The ludicrous idea that Trump is losing his grip on the GOP

“In Arizona, Senate nominee Blake Masters and likely gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake are Trump-endorsed 2020 election deniers. In Michigan, gubernatorial candidate Tudor Dixon is cut from a similar cloth. Michigan Rep. Peter Meijer, one of 10 House Republicans to vote for Trump’s impeachment in 2021, lost his bid for reelection to yet another Trump-endorsed Big Lie supporter (two other House impeachment supporters, Washington Reps. Jaime Herrera Beutler and Dan Newhouse, seemed on track to fend off Trump-backed challengers in Washington state’s open primary). Rusty Bowers, the Arizona House speaker and star January 6 committee witness, lost a state Senate primary to — you guessed it — a Trump-backed election conspiracist.

It’s a splash of cold water on the narrative of a waning Trump.

“Pundits trying to will into existence a GOP that has moved beyond him are way beyond the facts,” the Atlantic’s Ron Brownstein wrote on Wednesday morning. “This remains a Trump-ified GOP, with most openly embracing him and almost none openly confronting him.”

Brownstein is right. And he’s right for a fundamental reason: Trump’s vision of politics, a war between true Americans and a system that has betrayed them, describes how many Republican voters see the world.”

“The simplest barometer of whether Trump still dominates the party is the 2024 presidential polls. And by that metric, Trump’s grip is pretty hard to question.

The RealClearPolitics poll average has Trump leading the field by an average of 26.2 points. All but one national poll cataloged by FiveThirtyEight in July had Trump beating DeSantis by a similarly large double-digit margin (the sole outlier, from Suffolk University, had Trump ahead by a “mere” 9 points).

Granted, any challenger against an “incumbent” like Trump probably wouldn’t pop up on many voters’ radars this far ahead of an election. But much of the “Trump is slipping” coverage skips past all this vital context. For example, the New York Times recently ran a write-up of its poll with Siena College headlined “Half of G.O.P. Voters Ready to Leave Trump Behind, Poll Finds.” And indeed, the poll did find that 51 percent of Republicans would vote for someone other than Trump if the primary were held today.

Yet the headline is misleading. The Times poll found that Trump still commanded 49 percent support in the party; his next closest rival, DeSantis, garnered a mere 25 percent. In the article, reporter Michael Bender notes that the results show that “Mr. Trump maintains his primacy in the party,” contradicting the piece’s headline.”

“If you read studies of the American conservative movement, Trump’s continued strength should be no surprise. The political strength of the movement never came from its policy ideas. Many of its positions, like tax cuts for the rich and stringent abortion restrictions, have ultimately proven to be extremely unpopular.

Instead, its strength has been rooted in grievance: the bitterness of those who believe that modern America is changing too fast, beyond recognition, turning “traditional” citizens into aliens in their own country.

A charitable observer might call this sentiment nostalgia for a bygone America. A more critical one might call it the venting of reactionary white male rage against a more egalitarian country. But whatever your assessment, it is this politics of cultural grievance that animates the GOP base.”

How Demands for ‘Local Control’ Become an Excuse for NIMBYism

“These “get off my lawn” conservatives claim to be upholding the principle of local control by arguing that local government officials rather than bureaucrats in far-off Sacramento get to make development decisions. It sounds good in theory given the Jeffersonian concept that the government closest to the people governs best.

The better quotation (actually used by Henry David Thoreau but often misattributed to Thomas Jefferson) is “that government is best which governs the least.” The goal—for those of us who value freedom—isn’t to allow the right government functionary to control us, but to have less government control overall.

Local officials are easier to kick out of office than officials in Sacramento or Washington, D.C., but the locals can be extremely abusive. They know where we live, after all. I’ve reported extensively on California’s defunct redevelopment agencies, and local tyrants would routinely abuse eminent domain under the guise of local control.

“Under S.B. 9, cities are required to approve these lot splits ‘ministerially,’ without any reviews, hearings, conditions, fees or environmental impact reports,” complains my Southern California News Group colleague, Susan Shelley.

Oh, please.

Conservatives have for decades complained about the subjective nature of bureaucratic and public reviews, the evils of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), and excessive fees. Now there’s a law that fixes that, albeit in a limited manner, and they are grabbing their pitchforks.

