Ukraine army chief says Russia making significant ‘gains’ in east of country

BBC News

Ukraine army chief says Russia making significant ‘gains’ in east of country

Thomas Mackintosh – BBC News – April 13, 2024

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky with Gen Oleksandr Syrskyi at a position near the eastern front line, Donetsk region, Ukraine, 26 June 2023
Gen Oleksandr Syrskyi (L) was appointed as commander of Ukraine’s military by President Zelensky last year [Reuters]

The head of Ukraine’s military has warned the battlefield situation in the east of the country has “significantly worsened” in recent days.

Fierce battles are ongoing in a several villages in the eastern Donbas region.

Gen Oleksandr Syrskyi said Russia was benefitting from warm weather – making terrain more accessible to its tanks – and making tactical gains.

It comes as Germany said it will give Ukraine an extra Patriot missile defence system to fend off air attacks.

In his update posted to social media on Saturday, Gen Syrskyi explained the situation on the eastern front had deteriorated as Russia intensified its armoured assaults.

Battles have raged for control of Bohdanivka – a village west of the devastated city of Bakhmut, he said.

The settlement lies a few kilometres northeast of the town of Chasiv Yar, a Kyiv-controlled stronghold which Russia has been trying to reach after seizing the town of Avdiivka in February to the south.

Ukrainian officials say a slowdown in military assistance from the West – especially the US – has left it more exposed to aerial attacks and heavily outgunned on the battlefield.

Despite repeated assurances that he is dedicated to Ukraine’s defence, US House Speaker Mike Johnson has failed to advance a new military aid bill. The Democratic-controlled Senate passed fresh funding in February which included $60bn in aid for Kyiv, but conservative Republicans in the House objected to the bill as it did not include funds for border security.

Gen Syrskyi said without fresh aid and sophisticated weapons Kyiv would be unable “to seize the strategic initiative” from the numerically superior Russian forces.

Separately on Saturday, Germany vowed to give Ukraine an additional air defence system. Ukraine has made increasingly desperate appeals for supplies of air defence missiles in recent weeks.

On Friday, a major power plant near Kyiv was completely destroyed by Russian strikes. Trypillya power plant was the largest electricity provider for three regions, including Kyiv, officials said.

In response, Berlin has agreed to give Kyiv an additional Patriot missile system. It is capable of intercepting Russia’s most advanced munitions, including Kinzal hypersonic missiles.

Defence Minister Boris Pistorius said Russian strikes against Ukrainian cities and energy infrastructure were causing untold suffering.

President Volodymyr Zelensky thanked Germany for the decision, calling it “a true manifestation of support for Ukraine”.

Since President Vladimir Putin won his stage managed election last month, Moscow has stepped up air attacks on Ukraine.

Russia has, in recent days, unleashed three massive aerial strikes on its energy system, pounding power plants and substations.

Elsewhere, the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) said it has foiled an assassination attempt on the governor of the Kherson region, Oleksandr Prokudin. Officials said two men attempted to strike Mr Prokudin’s car with a Russian-manufactured drone.

“This was not the first attempt, and probably not the last one,” Mr Prokudin said a message posted to Telegram.

SBU officials also said they had detained 11 networks of Russian operatives since the start of 2024. SBU chief Vasyl Malyuk said in another Telegram post that this was in addition to 47 last year.

Map
[BBC]

Ukraine’s military chief warns of ‘significantly’ worsening battlefield situation in the east

Associated Press

Ukraine’s military chief warns of ‘significantly’ worsening battlefield situation in the east

Associated Press – April 13, 2024

In this photo taken from video released by Russian Defense Ministry Press Service on Saturday, April 13, 2024, Russian Army soldiers ride their armoured vehicle to take positions and fire toward Ukrainian positions at an undisclosed location in Ukraine. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukraine’s military chief on Saturday warned that the battlefield situation in the industrial east has “significantly worsened in recent days,” as warming weather allowed Russian forces to launch a fresh push along several stretches of the more 1,000 km-long (620-mile) front line.

In an update on the Telegram messaging app, Gen. Oleksandr Syrskyy said that Moscow had “significantly” ramped up its assaults since President Vladimir Putin extended his nearly quarter-century rule in a preordained election last month that saw anti-war candidates barred from the ballot and independent voices silenced in a Kremlin-backed media blockade.

According to Syrskyy, Russian forces have been “actively attacking” Ukrainian positions in three areas of the eastern Donetsk region, near the cities of Lyman, Bakhmut and Pokrovsk, and beginning to launch tank assaults as drier, warmer spring weather has made it easier for heavy vehicles to move across previously muddy terrain.

“Despite significant losses, the enemy is intensifying its efforts by using new units (equipped with) armored vehicles, thanks to which it periodically achieves tactical success,” Syrskyy said.

A Russian Defense Ministry spokesman on Saturday confirmed the capture of a village that had been the site of fierce fighting for close to eighteen months. Analysts from Ukraine’s non-governmental Deep State group, which tracks frontline developments, had reported on Russia’s takeover of Pervomaiske, some 45 kilometers (28 miles) southeast of Pokrovsk, in the early hours of Thursday.

On Saturday, the group said in a Telegram update that Moscow’s forces had also taken Bohdanivka, another eastern village close to the city of Bakhmut, where the war’s bloodiest battle raged for nine months until it fell to Russia last May. Ukraine’s Defense Ministry shortly afterwards denied that Bohdanivka had been captured, and said “intense fighting” continued there.

With the war in Ukraine entering its third year and a vital U.S. aid package for Kyiv stuck in Congress, Russian troops are ramping up pressure on exhausted Ukrainian forces on the front line to prepare to grab more land this spring and summer.

Russia has relied on its edge in firepower and personnel to step up attacks across eastern Ukraine. It has increasingly used satellite-guided gliding bombs — which allow planes to drop them from a safe distance — to pummel Ukrainian forces beset by a shortage of troops and ammunition.

Also on Saturday, Germany announced that it will deliver an additional Patriot air defense system to Ukraine, days after Russian missiles and drones on Thursday struck infrastructure and power facilities across several regions, leaving hundreds of thousands of homes without power, in what private energy operator DTEK described as one of the most powerful attacks this year. The German Defense Ministry said it would “begin the handover” of the Patriot system immediately, without providing a precise timeline.

In an update on X, formerly known as Twitter, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said he had discussed the “massive” Russian air attacks on civilian energy infrastructure with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Saturday, and declared that Berlin will “stand unbreakably by Ukraine’s side.”

Putin described the strikes as retribution for Ukrainian attacks on Russia’s energy infrastructure, after a slew of Ukrainian drone strikes over the past few months hit oil refineries deep inside Russia.

Starting last month, Moscow renewed its assault on Ukrainian energy facilities. On Thursday it completely knocked out a plant that was the biggest energy supplier for the region around Kyiv, as well as the nearby Cherkasy and Zhytomyr provinces.

At least 10 of the strikes damaged energy infrastructure in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city. Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said more than 200,000 people in the region were without power and Russia “is trying to destroy Kharkiv’s infrastructure and leave the city in darkness.”

Energy facilities were also hit in the Zaporizhzhia and Lviv regions.

The volume and accuracy of recent attacks have alarmed the country’s defenders, who say Kremlin forces now have better intelligence and fresh tactics in their campaign to annihilate Ukraine’s electrical grid and bring its economy to a halt.

In the winter of 2022-2023, Russia took aim at Ukraine’s power grid in an effort to deny civilians light and heating and chip away at the country’s appetite for war.

In Ukraine’s Russian-occupied south, a local Kremlin-installed official blamed Kyiv for a shelling attack that killed 10 people, including children, in a town in the southern Zaporizhzhia region the previous day.

The Tokmak municipal administration reported on Telegram that the shelling struck three apartment blocks Friday evening. Five people were pulled alive from the rubble and 13 people were hospitalized, according to the Kremlin-installed regional head Yevhen Balitsky. It was not immediately possible to verify his claims.

Ukrainian officials did not immediately acknowledge or comment on the attack.

Meanwhile, in Ukraine, a Russian drone on Saturday dropped explosives on an ambulance that had been called out to a village near the frontline city of Kupiansk, wounding its 58-year-old driver, local Gov. Oleh Syniehubov reported. His claim could not be independently verified.

