The Mahablog

Politics. Society. Group Therapy.

The Mahablog

In Manhattan and Gaza, Baby Steps

Today in the Manhattan Trump trial the prosecution is talking to Trump organization accountants who handled the checks that went to Michael Cohen. This money was coming from Trump’s personal account.  From what I can tell, the testimony is showing that checks meant to reimburse Cohen for “hush money” payments were on the books as payments for legal services. The heavy lift is still going to be tying this to election interference.

Before the trial restarted the judge slapped Trump with another contempt of court citation and another threat to toss him in jail if he doesn’t straighten up.

There may have been some progress toward a cease fire in Gaza. Or not. The Associated Press:

Israeli leaders have approved a military operation into the Gaza Strip city of Rafah, and Israeli forces are now striking targets in the area, officials announced Monday.

The move came hours after Hamas announced it had accepted an Egyptian-Qatari cease-fire proposal.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said that the proposal was “far from Israel’s essential demands,” but that it would nonetheless send negotiators to continue talks on a cease-fire agreement.

The terms of this proposal have not been made public.

Over the weekend, there were news reports that the U.S. had put a hold on a shipment ot ammunition to Israel. Israeli officials said the shipment was stopped last week. The U.S. government has not issued any statements about this. We do know that the U.S. has told Israel that if it continues with its operation into Rafah, U.S. policy toward Israel could change. Meanwhile, Netanyahu is bravely declaring that if Israel has to stand alone, it will.

My suspicions are that there’s a lot going on between Netanyahu’s government and the Biden Administration that we don’t know about but is probably far from amicable.

At the other, far end of the Stupid Scale, we have Republican senators threatening the International Criminal Court.

A group of influential Republican senators has sent a letter to International Criminal Court (ICC) chief prosecutor Karim Khan, warning him not to issue international arrest warrants against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli officials, and threatening him with “severe sanctions” if he does so. 

In a terse, one-page letter obtained exclusively by Zeteo, and signed by 12 GOP senators, including Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Florida’s Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz of Texas, Khan is informed that any attempt by the ICC to hold Netanyahu and his colleagues to account for their actions in Gaza will be interpreted “not only as a threat to Israel’s sovereignty but to the sovereignty of the United States.”

“Target Israel and we will target you,” the senators tell Khan, adding that they will “sanction your employees and associates, and bar you and your families from the United States.”

Rather ominously, the letter concludes: “You have been warned.”

The Constitution really does give Congress the power to declare war, but I’m pretty sure they’d need a majority vote in both houses to do so. Don’t make promises you can’t keep, dudes.

How Much Will the Protests Bleep the Election?

The Democrats had to have their convention in Chicago this year.  Now I’m reading that they anticipate massive protests during the convention. And I see the Wall Street Journal is running a story headlined Activist Groups Trained Students for Months Before Campus Protests. I can’t read it behind the subscription firewall, but I’m betting it’s reporting on alleged ties to Antifa and Black Lives Matter and probably Communists. Maybe even George Soros.  It’s all part of the Left-Wing Conspiracy to destroy Jesus, you know.

On the other side of the scale, see It Was a Trap by Justin Peters at Slate.

There was probably a bit of all of this working on New York Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik when, a few months ago, she hauled various university presidents into Congress, insisted that certain student protesters’ use of the word “intifada” and phrase “from the river to the sea” directly equated to calls for genocide, and then watched them fumble their responses in truly embarrassing fashion.

The subsequent resignations of the presidents of Penn and Harvard, respectively, were unforced errors on the parts of highly educated people who, first, should have more directly challenged Stefanik’s partisan premises, and, second, should have probably realized that the en voguecampus notion that speech sometimes equates to violence would eventually be co-opted by right-wingers eager to exploit campus unrest for their own political gain. (I’m often reminded of how, back when the rise of the social web was leading a lot of otherwise-smart people to profess that the internet would soon bring about a state of digital utopia, the writer Evgeny Morozov kept making a very trenchant point that almost nobody wanted to hear: Bad people know how to use the internet, too.) The scalps of Liz Magill and Claudine Gay were nice trophies for the ambitious Stefanik, who is rumored to be in contention for Donald Trump’s vice presidential slot. But the hearings and subsequent leadership turnover also helped to promote the narrative of widespread chaos on campus—a narrative that’s a boon to Republicans in an election year.

