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What got me steamed up this week

Six Reasons Why Liberals Should Salivate at a Speaker Jordan

The Republicans may finally prove true an old leftist aphorism.

Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images
Representative Jim Jordan last month

You’re familiar with the old leftist phrase “The worse, the better.” It means the worse things get, the better for our side. It’s often attributed to Lenin, but it looks like it was actually uttered by Georgi Plekhanov, a Marxist theoretician who opposed Lenin but had the good fortune to die of tuberculosis before Comrade Ulyanov could have him carted off to Siberia and shot. The worse the material conditions of the working class under the czar, he argued, the more likely it is they’ll embrace revolution.

When I was younger, I tried to believe that this was true. But reality, I found, usually subscribed to the dictum “The worse, the worse.” That is, every bad thing that happened in politics, every victory of the right, usually just led to more victories. There was no moment when the working class woke up and saw what a ruse it all was. When the economic meltdown happened in 2008, some people on the broad left thought maybe, finally, here was the moment when the people would rise up and demand a new economic paradigm driven by more government intervention. But instead of getting that, we got the Tea Party.

The left did rebound over the next decade, but that was because of long, hard work by activists in movements like the Fight for 15 and by thinkers like the new generation of economists who’ve done so much to remake that profession. It had nothing to do with Plekhanov.

However: We who analyze politics for a living must be careful not to rely too much on past patterns; we risk being generals fighting the last war. And it’s with that in mind that I think the possibility of Jim Jordan becoming speaker of the House could finally prove old Plekhanov right.

Jordan would be a disaster as speaker. He’d be a disaster for the country, which is bad, but actually I don’t think he could really do that much damage, with Democrats holding the Senate and a Democrat in the White House. No—the real disaster would be for the Republican Party. So while I’m not—let me be clear—exactly cheering on this outcome, I certainly see some big, bright silver linings.

Why? Let us count the ways. First, speakers traditionally work their way up, slowly building relationships, doing favors, raising money. Jordan has surely done some of that, but it’s not his real calling card. His real calling card is that he’s a right-wing media star who has made himself memorable and notable with his obnoxious sneer, his wild rhetoric and charges, his sportscoat-less swagger at committee hearings, and the like. I’m obviously not a GOP House caucus insider, but I’d be shocked if he’s bothered to build relationships beyond those that have been useful to him.

Second, he has zero, and I mean zero, relationships with Democrats. Kevin McCarthy didn’t have many either, but that just proves my point, because look what happened to him: If he’d bothered to build some relationships across the aisle, a handful of Democrats would have voted “present” this week, and he’d still be speaker. The House minority is pretty powerless, but it isn’t completely powerless. There are times when the speaker has to cut a deal with the minority leader. Do you see Jim Jordan doing that?

Third, does he have any kind of relationship with Mitch McConnell? Jordan said this week it’s “fine” and “good.” Um … sure. McConnell has done his share to burn down the Senate, Lord knows, but compared to people like Jordan, he’s Arthur Vandenberg. Cynical and slippery though he is, McConnell at least believes in a kind of old-school decorum that Jordan has utterly rejected. They’re stylistically polar opposites. And then there’s Ukraine aid, which McConnell backs and Jordan staunchly opposes.

Fourth, he’s going to make promises about cutting spending that he won’t be able to keep. This in no small part is what brought down the last three Republican speakers—they talked a big game about shrinking government, but they didn’t deliver because they were fundamentally lying. When Republicans say, “We’re going to cut government,” they mean domestic discretionary spending, which is less than 15 percent of the budget. Drastic cuts to those programs are unpopular, so there just isn’t that much to cut. Speaker Jordan will bump up against this reality just as Speakers Boehner, Ryan, and McCarthy did.

Fifth, what did Jordan know about January 6? Liz Cheney just said that Jordan “knew more” about Trump’s January 6 plans “than any other” member of Congress. “Jim Jordan was involved, was part of the conspiracy in which Donald Trump was engaged as he attempted to overturn the election,” she said in a speech in Minnesota. If he becomes speaker and Democrats are doing their job, they’ll say “Jim Jordan” and “January 6” with the frequency that Rudy Giuliani used to say “9/11.” The only coup against the United States ever led by one of its major political parties will hang like stink on the GOP.

Sixth … ah, the sixth one! This is the best. Back in June, the Supreme Court ruled that a lawsuit against Ohio State University, brought by former athletes in the wrestling program who accused a university doctor of serial sexual abuse, could move forward. The plaintiffs are pressing ahead to depose everyone who might have knowledge of the situation. That would include former assistant coach Jim Jordan.

He of course denies knowledge of any abuse. Well, a lawsuit in which he is compelled to answer questions under oath might finally settle things. If he’s telling the truth, he’s telling the truth. If he’s not … he coached there so many years ago that the statute of limitations probably prevents him from being criminally charged. But if—if—it is revealed that he knew something and said nothing, is that the man the Republicans really want leading them?

That’s a bit speculative, but the first five reasons are not. Jordan has shown none of the skills that being a good speaker normally requires. Of course, today’s GOP is not a normal political party. He will “succeed” in the sense that he will adequately represent all the extreme and unhinged things the party stands for. But eventually, a speaker confronts reality in the form of process: the need to pass spending bills and cut deals with the Senate and the White House. Everything about Jordan’s career suggests that he will fail operatically at this.

The question, to return to Tovarich Plekhanov’s formulation, is whether those crucial slivers of the voting public will recognize it and turn on the GOP. It’s hard to say. But let’s put it this way. He’s been a lightning rod his entire career. The one idea with which he is most closely associated, impeachment of Joe Biden, is broadly unpopular—even 60 percent of independents oppose it. His scowling visage is the true face of the GOP. Let America see it.

This article first appeared in Fighting Words, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by editor Michael Tomasky. Sign up here.

Impeachment Hearing Proves Even Dumb Fascists Can Be Dangerous

The House Republican effort to make a case against Joe Biden is mostly blundering—but their collective face-plant can still cause some significant damage.

House Oversight Chair James Comer uses a gavel
Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Chairman of the House Oversight Committee James Comer presides over an impeachment inquiry on September 28, in Washington, D.C.

