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What got me steamed up this week

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.

Could James Comer Possibly Get More Embarrassing? (Um, Yes.)

If the Justice Department is right, Comer’s whistleblower behaved in exactly the way Comer accuses Biden of acting.

Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Rep. James Comer at a House Oversight Subcommittee hearing in May.

If you’re old enough, you remember when the GOP fashioned itself the “law and order” party. This was because of its tough-on-crime stance, which, like most Republican policies (excessive tax cuts for rich people, relentless punishment of people on food stamps, contempt for science and environmental responsibility, etc.), has done immeasurable harm to the nation in our modern history, wrecking the lives of God-knows-how-many young people apprehended with a couple joints on their person. It was terrible, but at least it was true.

Here’s your “law and order” party at work today. House Republicans like to refer incessantly to the “Biden crime family.” They claim to be in possession of evidence of criminal wrongdoing, like secret Biden bank accounts that were set up to hide the numerous bribes they say Joe Biden has taken from foreigners. They claim all kinds of stuff. I guess we should not rule out the possibility, however remote, that this proof exists.

But we have the right to come to certain conclusions based on what they’ve shown us so far, half-a-year-plus into their majority. It’s been a complete and total clown show, culminating this week in a development that is so beyond absurd that if I were saying it instead of typing it, I’d be spitting out my coffee: The GOP’s whistleblower is literally a fugitive.

Gal Luft is the whistleblower around whom House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer of Kentucky built considerable drama in recent weeks. Comer repeatedly told Fox News and Hill reporters that he had a guy who had the goods on Capo di Tutti Capi Biden but was being silenced by those crazy Marxists over at the FBI. Well, news broke this week that Luft was indicted for acting as an unregistered agent for China, trying to do various arms deals, including to Iran (in violation of U.S. sanctions), and more. And he is quite literally a fugitive from justice: Luft has lived outside the United States since November 2017.

You’ll notice that I didn’t say he was indicted this week, only that the news broke. This is an important point that you need to keep straight. Republicans like Comer and Jim Jordan have been whining about the timing of the indictment, accusing the Justice Department of attempting to silence their star witness at the crucial moment. But the indictment was actually filed last November. In other words, Luft has been under suspicion and investigation for some time, and the government came down on him before even the midterm elections. The indictment was logged when Justice didn’t even know who’d be running the House now.

Here’s just one charge from the indictment. Luft was working for a think tank. In the summer of 2015, it is alleged, a Chinese national who was the head of something called the China Energy Fund Committee, or CEFC, approached Luft and offered him and his think tank $350,000 a year to engage in some pro-China agitprop. Luft duly carried this out, hosting conferences, placing op-eds, and so on. Luft, the indictment alleges, was working with a former high-ranking U.S. official, who was called only “Individual 1” in the indictment but is known to be James Woolsey, who was for a couple years the head of the CIA under Bill Clinton.

Woolsey’s involvement here is interesting. He has referred to himself as a “Scoop Jackson Democrat” (that means hawkish), but evidently he decided at some point that Barack Obama was destroying America with his defense cuts. Woolsey threw in with Trump in the fall of 2016, at a time when dozens of national security eminences were warning what a danger he was.

Luft agreed to work on behalf of the CEFC to “educate” Woolsey, who would make public statements that were in the interests of China. Sure enough, on November 30, 2016, with Trump as president-elect, Woolsey spoke at an event called the Belt & Road Forum in Washington, co-hosted by the CEFC. “We want to joyfully participate with China in international trade operations and economic growth,” Woolsey said. “I think we have no reason why China and the U.S. cannot be close and friendly nations.” (Woolsey, it must be noted, later quit the Trump transition team, claiming he was being cut out of meetings.)

Maybe, as is always the case in such matters, none of the indictment is true. Like anyone, like even Donald Trump, Luft is entitled to the presumption of innocence.

