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Republicans Know the 1-2-3s of Trump Scandals
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Republicans Know the 1-2-3s of Trump Scandals

Attack, minimize, and move on.

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)

Donald Trump has conditioned the Republican Party well. 

When news broke that Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg had offered the former president the chance to testify before a grand jury investigating him, Republicans fell into a well-rehearsed routine. Anti-anti-Trumpism, which started as a coping mechanism for having a truly rotten person as their nominee and then president, has become a way of being for Trump’s party.

It’s not a new idea. Democrats developed a similar form of this auto-immune disease around the many moral and ethical misdeeds of Bill Clinton. By the end of Clinton’s second term and his impeachment for lying about his trysts with a 22-year-old White House intern, the blue team developed this kind of involuntary response. Republicans spent two years with a similar condition around Richard Nixon’s schemes to win the 1972 election and his lies to cover them up. 

But neither Nixon nor Clinton ever achieved the kind of conditioning Trump achieved with his fellow Republicans. 

In the current case, the trigger was what seemed to be the imminent indictment of Trump relating to his then-lawyer’s hush-money payment of $130,000 to a sex worker during the 2016 campaign. The woman says she took the money in exchange for not going public before the election with the details of her assignation with the future president at a celebrity golf tournament in Nevada a decade earlier. 

If the story was about Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis or another potential Republican 2024 nominee, that candidate’s fellow partisans would have happily stood back and watched the seamy story play out. Certainly the supporters of the candidate in the hot seat would kick and yell, but the rest would be inclined to see where it goes. Indeed, what DeSantis himself said about the story, “I don’t know what goes into paying hush money to a porn star to secure silence over some type of alleged affair,” is the kind of sidelong swipe that one would expect.

But Trump isn’t just any candidate. Back when Trump’s fixer was paying the woman, DeSantis’ remark would have been typical of the kind of response such a situation would have drawn. You can almost hear them saying, “I don’t know all the facts of the case, but I mean …” Letting one’s opponents twist in the wind is generally good politics. But what if the opponent is the former president? What if the former president and a significant chunk of his party don’t believe that he was legitimately defeated? What if the candidate is running as the de facto incumbent?

The payment in question was made during the scandal that most Republicans believed would dispatch Trump, leaked audio in which the then-game show host bragged about grabbing women he met by their genitals and made other macho boasts about his supposed sexual exploits. The irony for the GOP now is that if Trump’s lawyer had not secured the sex worker’s silence at the time, that may have been enough to actually scuttle Trump’s chances.

If the stinging defeat that most Republicans, including Trump, expected in 2016 had materialized, the then-unimaginable depredations of being the party of such a solipsist would never have materialized. 

Moments after Trump’s loss, Republicans would have repudiated him and all his works and the former nominee would by now be floating out in the Tulsi Gabbard twilight of the nationalist right, almost certainly hawking miracle products and get-rich-quick scams on infomercials. Maybe he and Stormy Daniels would have teamed up to sell erectile dysfunction pills. “We may not have agreed on the election, but we both know that MegaMAGA 500X delivers a strong, lasting …” Anyway, you get the idea. 

But Trump was transfigured by his good luck and, ironically again, the long hangover among Democrats from their own abusive relationship with Clinton and his wife. Democrats couldn’t shake the Clintons even when it was obvious that they should have. 

So, Republicans undertook their own ordeal of defending the indefensible, and Trump, who makes Bill Clinton look like a model of modesty and self-control, made for heavy lifting. By the time Republicans got to the first Trump impeachment, the routine was well in place: 1) Attack the accuser, don’t defend the misconduct 2) minimize the misconduct as something “everybody does” and 3) say it’s time to “move on.”

Many of the claims about Trump’s misconduct were exaggerated or even fabricated. Swatting away these allegations as media bias or “Trump derangement syndrome” kept the Republican immune response in overdrive for the past seven years. Indeed, many Republicans blame Democrats and the press for the party’s own inability to confront Trump’s bad character. There is truth in that claim, but no remedy. Anti-anti-Trumpism has proven to be far worse for the party than the afflictions it evolved to protect against.

