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Thunderdome 2024: Waiting To Rumble
Still waiting on Donnie vs. Ronnie
In the two months since the launch of the 2024 Thunderdome for the Republican nomination, the field has turned out to be somewhat smaller than anticipated. As headline generation goes, no one can match former president Donald Trump, who has managed to get indicted on ludicrous charges in New York City, giving him a big boost from loyalists in his coalition. But there are signs that this boomlet is fading, and while Trump remains firmly in the lead, his constant potshots at Ron DeSantis have done virtually nothing to dint the popularity of the Florida governor.
Outside of a DeSantis event in Washington on Tuesday, planted protesters held up pre-printed signs accusing DeSantis of being afraid of books and drag queens and declaring “Partied With His Students #RealGroomer.” It’s a hashtag that no real person has actually deployed against the governor because it’s so absurd — as absurd as the “Jews Against DeSantis” leftists who engaged in a mediocre attempt to disrupt his well-received speech in New Hampshire last week.
The truth is that despite a massive amount of spin from the typical Trump-backing journalists who both decry his uniquely dangerous threat to democracy while eagerly pushing for his renomination, DeSantis is skating above the fray. His book tour and early glad-handing as he expands a close-knit team in Florida is leading up to an announcement that everyone expects a month from now. Alongside the Trump love/hate media, the loudest voices pressing for him to announce earlier — before Florida’s legislative session ends — all happen to support the leading candidate in the race.
The real challenge for the Florida Man will be how he tackles the Trump issue head-on. The lesson of 2016 was that you have to do the thing yourself as opposed to waiting for others to do the thing for you. No one can win the nomination but the candidate — and getting there requires the dirty work of confrontation. One anticipated field of battle: if Trump goes at DeSantis for being too conservative on culture war issues, particularly abortion. It’s the sort of thing that plays in swing districts and with consultants, but not in primary states. And for Trump, holed up in Mar-a-Lago and perhaps less in touch with the national tenor of the GOP than he was in 2015, that’s a test DeSantis believes he can win.
As for the others in the race and out of it: Mike Pence seems content to be Mr. Conservative in his traditional Christian way, heading into a field where he is decidedly disliked by the electorate. The question for a Pence 2024 campaign is: what is this meant to achieve? Is it actually bent on winning? Or is he jumping on a series of dangerous grenades like a silver-haired Captain America? On Ukraine, on entitlement reform, on abortion — Pence is your guy to sound that traditional and unpopular view that is nonetheless where the Republican Party has been for decades. He seems designed to be a thorn in Donald Trump’s side, and the big question in my mind is whether he’ll confront the man onstage at a debate for putting him and his family in danger on January 6 — a moment that may not help Pence, but could absolutely hurt Trump. “Why did you try to have me lynched?” is not a question candidates typically roll out during a debate — but it could happen in 2024.
Mike Pompeo has decided not to run for president after all. There were reasons for this, I’m told, that were plentiful — but his absence from the stage also makes for a real gap on the level of foreign policy and national security experience (Nikki Haley’s United Nations tenure barely counts). Yet Pompeo’s declining to run is also understandable: if you lack massive amounts of personal funding and an existing fundraising infrastructure, a thin campaign effort in a field where there are already two dominant figures seems a recipe for getting a lousy nickname from Trump and little else. But Pompeo gives no indication of being done with politics, and there are multiple ways he could find a way back into office — either in Washington or perhaps by returning to Kansas.
One question that remains is whether one candidate who won’t lack for funding has the stomach for this battle. Glenn Youngkin of Virginia has raised a significant amount of cash that he presents as being targeted at winning the Virginia legislature for Republicans — but Youngkin’s nice guy persona also seems out of step with the tone of this moment. There are questions about whether he intends to run at all, particularly with the departure of political consultant Jeff Roe, and if he were to maintain his legislative focus, that would presumably lead to a late entry in the field — perhaps well after the first debates have already happened. Youngkin could become the “break glass if DeSantis fails” candidate, which doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. Either way, despite his Old Dominion focus, Youngkin has found time to speak to national Republican audiences — he’s addressing the George W. Bush Center on Presidential Leadership and the Heritage Foundation’s 50th Anniversary gathering at Mount Vernon today.
Thunderdome is in an odd position: the people are eager for the coming showdown between Trump and DeSantis, everyone’s geared up for it — but until it begins, none of the undercards are really all that interesting. The anticipation is infuriating — and there’s only so much analysis you can do before both sides start putting their full weight behind their punches.
Hunter Biden IRS Whistleblower Emerges
The attorney for an unnamed IRS criminal supervisory special agent says his client has asked Congress for protections to speak out about allegations that a years-long, high-profile and politically sensitive investigation has been hindered by "preferential treatment and politics," according to a letter obtained by CBS News. That investigation is the one probing potential tax crimes by Hunter Biden, CBS News has learned.
"My client wants to come forward to Congress," said attorney Mark Lytle, who is representing the agent. He discussed his client's allegations with CBS News chief investigative correspondent Jim Axelrod in an exclusive interview that aired on Wednesday night's "CBS Evening News" and streamed across all CBS platforms. "He's ready to be questioned about what he knows and what he experienced under the proper legal protections."
