Fox's Ari Fleischer: Democrats "don't have the high ground" against Trump rhetorically because they've called Republicans racist
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Ever since the first of three women reported sexual misconduct by Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, right-wing media’s message to victims of sexual violence has rung painfully clear -- if you come forward and tell your story, you’re putting yourself at risk and the establishment will circle the wagons to protect your abuser.
Christine Blasey Ford, Deborah Ramirez, and Julie Swetnick have faced unending smear campaigns while also being summarily dismissed by those seeking to ram Kavanaugh onto the court. Conservative media have systematically overlooked the fact that Kavanaugh lied and perjured himself during Senate Judiciary Committee hearings, instead propagating outlandish conspiracy theories about his accusers and questioning whether they have political motivations. Their smear campaign coalesces around one simple message of intimidation: If you tell your truth about sexual violence, it won’t disqualify your assailant from moving up in his career; instead, you’ll ruin the reputation of a good man, and a right-wing attack mob will set its sight on ruining yours as well.
Right-wing media’s radical and insulting insistence that a history of sexual assault doesn’t disqualify a man from sitting on the Supreme Court is perhaps the most honest confession in their coverage of allegations made against Brett Kavanaugh. They are telling survivors that coming forward is, as Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) put it, but a “hiccup” on the way to their assailant getting a promotion.
Perhaps the most shameless example of conservatives telling on themselves is an article published in The Federalist titled, “Why Brett Kavanaugh Should Be Confirmed To The Supreme Court Even If He’s Guilty.” An anonymous author argues “the actual impact” of Kavanaugh’s alleged history of sexual violence would likely be irrelevant to his “behavior as a Supreme Court justice.” The article goes on to say that “the stakes” of confirming Kavanaugh “are even higher” now than they were before, noting that if he fails to get on the court, “every Supreme Court nomination henceforth will be derailed by mere allegation.”
For its part, Fox News has also made clear that Ford’s report should not get in the way of Kavanaugh’s promotion. This is not a surprise, considering that the network functions as a mouthpiece for the White House communications team led by disgraced former Fox executive Bill Shine, who was forced out due to his role in the culture of sexual harassment that prevailed under Roger Ailes. Here are some of the most offensive takes from the network’s Kavanaugh coverage:
In the effort to rehabilitate Brett Kavanaugh’s image, right-wing media have characterized the reports as nothing more than smears of a good and innocent man. Some have bizarrely admitted they believe Christine Ford but they don’t believe what she says Kavanaugh did to her. They’ve also deflected from the women’s stories by mentioning that Kavanaugh goes to church and volunteers and coaches his daughters’ basketball team:
According to some right-wing pundits, even listening to victims is a wholesale attack on men. During her daily radio show, Laura Ingraham said she wanted to “focus on men for a moment” because “this could happen to any of you.” Not to be outdone by his peers, Tucker Carlson used the stories of sexual assault survivors to continues his ongoing white nationalist campaign, categorizing allegations against Kavanaugh as an attack on all white people and men and arguing that Democrats’ willingness to listen to Ford demonstrates a sexism that’s similar to racism. He also called Kavanaugh a “folk hero” to the “unfairly maligned.”
When conservative media figures portray a sexual assault report as a politically motivated smear of a decent family man, they are telling victims the damage wrought by the violence they experienced is unimportant and that speaking about it is wrong.
The conservative victim-blaming campaign discourages survivors from speaking up through the direct threat of a never-ending character assassination and harassment campaign. The results of this tactic have been illustrated by the fact that Ford has had to go into hiding, separately from her children, for her family’s safety. Here are some examples of right-wing media attacking Ford’s character:
And while Twitter is a general cesspool of conspiracy theories and smears against sexual assault survivors, no individual has put more into this effort than conservative commentator Erick Erickson, who called the confirmation process “the Left’s PizzaGate” and said that the Democrats were “willing to destroy an innocent man so they can keep killing kids.”
Right-wing media and Republicans in Congress have been working overtime to send a clear message to survivors of sexual violence: It’s better for us if you stay quiet. The campaign against Kavanaugh’s accusers reinforces what women already know -- that sexual violence is about power, and that when backed into a corner, power brokers will regroup and lash out at its challengers.
