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POLITICO Playbook: McConnell: Quit the charade, impeachment is a 'political exercise' – POLITICO

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DRIVING THE DAY

SENATE MAJORITY LEADER MITCH MCCONNELL on “Fox and Friends” this morning: “Do you think Chuck Schumer is impartial? Do you think Elizabeth Warren is impartial? Bernie Sanders is impartial? So let’s quit the charade. This is a political exercise. … All I’m asking of Schumer is that we treat Trump the same way we treated Clinton.

“We had a procedure that was approved 100 to nothing — Schumer voted for it, to go through the opening arguments, to have a written question period, and then, based upon that, deciding what witnesses to call. We haven’t ruled out witnesses. We’ve said let’s handle this case just like we did with President Clinton. Fair is fair.”

MCCONNELL was asked if he had spoken to Schumer: “Yeah, before we left town. Look, we’re at an impasse. We can’t do anything until the speaker sends the papers over, so everybody enjoy the holidays.”

“THE AMERICAN PEOPLE, if they think this is a very significant episode, can take it into account we’re voting [next] year. Most people that I run into, whether they are fans of the president or not, say, ‘Well, why don’t you just let us decide this. We’re in the middle of the election.’”

SWING STATE READ … FRONT PAGE of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, banner headline: “‘Nakedly partisan … disrespectful’: Impeachment of Trump echoes that of Clinton”

THE NEXT BIG OBJECT OF FASCINATION among President DONALD TRUMP’S allies is U.S. Attorney John Durham’s report on his investigation into the origins of the Russia probe — and, more specifically, the intelligence community’s role in it.

WE KNOW REMARKABLY LITTLE about Durham and what he’s up to. POLITICO and others have reported that he’s focusing on former top intel leaders like CIA chief JOHN BRENNAN, but not much else. What we do know is that the president personally and his allies have said — over and over — that they are putting a lot of stock into Durham, which makes him a central figure of the moment.

— KNOWING DURHAM … NYT, A1: “Durham Surprises Even Allies With Statement on F.B.I.’s Trump Case,” by Elizabeth Williamson: “Mr. Durham is known in New England’s close-knit law enforcement community for working long days on his own cases, and providing sought-after guidance on others’.

“Wearing gunmetal-frame glasses and a drooping goatee, he rises early and dresses in the dark, often mismatching his suit jackets and pants. His reputation for discretion, on top of a long record of successful high-profile prosecutions, are among the reasons he has been a go-to person when Washington — under Republicans and Democrats alike — needs someone to handle sensitive tasks. …

“‘He believes in four things: his family, his profession, his religion and the Boston Red Sox,’ said Hugh F. Keefe, a Connecticut defense lawyer who says Mr. Durham is so by the book, he once asked Mr. Keefe whether he had reported a free Red Sox ticket to the I.R.S. ‘If anyone thinks they can lead him like a horse to water, they’re mistaken.’”

THE EVANGELICAL VOTE … SOUTH FLORIDA SUN SENTINEL FRONT PAGE: “President Donald Trump to rally evangelical voters in Miami,” by Skyler Swisher: “President Donald Trump is going to rally his religious supporters in Miami, a move that comes after an evangelical Christian magazine called for him to be removed from office. Trump is rolling out an ‘Evangelicals for Trump’ coalition on Jan. 3 in Miami, according to his campaign.” Front page

“At one evangelical church, congregants dismiss the Christianity Today editorial — if they’ve read it at all,” by WaPo’s Amy Wang in Brookfield, Wis.

BREAKING IN THE KINGDOM … AP/RIYADH: “Saudi sentences 5 to death for Jamal Khashoggi’s killing,” by Abdullah Al-Shihri and Aya Batrawy: “Saudi Arabia sentenced five people to death on Monday for the killing of Washington Post columnist and royal family critic Jamal Khashoggi, who was murdered in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul last year by a team of Saudi agents.

