Trump defenders were conspicuous by their absence on the Sunday shows
Also: The brilliance of John Fetterman's Twitter game.
During his presidency, Donald Trump could count on prominent Republican supporters to show up on the major Sunday morning news shows and defend his latest excesses, whether it was family separation or his effort to end US democracy in the weeks leading up to January 6. In fact, the spectacle of Trumpers debasing themselves was one of the things that got me into the habit of live-tweeting the Sunday shows in the first place.
That’s why the lack of MAGA Republicans on the latest round of shows stood out. Two days after the release of the warrant used in the Mar-a-Lago search — a document confirming that Trump is under criminal investigation for recklessly mishandling classified information and possibly endangering US confidential sources in the process — the usual suspects (the likes of Ted Cruz, Rick Scott, and Ron Johnson, or in fact any Republican member of Congress who isn’t either retiring, a staunch Trump critic, or both) were conspicuous by their absence.
While none of the hardcore Trumpers showed up on any of the big five Sunday shows — NBC’s Meet the Press, CBS’s Face the Nation, ABC’s This Week, Fox News Sunday, and CNN’s State of the Union — Lindsey Graham did do an interview on regular Fox News programming later Sunday evening. And by basically threatening civil unrest if Trump is prosecuted, Graham gave away that there really is no defense of Trump leaving the White House with hundreds of pages of classified documents (including top secret ones), then refusing to turn them over to the government in a timely manner.
Graham’s message resonated with Trump. Soon after it ended, Trump posted a clip of Graham’s Fox News hit on Truth Social. Earlier in the weekend, Trump himself ominously intimated that the country is “going to places, in a very bad way, it has never seen before!”
It’s easy to say stuff like this on Fox News’s primetime programming or on Truth Social. But the closest anybody came to defending Trump on the mainstream Sunday shows was New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, hardly a hardcore MAGA guy. Sununu pushed a weak conspiracy theory about the Mar-a-Lago search being a way for Democrats to hurt Republicans heading into the midterms — never mind inconvenient facts such as the FBI director being a Trump nominee and that the government tried working with Trump unsuccessfully for more than a year to secure the return of highly classified documents before resorting to a search warrant.
Meanwhile, on This Week, retiring Republican Sen. Roy Blunt offered little more than bringing up Hillary’s emails in his effort to defend Trump.
(Blunt’s whataboutism was demolished on Meet the Press by Adam Kinzinger, who was the only other Republican member of Congress to appear on one of the main Sunday shows.)
In one respect, it’s wise for Republicans to try to maintain some distance between themselves and Trump until we know more about the specific nature of the classified documents he mishandled and the national security threat it represented. On the other, however, it’s not like concerns about damaging their credibility by getting ahead of Trump scandals has stopped Republicans from going on TV and defending him in the past.
But with Trump flailing and his lawyers unsure how to defend the indefensible — they’ve tried everything from accusing the FBI of planting evidence to whataboutism to implausible claims of blanket declassification — even Republicans who want to run interference for him don’t seem to know what to say. As I wrote about last week, Trump is creating more problems for himself by treating his grave legal problems as public relations ones. But even then, his PR efforts are sorely lacking.
Trump has famously wriggled out of every attempt so far to hold him accountable for the one-man crime spree he’s been on most of his adult life. But with DOJ executing a search warrant at his resident and implicating him in a number of serious crimes in the process, it really does feel like this time might be different. One indication of that is that only B-list Republicans like Sununu and Mike Turner are willing to serve as his mouthpieces on non-MAGA TV shows.
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Tim Ryan’s student debt flip-flop
As Noah Berlatsky detailed in this newsletter last Friday, Democrats suddenly have momentum heading into the midterms. They’ve pulled ahead of Republicans in the generic ballot, and the polling for key Senate races looks promising, including in Ohio, where Tim Ryan is in position to pull off a surprising defeat of JD Vance and flip the seat currently occupied by the retiring Rob Portman.
