Thursday, April 28, 2022


Writing for The Atlantic, Mark Leibovich outlines a galaxy-brain strategy to rid our politics of Donald Trump:
... if Trump does decide to inflict himself on another [presidential] race, he will enter as the clear Republican favorite, enjoying a presumption of invincibility inside the GOP. This has engendered a belief that anyone who challenges Trump must tread lightly, or end up like the roadkill that his primary opponents became in 2016.

That notion is outdated.

Trump’s bizarre and enduring hold over his party has made it verboten for many Republicans to even utter publicly the unpleasant fact of his defeat—something they will readily acknowledge in private. I caught up recently with several Trump-opposing Republican strategists and former associates of the president who argued this restraint should end. The best way for a Republican to depose Trump in 2024, they said, will be to call Trump a loser, as early and as brutally as possible—and keep pointing out the absurdity of treating a one-term, twice-impeached, 75-year-old former president like a kingmaker and heir apparent. In other words, don’t worry about hurting Special Boy’s feelings.
Oh, is that all? Just say he was unsuccessful politician? Because I'm sure that would find a highly receptive audience among GOP voters in the 2024 primaries.

Leibovich is proposing that the winning strategy in a campaign against Trump is to say "Trump lost" to voters whose core belief is that he won: that he was robbed of his rightful victory by a vast "swamp"/left-wing conspiracy that had tried and failed to neutralize him via impeachment, out of fear that he might continue seizing the conspirators' power and giving it to We The People. This is what GOP voters actually believe, as Leibovich would know if he met some of them.

Leibovich continues:
“Why on earth would we hitch our wagons again to a crybaby sore loser who lost the popular vote twice, lost the House, lost the Senate, and lost the White House, and so on?” said Barbara Comstock, a longtime political consultant and former Republican congresswoman from Virginia. “For Republicans, whether they embrace the Big Lie or not, Trump is vulnerable to having the stench of disaster on him.”
Ah, yes, Barbara Comstock, a consultant whose highest-profile client was Mitt Romney in 2008 -- there's a person whose advice you want to take! I'm sure it'd be a piece of cake to sell the notion of Trump as a loser to voters who not only believe Trump's loss in 2020 was rigged, but also believe that Democrats rig every election, largely because that's what they've been told by Republican officeholders and Fox News since the Bush years. They don't think Trump is a failure because Congress and the White House are now (barely) in Democratic hands -- they think Trump is a success because he beat our all-powerful juggernaut once. It must be nice to live in Mark Leibovich's bubble, where he never has to meet an ordinary American who really believes all this. But they're out there, and they're the Republican multitudes.

More from Leibovich:
Trump’s wasn’t an ordinary election defeat, either. Some nervy Republican challenger needs to remind everyone how rare it is for an incumbent president to lose reelection, and also that Trump was perhaps the most graceless loser and insufferable whiner in presidential history....
Republican voters like whining! They've liked it since Nixon!
Said nervy Republican challenger could even (just for fun) remind the former president that he once called the person he lost to “the worst presidential candidate in the history of presidential politics.”

“So what does that make you, sir? At least Jimmy Carter lost to, you know, Ronald Reagan.”

This is a devastating point of attack against Trump.
This is not a devastating point of attack against Trump, for the simple reason that 70% of the party's voters don't think Trump lost -- and the other 30% hate Democrats as much as the 70% do, which means that many of them will root for Trump if he's the nominee because they believe a Trump victory would own us harder than a victory by just about any other Republican. If Mark Leibovich got out and met some actual Republican voters, or even read a few right-wing comment threads, he'd know this.

Leibovich passes on further advice from what he calls his "cabinet of critics":
Abandon all deference, and don’t forget to troll the troller.

“It is erroneous to think there’s a benefit to being the adult in the room against Donald Trump,” said Michael Cohen, the former president’s fixer turned antagonist, who clearly knows him and all of his trigger points. “There’s a way of going after Trump that I would call intelligent mockery,” continued Cohen, who pleaded guilty in 2018 to federal charges for lying to Congress on behalf of his former client and paying hush money to Trump’s porn-actor paramour, Stormy Daniels. “If you can make your criticism personal to him, he will become flustered. And when he gets flustered, his level of stupidity rises and then morphs into complete idiocy.”
Let me pause here to make a simple point:

Michael Cohen? Disbarred. Jailed for a year.

Donald Trump? Still walking around free.

Michael Cohen is not the person you want to turn to for advice about how to get the better of Trump.

Maybe it's theoretically possible to get under Trump's skin in the way Cohen describes -- but the last person who managed to do it was Barack Obama at the White House Correspondents' Association dinner, and that was more than a decade ago. And Trump got his revenge by defeating Obama's would-be successor. Obama, with the right material, has some of the best comedy timing in American politics. Who does Leibovich think might pull this off in the 2020s? Let's ask him:
Who could make this work? Perhaps a popular Republican governor such as Maryland’s Larry Hogan or New Hampshire’s Chris Sununu, neither of whom has much use for Trump. “You know, he’s probably going to be the next president,” Sununu said of Trump earlier this month in a comedic speech at Washington’s annual Gridiron Club dinner. “Nah, I’m just kidding; he’s fucking crazy.”

The line killed, according to Comstock, who was at the dinner. It underscored how effective humor—or ridicule—can be in the airing of unspoken and commonly understood truths. “This will be an important weapon for some Republicans to use against Trump at some point,” Comstock told me.
Yeah, I'm sure it killed -- in a roomful of D.C. swells. Imagine being so out of touch that you think voters who watch Tucker Carlson every night will turn their backs on MAGA red meat in favor of ... Chris Sununu.

Or Larry Hogan. Or -- yes, of course Leibovich goes there -- Chris Christie, who is to insider journalists what Donald Trump is to the MAGA army, a golden god:
Chris Christie, the former New Jersey governor, also could serve as a useful nuisance against Trump.
I can't. I just can't. It's as if the elite media lives on the dark side of the moon, where the news that Chris Christie is a laughingstock to voters across the political spectrum has never penetrated.

Leibovich comes so close to getting it:
The final indignity occurred when Christie attended the September 2020 super-spreader reception at the White House for the Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, after which the president, the first lady, and several guests, including Christie, tested positive for COVID-19. Trump was nice enough to call and check in on Christie when he was laid up in a New Jersey ICU. “Are you going to say you got this from me?” Trump asked, according to Christie. “It was one of the few laughs I had in the hospital,” Christie told me later of Trump’s gesture of deep concern. “I got off the phone, and I just shook my head. Like, this guy will never change.”
Right -- Trump is an asshole. Trump took Chris Christie -- who'd been seen as a Trump figure before Trump came along, a charismatic bully who could bully his way to the White House -- and turned him into the fat sidekick everyone makes fun of. That's what Trump's fans love about him -- they see him as a bully even to bullies. This, of course, is not true when Trump is dealing with a world-class sociopath -- Vladimir Putin or Kim Jong-un. But there's no one in that league in the GOP, not even Ron DeSantis.

Trump walked all over Chris Christie the way he'd walk all over anyone who tried to challenge him directly in a contested primary, because that's what Trump does to anyone who gets in his way. He did it to Chris Christie. It's right in front of Leibovich's eyes. And he doesn't get it.

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