I wasn’t paying enough attention to this as I probably should have.

At Politico, Jeff Greenfield writes Don’t Forget the Backlash to the ’60s.

Most media retrospectives of the 1960s celebrate the marchers, the protests, the peace signs along with the compulsory Buffalo Springfield lyrics (“There’s something happening here/ But what it is ain’t exactly clear”). The reality is those upheavals were an enormous in-kind contribution to the political fortunes of the right. And if history comes even close to repeating itself, then the latest episode will redound to Donald Trump’s benefit.

Much of the political landscape of the past 50-60 years was formed by the backlash to the civil rights and antiwar movements, IMO.

And speaking of that, see John McWhorter, The Columbia Protests Made the Same Mistake the Civil Rights Movement Did. I tend to think of the Civil Rights Movement as the “good” protesters, but McWhorter reminds us that it got weird.

What happened this week was not just a rise in the temperature. The protests took a wrong turn, of a kind I have seen too many other activist movements take. It’s the same wrong turn that the civil rights movement took in the late 1960s.

After the concrete victories of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965, a conflict arose within the movement between those who sought to keep the focus on changing laws and institutions and those who cherished more symbolic confrontations as a chance to speak truth to power.

The conflict played out most visibly in what became of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. SNCC began with grass-roots activism in the form of sit-ins and voter registration, but in 1966 John Lewis, a veteran of the Selma demonstrations who spoke at the March on Washington, was replaced as the group’s leader by Stokely Carmichael, who spoke charismatically of Black Power but whose political plans tended to be fuzzy at best. The term “Black Power” often seemed to mean something different to each person espousing it. It was, in essence, a slogan rather than a program.

This new idea — that gesture and performance were, in themselves, a form of action — worried the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who regarded some of the group’s demonstrations as “expressions of rivalry and rage, without constructive purpose,” according to the historian Taylor Branch.

IMO this nails it:

In our times, when the personal is political, there is always a risk that a quest to heal the world morphs into a quest for personal catharsis.

As I wrote in the last post, the campus protesters don’t seem to have a unified message or goals. They are concerned about the Palestinians in Gaza, but nothing they are doing is helping the Palestinians in Gaza in any way. The young folks need to stand down, or at least re-think what it is they want.

In other news: As near as I can tell, the prosecutorsi are doing a masterful job in the Manhattan “hush money”/election interference case.



The Campus Protests Are Not Helping

The two most significant things that happened yesterday, IMO, were the arrests last night of the Columbia University students and Trump’s Time magazine interview, in which he pretty much explicitly promises to end democracy as we know it if he’s re-elected. For right now I want to address the students and the campus protests.

I confess I am very conflicted about the campus protests. As a veteran of a few Vietnam-era campus antiwar protests I can relate to how the students feel and am supportive of their rights to express themselves. On the other hand, since those long-ago days I have believed the antiwar movement was mostly counterproductive and did little to end the Vietnam War. Yes, there were protests, and the war eventually ended, but correlation is not causation.

I’ve said this before, but here it is again: The antiwar movement’s only real accomplishments, IMO, were the election of Richard Nixon and the re-election of Richard Nixon. The Vietnam War was never hugely popular in the U.S., I don’t believe, but for most of its duration the antiwar movement was even more unpopular than the war. And Richard Nixon made masterful use of the antiwar movement to deflect public criticism of his handling of the war. Without the excesses of the antiwar movement, it’s possible the bleeping war might have ended sooner.

And I think something similar is already beginning to happen with the campus demonstrations about Gaza. I hear people arguing about the demonstrations, not the cause. The cause is getting lost in the noise. And if the purpose of these demonstrations is to promote sympathy for the Palestinian people, they are failing badly.

There have been conflicting accounts about whether there really is raging antisemitism in the campus demonstrations, especially at Columbia. Columbia demonstrators have denied antisemitism and pointed out that they even had a Seder in their incampment a few days ago. It may be that most of the students who have been participating in the demonstrations on the Columbia campus sincerely do not hate Jews. But I’ve been in enough lefty demonstrations to know that there are always a few who, shall we say, don’t appreciate the importance of message discipline.

This is from a couple of days ago, but please do read A Few Thoughts on the Situation in Israel-Palestine and on the Campuses by Josh Marshall. I learned a lot from this.

