As President Biden began his exit from the House chamber after his triumphant State of the Union address, Democrats had every reason to feel buoyed about their prospects for 2024. But the developments in the succeeding twenty-four hours should make Democrats even more hopeful. Biden schooled the GOP Chaos Caucus on live television by focusing on substance while connecting with viewers on a personal level—drawing a dramatic contrast to the Republican “know-nothing, do-nothing” agenda. Republicans then made a series of forced errors that proved Biden’s thesis even more forcefully than the President’s masterful State of the Union address.
Biden changed the political dynamic in his State of the Union address; indeed, he reversed it. Republicans are on their back foot, struggling to land a response that does not make things worse for their party. In reviewing the aftermath of the State of the Union, we must remind ourselves that we cannot count on Republicans to defeat themselves. But neither should we ascribe to them invincibility or superpowers they do not possess. Their pathetic, bumbling response to the State of the Union address reveals weaknesses that Democrats must exploit. And Joe Biden wasted no time in doing so.
I will focus on three major developments and finish with a coda. Let’s look at the “rebuttal” speeches by Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Donald Trump and then examine the GOP’s self-incriminating efforts to deny their plans to reduce benefits or eliminate Social Security and Medicare entirely. We will top off those stories with good news about three important wins for Democrats in the Pennsylvania legislature.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders gave an “American Carnage” rebuttal to Biden’s positive State of the Union Address.
I hope none of you watched Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ rebuttal to Joe Biden’s State of the Union address. I didn’t. It was a sour, dour, and depressing attempt to inflame the culture war. The ultra-conservative news site RedState.com, featured a headline declaring that the rebuttal effectively ended Sanders’ political career: Sarah Huckabee Sanders Is the Latest Casualty of the State of the Union Rebuttal Curse. Per RedState,
[Sanders] delivered her remarks from a living room setting, with no audience—and therefore no energy—sitting in a chair and speaking directly to the camera. I like Sanders, but this format did her no favors, and quite simply seemed like she was reading a bedtime story (my wife pointed out her dress looked like a hotel bathrobe and now I can’t unsee that).
Since it was clear the point was to contrast the GOP’s youth and vitality with Biden’s age and early bedtimes, who thought placing Sanders in a chair to suck up all her charisma was a good idea?
I offer one editorial correction to the RedState’s description: It was not the chair that “sucked up all of Sanders’ charisma.” My experience as a litigator makes me want to jump up and exclaim, “Objection! Assumes facts not in evidence!”
The progressive New Republic captured the essence of the Sanders’ debacle in its article titled, What on Earth Was Sarah Huckabee Sanders Doing in Her State of the Union Response?, writing
[Sanders’] unfocused and culture war–inspired remarks on Tuesday, ringing impressively discordant compared to President Biden’s largely positive speech, may not only leave a mark on her own career but actually further hamper her already-flailing party.
Biden spent over an hour sticking to a message about policy accomplishments . . . . Sanders filled much of her nearly 15-minute slot talking about “critical race theory,” left-wing “rituals” and “woke fantasies,” and herself.
Sanders then lobbed a “culture war bomb” at Biden before cynically declaring that the GOP “didn’t start and doesn’t want” a culture war:
I’m the first woman to lead my state. He’s the first man to surrender his presidency to a woke mob that can’t even tell you what a woman is. . . .[W]e are under attack in a left-wing culture war we didn’t start and never wanted to fight.
As I wrote three days ago, Sanders was selected to provide the rebuttal because she has “the unnatural ability to look directly into a camera and lie.” The Republican platform has degenerated into a full-time culture war; anyone who believes otherwise is either not conscious or is lying.
The biggest mistake of Sanders’ speech was a line that betrayed a monumental lack of self-awareness and the inability to react to changing circumstances. After House Republicans gave new meaning to the word “crazy” in their disgraceful conduct on the House floor during Biden’s speech, Sanders led with her chin by perfectly encapsulating the difference between Democrats and Republicans—just not in the way she wanted:
The dividing line in America is no longer between right or left. The choice is between normal or crazy.
Sanders is right about that. The line that divides America is between normal or crazy— and democracy or fascism, decency or depravity, tolerance or hate, generosity or greed, Joe Biden or Marjorie Taylor Greene. That was the point of Biden’s dignified, substantive, and positive take on the “state of the Union”—and his good-natured response to ugly taunts by GOP leaders in the House.
