Hello it’s the weekend. This is The Weekender ☕
Reporters often complain about how our inboxes get clogged with press releases, but every now and then, you scan your email and see one that’s actually good for a story.
My favorite press release of all time came from Newt Gingrich’s doomed presidential bid in 2011. It was the most overwritten, overwrought, and frankly unhinged piece of campaign communications in history. If you haven’t heard it before, you simply must watch John Lithgow’s dramatic reading of the Gingrich press release. It’s incredible.
But I digress, this weekend’s newsletter is not actually about that classic press release. It’s about one I received on Tuesday night from former President Trump’s reelection campaign.
As you may know, the GOP presidential primary is getting crowded with hopefuls who, despite seemingly obvious math, apparently don’t realize that the Republican Party is currently Trump’s. This week alone we saw Chris Christie, who flamed out in 2016 when he was in a far better position, and Mike Pence, who the MAGA base wanted to hang less than thirty months ago, enter the fray.
In a flashback to 2016, Trump seems to be dealing with the traffic problems in the primary by picking his opponents off one by one with vicious and juvenile attacks. So far, he’s mainly focused on the only one who has anything resembling real traction in the polls, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. On Tuesday night, six days after DeSantis officially launched his campaign, Trump’s team fired off a press release accusing the governor of “blatantly” plagiarizing a line from the 2020 State of the Union. The accusation hinged on three words used by Trump in that speech: “great American comeback.”
The moment I got this message, I knew it would make for a fun story. Trump’s accusation was ridiculous on its face. Trying to claim a trademark on a phrase so short and so banal is just absurd. I also suspected that, given how unoriginal the concept is, Trump had already stolen the line from someone else. After all, Trump has a long history of plagiarism from Melania Trump’s RNC speech, to the “Make America Great Again” slogan stolen from Ronald Reagan, and the “America First” catchphrase taken from, well, Nazis. Trump also has a habit of projection. If he’s accusing someone of doing something, there’s a pretty good chance Trump himself has been guilty of it.
My hunch proved accurate. A quick search showed that “great American comeback” was also lifted from Reagan. Since then, the phrase has become a cliche used to describe sports, rebounding reptile populations, and by politicians at every level.
Trump’s attempt to attack DeSantis for plagiarizing text he himself basically stole is just funny. Is this really the best his expensive campaign team can do?
It’s also a reminder of how much all of these guys steal from Reagan and his era. We tend to think of Trump and his MAGA movement as a wholly new phenomenon, but there are so many ways it all traces back to the old school religious right and GOP figures like Reagan and Pat Buchanan. These culture warring authoritarian conservatives have been part of our country since its inception.
You might even say today’s far right is part of a great American comeback.
More next week and more on other news below. Let’s dig in.