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Fri Nov 18, 2022, 07:44 PM

Friday Talking Points -- Trump Slumps

It was another rather momentous week in politics, as the Republicans chalked up enough midterm wins to retake control of the House of Representatives but fell short in the Senate, where Democrats picked up one seat (which is enough to assure them control) with one race still waiting for a runoff election in early December. The GOP will have a razor-thin House majority, which is quite likely to produce nothing but chaos for the next two years. After the results were known, Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced she (and her whole team) would step away from leadership roles and allow a generational shift to happen in the Democratic House caucus. And Donald Trump formally announced his third bid for the presidency, which didn't exactly go over as well as he might have hoped. Plus there will be the first White House wedding in years, and Joe Biden will become the first octogenarian to occupy the Oval Office when he turns 80 years old on Sunday. All in all, a big week.

Let's start with Trump's announcement first, because there has been a notable shift in his media coverage, as well as his relative power within the Republican Party. Here is how the Washington Post covered his speech -- in a news story, not an opinion piece. For once, they provided the proper amount of context:

Donald Trump, the twice-impeached former president who refused to concede defeat and inspired a failed attempt to overturn the 2020 election culminating in a deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol, officially declared on Tuesday night that he is running to retake the White House in 2024.

The announcement at his Florida Mar-a-Lago Club came in a moment of political vulnerability for Trump as voters resoundingly rejected his endorsed candidates in last week's midterm elections. Since then, elected Republicans have been unusually forthright in blaming Trump for the party's underperformance and potential rivals are already openly plotting challenging Trump for the nomination.

. . .

"This comeback starts right now," Trump said Tuesday night at his Mar-a-Lago resort, the site three months ago of an FBI search warrant to recover records he took from the White House, including some that were highly classified. He added later, "In order to make America great and glorious again, I am tonight announcing my candidacy for president of the United States."

. . .

Trump's urgency to announce also comes from wanting to get ahead of a potential indictment in any of the several ongoing criminal investigations into his conduct. He and close associates are under multiple criminal investigations: by the Justice Department for the effort to submit phony electors claiming Trump won key states in the 2020 election and for the mishandling of classified documents recovered from Mar-a-Lago; and by an Atlanta-area prosecutor for pressuring Georgia officials to overturn that state's election results. His company is also in the middle of a trial for criminal tax fraud and the New York attorney general filed a lawsuit that could freeze the company's operations, already winning the appointment of an independent monitor.

A defeated former president running for election again while facing potential criminal indictment is unprecedented in U.S. history. Trump becomes the first former president to run again since Theodore Roosevelt, and the first since Grover Cleveland to do so after losing reelection. He is the only president to be impeached twice, and the only one impeached by a bipartisan vote.

. . .

And he has profoundly altered the tenor of American public life -- shattering long-held standards of decorum and civility with often shocking attacks on political rivals, judges and reporters. He has frequently made racist and antisemitic remarks, mocked people with disabilities and denigrated developing countries, bragged about sexual assault and paid hush money to a porn start, praised dictators, declined to disavow extremists, inspired his supporters to resort to violence and defended white supremacists and Jan. 6 rioters.

As we said, the proper amount of context is key. The New York Times ran their story with the headline: "Trump Announces 2024 Run, Repeating Lies And Exaggerating Record." But it wasn't just the mainstream media, Trump took some incoming fire from members of his own party as well:

"He's doing it from a place of defensiveness, of his own self-opportunity and weakness," New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu (R), fresh from a 16-point win in the first presidential primary state, said in an interview earlier Tuesday outside the Republican Governors Association meeting in Orlando. "So he's announcing he's going to run for president at a low point in his political career. I don't know how that's going to work out, man."

What really must have hurt was how even the rightwing media largely expressed disappointment. The group MeidasTouch helpfully put together a video of all of these moments, for anyone who is interested. Sean Hannity even cut away from Trump's speech halfway through on Fox News, which had to have hurt.

Trump's speech was low-energy and frankly pretty boring to listen to. It was supposed to last 35 minutes, but he ad-libbed so much it wound up lasting over an hour:

Trump aide Jason Miller promised a 35-minute, "very forward-looking" speech. Instead, it was interminable, meandering and, well, low-energy, as Trump kept departing from the teleprompter into gibberish.

He was defensive. He said the "fake news" is "trying to blame me" for the disappointing election showing, but he had an "unprecedented success rate" (!) with his endorsements.

