September 28, 2022

Here’s a counterfactual to the case that the Mar-a-Lago search caused Republicans to rally around Donald Trump.

The Washington Post has released its quarterly rankings of who the Republican presidential front runners are for 2024, and while acknowledging that Trump is indeed the leader in the polls, they conclude, for the first time, that he’s no longer the most likely nominee. Unseating him is Florida governor Ron DeSantis, which isn’t too much of a surprise. DeSantis has been eagerly courting Trump voters and is seen as the ex-president’s most likely challenger.

But what knocked Trump from the top spot? The Post concludes that his ever-amounting legal troubles and other political baggage could ultimately turn voters off, and convince them to try someone else out. And unlike his previous successful White House run in 2016, several other politicians are today promising voters many of his same policies and rhetoric.

Key events

Anthony Fauci to step down as chief US medical adviser in December

Anthony Fauci, the US government’s top doctor who became perhaps the most recognizable face of the White House’s response to Covid-19 during the Trump and Biden administrations, announced that he will step down from his post in December.

“I am announcing today that I will be stepping down from the positions of Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and Chief of the NIAID Laboratory of Immunoregulation, as well as the position of Chief Medical Advisor to President Joe Biden. I will be leaving these positions in December of this year to pursue the next chapter of my career,” Fauci said in a statement.

He highlighted his 38 years heading NIAID and his work combatting several diseases, including HIV/AIDS, Zika and Ebola, in addition to Covid-19. While he appeared alongside Donald Trump in the news conferences during the pandemic’s early days, the president and his supporters soured on Fauci, and Trump at one point referred to him as “a disaster”.

“I am particularly proud to have served as the Chief Medical Advisor to President Joe Biden since the very first day of his administration” Fauci wrote.

In a statement, Biden said, “Because of Dr. Fauci’s many contributions to public health, lives here in the United States and around the world have been saved. As he leaves his position in the U.S. Government, I know the American people and the entire world will continue to benefit from Dr. Fauci’s expertise in whatever he does next. Whether you’ve met him personally or not, he has touched all Americans’ lives with his work. I extend my deepest thanks for his public service.”

While Fauci had previewed a potential retirement last month, he clarified that he is “not retiring.”

“After more than 50 years of government service, I plan to pursue the next phase of my career while I still have so much energy and passion for my field,” Fauci said.

What might a country that’s on the wrong track look like? You could argue it would be a place where schools resorted to issuing panic buttons in case an emergency – like a mass shooting – occurs.

The Associated Press has published a report on the spread of these technologies, which have existed for years and are remain in demand as schools look to reassure parents and students following recent massacres such as at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.

Here’s more from the AP’s report:

Multiple states now mandate or encourage the buttons, and a growing number of districts are shelling out tens of thousands of dollars per school for them — part of a widespread scramble to beef up school security and prevent the next tragedy. The spending spree includes metal detectors, security cameras, vehicle barriers, alarm systems, clear backpacks, bullet-resistant glass and door-locking systems.

Critics say school officials are scrambling to show action — any action — to worried parents ahead of the new school year, but in their haste may be emphasizing the wrong things. It’s “security theater,” said Ken Trump, president of the National School Safety and Security Services. Instead, he said, schools should focus on making sure teachers are implementing basic safety protocols such as ensuring doors aren’t propped open.

The attack in Uvalde illustrated the shortcomings of panic-alert systems. Robb Elementary School had implemented an alert app, and when an attacker approached the school, a school employee did send a lockdown alert. But not all teachers received it because of poor Wi-Fi or phones that were turned off or in a drawer, according to an investigation by the Texas Legislature. And those who did may not have taken it seriously, the Legislature’s report said: The school sent out frequent alerts related to Border Patrol car chases in the area.

The NBC News poll released today bolsters the case that something is afoot when it comes to the trends shaping the midterms.

For one, it finds most voters naming “threats to democracy” as the most important issue facing the country, which polls at 21 percent compared to the 16 percent tallied for “cost of living”. In the previous survey conducted in May, that concern had taken the top spot.

It also found 58% of voters disapproving of the supreme court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, versus the 38% who approve. Considering Republicans generally oppose abortion rights, that would signal strength for the Democrats. Indeed, the survey finds the party’s voters nearly even with the GOP in terms of enthusiasm, with 66% of Democrats showing high interest in the midterms’ outcome, against 68% of Republicans.

Democrats were expected to have a rough election, as the party controlling the White House and Congress historically does in their first midterm, but the surge in enthusiasm is an unusual sign of Democratic strength. Nonetheless, the party has plenty of problems. Joe Biden’s approval rating is a grim 42 percent in the poll, while 74 percent of respondents said they viewed the country as on the wrong track – both data points that auger poorly for the party in power.

