Friday, June 30, 2023

BTRTN: Trump and GOP… "Til Death Do Us Part"

Think Trump goes away if he loses in 2024? Think again. Every time Republicans refuse to repudiate Trump, they make him stronger.

It’s one of the first things you say when you get married. “For better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health… ‘til death do us part."  You don’t really think about it too hard, because in the euphoria of the moment, It's kind of a buzz kill.

But maybe it is time for Republicans – and all of us -- to think about it in the context of Donald Trump’s death-grip on the GOP.

The sense one gets from the pundit class and the Reddit addicts is that if Trump is the GOP nominee but loses yet again to Joe Biden in the general election, Republicans will finally be able to shove Trump aside, come to their senses, and regain their footing as a conservative party that nominates sane, electable candidates who run on electable right-of-center platforms. That some semblance of normalcy will return.

Somewhere Albert Einstein is screaming his famous definition of insanity.

The more likely outcome – based on recent history – is that the minute Trump is declared the loser of the 2024 race, he will instantly become the presumptive favorite to win the Republican nomination in 2028.

And again in 2032.

And again until… well, until Donald Trump finally dies.

When this hypothesis is floated for scrutiny among the politically involved, the first reaction is to scoff and dismiss it. Surely, they reason, if Trump loses again in 2024, the GOP will finally see the light on move on.

However, what we are seeing in the Republican Party’s reaction to the Mar-a-Lago documents indictment tells you a very different story. Sure, there are a few outliers. Bill Barr said that “if half of what’s in the indictment is true, he’s toast.”

But most Republican candidates have fallen in goose-step lock-step behind Trump, brushing off the Mar-a-Lago documents allegations not as evidence of Trump's guilt, but as evidence of a politically motivated DoJ marching to the orders of a Democratic President who wants to take out his most intimidating political rival.

And now, the most stunning development to date: we have a “smoking gun” in the form of an audio tape that captures Trump in the very act of committing an extremely serious crime. Crimes, actually.

Once upon a time (think Watergate), the Republican faithful stubbornly claimed that they would refuse to turn on their President until investigators produced a “smoking gun,” a metaphor for concrete, indisputable evidence that Nixon had committed a crime. Then, after fighting all the way to the Supreme Court and losing 8-0, Nixon was forced to release the contents of a conversation in which he personally authorized a plan that would direct the CIA to request that the FBI cease an investigation into Watergate on the grounds of “national security.” The recording proved that Nixon was guilty of participating in a conspiracy to obstruct justice.

The emergence of “smoking gun” evidence was the death knell for Nixon’s Presidency. Virtually all lingering support for Nixon evaporated. Barry Goldwater led a group of Republican Senators who went to the White House to inform the president that there were sufficient votes to impeach and convict, and Nixon hastily resigned to avoid that humiliation. Nixon left office within four days of the release of the tape.

Now, thanks to CNN, we have the complete audio recording of Donald Trump admitting to possessing top secret documents, sharing them with individuals who do not have the clearance to see them, acknowledging that as a former president he no longer has the authority to de-classify such documents, and volunteering that his motivation for retaining these documents was for their potential value to damage political opponents.

Please, reader, take the time to read every word in this two-minute recording, with underscoring added to draw attention to Trump’s quotations in which he most flagrantly admits to possessing and sharing secret government documents, explaining that his rationale for retaining the documents was to damage political opponents, and his acknowledgment that he had no authority or power to declassify the documents now that he was no longer president.

Trump: “These are bad sick people…”

Other: “That… that was your coup. You know, against you…”

Trump: “Well it started right at the beginning…”

Other: “Like when Milley is talking about, ‘Oh you’re going to try to do a coup.’ No, they were trying to do that before you even were sworn in.”

Other: “That’s right… trying to overthrow your election.”

Trump: “Well with Milley, let me see that, I’ll show you an example…he said that I wanted to attack Iran, isn’t it amazing? I have a big pile of papers, this thing just came up. Look. This was him. They presented me this – this is off the record but – they presented me this. This was him. This was the Defense Department and him.”

Other: “Wow.”

Trump: “We looked at -- This was him. This wasn’t done by me, this was him. All sorts of stuff pages long… wait a minute… let’s see here…”

Others: laughing

Trump: “I just found, isn’t that amazing? This totally wins my case you know. Except it is so highly confidential. Secret… it’s secret…for it…look at this… you attack, and...”

Other: “Hillary would print that out all the time, you know…”

Trump: “No, she’d send it to Anthony Weiner…the pervert… umm, by the way, isn’t that incredible?”

