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Political Wire logo Trump Plots Aggressive Midterm Strategy
Republicans Lose It Over Biden’s Speech
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Pennsylvania at the Center of the Political Universe
Biden at the Barricades
Hillary Clinton Has ‘No Regrets’ Staying in Marriage

TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  The Soul of the Nation
      •  Another Bad Day on the Legal Front for TrumpWorld
      •  Select Committee Wants to Chat with Newt
      •  McConnell-Scott Feud Is Now out in the Open
      •  Where in the World Is Carmen San D. Vance?
      •  This Week in Schadenfreude
      •  This Week in Freudenfreude

The Soul of the Nation

Yesterday evening, Joe Biden visited Independence Hall in Philadelphia. There, he delivered a primetime address entitled "The Continued Battle for the Soul of the Nation," which might as well have been entitled "Midterm Season Is Now Officially Underway."

If you did not see the speech, and you would like to, you can view it here:

If you prefer to read it, here is a transcript. The speech clocked in at a little more than 20 minutes, so it's worth your while to take a look.

Let's start with our assessment of the speech itself. It was, on the whole, very strong. Biden is generally loath to rattle his saber much. That went by the wayside last night, though; we have no doubt that many, many outlets will be making use of the term "fiery" today. It was a call-to-arms to Democrats, and also to any other voters who fear Trumpism and the damage it has done, and will do, to the country. Utilizing the term "MAGA Republicans," the President decreed:

And I believe it is my duty—my duty to level with you, to tell the truth no matter how difficult, no matter how painful.

And here, in my view, is what is true: MAGA Republicans do not respect the Constitution. They do not believe in the rule of law. They do not recognize the will of the people.

They refuse to accept the results of a free election. And they're working right now, as I speak, in state after state to give power to decide elections in America to partisans and cronies, empowering election deniers to undermine democracy itself.

MAGA forces are determined to take this country backwards—backwards to an America where there is no right to choose, no right to privacy, no right to contraception, no right to marry who you love.

Strong words like this, albeit less artfully chosen, were a daily feature of the previous administration but do not often come from this one.

The biggest risk in this speech was that, instead of being a call-to-arms for Democrats, it ends up being a call-to-arms for Trumpers, who could appropriate some portion of the text and turn it into a rallying cry. Put another way, Biden had to be very careful to avoid "Basket of Deplorables, the Sequel." And the speech was clearly crafted to dodge that particular pitfall. First, there was no phrase that we can see that could be extracted and utilized by the MAGA crowd. If you wear a "Deplorable" t-shirt or your car has a "Deplorable" bumper sticker, it's crystal clear what the reference is. Not so for "MAGA Republicans."

Further, while Hillary Clinton put some effort into making clear that she was not referring to all Republicans (something that right-wing pundits deliberately overlooked), Biden bent over backwards to say, again and again, that he was only referring to a minority of Republicans. For example:

Now, I want to be very clear—very clear up front: Not every Republican, not even the majority of Republicans, are MAGA Republicans. Not every Republican embraces their extreme ideology.
And this:
Democrats, independents, mainstream Republicans: We must be stronger, more determined, and more committed to saving American democracy than MAGA Republicans are to—to destroying American democracy.

Obviously, the Tucker Carlsons of the world will insist the speech was an insult to every Republican in the country, but it's just not so.

Biden and his speechwriters also made certain that the primary concern expressed by the speech was not "MAGA Republicans are bad people," but instead "democracy is in danger." The President mentioned "MAGA Republicans" 10 times, which is a lot. However, he mentioned democracy 31 times, which is a lot more, including as the final word of the speech (except for "thank you"). Also, choosing Independence Hall as the venue for the speech was obviously not an accident, something Biden pointed out at the outset:

This is where America made its Declaration of Independence to the world more than two centuries ago with an idea, unique among nations, that in America, we're all created equal.

This is where the United States Constitution was written and debated.

This is where we set in motion the most extraordinary experiment of self-government the world has ever known with three simple words: "We, the People." "We, the People."

These two documents and the ideas they embody—equality and democracy—are the rock upon which this nation is built. They are how we became the greatest nation on Earth. They are why, for more than two centuries, America has been a beacon to the world.

But as I stand here tonight, equality and democracy are under assault. We do ourselves no favor to pretend otherwise.