Trump is recreating his web of chaos at home and abroad in a preview of what a second term could look like

CNN

Trump is recreating his web of chaos at home and abroad in a preview of what a second term could look like

Analysis by Stephen Collinson, CNN – April 10, 2024

Marco Bello/Reuters

Some top Democrats worry that Americans have forgotten the chaos that raged every day Donald Trump was president, and that voters’ faded recall of the uproar will end up handing him a second term.

The presumptive GOP nominee is, however, doing a good job of jogging memories as he blazes a trail of disruption through Congress, immigration and national security policy, reproductive health care and the nation’s top courts.

After storming to the Republican nomination, Trump is again the epicenter of controversy. His volatile personality, loyalty tests, rampant falsehoods, thirst to serve his political self-interest and the aftershocks of his first term are compromising attempts to govern the country. And the election is still seven months away.

Many of today’s most intractable conflicts in US politics can be traced to Trump and the turmoil that is an essential ingredient of his political appeal to base voters who want Washington and its rules ripped down – no matter the consequences.

Events this week – and over the first three months of this year – illustrate how much Trump has shaped the political tumult:

— On Wednesday, House Speaker Mike Johnson suffered another stunning defeat, further gutting his authority, after hard right GOP members blocked a bill to reauthorize a critical surveillance spying program at Trump’s behest.

— Another measure critical to America’s capacity to wield its global power and its international reputation – a $60 billion arms package for Ukraine – is still going nowhere. Trump ally Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene is threatening to topple Johnson if he dares to pass it.

— Nationwide chaos is, meanwhile, spreading in the wake of the Trump-built Supreme Court conservative majority overturning Roe v. Wade in 2022. In the latest stunning twist, Arizona is about to revert to a near total Civil War-era abortion ban.

— Bipartisan efforts to solve a border crisis are in tatters after Trump’s House followers in February killed the most sweeping and conservative bill in years. The ex-president appeared to want to deprive President Joe Biden of an election-year win and to continue his searing claims that America is being invaded by undocumented migrants he calls “animals.”

— Some of the nation’s top courts are being tied in knots by Trump’s incessant, and often frivolous, appeals as he desperately tries to postpone the shame of becoming the first ex-president to go on criminal trial. His unchained social media posts may be coming perilously close to infringing a gag order ahead of his hush money trial beginning Monday.

— The Supreme Court will later this month wrestle with Trump’s claims of almost unchecked presidential power – a constitutional conundrum that no other president in two-and-a-half centuries of American history ever raised. The suit is largely a ruse to delay his federal election interference trial – and it is working.

Trump’s entanglement in some of the most intense political storms rocking Washington, and reverberating even beyond US shores, offers fresh evidence of his power – expressed through his capacity to make key elements of the Republican Party bend to his will. It highlights his mercurial personality and a political style that relies on instinct rather than long-term strategy. And it is leaving no doubt that the mayhem that burst out of the Oval Office during his administration would return at an even more intense level if he gets back there in 2025.

Trump delivers a blow to Johnson – then invites him to Mar-a-Lago

Trump dispensed his orders to his acolytes in the House with the words “Kill FISA” on his Truth Social network.

The former president was referring to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which national security officials say is critical to allowing espionage agencies to listen to communications of suspected terrorists and US adversaries. Some of those key powers need to be reauthorized by Congress by the middle of the month.

Critics of the law, including some civil liberties groups and some conservatives, argue that Section 702 of the act, which allows the surveillance of foreigners outside the US, is unconstitutional because sometimes Americans in contact with those targets get swept up in the net. But Trump is bent on vengeance against the FBI over its investigation into contacts between his 2016 campaign and Russia. He claimed in a social media post that FISA was “ILLEGALLY USED AGAINST ME, AND MANY OTHERS. THEY SPIED ON MY CAMPAIGN!!!”

On Wednesday, 19 Republicans – including some of Trump’s loudest backers in the House – bucked Johnson and voted with Democrats to block consideration of the bill, dealing yet another blow to the speaker’s fast-ebbing authority and provoking a potential national security crisis.

Bill Barr, Trump’s former attorney general, told CNN’s Annie Grayer on Wednesday that the actions of his former boss and allies were “a travesty and reckless.” Barr argued that the ex-president was being driven by “personal pique rather than rationality and sound policy.” He said Trump’s complaints about the investigation into his 2016 campaign had nothing to do with the FISA section that needs to be reauthorized. And in a chilling warning, Barr accused the ex-president of putting US national security at risk. “We’re faced with probably the greatest threat to the homeland from terrorist attack and our means of defending against that is FISA. And to take that tool away, I think, is going to result in successful terrorist attacks and the loss of life,” he said.

Johnson’s latest humiliation came as he’s fighting for his job on another front. He held tense crisis talks on Wednesday with Greene, who is threatening to call a vote to oust him. The speaker may be the most conservative person to ever hold his job, but the Georgia lawmaker is accusing him of becoming a Democrat in all but name. Johnson’s crime was to keep the government open by passing budget bills and his consideration of the delayed Ukraine funding, which is also opposed by the former president.

“If he funds the deep state and the warrantless spying on Americans, he’s telling Republican voters all over the country that the continued behavior will happen more, spying on President Trump and spying on hundreds of thousands of Americans,” Greene told CNN’s Manu Raju on Wednesday. She added: “The funding of Ukraine must end. We are not responsible for a war in Ukraine. We’re responsible for the war on our border, and I made that clear to Speaker Johnson.”

Trump’s role in these two issues that threaten to bring Johnson down make it all the more curious that the speaker plans to travel to Mar-a-Lago on Friday to hold a joint news conference with the Republican presumptive nominee.

Johnson badly needs Trump to wield his influence with the restive GOP majority if he is to survive. And his pilgrimage to the Florida resort will make a strong statement about who really runs the House majority. There is a clue to a potential quid pro quo in the announced topic of their press conference – “election integrity.” That’s the code in Trump’s world for false claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him.

Johnson was a prominent purveyor of falsehoods about a stolen election and his continued willingness to buy into them might be the price for securing Trump’s support now.

Ukraine’s future may depend on the speaker sacrificing his future

Trump’s transformation of the GOP from a party that used to laud President Ronald Reagan’s victory over the Kremlin in the Cold War to one that often seems to be fulfilling Russian President Vladimir Putin’s foreign policy goals is striking.

The GOP’s blockade of more funding for Ukraine threatens America’s global authority and reputation as a nation that supports democracies and opposes tyrants like a Russian leader who is accused of war crimes. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has warned that the war will be lost if the US arms don’t arrive. He told CNN’s Frederik Pleitgen on Wednesday that “what we have now is not sufficient. If we want to truly prevail over Putin.”

A few hours later, Gen. Christopher Cavoli, commander of US European Command, backed up Zelensky’s warnings. “If one side can shoot and the other side can’t shoot back, the side that can’t shoot back loses. So the stakes are very high,” Cavoli told the House Armed Services Committee.

Yet Trump has vowed to end the war in 24 hours if he wins a second term. That can only happen one way – by Zelensky giving territorial concessions to Putin, who launched an illegal invasion and to whom the former US president has often genuflected.

News that Johnson is heading to Mar-a-Lago is yet another reason for US supporters of Ukraine to worry.

Abortion chaos

One of Biden’s goals is trying to remind suburban, moderate and independent voters who may be alienated by Trump’s constant chaos how disorientating life could be when he was president.

That’s one reason why the Biden campaign has seized on the fallout of the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade to highlight the pandemonium that can result from Trump’s leadership.

The overturning of the nationwide constitutional right to an abortion was based on the reasoning that state legislatures that are closer to the people than the judiciary are the appropriate place for such a divisive moral question. In an ideal world or a political vacuum, that might be the case. But the decision took little account of the corrosive polarization of America’s politics and the result has been a confusing patchwork of state laws and court decisions. Many patients are being deprived of vital health services – for instance after miscarriages. Some IVF fertility treatments have been stopped in Alabama, for example, and the Supreme Court has been forced to consider an attempt to halt nationwide access to a widely used abortion pill.

Anti-abortion campaigners are, meanwhile, pushing hard for total state and national bans on the procedure while abortion rights advocates are seeking to inject the issue into key election races — with significant recent success in even some red states.

Trump this week tried to defuse the growing threat to his campaign from his and the conservative Supreme Court majority’s handiwork, insisting he’d leave the issue to the states. His damage control effort didn’t even last 24 hours. The Arizona Supreme Court’s decision to reinstate a 160-year-old ban triggered a backlash that went right back to the former president.