Millions of people watch Fox News every day. Many of them are undoubtedly survivors of sexual violence themselves. While Fox News personalities get rich smearing victims in an effort to install Kavanaugh into power no matter his past behavior or the fact that he repeatedly lied to Congress, they’re saying to their viewers, “We don’t care about you, we don’t believe you, and you should shut up and keep your experiences to yourself.” Right-wing media outlets are sustained by their commitment to punching down, even if that means launching an attack on half of the world’s population to save the career of one man. Only through the power of testimony and solidarity can survivors overcome the system that seeks to silence us.
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Secretary of State Pompeo echoed right-wing media talking points on Trump’s toughness. In reality, Trump has undercut a number of actions Congress and his administration have tried to take against Russia.
Following President Donald Trump’s disastrous bilateral meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland, the president’s administration flacks and conservative media lackeys quickly scrambled to his defense, arguing that Trump has been “tough” in his “actions against Russia” and rattling off a series of actions he has taken since 2017 that supposedly support such a claim. The president himself and administration officials have also parroted the talking points in an attempt to dispel the idea that he is somehow in the pocket of the Russian government. But a closer look at the actions Trump shills have pointed to reveals a foreign policy that is more concerned with posturing for media than being “tough” in the face of Russian aggression.
On July 16, Trump met with Putin for a meeting behind closed doors in which no other American -- except an interpreter -- was present, and they emerged more than two hours later to give a wide-ranging press conference. When asked whether he holds the Russian government accountable for its multifaceted interference campaign during the 2016 elections, Trump repeatedly denied Russia’s involvement, saying, “I don’t see any reason why it would be” Russia. (The president would later claim to have gotten “would” and “wouldn’t” confused.)
To counter the deluge of negative press in the wake of the meeting, right-wing media and administration officials pointed to various foreign policy and military responses to Russian aggression that the United States and its allies have undertaken during Trump’s presidency to argue that the president’s “actions” actually “have been tough.” About a week after the bilateral meeting, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo echoed Trump’s conservative media defenders as he faced senators on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, insisting Trump “has taken a truckload of punitive actions against Moscow” and that he has been “tough on Russia” as president. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders repeated the meme, as did the president himself.
Trump’s defenders have pointed to sanctions against Russia that were imposed under Trump, the American strikes against the Russian-backed Syrian regime in 2017 and 2018, the March 28 expulsion of Russian diplomats and seizure of a Russian consulate, Trump’s demands for other countries to increase their NATO spending, the sale of lethal arms to Ukraine to fend off the Russian military and rebels in the eastern portions of the country, and the pressure Trump put on German Chancellor Angela Merkel over a proposed natural gas pipeline from Russia, among other specific actions. But Trump’s defenders are not telling the full story behind these actions.
In the aftermath of Trump’s meeting with Putin, a number of the president’s defenders touted sanctions that were imposed against Russia as evidence of Trump’s clear-eyed approach with regard to Russia. But, not only were the sanctions drawn up and passed by Congress while the Trump administration loudly opposed the move, the administration also dragged its feet in implementing them, missing a deadline to begin the implementation and only taking action after Congress demanded it do so. Moreover, Trump left United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley out to dry by walking back, without explanation, an announcement she made regarding additional sanctions against Russia.
Additionally, one of the first official actions the Trump administration attempted was “to relax or remove punitive measures imposed by President Obama in retaliation for Russia’s intervention in Ukraine and meddling in the 2016 election.” The effort to remove sanctions that were already on the books appeared to continue into Trump’s presidency, as one of his top fundraisers and former deputy finance chairman for the Republican National Committee, Elliott Broidy, reportedly offered in 2017 to “help a Moscow-based lawyer get Russian companies removed from a U.S. sanctions list.”
Right-wing media have also cited U.S. airstrikes conducted against the Syrian regime as evidence that Trump has stood up to Russian aggression. But, in 2017, Trump “notified Russia in advance of” the strike, “giving time for both Russian and Syrian forces to avoid casualties in an attack,” and by the very next day, Syrian warplanes were using the airfield that was targeted. Additionally, in 2018, the strikes Trump authorized against the Syrian regime targeted chemical weapons infrastructure, “and not the bases where the Russians and Iranians are.”
Trump’s defenders have also pointed to an American counterattack on Russian mercenaries and Syrian military personnel in February, saying Trump “authorized” the attack. While the U.S. military did in fact fend off a Russian-backed attack after “repeatedly” warning about the “growing mass of troops,” the strike was an “act of self-defense.” Citing the incident as evidence that Trump is countering Russian interests in Syria does not address the larger picture that, under Trump, Russia has become even more entrenched, further solidifying its support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime, as Trump lacks a coherent overarching strategy for the war-torn country. Not to mention the fact that, in May 2017, Trump disclosed sensitive “code-word information” originating from Israeli intelligence services to the Russian foreign minister and Russian ambassador to the United States at the time.
