Editors’ Blog

Where Things Stand: Trump Campaign Seeks To Cast Unrest As A Campaign Issue Prime Badge
This is your TPM afternoon briefing.

The White House is going after former Veep Joe Biden for not traveling to Kenosha, Wisconsin, unlike President Trump who “shows up.”

The only issue? The governor of Wisconsin has politely asked Trump to actually … not show up.

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Why Are Dems Nervous? Because They’re Dems. Prime Badge

We are now waiting to see the upshot or impact, if any, of the two successive national party conventions. The general consensus was that the Democrats did very well. Then last week – at least as I was hearing it – many seemed to think that the Republican convention was more effective than Democrats anticipated. Suddenly the tide seemed to shift. I felt some of this myself. I have no idea which of these is true. But I can offer one observation that I’m pretty certain is accurate. It’s born of years of experience watching elections.

Regardless of the objective realities, Democrats will consistently anticipate loss or worry about loss while Republicans will consistently be confident of victory. This is a good rule of thumb regardless of the objective realities of the moment, to the degree they can be known. This is not an absolute of course: overwhelming odds will buoy Democrats and hopeless situations will nudge Republicans to despair. But in general this is almost an iron law of political psychology in the United States.

This may be obscured by the genuine shock and horror Democrats experienced on election night four years ago. Democrats were pretty confident and all their worst fears were realized. But a closer look shows the general pattern was actually in effect through much of the 2016 cycle. Indeed we saw a particular example of it during the 2018 midterm election. The fall of 2018 was chock full of theories and predictions about how two years of ‘resistance’ activism were coming up short. It was the ‘caravan’. It was Trump’s 12 dimensional chess. It was low turnout among young voters. So pervasive were Democrats’ latent fears of coming up short that they actually persisted well into election night and even the first couple days after the election – until late returns, results of close call races and just the actual numbers made clear Democrats had won a decisive victory.

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Where Things Stand: Trump Touts ‘Succes’ In Kenosha Prime Badge
This is your TPM afternoon briefing.

While there were scant references to the shooting of Jacob Blake during the last night of the RNC Thursday, President Trump tweeted about the “succes” scene in Kenosha, Wisconsin on Friday morning. (No, that is not a typo on my part, but his).

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The Illumination of Unexpected Experience

Very excited to welcome Aurin Squire back to our virtual pages. Don’t miss ‘The Incredibly Short Rise and Fall of a Black Republican.’

Where Things Stand: The Marathon Finish Line Prime Badge
This is your TPM afternoon briefing.

One more night.

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Trump, Mussolini and the Rising Authoritarianism Prime Badge

Today we are publishing in its entirety my recent Inside Briefing with Professor Ruth Ben-Ghiat of New York University. Prior to the Trump Era, her main subject area was Benito Mussolini and Italian fascism, particularly the cultural dimensions of the fascist era. Since 2015 she has become a public commentator on the rising authoritarianism we see across the globe and with particular force right here in the United States. In our culture, discussions of right-wing authoritarianism and fascism almost always spur mentions of Adolf Hitler, if only as a canonical point of reference. But as you’ll see in our conversation, with Donald Trump, Benito Mussolini is a much better analogue. The parallels are more pregnant with potential insights into both men and their movements. Ben-Ghiat also explores this question in a new book coming out in November, Strongmen: From Mussolini to the Present.

I was really looking forward to this discussion with Ben-Ghiat who I’d come to know mainly through her Twitter presence. I was not disappointed. I hope you enjoy the discussion, which you can watch after the jump …

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The Press Coverage Will Be Atrocious — As Usual Prime Badge

Now is a good time to remind ourselves that all this week and going through November numerous mainstream media reporters — most of whom aren’t consciously rooting for President Trump — will find themselves parroting Trump attack lines, amplifying Trumpite misinformation and more. In most cases they will do so because of the structural imbalance to the right which is built into political news coverage in the U.S. and in an effort to fairly cover “both sides” of the issue. I was inspired to note this for perhaps the 1000th time here at TPM when I saw this fairly mild example.

This is from a White House reporter for CNN …

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Where Things Stand: Graham’s Remarks Are Part Of The Problem Prime Badge
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It’s a meme that’s been circulating across social media for months, since George Floyd was murdered by police, sparking a reignited nationwide movement against police brutality and racial injustice: guilty people don’t deserve to be killed by police, either.

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The Falwell Endorsement at the Time Prime Badge

As I’ve mentioned a few times, today it seems obvious that an evangelical leader like Jerry Falwell, Jr. would endorse and support President Trump. After all, almost every major conservative evangelical leader strongly supports President Trump. But it wasn’t like that back in late 2015. Trump’s irreligion and libertinism were obvious obstacles to becoming the candidate of conservative evangelicals. Perhaps the iron alliance we’ve now known for four years was always in the cards. But Jerry Falwell’s endorsement – in January 2016 – was a key bridge to getting there.

