Every poll of Republican voters says the same thing— as the YouGov-CBS pollsters noted over the weekend: “Right now, the Republican Party would easily renominate Donald Trump for 2024. And it’s not close… His nearest— but not too near— rival Ron DeSantis has called even further back. Everyone else is in single digits. Trump voters' affinity for him seems to insulate the former president from attacks whether or not he debates this week, because voters basically say they aren't receptive to such criticism… Trump far and away leads the GOP field among voters who place top importance on a candidate being ‘honest and trustworthy.’ The context here is that Republican primary voters believe the political system is corrupt at an even higher rate than Americans overall do. That could mean perceiving Trump as railing against— or prosecuted by— that system might well make him seem, from their perspective, like the one telling a larger truth. More generally, Trump's voters hold him as a source of true information, even more so than other sources, including conservative media figures, religious leaders, and even their own friends and family.”
And the story is the same in Iowa, where a new Des Moines Register/NBC News poll shows Señor T with “a commanding lead over the rest of the 2024 Republican presidential field in Iowa— and a more than 2-to-1 lead over his closest rival, Gov. Ron DeSantis… Among those likely caucusgoers, 42% say they plan to support Trump— a lead of 23 percentage points over DeSantis, who is at 19%. Sen. Tim Scott follows in third place with 9%.”
NBC added that “Trump’s early advantage in the first nominating contest— which proved to be one of his toughest states the last time he faced a competitive race for the GOP nomination— is the largest Republican caucus lead recorded by the poll since the 2000 contest won by George W. Bush. Trump is fueled by his standing among self-identified Republicans and evangelical Christians, as well as by the two-thirds of likely caucusgoers who don’t believe he has committed serious crimes as he faces charges in multiple indictments.”
It still isn’t hopeless— at least not for those desperately looking for hope. “[A] majority of likely caucusgoers [52%] say their minds aren’t made up [and they could be persuaded to support another candidate] with five months to go until the Jan. 15 Iowa contest, although the bulk of Trump’s supporters say they’re firmly behind the former president.”
According to Decision Desk HQ, the nearly 20 active SuperPACs have already spent close to $100,000,000, a quarter of it from a Trump operation attacking Meatball Ron in Iowa. In fact almost all the money is being spent in Iowa. However, “the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity Action has been spending heavily in South Carolina, spreading a message that neither Trump nor Biden deserves support. That spending has been augmented by that of Win It Back PAC, the Club for Growth's anti-Trump super PAC, which has been active in Iowa. Much of the money has been spent on television ads, with two major exceptions: Americans for Prosperity Action and the pro-Scott Trust in the Mission PAC have spent seven-figure amounts on digital messages so far. The largest expense category for Committed To America PAC, which backs Mike Pence, has been $1.2 million for canvassing in Iowa in what appears to be weekly installments of $100,000 or more since the start of June. That's a pretty remarkable amount of money in such a small state.”
Tomorrow will be all about the GOP debate, which is now expected to be a DeSantis-pile on. It’s a lot safer to eviscerate him than it is to say anything negative about Trump. Alex Thompson wrote that “The debate is a crossroads for DeSantis. He's far behind Trump in GOP polls, and Republican megadonors who want a Trump alternative tell Axios they'll be watching to see whether DeSantis— or anyone else— has a hope of contending. That’s why the Florida governor's top advisers expect the theme of the night to be ‘dog-pile on Ron’ for many of the eight other expected GOP candidates. DeSantis' new campaign manager, James Uthmeier, sent a memo to donors and supporters this weekend saying that ‘the first debate is [other candidates'] biggest chance yet to grab headlines by attacking the governor, so we know they will try their best.’ … [S]ome lower-polling candidates— namely entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie— have previewed attacks on DeSantis in recent days after DeSantis' super PAC urged the governor to attack them.” Ramaswampy would like to be Trump’s running mate or get a good job in the regime so expect plenty more like this aimed at Meatball Ron:
Republican operative Mike Murphy— who worked for McCain, Romney, Jeb Bush, Schwarzenegger and mostly non-fascists— is so anti-Trump that he announced his support for Biden in 2020. Yesterday, he was making the unlikely case that closet case Tim Scott could win in Iowa. “As the first debate looms over the GOP nomination race, nobody has a bigger decision to make than Sen. Tim Scott. For all the punditocracy noise about national primary voter polls and Donald Trump’s supposed unbreakable lock on the Republican Party (I’m still dubious), in my view the nomination race boils down to a brutally simple formula: somebody has to beat Trump in Iowa and then a week or so later in New Hampshire. That would upend the race and Trump would quickly melt into orange goo Wicked Witch of the West style. And the polling I see shows Trump doing worse in Iowa and New Hampshire— where he is starting to have competition— than he is nationally.” This is all wishful thinking— and I wish him well, I guess.