But if the charges are true, put yourself in James Comer’s shoes. Would you really decide to try to build a case at least in part around a man who was accused of the things Luft is accused of? Is that a credible witness? Then there’s the simple practical matter that the guy hasn’t set foot in the U.S. in nearly six years. Was Luft going to Zoom his way to stardom from some undisclosed location in Cyprus? (That’s where he was when he skipped bail in April.)

This just scratches the surface, but take a breath with me here. What does Comer accuse Joe Biden of? Corruption pertaining chiefly to China—taking bribes mostly to get filthy rich, but in part to conceal the regime’s true face, thereby gussying up China’s image in the West. And what does the government allege his star-witness-in-waiting did? Took several payments of $350,000—to gussy up China’s image in the West. In other words, Comer wants us to believe that Biden behaved in a certain way with respect to China. But if the Justice Department is right, Luft behaved in exactly the way Comer accuses Biden of acting!

Luft released a video earlier this month saying, among other things, that he’s on the lam because “I did not believe I will receive a fair trial in a New York court.” Perhaps one day we’ll find out. But right now, we know this much. James Comer doesn’t look like he could run a one-car funeral, let alone the proverbial two-car version. The right-wing media has fashioned a ready excuse for such situations: It’s all the deep state covering up for the Bidens and persecuting truth tellers. Back here on planet Earth, though, the bottom line remains that Comer’s star witness is a fugitive from justice. If Joe Biden actually is corrupt, he couldn’t ask for a better, more Clouseau-like pursuer than James Comer.

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

Pay Attention to What You See: Donald Trump Is Losing His Marbles

If he keeps this up, he’ll drag the entire Republican Party down with him in 2024.

Trump “dances” at the Moms for Liberty summit
Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images
Trump “dances” at the Moms for Liberty summit in Philadelphia on June 30.

This is the kind of topic about which liberals generally don’t want good news. They want to worry. They assign to their right-wing foes a strength and formidability that they never see on their own side (I’m often as guilty of this as anybody, I confess). They lack faith in the common sense and decency of the average voter. They want, on some level, to think, or at least to fear, that disaster is around the corner.

I rise today to fight that tendency. Yes, it’s early. Yeah, it’s premature. But I’m going to say: The signs I see so far? They suggest to me that Donald Trump (a) is going to win the GOP nomination and (b) stands a very good chance of leading his party to an epic wipeout next November.

To understand this, you have to open your eyes to things that can be hard to see as they unfold in real time. But they’re there, and they tell us this: Trump is much more extreme, much more unhinged, much more exposed than he was in 2016. Pay attention to what you see.

The most recent example, perhaps small, but I think nevertheless telling, consists of his recent “truths” on Truth Social. He posted Barack Obama’s current address. Think about that. That’s an invitation to someone to go try to shoot him. And sure enough, someone did. Shortly after Trump’s post, Tyler Taranto showed up with a machete, two guns, and 400 rounds of ammunition. He appears to have reposted Trump’s post. He was arrested, and Obama’s block in D.C. is of course heavily protected, but none of that changes the fact that a former president of the United States pretty obviously was egging his supporters to commit violence against another former president.

Friday morning came the related news that federal prosecutors working on the classified documents case against Trump are facing threats from MAGA-heads. They’re posting the names of federal prosecutors online. These people’s blocks are not under heavy Secret Service protection. What if one of them gets murdered? And what are the odds, given the way Trump has riled these people up, that if he’s convicted before Election Day, there won’t be violence, at least of the generalized sort and at worst of the targeted-execution variety?

That’s the first thing. Here’s a second.

More from Trump’s Truth Social feed: “Does anybody really believe that the COCAINE found in the West Wing of the White House, very close to the Oval Office, is for the use of anyone other than Hunter & Joe Biden.” Hunter Biden wrote in his memoir that he’s been clean since 2019; but let’s face it, when one hears “cocaine in the White House,” he does leap to mind. But then, Trump throws Joe Biden in there. Who thinks Joe Biden does blow? It’s unhinged, and it’s a sign that Trump’s hold on reality, always tenuous, is vaporizing and that he’s even more emboldened now to say even more outrageous things than he said in 2016, which after all is the logic of outrage: It has to get more extreme in order to continue to have shock value. What even more unhinged thing might he be capable of saying on a debate stage next fall?

