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Friday Talking Points -- Mugging For The Cameras

[ Posted Friday, August 25th, 2023 – 17:17 UTC ]

We will start this column (as every public speaker is taught to) with a joke. We saw two Republican spectacles this week: the first was watching all the "not-named-Trump" presidential candidates trying to verbally mug each other onstage for two hours, and the second was Donald Trump himself scowling into a jail camera for his first-ever mugshot. You might say it's been a very muggy week all around.

[Pause for audience laughter....]

Seriously, though, the week did have a rather apocalyptic feel, at least from the vantage point of California, which experienced (early in the week) what people began calling a "hurriquake." That's an earthquake happening during a very rare tropical storm hitting the Southern California deserts. "Locusts" began trending on the former Twitter. There was a feel of: "What next?!?" in the air. Sharknadoes didn't seem out of the question, to put it another way (thanks, Ted Cruz!).

What was next, of course, was the real kickoff of the Republican presidential nomination contest. Before we get to what actually happened, we do have one rather critical comment to make: It is now time for some Republican candidates to start exiting the race.

First to go should be the four who didn't make it onto the stage, and whom you may never have heard of: Larry Elder, Will Hurd, Perry Johnson, and Francis Suarez. That last one especially -- Suarez should lead the pack in bowing out. Suarez specifically commented on the issue (previous to not making the stage) and said anyone who doesn't make the debate cut should immediately drop out of the race. Well, Francis? It's time to put your (lack of) money where your mouth is, and set a sterling example for the rest of them to follow.

Of course, these four would struggle to put together all their respective support and come up with -- combined -- even a single percentage point. So it's not even really an issue whether they stay in or not, at least on a purely mathematical level. But it is important to set that example -- for the next tier of candidates to bow out. Somebody's got to get this ball rolling, if anyone is going to have any chance whatsoever of beating Trump.

The next round of GOP candidates to drop out probably won't come until the next debate, in one month's time. But the bar has been raised to get on the second stage, and rather than just charting polls with a single percentage point (the criteria for the first debate), candidates will have to clear the mark of three percent -- which is a lot tougher to do. I fully expect both Doug Burgum and Asa Hutchinson to be left out in the cold next time around, and their exits from the race will be even more profoundly meaningful than the first four no-names (since they are or were both governors, and thus serious candidates).

Right now it is a 13-person race (it's even bigger than that if you include the real no-names who have also filed paperwork). It should be a 9-person race by the next debate, and then a 7-person race after Burgum and Hutchinson throw in the towel. Even that's too big, but it would begin clearing the way for the race to tighten even further. Or perhaps the R.N.C. will help this process along by hiking the requirements for the third debate even higher -- if candidates have to hit a bar of five percent, that could leave Tim Scott out in the cold and a stage with only Trump (if he bothers to show up), DeSantis, Ramaswamy, Pence, Haley, and Christie on it.

Getting the race down to a 6- or even 7-person contest is critical if it is ever going to constrict even further. But all of those seven are solid candidates (at this point) and therefore truly believe they actually have a shot of winning. That is the problem, right there in a nutshell. Because if all of them stay in until, say, Super Tuesday, then the "not-Trump" vote is going to be split six ways, and Trump will waltz to the nomination in exactly the same fashion that he did back in 2016.

Which, at this point, is the most probable outcome.

If all seven of those candidates refuse to pull the plug until it is too late, then the Republican Party is doomed to have Trump as their nominee once again. The only two on that list who currently hold office (and might be concerned about damaging their future political careers) are Scott and DeSantis. The rest basically have nothing to lose by staying in. And that's the problem.

If by Super Tuesday the contest was down to only Trump, the second-place candidate in the polls, and perhaps one or two others, then the second-place guy or gal would actually have a shot at dethroning Trump. But if the race has more than, say, four candidates at that point, then Trump is going to romp and the nomination contest will essentially be over. But it's going to require a whopping amount of selflessness on the part of those who do drop out to make that happen -- and presidential candidates are not generally known for their selflessness.