With enough vodka, you can formulate this beat Trump in Iowa and New Hampshire scenario for each of the major contenders. DeSantis could have a comeback, he’s doing better on the ground in Iowa than in the airy salons and green rooms of the Beltway conventional wisdom machine. But the terror of Tallahassee is still a lousy candidate with campaign mired in a Stalingrad of fratricide while saddled with a lousy strategy of being a dime-store version of Donald Trump. Nikki Haley might have a terrific debate moment, which somehow fuels a comeback. Maybe. But probably not. Vivek Ramaswamy is enjoying the primary cycle’s usual Ben Carson/Herman Cain/Steve Forbes outsider oddball’s early bump, but I doubt it will last through the winter. Doug Burgum, despite a terrific launch video, is inexplicably running for Secretary of Energy…
To my mind, it is Sen. Tim Scott who has the biggest set of advantages. He’s very well-funded; so he is all over early state paid media and becoming better known where it counts. People like him and his story… Most importantly, Scott is the only optimist in the race; the sole major GOP candidate not running with an apocalyptic Trumpian view of America. Like the beloved tuxedo and ballgown comedies of the Great Depression; Scott is refreshing relief from the grim grievance cacophony of the current GOP.
That’s the good news. Here is the bad news: Scott remains a long shot and faces two big challenges. First, he’s letting short term tactics prevent him from devising a winning long term strategy. Second, and most important, he’s not running as an Alpha. That is a fatal flaw in a Presidential race.
…To date he’s ducked every opportunity to put real distance between him and Trump. Why? The same reason why the logo of the leadership class of my once great Republican Party has morphed from a charging elephant into a cowering lemur. They all fear upsetting the tribal gravity of Trump’s GOP and being punished for it. The problem is, you cannot beat Trump for the nomination without… beating Trump. Their present theory of somehow just complementing him to death has been failing all year. Even worse, in effect it makes Trump stronger.
It’s the circle of life Simba: the young lion has to beat the old lion to become leader of the pride. You have to be top Alpha, and right now Tim Scott is running as a hopeless beta vis a vis Trump. There is an old Russian proverb about “how does one wash the bear without getting his fur wet”, a sensible problem since who wants a really pissed off wet bear looking right at you and your empty water pail? That has been Chris Christie’s problem: his frontal water pail attacks, while useful in a catalytic way and completely entertaining, will do nothing to actually get him the nomination. Stepping up to Trump as an Alpha is tricky business, he is the tribal kingpin for a huge chunk of the party after all, so doing it right requires a perfect storm of standing, spotlight and timing.
At the debate this week, Tim Scott will have all three.
Scott has standing. He has been a loyal solider in the conservative Republican cause, having supported Trump policies while keeping a wary, if subtle distance from the Trump cult of personality. As a real deal conservative with true social conservative credentials who is well-liked in the party, and increasingly well known and well liked in Iowa and New Hampshire, Scott has standing in the GOP tribe that Christie never had.
The debate will give Scott the spotlight, particularly if Trump isn’t there…So the debate will be a big spotlight. And if Trump does show up, that’s fine too. It would up the stakes and as any action movie screenwriter will tell you that is the key moment for the movie’s Alpha to make his or her big move.
Finally, Scott will have the moment. The party is in a nervous crescendo in the wake of Trump’s forth, and most understandable, indictment. The vast bulk of the party leadership is already there, thinking: we cannot get wiped out with this nutcase again, God help us, he is the one Republican even unpopular Joe Biden can beat. I am aware of polling showing a majority of primary voters sticking with Trump over the indictments, but I doubt those early numbers will stay solid. Usually the primary rank and file move last (and fast) and are never a very good early indicator. I think that support for Trump can and will melt fast, but what is known quietly must be said out loud and come from within the party tribe, not from sanctimonious liberals or partisan Democrats.
So what should Tim Scott do, standing as he will be in a perfect storm on Wednesday night? He does have an Alpha lurking inside him. You don’t come from where he started without it. We saw a glimpse of it when he effortlessly swatted down Ron DeSantis clumsy defense of Florida’s silly slavery stuff. But Ron DeSantis is always the smirking kid with briefcase and is easy to send off. Shaky but ensconced tribal leader Trump will be more difficult.
