Friday Talking Points -- Not The Odds But The Stakes

[ Posted Friday, December 8th, 2023 – 18:45 UTC ]

We return after our extended holiday break to a growing realization in the political world. We had already come to this conclusion a while back, but it seems more and more people are now realizing that, barring any force majeure appearing on the horizon, Donald Trump is going to be the Republican nominee for president next year. His polling tells this story plainly: Trump is up roughly 50 points over his nearest competitor nationally, and although his lead isn't quite as commanding in the early-voting states, it is still pretty daunting (Trump is up roughly 30 points in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina). Voting will begin next month, meaning there just isn't much time left for any of this to change -- and no real reason to think it will.

Ronald Reagan first earned the term, but Donald Trump is the true "Teflon" politician. Nothing sticks to him. Not 91 felony counts, not court cases he has either lost or is going to lose, not any outrageous thing he says or does... it all just slides off him. Reagan achieved this through his charm, while Trump achieved it through starting a political personality cult the likes of which America has not seen since George Washington's day. To his MAGA followers, the Dear Leader is absolutely incapable of doing anything wrong, ever. No evidence to the contrary is ever going to convince them.

There has never been such an odds-on favorite to win the nomination at this point who was not already president. Trump is running as a sort of pseudo-incumbent (since he insists he won the 2020 election to this day), and he has cleared the field of contenders without even much acknowledgement that they even exist. Trump skipped all four official Republican debates, and it didn't hurt him politically in the slightest.

The real odds people are worried about are whether Trump can beat President Joe Biden or not next November. But as Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post reminds us, polling a year before the election is notoriously squishy and should be taken with a grain of salt. She wrote in an extended rant about how people in the political commentary industry she is a part of need to not treat this like an ordinary-horserace presidential contest. Instead of taking the easy route -- defined as minutely watching the polling and writing article after article about very subtle shifts in the percentages -- she challenges them to treat Trump differently. Trump needs to be treated as a threat, not a normal everyday politician. She writes (emphasis in original):

Political reporters are so used to this flawed approach to campaign coverage that many might be stumped if you told them they could not base their reporting on any polling this far out. But what would we say?! As media critic and New York University professor Jay Rosen is fond of saying, they would need to cover "not the odds but the stakes."

In other words, the mainstream media would have to focus (not just for a single story but extended over weeks) on the consequences of electing a candidate echoing Adolf Hitler and vowing to use the military and Justice Department against his enemies. They would have to look not at polling about the economy but the actual economic record of the administration (e.g., inflation flattened, more than 14 million jobs created, record low unemployment for Black people, Hispanics and women). They would need to examine the decisions of Trump-appointed judges and the social uproar it set off, especially among women in the wake of Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization.

In sum, the electorate would be much better served if the punditocracy and political reporting dispensed with horse race and analysis. Our democracy might depend on it.

She's right. Trump is a walking, talking existential crisis in American democracy. And polling this far out is pretty meaningless. Most Americans, as usual, are simply not paying attention to politics. This is the shocking reality that exists outside the bubble political pundits live in, and they forget it far too often. Most people aren't even aware (because they really don't want to believe it, probably) that next year's election is almost certainly going to be a rematch between Trump and Biden. Average Americans just don't really have the bandwidth to deal with politics, especially now when it is so exhausting and frustrating to do so. Most people have no idea what Joe Biden has accomplished, or what Donald Trump is planning for his own possible second term. They're not going to tune into the presidential race for months and months -- if they do at all. That's a reality that is often forgotten inside the Beltway and on cable television.

The races for the two parties' nominations are virtually over before they began. Trump is going to win Super Tuesday and no other Republican candidate is even going to get close enough to land a punch on him. Joe Biden is also going to skate to his party's nomination. That much seems crystal-clear at this point. But the race between the two is still wide open. First, anything can happen in politics and a year is an absolute eternity in the political world. Who would have thought, three months ago, that a war in Israel and Gaza would be one of the biggest news stories around? Unforeseen events are, by definition, unpredictable. Nobody has any clue what the biggest news story of the day is going to be next September or October. It will likely be something unexpected, that's about the only intelligent thing you can say at this point. Just as one example of the unpredictability of the future: where will the American economy be next year, and how will the public feel about it? Again, it's impossible to say. Probably differently than they do today, but who knows whether that will be better or worse?

