‘Nobody cares’: Trump erupts over editorial
Former US president Donald Trump has lashed out at The Wall Street Journal over an editorial it published detailing the Republican Party's litany of electoral defeats under his leadership.
"If he was so great politically for the GOP, why is the party now out of power?" The Journal asked in an editorial two days ago, on March 2.
"Mr Trump had one landmark victory in 2016, but he has cost the GOP dearly since.
"As long as Republicans focus on the grievances of the Trump past, they won't be a governing majority."
Since Mr Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in 2016, his party has lost the House of Representatives, the Senate and the White House.
He was the first US president to oversee such a comprehensive wipeout since Herbert Hoover in the early 1930s, at the start of the Great Depression. Mr Trump was also the first sitting president to lose an election since George H.W. Bush in 1992.
The editorial explicitly blamed the former president for his party's electoral woes, including most recently in a pair of Georgia Senate elections on January 5, where Republican incumbents David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler both lost.
Mr Trump said nothing about the editorial on the day it was published, but hit back with a statement released to the media today.
"The Wall Street Journal editorial page continues, knowingly, to fight for globalist policies such as bad trade deals, open borders, and endless wars that favour other countries and sell out our great American workers, and they fight for RINOS that have so badly hurt the Republican Party," Mr Trump said.
RINO is a pejorative which stands for "Republican In Name Only". It used to be thrown around a lot by Republicans accusing each other of being insufficiently conservative. These days it's used to describe Republicans who are insufficiently loyal to Mr Trump.
"Fortunately, nobody cares much about The Wall Street Journal editorial anymore. They have lost great credibility," said Mr Trump.
He proceeded to argue against the editorial's premise at length. I'll give you the rest of the former president's statement first, and then we'll examine his claims more closely.
"To set the record straight, there were two reasons the Senate races were lost in Georgia. First, Republicans did not turn out to vote because they were so angry and disappointed with Georgia Republican leadership and Governor (Brian) Kemp for failing to stand up to Stacey Abrams and the disastrous consent decree that virtually eliminated signature verification requirements across the state, and was not approved by the state legislature as required by the Constitution - having a major impact on the result, a rigged election," said Mr Trump.
"Second, Senator Mitch McConnell's refusal to go above $US600 per person on the stimulus cheque payments when the two Democrat opponents were touting $2000 per person in ad after ad. This latter point was used against our senators and the $2000 will be approved anyway by the Democrats who bought the Georgia election - and McConnell let them do it!
"Even more stupidly, the National Republican Senatorial Committee spent millions of dollars on ineffective TV ads starring Mitch McConnell, the most unpopular politician in the country, who only won in Kentucky because President Trump endorsed him. He would have lost badly without this endorsement."
OK, first let's deal with the most reasonable part of this statement.
It is true that congressional Republicans, led by Mr McConnell, opposed sending $2000 payments to Americans when debate erupted over the scale of a COVID relief package in late December. They did so against Mr Trump's wishes.
"This $900 billion package provides hardworking taxpayers with only $600 each in relief payments, and not enough money is given to small businesses, in particular restaurants, whose owners have suffered so grievously," the then-president said on Christmas Eve.
"I am asking Congress to amend this bill and increase the ridiculously low $600 to $2000, or $4000 for a couple."
There was a standoff, and the threat of a government shutdown loomed, but Mr Trump eventually relented and signed the existing package, with $600 payments, into law.
I should mention that Mr Trump's push for $2000 payments took Republicans completely by surprise, as the deal he slammed had been negotiated by his own White House.
Then-treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin had been negotiating with congressional Republicans and Democrats on the president's behalf for months. The parties eventually reached a deal, which Mr Mnuchin praised in public, before Mr Trump suddenly labelled it a "disgrace".
If Mr Trump wanted larger relief payments all along, it remains unclear why he didn't instruct Mr Mnuchin to push for them during the negotiations, instead waiting until after the deal had already been struck.
Anyway, he is correct that the Democratic candidates in Georgia, Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, campaigned heavily on a promise to deliver $2000 cheques. This became their core argument in the weeks before election day.
