FridayTalkingPoints.com

Friday Talking Points -- Hannibal Lecter Makes A Campaign Appearance

[ Posted Friday, May 17th, 2024 – 18:17 UTC ]

Presidential debate announcements, Michael Cohen testifying, and The Jerry Springer Show breaking out in a House committee -- it's been an eventful political week all around, folks!

But we have to begin today with a very sobering piece of data, just to put everything in some perspective. We (rather obviously) personally live and breathe the political scene, and it is a fair assumption that anyone who regularly reads this column all the way to the end (a weekly marathon, 'tis true...) is also pretty plugged in to the follies of the everyday political landscape as well. We all pay attention, in other words. Not just to the large and meaningful events, but also to the small and amusing. But it cannot be repeated enough: this is not exactly normal. Most Americans just don't pay all that much attention to politics. Like, at all.

A poll just conducted by the New York Times and Siena College should prove this beyond a shadow of a doubt. It was part of a poll of the battleground states which will determine who wins the presidency, and plenty of attention was paid to the horserace numbers (which were not exactly heartening for President Joe Biden). But as always, there were a few other questions that made some news, and this one is just stunning: just over 1-in-6 people in the battleground states who were polled believe: "that President Biden is responsible for ending the constitutional right to abortion." Fully 17 percent of the respondents answered "Biden" rather than "Donald Trump" when asked who was more responsible for the overturning of Roe v. Wade. Here's the breakdown, which (again) should be sobering news for people who follow politics even in a minimal fashion:

[Donald] Trump supporters and voters with less education were most likely to attribute responsibility for abortion bans to Mr. [Joe] Biden, but the misperception existed across demographic groups. Twelve percent of Democrats hold Mr. Biden responsible, according to New York Times/Siena College polls in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada and Wisconsin and a Times/Philadelphia Inquirer/Siena poll in Pennsylvania.

The overall numbers for who was to blame: Trump -- 56 percent; Biden -- 17 percent. Among Republicans, this ignorant view was higher (Trump 42, Biden 22), but even among Democrats it was frighteningly high (Trump 78, Biden 12). That is 1-in-8 Democrats who blame Joe Biden for the Supreme Court justices that Donald Trump nominated. When asked why, the most common view was that it had happened on Biden's watch, therefore he must be responsible. [Insert your own emoji here... we would go with face-palming, ourselves.]

This should be taken into account whenever any poll numbers are reported: a large slice of the American public is completely and utterly clueless about what goes on in politics. Just a cautionary note, as it were.

With that out of the way, let's turn to the other newsworthy political developments of the week. The biggest of these (to our eyes at any rate) was the news that there will indeed be two presidential debates, one of which will take place astonishingly early (next month). This all seemed to come together within hours, or perhaps the news leaks were merely structured to make it appear so. Joe Biden put out a swaggering little video taunting Donald Trump with a Dirty Harry bit of bluster: "Well, make my day, pal." Trump shot back with his own bit of professional-wrestling trash-talk: "Let's Get Ready to Rumble!" This, from our octogenarian president and his septuagenarian challenger, mind you.

Team Biden successfully laid out the rules they were willing to agree to, and both CNN and ABC jumped at the chance to host. Biden's big asks were: no audience, and microphones that would be cut off when the other person is speaking. CNN easily agreed to the "no audience" part, but has been vague on the microphone-cutoff question (so far). Biden also didn't want third-party candidates cluttering up the stage, so CNN set the bar so high for qualification that it is doubtful R.F.K. Jr. or any other third-party candidate will make it (which caused vociferous complaints from R.F.K. Jr., of course).

Notably, these provisions were all worked out directly between the two candidates' campaigns and the networks. The "Commission on Presidential Debates" was completely sidelined, and at this point it seems doubtful that they will ever be relevant again (since for differing reasons, both sides of the political aisle have been disappointed with their handling of the debates in the past).

Also of note (and an amusing thing to end on) was what Senator Mitt Romney had to snarkily say about the debate news: "It'll be entertaining, informative. Like the two old guys on the Muppets."

The other big political news this week came from Donald Trump's trial, where the prosecution's star witness dominated the week. Michael Cohen, sleazeball extraordinaire, was on the stand all three days the trial was scheduled this week (they're off today, for Barron Trump's graduation ceremony). Cohen was at the center of the whole hush-money payout scheme, so he was a critical witness that put all the pieces of the puzzle together for the jury. Once the prosecution was done with their questions, the defense tried to rip Cohen down buy portraying him as a serial liar who just wanted to cash in on Trump. This is ironic in the extreme, since all of that could just as easily describe Donald Trump as well.