The GOP’s paralysis after Trump tried to steal a second term and sent a mob to the Capitol to disrupt the certification of the election he lost was a low point in American political history. But it was also foolish. Republicans who knew far better repeated the old 1-2-3 not because it was good strategy or calculation, but because they were trapped in the response loop. Some had the courage to break out, but most were too afraid to be seen siding with Trump’s accusers, so they hoped that if they completed the most odious task yet, their sacrifice would finally be sufficient to be rid of their tormenter once and for all. But they were nowhere near done.

Who knows when or if Trump will be charged with a crime over hush money or other financial crimes in New York, or election tampering in Georgia, or in federal court for the attack on Congress or stealing classified documents or whatever else. But we can expect similar responses from the damaged Republican immune system: Attack the accuser, minimize the misconduct, and “move on.” If January 6 was not enough to break the cycle, it’s hard to imagine any court case would be. From a Soros-backed prosecutor? From a Biden administration special counsel? From a Democratic county in Georgia? If Moses came down Mt. Sinai with a Trump indictment chiseled in stone, Kevin McCarthy would demand oversight hearings on the prophet’s prior interference with navigable waterways. 

There isn’t meaningful disagreement about the facts of Trump’s bad conduct among most Republican leaders. He did most of the things he is accused of in plain sight and indeed celebrates his own rottenness. But it’s the system that’s the problem, man …

What we don’t yet know is if Republican voters are able to do what party elites cannot. Back when the anti-anti-Trumpists were just anti-Trump, they were among the last ones to give up on ditching The Donald. Recall Ted Cruz and the humiliating slog to and through the 2016 convention. Voters, however, had already made peace with the result in a matter of weeks in the spring of that year.

In March 2024, the Republican rank and file will get their say on whether the party can actually move on from Trump. Between now and then, we will see if DeSantis and the others looking to knock Trump off can get over the conditioning of anti-anti-Trumpism and start attacking the actual malady.


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: 52.2%
Net score: -10.8 points 

Change from one week ago: ↓ 3.0 points                        
Change from one month ago: ↓ 2.4 points

[Average includes: Grinnell/Selzer: 40% approve-53% disapprove; Monmouth: 42% approve-51% disapprove; Quinnipiac: 39% approve-55% disapprove; Emerson: 44% approve-50% disapprove; Reuters/Ipsos: 42% approve-52% disapprove] 

Polling Roulette


TIME OUT: WAIT A SECOND 

Harper’s: “The official time of the United States is subordinate to what’s known as UTC, or Coordinated Universal Time, which, since the early Sixties, has been the world’s official time standard. … UTC is an aggregate of times gathered from the atomic clocks maintained by more than eighty national agencies across the globe. … In this world of metrology, which has left behind the dusty archives of physical things in favor of fundamental properties of the universe, it seems a kind of cosmic joke that this intangible, evanescent unit is the one that is understood most accurately. Even so, there is something amiss in the world of the second, the world of time. In a world of staggering exactitude, there are new timepieces on the horizon, capable of even more accuracy, clocks that are moving beyond mere measurement and opening new inquiries into time, into the universe itself.”


DESANTIS TRIES A LITTLE OFFENSE 

Axios: “Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is no longer veiling his presidential ambitions or his criticism of former President Trump, taking a new gloves-off approach in a wide-ranging — and rare — interview with … Piers Morgan. … Hours after igniting outrage in Trumpworld with a shot at Trump over the former president’s alleged affair with porn star Stormy Daniels, DeSantis told Morgan that the ‘underlying conduct’ in the Manhattan DA’s investigation is ‘outside my wheelhouse.’ … DeSantis suggested that his landslide re-election victory in November is why Trump’s attitude toward him has changed — laughing off some of the nicknames the former president has lobbed his way. … The symbolism of the exclusive DeSantis interview landing in the New York Post — the Rupert Murdoch-owned paper in the city where Trump is expected to be indicted — will not be lost on Trump’s allies.” 

