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A Lot of Hot Air
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A Lot of Hot Air

Everyone is reacting predictably to Trump’s indictment even before we know the actual charges.

Former President Donald Trump at a rally in Waco, Texas. (Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

A little less than two months ago, Americans noticed a balloon flying over the northern tier of our country. 

In the weeks that followed, we were treated to a spectacular, sometimes unhinged, sometimes hilarious obsession with lighter-than-air vessels, Chinese espionage, the cost of Sidewinder missiles, and, always, speculation about what it would all mean.

People like me who make a living analyzing the news were in high cotton in those days. Circumstances with few facts, and lots of demand for speculation are the sweet spot for the pundit class. When there isn’t much more to say about something fascinating that has happened, we turn to talking about what might happen. 

“How will this play out politically?”

“What are the implications for 2024?”

“Is this the start of a new Cold War?”

And so on and so on. 

Two months later we can say definitively: “Ehhhh …”

That’s not to say that the balloon episode hasn’t had consequences, nor is it to say that there might not be more to come in the story. But as of right now, the balloon story is, ahem, punctured. There were implications for further hardening U.S.-China relations and it was surely a headache for the current president, but for now, it seems very unlikely that people will be talking about those balloons very much in the context of the next election.

Which, of course, brings us to the indictment of Donald Trump

As we discussed last week, we have already seen the predictable Republican and Democratic reactions to the event even before it happened. The press releases and tweets were already written before the news came out, but none of those statements are rooted in actual events. We don’t know what the charges are, how Trump will really play it, how Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg will conduct himself, how Trump supporters will behave, what mistakes will be made, or really much more beyond what is now years of speculation around the case. 

There’s one scenario where this indictment is a huge political boon for Trump. If the charges fall apart, and Trump is seen as being vindicated, it will only heighten his luster in the eyes of Republican voters. Or, if Trump is convicted of serious offenses, it could be the end of his political career. 

But it’s also possible that it will be neither. It is possible that it will be a kind of political split decision that mostly reinforces what people already thought. Certainly, had the grand jury and Bragg aimed lower, they could have decreased Trump’s exposure but increased the chances of him being forced to slog through. How about the first ever criminal plea agreement involving a former president?

The point is, we are far too knowing when it comes to big news events, and not nearly knowledgeable enough.

In one sense, we are very close to the moment when Republicans are going to have to choose whether they will nominate Donald Trump for president a third time. By the end of this year, the game will be substantially over.

On the other hand, we are so far from the election that we need to think of  it in kind of geological terms. We’re still at the part where giant dragonflies are buzzing all over the place, and ferns rule the earth—and a long way away from the dawn of man. 


Holy croakano! We welcome your feedback, so please email us with your tips, corrections, reactions, amplifications, etc. at STIREWALTISMS@THEDISPATCH.COM. If you’d like to be considered for publication, please include your real name and hometown. If you don’t want your comments to be made public, please specify.


STATSHOT

Biden Job Performance
Average approval: 41.4%
Average disapproval: 54.0%
Net score: -12.6 points 

Change from one week ago: ↓ 1.8 points                        
Change from one month ago: ↓ 5.4 points

[Average includes: Quinnipiac: 38% approve-57% disapprove; Fox News: 44% approve-56% disapprove; NPR/PBS/Marist: 43% approve-50% disapprove; Gallup: 40% approve-56% disapprove; Monmouth: 42% approve-51% disapprove] 


TIME OUT: BULL MARKET 

ESPN: “[The ticket] had a reminder on the back about the box office hours of Chicago Stadium in 1984, noon to 6 p.m. except Sundays, and a block paragraph of microscopic typeface. … On the front, a watermark of the stadium as its centerpiece; the Bulls’ mascot on the left edge of the perforation; a handsome red border that set the dull background promoting the event — Chicago Bulls vs. Washington Bullets, Oct. 26, 7:30 p.m — in relief. Those design flairs added to its singular value but weren’t the actual explanation of why it turned out to be the most valuable ticket from a sporting event in history. The game was the professional debut of a rookie guard from the University of North Carolina. … [T]hen, that winter night in 2021, he saw the news story on TV: Ticket stub from Michael Jordan’s NBA debut sells for $264K. Cole’s ticket in the basement wasn’t a mere stub; it was unused, untorn, a complete ticket in good condition. … The ticket demanded a story alongside the experience it had provided, some kind of introspection. It had allowed Mike Cole to be there, after all, at the very beginning, so long before the apotheosis, with Jordan coming onto the court in warmups and dribbling near the center of the floor, almost like he was anyone else.”