“The killing of Khashoggi stunned the international community and also many Saudi citizens, who were deeply shocked that a Saudi national could be killed by 15 government agents inside one of the kingdom’s consulates.

“Another three people were sentenced to prison for a combined 24 years, according to a statement read by the attorney general’s office on Saudi state TV. No individual breakdown for the sentencing was given.”

Good Monday morning. WELCOME TO CHRISTMAS WEEK! Hanukkah started Sunday night. Playbook will still be in your inbox as usual, but just a bit later this week and next. Playbook PM and the Audio Briefing are on hiatus.

MARKET WATCH — “How the economy could make or break Trump in 2020,” by Ben White: “Most of the economic gifts President Donald Trump is going to get for 2020 are already unwrapped and out from under the tree. The Federal Reserve slashed rates and went dark. The phase one China deal is pretty much done. So is the new NAFTA.

“That leaves one big question for a recently impeached president as he heads for a dicey reelection bid: What’s left to goose markets and the economy beyond what most expect will be a pretty blah 2020?

“Even blah — a 2 percent-or-so growth rate with unemployment still near or below 4 percent — could be enough to help Trump overcome a low approval rating and win again. But if he really hopes to romp over the eventual Democratic nominee, he’ll probably need markets to keep popping and growth to bubble higher, especially in the industrial Midwest. And it is far from obvious how the United States can get there from here.” POLITICO

TRADE WARS … WSJ/BEIJING: “China to Cut Tariffs on Range of Goods Amid Push for Trade Deal”: “China will cut import tariffs for frozen pork, pharmaceuticals and some high-tech components starting from Jan. 1, a move that comes as Beijing and Washington are trying to complete a phase-one trade deal.

“The plan, approved by China’s cabinet, will lower tariffs for all trading partners on 859 types of products to below the rates that most-favored nations enjoy, the Finance Ministry said Monday. Most-favored-nation rates are the lowest possible tariffs a country offers to its trading partners.

“The lower levies will apply to frozen pork, as China aims to shore up its meat supplies amid an outbreak of swine fever, as well as semiconductor products and medicines to treat asthma and diabetes. Tariffs on some of the products will go to zero.

“The plan will also cut import levies for more than 8,000 products even lower for 23 countries and regions that have free-trade agreements with China, including Australia, South Korea, Iceland, New Zealand and Pakistan, from the beginning of next year. The statement said China would further cut tariffs on some information-technology products and services from July 1, 2020.”

WE’RE STILL AT WAR … AP/KABUL: “U.S. soldier is killed in Afghanistan; Taliban claim attack”

2020 WATCH …

— “Trump campaign plagued by groups raising tens of millions in his name,” by Maggie Severns: “As President Donald Trump raises money for his reelection campaign, he’s competing for cash with a growing mass of pro-Trump PACs, dark money groups and off-brand Facebook advertisers neither affiliated with nor endorsed by Trump’s campaign, which have pulled in over $46 million so far.

“The groups mimic Trump’s brand in the way they look and feel. They borrow the president’s Twitter avatar on Facebook pages, use clips of Trump’s voice in robocalls asking for ‘an emergency contribution to the campaign’ and, in some cases, have been affiliated with former Trump aides, such as onetime deputy campaign manager David Bossie. But most are spending little money to help the president win in 2020, POLITICO found.

“The unofficial pro-Trump boosters number in the hundreds and are alarming the actual operatives charged with reelecting the president: They suck up money that Trump aides think should be going to the campaign or the Republican National Committee, and they muddy the Trump campaign’s message and make it harder to accumulate new donors, Trump allies say.” POLITICO

— DES MOINES REGISTER FRONT PAGE: “Warren shakes up campaign style in Iowa”

— BOSTON GLOBE: “Elizabeth Warren’s brothers are a silent fixture of her campaign,” by Jess Bidgood in Newcastle, Okla.: “It feels as far away as possible from the chaos and choreography of a presidential campaign: a little red house in a neighborhood surrounded by fields, where almost nothing breaks the straight line of the horizon.

