even getting along with McConnell, then it does not suggest good things about his relationship with the non-Republicans at the bargaining table.

It is very possible that Johnson is trying to maneuver the situation such that Congress passes a long-term continuing resolution, and then calls it a day. That would mean that last year's budget would be extended to cover this year, as well. The problem, from the vantage point of Democrats (and some Republicans), is that the deal made by Joe Biden and former speaker Kevin McCarthy last October specifies that the long-term-CR approach would automatically cut all discretionary funding by 3%. This approach probably wouldn't avoid a shutdown, since it could not get a majority of votes in either chamber, but trying for it would (apparently) make the Freedom Caucusers happy, and that's what Johnson needs to do to keep his job safe. (Z)

IVF Fight Heads to Congress

The Alabama IVF decision has, as we have pointed out, created a real headache for Republican politicians. On one hand, they don't want to say embryos aren't people, because they will anger some segment of the anti-choice crowd. On the other hand, they don't want to say embryos ARE people, because that creates any manner of legal, economic and political messes. To date, most GOP politicos, including Donald Trump, have vaguely said the Alabama decision is tricky, while also affirming their support for the availability of IVF. The careful reader will notice that nothing in there makes clear what, exactly, should be done to address the current situation.

If you would prefer a slightly more personal take on this quandary (and you have a New York Times subscription), Kristen Soltis Anderson is a Republican pollster, a devout Christian, and is about to have her second child made possible by IVF. She's written an op-ed that is quite powerful, and speaks to her belief that IVF must remain within reach for American families, while also making clear that she understands why some/many parents consider embryos to be their children. That said, Anderson does not share any thoughts as to what might be done to resolve the conflict she feels.

This week, two members of the U.S. Senate will offer Republicans a potential way forward. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and Patty Murray (D-WA) are going to bring up a bill that would establish a federal right of access to IVF and other fertility treatments. This also does not resolve the moral dilemma that some people feel, nor does it necessarily countermand the Alabama decision that embryos are people. Nonetheless, it would put IVF clinics, their patients, and their would-be patients on much firmer ground, and would presumably compel Alabama courts to come up with something more nuanced than the current policy.

We have absolutely no doubt that the two senators are doing this, first and foremost, because they believe in reproductive freedom. However, they are also too savvy not to be aware of the politics of the situation. The current plan is to ask the Senate for unanimous consent. This would allow the bill to pass the upper chamber without Republicans having to formally vote for it (all they have to do is remain silent and not oppose it). To the extent that there's a way for members of the GOP to thread the needle, this is it.

If one member objects, however, then the bill will have to go through normal order. And, at that point, every single member of the Senate will have to cast a vote. This vote is not going to be a problem for the Democrats, and it won't be a problem for some Republicans, but there are other Republicans who would have a very tough decision to make. The last time Duckworth and Murray brought up a bill like this, it was Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS) who objected to unanimous consent. Makes sense, since she's both a woman and is from a deep-red state, and so has as much cover as is humanly possible. But this issue has suddenly become much more salient, and this time, the bill won't be allowed to die if it doesn't get unanimous consent. So, Hyde-Smith, et al., are going to have to think long and hard about whether they want to block the measure.

If it does get through the Senate, then the calculus is pretty similar in the House. It is hard to imagine fundamentalist Christian Mike Johnson bringing the bill to the floor of his chamber, but there may well be enough members to bring it up through a discharge petition. If the bill somehow makes it to the finish line, then many people will cheer. And if it doesn't, well, reproductive rights will become an even heavier anchor around the necks of many Republicans running in 2024. (Z)

Looking Forward to 2024, Part IV: Reader Predictions, Donald Trump Edition

We are back in the groove, predictions-wise. Here are the three items we've run so far:

And now, here are 10 predictions about Donald Trump:

  1. A.T.S. in Brooklyn, NY: Donald Trump will flee to Russia after losing the election to avoid prison. (Potential Bonus Points: 79)

  2. D.J.M. in Salmon Arm, BC, Canada: Amid a chaotic fallout from his legal problems, Trump will name his son Donald Jr. as his VP running mate. (Potential Bonus Points: 84)

  3. C.P. in Malden, MA: Trump will be convicted in at least one criminal trial before the November election. (Potential Bonus Points: 28)

  4. F.W. in Decatur, GA: Trump will announce a slate of VP candidates, at least three and probably as many as five, and then at intervals he will fire one until only one remains at the time of the convention. This will give him tons of free media coverage, multiple attack dogs in the field at the same time, thrill his base, and, most importantly, stoke his ego. The sad part is that he will have no shortage of spineless candidates willing to humiliate themselves this way. (Potential Bonus Points: 62)

  5. J.K. in Boston, MA: Trump will suffer a minor stroke that will affect his speech but leave what's left of his cognitive ability more or less intact. Because of his fear of looking weak, he will withdraw from rallies and public events, getting surrogates out on the stump and TRUTHing furiously so it looks like there's no problem. Democrats will point out this absence, Republicans will shame them for conspiracy-mongering, and Trump will win several states and ALMOST win the election despite (because of?) not being present from the convention to the election. (Potential Bonus Points: 74)

  6. J.K. in Greensburg, PA: Trump will die from natural causes in 2024. The major media outlets will report it accurately—even Fox—but Trump's supporters will believe his death was suspicious and blame Democrats. There will be violent protests by the MAGAs as a result. (Potential Bonus Points: 80)

  7. D.G.H. in Barnegat, NJ: It will be revealed that Jack Smith employed professional plumbers to recover top secret documents that Trump flushed down the toilet. (Potential Bonus Points: 88)

  8. T.J.R. in Metuchen, NJ: After he loses in November, Donald Trump will be forced to file for bankruptcy. (Potential Bonus Points: 37)

  9. G.M. in Laurence Harbor, NJ: After securing the nomination, Donald Trump will make another mysterious visit to Walter Reed Army Hospital and the reason will be just as secretive as the last time. It will be for respiratory problems caused by Long COVID. He will be given medications which will make his campaign appearances loonier than usual. Leaks will reveal that he wears diapers because of, well, leaks. (Potential Bonus Points: 75)

  10. D.M. in Wimberley, TX: Trump's increasingly blatant racism and general venality cost him too many undecideds to be viable. The base is not enough to win. (Potential Bonus Points: 21)

When we first read the prediction from D.G.H. in Barnegat, we originally thought of Nixon-style plumbers, which is quite the mental picture. But we think D.G.H. meant actual plumbers.

Anyhow, if the readers go 10-for-10, then they'll earn 1,000 points for 10 correct predictions, along with 628 bonus points for degree of difficulty. On Friday, we'll have predictions about the actual elections. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Feb27 Trump Legal News: Will Your Lawyer Talk to God?
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Feb26 Vice Presidential Candidates Exhibit Their Trumpiness at CPAC
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Feb25 Sunday Mailbag
Feb24 Saturday Q&A
Feb23 IVF Decision: Republicans Are Running for the Hills
Feb23 Biden Impeachment: GOP Hopes Are Shattered
Feb23 Biden Age: Could the Antiques Roadshow Reach a Dead End?
Feb23 Right-Wing Websites in Decline: Breitbart's the Biggest Loser
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Feb21 Trump Legal News, Part I: Take Me Out to the Ballgame
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Feb21 Alabama Supreme Court: Embryos Are People, Too
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