Federal indictment rocks the presidential race

This week: The Briefing, Vol. XI, Issue 24

  • Trump’s indictment rocks the presidential race
  • Kentucky governor embarrassed again by his smiling photo with anti-Catholic group
  • A divided Supreme Court gives a small boost to House Democrats


Trump indictment: Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, Mike Pence, and Donald Trump are probably, strictly speaking, all guilty of the same crime of mishandling classified materials. If this crime is really so commonplace, and the law against it is never enforced, then why is Trump being singled out with the indictment just handed down against him last week?

That seems to be the most relevant question from a political perspective. The Biden administration is moving the nation into territory where each election’s winners prosecute the losers.

On the other hand, Trump did what he did. Unlike the case against him in Manhattan, this one features clear evidence and. Trump was apparently even caught on tape undermining his own previous defense against charges that he mishandled classified documents — actually explaining that he failed to declassify the documents involved while he was still president, yet held on to them anyway. In his words, according to the indictment, “As president, I could have declassified, but now I can’t.”

That doesn’t mean that this prosecution is right, but it does mean that it is extra potent as a weapon against him, because Trump is very likely to lose on the merits whenever (or if ever) it is brought to court. 

Trump’s need to delay: Several of the best legal minds on all sides have offered a similar analysis: Trump’s team will try to delay the case until after the election. And it appears that they have an excellent chance of succeeding, given the multiplicity of evidentiary hearings that will be required just because, among other things, it is a case involving classified documents.

A delay is all well and good for Trump if he wins the election and then intends to interfere in his own prosecution (or pardon himself?), but maybe not so good for him if Joe Biden is reelected. 

In the meantime, Trump will still have to face Alvin Bragg’s much weaker and more obviously politically motivated case in New York, beat that rap, and then, assuming he wins the Republican nomination, run a presidential campaign with the more serious and damning case hanging over his head the entire time.

Here’s the main problem: This is clearly an attempt to force Trump out of the presidential race. Indeed, some left-wing writers have suggested that Democrats should let him off the hook if he agrees to drop out. This is a pretty good sign of the real intentions behind this indictment. 

In summary, Democrats have found something Trump almost certainly did wrong, but which everyone does wrong, and for which no one is ever prosecuted, except that they will be selectively prosecuting him and only him for it. The intention is either to elevate him in the Republican primary or force him out of the race, depending on what sort of conservative you ask.

This comes at a time when the Justice Department’s image is already suffering due to hyper-politicization. Democrats can hide behind special counsel Jack Smith all they like, but this has the Biden administration’s fingerprints all over it. 

Donald Trump: This is why Trump is a big frontrunner, but also a precarious one. He leads by wide margins, but everything could collapse at any moment. It cannot be known at this point how Republican voters in early primary states will react to the possibility of having a candidate on the ballot who could potentially end up in jail before election day. It’s easier to unite around Trump at this early point than it will be later on as the nomination contest comes closer to reality. This is one reason the others who enter the race are not foolish for doing so.

Trump is putting on his best possible face, stirring up crowds at rallies and decrying a political prosecution. Still, this is truly terra incognita for major-party presidential candidates.

House Uprising: Last week, we noted that no one was calling for House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) head after his debt ceiling deal. This continues to be true even now, but a group of House conservatives has put up some resistance by taking the unusual step of voting down rules on the House floor and refusing to let the leadership bring further bills. 

It is unclear what could make them back off, but the House is in suspended animation until this changes.

Before voting on any given bill, the House adopts rules about what sort of amendments will be allowed if any, and other such inside baseball questions. On such votes, unlike on votes on actual legislation, it is considered a cardinal sin to vote against one’s party — typically punishable by having one’s own bills scrapped or one’s earmarks (when earmarks were a big deal) removed from future bills.

This is the step that several conservatives have taken, beginning with the delay of a bill that is designed to block the Biden administration from banning the sale of most existing gas stoves. But the revolt won’t stop there.

It has at this point brought a halt to all proceedings on the House floor. It could dramatically affect the passage of the coming Farm Bill and the Defense Authorization bill. Conservatives feel they have leverage here, because many of them oppose defense spending to aid Ukraine anyway, and nearly all of them oppose federal farm subsidies.

Will it work? It depends on what they are willing to settle for. This is a peculiar way of protesting something that already passed. Again, if any House member wants to remove Kevin McCarthy from the Speaker’s chair, all it takes is one member under the current rules. That would seem a more appropriate response to treachery, yet no one is calling for it. This only underscores again how effective McCarthy was in pushing through the debt ceiling bill that recently passed. 

This conservative revolt could turn out very well for conservatives, or very badly, depending on a number of factors. Assuming they are reasonable and willing to say yes to the right deal, conservatives could force McCarthy to agree to additional concessions in those and other bills in order to get them through the House. 

On the other hand, if they are intransigent, it could prompt him to work with Democrats again and agree to their demands in those bills instead.

So there is a risk involved here, but there is also a potential reward. 

One thing working in McCarthy’s favor is Trump’s indictment. The obvious implication of the Justice Department’s interference in the 2024 election is that if Republicans do not unite against a common threat and Democrats win, any or all of them could be subject to political prosecutions and other Democratic retribution after the next election.

Governor 2023

Kentucky: Although this isn’t exactly new, a recent controversy involving the Los Angeles Dodgers has brought back to the surface the fact that Gov. Andy Beshear (D) posed in a February 2020 photograph with the anti-Catholic attention-seeking group known as the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. 

The group is known for pole-dancing on crosses and other sacrilegious and obscene antics intended to mock Christianity. The photo occurred shortly after Beshear had been sworn in as governor.

Governor 2024

North Carolina: Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson (R) leads in both the primary and general election, according to a survey by Opinion Diagnostics conducted last week. He Is leading The runner-up, former Rep. Mark Walker (R), by 37 points. 

In the survey for the general election, Robinson narrowly leads the likely Democratic nominee, Attorney General Josh Stein, 41 to 38 percent. This is the second recent poll showing him with a very slight lead over Stein.

Of note is the fact that, in this survey, Robinson, who is black, trails Stein by only 50 points among black voters — quite a bit, but not nearly enough for a strong Democratic performance. 

The liberal media have criticized Robinson as extreme, but mostly because of opinions he has expressed that are shared by a large number of Black Americans, particularly in Southern states like North Carolina.

Senate 2024

Wisconsin: Despite the NRSC’s best efforts to lure him into the race with a favorable poll, Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) will not challenge Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D) next fall. He is running for re-election instead.

House 2024

Alabama redistricting: In a mixed-result 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court accepted Democrats’ arguments that there has to be a second racially gerrymandered black Democratic District in Alabama. 

Because of its specifics and its narrow majority not being united around the same rationale, this ruling may not have much wider implications than that single House district that Democrats will pick up in 2024. But it does signal that, even with a supposed 6-3 conservative majority, it will be much more difficult than some expected to get clarity on the muddled and often contradictory rules surrounding deliberate racial gerrymandering — it’s forbidden, except when it is required.