Those Two Old Men

Trump is gone. There’s no need to write about him. Biden should be endlessly fascinating, or infuriating and deadly dangerous now. Write about that. No, don’t. Biden is neither of those things, and that has ruined book sales, at least for political books. McKay Coppins reports this:

In the conservative book world, nothing is supposed to set off a gold rush like a new Democratic president. Ever since Bill Clinton inspired a wave of right-wing best sellers in the ‘90s, publishing houses that cater to Republican readers have learned to make the most of a new villain in the Oval Office, churning out polemics and exposés that aim to capitalize on fear of the new president.

Fear? Fear of Biden? That’s absurd:

His presidency may be young, but industry insiders have told me in recent weeks that the market for anti-Biden books is ice cold. Authors have little interest in writing them, editors have little interest in publishing them, and – though the hypothesis has yet to be tested – it’s widely assumed that readers would have little interest in buying them. In many ways, the dynamic represents a microcosm of the current political moment: Facing a new president whose relative dullness is his superpower, the American right has gone hunting for richer targets to elevate.

To some in the publishing industry, the apparent lack of appetite is bewildering. “In the past, it’s been like taking candy from a baby to write a book about the Democratic president,” one frustrated conservative editor told me, requesting anonymity to speak candidly about internal business practices. Now? “Nobody is trying.”

There’s a lesson there. Never underestimate the awesome power of relative dullness. Biden is boring, and borings is harmless:

Eric Nelson, the executive editor at Broadside Books, the conservative imprint of HarperCollins, told me that the right-wing media’s portrayal of Biden as a weak addled old man is not conducive to book-length takedowns. “Nobody who watches Fox thinks that Joe Biden is in charge of the country,” Nelson said. The popular narrative on the right is that Biden is a kind of figurehead whose White House is actually being run by radical leftists behind the scenes. “If somebody came to me and was like, ‘I have a book on Biden’s secret plan to destroy America,’ I would ask, ‘How many times does the word nap appear in the index?’” Nelson said.

Ben Shapiro, the popular right-wing podcast host and author, echoed this sentiment. The president “has a deeply nonthreatening persona,” Shapiro told me. “You kind of feel bad attacking him, honestly, because it feels like elder abuse.”

But they trapped themselves this time:

Putting aside whether the perception of Biden as a bumbling geriatric bears any resemblance to reality, the fact that it’s so firmly embedded in the conservative media means that it will be difficult to dislodge. To gain literary traction on the right, a villain has to generate fear and outrage, not simply ridicule. Consider the past three decades of conservative best sellers. When Bill Clinton was on the cover, the books were laden with prurient (and in many cases dubious) details about his alleged affairs and personal corruption. When it was Barack Obama, the books portrayed him – many in barely veiled racial terms – as a dangerous radical trying to transform America. And though she was never actually elected, the ominous prospect of a Hillary Clinton presidency generated years’ worth of right-wing best sellers.

And then there’s Biden. What is there to say about him? Oh well, there are other things to say:

For now, the most successful conservative authors are training their fire on more abstract targets, such as “wokeness” and “cancel culture.” A quick review of recent best sellers suggests that ignoring Biden can work just fine. According to BookScan, which tracks most hardcover sales, Andy Ngo’s book on antifa, Unmasked, has sold more than 77,000 copies (an unqualified success in political nonfiction), as has Rod Dreher’s Live Not by Lies, which bills itself as a “manual for Christian dissidents.” The talk-radio host Mark Levin’s forthcoming American Marxism – which will tackle, among other subjects, “the widespread brainwashing of students, the anti-American purposes of Critical Race Theory and the Green New Deal,” per its publisher – is expected to be a massive hit when it’s released in July.

There is no racism here! Slavery was pretty cool and everyone loved it! Levin may be onto something:

Shapiro attributes this trend to a broader shift that he’s noticed in his audience. While conservatives may not care about Biden, he told me, they are petrified of the larger progressive forces they see at work in American politics. “What people are afraid of right now are not powerful public figures. What people are afraid of are their bosses, their neighbors, that they’re going to get mobbed on Twitter and get socially ostracized.” Shapiro is betting that’s where the focus will stay: His own book coming out this summer will cover what he describes as “the leftist takeover of every major institution.”

Paranoia sells. Or maybe it doesn’t. The Washington Post’s Drew Harwell and Josh Dawsey cover that:

Former president Donald Trump’s blog, celebrated by advisers as a “beacon of freedom” that would keep him relevant in an online world he once dominated, is dead. It was 29 days old.

