Discover more from Letters from an American
June 7, 2023
Three more candidates have entered the race for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination this week. Former vice president Mike Pence, former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, and current North Dakota governor Doug Burgum join former South Carolina governor and Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, South Carolina senator Tim Scott, Florida governor Ron DeSantis, former Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson, as well as a few others and former president Donald Trump in their hope of winning the nomination.
Taken together, the different candidates offer a window into the current Republican Party. Haley and DeSantis are embracing the cultural issues to which the Trump base is wedded. At a CNN town hall on Sunday, Haley singled out transgender girls as one of her key issues, linking (without any evidence) their presence on girls’ sports teams to an April study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that showed a rise in the number of teenaged girls contemplating self-harm between 2019 and 2021, years that covered the height of the pandemic. (In fact, LGBTQ teenagers have a higher rate of thoughts of self-harm than their straight, gender-conforming peers.)
DeSantis has reached for the Trump base by focusing on immigration. That focus has backfired as unlawful border crossings have dropped more than 70% since President Biden’s ending of the pandemic-related Title 42, and as a new Florida law designed to “scare people from coming to Florida” has resulted in immigrants, whose labor is vital to the state, leaving it.
Apparently trying to reclaim the narrative, in the last week, DeSantis has sent two charter flights taking migrants who have legally applied for asylum in the U.S. from the Texas border to Sacramento, California. While the DeSantis administration claims the migrants went “voluntarily,” they say they were tricked into thinking they would get work in California. One set of the migrants were dropped off outside the Catholic Archdiocese of Sacramento, which had not been alerted they were coming and was closed.
Pence, Hutchinson, and Christie are directly attacking Trump, Pence by saying the events of January 6, 2021, make Trump unfit to be president, Hutchinson by saying Trump should withdraw because of the criminal charges he’s facing, and Christie by attacking Trump and his family as grifters. At Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire yesterday, Christie reminded the audience: “Jared Kushner and Ivanka Kushner walk out of the White House and months later get $2 billion from the Saudis…. You think it’s because he’s some kind of investing genius? Or do you think it’s because he was sitting next to the President of the United States for four years doing favors for the Saudis?... That’s your money he stole and gave it to his family. You know what that makes us? A banana republic.”
Scott and Burgum seem to be trying to offer exhausted Republican voters a rest. Scott is trying to offer an optimistic vision of the United States amidst the apocalyptic narratives of his rivals, denying that systematic racism is a societal problem, for example, while Burgum’s chief attribute seems to be an embrace of pre-2016 Republicanism and a low-key presentation.
That scrum of Republican hopefuls—none of whom is polling well—is the backdrop to this evening’s story from Andrew Feinberg of the Independent that prosecutors from the Department of Justice are ready to ask a grand jury in Washington, D.C., to indict former president Trump on charges that he has violated the Espionage Act and obstructed justice.
Aside from anything else, the Espionage Act includes language that anyone who “willfully retains…any document, writing, code book, signal book, sketch, photograph, photographic negative, blueprint, plan, map, model, instrument, appliance, or note relating to the national defense, or information relating to the national defense which information the possessor has reason to believe could be used to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of any foreign nation… and fails to deliver it on demand to the officer or employee of the United States entitled to receive it” can be punished by as many as ten years in prison.
The story says the jury could vote as early as tomorrow, but it could also be delayed until next week, or beyond. It is worth remembering that this Department of Justice has not been known to leak, and that the sooner Trump is indicted—which certainly looks likely, at least in the case of the missing documents—the sooner his supporters can jump to another candidate, which might suggest a rival camp pushing the story that an indictment will come soon. That same calculation might have been part of what was behind Trump’s insistence to New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman that he has “NOT been told he’s getting indicted.” And, he added on Truth Social, “I shouldn’t be because I’ve done NOTHING wrong.”
Troubles in the Republican Party are not limited to the 2024 hopefuls. House Republicans continue to fight against House speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), angry over the budget deal under which he pushed through a measure to suspend the debt ceiling. McCarthy tried to head off their protests with a promise to establish a commission to cut Social Security and Medicare, but it was not enough. Yesterday, members of the House Freedom Caucus said they would not permit votes on anything until he put in writing what they believed was the deal he made to get their votes for the speakership; that revolt continued today.
Tonight, Jake Sherman of Punchbowl News reported that McCarthy appears to have agreed to let appropriators write bills that come in below the agreed-upon spending levels. Sherman’s colleague John Bresnahan noted: “The Fiscal Responsibility Act isn’t even a week old & Republicans in the House and Senate are already trying to redo it.”
In other news, CNN has parted ways with Chris Licht, its chief executive officer and chair, who had sought to move the network to what he considered the center of American politics. He had done so by highlighting “both sides” of today’s political arguments, firing leading journalists he thought too far on the left and centering Trump in a town hall that became the former president’s triumphant reentry to the political stage as he lied and bullied the interviewer. Some pundits have taken Licht’s fall as a sign that there is no longer a powerful center in American politics, but my own guess is the opposite: that most of us want news based in reality rather than media giving platforms to people who are openly lying.
Yale scholar of authoritarianism Timothy Snyder today applied this idea to coverage of the destruction of the Nova Kakhovka Dam in Ukraine, which has rained down humanitarian, ecological, and economic disaster on Ukrainians as they appear to be launching a counteroffensive to the Russian invasion of their country.
Snyder warned journalists not to “bothsides” the story by offering equal time to both sides. “What Russian spokespersons have said has almost always been untrue, whereas what Ukrainian spokespersons have said has largely been reliable. The juxtaposition suggests a false equality,” he wrote. “The story doesn't start at the moment the dam explodes. For the last fifteen months Russia has been killing Ukrainian civilians and destroying Ukrainian civilian infrastructure, whereas Ukraine has been trying to protect its people and the structures that keep them alive.” “Objectivity does not mean treating an event as a coin flip between two public statements,” he said. “It demands thinking about the objects and the settings that readers require for understanding amidst uncertainty.”