A common refrain on the broad left has gone something like: “Well, Donald Trump may be a fascist, but at least we can take solace in the fact that he’s stupid, because imagine the damage he could do if he were smart.” And that is true to some extent; one big reason we worry so much about the prospect of a second Trump presidency is that he now knows things that eluded him the first time he took office, potentially making him much more dangerous.

On the other hand, let’s not forget: Trump taught us from 2017 to 2021 that fascist and stupid can be plenty bad. And this week, House Republicans are drilling the same lesson into our weary heads, maybe even more emphatically than Trump did. Day one of their impeachment hearing was … well, words nearly fail me. One was repulsed by the obvious and blatant lies, yet simultaneously amazed at just how dumb these people seem to be.

The sorry display actually kicked off the day before the formal hearing, when Representative Jason Smith of Missouri, who chairs the Ways and Means Committee, released 700 pages of documents proving—and I’m summarizing here—blah blah blah. He spoke gravely of “evidence of corruption and misconduct,” referring at one point to a June 2017 WhatsApp message that Hunter Biden sent to a business associate. Here commenced a hilarious exchange between Smith and an NBC News reporter, in which the reporter reminded Smith that in June 2017, Joe Biden was neither the president nor even the vice president but rather what is known as “a private citizen.” Smith finally asked the reporter, “What source are you with?” When the reporter said NBC, Smith said, “So apparently you’ll never believe us.”

That’s the playbook. When the facts fall apart, cry Fake News and Deep State.

Then came the hearing itself. CNN delivered a blistering fact-check of the antics, listing eight instances where Republicans omitted crucial context or simply lied through their teeth:

1. Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer said the Bidens had “raked in over $20 million between 2014 and 2019.”

Truth: While $20 million is roughly accurate, much of that money went to Hunter Biden’s business associates. And more importantly, they offered zero proof that any money went to Joe Biden.

2. Jim Jordan claimed that Hunter Biden admitted he was not qualified to sit on the board of the Ukrainian company Burisma.

Truth: Hunter Biden acknowledged that he probably wouldn’t have been asked to be on the board if he weren’t Joe Biden’s son, but he has defended his qualifications in detail. A subtle but crucial twisting of his words.

3. Jordan argued—this has been a GOP talking point for a while—that the Justice Department blocked investigators from asking about Joe Biden during a 2020 investigation into Hunter’s dealings.

Truth: A deputy did say to then–U.S. Attorney for Delaware David Weiss that there was no justification for adding Joe Biden’s name to a warrant, but this is plausibly just how the law works: If prosecutors believed there were no grounds to include the elder Biden’s name, doing so would be inappropriate and even illegal. Also, people like Jordan speak murkily of “the Justice Department” in sinister terms to suggest conspiracy. It’s worth remembering that at the time in question, Trump was president and Justice was led by Bill Barr (then still in Trump’s pocket).

Actually, I’ll stop there. You can click on the link above to see them all, but you get the idea. In addition, you should watch committee member Alexandria Ocasio Cortez’s evisceration of Republican committee member Byron Donalds’s photoshopped text message in her appearance on Chris Hayes’s show Thursday night. Donalds made a text message—which, by the way, was not about business dealings but about Hunter’s alimony problems—look like a real iPhone text, which was totally made up. “And this is supposed to be the Republican case for impeachment?” AOC told Hayes. “At this point we should be investigating the investigation.”

All of this comes in addition to the other, more widely covered embarrassments at Thursday’s hearing, notably Jonathan Turley, the GOP’s star lawyer, saying, “I do not believe that the current evidence would support articles of an impeachment.”

Oh, and remember this: Comer’s star witness, a man named Gal Luft, is on the lam. Luft was supposed to deliver various goods on “the Biden crime family,” and back in June, Comer and Jordan and the New York Post were very excited about him. But in July, the Southern District of New York indicted him on eight charges that involved Luft acting as an unregistered foreign agent for China, trafficking arms, brokering the sale of Iranian oil to China, and more. He was in Cyprus, free on bail, and he jumped it. The star witness is literally a fugitive from the law.

These people are a joke. And yet—don’t underestimate the danger they can do. On balance, sure, smart fascists are more dangerous. Hitler was smart in the early 1930s as he gained power (he saved his stupid moves—declaring war on the United States for no reason; thinking he could win a two-front war—for later). He knew exactly what laws he was breaking, and how, and why.

Today’s Republicans aren’t that cunning. This idiot Ways and Means chairman—who, by the way, hates puppies; read this eye-popper—doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Comer has shown time and again that he’s a dope. Jordan, for all his seething self-righteousness, knows nothing about the Constitution (by the way, I recently referred to him as a lawyer; he did finish law school, but he never passed a bar exam, and that means he’s not actually a lawyer).

But all that doesn’t mean they can’t do damage. A clever trained assassin armed with a Beretta behind enemy lines can do one kind of damage. A blind man with a machete can do another kind. But it’s still damage. Especially when his motivation is to provide cover for a fascist candidate.

This article first appeared in Fighting Words, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by editor Michael Tomasky. Sign up here.

New GOP Low: Shutting Down the Government to Save Donald Trump

God, are these people venal and stupid.

Kevin McCarthy wraps his arm around Donald Trump's shoulders and points off into the distance. They both smile. Trump is clapping. A crowd is in the background
David McNew/Getty Images

Thursday night on his MSNBC show, Chris Hayes offered up a provocative thesis for why the House Republicans appear to be ready to shut down the government. Yes, there’s their general raging hatred of government and desire to blow the place up. But there is also, Hayes noted, a very specific reason: It’s an attempt to spare Donald Trump from prosecution.

This isn’t coming out of Hayes’s head. No, it’s coming out of Trump’s head. He “truthed” the other day on Truth Social: “A very important deadline is approaching at the end of the month. Republicans in Congress can and must defund all aspects of Crooked Joe Biden’s weaponized Government that refuses to close the Border, and treats half the Country as Enemies of the State.” 

Where do I start? First of all, there’s the usual fascist projection. This is Trump telling us what he plans to do in a second term. He will weaponize the government, close the border, and treat half the country as enemies of the state. He’s basically told us as much already. He did close the border for a while back in 2020 when the pandemic hit. That was a decent excuse (several countries closed borders for a time). If there’s a next time, he won’t need an excuse, he’ll just do it. And as for treating half the country as enemies, he basically signals that in every speech he gives.

