Monthly Archives: March 2024

Election 2024: DJT

As discussed in my last post, earlier this week a SPAC called DWAC officially acquired the Trump-owned parent of social media concern Truth Social, TMTG. The merged company is called TMTG, but its stock ticker symbol is DJT. Which is particularly appropriate here, since the market price of DJT appears to be almost entirely disconnected from the fundamentals of TMTG as a business venture.

A very instructive comparison is Reddit, the social media concern that had its IPO last week. Reddit stock has performed quite strongly, with the IPO price being at the top of the suggested range, followed by a very nice day one pop, and continued price appreciation since then. The stock closed down today, at about $58 per share, giving it a market capitalization of $9.2 billion. While Reddit has never been profitable, it did have $800 million in 2023 revenue, and it has 73 million active daily users and 267 million active weekly users. To my tastes as a value-oriented investor, RDDT is massively over-priced; but at least it is an established company, with real revenue sources, and a large, devoted user base.

TMTG, by contrast, only reported $3.4 million of revenue for the first nine months of 2023, on which it had $10.6 million of operating losses. It has never reported active user counts, unlike other social media platforms, but external parties have estimated that Truth Social has maybe 1 million active monthly users. And yet… at today’s closing price of about $66 per share, TMTG’s market capitalization is $9.4 billion, slightly more than Reddit’s.

If RDDT is, arguably, massively over-priced, what words suffice to describe the extent to which DJT is over-priced? Clearly, the market for DJT stock has almost nothing to do with TMTG the company, and everything to do with Donald J. Trump the personal brand. With Trump’s paper net worth having gone up by billions this week, it will be interesting to see how much cash he can ultimately realize from his TMTG holdings, and what the eventual path of TMTG’s stock price looks like.

However, the immediacy of Trump’s potential need to convert TMTG stock to cash was alleviated on Monday by a New York appellate court decision in the Trump Org fraud case, reducing the amount of his appeal bond to $175 million and giving him a further 10 days to post the bond. The appellate court decision also stayed many of Judge Engoron’s findings, such as the order prohibiting Trump and his sons from serving as an officer of a New York corporation, pending appeal; however, the appellate court did not stay the requirements for an independent monitor over Trump Org, or for Trump Org to hire an independent director of compliance.

In other news, yesterday the Democrats unexpectedly won a by-election for an Alabama State House seat. In 2022 the Democratic candidate, a white woman named Marilyn Lands, had lost the seat 45-52. The victor was then indicted for voter fraud and resigned his seat several months ago. Lands ran again and this time focused her campaign on reproductive rights, which is currently a hot-button issue in Alabama due to a State Supreme Court decision several week ago that frozen embryos are human beings. She won yesterday by the surprising margin of 62-38, continuing to underscore the extent to which the Dobbs decision is impacting the electoral landscape in red states.

However, perhaps the most important political news of the week came on Monday, when Judge Merchan announced that the criminal trial in New York v. Trump (the hush money case) would indeed commence on April 15th.

Election 2024: Catching Up

I’ve been on vacation for the past two weeks, without the capability of posting any blog entries during that time. As such this post’s purpose is to summarize a variety of recent developments on various fronts of interest:

Primaries. By now, both Trump and Biden have mathematically clinched their party’s nominations. Even so, the results from the most recent set of primaries — three days ago, or thirteen days after Haley dropped out — are a little surprising: Trump managed only 81% of the vote in Florida and Illinois, 79% in Arizona and Ohio, and 75% in Kansas (whose ballot offered an explicit ‘none of the above’ option).

Shortly after Super Tuesday, Biden gave a very effective State of the Union address that doubled as the kickoff of the Presidential campaign, although he took pains to never mention Trump by name, referring only to “my predecessor.” Biden also previewed in that speech a strategy to deflect criticisms of his age not only with humor, but also with an argument that Trump’s agenda of “hate, anger, revenge and retribution” represents “the oldest of ideas”.