Republicans could not have scripted a worse rebuttal to the State of the Union if they set out to do so. The fact that they blundered their way into a rebuttal so bad it crossed the line into self-parody proves they have backed themselves into a political corner from which there is no escape. Not even for the master escape artist, Donald Trump. Read on!
Donald Trump claims to give the “real” State of the Union address on Newsmax.
Because Trump cannot tolerate not being the center of attention, he gave his own self-styled State of the Union address that was broadcast on Newsmax. Trump is still the leader of the Republican Party despite frantic efforts by big money donors to ditch Trump, so the fact that he was reduced to a Home Shopping Network-style presentation for his “rebuttal” says much about the disarray of the GOP. See NYTimes, Trump Stages His Own ‘State of the Union’ After Biden’s Official Speech.
In the two-minute speech taped from Mar-a-Lago, Trump managed to repeat the Big Lie about the 2020 “stolen” election—a tired narrative that wore out its welcome in the 2022 midterms. Trump engaged in classic psychological projection by describing Joe Biden as the “most corrupt president in history.” But the essence of Trump’s message is that he is a victim:
Joe Biden’s weaponized Justice Department—and I’m a victim of it—is persecuting his political opponents.
And there you have it: Trump’s 2024 campaign slogan—“I am a victim!” While the slogan may resonate with some followers in his base, it does not have a broad appeal. That is why the influential dark-money group The Club for Growth excluded Trump from its quadrennial retreat to vet Republican primary candidates. See Newsmax, Club for Growth Snubs Trump Ahead of Annual Donor Retreat. In case Trump could not take the hint about being excluded from the annual retreat, the president of the Club for Growth said that “The party should be open to another candidate.”
On the day of Joe Biden’s triumph, one of the leading GOP dark money groups tried to fire Donald Trump—a man who will never admit defeat. (Did the Club for Growth see what happened on January 6th?) Trump immediately fired back, labeling the group the “Club for NO Growth.” Childish, yes, but another sign of the challenges the GOP faces as they pretend that Trump never happened. Good luck with that!
Republicans pretend that they never suggested cutting Social Security and Medicare.
After Joe Biden tricked the GOP caucus into conceding defeat in their effort to cut Medicare and Social Security, many Republicans spent Wednesday declaring indignantly that they had never proposed such cuts. Unfortunately for them, their prior statements to the contrary are recorded for posterity on the Internet.
In a campaign-style swing through Wisconsin, Biden hammered home the ridiculous proposal by Florida Senator Rick Scott to “sunset” all federal programs every five years—which, by definition, includes Social Security and Medicare. See Fox News, Biden doubles down on Social Security attack on Republicans, brings props. (“Biden reads from pamphlet to support his claim that Republicans want to cut Social Security and Medicare entitlements.”)
Senator Scott spent much of Wednesday digging himself into a deeper hole by insisting that his plan was to sunset all federal programs, not merely Social Security and Medicare.
The only thing more idiotic than sunsetting Social Security and Medicare every five years is sunsetting every federal program every five years, including funding for highways, hospitals, emergency relief, the US military, NASA, the FDA, the DOJ, the FBI, the SEC, the FDIC, the Veterans Administration, and federal insurance for Florida’s citrus industry.
Under Senator Scott’s proposal, Congress would need to continuously recreate the federal government every five years. For a legislature that has failed to pass an annual budget on time for the last two decades, hoping it will reauthorize the federal government every five years is delusional. See FiveThirtyEight.com, 20 Years Of Congress’s Budget Procrastination, In One Chart.
The most pathetic part of efforts by Republicans to deny their past pledges to dismantle Social Security is how easy it is to catch them in their lies. Take Senator Mike Lee, for example. When Biden said during the State of the Union that “some” Republicans wanted to dismantle Social Security and Medicare, a camera caught Senator Mike Lee reacting in disbelief and disagreement. But as Josh Marshall has documented in his Editor’s Blog on Talking Points Memo, Senator Mike Lee campaigned on this promise:
It will be my objective to phase out Social Security, to pull it up by the roots and get rid of it.
See Talking Points Memo, Sen Mike Lee Definitely Positively Doesn’t Want to Ever Phase Out Social Security. The link to the TPM article includes a video of Senator Mike Lee saying the words quoted above at a campaign appearance.
