A moment of reckoning?
November 28, 2022
[Dear readers: No audio version for this newsletter; Substack’s compression algorithm is making the audio unlistenable. I am pursuing with Substack.]
The reverberations of the Democratic victories in the midterms continue to shake the political order. By defeating election denialists and aspiring Trump clones, Democrats weakened Trump just enough to stir a handful of timid voices in the GOP. In the main, the voices are “old guard” establishment Republicans who were “never Trumpers” before they surrendered to Trump in abject humiliation and fear. But now, they sense that Trump is vulnerable, and they are testing his weakness. We may be witnessing a moment of reckoning—for Trump, the Republican Party, and the nation.
It is risky business to predict defeat for Trump. I know that lesson all too well. This newsletter started in 2017 because I assured my daughters that Trump would never be elected president—and I have been writing every weekday since then to help make sense of a presidency and a political movement that seem to defy gravity. I will not be so bold in my predictions for 2024, but it is clear that the midterm losses have weakened Trump and emboldened his rivals. And, as always, he continues to suffer from self-inflicted wounds that any politician with a modicum of restraint and self-awareness could have avoided.
The signs are everywhere that some in the GOP are imagining life without Trump as the leader of the party. GOP leaders “stayed away in droves” from his 2024 presidential announcement. See Politico, Republicans shrug off Trump '24 bid: 'The excitement’s just not there'. Indeed, members of Trump’s family refused to attend or claimed travel difficulty as an excuse for their absence.
Some GOP congressional leaders have simply refused to acknowledge questions from reporters about their support (or lack thereof) for Trump’s candidacy. See The Hill, McCarthy refuses to say if he’ll endorse Trump in 2024, tells reporters ‘You guys are crazy’.
Former NJ governor Chris Christie, a 2024 GOP presidential aspirant, has said the quiet part out loud—i.e., that the party needs to “move on” from Trump. See Business Insider, Chris Christie says potential GOP challengers are acting like Trump is 'Voldemort': 'You're going to run against him? Say his name'.
But most tellingly, the GOP is divided over whether to condemn Trump for meeting with Kanye West and Nick Fuentes, both of whom have made antisemitic remarks; the latter is an avowed white supremacist. The majority of Trump’s potential rivals for the nomination have not yet found the courage to condemn the meeting. See Bloomberg, Donald Trump 2024 Rivals Silent After His White Supremacist Meeting. Indeed, even Trump seems flummoxed about the appropriate response to his dinner with Ye and Fuentes. Trump first claimed that he did not know who Fuentes was but quickly pivoted to attacking Kanye West as a “seriously troubled man, who just happens to be black.”
A few Republican leaders have directly condemned Trump’s meeting with Ye and Fuentes. Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson said the meeting was “very troubling and should not have happened.” GOP Rep. James Comer from Kentucky tried to find the courage to criticize Trump but came up a wee bit short. He said that Trump needed “better judgment [about] who he dines with.”
Kevin McCarthy’s silence about the dinner between Trump, Ye, and Fuentes gives the deepest insight into the conundrum the GOP has created for itself. McCarthy is short on votes to become Speaker and is courting the “Freedom Caucus” of the House GOP—a group of extremists who (mostly) support Trump. A statement by McCarthy condemning Trump would surely dash McCarthy’s hope of becoming Speaker—as will his silence on Trump’s meeting with antisemites and a white nationalist. See Talking Points Memo, McCarthy Is Still Hemorrhaging Speaker Votes Even As He Bends Over Backwards For MAGA. Per TPM,
Rep. Ralph Norman (R-SC) announced he would not vote for House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy for speaker next year, joining the small but mighty chorus of MAGA-aligned detractors in his caucus who are refusing to bend the knee – at least not before throwing a minor fit.
The South Carolina congressman is the fifth Republican in recent days to announce his opposition to McCarthy’s speakership bid, joining fellow conservative Freedom Caucus members Reps. Andy Biggs, Matt Gaetz, Matt Rosendale, and Bob Good.
The divided support for McCarthy in the GOP caucus is a proxy for the divided support of Trump. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s recent endorsement of McCarthy resulted in a rebuke from Matt Gaetz, who said that McCarthy would “zap her faster than you can say ‘Jewish space laser.’”
My point is not to revel in the thought of a cage-match between Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene, but to note that Trump’s weakness is bleeding into intra-party contests—and will likely roil Republican politics deep into 2024.
So, what should we do? To start, we should re-elect Raphael Warnock as US Senator from Georgia. In addition to keeping an eminently qualified candidate in the Senate, Republicans will blame Trump (again) for forcing the party to nominate an unqualified candidate.
Although we should not entertain fantasies that Trump will drop out of the 2024 race, we should make the most out of an opposing party led by a wounded, cornered man who believes staying out of jail for the next two years is dependent on his ability to remain a viable presidential candidate. If this is to be the moment of reckoning for Trump, it will materialize because we press our advantage to the maximum extent possible. Let’s keep up the hard work of winning elections and see what consequences flow from our efforts.
