GOP Stunned To Discover It’s Not Running Against A Cadaver I

Estimated read time 8 min read

A lot of things happened. Here are some of the things. This is TPM’s Morning Memo. Sign up for the email version.

Careful About Believing Your Own Rhetoric

Republicans who have turned Joseph R. Biden into a caricature of falling-down dementia and drooling incontinence have set the bar so low that anything above a flatline EKG from the president knocks them back on their heels.

They were left spluttering that Biden’s State of the Union was too loud and too campaign-y. They couldn’t maintain a basic level of decorum in the chamber, giving Biden the chance to knock them around with ad libs and direct call outs, directly facing the GOP side of the chamber. He turned the call and response of the Black church into whack-a-MTG.

The weird media expectations-setting and gamesmanship of American politics set the stage for this kind of performance, a Monty Python-esque “I’m not dead yet.” But Biden still had to pull it off, and he did, in rousing fashion.

The stakes of this election are so high and the historic moment so great that Biden has to show a willingness to fight by actually fighting. Otherwise, the content of the message falls flat. If it really is this important, you have to act like it, not just say it. He did that, too.

State Of The Union Highlights

Our blow-by-blow is here, and the full transcript is here:

My Favorite Moment

State Of The Union Coverage

  • Semafor: President Biden savages ‘my predecessor’ in State of the Union
  • Punchbowl: A feisty Biden blasts GOP foes
  • Axios: Fired up Biden challenges GOP on immigration and abortion
  • Politico: Biden chooses a hammer over an olive branch

State Of The Union Reaction

As he had the confidence to dwell on towards the end of the speech, Biden is an old man. He’s over 80 years old. But I think people who’ve had these doubts, Democrats who have been worried … I think they will see this speech and think, “Ok, I think we can do this.”

But with Trump unvanquished, and hook-or-crook desperate to return to office, it’s essential that the public not forget his disastrous presidency or the danger he poses to freedom in the U.S. and around the world. And to the extent voters have forgotten they need to be reminded. … At the top of the speech, when viewership is highest and reporters form first impressions, {Biden] delivered a damning recitation of Trump’s record, the Republican agenda, their joint assault on reproductive rights, and their ongoing effort to sabotage the U.S. and the world order.

I’ve been a pessimist about Joe Biden’s chances to get re-elected this November. His tired appearance, his shuffling gait, his gaffes—the intense media attention on all of this was dragging him down and setting the stage for the unthinkable return of Donald Trump. Thursday night’s State of the Union address has gone a great distance to cure me of my pessimism. Biden’s performance was electrifying. Watching it, you can’t help but think: He can win.

The Choice To Put Her In A Kitchen Was … Interesting

Your Reading Assignment For Today

Special Counsel Jack Smith filed a flurry of responses Thursday to Donald Trump’s motions to dismiss the Mar-a-Lago indictment. I’ll note once again the high quality of the briefing from Smith’s team. This is the best of the best of what DOJ can do.

It’s not easy when you’re audience is both a very inexperienced trial judge whom you need to try to educate and an appeals courts that will inevitably be reviewing core constitutional arguments. On top of that, Trump’s arguments are inane and so along with patient education and solid historical/structural arguments, prosecutors have to convey a certain level of incredulousness to let U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon know these are preposterous assertions by Trump. I think Smith’s team mostly pulls it off.

  • Immunity: The key Trump motion to dismiss in the case is the immunity one because it could produce an extended delay while he appeals a loss, as it has in the Jan. 6 case. So Smith make a strong argument that seeking immunity for conduct by a former president after leaving office is frivolous and only intended to cause delay and wants Cannon to certify as much so that Trump cannot immediately appeal this issue. This will be key to having any chance of trying the case this year.
  • Presidential Records Act: Trump has comically trotted out the Presidential Records Act as a shield to the Mar-a-Lago charges, an argument no one buys and that turns the PRA on its head. It was a post-Watergate law to ensure that presidential records remain the property of the public. Trump is using it to argue the opposite. Smith swats that argument away cleanly.
  • Selective and Vindictive Prosecution: The Hur report on President Biden’s improper retention of classified information gets a lot of attention from Trump and from Smith, but there’s a whole list of prominent people Trump claims were treated differently than him, and Smith systematically dismantles the argument for each one: Biden, Mike Pence, Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, James Comey, David Petraeus, Sandy Berger, John Deutch, and Deborah Birx.

Will Candidate Trump Get Traditional Intel Briefings?

The question of whether the decades-long tradition of providing classified intelligence briefings to the opposition party presidential nominee has come to the fore, with Donald Trump facing criminal charges of mishandling national security information. A new report from Politico suggests that, all things considered, the intel community is leaning toward continuing the tradition, even though that plays into Trump’s hands in the Mar-a-Lago case (“If what he did is so bad, why is the Biden administration trusting him with classified information now?”). Reading between the lines, it sounds like this is as much about the intel community protecting its institutional prerogatives, like protecting its nonpartisan status and hedging its bets about Trump being re-elected, as it is maintaining continuity.

Sign Of The Times

TPM: Election Officials Prep For An Ugly 2024 With Mental Health And Stress Trainings For Staff

The George Santos Comeback Attempt

Expelled Rep. George Santos (R-NY), who remains under federal criminal indictment, filed paperwork to run for Congress again this year, switching from the NY-03 seat he previously held to the NY-01 seat currently held by Rep. Nick LaLota (R).


Reading this adulatory WSJ profile of Lara Trump – “Meet the Other Trump Who’s About to Lead the GOP: Incoming RNC co-chair Lara Trump is Donald Trump’s ‘secret weapon’ and says she will improve fundraising” – rekindled my fantasy of shipping American political reporters overseas and replacing them with our cadre of foreign reporters who are accustomed to covering corruption and nepotism with vigor and without euphemism.

2024 Ephemera

O Captain! My Captain!

WASHINGTON, DC – AUGUST 3: President Donald Trump looks to White House physician Ronny Jackson during a Veterans Affairs Department “telehealth” event in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, DC on Thursday, Aug 03, 2017. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

The Navy quietly demoted Rep. Ronny Jackson (R-TX) from rear admiral to captain in July 2022 after a Pentagon inspector general’s report on his misconduct while serving as Trump White House physician, the Washington Post first reported Thursday. Jackson has since continued to refer to himself as a rear admiral despite the reduction in rank.

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