Trump has demanded that all those seeking his endorsement this year share his obsessions
onald Trump deserves exclusive credit for the fact that Democrats have controlled the Senate (along with the presidency and House) since 2020. And should the once-predicted Red Wave not materialize in November, his role in that will loom large as well.
In 2020, control of the Senate came down to two run-off elections in Georgia, which had not elected a Democrat to the Senate in over two decades. In addition, the two Republican candidates were incumbents, and their Democratic opponents were well to the left of the Georgia electorate. In the previous round of voting (in which no candidate received the necessary 50% of the vote), more Republican than Democratic votes were cast in both races.
Yet in the final round of voting, both Democrats prevailed because Trump put the Republican candidates in an untenable position (not that either proved a whiz-bang campaigner). He threatened to campaign against any Republican candidate who refused to affirm that Joseph Biden would not be inaugurated on January 20.
In short, he demanded that the Republican candidates, David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, make fools of themselves to satisfy his vanity. Nor was a one-time clown show sufficient. At every campaign stop, they were asked whether Joe Biden would be the next president. And with each denial, they shed more suburban voters. Americans do not like bad losers. Nor are they eager to elect representatives who are out of touch with reality.
Moreover, at least some Trump supporters believed that Trump votes had not been counted in the presidential election, despite the fact that both the governor and secretary of state of Georgia were Republicans, and decided that there was no point in voting in the run-offs. Turnout was down in the most pro-Trump areas from that in the first round of voting. Those pro-Trump voters who boycotted the election because they doubted their votes would be counted did so upon the specific advice of Trump's attorneys, Sydney Powell and Lin Wood.
As the final coup de grace, Trump was taped while trying alternately to bully and cajole Georgia secretary of state Brad Raffensperger to "find" sufficient votes to push Georgia into his column prior to the final certification of the state electors. That tape was released three days prior to the Georgia senatorial elections, and gave added power to the Democrats' claim that the Republican candidates were serving an obviously unhinged Trump and not the voters of Georgia.
NARCISSISTS HAVE a difficult time learning from past mistakes. Trump remains resolutely focused on the 2020 election, and has demanded that all those seeking his endorsement this year share his obsessions. No candidate who was unwilling to state repeatedly that the 2020 election was stolen received his support in Republican primaries.
But as a consequence, all those who received his endorsement, and prevailed in their primaries, began their general election campaigns hamstrung. They inevitably started the general election cycle on the defensive, as they have had to constantly defend every absurdity from Trump's mouth.
Voters want to know what candidates plan to do about the issues that concern them most. But by being so heavily invested in the 2020 presidential results, Republicans boosted in the primaries by Trump's endorsement lost all offensive momentum against their Democratic opponents and were forced to spend their time looking backward at an issue of minimal concern to most voters.
Had those candidates been able to go on the offensive and make the election about the policies pursued by President Biden and the Democratic Congress over the past two years, they would have been in a highly advantageous position. President Joe Biden's popularity initially plummeted during the disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan, and to a large extent has remained underwater ever since. The skyrocketing crime that is now reaching suburban areas and an open southern border are also winning issues for Republicans. And as the Virginia gubernatorial election demonstrates, the efforts of Democratic-allied teachers' unions to infect the school system at ever younger ages with material advancing transgressive gender identities is deeply unpopular.
And finally, the highest levels of inflation in over 40 years affect every American citizen. Though Trump himself enjoyed the role of Santa Claus with stimulus checks, the fact remains that the $2 trillion stimulus bill passed in early 2021 enjoyed the support of every Democrat in Congress and that of zero Republicans. The resultant inflation is not just President Biden's problem but that of every Democrat in Congress.
Larry Summers, former treasury secretary and chief of the Council of Economic Advisors in Democratic administrations, predicted then (over a year before the Russian invasion of Ukraine) that the Biden stimulus would "set off inflationary pressures not seen in a generation."
Candidates who fawned over Trump and his unproven claims to have won a landslide victory (which began even before all returns were in on Election Night) to receive his endorsement in the primaries thereby began their general election campaigns morally compromised. In addition to his demand for absolute fealty to his every claim, Trump showed a decided preference for candidates who are, like him, celebrities — perhaps a danger of his watching too much TV — without considering their vulnerabilities and limitations as candidates.