Other: “Yeah.”

Trump: “I was just thinking, because we were talking about it. And you know, he said, ‘He wanted to attack Iran, and what… These are the papers. This was done by the military and given to me. I think we can probably – right?”

Other: “I don’t know…we’ll have to see it… you know… try to…”

Trump: “Declassify it…”

Other: “Figure out a…”

Trump: “See as president I could have declassified it. Now I can’t, you know, but this is still a secret.”

Other: “Now we have a problem.”

Trump: “Isn’t that interesting?”

Trump: “It’s so cool. I mean, it’s so, look, her and I, and you probably almost didn’t believe me, but now you believe me.”

Other: “No, I believed you.”

Trump: “It’s incredible, right?”

Other: “No, they never met a war they didn’t want.”

Trump: “Hey, bring some, uh, bring some Cokes in please.”

Better yet, citizen, go online and listen to the voices – Trump’s, his staffers, and a writer – as they brazenly cackle and joke about the top-secret documents Trump is sharing.  Hear the fawning sycophants who simply can’t wait to jump in and stroke Trump’s ego, echoing his every thought, and approving of his every utterance. Listen to Trump as he clearly labels the documents as secret. Listen to the papers shuffle as Trump clearly appears to be holding classified documents out for review by people who have no security clearances. Then cringe as he assesses the value of the documents in carrying out his own plans for retribution against political enemies.

There are smoking guns, and then there are billowing, belching cannons.

That today’s Republicans lack any of the principle and love of country that marked the Republican titans who firmly ushered Richard Nixon to the door is news to no one.

Nikki Haley and Mike Pence have both been interviewed since the tape came out, and both were asked to comment specifically on it. Both scurried to hide behind some high-minded notion that Trump deserves his day in court. On CNN, Haley was terrified of going anywhere near it: "We're gonna let the courts play that out and do whatever."

It's no surprise that the current Republican presidential candidates are supporting Trump’s claim that he is the victim of a DoJ weaponized by Joe Biden to bring down his most threatening political rival. These Republicans have done the calculus and decided that they cannot afford to alienate Donald Trump’s base… so they line up behind him. No surprise.

What’s baffling, however, is the failure of the modern-day Republicans fail to understand that by lining up behind Trump, they make him stronger.

Trump’s world is singular in scope and binary in its demands. There is only one issue: are you loyal to Donald Trump first and foremost, above Constitutional oath, and above Country?

And that issue is ruthlessly binary: if you are not working for Donald Trump, you are the enemy. There is no grey area, no DMZ, no middle ground.

So Ron DeSantis knuckles under. When the Mar-a-Lago indictment came out, DeSantis evaded taking a position on Trump's actions by saying "Is there a different standard for a Democratic Secretary of State versus a former Republican President?" Republicans scream about Hillary Clinton and Hunter Biden, creating false equivalences and hoping to create the impression that what someone else may or may not have done is germane to assessing whether  Donald Trump brazenly broke Federal law and endangered our national security.

What DeSantis, Haley, and Pence are doing is simple: they have prepared soundbytes that allow them to duck and cover. They simply avoid dealing with the "smoking gun." 

And in jumping aboard Trump’s claims of victimization, they lend their credibility and weight to Trump’s assertions that he is the injured party. They make him stronger.

The very Republicans who are running against Donald Trump for the nomination are the people who are working hardest to ensure that he will win it.

These Republicans do not seem to understand that Trump is raising millions of dollars that should be a Republican war chest to defeat Joe Biden, but large portions of that money is being diverted to pay an army of lawyers defending Donald Trump against a growing list of indictments.

And if Ron DeSantis fails to capture the nomination in 2024, he will become a footnote in history, a Scott Walker reboot, just another governor who Trump crushed for breakfast en route to the nomination. If Nikki Haley fails to win the nomination in 2024, she will be tainted with primary defeat that ended the Presidential aspirations of Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Mike Huckabee. When Mike Pence loses badly in 2024, he will be remembered as the guy that Donald Trump killed figuratively in 2024 after failing to do so literally in 2021. Republicans will need to bring fresh meat for slaughter in 2028.

Yes, in all likelihood, Donald Trump will run against Joe Biden for President in 2024, and, also in all likelihood, he will lose. He will immediately begin saying the election was stolen from him again. He will motivate angry mobs to wreak carnage. He will once again create a litmus test to demand that Republicans echo his charges of a stolen election.

