Comparing the Former Guy to a Tired Comedy Act

His act has gotten very old. Maybe that will contribute to a crushing defeat in 2024. From Matt Lewis of The Daily Beast:

There was a time when D____ T____ made news with his rallies—when he said things that utterly shocked us. Who could forget the firestorm he started, for example, when he went after Colin Kaepernick and other NFL players who knelt during the national anthem in 2017, or earlier that year when he called Barack Obama “the founder of ISIS”?

T____’s performance in Arizona on Saturday night—his first rally in months and his much-hyped chance to respond to the one-year anniversary of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot—was neither shocking nor terribly newsworthy.

It didn’t even merit a mention on The Washington Post’s homepage Sunday morning. The New York Times only used T____’s speech as a peg to write a broader story under the headline: “T____ Rally Underscores G.O.P. Tension Over How to Win in 2022.”

A few years ago, T____ rallies spawned breathless coverage and drove multiple news cycles. But The Times’ story isn’t even about the rally, and their mentioning it is mostly perfunctory. . . .

TV sitcom showrunners sometimes react to declining ratings by introducing a “Cousin Oliver”—which, quite often, is a cute kid whose smart-alecky sass is meant to liven up a tired atmosphere. Sometimes it works, sometimes it’s evidence a show [is desperate]. But T____’s never been an ensemble cast type of personality. He’s the whole show, and the surrounding players are as replaceable and ephemeral as Spinal Tap’s exploding drummers.

The Arizona rally may have been the unofficial kickoff of his 2024 campaign. But this time around, T____ will have to work harder to break through—and not just because the media is less likely to give him ample air time free of charge.

Call it the Andrew Dice Clay conundrum: If your entire schtick is based on shock value, eventually the audience grows inured, and the lack of substance becomes embarrassingly plain.

T____ made assertions in Arizona Saturday night that might once have garnered buzz (on Sunday morning, at least). But they’re getting little play. In its writeup of the rally, Politico said T____ “issued a blistering response to Democrats” and that he “opened his speech by falsely claiming ‘proof’ that the 2020 election was ‘rigged.’” A more telling fact is that this “blistering response” was not deemed worthy enough to be the site’s lead story. What might have spawned outrage and wagging tongues a few years prior now elicits a collective chorus of yawns.

Here’s the thing about moving the Overton Window: The process of shifting standards and assumptions matters greatly at the societal level. It’s bad when news consumers become desensitized to a former president erroneously claiming an election was stolen. It also cannibalizes one of T____’s greatest assets: his ability to shock and awe. His schtick is tired, and that can often equate to a professional death sentence.

T____’s rock-concert rallies provide enough of his greatest hits for the fans and groupies who actually attend them. But for performers to remain relevant, they require new material. And politics is more stand-up comedy than rock and roll.

The Rolling Stones can play their more-current hits a million times, yet we will still keep clamoring for “Sympathy For The Devil.” But can you imagine Chris Rock getting an HBO special and doing 2016 material? The same goes for T____. Nobody wants to hear a political retread who rehashes his same tired conspiracy theories ad nauseam.

T____ seems like the sort of man who could appreciate the temporal, consumerist, and disposable culture of modernity. We fetishize what is new and what is next. Yet, T____’s obsession with relitigating an election that is now two calendar years past runs contrary to this modern American tendency. In this regard, his ego T____s his marketing savvy.

To be sure, T____ also benefits from the (bogus) sense he was wronged. But it’s hard to see how such a backward-looking 75-year-old man can remain in the vanguard. On Saturday night, T____ wasn’t just stuck in 2020—he was also stuck in the 20th century. There were numerous references to communism (more so than usual), including a reference to the Jan. 6 Commission’s witness interviews, which he compared to Stalinist show trials.

You might forgive T____ for such fanciful attacks on Nancy Pelosi and Congressional Democrats, since his criticism of Joe Biden isn’t terribly effective. T____ isn’t skilled at prosecuting a substantive policy critique . . .  (the best T____ could do was mock him for seeming dazed and confused). All this is to say, the new material didn’t kill on Saturday night.