Incidentally, there was heavy use of the rhetorical technique you see at the end of the third paragraph, wherein Biden repeated a key phrase several times. There must have been at least a dozen occasions where he did that.

We'll note one last thing about the quality of the speech itself before moving on, something we doubt many others will mention. There was a counter-protest somewhere on the grounds of Independence Mall. Certainly the protesters weren't close enough to do the President harm, but they definitely were close enough that their chanting leaked into the broadcast. Biden and/or his team could undoubtedly have hustled them off, using "security" as an excuse. Or, alternatively, that the President really needed to take a picture of himself holding a Bible. That's always a good reason to tear gas an unfriendly crowd, right?

Not only did Biden & Co. allow the protesters to keep doing their thing, however, the President even altered his speech on a couple of occasions to reference them. For example:

Look, our democracy is imperfect. It always has been.

Notwithstanding those folks you hear on the other side there. They're entitled to be outrageous. This is a democracy.

It's not so easy to improvise under circumstances like that, and Biden did it well.

And now that you have our review of the speech, let's get to the question we're really interested in: Was it a smart tactical choice? Did Biden help himself and the Democrats with the address?

We thought hard about that question in the scant few hours between the conclusion of the address and the time when we had to start writing. And our conclusion, at least for now, is that it was a smart move. We have three reasons for thinking that way:

  1. Biden, as we've already noted, tends to be a more passive, behind-the-scenes leader. Going into these midterms (and into the 2024 elections, for that matter), the Democrats need something more. They need a general who can lead from the front and not from behind. And with his numbers trending sharply upward, Biden's got momentum on his side. He's going to spend a lot of time on the road this week (and in the next 2 months) doing a lot more generalling.

  2. Also, while Democrats have been running on abortion, microchips and spending outlays, they haven't been talking enough about the threat to democracy. We made that exact point just two days ago. That criticism has now been addressed, and then some. Nobody can claim the blue team isn't making democracy a priority this cycle, and we assume that the Party's candidates will follow the President's lead.

  3. It is now possible that the Democrats could hold the House. However, they are going to have to pull out all the stops if that's going to happen. Go big or go home is the basic idea. Last night, Biden went big.

After we'd written up our thoughts, we looked around the various news and politics sites to see what others were saying. Truth be told, we found almost nothing. Some right-wing pundits wrote "I'm sure the speech will be horrible" pieces in advance, and some left-wing pundits took the other side of that argument in advance. However, the actual reviews won't be in until later today, we guess. Perhaps there are some upsides to reading a site that's written late, late, late at night.

There are definitely upsides to reading a site that has a lot of reader feedback. And we've already heard from several folks. For example, M.M. in San Diego, CA, was suitably impressed, and writes: "Joe Biden just gave the best speech of his life. Too bad he didn't deliver it in January 2021. Still, better late than never." D.C. in Portland, OR, shares that view, it would seem: "In every single instance of the Marvel Multiverse, Dark Brandon kicks MAGA Republican Man's a**." On the other hand, J.C. in Washington, DC, had a less-than-positive response:

After watching POTUS' speech tonight I am flummoxed.

The messaging was hyper-partisan, the mood dark, the timing awful (trust me—I navigated the Beltway this evening).

The only thing I can say after tonight is, "leave well enough alone."

This has Chief of Staff Ron Klain's fingerprints all over it. I'm not sure he can read the room (the Country) because he never leaves the D.C. bubble.

Unforced error.

In short, when you see the various reviews today, and the talking heads on Sunday, opinion is going to be very much divided. We'll see if a consensus emerges once the dust has settled. (Z)

Another Bad Day on the Legal Front for TrumpWorld

There are so many legal cases involving Donald Trump, and they are moving along at such a pace, that it's a rare day that there isn't some news for the TrumpWorld legal blotter. There was actually a bunch of stuff yesterday, from many different quarters. We're just going to stuff it all into one item and get it out of the way.

At the top of the list is the Mar-a-Lago situation. On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon held a hearing on Trump's demand for a special master to review the documents that were taken by the FBI. She did not rule, but she did say she's inclined to order the Department of Justice to release publicly a more detailed inventory of what they found. That seems unlikely to work out in the former president's favor.

