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What got me steamed up this week

Trump’s Bible Stunt Isn’t Brilliant. It’s Insanely Desperate.

Are “the rubes” finally on to Trump?

Trump attempts to look extremely natural holding the Bible
Shawn Thew/EPA/Bloomberg/Getty Images
Trump attempts to look extremely natural holding the Bible.

The standard commentary on Donald Trump’s “God Bless the USA Bible” is that while of course it’s cynical and twisted and borderline sacrilegious, there’s also no doubt that his people are going to buy it by the carload, because these people would buy a bag of Trump Dogshit from the guy (“from the bowels of the best dogs, everybody says so”). Some people are just that, well, let us say easily taken in.

Trump’s dark penchant for hucksterism is endless, and P.T. Barnum’s dictum is as true today as it was when he said it. You could take slips of paper on which you write the names of 25 things these Americans like, pull out three or four, conjure up some physical manifestation of it, and Trump would sell it: NASCAR-Branson’s Famous Baldknobbers Beer, in limited-edition cans that show Trump as Rambo.

It’s endless. Or is it? Trump’s fundraising has taken a nosedive. His small-donor numbers are below where they once were. NBC News recently reported that donations to Trump of $200 or less are down 62.5 percent against 2019. He’s still raised a lot; I don’t want to mislead you here. The New York Times recently reported that Trump has more small donors than Joe Biden in some key swing states. But Biden has raised more from small donors overall, according to OpenSecrets. And in the most recent Federal Election Commission filings, Trump had $33.5 million cash on hand and Biden reported having $71 million. That was March 20, before Thursday night’s Radio City Music Hall event with Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, where Biden raked in $26 million.

All this is a shock to no one, because as we all know, Trump is spending a good chunk of his donations on his legal bills. The Times ran an amazing report about this on Wednesday. Of nearly $85 million in donations, almost a third, $27 million, has gone to legal bills. Hey, at least this time around, he’s apparently actually paying them.

Trump will have money. There’s no use pretending he won’t. But $400 sneakers and $60 Bibles are not signs of strength. They’re signs of weakness. Panic. Desperation. A guy who’ll sell anything that isn’t nailed to the floor.

And: He damn well should be panicked. Liberals and Democrats always impute to Republicans and right-wingers a strength they neither have nor deserve. Just because Trump tries to act like a tough guy and appeals to tough guys, liberals tend to concede he’s a tough guy. Nonsense. He’s a very weak and insecure man, as Mary Trump is always pointing out.

Physically, he’s horribly out of shape: probably couldn’t climb a 20-step flight of stairs without stopping halfway up and, Rambo iconography notwithstanding, couldn’t throw a punch that would crush a grape. A few months ago, I saw a photo of Biden biking around Rehoboth Beach, and it struck me: Has Trump even ever been on a bicycle in his life? I’d be shocked. Biden may be older, but really, who’s the more likely stroke victim here, the guy who still rides the occasional bike or the guy who eats well-done steaks and whose four major food groups are McDonald’s, KFC, pizza, and Diet Coke?

Psychically, he’s in far, far worse shape. He knows very well in some corner of his brain that he’s guilty of everything he’s accused of. He knows that if he doesn’t win the presidency, there’s a very serious chance that he ends up convicted of one of those crimes and in prison. It won’t be Angola Penitentiary, but there won’t be chandeliers in the bathroom or an 18-hole golf course for him to win phony championships on, either.

He would never admit any of this publicly, but privately Trump is surely terrified of this possible future. He knows that if he loses, the cases go forward, and he’s going to have to fight them as long as he possibly can, and it’s going to cost untold millions. Hence the sneakers and the Bible. And there’s surely more in store.

Some people will buy these things, there’s no question of that. But I’ll bet you that if we look hard six months from now, we’ll see that sales did not meet expectations. Of course, we’ll never know that because Trump will have full control of that narrative, and he’ll insist that sales were off the charts, and the press will print it. But we’ve seen this movie and heard this b.s. Trump Steaks were moving faster than they could cut them. Trump University was making millionaires out of many, many people. Right.

So let’s avert our gaze from the people who’d walk across hot coals for Donald Trump (while he stood off to the side, pleading bone spurs) and think instead about the ones who are slowly peeling off. They’re out there too. And they’re starting to see what you and I have so obviously seen for years: a twisted, desperate huckster who’s never cracked a Bible in his life and whose only religion is hustling the suckers who are born every minute.

This article first appeared in Fighting Words, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by editor Michael Tomasky. Sign up here.

Let’s Be Clear About the Real Reason for this Impeachment Madness

Imagining all the things that never would have happened if Fox News didn’t exist.

Republican Rep. James Comer during a hearing before the House Oversight and Accountability Committee
Alex Wong/Getty Images
Republican Representative James Comer during a hearing before the House Oversight and Accountability Committee on February 8

James Comer, that caged monkey with a cocaine drip, just can’t stop. He wants President Biden to come to his House committee to testify. At the end of a hearing on Wednesday that was just an abject humiliation for his party and for him personally, Comer actually said with a straight face: “In the coming days I will invite President Biden to the Oversight Committee to provide his testimony and explain why his family received tens of millions of dollars.… We need to hear from the president himself.”

The White House reacted with an appropriate “LOL,” and there’s no sign I’ve seen that Comer is planning on issuing the president a subpoena, which would be insane. But who’s to say he won’t one day?

Ah, interesting question. Because there is a precise answer to who’s to say he won’t: Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch, Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott, Sean Hannity, and everyone else at Fox who runs the Republican Party. This whole thing happened because Fox wanted it to happen. And therein lies a lesson for all of us about how a morally corrupt entity, which settled a lawsuit for three-quarters of a billion dollars because its executives were mortified about what the country was likely to learn about how they do business, has perverted American democracy.