Second, it’s blatantly unethical if not outright illegal. Once a prosecutor has brought charges, you can’t just defund his office because you don’t like what he’s done. But there are no rules anymore with Republicans, who are proving the point in Wisconsin, where they’re trying to oust a recently elected liberal state Supreme Court justice because they don’t like the fact that she appears likely to rule against them on a gerrymandering case, which would mean they couldn’t rig the state House and Senate the way they’ve been doing for years. We’ve now reached the point where if they don’t like outcomes or possible outcomes, they just seek whatever means they can to cancel them.

But third … well, here’s the thing. And this is hilarious. A government shutdown would not end the four Trump prosecutions! Two of them, of course, are being undertaken at the state level, in New York and Georgia, so Congress has no power over those at all. And the two federal ones, both led by Jack Smith, one in Washington, D.C., and one in Florida, are protected from any shutdown. In the past, reports NBC News, federal criminal matters have been exempted from government shutdowns. A Justice Department memo from 2021—long before Trump was indicted anywhere, so presumably written not with him specifically in mind—states that in the event of a shutdown, “criminal litigation will continue without interruption as an activity essential to the safety of human life and the protection of property.”    


Of course, that’s just departmental policy, not a law, so Republicans are looking for ways around it. Representative Andy Clyde—the guy who called January 6 a “normal tourist visit”—is seeking to add amendments to the appropriations bill to remove all federal funding from all three prosecutors (Smith, Fani Willis, and Alvin Bragg). Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene want to defund Smith. And Jim Jordan (of course) wants legislation dictating that the department can’t spend money on “politically sensitive” investigations.

Can these people possibly get more corrupt? (Don’t answer that.) But this is what happens when reality is turned on its head. Trump has created a “reality” that is the direct opposite of real reality. In real reality, ample evidence exists to suggest that Trump committed serious crimes, and he tried, right in front of our eyes, to lead a violent coup against the United States. But in Trump reality, it’s all McCarthyism.

It’s not even clear that Trump actually believes this. He says it. But who knows what he believes? He has lied so regularly for so many years about so many things, and so frequently contradicts himself, that his brain doesn’t even hold what you and I normally think of as beliefs. So with respect to him, who knows.

But with respect to Republicans, I think we know. Very few of them believe this garbage. As Mitt Romney told McKay Coppins recently, GOP senators regularly criticized Trump behind his back and once “burst into laughter” after he left the room. The House is more extreme than the Senate, so maybe a dozen of them really believe Trump’s narrative. But most don’t. And yet they say it and say it and say it, with conviction. 

Let’s remember the bigger picture here when it comes to a government shutdown. It hurts people. It hurts the economy. But it hurts people and communities who count on the government to be doing the things it says it will do. Those people are Republicans and independents as well as Democrats. Republicans don’t care. 

And let’s remember the bigger picture with respect to democracy. When one of two political parties is led by people who either (a) genuinely believe a fascist interpretation of reality or (b) don’t, but pretend to out of fear of a strongman and his well-armed followers … well, if that party takes power, democracy is kaput. We’ll find out soon enough how much of the country cares.

So Biden’s Old. But Did He Try to Destroy American Democracy?

The media has forgotten that Donald Trump has an age-old problem as well.

Julie Bennett/Getty Images

We’re talking—and talking—about Joe Biden’s age this week. He’s old. It’s a real issue. It’s a legitimate concern. No one likes the fact that he’s 80. It dampens enthusiasm for his reelection. And there has been a large volume of reporting that suggests that many people, including many Democrats, aren’t especially enthusiastic about his vice president.

I recall hearing a news item recently that explained that among the cohort of poll respondents who dislike both Biden and Donald Trump, while their preference is for neither man to run, if pressed, they favor Trump strongly. I’m sure this is not just because of Biden’s age. It has to do with inflation and, I believe, the general state of trauma in which most Americans, having taken collective blow after blow, now live. This last point is little discussed, but it is the topic of Ana Marie Cox’s shimmering cover story in the October issue of The New Republic, which I think explains more about the dyspeptic national mood than anything else I’ve read.

And yet: I think about those poll respondents mentioned above. Really? Is Joe Biden that bad? They’d really rather have Trump?

Biden’s age was a topic of conversation on Morning Joe earlier in the week, and Al Sharpton asked a good question: “What is Biden too old to do?” Is he too old, Sharpton wondered, to steal nuclear secrets and other classified documents? In knowing violation of the law, as Trump may have just accidentally admitted to Megyn Kelly Thursday?

It’s an excellent question—it flips conventional logic on its head and forces us to consider the problem of Biden’s age not in the usual moral vacuum but in a moral context vis à vis his likely opponent.

In that spirit let’s pose a few more of these inquiries. Is Joe Biden too old:

•  to insist that his inaugural crowds were the biggest of all time, sending his quaking and feckless and ill-attired press secretary out there to tell an obvious and totally unnecessary and pointless—but all too tone-setting—lie on his very first day in office?

•  to have an adviser, trying to spin her way out of that lie, speak in all seriousness of “alternative facts” that he believed in and adhered to?

•  to demand personal loyalty from his FBI director at a private dinner, at a time when it was known that his own campaign might be under FBI investigation?

•  to invite the Russian foreign minister to the Oval Office and reveal highly classified information to him there that “jeopardized a critical source of intelligence on the Islamic state”?

•  to fire the aforementioned FBI director and admit on national television that he did so because the FBI was investigating him?

•  to doctor a hurricane forecast with a Sharpie to make it seem like an obvious lie he told was correct, potentially frightening millions of people in one state into worrying that their homes might be destroyed or they might have to flee when they were never under threat?

•  to get the Boy Scouts—the Boy Scouts!—to boo his predecessor?

•  to assert that a crowd of white nationalists carrying torches and chanting “You will not replace us” included “very fine people”?

•  to try to buy Greenland?

•  to try to find a way to bomb Mexico?

•  to want to use a nuclear weapon on North Korea?

•  to say that he believed a murderous autocrat over his own country’s intelligence agencies?