Signs are mounting that Roe v. Wade’s overturning could have a transformative effect on the dynamics of the midterm elections and potentially give Democrats an advantage, Lauren Gambino reports:

For years, Democrats warned that abortion rights were under grave threat. Across the US, antiabortion activists in red states chipped away at access and pushed for conservative judges to secure their gains. Yet for many Americans, the prospect of losing the constitutional right to abortion that had existed since 1973 remained worrying but remote.

That all changed in June, when in Dobbs v Jackson, the supreme court overturned Roe v Wade, the 49-year-old ruling which had established the right.

Since then, bans have taken effect in at least 10 states. Republicans are rushing ahead with new restrictions and stirring fears that other rights, including same-sex marriage and access to contraception, could be vulnerable too.

Arizona Republican Rusty Bowers stood up to Donald Trump and was booted from his long-held seat in the state legislature for it. Ed Pilkington traveled to the southwest state to find out more about what happened:

Rusty Bowers is headed for the exit. After 18 years as an Arizona lawmaker, the past four as speaker of the state’s house of representatives, he has been unceremoniously shown the door by his own Republican party.

Last month he lost his bid to stay in the Arizona legislature in a primary contest in which his opponent was endorsed by Donald Trump. The rival, David Farnsworth, made an unusual pitch to voters: the 2020 presidential election had not only been stolen from Trump, he said, it was satanically snatched by the “devil himself”.

Bowers was ousted as punishment. The Trump acolytes who over the past two years have gained control of the state’s Republican party wanted revenge for the powerful testimony he gave in June to the January 6 hearings in which he revealed the pressure he was put under to overturn Arizona’s election result.

This is a very Arizonan story. But it is also an American story that carries an ominous warning for the entire nation.

Six hours after the Guardian interviewed Bowers, Liz Cheney was similarly ousted in a primary for her congressional seat in Wyoming. The formerly third most powerful Republican leader in the US Congress had been punished too.

Donald Trump has been busy in court following the FBI’s search of Mar-a-Lago, and The Guardian’s Hugo Lowell has the latest on what his lawyers are looking to accomplish:

Donald Trump is strongly considering seeking the appointment of a special court official to determine whether materials that the FBI seized from his Florida resort can be used in a criminal investigation, according to his lead attorney Jim Trusty and two sources familiar with the matter.

The motion – if actually filed – would be the first formal legal action by the former president after federal agents last week confiscated about 30 boxes of highly-sensitive documents from his Mar-a-Lago resort in an investigation into the unauthorized retention of government secrets.

Trump would argue that the court should appoint a special master – usually a retired lawyer or judge – because the FBI potentially seized privileged materials in the search, and the justice department should not itself decide what it can use in its investigation, the sources said.

Here’s a counterfactual to the case that the Mar-a-Lago search caused Republicans to rally around Donald Trump.

The Washington Post has released its quarterly rankings of who the Republican presidential front runners are for 2024, and while acknowledging that Trump is indeed the leader in the polls, they conclude, for the first time, that he’s no longer the most likely nominee. Unseating him is Florida governor Ron DeSantis, which isn’t too much of a surprise. DeSantis has been eagerly courting Trump voters and is seen as the ex-president’s most likely challenger.

But what knocked Trump from the top spot? The Post concludes that his ever-amounting legal troubles and other political baggage could ultimately turn voters off, and convince them to try someone else out. And unlike his previous successful White House run in 2016, several other politicians are today promising voters many of his same policies and rhetoric.

Polls show renewed Republican rally around Trump following Mar-a-Lago search

Good morning, US politics blog readers. The FBI’s search of Mar-a-Lago earlier this month is potentially the most serious legal problem yet for Donald Trump, but it has also brought Republicans together around the former president. His approval rating ticked up in an NBC News poll released over the weekend, confirming an earlier survey that found GOP voters viewing him more favorably following the search. That Trump was planning a second run for the White House has been known practically since he left office, but the big outstanding question now is whether he will declare a new campaign before the November midterm elections – and whether the investigation into his handling of classified materials will change his plans.

Here’s what we can expect today:

  • Expect more legal wrangling over Lindsey Graham’s subpoena from a special grand jury in Georgia investigating election meddling by Trump officials. Over the weekend, a court temporarily stayed the summons, giving the Republican senator a reprieve from appearing before the panel.

  • A federal judge has again signaled his willingness to unseal at least part of the affidavit justifying the FBI’s search of Mar-a-Lago, though a portion of it is likely to be redacted.

  • Congress is in recess and Joe Biden is on vacation, which is why Washington is so quiet.

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