As Media Matters’s Matt Gertz wrote at this week, “The House Republican impeachment inquiry satisfied Fox stars’ long-standing demands for a Biden impeachment, which began before he was even elected.” Fox and the New York Post and other right-wing outlets tried to make Hunter Biden an issue in the 2020 campaign. They claimed a great victory over the snaring of Hunter’s laptop, although we still don’t know what was on it that was supposedly so incriminating.

Then, after the GOP captured the House in the 2022 midterms, Fox shoved it into overdrive. Hannity, Gertz notes, did 325 segments on Hunter in 2023. Think of that. There are only 260 weekdays in a year. So that’s many shows with two segments. Which of course the story deserved, because the Biden crime family was the biggest scandal in American history!

Except there is no story, and no Biden crime family. Everything Comer and Jim Jordan have charged has collapsed. Everything. The Democrats on Comer’s committee drew attention Wednesday to the parade of schmegegges the Republicans have marched up to the Hill. Tony Bobulinski’s testimony has been riddled with inconsistencies, and he has his own alleged Russian connections, The Daily Beast reported. Jason Galanis has said nothing of importance that we know of that’s been substantiated. Alexander Smirnov was a great key witness; then he was indicted, and suddenly Comer said he “wasn’t an important part” of the probe. But my favorite is Gal Luft, whom Comer once described as “very credible.” Luft alleged that the Bidens received payments from China—then was indicted on allegations that he himself was an agent for China (he denies this).

But Comer kept it going, and he kept it going for one simple reason: Fox News, and the rest of the right-wing media following its lead, set up a very clear reward system. Comer and Jordan, and anyone else who cared to, make allegations; they get invited on Fox to talk them up; the small-dollar donations come in from the suckers who believe this spittle; and lies get filtered out into the discourse by a non-right-wing media that wants scoops and clicks but also fears in the back of its collective mind that it’s just possible that the Republicans are onto something and that if they dismiss that possibility, they’re guilty of liberal bias.

It’s the right-wing propaganda equivalent of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s famous stages of grief. The five stages of right-wing propaganda: Assert, repeat, raise money, repeat again, blame the deep state when it falls apart. But now there is a sixth stage, which is when even Fox taps on the brakes and tells stooges like Comer, OK, you idiot, you have failed, it’s time to move on. This gives Fox the richly undeserved opportunity to look “responsible,” after five years of suggesting that Joe Biden was the most corrupt person in America since Boss Tweed.

None of it would have happened without the existence of this Fox doom loop. A lot of things wouldn’t have happened. Donald Trump’s march to the 2016 nomination wouldn’t have happened without Fox. Once Rupert saw that the enraged base he and Roger Ailes had spent two decades creating was demanding nothing less than an openly racist demagogue who talked smack on everyone Fox and Rush Limbaugh had taught them to despise, he decided to pave Trump’s way. Fox could have ended Trump’s rise at any point it wanted to in 2015 or 2016, but Trump was too good for business, and besides, he was the network’s unchecked id.

This is what happens to a democracy when a “news” organization becomes the command headquarters of a political party. And it is that—the command headquarters. It is not an “arm” of the GOP, as is often said; it is the brain, which sounds like a big statement but isn’t, really, since the GOP auto-lobotomized years ago.

Remember, that other lawsuit is coming—a judge ruled in January that the Smartmatic suit could proceed, rejecting Fox’s arguments. Smartmatic says Fox aired lies about the voting company as it repeated its false story line about the 2020 election. Fox says the suit is a baseless attempt to infringe upon its free speech rights.

People are reportedly being deposed now. There’s reason to think that, someday, we’ll see those depositions. They’ll tell us, again, what the Dominion lawsuit depositions told us. With any luck, this one will go to trial and Scott and others will have to place their hands on a Bible and swear to tell the truth, assuming their flesh doesn’t catch fire once it touches the good book. Then, maybe, America will finally see.

This article first appeared in Fighting Words, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by editor Michael Tomasky. Sign up here.

We Have to Beat Donald Trump. Clearly, the Broken Legal System Won’t.

How the law warps and harms our democracy

Shannon Stapleton/Pool/Getty Images

Judge Scott McAfee has ruled that Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis can stay on the case against Donald Trump in that jurisdiction, provided that Nathan Wade, the prosecutor on the case with whom she had a relationship, withdraws. I guess we count that a win, although to be honest, Willis has so damaged herself by her colossally terrible judgment that it probably would have been better if she were out of the picture.

The other problem with Willis’s scandal is how it slowed the case down, giving Trump’s lawyers a chance to make this not about the defendant but about her—and another chance to delay, delay, delay.

Meanwhile, Thursday, down in Florida, we saw Trumpy Judge Aileen Cannon issue yet another ruling in the classified documents case that helps Trump. She didn’t support Trump’s lawyers’ motion to dismiss the case, but she kicked the can down the road in a way that’s very helpful to Trump. MSNBC analyst Andrew Weissmann even called it the “worst possible outcome” for the government. “If the judge had simply said, ‘I agree with Donald Trump, and I find that this is vague, and I’m dismissing it,’ the government could have appealed it to the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, as they have done twice before and won twice before,” Weissmann said. “But she also did not want to rule in favor of the government. So what she did is said, ‘Why don’t you bring this up later? I think there’s some real issues here.’”

Also this week, in the Stormy Daniels hush-money case against Trump, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg shocked us all by asking for a 30-day delay in the trial, which was scheduled to start March 25. Trump’s lawyers had requested a 90-day delay. Bragg conceded that some delay was appropriate.

Why? It looks like it’s the fault of federal prosecutors. Bragg’s office requested certain documents a while ago from the Southern District of New York, and it shared them with Trump’s lawyers during the discovery process. Trump’s lawyers suspected there was more, especially relating to Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen, so they subpoenaed the SDNY. That happened in January. It was only earlier this month that the Southern District turned over all the documents.

Bragg’s filing to the court on Thursday included this fascinating sentence, a clear swipe at the SDNY (in this sentence, “the People” equals Bragg’s office): “Based on our initial review of yesterday’s production, those records appear to contain materials related to the subject matter of this case, including materials that the People requested from the USAO more than a year ago and that the USAO previously declined to provide.”