Upset by reports from The Washington Post and other outlets highlighting its measly readership and concerns that it could detract from a social media platform he wants to launch later this year, Trump ordered his team Tuesday to put the blog out of its misery, advisers said.

So, Biden is boring, but Trump is now irrelevant:

On its last day, the site received just 1,500 shares or comments on Facebook and Twitter – a staggering drop for someone whose every tweet once garnered hundreds of thousands of reactions.

Trump still wants to launch some other platform – timing not yet determined – and didn’t like that this first attempt was being mocked as a loser, according to a Trump adviser who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk frankly about the former president’s plans.

He must have been fuming. That explains the condition of anonymity to talk frankly. Trump is a vengeful man. But he really is a loser:

Launched last month with a grand unveiling replete with an action-movie-style trailer that proclaimed, “In a time of silence and lies, a beacon of freedom arises,” the blog never secured more than a sliver of the spotlight Trump held before he was banned from every major social media site in the wake of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

A Post analysis of online data late last month found that the site was attracting fewer visitors than the pet-adoption service Petfinder and the recipe site Delish.

Of course that comparison enraged Trump:

Three days after the Post report, Trump released a statement saying his “very basic site” was doing amazingly well, attracting greater attention than during the 2020 election campaign and that it would be doing even better had he not been banned by Facebook and Twitter, actions that denied him direct access to more than 88 million Twitter followers and 35 million Facebook followers.

In his statement, Trump, without citing a source, said tens of millions of his supporters had stopped using Facebook and Twitter “because they’ve becoming ‘boring’ and nasty” – a claim not backed up by the companies’ own data, which shows usage has stayed steady or increased since Trump left office.

He simply made up this nonsense to make himself feel better? Yes, that was Trump just being Trump. But this was never going to work:

No details have been shared about the new Trump platform. Social media sites are endlessly more expensive and complicated than a simple blog, requiring a vast infrastructure allowing for user accounts, comments and other modern Web features that were never present on Trump’s site. Trump dictated his messages to his aides, who would print them out so he could revise them with a Sharpie before manually posting them to the blog.

But the site rarely gained much viewership: Trump’s entire website, including his blog, merchandise store and donation page, saw roughly 4 million visits in the week ending May 18 from desktop and mobile devices in the United States – roughly half of the week’s traffic for the right-wing websites Newsmax and the Gateway Pundit…

And that was that:

Every blog post has been scrubbed from the Internet. The old link now redirects to a webpage urging people to give their contact information to a Trump campaign mailing list.

Move on. Nothing to see here, folks. Paul Waldman doesn’t think so:

Through Trump’s presidency, it was often noted that he had a unique ability to command the nation’s attention, even more so than previous presidents. He was a constant presence in our consciousness, every hour and every minute, forcing himself in front of our eyes with a barrage of tweets, outrageous comments and never-ending controversies.

But his current travails demonstrate how much Trump was always dependent on the mainstream media he both hated and sought the approval of. Like a tree falling in the forest, Trump barely makes a sound unless those supposedly stodgy legacy outlets are there to amplify him.

Keep in mind that the word “media” is the plural of “medium,” as in something that exists between, in this case between the politician and his audience of voters. And despite all the contempt Republican politicians heap on the media and all their attempts to create alternative sources of information, they still need those media. Desperately.

That’s what Trump has ripped away from him:

It was momentous when Twitter booted Trump off its service – much more so than when Facebook did the same, even though Facebook has many more users. Twitter is where journalists congregate, communicate with one another, monitor the daily stream of news and determine what’s important.

Trump could speak to his supporters there, but much more important, that was where he could speak to journalists, who would then amplify his thoughts and words to their own audiences. It made him the center of a conversation that crossed ideological lines: Whoever you were and whatever your perspective on politics, you knew what he was thinking.

And now you don’t, at least not in a day-by-day way. While some of Trump’s superfans may have been checking his blog regularly, the things that happened there seldom penetrated into the wider political discussion. Our national political debates are proceeding along just fine without him.

And his world got narrower:

That isn’t to say that Trump’s influence within the Republican Party has been much diminished. GOP candidates still seek his endorsement, those who reject him are purged, and the entire party continues to be in thrall to Trumpism’s pathologies and delusions. His centrality to the party may only increase as the 2024 presidential campaign begins.