To me it seems clear that non-students operating on the periphery of the campus have been responsible for the most egregious comments or incidents that almost no one would deny are anti-Semitic. There’s been some of that from students on campus, usually in heated instances when visibly Jewish students are in the proximity of protesters.

But to me these instances obscure a deeper issue. The groups which are spearheading most of these protests — specifically, Students for Justice in Palestine but also others — support the overthrow of the current Israeli state and the expulsion of at least some substantial percentage of the current Jewish Israeli population. This is sometimes talked about as though this is envisioned without people actually being killed at a mass scale or under the pretense that Jewish Israelis have other home countries they can relocate to. But that’s not how overthrowing a whole society works. These views are also embedded in the big chants and manifestos, which you can hear just by turning on your TV.

And a lot of the backstory the students embrace is clearly oversimplified and turned into a simple morality play about the innocent Palestinians and their oppression by the evil Israel. And as part of that, Hamas has been “valorized” as the champions of the Palestinians. But this is a gross misreading of recent history. It’s closer to the truth, IMO, to say that Netanyahu’s hard-right coalition and Hamas are just two sides of the same ugly coin. The black-and-white picture, if you insist on one, is not Israel versus Palestine but people who would allow peaceful co-existence versus people who won’t.

Oslo gets a bad name today. And perhaps that’s fair since it failed. And failure is a bad thing. But we shouldn’t ignore the irony that we have spent the last six months in the grip of Hamas and Benjamin Netanyahu. And if you look back at the period from 1993 to 1996, there are two players who destroyed Oslo, as a matter of strategy and design. Netanyahu and Hamas. They both saw it as in their interests to kill it and they did kill it. You can question the good faith of the key actors of both sides of Oslo. But those two are the ones who set out to kill it and did kill it. They have always been, in effect, allies.

Exactly. And it’s also been pretty obvious to most of the world that what’s needed is a two-state solution, not the elimination of one state for the benefit of the other.

Michael Powell writes in The Atlantic that the Columbia students who tried to occupy Hamilton Hall, and were removed by NYPD, had backed themselves into a corner. They had no clear leader and no clear message, other than anti-zionism. When given opportunities to speak to news media, they did not.

Yesterday in front of Hamilton Hall—which protesters had renamed Hind’s Hall in honor of a 6-year-old girl who had been killed in Gaza—organizers of the Columbia demonstration called a press conference. But when reporters stepped forward to ask questions, they were met with stony stares and silence. At the liberated tent zone, minders—some of whom were sympathetic faculty members—kept out those seen as insufficiently sympathetic, and outright blocked reporters for Israeli outlets and Fox News.

The students’ chants were calling for the elimination of Israel and the restoration of all lands to the Palestinians. This goes even further than the position of the Palestinian Authority, which wants to work toward a two-state solution.

By 11 p.m., much of the work was done. The police had cleared Hamilton Hall and carted off protesters for booking. At 113th Street and Broadway, a mass of protesters, whose shouts echoed in the night, and a group of about 30 police officers peered at each other across metal barriers. One female protester harangued the cops—at least half of whom appeared to be Black, Asian American, or Latino—by likening them to the Ku Klux Klan. Then the chants fired up again. “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” There was a pause, as if the protesters were searching for something more cutting. “Hey hey, ho ho, Zionism has got to go.”

These are clueless young people drunk on self-righteousness. I’m not saying that of all the student demonstrators around the nation, but the would-be Hamilton Hall occupiers are not helping anybody, especially not Palestinians. But nobody’s behaved well here. From a distance, it looks like Columbia University officials also have made one mistake after another. At least the NYPD didn’t kill or maim anybody, which they might have in earlier times.

I’m seeing that violence broke out on the UCLA campus overnight, also. As with other campus protests, the UCLA students want their university to stop doing business with Israel. In some cases they want the university to stop doing business with corporations that do business in Israel, and with organizations with any ties whatsoever to Israel. I don’t know how many degrees of separation it would take to condemn everyone on the planet, including the protesters, of association with zionism, but I doubt very many.

The UnWise Men Who Need Correction

In trying to digest the events of the past week — with the Supreme Court in particular — I somehow found myself thinking about Bill Barr. Barr, one might have thought, had learned a lesson about giving one man too much power. After the Trump Administration was over, Barr was widely quoted as saying that Trump was a terrible human being who shouldn’t be allowed near the Oval Office. But now he’s endorsed Trump again.