And, like Yogi Berra's famous experience of "deja vu all over again," they will all do it. Because they are afraid of alienating Trump’s base, getting primaried, and losing their jobs.

Trump’s devout followers will lap up his fresh new lies, as they always do. They will harden in their hatred for the left, the DoJ, and for the Federal Government in general. The tight knot of loyal supporters will not grow. But it will not shrink. 

The status quo will endure.

So when the first polls for the 2028 nomination are taken in 2025, guess who will be sitting on top of the Republican pack, still with an absolutely unshakeable 35% to 40% of the Republican Party? By then you’ll see Glenn Youngkin reprising the role of Ron DeSantis, the savior Southern governor who will be The Anointed One, the Great White Hope of the Greying White Party. That same poll will show Youngkin with 22% of the vote… a number that will not change for three years until he becomes that third Southern governor to not understand that Donald Trump owns enough of the GOP that there is no party for the anybody else.

What does it all mean for the rest of us?

Next time you attend a wedding ceremony, listen closely to the vows. Watch as the handsome young groom and pretty bride eagerly recite their vows. Watch as they repeat the words “til death do us part” with the exact same intonation, pace, and tone as they have accorded to sickness, health, have and to hold, being richer or poorer.

Except that "til death do us part" is the only vow that is a permanent, unchangeable, non-negotiable, unmovable state. It is climate, the rest of the vows are weather. When you sign up for “til death do us part,” you have made a lifetime commitment. It is just a question of who goes first.

The Democratic Party and all the independent voters in the nation cannot get rid of Donald Trump. Yes, it is critical that we all work to defeat him in the general election, but Trump will keep returning as the Republican nominee like a zombie wack-a-mole in an arcade game gone mad.

Because only Republicans can deny Trump the leadership of the Republican Party. And the leaders of the Republican Party refuse to condemn him, and in that failure, they make him stronger.

So settle in, America. Donald Trump is not going anywhere. He will stain our national conscience, our reputation, our international stature, our belief in the rule of law, our devotion to the Constitution, and our pride in our country until a Greater Power makes His or Her final judgment.

And by “greater power,” no, we are not referring to Ron DeSantis.

Now, please rise, and let us ask the Republican Party… “Do you really want to take this man, Donald Trump, to be your nominee, til death do you part?”


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Monday, June 12, 2023

BTRTN: Hey, Democrats… 40,000 of You Must Donate $1.00 to Chris Christie Now. Here’s Why.

Do tune in to Monday Night at 8:00 for the CNN Town Hall with Chris Christie. He has announced that his campaign is “going out to take out Donald Trump.” Sounds like exactly what the country needs – so we need to make sure he qualifies for the Republican debates. That’s where you come in.

Amid the flurry of candidacies for the Republican nomination announced in the past ten days, there came a decision not to run that may have been the most interesting.

Governor Chris Sununu of New Hampshire made the official announcement that he is not going to be just one more contorted invertebrate in the zero-dignity dunk fest that will unfold along the path to the Republican nomination.

The reason that Sununu’s announcement is so interesting is that he is one of the last great hopes for the “traditional” Republican Party in the 2024 election... and maybe ever, for that matter. In the style of Mitt Romney, Bush the Elder, and his own father, Sununu epitomizes a rare breed that deserves the protections afforded to any species in danger of extinction: He is an articulate, principled conservative with a strong record of election success. Perhaps most important, as a popular governor in the state of the nation’s first primary, he would have a very real shot at beating Trump at the opening gate.  

But in a G.O.P. that turns a blind eye toward Donald Trump’s egregious assault on our Constitution and our Democracy, that is eviscerating distinctions between church and state, that is wobbly and weak-kneed on Ukraine, that wants to criminalize abortion while venerating AR-15s, and that embraces sexual predators and egregious frauds, Sununu knows he is not the life of this party. It – not he – is “Republican in name only.”

So he announced he was out before even getting in.

Chris Sununu knows the truth: There’s not a lot of daylight in the “Non-Trump Lane.” It seems to be just a long, expensive off-ramp that does not have enough voters to support one candidate, let alone a half-dozen. Even more baffling is the notion that some candidates are riding in the “Non-Trump lane” (Scott, Haley) thinking it will lead to the Vice-Presidency. Uh, not exactly… if Trump does win the nomination this time around, he will demand a VP who is proven to be willing to completely knuckle under. And, hey, Nikki and Tim, are you sure you want a job which carries the risk of getting hung by thugs in front of the U.S. Capitol?