Trump sycophants are additionally highlighting the March 26 expulsion of 60 Russian intelligence operatives who were in the United States under diplomatic cover and the closure of a Russian consulate as further proof of Trump’s tough stance on Russia. But the expulsion of diplomats is an expected reaction that “represent[s] more symbol than substance.” And Trump also berated administration officials for expelling too many Russian officials, as he was reportedly “furious that his administration was being portrayed in the media as taking by far the toughest stance on Russia” as compared to European allies, who joined the United States in the symbolic gesture.
Moreover, in a still-unexplained proposition in the early days of the Trump administration, officials looked at “handing back to Russia two diplomatic compounds, near New York City and on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, that its officials were ejected from in late December as punishment for Moscow’s interference in the 2016 presidential election.”
In what has emerged as a favorite talking point for Trump defenders in the wake of the meeting with Putin, conservative media are touting an arms deal with Ukraine. The deal, which the Obama administration had resisted, is meant to bolster Ukrainian defenses against the Russian military and pro-Russian Ukrainian rebels. Except Trump stooges in right-wing media fail to mention that the Ukrainian investigation into Trump’s former campaign manager’s shady business dealings in that country conspicuously stopped just “as the Trump administration was finalizing plans to sell the country sophisticated anti-tank missiles.” Not to mention the fact that, during the 2016 campaign, Trump made the laughable claim that the Russian military is “not going into Ukraine,” even though it effectively annexed the Crimean peninsula in 2014. According to Ukraine’s deputy foreign minister, Ukrainian officials were “tearing their hair and running around like crazies” when Trump was elected because of fears over what it would mean for the country.
Trump’s Fox News sycophants have also insisted that by “beating up the NATO allies” at the 2018 NATO summit, Trump succeeded in getting allies to “cough up more money” for the alliance when in fact Trump’s efforts had little to do with members’ increases in direct spending on their national military budgets. According to The New York Times, “each NATO member pledged in 2014,” after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, “to spend 2 percent of its gross domestic product on its own defense each year by 2024. … As a share of G.D.P., spending by European members and Canada began to rise before Mr. Trump took office.”
Conservative media have also pointed to Trump’s critical comments to Merkel at the 2018 NATO summit over the proposed Nord Stream 2 natural-gas pipeline that would run from Russia to Germany as confirmation that Trump is “tough” in dealing with Russia. But previous administrations and a bipartisan group of senators also opposed Nord Stream 2, and Trump himself toned down his criticism after meeting with Putin, conceding that the United States cannot block Germany’s domestic energy decisions. The German Marshall Fund’s Ulrich Speck said the president’s attacks against Merkel “looked as if Trump is looking for ammunition against Germany. If he would have been serious on pushing against Nord Stream, he would probably have brought this up much more forcefully with Putin.” Indeed, a “tough” U.S. policy toward Russia would avoid driving such a wedge between the United States and an ally that has disregarded domestic business concerns to wrangle European Union member states, which had their own economic apprehensions, to join sanctions against Russia for its 2014 invasion of Ukraine.
On Sunday, July 22, President Donald Trump tweeted another bellicose threat of war, this time against Iran. In discussions about the president’s tweets, some media outlets prominently featured Iraq War boosters.
To Iranian President Rouhani: NEVER, EVER THREATEN THE UNITED STATES AGAIN OR YOU WILL SUFFER CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED BEFORE. WE ARE NO LONGER A COUNTRY THAT WILL STAND FOR YOUR DEMENTED WORDS OF VIOLENCE & DEATH. BE CAUTIOUS!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 23, 2018
Though, collectively, these figures were hardly as pro-military action as they were in 2003 in their support for the Iraq War (some even harshly criticized the president’s posturing), the prominence of such boosters in the conversation betrays one of the media’s long-running, barely-acknowledged failures: The same voices that helped the Bush administration lie its way into the "the single worst foreign policy decision in American history" are still, for some reason, considered important voices on foreign policy.
Former press secretary for President George W. Bush Ari Fleischer appeared on Fox News’ America’s Newsroom to urge the United States to destabilize Iranian society in order to trigger regime change.