•  to constantly mock the United States military and its generals and say that he—whose “military experience” ended in boarding school and, later, included a bone-spur deferment that got him out of being drafted into the armed services during the Vietnam War (thereby forcing some other young, less connected man from Queens to go in his stead)—knew better than all of them?

•  to say that certain members of Congress should “go back” to their own countries, when most of them were in fact born in the United States and the one who wasn’t became a citizen in 2000 at age 17?

•  to watch a dangerous virus spring to life across the globe and be warned universally by experts that his government had better be buying ventilators and masks—and resolutely refuse to do so?

•  to say, just as that virus was reaching American shores, that “when you have 15 people, and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero, that’s a pretty good job we’ve done”?

•  to make that statement, and many, many others like it, even while knowing that the truth was much uglier and the virus much more dangerous (“deadly stuff”) because he wanted to “play it down”?

•  to suggest seriously that people should inject chloride as a cure for that virus?

•  to wallow in such inaction that said inactions were responsible, according to a highly respected medical journal, for 461,000 excess U.S. deaths?

•  to order the tear-gassing of peaceful protesters so that he could walk to a church and use it as a prop, standing in front of it, holding a Bible?

•  to threaten to withhold crucial aid to a foreign head of state unless said head of state agreed to announce an investigation into his top political opponent?

•  to openly encourage an armed assault on the U.S. Capitol, marking the first time the Capitol was stormed by a mob since the War of 1812, and the first time ever it was stormed by Americans?

•  to make attempt after attempt to steal an election, telling lie after lie after lie on social media, eventually losing 61 of 63 court cases?

•  to make himself, day after exhausting day, hour after ceaseless hour, the center of attention, demanding that we focus our thoughts on him, as authoritarian leaders do?

I’ve barely scratched the surface here. The point, of course, is that no, Joe Biden is not “too old” to have done these things—people can be corrupt and venal and stupid and hateful and arrogant at any age. These are just things that Biden would never, ever do, because within his long life and political career there is an abundance of proof that he respects the Constitution, tradition, and our governing institutions.

So, to those voters more repulsed by Biden’s age than Trump’s deeds: Is your memory really that short? Do you seriously want to live through all this again? And all the above, of course, is to say nothing of the far worse things Trump has already told us he will do if he’s returned to the White House, from insisting on loyalty to him rather than the Constitution to handing Ukraine to Vladimir Putin.

I don’t believe that most voters are that shallow. Some may be, but most aren’t. However, they have to be reminded of all these things. The Democrats are going to have to inspire voters to recall what those four years of chaos, corruption, and misrule were like: living through the 30,753 lies, the constant tension and drama, the horrors of those early days of Covid that could have been much better (as they were in other countries), and the rest of the nonsense that peppered the tenure of the also-advanced-in-age Trump, when he had his chance to do it right seven years ago, and failed.  

Jim Jordan and Wisconsin Republicans Know the Law—They Just Don’t Care

Conservatism is no longer defined by resistance to liberal progress—it’s all about destroying the pillars of our democracy.

GOP Rep. Jim Jordan
Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images
GOP Representative Jim Jordan

Watching democracy die isn’t like watching a movie, where (at least in a well-constructed movie) the plot points are made clear to us, to make us sit up in our seats at the crucial points and help us follow along. It’s more like driving (in the pre-GPS world) along an unfamiliar road at night in the rain: You see things that appear to be landmarks, but you’re not sure of their significance and you’re always a little unsure that you’re going to arrive at your destination.

So let’s be clear about two things going on this week that are direct attacks on democracy. Jim Jordan’s attempt to interfere with Fani Willis’s prosecution of Donald Trump and Wisconsin Republicans’ threat to impeach recently elected state Supreme Court Justice Janet Protasiewicz represent blatant efforts to crush law and custom and exert anti-democratic power over duly elected officeholders who happen to be doing things they don’t like.

We start with Jordan, who has repeatedly made clear that all he cares about is power. He recently wrote to Willis demanding that she turn over certain documents relating to her decision to prosecute Trump. His ridiculous letter asserted a federal interest in overseeing local prosecutions. She replied this week with an incendiary letter of her own laying out all the ways in which he’s wrong.

Willis writes that it is “clear that you lack a basic understanding of the law, its practice, and the ethical obligations of attorneys generally and prosecutors specifically.” That may be true. But Jordan is a lawyer. I’d say it’s far more likely that Jordan knows the law and doesn’t care. He’s the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and he has the power to subvert or change the law if he wants to.

Willis enumerates the many reasons why the federal government in all its forms has refrained from interfering in local prosecutions. Again, I would guess that Jordan knows all this. This is the point. He and his staff understand federalism. They just wish to trample it. In this case, that is. If and when defending Donald Trump requires howling about the precious importance of federalism, they’ll do that.

Now, to Wisconsin. The GOP argument there with respect to Protasiewicz is that during her campaign, she accepted around $10 million in donations from the Democratic Party and therefore can’t rule honestly on gerrymandering cases that come before her.

That’s a lot of money, and it surely helped her win—a victory that put liberals in charge of the state’s highest court for the first time in years. But what really helped her win—by double digits—was Republican extremism, especially on abortion rights. And here’s the thing. There is nothing illegal in Wisconsin law about accepting such donations. And judicial candidates of both parties have done so. Not to the tune of $10 million, to be sure, but they’ve taken the money (her Republican opponent took $1.2 million in party money). Wisconsin Republicans have not, of course, complained when conservative justices have heard cases involving their donors.

On what basis can the GOP impeach a judge who hasn’t violated any law and hasn’t done anything wrong? And remember, Republicans aren’t accusing her of having done anything wrong. They’re just saying she might make a ruling that might appear to be corrupt. And the reason they’re saying that is that Wisconsin is arguably the most corruptly gerrymandered state in the country. In last year’s midterms, Democratic Assembly candidates won about 200,000 more votes overall, but the Republicans maintained their two-thirds majority in the lower chamber.

In sum: Wisconsin is functionally not a real democracy in which each vote counts equally. The voters elected a judge who campaigned according to the existing laws and whose presence threatens to make the state a functioning democracy (there’s a lawsuit about gerrymandering that’s moving up toward the high court). The Republican response? Remove her from the bench.

