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Remember That Time Elon Musk Tried to Start a Comedy Website?

In remembrance of Thud

Taylor Hill/Getty Images

There are various plausible explanations for why Elon Musk acquired Twitter. Maybe, blinded by incompetent ego, Musk believes he alone can make Twitter transcend new boundaries. Perhaps his billionaire lifestyle has led him to desire new stimulation, and that comes in the form of owning one of the largest social media companies in the world.

Or possibly, Musk still holds on to his foregone dreams of being seen as funny, which is why he was so tickled to announce “comedy is now legal on Twitter” after buying it.

In March 2018, Musk tweeted “Thud!” and announced his new “intergalactic media empire,” a satire project he was pursuing with former Onion editors Ben Berkley and Cole Bolton.

The idea behind Thud was to bring satire into the real world, creating ambiguity between reality and parody. This involved the creation of distinct websites promoting items like satirical ancestry tracing services and endlessly shooting guns.

The vision was ambitious given how difficult it would be to generate much advertising revenue on largely distributed content, without even a central homepage for fans to stay plugged in. But the challenge only animated Musk’s imperious pioneering spirit. “It’s pretty obvious that comedy is the next frontier after electric vehicles, space exploration, and brain-computer interfaces,” Musk told The Daily Beast. “Don’t know how anyone’s not seeing this.”

The fate of Thud gave a clue as to how Musk would run Twitter, which is to say, not really at all. The Verge reported that Musk hadn’t planned to make much of a profit with Thud, and he didn’t really establish a plan to guide the project’s progress. He mostly just threw money at it. And when he began to worry that the project’s work could harm SpaceX or Tesla’s reputations, he pulled out, selling the company to Berkley and Bolton in January 2019—months before Thud even launched in March.

Thud continued pushing projects out as long as it could before shutting down in May 2019.

Though Thud’s vision may have been overly ambitious, it wasn’t just the fault of Berkley and Bolton. They had an idea, and acted accordingly with the financial backing of Elon Musk. That the company fizzled out had a lot to do with a bored billionaire who throws money wherever his mind wanders next, with little interest in maintaining a sense of accountability with those ventures.

As The Onion itself suggested years ago:

After Deadly UVA Shooting, Republicans Are Really Worried About … the Pride Flag in Schools

The far-right account Libs of TikTok is at it again.

Paul Chinn/The San Francisco Chronicle/Getty Images

Despite the fact that a University of Virginia student opened fire on his former football teammates over the weekend—the latest in a grim trend of U.S. school shootings—somehow guns are not what Republicans are worried about in schools.

The far-right account Libs of TikTok tweeted a photo Monday of an LGBTQ pride display in a Georgia middle school, along with the fearmongering caption: “Imagine walking into your child’s school and seeing this.”

Social justice activist Matt Bernstein snapped back that there might actually be something a little more frightening.

According to the Gun Violence Archive, there have been at least 115 gun-related incidents that resulted in a minimum of one person dying or being injured at or near schools this year. That includes suicides on campus.

Of those 115 incidents, 12 were mass shootings, which the Gun Violence Archive defines as shootings with at least four victims either injured or killed.

Those mass shootings include the horrific massacre at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas (22 dead, 17 injured); an attack on a graduation ceremony in Hot Springs, Arkansas (one dead, four injured); another on a high school in St. Louis, Missouri (three dead, four injured); and Sunday’s shooting at UVA.

The shooter, a former football player, opened fire on the team as they were returning from a game. Three players were killed and another two students wounded. The shooter was charged Monday with three counts of second-degree murder and three counts of using a handgun in the commission of a felony.

The U.S. has a long history of gun-related violence, but tighter regulations have been slow to materialize. Congress passed a landmark bipartisan gun-control law over the summer, but it has many opponents, including on Capitol Hill.

Even Fox News Cut Away From Donald Trump’s 2024 Announcement Speech

Not once, but multiple times

Eva Marie Uzcategui/Bloomberg via Getty Images

In a further sign the Republican establishment is souring on Donald Trump, Fox News cut away multiple times from his ill-advised presidential campaign announcement.