Trump troubles prompt bipartisan cash grab: Bloomberg: “Friends and foes of Donald Trump have joined him in an unprecedented money grab to boost their own campaign coffers ahead of the former president’s possible indictment. … Legal jeopardy is a proven fundraising tonic for Trump, who in the week before FBI agents searched his Florida home for classified documents last August, raised an average of $190,000 a day. … Not all of the fundraising this week is sympathetic to the former president. American Bridge PAC, a Democratic super-political action committee, sent out a donor appeal with a questionnaire asking whether Trump should be prosecuted.”  

After backlash, DeSantis labels Putin ‘war criminal’: New York Times: “Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida this week clarified his description of the Russian invasion of Ukraine as a ‘territorial dispute’ and said that Vladimir V. Putin, the Russian president, was a ‘war criminal’ who should be ‘held accountable.’ … The line about a ‘territorial dispute’ was heavily criticized by foreign policy hawks, as well as Republicans in Congress and, privately, some Republican donors. It also put Mr. DeSantis’s views more in line with those of former President Donald J. Trump.”

Former Cruz director Roe joins team DeSantis: Washington Post: “Jeff Roe, the head of Axiom Strategies and the top strategist for the 2016 presidential campaign of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), is now working for Never Back Down, a pro-DeSantis political committee that is likely to serve as a favored outside spending vehicle for a DeSantis presidential campaign. … The hire raises further doubts about Youngkin’s interest in a 2024 presidential campaign…”

ENDANGERED SENATE DEMS DODGE INDICTMENT TALK

Politico: “The [potential indictment] did not come up at the Senate Democrats’ leadership meeting on Tuesday, and few people in the caucus are talking about it. … Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer — never one to shy away from hitting Trump — declined to comment on Tuesday, as did most of his members. … Some red-state Democrats aren’t quite willing to talk about the political implications of a Trump indictment, with control of the Senate largely depending on the majority party defending seats in solidly red Montana, Ohio and West Virginia. … There’s been no caucus-wide guidance on how to handle the earth-shaking possibility of a criminal indictment against a former president.”

GOP seeks out self-funders to combat cash disadvantage: Politico: “Senate Republicans have landed on a plan to avoid getting swamped by Democratic cash again next year: Find candidates whose bank accounts are already loaded. So far, at least 10 candidates with sizable net worth are seriously considering self-funded Senate campaigns in more than a half-dozen swing states. … [T]his approach has taken on increasing importance for Republicans because they failed to counter Democrats’ massive grassroots fundraising in Senate races during the past two cycles. … Arming themselves with better-funded recruits, many of whom can give their campaigns tens of millions of dollars, could help them finally net the two seats needed to reclaim the gavel. Potential self-funders for this cycle include: Tim Sheehy, the Montana founder of an aerospace company, Eric Hovde, a real estate executive in Wisconsin, and West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, a coal mining magnate.”

GOP pines for a Gallagher Senate run in Wisconsin: Politico: “A public break with former President Donald Trump has been career suicide for many an ambitious GOP lawmaker in recent years. It might just be a boon for Rep. Mike Gallagher. Top party officials in D.C. and back home in Wisconsin maintain the fourth-term congressman and new head of the China Select Committee represents their best shot at flipping the battleground’s Senate seat in 2024. … There is just one thing they have to do first: convince him to run. … In their bid to oust Baldwin, senior Wisconsin Republicans are eager to find a candidate who can bring back the independent and moderate Republican voters in key suburbs who broke with the former president in 2020 and several of his top picks in 2022.”