Trump had another go on Wednesday, pledging that he wouldn’t sign a federal ban on abortion as president – as many conservatives are pushing him to. But given how many times he’s shifted his position on the issue, it’s hard to know what he really thinks.

For once, Trump could end up being the chief victim of the chaos he wreaks.

U.S. announces $138 million in emergency military sales of Hawk missile systems support for Ukraine

Associated Press

U.S. announces $138 million in emergency military sales of Hawk missile systems support for Ukraine

Tara Copp and Matthew Lee – April 9, 2024

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin testifies before Senate Committee on Armed Services during a hearing on Department of Defense Budget Request for Fiscal Year 2025 and the Future Years Defense Program on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, April 9, 2024. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin testifies before Senate Committee on Armed Services during a hearing on Department of Defense Budget Request for Fiscal Year 2025 and the Future Years Defense Program on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, April 9, 2024. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The State Department has greenlighted an emergency $138 million in foreign military sales for Ukraine to provide critical repairs and spare parts for Kyiv’s Hawk missile systems.

The U.S. announced the move Tuesday saying that Ukraine has an urgent need for the maintenance support to keep the missile system running.

The announcement follows a similar, small-sized round of $300 million in munitions support the Pentagon announced last month after it was able to convert contract savings to be able to offset the cost of providing the aid. Both the State and Defense Departments have been looking for ways to continue to get Ukraine support while a $60 billion Ukraine aid package remains stalled in Congress.

The HAWK is a medium range surface-to-air missile system that provides air defense, which is one of Ukraine’s top security needs.

“Ukraine has an urgent need to increase its capabilities to defend against Russian missile strikes and the aerial capabilities of Russian forces,” the State Department said in a memo outlining the sale. “Maintaining and sustaining the HAWK Weapon System will enhance Ukraine’s ability to defend its people and protect critical national infrastructure.”

During a Capitol Hill hearing Tuesday, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said without the support — the U.S. risks that Ukraine will fall to Russia.

“Ukraine matters, and the outcome of the conflict in Ukraine will have global implications for our national security as well,” Austin said.

If Kyiv falls, it could imperil Ukraine’s Baltic NATO member neighbors and potentially drag U.S. troops into a prolonged European war.

The work on the Hawk systems will be performed by contractors from Massachusetts-based RTX Corporation, formerly known as Raytheon and Huntsville, Alabama-based PROJECTXYZ. The State Department said the parts needed to repair the systems will come from U.S. Army stock, third-country donations, commercial off-the-shelf components and new production.

The real price tag for Trump’s billionaires’ banquet

CNN Opinion:

The real price tag for Trump’s billionaires’ banquet

Opinion by Dean Obeidallah – April 7, 2024

Editor’s Note: Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is the host of SiriusXM radio’s daily program “The Dean Obeidallah Show.”

This weekend, some 100 wealthy people were on the guest list for an exclusive fundraising event at the ritzy Palm Beach, Florida, home of billionaire investor John Paulson.

Dean Obeidallah - CNN
Dean Obeidallah – CNN

The soirée reportedly raised more than $50 million for former President Donald Trump’s 2024 White House campaign. Trump’s well-heeled backers paid $250,000 per person for those serving on the “host committee” to $824,600 per person to serve as a “chairman.” Those contributing at the top level were allowed to be seated at Trump’s table during dinner.

In more normal times, there would be nothing particularly remarkable about this kind of high-priced fundraiser. Trump, however, is anything but a conventional Republican candidate. After all, he attempted a coup to remain in power despite losing the 2020 election for which he now faces numerous felony charges.

Trump’s deep-pocketed and highly credentialed donors, including Paulson, doubtless are fully aware of his record, but nevertheless see fit to donate massive sums of money to a man who attempted to destroy the peaceful transfer of power that stands at the heart of our democracy.

Paulson and the other wealthy donors who attended Saturday night’s event must surely be aware that Trump sat idly by, watching on television as the January 6 attacks unfolded — ignoring requests that he call off his supporters for more than three hours and even turning a deaf ear to his aides and one of his family members.

They may also know that since leaving the White House, Trump has celebrated the January 6 attackers, even starting many of his campaign rallies by playing a recording sung by the “J6 Prison Choir.” They might have heard that he has vowed to pardon those convicted of crimes related to the siege of the Capitol, which in some cases included assaulting police officers.

The effort to upend our democracy also involved violent groups like the right-wing, extremist Proud Boys, the leader of which has been convicted of seditious conspiracy in connection with his role in seeking to interfere with the peaceful handover of power on January 6.

None of that seems to have troubled these rich people — at least not enough to get them to forgo making massive donations to Trump’s presidential campaign. Their fundraiser came a little over a week after Democrats, including former Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, held a star-studded fundraising event for incumbent President Joe Biden that raked in some $25 million.

If they’ve been paying attention, the wealthy donors at Saturday night’s fundraiser for Trump — who included hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebekah, oil tycoon Harold Hamm and casino mogul Steve Wynn — might also be aware that in December, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that Trump had been “engaged in an insurrection.” And even though the US Supreme Court ultimately determined that Trump could remain on the 2024 ballot in Colorado, it did not overrule the state’s high court on the issue of Trump having taken part in an “insurrection.”

Trump’s donors might even have heard reports about the former president channeling Adolf Hitler by declaring that immigrants are “poisoning the blood” of our nation, his vow to be a “dictator” on the first day of his presidency and his repeated praise of autocrats. Presumably, if they found any of this alarming, they would not have donated at least a quarter of a million dollars per person to help Trump take back the White House.

To put it bluntly, I don’t put the sophisticated, ultra-wealthy people who attended this weekend’s campaign fundraiser in the same category as average Americans who have been conned time and again by Trump’s repeated lies that the 2020 election was “rigged.” I suspect that this elite group of backers knows exactly what is going on with the former president.

It seems more than plausible that Paulson had at least some second thoughts about Trump in 2024. In fact, earlier in the 2024 campaign, Paulson raised funds for Trump’s GOP primary opponent Ron DeSantis despite having made big donations to Trump in 2016 and 2020.

But all of that changed once it became clear that Trump would become the GOP’s presidential nominee. A few weeks ago, Paulson told CNN, during a discussion ahead of Saturday’s fundraiser, that he was “pleased to support President Trump in his re-election efforts.” He added, “His policies on the economy, energy, immigration and foreign policy will be very beneficial for the country.”

Paulson left out any mention of the Trump tax cut enacted in 2017, which greatly helped the very wealthy set, which Paulson and the others at Saturday’s dinner are privileged to be part of.

Is that why these very rich people are now turning a blind eye to the threat that Trump poses to the rule of law in our country? Are they hoping he’ll enact more policies that could fatten their wallets? Perhaps they have fully grasped the danger Trump poses to our republic, but have decided they are on board with him all the same.

Or perhaps they believe they can benefit as wealthy friends of an autocratic leader. After all, in Hungary led by Trump’s ally Viktor Orban, his inner circle has profited under his leadership with the funneling of contracts. Of course, the same can be said of Russia under Vladimir Putin, where the oligarchs who gave him their support became even wealthier — until running afoul of him, when some were “forced into exile or died in suspicious circumstances.”

A short time after the January 6 attack, Chuck Collins, director of the Project on Inequality and the Common Good at the Institute for Policy Studies, was unstinting in his criticism of Trump’s uber-wealthy backers. “They enabled Donald Trump. They bankrolled his campaigns,” he told the progressive news site Common Dreams. “And they cheered as Trump cut their taxes, swept away regulations that pinched their profits, and packed the courts with judges eager to wink at their transgressions.”

Liz Cheney — the conservative former US Representative from Wyoming and onetime Republican member of the House GOP leadership — warned Americans recently that with Trump’s second rise to power we are “sleepwalking into dictatorship.” If he in fact regains power, we can blame, among others, these short-sighted, wealthy enablers who helped underwrite Trump’s campaign. They undoubtedly know better, but appear to care more about helping their bottom line than protecting our democracy.

Donald Trump’s Insatiable Bloodlust

Maureen Dowd

By Maureen Dowd – April 6, 2024

Donald Trump, standing in a suit at a lectern, holds up his hands, with a huge flag in the background.
Credit…Mark Peterson for The New York Times

An earthquake. An eclipse. A bridge collapse. A freak blizzard. A biblical flood. Donald Trump leading in battleground states.

