After the guilty verdict: The right goes wrong!

Shocked but not surprised.

This has become a near daily mantra when reacting to the latest news from Donald Trump — and the entire Republican party. Their actions are somehow simultaneously beyond belief and yet entirely predictable.

The latest case in point: The GOP’s responses to the former President’s verdict of guilty to 34 felony counts last week. Rather than take even the slightest step back from their rabid support of the former President, they are hugging him even more tightly. And leading the way, of course, is Trump himself.

The trial was so not “rigged”

Trump has only a small bag of tricks. His most reliable one is to repeat a lie over and over again until people — primarily his supporters — start to believe it must be true. That’s how he convinced supporters to believe the lie that the 2020 election was stolen.

And so it is with the verdict in the New York election interference trial. He continues to falsely assert that the trial was rigged; the judge is conflicted; the system is corrupt. And, perhaps most egregiously, he hammers home the lie that the Biden administration was the force behind the prosecution — despite never citing a shred of evidence to back up that claim.

On  the contrary, as effectively detailed by Andrew Weissmann, the record clearly shows how incredibly fair the trial actually was: (1) the prosecution laid out a clear and compelling story — with the most damaging evidence coming from people who were and continue to be supportive of Trump, people such as David Pecker and Hope Hicks; (2) the Judge was even-handed to a fault, frequently sustaining defense objections and giving Trump a longer leash to violate the gag order than any other defendant would have received; (3) Trump was ultimately judged by a jury of his peers. As Robert Reich put it: “Those jurors were not Democrats. They were not politicians. They were not people who had a bias against Trump. They were Americans. Trump’s lawyers allowed them to become jurors because they showed no bias.” They deliberated for two days, reviewing testimony and re-hearing the judge’s instructions, before coming to a unanimous verdict of guilty on all 34 counts! This is the way our justice system is supposed to work — no matter who the defendant is. What could be more fair?

And, if you have any doubt, it’s all there in black and white — in the transcripts of the trial. Of course, Trump’s defenders are unconcerned with what took place in the courtroom. They denounce the verdict anyway — to the point of outright lying.

One especially egregious example is Republican Senator Susan Collins, who falsely claimed that Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg “campaigned on a promise to prosecute Donald Trump” and “brought these charges precisely because of who the defendant was rather than because of any specified criminal conduct.” Actually, Bragg never made such a promise and never campaigned on it. Collins just made this up. And, even it were true that Bragg had some sort of bias against Trump, it wouldn’t mean the trial was unfair. A prosecutor’s bias does not lead to a conviction. He still has to prove his case to an unbiased jury — beyond a reasonable doubt. And that’s what Bragg did.

Similarly, you have Speaker Mike Johnson, second in line to the Presidency, saying: “I do believe the Supreme Court should step in. I think this court will do the right thing, because they see the abuse of the system right now.” No…there is almost no basis for the Supreme Court to ever weigh in on this state court decision. And Johnson did not specify even one instance of what qualified as “abuse.” Again, he’s just making it up as he goes along.

Not to be outdone, Texas Governor Greg Abbott went completely off the rails: “This was a sham show trial. The Kangaroo Court will never stand on appeal. Americans deserve better than a sitting U.S. President weaponizing our justice system against a political opponent— all to win an election.” Again, there is no evidence that Biden had any influence on the trial.

And if a Republican dares to call for even the most muted acceptance of the results, as Larry Hogan did, he/she is immediately castigated by Trump’s minions.

Then there’s Trump himself. Falsehoods spew from his mouth with the force of water gushing out of an open fire hydrant — in speeches that increasingly swing from rambling to delusional.

Such comments serve to undermine the country’s faith in the entire system of justice — beyond just this trial. While this grievance-filled rhetoric is exactly what Trump wants to promote, it’s very disheartening to see the rest of what’s left of the Republican Party follow down this dangerous path. They see no problem with putting the very foundation of our democracy in peril — for their short-term political gain. It’s shameful. Unfortunately, Trump and his minions are incapable of shame.

The more you think about what the GOP is saying, the crazier it all begins to sound. The Democrats were unable to salvage a POTUS victory for Gore in 2000. They were similarly not able to eke out a victory for Clinton in 2016. They weren’t able to prevent the GOP from regaining control of the House in 2022. And they haven’t been able to halt the trials of Hunter Biden or Democratic Senator Bob Menendez. Yet, these same Democrats were somehow able to determine the outcome of Trump’s criminal trial — which could require illegally influencing all twelve jurors?

Get real. That’s not what happened. The New York trial was not rigged. Not even close. Period.

