The Republican Pecking Order

          I have no insight into whether Trump will run for president in 2024, but I am confident that if he does not, the announcement will come as late as possible. Trump wants to be a center of attention and that ends when we know that he is not a candidate. This, of course, presents a problem for other Republicans with dreams of the White House. They will have to gear up campaigns before Trump makes clear whether he is a candidate. They will want Trump’s support if he does not run, and it will be interesting to see how this affects their campaigns. They have to proceed in ways that will not offend the ever-mercurial Donald while he dithers. And, of course, if Trump does run, the others, who may already be entered in primaries, must decide whether they will withdraw.

          From the list now of apparent or potential candidates, Ron DeSantis will have the toughest choice about whether to stay in the race. He could wait until 2028 to run, but it could be a liability if he continues to be governor of Florida for those four years. That is because governors, surprise, surprise, must govern. Of course, DeSantis may continue to be identified with policies of anti-gay and voter-fraud measures, but a governor must do more than this kind of pandering. There will be roads to be maintained, schools to be funded, taxes to be levied and collected. In all likelihood, there will be storms and floods and blackouts. There will be illegal immigrants and corruption. There will be crimes and mass shootings. There will be development decisions and red tide. States can’t print money and have to balance their budgets. That almost always requires deals, negotiations, and compromises….you know, governing.

          A governor has to make decisions, and no matter how wise those decisions, not all will agree with them. A danger for a governor is that over time, those who are made unhappy in one area will coalesce with those made unhappy by choices elsewhere. In the four years after 2024, there is a good chance that the unfavorable ratings of DeSantis will increase and weaken his presidential prospects. Just remember my ex-governor, Andrew Cuomo. Three years ago, he looked as if he might be a leading presidential candidate, even though there was much under-the-radar grumbling in the state about him. When one sort of complaint about him got traction, many areas of Cuomo discontent coalesced, and he is gone. DeSantis, if he is as shrewd as he appears, should know of that possibility. Holding off his presidential ambitions beyond 2024 is a big risk for Ron.

          The many Senate Republican wannabes may not wish to wait four more years after 2024 for their presidential chance either, but they don’t face the potential harm that the Florida governor does from the delay. Senate Republicans don’t believe in governing other than passing tax cuts skewed towards the rich, and that has already been done. The goal now is not to improve anything but to prevent legislation, a relatively easy task. Passing laws always involves compromise and for Republicans that would mean working with Democrats, and working with Democrats appears to be a death knell for any Republican’s presidential hopes. Furthermore, good legislation requires study, knowledge, and mastery of detail, and who wants to bother with that?

          The role of a Republican senator these days is not to take a part in governing; instead, the role is merely self-aggrandizing grandstanding. More of that from 2024 to 2028 is unlikely to harm the prospects of Cotton, Cruz, Hawley, Paul and the others, and it might even benefit them. Thus, if Trump runs, the Senate Republicans are not likely to challenge him but will get out of the race they will have already entered.

          However, if Trump runs, I hope that DeSantis stays in. Good political theater could result. The Senatorial and other presidential pretenders might normally proclaim neutrality between the candidates–let the voters decide. But we know that the Trumpian stance is that if you are not with me, you are against me. Cruz, Hawley, Cotton, Paul and others will support Trump because they will want his support, but they will do it with some trepidation. What if DeSantis wins? They might mouth kudos for Trump, but can they attack DeSantis? No one wants to offend someone who might be the winner. This road is also tricky because while other wannabes may pledge loyalty to the Republican party, they will not want a DeSantis president. The Twenty-Second Amendment limits Trump to only one more term. DeSantis could serve eight years as president. Waiting four more years for their presidential shot is one thing for those in waiting; eight is another.

          I also want DeSantis in primaries against Donald because it will be interesting to see Trump attack DeSantis. Donald regularly pulls out the RINO label against Republicans who don’t sufficiently kowtow to him, but it will be hard to stick that epithet on Ron who might be less of a RINO than Trump himself. Furthermore, attacks on DeSantis could produce dangerous Florida sinkholes. The Republican path to a general election victory in 2024 surely requires a Florida win. Trump has not been a politician of nuance, but that may be required to defeat DeSantis for the nomination and still carry the rising-water-and-disappearing-coastline state in November.

          I look forward to two other political possibilities if DeSantis or someone else provides a strong primary challenge to Trump. Republicans have been making it harder to vote. The goal, of course, is to disproportionately burden Democratic voters. That might happen in the general elections, but the recent Texas primaries also show that the “anti-fraud” measure can affect Republicans, too. A higher percentage of absentee ballots were disqualified in Texas than in previous years after stricter identification requirements were enacted and applied, and many of the ballots tossed aside came from counties that overwhelmingly supported Trump. In the general election, more Democratic votes may be suppressed than Republican ones, as intended, but Republican votes, as Texas shows, will be lost in Republican primaries. If primary elections are close, then it might be crucial whether the lost Republican votes helps one candidate more than another. Will any Republican candidate who loses a close primary where ballots have been disqualified complain about the voting laws?