Wait. What?

It’s more than fair to ask: Why did the Southern District take so long to produce these documents? And we must also ask this: Did Merrick Garland know his prosecutors were taking so long to hand over documents, and thus playing into Trump’s hands? And if he knew, did he do anything about it?

Finally, let’s recall the status of the fourth criminal case against Trump, the biggest one, at least to my mind—the January 6 insurrection case. On that one, we’re basically waiting on the Supreme Court, which announced on February 28 that it would hear arguments in Trump’s claim of complete immunity but set the argument date for April 25. The high court could easily take another month—or even two—to hand down its decision after that, meaning that this crucial trial, about whether a sitting president initiated an insurrection against the government of the United States, may not happen before Election Day.

How in the world did all this happen? A few weeks ago, it looked like the wheels of justice were finally turning, catching up on a man who has flouted and broken laws not only during his presidency but for his entire adult life, going back to when he and his father wouldn’t rent apartments to Black people in Queens. There was the judgment in the E. Jean Carroll case. And then the whopping penalty in the New York attorney general’s case against the Trump Organization.

But this week, it looks like everything is falling apart.

When we talk about what’s wrong with our democracy, we talk about our political structures and processes. We talk about the Senate. We talk about the Electoral College. We talk about gerrymandering. And of course all these problems are real.

We don’t talk about our legal system. We should. The American legal system doesn’t uphold the values of democratic rule like equality. It far more often corrupts and perverts them. Rich people like Trump twist the system into a pretzel and win delay after delay after delay. Corporations pay fines, usually not that large when considered against their bottom line, and they admit no wrongdoing, even after their practices have killed people. Poor people, meanwhile, get pushed around by the system constantly.

There is no such thing in this country as equality before the law, and everyone knows it. And I would argue that this legal inequality does more damage to democracy than all the political inequities for the simple reason that they’re more visible. And they’ve never been more visible than they are now with Trump. If he is able to push all these cases back past November, or at least three of them (the Bragg case should proceed this summer), and then especially if he wins the White House and pardons himself, that will constitute the biggest failure of the rule of law in the history of the country.

The lesson? We can’t count on the legal system to stop Trump. We have to stop him ourselves. One conviction would be nice; two would probably be quite helpful. But we can’t count on the broken legal system to do a job that we ourselves have to do at the polls.

This article first appeared in Fighting Words, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by editor Michael Tomasky. Sign up here.

Forget Biden’s SOTU Performance, and Focus on Tiny, Weak Mike Johnson

The House speaker lived down to the moment at the State of the Union on Thursday night.

House Speaker Mike Johnson at the State of the Union
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
House Speaker Mike Johnson at the State of the Union on Thursday night

Joe Biden more than made it through Thursday night’s State of the Union address. That moment that his supporters always fear—the major brain fart, the confusing of Nikki Haley with Nancy Pelosi (oh wait, that was someone else)—never came. Not only did it not come, but most of the energy was dramatically positive. As is the morning-after conventional wisdom. Politico’s Playbook called it the “turn-the-tables SOTU,” reporting that the Biden campaign’s best two hours of fundraising in this cycle were from 9 to 11 p.m. last night. A CNN flash poll found that 62 percent thought the policies Biden laid out would move the country in the right direction.

He had his stumbles, and that Laken Riley moment was pretty cringey. But mostly he threw punches—and he landed almost all of them. As TNR’s Osita Nwanevu wrote: “That overall impression—of a vigorous president, strong enough to take the fight to his detractors⁠—will linger more deeply in the minds of most who watched than the substance of anything he said.”

But let’s not talk about Biden. Let’s talk instead about that little guy in the chair over the president’s left shoulder. House Speaker Mike Johnson showed, in his histrionic facial expressions, everything that’s wrong and idiotic and dangerous and even treasonous about the Republican Party.

Johnson was ridiculous. He was small. Granted it’s not always easy for an opposition party leader to figure out how to comport him or herself during a State of the Union. The camera is on you for an hour or more, yet you can’t speak. You’re not going to join in on the frequent applauses, except rarely. Johnson did applaud Biden’s call for aid to Ukraine early in the speech, which he does seem to support personally, even though he’s too afraid of his wingnut caucus to allow a straight-up vote and thus may go down in history as the one person more than any other who handed Vladimir Putin the keys to Kyiv. So you sit there awkwardly.

Johnson decided that the State of the Union was the right time to mug for the camera. And he laid it on like a silent-movie actor, so thick that you could practically see the girl tied on the railroad tracks and hear the piano music. He nodded and nodded—you know, that solemn, “more in anger than in sorrow” nod. And those eye rolls! He rolled his eyes more than a teenage girl listening to her father’s jokes (that’s an eye roll I know rather well).

And the things he rolled his eyes at! Most conspicuously, January 6. Here’s what Biden said: “We must be honest. The threat to democracy must be defended. My predecessor and some of you here seek to bury the truth about Jan. 6. I will not do that.” That drew a sustained eye roll. So did a mention of abortion rights and freedom. So did the border bill, which Johnson helped kill because Donald Trump would rather have border chaos.

Actually that one was more of a head shake, which went on a few seconds longer than it had any justification to. Mind you, he did that even as GOP Senator James Lankford, the chief negotiator on the border bill, listened to Biden lay out its provisions and nodded, clearly saying, “That’s true.” They’ll be coming for him today, the sellout. Johnson also shook his head at “buy American.” Seriously?!

And even this relatively nonpartisan sentiment drew an eye roll: “The very idea of America is that we are all created equal, deserve to be treated equally throughout our lives. We’ve never fully lived up to that idea, but we’ve never walked away from it either.”

Once upon a time, those sentences would have elicited more than a smattering of bipartisan applause. There were plenty of Republicans who understood the nation as aspiring to its stated ideals. Even Ronald Reagan renewed the Voting Rights Act back in 1982, saying at the signing ceremony: “As I’ve said before, the right to vote is the crown jewel of American liberties, and we will not see its luster diminished.”

