White House press shop more aggressively pounding on GOP affronts to U.S. Constitution, democracy

Three times in the last two weeks, the White House has directly and aggressively rebuked Trump-inspired attacks on the U.S. government and the rule of law.

The latest installment came in response to recently revealed Jan. 6-era texts in which Republican Rep. Ralph Norman of South Carolina urged the Trump White House to declare 'Marshall' law, also commonly known as martial law outside of GOP circles.

"Plotting against the rule of law and to subvert the will of the people is a disgusting affront to our deepest principles as a country," deputy press secretary Andrew Bates told TPM's Kate Riga.

But beyond simply condemning Norman's efforts, Bates also challenged others to do the same no matter what their party affiliation. The move represents an explicit effort by the White House press shop to drive the conversation rather than simply react to it.

"We all, regardless of party, need to stand up for mainstream values and the Constitution, against dangerous, ultra MAGA conspiracy theories and violent rhetoric," Bates urged.

Bates has taken point on this more confrontational posture from the White House communications team, and Republicans have kept him quite busy in recent weeks.

Norman's texts followed on treasonous remarks made by GOP Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia at a weekend gathering brimming with white nationalists. Greene assured the right wingers that if she had organized the Jan. 6 insurrection alongside Steve Bannon, "We would have won. Not to mention, it would’ve been armed."

To be perfectly clear, Greene means the coup attempt would have succeeded in overturning a free and fair election, more blood would have been shed, more lives lost, Donald Trump would still occupy the White House, and American democracy as we know it would have died.

Bates was quick to issue a statement calling Green's comments "a slap in the face" to law enforcement officials, the National Guard, and the families who lost loved ones during the assault on the Capitol.

“All leaders have a responsibility to condemn these dangerous, abhorrent remarks and stand up for our Constitution and the rule of law,” Bates added.

On Monday, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre piled on, calling Greene's remarks "antithetical to our values" and noting that, despite her egregious musings, Greene will likely have her committee positions restored when House Republicans assume the majority in January.

"So we should let that sink in,” Jean-Pierre added.

Greene originally lost her committee privileges early in 2021 for making numerous racist and antisemitic comments along with promoting a variety of baseless conspiracy theories about 9/11 and more.

But the parade of White House condemnations first revved up a couple weeks ago after Trump called for the "termination" of the U.S. Constitution in order to reinstate him as commander in chief. Bates issued a statement calling the Constitution a “sacrosanct document," adding that attacking it is "anathema to the soul of our nation and should be universally condemned."

The White House is clearly leaning into this conversation about our country's foundational values, the preservation of our republic, and who's standing up for democracy while others seek to tear it down.

It may seem an obvious move, but in the recent past, Democratic White House communications teams have often taken a more reticent approach to political disputes, choosing mostly to elevate policy concerns while fielding political questions only when asked.

But the time for that outmoded approach to engaging with the public has passed. With the advent of Trumpism and MAGA Republicans' outright assault on American democracy, a more consistent, unapologetic approach to confronting GOP extremism is called for if Democrats want their message to pierce the media ecosphere. The White House is now clearly and consistently framing the GOP's constant attacks on the rule of law in this country as treasonous—in spirit, at the very least—and challenging any and all Republicans to live up to their oaths of office.

Simply put, it shouldn't be a stretch to say that Trump's call to terminate the Constitution should be "universally condemned" by every officeholder in the land.

Except that, in spite of Trump's special knack for alienating American majorities at the ballot box, Republican leaders still just can't bring themselves to so much as say his name in any negative context whatsoever. Asking Republicans to choose the U.S. Constitution over Trump is still a bridge too far for today's feeble GOP leaders.

Over the past year, President Biden made several legitimate attempts to convey the dangers of Republican attacks on our constitutional democracy. Yet he was regularly panned by pundits and Democratic activists alike for not doing enough to drive a national discourse on the matter.

A review of the many forceful speeches he delivered in his first two years suggested Biden's failure to break through wasn’t for lack of trying. As I concluded in July:

Biden's efforts to challenge the Republican Party and GOP leaders have come across more like one-offs on disparate topics, such as Jan. 6, voting rights, inflation, a Supreme Court decision, etc. The lack of a cohesive unifying narrative has led to some pretty solid and forceful speeches getting lost in the thicket of our pervasive 24/7 news cycle.

The Biden speech that finally did make a splash was his closing midterm message urging voters to protect democracy less than a week out from Election Day.

“This is no ordinary year,” Biden said on Nov 3. “So I ask you to think long and hard about the moment we’re in. In a typical year, we’re often not faced with questions of whether the vote we cast will preserve democracy or put us at risk. But this year, we are.”

Once again, pundits panned the White House for closing on democracy when the entire election would so clearly be driven by the economy. But the election proved Biden and his communications team right—democracy was very much on the ballot.

Now, the White House has taken that message to heart—repeating it at every opportunity provided by an anti-democratic Republican Party in free fall. The White House’s Bates often punctuates his statements with, “You cannot only love America when you win."

If it sounds familiar, it should. Biden used the line on the first anniversary of the Jan. 6 insurrection, when he delivered a stinging rebuke of Trump. Biden repeated the sentiment again on Sept. 1 when he used a prime-time address to warn Americans about the extremist threat MAGA Republicans pose to the nation.

Instead of airing that prime-time speech live, major TV networks (ABC, NBC, and CBS) aired game shows and reruns of programs like "Law and Order." They reportedly deemed the speech too "political" in nature, while CNN and MSNBC did take it live.

In spite of all the criticism and handwringing over Biden's supposed failure to use his bully pulpit as president, his repeated efforts did manage to reach voters across the country.

In post-election polling of 71 highly competitive House districts, fully 60% of voters called protecting democracy an extremely important consideration that drove them to the polls, exceeding inflation (53%), abortion (47%), and crime (45%). Majorities of both Democrats (73%) and independents (51%) called the issue highly motivating for them.

Whatever the pundits ultimately deem to be their midterm takeaways, the importance of preserving democracy hasn't been lost on the White House press shop. Call it political if you will—basically everything a White House does is. But more importantly, protecting democracy is existential. Voters very much understood that this cycle, and the White House isn't going to let them forget it.

Well, that was an awesome way to finish out the 2022 election cycle! Co-hosts David Nir and David Beard revel in Raphael Warnock's runoff victory on this week's episode of The Downballot and take a deep dive into how it all came together. The Davids dig into the turnout shift between the first and second rounds of voting, what the demographic trends in the metro Atlanta area mean for Republicans, and why Democrats can trace their recent success in Georgia back to a race they lost: the famous Jon Ossoff special election in 2017.

We're also joined by one of our very favorite people, Daily Kos Elections alum Matt Booker, who shares his thoughts on the midterms and tells us about his work these days as a pollster. Matt explains some of the key ways in which private polling differs from public data; how the client surveys he was privy to did not foretell a red wave; and the mechanics of how researchers put together focus groups. Matt also reminisces about his time at "DKE University" and how his experience with us prepared him for the broader world of politics.