 After the Trump guilty verdict, these are the Republican leaders standing up and putting country before party. [image from Washington Post]

The false equivalence of left vs. right

The media have a long and sad history of presenting the opposing views of the right vs. the left as equally legitimate. Don’t fall for that trap here.

As I’ve already covered, the right’s totally false assertions that the trial was rigged should demolish any notion of equivalence. But allow me to return to Andrew Weissmann — who puts the final nail in the coffin of this misconception. He notes that, in the weeks that he and Mary McCord covered the trial, they consistently proclaimed the fairness of the process. They did this in the complete absence of any knowledge of what the verdict would eventually be. Had Trump been acquitted, it is certain their perspective would have remained unchanged. They would have likely expressed disappointment in the outcome; they might have even opined that the verdict was wrong (although I expect they would instead focus on weaknesses and mistakes in the prosecution’s case). But they would have accepted the outcome as the result of a just process — and moved on. They certainly would not have railed on and on about how Trump and the GOP had conspired to rig the trial. I believe most on the left (including myself) would have done the same.

Contrast that to Trump and the GOP — who reacted with “immediate fury“as they embarked on a “campaign of vengeance.” “Republicans in Congress are embracing Donald Trump’s strategy of blaming the U.S. justice system after his historic guilty verdict.” “The ferocity of the outcry was remarkable, tossing aside the usual restraints that lawmakers and political figures have observed in the past when refraining from criticism of judges and juries.” You almost get the sense that there is desperation here — as if they need to scream louder and louder the worse the news gets.

No, there is no equivalence here to what would have happened if the situation was reversed.

Heads Trump wins; tails we lose? Nope!

It’s almost magical. No matter what happens, it seems to work out to Trump’s advantage. While the media seem uber-obsessed with pointing this out, it does have a degree of undeniable truth. After Trump was indicted last year, his standings in the polls actually increased. What would have been a career-ending catastrophe for almost anyone else only added to his popularity. [Books have been written about why this is so; but that’s beyond the scope of this post. However, for some insight, I recommend this post from Robert Reich.]

And so it has been in the aftermath of Trump’s guilty verdict: “Trump and his allies believe that criminal convictions will work in his favor.” Certainly, a surge in donations occurred immediately following the verdict. And numerous pundits, on the left as well as the right, are concurring that the verdict will be largely forgotten by the November election.

So what was the preferred alternative here? An acquittal? Hardly. Without a doubt, an acquittal would have helped Trump much more than the conviction. So is there no outcome that works against Trump?

Yes, there is such an outcome. It’s already happened. This verdict will hurt Trump. And his inevitable “shoot-yourself-in-the-foot” reactions will further erode his standing. We are already seeing signs of this in the latest polling.

I still believe there comes a time — after impeachments, indictments, civil judgements, an insurrection and now a felony conviction — that a majority of the public will say “enough is enough” and Trump’s candidacy will be doomed. The teflon will begin to wear off.

I believe this is the time. The New York trial will prove to be the pivotal point that initiates a shift in direction. Hang in there!

What can you do?

Some Democrats are already warning against talking about Trump’s legal woes on the campaign trail — lest it backfire and play into the GOP’s fabrication that the Democrats were the force behind the prosecution. I disagree. That may have been a reasonable strategy before the verdict — but not now. All of us can — and should — stress the truth that Trump is a felon. Because it matters! Spread the word. Shout it from the rooftops. We shouldn’t fear making this a campaign issue. Make it a central issue — because it is a central issue.

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A Bad Goon is Rising

We are at a critical juncture in our country’s history. We are forced to ponder: Could a dictator take control of our government — after first assuming power by winning a legitimate national election? Or after overthrowing the results of an election they lost (as almost happened in 2020)? The answer is YES! We know this because it’s happened before in other countries. Many times.

Even if we limit ourselves to the 20th and 21st centuries, the surprisingly large group of “elected” dictators includes: Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, Viktor Orbán of Hungary, Juan Peron of Argentina, Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines, Vladimir Putin of Russia, Benito Mussolini of Italy, and Adolf Hitler of Germany. Yes, that Hitler. The Nazi. The man whose name has become almost synonymous with evil. He “emerged as Germany’s chancellor” in 1931, after an election — and “proceeded to consolidate unlimited power before anybody realized what was happening.”

The list is by no means complete. Sadly, it may soon include one more name: Donald J. Trump. Trump’s own words make this intent clear. And, as confirmed by a growing number of pundits, “a Trump dictatorship is increasingly inevitable.” Or, to put it another way: “There’s no reliable way to prevent bad or incompetent people from gaining power.”

