Playbook: Trump doubles down on ‘dictator’ desire

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With help from Eli Okun, Garrett Ross and Bethany Irvine

DRIVING THE DAY

At an event last night sponsored by the New York Young Republican Club, DONALD TRUMP unsurprisingly defended his comments at a Fox News town hall this week during which he said that if reelected, he would be a “dictator” — but only on Day One.

“I said I want to be a dictator for one day,” Trump told the MAGA faithful at Cipriani in Manhattan. “You know why I wanted to be a dictator? Because I want a wall, and I want to drill, drill, drill.”

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Trump also insinuated that if he returns to the White House, he will use the force of the federal government to come after JOE BIDEN.

“He’s opened up a Pandora’s box that will never let our country be the same,” Trump said to the supportive crowd (which, Jason Beeferman reports, included both the “chairman of an Austrian political party founded by ex-Nazis [and] the conservative Twitter star behind the anti-trans Bud Light backlash”). “I can only say to Joe: Be very careful what you wish for, but [what] you have done is a terrible thing.” Reminder: There’s no evidence that the White House had anything to do with the indictments against Trump.

To the extent there was any subtlety to that sentiment, the underlying desire was laid bare in remarks by the organization’s chair, GAVIN WAX, who spoke before Trump.

“It will be a time for retribution,” Wax said of Trump’s potential return to power.

“Gavin, that was an excellent speech,” Trump said.

Related read Trump referenced last night: “Talk of a Trump Dictatorship Charges the American Political Debate,” by NYT’s Peter Baker

POISON IVY Just four days after appearing before Congress and seemingly dodging the question of whether students who called for the genocide of Jews were in violation of the school’s code of conduct, University of Pennsylvania President ELIZABETH MAGILL resigned her position yesterday. More from Bianca Quilantan

In normal times, we wouldn’t be writing about the change in leadership at a university. But this is different because of the gravity of the topic, the fact it was precipitated by a House hearing — which itself drove several days’ worth of national coverage this week — and also the fact that the school in question, Penn, has ties to both Trump (an alum) and Biden (who founded a namesake center at the university).

On Tuesday, Rep. ELISE STEFANIK (R-N.Y.) asked Magill if “calling for the genocide of Jews violate[s] Penn’s rules or code of conduct: yes or no?”

Magill’s response: “If the speech turns into conduct, it can be harassment.”

The two went back and forth for a bit before Stefanik asked the presidents of Harvard and MIT similar questions with similar results.

The backlash was swift.

On Wednesday, White House deputy press secretary ANDREW BATES released a statement slamming the hedging from the university heads: “It’s unbelievable that this needs to be said: calls for genocide are monstrous and antithetical to everything we represent as a country. Any statements that advocate for the systematic murder of Jews are dangerous and revolting — and we should all stand firmly against them, on the side of human dignity and the most basic values that unite us as Americans.”

On Thursday, DOUG EMHOFF, the husband of VP KAMALA HARRIS and one of the most prominent Jews in the country, criticized the “presidents of some of our most elite universities” during the annual lighting of the National Menorah. “The lack of moral clarity is unacceptable,” said the second gentleman, who was charged with leading the administration’s efforts against growing antisemitism even before the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks by Hamas. ICYMI: Eugene’s exclusive interview with Emhoff on antisemitism on campuses

On Friday, more than 70 members of Congress called for the firings of Magill, Harvard President CLAUDINE GAY and MIT President SALLY KORNBLUTH. After Magill’s resignation, Stefanik posted on X, “One down. Two to go.”

But there are those that are concerned about the precedent this sets. As NYT’s Nick Confessore writes, the “resignation has alarmed faculty members worried about academic freedom. In response to Ms. Magill’s resignation, a group of Penn professors denounced what they saw as outside interference that imperiled the university’s integrity.”

When Playbook reached out for comment this morning, a White House aide would only point us to their previous statement. The second gentleman’s office did the same.

Good Sunday morning. Thanks for reading Playbook. Drop us a line: Rachael Bade, Eugene Daniels, Ryan Lizza.