Steve Doocy, co-host of Fox News’ Fox & Friends, said that the Iranian “people are really hacked (sic) off, they don’t really like the corruption, they don’t like the leadership, they want something new, and now this,” referring to Trump’s tweet.
On Fox News’ America’s Newsroom, senior strategic analyst retired Gen. Jack Keane, who was the a strong advocate of Bush’s troop “surge” strategy in Iraq, hailed Trump for having “absolutely reset the table [away] from coddling Iran” as soon as he was inaugurated and framed the tweet -- which he called a “policy decision” -- as a continuation of this trend.
On CNN’s New Day, global affairs analyst Max Boot commented that Trump “belongs in a padded cell” for his tweet and was “predictable” for “gin[ning] up a threat of war with Iran” to shield himself from embarrassment over the Helsinki summit.
On MSNBC’s Morning Joe, host Joe Scarborough commented that Trump was “screaming about the Republican (sic) Guard and his threat to wipe out Iran,” and suggested that the threat against Iran was a tactic to distract from the news that, among others, the FBI possessed recordings of the president talking with his former attorney Michael Cohen about payments to a former playboy model.
Fox’s senior political analyst Brit Hume predicted that Trump’s broader posture against Iran, from exiting the nuclear deal to Sunday’s tweet, indicated that his administration “is attempting to overthrow the government or attempting to get regime change” in Iran, even though Trump officials “will not say” so.
On CNN Newsroom, military analyst Rick Francona, who was previously part of a military analyst program set up by the Pentagon to sell the Iraq War, warned that “if you start poking the eye of the Iranians” as Trump’s tweet did, “they’re liable to push back,” and the resulting situation “will ratchet out of control very quickly.”
National security adviser John Bolton, hired directly off of Fox News, underlined the president's threat with a statement that said: “If Iran does anything at all to the negative, they will pay a price like few countries have ever paid before.”
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Echoing Trump and his supporters, Hannity and his guests made hundreds of statements about Mueller's supposed "conflicts of interests"
Fox News’ Sean Hannity has used his prime-time TV show as a platform to try to discredit both the probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and the special counsel, Robert Mueller, leading the investigation. For months, Hannity and his guests have called for Mueller to resign and brought up bogus “conflicts of interest” in an apparent attempt to undermine the “witch hunt” and save face with one of Hannity’s biggest fans, President Donald Trump.
A Media Matters analysis found that since the beginning of the investigation in May, Hannity and his guests have repeatedly called for Mueller to recuse himself or be fired from the probe and brought up phony “conflicts of interest” in attempts to discredit him. Hannity has also repeated several other canards in an attempt to dismiss the investigation, often hyping them when the ongoing probe results in the release of damaging reports. In this study:
Hannity has called for either Mueller to remove himself or for his firing 40 times. Since Mueller took up the investigation on May 17, Hannity has called for Mueller to remove himself from the investigation -- or for him to be forcibly removed --- 40 times on his Fox News program.
Fox’s Gregg Jarrett has made 11 comments calling for Mueller’s firing or for Mueller to remove himself from the investigation. Gregg Jarrett, Fox legal analyst and ardent Trump defender -- especially on matters related to Russia -- made 11 statements on Hannity calling for Mueller to remove himself from the investigation or be fired.
Other guests have made similar statements, including noted right-wing misinformers. Other guests on Hannity have made similar calls for Mueller to either step away from the investigation of his own volition or for him to be fired:
Right-wing radio host Larry Elder, who claimed that Clinton, the FBI, and the Democratic National Committee are the only ones who were involved in Russian collusion, called for Mueller to leave the probe twice;
Former FBI Assistant Director James Kallstrom, who called the bogus “unmasking” controversy regarding former national security adviser Susan Rice one of the biggest scandals ever, made two statements saying Mueller should not be involved with the probe; and
Hannity brought up Mueller’s alleged “conflicts of interest” 183 times. Since May 17, Hannity has made 183 statements that Mueller allegedly has a “conflict of interest” that would prevent him from fairly conducting the probe.
Guests have made 45 statements asserting that Mueller has a “conflict of interest.” Apart from Hannity’s own statements, guests on Hannity, including Jarrett and other Trump defenders such as Newt Gingrich and Fox host Jeanine Pirro, have made a total of 45 statements alleging that Mueller has a “conflict of interest” surrounding the investigation.