“But the man who lives here, a decorated Air Force veteran who the neighbors don’t see very often, has a crucial role to play in Senator Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign. So do his two brothers, who live their own quiet lives in Oklahoma City and nearby Norman.

“The men are Warren’s older brothers — Don Reed Herring, John Herring, and David Herring — and, at nearly every campaign stop, she introduces herself to voters by talking about them, weaving folksy family stories with details about their military service, conservative politics, and agreement around her big ideas. Over the past year, they have become a fixture of her pitch, a living link to her upbringing in a financially strained world she says is an indelible part of who she is.

“They also do more: They are a key part of her effort to show she can find common ground with Republicans, offering them as a rejoinder to questions about her electability.” Boston GlobeA1 PDF

— ELENA SCHNEIDER with this AMAZING DETAIL: “How Buttigieg’s childhood pal ended up managing 2020’s breakout campaign”: “Before the Democratic presidential debate in Columbus, Ohio, Mike Schmuhl ventured into the city to get his mop of red hair cut. It wasn’t so much that Schmuhl himself needed a trim — but Pete Buttigieg’s campaign manager wanted to make sure the barbershop was up to the task of a presidential shave.

“Thirty minutes later, after the Royal Rhino Club Barbershop and Lounge passed muster and Schmuhl made an appointment under the name ‘Max Harris,’ another aide who got his hair trimmed, Buttigieg himself appeared for a fresh pre-debate cut.”

— THE HOLLYWOOD VOTE: “Actor Kevin Costner returns to Iowa to support Buttigieg,” by AP’s Thomas Beaumont in Indianola, Iowa

TRUMP’S MONDAY … THE PRESIDENT is in Florida and has nothing on his schedule.

— MERIDITH MCGRAW in West Palm Beach, Fla.: “Escape to Mar-a-Lago: Trump gets a post-impeachment mood lift”: “Friends of the president noted just how content he seemed in the glamorous getaway town of Palm Beach he now calls home, away from it all and back at his Mar-a-Lago resort — what’s described to be like a personal ‘Cheers bar,’ where Trump knows everybody’s name.

“‘He’s very happy to be back at what he calls the winter White House and is happy to take a break from the cold and craziness of his job,’ said George Guido Lombardi, a Mar-a-Lago member and longtime Trump friend. ‘It’s the only time that he’s got to be his real self and let down.’

“For aides, Mar-a-Lago can sometimes be a headache, as there is less control over who gets face time with the president and who might be able to whisper an idea in his ear. But that’s the way Trump likes to be, unfettered and able to do what he loves best — playing host, golfing with friends, watching television and working away from the confines of the West Wing.” POLITICO

PLAYBOOK READS

DAILY RUDY — “Giuliani pals leveraged GOP access to seek Ukraine gas deal,” by AP’s Desmond Butler and MIchael Biesecker in Kyiv, Ukraine: “The Associated Press reported some details in October of the brash pitch that [Lev] Parnas and [Igor] Fruman made to [Andrew] Favorov in Houston. But in a recent series of interviews with the AP in Kyiv, Favorov painted a more complete picture of his dealings with Giuliani’s associates.

“His tale, corroborated by interviews with other key witnesses, reveals that the pair continued to pursue a deal for months. The campaign culminated in May, at a meeting at the Trump International Hotel in Washington that included a lobbyist with deep ties to U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry and a Republican fundraiser from Texas close to Donald Trump Jr. Three people with direct knowledge of that meeting described it to the AP on condition of anonymity because some of the players are under federal investigation.