BIDEN PICKS SWING STATE NORTH CAROLINA FOR SOFT LAUNCH 

New York Times: “President Biden visited North Carolina on Tuesday and said Republicans would undermine his administration’s gains on American manufacturing, as the president began to sharpen his political message ahead of an expected re-election announcement. … Mr. Biden’s visit was less about semiconductors than it was about making an argument that he sees as key to a re-election bid — essentially, that the American economy has recovered since the coronavirus pandemic, his administration has helped keep it strong and Republican policies would undo that progress. … [T]he data presents a more complicated reality: The high pace of job creation is undercut by a continued deceleration in wage increases, and there are growing concerns that the Federal Reserve may move to raise interest rates. … Events like the one held on Tuesday will provide Mr. Biden and his surrogates with an opportunity to hone his argument against Republicans.” 

Dems struggle to recruit in Florida after 2022 thrashing: The Daily Beast: “Slowly but surely, the 2024 Senate cycle is shaping up, with eager candidates or battle-tested incumbents throwing their hats in the ring. Some campaigns are being launched. Others are brewing behind the scenes. … But in Florida, it’s a slow start, to say the least. Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) is running again. But leading state Democrats have been crickets about whether or not they’re interested in going against him. … Florida went red in the 2018 Senate and gubernatorial races. And red again in 2020—voting for Trump by 2.2 points. Then it turned even more red in 2022, as Gov. Ron DeSantis won re-election by more than 19 points and Sen. Marco Rubio won re-election by more than 16 points—both margins that would have been unthinkable just years ago. … As Democratic recruitment for the Florida race lags, national Republicans are taking notice, and feeling emboldened in their prospects for keeping the seat.”

Dems hope for redistricting redo in Wisconsin: Politico: “Next week’s Supreme Court election in Wisconsin could be the beginning of the end of the GOP’s near-dominance in Wisconsin. … A liberal takeover of the supreme court could even be a factor in the race for control of the U.S. House in 2024. A win by Democrat-backed Janet Protasiewicz — which could shift control of the court from a one-seat advantage for conservatives to a 4-3 liberal majority — could have a domino effect in the state. She is facing former state Supreme Court Justice Dan Kelly, the conservative candidate backed by the state GOP in the technically non-partisan race. … [T]here’s another hugely consequential matter the court could take up: a challenge to the state’s congressional district and legislative lines. And an adverse ruling for Republicans would pose a direct threat to the delegation’s GOP-heavy makeup.”

GOP INSIDERS LOOK FOR BACKUP PLANS 

Washington Post: “The alternate who has gained the most traction by far is DeSantis, who has emerged as the only significant threat in the polls to Trump, even before he has officially entered the race. But interviews with nearly two dozen GOP donors, strategists and voters suggest the desire for a backup option has intensified amid questions about how the Florida governor would fare in a protracted battle against Trump. … Scott Reed, a Republican strategist, predicted that the race would be a ‘Trump-DeSantis slugfest through the fall, then, if exhaustion sets in, there will probably be an opening for one or two candidates to get the bright lights on them before Iowa.’ … Some donors looking to move on from Trump have expressed disappointment that [Virginia Governor] Glenn Youngkin has not made moves toward running. Donors are also curious about Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp.”