Throughout it all, Cohen maintained his calm. He didn't blow up at any of the defense questioning, and he kept his cool no matter how bizarre the topics he testified about happened to be. To be fair, Trump has also maintained a certain degree of calmness throughout the trial (so far), which beat the expectations heading into it (at least, our own personal expectations... we fully expected he'd have blown up at some point by now).

The news about the trial did migrate somewhat to the supporting cast of clowns who showed up in support of Trump in the courtroom and then quacked to the media's microphones outside like a Greek chorus of angry ducks. Some of these are vice-presidential wannabes, some are Republican politicians currying favor with their Dear Leader, and some just wanted to get their faces on television. Almost all of them dressed identically, which is to say "exactly like Trump." From House Speaker Mike Johnson on down, it was a steady parade emerging out of the clown car all week (from an article which called these buffoons "synchronized sycophants"... which we just had to stylistically admire!):

It was demeaning to the office of the speaker, and to Congress, for [Speaker Mike] Johnson to be trashing the criminal justice system as "corrupt," and nakedly campaigning for Trump at the former president's trial. He was one of a parade of MAGA legislators making a pilgrimage to the courthouse this week. On Monday came Sens. Tuberville and J.D. Vance (Ohio) and Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (N.Y.). On Tuesday came Johnson and a quartet of Republicans all dressed as Trump mini-mes in blue-gray suits, white shirts and red ties: Reps. Cory Mills (Fla.) and Byron Donalds (Fla.), North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and former presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy. On Thursday came so many House MAGA Republicans -- including Matt Gaetz (Fla.) and Anna Paulina Luna (Fla.), Bob Good (Va.), Andy Biggs (Ariz.) and Eli Crane (Ariz.), and Lauren Boebert (Colo.), and at least five others -- that the House Oversight Committee had to postpone its planned vote to hold Attorney General Merrick Garland in contempt of Congress.

Lauren Boebert's appearance was notable, since she didn't even see fit to show up at her own son's recent appearance in criminal court -- but she managed to do so for Trump. Ah, yes, the vaunted "party of family values"! Also notable is the fact that Trump has apparently only convinced one of his own family members (Eric) to show up in court with him so far.

The most amusing moment came when someone positioned themself behind where the clowns were speaking to the microphones, to hold up a sign saying: "BOOTLICKERS". Trump is being restrained by his gag order, but he is now able to get around it by having his supporters out there saying what he would dearly like to. This may actually be a violation of his gag order, as at least one reporter saw Trump sitting in the courtroom while apparently editing the speeches his supporters were about to give outside the courthouse (which, if true, would indeed be a violation).

Not everyone in the Republican Party is a sycophantic bootlicker, however. Senator Lisa Murkowski, when asked about Trump's Greek chorus of elected officials, responded: "Do we have something to do around here other than watch a stupid porn trial? I mean, this is ridiculous."

The news media seems to be getting a little bored with the entire proceedings, which was best exemplified by the New York Times devoting an entire column to how Trump gets his lunch (that day: fourteen pizzas, itemized by topping).

Elsewhere in the political world, three primaries took place this week. And surprise, surprise, Nikki Haley is still pulling down an impressive percent of the Republican vote! In Maryland, she got 21 percent of the vote while pulling in 18 percent in Nebraska -- both states with closed primaries (where only registered Republicans are allowed to vote). Trump is incredibly weak in the suburbs, which could be rather critical to his chances in November.

In possibly-related news, public support for abortion rights just keeps going up. A full 63 percent (almost two-thirds, in other words) of Americans say abortion should be legal in all or most cases. The more time goes on, the more this becomes a losing issue for Republicans, but they are now held hostage by the most extreme elements within their own ranks, so there is little they can do about it.

Not that a few of them aren't trying. The Maryland primary for Senate (more on this in a moment) just nominated the former governor, Larry Hogan, to the Republican ticket. Hogan is not just an anti-Trump Republican, but he left office (after doing a bang-up job during the COVID-19 pandemic) with a whopping 73 percent approval rating -- in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans by a 2-to-1 margin, mind you. But Hogan knows running for the Senate is going to be a tough contest, since having a Republican governor is one thing but throwing control of the Senate to the GOP is quite another for Maryland voters to contemplate. So Hogan came out this week and proclaimed he is now pro-choice and will stand strong for abortion rights -- even though he vetoed an abortion-rights bill when he served as governor. Still, it is interesting to see any Republican try to "evolve" on the abortion issue, especially when Maryland Democrats are primed to make it a central argument in the general election.

