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Once again, multiple story lines about Donald Trump are colliding into a fireworks display filling the skies, reducing even an accusatory speech by President Biden to a distant galaxy.
It’s reminiscent of his four tumultuous years as president: Everything from NFL protests to Academy Awards took on a covfefe-colored cast as Trump weighed in, fueling breathless coverage from a media establishment that fed on the chaos.
No one expected Biden, who is now mostly over his mild COVID-19 symptoms, to be making major headlines, but his videotaped speech denouncing Trump for having “lacked the courage” to act on Jan. 6 – forcefully delivered – was striking because he usually brushes off questions about his predecessor with a bland one-liner.
Especially for the left-leaning outlets that boosted their ratings, Trump is back, and with it, they hope, is a brief resurgence of the days before their Nielsens nosedived.
President Donald Trump speaks during a press briefing with the coronavirus task force, in the Brady press briefing room at the White House, Monday, March 16, 2020, in Washington.
The most potentially important news is that Marc Short, Mike Pence’s former chief of staff, confirmed to ABC that he testified under subpoena to a federal grand jury, as did another top Pence aide.
“If the mob had gotten closer to the vice president, I do think there would have been a massacre in the Capitol that day,” Short said.
Since figuring out what Merrick Garland’s Justice Department is doing is a major Beltway preoccupation, this is a key indicator that the investigation is looking at the top players. You wouldn’t want to talk to Pence’s deputies unless you were investigating Trump’s attempt to pressure him into not certifying the Electoral College results and the tweet disparaging him that came when the vice president and his Secret Service detail were in hiding.
Still, I have to caution that the investigation may well not lead to charges against Trump, despite the most fervent wishes of his detractors in media and politics, because the investigators may not amass enough evidence to secure a conviction.
Another piece of the puzzle: The House panel, having shown the outtakes of Trump’s Jan. 7 speech in which he says he doesn’t want to say the election was stolen, released a video Monday of Ivanka Trump identifying her father’s handwriting as having crossed out similar lines from a written draft.
Meanwhile, Trump is picking a fight with Fox News. He accused “Fox & Friends” of supposedly “botching” his poll numbers, which he complained was “no doubt on purpose,” and said the show has “gone to the dark side.”
Former Vice President Mike Pence speaks at Stanford University’s Dinkelspiel Auditorium, Thursday, Feb. 17, 2022, in Stanford, Calif.
(Santiago Mejia/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images)
In reality, the morning show where Trump was once a regular guest accurately reported on a straw poll at a Turning Points USA conference – Trump got 79% of the vote – but said, also accurately, that such a survey represents a small slice of Republican voters.
The 45th president has also played a guessing game with the media about when he’ll declare his candidacy, having dispelled all doubt that he’s running. (He regularly whacks the press, and vice versa, but in the past, negative coverage has actually helped him by rousing his base.)
Trump returned to Washington yesterday for the first time since leaving the White House, telling the America First Agenda conference that “there is no law and order” and complaining about a “cesspool of crime.” He took aides’ advice by largely staying away from his stolen-election rhetoric, but he did say he won in 2016 and again in 2020 – signaling his message to his loyalists.
There have been lots of leaks about what a second Trump term would look like. Axios had a big scoop about how Trump could move 10,000 federal employees into a high-ranking “Schedule F” based on loyalty to him – a move that would rock the civil service. Trump actually signed the order in October 2020, but, uh, events intervened.
Now Politico reports a reelected Trump would focus on “job creation and low unemployment, expansion of affordable housing, eradicating COVID-19, reducing federal bureaucracy, cracking down on crime and illegal immigration, passing congressional term limits, and ending foreign war and reliance on China.” If he can stop talking about the stolen election.
Biden, for his part, has stayed away from commenting on the House hearings. But in a blistering videotaped message from the White House, he said:
“On January 6, we relied on law enforcement to save our democracy. We saw what happened. The Capitol Police, the D.C. Metropolitan Police, other law enforcement agencies were attacked and assaulted before our very eyes. Speared, sprayed, stomped on, brutalized. Lives were lost. And for three hours, the defeated former president of the United States watched it all happen as he sat in the comfort of the private dining room next to the Oval Office.”
President Biden speaks about inflation and supply chain issues in Los Angeles.
(AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
“While he was doing that, brave law enforcement officers were subject to the medieval hell for three hours, dripping in blood, surrounded by carnage, face to face with a crazed mob that believed the lies of the defeated president.”
That’s certainly been covered – but as a sidebar to the main event.
Biden, who promised a return to normalcy, has been a low-key president – often talking lately about executive orders he may issue on abortion and climate change but not actually following through. His tweets are deliberately dull, as is the slog of governing.
Trump’s rigged election campaign, the hearings, the federal investigation all may deepen doubts among some Republicans, even those who liked his first term, that a younger candidate would be preferable. But Trump is back on center stage, which is quite remarkable if you think about it – a former president constantly making more news than the incumbent president.
Howard Kurtz is the host of FOX News Channel’s MediaBuzz (Sundays 11 a.m.-12 p.m. ET). Based in Washington, D.C., he joined the network in July 2013 and regularly appears on Special Report with Bret Baier and other programs.