Sunday, October 27, 2019


Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS, died in a commando raid in Syria last night. President Trump announced the death in a speech this morning that was 90% dignified and 10% puerile football-spiking.

This was followed by a petulant, whiny, rambling press conference in which the president lavished praise on Russia...

... while he noted that he didn't notify the Speaker of the House in advance.

He also suggested that the death of Baghdadi was more important than the death of Osama bin Laden....

... while claiming that he saw the bin Laden threat coming first.

In fact:
There was nothing original or clairvoyant in the reference to bin Laden in Trump’s 2000 book. As part of his criticism of what he considered Bill Clinton’s haphazard approach to U.S. security as president, he stated: “One day we’re told that a shadowy figure with no fixed address named Osama bin Laden is public enemy Number One, and U.S. jetfighters lay waste to his camp in Afghanistan. He escapes back under some rock, and a few news cycles later it’s on to a new enemy and new crisis.”

Trump’s book did not call for further U.S. action against bin Laden or al-Qaida to follow up on attacks Clinton ordered in 1998 in Afghanistan and Sudan after al-Qaida bombed the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
ISIS is awful. I'm pleased that Baghdadi is dead. I was prepared to give Trump a thumbs-up for this raid, but he makes it very difficult. He could have given a dignified speech and walked away with his head held high. But he had to express a sadist's glee at the death -- red meat for the base, and there'll be more red meat when Trump and fellow Republicans denounce commentators who criticize the gloating -- and then he had to spend an inordinate amount of time airing personal grievances. He simply can't manage a unifying moment. He doesn't know how, and he thinks it would be less advantageous to him than a divisive moment.

But he'll try very hard to leverage this. Obviously, far fewer Americans know who Baghdadi was than knew bin Laden. But the GOP has a much more efficient noise machine than Democrats have ever had. Trump will work "died like a dog" and the rest into every campaign rally, and into most of his other public utterances. His fellow Republicans will also invoke the raid repeatedly, as if it's a Get Out Impeachment Free card.

It'll be enough to keep any wavering Republicans in the House (assuming there ever were any) from voting for impeachment, and any Senate waverers from voting for conviction. Months from now, they'll still be saying it's unthinkable to conceive of impeaching and/or convicting the brave commander in chief who killed the leader of ISIS -- how dare the Democrats! Susan Collins, in her endless speech on the Senate floor, will defend her vote to acquit by invoking this moment. Same with Gardner and Romney and Sasse.

Right? Or will even skillful GOP messaging be incapable of sustaining this moment? I checked the Real Clear Politics polling averages for Barack Obama: His polling pike after bin Laden's death (announced May 1, 2011) lasted about five weeks. And Baghdadi, unlike bin Laden, didn't oversee a mass slaughter on U.S. soil.

But we'll hear about this endlessly. In the next several, lickspittles like Lindsey Graham will be telling us that Baghdadi's death is reason enough for Democrats to shut down the investigation.

I think much of the public will move on quickly, but Republicans will make a heroic effort to prevent us from doing that, and to suggest that "real Americans" consider the raid a crowning achievement for a great president.

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