Calmes: This Thanksgiving, let Trump's 'best people' do the arguing with your MAGA uncle

WARREN, MI - OCTOBER 01: A supporters of Former President Donald Trump wears an Ultra Maga hat during a Save America rally on October 1, 2022 in Warren, Michigan. Trump has endorsed Republican gubernatorial candidate Tudor Dixon, Secretary of State candidate Kristina Karamo, Attorney General candidate Matthew DePerno, and Republican businessman John James ahead of the November midterm election. (Photo by Emily Elconin/Getty Images)
What more can anti-Trumpers say to counter the MAGA devotees at their holiday tables? (Emily Elconin / Getty Images)
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Last Thanksgiving, Donald Trump had just announced he was seeking reelection, yet his political stock was low. He was blamed for Republicans’ unexpectedly bad showing in the 2022 midterm elections. “Toxic Trump in MAGA Meltdown,” the Drudge Report headlined, while the front page of the Murdochs’ New York Post declared newly reelected Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida “DeFuture.”

A year later, the Thanksgiving tables have turned.

Across America, Democrats and Never Trumpers have heartburn and the MAGAts are toasting: Polls have the disgraced former president romping over DeSantis and every other Republican who’s deigned to challenge him, and perhaps on his way to beating President Biden. And that despite 12 intervening months in which Trump racked up four indictments for trying to overturn his 2020 defeat and filching top-secret documents, 91 criminal charges and two trials that ended with findings of liability for sexual abuse and financial fraud.

Yet both the legal and substantive arguments against Trump 2.0 have grown stale; the true believers won’t swallow any of it. What more can anti-Trumpers say to counter the MAGA devotees at their holiday feasts?

My advice: Let others do the talking — the ones who saw him up close in the White House.

Read more: Calmes: Trump promises power grabs and vengeance if he wins in 2024. Here's the plan.

No president in U.S. history has been so damned by so many who were part of the inner circle. Here’s a far-from-exhaustive cheat sheet of condemnations from Trump’s highest-ranking hires — “only the best people,” remember.

Mike Pence, vice president: On Jan. 6, 2021, President Trump also demanded I choose between him and our Constitution. … Anyone who puts themselves over the Constitution should never be president of the United States.”

William Barr, second attorney general: “A very petty individual who will always put his interests ahead of the country’s.” He “shouldn’t be anywhere near the Oval Office.”

Read more: Editorial: Trump's dangerous 'vermin' speech would have been at home in Nazi Germany

John F. Kelly, White House chief of staff, Homeland Security secretary and retired Marine general: “A person that thinks those who defend their country in uniform, or are shot down or seriously wounded in combat, or spend years being tortured as POWs are all ‘suckers’ because ‘there is nothing in it for them.’ A person that did not want to be seen in the presence of military amputees because ‘it doesn’t look good for me.’ … A person that has nothing but contempt for our democratic institutions, our Constitution, and the rule of law. … God help us.”

James N. Mattis, first Defense secretary, retired Marine general: “The first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people. … Instead, he tries to divide us.” He would order the military to “violate the constitutional rights of their fellow citizens. ”

Mark Esper, second Defense secretary: “He’s unfit for office. … His actions are all about him and not about the country. And then, of course, I believe he has integrity and character issues as well.”

Read more: Outrage against Univision grows after Trump interview

Rex Tillerson, first secretary of State: “A moron.” “The president would say, ‘Well, here’s what I want to do, and here’s how I want to do it,’ and I would have to say to him, ‘Well, Mr. President, … you can’t do it that way. It violates the law. It violates treaty.’ He got really frustrated when we would have those conversations.”

Gary Cohn, first director of the White House National Economic Council: “It’s not what we did for the country. It’s what we saved him from doing.”

H.R. McMaster, second national security advisor, retired Army lieutenant general: “A dope.

John Bolton, third national security advisor: “I’ve been in those rooms with him when he’s met with those [foreign] leaders. I believe they think he is a laughing fool.”

Read more: Calmes: Trump’s words can incite violence. Why don't more Americans care?

Richard Spencer, secretary of the Navy: Trump “has very little understanding of what it means to be in the military, to fight ethically or to be governed by a uniform set of rules and practices.”

Thomas P. Bossert, White House homeland security and counter-terrorism advisor: Trump “undermined American democracy baselessly for months. As a result, he’s culpable for this [Jan. 6] siege, and an utter disgrace.”

Alyssa Farah Griffin, White House communications director: “We’re all saying the same thing: We worked with him, we know him and we’re telling you, America — this man is unfit to be president. And a second term would be more dangerous than the first.”

Sadly, Griffin knows something about how hard it would be to persuade the Trumpers at your table, about how cleanly the former president has sliced through families with his hateful politics. Her father boycotted her wedding because of her criticism of her former boss.

“We just have to keep trying to break through,” she has said, but do so respectfully. We must "have these challenging conversations." 

If your Thanksgiving is likely to serve up politics along with the turkey, keep this cheat sheet handy. When Uncle MAGA gets going, let him have it.



Get the latest from Jackie Calmes
Commentary on politics and more from award-winning opinion columnist.
Sign me up.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.