Where Is the Trump Panic?
The right-wing elites who promised to save America in 2017 are MIA. Plus: The Tao of Coach Prime.
Hi, y’all—Tim here, sitting in for JVL. It was heartwarming to meet so many of you in Austin over the weekend, we have cultivated such a thoughtful, kind, interesting community.
So let’s roll it back in New Orleans next month. October 25th. French Quarter. Purple Drink. Mark your calendars. Ticketing info to come soon. Bulwark+ members will get the first crack at tickets. On to the newsletter . . .
1. Where Is the Trump Panic?
For weeks now everyone except Nate Silver has been inundated with columns from (and news stories featuring) Democrats who are concerned about how Joe Biden will hold up in a general election, given his age.
James Carville and Bill Kristol are alarmed. David Ignatius wants Biden to step aside. Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.) is thinking about challenging the president himself, if nobody else will step up. The Washington Post editorial page is basically a Socratic seminar on this topic. Former Crooked Media editor Brian Beutler launched a new media venture with a New York Times column yesterday pegged to the problems with being silent in the face of the risks of Biden’s old age. Others have raised the idiotic quadrennial idea that maybe the incumbent’s flaws would be papered over if he’d just replace his vice president.
And yes even The Bulwark Podcast has been known to raise this concern . . . we hear that you might have noticed.
While I don’t agree with every statement in every panicked plea about the Biden re-elect, I’m sympathetic to the motives of those issuing these warnings. Here’s why.
The recent run on Biden age stories is predicated on two fundamental realities:
(1) Panicking members of the pro-democracy coalition are freaked the fuck out about the end of the American experiment if the other guy wins. (2) This very moment is the last possible chance to switch horses before it will become absolutely necessary to circle the wagons around Ye Olde Secretariat no matter how frail he seems.
Some Biden supporters are frustrated with this increasingly public agita and they often state that this frustration is premised on the fact that the media doesn’t mention Trump’s advanced age with the same urgency or concern as Biden’s. I don’t know if that stated critique gets at the heart of the frustration, though. Yes, Trump is also old, and sure, it would be nice for The Media to mention that from time to time. But the real exasperation simmering underneath goes something like this:
SURE BIDEN IS OLD BUT THE OTHER CANDIDATE IS A FELONIOUS MANIAC WHO ATTEMPTED A COUP AND HAS SAID HE WANTS TO END THE CONSTITUTION AND ASSASSINATE HIS POLITICAL ENEMIES. WHY AREN’T MORE PEOPLE—REPUBLICANS, THE MEDIA, MY FATHER, ANYONE!!!!—PANICKING ABOUT THAT INSTEAD?!
That is the issue flummoxing me of late.
The timeline for Trump is the same as it is for Biden. Now would be the time for a full-court press to prevent him from being nominated and yet . . . only Jack Smith seems to be making progress in that regard.
Look at this screengrab from yesterday’s Drudge Report which offers a little taste of the American Carnage that Trump has planned.
Those headlines read like they are from a dystopian, authoritarian fantasy world, not the American democratic republic we grew up in. Shutting down media outlets. Killing disfavored generals.
Any human of any ideological stripe who is capable of looking at that news rundown with the slightest discernment must concur that Trump needs to be stopped. Which is why it’s the absence of Trump panic in GOP discourse that is the outlier, not the reasonable ongoing discussion about the best course for President Biden coming from the left.
Despite Trump’s disastrous track record and his scary stated plans, it is inarguable that the institutions/politicians/commentators in America’s center-right are more sanguine about a Trump nomination now than they were at this same time in 2016. There’s no Against Trump magazine cover coming. No “Based” Senators plotting convention coups. No new Stop Trump PACs on the horizon. There’s no Shep Smith or Chris Wallace on Fox trying to inject some truth into the madness.
It is impossible to envision a David Ignatius of the MAGA movement, whoever that may be, penning a column calling on Trump to step aside. Hell, just yesterday on Fox there was a former GOP congressional candidate who called on Ron DeSantis to step aside so the party can unite behind Trump.
The only movement against Trump that I can detect on the right is Chris Christie and a tiny number of lower-level former White House staffers who have seen the light. Even Trump’s leading primary opponents barely attack him!
This leaves the same old Never Trumpers, not exactly credible messengers with the MAGA base, out here screaming our heads off while everyone else just acts like this is business as usual.
2. Take Me Back
To really drive home how insane it is that there is no Trump #resistance from the right and the corporate establishment, I’d like to hop back into the DeLorean for a little visit to 2017.
Imagine touring Washington, D.C. and Dallas and New York to visit the high command of the GOP, new and old: George W. Bush, Condi, the Cheney family, the Committee to Save America, Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, Lindsey Graham, Mike Lee, Kevin McCarthy, Reince Priebus, the Murdochs, Hannity, etc., etc.
Now, show them this picture:
Tell them that this is our future. That it was Trump’s fault (obviously). That we will narrowly escape constitutional catastrophe.