KENTUCKY’S COMER TRIES A TRICKY STRADDLE
New York Times: “James R. Comer, the chairman of the Oversight and Accountability Committee … has himself become a promoter of sinister-sounding allegations against Mr. Biden and his family. This pursuit has propelled him to stardom in a party whose best customers — vengeful, hard-right voters — are bent on bringing down the Democratic president. … This month, Mr. Comer joined a panel at the Conservative Political Action Conference titled ‘The Biden Crime Family,’ where he asserted that Mr. Biden and his family’s business activities with China posed ‘a threat to national security.’… His embrace of such statements reflects how Mr. Comer, who voted to certify Mr. Biden’s victory and was a favorite among Democrats in Kentucky’s Legislature, has transformed himself to command the Republican war machine in Congress — becoming a high-profile example of what it takes to rise and thrive in the Fox News-fed MAGA universe.”

BRIEFLY

Midwest Dems push for Chicago over Atlanta for 2024 DNC —NBC

Dems sell lieutenant governors as next generation of stars—Politico

WITHIN EARSHOT: HE IDENTIFIES AS BEING FROM A SWING STATE 

“I was geographically raised in Tampa Bay, but culturally my upbringing reflected the working-class communities in western Pennsylvania and northeast Ohio.”—Florida Governor Ron DeSantis emphasizes his Midwestern ties in his new book, The Courage to Be Free. 


MAILBAG

“Probably you’ve already seen this, but it expresses my dismay exactly.  Less than a decade ago one of my employees from Mexico complained bitterly about this very thing. 

Blaming Mexico for this entirely is so stupid and illogical.  If the Mexican cartels disappeared along  with all their drugs tomorrow, China would start shipping Fentanyl across the Canadian border. And probably use the same pathways in use 50 years ago by the Middle East. Do you see/hear anyone in politics with any real solutions to our drug crisis?”—Mary Stine, Prairie Village, Kansas

For your fellow readers, the “this” in question is a piece from columnist Liz Granderson with the headline, “‘Blame Mexico’ won’t solve the crises of guns and fentanyl.” Demonizing foreign powers has been very much part of American politics from their inception. Indeed, demonizing Britain was the O.G. demagoguery that helped bring about the American Revolution. And certainly, blaming Mexico for being unstable or incompetent enough to allow such free operation of drug cartels and human traffickers is foolish. Even if the most unfair critics of Mexico were right, what would the solution be? To shut off $43 billion in commerce with our third-largest trading partner and seal the border? Even then, ships and submarines would carry drugs up the coastline, as all the while Mexico became more economically and politically unstable. To invade and install a new government? Woof. Mexico and the United States are not good neighbors these days, it is true. But each should be interested in the other’s success. The problem with drugs as a political issue is that the humane, practical answers tend to be politically unappealing. More than 100,000 Americans drink themselves to death every year, but we don’t talk about that very much because, first, many millions more enjoy ardent beverages without serious consequences and, second, who would we blame for the problem? America’s inexhaustible demand for drugs is a problem with many fathers, but at the core is the human desire to escape reality, even to the point of addiction and death. When that desire exists outside of the boundaries of strong families and communities, the consequences are even more dire. Even if it was not for Mexico, or China, or any other country, America is a big enough, lawless enough place that the demand would still be met to a devastating degree. The opioid plague and the methamphetamine one that preceded it were both largely home-grown. Only after the domestic demand grew to be massive did foreign suppliers surge to meet that demand. But who can make a meme out of a balanced approach that combines an emphasis on strong communities with addiction treatment and strong law enforcement? Who will run for office saying “The demand is the problem?” The problems of the human heart defy even good intentions in politics and government. God help us when so many seek power before they seek remedy.