Let’s be clear: By no means does Trump have a lock on the nomination. The 38 counts in the Mar-a-Lago documents indictment demonstrate Trump’s clear and conscious disregard and even disdain for very real national security issues… and represent a very real threat to Trump’s nomination. This is not something Republicans can wave off as they did Alvin Bragg’s belated frenzy about payments to a porn star. This is prison time...long prison time. This is the real deal.

The problem is that, with all his liabilities in plain view, no pretender to the nomination has figured out how to effectively challenge Trump. How do you hit him hard enough to take him down for the nomination without hitting so hard that you alienate his loyal base of voters needed to win the general election?

If you wanted to see a good glimpse of why the “Non-Trump Lane” is going to produce a bunch of “Non-Winning” candidates, you need only have watched Nikki Haley’s hula hoop gyrations as she wriggled through her CNN Town Hall with Jake Tapper. To be fair, Haley looked strong and confident, and had a barrel full of one-liners ready for all the obvious questions Tapper or audience members would throw her way. But at crunch time, she balked. Repeatedly.

Haley’s playbook: Soft peddle anything that would alienate Trump or his base while still trying to say that the party needs new leadership. Good luck.

Nikki Haley stated clearly that she did not believe that the 2020 election was stolen, but she quickly sought to appease the Right by asserting that many Americans had questions about the legitimacy of our elections… conveniently ignoring the obvious fact that the source of those questions was Donald Trump:

TAPPER: “I'm talking about the insane stuff we heard about the Italians hacking into satellites and -- and, well, you know what I'm talking about -- and the lies that Trump continues to say, the people's lives that were put at risk, Democrats and Republicans. And I'm wondering how willing you are to talk to the people, Republican voters, to say ‘That wasn't true; that didn't happen?’"
HALEY: “I've been on the record to say that, while I think that we had issues, I don't think that any of them changed the election. I have also said, when he said it was a beautiful day, January 6th, I think January 6th was a terrible day.”

That’s it. Nikki Haley would only go so far as to disagree with with Donald Trump’s word choice in characterizing January 6. If she thinks that is a meaty condemnation of Trump’s attempted coup, you know all you need to know about the “Non-Trump Lane.” It has a giant double yellow line: do not cross... Trump.

Haley waffled on her position on abortion, ducking Tapper’s simple question about whether she would sign a six-week or fifteen-week law, knowing that either choice would alienate one of two factions of Republican voters she needs. Haley strutted her “honesty” in striking a pose that the retirement age would have to be raised to preserve Social Security, and Tapper asked her how much the retirement would have to be raised. She whiffed. So much for honesty.

Then came her worst moment: when she was asked to define “woke:”

TAPPER: So, woke, the word woke used to be used by progressives to talk about an awareness of inequities and historical inequities, but obviously it means something else to conservatives criticizing it. What does it mean to you? How do you define woke?

HALEY: There's a lot of things. I mean, you want to start with biological boys playing in girl sports. That's one thing. The fact that we have gender pronoun classes in the military now, I mean, all of these things that are pushing what a small minority want on the majority of Americans, it's too much. It's too much. I mean, the idea that we have biological boys playing in girls' sports, it is the women's issue of our time. My daughter ran track in high school. I don't even know how I would have that conversation with her. How are we supposed to get our girls used to the fact that biological boys are in their locker rooms? And then we wonder why a third of our teenage girls seriously contemplated suicide last year. We should be growing strong girls, confident girls.

Yes, as utterly disgraceful as it was, Nikki Haley actually tried to blame female teenage suicides on allowing “biological boys” to play in “girl sports.” Why? Culture wars are the only safe place for these faux leaders to sound tough. Everything else is just so much equivocation to placate Trump.

Then there was Mike Pence’s turn at the announcement plate. Pence, too, had moments of strong condemnation of Trump, but – like Haley – he always had an equivocation at the ready, leaving Pence more twisted than a fresh pretzel. At his campaign launch event, Pence had said, “I believe that anyone who puts themselves over the Constitution should never be President of the United States and anyone who asks someone else to put them over the Constitution should never be President of the United States again.” Good stuff, Mike! Then, two days later on CNN, Pence said that he would absolutely “support the nominee of the Party,” who, uh, currently seems very likely to be Donald Trump.

Asked about the Florida documents case, Pence said that Trump should not be indicted, because that would send “a terrible message to the wider world.” Hey, Mike… did you think allowing a former President to steal top secret documents might also send a terrible message to the world? How about the message we send in telling the world that “equal justice under the law” does not apply to the rich and powerful? Ah, Mike Pence. Once a poodle, always a poodle. 