This was at CNN:

“I think that Biden is unfit for office,” Barr said on “The Source” in a wide-ranging interview. “I think Trump would do less damage than Biden, and I think all this stuff about a threat to democracy – I think the real threat to democracy is the progressive movement and the Biden administration.”

Collins pressed Barr – who has been highly critical of his former boss – “Just to be clear, you’re voting for someone who you believe tried to subvert the peaceful transfer of power, that can’t even achieve his own policies, that lied about the election even after his attorney general told him that the election wasn’t stolen … you’re going to vote for someone who is facing 88 criminal counts?”

Barr began, “Look, the 88 criminal counts, a lot of those are-“

“Even if ten of them are accurate?” Collins interjected.

“The answer to the question is yes,” Barr countered. “I’m supporting the Republican ticket,” he said.

Pressed further on whether he would vote for Trump specifically, Barr said, “Between Biden and Trump, I will vote for Trump because I believe he will do less damage over the four years.”

Barr went on to describe the difference between both parties in stark terms, insisting that the “the threat to freedom and democracy has always been on the left.”

“I think the real threat to democracy is the progressive movement and the Biden administration,” he said.

Let us speak plainly: This is irrational. First, Joe Biden himself for years stayed within the lines of what was acceptably not radical in Washington, however arbitratily those lines were drawn. As POTUS he has leaned more toward his party’s New Deal heritage than he did as senator, but he hasn’t proposed anything unparalleled in American history that I’ve noticed. And even the feared and much ridiculed Squad of the House hasn’t proposed anythng I can think of that puts a gun to the head of American democracy. Not even close.

One can’t say the same for Trump, can one?

I found a story from 2000 that says Barr called the states’ coronavirus restrictions the greatest civil liberties violation in the nation’s history since slavery. This tells me Barr has no concept of what oppression is. To this day I don’t get the hysteria over mask wearing. I can understand people being peeved by store, church, and office closings, but the greatest civil liberties violations since slavery? There was a bleeping deadly pandemic, people. And everyone was subject to the rules. They weren’t just applied to white male pickup truck owners named Bubba. As I kept writing in 2000, in U.S. history there have been similar restrictions applied at local levels many times during epidemics, even if there aren’t many people old enough to remember them.

The conservatives on the current Supreme Court have often expressed concern about executive overreach. Such overreach in their minds includes environmental regulations and student loan forgiveness. But trying to overturn an election is, apparently, just what you do on any given Wednesday. And it’s interesting to me that the right-wing justices wouldn’t listen to the details. This was true in both the abortion and the immunity hearings this week.

Kate Riga wrote at TPM this week that during the Idaho abortion law hearing, the court’s conservatives relentlessly tried to steer the discussion away from real-world examples as the three liberal women on the court kept bringing them up.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor flipped through her notes and told the story of a woman in Florida. 

The woman had experienced a gush of liquid in her second trimester and went to the emergency room.

“The doctors believe that a medical intervention to terminate her pregnancy is needed to reduce the real medical possibility of experiencing sepsis and uncontrolled hemorrhage from the broken sac,” Sotomayor said. “This is the story of a real woman — she was discharged in Florida.” 

Not under imminent threat of death, the woman went home, Sotomayor said. The next day, she started bleeding and passed out. She was brought back to the emergency room where she’d been turned away. 

“There she received an abortion because she was about to die,” she said. 

Sotomayor and Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar peppered the arguments with similar, real anecdotes, leaving the conservatives to squirm and sigh with palpable and growing anger

The conservatives were angry. Where was that anger coming from, and to whom was it directed? Idaho medical personnel kept testifying that these days they often helicoptered women out of state for treatment to save their lives, because of the ambiguity of the Idaho law. That would make me angry too, but clearly the anger of the conservatives was coming from somewhere else.

The Court’s conservative wing tried with increasing and atextual persistence to convince listeners that Idaho’s strict ban still allows emergency room doctors to provide abortions to women in varying states of medical distress, and not just when doctors are sure the patient is facing death. They crafted a kind of anti-abortion fantasyland where not only do exceptions work, but that the narrowest ones will amenably stretch to cover all the sympathetic cases. 

