The GOP's Weird Deep Fake Campaign
Our dystopian future is here.
Joe Biden’s announcement that he’s running for a second term hardly comes as a surprise, and most of the commentary had a distinctly here-we-go-again world weariness. We will, of course, be made to care sooner or later, because the alternative is so ghastly.
But it was still interesting to watch how the announcement by the president of the United States was overshadowed by the firing of two cable tv hosts. Poor Joe Biden can’t seem to break out the background of our obsessive news cycles. So we got the usual reminders that he’s (1) is old, (2) polls poorly, and (3) may have a Kamala problem. He is also, apparently, prepared to run hard against MAGA extremism, which, of course, is good thing.
Still, the whole thing had a below-the-fold vibe. Except for one bizarre thing.
The GOP responded with an ad filled with made-up horribles that had not actually happened.
Let’s stipulate that Biden has a number of vulnerabilities, including inflation, the border, crime, etc. Some bad stuff (Afghanistan) has happened on his watch. There has been a lot of spending.
But instead of focusing on that real stuff, our Joe Perticone reported yesterday, the Republican National Committee went with an artificial intelligence-generated video filled with “disaster scenarios they believe could befall the country if Biden wins another term—things like China invading Taiwan, financial markets going into ‘freefall,’ border agents being ‘overrun by a surge of 80,000 illegals,’ and, bizarrely, San Francisco being ‘closed’ because of drugs and crime. (That last hypothetical includes an image of a cigarette-smoking man with MS-13 tattooed in gothic script across his forehead. Subtle, the ad is not.)”
As Joe noted:
The video is strange not just because of the simultaneously eerie and goofy AI-generated images, but also because of the premise—the idea that another four years of Biden could potentially result in apocalyptic problems. It’s certainly a far cry from a more typical political message challenging an incumbent: Bad stuff has happened because of this administration, but our candidate will put a stop to it.
And then, of course, there is this from Biden’s website:
Welcome to 2023, where the dystopian future has already arrived.
Meanwhile, back in what passes for our political reality, Donald Trump is declaring that he doesn’t need any stinking debates.
Spoiler alert: The RNC will almost certainly cave because… well, you know.
And a new poll…
… shows that the party of Law and Order has no problem with nominating and supporting a convicted felon.
The new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll finds that nearly two-thirds of Republicans would still vote for Trump even if he is found guilty of a crime.
As Ron Brownstein: notes, the poll “neatly sums up GOP situation heading into 24: 63% of Republicans say they want a second Trump term even if he's found guilty of a crime. Just 21% of indies, 24% non-whites, 27% under age 45, 17% (!) col+ whites agree.”
More Tucker Fallout
It wasn’t the bigotry or the bullshit that killed Tucker. It was using the c-word about the wrong folks that sealed his fate. Via this morning’s Wall Street Journal:
Several weeks ago, as Fox News lawyers prepared for a courtroom showdown with Dominion Voting Systems, they presented Tucker Carlson with what they thought was good news: They had persuaded the court to redact from a legal filing the time he called a senior Fox News executive the c-word, according to people familiar with the matter.
Mr. Carlson, Fox News’s most-watched prime-time host, wasn’t impressed. He told his colleagues that he wanted the world to know what he had said about the executive in a private message, the people said. Mr. Carlson said comments he made about former President Donald Trump—“I hate him passionately”—that were in the court documents were said during a momentary spasm of anger, while his dislike of this executive was deep and enduring.
This, as it turns out, was a bad call, but just part of the Fox star’s coruscating hubris.
Inside Fox News, there has been a growing sense that Mr. Carlson couldn’t be managed, and viewed himself as untouchable, people familiar with the company said. Legal documents also revealed Mr. Carlson was unafraid to run roughshod over those whose views or actions he opposed.
On yesterday’s Bulwark podcast, I talked about Tucker’s spectacular fall with veteran media critic Brian Stelter. Here’s a partial transcript of our conversation:
Charlie Sykes: So, we assumed that we were going to be talking today about the Dominion settlement and what's going on there. And obviously, that feels so different right now. So, let's talk a little bit about the state of play for Fox, because you have this massive settlement with Dominion, but then you have the Smartmatic lawsuit, which is just hanging out there. You have the Abby Grossberg lawsuit. So what is the state of play? If you were the Murdochs, and you're looking at this litigation landscape, what are you thinking?
Brian Stelter: Just make it go away. That's what you're thinking: just make it go away.
Charlie Sykes: It's gonna cost a lot of money.
Brian Stelter: You got $4 billion in cash—just make it go away. I think we will see a Smartmatic settlement in the weeks or months to come—might take longer than people expect—but there's no reason why Fox is gonna let this drag out 'til 2025 and end up in trial in New York.
Again, if you believe that Rupert Murdoch might, in his twilight years, be maybe trying to drag Fox back to right-of-center, as opposed to right and crazy, then, you know, he might be thinking, 'Where did I go wrong here? How did this happen? How did I let this happen? How did Suzanne Scott let this happen? How do we get to the point where there's all these liars on my air lying about Trump maybe winning an election they actually lost? How did this happen?' Clean it up. Make it go away. That's very much the vibe that I'm getting.
Charlie Sykes: See, this is so interesting, because part of me last week was thinking OK, they've avoided the trial, you don't have to testify, you've written it off, and they're probably opening up champagne over at Fox. But today, in our conversation, I'm thinking that's completely wrong. What's happening is that Rupert Murdoch is sitting in a darkened room saying, 'Fuck, I never want to go through that again. I have to clean up this mess. This was not fun. This was humiliating. And it feels as if something was broken.' We were talking about what broke the relationship with Tucker Carlson and his buddy, Lachlan Murdoch. Well, obviously from the point of view of the Murdochs, this Dominion lawsuit was a nightmare. It was a traumatic experience, and it changed a lot.
