Gail Collins: Bret, which do you think is more of a threat to Trump’s political future, the classified document drama at Mar-a-Lago or the legal challenge to his businesses in New York?
Bret Stephens: Gail, I suspect the most serious threats to Trump’s future, political or otherwise, are Big Macs and KFC buckets. Otherwise, I fear the various efforts to put the 45th president out of business or in prison make it considerably more likely that he’ll wind up in the White House as the 47th president. How about you?
Gail: Sigh. You’re probably right but I’m still sorta hoping New York’s attorney general can hit him in the pocketbook. He’s super vulnerable when it comes to his shady finances — I’m even surprised he can find lawyers who have confidence they’ll keep being paid.
Bret: No doubt the Trump Organization was run with the kind of fierce moral and financial rectitude you’d expect if Elizabeth Holmes had been put in charge of Enron. But the essential currency of Trumpism is drama, and what the New York and U.S. attorneys general have done is inject a whole lot more of it into Trump’s accounts.
Gail: I don’t think the news that Letitia James accused him of fudging his financial statements will upset the base — they’ve always known this is a guy who responded to the World Trade Center terror attack by bragging that his tower was now the highest building in Lower Manhattan.
Bret: A graceless building, by the way, far surpassed by the Chrysler Building, for those who care about architectural rivalries.
Gail: Maybe I need to stop obsessing about this and take a look at the rest of the public world. Anything got your attention in particular?
Bret: Am I allowed a rant?
Gail: Bret, rants are … what we do.
Bret: The investigation of Matt Gaetz, Republican of Florida, which looks like it’s about to fall apart, is an F.B.I. disgrace for the ages. It should force heads to roll. And Congress needs to appoint a Church-style committee or commission to reform the bureau. After the Ted Stevens fiasco, James Comey’s disastrous interventions with Hillary Clinton’s emails, and the bureau misrepresenting facts to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court as part of its investigation of Trump and Russia, something dramatic has to change to save the F.B.I. from continuing to lose public trust.
Gail: Are you upset by the investigation or the fact that the investigation is failing?
Bret: I’m upset by a longstanding pattern of incompetence tinged by what feels like political bias.I don’t like Gaetz’s politics or persona any more than you do. But what we seem to have here is a high-profile politician being convicted in the court of public opinion of some of the most heinous behavior imaginable — trafficking a minor for sex — until the Justice Department realizes two years late that its case has fallen apart. We have a presumption of innocence in this country because we tend to err the most when we assume the worst about the people we like the least.
Gail; Nothing nobler than ranting about a basic moral principle on behalf of a deeply unattractive victim.
Bret: He’s the yang to Lauren Boebert’s yin. But no American deserves to be smeared this way.
Gail: While we’re on the general subject of crime let’s talk bail reform. Specifically, New York’s new system, under which a judge basically lets out arrestees not accused of violent felonies. New info suggests this may be increasing crime. But I’m sticking with my support for the concept. Suspects who haven’t yet been tried shouldn’t get different treatment based on their ability to come up with bail.
Your turn …
Bret: New York’s bail reform laws are egregious because we’re now the only state that forbids judges from considering the potential danger of a given suspect. It leads to crazy outcomes, like the guy who tried to stab Representative Lee Zeldin at a campaign stop in July and was released hours later.
Another problem is that too many cities effectively decriminalized misdemeanors like shoplifting and have given up prosecuting a lot of felonies, which tends to encourage an anything-goes mentality among the criminally minded. We really need a new approach to crime, of the kind that Joe Biden and Bill Clinton pushed back in the early 1990s, when the Democrats finally determined to be a law-and-order party again.
Gail: Biden’s generally held to a middle course that doesn’t drive anybody totally crazy. That’s why he got elected, after all. How would you say he’s doing these days?
Bret: I’m giving him full marks on supporting Ukraine. And I know Democrats have this whole “Dark Brandon” thing given Biden’s legislative victories, along with the chance that Democrats might hold the Senate thanks to bad Republican candidates. But I still don’t see things going well. Food prices keep going up-up-up and we’re heading for a bad-bad-bad recession.
Gail: Going for Not At All Bad. Otherwise known as N.A.A.B.