“It’s been pointed out that the U.S. isn’t red states and blue states, but blue urban areas with red rural areas in between. (And suburbs that go back and forth with the political wind.) As the urban populations grow in red states, it seems likely that those states will eventually turn blue (witness TX, AZ, NV, etc. — but not FL! Maybe because most of Florida is really urban, idk). How will this cause political divides and parties to be redrawn? Urban v. rural? How will that affect national and state-level campaigns, especially if one had to try to connect to the disparate, less-connected Rural party? Seems the Urbanites would have a structural advantage. How would that impact redistricting maneuvers?”—David Houggy, Allison Park, Pennsylvania 

Fair enough, Mr. Houggy. But what about Ohio? The growth in Columbus this century has more than offset the declines in the two other major metros, Cleveland and Cincinnati, while the population in the rural parts of the state have declined precipitously. Yet, Ohio has gotten dramatically more Republican in the past 23 years. I think your premise is right, but I also think there’s much more to the question. The states that you mention are indeed home to fast-growing cities, which means lots of young people. And as we know, young people tend to be more Democratic than their older counterparts. We also know those cities are home to lots of immigrants and first-generation Americans, another Democratic-leaning group. That’s more true in Phoenix than it is in Columbus. But broad demographic trends are insufficient to tell our story. We also have to remember how bad Republicans have been at politics of late. Georgia and Arizona are not Democratic states, but instead have been faced with the kind of choices that could make even the rock-ribbed turn purple. Lastly, there’s also some evidence that Americans may continue to take advantage of remote work opportunities to give them the opportunity to spread out into the vast, beautiful interior of the nation. The short version is that I expect the rural-versus-urban conflict to remain, but that it will be both offset and reinforced by other trends.    


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 bracket-busting Nate Moore, and I will look for your emails and then share the most interesting ones and my responses here. Clickety clack!


CUTLINE CONTEST: YOU SMELLIN’ WHAT UNCLE JOE’S SMOKIN’?

President Joe Biden in the Oval Office of the White House Friday. (Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images)
President Joe Biden in the Oval Office of the White House Friday. (Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images)

I am a man of many weaknesses, and you, gentle readers, know that one of them is The Onion’s Joe Biden character. So how could I complain when this week’s winner so expertly exploited it?

“Yeah, Bobby, that’s some good skunk.”— Bob Goldman, Gilroy, California

Winner, Joseph the Confessor Division 

“And then the priest gave me my penance: ten Hail Marys and protracted budget negotiations with Congress.”—Michael Diamond, Appleton, Wisconsin

Winner, Literally but not Seriously Division

“I was known as Clover Boy—no joke—growing up. I probably know more about clover than anyone in this room. I always carry a clump in my pocket. Jill has to clean my jackets when I forget to take it out.”—Tripp Whitbeck, Arlington, Virginia

Winner, Black Diamond Division 

“Robert Kennedy was my hero.  I remember when I carved this from a chunk

of anthracite as a kid back in Scranton.” —Linda McKee, DuBois, Pennsylvania

Winner, Let it Grow Division

“Jill, honey, do you know where I left those lettuce seeds?”—Mary Carol Miller, West, Mississippi 

Winner, Sláinte Division 

“Sa lá atá inniu ann, níl ach dhá chineál daoine ar domhan, na hÉireannaigh agus iad siúd ar mian leo a bheith.”—Richard Basuk, New York, New York

Winner, Missed a Spot Division

“What did I have for lunch?  A salad; why do you ask?”—Bill Oldach, Potomac, Maryland

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!


THAT’S WHAT YOU GET FOR NOT GOING TO WAFFLE HOUSE 

Insider: “Two Virginia inmates who broke out of their jail cell with a toothbrush tasted sweet freedom for a day at an IHOP miles away before they were caught. According to the Newport News Sheriff’s Office, two inmates were missing during a headcount on Thursday. The pair, John M. Garza and Arley V. Nemo, had used ‘primitive tools,’ including a toothbrush and untied rebar, to dig a hole out of their cell wall, and scaled a wall to make a daring escape, the department said. ‘The two men began to exploit a construction design weakness utilizing primitive-made tools constructed from a toothbrush and metal object,’ NNSO said in a press release. ‘Those tools facilitated their access to untied rebars between the walls. Once gaining access to the rebar, they used it to further make their escape.’ The two then made it to an IHOP seven miles away in the neighboring town of Hampton, Virginia, opting for the pancake house instead of a Waffle House a few blocks away.”

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 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.