S.B. 9 and S.B. 10 do not put Sacramento bureaucrats in charge of the locals. Instead, they deregulate certain development decisions, by requiring officials to approve a project “by right” provided it meets all the normal regulations. It eliminates subjectivity and defangs CEQA. Yet this greatly upsets them.”

“If conservatives seriously believe local control is the trump card, then they should lobby for the repeal of Proposition 13, which is a state-imposed restriction on local governments’ authority to raise property taxes. I find Prop. 13 to be one of the best laws ever passed in this state. They should also oppose Republican efforts at the federal level to limit the ability of blue states to regulate the heck out of us.”

Opinion | The Supreme Court Decisions on Guns and Abortion Relied Heavily on History. But Whose History?

“History has always played a role in constitutional interpretation, for some jurists more than others. But if history is going to be a key driver for the Supreme Court’s decisions — on the assumption that it is more legitimate than other forms of judicial discretion — then it is imperative to ask where the justices are getting their historical sources, whether those sources are fact-checked, and (most importantly) who is narrating the history.

Increasingly, the justices are relying on amicus briefs for historical information. Amicus briefs — also called “friend of the court” briefs — are submitted by third parties and have gone through a tremendous growth spurt at the Supreme Court in recent years.”

“These amicus briefs — sometimes signed by historians, sometimes not — are virtually all written by lawyers and often filed by motivated groups that are pressing for a particular outcome. The history they present, in other words, is mounted to make a point and served through an advocacy sieve. That distinguishes this type of history from the work product of professional historians who (even when they have a point of view) are trained to gather evidence dispassionately. As historian Alfred H. Kelly once put it, “The truth of history does not flow from its usefulness.” But usefulness is exactly the point when litigating a case at the Supreme Court — and historical sources are being used by the advocates to win.”

“The modern reality is the justices look to their friends and allies for historical sources, and rather than fact-check them — which they don’t have the time, resources, or expertise to do — they accept these historical narratives at face value. In the end, this creates an echo chamber where the history the justices cite is the history pressed to them by the groups and lawyers they trust, which conveniently comports with their preexisting worldviews and normative priors.”

“Professional historians are already complaining that the court got the history wrong in its recent cases, either by cherry-picking authorities or leaving out important nuance or both. When it came to the history of gun regulation, the court was awash in competing historical amicus briefs. The court chose one side, and in so doing caused historians to cry foul that the other history was ignored or distorted. In the abortion case, historians of the Middle Ages say some of the texts the court cites as proof that abortion was a crime in the 13th century are not about what we would think of as crime at all, but instead about “penance” imposed by the Church — an ambiguity easily lost on people who are unfamiliar with medieval Latin. Indeed, it is worth noting that much of the 13th-century history the court recounts seems to have come from a brief filed not by historians, but by professors of jurisprudence who publish on the moral implications of abortion — well-respected professors in their fields, perhaps, but certainly not medievalists.
This reveals a systemic problem about relying on amicus briefs for historical narratives: The amicus market is dominated by motivated scholars. Because many neutral experts do not pay attention to the courts or participate in advocacy, the historical accounts presented to the justices are necessarily incomplete and motivated to build a particular argument.”

“the Supreme Court should require anyone who files an amicus brief to disclose who paid for it. Current rules require disclosure only of whether the party contributed financially or otherwise to the brief, but they do little to shed light on briefs filed by neutral-sounding organizations that are in reality funded by those with an interest in the case (even if not the party).”

“the justices should borrow a practice from the laws of evidence and forbid any amicus brief presenting historical or other factual claims from adding accompanying legal argument. At trial in lower courts, there are strict limits on expert witnesses offering opinions on the law or generally opining on the case’s outcome. The idea is that this legal commentary detracts from the status of the expert as a neutral adviser, and that it oversteps the value and point of an expert witness in the first place.”

“justices should build in a process to request the specific history they are interested in earlier in the case’s timeline — in an attempt to recruit historians who may not be following the court’s every move but who are actual experts in the matter. If historians of medieval law knew their knowledge on abortion in the 13th century was so valuable when the court took the case (as opposed to after the leak in Dobbs) there might be incentive for more of them to participate in the briefing process.”

“If we are going to empower judges to referee history we must start paying more attention to the process through which they acquire that history. Many Americans see the court’s recent decisions as a threat to judicial legitimacy; perhaps one under-recognized threat to that legitimacy lies in the process used to make them.”