He spoke nonsense: "I've gone decades -- decades -- without a war, the first president to do it that long," he said of his four-year term.

And Republicans think Joe Biden's got declining mental facilities? Sure, OK, Trump's time in office felt like it was decades long (to the rest of us), but that's just a bizarre thing to say.

Trump apparently invited lots of GOP bigwigs down to hear him speak. Virtually none of them showed up:

The party's chairwoman, Ronna McDaniel, was not present. Nor were several of Trump's most reliable congressional allies, such as Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, Matt Gaetz of Florida or Jim Jordan of Ohio, who in some cases blamed their absence on the weather.

Among the few notable Republicans present were Rep. Madison Cawthorn (N.C.), who lost his primary and is leaving office; Michigan GOP co-chair Meshawn Maddock; and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. Instead, the crowd was padded with Trump rally superfans, alt-right influencers, and alumni of various Trump political and business ventures. There were no prominent elected officials.

Even the crowd he did manage wasn't all that into it -- people tried to leave in the middle of his speech but Trump's security barred the doors and wouldn't let them out (you just can't make this stuff up, folks!). Ivanka Trump immediately announced she wasn't going to have anything to do with her daddy's campaign.

The bloom seems to be decidedly off the Trumpian rose, to put it mildly.

Trump's other reason for announcing early was to get the whole party to rally around him and thus cause any other Republican contemplating a run to think twice about it. This didn't really work either -- there hasn't been a notable rallying effect at all. Unless you count the megadonors who are rallying around the idea of never giving another dime to Trump, that is.

Before we move on to other news, Trump's legal situation got noticeably worse this week, as a Republican operative was convicted of funnelling Russian cash to Trump's first election campaign, and the Department of Justice announced the appointment of a special counsel to handle any impending indictments of Trump. It was also revealed that Trump did indeed try to sic the I.R.S. on his political enemies while in office.

Moving on, America will now have to endure a 2-year clown show in the House, under the "leadership" of Kevin McCarthy. McCarthy will have exactly the same problem Nancy Pelosi did -- of having to keep all the wings of the party happy and in line -- but it's a pretty safe bet that he won't be anywhere near as successful at doing so. He hasn't even secured enough votes from his caucus for the official speaker election in January, at this point. In their own private vote, 31 Republicans voted against him. He will be able to afford only perhaps 4 or 5 defections to win the speakership, so he's got a lot of cajoling to do in the meantime.

What we can expect to see -- indeed, the first thing the Republicans in the House announced to the public -- are lots and lots of investigations. Remember Benghazi? Like that, only in multiple directions at once. This is going to prove to the American public that the Republicans' answer to high inflation, high gas prices, the border situation, crime, and any number of other things they ran on will be to delve into Hunter Biden's laptop. That's their plan for governing, apparently.

They (quite obviously) risk going too far, but they don't seem to have a glimmer of understanding on that front (except, just maybe, on whether they'll immediately impeach Biden or anyone else). The more unhinged these "investigations" are, the easier it is going to be for Democrats to win back the chamber in 2024, plain and simple.

Over on the Senate side, Mitch McConnell lost 10 votes (a fifth of his caucus) in his own leadership election. To Senator Rick Scott, who took Trumpian refusal to admit reality to a whole new level with his bid:

Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), who was charged with delivering his party a Senate majority this year, gazed upon his work this cycle and saw evidence of his genius. True, Republicans lost many winnable races and will not take control of the chamber. They may lose in Georgia. Scott's release of an "11 Point Plan to Rescue America" was a public relations disaster that sent Republicans fleeing. Democrats used it as a weapon all the way to Election Day.

And yet, despite all this, Scott decided he was the man to lead Senate Republicans to future glory.

That puzzling notion led Scott, who chaired the National Republican Senatorial Committee this cycle, to mount a challenge to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). Scott announced his leadership bid at a contentious meeting of his colleagues Tuesday. "It was like Festivus from 'Seinfeld,'" Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) said. "The airing of grievances."


While Republicans were in disarray, however, for once Democrats were in perfect array. The generational leadership handoff is going to be one of the smoothest ever. Pelosi and her team of other octogenarians will all step back from leadership and become backbenchers for the next two years, and there will be no squabbles about who will replace them. But we've got more to say on this whole subject down in the awards, so we'll leave it at that for now.