They pushed this vision, even while hospital systems in Idaho attest that they are airlifting pregnant women in crisis across state lines, or waiting for them to painfully “deteriorate” before treatment, cowed by the fact that prosecutors could come after them with punishments including mandatory prison time for violating the state ban. 

Clearly, the conservatives have made up their minds that laws such as the Idaho abortion ban must be fair and just, and if those laws are not working it somehow must be the fault of those pesky women and their messy pregnancies. And don’t bother us with the details. You are disrespecting our superior wisdom with the details.

Likewise, in the immunity hearing the conservative justices refused to consider the narrow question in front of them and instead went off on lah-dee-dah discussions of ridiculous hypotheticals. So, sure, in some contexts having a political opponent assasinated or staging a coup to keep yourself in power past your expiration date could be part of a president’s official duties. Seems perfectly reasonable. 

Indeed, Sam Alito actually proposed that a broad immunity might make it more likely that a president at the end of his term would peacefully step aside and not try to stage a coup.

So the same conservative justices who call themselves “originalists” and “textualists” seem poised to create new law unrelated to the Constitution based on their ideas of what’s good for the country. Right.

And what makes it all even more astonishing is that all of this consideration is being given to Donald Trump. It would be one thing if the person being benefited by the court’s concern were some kind of political mastermind, or at least someone with inspiring leadership skills. But it isn’t. It’s Trump. He is nothing but bile and ignorance. He’s a cartoon. This is the guy that all those powerful and allegedly smart men — and it’s mostly men — are trashing their institutions and reputations and principles to defend.

And they seem determined to do this because the alternative is to turn the nation over to … progressives? The real danger to the country? History tells us that the real danger to the U.S. is nearly always from the Right, not the Left, sorry. See Rachel Maddow, Prequel. The plantation owners who gave us the Confederacy were hardly progressive. Nor was the Ku Klux Klan. Any disruptions from left wingers pales in comparision to the real world historical examples.

Does it really come down to privileged White men who can’t stand to have their authority questioned? Even by reality? Because that’s what it looks like.

Watch This Space

Dahlia Litchwick:

On Thursday, during oral arguments in Trump v. United States, the Republican-appointed justices shattered those illusions. This was the case we had been waiting for, and all was made clear—brutally so. These justices donned the attitude of cynical partisans, repeatedly lending legitimacy to the former president’s outrageous claims of immunity from criminal prosecution. To at least five of the conservatives, the real threat to democracy wasn’t Trump’s attempt to overturn the election—but the Justice Department’s efforts to prosecute him for the act. These justices fear that it is Trump’s prosecution for election subversion that will “destabilize” democracy, requiring them to read a brand-new principle of presidential immunity into a Constitution that guarantees nothing of the sort. They evinced virtually no concern for our ability to continue holding free and fair elections that culminate in a peaceful transfer of power. They instead offered endless solicitude for the former president who fought that transfer of power.

Posting will be a challenge today because I spilled coffee on the mouse and now it’s not working, and trying to format anything without it is making me crazy. And there’s no place handy to get another one. I’ve got my fingers crossed that Amazon can deliver a replacement tomorrow.

Update: The mouse is working a bit better now; maybe it just needed to dry out more.

I didn’t listen to yesterday’s Supreme Court hearings on Trump’s immunity, but the reviews have been devastating. Josh Marshall writes The Court is Corrupt. Say It With Me.

Everything comes into conceptual alignment if we understand the Court’s corruption: corrupt in its construction, corrupt in its jurisprudence, venally corrupt as well, though that is the least of its problems.

On this show I still saw people saying things like, “I hope this isn’t the case.” “I hope I’m wrong.” Don’t hope you’re wrong. This just leaves us still in some hunt for the silver lining in the Court’s corruption. Or even worse, this undermines faith in the Court. No. We don’t want to shore up faith in a corrupt institution.

We are where we should know we are. The Roberts Court is a corrupt institution which operates in concert with and on behalf of the Republican Party and to an ambiguous degree right-wing anti-regulatory ideology. If we believe in a different set of policies or even democratic self-governance we will have to succeed at that with the Supreme Court acting as a consistent adversary.

That’s the challenge in front of us. It sucks. But things become more clear cut once we take the plunge and accept that fact. Swallow it whole.