Incidentally, the Democrats have reneged on that promise since winning power. The package proposed by President Joe Biden only provides for $1400 payments.
The White House argues that $1400, plus the initial $600 from the first package, adds up to $2000. That is not what the Democrats promised to deliver ahead of the Georgia elections.
The rest of Mr Trump's statement has a looser relationship with reality.
He accused Mr Kemp, the Republican Governor of Georgia, of "failing to stand up" to a "disastrous consent decree" that "virtually eliminated signature verification requirements" across the state for the November election.
Mr Trump was referring to an agreement Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, another Republican, reached in early 2020 with a group of Democratic organisations, who had sued Georgia over its handling of signature matching during elections.
The agreement's most significant effect was to ensure voters were provided notice within 24 hours if their mail-in ballots were rejected for technical reasons, such as a mismatched signature, giving them a chance to fix the mistake.
This is something that was already happening in some parts of the state; the consent decree merely sought to implement it more consistently.
To describe it as "virtually eliminating signature verification requirements" is preposterous.
No ballot was counted without the voter's signature being verified. In fact, those who voted by mail had their signatures checked against the voter registration database twice: once when they requested a ballot, and again when they returned it.
"The consent decree, he's just wrong. He's just flat out, 100 per cent wrong," Georgia's top election official Gabriel Sterling, another Republican, said in November.
"The consent decree literally - all we did was send out an official election bulletin telling people, 'Hey, follow our rules and how we already do signature match.'
"This consent decree literally didn't do anything to change the law with how we do signature match."
In his statement, Mr Trump called the consent decree unconstitutional because it was not approved by Georgia's state legislature. This question was litigated in court after the election, and the judges did not agree.
As for the former president's recurring claim that the election was "rigged", well, just go ahead and read our summary of the major post-election litigation. You'll find a lot of cranky judgments berating Mr Trump and his allies for offering no substantive evidence.
This leaves us with Mr Trump's parting shot at Mitch McConnell, the Republican Party's leader in the Senate.
Mr Trump reckons Mr McConnell would have "lost badly" in his own Kentucky Senate race, against Democrat Amy McGrath, without the then-president's endorsement.
Mr McConnell won re-election with 58 per cent of the vote. Ms Mcgrath got 38 per cent. It was Mr McConnell's seventh consecutive win in Kentucky, a record that stretches all the way back to 1984.
There wasn't a heck of a lot of polling in Kentucky throughout the campaign, as it was not considered a particularly competitive race. Ms McGrath led by 1 per cent in one survey, taken in June, and managed to tie Mr McConnell in an even earlier poll, taken in February. Apart from that, the Republican incumbent always led, and usually by double digits.
The forecasts run by various news sites, such as FiveThirtyEight and The Economist, never gave Mr McConnell less than a 90 per cent chance of winning in the closing months.
Nevertheless, Mr Trump believes his endorsement in June and a robocall he recorded on October 31 were the decisive factors.
He is currently feuding with Mr McConnell because of a speech the Senate Minority Leader gave following last month's impeachment trial.
Mr McConnell voted to acquit Mr Trump, but still blamed him directly for the Capitol riot on January 6.
"January 6 was a disgrace. American citizens attacked their own government," Mr McConnell said on the floor of the Senate.
"They did this because they'd been fed wild falsehoods by the most powerful man on earth. Because he was angry he'd lost an election. Former president Trump's actions preceding the riot were a disgraceful, disgraceful dereliction of duty.
"There's no question, none, that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day. No question about it. The people who stormed this building believed they were acting on the wishes and instructions of their president.
"Having that belief was a foreseeable consequence of the growing crescendo of false statements, conspiracy theories and reckless hyperbole which the defeated president kept shouting into the largest megaphone on the planet.
"The leader of the free world cannot spend weeks thundering that shadowy forces are stealing our country, and then feign surprise when people believe him and do reckless things."
Since delivering that speech, Mr McConnell has clarified that he will support Mr Trump as president again, should he win the Republican nomination in 2024.
Originally published as 'Nobody cares': Trump erupts over editorial