Column: Can’t convince Uncle MAGA he’s wrong? This Thanksgiving, let Trump’s ‘best people’ do the arguing

A Trump supporter's hat that reads "Ultra MAGA" with a flag motif on the bill
What more can anti-Trumpers say to counter the MAGA devotees at their holiday tables?
(Emily Elconin / Getty Images)

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.

Opinion Columnist

Jackie Calmes

Jackie Calmes brings a critical eye to the national political scene. She has decades of experience covering the White House and Congress.

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.

This week’s scary 2024 polls only get scarier when you contemplate what the former president and his allies have in mind for a Trump presidency 2.0.

Nov. 9, 2023


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.”

The former president used ugly Nazi-like language to foul Veterans’ Day and dishonor a long line of Americans who fought and died for their nation. It should not be brushed off as Trump being Trump.

Nov. 13, 2023

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.”

Backlash in the Latino community against Univision is growing after the TV network aired an exclusive interview with former President Trump that some saw as too friendly.

Nov. 19, 2023

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.”

When voters hear that former President Trump’s targets must pay for protection against his followers, they shrug.

Oct. 3, 2023

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.