“The maneuvering over Naftogaz came at the same time that Giuliani, with the help of Parnas and Fruman, were trying to get Yovanovitch out of the way and persuade Ukraine’s leaders to launch an investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter’s work with Burisma, a rival Ukrainian gas company.” AP

— NBC’S JOSH LEDERMAN: “Inside Giuliani’s new push to flip the script on Trump’s impeachment”

TOP-ED — SEN. PAT LEAHY (D-Vt.) in the NYT: “What the Senate Does Now Will Cast a Long Shadow”: “When the Senate ultimately convenes to consider whether to remove the president from office, for just the third time in its history, it will convene not as a legislative body, but as a court of impeachment. And it will not just be President Trump on trial. The Senate — and indeed, truth itself — will stand trial.”

FED WATCH — “Fed Confronts Lack of Diversity in Its Ranks,” by WSJ’s Nick Timiraos: “The economics profession embarked this year on a soul-searching appraisal of perceived hostility to women and minorities in its ranks, and the Federal Reserve—the nation’s largest employer of Ph.D. economists—wants to get ahead of the curve.

“For the Fed, where three quarters of its research economists are men and most are white, facing up to the lack of women and minorities among these employees isn’t just a matter of appearances. A staff that better reflects the U.S. population could limit the potential for groupthink or blind spots that hinder the central bank’s assessment of how the economy is changing. …

“Current and former staffers and private economists who interact with the central bank say the Fed’s attention to diversity issues gained new urgency under former Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen and has continued under her successor, Jerome Powell. The shift has coincided with veteran female staffers earning promotions to three of the central bank’s most important management positions this year.” WSJ

BEYOND THE BELTWAY — “Fur is under attack. It’s not going down without a fight,” by WaPo’s Robin Givhan

ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION FRONT PAGE: “Loeffler reaches out to skeptical Georgia GOP activists,” by Greg Bluestein: “As Kelly Loeffler prepares to be sworn in as Georgia’s next U.S. senator, many of the grassroots activists who form the backbone of the state’s Republican Party remain reluctant to give her a full-fledged endorsement.

“An Atlanta Journal-Constitution survey of dozens of local party officials and county GOP chairmen showed many are taking a wait-and-see approach to Loeffler, a financial executive Gov. Brian Kemp selected for the job who is largely unknown to even many top Republicans.

“Their hesitance will play a major factor as the political newcomer faces a steep task. Her new role will require her to almost instantly take part in impeachment hearings against President Donald Trump, even as she tries to establish her political brand and fend off conservative challengers.” AJCFront page

MEDIAWATCH — “Devin Nunes, Johnny Depp lawsuits seen as threats to free speech and press,” by WaPo’s Justin Jouvenal: “The suits are part of a string of splashy defamation claims by politicians and the A-list star seeking nearly $1 billion in damages in Virginia courts this year, even though many of the cases have only loose connections to the state.

“The plaintiffs argue their names have been smeared and the venues are appropriate, but several of the defendants — including Twitter and Heard — say the filing location is aimed at exploiting the state’s weak protections for defamation defendants. Some legal experts say Virginia law allows those with deep pockets to bulldoze targets with frivolous, protracted and expensive litigation they couldn’t pursue in many other states.

“The true goals of the suits, the defendants argue, are to stifle critics, blunt aggressive journalism and settle scores. Some deride the legal maneuvers as ‘libel tourism’ and see a growing trend not just in Virginia but in other states that similarly lack safeguards. The suits have prompted Virginia lawmakers to look at changing the law.” WaPo

PLAYBOOKERS

Send tips to Eli Okun and Garrett Ross at politicoplaybook@politico.com.

