Thursday Reads: Will Trump Fade Away?Posted: December 3, 2020
On Tuesday, I asked if we will ever be free of Trump and his demands for narcissistic supply–even after we pry him out of the White House. At The Atlantic, two writers argue that Trump is already losing his battle to remain the center of attention.
David A. Graham: Trump Is Rapidly Becoming Irrelevant.
To a remarkable degree, people have already stopped paying attention to the 45th president.
The past few weeks have offered a preview of what Donald Trump’s post-presidency might look like: The president fulminates at length, playing pundit, but is a practical nonfactor in policy discussions. He can still command the affection of millions—and raise millions of dollars from them—but the balance of the country has already moved on and tuned out. Trump’s ability to command the news cycle has been eclipsed by the virus he couldn’t be bothered to stop and the rival candidate he couldn’t beat.
Graham notes that we still must be alert to Trump’s efforts to damage our democratic institutions and policies.
His election-related efforts are sputtering: Trump has watched while state after state certifies election wins for Biden. He has watched as dozens of judges have punted long-shot lawsuits out of court. He watched as dye ran down Rudy Giuliani’s face in a news conference that was somehow both jaw-droppingly insane and jaw-clenchingly dull. Having exhausted nearly every option, the Trump legal effort has now resorted to recycling old, failed gambits. With the Electoral College meeting on December 14, the end is in sight.
The relevant description of Trump’s role is “watching.” The president has long been an obsessive TV viewer, but without a campaign to run and with no events on his schedule, there is less to distract him from the tube—and his gripes about Fox News and praise for the network’s smaller rivals, Newsmax and One America News….
He is now back to feeding his followers a steady diet of false and misleading claims about the election results, though it is difficult to tell whether he really believes his claims, is just processing his grief, is simply taking advantage of a lucrative fundraising opportunity, or some combination thereof.
This punditry will likely be the central element of Trump’s post-presidency. Armed with his Twitter following and perhaps a cable-news show or even channel, Trump will be able to spout off to his heart’s content….
Trump’s diminishing relevance over the past 10 days is a good preview of what to expect come late January. Trump won’t go away entirely, and he certainly won’t get quiet, but fewer Americans will listen to or care about what he has to say. They’ve voted with their ballots, and now they’ll vote with their attention.
Yascha Mounk: Why Trump Might Just Fade Away. Americans will soon grow tired of the president, despite his efforts to stay in the limelight.
Trump’s veneer of invincibility is fading. He lost his bid for reelection, and staged the most incompetent coup attempt since Woody Allen’s Bananas. He can rant and rave about what happened in November, but he can’t keep his followers from seeing Joe Biden inaugurated in January. Fear of what he might attempt next is giving way to laughter. He looks weaker and more scared by the day.
When Oprah Winfrey left her show to start her own network, she was the biggest star on television. Many analysts predicted that her new venture would be a huge success. At the time, some press reports even suggested that bosses at the main broadcast networks were seriously worried about the competition.
Contrary to these expectations, the Oprah Winfrey Network struggled to find an audience. In the first years of its existence, it bled tens of millions of dollars. Today, OWN has established a stable niche for itself, and even makes a little profit. But with an average viewership of fewer than 500,000 people in 2018, it plays in a completely different league from the four major networks and the most commercially successful cable channels.
This should serve as a warning to anybody who is now fielding pitches to invest in the Trump News Network. If Trump follows the lead of other authoritarian populists like Hugo Chávez and hosts a regular television program, he can undoubtedly induce his most devoted fans to tune in. But to be commercially viable, his channel would have to expand that core audience, recruit other hosts who are capable of sustaining the public’s attention, hire journalists who can actually cover what is going on in the world, and attract advertising from run-of-the-mill corporations.
Mounk argues that Republicans are unlikely to supports Trump’s plans for another presidential run in 2024, even if he is capable of carrying if off four years from now and it’s likely that most Americans will be sick of his antics by then, if they aren’t already.
Another Atlantic writer, Timothy Noah suggests that we may learn much more about Trump’s time as “president” after he leaves office: The Trump You’ve Yet to Meet. Just because we know bad things about the 45th president, don’t assume that there’s nothing bad left to find out.
How well do we know Donald Trump? Pretty well, it would seem. Nobody has ever accused the outgoing president of possessing a complex personality. His behavior in office confirmed the common view, barely disputed even by his allies, that he is a shallow narcissist, blind or indifferent to common decencies, with poor impulse control and a vindictive streak. His futile attempt to litigate away electoral defeat may appall you, but it probably doesn’t surprise you.
Still, just because we know bad things about the 45th president, don’t assume that there’s nothing bad left to find out. Journalists like to pretend that we know everything about a president in real time, but our information is never close to complete. There’s always more to learn, and it’s seldom reassuring.
Americans had no idea until after he left office how completely Woodrow Wilson depended on his wife, Edith, after he suffered a stroke in September 1919; she waited two decades to admit in her memoirs that, on instructions from Wilson’s doctors, she’d winnowed his written communications with Cabinet members and senators, digesting and reframing “in tabloid form those things that … had to go to the president.”
Nor did Americans learn until a decade after his death that John F. Kennedy, a much less devoted family man than Life magazine let on, shared a mistress (sequentially if not concurrently) with the Chicago Mob boss Sam Giancana, whom the CIA recruited in one of several harebrained plots to assassinate Fidel Castro.