Apocalyptic vibes are stirred by Trump’s violent rhetoric and talk of blood baths.

If he’s not elected, he bellowed in Ohio, there will be a blood bath in the auto industry. At his Michigan rally on Tuesday, he said there would be a blood bath at the border, speaking from a podium with a banner reading, “Stop Biden’s border blood bath.” He has warned that, without him in the Oval, there will be an “Oppenheimer”-like doomsday; we will lose World War III and America will be devastated by “weapons, the likes of which nobody has ever seen before.”

“And the only thing standing between you and its obliteration is me,” Trump has said.

An unspoken Trump threat is that there will be a blood bath again in Washington, like Jan. 6, if he doesn’t win.

That is why he calls the criminals who stormed the Capitol “hostages” and “unbelievable patriots.” He starts some rallies with a dystopian remix of the national anthem, sung by the “J6 Prison Choir,” and his own reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance.

In “Macbeth,” Shakespeare uses blood imagery to chart the creation of a tyrant. Those words echo in Washington as Ralph Fiennes stars in a thrilling Simon Godwin production of “MacBeth” for the Shakespeare Theater Company, opening Tuesday.

“The raw power grab that excites Lady Macbeth and incites her husband to regicide feels especially pertinent now, when the dangers of autocracy loom over political discussions,” Peter Marks wrote in The Washington Post about the production with Fiennes and Indira Varma (the lead sand snake in “Game of Thrones.”)

Trump’s raw power grab after his 2020 loss may have failed, but he’s inflaming his base with language straight out of Macbeth’s trip to hell.

“Blood will have blood,” as Macbeth says. One of the witches, the weird sisters, urges him, “Be bloody, bold and resolute.”

Another weird sister, Marjorie Taylor Greene, is predicting end times. “God is sending America strong signs to tell us to repent,” she tweeted on Friday. “Earthquakes and eclipses and many more things to come. I pray that our country listens.”

Like Macbeth, Trump crossed a line and won’t turn back. The Irish say, “You may as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb.” Macbeth killed his king, then said: “I am in blood. Stepped in so far that, should I wade no more, Returning were as tedious as go o’er.”

The Washington Post’s Josh Dawsey reported that since Trump put his daughter-in-law in charge of the Republican National Committee, prospective employees are asked if they think the election was stolen. Republicans once burbled on about patriotism and defending America. Now denying democracy is a litmus test for employment in the Formerly Grand Old Party.

My Irish immigrant father lived through the cruel “No Irish Need Apply” era. I’m distraught that our mosaic may shatter.

But Trump embraces Hitleresque phrases to stir racial hatred. He has talked about immigrants “poisoning the blood of our country.” Last month, he called migrants “animals,” saying, “I don’t know if you call them ‘people,’ in some cases. They’re not people, in my opinion.”

Trump’s obsession with bloodlines was instilled by his father, the son of a German immigrant. He thinks there is good blood and bad blood, superior blood and inferior blood. Fred Trump taught his son that their family’s success was genetic, reminiscent of Hitler’s creepy faith in eugenics.

“The family subscribes to a racehorse theory of human development,” the Trump biographer Michael D’Antonio told PBS. “They believe that there are superior people and that if you put together the genes of a superior woman and a superior man, you get a superior offspring.”

Trump has been talking about this as far back as an “Oprah” show in 1988. The “gene believer” brought it up in a 2020 speech in Minnesota denouncing refugees.

“A lot of it is about the genes, isn’t it, don’t you believe?” he told the crowd about their pioneer lineage, adding: “The racehorse theory, you think we’re so different? You have good genes in Minnesota.”

As Stephen Greenblatt writes in “Tyrant: Shakespeare on Politics,” usurpers don’t ascend to the throne without complicity. Republican enablers do all they can to cozy up to their would-be dictator, even introducing a bill to rename Dulles airport for Trump. Democrats responded by introducing a bill to name a prison in Florida for Trump.

“Why, in some circumstances, does evidence of mendacity, crudeness or cruelty serve not as a fatal disadvantage but as an allure, attracting ardent followers?” Greenblatt asked. “Why do otherwise proud and self-respecting people submit to the sheer effrontery of the tyrant, his sense that he can get away with saying and doing anything he likes, his spectacular indecency?”

Like Macbeth’s castle, the Trump campaign has, as Lady Macbeth put it, “the smell of blood,” and “all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten” it.

Trump Is Losing It

By Jamelle Bouie, Opinion Columnist – February 13, 2024

Jamelle Bouie
A group of Trump supporters in Nevada, many wearing red MAGA hats and taking photos, crowds around the former president, who has his right fist raised.
Credit…Patrick T. Fallon/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

It is unclear whether Donald Trump has forgotten the precise nature of NATO or whether he ever fully grasped it in the first place.

What is clear, however, is that Trump — who ostensibly spent four years as president of the United States — has little clue about what NATO is or what NATO does. And when he spoke on the subject at a rally in South Carolina over the weekend, what he said was less a cogent discussion of foreign policy than it was gibberish — the kind of outrageous nonsense that flows without interruption from an empty and unreflective mind.

“One of the presidents of a big country stood up and said, ‘Well, sir, if we don’t pay, and we’re attacked by Russia, will you protect us?’” Trump said, recalling an implausible conversation with an unnamed, presumably European head of state. “‘You didn’t pay? You’re delinquent?’” Trump recounted responding. “‘No, I would not protect you. In fact, I would encourage them to do whatever the hell they want. You gotta pay. You gotta pay your bills.’”

The former president’s message was clear: If NATO members do not pay up, then he will leave them to the mercy of a continental aggressor who has already plunged one European country into death, destruction and devastation.

Except NATO isn’t a mafia protection racket. NATO, in case anyone needs to be reminded, is a mutual defense organization, formed by treaty in 1949 as tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union hardened into conflict. “The parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all,” states Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty.Sign up for the Opinion Today newsletter  Get expert analysis of the news and a guide to the big ideas shaping the world every weekday morning. Get it sent to your inbox.

According to the terms of an agreement reached last year, member states will work to spend at least 2 percent of national G.D.P. on military investment.

But let’s set this bit of fact-checking aside for a moment and look at the big picture.

It is not just that Trump is ignorant on this and other vital questions; it is that he is incoherent.

Consider his remarks at a recent gathering of the National Rifle Association in Harrisburg, Pa. “We have to win in November, or we’re not going to have Pennsylvania. They’ll change the name. They’re going to change the name of Pennsylvania,” Trump said.

Who, exactly, is going to change the name of Pennsylvania? And to what? I don’t know. I doubt Trump does either.

Or consider the time, last November, when Trump confused China and North Korea, telling an audience of supporters in Florida that “Kim Jong Un leads 1.4 billion people, and there is no doubt about who the boss is. And they want me to say he’s not an intelligent man.”

There was also the time that Trump mistook Nikki Haley, his former ambassador to the United Nations, for Nancy Pelosi, the former speaker of the House.

“Nikki Haley, you know they, do you know they destroyed all of the information, all of the evidence, everything, deleted and destroyed all of it. All of it, because of lots of things like Nikki Haley is in charge of security. We offered her 10,000 people, soldiers, National Guard, whatever they want. They turned it down. They don’t want to talk about that. These are very dishonest people,” Trump said, repeating his false claim that Pelosi was responsible for the failure of Capitol security on Jan. 6.

If you would like, you can also try to make sense of the former president’s recent attempt to describe a missile defense system:

“I will build an Iron Dome over our country, a state-of-the-art missile defense shield made in the U.S.A.,” Trump said, before taking an unusual detour. “These are not muscle guys here, they’re muscle guys up here, right,” he continued, gesturing to his arms and his head to emphasize, I guess, that the people responsible for building such systems are capable and intelligent.

“And they calmly walk to us, and ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding. They’ve only got 17 seconds to figure this whole thing out. Boom. OK. Missile launch. Whoosh. Boom,” he added.

I assume Trump is describing the pressure of actually manning a missile defense system. Even so, one would think that a former president — currently vying to be the next president — would at least try to be a little more articulate.

But this gets to one of the oddest things about this election cycle so far. There is no shortage of coverage of President Biden’s age, even if there’s no evidence that his age has been an obstacle to his ability to perform his duties. Indeed, it is plainly true that Biden has been an unusually successful president in areas, like legislative negotiations, that require skill and mental acuity.