ENGAGED — Jacques Petit, regional press secretary at Giffords, got engaged to Alyssa Harris, a contractor at the Department of Energy. Pic

BIRTHDAY OF THE DAY: Steve Thomma, executive director of the White House Correspondents Association. An interesting book he’s been reading: ‘American Caesar.’ It was a gift from David Bradley of Atlantic Media after a conversation about our mutual admiration for the reporting and writing of the late William Manchester. It’s a terrific book, deeply reported, and a reminder to this addict of presidential bios that there really are other lions of American life even if they didn’t make it to the White House.” Playbook Q&A

BIRTHDAYS: Bill Kristol … Rep. Dave Loebsack (D-Iowa) is 67 … Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas) is 69 … retired Gen. Wes Clark is 75 … Fox News’ Shannon Bream … Lucinda Guinn, executive director of the DCCC (h/t Cole Leiter) … Michawn Rich, USDA communications director (h/t Alec Varsamis) … Chris Peacock of Stanford University communications is 59 (h/t David Jackson) … POLITICO’s Julia Franklin … Alyssa DiBlasi … Steve Hills is 61 … Dentons’ John Russell IV … Axios’ Claire Kennedy … Julio Negron … Adam Milakofsky … Meghan Stabler … Patrick Burgwinkle … Kelley Moore, communications director for Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) … Lauren Kahn …

… Fatima Noor … Jared Gilmour … Dan Shott is 33 … Tom Epstein (h/t Jon Haber) … Lewis A. Kaplan … Melissa Ann Merz … Abe Sutton … Josh Satin … Bill Goodson … Natasha Dabrowski … Trump White House alum Zina Bash … Texas A.G. Ken Paxton is 57 … Louisiana A.G. Jeff Landry is 49 … Brittany Bolen … Google’s Patrick D. Smith … Audrey Kubetin … James Miller … Joe Boswell … Jonathan Zucker is 48 … Hilary Novik Sandberg is 31 … Emil Pitkin, CEO of GovPredict … Elizabeth Bingold … Karen Roberts … Brennan Foley … Deloitte’s Rasheq Zarif … Allison Dobson … Rich Tarplin … Carter Snead … Kevin Hayes … Roy Behr … Doug Vilsack … Mark Clesh

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Is Ivanka Trump plotting a return to politics

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If you’re a woman freaking out about the imminent possibility of another Trump term, don’t despair quite yet. Yes, Project 2025 is hoping to turn the US into a Christian nationalist country. Yes, JD Vance, Donald Trump’s running partner, has been primed for the job by Peter Thiel, a man who has mused that women having the vote is problematic. Yes, experts are raising the alarm that “a Trump-Vance administration will be the most dangerous administration for abortion and reproductive freedom in this country’s history.” But it’s not all doom and gloom: there may well be a beacon of light and female liberation coming into the White House as well. Signs suggest Ivanka Trump is considering a return to politics. Ladies and gentlewomen, the patron saint of female empowerment may selflessly serve us once again!

To be clear: the younger Trump hasn’t explicitly said that she’s interested in another go at being Daddy’s special adviser. In fact, she’s spent the last few years getting as far away from politics as possible. A renaissance woman, Trump has sold everything from handbags to shoes to real estate – but her most valuable product has always been herself. The former first daughter has always been very careful about protecting her personal brand. And, for a while, that meant staying well clear of her father.

With Donald Trump now formally the nominee, it can be hard to remember just how bad things looked for the former president a couple of years ago. After an underwhelming performance by GOP candidates in the 2022 midterm elections, a lot of Trump’s former acolytes started turning on him. High-profile Republicans complained that Trump was a drag on the party. Even the New York Post, once Trump’s personal Pravda, thought he was a joke: “TRUMPTY DUMPTY”, a post-midterm front page crowed. And then, of course, there were Trump’s mountains of legal problems. A lot of people wrote Trump off.

Ivanka was noticeably not by her father’s side during his hours of need. The moment that Donald got kicked out of the White House, Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner, followed him to Florida but kept a safe distance from the political goings on at Mar-a-Lago. Can’t have an insurrection ruining one’s image, after all.

A company called College Hunks Hauling Junk helped them clear out their DC mansion and the pair decamped to Miami’s “Billionaire Bunker”. They didn’t go empty-handed, of course. The couple reported between $172m and $640m in outside income while working in the White House and Saudi Arabia gave Kushner’s private equity firm $2bn to invest. Enough to keep them busy for a while.