Trump lands top New Hampshire strategist: Politico: Trevor Naglieri will serve as Trump’s New Hampshire state director, according to two GOP operatives familiar with the move. Naglieri was a field coordinator for [Jeb] Bush in 2016 and went on to serve as New Hampshire field director and then national field director for Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas). … Naglieri is Trump’s second big hire in New Hampshire. Two months ago, POLITICO first reported that former state GOP Chair Steve Stepanek, a longtime ally, would serve as a senior adviser to the former president in the first-in-the-nation primary state. New Hampshire handed Trump his first primary win in 2016 — in which he defeated both Bush and Cruz. But he went on to lose the state in both the 2016 and 2020 general elections. The Naglieri hire further illustrates the dual tracks that Trump is currently on: moving aggressively on a third run for the White House while simultaneously battling legal woes on several fronts.”

Christie bashes Trump, hints at 2024: Washington Post: “Former New Jersey governor Chris Christie sharply criticized Donald Trump on Monday during his first trip this year to New Hampshire, as he kept the door open to entering the GOP presidential primary against his former ally and signaled he would decide by June. … Christie threw his support to Trump after ending his own campaign for president in 2016 and backed him again in 2020. Christie referenced the possibility that he might run for president again several times, saying the latest he believes a viable candidate can announce a candidacy is June because the first scheduled debate is in August. … Christie also went after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former vice president Mike Pence, who have also made moves toward entering the presidential race.”

DeSantis builds South Carolina support: The State: “Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and his allies are starting to lay the groundwork for a presidential campaign in South Carolina, moving to build a political operation and court local leaders in a state likely to be fiercely competitive in the 2024 GOP presidential primary. The efforts — coming before DeSantis even formally launches a White House bid — mark the first test of his political strength in South Carolina, as he attempts to make inroads in a state whose loyalties in next year’s primary could be split between a popular former governor, sitting U.S. senator and a former president. … ‘DeSantis is making the calls,’ said Dave Wilson, a GOP strategist in South Carolina. ‘And he should be if he wants to build the groundswell of support he’s going to need in South Carolina.’ … DeSantis appears committed to making up for lost time now.”

BRIEFLY

Divide grows among New York Dems as 2024 fears mount—Politico

Progressives coalesce around Lee for California Senate seat—Los Angeles Times

Dem campaigns ticked off as TikTok ban looms—Politico 

WITHIN EARSHOT: ACTING CHOPS 

“No, I need fake teeth, and … a lot more chutzpah to pull that off.”—Actor Jason Sudeikis when asked to do a Joe Biden impression during a White House visit on mental health with the cast of Ted Lasso


MAILBAG

“I want to know if you’ve noticed the same ticks that I have. On Fox News, certain hosts will preface the names of people or outlets with adjectives designed to frame how the viewer reacts to a quote or a clip (Lou Dobbs did this a lot). An example of this would be the liberal New York Times or the anti/pro Trump (fill in the blank). Those descriptors are deployed to signal to the viewer what they should interpret skeptically and what they should analyze uncritically. To some extent, the inclusion of racial info in articles serves a similar purpose. Have you noticed this?  What are your thoughts as a veteran of the news game?” —Collin Rusk, Birmingham, Michigan

Most assuredly, Mr. Rusk! But I’ve seen it in lots of other places, too. Adjectives are the most dangerous part of speech in newswriting. On the one hand, a one-word descriptor can save lots of unnecessary words. If we say “defrocked pastor” or “world champion St. Louis Cardinals” or “record-setting lima bean,” we are giving the reader, viewer, or listener valuable information that is useful in understanding what comes next. But when we get to subjective assessments, things get goofy fast. Pro-Trump compared to what? Disgraced in the eyes of whom? Delicious by what standard? These kinds of descriptors can still be useful if a) they are near-universal in their assessment: “The beloved Dolly Parton …” b) clearly understood to be the opinion of the writer: “A style of shoe that I have always found cloddish …” or c) supported clearly by what follows: “The miniscule porcupine fit neatly in a teacup …” Unfortunately, many organizations fail on these fronts and use their adjectives promiscuously and for the reasons that you correctly identified that relate to cuing the audience for what to revere and what to revile but still making it sound like they are findings of fact, not opinion. One thing I advise news consumers to do in selecting high-quality news outlets and when determining bias is to look at the adjectives first. That usually gives the game away. 


