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GOP Shots Fired (Sort of)
The Media Trial of the Century... Postponed?
We wake up this morning to news that the Fox News/Dominion trial has been delayed until tomorrow, amid rumors that the network may be making a last minute attempt to settle the $1.6 billion defamation case.
Helpfully, the former president offered the media giant some free advice in a 2:39 a.m. Truth Bleat:
Happy Monday to you too!
ICYMI: I spoke with Puck’s Dylan Byers on our weekend podcast about the trial … and whether or not Fox would try to settle.
We also discussed why it could be the Media Trial of the Century:
ME: This is what makes this trial so fascinating because it involves, all of those issues. Historians of the future who wanted to capture everything that’s going on, could focus on this trial. This trial will capture our era in the way, say, the Scopes Monkey Trial captured so many issues a century ago.
I’m trying to think of major trials that really embodied an era and the splits in society and culture, and it’s going to be extraordinary.
Dylan Byers: You’re absolutely right, and you’re hitting upon the key point here, which is going back to why is this the trial of this century. It’s actually not just about libel law. It’s about American political culture, what it has become how much the media has played a role, and particularly Fox News has played a role in what it has become.
And, not to overstate it, but I think generally whether or not we as Americans have a shared narrative anymore. Or whether we are just living in two completely alternate realities and never the twain shall meet…
About those GOP shots
Let’s start with some stipulations: the criticisms of Trump from his fellow GOPers fall way short since they continue to skirt the main issue: his fundamental unfitness to hold any position of public trust ever again.
And, given Trump’s lead in the polls and the well-documented proclivities of the MAGA base, they are also probably ineffective. All points granted.
But it is still worth noting that Ron DeSantis has finally realized that he needs to punch back.
For those of you who missed it, Trump’s Super PAC launched the DeSantis “pudding fingers” attack ad last week. (It’s actually kind of funny.)
“Ron DeSantis loves sticking his fingers where they don’t belong. And we’re not just talking about pudding,” the ad reads over unsettling footage of a faceless man eating chocolate pudding with his fingers.
“DeSantis has his dirty fingers all over senior entitlements, like cutting Medicare, slashing Social Security, and even raising our retirement age.”
“Tell Ron DeSantis to keep his pudding fingers off our money,” the ad finishes, “Oh, and get this man a spoon!”
Now, Axios reports, DeSantis’s Super PAC is launching its own attack ad: “What happened to Donald Trump?"
“Donald Trump is being attacked by a Democrat prosecutor in New York. So why is he spending millions attacking the Republican governor of Florida? Trump’s stealing pages from the Biden-Pelosi playbook, repeating lies about Social Security."
"Trump should fight Democrats, not lie about Governor DeSantis," the ad says. "What happened to Donald Trump?"
This is actually, the second shot at Trump from the Super Pac:
Never Back Down got publicity this weekend with a small online buy for “Gun-Grabbing Trump," which was geotargeted to Indianapolis for the NRA convention.
The ad juxtaposes Trump's comments about the Second Amendment with clips of Democrats: "TRUMP AGREED WITH NANCY PELOSI," etc.
So… it’s on?
The new aggressiveness reflects the growing concern in Team Desantis that the Florida’s governor’s passive approach hasn’t been working. Puck’s Tara Palmeri had a deep-dive into the internal divide over whether and when to hit back at Trump.
It’s only been a few weeks since Jeff Roe and his band of fellow Ted Cruz alumni parachuted into Tallahassee to help reverse Ron DeSantis’s wilting political fortunes, and yet they’ve already picked at an uncomfortable wound in the governor’s tight, sensitive, and less experienced inner circle. Roe’s more seasoned crew, for one, has a far less sanguine view of DeSantis’s current Trump self-defense strategy. They believe that DeSantis can’t just shrug off the former president’s public attacks on him, which coalesce around the notion that he’s an establishment stooge. Trump’s invective may be juvenile but it’s clearly moving the needle on his polling and allowing the former president to craft DeSantis’s public image.
The longer DeSantis sits on the sidelines, declining opportunities to hit back, the further he falls behind. And if the candidate-in-waiting really wants to hold out his announcement until July 4th, then he’ll need a flotilla of made-for-TV surrogates flooding the green rooms now—especially since the ground has shifted in the wake of the Trump indictment. “DeSantis is so obsessed with Twitter. That doesn’t matter,” said a former Trump aide. “They don’t have a comms operation, they don’t have a genuine surrogate operation.”
As Benjy Sarlin notes: “Everyone knows the actual R case for DeSantis — “I am not an unstable incompetent who spends all day whining about the last election I obviously botched and how my entire handpicked cabinet and VP are losers who betrayed me.” If you can’t say it aloud, though, why run?”