For a long time, Javanka stayed fairly under the radar. Ivanka Trump would pop up in headlines now and again in Fun-loving Mother and Caring Philanthropist mode. Behold, a flattering headline about Ivanka helping deploy medical supplies and meals to Ukraine! Look: here’s an Instagram slideshow of the whole family skiing! Now here’s a fun picture of the Javanka family at the flashy Ambani wedding!

A cynic might say these carefully curated images were designed to humanize Trump and erase her messy political past. Aiding this was a consistent drip-drip of mysterious sources telling the press that Javanka had no desire whatsoever to return to politics. Even this year, when Donald Trump became the presumptive nominee, media “sources” kept insisting that the former first daughter wanted nothing to do with the White House. “She is very happy, living her best life,” a source told People in March. “She left politics totally in the rearview mirror and so this time around, even if her dad is the leading Republican candidate, she basically doesn’t care. She told him when he said he was going to run again that she didn’t want to be involved.”

Mary Trump, the woman who has made a career out of being Donald Trump’s disgruntled niece after a legal battle over her inheritance, has been blunt about why Ivanka seems to have retreated from politics. “I think Ivanka made very clear that she doesn’t get enough out of [her relationship with her father] any more,” Mary Trump told CNN at the end of May. “She’s barely been heard from for months; she could not be bothered to show up at [her father’s] trial [over falsifying business records].”

As the election inches closer, however, Ivanka seems to have reassessed the value of her relationship with her father. In early May, the media outlet Puck reported that she was “warming to the idea of trying to be helpful again … She’s not like ‘Hell no’ any more”. A similar report from Business Insider soon followed: according to a “friend of Ivanka”, the entrepreneur wasn’t ruling politics out. A spokesperson for the couple told Puck that this was all nonsense but rumours of a political comeback kept mounting.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, Ivanka jumped back into the spotlight with an appearance on Lex Fridman’s highly influential podcast. (Fridman has more than 4 million subscribers on YouTube.) In this she opened up about how working at the White House was “the most extraordinary growth experience of my life” and how privileged she was to have been asked by her father to help so many people. During the conversation, she also carefully recapped some of (what’s she’s claimed as) her key achievements in the White House, such as boosting the child tax credit. It wasn’t so much an interview as it was a hype project by a friend. It felt lot like it was teasing Trump’s return to political life should her dad be re-elected.

So, after years in the Floridian wilderness, has the Maga Princess officially returned to the family fold? It’s a tad too early to tell but it increasingly looks that way. As one would expect, Trump has spent the last few days close to her father after the attempt on his life: she’s very much thrown herself into the role of doting daughter again.

And while Ivanka has been absent from the Republican national convention so far, she and Jared are expected to be at Donald’s side on Thursday when he formally accepts the party’s nomination. And if that happens and images of Ivanka standing next to her father hit the headlines, it won’t just be a celebratory photoshoot – it’ll be a preview of Trump’s second term.

 

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Are assassination attempts getting more common?

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“There’s no place in America for this kind of violence,” President Joe Biden said on Saturday, following the shooting at a Donald Trump rally in Pennsylvania that left the former president hurt and killed an audience member.

But the fact is, this type of violence has a long history in American politics: Four US presidents have been killed in office and virtually all of them, in the modern era, have been targeted by assassination plots of varying levels of seriousness.

Along with the general atmosphere of political turmoil of recent years — Trump himself, Covid, police violence and the resulting protests, January 6 — attacks targeting public officials of both parties in the US also seem to be becoming more common.

Recent examples include the 2017 shooting by a left-wing extremist at a Republican Congressional baseball practice that critically injured Rep. Steve Scalise; the Donald Trump supporter who sent mail bombs to more than a dozen prominent Democrats in 2018; a right-wing militia’s plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in 2020; the abortion rights supporter who attempted to kill Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh at this home in 2022; and the QAnon adherent who attacked Paul Pelosi, husband of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, while attempting to target her, in 2022.

