June 3 2021
Deep in the South
By J.R. Thomas
Sometimes in business you put a lot of work into a deal, and then, in spite of everything, it doesn’t come off. So, you chuck the papers in a drawer, file the emails, and argue over the advisors’ bills. And look out for the next deal, hopefully bigger and better. Deep in the Florida sun, a well-known businessman is doing just that. Bronzed, relaxed, playing a lot of golf, eating well (his version), our hero is working on his next big deal. Calls are pinging off the Florida cellphone masts every day; and money is being raised from backers who want to be part of the next adventure.
Like every active and controversial businessman, our subject is spending a lot of time with lawyers, fighting off claims, dealing with tax affairs and pursuing a few former colleagues. The latter is maybe the giveaway as to who this is, if you haven’t guessed: it is Donald J Trump, once 45th President of these United States, busy clearing the decks for his next Presidential run in 2024. Could he? Will he?
As we have said here many times, if there is something Donald does not like, it is being a loser. “NEVER BE A LOSER!” he might have shouted, and probably has. In his eyes of course he did not lose the last election which was stolen from him (“STOLEN!”) by dishonesty in the polling booths and in some state capitols dealing with the count – Georgia is still on his mind. Now, even if you accept a little chicanery may have gone on, and that does tend to occur on the Democrat side of the room, some Democrat areas having a bit of form in these matters, it is impossible to conclude that seven million votes could have been the subject of some form of dishonesty. Except that is what The Donald does think, and what is more surprising, it is what a lot of Republicans think. That does not make it any more likely to be true, of course. What it does suggest is that the political consensus as to process and the constitution is starting to break down. When folks start to believe the impossible, trouble is on the horizon.
One type of US president would be treading very carefully at this point, campaigning against any suggestion of corruption in his party or in the system generally, and doing all he could to support the accepted and constitutional way of doing things. Alas, that president is not Joe Biden, who is rather doing the opposite. Joe and his advisors can see problems ahead for the Democrats. Not only is America a fundamentally conservative country, with a strong system of powerful and mostly widely-shared values, the Democrats have become a coalition of very disparate groups, which not only do not closely cling together, but also are relatively small. Joe won the presidential election, but the Democrats did badly in the Senate and House elections, no coat-tail effects here, almost unheard of for a new president winning his first term. It is easy to see why; the electorate wanted Donald Trump out (though not in huge numbers) but did not want the Democrats in. This is a long term trend in American politics and was the big difficulty that even presidents as popular as Clinton and Obama faced. So on the one hand a strange coalition of interests; on the other a party which (Trump or no) is seen as the party of American values.
So we can see why Joe is more inclined to fiddle with the constitution, with traditional checks and balances, than ever Donald was. Enlarging the Supreme Court, bringing new states into the Union, changing processes in the House and Senate, supporting changes in state voting systems (individual states, within limits, make their own rules as to voting procedures, though the Supreme Court has the final say). All this to try to give the Democrats a stronger position in forthcoming elections. None of the proposed measures are undemocratic – some indeed are very worthy. There is a good case for Puerto Rico achieving statehood; and modern technology should be used to make voting easier. But all of Mr Biden’s proposals and thoughts would seem to favour the Democrats, and at a time when the very fairness of the system is under attack, these changes, if carried through, will not underpin the legitimacy of process.
From the point of view of that man in Florida, there is though the possibility that the outcome of what may actually happen could be the best possible. With a narrow and diminishing majority in the House of Representatives, a deadlocked Senate, and only 17 months to the midterms which will favour the GOP anyway (simply because of the seats to be fought) President Biden could find himself reputationally besmirched for constitution fiddling – but actually fail to get his measures on the statute books. That would indeed be a double reversal.
Trump is playing a clever game at the moment. He has raised over US$30m dollars to begin his new campaign; he has the continuing support of some rich backers. And he is using the money to go after those Republicans, ten of them, who did not oppose the attempt to impeach him last year. He has already had one major success, toppling the leader of the House Republican group Liz Cheney last month. That is a spectacular scoop for Mr Trump – Ms Cheney is the daughter of the ex Veep Dick Cheney, a powerful figure on the conservative wing of the GOP, and a deep thinker. Her deposing was supported by Kevin McCarthy, not a natural Trump supporter, and that clearly sent a message through the party – which is – be afraid. So Republicans are falling in line behind their ex-president, fearful that his treasure chest will be used against them in 2022.
But Mr T has never been a great strategic thinker in the political game. He is a man who, seeing a closed gate, will run very fast and straight through it. Sometimes, though, it is a good idea to consider what might be lurking in the deep grass on the other side. At the moment Mr T no doubt feels like a WINNER once more, but more cautious types might wonder exactly what is lurking in the grass. Upsetting figures as powerful as Ms Cheney can have consequences – one of which is that she might decide to either back others for a run in 2024 or even to run herself. Ms C is keeping quiet on this latter point, but close students of politics will note she has issued no denials. She would get a lot of support, not least from her father’s ex boss George W Bush, whose reputation, as we noted here recently, is in recovery mode. And he would be far from being her only supporter; there are a number of Republicans who are hiding with her in the long grass (ED: that’s enough grass analogies) which nicely obscures what they may be up.
It could suit such dissidents very well to let Mr Trump fund and inspire the Republican House and Senate campaigns in 2022, and then reappear armed and dangerous as the presidential nomination campaign revs up in 2023. The Republicans want their party back, they are potentially as well backed as Donald, and they are much more experienced at this stuff than our Florida businessman.