Two of the most popular “conflicts of interest” are not really conflicts at all. Of the over 220 statements about “conflicts” that Hannity and his guests have hyped, two of the most popular ones (cited 167 times) are not actually conflicts at all:
On 92 occasions, Hannity and his guests -- including Gingrich and Fox contributor Ari Fleischer -- claimed that Mueller’s team was compromised or conflicted because it included several investigators who had previously donated to Democrats. As a group of political science professors wrote in an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times, “According to the Justice Department’s own rules, campaign donations do not create a conflict of interest.”
On 75 occasions, Hannity and his guests -- including Jarrett and Trump’s personal lawyer Jay Sekulow -- suggested that Mueller is conflicted because of his relationship with former FBI Director James Comey. But, as The Associated Press (AP) pointed out, Mueller and Comey are “not known to be especially close friends.” Additionally, “Legal experts say whatever connection they do have doesn't come close to meriting Mueller's removal as special counsel.”
Hannity and his guests used a variety of other talking points and canards to discredit the investigation and Mueller:
On 22 occasions, Hannity and his guests referred to the investigation as a “witch hunt”;
On 17 occasions, Hannity and his guests suggested that the investigation was a political attack on Trump, his administration, and potentially even the Trump family;
On 36 occasions, Hannity and his guests attacked the investigation and Mueller for having too much discretion; and
After Comey spoke to the Senate Intelligence Committee, Hannity and his guests ticked up their attacks on Mueller. In the week following Comey’s June 8 testimony to the Senate intelligence committee, Hannity and his guests increased their attacks on the investigation and Mueller, compared to the prior week:
Hannity and his guests called on Mueller to resign or called for his firing 20 times;
Hannity and his guests brought up Mueller’s supposed “conflicts of interest” 40 times; and
Hannity and his guests referred to the investigation as a “witch hunt” four times.
After it was reported that Donald Trump Jr. met with a Kremlin-connected lawyer, Hannity and his guests attacked Mueller’s “conflicts of interest.” In the week after The New York Times reported on July 8 that Donald Trump Jr. and other Trump campaign officials had met with a Russian lawyer who had ties to the Kremlin in hopes of securing damaging information on then-Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, Hannity complained about Mueller’s “conflicts of interest” 18 times.
Following report on Trump’s attempts to discredit the investigation, Hannity launched more attacks on Mueller. In the week following a July 20 New York Times report that claimed Trump and his aides were “looking for conflicts of interest they could use to discredit the investigation — or even build a case to fire Mr. Mueller or get some members of his team recused,” Hannity and his team ratcheted up their attacks on Mueller compared to the prior week:
Hannity and his guests brought up Mueller’s supposed “conflicts of interest” 36 times;
Hannity and his guests claimed 18 times that Mueller’s investigation was compromised because some of his investigators had donated to Democratic politicians;
Hannity and his guests discussed Mueller’s relationship with Comey in order to discredit the investigation seven times;
Hannity and his guests asserted seven times that the investigation was a politically motivated attack; and
Hannity and his guests called the investigation a “witch hunt” four times.
Following reports of Mueller’s use of a grand jury, Hannity and his guests attacked Mueller for his “conflicts” and wide discretion. A week after reports surfaced that Mueller had impaneled a grand jury as part of his investigation, Hannity and his guests made 21 statements attacking Mueller’s “conflicts of interest” and 20 statements asserting Mueller had too much discretion over the investigation.
After the news came out that multiple Trump campaign associates had been indicted, Hannity and his guests attempted to connect Mueller to Uranium One. Between October 30 -- when it was revealed that three Trump campaign aides had been indicted due to Mueller’s investigation -- and November 3, Hannity and his guests made 18 statements attempting to link Mueller to Uranium One and 14 statements complaining about Mueller’s alleged “conflicts of interest.”
Media Matters searched Nexis for transcripts of Fox News’ Hannity between May 17 and November 3 mentioning the words “Mueller” or “special counsel.” Transcripts were then coded for statements -- which in this study we defined as a sentence -- which included the following:
calls for Mueller to resign or recuse himself or calls that he be fired, or suggestions that he never should have been appointed as special counsel;
suggestions that Mueller had a conflict of interest with the investigation;
mentions of Mueller’s investigators who had ties to Democratic lawmakers;
mentions of Mueller’s alleged friendship and relationship with Comey;
questions as to whether Mueller should resign, recuse himself, be fired, or have never been appointed as special counsel;
claims that the investigation is a political attack on Trump, his administration, or his family;
suggestions that the investigation is a “witch hunt”;
claims that Mueller had been given too wide a mandate over the investigation from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein;
claims that Mueller had expanded his investigation too far; and
attempts to link Mueller to Uranium One.