Some in the media are waking up to this reality, which is a positive development. Over the past few weeks we have seen stories in the most influential newspapers in the country laying out Trump's actual plans for a second term in office, in great detail. In a nutshell, he plans to rule as a king. He will do what he feels like doing, and he doesn't want anyone in the government standing in his way. And "what he feels like doing" is downright frightening. He wants to round up immigrants, put them in internment camps, and deport millions of them. He wants to use the full power of the federal government to go after his perceived enemies. He wants to be a dictator, in other words. And the media are finally beginning to take it seriously, rather than treating it merely as: "Oh, Trump says a lot of crazy stuff -- it's not news, he's always done that." Or, even worse, treating it all as some sort of political comedy.

None of this is going to change the minds of enough Republican voters to matter, though. Even if the media does a good job of continuing to raise the alarm over Trump's intentions, he's still going to become the Republican presidential nominee next year. Who is going to stop him? Nikki Haley? Ron DeSantis? Not likely.

So we are going to take Jay Rosen's advice to heart, over the course of the next year. We will be writing about the horserace numbers (we can't help ourselves), but we will also attempt to give equal weight to the stakes involved. Because this election is going to be a critical one for the future of our country. We will be forgoing our usual enumerated talking points later in this column because we thought the subject of the stakes involved was important enough to let loose a rant of our own.

But before we get to that, we're going to very quickly zip through what else has been happening in politics.

California Governor Gavin Newsom and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis had a debate, for some inexplicable reason.

The Republican Party held its fourth "all the people who want to be president who will get beaten by Donald Trump" debate, for some inexplicable reason.

Doug Burgum ("Who?") dropped out of the GOP nomination race. Nikki Haley is close to overtaking DeSantis for second place in the national polling, but at such a low level that none of it is any challenge to Trump.

In Trump legal news, a judge ruled that Trump does not have some sort of magic immunity for everything he ever did while president, using some pretty scathing language to refute this notion:

Whatever immunities a sitting President may enjoy, the United States has only one Chief Executive at a time, and that position does not confer a lifelong "get-out-of-jail-free" pass... [Donald Trump's] four-year service as Commander in Chief did not bestow on him the divine right of kings to evade the criminal accountability that governs his fellow citizens.

This was a big blow to Team Trump, but they're already appealing it and it may wind up before the Supreme Court sooner or later (sooner, hopefully).

Colorado's supreme court is now considering whether the Fourteenth Amendment should prevent Trump from appearing on the state's primary ballot -- another case that could wind up at the U.S. Supreme Court before the election.

The chickens are coming home to roost for many of the "fake electors" from the 2020 presidential election. In Wisconsin, they just settled a civil case brought by the real electors by admitting they were lying about being the state's electors and promising never to be an elector in any future election where Donald Trump is on the ballot. Meanwhile, the fake electors in both Nevada and Arizona have been indicted and will be tried for their actions.

Just today, the restraining order against Trump in the January 6th case against him was largely reinstated.

And, just to be fair, over on the other side of politics, Hunter Biden has been indicted again, this time for tax evasion. Biden has been called to testify in front of a House committee next week, but is demanding that the hearing be public or he's not going to show up, so we'll have to see what happens next week.

In Congress, Senator Tommy Tuberville finally relented on his blanket hold that has been holding up all high-ranking military promotions all year long, and the Senate approved over 400 promotions in a single vote. Tuberville never got what he was demanding, of course, so the entire thing was a pointless waste of time which did nothing but degrade America's military readiness.

There's a big fight in the Senate happening behind the scenes over the money Joe Biden has requested for military aid to Ukraine and Israel. Biden also asked for money for the problems at America's southern border as well, and the Republicans are trying to push several rather extreme changes to immigration policy in return. The plan is to move this bill before the end of the year, so it all might come to a head next week.

Over in the House, Mike Johnson is blurring the faces of the insurrectionists in all the January 6th footage he's releasing, to protect their identities. How this is not "aiding and abetting" insurrectionists is beyond us, personally.

The Texas GOP couldn't manage to agree on a measure condeming Nazis and antisemites, which is an absolute disgrace. Or it should be, at any rate.

Speaking of state-level Republican disgraces, the chair of the Florida GOP has been accused of rape but is trying to insist it was just some consensual sex between him and a woman he's not married to -- a woman he had previously had sex with, in a threesome, with his wife. His wife has been a leader of the "Moms For Liberty" movement -- you know, the folks who are trying to ban books in school libraries so children aren't exposed to what they see as deviant sexual behavior. Pretty ironic, eh? So far, he's refusing to step down from leading the state's GOP, so we'll have to see how embarrassing this one gets before it is over.

