With Joe Biden sliding in the polls, the media are gravitating toward more coverage — and attacks — aimed at Donald Trump and other Republicans eyeing the White House.
The current president’s slippage — to 38% approval in a new Quinnipiac poll — is making political reporters ponder, perhaps prematurely, whether he’s headed for one-term status. Or maybe they’re just bored covering the endless Hill machinations where nothing ever seems to get done.
There is a giant shadow over the coverage, and that is how Jan. 6 will affect the Republicans — Trump most of all, but also Mike Pence, who is quietly exploring a possible 2024 candidacy.
The former president is now openly using the media’s word for the Capitol violence and attempting to redefine it.
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“The insurrection took place on November 3rd,” he told the podcast hosted by John Solomon, a former Fox News contributor and reporter for The Hill. “That was the insurrection: when they rigged the election. The big insurrection, the real insurrection.”
Now it just so happens that the former vice president is trying to minimize the events of Jan. 6 — despite the fact that his life was in danger on the day he refused to try to block the Electoral College results.
“I know the media wants to distract from the Biden administration’s failed agenda by focusing on one day in January,” Pence told Sean Hannity. “They want to use that one day to try and demean the character and intentions of 74 million Americans.”
Which leads me to a few observations.
No one is using the horrible events at the Capitol to blame the substantial portion of the country that voted for Trump, only those who committed the crimes.
The heartbreaking violence didn’t amount to just one day in January any more than 9/11 was one day in September. And no one knows this better than Pence, who had to be evacuated by Secret Service with his family as some noose-wielding protesters shouted for him to be hanged.
The 2020 election was not “the real insurrection,” because the Bill Barr Justice Department, dozens of lawsuits, and even a partisan Arizona audit found no hard evidence of significant fraud.
And yet a majority of Republicans believe Trump’s claim of a rigged election — which helps him rally his loyalists, but creates a dilemma for his potential rivals.
Look, the press rather likes keeping the focus on the Capitol riot, an obviously negative story for the GOP’s de facto leader, and news developments make that easy. Several former Trump aides are resisting subpoenas by the House Jan. 6 committee that were due Thursday. The Senate Judiciary Committee released an interim report that detailed how top DOJ officials and even the White House counsel threatened to quit if Trump dumped the acting attorney general for resisting his election-related pressure. And that creates a dilemma for those who worked for him.
As the Washington Post points out, “For a contingent of hardcore Trump supporters, Pence is a turncoat — the coward who betrayed the former president when he refused to toss out the results of a free and fair election.” But his allies “say that Pence’s reputation was largely enhanced by the stance he took on Jan. 6 — what they describe as a moment of courage and leadership when it mattered most.”
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That sounds like a pretty narrow path to navigate.
Nikki Haley, another 2024 aspirant, faces a similar tightrope walk. After the Capitol riot, the former U.N. ambassador said Trump “went down a path he shouldn’t have, and we shouldn’t have followed him. … Never did I think he would spiral out like this.”
More recently, though, Haley said “We need him in the Republican Party. I don’t want us to go back to the days before Trump.”
New York magazine uses such examples to argue that any member of the party who doesn’t fight Trump is part of the problem:
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“Republicans wish to believe they can smooth his path to power without being complicit in his designs. But Trump’s Republican Party is an authoritarian project. For the time being, there is no form of Republican politics that is consistent with democracy.”
That is an absurd line of attack that paints everyone this side of Liz Cheney as being evil. Most Republican candidates obviously want to avoid ticking off Trump voters but stop short of embracing the stolen-election narrative.
The problem is that their leader, by pounding the drum on a daily basis, isn’t making it any easier for them.