Trump’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Makin' his way the only way he knows how, that's just a little bit more than the law will allow.

Yesterday was not a good day for former President Trump. After years of investigation, New York’s attorney general has filed a civil suit against him and family members over various irregularities in the business. And the 11th Circuit has overturned a lower court judge’s stay on the US Justice Department access to documents seized at Mar-a-Lago in an ongoing criminal probe.

Writing at Just Security, E. Danya Perry, Joshua Stanton and Norman L. Eisen wonder, “Has a Trump Tipping Point Been Reached? Analyzing The NY Attorney General’s Case Against Trump.” After a very long breakdown of the history, process, and evidence, they conclude,

Although Trump, his company, and most of those in his orbit have so far avoided the full force of the law, that run of good fortune may soon be over. The Trump Organization faces financial penalties in the DANY criminal trial scheduled for October. The Department of Justice investigation of Trump concerning his improper storage of sensitive government materials continues, with the appointed special master seeming ready to hurry the case along (and dubious about Trump’s arguments). Separate federal grand juries reportedly are investigating Trump’s alleged obstruction of Congress in and around January 6, his involvement in an alleged scheme to obtain fraudulent electoral slates, and looking at Super PAC, Save America, for fraud. Some 40 subpoenas recently were issued in the investigation reportedly focused on false slates. The House January 6 Committee is continuing its work, with hearings set to resume shortly. And a local grand jury in Fulton County, Georgia is accelerating its investigation into Trump’s efforts to overturn Georgia’s 2020 election results, with charges potentially coming as soon as the end of the year.

Nor does it stop there. Along with today’s announcement of the filing of the civil action, the New York Attorney General also stated that she had referred her office’s findings for criminal prosecution by federal authorities: to the Southern District of New York for possible charges of bank fraud and insurance fraud, and to the IRS for possible charges of tax fraud. Based on the allegations contained in today’s complaint, Trump and his children face a very real risk of indictment, criminal conviction, and imprisonment.

With sustained prosecutorial focus on a single individual from so many fronts, any additional straw may break the camel’s back. Because of the significant pressures on Trump already, we think this OAG civil case against his business and him could be that straw. He requires a substantial financial foundation to help sustain his many legal battles. Moreover, any sanctions in the civil case that result in the loss of prominent properties, where so much of Trump’s identity is tied up, would be a significant blow. The appointment of a monitor to replace him would be a devastating blow to his ego. Additionally, it has been our experience that, when family members are included in proceedings, it can take a devastating emotional toll. Here, as we have noted, the OAG has sued three of Donald Trump’s children who were involved in alleged wrongdoing at the Trump Organization.

At some point, the aggregate effect of all these investigations will reach a tipping point. We’ve often seen this in our collective over half-century of experience in white-collar criminal cases. The cumulative weight bearing down upon a possible defendant—whether corporate, individual, or both—at some point becomes unsustainable. To take another example of why that is the case, civil and criminal events can sometimes trigger default provisions in loan documents or other commercial contracts. While we’re not privy to all of the documentation here, that is a risk that we will look for (and, indeed, avoiding that outcome may be one of the reasons that the New York AG has expressed reservations about seeking the corporate death penalty). A criminal conviction in the October trial could also impact whether lenders or others choose to act based on any such provisions. Indeed, it has been reported that previous lenders have already cut ties with Trump, and that few firms remain are willing to do business with him. Trump faces a risk that the number of such willing business partners may dry up entirely.

Of course, this all is an assessment of future events based solely on currently available data. So far, Donald Trump has withstood years of legal pressures that would have felled a less shameless person. He has a genius for impunity the likes of which we have never seen. Still, we have never seen him, or any individual, come under this many fronts of sustained legal pressure. Today’s announcement may well serve as a tipping point signaling the beginning of the end.

We have seen tipping points predicted many times over the years and they’ve never quite manifested. But I agree that this confluence of trials and investigations—New York State, New York City, the US Justice Department, the January 6 Committee, and others—have Trump and company tied up in knots and provide powerful incentive for associates to testify in exchange for deals. Just the legal bills alone are going to be crippling and we’re well past the point where any decent lawyer is going to work for Trump without cash up front.

At NYT, Blake Hounshell examines “The Political Backdrop of Letitia James’s Lawsuit Against Trump.”

Democrats have spent six years waiting for someone to hold former President Donald J. Trump accountable for what they see as a lifetime of evading consequences for his actions.

