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It’s Republican vs Republican, while Donald Trump loses again in the courts

It’s Republican vs Republican, while Donald Trump loses again in the courts
From left: North Dakota governor Doug Burgum, former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, Florida governor Ron DeSantis, US entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, South Carolina senator Tim Scott and former Vice President Mike Pence on stage prior to the GOP Fox Business Presidential Debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, US, on 27 September 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Etienne Laurent)

The second Republican presidential candidates debate produced no clear winner even as front-runner Donald Trump boycotted it. Meanwhile, a New York judge ruled the Trump empire is a financial chimera. And Congress is about to shut down the government — without a budget.

On Wednesday evening, seven Republican candidates gathered at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California to take swings at one another. Donald Trump was not there, choosing to take aim at the lot of them — as well as chastising incumbent President Joe Biden — at a speech before a rally of non-union members not on strike in front of a non-union automobile parts factory; this was while Biden was taking some picket strides with United Auto Workers (UAW) in front of an actual plant where its employees were actually on strike.

uaw demo

UAW (United Auto Workers) union members demonstrate at an entrance of a General Motors facility in Rancho Cucamonga, California, US, on 22 September 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Etienne Laurent)

The UAW had declared its first strike in many years against all of the Detroit “big three”. The strike is, in part, a response to growing dissatisfaction with the record profits gained by the three companies (and some eye-watering compensation paid to CEOs and senior officers), and, in part, over concerns about the growing tide of electric vehicle (EV) manufacturing and sales — they are cheaper and easier to produce than internal combustion engines. (Here we shall skate past the potential contradiction in the Biden administration’s advocacy for EVs as part of the new industrial revolution and climate change measures in tandem with its current support for the UAW’s demands towards the automakers.)

The Wednesday night debate seems to have offered little that was startling, new, or informative, nor did it really change the candidates’ landscape, even if former South Carolina governor and US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley’s standing may have risen slightly.

At this point, all seven of the participating candidates remain several laps behind Trump in national polls of Republican voters. It should be noted, though, that some individual state polls among Republicans in the early primary states are pointing to closer balloting results, but it is still four months before even the first primary elections.

republican debate

Former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley answers questions from journalists in the spin room following the GOP Presidential Debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, US, on 27 September 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Etienne Laurent)

This lack of much impact on polling and candidate standing has come despite significant sturm und drang on the part of the seven candidates, including putdowns of one another. Perhaps most pointedly, it was Haley’s comments towards businessman Vivek Ramaswamy and South Carolina Senator Rick Scott. There were also former New Jersey governor Chris Christie’s remarks directed at the absent Donald Trump. 

It is interesting that the sharpest remarks were probably between the three candidates of colour (Haley and Ramaswamy are South Asian Americans and Scott is an African-American). And Christie delivered one memorable moment, calling Donald Trump “Donald Duck,” for his absence in the two debates held so far. Maybe that will stick as a moniker for Trump — the man who is so generous in dishing out nasty sobriquets to others.

Over in Washington

Meanwhile, more consequential things have been taking place in Washington and New York. In Washington, the Congress remains tied up in knots, painful self-inflicted knots, over an inability to pass a government budget. Appropriating funds for the government is one of the core, most basic functions of Congress, and the inability to do this effectively has helped keep the nation’s respect for Congress barely ahead of used car dealers.

While the Senate has succeeded in passing a significantly bipartisan budget bill that had basically been agreed to between Biden and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell earlier, the House, with its razor-thin Republican majority, is now hopelessly caught between a small group of far, far-rightwing zealots and the rest of the Republican membership.

The zealots want to make draconian cuts in government spending as well as to impose social policy decisions (including prohibiting the Department of Defense from providing any support for servicewomen seeking abortion) within the budget measures.

Their implicit threat is thus directed at the Republican Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy. If he cannot ensure the zealots’ positions are upheld in negotiations with the Senate, and forget about a budget passage, they will force McCarthy to face a vote to remove him from his office. As a result, actually passing a budget (and engaging in those astonishing concepts of negotiation and compromise) has now become hostage to the zealots’ desire to reshape the entire budget — or else the flood.

If no budget is passed by 30 September when the US fiscal year ends, the government will have no operating budget and thus a whole row of dominos start to fall. Air traffic controllers, border security forces and hundreds of thousands of other employees and all the other critically important functions of government will be without funds or salaries. This is obviously not good for morale — both for the affected employees and the rest of the country.

Over the past several decades, each time a budget stalemate has occurred, the party seen as the primary provocateur for this result has been punished at the next election. At this point, there does not seem to be an easy or automatic way out of this imbroglio and so doomsayers are already beginning to speak about airliners landing without guidance (or worse) at major airports all across the nation.

The frontrunners

Meanwhile, in New York, Trump’s fortunes received a significant hit when a judge ruled the Trump Organization engaged in comprehensive, systematic financial fraud in its statements about the value of its assets that have been used to leverage better terms from banks and other investors for years. There will be a bench trial (judge only, no jury) or trials on the specifics of each of these frauds.


Former US President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign event at Drake Enterprises in Clinton Township, Michigan, US, on 27 September 2023. The visits by Trump and President Biden to Detroit this week gave both men a chance to appeal to blue-collar America as the strike by union autoworkers threatens the economy in a battleground state. (Photo: Emily Elconin / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The judge also issued a ruling that the business operating licences for Trump businesses were to be revoked and their affairs wound up. This trial, it should be noted, is not a criminal proceeding, nor is it a federal one, but, regardless, it will be a major burden upon the energies and thoughts of Trump and his family. And it comes in addition to all the other major cases proceeding in New York (on campaign funding fraud and a separate defamation case), in Washington (on the 6 January insurrection), in Florida (on all those classified documents hidden in the shower stall and elsewhere), and in Georgia (over efforts to tamper with voting outcomes). 

Meanwhile, Biden has his own challenges, not least a growing feeling that his age represents a serious impediment to his ability to serve effectively for a second term. This is happening even as there is no realistic push to ease him off from running for re-election or to give breathing space for other possible candidates to emerge. 

The Republican-led House of Representatives is now embarking on what it calls an impeachment inquiry to look into the Biden presidency, even in the absence of any visible proof of any wrongdoing. There is also the continuing drag on the Biden presidency coming from a special prosecutor looking into Biden’s son’s sloppy and ethically compromised business practices (and evidence-free charges that somehow the son has been a conduit for millions of dollars to the president).

In about four months’ time, there will be the first real voting in the first primaries. By that point, all of the above will have had much more airing. The tangle of court cases involving Donald Trump will have begun to move forward and people may well be watching the unedifying spectacle of his behaviour dissected filament by filament by skilled attorneys. But then there is the question of the ability of any of Trump’s challengers to successfully surmount his lead.

And finally, there will be the question of whether Biden can effectively make his public case for re-election, even as many citizens see their own economic circumstances as having not improved, despite the broader economic data that point to a strong and growing economy. Interesting times. DM


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