But to extend his reach beyond those who are already devoted to him, he needs The Washington Post and the New York Times and CNN and all the other mainstream outlets. It’s their validation he craves. Their constant attention would communicate that no one is more important than him and his every utterance deserves lengthy examination.

And that matters:

The smarter Republicans who want to run for president in 2024 understand this, too. While they will go into exclusively right-wing spaces to begin cultivating support, to become real contenders, they will need to become a presence on media outlets that speak to broader audiences.

None of them will be able to fascinate the media the way Trump did in 2015 and 2016 – he was such a disturbingly compelling candidate that cable networks would broadcast rally after rally – but neither can any of them pretend that they can circumvent that media and be successful.

Certain things can thrive in alternative media spaces without capturing the notice of the legacy media – conspiracy theories, quack cures, esoteric affinity communities, the occasional terrorist plot – but presidential politics is not among them.

Trump may understand that now:

As a young man, Trump was desperate to make his name in Manhattan, where all the big shots were. He forced his way in with brashness and lies, becoming a ubiquitous presence even if he never got the acceptance he craved. Yet, today, he can’t even set foot in New York, despite the fact that a few buildings there still bear his name.

His status in the media is not too different: People still talk about him there and he retains some influence, but it’s not really his place anymore. And it must be killing him.

Josh Dawsey and Rosalind Helderman confirm that:

Former president Donald Trump remains relentlessly focused on the false claim that the November election was stolen from him and is increasingly consumed with the notion that ballot reviews pushed by his supporters around the country could prove that he won, according to people familiar with his comments.

Trump has rebuffed calls from some advisers to drop the matter, instead fixating on an ongoing Republican-commissioned audit in Arizona and plotting how to secure election reviews in other states, such as Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, New Hampshire and Georgia, according to advisers. He is most animated by the efforts in Fulton County, Ga., and Maricopa County, Ariz., according to two advisers who, like others interviewed for this report, spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private conversations.

They know he’s kind of lost it, all he thinks of is vengeance, so of course they insisted on anonymity. They’re no fools. They’re just watching:

Trump’s interest has been fueled by conversations he has had with an array of figures who have publicly touted false claims of election fraud. Among them, according to advisers, is Christina Bobb, a host at the One America News network who has privately discussed the Arizona audit with the former president and his team; Mike Lindell, the chief executive of the company MyPillow; and Pennsylvania state Sen. Doug Mastriano (R), who urged the state’s congressional delegation to reject Biden’s victory there.

Trump has become so fixated on the audits that he suggested recently to allies that their success could result in his return to the White House this year, according to people familiar with comments he has made.

He has lost it:

Trump’s campaign against the election continues nearly five months after a mob of his supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol, seeking to prevent the formalization of Biden’s win. And public surveys show that the lie about the election has taken root inside the Republican Party: A CNN poll in April found that 70 percent of Republicans said they did not believe Biden had won the election legitimately.

Trump has seized on such polls as evidence that investigations are warranted, advisers said.

Others disagree:

Local officials in states where Trump supporters are pushing for ballot reviews have decried the attacks on the election results as dangerous.

In Arizona, Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer, a Republican who defeated an incumbent Democrat in November, said he believed state GOP leaders knew that the claims of electoral fraud in the state are “facially laughable.”

Still, he said in an interview, “ordinary people, the ones who are showing up on a Wednesday night at a political meeting, I believe they really believe it. And that’s super sad.”

“We can’t indulge these insane lies any longer,” Richer tweeted last month. “As a party. As a state. As a country.”

But Trump has ramped up his public statements about the election in recent weeks and is expected to continue his crusade this weekend in a speech in North Carolina and at various summer rallies that are slated to begin this month.

This is his life now:

Advisers say he voraciously watches any television coverage he can find of the Arizona recount and reads “everything he can get his hands on” about the audits, according to one person who speaks to Trump frequently. And he has made supporting his claims of a stolen election – or at least remaining silent about them — a litmus test of sorts as he decides whom to endorse for state and federal contests in 2022 and 2024.

Advisers said that Trump also speaks to Lindell, who produced a video claiming the election was stolen that has been widely embraced by Trump’s supporters.

The MyPillow CEO is hosting an event in Wisconsin June 12 where Trump, billed as the “REAL” president, is expected to appear via Jumbotron, according to a promotional flier.

That seems to comfort Trump:

Almost unanimously, the former president’s 2020 campaign advisers said they view his obsession with the last election as a waste of time, knowing that the law does not allow for Biden’s win to be overturned.