Combine these recent developments with the things we already know, we’ve already seen. I wrote in our June cover story that Trump’s toxic rhetoric far exceeded where he was going in 2016. If you can’t see the difference between “Drain the swamp” (2016, and something any right-populist could say) and “I am your revenge” (the words of a megalomaniacal authoritarian demagogue), then you need some history lessons. I think here also of the Trump we saw in that infamous CNN town hall. He was totally out of control. I kept watching that and thinking: Is there any chance, I mean any chance, that the centrist soccer mom from the Milwaukee suburbs who took a flier on him in 2016 against Hillary Clinton is going to want to see this deranged, blubbering, vain peacock back in the White House?

I know, I know. Biden’s age. The “wrong direction” poll numbers are bad. A recession could hit, although experts have backed off that concern somewhat. Still, I take all that seriously, believe me.

But I’ll tell you this. If I were a Republican, I’d be scared shitless about what Trump might do to my party next year. The presidential election won’t be a runaway, because that isn’t how it works anymore. But I’d be very worried that Trump loses all the states he lost in 2020—and by a little more than he lost them the last time—plus maybe North Carolina, which would bump Biden’s Electoral College margin up to 319–219, which in a headline sounds like a rout. And the somewhat higher margins in Arizona, Georgia, et al. would foreclose any serious attempt to cry foul. Swing voters just wouldn’t buy it.

Democrats are feeling pretty confident about retaking the House. The Senate looks a lot tougher. But if Senate candidates in purple and even a couple reddish-to-red states are wedded to a standard-bearer who looks, to your average person, not just unpreferable but outright dangerous, who knows? The normal swing-voter reflex is to think, “OK, I’ll vote Biden, but I’ll balance it out by voting for a Republican for Senate” (there aren’t as many swing voters as there once were, but they exist). I’m positing that Trump could be so bad that those voters decide en masse that now is the time to punish the Republican Party and demand that they wipe the slate clean, ditch Trump, and grow up. (And, of course, throw in the anti-Dobbs backlash, which should give Democratic Senate candidates two to four points nearly everywhere.)

I’m not urging overconfidence. Politicians should always run like they’re 10 points behind. I’m just saying: Pay attention to what you see. And what we’re seeing so far is Donald Trump being far more extreme than he was in 2016 and alienating a huge chunk of the voters who bought his snake oil back then.

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

How We’ll Defeat the Federalist Society and Take Back the Supreme Court

It’s a long fight—but it has already begun, with promising results.


The Supreme Court threw normal America a few bones this term, since John Roberts knew the court’s, and his, reputation was down there in Elizabeth Holmes territory. Roberts and Brett Kavanaugh decided not to kill voting rights, and those two and Amy Coney Barrett rejected the independent state legislature theory. Then, as the term drew to a close, the court reverted to the mean by ending affirmative action in colleges and allowing business owners to discriminate against LGBTQ people.

Did they fool anybody? Maybe, to some extent. But the right-wing assault on freedom continues. We already know from California and a couple other states where affirmative action has been reversed that Black enrollment at prestige universities has gone down; a tool that Lyndon Johnson put in place nearly 60 years ago is now blunted.

In future terms, this conservative majority is going to do damage on all kinds of fronts. Already on the docket for the 2023–2024 term are cases that will revisit the question of racial gerrymandering; will consider an important point of criminal due process; will determine whether the funding mechanism for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, or CFPB, is constitutional; and most important of all, will seek to strike down “Chevron deference,” which grants executive agencies broad authority to interpret and implement laws passed by Congress. (Striking down the deference, which the conservative majority is widely expected to do, will vastly constrict the federal government’s ability to enforce aggressive regulatory laws.)