Trump announced Tuesday night that he would run for president a third time—a move that goes against the counsel of many of his advisers, former allies, and even the Republican Party at large.

Multiple news outlets chose to limit how much of Trump’s rambling, more-than-hour-long speech they showed, but the biggest shock came when Fox News—typically a Trump stalwart—cut away about halfway through the speech.

The speech began just after Sean Hannity, a longtime Trump confidant who has appeared at several of the former president’s rallies, went on air. After about 40 minutes, Hannity cut away to network commentators.

After about 15 minutes, Hannity switched back to the speech, but Fox eventually cut off Trump’s closing statements in favor of starting host Laura Ingraham’s talk show.

Trump still has allies: Several of the Fox commentators praised his speech, calling it “pitch-perfect” and saying the former president was “in as good a form as you’ve ever seen him,” and Representative Elise Stefanik said last week she would support his presidential run.

But the majority of the GOP—and even the country—seems to be over it.

Trump’s 2020 campaign spokeswoman Sarah Matthews called his announcement “low-energy” and “uninspiring.” Former Trump White House communications director Alyssa Farah Griffin, who called Trump a “loser” on election night, quipped: “You try being high energy when you’re running for President primarily to try to avoid indictment!”

In fact, the speech was so low-energy that people tried to leave early, but they were blocked by event staffers.

The New York Post, another formerly Trump-loyal outlet, kept its coverage of his speech short and to the point … and off the front page:

The announcement also comes after the midterm elections, which served as another kind of indictment on Trump’s political power: Not only was there no predicted “red wave,” but 34 Trump-backed candidates lost their races.

Voters were already shifting away from Trump before the GOP’s disastrous midterms. A Pew Research poll found that only 60 percent of Republicans and right-leaning independents viewed him favorably, down from 67 percent in the summer of 2021.

Postelection polls show many voters are already setting their sights on a new party leader: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.

After Ruining Twitter 1.0, Musk Announces Race to Build “Twitter 2.0”

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

Britta Pedersen/Pool/Getty Images

After laying off half of Twitter’s workers, allowing some of the most crucial ones to resign, and firing yet more staff if they tweeted anything he didn’t like, Elon Musk is now making final cuts for anyone not ready to be “working long hours at high intensity.”

On Wednesday morning, Musk sent an email to Twitter staff offering an ultimatum. “Going forward, to build a breakthrough Twitter 2.0 and succeed in an increasingly competitive world, we will need to be extremely hardcore,” he began. “Only exceptional performance will constitute a passing grade.”

Musk wrote that anyone who does not express their interest in being “part of the new Twitter,” by 5 p.m. E.T. Thursday would receive three months of severance pay.

Even if a worker indicates their will to stay, however, there’s no guarantee that their desire for continued employment will be honored. “Those writing great code will constitute the majority of our team and have the greatest sway,” Musk wrote, describing how Twitter 2.0 will apparently be much more “engineering-driven.”

The letter comes after a persistent stream of chaos coming from inside Twitter.

According to The New York Times, Musk has directed his team to comb through staff members’ tweets and Slack messages and create lists of people making fun of him. Numerous employees have been fired accordingly. Others were fired after simply pointing out that Musk’s technical understanding of how Twitter works is wrong.

Crucial staff including the chief information security officer and chief compliance officer resigned, leaving individual engineers responsible for Federal Trade Commission compliance.

Ad agencies with clients including Apple and McDonald’s have recommended campaign suspensions, joining a burgeoning list of advertisers fleeing the company.

Amid all this, Musk—a grown man in charge of a $44 billion company—has used his time judiciously. Earlier, he joined the replies of viciously transphobic and racist Twitter account “Libs of Tiktok” to make an ableist joke. He also spent time trolling Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey—who then reminded Musk that both his companies are under FTC and NHTSA scrutiny. Markey serves on Senate subcommittees focused on media, as well as consumer protection and data security.