But today? This Republican Party doesn’t believe we’re all equal. This Republican Party, and specifically this speaker, thinks that if you’re not a right-wing Christian, you are not on some level a good American. Exaggeration? Johnson is tight with something called the National Association of Christian Lawmakers. Go inform yourself about some of what they’re up to.

It wasn’t just Johnson. It was Marjorie Taylor Greene in that ridiculous getup and MAGA hat, which was in apparent violation of House rules. It was Lindsey Graham sitting there with that embarrassed smile pasted on his face. It was the MAGA screamer in the gallery. It was Alabama Senator Katie Britt’s lame and all-over-the-place response—the only person who was popping champagne over that speech was Bobby Jindal, because it arguably moved him from worst State of the Union response of all time to second worst. It was the Republicans en masse sitting there dumbstruck time after time after time as this man who, according to the news channel they watch, can’t string two sentences together or remember his own middle name delivered zinger after zinger that laid bare to Americans the Republican Party’s extremism.

And that, in the end, is what was deft and unexpected about this speech. Biden drew contrasts on substance that showed how radical the Trump GOP has become on virtually every issue. November 5 is a long way away, and there will be bad days. But this night showed us something we haven’t seen hard evidence of in a while: how Joe Biden can win this election, and how the party and the speaker on the wrong side of history can lose it.

This article first appeared in Fighting Words, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by editor Michael Tomasky. Sign up here.

A Post–Labor Day Trump Insurrection Trial? Great, Bring It On.

Why it’s good if Trump is on trial come Election Day

Trump at the New York state Supreme Court
Trump at the New York state Supreme Court on January 11

I’ve had a few conversations with fellow liberals over the last two days that went something like this: I can’t believe the Supreme Court did that. Although I guess, you know, of course they did. But I still can’t quite believe it. I just didn’t think they’d be quite this corrupt about Donald Trump returning to the White House.

If nothing else, the court’s announcement Wednesday that it will hear the Trump immunity case seven weeks from now should tell us once and for all—yep, don’t put anything past these people. Anything. They are as capital-P Political and Partisan as we suspect at our most cynical. More so.

Now, the quickly formed conventional wisdom after the announcement is that while the court’s six conservatives are obviously trying to help Donald Trump by slow-walking the process here, surely they won’t all accept the facially absurd and unconstitutional arguments of Trump’s attorneys. I tend to go along with this. It’s hard to imagine judges of any sort ruling that our laws don’t apply to an ex-president.

And yet … I opened this piece saying that they keep surprising us. They keep Lucying the ideological football on us, and we keep falling for it. So what if—nah, it can’t be. No way five justices could really grant Trump immunity. Right?

Well, two probably will, and we know which two. Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito are totally ready for authoritarian America. And from there, who knows? I mean, I’d like to have a dollar for every time I’ve heard someone say, Ah, they’d never stop a state recount. Oh, come on, are you kidding? They’ll never completely overturn Roe.

So count me unconvinced. I guess with a gun to my head I’d say it’s 60–40 they’ll reject Trump’s claims. But 40 is damn high.

Now. A late-June decision by the court against Trump would mean a late-September trial date in Judge Tanya Chutkan’s courtroom. She gave Trump’s lawyers 88 days to prepare for trial, and that clock starts ticking when the Supreme Court rules, so a June 30 decision, say, would mean (I think) a September 26 trial date. Here, the liberal impulse will be the fretful one: Oh no! That’s too close to the election! We can’t do that! It wouldn’t be fair!

Pardon me, but: bullshit.

First of all: If you’re thinking—worrying—that this is in Merrick Garland’s hands, exhale. It apparently is not. Yes, the Justice Department has a rule about not interfering in the political process in the fall of an election year. But that has only to do with charging people with crimes. It stems from Reagan-era Iran-Contra special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh’s decision to charge former Reagan official Caspar Weinberger four days before the 1992 election. It was after that that the department agreed upon an unwritten rule about not bringing those kinds of charges within roughly 60 days of a general election.

So that rule is only about charging. It’s not about when trials should be held. Here’s a good primer on the whole matter, debunking a recent Trump lie about it.

Also, Garland was asked this very question in January by CNN’s Evan Perez:

PEREZ: The department has policies about steering clear of elections. Is there a date in your mind where it might be too late to bring these trials to fruition? Again, to stay out of the way of the elections as the department policies?

GARLAND: Well, I just say what I said, which is that the cases were brought last year. [The] prosecutor has urged speedy trials, with which I agree. And it’s now in the hands of the judicial system, not in our hands.

So the feckless Garland, who has striven so hard to be apolitical that he’s actually become political in the other (pro-Trump) direction, has nothing to do with this.

With that out of the way, are there other objections to a late-September trial? Trump and MAGA world will howl. I’ve been told that we can expect this trial to last six to 10 weeks. That would mean that it won’t be over before Election Day.

Is there a political risk there? That Trump’s base will be ultra-energized? Sure. But why shouldn’t it also ultra-energize the pro-democracy base? It certainly should.

And more than that: It will make the election about Trump, not Joe Biden. If Trump is literally sitting in a courtroom on Election Day—or even if he’s not sitting there but, say, Cassidy Hutchinson is on the stand describing that steering wheel incident, or Mark Meadows is on the stand squirming and sweating—the election is about him, the insurrection, the future of democracy. Your typical swing voter in Oakland County, Michigan, is going to be walking into the voting booth thinking about that, not Biden’s age or gait.

That’s what liberals should want the election to be about. There are two warring explanations afoot in our land about Trump’s legal trials. One, his own, is that all these indictments constitute election interference—the deep state trying to stop him from rightfully recapturing that which was stolen from him in 2020. The other, the planet Earth explanation, is that he’s a uniquely corrupt sociopath who thinks the law doesn’t apply to him and wants to get back into the White House for two simple reasons: to absolve himself of all crimes and to illiberalize our institutions and wreck the democracy to the point that he can do anything he wants—including, probably, be president for life.