More significantly, Team Trump decided to make a last-minute legal filing in an effort to influence the judge. And in it, the former president argues that of course the FBI found classified materials at Mar-a-Lago, since the things they were looking through were presidential documents. Facepalm. One could scarcely imagine a worse argument to make, for two reasons. First, Trump is conceding that he had classified materials, which is a crime. Second, he's also admitting that his claim that he imposed a blanket, automatic declassification on any materials that left the White House is nonsense.

The former president is already in a bad position, legally. But it gets worse and worse when his team's theory of the case changes every other day, often in ways that utterly gut the previous theory. Newly hired lawyer/shark Chris Kise, whose retainer is reportedly in the millions of dollars, is going to earn every penny of that. Hopefully, for his sake, he took payment in cash and not in Truth Social stock options.

That is not the only setback for Trump on Thursday. Earlier in the day, before the Mar-a-Lago hearing, Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY), who is Chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform (at least, for a few more months), issued a statement announcing that the Committee has reached an agreement that will allow it to get its hands on the former president's tax returns and financial records.

Trump, and his former accountant Mazars USA, lost several times in court as they fought back against the Committee. The latest loss came on July 8, at Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. In theory, Trump/Mazars still had at least one appeal left (the Supreme Court), but they agreed to drop it. That's obviously not par for the course with The Donald. It's possible that he just doesn't have the money to tilt at so many different legal windmills. More likely is that the Committee made some sort of concession to him that just happened to slip Maloney's mind when she wrote her statement. Maybe we will eventually learn what happened, maybe not.

And finally, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) also got some bad news Thursday, as his reprieve from testifying in Georgia has come to an end. U.S. District Judge Leigh Martin May ruled that DA Fani Willis' subpoena is legal and valid, and that Graham has to obey it. The Judge did say that a few questions would be off limits, but that most of the things Graham was claiming as official U.S. Senate business are not, in fact, official U.S. Senate business. Nice try, though. (Z)

Select Committee Wants to Chat with Newt

The Select Committee investigating the 1/6 insurrection has added a new guest to its invitation list, one who is out of left field, and yet isn't surprising at all. It's Newton Leroy "Newt" Gingrich, past speaker of the house and present-day carrier of oceans' worth of water for Donald Trump.

The committee wants to know exactly what advice Gingrich gave to the Trump campaign. Chair Bennie Thompson (D-MS) explains in the letter sent to the former speaker:

Some of the information that we have obtained includes email messages that you exchanged with senior advisors to President Trump and others, including Jared Kushner and Jason Miller, in which you provided detailed input into television advertisements that repeated and relied upon false claims about fraud in the 2020 election. These advertising efforts were not designed to encourage voting for a particular candidate. Instead, these efforts attempted to cast doubt on the outcome of the election after voting had already taken place.

The complete letter, which you can read here, makes clear that the Committee definitely has the goods to support the claims they're making about Gingrich.

Will Newt show up to testify? Who knows? On one hand, he seems like the type to defy the Committee just for the sake of doing so. On the other hand, he loves, loves, loves attention and this would allow him to be relevant in Washington, DC, for the first time in 20 years (even if only for a day). Further, Gingrich is absolutely the type to prioritize saving his own skin once he believes the ship is sinking. If we were placing a bet, we'd bet that Newt tells the Committee to shove it, but we wouldn't want to bet very much. (Z)

McConnell-Scott Feud Is Now out in the Open

Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) is, as we have noted many times, chairing the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) this cycle. That means he is responsible for raising as much money as possible (which is going somewhat poorly) and then deciding exactly how to dole it out across the various races for U.S. Senate (a process that has been bumpy, and has featured many course changes).

This is not a job that someone takes on just for amusement. It's a stepping-stone job that the holder hopes will lead to bigger and better things. Exactly what bigger and better things Scott is hoping for, we don't know. He fancies himself a viable presidential candidate, but that is delusional and, besides, chairing the NRSC is more about moving up the ranks of the Senate. It could be that Scott thinks he has a future as majority leader. If so, that's almost as delusional as his presidential hopes. He's too divisive (i.e., he's not much more popular with the Republican conference than Sen. Ted Cruz, R-TX) and he makes too many clumsy political missteps.

