8 min read

Trump’s four fronts

Donald Trump is waging a four-front war to regain his spot atop American politics: against Biden, Haley, the legal system, and congressional negotiators.
Trump’s four fronts
Photo by Gage Skidmore

Good morning! It’s Monday, January 29, 2024. The 2024 elections are 281 days away. If this newsletter was forwarded to you, subscribe here. If you want to contribute to support my work, donate here.

As I’ve been writing, Donald Trump is returning to the center of American life — and everyone should get ready for the transformations in opinions and attitudes that inevitably comes with that fact.

This week, as Trump continues his march back to relevance (his favorite place to be), there are four main arenas you should watch:

Trump vs. Haley

What is Nikki Haley’s endgame? Sure, that might sound like an odd question at this early stage of the cycle — so far, 61 Republican delegates have been awarded out of 2,429 — but presidential primaries are usually more about momentum than pure delegate counts. And it’s fair to say right now that Haley has zero momentum.

She has yet to win a single state, including New Hampshire, which had just the right mix of moderates and independents. She is polling 30 points down in South Carolina, her own home state, and almost 60 points down nationally. She has no clear path to the Republican nomination.

And yet, she refuses to drop out. A few months ago, the idea that Haley would be staying in the Republican race purely to needle Trump, and not to win, would have seemed far-fetched. But, now, as her criticisms of Trump become steadily sharper — just at the moment the nomination seems to have slipped out of her grasp — it doesn’t seem so crazy. At the very least, it’s hard to divine what else she’s trying to achieve.

If that is Haley’s goal, it seems to be working. As the Washington Post’s Dan Balz recently noted, “Donald Trump doesn’t respond well to women who challenge, question or mock him. They bring out the worst in him.” And Haley has clearly gotten under the ex-president’s skin, as evidenced by his angry rant about her after New Hampshire.

This weekend, she went even farther, calling Trump “unhinged” and — for the first time — acknowledging the merits of a legal challenge against him. “I absolutely trust the jury. And I think that they made their decision based on the evidence,” she said on “Meet the Press,” referring to the New York jury that ordered him to pay $83.3 million in damages to E. Jean Carroll.

As the old saw goes, Primary campaigns don’t lose. They run out of money. Indeed, some of Haley’s billionaire backers are beginning to get cold feet, ditching her campaign. However, others are staying on — and the idea that she’s launching some anti-Trump kamikaze mission is likely enough to rake in big bucks from Democrats, who would love to see her bashing Trump as long as possible. She raised $2.6 million in the 48 hours after losing New Hampshire last week, giving the impression that money will be no object.

There are ways to impact presidential races without winning them.

Trump vs. Biden

Even with Haley nagging from the sidelines, Trump is ready to move on to his likely general election matchup with President Biden — and vice versa.

Biden has dropped his hesitance to invoke Trump’s name (no more “the former guy”) and is now attacking him head-on in campaign speeches. Like Haley, he’s targeting Trump’s known weak spots. “You’re the reason Donald Trump is a defeated former president,” Biden said in a Saturday speech in South Carolina. “You’re the reason Donald Trump is a loser.”

Per CNN, Biden’s taunts are designed to get Trump’s attention — and it’s working. “I do think he’s trying to get under his skin, and I think it’s the smartest thing the Biden campaign has done yet,” a person close to Trump told CNN. “It rattles him and takes him off message.”

In response, Trump is also increasingly turning to the general election, using a Las Vegas speech on Saturday to hit Biden on his border policies and to allege (without evidence) that the president is using the criminal justice system to go after him. “What Joe Biden doing is a crime against our nation,” Trump declared.

Trump vs. E. Jean Carroll

At the same time as he battles both a primary and general election opponent, Trump is also fighting for his innocence — and his fortune — in a series of legal fights around the country. On Friday, he was dealt his biggest legal setback yet as a New York jury ordered him to pay $83.3 million in defamation damages to advice columnist E. Jean Carroll.

Carroll has alleged that Trump sexually assaulted her at a New York department store in the 1990s; last year, a separate jury found him liable for sexual abuse, ordering him to pay her $5 million in damages.

The Carroll trials are just the first in a string of legal proceedings Trump has on his schedule this year, hopscotching from courtrooms to the campaign trail. Later this week, a final judgement is expected to come in his New York civil fraud case, in which a judge ruled last year that Trump had been committing fraud for years. The same judge is now poised to set the penalty against Trump; the New York attorney general has called for Trump to receive a $370 million fine and a lifetime ban from the New York real estate business.

