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 Trump’s Tariffs on Chinese Chemical Products Backfired

“When the Trump administration implemented tariffs on Chinese chemical companies in 2018, administration officials said tariffs would make American chemical companies more competitive. But industry groups told regulators last week that it’s had the opposite effect.

At a Thursday hearing on the impact of the Trump administration’s tariffs against China, the American Chemistry Council (ACC), an industry group representing over 190 U.S. chemical companies, informed the International Trade Commission that imports of Chinese chemical products have instead grown continuously since the tariffs took effect in June 2018. Over $35 billion worth of chemicals were imported from China in 2021, and Chinese companies now make up a larger share of U.S. chemical imports than they did when former President Donald Trump took office in 2017.

Per the ACC, the Trump administration failed to account for American manufacturers’ reliance on intermediate products exclusively produced in China. “China is the primary source of many valuable inputs to U.S. chemical manufacturing processes, and for which few or no alternatives exist,” an ACC representative said. “It would take years, and billions of dollars, to build manufacturing capabilities for these inputs in the United States or other countries.”

Dyes stand out as some of the most notable examples of vital Chinese imports impacted by chemical tariffs. For U.S. manufacturers to produce Red 57, a red pigment commonly found in many cosmetic products, they must import 3-hydroxy-2-naphthoic acid, also known as BONA, from China. BONA is exclusively produced in China, forcing American manufacturers to bear the higher costs associated with importing these critical Chinese-made inputs for their final products.”

“Despite the attention given to the industry by the federal government in recent years, chemical companies are warning that tariffs are hurting their ability to invest new capital in their supply chains and innovate on issues like climate change. They also worry that it will slow job growth and hinder the Biden administration’s broader efforts toward restoring resilience in the supply chain while only contributing to higher costs for consumers.

“[T]ariffs are clearly not working for the chemicals and plastics sector,” the ACC said in their testimony. “[They] are making the United States a less attractive place for jobs, innovation, and plant expansion.””

Trump’s totally “unhinged” West Wing meeting

“On the eve of former President Donald Trump’s infamous tweet calling for his supporters to show up in Washington on January 6, the West Wing was “unhinged.”

As shown by the select committee investigating the January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, the December 19 tweet followed an Oval Office meeting where insults, personal attacks, and even challenges to fistfights were exchanged among participants, as a group of outside advisers to Trump tried to persuade him to issue an executive order to seize voting machines and name lawyer Sidney Powell as a special counsel to investigate fraud in the election.

In a text message provided to the committee, former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson, who was also in the West Wing at that time, described the meeting to another White House aide. “The west wing is UNHINGED,” she wrote.

Even that fails to describe the fiery nature of the showdown between attorneys from the White House counsel’s office and the likes of Trump lawyers Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell, former national security adviser Michael Flynn, and former Overstock CEO Patrick Byrne. Giuliani testified that he called Trump’s White House lawyers “a bunch of pussies” for not zealously backing Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election.”

The warrant authorizing the FBI search of Trump’s home is unsealed — and it’s alarming

“The documents indicate the warrant was issued to investigate potential violations of the Espionage Act. That act states, among other things, that an official entrusted with sensitive or classified information who allows it to be taken away from its secure location through “gross negligence” or who knows it’s been removed from safety and doesn’t tell federal officials can be fined or imprisoned for up to 10 years. They also suggest an inquiry into possible improper removal or destruction of federal records, and obstruction of a federal investigation.

The receipt suggests 11 sets of documents were recovered, including items related to French President Emmanuel Macron, handwritten notes, photos, and top-secret materials.”

Donald Trump’s Handling of Classified Material Looks Worse Than Hillary Clinton’s

“According to a search warrant inventory that was unsealed on Friday, the FBI found 11 sets of classified documents, ranging from “confidential” to “top secret,” when it searched former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach last Monday. The top-secret documents included some that were labeled “SCI,” or “sensitive compartmented information,” an especially restricted category derived from intelligence sources.

On the face of it, Trump’s handling of this information, which he took with him from the White House when he left office in January 2021, raises national security concerns at least as serious as those raised by Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server as secretary of state. Trump has long maintained that Clinton’s mishandling of classified material when she ran the State Department was egregious enough to justify sending her to prison. But in his case, he says, the documents at Mar-a-Lago, despite their labeling, were not actually classified.

How so? According to a statement that Trump representative John Solomon read on Fox News after the search warrant and inventory were unsealed, Trump had a “standing order” as president that automatically declassified material he moved from the Oval Office to his residence at the White House. That explanation raises additional questions about Trump’s seemingly cavalier treatment of sensitive information”

“In July 2016, when then–FBI Director James Comey announced that the FBI had not found enough evidence to justify criminal charges against Clinton, he reported that 110 messages in 52 unsecured email chains had been “determined by the owning agency to contain classified information at the time they were sent or received.” He said “eight of those chains contained information that was Top Secret at the time they were sent; 36 chains contained Secret information at the time; and eight contained Confidential information, which is the lowest level of classification.”

By comparison, the FBI’s list of items seized at Mar-a-Lago includes five mentions of “various” or “miscellaneous” top-secret documents, three mentions of “miscellaneous secret documents,” and three mentions of “confidential documents.” We don’t know how many documents were in each set or the precise nature of the information they discussed. But five sets of top-secret documents could easily contain more sensitive information than eight email chains that may have referred to top-secret material only briefly and/or in passing.