With that in mind I thought I’d go back and look at press coverage at the time, without the gloss and overlay of subsequent events. Remember that at this moment Trump was locked in a pitched battle for evangelical voters in Iowa with Ted Cruz, then a leading candidate of the evangelical right. Falwell had actually allowed Cruz to launch his campaign at Liberty University back in March 2015. Cruz would win the battle in Iowa – he came in first and Trump second. But of course he would lose the war.

Let me share a few snippets.

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Draw Distinctions in Response to Police Shootings

If I were younger and living in Kenosha, Wisconsin, I would have been in the streets protesting the police shooting a Black man in the back as he got into a car with his three children already seated there. There may have been extraordinary extenuating circumstances, but based on the video, it would seem that this was as egregious an act as the killing of George Floyd and that the officers involved should be prosecuted and that the city’s police department dramatically reformed. Read More

Where Things Stand: Revisionist History Prime Badge
This is your TPM afternoon briefing.

All the cable news pundits have been talking about it as if its some surprising new theme, a novel take on a night laced with apocalyptic doom and sweaty aggression.

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Day Two on Falwell

I’m now very curious to see the day-two stories about Jerry Falwell, Jr.

As you can see from the headline, after a day of equivocating, Falwell has now officially resigned his post at Liberty University. We now know pretty definitively what has been fairly obvious for a couple years about Jerry and Becki Falwell’s sexual practices. It seems highly likely that there will be other similar stories about other young men in the couple’s lives. But as we discussed yesterday, the really consequential news will be on the Falwell’s critical 2016 endorsement of then-candidate Trump and what role Trump and Michael Cohen’s knowledge of Falwell’s private life played in that decision.

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Everyone handles the current moment differently. TPM Reader NR:

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Trump Owned Jerry and Jerry Knew It Prime Badge

Since I wrote the Falwell update below, Giancarlo’s story has been published and it’s about what most of us have long suspected: Giancarlo had a relationship with the couple in which he and Becki Falwell had sex while Jerry Falwell watched. Other than the hypocrisy and the payoffs (which were likely illegal since they used money from Liberty University) more power to them. But I want to zoom in on the 2016 endorsement that I mentioned in the previous post.

I imagine there are quite a lot of details to emerge. But let’s go just on what has been reported very reliably so far.

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Where Things Stand: The Circus Begins Prime Badge
This is your TPM afternoon briefing.
NYTRNC20An RNC sign glows outside the Charlotte Convention Center’s Richardson Ballroom in Charlotte, NC where delegates gather for the roll call vote to renominate Donald J. Trump to be President of the United States and Mike Pence to be Vice President.(Travis Dove for The New York Times)

Glancing through tonight’s lineup of speakers suggests that, this evening, we are in for a journey down to the depths of the Trump fever swamp, with only a few potential opportunities to come up for air, when folks like Nikki Haley and Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) speak.

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Limited, Modified Jerry Falwell Hang Out Prime Badge

Yesterday, Jerry Falwell Jr., fresh off getting bounced from running his dad’s university, finally came forward to admit — or perhaps better to say “claim” — that his wife Becki Falwell had indeed had an affair with pool boy Giancarlo Granda.

But of course it’s not that simple. Falwell brought the story to one of the most reliably Trumpy and wingnutified journalists in the business, Paul Bedard, who now operates out of The Washington Examiner. In other words, a venue where Falwell was guaranteed a gentle touch — which is good since the lengthy statement Falwell released makes pretty clear this is an attempt to get out in front of what appears to be a much bigger and more damaging story.

To refresh everyone’s memory, back in 2012 the Falwells were at a luxury resort in Miami where they met a pool attendant named Giancarlo Granda. They were so impressed with his ambition and winning ways, so their story went, that they promptly started traveling with him, bringing him to Lynchburg, going to secluded vacation resorts with him and finally setting him up in business running a tumbledown youth hostel in Miami. Around the same time Michael Cohen shows up in the mix. Later, Cohen helps the Falwells make some nude photos of Becki disappear. (Apparently someone was blackmailing them with the threat of releasing them.) Then a few months after that Cohen brokered Falwell’s endorsement of Donald Trump in the 2016 election. Today it now goes without saying that white evangelicals are Donald Trump’s most reliable and intense source of support in American politics. And perhaps this was always inevitable. But it wasn’t clear during the 2016 primary season and Falwell’s endorsement was a critical moment in giving this critical demographic permission, sanction to rally behind Trump.

But I get ahead of myself.

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The Post-Policy Party

Today, we learn that the GOP is done with the whole party platform thing. The party and Trump are one and the same, like Louis XIV and France.

Back in June, Steve Benen wrote for TPM Cafe on how the GOP came to be a post-policy party, with an exclusive focus on winning.