Poll results

Of course, in order for this dismal prediction to come true, Trump must first win in November. That’s why I find a recent New York Times poll so unsettling. It strongly suggests Trump is on a trajectory to victory. I remain skeptical of polls, especially this early in the election season. And even if they are accurate, there is still ample time for trends to reverse. But I believe it would be a mistake to entirely dismiss the ominous warnings contained in this poll. Here are the key take-aways:

• Biden is very unpopular…and continues to get more unpopular as time goes on: “The share of voters who strongly disapprove of Mr. Biden’s handling of his job has reached 47 percent, higher than at any other point in his presidency.” Even Democrats are “deeply divided about the prospect of Mr. Biden, the 81-year-old chief executive, leading the party again.”

• Trump is also highly unpopular. However, he “is winning 97 percent of those who say they voted for him four years ago, and virtually none of his past supporters said they are casting a ballot for Mr. Biden. Mr. Biden, in contrast, is winning only 83 percent of his 2020 voters, with 10 percent saying they now back Mr. Trump.”

• Biden is losing support among key groups of his 2020 coalition — including women, Blacks, Latinos and “nonwhite voters who did not graduate from college.” 

• “Only 23 percent of Democratic primary voters said they were enthusiastic about Mr. Biden.” For Trump, the number was more than double: 48%.

• “Mr. Trump’s policies were generally viewed far more favorably by voters than Mr. Biden’s.” This is true despite the fact that Trump has no policy agenda at all — other than grievance and retribution. Meanwhile, Biden has a strong record of accomplishment. Yet, people continue to assume Trump will handle the economy and immigration better than Biden.

• “Mr. Trump was winning 70 percent of those who backed Israel” in the Gaza war. It’s one of several political paradoxes in play today: It almost certainly means that a significant number of Jews are supporting Trump, despite his tacit support for anti-semitism.

• Voters in the latest poll are less likely to view Trump as having committed serious federal crimes than those polled a few months ago (53% now vs. 58% last December). At either level, in yet another quasi-paradox, this means that a significant number of voters simultaneously believe Trump is a criminal but still intend to vote for him. Trump’s infamous prediction that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and still not lose any support now seems eerily prescient. It’s also an ominous sign of the public’s tolerance for a Trump dictatorship. Indeed, according to a Harris poll: “56 percent of those surveyed at least somewhat agree that Trump will act like a dictator if given a second term.” Yet he may still win.

Nate Cohn summarized the central paradox, in an accompanying Times article:

“Joe Biden should be expected to win this election. He’s an incumbent president running for re-election with a reasonably healthy economy against an unpopular opponent accused of multiple federal crimes. And yet President Biden is not winning.”

Surprisingly, there appeared to be one glaring omission in the poll results. The words “insurrection,” “autocracy” or “dictator” never showed up. At all. Where were the voters’ concerns about this? Perhaps the poll didn’t ask the right questions. Or perhaps it’s because, despite all the alarm bells going off for the past three years, the public at large remains unconvinced that Trump is the threat to democracy that he clearly is. If so, it’s a further sign of how much trouble we are currently in.

What to do

If we have learned anything at all these past years, it’s that our government will not save us from Trump. Congress won’t do it (having passed up two chances to convict him after impeachment), the executive can’t be counted on to do it (as evident by the fizzle of the Mueller report and the reluctant start to the current Trump investigations) and the courts certainly won’t do it (as evidenced by Trump’s success in delaying trials until after the election — and the Supreme Court’s willingness to assist him in this effort).

If Trump is to be stopped, we must do it ourselves — by convincing the public of the danger Trump poses and making sure he loses in November. It’s a job made even harder because the other side is not wasting any chance to tilt the odds in their favor, often employing tactics of questionable legality. At the same time, we have to combat a much larger more long-term problem: the right wing’s dismantling of agreed-upon facts and the related spread of disinformation (read this Atlantic article for a superb analysis of what’s happening here).

Dealing with all of this effectively is a tall order. But we have no other choice but to try. It’s time to pull out all the stops. This is a five-alarm fire. Whatever else you’re doing now, it’s almost certainly not as critical as doing this.

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The GOP Implosion

What a horrible week to be a Republican. A week full of embarrassment and humiliation — as even most Republicans would agree.

First, there was the Republican “Presidential” Debate. The cringe-worthy “unmitigated disaster” showcased candidates bickering amongst themselves, spewing nonsense, apparently in hopes of getting a cabinet position in a Trump administration. Certainly they weren’t hoping to become President. Not one was willing to directly attack the missing-elephant-in-the-room and runaway leader of the pack. There was nary a mention of Trump’s legal troubles. Even Ron DeSantis admitted: “If I was at home watching that, I would turn the channel.”

