Monthly Archives: June 2024

Election 2024: Day -128

Oh, boy.

Perhaps the best way to summarize Thursday’s first presidential debate is this: Within 24 hours, the New York Times’ editorial board had published an op-ed urging Biden to drop out of the race as soon as possible, to give the Democrats ample time to nominate somebody else.

I watched the first 20 minutes of the debate, before turning over to the Olympic track & field trials in disgust. In what I heard, Trump was coherent and controlled, albeit incredibly mendacious; whereas Biden was occasionally incoherent and nothing like the statesman who had made forceful addresses at this year’s State of the Union and the 80th anniversary of D-Day. It is hard to imagine that Biden’s lethargic performance swayed many votes in his direction, and easy to imagine that it would cause voters to be more sympathetic to Trump.

At the same time, one should not lose sight of the vast number of lies that Trump managed to tell in a 90-minute debate. After the debate Biden said “it’s hard to debate a liar,” which is true. But honestly, I went to bed that night saddened about how far our politics have fallen, that we’re left to choose between a convicted felon who lies continuously and behind whom a once-great political party has completely fallen in line, and a once-great leader whose best days are clearly behind him.

Unless, that is, Biden can be convinced to fall on his sword and withdraw. We’re now 48 hours out from the debate and there’s no real sign as of yet that Biden is seriously considering this. One can hope for a July surprise.

The next morning, SCOTUS did not release its decision in Trump v. U.S., but did announce that Monday will be the final day of the current term, so we should have clarity on the outcome of that case very soon. The Court did release a 5-4 opinion in Fischer v. U.S. that may have some implications for the U.S. v. Trump Jan 6th case, as the decision narrowed the scope of a clause originally found within the Sarbanes-Oxley Act that was used by prosecutors in many of the actions taken against Jan 6th defendants.

We’re now only 5 days away from the UK elections, which are increasingly looking like they just might be to British politics what 1993 was to Canadian politics: the decimation of the mainstream right-of-centre party to the benefit of a further right upstart, all in the context of a landslide win for the main left-of-centre party. Per the Economist, Labour is almost certain to win a majority, and there is some doubt as to who the second-largest party would be, as polling suggests that the Conservatives and the new Reform UK party (hmmm, that name sounds familiar…) are neck-and-neck. The Economist’s current median forecast is for Reform to win only 2 seats versus 106 for the Conservatives; however, Reform’s range of outcomes is 0 – 97, while the Conservatives’ range of outcomes is 27 – 202. Some similar dynamics are at play north of Hadrian’s wall, but between the Scottish National Party (median 23, range 0 – 54) and the Liberal Democrats (median 48, range 17 – 90).

Election 2024: Day -130

With the first debate happening later today, I decided it was about time to return to the naming format that I had used with my “Election 2020” posts, using a day count for the subtitle instead of something topical.

Honestly, as a sports fan it has been a difficult week to pay attention to politics. We had a magnificent Stanley Cup Final Game 7 on Monday, with the Oilers failing to break the now-31-year Canadian curse; in global football, both the European Championship and an expanded Copa America (being played in the U.S. with some CONCACAF teams joining the CONMEBOL regulars) are ongoing; the NBA draft was last night, continuing today; the NHL draft is tomorrow night, continuing the day after; and various U.S. Olympic Trials are in flight: those for swimming & diving recently ended in Indianapolis and Knoxville, those for track & field are ongoing in Eugene, and those for gymnastics are getting underway here in Minneapolis.

There were further Congressional primaries this Tuesday, and while the Good-McGuire race in Virginia from the previous week remains too close to call, this week an incumbent was scalped in an even more expensive primary race. However, this time it was on the Democratic side of the aisle, as one of the most radical left House members was successfully primaried to his right, reflecting the fact that redistricting had recently added portions of Westchester County to what was previously a Bronx-heavy seat. George Latimer beat the incumbent, Jamaal Bowman, 59-41 in what has been called the most expensive primary ever; Bowman’s pro-Palestinian views brought a lot of pro-Israel PAC money into the election. In other primary news, controversial Republican Lauren Boebert successfully carpetbagged her way into a safer seat than her own. She will be the Republican candidate this fall to replace Ken Buck in the Colorado 4th, leaving an open election this fall in her former seat, the 3rd.

SCOTUS released opinions both yesterday and today, and will release more tomorrow, but did not announce that tomorrow would be the final day. Trump v. U.S. is still outstanding, so it could come tomorrow, or perhaps Monday.

Yesterday former Congressman and Jan 6th Committee member Adam Kinzinger became perhaps the first prominent anti-Trump Republican politician to take the next logical step and formally endorse Biden.

