Discover more from Morning Shots
Scenes from the GOP Circa 2023
Plus: Trump’s New Populism.
“One could end up going to prison; one just might be president,” — Brooks & Dunn song played as Trump came on stage in Iowa this weekend.
In today’s Morning Shots:
Trump’s Populist Slush/Hush fund
Extorting Ukraine Redux
The politics of stepping on rakes
BONUS: An audio version of the new indictments.
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Let’s start with what we saw this weekend, and what it tells us about the Republican Party in the Summer of ’23.
DES MOINES, IOWA — It didn’t matter to the Republicans gathered in the convention center ballroom Friday that he’d hurled insults at their wildly popular governor, or that he is facing a cascade of federal charges. . . .
Donald Trump only needed 10 minutes to show why his growing pile of criminal charges is not yet loosening his grip on the Republican presidential race and why his opponents will find him so hard to beat.
The ex-president’s growing legal peril hung Friday over the first showcase featuring all poll-leading GOP candidates on the same stage – an American Idol-style audition in Iowa, the first-in-the-nation caucus state.
But his closest rivals didn’t dare bring up a legal quagmire that threatens to be a liability in a general election if Trump is the nominee for fear of alienating his still-massive support in the grassroots.
“Six months ago, you would have said there were two tiers: Trump and DeSantis, and then everyone else,” Craig Robinson, an Iowa Republican strategist, said. Now, he said, “you have Donald Trump in a tier by himself and you have everyone else trying to be the alternative to Trump.”
While Mr. DeSantis is stuck trying to reset his campaign, former Vice President Mike Pence is facing the possibility of not even qualifying for the first debate next month. The rest of the field is straining for voters to pay any attention at all.
“Donald Trump is not running for president to make America great again. Donald Trump is not running for president to represent the people that voted for him in 2016 and 2020,” Hurd said to a ballroom filled with 1,200 Iowa Republicans who listened silently, appearing almost to hold their breaths as they waited to see how Hurd planned to resolve the point.
“Donald Trump is running to stay out of prison,” he finished, eliciting a round of boos that drowned out the few spotty cheers of support.
“I know, I know, I know, I know,” he repeated, trying to regain his footing over the jeers. “Listen, I know the truth — the truth is hard. But if we elect Donald Trump, we are willingly giving Joe Biden four more years in the White House, and America can't handle that.”
As the Register noted, that “was one of the night’s only direct references to Trump, who this week saw new charges added to an indictment that accuses him of mishandling classified documents after leaving the White House and obstructing the investigation to retrieve them.”
Lest you think all this was an outlier, here’s the latest NYT/Siena poll with some rather unambiguous numbers: “Trump Crushing DeSantis and G.O.P. Rivals, Times/Siena Poll Finds.”
Former President Donald J. Trump is dominating his rivals for the Republican presidential nomination, leading his nearest challenger, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, by a landslide 37 percentage points nationally among the likely Republican primary electorate, according to the first New York Times/Siena College poll of the 2024 campaign.
Mr. Trump held decisive advantages across almost every demographic group and region and in every ideological wing of the party, the survey found, as Republican voters waved away concerns about his escalating legal jeopardy. He led by wide margins among men and women, younger and older voters, moderates and conservatives, those who went to college and those who didn’t, and in cities, suburbs and rural areas.
Exit take: At this point it seems naïve to the point of delusion to imagine that anyone other than Trump will be the 2024 GOP nominee, or that any of the looming indictments will loosen his hold on the GOP base.
Meanwhile in the nation’s capital: “Young conservatives buy into ‘identity politics,’ a shift from free-market focus.”
Spend a day with young conservatives, and you may find that they don’t have much to say about the U.S. economy. Their current priorities — social issues like abortion and transgender rights — could be a signal that the modern conservative movement is moving away from its traditional messaging focused on free markets and smaller government, at least one political scientist says.
Many of the young people attending the National Conservative Student Conference this week in Washington, D.C., said the health of the economy was not a burning issue for them. The event, hosted by Young America’s Foundation…
Here’s the money quote:
Breana Marsh, who is the director of membership at Young America’s Foundation and has a degree in finance, said that for her, the biggest issues are, “from the conservative perspective, the Second Amendment as well as transgender issues.”
When asked about the economy, Marsh said, “I don’t like the way that we’re going,” adding, “The policies being implemented across the United States just are not good.”
When asked about specific policies, she said, “Truthfully, I couldn’t name you any right now.”
Exit take: The hangover from the Trump era is likely to linger for decades.
Bonus Episode: Listen to the Superseding Indictment
Federal prosecutors have added new charges against Trump in the classified documents case, including his alleged efforts to have security camera footage deleted at Mar-a-Lago. This bonus episode of The Trump Trials is a reading of the superseding indictment, which was produced using an artificial voice generator.
Russell Moore: “Losing Our Religion”
ICYMI: Our regular Friday podcast featured Dr. Russell Moore, whose new book examines the Trumpfication of the Evangelical movement… and describes a way for it to be born again.
DeSantis Steps on a Rake
As his campaign splutters toward its inevitable crash landing, the Florida governor finds himself embroiled in fights with prominent black Republicans over . . . slavery.