Transcripts were reviewed by two independent coders and differences were then reconciled.
The Senate health care bill is dead again after two conservative Republican senators said last night they would not vote to advance the legislation because it does not repeal enough of former President Barack Obama’s signature health law. As GOP leaders scramble to find a new tactic that will allow them to strip health insurance from millions while slashing taxes for the wealthy, President Donald Trump’s media supporters have been left grasping for a message.
The original bill, which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell assembled through a secretive process and tried to rush through with little public debate, would lead to 22 million more Americans being uninsured at the end of the decade, largely due to cuts to Medicaid; many of those who retain insurance under the bill would pay more for fewer benefits. The bill was amended after the Congressional Budget Office offered that verdict, but the GOP decided not to wait for a new score before moving forward. Democratic senators are universally opposed to the legislation, while the most moderate and conservative Republicans have also refused to sign on, either because it does too much or too little to move away from Obamacare’s improvements to the health care system.
Trump’s propagandists look to him to set the tone for how to respond to bad news. But the message out of the White House has always been incoherent on health care, largely because the president seems to have no real interest in the various, serious policy debates surrounding the future of health insurance for the American people -- he just wants a win. In May, the president held a Rose Garden event to celebrate the passage of the House bill, which he described as a “great plan.” Weeks later, he turned around and privately called that legislation “mean.”
That sort of policy incoherence gets in the way of formulating messaging around legislative setbacks. Last night, for instance, Trump tweeted that “Republicans should just REPEAL failing ObamaCare now & work on a new Healthcare Plan that will start from a clean slate. Dems will join in!” But that tactical messaging completely ignores the question of what a good health care plan would look like, and whether the Senate bill that just went down in flames met that criteria. Without clearly defined heroes and villains or a clear policy vision, his media allies have been left to their own devices. The noise machine is grinding to a halt.
Absent messaging from the top, here are a few ways the pro-Trump media are responding:
Most of Trump’s propagandists are of the opinion that Trump cannot fail; he can only be failed. As such, they’ve quickly turned their fire on McConnell and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI).
“I know the president is frustrated with the situation. A lot has been promised to him and not much delivered,” Fox host Kimberly Guilfoyle said last night. “I think this is a failure on the part of the leadership, to be quite honest. Because they needed to get this to stick and to coalesce and get it done.”
“Second failure for Mitch McConnell,” Steve Doocy added on Fox & Friends this morning, pointing to the bill’s previous collapse last month.
Knives out for McConnell on Trump's favorite show Fox & Friends. pic.twitter.com/NHcoO1Sf0d
— Matthew Gertz (@MattGertz) July 18, 2017
Even Matt Drudge is getting in on the act:
— Kendall Breitman (@KendallBreitman) July 18, 2017
If the Senate bill continues to struggle, and Trump doesn’t publicly support McConnell, we could see calls for his replacement in the near future.
Trump’s lack of interest in policy leaves his supporters plenty of room to say that they didn’t like the bill, without creating any dissonance about the fact that the president supported the legislation.
Doocy went after the bill from the start this morning, saying, “Ultimately, what undid this bill is -- the one that they are not going to vote on now -- is it was a lousy bill. I mean, it still had big taxes. It still had a lot of regulations. It had that insurance company subsidy slush fund that Rand Paul was talking about. It was not what the American people” wanted. Notably, since Doocy also has little knowledge of or interest in policy, he can’t really say what a good replacement would look like either, simply saying Congress should “get rid of all that stuff and come up with something new.”
One of the problems Senate Republicans faced in trying to push through health care legislation is that because they knew no bill would attract enough Democratic support to overcome a filibuster, they were trying to pass the bill with a 50-vote threshold through the budget reconciliation process. But that process limits what can actually go into the bill, making full repeal of Obamacare extremely difficult.
In order to sidestep that process, the hosts of Fox & Friends are calling for Senate Republicans to deploy the “nuclear option” and eliminate the filibuster altogether, making all votes subject only to a majority vote. It’s unclear how this would help pass a health care bill since Republicans just demonstrated they don’t have 50 votes in the Senate, but this morning Doocy, co-host Brian Kilmeade, and former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer all seemed eager to push through that proposal.