But Trump regularly moves the topic back to the election when advisers try to focus on other issues, according to three people who have spoken with him recently.

“Everyone is talking about Arizona,” he said to an adviser who tried to broach 2022 endorsements.

He brings up the topic at various events – even at nonprofit galas at his private Mar-a-Lago Club, where he made impromptu appearances this spring, they said.

Anyone who tells him that he lost, one adviser said, “is pissing into the wind.”

So let Trump be Trump:

For his appearance this weekend before the state Republican Party in North Carolina, advisers are writing a speech that focuses more on Biden and the former president’s policies, but they are bracing for Trump to go off on a tangent about the election.

He will do that, and the Atlantic’s David Graham sees this:

“Trump has been telling a number of people he’s in contact with that he expects he will get reinstated by August,” Maggie Haberman, the New York Times’ ace Trump reporter, tweeted Tuesday.

There’s no such thing as reinstating a president, but Trump is echoing claims made by Sidney Powell, the lawyer who briefly pursued his specious election-fraud claims in court after the November election. Trump “can simply be reinstated,” she said this weekend. “A new inauguration date is set, and Biden is told to move out of the White House, and President Trump should be moved back in.” Powell is the same person who argued in a court filing this spring that no reasonable person would believe her election-fraud arguments.

She had libeled no one. She has said wild things about Dominion Systems and their voting machines and their evil management, and she has ruined the business, but really, no reasonable person would believe a word she said. That was her defense. But now Trump believes her. Then it gets complicated:

Most Republicans don’t believe that Trump is set to return to the Oval Office later this summer. But there is widespread agreement inside the GOP that Democratic fraud is stealing elections, and that Republicans must not let that happen. If there’s a civil war in the Republican Party, it’s not about whether the problem exists, but how to fix it – by trying to undo the 2020 result, or instead by preparing for 2024.

They chose 2024:

From the most devoted QAnon fringes of the GOP to the surviving redoubts of old-school country-club Republicanism, the party’s leaders have come to a shared conclusion that the party doesn’t lose close elections – Democrats steal them. Republicans grant that Democrats win in heavily blue areas. Hardly anyone doubts that Democrats are winning big in majority-minority U.S. House districts in the South or in urban centers (though Trump did question low vote tallies for Republican candidates in Philadelphia).

But in close elections – which in this divided era include practically every presidential race and many U.S. Senate and gubernatorial races – the GOP has come to largely reject the notions that it didn’t turn out its core supporters, failed to persuade swing voters, or alienated former supporters by nominating fringe candidates. Instead, Republicans insist, they are losing because of rampant and systemic fraud.

If this were true (which it is not), then it would stand to reason that Republicans must be able to prevent such theft or, failing that, overturn the results.

That’s the plan, and that’s what worries one hundred prominent political scientists:

Statutory changes in large key electoral battleground states are dangerously politicizing the process of electoral administration, with Republican-controlled legislatures giving themselves the power to override electoral outcomes on unproven allegations should Democrats win more votes.

The Atlantic’s Ron Brownstein explains the implications:

The White House does see a risk in the possibility that Republicans – whether local election officials, GOP-controlled state legislatures, or a potential Republican majority in the U.S. House or Senate – will refuse to certify clear Democratic wins in the 2022 and 2024 elections.

The senior Democrat told me, “Given how things have developed since January 6, if the situation is not brought under some control and this isn’t countered effectively, then I think there is a significant risk” that “Republican officials, unlike the ones we saw standing up to pressure in 2020, are going to decline to certify Democratic victories.”

If Republicans hold the House, Senate, or both after the 2024 election, that could allow Congress to try to install a GOP president even if clear evidence exists that the Democrat won.

That seems to be the plan, no mater how much an obsessive delusional Trump argues that he will be reinstalled as president, with a big inauguration ceremony and all the rest, in August, in just two months. Let him argue that if that makes him happy. Republicans now know better. He won’t run in 2024. He’s the past. Their plan is the future.

That makes Trump irreverent. No one read his blog and now he’s holed-up at Mar-a-Lago spinning fantasies about his triumphal second inauguration, that will never happen, coming up quite soon. But his party has moved on. His party will run Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene in 2024, or Derek Chauvin and Dylann Roof, or somebody else. They changed the rules and they can never lose again. Why should they bother with that strange old man spinning fantasies in Florida?

And why should they bother about Biden? Relative dullness really is his superpower. They don’t want to mess with him. Let him be.

So these two old men are not the issue here. The end of American democracy is.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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