The writing has always been on the wall: Republicans will almost certainly rally to Donald Trump's side now that he's running for president again, even though they know he's a loser who will make their already unpopular party even more loathed. Sure, after Trump's long and boring announcement speech at Mar-a-Lago Tuesday night, pockets of Republican resistance remained, mostly in the form of milquetoast claims that better alternatives exist for the 2024 GOP nomination. The editors at the National Review even tried to make their rejection sound firm, running an editorial simply titled, "No." But of course the same group of people rejected Trump's run in 2016, only to become some of his biggest apologists over the next four years. We've seen this story before. We know how it ends.
The GOP's lingering wariness around Trump has little to do with the fact that he attempted a coup that resulted in a violent insurrection on January 6, 2021. Instead, they're worried about how said coup is affecting the electoral prospects of Republicans. Midterm candidates who campaigned on Trump's Big Lie tended to lose their elections. Republicans now know that Trump's whiny lies about the 2020 election are a political flop. They also know there's no way Trump will talk about much else for the next two years. So they're worried.
Trump's announcement speech seemed like it was intended to assuage that concern. He adopted the low energy, droning tone he takes when trying to bait the press into calling him "presidential." He tried to stick to the teleprompter, which dished out a speech full of lurid lies along with the notion that he is running to serve the public instead of his own ego. But, as Heather "Digby" Parton noted at Salon, even though Trump "tried to follow through on the promise to be dignified and 'buttoned up,' [he] couldn't sustain it." Soon, he was raving incoherently about the supposed conspiracies against him. At one point, he even bellyached, "I'm a victim. I will tell you. I'm a victim."
Still, Trump's supporters understand the narrative he's trying to create: Boring elder statesman who has "moved on" from 2020. And so they're pretending he gave the speech he was supposed to give, rushing forward to praise Trump for his newfound gravitas.
Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, always a reliable sycophant, shot out of the gate early with his spin: "If President Trump continues this tone and delivers this message on a consistent basis, he will be hard to beat," he gushed on Twitter.
The tweet describes a speech that is purely imaginary. Trump wasn't disciplined or on message, especially after the first 20 minutes or so. The idea that he'll be able to manage two years of campaign self-restraint is a joke.
But across much of right wing media, the same talking point echoed: This is a new Trump, one with self-control and an outward-facing message about a better tomorrow! We swear!
Despite the hyped assertions that Rupert Murdoch's empire is turning on Trump, Fox News went all in, gushing over Trump's supposed pivot to presidential. Contributor Mike Huckabee declared "the construct of the speech is pitch perfect" and swore that Trump "stays on this message."
"If he keeps on like this tonight, he is unbeatable in 2024," Huckabee said.
Of course, as Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo noted, all this spin was going on while Trump was still talking. Quite literally, Fox News turned down the volume on Trump's rant so they could assure the audience that the speech was actually statesmanlike and sober. As Parton explained Wednesday, the talking heads went on like this for quite a while, praising Trump for supposedly giving a "very serious, powerful speech" that puts American "family's interests first" over images of Trump holding forth, all while muting his actual words.
If they had let the audience listen, however, they would have heard quotes like this: "The raid of Mar-a-Lago! Think of it! And I say, why didn't you raid Bush's place? Why didn't you raid Clinton? 32,000 e-mails! Why didn't you raid Clinton's place? Why didn't you do Obama?"
"Donald Trump's Announcement Speech for 2024 Strikes the Right Tone," raved at headline at Red State. Underneath, the writer gushed about the alleged "hopeful message for the future" in the speech.
Actual text from the speech: "The total effect of the suffering is just starting to take hold. They don't quite feel it yet. But they will very soon."
Both Breitbart and The Federalist also pitched in on clean-up duty, running pieces that implied he gave a tight 10 minutes of material like, "Two years ago we were a great nation and soon we will be a great nation again" and "This will not be my campaign. This will be our campaign all together." They ignored that the speech was a rambling mess running over an hour long, built mostly around Trump's favorite theme, self-pity. They definitely did not mention the speech was so dreadful that the audience tried to leave, and had to be forced by security to stay.
We're not talking about random passers-by. These people flew to Palm Beach for this specific event.
As demonstrated by Fox News talking over Trump's speech to tell viewers how great it supposedly was rather than let them hear it for themselves, the tapdance right wing propagandists are doing depends heavily on their audiences not engaging directly with Trump's actual words. Few people watched the speech, which was very boring. The cable news networks, which seemed to have started off with the intention to play the whole thing unedited and live, cut away a few minutes in, rather than lose their audiences. Trump's snowflake-sensitive ego will no doubt be hurt by the lack of interest in his actual speech, but ultimately, it benefits him. It's a lot easier to bamboozle people about his allegedly dignified demeanor if no one is actually listening.
Alas, for Trump loyalists, two years is a long time. At some point, people will start to pay attention to Trump's actual words again. They'll see he's still harping on the Big Lie, that he's unsubtly promoting QAnon, and that he still believes violence towards his political opponents is desirable. Lipstick can be applied as often as they like. But after seven years of this, there's little chance they can hide that they're trying to pretty up a pig.