You should email us! Write to STIREWALTISMS@THEDISPATCH.COM with your tips, kudos, criticisms, insights, rediscovered words, wonderful names, recipes and, always, good jokes. Please include your real name—at least first and last—and hometown. Make sure to let me know in the email if you want to keep your submission private. My colleague, the tanned, rested, and ready Nate Moore, and I will look for your emails and then share the most interesting ones and my responses here. Clickety clack!


CUTLINE CONTEST: EVERGREEN 

Former President Donald Trump speaks to reporters at Quad City International Airport, March 13, 2023, in Moline, Illinois. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/Washington Post/Getty Images)
Former President Donald Trump speaks to reporters at Quad City International Airport, March 13, 2023, in Moline, Illinois. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/Washington Post/Getty Images)

One of the first principles of the cutline contest is to not necessarily be bound by the news in crafting a joke. Our winner this week is a contest stalwart with a gift for writing to the image. Some people are saying she’s one of the best …

“WRITE EVERYTHING I SAY IN ALL CAPS!”—Linda McKee, DuBois, Pennslyvannia

Winner, STET Division:

“Covfefe. I said covfefe.” —Gary Michaels, East Hardwick, Vermont

Winner, Nitti Gritty Division:

“You got nothing. You’re nothing but a lot of talk and a badge! You hear me? Cause you got nothing! You got nothing in court, you don’t got the bookkeeper, you got NOTHING! NOTHING! And if you were a man, you would’ve done it now! You don’t got a thing, you punk!” —Michael DiCola,  Monroe Township, New Jersey

Winner, A Man for All Seasonings Division:

“I like a dry rub. Then a pinch of a salt—A PINCH OF SALT!—like Salt Bae. You know Salt Bae? He pinches salt.”—Tripp Whitbeck, Arlington, Virginia 

Winner, Imitation Is the Sincerest Form of Cutlines Division:

“That’s a spicy meatball!” —David Houggy, Allison Park, Pennsylvania  

And now for the winner of our March contest: Reader Bob Goldman who captioned a photo of a bemused looking President Biden with a spray of shamrocks in his breast pocket and a bust of Robert Kennedy behind him with the following: “Yeah, Bobby, that’s some good skunk.” Please send us your home address, Mr. Goldman, so we can send along your prize, a tote bag featuring Biden as The Onion’s “president of vice.” Now let’s get busy with April!

Send your proposed cutline for the picture that appears at the top of this newsletter to STIREWALTISMS@THEDISPATCH.COM. We will pick the top entrants and an appropriate reward for the best of this month—even beyond the glory and adulation that will surely follow. Be hilarious, don’t be too dirty, and never be cruel. Include your full name and hometown. Have fun!


FIVE-STAR D’OH 

WCAU: “Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw was one of four people injured after an Uber driver ran a red light in Center City, investigators said. The 42-year-old Uber driver was driving a black jeep south down 15th Street … At the same time, Commissioner Outlaw was in the front passenger seat of a Ford Expedition that was heading east on Race Street. She was on her way to a meeting at City Hall. Police said the Uber driver ran the red light at 15th and Race streets and crashed into the driver’s side of the Ford Expedition … The Uber driver and his 42-year-old passenger were both injured in the crash. They were taken to the hospital in stable condition. … Outlaw suffered pain in her back while her driver suffered pain in his left hand. They were both taken to the hospital in stable condition. Police later confirmed with NBC10 that Outlaw was released from the hospital.”

Chris Stirewalt is a contributing editor at The Dispatch, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and the author of Broken News, a new book on media and politics. Nate Moore and Ryan Nishiyama contributed to this report.

Chris Stirewalt is a contributing editor at The Dispatch, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, the politics editor for NewsNation, co-host of the Ink Stained Wretches podcast, and author of Broken News, a book on media and politics.