Kevin McCarthy is officially going to throw in the towel and step down from his House seat at the end of the year. Guess it's no fun to be a backbencher in a House you used to run... the seat is in a solid-red California district, though, so it won't be at risk for the Republicans, but they'll have to survive at least a few months with and even tinier margin for any votes.

But the big news from the House was that the Republicans were finally so disgusted by one of their own that they kicked out George Santos. His district is a competitive one, so they might be losing this vote entirely. Santos left with a quote for the ages: "To Hell with this place," and is exploring other employment opportunities by offering his services for a few hundred dollars a pop on the site Cameo, where people are paid to deliver birthday or other messages to anyone you pay them to. Some folks are already having a whole bunch of fun with this, as should have been expected.

And we'll end with some even more positive news. Marijuana possession is now legal in the state of Ohio for all adults, and the Republican chair of the relevant House committee just said he would be OK with Washington D.C. finally being able to implement their own regulated recreational marijuana marketplace (which is an enormous sea-change for Republicans). We wrote about this yesterday as well, in case anyone's interested.


Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week

This one's pretty easy, as it is not every week that a political record is broken (that has stood for almost two centuries). Here's the story, in case you missed it:

Vice President [Kamala] Harris on Tuesday cast her 32nd tiebreaking vote to confirm Loren L. AliKhan to be a U.S. district judge for the District of Columbia -- making history with the most deciding votes in the chamber by a vice president.

The 32 tiebreaking Senate votes that Harris has cast since assuming office in 2021 top a 191-year-old record by John C. Calhoun. As vice president to John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson, Calhoun had broken 31 Senate ties by the time he left office in 1832.

Harris tied Calhoun's record in July with a tiebreaking vote to add employment attorney Kalpana Kotagal to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Tuesday's vote on AliKhan's nomination stalled at 50-50, with Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) voting with Republicans. In the closely divided Senate -- Democrats and the three independents who caucus with them hold 51 seats, while Republicans hold 49 -- Harris has been called to the Capitol to break deadlocks on matters including key legislation, Biden nominations and routine procedural moves. Legislation that was advanced with the help of Harris's tiebreaking vote has included the Inflation Reduction Act and the American Rescue Plan Act.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer presented Vice President Harris with a golden gavel to mark the occasion. Which seems entirely appropriate, when breaking a record set by John Calhoun.

For being the deciding vote 32 times in just over three years, Kamala Harris is easily our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week.

[Congratulate Vice President Kamala Harris on her official contact page, to let her know you appreciate her efforts.]


Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week

Maybe it's the holiday spirit in the air, but we don't have any real candidates for the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week this week. Representative Jamaal Bowman was censured by the House for his "pulling the fire alarm" stunt, but these days it's almost a badge of honor to be censured by the clowns running the Republican House so we don't consider it disappointing in the slightest (and we already dinged him for the stunt, back when it happened).

If anyone's got any suggestions for the MDDOTW, feel free to post them down in the comments, as usual. Otherwise, we're putting the award back on the shelf for another week.


Friday Talking Points

Volume 732 (12/8/23)

Liz Cheney's got a new book out (and has even been teasing a possible third-party presidential bid). In one of her appearances to promote the book she had a rather grim take on the danger of Donald Trump:

He's told us what he will do. It's very easy to see the steps that he will take.... People who say "Well, if he's elected, it's not that dangerous because we have all of these checks and balances" don't fully understand the extent to which the Republicans in Congress today have been co-opted. One of the things that we see happening today is a sort of a sleepwalking into dictatorship in the United States.

One other quote caught our eye this week, since it is rather personal to us. Kash Patel, a former Trump administration official (who obviously would find a spot in Trump's White House in a second term as well) said on Steve Bannon's podcast:

We're going to come after the people in the media who lied about American citizens who helped Joe Biden rig presidential elections. We're going to come after you, whether it's criminally or civilly. We'll figure that out. But yeah, we're putting you all on notice.

We present these quotes as a preamble to our rant this week (for obvious reasons).