Having said all that, our own snap-reaction rundown of the debate (which we stayed up to do) meshed pretty well with what the rest of the punditocracy in general had to say about it all. Vivek Ramaswamy was annoying, but boy did he sure get some screen time! Nikki Haley played "the adult in the room" and got some praise for not backing down an inch to Ramaswamy (on foreign policy) or the others (on being realistic on abortion bans). Mike Pence was surprisingly animated and forceful. Chris Christie did his thing. Ron DeSantis was surprisingly subdued, and (the biggest surprise of the night) received almost no incoming flak at all from the others (most of which was directed at Vivek). Doug Burgum gets points for true grit (standing for two hours after tearing his Achilles tendon that very morning), but was otherwise a non-entity. Asa Hutchinson outdid Christie in being anti-Trump, but few will remember that fact next week (Hutchinson easily got the "most boring" prize of the night).

Who "won" the debate depends on your point of view. Surprisingly, the Washington Post surveyed a bunch of Republican voters both before and after the debate, and they said (29 percent of them) that DeSantis won -- a conclusion shared by few in the political pundit realm (Ramaswamy came in second, at 26 percent, and Haley was the only other one in double digits, at 15 percent). If you liked his brash, Trumpian style, Ramaswamy won. If you liked being told the truth, Haley won. If you don't like Trump, Christie probably won (or Hutchinson, for daring to bring up the Fourteenth Amendment). Or you could take a "big picture" view and say that Donald Trump won, because he truly didn't need to be there -- there were so few attacks on him that his sycophants on the stage did an adequate job of defending Trump.

This was pointed out, earlier in the week:

"Everybody's still trying to make a horse race out of horse manure," Rick Wilson, a co-founder of the anti-Trump Lincoln Project, said in a Monday video. "The fact that Donald Trump will not be on that stage just means that this debate means nothing to anyone. It is sound and fury, signifying nothing."

Trump, of course, was not content to have the entire news cycle stolen away from him. So he "counterprogrammed," first with a video interview with Tucker Carlson that was released five minutes before the debate began, and then by turning himself in to the Fulton County Jail the next evening. Notable in his interview was Tucker salivating over the prospect of further political violence (a civil war, or assassination, even!) and Trump giving his usual wink-and-a-nod reaction:

Asked by former Fox News host Tucker Carlson whether the nation is headed toward open conflict, [Donald] Trump responded: "I don't know. I can say this: There's a level of passion that I've never seen. There's a level of hatred that I've never seen. And that's probably a bad combination."

. . .

"Jan. 6 was a very interesting day because they don't report it properly," he told Carlson in the previously recorded interview, which was posted Wednesday night on X, the website formerly known as Twitter. "People in that crowd said it was the most beautiful day they ever experienced. There was love and unity. I have never seen such spirit and such passion and such love. And I've also never seen, simultaneously and from the same people, such hatred at what they've done to our country."

Got that? They all sang Kumbaya and took molly at the Capitol. Or something. It was a real love-fest, in any case. Except for the parts about all the hatred, of course.

This is the Republican presidential field, folks. One man so narcissistic and delusional it still staggers the mind at times, and a whole bunch of other people who somehow want to beat him for the GOP nomination but would still be fine voting for him even if he is a convicted criminal by the election. At the debate, six out of eight of the candidates said they would do so.

That's where the Republican Party is these days. Sad but true.


Friday Talking Points

Volume 720 (8/25/23)

Since it was such an odd week -- and with such a Republican focus to it -- we have decided to forgo both of our weekly awards for Democrats this time around. President Biden visited Maui (where Republicans astonishingly tried to slam him for... you can't make this stuff up... petting a dog), and his campaign team got some good shots in before, during, and after the GOP debate, but there just weren't any standout performances in either the Most Impressive or Most Disappointing categories, so we're just going to leave both awards on the shelf this time around. Sooner or later the August Silly Season will be over and all the congresscritters will scurry back to actually do their damn jobs, and we'll no doubt have plenty of things (positive and negative) to highlight -- but this week was really a two-story week. We just dealt with the first of these, and for the second we were inspired to go on a rant.

So here are our feelings on the fact that the first presidential mugshot in all of American history was released this week.


The mugshot seen 'round the world

So it finally happened. The mugshot seen 'round the world. A former United States president was treated exactly the same as anyone else accused of a serious crime would be treated -- for once, the "two-tiered justice system" (the real one -- the one that is tilted heavily in favor of being rich and being White) didn't come into play. Donald J. Trump was booked into the Fulton County Jail in Atlanta, Georgia, and produced a photo which is going to be worth 10,000,000 words (at the very least).