That violence is having a clear impact on how American politics is conducted. Spending on security by House and Senate campaigns increased by 500 percent between 2020 and 2022, according to the Washington Post.

Nor is this just an American phenomenon: There’s been a global wave of recent assassinations as well. The UK has seen two members of parliament killed in recent years: Jo Cox, a Labour MP murdered by a right-wing extremist days before the Brexit vote in 2016, and David Amess, a Conservative MP fatally stabbed by an Islamic State supporter in 2021. Former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro survived a stabbing during his campaign for president in 2018. In 2021, Haitian Prime Minister Jovenel Moïse was assassinated by mercenaries.

Last year saw the killing of Ecuadorian presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio, and former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. In January of this year, South Korean opposition leader Lee Jae-myung survived being stabbed in the neck, while Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico was shot and nearly killed in May. In Mexico, where political violence is rampant on a scale far beyond most other countries, at least 36 candidates seeking offices throughout the country were killed ahead of the country’s recent elections, according to the New York Times.

Then there are the numerous alleged plots targeting Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

The growing threat of assassination

Despite all that, it’s difficult to say for sure if political killings are on the rise. There’s a data problem: Assassinations are still relatively rare compared to other forms of political violence — violent protests, terrorist bombings — and attempts that succeed in killing their target, or even come close enough to succeeding, are even rarer.

But there is some data to suggest they’re getting more common. According to the University of Maryland’s Global Terrorism Database, which includes incidents of political violence from 1970 to 2020, the number of assassination incidents around the world fell dramatically from more than a thousand per year in the early 1990s to less than 100 per year in 1999, then started to creep up again, jumping to more than 900 in 2015. This trend has roughly corresponded with a global uptick in international armed conflict, which also dipped through the 1990s before rising more recently.

Threatened acts of violence have increased even faster. In the United States, the Capitol Police reported 9,625 threats against members of Congress in 2021, compared to just 3,939 in 2017.

What could be driving this trend? Political violence researcher Rachel Kleinfeld of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace argues that political violence, including assassinations, becomes more common in countries where there are highly competitive elections that could shift the balance of power, where partisan politics becomes a dominant social identity, and where there are weak institutional constraints on violence. All of those reasons fit the US now, which is why Kleinfeld suggests the country is particularly vulnerable to a surge in political violence.

Kleinfeld also notes that a difference between today’s political violence and previous periods where it was common — such as the 1970s, the high point of terrorist violence within the US with more than 1,470 attacks compared to 214 in the decade following 9/11 — is that today’s perpetrators are more likely to not belong to any formal organization, but rather to self-radicalize via online engagement.

The Georgetown University terrorism researchers Bruce Hoffman and Jacob Ware argued in an article published two years ago that political assassination is becoming more common around the world in part to the emergence of so-called “accelerationism” — the deliberate effort to foment political chaos or societal collapse in order to accelerate political transformation — as a more prominent strategy for extremists. They write, “For extremists seeking to sow chaos and speed up some cataclysmic societal collapse, high-profile politicians provide an attractive target” because they personify the political order these extremists are trying to tear down.

Previous waves of political violence happened in eras when security was more lax and politicians more accessible. Think of John F. Kennedy’s open motorcade in Dallas, which no president would think of doing today. But Hoffman and Ware also note that even as politicians and governments invest more in security, new technologies are making assassination attempts easier. Consider the homemade gun used to kill Abe, which the assassin put together with parts and instructions he found online, or the attempted assassination of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro using explosive drones in 2018.

In an email to Vox, Hoffman said that the attempt on Trump “does fit into the trend … where attacks on elected officials are becoming more commonplace and, dare one say, even accepted as a norm in our politically polarized/divided country.”

What comes next

Political violence is a phenomenon that tends to feed on itself. Attacks create justifications for more attacks, leading to long periods of violence, such as Italy’s infamous “years of lead,” from the late ’60s through the ’80s, when assassinations, kidnappings, and bombings by right-wing and left-wing extremist groups were disturbingly common.

