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Our Best Stuff on the Presidential Debates and Trump’s Trial
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Our Best Stuff on the Presidential Debates and Trump’s Trial

Joe Biden and Donald Trump are scheduled to debate in June and September.

Former U.S. President Donald Trump departs the courtroom with his attorney Todd Blanche (second from left) after the day's proceedings in his criminal trial at Manhattan Criminal Court on May 16, 2024, in New York City. (Photo by Steven Hirsch/Getty Images)

Hello and happy Sunday. This week was a busy one in the Ohio bureau. Our oldest just got home from college a couple of weeks ago and is headed off for a summer school program. There was a lot of laundry and packing, and we made a point to get in some quality family time.

My favorite moment might have been Friday night when the kids were playing darts. The winner got to pick an album to play, and our 17-year-old—a hip-hop fan—had put on Travis Scott. I was sitting on the couch, talking to our oldest, when I looked over to the dart game and noticed our 15-year-old, a hardcore heavy-metal fan, dancing.

Weird as that might sound, I was touched. Our three kids are very much their own people, so I tend to worry about their differences keeping them from growing close. Not only do the younger two like very different music, they play different sports and have different personalities. They’re proud of those differences, so they butt heads often. One thing they do have in common—with each other and the rest of their generation—is that, without serious nudging, they will retreat to their bedrooms and look at their phones for hours on end. I hate to invoke “family fundatory time,” but little moments like this—with our youngest (perhaps accidentally) revealing that maybe he doesn’t hate his brother’s music quite as much as the fights over the aux cord in the car might indicate—make it worth it. 

Anyhow, all of that was a pleasant distraction from the news. Donald Trump’s Manhattan trial continued, and some allies in Congress and the GOP rallied to his side. That’s not unexpected, per se, but it got a little weird when most of them showed up wearing blue suits and red ties in a nod to Trump’s signature look.

There was a lot of other weirdness. A House Oversight Committee markup session devolved into chaos when Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene made a joke about Rep. Jasmine Crockett wearing fake eyelashes. The New York Times reported that an inverted American flag—adopted by the “Stop the Steal” movement for its historical symbolism of being a distress signal—flew outside of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito’s home in January 2021, days after the Capitol riots. Alito said his wife displayed the flag in that manner after a series of disputes with neighbors.

All of these stories are symptoms of larger problems and warrant serious conversation. In this week’s edition of The Collision, Mike and Sarah get into why these surrogates—at least the ones not trying to become vice president—might be rallying to Trump’s side. The ugly scene in Congress is a reminder that our legislative branch is dysfunctional. The Alito story raises a lot of questions about whether the justice understood the significance of the inverted flag and whether justices are responsible for something their spouse does. (And the details of the dispute with the neighbors are disturbing in their own right.)

But these stories also make me ask, “Really? This is where we are?” Grown adults are putting on costumes to show fealty to a man on trial, and members of Congress are screaming at each other about fake eyelashes? You try to put this kind of stuff in a movie script, and it would get laughed at for being too over-the-top.

Thanks for reading, and have a great weekend.

My first favorite reaction to the announcement that Joe Biden and Donald Trump had agreed to two debates came from Sen. Mitt Romney: “It’ll be entertaining, informative,” he said. “Like the two old guys on The Muppets.” Romney was quick with the quip, but Nick took some time to go a little deeper in Boiling Frogs (🔒). He expressed relief that Biden must finally realize he’s really trailing in the race, since only candidates who are behind are eager to debate. And he suggested it’s a real opportunity for the president: “The bubble of political denial in which Trump lives is considerably thicker than Biden’s, as he’s reminded us every day for the past three-and-a-half years whenever the subject of the 2020 election is broached,” Nick wrote. And because of that bubble, Trump does not realize that he is a weak debater, nor that Joe Biden isn’t quite “a vegetable.” In fact, Nick argued that it’s a mistake for Trump to debate at all: “For Biden, the entire point of debating Trump is to show an enormous audience of voters that reports of his cognitive demise have been greatly exaggerated,” Nick wrote. “Under those circumstances, it’s insanity for Republicans to help him out by lowering expectations for his performance further.”