Congress. As I write this we are less than 1 hour away from a potential partial government shutdown, a can that has been continually kicked down the road through the entirely of Mike Johnson’s speakership. Today Speaker Johnson managed to cobble together the required two-thirds majority for a $1.2 trillion spending package to avoid the shutdown, even though more Republicans voted against the bill than voted for it. However, there may be some technical impediment preventing the Senate from getting the bill passed prior to midnight tonight.

As the Speaker’s reward for attempting to actually govern, radical MAGAite Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene today filed a motion to once again vacate the Speakership. Moreover, with an upcoming resignation in the Republican ranks taking place next week, the Republican majority will soon drop to 217-213 (with 5 vacant seats), meaning that with unified Democratic opposition two Republican defections would be enough to defeat the Speaker on anything.

Trump v. U.S. (SCOTUS). This week Trump submitted his merits brief for the presidential immunity SCOTUS case (his interlocutory appeal from the Jan 6th federal case), accompanied by what struck me as a surprisingly large number of amicus briefs taking his side. The government’s merit brief (and briefs from amici supporting the government) isn’t due until April 8th, and oral argument has been set for April 25th.

New York v. Trump (criminal). Until recently the trial in the New York hush money case was set to commence this Monday, but delays have arisen. Instead a hearing will occur on Monday that is expected to set a revised trial date, quite possibly April 15th.

Georgia v. Trump, et al. Fulton County D.A. Willis recently survived the effort to have her removed from the case over a perceived conflict of interest, but the distraction probably hasn’t helped her ability to swiftly bring the case to trial. Also, Judge McAfee has dismissed a subset of the charges against Trump on the grounds that they were too vaguely stated to allow for the preparation of a defense; it is unclear whether Willis will seek to re-file those charges or simply proceed with the remainder of the case, which still includes the RICO charges.

U.S. v. Trump (Florida). While it is difficult to concisely summarize recent developments given the flurry of legal documents flying back and forth, Judge Cannon’s management of the trial in the Mar-a-Lago documents case continues to leave many observers on the left half of the political spectrum believing that she’s in the tank for Trump.

Carroll v. Trump I. Trump successfully arranged for a major insurer, Chubb, to post a $91.6 million surety bond while he appeals the jury’s verdict.

New York v. Trump, et al (civil). However, Trump has been unable to arrange for Chubb, or any other party, to post a $464 million appeal bond while he appeals Judge Engoron’s verdict in the Trump Org fraud case. Trump attempted to get the amount of the necessary bond reduced to $100 million, without success. Monday is the deadline. Among the difficulties here is an apparent lack of completely unencumbered assets that could be pledged as collateral.

Absent some deus ex machina solution, it is imaginable that New York could start seizing some of Trump’s assets next week…

TMTG. Did someone say deus ex machina?

We haven’t talked before about TMTG, which stands for Trump Media & Technology Group. This company was founded by Trump in 2021 to launch a Twitter competitor called Truth Social (recall this was before Musk’s takeover of Twitter, during a period where Twitter had banned Trump in light of Jan 6th), under the leadership of former Representative Devin Nunes. Almost two-and-a-half years ago, during the height of the SPAC (special purpose acquisition corporation) craze, TMTG had announced plans for it to be purchased by a SPAC called DWAC, or Digital World Acquisition Corp.

Although Truth Social is itself unprofitable, DWAC in effect became a meme stock, a means for investors market participants to signal their support for Trump. Like any other SPAC, DWAC stock was initially worth $10 per share, but it closed at $45 the day after the deal was announced in October 2021, and by March 2022 it had reached a high of $98.

However, for a variety of reasons the merger’s closure kept getting delayed, and for a while it was unclear whether the merger would ever occur. For most of 2023 DWAC traded in a tight range around $15 per share, reflecting the risk that the merger would get called off and DWAC’s investors would simply receive a $10 per share payout instead. In recent months things had regained momentum, with DWAC trading in the vicinity of $40 per share since mid-January. And then, today, the merger was finally approved.

What this means is that, by early next week, Donald J. Trump will own a majority of the shares in a newly public company, and at the current stock price Trump’s stake will be worth approximately $3 billion, on paper.