That, folks, is the problem with your “Non-Trump Lane.” It's where you’ll find the candidates who are too cowardly to go straight up Trump’s nose, but who are all too eager to score cheap Right-Wing points by blaming trans people for teenage suicide. It is a bunch of posers who deliver their caveats and equivocations with passion and intensity, hoping that Right-Wing wing-nuts will mistake style for actual strength.

You may love or hate Ron DeSatan, but at least he knows that the only way to defeat Donald Trump for the nomination is to go hard at Donald Trump. He knows that winning the nomination means winning the war for Trump’s own base. It is the Fight for the Right, the Thrilla of Vanilla, the White Supremist’s Brawl.

DeSantis has put together a reasonable strategy for attacking Donald Trump.

--He is positioning himself further to the right than Trump himself. The people who vote in primaries are the more extreme and involved members of the Party: The candidate who pries the hard Right from Trump will win the nomination.

--He is attacking Trump on governing effectiveness, claiming that he has been able to actually enact a Right-wing agenda in Florida. The contrast he will make is that Trump never delivered on his promises: There is no wall, and Mexico did not pay for it.

--He is telling Republicans that Donald Trump is a loser, and that in 2024, the Party cannot afford another 2018, 2020, and 2022. It may be his strongest message – and it is an implicit acknowledgement that these elections were not “stolen.”

--He is focusing on the cultural issues that make Red State blood boil: He invokes his “war on woke” every other sentence. He is pouring gasoline on the Right’s urgent need to hate.  

--DeSantis is picking and choosing the issues where he can go hard against Trump without appearing to side with liberals. The Florida governor reacted to the Mar-a-Lago documents indictment by hewing to the Trump playbook...  he issued predictable accusations that the DoJ is politically motivated and trite Hillary Clinton "what about-isms."

It is the oldest trick in the book: Win the primaries by firing up the extremists, then do your best to appear sane in the general election. The fundamental theory is sound: Once you have won the nomination, you stop worrying about the extremists and try to broaden your appeal, but you mostly focus on getting out the vote. DeSantis is betting that Trump’s base would be mad that DeSantis beat Trump, but they will never vote for Biden. And given how much they hate Democrats, they are not going to stay home on Election Day.

The issue with DeSantis is not his strategy, it is his execution. He keeps making stupid decisions. His Florida abortion bill is going to come back to punch him in the cul-du-sac, as suburban women abhor its six-week limit, making it a de facto ban on abortion. DeSantis’s Twitter meltdown was the biggest candidacy announcement disaster since gaffe-spree Joe Biden characterized Barack Obama as “the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy” on the exact day he filed his candidacy papers for the 2008 campaign.  

DeSantis has tons of money in the bank, so he has plenty of time to recover. But the guy is more wooden that Pinocchio, has not demonstrated the killer instinct needed to defang Trump, and his holy culture wars – don’t ever forget that shameless stunt of manipulating helpless migrants in Martha’s Vineyard -- make him appear unspeakably cruel. Dumbest of all: He is trying so hard to out-right Trump that he could make himself toxic in the general election.

Which brings us to the man who actually won last week: former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

“Let me be very clear,” he said. “I am going out there to take out Donald Trump, but here’s why: I will win. And I don’t want him to win.”

Chris Christie announced his campaign as a heat-seeking missile programmed to crucify Donald Trump at every turn. How’s this soupçon:

“A lonely, self-consumed, self-serving mirror hog is not a leader. The person I am talking about, who is obsessed with the mirror, who never admits a mistake, who never admits a fault, who always finds someone else and something else to blame for whatever goes wrong — but finds every reason to take credit for anything that goes right — is Donald Trump.”

Remember we salivated at the idea of Liz Cheney declaring her candidacy for the sole purpose of destroying Donald Trump? Guess who showed up to actually take on the job?

But Christie claims that he is not pursuing his take-no-prisoners attack on Trump in some Cheney-esque sacrificial lamb for the good of the country. He believes this is how to win the nomination. He may be right.

“The reason I’m going after Trump is twofold. One, he deserves it. And two, it’s the way to win.”

Indeed, he may have the best strategy for taking on Donald Trump. Unlike the weak-kneed sissies in the “Non-Trump Lane,” he knows that the only way to beat Trump is to go at him, hard, direct, and mean. And unlike DeSantis, Christie is not prostrating himself to the Right to beat Trump. Sure, Christie has more baggage than Tumi, and the more he succeeds in tarring Trump, the more Trump’s base will hate him. But Chris Christie is embarking on a holy war, and seems to see a vision of personal redemption in martyrdom. 