The 2022 midterms should give us hope that we can overcome our daunting challenges by winning at the ballot box. Just look how much progress we made by overcoming “conventional wisdom” about midterms. Imagine what will happen if we win the presidency and take back the House in 2024!
President Biden pledges new effort at assault weapons ban.
After the mass killings at Club Q in Colorado Springs and at a Walmart in Virginia, President Biden said that he would seek an assault weapons ban in the remaining weeks of the current Congress. The bill will not overcome the 60-vote filibuster rule, but it is a worthy effort nonetheless. See HuffPo, Sen. Chris Murphy: Senate Lacks Votes To Pass Assault Weapons Ban. Democrats must push an assault weapons ban until its passage is assumed to be an inevitability.
As noted in the HuffPo article above, Senator Murphy raised the separate issue of counties that declare themselves “second amendment sanctuaries”—a declaration used as an excuse for refusing to enforce state and federal gun regulations. In the mass killing at Club Q, the refusal of El Paso County in Colorado to enforce a “red flag law” may have contributed to the chain of events that permitted the killer to legally own an assault rifle after being arrested for felonious “menace” and kidnapping.
As Senator Murphy noted on a Sunday talk show, the federal government should not be contributing to law enforcement agencies that refuse to enforce existing gun regulations. Good point! And the next the time that Republicans claim that “red flag laws” are the answer to gun violence, remind them “that 60% of counties in this country are refusing to implement the nation’s gun laws.”
The protests in China.
Protests have erupted across China, ostensibly over stringent Covid lockdowns ordered by President Xi. See WaPo, Protests against China's covid lockdowns erupt after Xinjiang fire. The Covid lockdowns are undoubtedly fueling the widespread protests and discontent with President Xi and the Communist Party in China. But as is often the case, when protestors take to the streets, they bring all of their grievances with them.
Many of the protests have morphed into demonstrations about free speech and the Chinese government’s heavy-handed censorship. Indeed, after several days of widespread protests, there are no images or stories in Chinese media or social media about the demonstrations. See NYTimes, Deadly Fire in China Fuels Protests Over Xi’s Covid Policies. As reported in the Times, one crowd chanted, “Democracy and rule of law [and] freedom of expression!”
People don’t like to be told what to think or what to say. That is a lesson that authoritarian regimes forget at their peril. And yet, censorship and thought control is the campaign platform of several of the leading contenders for the GOP nomination in 2024. See, e.g., Jurist, Florida governor signs bill restricting education on LGBTQ issues and Reuters, Texas schools remove children's books branded 'critical race theory'.
Am I comparing Ron DeSantis and Greg Abbott to the dictatorial leader of the Chinese Communist Party? No—I don’t need to.
Upcoming legal developments.
Joyce Vance has quickly cornered the market on “upcoming legal developments” in her Substack blog, Civil Discourse with Joyce Vance. If you are interested in understandable explanations of complex legal issues, you should subscribe to Vance’s blog. Her description of the appeal to the 11th Circuit regarding Judge Cannon’s appointment of a special master is superb. See This Week at the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.
The 11th Circuit will likely issue its opinion this week, so Vance’s article provides all you need to know about what is at stake—which is a lot! I will, of course, comment on the decision when it is released, but no need to wait for me.
Also, we should expect a verdict in the Oath Keepers sedition trial this week. A wonderful primer on sedition trials in the US is Rachel Maddow’s podcast, Ultra. As only Rachel can do, she tells the story of an important sedition trial in 1944 that was remarkable for many reasons—including the effort of US Senators to kill the investigation into seditious conduct by members of Congress. Sound familiar?
Early voting for the Senate run-off began in some counties in Georgia over the weekend— in 22 of 129 counties. The good news for Democrats is that several of the largest counties permitted early voting, including Dekalb, Fulton, and Chatham. The right to vote over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend was a hard-fought victory led by several advocacy groups.
Meanwhile, Senator Warnock is now releasing political ads that consist of little more than Herschel Walker talking nonsense about vampires, werewolves, and a bull who has impregnated three cows. Although Warnock’s use of Walker’s bizarre campaign statements may seem aggressive, Warnock has refrained from using the most egregious misstatements by Walker.
Like you, I struggle with the notion that the race between Warnock and Walker remains close. How did we arrive at a point where the manifest unfitness of a candidate to hold office is irrelevant to a near-majority of voters in Georgia? How can we find our way out of this morass?
The answer is simple and obvious: We beat them at the polls. Herschel Walker. Doug Mastriano. Kari Lake. Dr. Oz. At some point, it will dawn on the near-majority of voters across America that nominating people unfit to hold office is a losing strategy. A string of losses has had a sobering effect on some leaders in the Republican Party. The fight might not be over, but the GOP is an unhappy bunch at the moment. I doubt that they have learned their lesson, but they are aware there is a lesson to be learned. That is progress. Let’s hope that it translates to their consideration of the 2024 presidential nominee. That decision may be their final moment of reckoning as a party.
Talk to you tomorrow!