In any event, Scott's leadership of the NRSC has put him on something of a collision course with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). On one level, the two men have the same goal: Elect as many Republicans to the Senate as is possible. On another, however, their concerns are very different. Whatever Scott is trying to accomplish, he needs this cycle to go well. He won't get another term as NRSC chair, much less a promotion in the Senate hierarchy, if the red team takes a pasting in November, particularly given the expectation of a red wave.

By contrast, McConnell is already King of the Hill. If November doesn't live up to expectations for the GOP—and, barring a dramatic change, it's not going to—then his priority is to prepare party faithful and to assure them that all is still well. After all, if enough Republican senators become convinced that the Party is headed in the wrong direction, and that some fresh leadership is needed, they can't exactly fire Donald Trump. But they can certainly pick a new party leader in the Senate.

Well aware of these dynamics, McConnell has, in the last week or two, been pooh-poohing the quality of the candidates that the Party nominated this cycle. He doesn't name names, but everyone knows who he's thinking of—J.D. Vance (OH), Mehmet Oz (PA), Herschel Walker (GA), and Blake Masters (AZ). In other words, if we translate from Turtlese, what the Minority Leader is telling the base is: "Don't blame me when and if November goes badly, blame Donald Trump for the lousy candidates he recruited and backed."

This has infuriated Scott, who is much Trumpier than McConnell and who, again, can't afford to play the long game. There's been a little public sniping between the Kentuckian and the Floridian, but yesterday Scott laid it out for all to see, penning an op-ed for the conservative Washington Examiner. Under the headline "Washington versus Republican voters," Scott writes:

Unfortunately, many of the very people responsible for losing the Senate last cycle are now trying to stop us from winning the majority this time by trash-talking our Republican candidates. It's an amazing act of cowardice, and ultimately, it's treasonous to the conservative cause. Giving anonymous quotes to help the Washington Post or the New York Times write stories trashing Republicans is the same as working with the Democratic National Committee.

Scott doesn't name McConnell specifically, of course, but everyone knows which "coward" is guilty of "treason." Perhaps you begin to understand why Scott won't be winning any Republican conference popularity contests anytime soon.

In any case, this is clearly not a great look for the GOP, and is going to serve to remind voters how very poor some of the Party's candidates are. And while we said above that McConnell and Scott both agree that they want to elect as many Republican senators as is possible, that actually might not be strictly true at this point. If McConnell believes the Senate majority is lost anyhow, and that he's going to have to wait at least 2 more years for a chance to be majority leader again, he might well prefer to see the Trumpers wiped out, in hopes that it will help break the spell that the former president has over the Republican Party. At very least, if the Minority Leader doesn't believe in the candidates, he's not going to waste large amounts of political capital or actual capital on them. (Z)

Where in the World Is Carmen San D. Vance?

Speaking of weak Republican candidates—and, possibly, of Rick Scott's less-than-stellar leadership—longtime Ohio Republican operatives are furious with the party's Senate nominee, J.D. Vance. What's the problem? He's largely disappeared from the campaign trail.

The nature of the problem is pretty clear. The candidate doesn't answer calls to his personal phone, often goes days without holding a campaign event, and declines nearly all interview requests. There are lots of people in the donor class, and lots of people who do precinct-level work for the GOP, who would like to chat with him and take the measure of the man. He's generally not available for those meetings.

What's less clear is the reason for the vanishing act. Vance worked very hard to land the nomination, so it's not like he's lazy and is goofing off. The popular explanation among Ohio Republicans is that it's the NRSC's fault—they failed to provide a rookie candidate with enough advice, logistical support and funding. Given that both Rick Scott and Mitch McConnell see holding this seat as a priority, and given that they're about to dump nearly $30 million on the race, we find that hard to accept.

So what might it be, then, if it's not the NRSC's fault? Nobody's saying, but we can at least think of a couple of possibilities. When a candidate is prone to putting his foot in his mouth, it's sometimes better to have people asking "Where the hell is he?" than "What the hell did he just say?" The ghost-candidate strategy was perfected by the Whigs nearly 200 years ago, for William Henry Harrison's presidential campaign, and has been used many times since.