And, of course, Steve M. is right here:

If the Supreme Court gives Trump partial immunity, which seems very likely, he’ll say he was given “absolute immunity.” He’ll say this over and over again, often in all caps, the way he used to repeat “no collusion,” and at least 45% of the country will believe it’s true.

— Steve M. ( Apr 26, 2024 at 7:03 AM

This underscores both the absolute necessity to win in November and then for Congress to add at least four to six justices to the Court. After that they can begin impeachment of Clarence Thomas and Sam Alito. If this isn’t done, even if Trump disappears we’re still going to be in a hard fight to keep our democracy.

Update: Jonathan Last, The Bulwark: Conservative Legal Theory Was All a Lie, Too.

The Supreme Court Is Useless

It’s a bit ironic that, the day before the Supreme Court immunity hearing, Arizona issued iindictments of the Arizona fake electors and some of their national-level handlers — Mark Meadows, Rudy Giuliani, John Eastman, Boris Epshteyn, Mike Roman, Jenna Ellis, and Christina Bobb. Philip Bump at WaPo points out that Bobb was recently put in charge of the Trump campaign’s “election integrity division,” or maybe it’s the RNC’s election integrity division; it’s hard to tell.

It was either an odd or a fitting appointment, depending on how you look at it. Bobb wrote a book — “Stealing Your Vote: The Inside Story of the 2020 Election and What It Means for 2024” — elevating various debunked allegations about the election, particularly centered on Arizona, where she went to college. Putting Bobb in charge of “election integrity” was a bit like putting the guy who runs the Loch Ness souvenir shop in charge of finding the monster.

At this point, it’s obvious that there was a very real effort coordinated by Trump’s people to throw to use the slates of fake electors to stop Joe Biden from being declared 46th President of the United States on January 6. And then, either by the legislatures of the “contested” states or in the U.S. House of Representatives, Donald Trump would be declared the winner of the election instead. The amount of public evidence for this is overwhelming. This is much worse than Nixon’s Watergate conspiracy.

Even so, as near as I can tell from following live commentary, the conservative justices on the SCOTUS are diddling around and will probably cause the J6 trial to be delayed until after the election. The verdict at WaPo:

The Supreme Court appeared poised to reject Donald Trump’s sweeping claim that he is immune from prosecution on charges of trying to subvert the 2020 election, but in a way that is likely to significantly delay his stalled election-interference trial in D.C.

During nearly three hours of oral argument, several conservative justices said they were concerned about hampering the power of future presidents or subjecting them to the whims of a politically motivated prosecutor. Liberal justices emphasized that a president is not above the law.

Much of the discussion has focused on which allegations in the indictment involve potentially official acts, which means the high court’s ruling is likely to create more work for the lower courts before trial proceedings can restart.

This could be wrong, but I’m betting it’s not.

Today in the Manhattan trial, David Pecker clearly said that Trump’s concerns about his extramarital activities were clearly about the election, not his personal life. It seems to me that the prosecution has well established that Trump and Pecker were working together on behalf of his campaign.

Trumpism Ain’t What It Used to Be

Today’s our day off. The Manhattan trial resumes tomorrow. Tomorrow is also when the SCOTUS will hear Trump’s immunity argument. Yesterday the Senate signed off on the aid packages for Ukraine, Israel, et al., and today President Biden signed them. There are other things going on today, but for now I want to look at Congress.

It appears this is Let’s Take Marjorie Taylor Greene Down a Few Pegs Week for congressional Republicans. This is from The Hill:

Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) took a shot at Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) on Tuesday, saying she is “dragging our brand down.”

“She is a horrible leader,” Tillis said of Greene, according to audio played on CNN’s “Erin Burnett OutFront.” “She is dragging our brand down. She — not the Democrats — are the biggest risk to us getting back to a majority.”

Michelle Cottle writes at the New York Times,

It’s not simply that Ms. Greene has taken such a Putin-pleasing approach to Russia’s war in Ukraine (Ukrainian Nazis? Really?) that the term “useful idiot” feels unavoidable. She has, in very little time, undermined the influence of her party’s entire right flank, driving less unhinged Republicans — most notably the House speaker, Mike Johnson — to brush back her and her ilk like the poo-flinging chaos monkeys they are.