And that is all just a taste of how Twitter 1.0 has gone under Musk. We can only dream of what Twitter 2.0 will hold!

Apparently Unable to Read the Room, Donald Trump Announces 2024 Bid for President

The twice-impeached, twice-popular-vote-losing former president made his announcement shortly after a disappointing midterm election for Republicans.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Against the will of his advisers, many of his party’s officials, and a large chunk of the country, Donald Trump is running for president for a third consecutive time.

“America’s comeback starts right now,” Trump announced Tuesday night at Mar-a-Lago. “Two years ago, when I left office, the United States stood ready for its golden age. Our nation was at the pinnacle of power, propserity, and prestige,” he added, without making any mention of his attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 election and remain in power, going so far as to lead the January 6 riot at the Capitol.

The announcement comes as the GOP lies in shambles after a disappointing midterm election.

Many Republicans had predicted their party would win up to 55 Senate seats. Fox News’s Power Rankings team predicted the party would secure 236 seats in the House. Instead, the Senate balance is 50–49 in favor of the Democrats, pending Georgia’s runoff; the House balance will only narrowly favor the Republicans, after a series of Democratic upsets.

And a whopping 34 Trump-endorsed candidates lost their elections—many of whom Republicans expected to win.

Since the red wave’s crash, numerous Republicans have indicated a desire to shun a potential third Trump run. Postelection polls already show a massive shift from Trump to DeSantis within the Republican base.

On NBC, Louisiana Senator Bill Cassidy said, “We’re not a cult. We’re not like, ‘OK, there’s one person who leads our party.’” He went on to say, “Elections are about winning. And so if folks want to look at these election results and decide that’s where you want us to continue to be, then we’re not going to do well.”

On CBS, Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton said Republicans have many “other important leaders” besides Trump, including Georgia’s Brian Kemp, Florida’s Ron DeSantis, Virginia’s Glenn Youngkin, and South Carolina’s Tim Scott. Each has been floated as a 2024 contender.

And while some Republicans speak in innuendo, others have been more explicit.

Alabama Representative and former Trump ally Mo Brooks told AL.com, “It would be a bad mistake for the Republicans to have Donald Trump as their nominee in 2024.” 

“Donald Trump has proven himself to be dishonest, disloyal, incompetent, crude and a lot of other things that alienate so many independents and Republicans,” he added. Brooks endorsed DeSantis, as well as Senators Ted Cruz of Texas or Rand Paul of Kentucky, as possible 2024 alternatives to Trump.

Calling Trump the GOP’s 800-pound-gorilla, outgoing Maryland Governor Larry Hogan unapologetically hammered Trump: “It’s basically the third election in a row that Donald Trump has cost us the race,” Hogan said on CNN. “This should have been a huge red wave.… People who tried to relitigate the 2020 election and focused on conspiracy theories … they were all almost universally rejected.”

Republican strategist Scott Jennings, who has advised Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in the past, was straightforward, tweeting: “How could you look at these results tonight and conclude Trump has any chance of winning a national election in 2024?”

Republicans also worry Trump’s announcement will hurt Republican Herschel Walker’s runoff bid against Georgia Senator Raphael Warnock, by increasing Democratic voter turnout.

As Trump announced his candidacy, his potential rival DeSantis was addressing a closed-door Republican Governors Association meeting with donors. Meanwhile, Trump and his allies are still embroiled in a legal mess, under several subpoena orders with regard to efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

Republicans flopped in the midterms. Kevin McCarthy is barely hanging onto a House majority. Mitch McConnell’s leadership is being threatened. And Trump, who has never won the popular vote, has now entered the race for president for a third time.

Good luck, Republicans.

Rick Scott, Who Oversaw One of the Largest Medicaid Frauds in History, Wants to Be Senate GOP Leader

Well, if the leader is supposed to accurately represent their party … maybe not a bad choice!