Best of all, Chris Christie is signing up to do the job that all of us Democrats are desperate to see: Someone on the Republican debate stage gleefully ripping into Donald Trump.

More from Christie’s speech announcing his candidacy:

“The grift from this family is breathtaking. It’s breathtaking. Jared Kushner and Ivanka Kushner walk out of the White House and months later get $2 billion from the Saudis? That’s your money he stole.” 

And -- in a sea of Republicans who are lining up behind Trump to accuse the DoJ of political intent -- Christie said this of the Smith indictment: “The conduct is bad. And it is bad for anybody in this country to do it, but it’s particularly awful for someone who has been president and who aspires to be president again.”

I, for one, simply cannot wait to see Chris Christie on a Fox News debate stage, poised to go full Chernobyl on Trump the minute the first question is asked. And I can only imagine the scorched earth rhetoric Christie will relish if Trump fails to show up on the debate stage.

Here’s the problem, folks.  Chris Christie must meet four RNC requirements to qualify to be on the first debate stage on August 23, 2023:

1.Must be a declared candidate who has filed with the Federal Election Commission.

2. Must have earned one percent support in three national polls, or in two national polls and at least one July or August poll in one of the first four Republican Primary States.

3.  MUST HAVE AT LEAST 40,000 UNIQUE CONTRIBUTORS to his or her presidential campaign committee, with at least 200 from 20 states and/or territories. (All caps mine.)

4. Must pledge to support the GOP’s eventual nominee, agree to a data-sharing agreement with the RNC and pledge to not participate in debates not approved by the RNC.

Ok, Dems, here’s where you come in. Suck it in and do your patriotic duty. We need 40,000 of you to send in one dollar to Chris Christie’s campaign. Get him on the debate stage. Let’s keep Chris Christie’s candidacy alive as long as we can. Then let’s enjoy watching the new reality show, The Biggest Losers, as Chris Christie rips into Donald Trump throughout the primaries.

One of the best things we can do now to protect our democracy is the help get Chris Christie onto the Republican debate stage, so that Fox News, OAN, and Newsmax are forced to carry a fusillade of anti-Trump truth to their viewers.

So tune in Monday night, 8:00 pm, on CNN. Let’s see just how vicious Chris Christie can be in his effort to destroy Donald Trump.

Because if it is half as good as it promises to be, it’s worth it for 40,000 of us to send him a buck each and make sure he’s on the debate stage come August 23. 


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Sunday, June 4, 2023

BTRTN: Biden Tames Two Big Issues While the GOP Field Widens

Tom is back with a combination of the May 2023 BTRTN Month in Review and a 2024 Campaign Update 

MAY 2024

One month ago, Joe Biden knew he would face two major issues in the month of May and either could make or break his presidency.  There would be no hiding in the White House while Donald Trump dominated the headlines.  Biden’s own choices and decisions would make headlines, and he would have to live with them.

The first was the need to raise the debt ceiling.  Biden’s public approach had been to declare, time and again, that he would not negotiate with Congress on the matter, that only a “clean” bill to raise the limit was acceptable.  The other was immigration, where Biden was about to face the music for allowing Title 42 -- a Trump Era measure that used the pandemic as a means of limiting immigration -- to elapse.  The lifting of Title 42 was expected to result in a flood of migrants across the southern border.

Biden, ever the deal man, quickly abandoned his non-negotiation pose to resolve the debt ceiling issue.  While maintaining the fig leaf fiction that he was negotiating on the budget rather than on raising the debt ceiling per se, he nevertheless engaged House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (the point person on this issue given GOP control of the House) and began discussions in earnest.  He and his designated team proceeded with virtually non-stop negotiations, save for a few “pauses” for political effect, even cutting short a G-7 meeting to resume them in person.  What has emerged is a deal that has outraged the far right and disappointed the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, but was passed handily by a coalition of more centrist Democrats and less-crazed Republicans in both the House and the Senate.

The GOP scored some points, freezing non-defense discretionary spending for two years, clawing back some unspent Covid funds, a slight reduction from the $80 billion Biden had secured in his Inflation Reduction Act to invest in more IRS agents, and a few other concessions.  But Biden could rightly claim that none of these concessions were particularly painful, save perhaps the most controversial one, his greenlighting of the Mountain Valley Pipeline project, long a favorite of Joe Manchin’s, which enraged environmentalists.  When all was said and done, though, perhaps the most important provision was the length of the deal; the debt ceiling would not become an issue until 2025, thus ensuring no further debt ceiling disruptions until after the 2024 election.