To win in Ohio, Ryan has pivoted hard to the center and kept distance from President Biden. He’s also disavowed more liberal positions he’s taken in the past, such as student debt relief. During a CNN appearance Sunday, Ryan was asked to explain the disconnect between his current opposition to debt relief and a tweet he posted four years ago embracing the idea. Suffice it to say his explanation wasn’t super convincing.
But with Ryan narrowly ahead of Vance in a state Trump won by more than 8 points just two years ago, it’s hard not to give him the benefit of the doubt.
More generally, while Republicans are saddled with a number of terrible candidates thanks in no small part to Trump’s endorsements, Democrats have strong ones running in states where they could flip seats, such as Ohio and Pennsylvania. And that brings me to Thor Benson’s piece about John Fetterman.
Tweeting his way to the Senate
By Thor Benson
Twitter can’t seem to get enough of the online feud between Dr. Oz and John Fetterman as they race to become the next senator from Pennsylvania. Oz has been hilariously inept at utilizing social media and appearing to be a real human being. Fetterman, meanwhile, has been putting on a master class in Twitter trolling.
The trolling started with Fetterman regularly pointing out that Dr. Oz is a longtime New Jersey resident who moved to Pennsylvania to run for Senate. Fetterman even had New Jersey celebrities like Snooki and Steven Van Zandt do videos where they implored Oz to return to Jersey. Recently, Fetterman posted a threat humorously poking fun at the fact that Oz owns at least 10 lavish properties.
It hurts because it’s true. Throughout the campaign, Fetterman has portrayed Oz as a rich, out-of-touch celebrity who just doesn’t get Pennsylvania. Case in point: Oz’s video where he attempted to show how inflation has impacted the price of groceries for everyday Americans.
It starts with Oz calling the grocery store he’s in “Wegners,” even though the store is actually called Wegmans. He then mentions that the price of “crudité” has gone way up. Fetterman mocked his use of the word crudité and said Pennsylvanians refer to them as “vegetable trays.” All of this caused “crudité” to become one of Merriam-Webster’s words of the week.
Fetterman is currently leading Oz by about 10 points in the polls, a lead that is at least in part thanks to Fetterman’s social media mockery flustering Oz into errors and causing him to pivot to flat-out meanness.
Maggie Macdonald is a postdoctoral fellow at NYU’s Center for Social Media and Politics, which researches how social media influences politics. She says Fetterman’s social media strategy is clearing working, considering the Democrat was able to raise about $500,000 within 24 hours of crudité-gate, including by selling $65,000 worth of stickers that said, “Wegners: Let them eat crudité.”
Macdonald also suspects Fetterman’s antics could be driving up Pennsylvania voters’ interest in the November elections. She says Democrats who may not have been excited about voting in the November elections might decide to come out for Fetterman.
“I suspect it probably isn’t changing many people from Republican to Democrat, but it might inspire some young, especially progressive, Democrats who have been feeling apathetic about politics,” Macdonald says. “This might be something that spurs them to volunteer or to vote.”
It’s likely some candidates will take note of Fetterman’s social media strategy and try to troll their own opponents. That might not work for everyone, however. Oz’s unforced errors — cringey videos, a reputation as a snake oil salesman, etc. — have made him an easy target. A different candidate might present more of a challenge. Furthermore, the message has to be coming from the right person.
“I feel like there will be people who try to replicate it and the internet will turn on them,” Macdonald says. “Part of why people like it is that it feels very authentic coming from the Fetterman campaign.”
Of course, there’s more to Fetterman’s strategy than owning Oz online. He wants to legalize cannabis, support union workers, expand healthcare access, protect abortion rights, fight climate change and more. Fetterman’s working-class image seems to resonate with voters and serve as a stark contrast with Oz’s carpetbagger vibes.
If Fetterman wins, there will surely be Democratic consultants across the country dissecting what he did right in an important battleground state. Hopefully, they’ll realize voters like candidates who are authentic, charismatic and care about the working class — and if you’re great at Twitter, that’s a bonus.
That’s it for today
I’ll be back with more Wednesday.