If that’s the debate the nation is having on election eve, if that’s what neighbors are discussing across the fence post as they prepare to go vote—I’m good with that, and you should be too. And if those corrupt bastards on the Supreme Court inadvertently helped make that happen, so much the better.

This article first appeared in Fighting Words, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by editor Michael Tomasky. Sign up here.

Imagine a President Trump Who Owes Saudi Arabia $540 Million

Who’s going to pay Trump’s legal penalty?

Trump receiving the Order of Abdulaziz al-Saud medal
Trump received the Order of Abdulaziz Al Saud medal from Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud at the Saudi Royal Court in Riyadh in 2017.

Donald Trump is attempting to appeal and delay having to pay that whopping fine that New York Judge Arthur Engoron laid on him earlier this month in the Trump Organization fraud suit brought by state Attorney General Letitia James. As we’ve all heard, to do so, he has to secure a bond.

NBC News did some cipherin’ Wednesday and reported that he’ll need a bond of about $540 million. It is widely assumed he doesn’t have the liquid cash. He has some buildings, notably 40 Wall Street, but many experts are saying that the government doesn’t like to take real estate as collateral. “Whoever is going to bond [Trump] is committing that they’re going to make good on that judgment,” New York business attorney David Slarskey told NBC. “Who’s going to do that?”

Indeed. That is the question. And the possible answer is chilling, if we imagine Trump back in the White House next year.

In sum: He could borrow this money from just about anybody. Or not even borrow it. Someone might just give it to him. Incredibly, as Neal Katyal said on MSNBC Wednesday night, there is apparently no law that prohibits someone in Trump’s position from securing the collateral from anyone. It’s another one of those laws that I suppose no one ever even thought to write because the system has never encountered a Donald Trump before. But now it has.

“There are potential sanctions prohibitions and campaign finance prohibitions. And of course potential tax issues,” MSNBC analyst Andrew Weissmann told me via email Thursday. “But apart from those, a third party can give a gift or loan to post the federal or state bonds.”

Ponder with me the possible dangers here. Let’s imagine a roster of actors who might have the resources and motive to stake Trump to half a billion dollars, either as a loan or a gift. There’s Russia, first of all. Russia—and Vladimir Putin personally, because he’s apparently stolen so much over the years that he might be the world’s richest man—may be out of the question because of the sanctions. But of course, that’s just the law, which Trump spits at.

Imagine a President Trump in hock to Russia or Putin to the tune of a half-billion dollars. Sure, Trump is inclined to give Putin half of Eastern Europe anyway. But money like that would turn a mere ideological sentiment into ironclad fealty, since money means a lot more to Trump than ideas. Well, Poland, you didn’t exist from 1795 to 1918; you can get used to it again.

Or let’s say it came from Saudi Arabia. Remember, it was during this very trial that Trump bragged that the Saudis, or at least some individual Saudi, would willingly pay inflated prices for Trump properties. This was a justification he used for inflating the prices in the first place. Engoron wrote in his ruling: “He also seems to imply that the numbers cannot be inflated because he could find a ‘buyer from Saudi Arabia’ to pay any price he suggests.”

So imagine now that a “buyer” or buyers from the kingdom secretly put up Trump’s collateral. And then Trump won the election. The United States would do whatever Mohammed bin Salman wanted it to do. On the surface, Saudi Arabia is committed to its Vision 2030 plan that proclaims a desire to normalize relations with Iran (this has started) and move away from the current reliance on oil revenues and toward a knowledge economy. That’s all very nice. But conflict will arise in that region, as it always does, and when it does, Trump will serve the master who bailed him out of legal hot water.

Or suppose the Netanyahu government put up the dough. People are plenty critical of Joe Biden now, and rightly so, over the money we’re giving to Israel and the absence of conditions imposed on that money so that Israel can commit atrocities on a massive scale. But if you think it can’t get worse, think again. Trust hard-right Israeli Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, who said earlier this month: “Instead of giving us his full backing, Biden is busy with giving humanitarian aid and fuel, which goes to Hamas. If Trump was in power, the U.S. conduct would be completely different.”

Of course, Trump’s benefactor need not be a foreign nation. What if, as Weissman posited to Lawrence O’Donnell Thursday night, it was Elon Musk who ponied up the dough? Or Peter Thiel? Or a consortium of Texas oilmen? Or the Mafia? Obviously, Trump would willingly accept the money from any and all of those sources. How nice would that be, to have a president who hardly made a move without anticipating their reaction?

Lara Trump argues that rank-and-file Republicans will be perfectly happy for their donations to the Republican National Committee to go to paying Trump’s legal bills, and the Trump-era Republican Party is such a warped, freakish imitation of a normal political party, so smothered in cult-worship, that she’s probably right. But even so, rank-and-file Republicans can’t begin to cover more than a fraction of this.

The other hypothetical to consider here is of course that it’s entirely possible that Trump won’t pay at all. After all, as we know all too well, if there’s a law or rule to flout, Trump is there to flout it and dare the system to catch up with him. So this all might be moot, which speaks only to how brazenly lawless the man is.

But if he decides to post the bond, and if all this reporting is correct that he doesn’t have the money himself, he’s going to have to get it from someone. And whoever that someone is will claim a mighty stake on what remains of the mind of the man who might be the president of the United States.

This article first appeared in Fighting Words, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by editor Michael Tomasky. Sign up here.

How Jack Smith Became the Worst Part of Trump’s Historically Lousy Week

The former president’s legal woes have packed headlines, but the special counsel’s filing in the January 6 case has somehow flown under the radar.

Donald Trump exits New York State Supreme Court on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024.
Jeenah Moon/Getty Images
Donald Trump exits New York State Supreme Court on February 15.

The big headlines Friday morning concerned Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis and the combative testimony Thursday she offered concerning her affair with Nathan Wade. But that wasn’t the big story of the week on the Donald Trump legal front. In fact, it may have been about fifth.