Another interesting development yesterday was the release by Nate Silver of the first version of his best-in-class political model for the 2024 Presidential election. His model presently has a Trump as a 65% favorite to win, as difficult as that may be to hear.

Nationally, he has Biden with a slight popular vote lead, 47.2% to 47.0% However, to focus on the key states:

  • Pennsylvania is 59% for Trump, with an average margin of 1.1%;
  • Michigan is 54% for Trump, with an average margin of 0.6%; and
  • Wisconsin is 57% for Trump, with an average margin of 0.8%.

Silver’s model also has Minnesota at 27% for Trump, making it the equivalent for his campaign of states like Nevada (31%), Arizona (23%), and Georgia (20%) for Biden’s — the difference being, of course, that in 2020 Biden won each of those latter three states. The only “expand the map” state that Silver’s model sees as more than a remote potential for Biden is North Carolina, at 14%.

Silver also estimates that Pr{Biden wins election | Biden wins all of PA, MI, WI} = 97%, which is a helpful heuristic to keep in mind as time passes.

Election 2024: Solstice

Today marks the earliest summer solstice since 1796, a presidential election brought back to public attention more recently by Hamilton’s “One Last Time”. If only one, or preferably both, of 2024’s presidential candidates had followed Washington’s advice…

Not a lot going on of interest right now, but that is likely to change shortly.

First, we are now only 7 days away from the first announced presidential debate, and all indications are that the debate will happen as planned – Biden vs. Trump (with no RFK Jr), on CNN, with no studio audience, and with an ability for moderators to turn off one candidate’s mike when it’s the other’s turn to speak.

Second, we are also running out of time in the SCOTUS fiscal year for the Court to release its opinion in Trump v. U.S. It seems quite possible that the opinion could get released the morning of, or the morning after, the debate; oh, joy. As SCOTUS works through its caseload, it did today uphold the constitutionality of one particular and fairly obscure part of the Trump-era tax act. An adverse decision in that case would have implied that the types of “wealth taxes” occasionally proposed by progressives were unconstitutional, but the favorable outcome here for the government does not imply that a wealth tax would be constitutional.

Some political news of interest this week out of Virginia’s congressional primary elections, on both sides of the aisle.

For the Democrats: Yevgeny “Eugene” Vindman won the primary for the Virginia 7th, which is the Cantor/Brat/Spanberger seat (with Spanberger having retired to run for Governor in 2025); he and his better-known twin brother Alexander were key figures in the events leading to Trump’s first impeachment trial. While Spanberger won re-election in 2022, 52-48, this is probably one of the most marginal seats currently held by the Democrats, having gone only 50-49 for Biden in 2020. With Vindman having not previously held any elected office, this places the Democrats’ ability to retain an important seat in the hands of a political neophyte, albeit one with significant experience serving in government.

For the Republicans: the MAGA-on-MAGA primary for the Virginia 5th (a seat that went 54-45 for Trump in 2020) remains unresolved after election night, as they wait for mail-in ballots and provisional ballots to be counted. The incumbent, Bob Good, is chair of the House Freedom Caucus and one of the 8 Republicans who helped force Speaker McCarthy out. However, he committed the sin of having endorsed DeSantis in the primaries, and as such both McCarthy and Trump had endorsed Good’s equally MAGAite challenger, state senator John McGuire (who had been a losing candidate in the 2020 Republican primary in the 7th to face Spanberger). Both sides dumped in significant amounts of money, leading to an unusually high $14.5 million in ad spending for a primary. The election night result is McGuire by 321 votes, 50.3-49.7.

Election 2024: Odds and Ends

Once again I find myself coming back from a vacation during which I didn’t update the blog, which means there are a myriad of different things to discuss, in brief:

New York v. Trump. Earlier this week the newly-convicted felon was required to make an appearance with a probation officer, as part of the standard process through which a pre-sentencing report is compiled. Alas, Trump was permitted to take the appointment virtually, which he reportedly did from his Florida residence.

Georgia v. Trump, et al. The Georgia Court of Appeals recently announced that it would hear the defendants’ interlocutory appeal of Judge McAfee’s March ruling that Fulton County D.A. Willis should not be removed from the case, and moreover indefinitely delayed all activity in the case pending that appeal. Assuming that the prosecutors are unsuccessful in their effort to get the appeal belatedly dismissed, this would seemingly make it impossible for a trial to commence in 2024.

U.S. v. Trump (Florida). Judge Cannon continues to move the case along very slowly, and in a manner that has attracted significant criticism from pundits. Next week she is scheduled to hold a hearing on Trump’s motion that the indictment should be dismissed on the grounds that Special Counsel Smith’s appointment was unlawful, an issue that has been repeatedly raised in recent months in various contexts by Northwestern law professor and Federalist Society co-chair Steven Calabresi.