Speaking of disarray in the GOP world, Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake was named the loser of her race but is refusing to concede, issuing promises to "keep fighting," which could possibly mean some court cases (that will be laughed out of the courtroom, of course). In Georgia, where the election isn't over yet, Herschel Walker showed America once again how patently unfit he is to serve in the Senate by going on a riff about vampires and werewolves. No, really!

[Herschel] Walker, the Trump-backed former NFL running back facing Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., in a run-off election on December 6, went off on a lengthy tangent about the film "Freak Night" during a speech in McDonough, Ga.

"I was here watching a stupid movie late at night hoping it's gonna get better, it don't get better but you keep watching anyway. Cause the other night, the other night I was watching this movie -- I was watching this movie called "Fright Night," "Freak Night" or some type of night but it was about vampires," he said. "I don't know if you know but vampires are some cool people, are they not?"

"But let me tell you something that I found out: a werewolf can kill a vampire, did you know that?" he added. "I never knew that. So I don't want to be a vampire anymore, I wanna be a werewolf."

There's more of it, if you can stomach it. One funny line from later in the article: "'There are no werewolves in Tom Holland's 1985 film Fright Night' wrote journalist Adam Ward."

And to close on a feel-good item, America is back on track to return to the moon. The Artemis I rocket carrying three mannequins successfully lifted off from Florida and will travel to lunar orbit before returning. This is the first such mission in 50 years and will serve as a test flight to work out any problems before human astronauts make the voyage. The launch had been delayed more than once and for more than one reason, but after its successful launch is now on its way to circle the moon. For those of us old enough to remember Apollo, this will be very nostalgic, but for anyone of any age it should be a truly inspiring event.

First, some celebratory news. President Joe Biden's granddaughter Naomi King Biden will tie the knot in a White House wedding with her fiancÚ Peter George Heermann. The next day, Biden will celebrate (reportedly in very subdued fashion) his 80th birthday. Congratulations all around!

We have three Honorable Mention awards to hand out this week, two for a bill that advanced and one for his future in the Democratic Party.

A key vote was held this week as the lame-duck Congress kicked off, as the Senate cleared the Respect For Marriage Act by a vote of 62-37. This will codify marriage equality into federal law, hopefully putting the subject beyond the reach of the radical Republican Supreme Court. The two Democratic cosponsors of the bill, who agreed to hold off on the vote until after the midterms were over, were Senators Tammy Baldwin and Kyrsten Sinema. They both deserve credit for getting enough bipartisan support for the bill to advance. Only one more vote remains in the Senate, and it will only require 51 votes, not 60, so it is pretty much a done deal at this point.

And it was announced that Hakeem Jeffries would become the next leader of the House Democrats, which will make him the first Black person to ever lead a national party in Congress and will put him on track (if the Democrats retake control) to become the first Black speaker of the House. Which is pretty historic, you've got to admit.

Of course, Jeffries will be able to move up in the ranks because Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced she will be stepping away from leadership for the next two years. Her floor speech was a moving testament to how historic a leader she has been, and to her own strength of character.

Nancy Pelosi broke all the glass ceilings on her way up to leading the Democrats, first becoming party whip and then in 2003 becoming the first woman to hold the rank of minority leader. In 2007, after the Democrats won back control, she became the first woman speaker in history. When the Republicans took back control in 2011, she did not step down but stayed on to lead her party in the minority again, and was rewarded for her persistence in 2019, when she assumed the speakership for the second time. For the past 20 years, Pelosi has been a political force in Washington.

Pelosi's legacy is secure. Some are even now calling her the most successful speaker in all of American history. We're not entirely sure about that one (it's pretty subjective), especially since we have no idea of what the House was like in its first 150 years or so (due to never having delved into the subject). But in our minds, Pelosi was at the very least the strongest speaker since Tip O'Neill, who was a truly legendary leader.

Losing control of the House made the decision to step down fairly easy -- it would have been a different story, perhaps, if the Democrats had pulled off the miracle of retaining control of the House. In that case, Pelosi might just have stuck around for another two years of leading Democrats, since doing so would be awfully tempting (with a Democratic Senate and president to work with). But since that wasn't the case, it meant the time had come for Nancy to go.