A lot of those words -- to date, at any rate -- are ones of ridicule. Trump tried for strong and threatening in his facial expression, but it certainly came off to us as more of a petulant toddler who has been denied a cookie. Or maybe The Grinch... after he got his head stuck in a machine making honey-flavored cotton candy? Or maybe, as John Bolton put it: "He could've smiled. He could've looked benign. Instead he looks like a thug." Take your choice, really.

But one thing is almost certain, although few have realized it yet. MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell put the photo into the correct historical perspective, because this is indeed how this photo will be remembered:

"One of the rituals of the second term of presidency is significant number of hours spent posing for your presidential portrait. If you're a one-term president, you usually haven't done that," [Lawrence] O'Donnell said.

"There is Donald Trump's presidential portrait," he continued. "There will be no picture of Donald Trump that lives longer or is seen by more people in the history of the world than that picture, which people will be looking at 300 years from now as the picture of the 45th president of the United States."

He's right. OK, maybe after Trump eventually dies the United States Postal Service will use a more conventional photo for his commemorative stamp (yes, he will get one -- even Nixon did, after all), but in all other references to Trump (such as the obituaries which will predate his stamp) his mugshot is going to feature quite prominently. Maybe the artist who does wind up painting Trump's portrait should depict him in prison orange? But it won't matter -- O'Donnell is right -- this is the image of Donald Trump that history will not be able to ignore.

Incidentally, Trump showed us all just how delusional he truly is, both while being booked and afterwards. He self-reported a height of 6 feet and 3 inches, and self-reported his weight as 215 pounds. This is rather extraordinary since he reported the same numbers only a few weeks back (while being booked for different felony counts) as only 6' 2" and a more-realistic 240 pounds. Either he grew an inch and dropped 25 pounds, or he's just lying once again.

Afterwards, he sent out his first tweet in years with his mugshot and the line: "NEVER SURRENDER!" This is also delusional, since the photo was taken while Trump was surrendering, for the fourth time. But the followers of his personality cult won't be fazed by this inconvenient truth and are already likely snapping up Trump merchandise featuring his glowering look.

The real question in all of this -- not just the Atlanta court case but all four of them -- is whether Trump will be held to account before it is too late or not. Trump is the master of delaying legal proceedings, and he is looking to push all his courtroom problems out until after the 2024 election. That could actually happen -- the judicial system in America does not exactly move with lightning speed. After all, it has taken two and a half years for us to even get to this point. This is not an episode of Law And Order, this is the reality of the court system.

If Trump is tried and convicted of any of the serious felonies he has been accused of, it will not preclude his presidential run. Candidates have indeed run from jail cells before. So the real question here is whether Trump will be convicted before it is too late for the Republican Party to decide on a "Plan B" or not.

Trump will not actually be incarcerated by the time of the election, that's my guess at any rate. Even if convicted, he will appeal all the way up the line and demand to stay out of prison until his appeals all run out. But if such a conviction happens, when it happens is going to be monstrously important.

Ideally, all Republican primary voters should all get to vote knowing whether Trump is a convicted felon rather than just an accused felon. But this is likely going to be impossible. The early-voting states vote so early that it is seriously doubtful whether any of the cases against Trump will be completed before they do. A lot will depend on the judges setting trial dates (which will happen over the next few weeks). If one judge decides to go early, it could be enough. But if all the trials are delayed until after next February then a large portion of the GOP electorate is going to be voting on a candidate who might (or might not) be convicted before the convention rolls around.

If no trial is complete by Super Tuesday, then Trump may very well win the nomination (or have it all but sewn up) by the time any verdict is handed down. Republicans have a very "winner-takes-all" system of awarding delegates, so their nominee is locked in a lot earlier than in a Democratic primary race.

What would happen at that point? "Chaos" is the only answer I can come up with. If the voters have chosen Trump but he may be in jail, this is going to be a serious headache for the Republican Party at large. Some will (quite sanely) push for the party to stage some sort of revolt on the floor of their convention, to prevent a felon from being the party's nominee.

Let's all just imagine that scenario, shall we?

Trump has the majority of delegates, but in the fabled "smoke-filled back rooms," the party puts together some scheme to deny him the nomination. This move could either succeed or not succeed. Either way would still guarantee chaos. If it didn't work and Trump was nominated anyway, then there would be a seething white-hot rage coming from all the voters who supported Trump. There would be a purge of the official ranks of the Republican Party, and Trump's takeover would be absolute.