          But the major reason I want Trump in primaries with a strong candidate is that we now know that Trump cannot lose a general election; it can only be stolen from him. Are you going to be surprised if he reacts similarly to a primary loss? What will be the reaction from all those Republicans who now do not denounce the Stop the Steal movement if Trump claims that a primary is fraudulent? Or if DeSantis or another Republican candidate made such a claim after a close primary loss? Let the elephant dung fly!

No Public Defenders Need Apply for the Supreme Court

          Joe Biden has nominated Ketanji Brown Jackson to be a Supreme Court Justice. And this is where we now are on judicial nominees: Republicans know they will oppose her nomination, so they are now looking for reasons to justify that opposition. Lucky for them she was a public defender because now they can vilify her as being lax on crime.

          Other Biden judicial nominees who were public defenders have been asked by Senators Tom Cotton, Josh Hawley, and Ted Cruz questions that boil down to, “How could you represent such scum?” Public defenders are not surprised by this question at social gatherings from people who do not fully grasp our legal system. On the other hand, Cotton, Hawley, and Cruz have degrees from some of the country’s finest law schools. The all clerked for federal judges, two of them for Supreme Court justices. You might expect them to understand American justice and recognize the importance of defense lawyers in that system, but their comments only reveal either their ignorance or their disingenuousness.

          The Senators, however, are selective in their disdain for lawyers who represent criminals or those accused of crimes. When I taught, some students would tell me that they could never represent organized crime. My response was, “I guess you are not going into corporate law then.” I was only being semi-flip. Although corporate crime has seldom been a high prosecutorial priority, many corporations have defended themselves in our criminal justice system. For example, to avoid criminal prosecution in 2015, General Motors paid a $900 million fine for hiding a fatal ignition switch defect responsible for 174 deaths. (How often has a public defender had a client linked to 174 deaths?) As a result of charges filed in 1996, Archer Daniels Midland pleaded guilty to criminal antitrust violations for fixing prices and paid a fine of $100 million. In 2013, Halliburton pleaded guilty to charges stemming from an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that killed eleven people. In 2021, United Airlines paid over $49 million to resolve criminal charges and civil claims on postal service contracts.

          You can play a little parlor game: Put into a search engine the name of a corporation and “criminal” or “felony” conviction and see how many hits you get. You can go further and put in the name of a major financial institution together with “fraud” and see what comes up. You might learn that investment firms paid over $20 billion to settle fraud claims from the sale of mortgage-backed securities in 2005 to 2007, behavior that might have been criminally prosecuted.

          In other words, if you know a corporate attorney, there is a good chance that you know somebody who works for, and presumably gets well paid by, a criminal. But there is little chance that you would hear those lawyers derided by Republican senators because of their clients.

          True conservatives who are concerned about checking governmental power and overreach should, of course, be thanking, not denigrating, public defenders. The government has the power to criminally investigate and punish people. Right wingers screech about this power only when other right wingers are caught up in our criminal justice system, but true conservatives should be concerned with the appropriateness of this authority all the time. Since defenders provide a check on governmental power and overreach, they should be celebrated by those who claim conservative credentials.

          I am not surprised when “conservatives” pandering for partisan gain do not uphold conservative principles, but I still found some recent comments by the Republican National Committee noteworthy. A news story reported that the RNC “in a background paper on her nomination for the high court referred to Judge Jackson’s ‘advocacy for these terrorists’ [imprisoned at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay] as ‘going beyond just giving them a competent defense.’” If an attorney for the government at Guantanamo were a judicial nominee, I doubt the RNC would label the lawyer an advocate for torture even though it has been established that detainees were tortured. More startling, however, is that conservatives are trying to vilify Jackson for going beyond competence in her job. They apparently don’t want people who do their jobs too well on the Supreme Court. Mediocrity is good enough.

          And while I assume the Senators Cruz, Cotton, and Hawley have proclaimed that they want Supreme Court justices who are “originalists,” these conservatives would appear to be ignorant of the importance placed on defense advocacy by the founders of the country. Our Constitution expressly rejected English law and guaranteed a right to counsel because of the important role defense attorneys had for preserving American freedom.