Other campaign news -- Donald Trump gave an absolutely bonkers speech to a rally in New Jersey (a state he has no real chance of winning, mind you), where he took a rather bizarre detour:

"Silence of the Lamb [sic]. Has anyone ever seen The Silence of the Lambs? The late, great Hannibal Lecter is a wonderful man. He oftentimes would have a friend for dinner. Remember the last scene? "Excuse me, I'm about to have a friend for dinner" as this poor doctor walked by. "I'm about to have a friend for dinner." But Hannibal Lecter, congratulations. The late, great Hannibal Lecter.

Um...?

Putting aside the fact that (speaking in a literary fashion) Hannibal Lecter is not actually dead, who in their right mind would ever have thought a major-party presidential candidate would tell his rally-goers how much he admired a cannibal (fictional or not)? But sadly, that's the world we all live in, folks.

President Biden, meanwhile, cast some shade over Trump predicting a stock market crash if Biden won, by pointing out the Dow Jones Industrial Average just topped 40,000 for the first time in history.

And to end on this week, we have the late-night fracas in the House. So many Republican House members trotted up to lick Trump's boots outside his criminal hush-money trial that the House was unable to move forward on their purely partisan attacks on the Biden administration. They were all set to vote on holding Attorney General Merrick Garland in contempt of Congress (which was somewhat of a step down, since some of them wanted to impeach him), but they didn't have the votes due to the clown parade happening in New York. So they postponed the vote until late at night, so they could all make it back to Washington. Which was problematic, as a report the next day pointed out:

On Friday morning, members weren't over the embarrassing scene. They lamented how the hearing unfolded the night before, and both Republicans and Democrats acknowledged some members had been drinking that evening.

The problem began (as many problems do) with Marjorie Taylor Greene shooting her mouth off. She insulted a Black Democrat on the committee for wearing false eyelashes (and not being able to read, to boot), after which Democrats tried to have her remarks stricken from the record. This also led to the Democrat getting snarky with the committee's chair by innocently asking a point of order:

I'm just curious, just to better understand your ruling: If someone on this committee then starts talking about somebody's bleach-blonde, bad-built, butch body, that would not be engaging in personalities, correct?

Ooooh... snap! The hapless chair responded: "A what now?"

This also led to a rather amusing quote to hear coming from a congressional hearing:

"I'm just glad the chairs are too big to throw," one lawmaker could be heard saying amid the cross talk.

Senator John Fetterman got in on the snark later, tweeting out: "In the past, I've described the U.S. House as The Jerry Springer Show. Today, I'm apologizing to The Jerry Springer Show."

The moral of this story, kiddies, is: "Don't drink and legislate." At least, not in the U.S. House of Representatives as it stands today.

 

Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week

Before we get to any awards for Democrats, we have to at least give a few hat-tips to some Republicans this week. No, really!

Three former Republican senators announced this week they were forming a group with a seemingly-impossible mission: to rescue the Republican Party from Trumpism and attempt to return it to its conservative roots. John Danforth, William Cohen, and Alan Simpson announced this week the formation of the group "Our Republican Legacy," in an attempt to give anti-Trump Republicans who are equally disgusted with the direction Trump has led their party a way to band together. We have to wish them good luck in their endeavor, since it would indeed be nice to see the GOP return to some sort of ideological sanity (even if we don't agree with any of it).

Also notable on the other side of the aisle this week was Representative Greg Steube, who successfully has forced his bill onto the floor of the House of Representatives despite not having the support of his own party's speaker. The bill is "aimed at helping victims of hurricanes, wildfires and the East Palestine, Ohio, train derailment" by making a change to the tax code so disaster victims can easily write off their losses.

Steube achieved this rare accomplishment via a "discharge petition," which is a parliamentary maneuver that allows an end-run around the chamber's leadership. If any bill gets a majority of the House to sign such a petition, it must then be given a floor vote. While only 28 Republicans joined with Steube, 189 Democrats also signed his petition, which reached the magical number of 218. This is only the third such discharge petition to succeed in the past two decades or so (the previous one was in 2015, and the one before that in 2002).

Steube expressed his exasperation with his own party, saying: "My district got hit by Hurricane Ian in October of 2022, and enough is enough. I kept getting stonewalled by my own leadership." So kudos to him for reaching across the aisle and building a working majority on a bill which obviously deserves bipartisan support.

Republicans aside, however, we have two Honorable Mention awards to hand out to Democrats this week before we get to the main award.

President Joe Biden officially sent a new rule to the Federal Register this week which will move the classification of marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule III, which (as we wrote yesterday) is the first time the federal government has ever officially retreated from the insanity of the War On Weed. Both Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris released videos explaining why such a move was necessary. But as we said, we wrote about it at length yesterday, if anyone's interested.