A few hours later, Trump, who regularly watches Fox & Friends, chimed in, tweeting, “The Senate must go to a 51 vote majority instead of current 60 votes. Even parts of full Repeal need 60. 8 Dems control Senate. Crazy!”
For some, the best way to get through a crushing defeat for the president is to downplay that it happened.
Another option is to give up altogether. That’s the current recommendation of Fox News host Eric Bolling, at least until the president makes clear that he’s sticking with health care.
“Let's just say this thing fails. They put it off to the side,” he said on this morning’s Fox & Friends. “They screwed up. They failed. You shore up the individual insurance markets. You put it off to the side. Then you take up something that I think every single American, whether you are Democrat, independent, or Republican, can wrap their brain around, tax reform.”
The good news for the pro-Trump media is that tax reform is a very simple issue with few stakeholders and broad agreement in Congress on a way forward. It also helps that the president has learned important lessons from the health care fight about overconfidence in the face of policy fights.
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Media shouldn’t be so willing to let White House press secretary Sean Spicer off the hook for his comments comparing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to Adolf Hitler given the implicit and explicit ways President Donald Trump and his administration have embraced white nationalists. No matter how ineffective, Spicer’s comparison is another example of a wink and a nod to the type of hatred that is a part of this White House’s culture.
During an April 11 White House press briefing, Spicer likened Assad to Hitler, telling reporters that unlike Assad, “you had someone as despicable as Hitler who didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons.” When he was asked to clarify, Spicer said that Hitler “was not using the gas on his own people the same way that Assad is doing,” when in reality the German SS and police used poison gas to asphyxiate millions of Jews in concentration camps (which Spicer called “Holocaust centers” in his comments). After repeatedly trying to explain his comments, Spicer ultimately apologized, calling them “inexcusable and reprehensible.” Meanwhile, white nationalists cheered the remarks, praising the press secretary for exposing the “Jewish gas chamber hoax.”
Media were quick to accept Spicer’s apology and let him off the hook. Fox News’ Kevin Corke called it “heartfelt and … very unequivocal” and added, “he should be able to move on … quickly.” CNN’s Chris Cillizza said, “I’m going to give Sean the benefit of the doubt,” saying Spicer “got himself into a verbal trap and could not get himself out.” On CNN’s New Day, Ari Fleischer, who served as press secretary to former President George W. Bush, accepted Spicer’s apology, adding that “the notion that this is somehow nefarious or indicative of Holocaust denial, I dismiss.” Additionally, CNN commentator David Axelrod tweeted that Spicer has “apologized” for his comments and it’s “time to move on.”
But this is hardly the first time that Spicer and the Trump administration used obtuse language or offered an implicit nod to the white nationalist community. For instance:
Trump hired Stephen Bannon, who previously ran Breitbart, a "platform for the” white nationalist “alt-right" movement as his chief strategist -- a move that was lavishly praised by white nationalists.
At the end of the presidential campaign, Trump ran an ad that Talking Point Memo’s Josh Marshall wrote was “packed with anti-Semitic dog whistles, anti-Semitic tropes and anti-Semitic vocabulary.” Naturally, Trump’s white nationalist supporters loved it, calling it “absolutely fantastic.”
In a closed-door meeting, Trump reportedly suggested that an onslaught of anti-Semitic incidents were false flags, an assertion repeatedly made by white nationalist media figures. Previously, Trump had refused to condemn the incidents while berating a Jewish reporter.
The White House failed to mention the Jewish people in a statement commemorating International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
This is in addition to the direct contact Trump and his aides have had with members of the white nationalist community. For instance:
According to The New York Times, Trump has “retweeted supportive messages from racist or nationalist” supporters, including “accounts featuring white nationalist or Nazi themes.”
Former Trump adviser A.J. Delgado retweeted a Trump endorsement from the anti-Semitic hate site The Right Stuff.
Trump’s senior counselor Kellyanne Conway tweeted “love you back” to an anti-Semitic Twitter account.
Media figures are wrong to simply dismiss Spicer’s Holocaust comments as a hiccup. The connections between the Trump team and the white nationalist community are too strong for Spicer’s comments to be treated as a one-off. Spicer’s blunder is emblematic of the administration’s continuing effort to wink and nod at -- and sometimes openly embrace -- its white nationalist supporters.