A New History of the Old Right

“The discontent Trump used to propel himself to the White House has always been present on the American right. When Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R–Wis.) began his crusade against “the hidden Communists in America and their liberal Democratic protectors,” for example, he found support in the Republican Party and in the few conservative publications that existed at the time—The American Mercury, Human Events, even the libertarian-leaning Freeman. As McCarthy’s accusations multiplied and “became more outrageous, more galling, and more disconnected from reality,” Continetti writes, conservatives such as William F. Buckley Jr. still backed his crusade. There are similarities in the way Sen. Robert A. Taft (R–Ohio) responded to McCarthy’s conspiracy theories and the way Sen. Mitch McConnell (R–Ky.) has responded to Trump’s. While McCarthy ultimately undermined himself by launching outrageous accusations against President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Continetti demonstrates just how long conservatives have been tempted to follow aggressive demagogues while they lambaste liberals.

Traditionally, conservative elites have tried to channel populist sentiments into a respectable and successful movement. No one had to grapple with this question more than Buckley, the founder of National Review. The usual conservative narrative says that Buckley legitimized conservatism by being a gatekeeper: In keeping the conspiracism of the John Birch Society and the radical individualism of Ayn Rand at arm’s length, he made it less likely that conservatives would be labeled extremists. In the case of the John Birch Society, Buckley wrote a 5,000-word essay, “The Question of Robert Welch,” that condemned the group’s founder, arguing that “the best thing Mr. Welch could do to serve the cause of anticommunism in the United States would be to resign.” Buckley’s purges are often held up as a great success, but the reality is that Welch did not resign and the John Birch Society continued to have influence.

While Buckley initially aligned his magazine with segregationists in the South, a choice that has marred the movement’s reputation ever since, he was resolute in opposing Alabama Gov. George Wallace’s particular brand of populism. Wallace, of course, was a strident proponent of segregation in the 1960s. During his second run for president, on a third-party ticket in 1968, the candidate turned heavily to anti-elitist rhetoric. “As he began to attack the federal government and its know-it-all politicians and bureaucrats,” Continetti writes, “his support among conservatives grew.” Buckley called Wallace “Mr. Evil,” “a dangerous man,” and a “great phony.” He was also taken aback by the “uncouthness that seems to account for his general popularity.”

Other conservatives joined the denunciations. Wallace’s conservative fans, National Review founding senior editor Frank Meyer wrote, need to recognize that “there are other dangers to conservatism and to the civilization conservatives are defending than the liberal Establishment, and that to fight liberalism without guarding against these dangers runs the risk of ending in a situation as bad as or worse as our present one.” In modern parlance: Don’t back a man like Wallace to own the libs.”‘

The conservative Supreme Court is just getting warmed up

“In addition to overturning a nearly half-century-long federal right to an abortion, the court struck down gun-licensing laws in the most populous states, expanded state funding for religious schools, broadened the rights of public-school employees to pray publicly at work and halted lower court orders requiring two states to redraw congressional boundaries to give minority voters a better chance of electing candidates of their choice.

“What the court did just on abortion, guns and congressional power in the last eight days—that alone is momentous [but] if these justices stay together over the next few years, I don’t even think the first shoe has dropped,” University of California at Irvine Law Professor Rick Hasen said. “There’s so much more the Supreme Court could do to change American society.”

On Thursday, minutes after dealing a severe blow to President Joe Biden’s plan to reduce power-plant emissions to combat climate change, the high court announced it will take up a case from North Carolina next term that could give state legislatures vast power to draw district lines and set election rules even if state courts, commissions or executive officials disagree.

The so-called independent state legislature theory has lingered at the fringes of election-law debates for years, but was seized upon by former President Donald Trump in 2020 in his unsuccessful efforts to overturn Biden’s win.

“It’s kind of uncharted territory,” Hasen said. “It could have some far-reaching and unintended consequences.”

A sweeping Supreme Court ruling on the state-legislature issue might give state lawmakers the authority to appoint presidential electors, regardless of what state courts say or how a majority of a state’s voters cast their ballots.

In the 30 states with Republican legislatures, a ruling upholding the theory could give the GOP a big leg up in more routine House and Senate elections. But the effect in Democratic-run states could also be polarizing, with a redistricting commission in California put out of business and efforts by New York courts to limit gerrymandering reversed.

