Will Trump debate, or won’t he?

PHOENIX, ARIZONA - JULY 24: Former U.S. President Donald Trump makes an entrance at the Rally To Protect Our Elections conference on July 24, 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Phoenix-based political organization Turning Point Action hosted former President Donald Trump alongside GOP Arizona candidates who have begun candidacy for government elected roles. (Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

August 14, 2023

This week: The Briefing, Vol. XI, Issue 32

  • Loss in Ohio highlights the challenges for pro-lifers post-Roe
  • First GOP debate will likely have to happen without Trump
  • Indiana GOP formally endorses Jim Banks for Senate


Ohio: Voters’ overwhelming rejection last Tuesday of Issue One, a ballot measure designed to raise the bar for constitutional amendments, might pave the way for the anything-goes abortion referendum that Democrats have placed on the ballot for this November. Still, its passage is not a foregone conclusion.

“No” campaigners are already making the case that the upcoming referendum on a Constitutional right to “make and carry out one’s own reproductive decisions” is not just a referendum on abortion, but also on parental rights in general. It would allow all minors to seek abortions without parental knowledge, and it probably would also allow them to seek sex-change operations and other irreversible treatments — grouped under the euphemism “gender-affirming” — that most Americans agree should not be performed on children. This is reportedly part of the intention behind the amendment, which the ACLU helped draft.

The upcoming referendum is supported by between 50 and 60 percent of Ohio voters. It will be a difficult but not impossible task to convince more voters to turn against it. 

More broadly, Ohio illustrates that it is evident already that governing in a post-Roe world is not as easy as many pro-lifers would have liked to think. 

Yes, it is easy enough to see abortion as a hill-to-die-on issue — one that candidates would are happy to lose over, if that’s what it means. But the losses will not be worth it if they reach the point where Democrats can simply undo all pro-life reforms and even enshrine a right to abortion in their state’s constitution which, as in this case, goes even beyond the Roe regime.

There is thus a built-in motivation — a purely pro-life, abortion-abolitionist motivation, not a Republican political power motivation — to stick with whatever restrictions on abortion a state’s electorate will or can tolerate at a given time. This doesn’t obviate the need to work to sway public opinion in the meantime, but it is a cause for sober reflection on the most effective means for furthering their cause.

Fourth Trump indictment? In case you weren’t convinced that Democrats don’t want Donald Trump running for president again, the possibility of a fourth indictment against him is a pretty strong hint. It is also probably about to become reality. 

Georgia prosecutors have impaneled a grand jury to investigate Trump for supposedly tampering with the vote counting process in Atlanta in 2020. 

Regardless of the merits of the case, it is already evident that Trump and the various financial committees that support his candidacy are being weighed down by the expenses of a four-front legal battle that now includes cases in New York, Washington, Florida, and perhaps next Atlanta.

As we noted last week, Trump’s legal fees have already reportedly consumed $40 million. This is, of course, the result of (let’s face it) a political persecution campaign which may or may not be legally warranted. For some Republicans, this only makes Trump a more attractive candidate. But there are practical problems and concerns tied to nominating someone who could literally be in jail by the time the election rules round.

First GOP debate: Former President Donald Trump’s refusal to sign a Republican loyalty pledge — that is, a pledge to support the party’s nominee if he does not win the nomination — officially precludes him from participating in next week’s debate in Milwaukee. He will likely keep everyone in suspense until the last minute as to whether he will participate. But the chief result of this would be that the debate will be diminished in importance.

On the other hand, Trump’s absence will also prevent him from dominating the event with his personality (as he often has before) and allow other candidates to make an impression. With Vivek Ramaswamy gaining some traction, and Tim Scott and Ron DeSantis still competing to the top non-Trump candidate, this could be an excellent chance for one of them to establish or cement his status as a viable Trump alternative, in the event that Trump either loses some of his appeal as a candidate or cannot sustain the legal burden that various Democratic prosecutors are placing upon him.

Senate 2024

Florida: Sen. Rick Scott (R) is the overwhelming favorite for re-election next year. But if they can, Democrats would rather avoid being represented at the top of the 2024 ballot by the erratic leftist former Rep. Alan Grayson. To that end, Planned Parenthood activists, the AFL-CIO local, and other Democratic partisans in Miami are now openly attempting to recruit former Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D), who briefly represented a South Florida Congressional district between 2018 and 2020. 

Mucarsel-Powell has nothing to lose politically, and as a Cuban from an exiled family, she might help her party improve somewhat with Florida’s increasingly Republican and anti-socialist Hispanic vote.

Indiana: The state Republican establishment has finally given up on the idea of recruiting someone else to run against Fort Wayne-area Rep. Jim Banks (R) in the open-seat primary to replace Sen. Mike Braun (R), who is running for governor.

The state party has officially endorsed Banks, a very unusual move that will likely spare him any primary challenge at all, and certainly any strong primary challenge. 

Michigan: Former Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) And former Detroit Police Chief James Craig (R) are both looking at jumping into the open-seat Senate race to replace the retiring Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D). 

Craig had been a gubernatorial hopeful in 2022, but his candidacy was derailed by apparently fraudulent signatures gathered by petition circulators.

Democrats already have a clear frontrunner for the nomination in Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D).

Nevada: Despite the NRSC’s attempt to settle the matter early by endorsing 2022 runner-up Sam Brown, the field keeps getting more crowded to challenge Sen. Jacky Rosen (D), who has proven to be vulnerable in polls so far.

The latest to jump in last week was retired Air Force Lt. Col. Tony Grady, who ran unsuccessfully for the lieutenant governor nomination in 2022. The more crowded field may just help Brown, whose 2022 run garnered a great deal of positive attention on the Right.

West Virginia: Sen. Joe Manchin (D), as he often does, is now making noises about doing something constructive, long after it matters. This time, he is discussing leaving the Democratic Party and becoming an independent.

Although this could make him less unpopular in some quarters, it would doom any aspirations he has for getting reelected next year. The Mountain State’s Democratic Party may be a shell of its former self, but it was also a formidable enough voter base to put Manchin over the top in 2018, combined with his success among independent voters. Without the Democratic base, he is nothing.

He may just be playing around with the voters, as he often does. He may also be promoting himself for a self-promotional third-party presidential bid on the No Labels ticket.

Looming in the background is a potentially ugly primary between popular former party-switcher Gov. Jim Justice (R) and Rep. Alex Mooney (R), who will be well-funded by the conservative Club for Growth.

If he does choose to seek reelection, Manchin’s best hope is probably to stick with his ancestral party while letting or even helping Republicans tear themselves apart in the primary. Even then, it will be an uphill battle for him, especially if Justice, the overwhelming favorite, ends up as the nominee.