That these two events are happening in the same week allows us to reflect on what has become of so-called conservatism. A conservative is someone who, well, conserves. As liberals see social problems and press for change to address them, conservatives say, Hey, wait a minute; let’s stop and think about the consequences of overreaction here, and about what we might be losing if we make the changes liberals want. I don’t agree with that stance and never have. But I acknowledge that it’s a legitimate way to look at the world, and I even acknowledge that sometimes, the conservative impulse can contribute to a decent, balanced outcome (or could, back in the days when there was actual compromise).

But these radicals don’t want to “conserve” anything, except for white people’s political power. They want to destroy. They aren’t just willing to trample law and custom. They are eager to do so. This must be understood. They seek opportunities to hack away at the pillars and foundations of democracy. They used to try to be sneaky and at least a little bit subtle about it. But since Trump, that’s out the window. In late 2018, it was this same Wisconsin Legislature, you may recall, that used its lame-duck session to move, after the election win of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tony Evers, to limit the incoming governor’s powers.

We may be driving down an unfamiliar road here. But now we have GPS, and we know the destination. We need to take note of the landmarks along the way. And we—and by “we” in this case, I mean mainly the mainstream press and the swing voters who still think both parties are equally corrupt—need to stop pretending that this is a normal American political party. It’s an authoritarian army of thugs in suits.

This article first appeared in Fighting Words, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by editor Michael Tomasky. Sign up here.

Why Republicans Are About to Throw Mitch McConnell to the Wolves

It has as much to do with Biden as it does Trump.

McConnell’s freezing incident in July
Drew Angerer/Getty Images
The scene from McConnell’s freezing incident in July

It was hard to watch that Mitch McConnell video. That’s the second time he’s gone blanko in recent weeks in front of the cameras. We have no idea how often it’s happened when he wasn’t in front of the cameras. But odds are pretty good those aren’t the only two times.

Word is that some senators are considering a meeting to try to figure out what to do about this. There does exist a rump anti-McConnell faction of a sort: Florida GOP Senator Rick Scott, the old Medicare fraudster, mounted a challenge to McConnell last year. It failed badly, but Scott did get 10 votes. One Republican senator told Politico that any attempt to dethrone McConnell “will be a rerun of last time.”

I’m sure that’s true today. But I wonder how long it will hold. The reason is pretty simple: The McConnell video is really about Joe Biden.

Why? Age, obviously. McConnell is 81. Biden is 80. Trump and the GOP (and Fox News and One America and Sinclair and so on) are going to be making Biden’s age a major issue in the presidential campaign. And I have to say you can’t blame them. Polls show that Biden’s age is obviously his greatest vulnerability.

This seems to set up a situation where his fellow Republicans are going to throw McConnell to the wolves. Think about it. If they keep McConnell and defend him and say everything’s fine, they’re saying that an octogenarian who is clearly losing his connection to terra firma is just fine, everything’s hunky dory, and he’s totally up to the job. That is implicitly saying that Biden too is up to the job of president. And that is something they cannot do.

They can’t do it for plain political reasons because they would be taking an untenably hypocritical position (not that that ever stops them, but this is a high-profile matter). But it’s even more than that: They can’t do it because it would offend Dear Leader, and that, above all, they cannot do.

Donald Trump wants to talk, and talk, about Biden’s age. But he can’t do that effectively if his own party is keeping an 81-year-old man in his rigorous job. Especially when that 81-year-old man has had episodes like these last two.

And besides that, Trump hates McConnell, as we know. The aspersions are numerous. Earlier this month at a South Carolina dinner, where Lindsey Graham was once again sitting at the top of Mount Genuflection, Trump said: “These guys, what they’re doing with the election interference and the Senate has to step up and do something. The House is doing a lot of things. The Senate, under perhaps the worst leader in the history of the country running the Senate, Mitch McConnell, has to stand up and do something.” He also speculated that the Democrats must “have something” on McConnell. That’s Trump’s way of saying that he has something on McConnell, which he wants McConnell to believe, whether it’s true or not.

McConnell may be safe for now as his colleagues rally around him. But if he has one more episode, that’ll be three, and three is (for no particularly good reason, but it is) a magic number when it comes to these sorts of things. People will start asking then, if not before, how the GOP can stand behind McConnell yet call Biden too old. Trump will make his party choose: It’s Mitch or me. And they’ll throw McConnell to the wolves.

Mind you, I’m not suggesting we throw a pity party here. McConnell has set a pretty high bar of Trump capitulation himself over the years. In 2016, he offered Trump high praise right before the election. In 2020, The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer wrote a long profile that called McConnell Trump’s “enabler-in-chief.” True, McConnell has criticized Trump here and there, most memorably in that speech after the second impeachment. But remember—that speech came after McConnell voted to acquit.

That was the key moment right there, the moment that history will remember. McConnell reportedly told an aide at the time, “The Democrats will take care of the son of a bitch for us.” But this wasn’t true and couldn’t be true, and he knew it. The Democrats had 50 Senate votes, and 67 are needed to convict. Seven Senate Republicans voted with the Democrats. But McConnell had it in his power to direct 10 more votes toward conviction. He chickened out.

So did Kevin McCarthy, who on January 6 itself was outraged at Trump’s actions. But both men pulled back. In their book This Will Not Pass, New York Times reporters Alexander Burns and Jonathan Martin wrote: “The leaders’ swift retreat in January 2021 represented a capitulation at a moment of extraordinary political weakness for Mr. Trump—perhaps the last and best chance for mainstream Republicans to reclaim control of their party from a leader who had stoked an insurrection against American democracy itself.”

That was the one chance Republicans had to seize their party back from Trump (and just return to the normal, pre-Trump, run-of-the-mill racist dog-whistling, xenophobia, and warmongering). And it was all in McConnell’s hands, much more than McCarthy’s. The votes of 10 more Senate GOP heavyweights, including McConnell’s own vote, might not have sealed Trump’s fate; his following would still have been rabid. But a conviction would have emboldened many in the party to speak out against Trump and start to move past him.

McConnell couldn’t do it. His stated reason—that there were constitutional issues raised by convicting a president who was no longer in office—was a thin rationale. He was afraid. He needed to hold on to his power. And now he’s held on too long. I don’t wish the man ill health. But if I’m right, and this ends up being his downfall, all because of a man he once had the power to neutralize but did not, it will be the kind of ignoble end that a man who turned the U.S. Senate into an ideological gutter deserves.