And then tell them that three years after this front page was published, Donald Trump will be running for president again and every damn one of them except for Liz Cheney will be doing nothing about it. Absolutely nothing.
I can’t imagine they would believe me. To a person they all would assume that if it got that bad—all the way to an actual attack on our Capitol—that they would recognize that enough is enough.
But there are no signs of anything like that happening. Forget backing Joe Biden, none of these people is doing anything meaningful to oppose Trump in the primary. They are all just accepting as reality that he will be their party’s nominee.
Last week, Nicolle Wallace talked about the blinking red lights signaling danger for our democracy. I’d take it a step further. It’s a damn siren out there. It’s blaring right now for anyone willing to listen. Trump being the nominee and our country relying on Joe Biden avoiding a health event to survive is an emergency, not a fucking drill.
I have come to terms with the fact that the souls of those who lead the conservative movement rotted long ago. But that doesn’t make their continued inaction in the face of this imminent threat any less appalling.
3. The Tao of Prime
I got into a little internet tiff with my old friend Clay Travis this weekend. I’ve been trying to wean myself off of these empty-calorie dunkfests but sometimes I can’t help myself. You can see the carnage for yourself if you’d like, but the crux of the dispute was about how MAGAworld has warped the idea of leadership and manhood.
It used to be that someone would demonstrate that he had “grown into a man” by taking responsibility for his actions or his family. By living out the Stoic virtues. But this old-timey wisdom is no longer in vogue on the right. Instead, young men are told that the way to become an “alpha chad” is to be cruel and callous, like their make-up-caked hero.
This inversion—and a dollop of racism—explains why some in MAGAworld have bristled at the emergence of Coach Prime (Deion Sanders).
For those of you who may have only observed Sanders from the media circus and are not invested in this silly manifestation of our forever culture war, it might appear as if he comes up a little short on this “stoic virtues” score as well. The man does not scream “temperance.”
But Prime has demonstrated that he’s more than the flashy exterior. Beneath the glitz and the glamor and braggadocio is a coach—a leader—who is acting with integrity, molding college kids into real men, and doing so by instilling the deep sense of confidence that emanates only from within.
When the Buffs lost their first game of the season on Saturday—a humiliating thrashing at the hands of Oregon—the haters might’ve thought it would be the moment when the shine would start to wear off of Prime. When he’d show his Trumpian inner self and pout or pile on the excuses.
But in fact it was the opposite.
The Oregon coach, like those before him, had ridiculed Sanders and the Buffs with fiery viral speeches. But as the clock ticked to zero Sanders didn’t bristle or moan. He walked across, shook the victor's hand, and went straight to the press table. “That was a good old-fashioned butt-kicking, no excuses, no nothing,” he began. When his staffer tried to cut the press conference short, he rejected them and stayed to take a few more.
In another world this behavior would not be remarkable, but in America in 2023, accepting defeat and taking one’s lumps without excuses is apparently a unique leadership trait.
Prime offered the more poignant life lessons in victory not defeat.
Last week the Buffs went into an in-state rivalry game with the Colorado State Rams as overwhelming favorites. Rams coach Jay Norvell had made news in the lead-up by insulting Sanders, who is known to wear sunglasses during press conferences, saying that his mother taught him better than that. (Once again I must remind you that the clothes a person chooses to wear says nothing about their character.)
During the game the Rams squad was physical in ways that at times felt over the line and they racked up almost 200 yards in penalties. The prison-yard tone for the game was set early when Colorado State safety Henry Blackburn delivered a dirty, late hit on Colorado’s (and maybe America’s) best player, Travis Hunter, leaving the young man writhing in pain on the turf. After the hit Blackburn did not act as someone might if they had made an honest mistake and mistimed the tackle. Instead he looked down at the clearly injured Heisman contender, taunting him.
Coach Sanders would’ve been well within his rights in the post-game to lace into Blackburn as well as the losing head coach who had both insulted his mother and enabled such unsportsmanlike conduct.
Instead he did this:
There was no “knock the crap out of em,” no bitterness, no impugning his character.
In one answer Deion manages to put the whole incident in perspective, build up the honor of the opposing player, and demand that both the fans and young men he has influence over be their best selves. It was clear that nothing less would be tolerated.
In a separate interview after the game Sanders was asked about one of his other receivers, Jimmy Horn. Horn was struggling early in the game when he dropped a key pass. With Hunter out the Buffs needed someone else to step up. Deion grabbed Horn on the sidelines. Told him he loved him. Told him that he’s a dog. That he was going to shake it off and do his incarcerated father proud.
That’s a leader.
You see, swagger for swagger’s sake is vapid and empty. Bragging that you have the biggest crowds or the best words is hollow and reveals an inner weakness.
What Sanders is modeling for his players and the scores of young fans who have jumped on the Prime bandwagon is that real swagger and self-confidence comes from within. From respecting yourself and others. From having pride and committing to a cause greater than yourself, be it your team, your community, or your God. It’s exactly the kind of message young men need to be getting more of right now.
Geaux Buffs. Godspeed Coach Prime.