Alex Wong/Getty Images

On Tuesday, Florida Senator Rick Scott announced his intention to run for the Senate Republican leader, challenging current leader Mitch McConnell.

It’s not surprising Scott is attempting to become the Senate minority leader after chairing the committee (the National Republican Senatorial Committee) tasked with giving Republicans the majority. After all, he has a history of failing upward.

The former hospital company CEO oversaw what was the biggest case of Medicare fraud at the time. Under his leadership, Columbia/HCA gave kickbacks to doctors to refer patients and then made patients’ conditions appear worse than they were so Medicare would pay more.

When Scott was forced out of the company as it was under investigation, he left with $300 million in stock, a $5.1 million severance, and a $950,000-per-year consulting contract for five years. The hospital, meanwhile, was fined $1.7 billion, the largest health care fraud settlement in history until that point.

Now, as Scott guns for a promotion, he’s looking to shirk accountability once again.

“Like each of you, I am deeply disappointed by the results of the recent election,” Scott said in a letter to his colleagues announcing his candidacy. “Despite what the armchair quarterbacks on TV will tell you, there is no one person responsible for our party’s performance across the country. I know there is no shortage of people who are eager to point fingers and assign blame here in Washington, but I won’t be one of them.”

Unfortunately for Scott, fingers are largely pointed at him.

For months, Scott was criticized for seeming more interested in laying the groundwork for a potential 2024 presidential bid than sufficiently managing the Senate Republicans’ campaign arm. From cutting NRSC ads featuring himself rather than fellow Republicans to visiting Iowa, Scott hasn’t exactly toned down obvious ambition.

Meanwhile, the NRSC under Scott has been under fire for mismanaging funds and lacking the wherewithal to fund critical races. “If they [NRSC] were a corporation, the CEO would be fired and investigated,” one Republican consultant told The Washington Post.

And in the lead-up to the midterm election—the red wave that never was—Rick Scott released a blueprint of his policy priorities. In it, he included a proposal to sunset all federal programs, including Social Security and Medicare, in five years. Restarting those programs would require federal reauthorization. Such a move would threaten the programs’ stability as their budget levels go through negotiations that can drag on, leaving recipients at risk of losing out on benefits.

Republicans criticized Scott for releasing the plan that, though realistically in line with the GOP’s stance of cutting public benefits, allowed Democrats to readily campaign about such a risk.

Scott is not expected to triumph in his bid for GOP Senate leader. And if McConnell wins reelection, he will become the longest-serving party leader in Senate history. While tensions broil in D.C., the two senators’ camps continue the battle online.

May the worst man win.

Tom Emmer Wins the Thankless Task of Corralling the GOP’s Likely Narrow House Majority

Meet the Minnesota Republican who led the party’s midterm campaigns.

Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call/Getty Images
Representative Tom Emmer listens to Kevin McCarthy on election night at what was supposed to be a victory party.

When I profiled Representative Tom Emmer for The New Republic’s summer issue previewing the midterms, the Minnesota Republican seemed to be on a gilded path toward rising through his party’s ranks and wielding the power he’s long sought in Washington. As the chair of the National Republican Campaign Committee, Emmer was expected to oversee a “red wave” surge that would produce a massive GOP House majority, collecting IOUs and plaudits from new members along the way. Instead, Republicans still don’t control the Senate, and the House has yet to be called a week after the midterms, with an exceedingly narrow GOP majority.

As a result, instead of a smooth ride up the ranks, Emmer only narrowly bested Indiana Representative Jim Banks 115–106 on Tuesday to become the GOP Whip.

The whip, the third-ranking spot in House leadership, is primarily tasked with keeping party members in line and corralling votes on tough bills. Thanks to the probable narrow majority, which means that just a few stray defections from the likes of Matt Gaetz and Majorie Taylor Greene could tank the party’s aspirations, that job could end up being more of a nightmare for the next two years.