The stakes are high

The next American presidential election will be the most important one in your lifetime. Sure, you've heard that before -- every election has some form of alarmism attached to it. But this time it is just as true as it was in 2020, because the choice is between American democracy continuing to build on its almost-250-year run or America becoming something far different -- and far worse -- than it has been for all those years. When the presumptive Republican candidate feels confident enough to joke about when and how much he will be a dictator, you know that things have changed for the worse already.

Donald Trump's first term was bad enough. We don't even have the time to go into how bad it was, in fact. Please just remember how it ended -- in the midst of a pandemic that was exacerbated by Trump belittling not just the disease but also the government scientists who were trying their hardest to keep people alive. Thousands died that didn't have to. Supply chains were in chaos. People were lining up before stores opened in the hopes of buying toilet paper. The economy was in shambles. And all Trump cared about was Trump. Remember all that? But a second Trump term would be far worse, even without a global pandemic raging.

The first time around, Trump was restrained by the "adults in the room" with him -- chiefs of staff, aides, cabinet members, military leaders, Justice Department lawyers, etc. -- who would tell him: "You cannot do that -- it is unconstitutional and illegal." This time around, there won't be any of that holding him back. He learned one big thing from his first term -- to value personal loyalty to him above all else. If he regains power, he will hire only the most servile people imaginable; people whose only guiding principle is: "Trump can never do anything wrong." There will be no adults left in the room. There will be no guardrails. If anyone refuses Trump or tells him "No" in any way, they will be immediately fired and replaced by someone more tractable.

No presidential tradition or convention is going to hold Trump back. He will laugh at anyone who says: "But no president has ever done such a thing before." Trump will do precisely what he feels like doing, and even the judicial system will likely not be enough to restrain him. If the Supreme Court rules against him, Trump could very well just ignore them and do whatever he wants anyway. This is a frightening prospect, but it is very real.

Trump will hire people to work for him who have passed a loyalty test. Not to the U.S. Constitution, not to America, but to him personally. Because that is how Trump sees things. If he is president, then disloyalty to him must mean disloyalty to America, plain and simple. Donald Trump has probably never heard the quote: "L'état, c'est moi," but once someone translated and explained it to him, he would likely agree wholeheartedly with Louis XIV. Trump is America, according to Trump. Therefore, anyone who disagrees with him or puts obstacles in his way is not just disloyal, they have actually committed treason against the country. This is precisely how Trump sees things, and he has never been shy about admitting it.

Trump will replace as many civil servants in the federal government as he can get away with, and the people he will hire will not have to have relevant experience -- but they will have to take his loyalty test to make sure they are ideologically committed to MAGA and Trump. Trump will change the rules for the civil service so he can fire thousands of people in what were non-partisan jobs and hire his own toadies instead. If the Senate won't approve his nominees, he'll just "temporarily" appoint them instead. There will be no checks or balances to restrain him.

Once he's got enough true believers in place, he will use the power of the federal government to go after his enemies -- who he has already referred to as "vermin" to be exterminated. The only surprise in this might be that Trump will attempt his promised "retribution" against his fellow Republicans before he even gets around to his Democratic opponents. Trump is still very angry with all sorts of Republicans who weren't sufficiently loyal to him (as he sees things) the last time around (and since), and those people will likely be the first on his list. He will direct all branches of the federal government, including the Justice Department, to persecute his political enemies. He's out there promising to do so -- this really should not be surprising or somehow unbelievable to anyone.

Trump will quite likely use the Insurrection Act to send in the U.S. military to attack any protests or demonstrations he does not agree with. The last time Trump became president, he had a rather pathetic turnout for his inauguration which was immediately followed by a massive anti-Trump protest demonstration in Washington. This time around, Trump will likely be ready and all those women wearing "pussy hats" will probably be met with tear gas, batons, and worse. Any other protests Trump disapproves of which crop up in any other American cities will also be dealt with by sending in the military, and possibly declaring martial law. The last time around, high-ranking military officers in the Pentagon might have refused to follow such orders, but the next time around they will be replaced by people like Michael Flynn -- who won't hesitate to do so.

Trump, at some point, will declare a national emergency on one pretext or another and use it to anoint himself with sweeping powers to fight this non-existent "emergency." This is what autocrats always do when they take power in a democracy, so it really should surprise no one when it actually happens. This is how dictators always seize all the reins of power, and Trump will almost certainly follow the same model. He will force Congress to approve the national emergency and his sweeping powers to fight it (or he will just ignore them altogether if they don't). If the Republicans hold power in the House and regain control of the Senate, this would be a very real danger.