Over the weekend, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp also urged Republicans “to move on from the 2020 presidential election, offering a thinly veiled dig at former President Donald Trump and his continued election grievances.”
Without naming Trump, Kemp said at a private Republican National Committee donor retreat in Nashville that “not a single swing voter in a single swing state will vote for our nominee if they choose to talk about the 2020 election being stolen.”
“To voters trying to pay their rent … make their car payment … or put their kids through college … 2020 is ancient history,”
Nikki Haley is also referring to what she calls Trump’s “baggage.”
“We have to move forward. We can't deal with the drama that's following him. We can't deal with the baggage,” she explained. “We've got a country to save.”
The former veep is also drawing contrasts with his old boss: "Mike Pence Shoots Down Trump’s Criticism of Biden’s Military Aid to Ukraine.”
MacCallum played Pence a clip of Trump slamming President Joe Biden for allegedly giving away the U.S. military to Ukraine.
“We don’t have any ammunition. We’ve given it to Ukraine. We’re not prepared to fight. I rebuilt our military, new planes, new tanks, new everything. They’ve taken the military that I’ve rebuilt and they’ve given it all to Ukraine. I mean, massive amounts,” Trump told a very receptive Carlson.
“Do you agree with that?” MacCallum asked Pence about Trump’s statement.
“I don’t,” Pence replied without hesitation.
“Martha, look, the United States is the leader of the free world. We’re the arsenal of democracy. Ukraine is not our war, but freedom is our fight,”
“I think we’ve got to continue to stand with the courageous military in Ukraine while they reclaim their country and reclaim their sovereignty.
Nota bene: At this weekend’s NRA convention in his home state, Pence was booed; while Trump got an extended standing ovation.
If you want to understand the dilemma all of these candidates face, make sure you read Sarah Longwell’s analysis of the GOP Before Trump and After Trump in today’s Bulwark.
THERE’S A STARK DIFFERENCE between DeSantis and the other potential Republican candidates. Nikki Haley et al. seem to believe that they can win the nomination by returning to the optimistic conservatism of the 2015 Republican party. DeSantis realizes that his only chance to win the nomination is to convince voters that the optimistic, conservative BT-version of himself didn’t exist.
Yet whatever happens from here on out, I suspect that 2023 will be the year that puts to rest the view that the old days will return. By the time this campaign hits New Hampshire, everyone in America—even the conservative think tank donors—will understand that we aren’t living through an interregnum, but rather have passed into a new age.
The DiFi drama roils Dems
The impatience is boiling over.
As Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., remains absent from the Senate due to complications from a shingles diagnosis, her Democratic colleague, Rep. Ro Khanna reiterated his calls on her to resign.
“She hasn’t been showing up, and she has no intention. We don’t know if she is even gonna show up. She has no return date.”
“It’s one thing to take medical leave and come back. It’s another thing when you’re just not doing the job,” Khanna said. “The reality here is there's this sense, ‘Well you need to have a deference to these senators who have served so long.’ How about a deference to the American people?”
In New York Magazine, Jonathan Chait calls Diane Feinstein’s refusal to retire from the senate, “an act of almost sociopathic indifference to the people she’s supposed to be serving.”
For one thing, she has stuck to the office for an unusually long time, even by senatorial standards, to a point where her colleagues and staff openly doubt her cognitive functioning. The San Francisco Chronicle reported a series of alarming anecdotes last year: One California congressional Democrat “had to reintroduce themselves to Feinstein multiple times during an interaction that lasted several hours”; “some close to her said that on her most difficult days, she does not seem to fully recognize even longtime colleagues”; “a month prior, she repeated a question to a witness, word for word, in a hearing with seemingly no awareness of having done so.”
In today’s Bulwark, Jill Lawrence also writes about the growing frustration:
Jon Lovett, a former Obama speechwriter, said on his podcast last week that the people around Feinstein should stop the “farce” of pretending she can do her job. “She has to resign and more people should be calling on her to resign,” he said.
It’s not polite and it’s not fair, but he’s not wrong.
Promising Signs for Free Speech on Campus
I share this not to declare that the battle for free speech on campus is won. Far from it. The Stanford statement was in response to a student disruption. This month, the former N.C.A.A. swimmer Riley Gaines alleged she was assaulted after speaking at San Francisco State University in opposition to transgender women competing in women’s sports. There’s video evidence that Gaines was chased through the halls by angry protesters and that her event was disrupted by chanting, foot-stomping protests.
And disruptions like those we witnessed at Stanford and San Francisco State have occurred alongside hundreds of recent attempts to fire or punish scholars for speech that’s protected by the First Amendment or basic principles of academic freedom.
Sadly, not a parody.
Neither, unfortunately, is this.