That someone from inside the long-running federal investigation is coming forward to voice concerns about the way it's being conducted adds to the already strange journey of the matter related to the son of President Biden. Mr. Biden left David C. Weiss, the Trump-appointed Delaware U.S. attorney overseeing the probe, in his post to avoid any appearance of interference. And Justice Department officials have vowed publicly to protect the probe from political influence…
In the letter, Lytle claims his client's information would "contradict sworn testimony to Congress by a senior political appointee."
In a March Senate hearing, Attorney General Merrick Garland pledged that he would not interfere with Weiss, who is leading the investigation, "I promise to ensure that he's able to carry out his investigation and that he be able to run it."
Conservatives Love McCarthy’s Debt Plan
The early hours of the legislation’s introduction went as well as it could have for McCarthy. Key Republicans were very supportive. Reps. Dusty Johnson of South Dakota, a leader of the moderate Republican Main Street Caucus, and Kevin Hern of Oklahoma, chair of the conservative Republican Study Committee, both told Semafor they would vote for the legislation.
The debt limit plan would raise the borrowing cap by $1.5 trillion or through March 2024, whichever comes first. In return, it’s loaded with right-wing demands that reflect the power of that part of the GOP conference.
It includes a partial repeal of President Biden’s signature climate and tax bill, the Inflation Reduction Act, and imposes additional work requirements on both the food stamp program and Medicaid. It trims discretionary spending by $130 billion and restrains its annual growth to 1% for a decade. It also scraps Biden’s student debt relief program and includes energy policy reforms.
Most of these ideas are unlikely to go far with Democrats (President Biden called the proposal “wacko”). But at this stage McCarthy needs to show that, with just votes to spare, he can pass a bill — any bill — to lift the debt limit if he wants to have credibility negotiating with the White House on a compromise.
GOP leaders downplayed the possibility that Republicans from Biden districts would balk at the bill . “All elements of our conference have been heavily involved over the last few months in putting this package together,” House Majority Leader Steve Scalise told Semafor.
Republicans said they intended to bring the bill to the floor next week. It’s possible that more changes will be made to the bill to win over holdouts before then.
Are The Cronkite Awards For Real?
The USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism is behind the Walter Cronkite Awards, and they decided that 2023’s honorees should be journalists who paid special attention to “disinformation”. I’ve written here before that the “disinformation” reporters are themselves the worst purveyors of disinformation, from the lies they spread about Russiagate to the Hunter Biden laptop to the Covid pandemic.
Ben Collins, the NBC News reporter who cried on television and demanded reporters do better in the wake of the Club Q nightclub shooting, received special recognition from the Cronkite Awards.
Collins, they said, had done “brilliant, brave work” on online extremism, particularly in regard to the Club Q and Buffalo shootings. Collins claimed that the Buffalo gunman’s manifesto was “in short… a rant from a 4chan addict, obsessed with ‘the Great Replacement,’ CRT and white grievance.” Collins conveniently doesn’t mention that the shooter also rejects conservatism and describes himself as an environmentalist who is either right- or left-wing — or even a socialist — depending on the definition. When Collins discovered that the Club Q shooter identified as nonbinary, he conveniently shifted his narrative about the violent attack: the gunman wasn’t motivated by anti-queer hatred, he was a victim of it!
Collins’s breakout year also consisted of being suspended from the Twitter beat at NBC News after he accused Matt Taibbi of doing “humiliating shit” by reporting on the Twitter Files. Collins has also used his new stardom to advocate for more social media censorship of content he finds personally objectionable or “hateful”.
Alittle over a year ago, I was gravely injured in a missile blast while covering the Ukraine-Russia war for Fox News. The severity of my injuries has made recovery a very long and arduous process. Every day I have a number of things I have to do. So in the morning, I’ve got about an hour and a half or so of facing all the problems that have popped up overnight. I do a lot of exercises, a lot of stretches. I do a lot of balance work. Everything from using rubber bands to try and get my thumb to move a little bit more to taking care of my burns because if I don’t, they break open and bleed a lot. I do that every single day. The list is honestly endless, and the beginning of every day is tough. I tell myself that the worst part of the day is finished in the morning, which is great. You’re just getting better from there.
When I’m in London, as I was before the tour to promote my book Saved: A War Reporter’s Mission to Make It Home, about the attack and my recovery, it’s usually straight to physical therapy after my morning exercises. So I would have breakfast with my daughters if I caught them before school, and then therapy. Then doctors at least three or four times a day. Then the book tour happened, and for the first time, I was able to get back into work. For two weeks I got to go back and live in the world I’m used to and love. It felt like another step forward in my life.
I’m probably busier now than I have ever been, but things have to be curtailed given around how much I can do in the day. I lost half of one leg, both feet and an eye in Ukraine. Sometimes I can’t walk for more than twenty minutes. If I haven’t walked for a few days, I can walk for up to an hour. I have to schedule everything around where I can go, how much I can walk and how much pain I am in. Life has become really regimented in a way that it wasn’t before, but that’s just how I have to do it now.
Items of Interest
“Television screens saturated with commercials promote the utopian and childish idea that all problems have fast, simple, and technological solutions. You must banish from your mind the naive but commonplace notion that commercials are about products. They are about products in the same sense that the story of Jonah is about the anatomy of whales.”
— Neil Postman