Pelosi showed her steely control of her party in the way she exited, as well. There will be no intraparty squabble about who will take over, because all of Pelosi's team was also convinced to step down at once -- opening up the whole leadership team for a generational change in power. The smoothness of the transition is indeed a testament to Pelosi's skills in keeping her party together in both good times and bad.

As we pointed out when writing about Pelosi's speech yesterday, this may not be the end of the D'Alesandro/Pelosi political dynasty, as at least one of her daughters seems interested in perhaps stepping into the San Francisco House seat when Nancy retires from politics altogether. Whether that takes place or not, Nancy Pelosi will be long remembered in Washington as one of the strongest and most successful speakers the House of Representatives has ever had.

So it is with our own thanks that we hand Pelosi yet another Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award, to add to her collection of them. Nancy Pelosi will certainly be remembered for a very long time to come by us.

[Congratulate Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi on her official contact page, to let her know you appreciate her efforts.]

Let's see... there are a whole lot of Taylor Swift fans who are more than a little disappointed in Ticketmaster, that's for sure. And Twitter seems on the brink of grinding to a halt as well, but neither one of those things is strictly political, we just thought we'd mention them in passing....

There is a lot of disappointment in the New York Democrats who lost four House seats that they really shouldn't have, because this alone might have been enough to hold onto control of the chamber.

But the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week this week goes to President Joe Biden, for the announcement today that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (or "M.B.S." ) has been granted legal immunity within America. Here's the story:

The Biden administration has granted legal immunity to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, a protection that even President Donald Trump's administration didn't offer.

For critics of MBS, as the Saudi leader is known, the immunity decision is a slap in the face. It will likely rouse new protests in Congress and among human rights activists that the Biden administration is accommodating Mohammed for reasons of realpolitik -- and compromising its values in the process.

The decision was triggered by a lawsuit in federal district court in Washington against MBS and some 20 other defendants by the fiancee of Jamal Khashoggi, a Post contributing columnist who was murdered by Saudi operatives in Istanbul on Oct. 2, 2018. The suit alleges that the crown prince and his co-defendants were responsible for the murder.

The action is the latest in a cascade of controversies that followed the murder, which the CIA concluded resulted from an operation authorized by MBS. The Trump administration shielded the Saudi leader, but President Biden initially claimed he would hold him accountable, describing him as a "pariah." But over time, Biden has sadly capitulated to what he viewed as a need to mend relations with the man who might be Saudi Arabia's king for decades.

A State Department official said the decision to grant immunity was a "purely legal decision," triggered by MBS's recent elevation to prime minister. But the State Department and the White House could have intervened on policy grounds to prevent granting the legal exemption, which MBS has sought for more than two years.

U.S. District Judge John Bates, who is hearing the Khashoggi case, asked the Justice Department in July for a ruling on whether MBS should be granted sovereign immunity, as his lawyers requested. On Sept. 27, three days before the deadline for the Justice Department's response, Saudi King Salman declared his son prime minister. That triggered Thursday's decision that MBS was entitled to sovereign immunity as a "head of government." Bates could conceivably reject the State Department filing, but such a rejection of a government option he had requested would be unlikely.

On the face of it, the whole "sovereign immunity" might seem like a hard-and-fast legal status for America to grant to other world leaders. But there's one very big flaw with that reasoning, and his name was Manuel Noriega. We not only tried him in an American court, we actually launched a war to go snatch him away from Panama -- the country he was leader of, at the time. So it's not like there isn't precedent that points the other direction as well.

Biden's decision is even more galling when you consider that the Saudis ignored Biden's plea to pump more oil in the run-up to the midterm election and instead snubbed him by announcing a reduction in production -- perhaps in an effort to influence the election in Republicans' favor. This was a serious insult to Biden, which makes today's announcement all the worse.

Sooner or later America will wean itself from fossil fuel and will thus be able to ignore what dictatorships in the Middle East do, but that day is still far in the future. Until we get there, we have to care about our relationship with Saudi Arabia whether we like it or not. Which leads to things like what Biden just approved. For doing so, even if it was geopolitically necessary, Joe Biden is our Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week.

[Contact President Joe Biden on his White House contact page, to let him know what you think of his actions.]

Volume 686 (11/18/22)

Our talking points are kind of all over the map this week, but at least we've got two rather amusing items to close the list on. Enjoy, and as always use responsibly!

Thank you, Madam Speaker

Democrats are already doing a pretty excellent job of showing Nancy Pelosi with praise this week, so this talking point is largely not even necessary to suggest. But we wanted to get our own thanks in.