Scott will be asked the big Trump question Wednesday night and he needs an answer that is honest and direct; neither hedgy, nor complicated. Donald Trump has all the right enemies. I know because I have most of them too. As a black conservative, they think I should not even exist. That I, and our ideas, are illegitimate. I applaud President Trump’s policy accomplishments, I helped many pass the Senate. Our party is strong, because we hold moral weight. We are trying to make America better and reverse our moral and economic decline. For us, character counts. It must. We now know, and it is painful, that Donald Trump lacks the character to lead us and our movement, or to lead our county, as President of the United States. That is the truth we must face together, and it must be said. For our party, and our cause and our county. We need a new leader, to beat Joe Biden and move America forward.
So there you have it… from the Jeb Bush wing of the GOP. Russell Berman has another perspective on anti-Trump hopefulness— the pollsters are asking the wrong questions… all of them. The indictments seem to have strengthened Trump with the hateful morons who identify as Republicans. [Note: Please let me know if you are aware of any Republicans who are not hateful morons; I’m curious.] Anyway, Berman noted that to Trump’s critics “the emerging conventional wisdom that the indictments have benefited Trump politically is a dispiriting and even dangerous notion, one that could embolden politicians of any ideological stripe to disregard the law. Those fears, however, may be premature. A new, broader survey of Republican voters suggests that the indictments have, in fact, dented Trump’s advantage in the primary. The study was designed by a group of university researchers who argue that pollsters have been asking the wrong questions to assess how the indictments have affected Republican voters.” In short, it decreases Trump’s lead by 1.6%. LOL.
Honestly, I think Sidney Blumenthal’s assessment is more relevant than those academics: Trump’s legal woes are part of his quasi-religious mythology of martyrdom. He wrote that when Señor Trumpanzee ascends the podium in Milwaukee next July “to accept the nomination for his third time he will probably have been found guilty months earlier of having staged an attempted coup to overthrow American democracy– ‘conspiring to overturn the legitimate results of the 2020 presidential election, obstruct the certification of the election results, and discount citizens’ legitimate votes,’ in the words of special counsel Jack Smith… If Judge Chutkan fixes the trial for any time before 1 June 2024, Trump will accept the Republican nomination after its verdict is rendered. And if the date is earlier than June, Republican primaries will be conducted at the same time as the trial. Day by day, the compounding of the doubled events will incite his followers to redouble their fervor and devotion. Rocket fuel will be pumped on to the fire of Trump’s campaign.
But the Trump trials are more than his means; they are his ends. The trials are not the sideshow, but the heart and soul of Trump’s campaign. They have become his essential fundraising tool to finance his defense, his platform for whipping up his followers into a constant state of excitement, and his instrument for dominating the media to make himself the center of attention and blot out coverage of anyone else.
The trials are the message. They are the drama around which Trump plays his role as the unjustly accused victim, whose rights are trampled and who is the martyr for his oppressed “deplorables.” He is taking the slings and arrows for them. The narcissist is the self-sacrificing saint. The criminal is the angel. The liar is the truth-teller. If any Republican lapses in faithfulness, they are more than a mere doubter or skeptic, but a betrayer and traitor. Trump’s trials are the rigorous trial of his followers’ faith. Rejection of temptation in an encounter with an impertinent fact that might raise a qualm shows purity of heart. Seduction by fact must be resisted. The siren song of critical thinking must be cast out as sin. Trump’s convictions are the supreme test of his followers’ strength of conviction.
Republicans are not prisoners of Trump’s narcissistic rage. They don’t reject it. They don’t regret it. They don’t apologize. They mirror it. They mimic it. They exult in it. It is the gratification they receive for passing through the ordeal of belief. His rage is their reward. It is their cheap vicarious defiance of the evil-doers: the establishment, the globalists, the Fauciists, the FBI, the Barbie movie. As Trump has received target letters, so judges, district attorneys, the special counsel, and their wives, too, must be targets. Fair game is fair play. Hallelujah!
Poor Mike Pence, who Trump chose as his running mate to balance his sinfulness with Christian virtue, benightedly still believes that truthfulness, righteousness and clean hands makes him the ideal evangelical avatar. He has positioned himself on the Republican issues as a scold of Trump’s fall from grace on abortion. Pence is in favor of a national ban, not leaving it to the states like Trump, as if issues matter. His humility as a godly servant leader, for years imitating every gesture of Trump’s, reached its abrupt end in his refusal to drink from Trump’s poisoned chalice.