So imagine sitting here one year from today. It’s entirely possible, I’d say likely, that the court’s conservatives at the very least will have thrown the existence of the CFPB into doubt and opened the door to endless lawsuits from people and organizations looking to cut the federal government down to size. On the Chevron challenge, captioned Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo, the right will benefit from the fact that Ketanji Brown Jackson has recused herself, as she did in this week’s Harvard affirmative action case, because she participated in earlier oral arguments in the case (some justices do have scruples).

And then, someday—and we can be sure that right-wing activists are already filing the lawsuits they hope will work their way up to the Supremes—we may be saying goodbye, same-sex marriage. Adieu, right to contraception. Auf Wiedersehen, one person, one vote. This last one, which gets a lot less press than the others, will functionally destroy democracy by allowing state legislatures to draw—legally—districts that give rural people far more representation in legislatures than urban people.

The usual liberal narrative here is that this six-member majority is a mighty frigate being skippered by the unstoppable Leonard Leo, former head of the Federal Society, and we are doomed to a generation of right-wing decisions that will take us back to the nineteenth century. That might well be right. But it is not inevitable. There is a crucial distinction between recognizing a likely reality and submitting to it. The former is fine and necessary and says we still have to fight because we never know what the future holds. The latter constitutes giving up.

Joe Biden and his administration are in the former camp. Biden has named more federal judges to the bench in his first 28 months than the previous three presidents—a total of 136 “Article III” judges (federal judges nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate). And more meaningful than the number is the type, as two-thirds of those nominees are women and two-thirds are people of color. Many are from plainly progressive backgrounds in the law.

In just the last month or so, these judges are among those confirmed:

• Nusrat Choudhury, the first Muslim American woman (and first Bangladeshi woman) to be named to the federal bench; a civil rights lawyer with the ACLU

• Natasha Merle, an African American woman out of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund

• Dale Ho, an Asian American voting rights attorney

• Casey Pitts, an openly LGBTQ labor lawyer

• Hernán Vera, a Latino former staff attorney at the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund

Someday, the high court will have two or three people like this, and the decisions will start breaking our way again. In the meantime, momentum is building for changing the court—at least, say, ending lifetime appointments. Ending lifetime tenure polls well and is hardly the radical measure the right makes it out to be. And most of all, liberals are casting their presidential and congressional votes with the Supreme Court in mind. It took long enough, but after Dobbs, we’re here.

Finally, it’s worth remembering that a Supreme Court decision is not the end of a fight. In many ways, it’s the beginning. Since Dobbs, the states that have moved to restrict abortion rights have dominated the headlines, and quite rightly. But abortion rights are protected in some way, shape, or form in roughly half the states. Pro-choice organizations are active on a range of fronts, working to ensure that women from red states seeking abortions can get to “safe harbor” states. And support for abortion rights has shot up in the polls.

The modern right has achieved its successes knowing that it represents a minority of the country. This is why its leaders lie all the time about their true intent. Before Dobbs, they said overturning Roe and returning the question to the states was their goal. Now we see that that wasn’t true. They want a federal ban. The presidential contenders dance around the question, but it’s pretty obvious where the movement and the base stand—and point me to one high-profile instance where GOP elected officials have defied the wishes of their base.

Pro-choice Americans are the majority. So are Americans who want reasonable voting rights protections for minorities, a fair chance for labor unions to be active, a federal government that can implement laws Congress passes, and more. The iron-willed minority has won a lot of battles, and it will win more, and the consequences will sometimes be devastating. But Dobbs was a turning point. The people have woken up. Progressives are filling the federal bench. This isn’t a story of victory yet. But neither is it one of total despair.

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

The Post-Dobbs Verdict Is Clear, and Republicans Will Pay

A year since the infamous Supreme Court decision, the conservative movement is suffering the political consequences.

