This week: The Briefing, Vol. XI, Issue 29
- Biden revelations can’t be overlooked forever
- Four indictments for Trump?
- Chris Christie’s suicide mission
Biden testimony: The media seem determined to ignore last week’s testimony by IRS whistle-blowers about political interference into the investigation of Hunter Biden. Hunter had tried to characterize his massive compensation from the Ukrainian company Burisma ($83,000 per month) as a loan, and thus received attention from the revenue agency.
The young Biden, according to the testimony, managed to avoid paying $145,000 in taxes when the statute of limitations in his case expired. The agency supposedly let this happen by slow-walking the 2014 case against the then-vice president’s son.
Democrats can certainly try to discredit the witnesses, but they won’t be able to ignore the subject of Biden family influence-peddling and favoritism forever. The House Oversignt Committee will be calling a witness this week — Hunter’s fellow Burisma director, Devon Archer — who claims that Joe Biden was frequently (dozens of times, in fact) on Hunter’s business calls, even while serving as vice president. The claim directly contradicts President Biden’s multiple public statements that he and Hunter never discussed his business.
The degree to which this issue will enter the public’s consciousness and factors further into Biden’s poor approval ratings remains unclear and will have to be weighed in coming weeks. As the nominee (should he win renomination), Donald Trump would certainly use these charges both on offense and on defense — that is, to attack Biden, but also to defuse the negatives related to his own indictments, however many there are and wherever they stand next fall.
Donald Trump: Speaking of Trump indictments, the announcement that former President Donald Trump (R) is being investigated over the January 6 Capitol riot raises the specter of four possible indictments against him before the Iowa caucuses. Trump has already been indicted in two separate cases (one in Manhattan and the other in federal court in Florida), but now apparently a January 6-related charge is possible, in addition to possible charges for attempting to tamper with election results in Georgia.
One certainly gets the impression that there is nothing Democrats will not indict or impeach Trump over. This is precisely why Trump’s first indictment gained him some sympathy. The second indictment might have done the same. But there has to be a point of diminishing returns, and perhaps even a backfire, if Trump becomes so hopelessly mired in legal issues that his presidential prospects or his campaign suffer.
Trump’s federal trial has been scheduled to begin in May 2024, which is extremely awkward timing for a presidential campaign.
For the moment, Trump’s legal problems have not bothered Republicans. Trump remains the undisputed early leader in the primaries. The latest Fox Business Network poll of likely Iowa caucus-goers shows Trump with a commanding lead over runner-up Ron DeSantis, 46 percent to 16 percent.
The interesting thing about this poll is that It shows Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) reaching double digits at 11 percent.
Ron DeSantis: This week, the degree to which things are going wrong with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s campaign are evident to everyone — including to him, as his campaign will be reshuffling, retooling, and rebooting. Such relaunches seldom succeed, as they only occur where campaigns are troubled. But there are counterexamples. The late Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) had to do something like this in 2008, and it worked — he went on to win the Republican nomination.
One thing DeSantis still has going in his favor: He remains the second choice of Republican primary voters. The same Fox Business poll mentioned above showed him as the second choice of 34 percent of Trump-supporting likely caucus-goers, with Tim Scott in a distant second at 14 percent and the rest of the pack right behind him.
Trump, on the other hand, at 33 percent, is the second choice of a plurality of DeSantis supporters.
Chris Christie: While DeSantis tries to turn his ship around, another candidate”s more direct approach to Trump is proving to be an interesting side-story.
It’s not that former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) has an appreciable chance of winning the Republican nomination. He started his campaign in May with a favorability rating among Republican primary voters of negative 26 points. He has done little since but attack Trump. Attacks always tend to drive up one’s negative ratings, and attacks on someone with such a large and loyal following as Trump are more likely to backfire than most others.
All the same, he seems to be on a suicide mission to take out Trump’s hopes of renomination.
On television, Christie has been a wrecking crew, straightforwardly attacking Trump in a way that basically no other Republican is willing to do. Even the most strident critics of Trump within the Republican Party have not launched attacks in such a thick and fast manner.
This is winning him plaudits with Democrats, but it seems doubtful that he will convince too many Republican voters to abandon Trump.
Recall that, in 2016, Christie was the first major presidential candidate to drop out and endorse Trump. It is almost as if he feels the need to impale himself in order to atone for this act.
Christie is very likely to succeed with the metaphorical political suicide attempt. His attempts to murder Trump’s presidential renomination hopes, however, seems much less likely to succeed.
New Hampshire: Gov. Chris Sununu (R) has announced he will not be running for reelection. Former Attorney General and Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R) has already jumped into the race to succeed him and begins as the odds-on frontrunner in the Republican primary.
Ayotte very narrowly lost her Senate seat in 2016 by less than 1,000 votes, even as Trump narrowly lost the Granite State by 2,700 votes.
Ohio: A USA Today poll from last week suggests that Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) is significantly weaker than in previous re-election battles he has faced. The heretofore invincible incumbent is already tied (45 percent each) in a hypothetical contest against Secretary of State Frank LaRose (R), who just launched his campaign a week ago.
Brown only narrowly leads state Sen. Matt Dolan (46 to 43 percent), but has a larger lead over businessman Bernie Moreno (48 to 41 percent).
West Virginia: Rep. Alex Mooney (R) is a significant underdog against Gov. Jim Justice (R) in the Republican primary for the seat currently held by Sen. Joe Manchin (D). But the conservative Club for Growth has just raised a very substantial $13.5 million for their SuperPAC earmarked to help him out. Mooney, a former Maryland office-holder, trails both Manchin and Justice in early polls, whereas Justice easily trounces Manchin.
Meanwhile, Manchin refuses to put to bed rumors that he might be exploring a third-party presidential bid. His continued “flirtation” (as CNN calls it) with the No Labels group only keeps the rumor going. No other Democrat in West Virginia could possibly keep his Senate seat in the party’s column.