That case will join other polarizing issues already on the docket for next term: a new Voting Rights Act challenge from Alabama, a pair of cases challenging race-based affirmative action programs in higher education and a case brought by a web designer claiming that she should be able to ignore a Colorado law barring discrimination against same-sex couples.

As with many of the cases the Supreme Court decided in recent weeks, any of those cases could qualify as the most significant of an ordinary court term, but the justices have decided to hear them all.”

A New History of the Old Right

“Unlike most accounts of the American conservative movement, Matthew Continetti’s The Right begins in the 1920s, when two Republican presidents returned the country to normalcy after World War I. The ideals of that era’s Republicans were not so different from those espoused by former President Donald Trump today: They believed in cutting taxes, restricting immigration, and protecting American industry through tariffs. But there was one fundamental difference: Presidents Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge rejected the populism of their age. They aimed to preserve American institutions. Trump is more like William Jennings Bryan, riding the coattails of discontent. He represents a time, Continetti argues, when an increasingly apocalyptic conservative movement “no longer viewed core American institutions as worth defending.””

“Traditionally, conservative elites have tried to channel populist sentiments into a respectable and successful movement. No one had to grapple with this question more than Buckley, the founder of National Review. The usual conservative narrative says that Buckley legitimized conservatism by being a gatekeeper: In keeping the conspiracism of the John Birch Society and the radical individualism of Ayn Rand at arm’s length, he made it less likely that conservatives would be labeled extremists. In the case of the John Birch Society, Buckley wrote a 5,000-word essay, “The Question of Robert Welch,” that condemned the group’s founder, arguing that “the best thing Mr. Welch could do to serve the cause of anticommunism in the United States would be to resign.” Buckley’s purges are often held up as a great success, but the reality is that Welch did not resign and the John Birch Society continued to have influence.”

“Continetti’s major contribution comes in explaining how conservatism has changed since the end of the Cold War. Here he details the conflict between neoconservatives, such as Bill Kristol, and paleoconservatives, such as Pat Buchanan. With their dedication to the culture war and their opposition to foreign intervention and immigration, the paleoconservatives presaged Trump’s electoral success in 2016.
The paleocons lost the political battles of the 1990s and 2000s. But the War on Terror ultimately discredited the neoconservatives, opening the door for populist discontent to capture the Republican Party. The first manifestation of this was the Tea Party movement. While Continetti draws a straight line from this to Trump’s election, in reality the Tea Party encompassed several strands of conservatism (all populist in nature) with conflicting conceptions of what 21st century conservatism should entail. Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Marco Rubio of Florida, and Ted Cruz of Texas all rode the Tea Party wave to victory in 2010–12, and all had very different visions for the future of the nation—and very different visions from Trump’s. Nonetheless, the anti-establishment politics that emerged in the wake of the Iraq War and the 2008 financial crisis ultimately brought Trump to power.

It was during this time, from 2010 to 2016, that Continetti believes “the populist American Right [became] less interested in preserving institutions than in tearing them down.” One could hardly think of a better instrument for that purpose than Trump. Trump condemned illegal immigration and trade with China, announced “support for a ban on Muslim entry into the United States,” and recalibrated “American politics along the axis of national identity.” Many conservatives initially condemned him, and National Review even released a special issue titled “Against Trump.” One of its contributors called the candidate “a philosophically unmoored political opportunist who would trash the broad conservative ideological consensus within the GOP in favor of a free-floating populism with strong-man overtones.” Nonetheless, Trump won.”

Conservatives Say They Care About the Constitution. Until They Talk About Criminal Justice.

“GOP senators who are attacking President Joe Biden’s Supreme Court pick seem weirdly unaware of how our justice system works. By focusing in part on Ketanji Brown Jackson’s former role as a criminal defense attorney, they act as if it’s wrong to provide a defense to people accused of a crime—and that if the government levels a charge, it must be right.

Hey, if you haven’t done anything wrong, you have nothing to fear—or something like that. “Like any attorney who has been in any kind of practice, they are going to have to answer for the clients they represented and the arguments they made,” Sen. Josh Hawley (R–Mo.) said in reference to Jackson and other Biden nominees. Apparently, defense attorneys should only defend choirboys.

Yet I guarantee if Hawley—known for his fist pump in support of Jan. 6 protestors at the U.S. Capitol—became the target of an overzealous prosecutor who accused him of inciting an insurrection, he’d be happy to have a competent defense attorney to advocate on his behalf. That attorney shouldn’t be forever stained for defending someone as loathsome as Hawley.”