Alternatively, voters tend to hold health issues against a candidate, particularly if they are mental health issues. So, whenever possible, politicians tend to keep such things under wraps. At 38, it's unlikely that Vance is suffering from some sort of debilitating physical malady, though it's possible. It's considerably more plausible that someone who is not used to the sausage-grinder of politics is suffering from depression or anxiety or some similar malady that is in abeyance at some times and is crippling at other times. Note again that this is just a guess; there is no public evidence whatsoever of health problems beyond Vance's scarcity on the campaign trail.

In any event, not campaigning does not seem to be a winning strategy for Vance. At the moment, Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) is actually up in FiveThirtyEight's polling average, 45.2% to 44.6%. That's not much, and it's based substantially on polls that wouldn't make the cut for our database. Still, given that it's purple-red Ohio, and that the Republican ticket is being headed up by Gov. Mike DeWine (R), who is going to win reelection easily, it really shouldn't even be close. (Z)

This Week in Schadenfreude

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) is a shameless opportunist, and not a very skillful one. He's also endowed, as we pointed out just yesterday, with a rubber backbone. Reader J.L. in Los Angeles sends along an item that serves as a reminder of both of these facets of McCarthy's personality.

This particular story begins, in a manner of speaking, in 2020. Back then, at the height of the pandemic, the folk singer Joan Baez was so impressed with Anthony Fauci's leadership that she painted a portrait of him (you can see it here, if you wish). If Bob Dylan hands you a joint, you smoke it (which is how the Beatles were first introduced to marijuana and mind-altering substances, incidentally). And if Joan Baez sends you a painting she painted, you hang it. So, Fauci displayed the work in his office.

Of course, the good doctor is one of the biggest bugaboos for those on the right. And shortly after Fauci announced his pending retirement, McCarthy was on Fox News and decided to take a potshot: "I just have one rule of thumb. I really don't trust anyone that keeps a mural of themselves in their office."

Three things. First, "one rule of thumb?" That's the one and only principle you have, Mr. Minority Leader? Actually, truth be told, that's one more than we would have guessed. Second, a normal-sized painting (it's 30" x 24", or 76cm x 61cm for our readers not in the U.S., Liberia, and Myanmar) is not "a mural." Third, there is, however, someone who does have a mural of themselves (as Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-CA, was quick to point out):

It may not be a good mural of The Donald, but it is definitely mural-sized.

In short, McCarthy made himself look like a dope. And now, he's going to have to go crawling on his belly for forgiveness from the Dear Leader, who was already displeased with the Minority Leader. Certainly, there's some schadenfreude in that. (Z)

This Week in Freudenfreude

Gina Lollobrigida has had a heck of a life. She was an A-list actress and sex symbol in the 1950s, perhaps best known for The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Bread, Love and Dreams (the latter of which earned her a BAFTA nomination). Then, she changed careers and became a world-class photojournalist. And once she concluded that portion of her career, she became a philanthropist. In 2013, for example, she donated $5 million to stem-cell therapy research.

The point is that, at age 95, Lollobrigida has earned the right to sit back, relax, and enjoy her retirement. But that's not the plan. Instead, in view of the fact that Italy has dissolved its parliament (yet again) and will be holding elections (yet again), she's running for the Italian Senate as a member of the centrist Italia Sovrana e Popolare (Sovereign and Popular Italy) Party.

Sitting for an interview with Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera (Evening Courier), Lollobrigida explained:

I was just tired of hearing politicians arguing with each other without ever getting to the point. I will fight for the people to decide, from health to justice. Italy is in bad shape, I want to do something good and positive.

She also noted that her role model, when it comes to politics, is Indira Gandhi.

Sometimes when celebrities become politicians, things don't work out too well, as you may have heard. And Lollobrigida would appear to face long odds, as her party holds just two of the 315 seats in the Italian Senate right now. Still, that she's still committed to public service, and still able to contemplate running a political campaign, at the age of 95? That's pretty damn inspiring.

Have a good weekend, everyone. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Sep01 The Dept. of Justice Has Responded to Trump's Request for a Special Master
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Aug30 Cheney 2024 Would Help Trump 2024
Aug30 Blake Masters Is Running Quite the Campaign
Aug30 Today's Ratfu**ing News
Aug29 Republicans Are Quieter About the Mar-a-Lago Search Now
Aug29 Biden Is Up More in New Polls
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Aug25 Biden Cancels Student Loan Debt
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