This article first appeared in Fighting Words, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by editor Michael Tomasky. Sign up here.

Are We Going to Let Prisoner P01135809 Destroy Our 250-Year-Old Democracy?

It’s frightening to imagine what Donald Trump might do next.

Fulton County Sheriff’s Office

It’s not just unprecedented that we now have an ex-president with a mug shot. It’s insanely, amazingly, staggeringly, chillingly unprecedented. It makes me think about the past—about how we got to this insane, amazing, staggering, chilling point. And it makes me think about the future—about what grim precedent Trump will drag us into next.

We got here because Donald Trump, now also known as Prisoner P01135809, has never had any regard for laws of any kind. We’ve known this for decades. When I was a young reporter in New York, and Trump was not yet a wannabe dictator, and the working-class men of the heartland registered him in their minds (if at all) as a swanky Manhattan rich guy who had nothing to do with their lives, Trump’s habits and attitudes were well known in New York. Sometimes, people went at him, but no one ever got him. And often, the people with the power to do so didn’t even go at him.

Robert Morgenthau, the Manhattan district attorney for most of the years Trump was operating in New York, left his office in 2009 with a sterling reputation. And he largely deserved it. But the record does tell us, as Morgenthau’s biographer Andrew Meier wrote in The New York Times earlier this year, that Trump befriended Morgenthau, and the D.A. reciprocated. Trump donated to Morgenthau’s campaigns and his pet charities. Morgenthau accepted an invitation to stay in Mar-a-Lago.

And yet, late in life—Morgenthau lived to be 100, and three years into Trump’s presidency—he seemed to have some regret. Meier visited him not long before his July 2019 death and asked him what his greatest fear was, to which Morgenthau answered: “Trump.”

Trump was sued and deposed over and over and over, but he always had the money and the legal architecture to wiggle out. Like it or not, there’s a complex calculus involving the extent to which the law will pursue a rich and famous man who builds glitzy buildings and makes donations to the Police Athletic League. Prosecutors, too, have budgets, and they think twice before committing them to the pursuit of people who have the power to fend them off for years.

But once a person enters public life, the calculus changes. Then, the money and power and PAL checks don’t matter anymore. All that can no longer insulate you. Presidents take an oath, and they are subject to federal and state laws. Period.

And so Trump’s great, improbable triumph—his ascension to the presidency—was also his fatal mistake: He finally put himself in a position where the law, however slowly, could catch up with him. He didn’t understand or accept this, of course, because he always thought of himself as above the law. He is probably shocked to find that there are potential consequences to saying to a state official that the official just needs to find him 11,780 votes. There’d never been consequences before for anything.

So that, in sum, is how we got here. It’s a simple and very American story of money, influence, and power. And while I wouldn’t say it could only happen in New York, the city was easily the most likely place for it to happen, because New York—especially in the 1980s and 1990s, when money, influence, and power really began to swallow the whole place, its possessors lionized in the newly celebrity-obsessed media—was far more susceptible to a Trump than any other American city.

As for where we’re headed: Well, quickly, let’s review. The precedents Trump has set: winning the presidency with help (wittingly or not, we don’t know, at least from a legal perspective) of Russia; believing Russia’s dictator over his own intelligence agencies; saying, as president, that there were “good people” among the white supremacists who marched with torches in a Southern city; getting impeached twice; refusing to accept election results; losing 60-odd court cases toward the end of overturning that result; and, finally, getting indicted four times.

What’s next? The trials, of course. But what else? Miles Taylor, the former (and repentant) Trump official who is the author of Blowback, told Nicolle Wallace on her MSNBC show Thursday: “All of these things lend themselves to a more volatile and combustible situation. We are about to find out in the next couple of weeks what law enforcement in this country actually thinks about it. Usually in September, we have the heads of the intelligence agencies and the FBI come up and testify before Congress. I predict they will come up and say that the political violence factors and trajectory in this country are worse than it was before, and they are worried about 2024. I think you will hear from the FBI, as well as the Department of Homeland Security, probably around the beginning of September.”

I don’t want to make irresponsible predictions. But am I worried about violence? Should we all be worried about violence? Tucker Carlson asked Trump this question Wednesday. Presidents, of course, usually urge people against such a course when asked such a question. Trump—and here’s another new precedent—did not: “There’s a level of passion that I’ve never seen, [and] there’s a level of hatred that I’ve never seen, and that’s probably a bad combination.”

How do you think they heard that in Proud Boys–Oath Keepers–MAGA land?

The next election is about many things: abortion rights, civil rights, the fate of the planet, and more. But it’s really about one thing: whether one man can corrupt and destroy a 250-year-old democracy. That we’re this unsure of the answer is terrifying.

This article first appeared in Fighting Words, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by editor Michael Tomasky. Sign up here.

Donald Trump’s Lawyer Is Dumber Than Donald Trump

Yes, Alina Habba is out of her depth. But John Lauro takes the cake in the former president’s legal clown show.

Mario Tama/Getty Images
“Only the best”!

Donald Trump has had quite a run of lawyers. There’s Alina Habba, the camera-hungry counsel who decided to hold a news conference before Trump’s arraignment yesterday and ranted about Hunter Biden before admitting, one presumes accidentally: “I think that everybody was made aware that he lost the election, but that doesn’t mean that was the only advice he was given.”

They’ve been a clown show almost top to bottom, but it looks like John Lauro, who’s taken the public lead this week, is topping them all. He started the week peddling the free speech argument against the indictment, which has been pulverized by many people, such that I don’t even need to go into it. But just to toss in my own quick two cents: If I say to John that Jeff is a terrible person and should die, that’s free speech; if I say to John that Jeff is terrible person and we should conspire to murder him, that’s criminal intent. Pretty simple.

But Lauro really outdid himself Thursday night on Laura Ingraham’s show. Early in his segment, he said to Ingraham that before January 6, Trump had voiced his support for Mike Pence to refuse to certify the Electoral College votes and send the presidential election back to the states. Then, a little later, Lauro said: “What President Trump said is, ‘Let’s go with option D. Let’s just halt, let’s just pause the voting and allow the state legislatures to take one last look and make a determination as to whether or not the elections were handled fairly.’ That’s constitutional law. That’s not an issue of criminal activity.”