What’s bigger? Let’s start with Judge Aileen Cannon’s decision to deny Trump’s attorneys’ bid to delay pretrial motions in the case she’s hearing, about Trump’s removal of classified documents from the White House. Cannon, you’ll recall, was appointed by Trump.  After the documents case landed so unserendipitously in her lap, she made a series of nakedly pro-Trump rulings; the 11th Circuit vacated one order of hers that would have helped Trump delay the proceedings. She also blocked federal investigators from examining the material seized by the FBI, a decision eviscerated by legal experts. So maybe she’s gotten the message that she’d better be a real judge, not a sycophant.

Trump also was dealt a blow this week when Juan Merchan, the judge in the Stormy Daniels hush-money trial, dismissed another attempt at delay by Trump’s lawyers. That trial will start, as scheduled, on March 25.

And—no, it doesn’t stop!—another judge, Arthur Engoron, is supposed to hand down his decision in the penalty phase of the civil suit brought by the New York attorney general against the Trump Organization. AG Letitia James is seeking $370 million. There are reasons to think that that number may be on the low end of where Engoron will land.

But for my money, the worst part of Trump’s week came in the filing by special counsel Jack Smith to the Supreme Court in response to the Trump team’s request for a stay on that trial, which is the January 6 insurrection case. In a 40-page filing, Smith and his attorneys dismantled Trump’s arguments one by one. Smith had until February 20 to file this response, but he did it eight days early and he means business: “The charged crimes strike at the heart of our democracy.  A President’s alleged criminal scheme to overturn an election and thwart the peaceful transfer of power to his successor should be the last place to recognize a novel form of absolute immunity from federal criminal law.  Applicant seeks a stay to prevent proceedings in the district court from moving towards trial, which the district court had scheduled to begin on March 4, 2024, before applicant’s interlocutory appeal necessitated postponement of that date.  Applicant cannot show, as he must to merit a stay, a fair prospect of success in this Court.”

Why is this filing so important? Three reasons. First, Smith urges the Court to act quickly. He still wants the trial to start in March. If the Court agrees, picture it: Trump on trial in two separate courtrooms, on charges that strike precisely at the heart of the two biggest manifestations of his moral turpitude: In New York, as a private citizen, as a man, who treats women like garbage; in Washington, as a public, um, servant who mocks the Constitution and believes that no law applies to him. It will be perfect stereo spectacle for Americans to spend the spring observing.

Second, while it’s true that we’re dealing with a very politicized Supreme Court here, and it’s obvious that at least two justices (Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas) will rule for Trump on just about anything, Smith’s response makes a very strong set of arguments that should appeal to at least some of the Court’s conservative originalists. “The Framers,” Smith writes, “did not provide any explicit textual source of immunity to the President.”

And third: The Smith case is the most important of all, for the simple reason that inciting the January 6 insurrection is the worst thing Trump has done. Granted there is stiff competition for his most mortal sin. But egging on a crowd to overthrow the government and hang your own vice president still takes the cake. If Smith succeeds in convincing the Supremes to expedite this case and goes on to win a pre-election conviction, that ought to seal Trump’s fate. Some recent polls have shown that swing state swing voters would be highly disinclined to vote for Trump if convicted of a crime.

We’ve seen the conventional wisdom turning on this question in recent weeks. Last year, the standard media line was to say that all the indictments were helping Trump, which was true if you were talking only about Republican primary voters. But now the attention of the media and of pollsters is turning toward general election voters, and they see matters differently.

Every one of these cases is important because each one points to a grotesque deficiency of character that demonstrates why Trump should never be president again. But the insurrection case is the first among equals. A conviction in this case before November 5 really should be the end of the road for Trump. It all depends on the Supreme Court agreeing with Smith’s motion this week. He made as strong a case as could be made.

This article first appeared in Fighting Words, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by editor Michael Tomasky. Sign up here.

Dumb and Dumber: Mike Johnson Is Even Worse Than Kevin McCarthy

Abraham Lincoln, this is your party on dopamine.

House Speaker Mike Johnson
Kent Nishimura/The Washington Post/Getty
House Speaker Mike Johnson on Capitol Hill on Tuesday

Not long ago, a video surfaced of House Speaker Mike Johnson appearing before the National Association of Christian Lawmakers. He told a tale of how the Lord came to him in a series of visitations and “began to wake me up … in the middle of the night” to prepare him for a mighty role. The humble Johnson fancied himself an Aaron, Moses’s sidekick. But in time, in Johnson’s telling, the Lord made it clear to him that he was Moses, and He urged M.J. to be prepared, because “we’re coming to a Red Sea moment.”

Well, Moses, it looks like the Red Sea just crashed down on your head.

If this blockhead has the Lord’s blessing, I’d sure hate to see where he’d be without it. Just three and a half months into the speakership, he’s making Kevin McCarthy look like Cicero. It was just hilarious to see him have to announce on the Alejandro Mayorkas impeachment vote that the “ayes” were 214 and the “nays” were 216 and “the resolution is not adopted.” And minutes later, a stand-alone Israel aid bill failed, with 14 Republicans jumping the leaky Ship Johnson.

The week has been humiliating for Republicans on many fronts. Donald Trump had his preposterous immunity argument mercilessly shot down by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. Mitch McConnell was forced to pull an embarrassing about-face on the border bill, voting against a bill that he’d been promoting for weeks. Even Nikki Haley found a new way to shame herself, losing 2-to-1 in the Nevada primary to “none of these candidates.” Trump did seem to secure a coming win in the Fourteenth Amendment case, but that was largely expected, and it happened in spite of his lawyer’s awful performance.

These things aren’t accidents. They’re all part of the same pattern and are happening for the same reason.