According to Bloomberg News, if Trump is fined the full amount, that penalty plus the Carroll damages would amount to wiping out nearly 15% of his net worth. Trump will likely appeal the Carroll damages, which means he won’t have pay just yet. But the advice columnist already knows what she wants to do with the dough.

“I’d like to give the money to something Donald Trump hates,” Carroll said in an interview this morning.

Trump vs. The border deal

Finally, Trump is asserting himself in one more way, attempting to defeat the bipartisan Ukraine/border deal being negotiated on Capitol Hill. As I noted Friday, Trump has repeatedly tried to tank bipartisan agreements in the Biden era — but rarely with the intensity and focus he is bringing to this one.

“As the leader of our party, there is zero chance I will support this horrible open borders betrayal of America,” Trump said in his Las Vegas speech on Saturday. “I’ll fight it all the way. A lot of the senators are trying to say, respectfully, they’re blaming it on me. I say, that’s okay. Please blame it on me. Please.”

There is still known about the deal — the contents of which have yet to be released — except for the fact that it faces a rocky path to passage. Per CNN, the package will include provisions allowing the Department of Homeland Security to shut down the border to illegal crossings if daily average migrant encounters reach 4,000 in a one-week span — and requiring the agency to do so if the number reaches 5,000.

Republican opponents of the deal, including Trump, have charged that Biden won’t use the full authorities the bill would give him if it’s passed, an allegation he denied on Friday. “[The package] would give me, as president, a new emergency authority to shut down the border when it becomes overwhelmed,” Biden said in a statement. “And if given that authority, I would use it the day I sign the bill into law.”

Even with that assurance, though, Republican lawmakers will have a hard time supporting the agreement if Trump is whipping the base against it. The Oklahoma Republican Party voted Saturday to censure Sen. James Lankford (R-OK), the chief GOP author of the deal, for his role in the negotiations, using a common tactic GOP state parties have deployed against apostates in the Trump era.

“Border security is national security,” Lankford tweeted in response.


More news to know.

CIA Director Bill Burns is Biden’s emissary to the ongoing ceasefire talks. (CSIS)

Middle East

* Three U.S. service members were killed — and more than 30 were injured — in a drone attack on a U.S. base in Jordan on Sunday. “We shall respond,” President Biden promised Sunday, blaming the attack on Iranian-backed Iran-backed militants. Some Republican lawmakers have called on Biden to directly attack Iran in response. The attack marked the first time U.S. troops have been killed by hostile fire in the Middle East since the Israel-Hamas war began.

* Per the New York Times, negotiators led by the U.S., Egypt, and Qatar are “edging closer” to an agreement in which Israel would allow a two-month ceasefire in Gaza in exchange for Hamas releasing the 100+ hostages it continues to hold in captivity. Such a deal could be inked in the next two weeks, the Times reported.

* As Biden makes his frustrations known to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his aides are reportedly considering “pausing or slowing” arm shipments to Israel as a way to pressure Netanyahu to scale back its offensive.

* The U.S. is trying to persuade China to use its leverage with Iran to persuade the country to tone back the attacks being launched by its proxy groups.

* Several countries, including the U.S., Canada, Germany, Australia, and the United Kingdom, paused funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNWRA) after allegations that 12 employees of the aid group participated in the October 7th attacks against Israel.

Congress

* House Republicans are moving forward with their effort to impeach Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas for mishandling the border. Draft articles of impeachment were released on Saturday.

2024

* Arab-American leaders refused to meet with President Biden’s campaign manager in Michigan on Friday, a sign of tensions in the must-win state for Democrats.

* Joe Manchin, potential No Labels candidate, says he “absolutely” can see himself as president.

* The Biden campaign is gunning for a Taylor Swift endorsement.


The day ahead.

Overtime pay for Secret Service agents is on the House agenda today. (Photo by Thomas Hawk)

White House: President Biden has no public events scheduled. Vice President Harris will travel to California, where she will participate in an event on abortion in San Jose and a campaign fundraiser in Los Gatos.

Congress: The Senate is out until tomorrow. The House is set to vote on eight measures, including a bill on federal purchasing, a Senate-passed bill to continue granting Secret Service agents overtime pay, and six bills to rename post offices.

Supreme Court: The justices have no oral arguments scheduled this week.


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