Coverage of Biden’s age, in other words, has more to do with the vibes of an “elderly” president — he isn’t as outwardly vigorous and robust as we would like — than it does with any particular issue with his performance.

In contrast to the obsessive coverage of Biden’s age, there is comparatively little coverage of Trump’s obvious deficiencies in that department. If we are going to use public comments as the measure of mental fitness, then the former president is clearly at a disadvantage.

Unfortunately for Biden, Trump benefits from something akin to the soft bigotry of low expectations. Because no one expected Trump, in the 2016 election, to speak and behave like a normal candidate, he was held to a lower effective standard than his rivals in both parties. Because no one expected him, during his presidency, to be orderly and responsible, his endless scandals were framed as business as usual. And because no one now expects him to be a responsible political figure with a coherent vision for the country, it’s as if no one blinks an eye when he rants and raves on the campaign trail.

It’s not that there aren’t legitimate reasons to be concerned about Biden’s age. He is already the oldest person to serve in the Oval Office. The issue here is one of proportion and consequence. Biden may be unable to do the job at some point in the future; Trump, it seems to me, already is.

One of those is a lot more concerning than the other.

Supreme Court slow to resolve potentially election-altering cases as justices inch toward final arguments

CNN

Supreme Court slow to resolve potentially election-altering cases as justices inch toward final arguments

John Fritze, CNN – April 6, 2024

As the Supreme Court turns toward a series of politically charged disputes in its final arguments later this month, it is wrestling with a backlog of controversies on guns, elections and transgender rights that will thrust its conservative majority into the middle of another turbulent presidential contest.

Up ahead are arguments over whether former President Donald Trump may claim immunity from criminal prosecution on election subversion charges and a roiling fight between President Joe Biden and Idaho over whether hospitals must perform an abortion when the health of a pregnant woman is threatened – the second of two blockbuster abortion cases the court must decide this year.

But as the high court moves toward a busy and fraught final sitting this term, it is also once again slipping behind its past pace, issuing fewer opinions than it did at this same point in its nine-month work period just a few years ago. The court has handed down 11 opinions so far this term – most in relatively obscure matters that were decided unanimously.

The Supreme Court has issued opinions in just 22% of its argued cases this year, compared with 34% through mid-April two years ago and 46% in 2021, according to data compiled by Adam Feldman, founder of Empirical SCOTUS. The share of resolved cases is up slightly over last year – a historic low.

The comparison would improve if new rulings land next week.

Taken together, the numbers point to a term in which the court’s decisions could be scrunched into a shorter time fame – potentially giving the court’s 6-3 conservative supermajority an opportunity to reshape the political debate around culture war issues just as Americans begin tuning into the Biden-Trump rematch for president.

Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the University of California Berkeley School of Law, said it had become a “clear trend” in recent years that the court is “very slow” releasing decisions. Though there are many theories about why that may be, the court’s opaque-by-design practice of negotiation and opinion crafting makes it difficult to say with certainty.

A large share of the court’s docket touches on “enormously significant and difficult issues,” Chemerinsky told CNN. “It also is a court that has deep divisions. I assume that all of this leads to delays in releasing decisions.”

Writing a majority opinion is only part of the behind-the-scenes process: Sometimes delays are caused by the concurrences and dissents other justices write. More fractured decisions, in other words, can generate separate opinions and take longer.

The slower pace could prove particularly meaningful this year because of Trump’s assertion of immunity from special counsel Jack Smith’s election subversion charges. Trump asked the justices to block a lower court ruling that flatly rejected those immunity claims. The high court agreed to hear the case in late February, but did not set arguments until the end of this month.

The case has put the Supreme Court on the clock and opened it up to criticism that delay will play into Trump’s broader legal strategy of pushing off his pending criminal trials until after the November election. Unless the court speeds up its work, it’s difficult to see how the Trump immunity decision would arrive before the end of June.

U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor stand on the House floor ahead of the annual State of the Union address by U.S. President Joe Biden. - Shawn Thew/Pool/Getty Images
U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor stand on the House floor ahead of the annual State of the Union address by U.S. President Joe Biden. – Shawn Thew/Pool/Getty Images
Trump redefines Supreme Court’s docket

The court heard oral arguments in mid-October over South Carolina’s new congressional map, which a lower court found was a racial gerrymander that violated the Constitution. Both the GOP state lawmakers defending the map and the parties challenging it had asked the Supreme Court to rule by January.

Nearly six months after the court signaled during arguments that it was prepared to uphold the map, it has issued no opinion.

Noting that deadlines for this year’s election were nearing, the state lawmakers filed an emergency appeal last month, asking for permission to use the disputed map while the justices continued their deliberations. Ultimately, a lower court stepped in to allow the state to use the map for now, lamenting that “the ideal must bend to the practical.”

In early November, the court heard arguments over a federal law that bars people who are the subject of domestic violence restraining orders from possessing guns. Days earlier it heard a First Amendment appeal from a political activist who wants to trademark the suggestive phrase “Trump Too Small” for use on T-shirts.

On the court’s emergency docket, meanwhile, where cases are decided more quickly and without oral argument, the justices have been sitting for weeks on a request from Idaho officials to enforce a strict statewide ban on gender-affirming care for minors. Initially filed in mid-February, the request has been fully briefed since early March.

The go-slow approach is not a new phenomena this year. The pace of opinions fell sharply last year, according to Feldman’s data, which led to speculation that the shocking leak of the court’s draft opinion overturning Roe v. Wade months earlier gummed up the court’s internal works.

Several justices indicated the leak damaged trust, including Justice Clarence Thomas, who described the unprecedented breach as “kind of an infidelity.”

Last year, Justice Brett Kavanaugh downplayed the slower pace by noting many of the court’s biggest cases – which usually are not settled until June – were heard at the start of the term. For instance, the court heard arguments early on that year in a major challenge to the consideration of race in admissions at Harvard and the University of North Carolina. The Supreme Court ultimately barred consideration of race in June.

This year, some of the biggest cases have been more spread out. On the other hand, the court has been pummeled by a series of divisive emergency appeals. It also has agreed to take on several high-profile matters involving Trump.

In one, the court ruled that Trump would remain on Colorado’s presidential ballot despite claims he violated the 14th Amendment’s “insurrectionist ban” because of his actions leading up to the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol. The court was unanimous on the bottom line conclusion but splintered over its reasoning.

In another, the justices agreed to hear arguments April 25 about Trump’s immunity claims.

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign event in Grand Rapids, Michigan, on Tuesday, April 2. - Paul Sancya/AP
Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign event in Grand Rapids, Michigan, on Tuesday, April 2. – Paul Sancya/AP

The Supreme Court will also hear arguments later this month over a federal law the Biden administration says requires hospitals to provide an abortion if the health of the mother is in danger, even in states such as Idaho that have approved strict abortion bans. The rise of state abortion restrictions following the court’s overturning of Roe has become an election-year cudgel for Biden and congressional Democrats.

Also this month, the court will take up the question of whether a federal obstruction law can be used to prosecute some of the rioters involved in the Capitol attack. The decision could also affect Trump, who has also been charged with that crime.

‘Something has to give’ on Supreme Court docket

The court also dealt with a divisive and ongoing dispute over a Texas immigration law that allowed law enforcement in the state to arrest and detain people it suspects entered the country illegally. Over a public dissent from the three liberal justices, the court cleared the way for Texas to enforce that law last month.

The 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals temporarily blocked the enforcement hours later and the appeals court heard arguments over the law Wednesday.

The emergency cases, which have drawn increased criticism in recent years, take time away from consideration of the court’s regular docket.

“The court only has so many resources,” said Steve Vladeck, CNN Supreme Court analyst and professor at the University of Texas School of Law. “Something has to give, and the court really ought to be thinking through ways to avoid putting itself in this position every year.”

In an aerial view, Texas National Guard soldiers load excess concertina wire onto a trailer at Shelby Park on January 26, 2024 in Eagle Pass, Texas. - Michael Gonzalez/Getty Images
In an aerial view, Texas National Guard soldiers load excess concertina wire onto a trailer at Shelby Park on January 26, 2024 in Eagle Pass, Texas. – Michael Gonzalez/Getty Images

At the same time, the Supreme Court has always moved at its own pace and the justices have little incentive to worry about timing. By its own standards, the court moved unusually quickly to resolve the Trump ballot dispute this year – handing down a decision two months after the former president filed his appeal.