The agreement was widely viewed as a Biden victory.  The outrage from the right was clearly more intense than that of the left, and, more quantifiably, House Democrats outnumbered House Republicans in passing the bill.  But McCarthy managed a win as well. He had unified the right enough to secure House passage of a GOP budget blueprint, something his immediate predecessors had never managed to do in similar talks.  More to the point, it was a win for him because, despite the sputtering rage from various Freedom Caucus members, his job looks safe.  Thus he managed to successfully navigate the key test that was going to determine whether his Speakership would become a quiet footnote in history, noted alongside William Henry Harrison, Liz Truss, Urban VII and others who achieved a dubious but enduring fame by virtue of their exceedingly short tenures.

Title 42 confuses most Americans.  It was a Trump response to the Covid crisis, enacted in March, 2020, designed to use the health crisis as a means of denying immigrant access to the opportunity for asylum in the U.S.  It actually refers to Title 42 of a 1944 public health law which specifically allowed such restrictions to be put in place in the event of a health crisis.  Biden had initially tried to rescind the Title 42 restriction, but was thwarted by a Federal judge who kept it in place.  But with the official declaration by the Biden Administration that the Covid crisis was, in effect, over (that is, no longer a “crisis”), the pretext underpinning the use of Title 42 was removed.

This became fodder for the GOP on an issue on which Biden is vulnerable; he has been pummeled by both the right and the left for his often unclear immigration policies.  Knowing that immigration spikes make for terrific visuals in Biden attacks, and clear “evidence” that Biden has “open borders” and is soft on immigration, the GOP gleefully awaited the expected surge when Title 42 was due to lapse on May 11.  But that surge never came.  In fact, border encounters dropped to roughly 4,000 per day since Title 42 elapsed, a major decline from the recent norm of over 10,000.

Why the decline?  Essentially, under Title 42, migrants could be deported without an asylum hearing, but since there were no penalties, many migrants simply kept trying again and again.  Now, under Title 9 (which had been superseded by Title 42), they will face the threat of criminal prosecution if they are caught twice, providing a very real disincentive to multiple attempts, a reality that is apparently widely understood within the migrant community.

With the sharp reduction of migrant crossings, the immigration issue almost immediately disappeared from the headlines, at least for now.

One of the casualties of this era of polarization is the lack of a sense of accomplishment.  The stakes are perceived as so high, and the needs of the country so great, that traditional political victories – invariably compromises -- are viewed as half-a-loaf, if that.  The debt ceiling and immigration wins are short of the ideal “solution” on each issue, which would be the outright elimination of any debt ceiling requirement and the passage of true immigration reform.  But both are politically impossible in this environment.

Biden has achieved the best legislative record of any president since LBJ -- even if he passes nothing else in an eight-year presidency -- but the left remains disappointed.  They measure him more by his failure to achieve breakthroughs on, say, voting rights or true immigration reform, which would have required a filibuster modification or elimination, for which the votes simply do not exist, even within Biden’s own party.  They measure the debt ceiling deal more by what was conceded than by what was avoided (a global economic meltdown, and an economic crisis that would surely be blamed on Biden), and immigration is still a heartbreaking and wildly misunderstood issue that is weaponized by the right with massive disinformation.

Thus Biden has handled two of his most vexing challenges with typical dexterity, yet his own party remains disappointed.  It is remarkable that many Democrats are looking for an alternative, bemoaning his age, rather than assessing the degree of his accomplishment in a time when he barely afford to lose a single vote in his own party in the Senate, and must find a few votes  the other side to pass anything in the House.  He has also tested the limits of executive action and faced adverse verdicts from the courts.  His detractors see his unmistakable physical decline and somehow connect it to his inability to part the Red Sea and turn water into wine.  And thus he is vulnerable in 2024, even as every GOP candidate offers a very stark conservative worldview as the alternative.


There are many counterintuitive elements that characterize the quest for the GOP 2024 presidential nomination.  The most obvious example is that nothing juices the Trump campaign more than a criminal indictment of the candidate.  Indictments (for more are surely to come) fuel Trump’s grievance-based campaign, whip the Trumpsters into a frenzy and unleash a torrent of small dollar donations.  Since there were no further indictments forthcoming in May, Trump himself was relatively invisible, at least in the headlines.

