Since we’re talking about conspiracies…
Goldstone’s latest book is “Not White Enough: The Long, Shameful Road to Japanese American Internment.” Learn more at www.lawrencegoldstone.com.
Many on the left were more than a little disturbed when Judge Aileen Cannon was chosen to preside over United States of America v. Donald J. Trump. They considered it yet another example of, with apologies to John Gotti, the new Teflon Don being granted an enhanced opportunity to escape well-earned punishment for blatantly committed crimes.
In this construct, Judge Cannon’s selection will become fodder for a right-wing conspiracy to allow Trump sufficient time to successfully seek the presidency in 2024, after which he would end the prosecution by executive order and then likely appoint Judge Cannon to the court of appeals, a nomination that would be approved by a newly won Republican Senate.
It all seems to fit. Judge Cannon is, after all, a Trump appointee who was deemed by many to lack both the experience and the qualifications for the job. In addition, she has been castigated by a three-judge court of appeals panel for her egregious decision to appoint a special master earlier in the classified documents investigation. That ruling was seen as the initial attempt to protract the process sufficiently to allow Trump to be re-elected before the case could come before a jury.
And so, just about every host on MSNBC seemed to be waiting for Judge Cannon to, if not overtly sabotage the government’s case, issue a series of rulings on motions to drag it out long enough to make it impossible for a trial to begin until after the 2024 election.
What then to make of Judge Cannon’s ruling that every lawyer who will participate in the case must apply for security clearance immediately, a decision that even liberal CNN called “jump starting” the trial, and then setting a tentative August date for the proceedings to get underway? Since the notion that Judge Cannon was actually trying to demonstrate that she intended to be fair to both parties was not seriously considered, what could be going on here?
For a possible explanation it might be useful to consider The Maltese Falcon, a classic film so rife with conspiracies that there seems to be a new one every ten minutes. Near the end, Humphrey Bogart, playing hard-boiled private eye Sam Spade, is in the midst of an all-night wait for the Black Bird to be delivered to his apartment. There with him are the four would-be thieves, among them, ringleader Kasper Gutman, the “Fat Man,” played by Sydney Greenstreet, and the barely post-teenage killer, “gunsel” Wilmer Cook, played by Elisha Cook, Jr.
Spade agrees to turn over the falcon only if Gutman provides him with a fall guy to take the rap for the three murders that preceded the meeting, to say nothing of setting a cargo ship on fire. Spade suggests Wilmer, which Gutman laughs off. “He’s like my own son,” he sniffs. (In the book, he was more likely to have been his lover.)
But Spade insists and soon Gutman is huddling with the other two, Mary Astor and Peter Lorre. While they whisper, Bogart turns to Wilmer, grins and says, “Six two and even, they’re selling you out, sonny.”
Which indeed they were. Gutman expresses his regrets by telling Wilmer, “If you lose a son, it is possible to get another, but there is only one Maltese Falcon.”
So, if one is determined to find a conspiracy in Judge Cannon’s behavior, what about the right-wing selling out the man who might well have outworn his usefulness and now threatens their continued hegemony in national and even state government?
This notion is not far-fetched. True, Republicans cannot afford to lose Trump’s voters, but what if, as Ron DeSantis is trying to demonstrate, you can have Trump’s voters without Trump? What if you scream about the injustice of Trump’s persecution while dumping all the blame on special prosecutor Jack Smith, Joe Biden, and even the “deep state” and the FBI?
“We did all we could,” Republicans could sigh, “but the justice system is rigged.”
Few among the party’s leaders would be sad to see Trump pass from the scene. His popularity has a definite ceiling and he is the only Republican candidate, present polls notwithstanding, who is considered by the professionals likely to lose to Joe Biden. And Republicans are all too aware that since 2016, the party has underperformed in three straight national elections, largely due to Trump and his handpicked sycophants. By endorsing dreadful candidates such as Dr. Oz, Herschel Walker, and Blake Masters, Trump is directly responsible for handing Democrats control of the Senate, an outcome not at all lost on Mitch McConnell.
McConnell is not the only Senate Republican who would be delighted with a post-Trump party. While some of the most conservative Republican senators have maintained what is likely genuine loyalty to their titular leader, others, including John Thune and John Cornyn, have demonstrated at best lukewarm support. With an extremely favorable Senate map in 2024, the only real risk for Republicans in their quest to retake the chamber is a new roster of Trump-supported primary candidates who are unelectable in the general election.
In the House, Kevin McCarthy would also not be displeased to see Trump gone. To become speaker, he was forced to make a deal with a small cadre of ultra-right nihilists who derive their power from the Trump wing of the party. If the Matt Gaetz, Andy Biggs, Paul Gosar crew can be neutered, even to a small degree, McCarthy’s life will be a good deal easier. What is more, McCarthy cannot afford to lose too many of the eighteen Republican held House seats in districts that Biden carried in 2020 and still keep his job, a much more ominous scenario with Trump’s minions on the ballot.
That leaves the ideologues, such as the Federalist Society, of which Judge Cannon is a proud and loyal member. For them, Trump was a gift from the heavens. But he already gave them full control of the Supreme Court and stacked the deck in other jurisdictions, such as the Eleventh Circuit, in which Judge Cannon serves. While the Federalists surely want to keep the judicial ball rolling, it will be impossible to do so without a Republican in the White House and control of the Senate, both of which are questionable propositions with Trump grabbing every headline.
In the end, selling Trump out might be the best move Republicans have.
Wouldn’t it be ironic if, after all the conspiracy theories Trump and his allies have put forth, this was the one that turned out to be true?