(continued March 23)

Greenland . . . Our New Manifest Destiny (concluded)

One of those in the Trump-is-brilliant camp is Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton. He recently published an op-ed piece in the New York Times. (Why is that when conservatives want to be taken as deep thinkers they so often publish in the “failing” Times? Mitch McConnell also placed an op-ed article with the “enemy of the people” the previous week. His piece was one about the importance of filibusters for our constitutional government and glossed over how he had removed those all-important filibusters for Supreme Court nominees.) Cotton contended that the Greenlanders should welcome coming under American sovereignty. Denmark now subsidizes Greenland to the tune of at least $650 million dollars annually. America has more money than does the Danish government, so we can do even better for the Greenlanders, Cotton maintained. The Senator surprised me. He wants to commit to a new and expensive welfare program. He opposes entitlement programs for American citizens, but he wants to open up the floodgates for those who are now foreigners. Is this the new conservatism? What do Cotton and the others feel about increased federal support for Puerto Rico? Or have I underestimated Trump? Were his remarks merely an opening salvo, and his real goal is to swap Puerto Rico for Greenland? The Art of the Deal may be more subtle than I ever thought.

I wonder, if in stating that America can increase governmental moneys in Greenland, whether Cotton has examined where the Danish subsidies go. Health care in Greenland is paid for by the government, and Danish subsidies support that. Cotton, who adamantly opposes the Affordable Care Act, expects America to expand single-payer medical services in the new possession. And here I thought that Trump supporters believed in America first!

Does Cotton realize that part of the healthcare in Greenland is for abortion on demand. Greenland now has one of the highest abortion rates in the world. In fact, abortions have exceeded live births in recent years. (Remember those long nights.) He supports the laws that prevent the federal government from paying anything for abortions in the United States no matter how poor the woman or how the pregnancy—think rape and incest–occurred, but Cotton wants to increase funding for this medical procedure in Greenland. (I am told that when residents of Greenland’s capital Nuuk do want a baby, they say, “Let’s have a little Nuukie.”) And perhaps Cotton should also examine how education is funded in Greenland.

Cotton is a hardliner about our immigration system, concerned that Mexicans and Central Americans are lured here by all the goodies they can get out of our government. Shouldn’t he and other conservatives then be concerned that when we increase the freebies to Greenlanders, illegal immigration will uncontrollably increase there as refugees see Greenland as a new land of welfare opportunity? Perhaps Cotton, who supports Trump’s border wall, is already planning to build a wall around Greenland to stop the illegal immigration that he must think will inevitably occur. Perhaps Cotton ought to give at least an estimate as to how much federal money he thinks we will spend over there.

I also wonder if Cotton and the other Trump-is-marvelous crowd have thought about the status of those who would fall under American sovereignty. If we own Greenland, will we provide a path to American citizenship for those who live there, or will they automatically be citizens? Will they have an unfettered right to permanent residence in the United States? If so, how long does one have to be a Greenlander for that right? Puerto Ricans are American citizens and can come and go to the United States whenever they wish. Guam, which we own, is similar. Those born on Guam are American citizens who can move to the rest of America. (For reasons I don’t understand while Guamanians have birthright citizenship, those born in American Samoa do not.) If Greenland is to be treated like Guam, aren’t conservatives concerned that refugees will flock to Greenland and have ice-floe babies who will be American citizens who can freely emigrate to America? I am guessing that before conservatives will grapple with such questions, they will have to ascertain whether Greenlanders lean Democratic or Republican. And perhaps even more important: Will there be a path to statehood for Greenland? Just because they have fewer than 60,000 people doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have two Senators and three electoral votes, just as long as they vote Republican.

We have acquired much territory through purchase in our history. As far as I know, we never sought to find out whether the people who already lived on those lands desired a new sovereign. In essence, they were treated like Russian serfs. You buy the land, you buy the people on the land. Should we who proclaim democracy and government of “we the people” continue such a feudal practice? Will there be some sort of plebiscite; will the leaders of Greenland be consulted? (I have no idea who the chief griot of Greenland is, but I am confident neither does our president. However, there is a good chance that Melania knows that person well.)

The Fox News writer points out, however, that we have bought lands before—including the Louisiana purchase, the Gadsden Purchase, Florida, and Alaska, and he concludes that Trump could simply buy Greenland. Hold on–it has never been that simple. We do have a Constitution and the consent of Congress or the Senate has been necessary for those purchases. We may say that President Jefferson and Secretary of State Monroe made the Louisiana Purchase, but in fact Congress ratified and authorized the funds for it. The Gadsden Purchase and the acquisitions of Florida, Alaska, and other lands came via treaties together with the authorization of the funds from Congress. A treaty, of course, requires not just the consent of the Senate, but consent by a two-thirds majority of the Senate. Do you really think that is going to happen? Or does Trump have another trick up his sleeve that he will maintain justifying him in his mind to take unilateral action and do another end run around our Constitution—that document that conservatives proclaim to love so dearly?