Down in Florida, we have another Honorable Mention to hand out this week for a new political group on the Democratic side:

A Florida Democrat who unseated a Moms for Liberty co-founder in a contentious school board race is now leading an organization aiming to combat the influence conservatives have wielded on local education policies.

The PAC, "Educated. We Stand," is set to launch Thursday with the goal of "protecting, recruiting and electing" school board members that will help "limit the influence of far-right extremists" across the country. Plans for the organization were shared first with Politico.

The launch pits the group directly against a well-oiled political machine that has helped dozens of conservative candidates win school board races across the country since 2022, backed by organizations like Moms for Liberty and state leaders such as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

"It is clear that the far-right's assault on public education threatens our children's futures and the foundation of our democracy," Jennifer Jenkins, the Brevard County school board member chairing the group, said in a statement. "With 'Educated. We Stand,' we're not just fighting back; we're defending the very essence of learning, curiosity, and inclusion in our schools."

Personally, we're not thrilled with that extra period in the group's name (it's kind of a distraction), but we certainly do applaud their goals and their effort. So far, fighting Moms For Liberty has been an ad hoc sort of thing, as candidates fight back in school districts across the country, so providing a centralized group to help in this fight seems an eminently worthwhile thing to do, and we wish them lots of success.

But our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week is Angela Alsobrooks, who won the Maryland Democratic primary for the state's open Senate seat (and who will now take on Larry Hogan in November).

We also wrote about this race when it happened, mostly because it could be a very important one. Maryland is a deep blue state, but Hogan is (as we mentioned) a very popular ex-governor. So even if Alsobrooks wins, it's going to be a hard fight. Which she certainly seems up for, thankfully.

Alsobrooks defeated another Democrat in the primary, who had sunk a whopping 60 million dollars of his own money into the race. He outspent her 10-to-1, and led in all the polls right up to the final weeks. But in those final weeks, a surge of voter support materialized for Alsobrooks, and she won in a stunning 12-point victory. Alsobrooks did have the support of most of the Maryland Democratic Party machine behind her, but overcoming $60 million in ads is a tough thing for anyone to accomplish.

All of this added up to Angela Alsobrooks easily being our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week, and we certainly will be rooting for her to beat Hogan in the fall.

[Congratulate Prince George's County Executive Angela Alsobrooks on her official contact page, to let her know you appreciate her efforts.]

 

Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week

Once again, we're going to have to go with the obvious in this category. Because the trial of Senator Bob Menendez got underway this week (in a courthouse not too far from the one Donald Trump has been sitting in for weeks).

Menendez, of course, had oodles of cash lying around his house, some of it in an envelope with the guy's name (and DNA) on it who gave it to him, as well as various bars of gold scattered about the place as well. In the trial this week, some of the people who gave him the gold swore that it was just a friendly gift... you know, "Hey buddy, here... have a one-kilo gold bar!"... that sort of thing... happens to us all, right?

Menendez got his trial separated from that of his wife (who it was revealed has breast cancer) and so naturally he is trying to shift all the blame for all these rather obvious bribes onto her instead. What a stand-up guy!

Of course, innocent until proven guilty and all of that... yadda, yadda, yadda... but for now we see no reason not to hand Menendez yet another Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award.

[Contact Senator Bob Menendez on his Senate contact page, to let him know what you think of his actions.]

 

Friday Talking Points

Volume 752 (5/17/24)

A varied bunch, this week, with a few tucked into the middle that address the broken Republican moral compass (in regards to the Trump trial). Enjoy, and as always, use responsibly!

 

1
   A watchable debate, maybe?

Biden truly snookered Trump this week by forcing his own preferred rules to be the ones the networks agreed to. Which is a good thing, really.

"President Biden seems to have gotten everything he asked for from the networks before agreeing to any presidential debates. First and foremost, there will be no live audience -- which will put an end to all the hooting and hollering from the peanut gallery. Neither side will be able to pack the house with their own donors and partisans and the actual debate won't be interrupted by the crowd completely and utterly ignoring the plea to 'hold your applause to the end.' And if they also follow Biden's other request, then the time limits will be strictly policed and candidates' microphones will be cut off when it is not their time to speak. This could prevent Trump from attempting to yell nonsense when it is Biden's turn to speak, which (as we've all seen) he does at the drop of a hat. So no audience to feed Trump's planetary-sized ego, and a dead mic when your time is up -- this could actually lead to a very watchable debate! It's certainly worth a try, at any rate."

 

2
   Still creepy after all these weeks...

Remember Alabama Senator Katie Britt? The woman who gave a Children Of The Corn-style response to Biden's State Of The Union speech? She's still out there and still just as creepy....