WAKE UP, READ PLAYBOOK — We have an exciting update for Playbook readers: Starting Dec. 18, all Playbook subscribers will also receive Playbook PM every Monday through Friday. As a member of the Playbook community, you will get a double dose of scoops, storylines and analysis every weekday as we enter a newsy election year. No need to take action: You will receive your first PM edition on the 18th if you aren’t subscribed already. Thank you for being a part of the Playbook community.

THE BUZZIEST JOKES AT THE GRIDIRON — Last night, the Gridiron Club hosted its winter dinner — a seasonal roast featuring some of Washington’s most prominent faces poking fun at themselves, at the storylines driving politics and the Beltway obsessions that may loom large in This Town but don’t matter in the grand scheme of things.

As is something of a Playbook tradition, we got a readout of the speeches, and this morning, are bringing you the best jokes from the evening’s speakers: Rep. NANCY MACE (R-S.C.) and Sen. JOE MANCHIN (D-W.Va.).

Mace on recent reports about high staff turnover in her office:
“The Daily Mail wrote an article about me firing my staffers, and now people say it’s going to hurt my career. I say, ‘Right, because nobody ever known for saying “You’re fired” could make it in politics.’ … The Daily Mail says that I talked about my sex life in the office. This is categorically false. I save that topic for prayer breakfasts.”

On her recently canceled engagement:
“I am single now. My ex wanted to get married, but I attached it to border security and the deal fell apart.”

On the response of university presidents to antisemitism:
“You know things are bad when even MITCH McCONNELL was like, ‘How come they’re not saying anything?’”

On Manchin’s decision to retire from the Senate:
“Joe Manchin recently announced he won’t seek reelection. You know the Senate sucks when Option A is to go back to West Virginia.”

On Biden:
“There are rumors that Democrats want to replace Joe Biden with someone who has more energy and vitality, but so far, JIMMY CARTER has said no.”

Soon after, it was Manchin’s turn …

Manchin on what he has in common with Nancy Mace:
“Nancy and I are really kindred spirits in many ways. She was the … first Republican woman elected to Congress from South Carolina. And I’m going to be the last Democrat of any gender elected from West Virginia.”

Borrowing a joke format from JEFF FOXWORTHY:
“If you think Joe Biden is the best and you think Joe Biden is the worst, you might be a centrist. If you ever wondered what happened to EVAN BAYH, by God, you are a centrist.”

On his famous houseboat:
“People wanna know about my boat — they always ask about why I’m on the boat. And you want to know the real reason I live on water? TED CRUZ can’t swim.”

On why he isn’t running for reelection:
“If I’d run for reelection and won, my term would’ve ended in January 2031. I’d be 83 years old. Now, I don’t want to be wasting my time away in Congress at that age. Hell, those are peak White House years.” More at the AP’s writeup of the event

SUNDAY BEST …

— Sen. CHRIS MURPHY (D-Conn.) on Ukraine/immigration supplemental negotiations, on “Meet the Press”: “I think this is one of the most dangerous moments that I’ve ever faced in American politics, and I wish Republicans weren’t holding Israel aid and aid to Ukraine hostage to the resolution of immigration reform. That being said, we are still in the room … We’re not going to solve the entire problem of immigration between now and the end of the year, but we can make a down payment.”

— Secretary of State ANTONY BLINKEN on Israel’s failure to protect Palestinian civilians, on CNN’s “State of the Union”: “I think the intent is there, but the results are not always manifesting themselves. And we see that both in terms of civilian protection and humanitarian assistance. … Israel needs to be able to deal with this to protect itself, to prevent Oct. 7 from happening again. But, as it does that, it’s imperative that civilians be protected.”

— Sen. MITT ROMNEY (R-Utah) on Trump’s pledge to be a dictator on Day One, on NBC’s “Meet the Press”: “I don’t attach an enormous amount of impact to the particular words that come out and try to evaluate each one of them. I do think you can look at his record as president, and particularly in the last months of his presidency, and say: This is a dangerous approach, it’s an authoritarian approach. That gives me far more concern.”