Republicans today are consumed by this primal need for immediate gratification. They’re the party of the dopamine rush. Go read an article about the brain, and you’ll learn in five minutes that dopamine helps regulate pleasure, and pleasure is great, but too much dopamine leads to delusions, hallucinations, schizophrenia, psychosis. The entire party has a massive and collective mental disorder, a severe chemical imbalance in what remains of its collective brain, which explains why it kneels so slavishly before a psychotic man with the emotional regulation of a 5-year-old.

Like rutting ungulates, they are incapable of anything remotely resembling thought and respond only to the stimuli right in front of their noses. Deliberation, caution, calm reflection … these are the qualities that most of us have in more or less equal measure to the desire for gratification. These are the qualities that are most in harmony with the habits of democracy. To be small-d democratic is to deliberate; to think things through a little. This country’s Founders believed profoundly in this, which is why they built so many choke points into our democratic processes (too many, as it turns out). They wanted future generations to think stuff through.

But these people are stuck in the land of anti-thought. And because that’s where they live, it means that in many respects it’s where we all have to live, because that’s where a lot of our national debate plays out.

The border debate is a perfect example. There are a lot of problems with U.S. border policy. Undoubtedly some of them are the fault of Democrats. It’s reasonable that people should want more control over the border. But at the same time, it’s a complex problem, and any real solutions are complex too. Oklahoma Republican Senator James Lankford, to his credit, tried to acknowledge that reality. And what happened? He was brutally shut down. It was chiefly Donald Trump, but it wasn’t only Trump. One right-wing talk radio host threatened to “destroy” him.

But it’s not just the border. It’s everything. The Mayorkas impeachment. I suppose there are many grounds from a conservative point of view on which to think he’s doing a lousy job. That’s fine. But a high crime or a misdemeanor? Ridiculous. That doesn’t matter, though. The mere word impeachment makes the mules rut, and there ends the discussion.

James Comer and Jim Jordan are another primo example. They just go on Fox and Newsmax and say shit. It’s not about facts or methodically building a case. It’s all about the dopamine rush of being on national television and saying titillating things that rile people up and get the checks rolling in. When they have to walk it back two days later, nobody cares. In fact, they’ve accomplished what they wanted to accomplish, which is to add to the general picture of murkiness surrounding Hunter Biden or whatever. And they walk out of that studio feeling eight miles high.

And that’s where our political debate takes place now. It used to be that dopamine-rush politics was occasional. Both sides did it on issues that clearly worked to their advantage, as Democrats still do. But with the GOP today, that’s all politics is. The immediate gratification of having scored a point, trolled a lib, won a little wedge of Fox airtime—and most of all pleased Donald Trump.

No one could succeed in this degraded and juvenile context. Not even Moses. I hope the Lord levels with Johnson soon.

This article first appeared in Fighting Words, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by editor Michael Tomasky. Sign up here.

Biden Should Call Trump a “Sick F**k” in Public. Real America Agrees.

It may be unpresidential, but Trump has redefined “unpresidential.”

Biden in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania
Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Biden in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania, last month

We learned this week, via Jonathan Lemire and some Politico colleagues, that Joe Biden uses salty language about Donald Trump in private. He’s a “sick fuck” and a “fucking asshole.” During his Valley Forge speech commemorating the January 6 insurrection, the president almost let it slip in public: “At his rally, he jokes about an intruder, whipped up by the Big Trump Lie, taking a hammer to Paul Pelosi’s skull. And he thinks that’s funny. He laughed about it. What a sick …”

The White House declined to comment for the record, but this was obviously put out there by administration sources just to test the reaction. Well, here’s mine: Biden should just go ahead and say it publicly. Not all the time of course. But once or twice. It won’t hurt. Most likely it will help. Might help a lot, in fact.

This is so for two basic reasons that people in politics sometimes forget about inside their pressure bubbles. The first is that it’s genuine. If it’s what he thinks, then he ought to just own it. People hear politicians calibrate their words every day (well, except Trump, but even he does it sometimes, notably with respect to a federal abortion ban). To hear someone just let it rip is refreshing.

Reason two? A hell of a lot of people agree. The ones who don’t are loud and enraged, and they command not one but three propaganda television networks (Fox, One America, Newsmax). But I’m betting that your average American—middle class, not very political, guided by conventional morals and values, not angry at either Taylor Swift or Travis Kelce—thinks Donald Trump is a sick fuck.

The success of such a play would depend on the evidence Biden would introduce to reinforce the label. It can’t be political. He led an insurrection? No. That’s partisan. He separated children from their parents and kept them in cold barracks with Mylar blankets? That’s plenty bad, but it’s still just politics.

The best evidence is above politics. Like Trump’s habit of insulting soldiers. Biden hit the right note in the Valley Forge speech: “[Trump] referred to those heroes, and I quote, as ‘suckers’ and ‘losers.’ He actually said that. How dare he say that. How dare he talk about my son and all like that. Look, I call them patriots and heroes. The only loser I see is Donald Trump.” (Biden believes son Beau’s brain cancer, the cause of his death, stemmed from his exposure to burn pits in Iraq during his service.)

The Paul Pelosi story is a pretty good piece of evidence too. Yes, the name Pelosi will set off the inevitable bells on both sides. But I doubt many swing voters think it’s OK to joke about taking a hammer to an 82-year-old man’s head. We might throw in what Trump said about John McCain back in 2015 (“I like heroes who weren’t captured”).

Trump, as we know, leads Biden narrowly in most polls (and in some state polls, not so narrowly). At the same time, large majorities agree that Trump is a lawless and reckless and just bad human being.

Here are some poll results from last summer, which are in line with a ton of other polls. Popularity—unfavorable, 60 to 38 percent. Does Trump think he’s above the law? Yes, 63 to 37. Do you support or oppose Trump’s indictments? Yes, 53 to 39. Do you think Trump has committed a crime? Yes, 62 to 32. And the most germane one here, is Trump fit for office? No, 58 to 42.

Why, you might ask, is a man with those numbers leading in polls? First of all, because Joe Biden is 80. If Biden were 75, he’d be six, seven points ahead, no question about it. And second, because those average swing voters have forgotten everything they didn’t like about Trump, while they see every day the things they don’t like about Biden—his age, and his inflation (although things are improving considerably on that front).