However, there appear to be lock-up restrictions on Trump’s ability to sell his TMTG stock, or even to pledge those shares as collateral, over the next six months. It will be interesting to see if Trump can come up with a plan to overcome those restrictions and find a way to monetize his TMTG holdings in order to alleviate his imminent liquidity crisis.

Having said that, It is important to note that there is a massive difference between having $3 billion in the bank, versus having a majority position in an illiquid investment that has little or no tangible value but that, measured at its current market price, is theoretically worth $3 billion. (Just ask Sam Bankman-Fried.)

Even if Trump were able to sell TMTG stock into the market, how realistic is it that he could swiftly raise $500 million in cash via stock sales without completely tanking the stock price? By the same token, if Trump were able to pledge TMTG shares as collateral, how much of his total holdings would a lender seek as collateral for a $500 million loan, given the risk of a collapse in the stock’s value (particularly in the event that Trump defaulted on the loan and the lender sought to monetize the collateral)?

Election 2024: Tuesday Stupor

Last year I changed my voter registration from Illinois to Minnesota, and back in November I cast my first ballot up here, in a local election.

Yesterday afternoon I’m driving my daughter home from school when I notice a “VOTE HERE” sign outside a local church. And that is, literally, the very first time it had occurred to me that Minnesota is a Super Tuesday state and this was the primary election day.

Here I am, somebody who cares enough about politics to make time out of his busy life to blog about the upcoming election, and I had no idea that it was election day in my state until three hours before polls closed! That’s embarrassing.

But at the same time, kind of understandable. If I had gone to the polls yesterday, what would that have accomplished? There was no primary competition on the Democratic side for either my House seat (Craig) or the Senate (Klobuchar). I suppose I could have racked my brain over whether to vote for Biden, for “uncommitted”, or for renegade Minnesota Representative Dean Phillips in the presidential primary, but to what end? So, both my wife and I sat this Super Tuesday out. November, obviously, will be a different matter.

More globally, Super Tuesday marked the end of the Haley campaign; she officially suspended her bid this morning. She did manage to win a single state, though: that Republican hotbed of Vermont, 50-46. (Over the weekend she had won her first primary contest in another Republican hotbed, the District of Columbia.) I heard at one point last night that, across all states yesterday, she was only attracting something like 25% of the vote. In Texas, for instance, she lost 78-17.

The race I was most interested in yesterday was the jungle primary for an open Senate seat in California, which featured three compelling Democratic House members – Adam Schiff, Katie Porter, and Barbara Lee – and an uninspiring Republican field led by former baseball star Steve Garvey. Three months ago I’d have thought that Schiff and Porter would advance to the general, which would have been a potentially expensive internecine race in the fall. However, Porter and Lee both underperformed and it only took half an hour after polls closed for Garvey to clinch the second position in the runoff. I’m sad to see Porter leave office, and I was also sad to see a former high school classmate, Joanna Weiss, finish 3rd in the jungle primary for Porter’s open seat in California’s 47th district (perhaps better known as the seat that Sam Seaborn ran in, in a by-election, when Rob Lowe wanted to leave The West Wing in mid-season).

But the most interesting political news of the day came in a state whose primary isn’t until later this month: Arizona, where first-term U.S. Senator Krysten Sinema announced that she would not be running for re-election. A former Green, she had been elected as a Democrat but later became an independent, while still caucusing with the Democrats. Unlike Sanders, she left the party not because she was to its left, but because she had drifted to its right. Congressman Ruben Gallego had announced he would primary Sinema, and it was widely believed he would win. After she left the party to avoid that primary, it was presumed that there would be a three-way general election this fall. As such, Sinema’s decision to stand down rather than run as an independent is a good sign for the Democrats’ ability to retain a key swing seat in the Senate, particularly if as expected the Republicans nominate MAGAite Kari Lake to face Gallego; it is easier to imagine Lake winning a three-way race than a head-to-head against Gallego.

Election 2024: Forfeit

When I was growing up, if you’d asked what “9-0” meant to me, I’d have instantly responded that it was the official score of a major league baseball game in which one team has forfeited.

