Punditry is a hazardous arena of political journalism. There is a high luck factor, due to unforeseen events and rapidly changing trends in issue orientations and voter turnout.
I must say that I had a particularly good year in 2020 as a pundit, starting with my 2019-2020 New Year’s Eve column, “2020 will be the year of the African-American voter,” (https://www.nj.com/opinion/2019/12/2020-will-be-the-year-of-the-african-american-voter-opinion.html?outputType=amp) in which I predicted that the African-American vote would be the major factor in enabling Joe Biden to win the Democratic Party nomination and go on to defeat Donald Trump. During the general election, two other columns of mine proved to be particularly prescient:
1) “2020 Election: Georgia: A Harbinger of a New South” (https://www.insidernj.com/2020-election-georgia-harbinger-new-south/),in which I discussed the likelihood of both a Biden presidential victory in the Peach State; and the two US Senate races ending in a runoff; and
2)”Could N.J.’s neighbor give America its first Jewish president?“ (https://www.nj.com/opinion/2020/10/could-njs-neighbor-give-america-its-first-jewish-president-opinion.html?outputType=amp))
In which I discussed Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s ultimately successful courtroom role in resisting the attempts of the Trump campaign to suppress the Pennsylvania African- American vote.
A number of critical events remain between now and January 20, 2021, the date of the Biden-Harris inauguration. Perhaps I ought to quit while I’m ahead, but I remain intrepid, and the following is my forecast of these events.
- The Georgia US Senate Runoffs
The 2020 elections left the Republicans with the US Senate numerical advantage, 50 to 48. Ultimate control of the Senate will depend on the outcome of today’s runoff US Senate races in Georgia.
The first Georgia Senate contest is between the incumbent Republican US Senator David Perdue and his Democratic challenger, media executive Jon Ossoff. The second is between incumbent Republican US Senator Kelly Loeffler and the Democratic challenger, Atlanta Ebenezer Baptist Church pastor Raphael Warnock.
Throughout the campaign, the Republicans have maintained a substantial financial and registration advantage. This appears to have been largely offset by a huge early voter turnout, featuring an unusually large increase in the African-American vote, which favors the Democratic candidates. In order for the Republicans to win, they will need an overwhelming unexpected Election Day turnout, largely from rural areas.
These races are a true coin flip. Conventional wisdom holds that the Republican incumbents will win. I’m going out on a limb, however and predict a victory by both Democratic challengers. Warnock has galvanized African-American voters, pulling Ossoff over the line with him. Also, Trump has turned off many mainstream GOP voters with his denigration of Republican Governor Brian Kemp and other statewide GOP officials, thus depressing the Republican vote.
- The Trump Congressional Anti-Democracy War, led by his Field Marshall, Senator Josh Hawley (R-Missouri).
Tomorrow, January 6, 2021, Donald Trump is fighting his Stalingrad of his anti-democracy war in the United States House of Representatives and Senate. The goal is to hold onto the White House by engaging in an illegal, unauthorized Congressional reversal of the election results in swing states.
Trump gave a preview of tomorrow’s final battle with his infamous phone call to Georgia election officials on Saturday. This action provided further evidence that Trump is engaged in criminal sedition against American democracy.
The Field Marshall of the Trump armies is Senator Josh Hawley (R-Missouri), an evil authoritarian racist reminiscent of Gerald L.K. Smith and Father Charles Coughlin. He is, however, a highly educated intellectual of the extremist right (Stanford Phi Beta Kappa, Yale Law Review) and a shrewd demagogic political strategist (defeated the highly politically competent incumbent US Senator Claire McCaskill in 2018). All this makes Hawley perhaps the greatest threat to American democracy in the US Senate in my lifetime.
Perhaps my all-time favorite journalist is George Will. His views on Josh Hawley, as expressed in his recent Washington Post column, are totally in line with mine. https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/hawley-cruz-and-their-senate-cohort-are-the-constitutions-most-dangerous-domestic-enemies/2021/01/04/912d2530-4ebf-11eb-83e3-322644d82356_story.html
Hawley will lose the Trump anti-democracy war, but winning that conflict is not his primary objective. As I have mentioned in other columns, the Republicans are headed for a civil war for the 2024 Presidential nomination between the Trumpian wing and the mainstream Right-of-Center wing. The Trumpian wing will be without Donald Trump and the Trump family – he will be too busy defending himself from state prosecutions in New York State, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, and possibly Georgia in the wake of the infamous phone call. As for his son- in-law, Jared Kushner and the Trump children, Donald, Jr., Ivanka, and Eric, they are political incompetents who have as much chance of successfully running for office as I have of winning the People Magazine Sexiest Man of the Year award.