So, after feigning surprise over Biden’s claim that “some” Republicans want to phase out Social Security, how did Mike Lee respond to a video of a campaign promise that he would do just that? He said he doesn’t remember making the statement on video:
I don’t remember ever, in any time since I first became a candidate for the Senate, ever saying, ‘No, we just have to end Social Security and uproot all the expectations of those who’ve paid into it.
Here’s the point: Democrats have caught Republicans in a bald-faced lie about their intentions and should not let them disavow those statements. Why? Because the more Democrats remind voters about those past statements, the more difficult it will be for Republicans to follow through on their plans and the less likely it will be that voters will trust Republicans to keep their word. It’s a win-win for Democrats and the American people.
As Republicans reel from Biden’s strong State of the Union address, Democrats continued their midterm success by winning three special elections for the Pennsylvania legislature. See CNN, Democrats to control Pennsylvania House after special election sweep. The special election victories continue a trend of Democratic successes at the state legislative level. Pennsylvania will be a battleground state in 2024, and Democratic control of the Pennsylvania House will blunt any hoped-for effort by the Pennsylvania Republicans to overturn the will of the voters.
Congratulations to everyone who helped with the victories, including the ever-present army of postcard writers, including Postcards To Voters!
To my grammarian friends and volunteer proofreaders: Yes, I know that “sour” and “dour” do not rhyme. In placing those adjectives adjacent to one another, I did not intend to suggest they do. In fact, I thought it was fun to put them next to one another because they are pronounced differently despite their similar spelling. That is what passes for amusement for an unrepentant English major!
As I wrote above, “Biden changed the political dynamic in his State of the Union address; indeed, he reversed it.” Although I focused on Republican missteps in this edition of the newsletter, those missteps matter because Joe Biden gave one of the most consequential State of the Union speeches in the last 75 years (at least). For a change, Joe Biden is setting the agenda, and Republicans are reacting—poorly. It is nice to be playing offense for a change! We have Joe Biden to thank for that!
Talk to you tomorrow!
Twas a wonderful day today when Biden went to Wisconsin to visit real hard frontline workers in Wisconsin. He brought the handy dandy pamphlet Rick Scott and Ron Johnson wrote about sunsetting all federal programs which includes Social Security and Medicare. Those workers were none too happy with the Repubs. Bottom line: Biden did the "rope-a-dope" (thank Howard Cosell) around the party of NO, last night and today. Clever clever man, our president!
I'm still celebrating Biden's speech last night and happily read the comments of so many other readers who agree. I'm also grateful for everyone who shared their sources for good, honest and thoughtful news coverage -- all of those I go to regularly were mentioned and I learned some new ones.
We need them. I agree with Sheila from MI who said: "The mass media overall has changed and demonstrably so." I'll add -- and much the worse for the change. I too have stopped subscribing to NYT and WaPo - enough of the negativity, false equivalencies, misleading headlines etc etc. The latest example the headlines right before Biden's speech with polls showing 70% (or whatever) folks dissatisfied. Those polls from the same folks who predicted the "red wave", and the media fell for it again (that would be putting it charitably).
Louis Menand has an excellent article/review (Making the News) in the Feb 6 New Yorker. There’s good history, going back to the ‘50s, but most interesting to me are his comments on recent patterns covered in Margaret Sullivan’s new book, “News Room Confidential: Lessons (and Worries) from an Ink–Stained Life” (2022).
Here’s and example Menand and Sullivan offer of the press misunderstanding its role: "when, just 11 days before the 2016 election, the FBI Director James Comey announced that some of the emails Clinton wrote when she was Secretary of State had been found on the laptop of Anthony Wiener, the disgraced former New York City mayoral candidate, the Times went into overdrive. In six days, the paper ran as many cover stories about Clinton's emails as it had about all the policy issues combined in the 69 days leading up to the election. This coverage set the tone for the rest of the mainstream media, which proceeded to pile on."
"Sullivan’s position is an appeal to the original rationale of the First Amendment. We have a free press in order to protect democracy. When democracy is threatened, reporters and editors and publishers should have an agenda. They should be pro–democracy. Reporters should 'stop asking who the winners and losers are,' Sullivan says; they should 'start asking who is serving democracy and who is undermining it.' The press is in the game. It has a stake."
We must find, support, create -- whatever it takes -- a way back to a truly "free press".