Just look at what has come to pass in the House in the past several days: Mr. Johnson, a proud ultraconservative, pushed through a $95 billion foreign aid package, including $60 billion for Ukraine, with more Democratic votes than Republican ones. He is now counting on Democrats to save him from the Greene-led extremists’ plan to defenestrate him and install yet another Republican as speaker. There is much buzz about the emergence of a bipartisan governing coalition in the House, albeit one born of desperation. Squint hard, and Congress almost looks to be functioning as intended, with a majority of members coming together to advance vital legislation. With her special brand of MAGA extremism, Ms. Greene has shifted the House in a bipartisan direction (at least for now) in exactly the way her base loathes. 

See also How Republicans Castrated Themselves at Axios and Trump’s Followers Were Asleep at the Switch at CNN.

It must be that Republican conventional wisdom is saying that going through another change in Speaker now will hurt them in November. Even Donald Trump is telling MTG to lay off Mike Johnson. Trump may love Vlad Putin, but he loves keeping his ass out of prison even more. In any event I’ve seen several opinion pieces this week saying that the Mike Johnson recall is going nowhere at the moment.

Jonathan Martin at Politico writes that Mike Johnson “is taming Trump and his party.” That’s going a bit too far, I think. My sense of things is that the smarter Republicans are realizing that Trump and his base may have peaked, and that it’s okay to begin to back away from MAGA. It’s subtle, but IMO the signs are there.

Republicans were so disciplined to march in lockstep reciting the same talking points for so long. But that’s when they were all taking marching orders from people like Lee Atwater and Karl Rove. Ruthless and smart. Now they’re all taking cues from Trump or people in his orbit. Still ruthless, but not so smart. Indeed, making the Republican Party all about Trump instead of all about some agenda is the heart of the problem, because as a political cause Trump is a void; he’s empty air. If he disappeared tomorrow, there’d be nothing cohesive to hold his “movement” together. And where would that leave the Republican Party?

Where are they now, even? Trump is trying to get his “base” to rally around him, to hold demonstrations, to get in their pickup trucks and go back to running Democrats off the roads. But they aren’t doing it. Will there be Trump trains this year as there were in 2020? I suppose it’s a bit early for that. I’m betting no, but I could be wrong.

As far as the House Republicans are concerned, the “Freedom” Caucus seems to have assumed that being in the minority doesn’t matter as long as they could intimidate everyone else. Whatever they wanted, all they had to do is throw fits and evoke the dread name “Trump,” and everyone else would fall in line. But it’s not working for them, and I’m not sure they’ve figured out why yet.

Very Embarrassing to Trump’s Campaign

Is this an admission? I’m reading that today David Pecker of National Enquirer fame was asked why he paid $30,000 for the “illegitimate child” story, even though he believed it not to be true. And Pecker said, “If it got out to another publication, another media outlet, it would have been very embarrassing to the campaign.”

It seems to me that Bragg has a pretty good case. He’s even got the voice recording of Trump and Michael Cohen discussing how they were going to “finance” the project with “our friend David.” I don’t think Trump is going to get away with claiming he had no idea Michael Cohen was killing scandal stories for him. And I understand they have documentary evidence showing how the money was handled. But we’ll see. The whole thing might turn on whether the jury thinks what was done was really illegal.

A couple of pundits have commented that the trial has made Trump seem, well, small. Jennifer Rubin writes, “Rather than dominate the proceedings or leverage his court appearance to appear in control and demonstrate no court could corral him, Trump day by day has become smaller, more decrepit and, frankly, somewhat pathetic.” At Vanity Fair, Molly Jong Fast writes,

Week one of Donald Trump’s hush money trial could have been mundane. It entailed what the legal world refers to as voir dire, during which the judge makes evidentiary judgments to determine which jurors can rule impartially on the case. Yet the first four days of the New York criminal proceedings, which continued with opening statements Monday, painted a rather surprising portrait of a man who could no longer outrun the wheels of justice. They pierced through Trump’s armor in ways both profound and absurd, shattering the public’s perception of a man who may have seemed legally invincible. I knew that this case, compared to those of the past, would prove harder for Teflon Don to repel. But even still, I didn’t think the coating would wear off quite this quickly. …

Bill Maher predicted last year that this trial would only rally pro-Trump voters and help him secure the presidency. “I think this is a colossal mistake if they bring these charges,” the pundit argued. “I mean, yes, [Trump’s] done a lot of bad things, and I’m sure he did this—everything they accused him of [doing], he did. But first of all, it’s not gonna work. It’s gonna be rocket fuel for his 2024 campaign.”