The theme was “Make America Great Again…Again” . . .  But does lightning ever really strike twice? For every “Godfather II” masterpiece there’s dozens of “Ghostbusters II” failed sequels.

We’d be fools to count T____ out entirely. . . .  But he needs new material, and fast, because if his Arizona rally shows anything, it’s that the old routine just doesn’t land anymore.

The Former Guy’s Agreement

Because his predecessor made a deal with the Taliban, Biden had a choice: either leave or escalate. Here’s some context necessary for understanding what’s happening in Afghanistan (The Washington Post):

With the withdrawal from Afghanistan turning deadly for U.S. troops, President Biden faces new criticism for a situation that he argues presents him few options.

The deal that President D___ T___ cut last year with the Taliban forced Biden to choose between a withdrawal now or an escalation of the war, Biden said Thursday, as he addressed the nation after at least 13 members of the U.S. military were killed in Kabul.

He choose to withdraw.

“I had only one alternative,” he said, “to send thousands more troops back into Afghanistan to fight a war that we had already won, relative to the reason why we went in the first place.”

When the deal was cut in Doha, Qatar, in February 2020, it wasn’t treated as huge news, because the war itself wasn’t big news. So many people don’t actually know its contents.

Here is what’s in it and how it has been perceived.

WHY T____ CUT THE DEAL

When T___ came into office, he was pretty transparent — he just wanted out of Afghanistan. “T___ had no real sense of what was at stake in the war or why to stay,” writes Georgetown professor Paul Miller in a digestible history of the 20-year war.

So T___ took a swing at something his predecessors hadn’t: a full-bore effort to strike a deal with the Taliban. It took nine rounds of talks over 18 months. At one point, T___ secretly invited the Taliban to the presidential retreat at Camp David on the eve of the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. But he shut that down . . . after an American service member was killed and there was bipartisan backlash over the invitation.

Talks continued in Doha, and in February 2020, T___ announced that there was a deal. The basic contours: The United States was to get out of Afghanistan in 14 months and, in exchange, the Taliban agreed not to let Afghanistan become a haven for terrorists and to stop attacking U.S. service members.

The Taliban also agreed to start peace talks with the Afghan government and consider a cease-fire with the government. (The Taliban had been killing Afghan forces throughout this, attempting to use the violence as leverage in negotiations, U.S. intelligence officials believed.)

The deal laid out an explicit timetable for the United States and NATO to pull out their forces: In the first 100 days or so, they would reduce troops from 14,000 to 8,600 and leave five military bases. Over the next nine months, they would vacate all the rest. “The United States, its allies, and the Coalition will complete withdrawal of all remaining forces from Afghanistan within the remaining nine and a half (9.5) months,” the deal reads. “The United States, its allies, and the Coalition will withdraw all their forces from remaining bases.”

The United States would release 5,000 Taliban prisoners; the Taliban would release 1,000 of its prisoners.

The Taliban’s end of the deal asked a lot from the group — too much to be realistic, critics said. In addition to making sure nowhere in the country harbored a terrorist cell, the Taliban agreed to be responsible for any individual who might want to attack the United States from Afghanistan, including new immigrants to the country.

The Taliban “will send a clear message that those who pose a threat to the security of the United States and its allies have no place in Afghanistan,” the deal read. And the Taliban agreed to “prevent any group or individual in Afghanistan from threatening the security of the United States and its allies, and will prevent them from recruiting, training, and fundraising and will not host them in accordance with the commitments in this agreement.”

This deal required taking the Taliban’s promises on faith.

“I really believe the Taliban wants to do something to show that we’re not all wasting time,” T____ said as he announced the agreement. He added as an aside: “If bad things happen, we’ll go back with a force like no one’s ever seen [of course, whatever he’ll do will always be the greatest ever].

THE DEAL WAS A SWEET ONE FOR THE TALIBAN, CRITICS [i.e. neutral observers] SAY

One gaping problem, say scholars (including some from the T____ administration): The peace agreement came with no enforcement mechanism for the Taliban to keep its word.

