Abbreviated Pundit Roundup: A weak Donald Trump tries to deal with the world

Dan Pfeiffer/”The Message Box” on Substack:

The Real Reason Trump Bows Down to Putin

Trump’s comments about NATO and his silence on Navalny have made his relationship with Russia a major issue (again)

Speculating about Trump’s friendship with Putin has been a cottage industry since his 2016 win. Were Trump and Putin in cahoots to defeat Hillary Clinton? Is Trump a Russian sleeper agent? Is this all a play to get a Trump Tower Moscow built? Or, my personal favorite theory, Trump is just worried that Putin will one day release the infamous “pee tape.”

All of these may have elements of truth (especially the “pee tape”), however, I think the correct answer is much simpler. Trump bows down to Putin for the same reasons he bows down to other dictators: he is a weak man. A coward who is scared of confrontation. He would rather preemptively surrender to protect himself than fight to protect others.

He’s the exact opposite of Navalny.

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That there is what you call Russian interference.  Or, as Trump puts it, a “hoax”. But I do not think think that word means what he thinks it means.

And I think the voters will care about it when the time comes.

Brian Beutler/Off Message:

Trump’s Huge Fraud Verdict Is A Watershed Moment for Accountability—And New Corruption

Democrats and the media need to pay close attention to what happens next.

Democrats, meanwhile, barely talk about Trump’s legal woes at all. The Biden campaign’s Twitter account, a generally spirited rapid-response operation, didn’t mention either verdict.

But the corruption I’m talking about, that I hope Democrats finally take pains to scrutinize aggressively, isn’t the retrospective corruption of a fraudulent businessman who believes he can assault women with impunity.

It’s the corruption he will engage in going forward to avoid the consequences of these verdicts.

Oliver Darcy/CNN:

The Burisma Beginnings: The Burisma bribery narrative pushed by right-wing media against President Joe Biden took an alarming twist on Tuesday after it imploded in spectacular fashion last week. The informant at the center of the narrative, who was charged last week for allegedly lying to the FBI, admitted during an interview with law enforcement that “officials associated with Russian intelligence were involved in passing” along dirt about Hunter Biden. That’s according to documents Special Counsel David Weiss filed in court Tuesday. As Todd Zwillich put it on X: “Just so everyone’s clear: This would mean that Russia successfully used [Chuck] Grassley, [James] Comer, Fox News and others to damage the President of the United States and make fake info about him an article of faith on the right.” In the court filing, Weiss also underscored the weight of Alexander Smirnov’s alleged lies: “The false information he provided was not trivial. It targeted the presumptive nominee of one of the two major political parties in the United States,” Weiss wrote. “The effects of Smirnov’s false statements and fabricated information continue to be felt to this day.” CNN’s Hannah Rabinowitz has more here.

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David Cay Johnston/DC Report:

Trump’s Next Legal Move: Personal Bankruptcy

Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones did it two years ago. Rudolph Giuliani did it just before Christmas. Now there’s a very good chance that before March 12, Donald Trump will join them in filing personal bankruptcy.

Trump would do so for the same reason as Jones and Giuliani — to delay paying court-ordered awards for defamation.

Trump has never filed personal bankruptcy, as I will show below. Doing so now might seem at first blush to ruin his brand, his polished image as a multi-billionaire, a modern Midas who turns to gold all that he touches.

But spinning a bankruptcy filing to his advantage would be easy. Trump will tell his cultish believers that he is as rich as ever, but he was forced to seek refuge in Bankruptcy Court by the Marxist-Fascist-Corrupt-Deep State-Liberal-Radical cabal he blames for his legal woes.

Speaking of weak politicians, here’s Berny Belvedere/The UnPopulist on Tim Scott:

Tim Scott Offers His Honor For a Shot at Trump’s Veepstakes

He is the most disappointing politician in America at the moment

A couple of weeks ago, Trump brought Scott on stage with him during his New Hampshire victory party to undergo a humiliation ritual in which he publicly mused about how much Scott “must hate” Haley since he’s chosen to endorse Trump and not her even though she appointed him to the Senate. It wasn’t a secret that Scott’s decision to endorse Trump ahead of the New Hampshire primary, the most critically important contest for Haley’s chances of overcoming Trump, was meant to assist Trump’s plot to cut her down to size. But instead of mitigating the personal fallout between the two that Scott’s endorsement would inevitably create, Trump deliberately stoked it with his remarks.

We know Trump is like this. But far more significant was Scott’s unprompted response (since Trump’s question was more rhetorical than anything): Instead of grimacing in distaste or looking crestfallen, he moved forward toward the lectern and indicated he wanted to say something. Then, turning to look at Trump face to face, and with uncomfortably deep meaning in his eyes and a broad smile, he said, “I just love you.”

