First McCain, now Dingell. One thing about the president, he really does enjoy a good “my dead political enemies, and/or their dead loved ones, are in hell” joke.
It’s ironic that he made this crack right around the time the House was voting to impeach him.
My theory after the vote was that Democrats hung the I-word on him as a type of lifetime achievement award for all of his seedy behavior, private and public. Fine, the Ukraine business is bad, but ask any Trump critic what their least favorite thing about him is, the core reason he’s unfit for office, and no one would answer, “He abused his power to shake down Ukraine for Biden dirt.” It’s a million petty cruelties and corruptions (and a few bigger ones) that add up over time, this being a perfect example. Conor Friedersdorf made a similar point in a piece explaining why Democrats have been itching to impeach Trump since day one:
Of course, his supporters earnestly like many of his policies, his judicial appointments, the performance of the economy during his tenure, his critique of Washington-establishment failings, and their feeling that he is on their side in a culture war against the left.
But they’d quickly suspect biting satire if a poker-faced stranger told them this: Trump is a truthful man and a principled leader–the selfless sort of president who puts his country before himself and his family. He is sooner reflexively kind than needlessly cruel. Children ought to emulate his behavior and are fortunate to have him as a role model. In a different era, if an enemy were approaching the city gates, he’d be first among the volunteers to charge them, risking life and limb to protect the safety of innocents. He always pays back his debts and can be trusted with another man’s wife or daughter.
Most typical Trump supporters would sooner laugh at that paragraph than defend its veracity. And in an indirect way, that is one of the reasons Trump was impeached yesterday. The perceived unfitness of his character and the risks it carries incline many to action.
Democrats really disliked George W. Bush while he was president and there’s no policy mistake in the Trump record that remotely compares to Dubya’s Iraq fiasco. But Trump has been impeached whereas Bush wasn’t. Why? We can debate it — Trumpers would say “because Trump fights!”, I’d say it’s mostly because neither party wants to turn even momentous policy mistakes into impeachable offenses. (Particularly after many Democrats in Congress cast votes to authorize the Iraq war.) But perceptions of their character also mattered. A guy who’d do something like dunk on Debbie Dingell over her dead husband is easier to stigmatize by stamping “IMPEACHED” on his forehead than someone who wouldn’t. Impeachment isn’t personal — mostly. But all politics is a little personal.
And often in Trump’s case it’s a lot personal, as the clip demonstrated.
Dingell treated it as personal in responding to the “joke”:
He’s taking heat today from politicians, especially ones from Michigan where John Dingell is a household name. Not just Republicans either:
Even Lindsey Graham said he should apologize, although of course no apology will be forthcoming. The best Stephanie Grisham could do to spin what Trump said was to note that he’s a “counterpuncher.” Counterpunching … a dead man?
What she means is that he’s counterpunching Debbie Dingell for her impeachment vote by rhetorically kicking her husband’s coffin. White House spokesman Hogan Gidley also did his best to defend Trump but was stuck arguing that people are always nitpicking everything the president says. Can’t a man jest about a grieving widow’s spouse being damned eternally without the g-ddamned libs sweating over it?
Maybe everyone’s missing the point in his Dingell comments, though. The interesting bit isn’t the joke about John Dingell “looking up,” it’s Trump straining to make clear that he did Debbie Dingell a favor by granting full memorial honors to John after he died and received no favor in return in yesterday’s vote:
Last night I remembered something I read awhile back about Paul Ryan gradually coming to the realization that when Trump called him a “boy scout” it wasn’t meant as a compliment. To the president, “boy scout” is code for “sucker,” the sort of person who refuses to exploit certain opportunities available to him because to do so would offend his personal moral code. There’s a bit of that in Balko’s point: Only a chump like Paul Ryan would do something nice for the Dingells after John died out of pure kindness, with no expectation of how it might affect Debbie’s voting habits. And in that light, it really is hard to imagine Trump not using whatever leverage was available to squeeze Zelensky for help defeating Joe Biden. What kind of chump would just hand over something as valuable as Ukraine’s military aid without at least trying to get something in return, knowing that the Ukrainians might be able to meaningfully damage a potential Democratic opponent? Boy scouts don’t know how to win. Losers like Paul Ryan are called “losers” for a reason.
Here’s Meghan McCain, who knows firsthand what it’s like to have the president joke about your loved one being in hell, reacting to the Dingell matter this morning on “The View.”