Comey said Clinton’s treatment of “very sensitive, highly classified information” was “extremely careless.” On its face, that judgment could support charges under 18 USC 793, which encompasses “gross negligence” in the handling of information “relating to the national defense”—a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison. But Comey concluded that was not enough to justify prosecuting Clinton”

“Although there is evidence of potential violations of the statutes regarding the handling of classified information, our judgment is that no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case….In looking back at our investigations into mishandling or removal of classified information, we cannot find a case that would support bringing criminal charges on these facts. All the cases prosecuted involved some combination of: clearly intentional and willful mishandling of classified information; or vast quantities of materials exposed in such a way as to support an inference of intentional misconduct; or indications of disloyalty to the United States; or efforts to obstruct justice.”

The Mar-a-Lago search warrant was based on U.S. Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart’s determination that there was probable cause to believe the FBI would find “items illegally possessed” in violation of three statutes, including 18 USC 793. Although Trump has not been charged with any crime and may never face prosecution, his conduct arguably included some of the aggravating factors that Comey mentioned.

To start with, there is some evidence to support the inference that Trump’s alleged mishandling of classified material was “intentional and willful.” In January, after the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) raised concerns that Trump had improperly removed documents that were covered by the Presidential Records Act, Trump’s representatives turned over 15 boxes. Noticing that some of the documents were marked as classified, NARA referred the matter to the Justice Department, which obtained additional documents from Mar-a-Lago under a grand jury subpoena in June. Around the same time, The New York Times reports, “a Trump lawyer” gave the Justice Department “a written declaration” saying “all the material marked classified in the boxes had been turned over.”

Judging from what the FBI says it found last week, that was not true. The FBI presumably presented evidence to that effect, possibly based on a Trump insider’s tip, in its search warrant affidavit (which, unlike the warrant itself and the inventory, remains sealed). That apparent misrepresentation may help explain why the search warrant cites not only 18 USC 793 but also 18 USC 1519, which makes it a felony, punishable by up to 20 years in prison, to knowingly conceal “any record, document, or tangible object” with “the intent to impede, obstruct, or influence” a federal investigation. Such concealment, if proven, would qualify as “efforts to obstruct justice,” another aggravating factor that Comey mentioned.

Because the volume, contents, and exact location of the documents seized by the FBI are uncertain, it is not clear whether the records at Mar-a-Lago amounted to “vast quantities of materials exposed in such a way as to support an inference of intentional misconduct,” another Comey criterion. The difficulty of assessing that question underlines how little information we have about the documents that were seized.

“Here is where Trump’s defense comes in. “The very fact that these documents were present at Mar-a-Lago means they couldn’t have been classified,” his office says. “As we can all relate to, everyone ends up having to bring home their work from time to time. American presidents are no different. President Trump, in order to prepare for work the next day, often took documents including classified documents from the Oval Office to the residence.” In light of that practice, the statement says, Trump “had a standing order that documents removed from the Oval Office and taken into the residence were deemed to be declassified.” It notes that “the power to classify and declassify documents rests solely with the President of the United States.”

Without denying that point, Trump’s critics argue that such a policy would be highly irregular and careless. “Whatever POTUS’ ‘powers’ might be to declassify docs,” former FBI agent Asha Rangappa says on Twitter, “there are good policy and practical reasons…to follow a process, and for that process to be documented and reflected on the document markings themselves.”

Rangappa says “accountability” requires that declassification of a given document be justified by a rationale dealing with the national security implications, which “allows for objections from others if the reasoning is based on an incorrect premise.” She also cites the need to protect intelligence sources from “blowback.” In addition to “being dangerous and bad for [national security],” she says, automatic declassification of any documents that the president happens to remove from the Oval Office would cause “confusion and inefficiency and distortions in our intelligence collection, foreign policy, and defense efforts.”

If “Trump telepathically declassifies hundreds of docs on his way out,” Rangappa adds, President Joe Biden “can telepathically reclassify them immediately, too. See how stupid this gets? Markings would mean nothing. No one would know how to store things.”

Accepting Trump’s argument that any documents at Mar-a-Lago were ipso facto declassified, notwithstanding markings to the contrary, that information would be legally available not just to him but also to the general public, assuming there was no other statutory justification for restricting access. Unless classification decisions are utterly arbitrary or were clearly wrong with regard to every document that Trump retained, that seems like a pretty reckless way to handle sensitive material. But it would be of a piece with Trump’s behavior as president, which reportedly included tearing up and flushing documents that were supposed to be preserved under the Presidential Records Act.

The issues that critics like Rangappa raise go beyond the question of criminal liability. Let’s say Trump’s purported “standing order” means he is in the clear under 18 USC 793. Let’s also stipulate that meeting the mens rea requirements for convicting him of obstruction or “willfully” concealing documents that belonged in the National Archives would be a tall order. Trump’s behavior and excuses for it nevertheless provide further evidence, in case any was needed, that he is not the sort of person who can be trusted to hold any position of political power, let alone the presidency.

Back in 2016, when Trump was intent on making his opponent look bad, he claimed to be moved by the concerns of “long-term workers at the FBI,” who he said were “furious” that Clinton got off with a wrist slap for recklessly endangering national security. Now that the shoe is on the other foot, Trump dismisses the FBI’s avowed concerns as transparent excuses for the partisan “witch hunt” that supposedly has victimized him throughout his political career. One need not be a fan of the FBI to see that Trump’s view of what qualifies as shameful and disgraceful is based on no principle beyond his petty personal interests.”