Orf vs. the Memory Hole: "Extreme MAGA Republicans"
When the president goes to a campaign fundraiser, stock lines ensue. Plus, the "Vermin Switcheroo"
Last week, when President Biden addressed the media ahead of a crucial vote on Ukraine spending, there were a few notes he considered important enough to hit twice, including this one:
Extreme Republicans are playing chicken with our national security, holding Ukraine’s funding hostage to their extreme partisan border policies.
If the phrase felt a little light, it’s probably because you’re used to hearing Biden use another term, “Extreme MAGA,” which he did, for a long time, until the White House was warned by the Office of Special Counsel that invocations of “MAGA” may constitute Hatch Act violations. Presidents are ostensibly barred from using their title for electioneering purposes, so “extreme MAGA Republicans” become merely extreme in official appearances.
As Racket’s inimitable Matt Orfalea documents, however, the restraints come all the way off in campaign fundraisers. It seems in every appearance now Biden offers some combination of “extreme,” “MAGA,” “Republican,” and “determined to destroy democracy,” with the occasional “that sounds like hyperbole, but” as a setup line. And Biden, as relentless a catchphrase-deliverer as recent American politics has seen, goes there every time.
All presidential candidates repeat words, of course. Campaign strategists long ago realized political audiences don’t require coherent sentences, and respond to hearing words they like said over and over. “Responsibility” worked for Republicans, for instance, while “compassion” or “innovation” were typical Democratic choices. For Donald Trump, “radical left” is one of this year’s crutches. Still, Trump seems headed in a more unscripted direction, recently for instance bringing Pat Buchanan back to life and calling Steve Bannon “the greatest bullshit artist I’ve ever heard,” while his opponent has become more repetition-dependent.
Biden’s evocation of “MAGA” has been a bedrock of his campaign strategy. In his video address formally announcing his re-election run earlier this year, he brought up “MAGA extremists” are “lining up to take on our bedrock freedoms”:
Papers like the Washington Post have done features on Biden’s “theory of MAGA,” with “Bidenworld” sources telling Greg Sargent that the president is trying to draw a distinction between extreme Republicans and “more conventional ones.” Maybe there’s something to that, and this is Biden’s idea of reaching across the aisle. But Orf’s video suggests extreme MAGA determined destroy democracy is the magic spell for scaring the pockets of wealthy Democrats open.
In a related, also-very-interesting story, I strongly recommend readers check out Orf’s own site, The Orf Report, and read his recent piece on what he calls the “Vermin Switcheroo.” If you walked anywhere near a television or even caught the glow of a phone in a bus station or diner on or around Veteran’s Day, you probably heard furious commentary about Trump’s promise to “root out… vermin” upon election, and how this was “echoing Nazi propaganda.”
Orf found two punchlines to this oft-repeated story buried in the ol’ Memory Hole. One is that Trump critics had invoked the “vermin” term not just occasionally, but often, with descriptions of Trump followers and Republicans as vermin or rats in particular inspiring comic artists.
Orf notes a second oddity. Outlets like The Daily Beast initially didn’t make a connection to Nazi imagery. However, after a blue-leaning PAC called “Meidas Touch” put out a blog post on November 11th called, “Donald Trump echoes Hitler nearly verbatim,” Trump-vermin-Nazi stories not only flowed, they popped out one after the other using the same language, often with “echoing” in the lede or headline.
Well, you might say, so what? Can’t a lot of outlets make the same point? Absolutely. Campaign-watchers should be aware, however, that some reporters are on the mailing lists of organizations like the DNC, RNC, and the DCCC, and are seeing bullet-pointed news digests featuring “content to amplify” and “talking points” or “talkers.” When you see a lot of stories using the same language, it’s a good bet journalists are looking at such circulars, that used to be for politicians only.
DNC chair Jamie Harrison issued a statement on November 13th condemning Republican counterpart Ronna McDaniel for failing to refusing to “stand up to the de facto leader of her party” and “denounce” him for “parroting the language of Adolf Hitler” and using “rhetoric reminiscent of Hitler and Mussolini.” The Biden campaign followed with a similar statement, and the DNC highlighted stories in Forbes and The Washington Post that used the “echoing Hitler” construction.
The Republicans absolutely do the same thing — if you’re wondering why the phrase “Biden’s open borders catastrophe” shows up in a lot of red-state media, this is your answer. General recommendations stressing “moral bankruptcy” have been a theme of Republican circulars as well. Again, there’s nothing wrong with it necessarily, especially not from the point of view of politicians. But it’s a little weak for journalists to get not only their ideas but their language from PACs or political memos. More from the always-vigilant Orf soon…