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Our Best Stuff from the Week Donald Trump Got Arraigned. Again.
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Our Best Stuff from the Week Donald Trump Got Arraigned. Again.

Plus, the RNC’s got more than a few problems, and Chris Christie sits down with The Dispatch.

Former US President Donald Trump arrives to deliver remarks at Trump National Golf Club Bedminster in Bedminster, New Jersey, on June 13, 2023. (Photo by Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images)

Hello and happy Saturday. Back when I was in college, professors liked to trot out an old Washington Post slogan (much better than its current one) touting journalism as, “the first rough draft of history.” What our professors didn’t tell us was that there would be so …  much … history

Former President Donald Trump was arraigned Tuesday in federal court in Miami on 37 charges for retaining classified documents after his term ended and obstructing efforts by the government to have them returned. It’s the first time a former president has faced federal criminal charges, but it’s not even the first time this former president has been indicted and arraigned. As we all know, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg charged Trump in April with 34 felonies for falsifying business records, related to alleged hush money payments made to a porn star with whom he allegedly cheated on his third wife. 

All of this would be crazy enough if Donald Trump were just a normal former president who, having lost reelection, retired quietly and popped up to tout charitable endeavors or give commencement speeches. That, of course, is not our reality. Trump is not only seeking the 2024 nomination, he’s leading national primary polling by roughly 30 points. 

Which brings us to only the third staff editorial we’ve published in our nearly four-year history. (We previously called for Trump’s impeachment after January 6 and condemned the Biden administration’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan.)

Donald Trump as the Republican nominee makes a second term for Joe Biden likely. Most elected Republicans understand this and, in the comfort of private conversation, not only acknowledge this reality but offer withering critiques of Trump and his behavior that they strain to avoid making in public.

With all the humility we can muster about the likelihood they’ll listen to us, we implore them: Say in public those things about Donald Trump that you so often say in private. And start with the latest indictment.

The reaction to the indictment so far has been … mixed. In the Tuesday edition of Boiling Frogs (🔒), Nick detailed the predicament that Trump’s opponents for the 2024 nomination find themselves in. “If they attack him … they risk making enemies of millions of Trump fans. If they say nothing, they’ve passed on their big chance to try to shape Republican opinion and turn voters against him. So some have chosen to split the difference. They’re going to criticize him just enough, it seems, to fail to move persuadable Republicans while alienating diehard Trump fanatics in the process.”

At least former Vice President Mike Pence is trying. We noted in Dispatch Politics that “Pence’s expansive public comments on the matter are key components of a deliberate campaign strategy to confront the issue head on. As a former vice president, he can speak with authority on the commander-in-chief’s responsibility to protect American secrets.” So far, though, it’s mostly just gotten him pushback from Trump-sympathetic media types. 

Audrey talked to some GOP senators, and found that while there is a consensus that the charges are serious, there’s a lot of whataboutism going on. As in, what about Hillary’s emails? What about Biden’s classified documents?

In the search for some way out of this insanity—let us consider the possibility of Trump accepting the 2024 nomination from a prison cell—some pundits and pols have raised the possibility of a grand bargain: Give Trump a pardon if he agrees to go away quietly. Jonah’s not entirely opposed to the idea, but he does find a crucial flaw. “I’d expect Trump to show contrition—as DOJ guidelines and tradition call for. If found guilty, he must apologize for his wrongdoing and fully admit to the scope of his crimes.”

Yeah, about that. The inability of Trump or his supporters to acknowledge that Trump is anything but blameless for any of his myriad scandals is so acute that Jonah has coined a term for it: Critical Trump Theory. Just as proponents of critical race theory argue that the deck is stacked against minorities, Trump supporters believe the system is rigged against him. Jonah writes: “I have profound disagreements with critical race theory, but at least the arguments for CRT rest on centuries of actual racism, from slavery to Jim Crow. … I don’t think CRT radicals are right about the need to tear down all of our institutions and the rule of law, but I can understand why they feel that way. What I can’t understand is why you’d feel that way for the benefit of Donald Trump.” 

