Last week, a state judge in New Mexico issued a vastly important ruling, removing Couy Griffin from his position as a county commissioner in Otero County and banning him from ever holding public office again. Griffin’s crime? The Cowboys for Trump founder was convicted of having participated in the January 6 insurrection, and the judge found that his public rhetoric in the days leading up to it had clearly encouraged people to disobey the law in their efforts to prevent a peaceful transfer of power.
The same week, a Trump-appointed judge in Florida issued a ruling granting the former president’s request to appoint a special master to oversee the investigation into his hoarding of top secret government documents in his Mar-a-Lago basement—a ruling so legally flimsy and so transparently political that even Trump’s erstwhile legal wingman Bill Barr choked on his breakfast cereal when he read it. In that light, the decision against Griffin was refreshingly to the point. Judge Francis Mathew wrote that Griffin’s arguments—that he was only exercising his First Amendment rights to free speech and hadn’t planned or done anything illegal—were so nefarious that they were akin to “attempting to put lipstick on a pig.”
Which raises the question: If a lowly Cowboy for Trump, in a sparsely populated county in rural New Mexico, can be banned for life from holding public office because of his rhetoric and actions around January 6, why is the instigator in chief of an ongoing assault against the country’s democratic system of governance not already facing the same penalty?
News outlets have reported that in recent days the Department of Justice has issued about 40 subpoenas to Trump associates, regarding the events of January 6. It has also seized the cell phones of two close Trump aides.
Piece by piece, the Justice Department seems to be building up a slew of cases against the grifting, authoritarian ex-president. Donald Trump may yet be charged with miscellaneous offenses, and it’s still possible that he’ll ultimately be convicted and barred from holding public office again. In the meantime, the risks to American democracy continue to grow, and Trump’s malignant influence continues to be felt.
A new book by New York Times White House correspondent Maggie Haberman alleges that, after losing the 2020 election, Trump told associates that he simply wouldn’t leave the White House. However far-fetched such an idea might have been, the temper-tantrum sentiments behind it continue to resonate with a vast swath of the GOP electorate. In primary after primary, the GOP’s base has, these past months, chosen extremist election deniers as candidates for local, state, and national office. As a result, six in 10 voters around the country will have the chance of voting for an election denier on their ballots November, according to an analysis by FiveThirtyEight.
All told, FiveThirtyEight found that 200 of the GOP’s 541 nominees for state or national office were full-bore election deniers, and hundreds more had serious questions about the 2020 election. Even liberal California, where Governor Newsom is outpolling his GOP rival state Senator Brian Dahle by nearly two-to-one margins, isn’t immune. The analysis found that 12 election deniers are running for office in the Golden State.
Unlike neighboring Arizona, however, where high-profile election-denying candidates are running competitively for US senate, governor, attorney general, and the secretary of state’s office, California isn’t at risk of having election deniers in charge of its political system and its electoral machinery come January 2023.
In fact, Newsom, who knows that, barring an off-the-Richter-scale political earthquake, he will romp home to reelection, now looks to set his sights on the national political stage come 2024 or 2028. Week after week he has made a point of signing legislation that has the potential to shore up his political standing with a national audience over the next few years.
This Wednesday, the governor signed SB 1338 into law. Officially titled the Community Assistance, Recovery, and Empowerment (CARE) Act, the legislation mandates counties to provide meaningful mental health services to homeless mentally ill residents; at the same time, it obliges the mentally ill to accept those services. In other words, it returns an element of coercion to the relationship between county authorities and the homeless mentally ill that has been largely lacking for the past several years.
Newsom’s office believes that with this legislation they have a policy winner: The CARE Act is part of a $15 billion state investment aimed at tackling homelessness, and a more than $11 billion annual investment in mental health services. That’s no small change even for a state like California with a multitrillion-dollar economy. If, over the coming years, these investments make a significant dent in the state’s scandalous homeless crisis, it will be a large, and very visible, policy victory for the governor.
The CARE Act divides progressives in California. Some applaud it for the serious investment that it makes in expanding required mental health services; but others are deeply suspicious of the mandatory, coercive nature of the treatment. The National Alliance on Mental Illness is all in on the CARE Courts, but the ACLU is just as strongly opposed.
There are powerful arguments on both sides of this debate. (Full disclosure: Given the scale of the challenge and the serious public health dangers posed by sprawling shantytowns, I think the arguments in favor of CARE courts outweigh those against.) But what’s beyond dispute is that California’s horrific in-your-face homelessness crisis, the images of shantytowns and the stories of seriously mentally ill homeless people camped out in the open around the state, will be used to undermine Newsom if he ever runs for the presidency. He’s determined, as a result, to get a handle on a calamitous policy failure—around housing, mental illness, and the reintegration of ex-prisoners, too many of whom end up on the streets—that has been building to a crescendo for decades.