Next up: The government shut-down. A group of MAGA Republicans in the House are holding the entire GOP (and the country) hostage — withholding approvals on what should be routine votes — not only willing to risk a shut-down but appearing to welcome one. Their actions are so immature and dangerous that Speaker-of-the-House McCarthy accused them of wanting to “burn the place down.”

Not satisfied with two humiliations, the GOP teed up a third: the Biden Impeachment hearings. Incredibly, at this self-inflicted wound, two of their star witnesses testified under the oath there was currently no evidence warranting an impeachment. But wait…there’s more: The lowlight of the day was when AOC revealed that Congressman Byron Donalds had fabricated an image he had presented earlier, falsely purporting to show evidence against Biden. One day into the so-called hearings and they’re already forced to make things up!

As if all of this was not enough, the GOP had to contend with their leading candidate for President advocating that Mark Milley, the retiring Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, be executed for treason. Which is why he now requires a security detail. The response from the GOP here was predictable: almost total silence. Oh, let’s not forget that Trump’s mountain of legal woes got higher this week: A judge ruled that Trump had committed financial fraud by having “lied to banks and insurers about his assets” for years. Added to this are his four pending indictments (with charges ranging from illegal retention of classified documents to attempting to subvert the 2020 election) as well as having been held liable for sexual assault. Yet none of this appears to present the slightest obstacle to the GOP lauding Trump as their preferred choice for President.

An outside observer assessing all of this could only reasonably conclude that the GOP was imploding. Unless they changed course, they were surely headed for a political shipwreck. How could anyone view it any other way? Apparently, if you’re Sean Hannity on FOX News, it’s quite easy. On his show this week, GOP impeachment leaders “offered false, baseless or debunked claims to which the Fox News host offered absolutely no pushback.” And the MAGA faithful that watch Fox News (and nothing else), lap it all up like a cat slurping cream. Which is why, incredibly, Trump and the GOP still have a path to victory in next year’s elections.

Welcome to America in 2024.

Democracy is on the ballot. It’s up to us to make sure it wins.

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The Left Dodges a Bullet

Well…wow! The Democrats did better…much better…than expected on Tuesday. As of now, with 3 seats still undecided, they are favored to retain control of the Senate. The GOP advantage in the House will almost certainly be within single digits. Democrats actually made gains in governorships and state legislatures. Very few election deniers, for key offices like Secretary of State, were able to win.

This was more than an impressive showing for Democrats — and more than the absence of “the red wave” that nearly every pundit and every poll was predicting. Compared to what typically happens to the party in power at a midterms election, 2022 was an historic victory for Democrats.

Part of the reason why? Exit polls indicated that voters’ concerns over threats to democracy and GOP extremism were much higher on people’s mind than pre-election polls had suggested.

As an added plus, the threat of wide-spread election day and post-election chaos never materialized. There were no notable reports of violence anywhere. Almost all losing candidates conceded defeat without making a fuss. 

There is no other way to paint this: The midterms were a defeat for the GOP and a near complete disaster for Trump. We dodged a bullet — a hail of them. The left may have brought a knife to a gunfight — but that appears to have been sufficient. Whew!

Perhaps I should I have titled this column: Democracy Dodges a Bullet. Because that was the big winner in last week’s midterms. We can briefly breathe a collective sigh of relief: we still have a free country.

Don’t be fooled however. The danger has not passed. Donald Trump is still a powerful force in the Republican Party. And, after his impressive re-election, Ron DeSantis is looking especially strong as a possible alternative — which many on the left fear would not be an improvement.

More generally, Trumpism remains alive and well in the GOP. Outright lies about stolen elections, disinformation about nearly everything and increasingly overt support for racist beliefs remain at the forefront of Republican strategy. The 2024 race is likely to prove at least as fraught with peril as this one. And even with a small GOP majority in the House, we can still expect an attempt to impeach Biden — and other very dubious investigations — in the months ahead.

The Democrats may have done well this week. But the country remains almost evenly divided — with entrenched partisanship seeming to only get stronger as time passes.

Finally, what does all of this say about my contention (in my prior post) that traditional grassroots efforts, such as phonebanks, are declining in value? Although it’s hard to draw a direct line from A to B, one can make a case that the grassroots helped turn the tide in several close elections. At the very least, my expectations of a midterms disaster were (happily) not realized. As such, I am preparing a small serving of roast crow for the holidays.

But one can just as easily make the case that grassroots efforts had little, if any, effect on the final results. And that a failure to effectively counter the tactics of the right made numerous races closer than they otherwise would have been. The left represents the clear majority in the country; this was not sufficiently reflected in the election results.

Either way, the 2022 midterms were just one battle in an ongoing war. Neither side is close to claiming victory. Buckle up. And get to work. 2024 is just two years away.

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