Um … whut? That is exactly an admission of criminal activity! It’s an admission that Trump was urging Pence to violate the Electoral Count Act, which requires him to preside ceremonially over the counting and approve it. In fact, Lauro was describing a conversation that is recorded in the indictment! Go look. It’s in paragraph 93: “The Defendant and Co-Conspirator 2 then asked the Vice President to either unilaterally reject the legitimate electors from the seven targeted states, or send the question of which slate was legitimate to the targeted states’ legislatures.”

Over on MSNBC, they were quick to pounce. “That is a Trump criminal defense lawyer quoting Donald Trump committing a crime,” said Lawrence O’Donnell.

This is a pattern with these people. Go back to late 2020, after the election, and think of all the arguments Rudy Giuliani was making on Fox and Newsmax. They were, if true, monstrous and outlandish charges about voter theft. But a funny thing happened whenever he found himself in an actual courtroom: He didn’t say those things, because he knew they’d never fly and he had no actual evidence. But that didn’t prevent him from saying those things on national television, over and over, with so much conviction that his hair dye ran down his face.

The above are lies, but they’re just stupid lies. They’re dangerous and destructive, but we don’t really have to take them that seriously since they get laughed out of court and show these people to be such incompetent bumblers. There’s another set of lies, however, that we need to take more seriously, because these lies constitute direct attacks on our system of government. These lies are fascist.

I’m thinking here, to name one of many possible examples, of Lindsey Graham, who told Sean Hannity, “Well, Sean, any conviction in D.C. against Donald Trump is not legitimate.”

Think about that. That’s a U.S. senator saying that the American system of justice is illegitimate—that the jury system isn’t to be trusted. He’s not alone, of course. They’re all piling on about a D.C. jury (and yes, there aren’t many MAGA-heads living in the nation’s capital, but I think we all know what else that means, between the lines).

Do you know how far back the principle of trial by jury goes? They had jury trials in Ancient Greece. In the Roman Republic. It was enshrined in the Magna Carta (that’s 1215). And the principle was absolutely crucial to the Founders. John Adams: “Representative government and trial by jury are the heart and lungs of liberty. Without them we have no other fortification against being ridden like horses, fleeced like sheep, worked like cattle, and fed and clothed like swine and hounds.”

They were fine with the jury system, of course, when we were all talking about Aileen Cannon’s courtroom down in Fort Pierce, Florida, in a county that Trump carried. Then, they didn’t complain. And you know what? I didn’t either, and I didn’t hear a single Democrat talk crazy smack on the jury system. I wasn’t wild about it, or about the fact that the classified documents case got assigned to Cannon in the first place, but them’s the breaks.

They will say anything, do anything, attack anything, allege anything, lie about anything, repeat anything, proclaim anything, insinuate anything, and imply anything. Except of course anything that’s true. They are turning the country and its principles upside down. They are fomenting a furious army of acolytes who own a lot of guns. When Trump is convicted here, as it appears he will be, given that his lawyer just admitted to it, what will they do?

This article first appeared in Fighting Words, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by editor Michael Tomasky. Sign up here.

Trump Is an Extremely Dumb Fascist

The latest criminal indictment highlights his idiocy—but also the threat he still poses to American democracy.


Fascism is not a political program. It’s different from every other -ism in this way. Capitalism means something specific: private ownership of the means of production. Communism means the opposite: state (or worker) ownership of the means of production. Socialism is, or used to be, a softer form of communism. It’s hard to say what it means now, and by the way, Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are not democratic socialists. They’re social democrats—Google the difference, and you’ll see what I mean.

Anyway. Fascism is a sensibility far more than it is a political program. The word comes to us from ancient Rome, where the fasces was a bound bundle of wooden rods with an ax (or sometimes two) that symbolized political power. It wasn’t always bad; next time you visit the Lincoln Memorial, look below Abe’s hands—those are fasces. They were literal back in Rome, and Cincinnatus, who served as dictator for just 16 days, is famous for having spurned them. He remains one of the few leaders in history who refused absolute power and returned to private life, the other prominent one being our own George Washington, who easily could have made himself dictator in the mid-1780s but refused to do so. The day in 1783 when he stopped off in Annapolis, where the Continental Congress was meeting, and resigned his military commission is the day the United States became a republic.

Fascism developed its modern meaning in Italy in the 1920s, under Benito Mussolini. He coined the term in 1919. He ascribed to it certain attributes—absolute state power over private enterprise, racial superiority of the majority group—but it really revolved around the power of the dictator, the dictator’s emotional connection to his followers, and their complete obeisance to him. It’s mystical and hard to describe. It can’t be defined in any constitution. It’s just something you can see and feel. I once saw a clip of Adolf Hitler giving a speech. After he was introduced and the applause quieted, he stood silent at the podium for almost a minute before he started speaking, quietly. That minute was fascism.

That is what Donald Trump wants. He already has it, in the sense that his rallies are fascist rallies. His backers surrender themselves to him in a way that small-d democratic admirers of Barack Obama and George W. Bush did not. This is why his poll numbers among Republicans go up and up. He has cemented the mystical bond. What he lacks, for now, is the power. We’re in a race now between republicanism, rule by citizens for the common good, and fascism, rule by a dictator for the good of his followers.

In a democratic society, the law is the most efficient means by which to arrest fascism. This is why Trump faces indictments. It’s the surest way to stop him. Smart fascists know this, and they either stay within the law or, perhaps paradoxically, violate it so flagrantly that they end up redefining what “the law” even is. Fortunately for us, Trump is a dumb fascist, and his ignorance may prove to be his Achilles’ heel. We also—again fortunately—have a system and set of laws and traditions that are stronger than those of, say, Weimar Germany, so Trump hasn’t yet been able to pollute them, although if he is reelected, he certainly will.