"Just before Mother's Day, Senator Katie Britt released what was called a 'super cringe' video about a new piece of legislation she had come up with. Her bill would create a federal 'pregnancy.gov' website that would create a database of pregnant women who visited it -- and (of course) would provide no information on abortion whatsoever while trying to steer women to 'crisis pregnancy centers' who lie about the dangers of abortion to scare women into not getting one. So let's see... what possible use could the forced-birth Republicans have in mind for creating a database of pregnant American women? That's a pretty scary thing to contemplate, you've got to admit...."

 

3
   Which serial liar will the jury believe?

This is really the key question, when you think about it.

"The trial of Donald Trump in New York is going to boil down to one rather unsavory question -- which serial liar will the jury believe more? Will it believe Michael Cohen, who has already done prison time for lying? Or will it be Donald Trump, who lied over 30,000 times while president? In all likelihood the jury won't even hear from Trump, because unless his lawyers are complete idiots Trump will not actually take the stand in his own defense. So the jury will hear Trump's lies -- such as that he never actually had sex with either Stormy Daniels or Karen McDougal -- only secondhand, through his legal mouthpieces. To call this trial 'tawdry' is a vast understatement, folks. Because it'll all come down to which serial liar is truly (pun intended) more believable."

 

4
   So much for all that moralizing nonsense, eh?

This one never gets old, really.

"Remember when Republicans spent decades being America's schoolmarms and moral arbiters? Remember when they used to point the finger of shame at Democrats and liberals and call them 'secular humanists' and 'moral relativists' and all the rest of it? Their point was to paint their political foes as being completely and utterly amoral, and thus not fit to serve in any governmental capacity. Ah... those were the days.... Now, we've got the party that used to brag about being for 'law and order' and for 'family values' kowtowing to a man on trial for paying hush-money to a porn star to keep quiet about them having sex right after his wife gave birth. They trot out in front of the cameras and denounce the legal system... so much for 'law and order'... and one of them even showed up at Trump's trial after skipping her own son's criminal court appearance... so much for 'family values'.... If there is one American political party that has shown -- repeatedly, over the past decade -- that it is completely and utterly without a shred of morals left whatsoever, it is today's Republican Party, folks."

 

5
   Playing the "victim card"

Another one to rub their faces in....

"Remember when Republicans used to sneer at Democrats for (as they put it) 'playing the victim card' and trying to outdo each other in their claims of victimhood? I mean, it wasn't that long ago -- remember when Republicans sneered at all the Democratic 'snowflakes' who just couldn't man up and face the world as it is? Boy, that takes me back... but that was before the Republicans were taken over by the biggest crybaby American politics has ever seen. 'Waaah! Waaah!' he constantly cries, and they all rush to comfort him and lick his boots. Donald Trump is nothing more than the biggest sore loser of all time, really. As far as he's concerned, he's never done a single thing wrong and the entire world is out to get him. If that's not playing the biggest victim card ever, I simply don't know what is."

 

6
   Go Nikki!

This seems to be flying under the media's radar to some extent. Which could wind up being a good thing for Biden....

"I'd just like to say, after this week's primary returns came in, a heartfelt: 'Go Nikki!' Even in closed Republican primaries -- no independents or Democrats skewing the results, in other words -- Nikki Haley seems to regularly be bringing in around one-fifth of the Republican votes. Even though she dropped out of the race months ago. One in five Republicans just can't bring themselves to pull the lever for Donald Trump. And Trump is doing precisely nothing to court these disaffected Republicans back to his side, either. Nikki has yet to endorse Trump, and is not steering her network of donors to him either. But Joe Biden's team is out there running ads trying to convince Haley voters to consider backing him. Haley is strongest in the suburbs, and the entire presidential race could come down to the suburbs in a handful of states. So once again, I'd just like to give a hearty 'Go Nikki!' and wish her continued strong support in the Republican primaries which remain."

 

7
   Wonderful? Really?

Just head-shakingly bizarre.

"Donald Trump regularly expresses his open admiration for all kinds of unsavory characters out there, including (as he likes to put it) 'Alphonse Capone,' a notorious gangster. But last weekend he reached a new low, calling the fictional cannibal Hannibal Lecter 'a wonderful man.' He offered his 'congratulations' to Lecter, for some unfathomable reason, and called him 'great.' Um... is this something we should be concerned about? Maybe visitors to Trump's golf resorts should avoid ordering the pork dishes or something? It's truly hard to know what to make of a presidential candidate expressing open admiration for a cannibal, but then with Trump anything is possible -- I guess that's the moral to this story."

-- Chris Weigant

 

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant

Cross-posted at: Democratic Underground