But another counterintuitive force played into his favor in May, and that was the expansion of the GOP field.  Initially, Trump viewed such challenges as the ultimate act of disloyalty, and sought to discourage them.  But he now recognizes that a larger field fragments the “Not Trump” lane, lessening the chances for any single candidate to claim the critical mass of supporters required to defeat Trump, at least in the early primaries.  And so the greater the number of candidates vying to replace him at the head of the party, the less likely any one of them will.  Imagine a football team trying to score a touchdown with all eleven players fighting over who will carry the ball instead of agreeing that ten of them must block for a chosen one.  That is the GOP.  They know the goal, they just can’t get seem to get there.  

Former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, South Carolina Senator Tim Scott, conservative talk show host Larry Elder and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis formally declared their candidacies in May, joining Trump, Nikki Haley and Vivek Ramaswamy in the GOP field.  Within the next week, Mike Pence, Chris Christie and former North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum are widely expected to enter, bringing the field to ten, and it may not end there.  Governors Glenn Youngkin (Virginia) and Chris Sununu (New Hampshire) are said to be still mulling, and perhaps others as well.

Within this group of Trump challengers there is an interesting split between those who align themselves with Trump, albeit somewhat uncomfortably, or claim to be an untainted successor, and those deliberately choose to attack him at will on the merits.  This latter group for certain consists, for now, of only Hutchinson and Christie.  Most of the others are focusing their fire on DeSantis, on the theory that Job One is not to catch Trump, but to establish themselves as the New Lead Challenger, a mantle DeSantis still holds.  Tim Scott is essentially running a “positive” campaign on the merits of his own candidacy.  How novel, yet how consistent with the view that he is largely running for VP.

DeSantis, for his part, continues to gaffe away that status, even without the help of others.  Initially it was his comments on Ukraine (a “border conflict”), his weird battle with Disney (over corporate antipathy to the so-called Florida “Don’t Say Gay” laws), and his post-six-weeks abortion ban.  Each was a deliberate attempt to forge credentials to the far right of Trump, yet collectively they spooked donors and some GOP voters desperately seeking a Trump alternative who could actually win a general election. 

In May, DeSantis managed to take one of  the most high-profile platforms granted to candidates, his launch announcement, and deliver unto himself yet another self-inflicted wound.  It was a questionable enough decision to forego traditional media and embrace Elon Musk, of all people, by choosing Twitter Space as his launch platform for an audio only announcement (and discussion with the billionaire).  But the glitch-filled execution was downright embarrassing and stuck a knife right through DeSantis’s competence-based candidacy.  Pundits were quick to pounce, but also quick to say the fiasco would be forgotten in a week.  It certainly was not a fatal blow, but nevertheless the waste of a giant opportunity to “reset” his moribund campaign. (On a lesser scale, people are also starting to notice that DeSantis varies the pronunciation of his own last name, veering back and forth between “Dee”- and “Deh”- Santis.  Yikes.  We thought that sort of thing was reserved for George Santos.)

What remains to be seen is exactly how tough DeSantis (whether “Dee” or “Deh”) chooses to be on Trump.  It is hard to imagine DeSantis closing a 30-point gap (see the chart below) by softening his critiques through indirect references.  On the other hand, it is equally hard to imagine DeSantis winning the general election without the Trump faithful energized behind him -- and bashing their idol will instead only antagonize them, likely irredeemably.  Trump will surely not endorse DeSantis at the end of a bloodbath.  Hence the dilemma DeSantis has been confronting from the outset of his aspirations, but now the time has come for him to decide which path to take.

As for the Democrats, Joe Biden is not being seriously challenged within his party.  This despite his precarious standing among Democrats, which are largely driven by concerns with his age and a decided lack of enthusiasm for him among young voters and progressives.  The only other announced candidates are 2020 also-ran Marianne Williamson and anti-vaxxer Robert F. Kennedy, Jr, and no one else appears to be considering a Biden challenge.

With the field starting to take shape, we will gradually move from a focus on national polls to what will soon become the only polls that will matter, those in Iowa and New Hampshire.  The early polls in those states have Trump ahead generally by a lesser margin than the national one, but there are as yet very few polls in those states, and they vary considerably.  We’ll start reporting on them when there is a critical mass to aggregate.  But for now, we note that the national numbers are unmoved from a month ago, and Trump maintains that 30-point lead over DeSantis, with the rest of the field barely registering.


Biden's approval rating dropped two points in May, but his standing on individual issues remained virtually the same.  The "Bidenometer" was also nearly unchanged.  Trump maintained his 30-point-plus lead in the GOP polls over DeSantis.