Yet last week felt like the opposite of “rocket fuel.” If anything, what we saw was a grumpy 77-year-old man who was exhausted from hours of sitting on a hard chair in a cold room, falling asleep to potential jurors talking about their (oft-negative) feelings about him. Before the trial started, Trump’s campaign sent out a fundraising email promising that it was “72 hours until all hell breaks loose.” But there was no hell to speak of. Trump supporters didn’t storm the courthouse like they did the Capitol back in January 2021. In fact, the only turnout Trump got was a smattering of his usual toadies, including Andrew Giuliani. We don’t know what the next four days of Trump’s trial will hold. But if he and his supporters are already feeling depleted, imagine how they’ll feel in June.

Yesterday he begged for more people to show up, and to take to the streets wherever they are:

Donald J. Trump was evidently not happy with what he saw out the window of his chauffeured S.U.V. as he rode through Lower Manhattan on Monday morning for the beginning of opening arguments in his first criminal trial.

The scene that confronted him as he approached the dingy courthouse at 100 Centre Street was underwhelming. Across the street, at Collect Pond Park, the designated site for protesters during the trial, only a handful of Trump supporters had gathered, and the number would not grow much throughout the morning.

Mr. Trump has portrayed his legal jeopardy as a threat to America itself, and he has suggested that the country would not put up with it. But the streets around the courthouse on Monday were chaos-free — well-patrolled and relatively quiet. As his motorcade made its way to the courthouse, the few Trump supporters gathered in the park were outnumbered by Trump detractors, who waved signs about his alleged liaison with a porn star.

Mr. Trump had tried to gin up something noisier. Shortly after 7 a.m., he posted on his social media website that “America Loving Protesters should be allowed to protest at the front steps of Courthouses” and he followed this lament with a call for his supporters to “GO OUT AND PEACEFULLY PROTEST. RALLY BEHIND MAGA. SAVE OUR COUNTRY!” …

… Later in the morning, Mr. Trump sought to cast the poor turnout as more evidence of a plot against him. In a post at 8:50 a.m., he implied that would-be MAGA protesters were being discriminated against for political reasons.

I’m hearing there were maybe a dozen MAGAs hanging outside the courtroom todday. But Trump imagined something else.

Donald Trump claimed that a massive police presence has shut down traffic for blocks around the Manhattan courthouse where his hush-money trial is being held, preventing his supporters from showing their support and protesting on his behalf. But reality looks a little different.

NBC News reporter Vaughn Hillyard posted a video outside the courthouse Tuesday morning. The clip shows a pretty quiet street fully open to traffic, with only one Trump supporter there, according to Hillyard.


This is very embarassing to the campaign, I’m sure.

The Gag Order Hearing and Trial

I’m following the gag order hearing on the New York Times live feed. Trump’s lawyer basically is saying that everything Trump says has a political context and therefore has to be considered “free speech.”

New York Times, just now (10:22 am edt):

This is not going well for Blanch. The judge is interrupting and scolding him, the New York Times said.

From TPM:

As Blanche flails, Merchan spells it out: “You’re losing all credibility with the court.”

I believe the hearing is concluded. Judge Merchan is not going to give a ruling right away.

There is a widespread perception that the hearing went very, very badly for Trump.

The jury wasn’t present for the gag order hearing, for which Trump and his lawyers should be grateful. The trial will reconvene at 11 eastern time.

Final Thoughts on Monday

Right now there’s an overwhelming amount of commentary on the opening arguments (example) that I’m still sorting out. Here’s also a key takeaways article from WaPo. Jeremy Stahl writes at Slate that Trump seemed to be mentally checking out whenever the prosecution was presenting its arguments. The defense arguments seem wobbly to me, but all they have to do is plant reasonable doubt in just one juror’s mind.

Judge Engoron accepted the hinky appeal bond (drat) but put some conditions on it. The state of New York is never going to see that money, I fear.

I’m hearing that there were no pro-Trump protesters outside the court. Many are also noting that no member of Trump’s family — not his wife, none of his children — are in the Court with him. He’s really all alone.

Tomorrow morning is the gag order hearing. I am not going to guess what might happen.