The new felony charges announced Thursday evening by the office of special counsel Jack Smith are simultaneously shocking and unsurprising. It stands to reason that Trump wanted the computer server that hosted Mar-a-Lago security video deleted. Yes, it’s especially ironic, given the way he carried on about Hillary Clinton’s server in 2016, but this too is a key attribute of fascism: Fascists do precisely the thing they accuse their opponents of doing. In August 1939, Goebbels accused the Poles of violence against Germans in the Danzig Corridor. It’s the only way fascism can work; to get the people to believe the opposite of the truth. Even Trump, dumb as he is, instinctively knows this.

Look at his recent statements. “This is prosecutorial misconduct used at a level never seen before. If I weren’t leading Biden by a lot in numerous polls, and wasn’t going to be the Republican nominee, it wouldn’t be happening. It wouldn’t be happening.… But I am way up as a Republican and way up in the general election, and this is what you get.”

He’s not ahead of Joe Biden. It’s a close race—disturbingly so—but, according to RealClearPolitics, Biden is narrowly ahead. And of course it’s not prosecutorial misconduct. Grand juries—American citizens—indicted Trump, not prosecutors. The only prosecutorial misconduct in Trump’s life was the laxity of the New York prosecutors who failed to nab him over the past 40 years. If they’d been doing their job, the nation might have been spared this turmoil.

With these next two indictments, assuming they happen, the mystical bond will grow deeper. Trump’s lies will intensify; his movement will become more openly fascistic. The law is the surest way to stop all this. But even convictions won’t end it. They’ll keep him out of the White House, most likely, but the Republican Party has probably been permanently transformed. The next Trump can’t wait to grab the fasces.

This article first appeared in Fighting Words, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by editor Michael Tomasky. Sign up here.

McCarthy’s Vow to Erase Trump’s Impeachment Sums Up the GOP’s Sickness

Little Kevin has just hurt either himself or Donald Trump.

Photo by David McNew/Getty Images
The GOP brain trust at work

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy came out Thursday and denied that he had promised Donald Trump votes on expunging his two impeachments by the House. Politico Playbook broke the story that Trump, angry that McCarthy had said, last month, that Trump might not be the GOP’s strongest presidential candidate for 2024, asked—er, “asked”—McCarthy to endorse him for president. Wanting to stay neutral, McCarthy reportedly put Trump off by promising to hold votes on wiping his impeachments from history’s obelisk.

The notion, of course, is chimerical. There’s no provision in the Constitution or in law for impeachments to be officially erased, so they would remain in the historical record. The votes would be purely for Trump’s ego. Anyway: “There’s no deal,” McCarthy told reporters Thursday, adding, however, that “I support expungement.”

Why the denial? Because the matter puts McCarthy in a horrible bind. We’ll get to that, but the more interesting point here for our purposes is how this shows what a shell the party of Lincoln has become. Everything that’s sick and warped and desiccated about today’s Republican Party is present in this deal (or “deal,” if McCarthy is to be believed).

What, precisely, is sick and warped and desiccated about today’s Republican Party? At least three things.

Number one: It’s a cult of one man—not a political party anymore in any remote sense of the word. Trump says jump, and they ask how high. In fact, these days, Trump rarely even has to say jump. A certain situation arises, and congressional Republicans anticipate that he’s about to say jump, so they start jumping, trying to guess the height that will please him most.

Elise Stefanik, the upstate New York congresswoman whose tongue must be purple from all the Kool-Aid she’s slurped down, is leading the chorus of jumpers here. And there are plenty of others. It so happens that this resolution is in trouble (more on which in a bit). But the fact that something this extreme is even being considered is proof of the congressional GOP’s servility.

Number two: The party is driven more than ever by its extremes, which is something that has never been the case for any political party in American history. You’ll recall, when Democrats had the majority, Nancy Pelosi was obsessed about what she called her “frontline” members—the vulnerable ones in purple districts. She was loath to make them cast a politically tough vote. This made her more progressive members grumpy at times. McCarthy is exactly the opposite. He has a few moderate-ish members (again, more on which in a bit), but just about everything he’s done so far has been to pander to the hard right.

Number three: There is no normal small-d democratic accountability in the GOP anymore. In theory, American political parties are accountable to the voters. But because of the way Republicans have gerrymandered congressional districts, most Republicans can’t lose—except to a primary challenger who’s even more MAGA than they are.

And that in a nutshell is why the party has become what it has become: an extremist cult that has no incentive to behave otherwise—and in fact has every incentive to keep behaving exactly this way or worse.

Now: What makes this episode delicious is that there is no good outcome for the GOP. Since the story broke, a number of House Republicans have said, on the record or on background, that they’re not so enthusiastic about this. Why? Because they think it might fail on a floor vote. Why? Because there are 18 Republican House members who represent districts Joe Biden won, and they’re terrified of having to vote on this. They’d all, or mostly, want to vote “no.” And they know very well what would happen: Trump would find a primary opponent to run against them, and those candidates would have instant access to big dollars and would be lionized by the right-wing media. So they might vote “yes” to prevent that from happening—in which case they would hand their Democratic opponents instant clubs with which to hammer them. McCarthy’s five-seat majority would be at serious risk.

You get the picture, I trust. There are three possible outcomes here, and all of them are bad for the GOP:

1. It comes to the floor and passes. A, they look ridiculous to swing voters. B, this will require the votes of at least some of the Bidenland 18, who’ll be instantly vulnerable.

2. It comes to the floor and fails. A total humiliation for McCarthy and Trump. Especially the latter.

3. McCarthy somehow doesn’t bring it to the floor at all. Trump is livid. The base is furious at “My Kevin.” Trump still looks weak, because everyone will know that the vote didn’t happen because Republicans feared it wouldn’t pass, endangering McCarthy’s speakership because he failed Dear Leader.

It’s great fun to watch. But it’s really tragic for the country. Step back and mull it over. A sitting president tried to subvert a foreign leader into getting involved in an American presidential campaign, threatening to withhold aid unless the leader did so. A clearly impeachable offense. Then he literally led an insurrection against the government he’s supposed to lead—an offense that was not only clearly impeachable but, as we appear to be about to learn from special counsel Jack Smith, may well have been criminal.

And the response of his party? To try to wipe these crimes from the books. I hope they succeed. It’s clear at this point that some percentage of the American electorate needs to be hit over the head to finally see the Republican Party for what it is. Expungement is the blunt instrument that might just do it.