SCOTUS. No news yet from SCOTUS on Trump v. U.S., which in turn means no new developments out of Judge Chutkan’s courtroom in the D.C. flavor of U.S. v. Trump.

We are, however, into the season where contentious SCOTUS opinions will be coming at us fast and furious for the next couple of weeks. Today’s headline was a 9-0 Kavanaugh decision in FDA v. Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine where the Court overturned lower court rulings that, while stayed pending SCOTUS action, would have unwound recent regulatory actions that eased access to a medication used to induce abortion. The SCOTUS ruling was based entirely on the notion that these plaintiffs lacked standing to bring the suit, leaving open the possibility that other plaintiffs could advance similar claims against the FDA. As such, the immediate political impact of today’s decision seems minimal.

Menendez. The federal corruption trial of Sen. Menendez (D-NJ) continues, with recent testimony from one of his alleged co-conspirators. During the trial Menendez submitted paperwork to run for re-election as an independent, although he has until early August to withdraw his name from the ballot.

Hunter Biden. Since my last post, President Biden’s second son Hunter has been tried and convicted on federal gun charges, namely that he purchased a gun during a period of time when he was regularly using crack cocaine but yet stated on a federal firearms acquisition form that he was not a drug user. He is scheduled to face trial later this fall on tax evasion charges. Both sets of charges came from an investigation led by U.S. Special Counsel David Weiss, a Trump appointee who remained in office under the current administration and then was made a Special Counsel last year.

I haven’t talked about Hunter Biden before in these posts, and it would take more words than I care to write to provide ample context. Suffice it to say that, in certain circles, Hunter Biden is considered an exceptionally important figure in U.S. politics — the key to unlocking President Biden’s purportedly vast corruption with Chinese and Russian interests. In reality, Hunter is more likely just a man who made a number of bad choices as he neared middle age, first in attempting to cash in on his family name, and later in his personal conduct.

Hunter Biden’s conviction this week has interesting parallels to last month’s conviction of Trump. In both cases the decision to prosecute on these charges is somewhat unusual and has attracted criticism. However Hunter’s conviction helps to refute the allegations that Trump’s prosecution represents some form of weaponization of the rule of law. Instead, both convictions illustrate a principle that prosecutors will charge cases that they believe they can prove to a jury, without regard to the identity of the accused. It is also noteworthy to contrast Trump’s post-verdict behavior with President Biden’s reaction to Hunter’s conviction — respecting the verdict and indicating he would not pardon his son.

Additionally, this is a difficult case for Trump and the Republicans to rally behind. For one thing, it’s hard for Trump to argue on the one hand that Special Counsel Smith’s appointment was illegitimate, and then crow about convictions achieved by Special Counsel Weiss. But more fundamentally, it’s hard for the 2nd Amendment crowd to accept the notion that lying about one’s drug use on a form used to purchase a gun ought to be a federal crime. Given all of this, it is not clear that Hunter Biden’s legal woes are that much of a net negative to his father’s re-election chances.

By-Elections. This week there was a surprise of sorts in a by-election for an open House seat in Ohio’s 6th Congressional District, which spans a number of rural counties on the state’s eastern border. This district went 72-26 for Trump in 2020, and in the 2022 House election the long-time Republican incumbent won 68-32. However, this week the Republican candidate only won 55-45.

By contrast, several weeks ago there was a similar by-election in New York’s 26th District, a Buffalo-centric riding which had gone 62-35 for Biden in 2020 and 64-36 for the long-time Democratic incumbent in the 2022 House election. In that by-election, the Democratic candidate won 68-32.

Both by-elections continue a recent trend of swings towards the Democrats when people actually assemble to vote, even if polling has not been kind to Biden.

DJT. TMTG did manage to swiftly find a new audit firm and released its first quarter financial statements only a couple of weeks late. The company’s GAAP losses for first quarter 2024 were an eyepopping $327.6 million, but in fairness most of that appears to be non-recurring, non-cash losses related to the execution of the SPAC transaction. The company’s non-GAAP “adjusted EBITDA” metric showed losses of $12.1 million for the quarter, on revenue of $0.8 million.

In recent days DJT stock has been trading around $40, implying a market capitalization of about $7 billion.

Jumping the Shark. Finally, while it is a fool’s errand to try and keep up with the amount of crazy stuff that comes out of candidate Trump’s mouth, his recent diatribe about sharks at a rally in Las Vegas has attracted considerable attention. At the same rally he also articulated an apparent new policy position that cash tips would no longer constitute taxable income; leave it to a real estate magnate to think up new ways of avoiding recognition of taxable income, amirite?