On Wednesday, Letitia James, the New York attorney general, filed a lawsuit accusing the former president, his family business and three of his children of inflating the value of his assets by billions of dollars, as Jonah E. Bromwich, William K. Rashbaum and Ben Protess report.

Announcing the lawsuit at a news conference in downtown Manhattan, Ms. James tried to minimize the politics at play.

She rattled off statistics to highlight the breadth of the three-year investigation: interviews with over 65 witnesses; millions of documents; a complaint more than 200 pages long, with examples from more than 23 assets. Her office found over 200 false valuations, she said, calling it evidence of a scheme that she characterized as “astounding.”

But Ms. James, a Democrat, also trotted out a catchphrase that had the whiff of the kind of branding that has made Mr. Trump a survivor over his four decades in business and politics.

Claiming money that you do not have, Ms. James said, is not “the art of the deal” but rather “the art of the steal” — a reference to Mr. Trump’s 1987 memoir that established him in the public imagination as an icon of Manhattan’s high-flying real estate sector.

A new batch of Mr. Trump’s legal woes in the headlines is certain to be unwelcome news for the Republican Party, which has steadily distanced itself from the former president’s tangles with the Justice Department over the classified documents he kept at Mar-a-Lago after his presidency ended.

And those headlines are something of a political gift to Democrats, who have been desperate to tie Republican candidates up and down the ballot to a former president who remains deeply unpopular among the public at large.

But Mr. Trump and his allies are clearly hoping they can deflect whatever political fallout Ms. James’s lawsuit inspires by drawing on past legal battles — all of which, so far, the longtime real estate baron has survived with the agility of an alley cat.

Ms. James’s political ambition has long been a focus of Republicans seeking to depict her investigation into Mr. Trump as tainted. Ms. James, who was elected to the office in 2018 and is running for re-election in November, contemplated a run for governor this year. She pulled back after it became clear that Gov. Kathy Hochul of New York was in a strong position heading into her Democratic primary — which she went on to win by nearly 50 percentage points.

As state attorney general, she lacks the authority to criminally charge Mr. Trump in this case (though she referred the findings to prosecutors). But in 2018, during her campaign for her office, Ms. James said she believed that Mr. Trump, who was then the president, “can be indicted for criminal offenses.”

Legal experts criticized those remarks at the time as a breach of law-enforcement protocol.

And Mr. Trump called Ms. James, who is Black, a “racist” — and dismissed her entire investigation using a stock phrase he employed throughout the Russia investigation and two congressional impeachment inquiries: “witch hunt.”

While the fact that we elect prosecutors on partisan tickets is strange thing, indeed, and the fact that offices like District Attorney and Attorney General are stepping stones for higher office even more so, the notion that this case is “politically motivated” seems absurd on its face. But, as David Siders and Meridith McGraw write for POLITICO, “Trump’s legal troubles are mounting. And his support is consolidating.

The lawsuit filed Wednesday in New York accusing Donald Trump and three of his adult children of fraudulent financial practices was met with fresh outrage on the left.

Jaime Harrison, the Democratic National Committee chair, suggested with a GIF that New York had produced the receipts on the former president. Michael Beschloss, the presidential historian, wrote he’d “never seen anything remotely like this in history of American Presidency.”

But to Republicans, after Trump’s presidency and its aftermath, the bombshell was simply more of the same. Just as they rallied around Trump when the FBI searched his estate at Mar-a-Lago, they saw little reason to conclude the New York lawsuit would do anything politically but help Trump with his base.

“I don’t see this working in terms of impacting the perceptions of the president,” said Dave Carney, a national Republican strategist based in New Hampshire. “He is under attack by the left, they’re using all the tools of government, they’re politicizing the legal system – this is just the cherry on top.”

Ever since his 2016 presidential campaign, and continuing through his post-presidency, Trump has maintained his status in the GOP not in spite of scandals piling up around him, but in part because of his ability to capitalize on them, his brand of grievance politics animating the Republican base. The New York lawsuit was the product of a state attorney general’s investigation. But it was also coming from a Democrat, in a state epitomizing for Republicans the coastal elite.

“The more Trump is attacked, the higher he climbs among Republicans,” said Frank Luntz, the veteran Republican consultant and pollster. “He knows how to play the victim card perfectly.”

If the New York attorney general “is trying to ensure his renomination, which I wouldn’t rule out, this is a good way to do it,” another prominent Republican strategist said.