— Mace on Rep. KEVIN McCARTHY (R-Calif.) leaving Congress early, on “Fox News Sunday”: “It also shows, too, that this wasn’t about the people of this country. This wasn’t about the party. This was all about power, one man’s power. And we have to move forward. We’re going to have to be more united than ever going into next year into 2024. We’re going to have to work a little bit harder. And, you know, I wish him the best of luck in the future. Whatever that looks like.”

TOP-EDS: A roundup of the week’s must-read opinion pieces.

WHAT’S HAPPENING TODAY

At the White House

Biden and first lady JILL BIDEN will leave LA in the afternoon and return to the White House.

Harris and Emhoff will host a holiday reception at 12:30 p.m. and a Hanukkah reception at 5:30 p.m.

PLAYBOOK READS

9 THINGS FOR YOUR RADAR

1. ABOUT LAST NIGHT: Houston elected JOHN WHITMIRE as its next mayor in a landslide victory for the tougher-on-crime Democratic state senator over Rep. SHEILA JACKSON LEE. It was “a race he dominated from start to finish,” the Houston Chronicle’s Dylan McGuinness writes, culminating in a more than 30-point margin of victory. Whitmire, a Texas political veteran, also vowed to make improvements to city finances and services. He successfully used an early campaign launch and a massive war chest to build an insurmountable lead in the race, also pulling in support from independents and Republicans, despite Jackson Lee’s backing from many prominent Democrats.

Next up: Watch for whether Jackson Lee jumps back into a reelection bid for the House instead. The filing deadline is tomorrow, Andrew Zhang notes.

2. MIDDLE EAST FALLOUT: Magill’s resignation dominated domestic headlines, but outside the U.S., the locus of global attention to the Israel-Hamas war looked very different: The U.S. is growing increasingly isolated this weekend for its backing of Israel’s bombing and veto of a U.N. cease-fire resolution, NYT’s Vivian Nereim, Edward Wong and Thomas Fuller report. Many governments, aid groups and human rights organizations warned that the U.S. was abetting humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza as Israel kept pummeling the strip, with nearly 18,000 Palestinians reportedly killed. Undeterred, the State Department announced yesterday that it had bypassed Congress in a rare move to sell 14,000 rounds of tank ammunition to Israel.

Some striking new details from WaPo’s Missy Ryan, Michael Birnbaum, Abigail Hauslohner and John Hudson: Biden administration officials admit they’re “not conducting real-time assessments of Israel’s adherence to the laws of war” due to a lack of access. And Israel has dropped more than 22,000 bombs that came from the U.S. in this war so far.

More: U.S. bases in Syria came under attack twice more, Fox News’ Jennifer Griffin scooped. … NYT’s Mark Mazzetti and Ronen Bergman detail how Israeli PM BENJAMIN NETANYAHU secretly propped up Hamas for years before the war.

3. THE NEXT MINING GENERATION: “How a green energy boom could upend mining towns’ health care,” by Megan Messerly in Carlin, Nevada: “Mining companies offer good jobs with good benefits that can counterintuitively damage health care access. Health systems can grow dependent on those insurance plans to survive, and the benefits are in some cases so good that providers are reluctant to serve others in the community. … A growing number of communities will likely soon face similar predicaments as mines open across the United States amid the Biden administration’s push for more domestic sourcing of resources — such as copper, lithium and cobalt — needed to power electric cars and produce renewable electricity.”

4. DEMOCRACY WATCH: The U.S. is unlikely to see a surge of fake electors next year on par with the 2020 effort to keep Trump in the White House, WaPo’s Amy Gardner, Patrick Marley and Yvonne Wingett Sanchez report. Some of the dozens of fake electors say they were duped or wouldn’t do it again. Laws have gotten tougher. “The publicity surrounding those investigations, and the specter of tarnished reputations and heavy legal costs,” will also likely discourage many people from getting involved.