Another very inconvenient fact about political assassinations is that when successful, they often accomplish their political goals, if not always in ways the assassin might intend: The murder of Abraham Lincoln and his replacement by pro-states rights Southerner Andrew Johnson utterly changed the course of post-Civil War Reconstruction. The right-wing Israeli who killed Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, in the wake of the historic Oslo Accords, dealt a serious, perhaps fatal, blow to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The killing of Abe led to a dramatic political reckoning in Japan with the assassin’s primary target: the controversial Unification Church.

We still don’t know the specific motivations of the shooter who attempted to kill Trump, or what impact the event will have on the upcoming election or American politics generally. But it’s safe to say the impact, whatever the gunman’s intentions, would have been far greater if he had adjusted his aim by just a few inches.

When the stakes of political contests start to seem existential, and political violence of all kinds more permissible, an increase in assassination attempts — in the US and abroad — seems almost inevitable.

 

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July 14, 2024, coverage of the Trump assassination attempt

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Pesident Joe Biden gave an Oval Office address Sunday — a rare form of presidential remarks reserved for the most solemn times — and urged Americans to unite and take the temperature down on politics following an assassination attempt on former President Donald Trump during a campaign rally in Pennsylvania.

Here’s what else to know:

Biden’s speech: The president condemned political violence and said “disagreement is inevitable and American democracy is part of human nature, but politics must never be a literal battlefield or, God forbid, a killing field.” He warned against the normalization of this violence and urged Americans to step out of their political silos “where we only listen to those with whom we agree, and where disinformation is rampant, where foreign actors fan the flames of our division to shape the outcomes consistent with their interests, not ours.”

Trump’s movements: The former president said on Truth Social that he is going to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on Sunday for the Republican National Convention after initially considering delaying his trip. After the assassination attempt at the rally in Butler, Pennsylvania, on Saturday, Trump flew to Newark, New Jersey, and spent time with his daughter Ivanka at his golf club in Bedminster, sources told CNN. The Secret Service said Sunday that there are no plans to tighten security plans for the RNC, saying it is confident in the plans that are in place.

What happened at the rally on Saturday: Trump’s rally speech in Butler, Pennsylvania, Saturday evening began just as it had at dozens of rallies previously – his attendees chanted “USA! USA!” and the former president clapped and pointed to faces in the crowd before taking the lectern. About 150 yards to the north, a gunman was climbing onto the roof of a building outside the rally security perimeter. He had an AR-style weapon with him. Six minutes into the former president’s speech, the gunman took aim at Trump and squeezed the trigger. Here’s a timeline.

Gunman was spotted: A local police officer saw the gunman on a rooftop during campaign rally but was unable to engage him, Butler County Sheriff Michael Slupe told CNN on Sunday. Slupe said that Butler Township officers received calls about a suspicious person outside the perimeter of the rally and went looking to find that person. He said the initial calls that came in did not indicate the suspicious person had a gun.

New investigation details: The shooter, 20-year-old Thomas Matthew Crooks, had no prior contacts with the FBI and had not been previously on its radar or databases. Investigators are struggling to understand his motives. Crooks used an AR-style 556 rifle purchased legally by his father, FBI officials said, and one of the things that investigators are still looking to understand is how Crooks gained access to his father’s firearm. He also had “rudimentary” explosive devices in his car, an official said.

About the shooter: A former classmate and co-worker told CNN they remember Crooks as “the sweetest guy.” The colleague said Crooks was “not a radical” and never expressed any political views at work. “It’s hard seeing everything that’s going on online because he was a really, really good person that did a really bad thing. And I just wish I knew why,” the colleague said.

Congress: House Speaker Mike Johnson on Sunday called for the country “to get back to civility” and said he hasn’t gotten a “satisfactory answer” yet from US Secret Service on the “security lapse” at Trump’s Pennsylvania rally.

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