Fans of Saturday Night Live will enjoy this: “If you’re a Republican politician, New York’s hottest club is 100 Centre Street. The Manhattan courthouse is the site of Donald Trump’s ongoing criminal trial, and this place has everything: former porn stars, gag orders, an array of television cameras stationed there day and night, Vivek Ramaswamy.” In The Collision, Mike and Sarah noted that there’s a kind of method to the madness, with allies who have shown up to accompany Trump to court making the same kind of statements about the proceedings that got Trump sanctioned by Judge Juan Merchan. “Unless prosecutors could prove Scott and the other friends of Trump are working on behalf of Trump’s campaign or at Trump’s direction, they are free to take exactly these shots, for which the former president has been fined multiple times,” they wrote. “While Trump has complained that the gag order and the trial itself have hampered his ability to campaign for president, the campaign appears to have moved temporarily to Manhattan to fill in the gap.”

When President Biden announced that he would withhold some munitions from Israel to pressure it not to invade Rafah, where many Palestinians had been sheltering after the initial invasion in the north of the country, House Republicans lined up behind a measure introduced by Rep. Ken Calvert to force the weapons transfer. But Bidens’ move split House Democrats. John reported from the Hill, also noting that some Republicans are trying to draw a comparison between Biden’s move and President Trump’s decision to withhold aid from Ukraine in 2019. They claim that Biden’s decision was a naked political ploy to appease the left. But one Republican wasn’t buying that. “If politicians are going to be impeached for doing things that are politically attractive, we’re all guilty,” Sen. Mitt Romney told John.

And here’s the best of the rest:

  • Scott Lincicome is a huge sports fan—just ask his wife—but that doesn’t mean that he wants his teams’ stadiums and arenas to be subsidized by tax dollars. In this week’s Capitolism (🔒), he runs through all the downsides of publicly financed venues.
  • Hamas is not the only challenge with which Israel is currently contending. The U.S. is pressuring the Israeli government to limit the scope of its offensive in Rafah, and, as Charlotte reports, “to its own population, [Israel] must prove that it has a clear roadmap to victory, particularly as Hamas crops up in areas where it was previously degraded.”
  • What is in the Antisemitism Awareness Act? Why are both Republicans and Democrats dealing with divisions within their own parties over it? How does it define antisemitism? Mark Caleb Smith and Emma Blakemore tackle all these questions and more.
  • The latest poll of swing-state voters from the New York Times has some bad news for President Biden. A lot of bad news, actually. He’s trailing Donald Trump in five out of six states referenced. But Chris Stirewalt digs in deep enough to find some potentially hopeful data points out of Michigan that Biden can build on.
  • Many people have drawn comparisons between the present-day pro-Palestinian campus protests and the Vietnam War protests of the 1960s. Marvin Olasky, too, has noticed some similarities, but he wonders if it has anything to do with parents and trends in alienation from the family. 
  • Those who oppose Israel’s actions in Gaza claim that they aren’t antisemites, they are just anti-Zionist. Is that a valid distinction? In his Wednesday G-File (🔒), Jonah looks at their actions, not their words, and isn’t too persuaded by that argument.
  • The pods! The pods! Why did Biden and Trump agree to debate? Would Jonah vote against an American baby Hitler? Is a taco a sandwich? Why are these questions so weird? You’ll have to tune into the Friday edition of The Dispatch Podcast to find out. Some judges have come out and said they would not hire any Columbia graduates as clerks because of the school’s handling of campus protests, prompting a debate over whether judges should be political. On Advisory Opinions, Sarah and David welcome Judge Lee Rudofsky, who says yes, and law professor Orin Kerr, who says no. And if all of the nonsense on display in our politics has you yearning for some wonkiness, check out Jonah’s Remnant with Ryan Bourne of the Cato Institute. They discuss prices and inflation, and Jonah asks Ryan to explain what’s going on with libertarians.

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.