I can’t put it any better than that. Thank you for reading. Here’s what you might have missed this week.

David Drucker kicks off this piece by writing, “The Republican National Committee recognizes the party has serious challenges heading into the 2024 elections that are undermining efforts to oust President Joe Biden.” But he’s not even talking about, well, you know. The party is also dealing with more normal problems: suspicions around mail-in and early voting among GOP voters, and division over abortion, which has been a losing issue for the party since Roe v. Wade was overturned. And Donald Trump remains a problem for reasons that have little to do with his indictment: His base is loyal and vocal, but he’s prompted independents to leave the party in droves. “The RNC seems fully aware that wooing this crucial bloc is imperative if Republicans are going to rebound next year,” Drucker writes. “To that end, the RNC is pushing GOP candidates to be proactive in pursuing independents, a tacit acknowledgement that relying on Biden’s ongoing political difficulties, including low job approval ratings and concerns about his age, will not get it done.”

As if there weren’t enough going on this week, we also managed a bonus edition of the Dispatch Politics newsletter. Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who announced his 2024 candidacy on June 6, stopped by The Dispatch office for a sit-down with Andrew, Audrey, Drucker and Michael Warren. Christie talked about lessons learned from the 2016 campaign, his plan to go after Trump this time, and what he thinks of the RNC’s requirement that candidates must support the eventual nominee to qualify for the debates: “I’ll take the pledge as seriously as Donald Trump took it in ’16.” Christie also talked policy, vowing to fix Social Security, create a federal tax credit for school choice, and increase funding for drug treatment.

U.S. support for Ukraine remains popular broadly in the United States, but some congressional Republicans are watching the recently launched counteroffensive closely, concerned that any setbacks will allow the small but vocal skeptics in their own party to call for an end to the assistance and that “the absence of a clear political strategy from an overly cautious Biden administration could undermine Kyiv at a critical moment.” Charlotte reports: “Even if a bipartisan congressional majority supporting Ukraine persists, there are still divisions about how exactly to keep the funds flowing, especially in the aftermath of President Joe Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s deal to suspend the debt limit until 2025.”

The death of Silvio Berlusconi—the populist billionaire with libertine tendencies who was also the former prime minister of Italy—this week prompted comparisons to a certain former U.S. president. Yes, that one. But Kevin says there’s a more apt president with whom to compare Berlusconi: He “wasn’t the predecessor of Donald Trump. He was the successor to Bill Clinton and the predecessor to Harvey Weinstein.” Kevin recalls how Europeans were amused/baffled by Americans’ puritanical attitude toward Clinton’s many sex scandals, and notes that while attitudes about personal behavior have changed—”we’re all social conservatives now”—not everything has. “We haven’t given up the deeper and more fundamental attitude that made Berlusconi and Trump and Clinton and Weinstein the men they were—which is, of course, power worship.”

Here’s the best of the rest:

  • Harvest reports on an initiative to “fix” the Electoral College without a constitutional amendment, and she highlights that the initiative has its own issues around constitutionality.
  • Conservatives generally oppose efforts to “defund the police,” but some Republican lawmakers would love to defund the FBI and the Justice Department in response to the Trump indictment. Haley has the details in Uphill.
  • Donald Trump is not the only prominent Republican in hot water. In Wanderland (🔒), Kevin checks in on Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who has been impeached by the state’s GOP-led House. 
  • Liberals have suggested that Judge Aileen Cannon should recuse herself from hearing the case against Trump. Price explains how she was assigned the case and why there have been calls for recusal. 
  • On the pods: Can you guess what Sarah and David French talked about on Advisory Opinions? We bet you can. On The Dispatch Podcast, the gang discusses how Trump is poison for the Republican Party. And on The Remnant, Jonah rants about the nostalgia some on the right have shown for the Dark Ages.

Rachael Larimore is managing editor of The Dispatch and is based in the Cincinnati area. Prior to joining the company in 2019, she served in similar roles at Slate, The Weekly Standard, and The Bulwark. She and her husband have three sons.