That kind of speed is the exception.

“If you look systematically over time, they’re becoming slower and they’re taking fewer cases,” Feldman said.

But other than stirring speculation among court watchers, he said, the pace of opinions doesn’t have much practical impact. Taking an extra few weeks to finish an opinion, Feldman said, simply means the justices get more time to write.

“It makes sense to me from their perspective that they might want to be slower,” Feldman said. “For efficiency, it probably makes sense to hold off as much as they can until the end of the term.”

‘Building an authoritarian axis’: the Trump ‘envoy’ courting the global far right

The Guardian

‘Building an authoritarian axis’: the Trump ‘envoy’ courting the global far right

Richard Grenell’s shadow foreign policy campaign is unsettling diplomats and threatens to collapse US interests.

Robert Tait – April 5, 2024

For Donald Trump, he is “my envoy”, the man apparently anointed as the former US president’s roving ambassador while he plots a return to the White House.

To critics, he is seen as “an online pest” and “a national disgrace” – and most importantly, the dark embodiment of what foreign policy in a second Trump administration would look like.

a screen displays the share price for the Trump Media and Technology Group

Meet Richard Grenell, vocal tribune of Trump’s America First credo on the international stage and the man hotly tipped to become secretary of state if the presumed Republican nominee beats Joe Biden in November’s presidential election.

A senior executive in the rightwing Newsmax cable channel, Grenell, 57, has crafted a persona as the archetypal Trump man, keen and ever-ready to troll liberals, allies and foreign statesmen in public forums and social media.

Grenell – who served as a rambunctious ambassador to Germany and acting director of national intelligence during Trump’s first term – has carved a niche as the articulator-in-chief of a Maga approach to global affairs that appears to echo his political master’s voice.

Seasoned analysts fear his hyperactivity is already unsettling US diplomats even while Trump is out of office.

In recent months, he has pitched up in Guatemala, where he tried to stymie US state department pleas for a peaceful transition of power by backing rightwing efforts to block the inauguration of the liberal president-elect, Bernardo Arévalo, on supposed electoral fraud grounds about a poll previously declared “free and fair” by international observers.

Arévalo subsequently took office, but not before Grenell lambasted American diplomats for “trying to intimidate conservatives” over “a phony concern about democracy”.

He has also repeatedly visited the Balkans – building on a previous role as the Trump administration’s special envoy to the region and working on property deals in Serbia and Albania with Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

He attempted to broker a meeting between Trump and Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at last year’s United Nations general assembly in New York at a time when the Turkish leader was blocking Sweden’s bid to join Nato, although the proposal was subsequently rejected amid security concerns.

Grenell knows who can be seduced, intimidated and destroyed

Fulton Armstrong

Grenell’s high profile has an intimidating effect on serving US diplomats, according to Fulton Armstrong, senior fellow at American University’s Centre for Latin American Studies.

“Grenell’s very cunning and effective. Having penetrated both the intelligence and the policy world, he knows who can be seduced, intimidated and destroyed,” Armstrong, a former senior analyst at the CIA, told the Guardian.

“The state department eventually did the right thing in Guatemala but only after a lot of dawdling and this tells Grenell that it has issues of commitment and allegiance [that he can exploit].

“Weak people at the state department are scared to piss off the right wing because they want to be ambassadors and fear for their careers, which makes them vulnerable. Someone like Grenell knows how this can be used for issues favoring Trump.”

For his part, Grenell has accused the state department of “playing politics” and “pushing leftwing ideas” in Latin America.

Addressing the influential CPAC gathering of conservatives in February, he said US foreign policy cried out for an “SOB diplomat”, a role he apparently envisions for himself.

“What we need right now is diplomacy with muscle,” Grenell told an online video debate last summer on the Balkans hosted by the pro-Trump America First Policy Institute. “We need to stop mocking tough diplomats. What we’ve seen with Ukraine is that when diplomats fail, we have war and conflict.”

There are many aspects to what Grenell is doing. One is grift …

Joe Cirincione

Grenell has become a strident advocate of abandoning negotiations in decades-old territorial disputes in the Middle East and the Balkans in favor of trade and economic agreements that he hails as sidestepping political problems through creating jobs.

“The success that Donald Trump had was that he avoided politics and concentrated on the economy,” he told CPAC. “Young people leave the region because they don’t have help and they don’t have a job. So part of our foreign policy, if we want to solve problems, is to avoid the political talk and figure out ways to do greater trade.”

For detractors, such talk is code for a transactional foreign policy tailored to Trump’s personal and business interests at the expense of America’s traditional democratic alliances – as well as a signal that Ukraine would be pressured to surrender territory to end its war with Russia.

“There are many aspects to what Grenell is doing,” said Joe Cirincione, a veteran Washington foreign policy and arms control specialist. “One is grift, looking for business deals, particularly in Serbia, where Trump has longstanding business interests and Trump seems to be helping him pursue this.

“Another is more sinister. It looks as though Grenell is trying to build up a developing authoritarian network of rightwing leaders to form this authoritarian axis that Trump might govern by – ranging from Putin to [Viktor] Orbán [prime minister of Hungary] to Erdoğan.

“All these are anti-democratic forces and use the simple playbook of using democracy to overthrow democracy.”

Grenell’s own pronouncements give proponents of America’s existing alliances little cause for comfort.

A relentless critic of Germany’s financial contributions to Nato, he trolled Sweden’s prime minister, Ulf Kristersson, when he attended Biden’s State of the Union address in January to mark his country’s accession to Nato, a move Grenell had opposed, purportedly on the grounds that it would not pay its way.

“The leader of Sweden, who currently isn’t paying his fair share of Nato obligations but has promised to do it later, is leaping to his feet to applaud Joe Biden and the far Left spending policies Biden wants to enact,” Grenell posted on X.

All these are anti-democratic forces and use the simple playbook of using democracy to overthrow democracy

Joe Cirincione

The comment echoed Grenell’s crockery-breaking spell as ambassador to Berlin, where he infuriated his hosts on arrival by demanding that they renew sanctions on Iran after Trump withdrew the US from the nuclear deal agreed by Barack Obama’s administration – even though Germany still adhered to the agreement.

He also ruffled German feathers by telling Breitbart that part of his ambassadorial role was “to empower other conservatives throughout Europe”, a comment seen by some as a tacit olive branch to the far-right Alternative for Germany (AFD) party.

For figures like Cirincione, such rhetoric is a harbinger of worse to come.

“If Trump were president and Grenell secretary of state, it would set back American interests by decades, collapse the development of the democratic west and assist the rise of the global right wing, no questions about it,” he said.

Terrified Parents, New Age Health Nuts, MAGA Exiles. Meet the R.F.K. Jr. Faithful.

By Michelle Goldberg, Opinion Columnist – April 4, 2024

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. looks solemnly into the camera.
Photographs by Michael Schmelling

Chris Inclan, an alcohol and drug counselor from Sonoma, Calif., voted for the Green Party candidate Jill Stein in 2016. In 2020 he backed Andrew Yang in the Democratic primary and cast a ballot for Donald Trump in the general election. Joe Biden, he said, was “so ingrained in the establishment and politics as usual,” while Trump “went against the grain on a lot of issues,” including wars and government regulation. But Inclan, a big bearded 39-year-old with tattoos on his hands, doesn’t want to have to make that choice again, which is why he’s now enthusiastically supporting Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

I met Inclan at the Oakland rally where Kennedy introduced his new running mate, the 38-year-old political donor Nicole Shanahan. Held in the auditorium of the Henry J. Kaiser Center for the Arts, it was the first political rally Inclan had ever attended.

“The system is corrupt,” he said of what he called the two-party “duopoly.” “We keep playing the same game. But I think Americans are fed up.” He’d joined Kennedy’s We the People Party, formed to help Kennedy get on the ballot in several states, and has aspirations to run for office himself someday.

Three men hold up signs in support of Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
Setting up banners at Kennedy’s campaign event in Oakland, Calif., to announce his pick for a running mate.

Inclan’s politics are hard to understand in purely left or right terms. The more relevant dichotomy, for him as for many Kennedy voters, is insider versus outsider, which is why Kennedy’s following sometimes overlaps, in unexpected ways, with the MAGA movement.