This campaign—and not panicking about January’s head-to-head polls—is going to be an exercise in reminding those voters of the things they hated about Trump. In some ways, Trump will do that work himself. He’s already doing it, defaming a woman he raped, misbehaving in courtrooms, getting convicted of more crimes (we hope), ranting against the legal system, the one venue where his bullshit doesn’t fly. By late October, a lot of people will have observed his campaign-season antics and be asking themselves whether they really want this moral baboon in their faces for another four years. (It occurs to me that’s an insult to baboons.)

But a lot of the work will have to be done by Biden and the Democrats. Trump’s lie to the American people about the seriousness of the coronavirus. His serial bragging about getting rid of Roe v. Wade. His love of Vladimir Putin. His increasing dementia, far worse than Biden’s. And his basic sociopathy and inhumanity. If driving home that last point home means Biden should use a rather unpresidential noun here and there, well, fuck it.

This article first appeared in Fighting Words, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by editor Michael Tomasky. Sign up here.

This Will Go Down as the Week the Trump Meltdown Began

Sometimes you can just feel the conventional wisdom changing.

Trump sneers
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The political conventional wisdom is hard to define sometimes. Usually it’s one of those things that’s just there, like your body temperature. You feel it but don’t notice it. And then, bam, you feel hot, you get the chills, and that’s the moment you know you’re getting sick. Something has shifted, and suddenly you notice this thing you rarely think about.

That’s how this week felt with regard to the conventional wisdom. A week ago, Donald Trump was the clear favorite to win in November, and of course he may yet—the polls are close and will remain so. But also, a week ago, Trump had a lot of wind in his sails coming off his smashing Iowa win, and Joe Biden was a doddering old man with a mixed-at-best economic record.

There was no huge sea change this week. But there’s also no question that those scripts started to flip, in two important ways.

First and most important, Trump is now the one doddering his way toward dementia. He has been for a while, but the Nikki-Nancy moment, and Nikki Haley’s subsequent attack on Trump, finally forced the media to make Trump’s mental state into a running narrative. The column I wrote Monday about this did monster traffic, which I note not to boast but by way of observing that the readership means that a lot of people were obviously thinking the same thing.

On Morning Joe, cable’s most influential show in setting the conventional wisdom, they’ve been just merciless about Trump’s addled brain. The Biden campaign put together a very funny ad mocking Trump. And over the rest of the week, Le Grand Orange (apologies, Rusty!) did not disappoint. There was that nutso social media binge against E. Jean Carroll—37 posts in two hours, Wednesday night. Then there was his ridiculous testimony at the Carroll defamation trial, where he was on the stand for three minutes and managed to defy the judge’s instructions twice. Then there was his absurd whining Thursday as he left the courtroom, repeating three times, “This is not America.” No, asshole, this is actually the best version of America. A courtroom is the one place where your lies and slander don’t fly.

Trump’s brain is turning into Jell-O before our eyes. No, not just Jell-O, but one of those ’60s Jell-O molds your mother (or grandmother) made, with cottage cheese and fruit and chunks of canned tuna and olives and a few mystery ingredients for good measure. And it’s not like there’s any chance he’s going to be pulling himself together. The pressure is building, and fast. This month, two judges, Lewis Kaplan in the Carroll case and Arthur Engoron in the fraud case, will announce the size of the damage awards they want Trump and his businesses to pay in those cases. Carroll seeks $10 million. New York Attorney General Letitia James seeks $370 million in the fraud case.

Neither judge seems especially seduced by Trump’s alleged charisma. So let’s say Kaplan socks him with $15 million and Engoron with, oh, $450 million. Hardly implausible. Both are supposed to happen within a matter of days.

Then there’s the campaign trail. Trump is going to win the GOP nomination, sure, but Haley has stepped up her attacks—apparently realizing that now that it’s a two-person race, the only chance she stands is to finally go after her opponent, especially now that he’s calling her “Birdbrain” and mocking her fashion choices. “I know that’s what he does when he is threatened, and he should feel threatened, without a doubt,” she told a South Carolina crowd.

Trump will dispatch Haley in the February 24 primary in that state—and then, possibly, he’ll turn right around and face Jack Smith’s prosecutors in a Washington courtroom the next week. The trial date is March 4, although that’s up in the air, pending the resolution of a pretrial motion. So Trump’s going to be winning primaries—that is, inside the hall of mirrors that is the Republican Party faithful—while out in the real world he’s going to be losing in court, and losing what’s left of his mind. Now that Trump’s mental condition is fair game, he’s just going to deteriorate even more—a self-reinforcing downward spiral into the quicksand of his cankered soul.

The second change, even more important albeit less fun to talk about, has to do with the reality—and the perceptions—of the economy. I won’t throw a bunch of numbers at you, but: gas prices down, Dow setting a new record above 38,000, and a great (not good—great) GDP report this week. More important still were those recent numbers showing that consumer confidence is up more over the last two months than during any two-month period since 1991. Think about that. Thirty-three years. In 1991, Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce were being potty-trained (though not together!), and Patrick Mahomes wasn’t born.

All this is why Punchbowl News, a reliable reflector of conventional wisdom, led its Friday morning newsletter with “Dems get ready to run on the economy.” Think they would have done that even a week ago?

And by the way, what is Trump’s reaction to this? To say he wants the economy to crash. He wants Americans to lose jobs and health care and houses and small businesses. If that’s not fodder for a 30-second ad, or about a dozen of them, Democratic operatives are more asleep than usual.

This is even more important than Trump’s personal meltdown because most people still vote on the economy. They form their views and reach their conclusions three to six months out from the election, which is the next few months. If these two new narratives—Trump is demented, and the economy is strong—settle into conventional wisdom, the way we talk about this election may be very different indeed by Memorial Day.

This article first appeared in Fighting Words, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by editor Michael Tomasky. Sign up here.