The Great Moonwalking, long foretold, is beginning in advance of President leaving office or even losing office. We are now hearing that even some of President Trump’s most committed lickspittles and toadies were in fact anti-Trump all along, just working secretly, operating from the inside. To borrow the Catholic hierarchy’s usage, they were in pectore members of the resistance.
Last week we had Ben Sasse detailing all the President’s many transgressions in a campaign call he was sure would rapidly make it into the papers. Yesterday John Cornyn, one of the President’s most loyal Senate soldiers, announced that contrary to all appearances he has not in fact loyally supported the President at every turn. In fact he has opposed almost all of his major policy initiatives – just secretly. Cornyn cast himself as an abused wife who has only latterly realized there’s no changing Trump. “Maybe like a lot of women who get married and think they’re going to change their spouse, and that doesn’t usually work out very well.”
Immediately after I started saying that Democrats should expand the number of Justices on the Court in response to Republican court packing, I heard from a couple people telling me that the coteries around Pelosi and Biden were saying, no way. Not happening. (Interestingly, I heard a pretty different message from within the Senate caucus leadership – which is and should be the real locus of decision-making.)
But things are changing. Last week Joe Biden shifted his public statements to explicitly connecting his decision on expanding the Court to the outcome of the Barrett confirmation process. Her confirmation is of course a foregone conclusion. But clarifying the cause and effect, the order of events is critical: Democrats are reacting to and trying to repair the damage caused by Republican court-packing and corruption. If Republicans are upset by the prospect of all their hard work and corrupt acts going up in smoke with a simple majority vote they can take the opportunity to rethink their next actions.
There is an unfolding development which you can miss in the muddy onrush of campaign events but is nevertheless important to take note of. As President Trump’s electoral prospects appear increasingly dire, national security officials, intelligence officials and his own top political appointees are talking more openly and critically to the press about the President. There are many examples of this. But yesterday’s Washington Post article about intelligence warnings about Rudy Giuliani are a good example. If you read the article closely the sourcing seems to come either directly or with the okay of the President’s National Security Advisor, Attorney General and other top appointees. It’s not new information. It goes back almost a year. It’s new willingness to talk. The NYPost “emails” story is the peg. But the willingness is new.
Two articles were published this evening which suggest that the FBI is investigating Rudy Giuliani’s Delaware laptop caper as a potential Russian intelligence operation targeting Vice President Biden. At NBC Ken Dilanian reports that “Federal investigators are examining whether the emails allegedly describing activities by Joe Biden and his son Hunter and found on a laptop at a Delaware repair shop are linked to a foreign intelligence operation.”
The article suggests the probe long predates the New York Post’s publication of the purported emails on Tuesday.
Right on time we seem to have our first Giuliani-linked foreign intelligence drops into the 2020 campaign. The New York Post ran a story today purporting to suggest Hunter Biden had introduced a Burisma colleague to his father in 2015. They appear to all be from the Ukrainian colleague thanking Biden for purportedly making the introduction.
I should note that the purported blockbuster only really amounts to anything of consequence inside the maze of Ukraine conspiracy theories but I want to focus on the alleged chain of custody. We’re told that an unidentified computer story owner had someone bring in three computers for data recovery. He/she thinks but can’t confirm that that person was Hunter Biden. They seem to base this on a Beau Biden Foundation sticker on one of the laptops. The unidentified computer store owner says the hard drives were subpoenaed by the FBI. But before turning over the drives he made his own copies of their contents and then gave a copy to Rudy Giuliani.
Given the wreckage of the Trump administration and the vulnerabilities in the office of the Presidency it has exposed, is it possible to retrofit the office to prevent or at least limit its vulnerability to Trump-like abuses? Bob Bauer and Jack Goldsmith, two lawyers who served respectively at the highest levels of the Obama and Bush administrations, have written After Trump: Reconstructing the Presidency, a systematic review of how to bring the office of the Presidency up to code after the debacle of Trumpism.
Watch my conversation with Bauer and Goldsmith in this Inside Briefing from earlier this month.
I don’t think TPM Reader PT’s prediction here is at all likely. John Roberts is a conservative ideologue and holds the pinnacle position in the world of jurisprudence. Why he’d surrender that plum as a relatively young man isn’t at all clear to me. Still, I found PT’s discussion of the different equities in play quite perceptive and interesting.
I’ve argued before that I think it’s at least plausible that John Roberts will retire during Biden’s first term. My argument is that Roberts appears to be the only one of the Court’s conservatives who cares at all about the legacy and perceived legitimacy of the Supreme Court, both of which were badly damaged by the way that Neil Gorsuch ascended to his seat. Of course, there were cross-pressures for him: he clearly cares about the conservative project of wielding power through an unelected Court that in practice can only rarely be overruled, he presumably likes being on the Court and being Chief Justice, and by Washington DC standards he is fairly young (mid-60’s).
Now, however, I think that the near-certain ascent of Barrett to fill Ginsburg’s seat will change the calculus and makes it more likely that he will retire.
I wrote this tweet because I thought I would become apoplectic when I saw that some Democrats were referring to expanding the Supreme Court as “court packing” or tacitly accepting the use of the phrase when asked about it by reporters. Any Democrat who uses this phrase should be, metaphorically at least, hit over the head with a stick.
The simple fact is that “court packing” is a pejorative phrase. It is nonsensical to use it as a description of something you’re considering supporting or actively supporting. If you decide to support a certain politician you don’t refer to deciding to ‘carry their water.’ Someone who supports expanding the estate tax doesn’t call it the ‘death tax’. This is obvious. Doing so is an act of comical political negligence. But of course the error is far more than semantic. No one should be using this phrase because it is false and turns the entire reality of the situation on its head.
Is it a collapse? All Trump critics and opponents are traumatized people, scarred by the horror of November 2016. But vigilance shouldn’t mean being afraid of our shadows. The average of national polls shows something approaching a collapse in the President’s standing over the last three weeks and especially over the last week. On September 19th, the FiveThirtyEight composite average gave Joe Biden a 6.6 percentage point lead over President Trump. By October 1st that number had swelled to 8.2 percentage points. Today it is 10.1 percentage points. These may not seem like big numbers. But in a race that has been on in earnest for a year and in an era of fierce and largely stable polarization it is a deep deterioration.
President Trump didn’t create rightist paramilitary violence in this country or the far broader revanchist politics of which it is only a part. His political rise grew out of both. It is a symptom, a result, a flourishing. But he has greatly expanded them, legitimized them, allowed them to imagine – quite rationally seeing the last four years – that they can vie for actual power in United States rather than simply commit acts of exemplary violence on the margins. Michigan has long been a hotbed of militia type activity. But President Trump, the national GOP and particularly the Michigan GOP have encouraged and cheered on balaclava-clad gunmen swarming the state capitol, threatening state lawmakers and perpetuating the idea that Governor Whitmer’s emergency public health measures constituted some existential threat to popular liberties.