On the other hand, if the move did succeed, that white-hot rage would absolutely volcanic in nature. Trump would finally have a real "rigged" and "stolen" election to rant and rave about. There would be a civil war within the Republican Party. Trump might form his own "MAGA Party. Joe Biden would coast to re-election."

After all, who else are the Republicans going to nominate, in that scenario? One of the mini-Trumps (say, DeSantis or Ramaswamy)? They would be savaged by the MAGA core and destroy their own political futures by accepting such a nomination. One of the anti-Trumps (Christie, perhaps)? That would be equally insulting to the MAGA core, if not more so. Some sort of establishment-acceptable "consensus candidate" (Pence, maybe)? I would bet my bottom dollar that's not going to lead to any sort of consensus in the GOP ranks.

It just looks like every option is a bad one for the Republican Party. They will all lead to chaos of one flavor or another, down in the ranks of the GOP voters.

Of course, the Republican Party has only itself to blame for all of this. They could have convicted Trump in his second impeachment, which would have barred him from seeking office for the rest of his life. They didn't. So it's hard to feel sorry for them in any way.

Now they are stuck with Trump whether any of them like it or not. Trump is where he is right now -- facing 91 felony counts against him -- because of his own actions. He is trying to gaslight everyone into "it's all free speech," or "it was a perfect phone call," or "it's a witch hunt," or whatever other weak excuses he may try, but the reality is he has dug his own grave. Donald Trump -- while president -- launched an attack on American democracy.

Trump's ultimate fate will be fought over in two arenas: the court system and the court of public opinion (or "the world of politics," which is in this case interchangeable). Juries of 12 of his peers will decide his legal fate (and then the higher courts, all the way up to the Supreme Court, will ultimately determine his fate). But the jury of those who will determine his political fate is a lot larger -- it contains every single American voter.

If Trump is convicted of the RICO charge in the case which just produced the first ex-presidential mugshot in history, we will all be able to correctly call him a "convicted mobster," or a "convicted racketeer." No matter what happens in the 2024 election cycle, that will follow Donald Trump around forever. And as Lawrence O'Donnell accurately prophesied, there will be one image that encapsulates this, and one image alone:

The Grinch, after having an industrial accident with a cotton-candy machine. That's Donald Trump's legacy, from this point forward.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant

Cross-posted at: Democratic Underground


26 Comments on “Friday Talking Points -- Mugging For The Cameras”

  1. [1] 
    andygaus wrote:

    Once again, I think Beau of the Fifth Column got it right: the winner of the Republican debate was Joe Biden.

  2. [2] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    I hope you're right, andygaus.

  3. [3] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    Curiouser and curiouser...

  4. [4] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    And as Lawrence O'Donnell accurately prophesied, there will be one image that encapsulates this, and one image alone:
    The Grinch, after having an industrial accident with a cotton-candy machine. That's Donald Trump's legacy, from this point forward.

    And, he will LOVE it! So, what was it all for? America's obsession over him will have only hastened its decline.

  5. [5] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    my nomination for most impressive, while not a democrat (and not even american for that matter) is jenni hermoso. she and 80 spanish soccer players went on strike until the head of their federation is removed, for some very public trumpy behavior.

  6. [6] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    It is nice to see the women fighting back - in this sport and elsewhere.

  7. [7] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Caddy, will you be around later this evening?

  8. [8] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    Naw, tonight is unlikely.

    But I figure, all I have to do to secure Elizabeth Miller’s forgiveness is to pledge my heart, mind and soul to the next weekend that she decides not to callously back out of for your own selfish reasons. Fine.

  9. [9] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    …for HER selfish reasons.

  10. [10] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Right. Well, be that way. I will be here tonight ... alone again, naturally. It'll be an evening with Neil Young with a focus on his Prairie Wind album.

    Selfish reasons? That hurt.

  11. [11] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    talk amongst yourselves. i'll give you a topic: baby yoda is neither a baby nor yoda. discuss.

  12. [12] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Welcome, everyone, to another CW Sunday Night Music Festival and Dance Party, dedicated to my friend, Caddy.

    We're focusing on the music of Neil Young this evening. Homegrown was an album that was ready for release back in 1975. It was a painfully personal album that came about in the aftermath of the end of his rocky relationship with actress Carrie Snodgress and mother of his first child, Zeke. Neil thought he'd never release the album. Most of the songs never were released, until he decided that its time had come in 2020. It was worth the wait.