Brian Stelter: This is reminding me of what Gabriel Sherman wrote in Vanity Fair about the Murdochs. Here's his kicker: He says, 'Murdoch seemed trapped by the people he radicalized, like an ageing despot hiding in his palace while the streets filled with insurrectionists.'…
Brian Stelter: That feels like the story here to me. You know, Gabe had that detail about the woman that Murdoch was briefly engaged with, and then he broke off the engagement. And a source told Gabe that she said, 'Tucker Carlson is a messenger from God.' And he said, 'Nope.' Right?
Charlie Sykes: [Laughter]
Brian Stelter: So, this idea that he falls in love, he falls for this woman who is the Fox viewer. She's the Fox audience. She's the one that's a true believer in Tucker, and Rupert knows better. And Rupert knows Tucker is not a messenger from God. And even if she meant that as a metaphor, we can understand that sense of radicalization among part of the Fox base. And Rupert's sitting back and thinking, 'What have I done? What is this?'
Charlie Sykes: “What have I done?”
Brian Stelter: That's what somebody at Fox said to me the night of the riot. Late in the day, January 6, I got a text message from a staffer, and it said, 'What have we done?' And I ended up leading the paperback edition of "Hoax" with that, because that's the question, like, 'What have we done, and can it be changed?’ Right? Can it be moderated?
You can listen to the whole thing here:
On our weekly podcast, Mona Charen and I also discussed Tucker's demise, the perils of excessive partisanship, and Biden's announcement.
You can listen to the whole thing here.
1. Ron DeSantis Has an Elizabeth Warren Problem
Tim Miller writes in today’s Bulwark:
Both decided that they had to accede to every whim of their respective super-online activist bases rather than stick with what was working for them.
Warren tried simultaneously to attract the most strident Bernie bros by belatedly embracing Medicare for All (and other lefty issues) while also checking every box demanded by the identitarian wing of the resistance: putting pronouns in her Twitter bio, branding merch with Latinx, and attracting the support of a group of activists named “Black Womxn For” (without actually gaining any meaningful support from Black WomEn).
DeSantis’s right-wing version has been much less earnest and well intentioned, but it’s just as out of touch. As a campaign prelude, Meatball Ron is presiding over a legislative session with a policy orientation more suited for Alabama than presidential battleground states. He’s tied himself to policies such as a six-week abortion ban and “constitutional carry” that even many Republicans don’t support. On top of that, his current stump speech requires a Ph.D. in based online discourse to have any idea what he’s talking about.
2. The Wall Street Journal’s Double Standards
Make sure you read Mona Charen’s masterful deconstruction of the WSJ’s attempts to defend Clarence Thomas — an attack his critics.
The Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto is befuddled. He cannot understand how people who are or once were Republican or conservative can criticize Justice Clarence Thomas. In a piece titled “Et Tu, Juan? Clarence Thomas’s Fickle Friends Pile On,” Taranto denounces Senator Mitt Romney and me for insufficient partisan zealotry.
As delighted as I am to share a subtitle with the senator (“Mitt Romney and Mona Charen go on the attack, then go silent in the face of new information”), there is nothing to Taranto’s accusation. The interest is only in what it reveals about the mindset of Taranto, and frankly, his colleagues at the Journal editorial page.
A Trump-Kennedy ticket?
I was good with Mona’s slap back until she got to her “admiration” of Thomas. Le sigh.
There is nothing to admire about Clarence Thomas, the justice. He is a weak legal mind and a poor writer. He professes an adherence to “originalism” (an artificial concept created to hide a multitude of sins and dodges), but only when it suits him, and he’s mean as a snake. Witness last Friday’s dissent to the mifepristone stay. Good God.
Personally, he’s repulsive. He’s a sexual harasser (three more witnesses waited in the wings back in 1991), married to a lunatic, and now we find he’s a deceptive freeloader.
What a guy, Mona. But you call POTUS a “liar.”
"Poor Joe Biden can’t seem to break out [of] the background of our obsessive news cycles. So we got the usual reminders that he (1) is old, (2) polls poorly, (3) is old, (4) is hated on the far right, (5) is old, (6) is old, and (7) is old."
There. Fixed it for ya. (The Kamala problem is largely unstated but an elephant in the room, outsized by its omission in current mainstream media coverage.) It's April 2023 of a campaign that will not conclude until November 2024 and I'm already exhausted with references to Biden's age now, age later, and perceived fragility -- and when his likely opposition is nearly as old (and also flagrantly violates the Reagan Rule of what constitutes too old in the eyes of the electorate, not that GOP voters have an issue with that) and much less physically capable by all appearances, including even walking upright and going down stairs. (I'll leave out the vast mental and psychological difference between the two -- it is chicken salad versus chicken shit and a topic that requires much more time and space than any of us here have to spare.)
I get it that age is an issue. But it isn't the only issue, in a world where the GOP is crazy and proud of it, a longtime nemesis is at war with another nation and would expand it if feasible, China remains a wild card, and stability and predictability, not to mention civility, remain virtues. I'm asking out loud of the age-obsessed: tell us, objectively and in detail, what Biden has accomplished since January 2021, as an old man or otherwise. There are important things there, not least navigating us out of the pandemic and back into normal daily life. His has been a steady hand on the wheel, as opposed to Trump's daily drama and unpredictability.
If the GOP is primarily obsessed with trans issues, Don't Say Gay, and banning books, as opposed to jobs and the economy, Biden must be doing something right. So let's hear about that. Maybe his age and experience have been positive and productive for us. I'm glad to have that discussion too, if others will join me there.