As for what else Trump might do after he gains full control, the imagination just staggers. This is a man who, while president, considered dropping nuclear bombs into hurricanes in the Atlantic, just to see what would happen. This is a man who wanted to buy Greenland as an investment property. This is a man who considered ordering the military to bomb drug cartel sites in Mexico, and then pretend to the rest of the world that we had no idea where those bombs came from... possibly China? This is not exaggeration, this is what Trump actually considered doing while president. But at the time, there were saner people around him who pulled him back from the brink of such bizarre and reckless actions. The next time there won't be such guardrails -- there will only be people whose only ambition in life is to please Trump.

So yes, the stakes are almost unimaginably high. The next American presidential election might be the last one for a very long time. Trump could easily proclaim himself president-for-life and then name Donald Trump Junior his heir apparent. The one mark of dictators everywhere is that they don't relinquish power, ever. And look at what happened the last time Trump was in office -- he tried to overturn the results of an election he lost. Next time around, he'll solve the problem by just not having another election.

Think this is all Chicken Little saying the sky is falling? Think this is all wildly speculative and alarmist? Well then, you haven't been paying close enough attention. The only check on any of Trump's ambitions if he becomes president again may be what served as the biggest check on his ambitions in his first term -- his short attention span and his gross incompetence in actually getting things done. Trump has lots of ideas, but very little follow-through. But that's a pretty thin reed to hang America's hopes on.

Donald Trump has not been shy about talking about his plans out on the campaign trail. He's out there "saying the quiet part out loud" to anyone who will listen. The more liberals and other sane people recoil in horror, the more amusement Trump gets from saying such things. He's not hiding his intentions. He's not speaking in "dog whistles," he's just out there telling it like it is (as far as he sees things) and letting everyone know exactly what to expect.

So yes, the stakes are high. What is in danger of being lost is American democracy itself. A vote for Trump is a vote for a strongman government doing exactly what one man wants. That is the outcome Donald Trump is promising. Joe Biden may not be perfect, but as he puts it: "Don't compare me to the Almighty, compare me to the alternative." And in the 2024 presidential election, the alternative is downright frightening. So yes, next year's election is indeed going to be the most important one you ever vote in. American democracy will be on the ballot, running against a dictatorship. Which is about as high as the stakes can get.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant

Cross-posted at: Democratic Underground


14 Comments on “Friday Talking Points -- Not The Odds But The Stakes”

  1. [1] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:

    Wow, what a great time to be at the end of ones life! Too bad, you young guys should have picked a better time to get born, the way I did.

  2. [2] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    I think we're all pretty old here. :)

  3. [3] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    I'm 48, practically a toddler

  4. [4] 
    dsws wrote:

    Everyone here has been here since "here" was on HuffPo, right? So we can't be all that young.

  5. [5] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    Just turned 65, so I’m glad C.R. Stucki hangs around here. Joined up in 2019.

  6. [6] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    There's one in every crowd.

  7. [7] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Caddy, it seems like you've been here for longer than that. :-)

  8. [8] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    Ah, the good ole HuffPost days ... until they made it mandatory that you must comment via Facebook or something! Which never worked anyway.

  9. [9] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:


    I think I started reading Chris somewhere back in 2019. After a while I discovered the comments section & y’all became my 2nd family all through Covid. I believe that I started participating in August of that year.

  10. [10] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    Elizabeth I’m starting to get the urge for a Sunday Evening Canadian Rock Music Appreciation Night. I’m thinking about a 45-rpm singles theme. Perhaps we could coordinate our schedules before too long.

  11. [11] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    So am I Caddy but, I've been invited to an Abba party this Sunday celebrating one of their birthdays and I'm working this Sunday, too, until 5:30pm, too so ... I'm thinking we'll probably have to wait until the New Year.

    I have a thought about the theme as well which could be combined with your 45 singles theme ... we lost a great many from the music world this year so how about a tribute to all of them, in Canada and around the world!

  12. [12] 
    Kick wrote:


    Ronald Reagan first earned the term, but Donald Trump is the true "Teflon" politician. Nothing sticks to him. Not 91 felony counts, not court cases he has either lost or is going to lose, not any outrageous thing he says or does... it all just slides off him.

    Nah... only the gullible rubes let it slide; there is plenty of gunk on the Don's exterior. Why else do you think he has that orange hue?

  13. [13] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


  14. [14] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Read any polls, lately, Kick? :-)

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