A pro–abortion rights demonstration in New York City
John Lamparski/Getty Images
An abortion rights demonstration in New York City on July 4, 2022

Saturday brings the infamous first anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision. Let’s begin by bearing in mind something that a lot of anti-abortion activists used to say before Roe was struck down: that the mere striking down of Roe was their goal, and all they wanted was to see the matter returned to the states.

This was a lie. As we have seen, the striking down of Roe was just the beginning—a first step in a process that they clearly hope will culminate someday, perhaps soon, in a federal abortion ban. After Dobbs, some Republican could have said: Hey, let’s take a breath here. We got our big win, but we are taking away a 50-year-old right from people, and maybe we ought to see how that shakes out.

Of course, they did no such thing. Many states rushed to pass the most extreme measures they could squeeze through their legislatures. Today, abortions are entirely or mostly banned in 14 states. Nine of those bans, according to The New York Times, include no exceptions for rape or incest. Most of these states are in the old Confederacy, but this list also includes Wisconsin, where Roe’s demise kicked in a draconian 1849 law that is still being adjudicated. 

On the plus side, 25 states and the District of Columbia have passed new protections. This includes most of the states you’d expect, along with Iowa, Kansas, and Alaska. So all is not lost—and as we’ve seen, what the Supreme Court really accomplished with Dobbs, aside from wrecking its own reputation, is to have solidified public opinion in support of protections for abortion rights. Poll after poll shows all-time-high levels of support for abortion rights.

That’s encouraging, but let’s not lose sight of what’s happening. The Times also reports that since Dobbs, 61 clinics and doctors’ offices have stopped offering abortions. Nineteen of those are in Texas (which is not only a no-exception state but also the lone state where private citizens can sue abortion providers and those who assist patients seeking abortions). That’s thousands of women, maybe millions, being denied a right to bodily autonomy that they had for half a century. Taken away overnight.

On top of that, we’re at the very beginning of a new presidential campaign, and Republican candidates are out there on the trail vowing to go even further. This weekend, there’s the Faith & Freedom Coalition’s Road to Majority Conference in Washington, in addition to a Students for Life rally on the national mall. Mike Pence, who is staking out the most extreme position on the issue, is the only candidate speaking to both, reports Politico’s Playbook. We can be sure that stern anti-abortion pledges will be front and center.

And as for the court? The great Linda Greenhouse has an interesting column in the Times today. She tells the story of how, in the 1940s, the Supreme Court switched from having upheld a Pennsylvania school district’s expulsion of Jehovah’s Witness schoolchildren because they would not salute the U.S. flag to reversing itself—while the United States was at war, no less. The composition of the court changed somewhat, but three justices who’d originally ruled against the schoolchildren changed their position on a similar case.

Why did they switch? Because they saw the hatred their original decision had unleashed. Greenhouse: “Mobs attacked individual Witnesses and destroyed their places of worship. More than 2,000 Witness children were thrown out of school, and some of their parents criminally prosecuted.” Most of America agreed that the court had righted a grievous wrong.

But that was before the era of Fox News and the Federal Society and Leonard Leo and right-wing justices flying on private planes and seeing nothing wrong with it. “So no, I don’t think the Dobbs justices are sorry,” Greenhouse writes. “They did what they were put there to do, what they wanted to do, and they were quite explicit in washing their hands of the consequences.”

But consequences are coming for the conservative movement of which those six justices are a part. They were felt already in the midterm elections, and they’re coming in a bigger way still next November. The price that’s being paid by regular Americans is tragic, and the structure of the court is such that it could take 20 years before we have a majority that reverses Dobbs. The six justices, and Donald Trump, and Republicans in Congress will come to pay a mighty price for what they’ve done to America.

The New Republic is trying to raise $10,000 to broaden our coverage of these fights for abortion rights across the country. Please see the box at the top of this article and click on Yes, I’ll Help!

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