    Separate Ways


    We Don't Smoke It No More

  13. [13] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Neil began writing songs for his Prairie Wind album after he had been diagnosed with a potentially fatal brain aneurysm. He began recording the album before his surgery was scheduled and completed it afterward. Thankfully, all went well.

    Prairie Wind was released in 2005 and the songs reflect a brush with death - Neil's own mortality and his father's actual death. As his wife, Pegi, said,"it was like his life flashing before his eyes and just remembering all these things and wanting to say all these things because we didn't know what would happen."

    He premiered the album in concert in Nashville at the Grand ole Opry in the Ryman Auditorium and, together with director Jonathon Demme, recorded it for the concert film, Neil Young: Heart of Gold. Which any Neil Young fan should have close at hand!

    Here's the title track from that concert film ...

    Prairie Wind

  14. [14] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    More from the Prairie Wind album ...

    It's Only a Dream (from the concert film)

    The Painter

  15. [15] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    When introducing this song in the concert film, Neil says that he has a beautiful young girl who just turned 21 and will be going back for her last year of college soon. Then he said she'd be embarrassed if he said anything more about her. He said he used to write songs like this about girls his own age - and then looked around at his then wife, Pegi, and everyone laughed. She said, "you still have a few left in you." :)

    Here For You

  16. [16] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    From Prairie Wind and the concert film...

    Neil introduced this one by saying that one of his favourite guitars in the world is Willie Nelson's guitar because the way it looks. Then he said, "this guitar friend (and band member) Grant Boatwright found this guitar for me about 30 years ago and I bought it from Tut Taylor...this is Hank's old guitar! He was here in 1951 and that was Hank's last show here...I think it was...I know he got fired but maybe he came back one more time but I don't think so ... so, I'm happy to see it back here ... anyway, here's a tune for ya ..." ... and then he saluted Hank to the applause of the audience ...

    This Old Guitar (w. EmmyLou Harris)

  17. [17] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    The concert film also included some of Neil's greatest hits and favourite songs, like this one ...

    He introduced this one by saying that as a kid he would spend all of his money playing this tune on a jukebox over and over again because it was the most beautiful song he had ever heard. It's a song written by Ian Tyson, a Canadian living on his ranch in Alberta at the time but just recently past away.

    "I don't have the record with me here but I'm gonna sing it with my friends and we'll see what we can do ..."

    Four Strong Winds

    Here is the singer/songwriter, himself...

    Four Strong Winds - Ian and Sylvia Tyson

  18. [18] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    My favourite Neil Young song is also part of this beautiful concert film.

    Neil introduced it by saying that about the time he wrote Heart of Gold and was touring and being a rich hippie for the first time, he bought a ranch (in California, I believe) and he still lives there today (August 2006 - he probably still lives there). Anyway, he talked about the couple that worked and lived on the ranch, they were the caretakers, by the name of Luis and Clara Avala. There was an old blue jeep there and Luis took him for a ride to the topside of the place where there was a lake that fed all of the pastures and Luis asked him, "How does a young man like yourself have enough money to buy a place like this?" Neil said, "I'm just lucky, Luis, just real lucky." Luis replied, "Well, that's the darnedest thing I ever heard." :-)

    Neil wrote this song for him...

    Old Man

  19. [19] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:
  20. [20] 
    nypoet22 wrote:
  21. [21] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Another clip from the concert film and a tune off the Prairie Wind album ...

    Feel Like I'm Fallin' Off the Face of the Earth

  22. [22] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    I tried to find the concert film footage of this one because it is the best audio and video you will ever hear of this song but here is the album version ...

    When God Made Me

  23. [23] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    [8] - [12]

    Awwww, I was just kidding ya, Elizabeth. My bad! Serves me right that you preceded with a Neil Young Sunday Tribute evening.

    Ah well, I just need to show up next Sunday and maybe I can make things right.

  24. [24] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    And thanks, Elizabeth, for going through the hassle of posting your song titles. That means that I have the rest of this week (plus!) to listen to some of your considered selections.

    “Considered selections” means that you’ve plowed through the chaff and got to YOUR curation.

  25. [25] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    And YOUR curation “adds value” to what you do down here in Weigantia.

  26. [26] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Hey, Caddy! Would Saturday nights be a better option? I'm thinking, yes it would! Or, maybe not ... ???

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