Matt Castro, a San Francisco bus driver at the rally, described himself as “extremely left-leaning,” but didn’t vote in the last election and said that, if Kennedy isn’t on the ballot, he’d probably vote for Trump in the next one, because of his opposition to military support for Ukraine. Alex Klett, a 33-year-old Kennedy volunteer from Wisconsin who was handing out American flags, described himself as a right-leaning independent who voted for Trump in 2016 and then, in 2020, wrote in Kanye West.

Another Kennedy volunteer, Jaclyn Aldrich, a striking 43-year-old Black woman who sometimes works as a model, has never cast a presidential ballot, because she hadn’t trusted any of the candidates. “I didn’t even vote for Obama,” she said. Among her fellow volunteers, she said, are some former Bernie Sanders voters, but “it’s mostly Trump people.”

This is a paradox of the Kennedy campaign. Many Democratic and Republican insiders view Kennedy as a danger to Biden’s re-election. Timothy Mellon, the top donor to the Trump super PAC Make America Great Again Inc., is also the top donor to the Kennedy super PAC American Values 2024, suggesting he thinks Kennedy will help Trump. The Democratic National Committee, meanwhile, has recently formed a unit, including veteran Democratic operative Lis Smith, devoted to battling third-party candidates, and Kennedy is getting most of its attention.

But on the ground, I haven’t met many Kennedy-curious voters for whom Biden is a second choice. Instead, Kennedy attracts many of the same sort of alienated political eccentrics who in the past have gravitated to Trump. “They keep saying that he’s pulling from Biden, but most of our people are actually coming from the right,” said Leigh Merinoff, volunteer chair of the finance committee of American Values.

Anecdotes aren’t the same thing as data, and people who go to rallies and volunteer for campaigns aren’t necessarily representative of the electorate, which is full of people who are much more disengaged. Nevertheless, there’s a gap between both Democratic and Republican assumptions about Kennedy’s appeal and the character of his real-life movement. He’s much more of a wild card than left-wing third-party candidates like Stein and Cornel West. There’s something distinctly Trumpy in his campaign’s mix of New Age individualism, social media-fueled paranoia and intense, aching nostalgia for the optimistic America of the early 1960s, when Kennedy’s uncle John F. Kennedy was president and his father, Robert F. Kennedy, served as attorney general. It’s not surprising that some otherwise Trump-leaning voters are picking up on it.

Portraits of four people, including a young man with dark hair; an older woman wearing a pink turban; an older man in a newsboy cap; and a woman with golden hair.
Faces at recent Kennedy campaign events in California.

On the surface, Kennedy’s choice of Shanahan, a patent lawyer and former Democrat who has donated to candidates like Pete Buttigieg and Marianne Williamson, might seem as if it would draw more left-leaning voters into the campaign. In introducing Shanahan, an avid surfer who met her ex-husband, the Google founder Sergey Brin, at a yoga festival, Kennedy said, “I wanted a vice president who shared my passion for wholesome, healthy foods, chemical-free, for regenerative agriculture, for good soils,” as well as an athlete who “would help me inspire Americans to heal, to get them back in shape.”

One can imagine voters who frequent farmers markets and follow wellness influencers seeing an idealized version of themselves in her. And while large parts of the New Age and alternative health community moved right during the pandemic in response to lockdowns and vaccine mandates, it’s still a world with plenty of people who think of themselves as progressives.

Indeed, the most interesting thing about Shanahan is the way she dramatizes how Kennedy wins over voters like her. In the week after her debut as a candidate, Shanahan hasn’t made any mainstream media appearances, but she did speak at length on the podcast of Rick Rubin, the music producer and, recently, self-help author, telling the story of her conversion from lifelong Democrat to Kennedy acolyte.

Their conversation is fascinating, demonstrating how frustrations with conventional medicine and the desire for a transcendent order — for a big holistic framework that makes sense of the world’s destabilizing chaos — lead away from technocratic liberalism and toward, well, the unstable political formation that’s coalescing around Kennedy. Listening to it, you can hear a smart and sensitive woman narrating her own journey down the rabbit hole, a portal that took her to a place where she could help swing the 2024 election and thus the course of American history.

Shanahan came to Kennedy the way many desperate parents have. During the pandemic, her 18-month-old daughter was diagnosed, over Zoom, with autism, and she described how none of the interventions offered by experts helped. Another Silicon Valley mom with an autistic child urged her to listen to Kennedy, who has long asserted a false link between vaccines and autism. Though Shanahan was resistant at first — she knew about Kennedy’s reputation as a conspiracy theorist — she tuned into his podcast.

Around the same time, she got deep into the work of Jack Kruse, a neurosurgeon and self-described “biohacker” who emphasizes the importance of sunlight for good health. (Kennedy and Kruse appeared together on Rubin’s podcast last year.) Kruse, said Shanahan, awakened her to the idea that autism could be “related to the way that the brain was responding to some kind of outside influence” — like vaccines — “and how to heal the brain.”

She started her daughter, Echo, on a regimen that included lots of early morning light, swimming in a saltwater pool and music frequencies that send “a signal to brain cells that they can repair.” (“Morning sunlight in particular is like chicken soup for metabolic health,” she told Rubin.) At the same time, she worked to reduce Echo’s exposure to “nonnative light sources,” and cellular and Wi-Fi signals. These interventions, she said, have all helped her daughter. “When it works, maybe we need science to catch up,” she said.

When she met Kennedy last summer, she was impressed by his record of “looking at the environmental exposures and the things that impact human health that are man-created,” she said. Shanahan lamented what she sees as widespread closed-mindedness in the face of the questions she wants to explore. “My daughter has lifted the veil for me,” she said, in an allusion to Aldous Huxley’s work on psychedelics. “If we’re talking about my support for Bobby Kennedy, that is what has brought me to this movement.”

A man in a green baseball cap waves an upside-down American flag.
A Kennedy supporter in Oakland.
Nicole Shanahan smiling at a podium. Behinder his is a Kennedy-Shanahan banner.
Nicole Shanahan, Kennedy’s running mate.

Shanahan was never all that left-wing; she helped fund the recall campaign against San Francisco’s progressive district attorney, Chesa Boudin. Still, her presence on the ticket has alienated some right-leaning Kennedy fans. Shortly after she was announced, one erstwhile Kennedy supporter posted a link to an online “Save R.F.K. Jr. Rally” on Kennedy’s campaign website, demanding the firing of Kennedy’s campaign manager for promoting a “C.I.A., feminist agenda” by bringing Shanahan on board. (It was quickly taken down.) “I think the pick was meant to be more about covering his left flank, and I found that an odd calculation,” Chamath Palihapitiya, a venture capitalist who has co-hosted a fund-raiser for Kennedy, said on the podcast “All-In.”

In fact, the calculation makes perfect sense: Kennedy needs Shanahan’s money. Her divorce settlement from Brin isn’t public, but she reportedly asked for more than $1 billion, about 1 percent of his net worth at the time, and she’s clearly extremely wealthy. Campaign finance law allows both presidential and vice-presidential candidates to pour unlimited funds into their own races, and the process of getting Kennedy on state ballots as a third-party candidate is going to be expensive. Shanahan has shown she’s willing to spend; she gave $4 million to American Values 2024 to fund a Kennedy ad that ran during the Super Bowl.

Introducing Shanahan in Oakland, Kennedy said, with a straight face, that there is “no American more qualified” than she to serve as vice president. But his speech also gestured at the heart of those qualifications. Shanahan, he said, would help him liberate America from the “predatory cabal” that controls the campaign finance system.

It’s doubtful, however, that Shanahan will be able to help Kennedy in ways that go beyond finances, and not just because the influence of vice-presidential candidates tends to be limited, especially with third-party aspirants. (My guess is that few readers remember either Ralph Nader’s or Jill Stein’s running mates.) Shanahan appears to find negative publicity debilitating, an unusual quality in an aspiring politician and one that may limit her visibility.

Before joining the Kennedy ticket, she was probably best known for her divorce from Brin, which, according to The Wall Street Journal, was precipitated by an affair with Elon Musk. (Both she and Musk deny this.) In an essay in People magazine, she described the scrutiny that followed the Journal article as unbearable. “I was thrust into the public eye; the online images and commentary felt more like a zeitgeist than depictions of my lived experiences,” she wrote. Insisting that she’s “not a public person,” she called the Journal article and its aftermath “a disaster for my work life, my reputation and my ability to communicate the things I care most deeply about.”

This week, “Fox & Friends” promoted an appearance by Kennedy and Shanahan, but Kennedy ended up going on alone. In a post on the social media platform X, Shanahan wrote, “While Bobby’s out there spreading our message on TV right now, I’m working behind the scenes to make sure we’re on the ballot in all 50 states.” So rather than add a new note to Kennedy’s message, Shanahan is mostly just using her fortune to amplify what he’s already been saying. And what he’s been saying is often quite reactionary. (The campaign didn’t respond to my requests to interview Kennedy or Shanahan.)

A person stands in a crowd while holding up a phone.
At a Kennedy campaign event in Los Angeles.

The last time I saw Kennedy speak, in June in New Hampshire, he was still a Democrat, running a doomed primary challenge to Biden in a campaign managed by the quirky former Democratic congressman Dennis Kucinich. Seeking to echo the famous 1963 “Peace” speech in which his presidential uncle called for a halt to the Cold War arms race, Kennedy warned against antagonizing Russia over Ukraine, presenting himself as an antiwar candidate.

Some of his followers still see him that way, but now they must either rationalize or overlook his zealous support for Israel’s war in Gaza. In March, weeks after the Biden administration called for a six-week cease-fire, Kennedy was skeptical of the idea, telling Reuters that previous truces have “been used by Hamas to rearm, to rebuild and then launch another surprise attack.” Though he often rails against censorship, he cheered on the hedge fund billionaire Bill Ackman’s demand that Harvard do more to crack down on antisemitism, writing, “It’s time to hold college administrations responsible for the epidemic of campus antisemitism by insisting on zero-tolerance policies.”

Kucinich left the campaign in mid-October in ambiguous circumstances, though he’s hinted that disagreements with Kennedy about Gaza had something to do with his departure. (The campaign is now run by Kennedy’s daughter-in-law Amaryllis Fox Kennedy, a former C.I.A. officer.) In November, Sayer Ji, an alternative medicine promoter and key anti-vaccine influencer, withdrew his endorsement of Kennedy over Gaza. Charles Eisenstein, a major intellectual figure in New Age circles, is still advising Kennedy but has been openly critical of his stance on Israel.

While there are still some progressive figures in Kennedy’s orbit, his campaign has an increasingly right-wing vibe. Border security has become a central part of his pitch. Since January, his communications director has been Del Bigtree, a leading anti-vaccine activist who doubts that climate change is caused by human activity and who spoke at the MAGA Freedom Rally near the Capitol on Jan. 6. “I wish I could tell you that this pandemic really is dangerous,” Bigtree said then. “I wish I could believe that voting machines work and that people care. You’ve been sold a lie!”

The conservative talk radio host Randy Economy, one of the leaders of the campaign to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom of California, is Kennedy’s senior adviser for ballot access. An opening speaker at the Oakland event was Angela Stanton-King, a Black conservative QAnon promoter who served time for her role in a car-theft ring and was pardoned by Donald Trump.

A man wearing a brown sports jacket and Kennedy campaign button holds his hand on his heart. He is holding a hardcover book.
An attendee at a Kennedy event carried a book of L. Ron Hubbard essays.
A woman in a blue jacket talks with a man in a yellow windbreaker.
Yvette Corkrean, the Republican nominee for a California Senate seat, attended the Oakland event.

Some strains of New Age wellness culture — with its distrust of mainstream expertise, moralistic view of health and weakness for quackery — have long intersected with right-wing politics. (Alex Jones, after all, made much of his fortune shilling health supplements.) The connection between alternative medicine and conservatism grew significantly stronger during the pandemic, as the center of gravity in the anti-vaccine movement moved rightward and longtime right-wingers grew increasingly mistrustful of Big Pharma and, with it, Big Food.

“The globalists want you to be fat, sick, depressed and isolated — the better to control you and to milk you for as much economic value as they can before they kill you,” a pseudonymous far-right figure who goes by Raw Egg Nationalist said on the 2022 Tucker Carlson special “The End of Men.”

Kennedy’s conservationism can sound a lot like that of Raw Egg Nationalist. His commitment to the environment is tempered by paranoia about federal government power that makes him suspicious of regulation. Climate change “is being used as a pretext for clamping down totalitarian controls, the same way the Covid crisis was, and it’s the same people,” he said in a campaign video featuring Jordan Peterson, the anti-woke psychologist and author. Dismissing the efficacy of a “war on carbon,” Kennedy said he’d approach energy issues using “free markets and not top-down control.”

Because of his hostility to the state, Kennedy’s environmentalism often manifests as a belief in the redemptive power of healthy living and closeness to nature, which Shanahan shares. This ethos helps explain Shanahan’s much-publicized criticism of I.V.F. “I believe I.V.F. is sold irresponsibly, and my own experience with natural childbirth has led me to understand that the fertility industry is deeply flawed,” she wrote in People. She’s interested in low-cost, organic alternatives. “I’m not sure that there has been a really thorough mitochondrial respiration study on the effects of two hours of morning sunlight on reproductive health,” she said on a panel last year. “I would love to fund something like that.” Hearing this, I couldn’t help thinking of Carlson’s promotion, on his “End of Men” special, of testicle tanning to raise testosterone levels.

Of course, even though the Kennedy camp has a lot in common with the esoteric new right, Kennedy could still siphon Democratic votes from Biden. A lot of undecided voters don’t follow politics closely, and some who are unhappy about their major-party choices may find themselves drawn to Kennedy’s mythic last name and green-seeming, anti-establishment pitch.

“Anything that splits up the anti-Trump coalition hurts Biden,” said Sarah Longwell, an anti-Trump conservative pollster who regularly asks about Kennedy in focus groups. As she sees it, the largest group of persuadable voters in 2024 are the so-called double haters, those who disapprove of both Trump and Biden. “My experience over the years in the focus groups is that when Trump is top of mind for people, people who dislike both him and Biden end up disliking Trump more,” said Longwell. Kennedy, she fears, could give people who might otherwise reluctantly vote for Biden an off-ramp from making a dispiriting decision.

Kennedy waves and smiles while standing in front of a campaign sign.
No one knows how the race will ultimately shake out.

Some polls back up this analysis. A recent Quinnipiac survey shows Kennedy getting 13 percent of the vote; he has support from 9 percent of Democrats, 8 percent of Republicans and 20 percent of independents. The poll shows Biden leading Trump by three points in a head-to-head matchup but Trump ahead by one point when third-party candidates are included. Though both numbers are within the poll’s margin of error, they suggest that Trump could benefit if the election isn’t seen as a binary choice.

Other polls, however, show Kennedy pulling more voters from Trump, and the truth is no one knows how the election will ultimately shake out. “The public polling, if you dig into it, can be really head-swiveling,” said Smith. “It’s very hard to gauge the impact, but it does seem like he pulls from both, and right now — emphasis on ‘right now’ — slightly more from Biden.”

Kennedy certainly has no qualms about spoiling the election for Trump. On CNN on Monday, he argued that Biden poses a “much worse” threat to democracy than Trump because of the Biden administration’s attempts to get social media companies to remove vaccine misinformation, much of it spread by Kennedy.

“President Biden is the first candidate in history that has used the federal agencies to censor political speech, to censor his opponent,” he said. The primary threat to democracy, he added, “is not somebody who questions election returns,” noting that he believed the 2004 election was stolen from John Kerry. “So I don’t think people who say that the election is stolen — we shouldn’t make pariahs of those people,” he said.

This interview was clarifying about Kennedy’s intentions. But precisely because he evidently views Trump, not Biden, as the lesser of two evils, he may prove most attractive to voters who also view the election that way. That, however, would depend on people grasping what he stands for. So it might not be a disaster for Democrats if Shanahan can help Kennedy be more widely heard.

“If anyone is listening who never considered an independent ticket, I want to extend the same invitation to you that my friend did to me last year,” said Shanahan in her Oakland speech. “Please, listen to Bobby Kennedy in his own words.” It’s sage advice.

Michelle Goldberg has been an Opinion columnist since 2017. She is the author of several books about politics, religion and women’s rights, and was part of a team that won a Pulitzer Prize for public service in 2018 for reporting on workplace sexual harassment.