We live in topsy-turvy times.

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Sleeping Dog says:

    The princess must be sitting in her sinecure on Indian Creek and wondering how she can rid herself of her pesky family. It’s time to throw Dad and the Bro’s under the bus.

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  2. gVOR08 says:

    I thought back in 2015 that a guy with DJT’s checkered past probably shouldn’t call attention to himself. Maybe someday I’ll turn out to have been right.

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  3. MarkedMan says:

    The thing is, Trump will likely respond to these money problems with more corrupt acts, this time with legal eyes on him. He literally doesn’t do business any other way. The Trump Organization has been corrupt since day one. Virtually everything that reporters have looked into over the years seemed to be somewhere between a scam, a con and a criminal enterprise. Trump is fundamentally a corrupt person. During the 80’s and 90’s when real business people, no angels themselves, were still willing to do business with him, more than one told business reporters that they were astounded by how much money he would leave on the table because he couldn’t resist cheating his partners. They felt his motivation to get away with something exceeded his motivation for money.

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  4. MarkedMan says:

    @gVOR08: During the 2016 primary I kept declaring that Trump would never accept the nomination because it would expose all his corrupt and criminal dealings to such intense scrutiny. I thought that even he wouldn’t be that dumb. I think I used almost those exact words. But I forgot the overriding trait in predicting Trump’s actions: he is just such a moron.

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  5. OzarkHillbilly says:

    We didn’t do the nose, or the hat, but he’s a witch.

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  6. Not the IT Dept. says:

    The thing is – NYC is his home town. He cares what his business peers think of him in NYC. He could give a *bleep* what the rest of the country thinks, especially DC. But this is hitting him in his main nerve – his company – where his peers have a front row seat. I think this time for him it might be just a bit different.

    Also, the NYC officials aren’t nearly as easily intimidated with vague public threats of violence. They’ve dealt with real organized “leave the gun take the cannoli” crime in their careers. Not the same audience at all.

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  7. Jen says:

    I’m thinking that most people have already seen this, but if not…this interview he did with Sean Hannity is…jaw-dropping.

    Trump’s lawyers have to be wailing and screaming inside soundproof rooms at this.

    He is unable to keep his mouth shut, and the silent part keeps getting said out loud.

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  8. Chris says:

    The wheels of justice have moved like a still alligator ensconced in swamp water when in comes to Bone Spurious. However, these legal proceedings are what one could expect as the big offending Orange fish kept arrogantly and erroneously swimming past the jaws of the law… CHOMP!

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  9. CSK says:

    @Jen:

    It’s hard to know which is more mindboggling: Hillary’s emails or telepathic declassification.

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  10. Argon says:

    Maybe Deutsche Bank and others will stop laundering money through the Trump organization in the future.

    It’s not that they have scruples; they just hate sunlight.

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  11. Mister Bluster says:

    Hannity: Wait, you’re not saying you had it…

    By far this is possibly the most hard hitting question that Hannity has had the balls to ask Trump.

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  12. Mister Bluster says:

    (Let’s see if I can get this past the moderation function)

    Hannity: Wait, you’re not saying you had it…

    By far this is possibly the most hard hitting question that Hannity has had the gonads to ask Trump.

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  13. Mister Bluster says:

    Let’s see what moderation does with George Carlin.

    „There are two-way words, like, it’s okay for Curt Gowdy to say, “Roberto Clemente has two balls on him!” But he can’t say, “I think he hurt his balls on that play, Tony, don’t you?”“

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  14. Mister Bluster says:

    So I am confused about why my original comment that reads “b*lls, not gonads, got grabbed.

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  15. CSK says:

    This is GREAT. The tipping point of stupid:

    http://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2022/09/trump-apologists-republican-candidates-midterm-elections/671501/

    Trickle down idiocy indeed.

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  16. Sleeping Dog says:

    @CSK:

    Yet the cult remains committed to him.

    Voters held nearly identical views from those earlier in the summer on whether they had a favorable view of Mr. Trump, whether they thought he had committed serious federal crimes, and whom they would support in a hypothetical 2024 Trump-Biden matchup.

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  17. CSK says:

    @Sleeping Dog:

    I’m sure you noticed Trump’s Christ-like pose: arms extended, embracing the multitudes. He’s playing up the messiah angle for all it’s worth.

