Thunderdome: This Trump Indictment Seems Different
But will it matter?
Welcome to Thunderdome, your weekly update on the latest attempt by the obviously inappropriate behavior of a former president, or if you prefer, the latest attempt by the deep state to stop the Orange Man! (It can be both.) Thanks for listening to our weekly podcast, the latest edition of which is available here — I hope you’ve subscribed, and here’s the Spotify player:
On this week’s edition we discussed the indictment and its fallout for most of the show, as well as how all the candidates — with a few notable exceptions — seem to be sounding a slightly different note on this one…
Who In Trump’s Cabinet Still Supports Him?
Political endorsements don’t really seem to matter any more unless they come with a big pile of money, or perhaps from a longtime governor with a strong political machine in a key state. But endorsements really are the old game at this point. Obviously Trump has many prominent supporters in the early going, and someone could conceivably criticize him harshly on this indictment and still come around to backing him or voting for him next November.
One thing that bears watching, though, is how much Trump’s current defenders embrace him fully, and how much they seek to do so at arm’s length — criticizing perhaps DOJ and FBI hypocrisy on the Hillary Clinton experience, but adding the caveat that the president should not have dealt with classified material in the way he did. Or they might try to thread the needle as Indiana Senator Mike Braun, to this point a strong Trump supporter, is doing: “I’ve endorsed his policies.”
Other candidates attract the most attention on this point, because journalists run to them for comment whenever a shoe drops. But what’s more interesting to me is the behavior of Trump’s former cabinet members, particularly those who are prominent or tied to money. How many of them will still stand with him this time around? How many will he and his followers denounce as cuck RINO cowards when they were in fact the people he chose to further his agenda, often in multiple roles?
Mike Pence, Bill Barr, Mike Pompeo, and Nikki Haley have all sounded a strong note of criticism in the wake of the Jack Smith indictment. You already have a plethora of former chiefs of staff as critics — how’s Mark Meadows doing again, anyway? But it doesn’t seem like the list is going to stop there. Will Betsy DeVos, Ben Carson, Steve Mnuchin, David Bernhardt, and the rest put Trump in the rare position of having virtually his entire former cabinet criticizing him, and he blasting them as failures and losers in return? And what does that say about who will get to be in the next cabinet, and who will choose to stand for such a job next time, if there is a next time?
The Trump grievance message often depends on the idea that he is so often betrayed by others, given bad advice and the like. That had a certain heft to it when the people he viewed as betrayers were the likes of Paul Ryan or Mitch McConnell (and Elaine Chao, he views them as a pair) — he could reasonably frame them as being DC people who wouldn’t go along with his agenda. But from January 6th onward, the frame expanded. It included people who had been extremely loyal, like Pence and others who had worked very hard to advance his agenda for four years.
You can blame some Republicans for your failures, but you can’t blame them all. And when you didn’t aim your fire at the people who, from Republican voters’ perspective, did the most damage — in Anthony Fauci and the health bureaucracy — there’s a notable gap in who Trump chooses as his targets, to make everything bad someone else’s fault.
We’ll have to see how many more in Trump’s immediate circle criticize him after the anticipated Georgia indictment. If the Mar a Lago raid and the New York indictment benefited him, this one seems more muted, and the Georgia case could prompt even more criticism.
Understand: I do not think this is a significant barrier to him getting the nomination, but it could be a serious barrier to him bringing the party back together if he does… and he doesn’t have a Hillary Clinton on the other side to help him do that.