Quick Debate Thoughts

I’ve said repeatedly going back almost a year that there’s virtually no way anyone can defeat Donald Trump in the GOP presidential primary. Certainly nothing has changed to alter that judgment. The two GOP debates have amounted to a kind of cosplay episode. Aside from the yelling, canned comments and embarrassing moments, the one thing that struck me about tonight’s debate is this: two or three of the contenders seem to be realizing, finally, that there’s zero point in doing this without attacking Donald Trump. Not in some vague wink wink way but directly. Is this a game changer? Of course not. But it was enough to give a hint of how this primary process might actually have been contested in some meaningful way, even if Trump likely still would have been the nominee.

Fundamentally it’s Trump’s party. So he’s the nominee. But in those few moments of attacks you could see how a different kind of contest could have unfolded. They really seem to have thought that Republicans might abandon Trump (to whom Republican voters have committed so much) without them even saying there was anything wrong with him. That’s a remarkable failure of imagination and personal character.


Cosplay Debate Live Blog

10:53 PM: Just a brutally stupid spectacle. Hard to know what to say beyond that.

9:56 PM: The most chilling thing about watching this debate is the commercials. I just saw an ad saying to oppose a new Biden FDA ban on menthol flavoring in cigarettes will empower the Mexican drug cartels.

9:40 PM: Chris Christie finally stood up and attacked Trump for once.

9:12 PM: It’s not Trump talking here. But there’s a big argument out there that the GOP is somehow increasingly pro-union. Not just Trump but the GOP. And yet here you see a pretty resoundingly anti-union message. Mass firings, making fun of wage demands support for right-to-work laws.

9:08 PM: The message here seems to be making fun of UAW and the strike.

9:01 PM: Ok, folks. Here we go.


Trump’s Two Storylines

The biggest challenge of telling the story of history as it unfolds is that you don’t know how it ends. This is a commonplace, of course — a humorous aside or even trite. But the implications of this fact are not always obvious. So it can be worth considering what it means. We are a story-telling species. We take the unorganized facts of existence and weave them together into meaningful trajectories through time. The meaning and logic of these stories are intrinsically linked to and bounded by the unique features of the human brain. When I started studying to be a historian in a PhD program in the early 90s I found this unnerving. But I later realized or perhaps decided that it was one of the essential, nourishing features of being human.

This is always the case. And we are constantly in the process of revising stories — either in our own individual lives or as journalists making sense of the larger world we live in. But there are some moments in which the fracture, the potentially different storylines seem especially great, where the very different lists of what’s important and what’s not is especially stark. We seem to be in one of those moments in the story of the 2024 campaign. And by this I actually don’t mean the hugely consequential question of who wins the election, though of course it’s related to that. I’m talking about the Trump story itself.

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Your Thoughts on Trump Coverage

TPM Reader NB responds to my post on Trump coverage …

I have to say, this piece made me uncharacteristically angry, and I’m still trying to put my finger on precisely why—especially since I agree with you about the basic remedy. Yes, the media’s job is neither to hide behind endless euphemism or analysis-as-apologia, nor to engage in deplatforming, but first and foremost to inform. Leave the excuse-making to partisans or to the audience’s own shocked internal But Surely!’s.

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Learn to Cover Trump Right Before It’s Too Late

In today’s Morning Memo, David notes that Donald Trump’s latest ravings have been so extreme as to manage to break through, at least partly, the wall of mainstream media indifference. Trump pledges to take Comcast (owner of MSNBC) off the air for “treason” if he’s returned to office and suggests that retiring Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mark Milley should be executed. Milley, who retires at the end of the month, gave a lengthy (and, for Trump, unflattering) interview to Atlantic Monthly editor Jeff Goldberg. So that’s what Milley’s execution is about. This is the moment we live in in the history of the American republic, a man who talks like a character out of a dystopian novel about the end of America is the choice of about half of Americans to be the next President.

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Flash Flood (Of Resignation Calls) Now Engulfing Menendez

New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez arrives to the federal courthouse in Newark, N.J., Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017. Jurors in Menendez's bribery trial remained deadlocked Tuesday after a judge told them to "take as much time as you need" to reach a verdict on 18 counts against the New Jersey Democrat and his wealthy friend. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

In last night’s piece, I noted that while Bob Menendez’s D.C. dam was mostly holding, the story was dramatically different in New Jersey where virtually everyone in the state party establishment had already called on him to resign. Just in the last couple hours the D.C. dam appears to be giving way. Sens. Warren and Rosen and, most importantly, his New Jersey colleague Cory Booker have now each called on Menendez to step down. I’d be surprised if half his senate colleagues hadn’t followed suit by the end of the day.


Menendez is Defiant. It Probably Won’t Matter

UNITED STATES - APRIL 21: Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., talks with reporters before the senate policy luncheons on the Capitol, April 21, 2015. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

If you watch politics long enough you realize that the secret to not being forced to resign is simple: just don’t resign. Obvious? Sure, in a way. But for countless politicians it remains oddly elusive. It’s a sort of Zen Koan of political scandals only revealed in its fullness to those who have spent years or decades meditating on the carnival of political scandals.

I often regret when good politicians fail to grasp this. We now see a bad one — Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey — trying to make a go of it. As our proverb makes clear, if Menendez absolutely refuses to resign there’s literally no way to force him. But that may not be as big a deal as it seems. Forcing him to resign may not be necessary.

The simplest alternative is for another candidate to defeat him in a primary. It may not be as hard as it sounds.



TPM Reader RS chimes in on the senior Senator from New Jersey …

In watching the different reactions of NJ politicians and Senate Democrats to Sen. Mendendez’s indictment, I’m struck by another juxtaposition: the different responses of Senate Democrats to Sen. Menendez and former Sen. Franken.

I have never been particularly concerned with the pressure that was placed on Sen. Franken to resign (and think that Sen. Gillibrand has gotten a bit of a bum rap for her role in the process that probably affected her Presidential campaign in 2020, unlikely as it was to succeed in the first place).  But I can’t help but wonder if the Democrats haven’t created a situation where getting indicted is what helps a Senator keep his or her seat at least in the short-term — because colleagues will point to due process, the presumption of innocence, etc. — whereas non-criminal allegations of impropriety are in a way more serious because they “have to” be dealt with by the Senate.


Back to One of My Hobbyhorses

While English-language AI is gobbling up much of the online English language almost always without permission, there’s a problem for Danish AI, reports Bloomberg. Apparently, most of the Danish web is under pretty stringent copyright protections. And Danish law makes the kind of recourse-less stealing that Silicon Valley AI companies are getting away with way too hard. Government records and legislation are in the public domain. But that formal Danish is too distant from how people really speak and write to serve the purpose. The solution turns out to be horses.



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Competition for the most memorable moment in the debate is stiff between Chris Christie bawdily saying that President Biden is “sleeping with a member of the teachers union” — followed by Mike Pence making the most uncomfortable sex joke on record — and Nikki Haley telling Vivek Ramaswamy “every time I hear you, I feel a little bit dumber.”

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Connecticut Mayoral Candidate Is Hoping Voters Can Look Beyond His Participation In Jan. 6

The chaos of Jan. 6 has spawned several political candidates and right wing influencers who have sought to capitalize on their roles in the attempt to reverse the 2020 election. Gino DiGiovanni Jr. is different. The Republican mayoral candidate in the city of Derby, Connecticut was one of the Trump supporters who surged into the U.S. Capitol that day and he’s facing multiple federal charges. However, rather than embracing MAGA infamy or martyrdom, DiGiovanni has sought a degree of distance from the dead ender movement that erupted in the wake of former President Trump’s loss. 

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