The Taliban basically had to sign a pledge saying it wouldn’t harbor terrorists. . . . 

The biggest tangible commitment from the Taliban looked like this: For seven days before the deal was signed, its leaders significantly reduced their attacks on Afghan forces to show they were capable of controlling the group across the country. But the deal didn’t require that the Taliban stop its attacks against Afghan security forces.

. . . “T____ all but assured the future course of events would reflect the Taliban’s interests far more than the United States,” Miller writes. H.R. McMaster, T____’s second national security adviser, has recently called it “a surrender agreement with the Taliban.” Another member of T____’s National Security Council said it was “a very weak agreement.”

As The Fix’s Aaron Blake notes, former T____ officials are suddenly and conspicuously scrambling to distance themselves from that deal.

CRACKS IN THE DEAL EMERGE ALMOST IMMEDIATELY

A few months after the agreement was signed, there was plenty of evidence that the Taliban wasn’t as sincere as it appeared about peace. The United Nations said it had evidence that the Taliban and al-Qaeda still had ties. U.S. intelligence warned that al-Qaeda was “integrated” into the Taliban. The Taliban launched dozens of attacks in Afghanistan, ramping up its violence.

“The Taliban views the negotiations as a necessary step to ensure the removal of U.S. and other foreign troops under the U.S.-Taliban agreement, but the Taliban likely does not perceive that it has any obligation to make substantive concessions or compromises,” a U.S. inspector general report read.

It was all enough that when Biden came into office, U.S. officials questioned whether the Taliban was breaking its side of the deal.

BUT T____ CHOSE TO CONTINUE TAKING U.S. TROOPS HOME

And he had bipartisan support for it.

It’s important to remember that by the time T____ came into office, the public debate about whether to stay in Afghanistan was largely over. Most Americans were done with the war. Even the military realized it couldn’t effect much more change on the current course. “The only way forward was going to be a political agreement,” Mark T. Esper, T____’s former defense secretary, said recently. “Not a military solution.”

To a number of those who were paying attention, the whole deal felt like a naked attempt to just get out of Afghanistan. It was a campaign promise of T____’s to be the president who finally ended America’s longest war. It would be something no other president had been able to accomplish.

Before the peace talks really got going, T____ had already started withdrawing thousands of troops, and he fired his defense secretary, Esper, after he wrote a memo disagreeing. (Esper later said that T____’s withdrawing too many troops too soon contributed to what we see now in Afghanistan.)

BIDEN CRITICIZES THE DEAL BUT HEWS TO IT

When Biden took over, there were just 3,500 U.S. troops left in the country (from a high of 100,000 during the Obama years). He pushed back the date of the planned withdrawal from May 1 to four months later, but he kept the deal intact. U.S. troops would be out of Afghanistan by the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

“It’s time to end America’s longest war,” he said.

The Taliban didn’t even wait for the Americans to completely leave before it took over the country in a matter of days. As the world watched Kabul fall, Biden has defended his decision not to stay and fight by saying T____’s deal required him to either maintain the withdrawal or escalate fighting.

“When I became president, I faced a choice — follow through on the deal, with a brief extension to get our forces and our allies’ forces out safely, or ramp up our presence and send more American troops to fight once again in another country’s civil conflict,” he said in a statement.

On Thursday, he credited the deal for the fact that the Taliban hadn’t attacked Americans during the withdrawal. “The commitment was made by President T____: I will be out May 1st. In the meantime, you agree not to attack any Americans. That is the deal. That’s why no American was attacked.”

. . .  Given that Biden shared the goal to withdraw, it left him little leverage to renegotiate with the Taliban.

For both presidents, the peace deal with the Taliban presented a good opportunity to pursue their own agendas with regard to America’s longest war. And neither has seemed particularly regretful about doing so. . . . [although the former guy and his minions claim he would have carried out the evacuation perfectly, just like he dealt with COVID-19, health insurance,  infrastructure, North Korea and the wall Mexico built].