Yet Pence’s embrace of scripture in the form of the constitution has not beatified him to the evangelicals. There is no worldly subject that can grant him absolution from being perceived as Trump’s Judas. His steadfastness is scorned. His blamelessness is derided. “I’m glad they didn’t hang you,” a man said to Pence at the Iowa state fair. That man’s sentiment is the current definition of moderate Republicanism.
The precise source of Trump’s permanent campaign of trials can be traced to before the election of 2016, when his inveterate dirty trickster Roger Stone coined the “Stop the Steal” slogan to claim Trump had been robbed by Senator Ted Cruz in the Colorado caucuses. That falsehood became Trump’s “Stop the Steal” con before the 2020 election, which metastasized into his coup and insurrection, and now the prosecutions. (Last week, a Danish film-maker who has produced a documentary about Stone released previously unseen video of him laying out the details of the fake electors scheme on 5 November 2020, two days after the election. It seems doubtful that Stone was the originator of the conspiracy. The idea was floated in February 2020 at a closed meeting to the rightwing Council on National Policy, whose president, Tom Fitton, later called on Trump to pardon Stone. Fitton sent Trump a memo on 31 October 2020, three days before the election, advising him to declare before the ballots were counted, “We had an election today— and I won.” Fitton has been identified by a number of news organizations as Unnamed Co-Conspirator Individual 1 in the Georgia indictment.)
But Trump’s career in crime is an epic story that antedates his election fraud. The Georgia indictment charging him with operating a “criminal enterprise” is overdue by almost 50 years. His coup d’état is the coup de grâce. But the enormity of his conspiracy to overturn the election ultimately depended upon the weak reed of Pence, who proved surprisingly unpliable. Trump brought the lessons he learned in the demimonde of New York to Washington.
He always wanted his Roy Cohn, his model lawyer and mouthpiece. His credentials were nonpareil. Cohn was born and bred in the clubhouse political culture of graft and favoritism, Joe McCarthy’s vicious counsel, returned to the city as its number one fixer, from the mob to the Catholic archdiocese, who had won his own acquittals in four criminal trials for bribery and conspiracy when the Trumps— father Fred, with his real-estate empire in the outer boroughs, and his son Donald, on the make in the Big Apple— hired him in 1974 to get them off the hook of a federal suit for housing discrimination against black tenants. On advice of counsel, Trump repeatedly perjured himself, Cohn dragged the case out, and the Trumps ignored Department of Justice decrees. Cohn claimed the case was created by “planted malcontents”. Trump, meanwhile, got his real-estate license, and Cohn would set him up with the mob to build Trump Tower.
But Roy Cohn was only one part of what Trump required to operate. He also needed the prosecutors to lay off. He needed his Robert Morgenthau, scion of one of New York’s most distinguished families, personification of civic virtue, the US attorney for the southern district of New York for a dozen years and the district attorney of Manhattan for 35 years, “my friend, the late, GREAT, Robert Morgenthau,” as Trump called him after his death at 100. Morgenthau brought Trump on to the board of the Police Athletic Association, hosted a tribute dinner to him and accepted campaign contributions. He never opened a single investigation into Trump, and always felt there was nothing to see.
…Giuliani was the master of Rico. He knew better than anyone how the law worked and the mafia operated. The first he used to forge his image as a crime-fighter; the second he emulated on Trump’s behalf. So, the wielder of Rico was ensnared under Rico. He learned first-hand how the mafia did its business. He discovered how to organize a racket into an effective hierarchy. He learned the potential value of intimidating innocents. From this point of view, he saw the Republican party as a racket in the making, from the Republican National Committee to the Republican Association of Attorneys General to the state parties, all constituent families of a mafia, with Giuliani himself as the consigliere to the capo di tutti capi.
“This criminal organization,” stated the Georgia indictment, “… constituted an ongoing organization whose members and associates functioned as a continuing unit for a common purpose of achieving the objectives of the enterprise.” Giuliani was indicted on 13 counts, including racketeering, making false statements, harassment and intimidation of an election worker, and election fraud. The former prosecutor is the prosecuted. He is struggling to meet his attorney’s fees. He complains that he is owed $300,000 from Trump for non-payment for his counsel.
The trials have become Trump’s engine for capturing his third Republican nomination. His celebrity has been transformed into a passion play of victimization. His problem is that the trials are not shows.