Hawley wants to win the 2024 presidential nomination by dislodging the current heir apparent to Trumpian leadership, Vice President Mike Pence. He plans to do so by attempting to force Pence into committing the ultra vires action, as President of the Senate, of rejecting Biden-Harris electors from swing states and substituting Trump electors.
Pence has too much respect for democracy to do this. But Pence’s refusal to do so will temporarily cost him the allegiance of many Trumpian voters. He will gain back their support by the pardon process, in which he pardons Donald Trump, as I explain below.
III. The Final Trump Pardons – Jared, Ivanka, Don, Jr., and Eric: But what about the Donald himself?
Some journalists have questioned whether pardons can be issued to Trump family members and The Donald himself before they are indicted. The answer is a clear and emphatic yes, based upon the following language from President Gerald Ford’s message pardoning Richard Nixon:
Now, Therefore, I, Gerald R. Ford, President of the United States, pursuant to the pardon power conferred upon me by Article II, Section 2, of the Constitution, have granted and by these presents do grant a full, free, and absolute pardon unto Richard Nixon for all offenses against the United States which he, Richard Nixon, has committed or may have committed or taken part in during the period from January 20, 1969 through August 9, 1974.
This language provides a perfect template for the pardons that will be issued by Donald Trump as president to Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump, Donald Trump, Jr., and Eric Trump. As I have mentioned before, pardons issued by the president only protect the pardoned party from federal criminal prosecutions, but not state criminal charges.
But can Donald Trump pardon himself? The answer is an emphatic no. The literal Constitution language and the original intent of the framers do not contemplate a president having the power to pardon himself.
Furthermore, there is substantial risk to Trump in attempting to do so. Such a pardon will almost certainly be set aside by the federal courts as null and void. Even the three originalist justices Trump appointed to the Supreme Court, including Amy Coney Barrett, would vote to set aside such a self-pardon.
At the time the federal courts would abrogate a Trump self-pardon, he would be out of office, and Biden would never pardon him. There is, however, an answer to Trump’s dilemma.
Trump will resign as president with about two days left to go in his term and the new President for Two Days, Mike Pence will issue a pardon to Trump for all federal offenses he may have committed, with the language described above.
Once he has resigned, despite current denials, Trump will fly to his golf course in Scotland, where he will avoid being served with subpoenas issued by state prosecutors in America. Due to his issuance of the pardon, Pence will regain support from Trumpian voters for his 2024 GOP presidential nomination bid.
Suggestion to Mike Pence: Call John Bennett, who served as governor of New Jersey for three days at the end of the Republican term in 2002, as to how a short-term Chief Executive can obtain maximum enjoyment from his brief service.
IV: Pence attends the Biden – Harris inauguration.
With Trump out of office, Mike and Karen Pence will attend the Biden-Harris inauguration. He will be a model of decorum and good will, a clear contrast with the exiled Donald Trump. Mike Pence will symbolize the peaceful transfer of power that Donald Trump refused to do. This will also enable Pence to gain support for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination from non-Trumpian right-of-center Republican voters, making him the early front-runner.
Pence’s behavior at the inaugural will also result in an upsurge in his favorability ratings among non-GOP voters as well. Mike Pence will be the only departing Trump administration member who experiences an increased esteem of the American electorate upon his departure.
- Some potential Jersey winners and losers
Potential winner – The environmental cause in New Jersey
If the Georgia results give Democrats control of the Senate, Biden will be able to fully fund his climate change program. This includes major funding for environmental protection for disadvantaged communities. Enactment and full funding of the Biden climate change program will greatly enhance both shore protection and environmental justice in New Jersey, two major priorities of Governor Phil Murphy as well.
Potential winner: US Senator Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey)
Democratic control of the US Senate would result in Bob Menendez becoming chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. This would be especially good news for the New Jersey Jewish community, which venerates Menendez, due to his strong record of active support for the State of Israel throughout his career.
Potential loser: Chris Christie
The former New Jersey governor still harbors Republican presidential 2024 nomination ambitions. A front-running Mike Pence, with support from all elements of the GOP, would render unattainable any Christie 2024 presidential aspirations.
Alan Steinberg served as Regional Administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush and as Executive Director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission.