If you despise basketball analogies move on. My fifteen seasons on the bench in a suit and tie taught me a lot and much of it is applicable to politics (in my mind anyway). I’ll be going back to my days at the high school level and before the shot clock.
Donald Trump’s go to legal strategy is the delay game. With his 2024 candidacy announcement he appears to have been successful at shortening the game but that far from guarantees a win. Normally you would have assumed that the Justice Department was running on a clock that ended with Joe Biden’s term at noon on January 20, 2025. (Merrick Garland is far to cautious a person to assume a second term or a Democratic successor.) It appears Garland is erring on the side of caution and considering the issue of Trump too politically sensitive thereby moving the clock to Election Day 2024 (November 5, 2024).
On Friday Garland named Jack Smith as Special Counsel. In doing so Garland acknowledged that Trump is the subject of two large Justice Department investigations (one into 1/6 the other into the Mar-a-Lago documents affair). This is largely cosmetic and has already failed to placate the far right. The investigation is still a Justice Department endeavor. If Smith is anything like Robert Mueller, he will feel bound by the Justice Department’s 60-day rule and thereby Trump succeeded in further shortening the “game clock” to September 5, 2024. That’s about an 18-week reduction in time.
Back to basketball. The most famous version of a delay game was the late Dean Smith’s Four Corners Offense. Smith’s North Carolina teams would be in the lead late in the game and simply go into the Four Corners Offense taking nothing but a sure layup, in lieu of that simply passing the ball around until the buzzer sounded and then walking off victorious.
The late Archie O’Bryan and I came up with a 1-4 high delay game we called Bona. Late in the game when in the lead we would go into Bona. With that the mood on the bench went from seriousness to levity. Eventually the horn sounded and we walked off with the win.
The lone time we used Bona from the start was in a playoff game where we were the underdog and stood no chance of winning in a run and gun contest. Despite a valiant effort by our guys, we lost. Close, but we lost.
The purpose of all this basketball talk is to illustrate that the delay game is effective when you are ahead late in the game. It is not a go to from the tip off strategy. Trump is not ahead in the game. His other attempts at the delay game when faced with a formidable opponent have been failures. As examples I’ll offer the Trump University case and any confrontation he has had with Tish James. The delay game (often accompanied by bullying in Trump’s case) works against weak opponents when you are already in the lead. It should not work against a strong opponent like the Justice Department especially when you are far from as innocent as driven snow.
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