Herschel Walker, the greatest football player ever produced in Georgia, seems like a likable enough fellow, though the tapes of his ex-wife describing him holding a gun to her head undercut that image. But in his GOP run for Senate in the Peach State, Walker has shown less than complete command of the issues, especially when not reading from a prepared script.
And Democrat John Fetterman's Senate campaign in Pennsylvania (Fetterman himself can scarcely complete a sentence after suffering a massive stroke prior to the primaries) has enjoyed success questioning whether the Republican, Dr. Mehmet Oz, actually lives in Pennsylvania, and wondering why he maintains his Turkish citizenship, given that Turkey is not exactly America's most reliable ally. Both Walker and Oz are currently thought to be trailing in their Senate races.
BUT ALL the damage wrought by Trump's role in handing the Senate to the Democrats in 2020 and to Republican chances of retaking the Senate this year pales in comparison to the impact of his running again in 2024. He is, at least at present, the only Republican who would likely lose to Joe Biden or whomever Democrats substitute in his place. Even with polls showing voters disapproving of Biden's handling of the issues of greatest concern by margins of 20 percent or greater, he still narrowly defeats Trump in polls of those same voters.
Andrew McCarthy, the lead prosecutor in the first World Trade Center bombing and a rock-ribbed conservative, assesses the likelihood of Trump being indicted for the retention of classified documents ("Will Trump Be Indicted?" National Review, September 24). He judges the defenses that Trump has advanced so far to border on the ridiculous. Trump has claimed on social media that he declassified the documents in question either telepathically or by a standing order pertaining to documents removed from the White House, which to date no former staffer has confirmed.
But as in his voting fraud cases, his lawyers have been unwilling to make those same claims in legal pleadings, which is why Judge Raymond Dearie has been pressing Trump's lawyers for any proof of declassification.
In McCarthy's estimation, the Justice Department has grounds to indict and convict. The only thing saving Trump from criminal prosecution is that he is far more valuable to Democrats as a presidential candidate, whereby he serves to distract from the Democrats' dismal record and would give their candidate in 2024 a fighting chance. (Democrats are also not eager to explain why Trump is being treated differently than Hillary Clinton for similarly reckless handling of classified documents.)
And as long as a potential prosecution is only pending, Trump has every reason to remain a candidate. If he were to withdraw, he would lose all his value to Democrats, and they could proceed with a prosecution.
What a mess.
The Queen and I
I always had a soft spot in my heart for the late Queen Elizabeth, primarily because I thought she looked like my mother, may she live and be well, a lady of approximately the same vintage. But in retrospect, I realize that there was a deeper Jewish connection.
The late British philosopher Sir Roger Scruton once defined a conservative as someone who believes in unchosen obligations. By that standard, all Torah-observant Jews are conservatives, for we are born into a world with a very large set of duties already imposed upon us. As we recently read in parshas Nitzavim, the covenant also binds all those "who are not here with us today," and Rashi explains that that refers to the generations yet unborn.
Queen Elizabeth also had a large set of duties thrust upon her at an early age. She did not choose to be a queen or have the power to make up the rules that went with job. Yet for 70 years, she energetically fulfilled the duties imposed upon her with dignity. I do not recall one instance described in which she lowered the stature of her office with an ill-considered remark or exceeded the authority of the monarchy, in the British constitutional system, in any respect.
Howard Jacobson, one of England's preeminent novelists and commentators, pointed to a closely related quality as creating another affinity between her and Jews everywhere: She knew that "life is not a lark." One is not put into the world to do whatever one wants and to maximize one's pleasures. Rav Noach Weinberg ztz"l once defined yiras Shamayim in similar terms: Life is a serious business. Actions have consequences. And one is bound to consider those consequences in every instance.
The flip side of that seriousness, however, is the greatest reward of the life of a religious Jew — a constant awareness that our lives have meaning. I have lately been thinking a lot about how blessed I was to discover a world in which one must be thinking every moment about what is the proper way to conduct oneself. While there is a large area of life not determined explicitly by halachah, as either forbidden or permitted, even where we exercise our discretion in those areas, the decision must be justified in the context of the goals of Torah life: Will this course bring me closer to Hashem or not? Does this choice comport with my unique mission in the world?
And because we are forced — ideally — to think like that, we constantly experience the awareness that our life is a precious gift from Hashem, and precisely because it is so precious must we make the most of it.