Bret: I’m approaching the point of T.O.T.W.I. T.: The Only Thing Worse Is Trump.
Gail: You’re way off.
Biden may not have mobilized Congress the way we hoped, but he’s gotten quite a bit done — from funding the ever-popular infrastructure programs to reducing health care costs for the working and middle classes to finally, finally giving the Internal Revenue Service some funds to do its work more efficiently.
But he lost you after infrastructure, right?
Bret: He’s governed so much further to the left than I would have liked. Change of subject: What governor’s races are you following?
Gail: It’s always a lot harder to focus on other states’ governors than the senators but I gotta admit this year I’m hooked on …
Well, let’s start with one we’re going to disagree about. I’m guessing there’s no way you could be rooting for Beto O’Rourke in Texas, right?
Bret: Ah, no, except as a performance artist. When are Texas Democrats going to nominate a centrist who stands a modest chance of winning a statewide race?
What about the New York race? I don’t suppose you could have warm feelings for Lee Zeldin, could you?
Gail: Well, to get Zeldin as their gubernatorial nominee, New York Republicans passed up a bid by Rudy’s son Andrew Giuliani, so I’d definitely put Zeldin in the Could Be Worse category.
Bret: Hochul’s main achievement to date has been to get taxpayers to put up $850 million for a new Bills stadium in Buffalo. That makes her perfect for Albany, which I don’t mean as a compliment.
Gail: Yeah, her Buffalo obsession is pretty irritating. But about Texas — Abbott is one of those Make Everything Worse Republicans, who most recently made the headlines by shipping busloads of migrants to northern cities. A move that did nothing to solve anything, but did help expose what a jerk he is.
Really, nothing Beto has ever done is that awful.
Bret: That’s because Beto has never done anything.
One Democrat I am excited about is Maryland’s Wes Moore, whom I know slightly and impresses me greatly. His book, “The Other Wes Moore,” will soon be required reading the way Barack Obama’s “Dreams From My Father” used to be. And, just to be clear, that’s me saying that Moore could one day be president.
Gail: Your bipartisanship is making me feel guilty. But about the governors — one other guy who fills me with rancor is my ongoing obsession, Ron DeSantis of Florida, who’s terrible in all the ways Abbott is terrible but much worse since he’s already a serious presidential candidate.
Bret: And an effective governor who knows how to drive liberals crazy and whose state is attracting thousands of exiles from New York, California and other poorly governed, highly taxed blue states.
Gail: Sorry but having empty space to develop and few social services to support doesn’t make you effective, just well-positioned.
But go on ….
Bret: Speaking of DeSantis, how do you think he’d fare in a theoretical matchup against California’s Gavin Newsom?
Gail: Oh boy, that’s pretty theoretical. DeSantis worries me because his policies are terrible — cruel and terrible. But he’s an obsessive campaigner with a smart pitch.
Have to admit I don’t have much of a feel for Newsom — in general it’s hard to be a national candidate if you’re running as a Democrat from a state that’s very liberal. Liberal for good and historic reasons, but hard to sell to folks in Kansas or North Carolina.
Here’s another Republican governor I’ve been mulling — what about Brian Kemp in Georgia?
Bret: I’m generally not a fan of Southern Republicans. But Kemp did stand his ground against three election deniers: David Perdue in 2022, Donald Trump in 2020 and Stacey Abrams in 2018.
Gail: Kemp is one of those Republicans — like Mike Pence and Liz Cheney — who I admire for their principled stands while realizing I would never vote for them. His abortion position, for instance, is appalling. So he goes in my Honorable But Wrong list.
We’re cruising toward the final stage of the Senate campaigns, too, Bret. Let me leave you with the thought that Arizona is looking great for my side and Ohio maybe conceivably possible.
Bret: And who’da thunk I’d be rooting for Democrats in both races?
Gail: Wow. To be continued.
Bret: In the meantime, Gail, I recommend reading Richard Sandomir’s beautiful obituary for two Jewish sisters who survived the Holocaust and passed away a few weeks ago in Alabama, 11 days apart. It’s a nice reminder of how much we all have to live for — and to wish all of our readers, Jewish or otherwise, a good and sweet new year.
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