5. WHAT THE SPECIAL COUNSEL KNOWS: “Jack Smith reveals sweeping scope of bid to debunk Trump election machine claims,” by Kyle Cheney: “In a 45-page filing, [JACK] SMITH’s team describes interviewing more than a dozen of the top intelligence officials in Trump’s administration — from his director of national intelligence to the administrator of the NSA to Trump’s personal intelligence briefer — about any evidence that foreign governments had penetrated systems that counted votes in 2020. ‘The answer from every single official was no,’ senior assistant special counsel THOMAS WINDOM writes in the filing.”

6. HAPPENING TOMORROW: RUBY FREEMAN and SHAYE MOSS’ defamation trial against RUDY GIULIANI will kick off in D.C., where a jury could find the former Trump lawyer liable for as much as $43.5 million, WaPo’s Spencer Hsu and Rachel Weiner preview. A judge has already determined that Giuliani is liable for making false claims of 2020 election fraud against the Georgia poll workers; now a jury will determine the monetary penalty.

7. BIG SUNDAY READ: “A harvest of memories,” by WaPo’s Jose Del Real in Chickasaw County, Iowa: “VERNA [ORVIS] was mystified by Trump’s appeal among people she had known her whole life. She mostly kept her political thoughts to herself. [Her husband] JACK sometimes tested her resolve. He was a dedicated Trump supporter … Politics for most people unfolded against the quiet moments of daily life, not the other way around — even in rural northeast Iowa on the eve of the 2024 presidential election.”

8. IMMIGRATION FILES: “Congressional Hispanic Caucus frustrated with the White House on immigration negotiations,” by NBC’s Julie Tsirkin, Julia Ainsley, Sahil Kapur and Monica Alba: “The fear, one Capitol Hill Democrat with knowledge of the negotiations said, is that the president will accept border policy changes proposed by Republicans that are ‘unimaginably cruel.’ Democrats in the Congressional Hispanic Caucus demanded an ‘urgent’ meeting with the White House over one week ago. Yet even though the president was in Washington for much of that period, it never happened.”

9. STRANGE BEDFELLOWS: “The A.C.L.U. Has a New Client: The National Rifle Association,” by NYT’s Adam Liptak: “[W]hen the Supreme Court agreed to hear the N.R.A.’s free-speech challenge to what it said were a New York official’s efforts to blacklist it, one of its lawyers had a bold idea. Why not ask the A.C.L.U. to represent it before the justices?”

Another case to watch: “Speech police? Supreme Court asked to enter fray on confronting bias on campus,” by USA Today’s John Fritze

PLAYBOOKERS

Elon Musk reinstated Alex Jones’ account on X.

Casey DeSantis, Vivek Ramaswamy and Nikki Haley got personal on the trail.

Hillary Clinton is back for Joe Biden’s reelect.

Liz Cheney is working to put her old House GOP colleagues back in the minority.

Matt Lauer had a rare reunion with his old “Today” show colleagues.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.) … Reps. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) and Austin Scott (R-Ga.) … Susan B. Anthony List’s Marjorie Dannenfelser Symone Sanders-Townsend … NBC’s Andrea Canning … CNN’s Kristin Wilson and Alex Koppelman … Fox News’ Mike EmanuelPatrick O’Neil … DOJ’s Carlos Uriarte Hope Hodge SeckMike Shields of Convergence Media … POLITICO’s Katie Fossett, Erin Durkin, Lulu Parajuli, Joseph Levin-Manning and Katherine Warren Christina Coloroso of Analyst Institute … Kieran MahoneyEllie CohanimDavid French of the National Retail Federation … Nathan Daschle of the Daschle Group … former Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) … former Reps. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.) (7-0) and Harley Rouda (D-Calif.) … Megan WhittemoreMarc Mezvinsky … U.S. News & World Report’s Susan MilliganDavid KieveJess PetersonKip Wainscott … DOD’s Becca ArbacherJorge NeriAlice Cohan

Send Playbookers tips to [email protected] or text us at 202-556-3307. Playbook couldn’t happen without our editor Mike DeBonis, deputy editor Zack Stanton, producer Andrew Howard and Playbook Daily Briefing producer Callan Tansill-Suddath.

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