Then there’s Richard Nixon. Americans knew many shameful things about Nixon thanks to the Watergate investigation that prompted his resignation. But only after he left office did we learn, for instance, that Nixon ordered an aide to compile a list of Jews who worked at the Bureau of Labor Statistics so he could demote some of them.
Noah lists many possibilities for how we will learn more about Trump and his time in the White House. I hope you’ll read the whole thing. Some possible sources of information and questions to be answered:
Trump, for all his talk about loyalty, has never commanded much from the people who work for him. No visible bonds of affection or respect bind Trump to his employees, leaving fear the sole motivation for keeping the troops in line. (See Cohen, Michael.) Most of that fear will evaporate by January 20, by which time trade publishers may be turning away proposals for tell-all books lest they create a market glut. Unlike the previous two administrations, which were somewhat difficult for reporters to penetrate, the Trump White House leaked like a sieve. Après lui, le déluge….
How close did we come to war with North Korea when Trump threatened to rain “fire and fury” on Kim Jong Un? After Trump decided instead to become the first president to meet with Kim, how close did Trump come to agreeing to remove U.S. troops from the Korean peninsula?
Exactly how much revenue did Trump properties collect from the federal government during his presidency? How much from people seeking to influence Trump’s presidency?
Who has received promises from Trump that they’ll be pardoned? Did Trump promise in advance to commute Roger Stone’s sentence?
What were the domestic arrangements in the Trump White House? Can Melania and Barron really be said to have lived there, or did they spend more time in their New York apartment, or at her parents’ house in Maryland, where Barron went to school?
Did White House aides observe signs of mental decline in Trump related to aging?
Some stories from today’s news that suggest Trump’s power to control the narrative and intimidate fellow Republicans is fading:
The Daily Beast: Mike Pence Backs Away From the Trump Election ‘Fraud’ Train Wreck.
Vice President Mike Pence has been a go-to fundraising draw for the president’s campaign, and since October, no more than a day passed without his name emblazoning a fundraising email for the Trump reelect.
But that changed late last month. Since Nov. 25, not a single fundraising email from the Trump campaign or its Republican National Committee fundraising account has featured Pence’s name in the “from” field. And this week, that Republican National Committee joint fundraising committee, the Trump Make America Great Again Committee, made another subtle change: a handful of its emails swapped out the official Trump-Pence campaign logo for one featuring just the president’s name….
Several high-level sources say that the graphics change, along with Pence’s disappearance from the headers of President Donald Trump’s increasingly frantic and conspiratorial pleas, are not actually coincidental. According to four people with knowledge of the matter, they reflect an effort by the vice president and his team to distance Pence from some of the president’s more outlandish claims about a conspiracy to undermine the election and illegally deny him a second term in office.
“It is an open secret [in Trumpworld] that Vice President Pence absolutely does not feel the same way about the legal effort as President Trump does,” said a senior administration official. “The vice president doesn’t want to go down with this ship…and believes much of the legal work has been unhelpful.”
Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) told President Trump on Wednesday he’ll likely fail to get two big wishes in pending defense spending legislation, bellowing into his cellphone: “This is the only chance to get our bill passed,” a source who overheard part of their conversation tells Axios.
Why it matters: Republicans are ready to test whether Trump’s threats of vetoing the bill, which has passed every year for more than half a century, are empty.
The backstory: Inhofe leveled with Trump — over speakerphone while walking through the Senate’s Russell Building — that the bill won’t meet his demand to repeal liability protections for tech companies, or block efforts to re-title military bases named for Confederate figures.
The Washington Post reports on the public disgrace of a Trump sycophant: Joseph diGenova resigns from Gridiron Club after saying fired cybersecurity official should be shot.
Ivanka in legal trouble? CNN: Ivanka Trump was deposed Tuesday in DC attorney general’s inauguration lawsuit.
Ivanka Trump, the President’s daughter and adviser, sat for a deposition Tuesday with investigators from the Washington, DC, attorney general’s office as part of its lawsuit alleging the misuse of inaugural funds, according to a court filing.
In January, the DC attorney general’s office sued the Trump Organization and Presidential Inaugural Committee alleging they abused more than $1 million raised by the nonprofit by “grossly overpaying” for use of event space at the Trump hotel in Washington for the 2017 inauguration….
The attorney general’s office has also subpoenaed records from Barrack, Ivanka Trump, first lady Melania Trump, and Rick Gates, the former inaugural committee deputy chairman, the filing said.
Republican election officials are standing up to Trump. The Washington Post: Election officials warn Trump’s escalating attacks on voting are putting their staffs at risk.
More details at the link.
Finally, Bill Barr is publicly pushing back on Trump’s election fraud claims. ABC News: Barr had ‘intense’ meeting with Trump after AG’s interview undercutting voter fraud claims: Sources.
Barr spent roughly two and a half hours on White House grounds on Tuesday for what White House and Department of Justice officials previously said was a pre-planned meeting with White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows.
However, sources told ABC News that once Barr was in the building for meetings, Trump wanted to see him.
One source briefed on the meeting described Barr’s interaction with the president as “intense,” but would not elaborate on any additional details about the content of their discussion.
White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany in a press briefing Wednesday afternoon declined to answer whether the two had spoken since Barr’s interview, and also declined to say directly whether Trump still had confidence in Barr.
So, that’s my summary of the notion that Trump may fade away after he leaves the White House. I don’t know if I buy it or not, but there is some evidence that Republicans are breaking free of the cult. I’d love to get your input on this.