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  18. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    I’m embarrassed by how happy the former guys “Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” made me.
    It’s fantastic to see our legal system actually working instead of being perverted and manipulated in the service of malevolence.

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  19. Kathy says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl:

    Steel yourself for even greater embarrassment once Donnie Benito sits alone in a cell.

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  20. Sleeping Dog says:

    @CSK:

    I try not to look at pictures of him. Looking at him makes me want to throw my prior meal.

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  21. MarkedMan says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl: Believe it or not, I don’t actually care that much what happens to Donnie-boy and his family. I mean, I hope they get justice and are prevented from doing things like they did to the Chawla brothers with their Scion Hotel scam, which was typical of all their scams – pitch a big idea, imply they were investing their own money, milk the suckers dry by siphoning of all of the funds available, close up shop. But other than that, I think Donnie-boy is just the manifestation of all that is wrong with the Republican Party and the Jim Crow politics they perpetuate in the South and are attempting to bring to the rest of the country. I’ve always said that if it wasn’t Trump it would have been someone equally vile.

    That said, I think having real repercussions is important, if only as a cattle prod to keep the other Republicans and MAGA heads from going too far. To that end it’s as important that all their co-conspirators go down as it is they go down themselves.

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  22. JohnSF says:

    @MarkedMan:
    As a non-American, I have to confess that at least half my desire to see Trump get served his just desserts is purely aesthetic.
    As one person on another forum bored at me:
    “Yeah, yeah Orange man bad, boring…”
    Me:
    “In part. But also, Orange man orange.”

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  23. Kathy says:

    I think I can almost crack Benito’s mental declassification method. It requires looking at things through his pathologies, namely narcissism and solipsism (these are not clinical terms).

    Consider he believes only he matters, and others exist only to make him look good (to whom, one wonders). As winner of the Electoral College sweepstakes, he got to sit at the oval office for four years. During that time, he legally could see any government document that struck his fancy, whether he needed to or not, regardless of the level of classification or even special access restrictions or even need-to-know qualifications.

    This applies to past and future elected presidents as well, like Bush the younger or Obama. But in what passes for his mind, Benito is not like his predecessors in the office, he’s special. Therefore any document he wants to see or keep is his, not the government’s. He’s not mere government employee with a four year contract, after all. He is the government.

    A sensitive document is not classified, it’s his. He declassified it, made it his, by asking for it. And how dare anyone else so deny the purpose of their existence by contradicting him?

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  24. Lounsbury says:

    @Argon: Deutsche Bank NY stopped new lending to Trump Org some time back already. In any case, you evidently have a weak/non-existant grasp of money laundering. Deutsche lending to Trump is not laundering – any money in lending by the bank itself is already laundered if it was originally dirty.

    Laundering comes from the other direction, from the real estate side and sales (which lending may enable but it not itself laundering). Russian buying of over priced Trump apartments. Lending against inflated values is not really the Bank as Bank interest, although it is in the interest of a corrupt lending officer or an unscrupulous one to book loan values and get bonuses on that (as would appear to be the scheme were the NYC private wealth people lent despite corporate default and rules normally preventing).

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  25. Chip Daniels says:

    I think the biggest threat to Trump is the profusion of imitators like DeSantis who can give the base the same sulking white male grievance without the incompetence.

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  26. Michael Cain says:

    @gVOR08:

    I thought back in 2015 that a guy with DJT’s checkered past probably shouldn’t call attention to himself. Maybe someday I’ll turn out to have been right.

    All indications seem to be that the plan was for him to finish second in the Republican nomination process then hold NBC up for much higher fees for renewing whichever version of Apprentice was running. Then suddenly he was winning and there wasn’t any way to bow out and still save face.

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  27. Kathy says:

    @Chip Daniels:

    Yes, but Florida Man is emulating the patented Cheeto method of never doing anything that doesn’t involve some kind of legal peril on his part.

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  28. MarkedMan says:

    @Chip Daniels:

    I think the biggest threat to Trump

    Screw Trump. That’s the biggest threat to democracy

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  29. dazedandconfused says:

    @MarkedMan:

    I believe Trump is only a symptom. When the parties opened the nomination processes to rank populism (something the framers of the Constitution were clearly against) by treating their party polls as elections in themselves, it was perhaps only a matter of time before we got a TeeVee personality as our POTUS.

    The major threat to democracy is actually pure democracy. We The People hate to hear it, WTP have to admit we are easy marks to accept it, but it’s true.