"Thank you Nancy Pelosi for herding the Democratic cats better than anyone ever thought was possible. Thank you for holding your caucus together through thick and thin. Thank you for all the historic legislation you shepherded through the House of Representatives. Thank you for your groundbreaking achievements for women everywhere. Thank you for being a Democratic leader we all could look up to. Thank you for the past two decades of your leadership. While we still can use the title, we'd like to say thank you Madam Speaker for all that you have accomplished."

A proven winner

This is a point worth making.

"Democratic politicians usually do better with the voters when they are willing to actually stand up for people, instead of just giving lip service to their concerns right before every election. And this past election showed without a shadow of a doubt that standing up for women's rights is a proven winner. The media missed this, but Democrats on the ground campaigning couldn't ignore it. Women voters were angry at the rights being taken away from them by a radical rightwing Supreme Court. It wasn't some passing issue for them. And Democrats finally, as a whole, stood up strongly for women's rights instead of shying away from the issue (as they have done far too many times in the past). This is the biggest lesson of the 2022 midterms: women's rights are important, and standing strong for them is a proven way to win elections. I hope other Democrats never forget this lesson."

Fight back -- do your jobs!

There's a flip side to this too.

"The way to fight back against the extremists on the Supreme Court is for Congress to write these things into federal law so there is no legal question to even contemplate. The Senate just moved forward this week to pass marriage equality into federal law. Some Republicans voted against this, saying that such a law isn't needed because a previous court decision legalized same-sex marriages. But as we all have seen, that means nothing any more. Precedent and stare decisis are meaningless words to the radicals on the high court. So Congress has to step up and pass basic rights into federal law. Marriage equality should just be the beginning of this effort, too. The right to contraception, voting rights, and the right to an abortion all need to be written into law as well. For now, I was happy to see the first of these efforts succeed in the House. The Respect For Marriage Act should appear on Joe Biden's desk for his signature before Christmas, and we look forward to seeing him sign it into law."

Democracy won

Another thing the media scoffed at, before the election actually happened.

"There's one other big takeaway from the 2022 midterms: democracy won. People who ran on the Big Lie conspiracy theory that the previous election had somehow been 'stolen' lost all across America. Some won minor offices, but the ones running to put themselves in charge of running the elections systems lost their races in virtually all the swing states. They lost governors' races and contests for secretary of state. So in 2024 the public in all of these states can rest assured that their votes won't be ignored and that We The People will determine the winners and losers of our elections. Which is just as it should be. Which is why I say that the biggest 2022 winner was democracy itself."

Trump is a loser and a joke

The two things every bully is most scared of hearing.

"Donald Trump is a proven loser. He lost his re-election bid. He lost the House and Senate while he was president. He lost two elections in a row where Republicans could have gained control of the Senate. And some Republicans and some rightwing media are beginning to wake up from their feverish delusions and say so. In fact, a lot of them are now treating Trump as a joke. His own supporters are trolling him -- at his announcement speech someone put a manila envelope with the words 'Top Secret Nuclear Codes' on one of the tables. His favorite child Ivanka has already refused to have anything to do with his campaign. Donald Trump is a loser and a joke, plain and simple. Which is exactly what Democrats have known all along."

Florida Man

Rupert Murdoch had some fun at Trump's expense.

"The rightwing New York Post didn't seem very impressed with Donald Trump's campaign kickoff, to put it mildly. Right after his speech the tabloid paper noted it with a very tiny headline at the bottom of the front page which read: 'Florida Man Makes Announcement,' showing that even they have realized that Trump is nothing but a joke. Or the butt of someone else's joke, perhaps. To add insult to insult, readers were instructed they could read all about it... on page 26."

They sure do!

And we had to end this week with a real hall of fame moment....

"Kari Lake, after being informed she had lost her election for Arizona's governor, tweeted out what could be the all-time winner in the 'Best Self-Own' category. She tweeted: 'Arizonans know BS when they see it.' Plenty of people agreed with her, but not exactly the way she had intended. Because it's obvious that when Arizonans see Kari Lake, they know exactly what to think of her -- without her even having to point it out."

Chris Weigant blogs at: ChrisWeigant.com
Follow Chris on Twitter: ChrisWeigant
Full archives of FTP columns: FridayTalkingPoints.com

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