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This presidential portrait was inevitable, wasn’t it?
Think for a moment what it took to bring us to this point: the twisted, bizarre, tangled story, with so many chapters, and legions of enablers, rationalizers, clowns, cowards, and co-conspirators.
But it all comes back to the person in this mugshot.
It was always going to end this way, wasn’t it?
If you elect a serial liar and conman, a narcissist, bully, wannabe mobster, with the vocabulary of an emotionally insecure 9-year-old, you can’t really be shocked at how it turned out, can you?
This is what Trump wanted, because this is what he chose.
He could have accepted defeat and allowed the peaceful transfer of power. He could have behaved like every other president in American history.
Instead, he chose to lie about the election. He chose to orchestrate a coup.
He made the decision to defame election workers and attempt to intimidate officials into stealing the vote.
It was his choice to form a criminal enterprise, and conspire to defraud the government, to summon the mob, and sit back as they attacked the Capitol.
It was a conscious decision to steal classified documents — including war plans — and ignore a federal subpoena. It was his choice to try to obstruct and cover up his crime, just like it was his choice to pay hush money to a porn star before the 2016 election.
It was also the GOP’s choice.
Time and again, Republicans had a chance to draw the line, or at least take an off-ramp. They could have stood astride all the insanity and criminality and said no. They could have impeached and disqualified him forever.
Instead, they served up the now-familiar farrago of Faustian bargains, cowardice, magical thinking, and corruption that led us to what happened this week:
When the eight candidates at the GOP debate were asked whether they would support Trump even if he was a convicted felon, six of the eight raised their hands.
Don’t gloss over this extraordinary moment from the party of law and order.
Five minutes ago (in political terms), it would have been the easiest question in the world: no one would even think about voting for or endorsing a candidate convicted of multiple felonies for any office of public trust — not for city council, the state legislature, or secretary of transporation . . . much less the presidency of the United States.
But here we are. The man in the mugshot is almost certainly going to be the Republican nominee for president in 2024.
Trump has skirted the ragged edges of the law for decades. So, the mugshot above was inevitable.
But there was nothing inevitable about a political party — and tens of millions of its supporters — looking at this man, and saying, This is fine.
If only they had been warned.
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Deplorables of the Week
Too easy really, because we have all the mugs.
What was with the motorcade?
My colleague Tim asks an excellent question. “What is the possible security rationale for 80 motorcycles flanking a loser who is being arraigned.”
Attorney George Conway found a clip online of former President Obama visiting Pittsburgh last year for a film shoot. “It appears to have consisted of 2 (dos, deux, zwei, two) Secret Service Chevy Suburbans led by 1 (uno, un, ein, one) marked Pittsburgh police Ford Taurus. No lights or sirens.”
But then neither W or O tried to overthrow the government, did they?
Nothing Matters? Really?
And, lock him up?
A new POLITICO Magazine/Ipsos poll provides some bad news for Trump: Even as he remains the clear frontrunner for the Republican nomination, the cascading indictments are likely to take a toll on his general election prospects.
The survey results suggest Americans are taking the cases seriously — particularly the Justice Department’s 2020 election case — and that most people are skeptical of Trump’s claim to be the victim of a legally baseless witch hunt or an elaborate, multi-jurisdictional effort to “weaponize” law enforcement authorities against him.
Furthermore, public sentiment in certain areas — including how quickly to hold a trial and whether to incarcerate Trump if he’s convicted — is moving against the former president when compared to a previous POLITICO Magazine/Ipsos poll conducted in June….
Nearly one-third of respondents (32 percent) said that a conviction in the case would make them less likely to support Trump, including about one-third of independents (34 percent).
Via National Review’s Mark Antonio Wright: “The Conventional Wisdom on Trump Is Wrong.”
Is Trump still the alpha-debater who would have destroyed his rivals? Don’t be so sure.
After the debate last night, I watched Tucker Carlson’s sit-down interview with Trump. Trump looked old, tired, and frail. He spoke softly. He rambled and meandered through stories, anecdotes, and nicknames for which — if you weren’t deeply engaged in right-wing cable-news chatter — you’d need a guidebook in order to understand the references.
He didn’t effectively defend his record or prosecute any arguments. He told the same old stories, he had the same old lines — but the humor is gone. He just talked . . . for 45 minutes.
It was a good night for the Republican Party. Mostly because Trump wasn’t there. In fact, it was a revelation: this is what the party might look like when not mangled and manhandled by The Donald. The candidates offered a plausible political product—a good conversation, with substantive differences, about inflation, energy, government spending, foreign policy, abortion, fentanyl. Very little anti-woke talk. Not a word about gender fluidity. The candidates made a strong case—one that might work against Biden—on inflation and energy (more on the latter below). This was a valuable civic exercise. It was also a relief. And I wonder: Will some Republican voters now realize that their party is crippled by the clown show? Are they eager to start talking about this stuff, not him? Nikki Haley got to the heart of the matter, as she so often did during the debate:
“We have to look at the fact that three-quarters of Americans don't want a rematch between Trump and Biden. And we have to face the fact that Trump is the most disliked politician in America. We can't win a general election that way.”
The GOP has mutated from a political party into an angry, unfocused, sometimes violent countercultural movement, whose members signal tribal solidarity by hating whatever they think most of their fellow citizens support. Ukraine? To hell with them! Government agencies? Disband them! Donald Trump? Pardon him!
Ramaswamy gained an advantage last night by leaning into the amoral vacuousness of his positions. The other candidates, however, were all trapped in the same thicket of cowardice that has for years ensnared the entire GOP. In a telling moment, one of the moderators, Bret Baier, asked who would support Trump in the general election if he were convicted of crimes. Four hands shot up almost immediately in response to the question. (So much for the principled conservatism of Haley and Burgum.) DeSantis made the worst call of any of them: He looked around, took stock, and then put his hand up just before Pence, making it 6–2.
It was a bad night for Fox news. Joe Perticone in his Press pass newsletter:
The debate turned out not to be an attempt to reverse course at Fox so much as it was just a routine continuation of the network’s standard operating procedure. Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum moderated by spreading false narratives, enabling demagoguery, and going all in on anecdotal culture-war fodder under the guise of real kitchen-table issues.
To gauge the seriousness of the debate, just look at how it started and ended: The opening question was about the song “Rich Men North of Richmond.” The last question was about aliens and UFOs. And everything in between just showed the blurriness of the supposed line between Fox’s supposed “straight news” talent and its opinion hosts.
Some personal news
I’m about to have a teenager in the house again. Which (leaving politics aside) is pretty much my biggest lifestyle change . . . in decades.
My French grandson, Elliott, arrives tomorrow to live with us and attend school here in Mequon for the fall semester. This morning he picked up his passport at the U.S. embassy in Paris, and he’s on his way.
So, my wife and I are soccer parents again. And we couldn’t be more excited.
1. Ukraine Doesn’t Need Armchair Generals
IN WHAT BEARS ALL THE HALLMARKS of a concerted campaign of planted stories in the press, anonymous Biden administration officials have been talking down the ongoing Ukrainian counteroffensive against Russian occupying forces. The judgments of these unspecified senior officials have been, in some cases, supported on the record by a bevy of non-governmental experts whose own predictions in this war have been, simply put, wrong.
2. The New GOP Immigration Policy: Less Evil, Just as Stupid
Despite the phony numbers bandied about and the boneheaded, immoral plans for invading our neighbor, the immigration talk during this debate lacked the vitriol that characterized the Trump campaign in 2016. Nonetheless Trump is still leading the pack—and the party—though his legal problems and obsession with his loss in 2020 may divert his attention from bashing immigrants this time around.