I wrote about Emmer over the summer since I’ve covered his political aspirations off and on for over a decade now. Back in 2010, Emmer was Minnesota’s Republican nominee for governor. He became known nationally as one of the ur–Tea Party candidates defining the backlash to Barack Obama’s presidency and to the RINOs who had long been the face of the GOP. As I wrote then of Emmer’s time ahead of his gubernatorial run:

He “embodied a lot of the positive attributes of Trump before Trump was cool,” said Marty Seifert, the former Republican minority leader when Emmer was in the state legislature. “Outspoken, tell it like it is. Some people may not like you because of what you say, but I’m going to say it anyway.” …

His tenure was defined by pushing far-right policy: proposals that Minnesota should chemically castrate sex offenders, impose strict voter ID laws, and outlaw abortion in all instances (as well as proposals that would also potentially outlaw certain forms of contraception and in vitro fertilization). He questioned evolution and was one of the loudest, most influential opponents of same-sex marriage. And despite two earlier DUI infractions, Emmer put forth bills to lessen penalties for drunk driving, which became fodder for opponents in later political campaigns.

Another of Emmer’s obsessions was pushing cockamamie ways that Minnesota could nullify federal laws. He was one of three co-authors of a 2010 proposal for a state constitutional amendment that would have required the governor and a two-thirds vote by legislators to approve a federal law before it could be enforced in Minnesota.

But unlike other Tea Partiers who rode the backlash against Democrats to great success in 2010, Emmer lost his campaign. He slunk away for a few years—serving time working for anti-gay-marriage groups and as a morning radio shock jock—before Michele Bachmann retired from her deep-red seat and Emmer took her place. As I wrote for Mother Jones back in 2014, Emmer had “closely replicated the Bachmann model” and was the heir apparent to carry on her pugilistic style of politics in Washington. But when he came to the Capitol, he largely receded from the limelight, sticking to his conservative views but focusing on rising through the ranks behind the scenes, eventually chairing the NRCC in 2020—when Republicans actually won more seats than Democrats despite Donald Trump losing to Joe Biden—and repeating that role in the promising 2022 cycle. “When [he was] first elected to the Minnesota House, compromise was probably not part of his M.O.,” former Minnesota House Speaker Steve Sviggum told me. “I think today there’s much more awareness of cooperation and compromise, while still having extremely conservative values.”

But between the surprising outcome of the midterms and that sense of seeking compromise, Emmer almost lost his leadership role. He reportedly earned the ire of Donald Trump and Tucker Carlson, and The National Review wrote a scathing article denouncing his whip bid this week, arguing, “He deserves the lion’s share of the blame for the GOP’s dismal showing in the House.” Still, he held on, but trying to convince an unruly cohort of extremists that he helped secure reelection will be no easy task in the months ahead.

To learn more about who Emmer is—from how he peddled election denial ahead of January 6 to his time as a “hothead” in the Minnesota state legislature—read the full profile here.

Republicans Nominate Trump Favorite Kevin McCarthy as Next House Speaker

House Republicans voted 188–31 for the California representative.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy
Win McNamee/Getty Images

Kevin McCarthy, a major ally of former President Donald Trump, was nominated to be the next speaker of the House on Tuesday.

House Republicans voted 188–31 for the California representative, who beat farther-right Arizona Representative Andy Biggs for the nomination.

The Republican Party is one seat away from taking control of the House of Representatives. If they do, then the full chamber will vote on whether McCarthy should be speaker on January 3, once the new Congress is sworn in. McCarthy will need a total of 218 votes to win the spot.

But it’s not clear if he’ll have all those votes. His own party is not unified behind him, despite Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene urging her colleagues to back him. Florida Representative Matt Gaetz told reporters McCarthy “does not have 218 votes to become speaker. I don’t think he has 200.”

Gaetz had previously said he would back Representative Jim Jordan for speakership, not McCarthy. Dozens of conservative leaders on Monday penned a letter calling for a delay in the House leadership vote until next month.

While 31 votes against McCarthy’s nomination isn’t a small number, it also isn’t totally out of the norm. In November 2018, 32 Democrats voted against nominating Nancy Pelosi as House speaker.

