On October 18, 2015, I awoke alone in a New Orleans Airbnb, exceedingly hung over, with dread in my stomach. I rolled over, picked up my phone, and looked at the email that had been awaiting me for about 18 hours. At the time I was Jeb Bush’s communications director and had taken two days off the campaign trail to quarterback my younger brother’s bachelor party. LSU had beaten Florida the night before thanks to a dramatic fake field goal. Based on the itinerary I devised we took a party bus back to New Orleans after the game but the memories of that are sketchy.
The email that was awaiting me was the result of our latest internal poll. I knew it was ugly, but didn’t know just how ugly. I had made one request of the pollster. Include an open-ended question: “What do you like least about Jeb Bush?” After quickly scanning the topline results—I don’t recall what it was besides bad—I scrolled immediately to the results of that question. What I found was devastating, if predictable. Over 80 percent of the voters said the thing they liked least about my candidate was his last name or his demeanor. And well, there’s not a whole lot you can do about either of those. The voters wanted an outsider and an asshole, two things that Jeb was never gonna be no matter what his political consultants came up with. It confirmed for me that we were in deep, deep trouble and the path to winning over the voters we needed was either murky or nonexistent.
Earlier this week, I got another email regarding a poll, this time commissioned by Republican Voters Against Trump, a group for which I am the political director. We asked about 350 undecided voters a similar open-ended question to see what was preventing them from voting for Donald Trump. The result?
Two-thirds of those who had an answer to that question said he’s a racist/arrogant/unintelligent jerk who “doesn’t represent the country well,” “lies,” and is “unfit to do the job.”
Some verbatims, just for your enjoyment’s sake:
“He is a horrible human being”
“He is incredibly rude”
“Terrible representative for our country”
“He’s sexist and racist”
“He’s an idiot”
Remember these are the undecided voters.
This news isn’t as dire for Trump as it was for Jeb—Trump is starting from a much higher floor given that this is a general election, not a primary, and he has a committed base of support. But there are parallels in the sense that those whom Trump is trying to win over have largely rendered a verdict on him based on inherent traits that he can’t change.
He might’ve had a chance to convince some of these voters that he wasn’t a racist five months ago, for example, when the George Floyd protests started. But that ship sailed. As for the rest of this stuff, there never was a path to fixing his inherent assholishness, nor his compulsive lying.
Had the poll said these undecideds were upset that he “wasn’t focused on the economic recovery aspect of the pandemic” for example, maybe his COVID-infected campaign manager could dial up some ads about kitchen-table economics or he could twist Mitch’s arm on the stimulus. But that isn’t Trump’s problem with these voters. His problem is that they don’t like him.
In 2016, Trump won, with an assist from Anthony Weiner and Jim Comey, on the back of a surge among these very voters—last-minute deciders who didn’t like either candidate all that much. If he is going to recreate that magic this time, our poll indicates that he’s going to have to do it by disqualifying Biden. And he took one such opportunity off the table by throwing a tantrum and ducking the next debate. . .
On Death Cults
My expectations for the Trump administration were set at the depths of the Dead Sea, so while many of the outrages of the past four years have been shocking, the overall outcome hasn’t been in any way surprising.
But I have to say if you told me in December 2016 that in the waning months of the first term, 210,000 people would be dead from a contagious virus and that President Trump would pretend it wasn’t happening, contract the virus himself, personally transmit it to thousands of others while he covered up his sickness, and that while he was still possibly contagious thousands of people would pack into the White House lawn while he held a tinpot-dictator-style balcony rally on breaks from his in-home care . . . that would have turned my head a bit. And yet that event, which the Dispatch’s Jonah Goldberg posited was the “most political speech ever delivered from a White House by a president,” didn’t turn my head as much as what was happening on the undercard.
Vice President Pence held an event at The Villages in Florida yesterday, the site of the infamous golf cart “White Power” video that the president tweeted earlier this year. (I’m just now imagining my grandchildren reading these last two paragraphs.)
I wish the English language could do justice to what happened at the Pence event but I’m afraid it isn’t up to the task. Please just check out this thread of videos.
What we have here is 3,000 high risk seniors packing into a tight space to see the vice president TEN DAYS AFTER the president held a super spreader event at the White House and on the same day that Chris Christie checked out of a week long hospital stay after attending a similar event. The president’s spokes people bragged about the high number of attendees.
Do these people realize that this is becoming a death cult? Did it not faze the staffers when their colleagues became vectors for this virus just last week?
Are the attendees risking contracting COVID of sound mind? Have they convinced themselves it’s not real? Or do they think that listening to Mike Pence do a community theater Ronald Reagan impersonation is just worth the risk?
I mean if it were Paul McCartney coming to town maybe I’d get it. But Mike Pence?
It’s hard to wrap one’s mind around. So send the best source material you have on the mindset of death cults so that I can marinate on this some more. I don’t feel like my Waco and Jim Jones deep dives or getting caught up on The Vow are sufficient for our death cult moment.
So I come to you with a two-pronged confession, dear Bulwark+ members. Yesterday I was texted a nonsense tweet by Kirstie Alley about socialism and Trump and blah blah blah. Impulsively, as a brat, I replied to tell her that Shelley Long was better in Cheers. As a result, thousands of Kirstie Allies (h/t to my husband for the groupie coinage) invaded my mentions to call me all kinds of names.
Confession 1: My tweet was douchey. Twitter is toxic enough as it is, I shouldn’t be unnecessarily mean, even to Trumpers.
Confession 2: The tweet was a lie. And in my newfound second-act as a journalist I endeavor to deliver nothing short of total honesty. So here is the painful truth:
While Shelley is an icon and my appreciation for her has grown as I have aged, as a young man watching Cheers reruns, I actually hated the old Shelley and Coach episodes and would turn them off. I was a Kirstie and Woody man.
In fact, I may have been one of the og Kirstie Allies. Because not only did I love her in Cheers, but she is absolutely brilliant as the villain (appropriately) Gladys Leeman in the best cult comedy of the ’90s: Drop Dead Gorgeous. For the uninitiated, DDG is a mockumentary about the Mount Rose Minnesota beauty pageant—brought to you by Sarah Rose Cosmetics. If you have not seen it, please, please treat yourself, streaming on Hulu. It will bring you some joy during these troubled times.
As for MAGA Kirstie’s political content, as we look ahead to November I would just reference what Gladys Leeman wrote to her daughter Rebecca Ann Leeman in a birthday card.
“Jesus Loves Winners.” That's why, no matter what I do, I aim to win.
Til next week. . .