Forfeits are awfully rare. I remember the one in 1977, the debut season of my beloved Blue Jays, when Earl Weaver pulled his Orioles off the field at Exhibition Stadium over purported safety concerns, leading the umpires to award the game to the Jays. There have been only two since then: the infamous Disco Demolition game at Comiskey in 1979; and a game in 1995 when baseballs had been given out at the door (oops!) and the Dodger fans threw them on the field.

Given this rarity, as an adult “9-0” has come to mean something rather different to me: a unanimous SCOTUS decision. Yesterday we had one of those, in Trump v. Anderson, but at the same time it also feels like a forfeiture.

From the standpoint of form, the Court’s opinion is unusual. It is styled as a per curiam opinion, which is uncommon, particularly with respect to a case that reached the oral argument stage: there was only one such instance last term, in Gonzalez v. Google. Additionally, and somewhat unusually for a per curiam decision, there were two additional signed opinions, both of which are technically concurrences: one from Barrett, and one from the three liberal judges.

All 9 justices agreed on a core holding that, based on the oral argument, was relatively easy to foresee: while a state can disqualify a candidate for state office under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, there is no state role in assessing the qualifications of a candidate for federal office under Section 3. That holding is sufficient to resolve the Colorado lawsuit, and all other state challenges to Trump’s placement on the 2024 ballot.

In light of that jurisdictional holding, the Court’s opinion is completely silent on another question that was hotly debated, namely whether or not the Presidency even falls within Section 3’s scope. Nor, with this holding, did the Court have any reason to ever discuss the factual finding at the Colorado District Court level that Trump’s Jan 6th conduct makes him an “oath-breaking insurrectionist.”

However, the per curiam opinion does go beyond the minimal holding necessary to resolve the case, in a manner that attracted the ire of the 3 liberal justices and that as a practical matter appears to forfeit any ability to apply Section 3 in the 2024 election and possibly beyond. Quoting from the liberals’ quasi-dissent:

“[F]ive justices … decide novel constitutional questions to insulate this Court and petitioner from future controversy. Although only an individual State’s action is at issue here, the majority opines on which federal actors can enforce Section 3, and how they must do so. The majority announces that a disqualification for insurrection can occur only when Congress enacts a particular kind of legislation pursuant to Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment. In doing so, the majority shuts the door on other potential means of federal enforcement. We cannot join an opinion that decides momentous and difficult issues unnecessarily, and we therefore concur only in the judgment.

In short: Per a majority of the Court, the path to enforcing Section 3 against a federal officeholder necessarily involves Congressional legislation under Section 5, which legislation in turn needs to meet the Court’s “congruence and proportionality” test articulated in its 1997 decision, Boerne v. Flores (hence the liberals’ reference above to “a particular kind of legislation”). Barrett joins the liberals in saying that issue shouldn’t have been reached (hence the reference above to “five justices”).

A criticism of this decision is that it seems incoherent for the Constitution to specifically require a two-thirds vote of both houses of Congress to reinstate an ineligible insurrectionist’s right to hold federal office, while at the same time giving a majority in either house the ability to prevent an individual from being identified as an ineligible insurrectionist in the first place, simply by its refusal to enact implementing legislation under Section 5. Yet, that view is now the law of the land.

There is also an interesting passage in the per curiam opinion:

The disruption would be all the more acute—and could nullify the votes of millions and change the election result—if Section 3 enforcement were attempted after the Nation has voted. Nothing in the Constitution requires that we endure such chaos…

This seems to be saying, sotto voce, that (contrary to the views of many amici) Congress cannot use Trump’s putative status as an oath-breaking insurrectionist as justification for not counting electoral votes cast for him when Congress fulfills its duties on January 6, 2025.

As such, other than death, there appears to be no further potential impediment to a Trump-Biden rematch on all states’ ballots in November 2024 – a rematch in which, per the latest NYTimes poll, the candidate who was recently fined upwards of a half-a-billion dollars, still faces 91 criminal charges in 4 different jurisdictions, and was recently named the worst President of all time by a panel of political scientists leads 48-43.

What a country.