McCarthy, the House minority leader, has made no secret of his ambitions to move up in the chamber—and he’s starting to get a little desperate. The Wall Street Journal reported Monday that the minority leader’s team had made several calls to Texas Democratic Representative Henry Cuellar asking him to switch parties, giving McCarthy an extra vote.

Cuellar turned them down, the Journal said, citing anonymous sources familiar with the calls.

Is Matt Gaetz Trying to Sneak His Way Out of Trump’s 2024 Announcement?

Gaetz said he couldn’t make it because the weather wasn’t looking good for his flight. But planes seem to be flying just fine.

Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

Representative Matt Gaetz was slated to join Donald Trump for the former president’s third presidential announcement in Mar-a-Lago Tuesday night. But the Florida representative might be trying to wiggle out of it. Apparently, inclement weather is inhibiting his flight.

However, as New York Times reporter Jane Coaston pointed out, flights from Washington D.C. to Florida are all running just fine—regardless of which airport one may be flying from.

Gaetz, a proudly self-declared MAGA Republican, was among those challenging Kevin McCarthy’s House leadership. Trump, for his part, supported McCarthy’s nomination as House speaker.

But there has otherwise been no clear indicator of Gaetz also defecting from Trump. Last week, the representative spoke out amid calls from Republicans to ditch Trump following a disappointing midterm election, insisting that “only Trump can be trusted to enact the ‘America First’ agenda he ran on in 2016. We won’t accept any imitation.”

However, much has changed since even last week. As more elections have been declared, Trump’s mark has continued to decay—over 30 candidates he endorsed have lost, including far-right stars like Kari Lake and Blake Masters.

Meanwhile, even more Republicans have spoken out against Trumpism—from New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu and outgoing Maryland Governor Larry Hogan to Wyoming Senator Cynthia Lummis and Trump’s former vice president (and potential competitor) Mike Pence.

Given the building pressure, it would not be out of the question for Gaetz to have second thoughts—or at least to cover his bases by ensuring he wasn’t in the photos for Trump’s announcement.

While Tuesday’s weather still welcomes Gaetz to safely fly down for Trump’s announcement, he may be navigating the thorny broader political climate instead by choosing not to.

Judge Overturns Georgia’s “Plainly Unconstitutional” Six-Week Abortion Ban

Most people don’t know they’re pregnant at only six weeks.

Megan Varner/Getty Images

A judge in Georgia on Tuesday overturned the state’s ban on abortions after six weeks, a major win for women and gender minorities.

Georgia had passed a law in 2019 banning abortion as soon as a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which is as early as six weeks—before many people even know they are pregnant—but the legislation only took effect after the Supreme Court rolled back the nationwide right to the procedure in June.

A group of doctors and advocacy groups sued Georgia in July, seeking to strike down the law. Judge Robert McBurney sided with them Tuesday, ruling that the six-week ban “did not become the law of Georgia when it was enacted and it is not the law of Georgia now.”

Not only are two sections of the law “plainly unconstitutional,” but “there is no legal basis” for the statewide ban at all, he said in his ruling.

A spokesperson for the Georgia attorney general told the AP that they plan to appeal the decision.

The ruling is a huge win for people in Georgia, where Republican Brian Kemp was just reelected governor. Kemp had refused to say during a debate against Stacey Abrams whether he would sign more abortion restrictions into law if reelected.

Abrams had slammed his nonanswer, warning that “women are in danger” under this governor.

Her accusation was backed up by health professionals, who warned in a study that if abortion is banned in Georgia, maternal mortality will increase 29 percent. If the procedure is banned nationwide, then maternal mortality will rise 24 percent overall.

Maternal mortality among Black people nationwide will skyrocket 39 percent.

The United States already has the highest maternal mortality rate among developed nations, and Georgia has the second-highest rate in the country, of 48.4 deaths out of 100,000 births, according to the World Population Review.