Scott has learned to love Trump—a significantly different posture than appreciating things Trump has done (like appointing conservative justices to the Supreme Court) but through gritted teeth the way we might characterize Haley’s stance. No, this now is love. Scott no longer merely shares a party with Trump, but an agenda.

Dahlia Lithwick/Slate:

The Real Way to Think About Biden’s Age This Run

We’re in a Biden-Trump rematch. And the media is focusing on this?

So now Americans face the problem that Biden is old, while Trump is an authoritarian who wants to “create a private red-state army under the president’s command.” The purpose of this army, per Stephen Miller, is to deport as many as 10 million “foreign-national invaders” who he claims have entered the country under Biden, and the plan, as Ron Brownstein describes it, is to “go around the country arresting illegal immigrants in large-scale raids.” Then, he would build “large-scale staging grounds near the border, most likely in Texas,” to serve as internment camps for migrants designated for deportation.

One can certainly see why the two stories would weigh the same.

Perhaps one way to navigate yourself through this seemingly insoluble morass would be to ask yourself why Biden, who is stipulated #Old, has managed to helm the most successful presidency in modern history. Booming economy, eye-popping jobs reports, first gun violence reduction bill in decades, $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan plus COVID relief, Inflation Reduction Act, infrastructure prioritized, judges seated. Pick your metric—there have been a lot of wins. And the reason this old man who sometimes forgets things like dates has gotten all this done? He has, for the most part, surrounded himself with experts, genuine scientists, respected economists, and effective governmental actors and advisers.

Well, there’s that.

POLITICO:

Trump allies prepare to infuse ‘Christian nationalism’ in second administration

Spearheading the effort is Russell Vought, president of The Center for Renewing America, part of a conservative consortium preparing for Trump’s return to power.

The documents obtained by POLITICO do not outline specific Christian nationalist policies. But Vought has promoted a restrictionist immigration agenda, saying a person’s background doesn’t define who can enter the U.S., but rather, citing Biblical teachings, whether that person “accept[ed] Israel’s God, laws and understanding of history.”

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While speaking in September at American Moment’s “ Theology of American Statecraft: The Christian Case for Immigration Restriction” on Capitol Hill in September, Vought defended the widely-criticized practice of family separation at the border during the Trump years, telling the audience “the decision to defend the rule of law necessitates the separation of families.”

The Heritage Foundation’s Project 2025 offers more visibility into what policy agenda a future Trump administration might pursue. It says policies that support LGBTQ+ rights, subsidize “single-motherhood” and penalize marriage should be repealed because subjective notions of “gender identity” threaten “Americans’ fundamental liberties.”

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Dan Shafer/”The Recombobulation Area” on Substack:

‘It’s a new day in Wisconsin.’ Your votes made that happen.

RIP to The Gerrymander.

This is a victory not for any one political party, but a victory for Wisconsin, for democracy, and for fair representation. The Gerrymander has divided Wisconsin for so many years. It has greatly limited competition in state legislative districts, making it tremendously difficult to hold legislators accountable by way of the ballot box. That part is over now.

I distinctly believe that the end of The Gerrymander in Wisconsin will make for a healthier political process in this state. That legislators having to compete and earn our votes instead of having them handed to them through an unfairly tilted map will bring about better representation across the political spectrum. That this will make legislators more responsive to their constituents, to majority public opinion on key issues, and more respectful and cooperative with each other as lawmakers. That this will bring about a genuine change to our truly toxic legislative branch.

And yet, many of the same people will still be there in the state legislature, of course, so this “new day” will still have many of the same old faces. Many of the same intractable problems will continue to exist. Fixing the deeply broken institution of the Wisconsin State Legislature after more than a decade under the control of Robin Vos and this group of state Republicans is going to take some time.

Celebrate, Badger State! Your activism made it happen. And/but everything is a multi-step process, from reviving Wisconsin Democrats, to electing a fair-minded Wisconsin Supreme Court, to proposing and signing the new maps.

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For an argument against incrementalism, here’s David Rothkopf and Alon Pinkas/The New Republic:

How One Error May Haunt Biden’s Foreign Policy Legacy

The president’s foolish trust in Netanyahu was a terrible mistake. It’s not too late to correct—barely—but tough medicine is required.

Netanyahu is untrustworthy. He has a proven record of manipulation, deceit, and mendacity. He is a sworn enemy of peace in the region. He has treated Palestinians with disdain and disrespect ever since he entered politics. And the extremists in his coalition are even worse—rabid theocratic nationalists who believe that Israeli lives are infinitely more valuable than those of their closest neighbors.

The secondary error that the Biden team is now making is that, after the catastrophic consequences of its policy have become painfully clear, it is seeking to fix the mistake not by undoing it but by augmenting its policy with incremental measures. You can’t fine-tune a massive error into being a success. That is a lesson the United States learned in Vietnam, in Iraq, and in Afghanistan.

Cliff Schecter highlights Texas Democrat Jasmine Crockett:

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