Read that here.

Where Things Stand: Show Of Hands, Should We Separate Families? Prime Badge
This is your TPM afternoon briefing.

They took a vote. A, hands up if you think we should do this bloody thing, vote.

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It Was All a Lie Prime Badge

It Was All a Lie: How the Republican Party Became Donald Trump. That’s the title of the new book by Stuart Stevens, a longtime Republican operative, chief strategist for Mitt Romney in 2012 and now a leading Never Trumper and one of the people behind The Lincoln Project. Recently we talked about Trump, the GOP, the Southern strategy and growing up in Mississippi in the final days of Jim Crow.

Watch our chat here after the jump.

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What the Convention Revealed of the Democratic Party

Conventions present the face of the party to voters. The Democrats of 2020 are the party of democracy, character and competence (contra Trump) and social inclusivity, with an emphasis on women and minority groups. Programmatically, they promise a continuation of the Obama years, for instance, incrementally shoring up the Affordable Care Act. (The words “public option” were notably missing from Biden’s speech.)

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Are Kids COVID Vectors? Prime Badge

Yesterday The Washington Post reported this study in The Journal of Pediatrics which suggests that children may play a more significant role in the spread of COVID than is widely believed. The gist is that they have comparable viral loads but are far more often asymptomatic. So they may be able to spread COVID just as easily as others but the fact that they’re sick is more hidden.

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A Few Thoughts on a Novel Convention

This was a very powerful speech from Joe Biden, better than I expected. I don’t think of Biden is a great public speaker. That’s not really necessary for the job. But this was very powerful. It matched powerfully with the historical moment. I was struck listening to Biden’s speech that it made Trump seem like such a vacant, meaningless man. Which is to say it accurately captured him … but it did so largely as an absence.

Trump was a central focus of Biden’s speech and yet he seemed like such a thin presence, almost not even there. This in itself is something because Trump’s chaotic, predatory presence has been such a dominating one in our public life – echoing in our heads – through his presidency.

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Where Things Stand: A TPM Piñata Prime Badge
This is your TPM afternoon briefing.

TPM reporter Matt Shuham has been on the story surrounding the “We Build The Wall” project for months. At one point during the bluster of breaking news this morning he likened covering the story of former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon’s arrest, and all the absurd developments surrounding it, to “hitting a TPM piñata” — every time you smack it with a bat, something better falls out.

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

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Den of Thieves Prime Badge
on January 16, 2018 in Washington, DC.

It somewhat defies commentary when something you’ve thought and said for years is suddenly confirmed by an unexpected new bundle of evidence. I should note the “I” isn’t relevant here. I’m one of legions who’ve thought and said this. The fact that Bannon was even involved with this crowdfund-the-wall “charity” wasn’t clear to me let alone that he was about to be indicted for perpetrating a massive fraud against the MAGAfied donors. But while it is entirely unexpected in the particular it’s entirely predictable, perhaps inevitable in general.

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All The Bannon That’s Fit To Print

I know you came for our ongoing coverage of today’s remarkable convergence of Stephen Bannon and Brian Kolfage’s border wall bamboozlement in federal criminal purgatory. You can find all of it right here.


Bannon indicted!

Where Things Stand: It’s Ladies’ Night Prime Badge
This is your TPM afternoon briefing.

You might not have noticed because we are good at hiding it, but some of the TPM staff is a bit sleep deprived this week.

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Get the Commitments Now – Or It Will Never Happen

I’m concerned and frustrated by this – and no it’s not a Susan Collins impersonation. The executive branch under Trump needs to be audited. We need a full report on everything that happened – something that is distinct and separate from any kind of criminal investigations and more important than criminal probes. I’ve laid out why this is important and how it should work here and here. But it’s simply not going to happen unless Democrats secure clear commitments from Joe Biden and congressional leaders in advance.

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The Soothing Shock of the New Prime Badge

There are so many more important events unfolding before us and questions to be answered. But I wanted to share a few thoughts on aesthetics and communications. From the beginning of the pandemic, if you’re a TV watcher, you’ve been watching people interviewed in their homes. The hosts have mainly set up mini-studios so the fact that they’re recording from home is almost hidden. But with guests it’s all pretty clear. They’re in their den or at their computer. They may put some thought into the background. But basically it’s their home.

And really, it’s much better. Certainly it’s more congenial for the guests who don’t have to trek to studios and sit in green rooms for hours for six minutes on air (this is the main reason I seldom do TV). But it’s also better viewing. It’s more relaxed. You see the creature in its natural environment as opposed to through the homogenized medium of TV studios.

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Where Things Stand: The Sideshow Prime Badge
This is your TPM afternoon briefing.

An approaching full week in the spotlight is not enough to satiate President Trump’s attention appetite.

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