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  30. gVOR08 says:

    @Kathy: Trump was a spoiled rich kid, then he became a wealthy businessman with minions and lawyers eager to please him and do his bidding, then he became President, able to do what he wanted and command the U. S. Executive branch And now, to half the country, including Merrick Garland and Letticia James, he’s just another citizen. He’s adjusted badly.

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  31. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Betty Cracker directed me to this: Mar-a-Lago special master orders Trump team to back up any claims of FBI ‘planting’ evidence

    Judge Raymond Dearie, the court-appointed special master, said in a filing Thursday that Trump’s team needs to submit a sworn declaration saying if they believe the Justice Department included any items on their “inventory” of materials taken from Mar-a-Lago that were not actually seized during the search.

    The declaration must include “a list of any specific items set forth in the Detailed Property Inventory that Plaintiff asserts were not seized from the Premises on August 8, 2022,” Dearie wrote in the order.

    This has come up as an issue in the case because Trump himself, some of his attorneys, and several of his outside Republican allies have publicly claimed that the FBI planted evidence at Mar-a-Lago during the August 8 search.

    However, they have offered no evidence to support these accusations.
    ……………………………
    Dearie opened the door in a Thursday order to holding a hearing where “witnesses with knowledge of the relevant facts” could be called to testify about the Mar-a-Lago search and the materials that were seized.

    If this happens, it could become a put-up-or-shut-up moment for the Trump side, which has made a wide array of statements about alleged government improprieties out of court, but has been much more restrained in court, where it would be a crime to knowingly lie.

    Heh, they should’ve shut up a long time ago.

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  32. Joe says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: Whose idea was this Special Master guy? He really seems like a thorn in Trump’s side. Now that the 11th Circuit has taken the classified documents out of consideration, there seems to be very little upside to the Special Master and an ever increasing amount of downside. DOJ sure pulled a fast one by suggesting this candidate for Special Master. I can’t believe Trump’s team didn’t press stronger objections to his appointment.

    [checks notes]. . . .wait, is that how this happened?

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  33. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Joe: wait, is that how this happened?

    Yeah, talk about your own goals…

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  34. DK says:

    @dazedandconfused:

    The major threat to democracy is actually pure democracy.

    See what you’re saying, but keep in mind, if our system were more democratic, Trumpism would have been strangled to death in the cradle back in 2016: he got millions fewer votes than Hillary.

    I think the anti-democratic nature of our system is a major contributor to our issues. By all democratic rights, Trump and his Republican enablers should have much less power than they do. Although, again, I see what you’re saying.

    We The People hate to hear it, WTP have to admit we are easy marks to accept it, but it’s true.

    Yup, something I’ve said repeatedly here. Everybody wants to talk about Trump Trump Trump, by why are his supporters being let off the hook so much? As the famous saying goes: “I have seen the enemy. And he is us.”

    Like the little Eichmanns who dominated the post-Weimar Deutsch electorate, modern Republican voters need to be held accountable.

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  35. DK says:

    @Joe:

    DOJ sure pulled a fast one by suggesting this candidate for Special Master. I can’t believe Trump’s team didn’t press stronger objections to his appointment.

    I think Judge Dearie was actually suggested by Team Trump. The DOJ just snickered and said, “Okay, he’s fine.”

    The rub on Dearie is his supposed skepticism of “The Deep State.” That, allegedly, made him an attractive option for to Trump crime family. But he’s apparently just a rational skeptic, not an unthinking reflexive contrarion la Glenn Greenwald and Matt Taibbi. Nor out of his depth, like the honorable Judge Cannon.

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  36. Gustopher says:

    @DK:

    See what you’re saying, but keep in mind, if our system were more democratic, Trumpism would have been strangled to death in the cradle back in 2016: he got millions fewer votes than Hillary.

    Except that if the popular vote winner mattered, both candidates would have run different campaigns, so I don’t think we know with certainty how it would have turned out.

    Our non-democratic system merely ensures that there is zero confidence in the system when it produces this type of outcome.

    I think Clinton would have been better served by a direct election for the Presidency, but I don’t know whether there is more depressed Democratic turnout in reliably red states than depressed Republican turnout in reliably blue states. I do know that it would be better for American Democracy to have that be a direct election though.

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  37. Jen says:

    @DK: I’m pretty sure Joe’s comment was posted with tongue firmly planted in cheek. 😉

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