“Jackson will be the nation’s first Supreme Court justice to have served as a public defender, with Thurgood Marshall being the last justice to have criminal defense experience.”

“A study last year by the libertarian Cato Institute found the Trump administration’s judicial appointments tilted in favor of prosecutors over those who represented individuals by a 10-to-one margin. Only 14 percent of the liberal Obama administration’s appointees defended individuals. Most judges strive to be fair, but their backgrounds color their worldview.”

The Reactionary Tradition Out To Annihilate American Liberty

“For portions of the MAGA right, the stakes in politics seem unbearably high. They imagine their elections stolen without consequences, their children menaced by transsexuals in the schools, their fathers’ manufacturing jobs shipped away by globalist corporations that mock their values. People whose worldviews sicken them seem to control every citadel of political and cultural power and to brook no opposition.

Even President Donald Trump seemed powerless to shift America back to the country they wanted. And so several institutions and thinkers of the intellectual right have declared that it’s time to take the gloves off in a way even Trump would not. It’s time, they argue, to fight against “liberalism”—not just the attitudes associated with the Democratic Party, but the historical idea of a social order based on people’s ability to make their own choices about what to do with their lives and property, to live and travel where they wish, to choose meanings, family structures, attitudes, and lifeways freed of any obligation to national or ethnic traditions. They want the American right to get tough and to crush progressivism at its root.

Thus, there has been a small intellectual revival of mostly forgotten or despised thinkers often dubbed “reactionary.” In A World After Liberalism, Matthew Rose of the Morningside Institute assesses five of them”

“These reactionary writers see, in Rose’s words, “humans as naturally tribal, not autonomous; individuals as inherently unequal, not equal; politics as grounded in authority, not consent; societies as properly closed, not open.””

Just how much is Trump’s judiciary sabotaging the Biden presidency?

“No one has ever elected Matthew Kacsmaryk to anything.

Kacsmaryk, whom former President Donald Trump appointed to the federal bench in 2019, was previously a lawyer for a Christian right law firm. He once claimed being transgender is a “mental disorder” and that gay people are “disordered.” He’s also one of the most powerful immigration officials in the country, having successfully wrested control of much of America’s border policy away from the man Americans elected president in 2020.

With the Supreme Court’s blessing, Kacsmaryk ordered President Joe Biden’s administration to reinstate Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” policy, which requires many asylum seekers who arrive at the United States’ southern border to stay in Mexico while they await a hearing.

Even if you ignore the moral implications of reinstating such a policy, there are good reasons to doubt that the policy is a good use of America’s limited border security resources. And Kacsmaryk’s decision is also unlawful for numerous reasons.

One of the most important reasons is that it upends the balance of power between the president and unelected judges. Reinstating the Remain in Mexico program requires the Mexican government’s cooperation — which means that Kacsmaryk ordered the United States to change its diplomatic stance toward Mexico. And that’s despite decades of warnings from the Supreme Court that judges should be “particularly wary of impinging on the discretion of the Legislative and Executive Branches in managing foreign affairs.”

Kacsmaryk’s decision, and the Supreme Court’s decision to stand with Kacsmaryk against President Joe Biden, is one of the most dramatic examples of the Republican-controlled federal judiciary’s many conflicts with America’s Democratic president. But it’s hardly an isolated incident.

In just four years as president, Trump remade the federal judiciary — all with a big assist from a Senate Republican leader willing to break any norm in order to ensure GOP control of the courts. Trump appointed a third of the Supreme Court and nearly a third of all active appeals court judges. He also peppered federal trial courts with conservative activists like Kacsmaryk, who are eager to overturn some of the most fundamental assumptions of US law.

Nearly one year into Biden’s time in office, the result hasn’t exactly been a bloodbath for his policies — in contrast to the seemingly never-ending array of lawsuits seeking to repeal Obamacare, no federal judge has yet tried to repeal Biden’s major legislative accomplishments such as the American Rescue Plan or the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. But in two areas in particular, immigration and public health, the courts have been unusually aggressive.”

“if the Supreme Court wanted lower-court judges to stop ignoring precedents that permit President Biden to govern, it could intervene to stop them from doing so. Instead, it has rewarded many of the most aggressive conservative innovators within the judiciary.”