DeSantis could back off, or clarify, or try to turn down the temperature. Instead:
DeSantis dug in, disparaging his fellow Republican with one of the worst insults one can lob: comparing him to a Democrat. “Are you going to side with Kamala Harris and liberal media outlets or are you going to side with the state of Florida?”
To some prominent Black Republicans, it was a DeSantis misstep. And one that comes as his campaign is attempting to jump-start its flagging operation.
As my colleague Will Saletan notes, it would be wiser for DeSantis to back down, but that’s precisely what he can’t do.
His SuperPac, after all is named, “Never Back Down,” which means that he can never apologize when he makes a mistake or steps on a rake. Instead, he has to (1) deny he stepped on the rake, (2) step on the rake again and again, and (3) attack anyone who notes that he is stepping on rakes.
This is, not surprisingly, not working out well for him.
Trump’s Populist Slush/Hush Fund
Shot via the Wapo: “Trump pays millions in legal fees, aides allegedly asked about loyalty.”
Former president Donald Trump’s political group spent more than $40 million on legal costs in the first half of 2023 to defend Trump, his advisers and others, according to people familiar with the matter, financing legal work that has drawn scrutiny from prosecutors about potential conflicts of interest between Trump and witnesses….
That total is more than any other expense the PAC has incurred during Trump’s 2024 presidential campaign and, according to federal filings from earlier this month, more than Trump’s campaign raised in the second quarter of 2023. It will bring the PAC’s post-presidential legal spending to about $56 million, as Trump faces a federal indictment in Florida, state charges in New York, and the prospect of additional criminal indictments in Washington and Fulton County, Ga.
Chaser via the NYT: “Trump PAC Requests a $60 Million Refund for Legal Fees.”
The political action committee that former President Donald J. Trump is using to pay his legal bills faced such staggering costs this year that it requested a refund on a $60 million contribution it made to another group supporting the Republican front-runner, according to two people familiar with the matter.
The decision signals a potential money crisis for Mr. Trump, who has so far refused to pay his own voluminous bills directly and has also avoided creating a legal-defense fund for himself and people who have become entangled in the various investigations related to him.
Here’s Chris Christie’s reaction:
“This is a guy who’s putting himself before the country,” Chris said. “You can’t put America first with Donald Trump because it’s Trump first.
“And the proof of that, by the way, is for all those people who donated $25, $50, $100 to him, what he was telling them in 2020 that the election was a lie and that he was going to try to reverse the election. All of those people we now know have paid over $40 million of their hard-earned money for a billionaire’s legal fees. He is not enough of a stand-up person with his wealth and his big private 737 plane and all the rest that he has in Mar a Lago and the Trump Tower and all the rest. And he’s making regular Americans pay his legal fees.”
Ah yes, the New Populism: where working class folks and retirees pay the legal bills for billionaires.
We’ve seen this movie before, haven’t we? “Trump Demands Ukraine Aid Freeze to Investigate Bidens.”
In light of this information, the U.S. Congress should refuse to authorize a single additional shipment of our depleted weapons stockpiles…to Ukraine until the FBI, DOJ, and IRS hand over every scrap of evidence they have on the Biden crime family’s corrupt business dealings.
Trump’s proposal of withholding Ukranian aid contains echoes of the quid pro quo he demanded that led to his first impeachment trial.
In 2019, Trump threatened to withhold military aid to Ukraine unless President Volodymyr Zelensky investigated the Biden family when Joe Biden was his 2020 rival. Trump has repeatedly claimed he had a “perfect call” with Zelensky, though it was reported by two whistleblowers, which eventually led to impeachment.
David Frum summed it up thusly:
1. The Author of the ‘Coup Memos’ Sticks to His Story
As excruciating as the spectacle of the disbarment proceedings has been, I suspect that John Eastman remains unfazed by it. He might be physically present at the hearings, but his mind is traversing the intellectual upside-down of the Claremont universe, where hostile arguments can’t touch him. Over two and a half years have passed since the 2020 election. The longer he pursues his empty claims of fraud, the further he gets from the norms and institutions that give shape to everyday American reality, and the deeper he gets into a different, darker place.
2. The Three Battles Raging in Ukraine
SOME SEVEN WEEKS after the start of a major counteroffensive, Ukrainian forces appear to have breached the first line of Russian defenses near the town of Robotyne. While the full implications—and even the full geographic extent—of Ukraine’s tactical success are still murky, this is good news, not only for the counteroffensive, but for all three of the battles going on in Ukraine right now.
3. How critical theory is radicalizing high school debate
In a traditional debate round, students argue over a topic assigned by the tournament — for example, “The U.S. should adopt universal healthcare.” One side is expected to argue in favor of the motion (the affirmation side), and one against (the negation side). However, in recent years, many debaters have decided to flat-out ignore the assigned topic and instead hijack the round by proposing brand new (i.e., wholly unrelated to the original topic), debater-created resolutions that advocate complex social criticisms based on various theories — Marxism, anti-militarism, feminist international relations theory, neocolonialism, securitization, anthropocentrism, orientalism, racial positionality, Afro-Pessimism, disablism, queer ecology, and transfeminism. (To be clear, traditional feminism is out of fashion and seen as too essentialist.)