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What got me steamed up this week

It Just Got Worse—Again—for Donald Trump

A judge has preliminarily found coup-plotter John Eastman culpable of trying to overturn the 2020 election results. Will he be the next MAGA minion to flip?

Brandon Bell/Getty Images

Whenever I look at the latest polls and start to freak out about Donald Trump winning the presidency again, I calm myself by remembering that the guy is very likely going to be an at-least-once convicted felon by next November. While that won’t bother his fans, I still think it will bother enough swing voters that he will lose, and maybe spectacularly.

That scenario got a little more likely Thursday when the California judge overseeing a misconduct trial against Trump attorney and coup-plotter John Eastman made a “preliminary finding” of culpability on Eastman’s part for his attempts to halt the certification of the 2020 election results.

What’s the upshot? No, Eastman isn’t guilty of anything just yet. But he is now closer to being disbarred, and that could make it more likely that he flips. MSNBC legal analyst Joyce Vance wrote on X: “If John Eastman loses his license in the bar proceeding, it incentiv[iz]es him (or would incentivize a rationale person) to plead & cooperate in the criminal case to avoid prison (since he’s already lost his license).”

Eastman is one of the 19 defendants in the Fulton County, Georgia, RICO case against Trump and others for conspiring to steal the election. Four named defendants in that case have already pleaded out and agreed to provide testimony against other defendants: lawyers Sidney Powell, Jenna Ellis, and Kenneth Chesebro and bail bondsman Scott Hall.

And don’t forget former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, who got an immunity deal from special counsel Jack Smith in Smith’s January 6–related case against Trump. It was revealed just last week that Meadows has testified under oath in that case three times since agreeing to the deal. It was this news that led Chris Christie to go on Morning Joe and crow: “This is deadly. It’s done. [Trump]’s going to be convicted. It’s over.”

On top of all this, of course, was the main Trump family drama of the week, the testimony by his sons in the New York attorney general’s case against the Trump Organization. Don Jr. in his testimony tried to pin any misstatements about Trump family property values on Mazars, the accounting firm the Trumps used; Eric basically denied that he worked on financial statements. Ivanka Trump is set to testify next week, after a judge late Thursday denied her motion that requiring her to testify during a school week would place an “undue hardship” on her (these people are so shameless). The case could cost the family $250 million.

But the real cases are likely to cost Donald Trump a lot more: the White House. His future. His freedom.

I’m telling you, this is all going to catch up with Trump at the worst (or, depending on your point of view, the best) possible time. Yes, Judge Aileen Cannon down in Florida did Trump a favor this week by suggesting she might postpone next May’s trial date in the Trump case she’s hearing, the one about the classified documents. She might move it to after the election.

A bummer, and she’s a hack, as she’s already proven to us. But fine. The other cases will proceed. And high-profile people who had direct contact with Trump have flipped and will testify against him. Christie, whatever else we think of him, is a former federal prosecutor, so when he says what he said about Meadows, he’s speaking from experience.

We’re entering what’s going to be a maddening and horrifying time. In all likelihood, none of these other Republican candidates is going to make a charge at Trump. They’re just too afraid of him. Nikki Haley criticized him obliquely a few days ago, but no one (save Christie) is going to tell the truth about him because they know what will happen to them: They’ll sink like stones. So they’re in an impossible position—of their own making, by the way, because every one of them cheered Trump’s rise—whereby if they don’t go after the front-runner, he’ll be untouched and stay 25 points ahead of the field, and if they do, it will hurt them, and Trump’s lead will likely only grow.

So we’re in for 10 weeks—until the January 15 Iowa caucuses—of poll after poll showing Trump ahead and probably gaining. No piece of bad news will matter. He’ll roll in Iowa. Next will come New Hampshire. No date has yet been set for that primary, but it’s expected to be sometime in January. In New Hampshire, Trump is if anything further ahead than he is in Iowa. Then there’s not another GOP primary until South Carolina on February 24 (there will be Nevada and Virgin Islands caucuses on February 8). In other words, if Trump wins both Iowa and New Hampshire, the race is basically over, and there will be a full month of headlines calling Trump victorious and unstoppable.

Actually—not all headlines. In fact, on the very day, January 16, that we’ll wake up to headlines blaring, “Trump Sails to Victory in Iowa,” we will also be greeted by this headline: “E. Jean Carroll Damages Trial Against Trump Starts Today.” Remember that New York Judge Lewis Kaplan has already said that Trump raped Carroll in the normally understood sense of the term. So readers, and voters, are going to be reminded of that. Then the January 6 trial, the one in which Meadows flipped, starts the day before Super Tuesday. And so on.

Trump is a cornered animal. As the walls close in, he is going to go insane. Nothing in his pampered life has prepared him for the reckoning that’s coming his way. He’s gotten out of everything, from the Vietnam draft to all the bankruptcies, to the impeachments, when he obviously committed high crimes and misdemeanors. His skating days are over.

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

New House Speaker: Soft-Spoken. Mild-Mannered. Raging Theocrat.

Mike Johnson is an extremist in every way that matters.

Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc/Getty Images
Speaker Mike Johnson on Thursday

In one way, you have to be impressed by the Republicans. They keep going further and further right, completely undeterred. They keep somehow finding these people. And they keep elevating them. And now, MAGA Mike Johnson—a hard-core theocrat who is, in terms of his obviously deeply held philosophical beliefs, to Jim Jordan’s right, and indeed perhaps well to Jim Jordan’s right—is two heartbeats away from the presidency, after having been elected House speaker.

No one except Capitol Hill reporters and people who are such serious politics junkies that they need help had heard of Johnson until this week. I sure hadn’t. There are 221 Republicans in the House of Representatives right now. I’m guessing I could name 80 of them. That leaves around 140 of them who are totally unknown to me, and it’s my job to follow this stuff. Clearly, a larger number than that is completely unknown to America beyond their own districts.

In fact, I’m not sure even Hill reporters knew much about Johnson before this week. Consider how Punchbowl News—a Beltway insider operation if ever there was one—described Johnson to its subscription-only readers Wednesday morning:

In case you haven’t Googled him yet, Johnson is a 51-year-old, fourth-term member of the House. He’s the House Republican Conference vice chair. He’s got a pair of degrees from Louisiana State University and has seats on the Judiciary and Armed Services committees. His district, which hugs the western part of the state, is as red as they come. It’s also home to some big military facilities, including Barksdale Air Force Base and Fort Johnson.

Johnson could be the first former chair of the Republican Study Committee to become speaker.

The Louisiana Republican is the son of a Shreveport firefighter badly injured and disabled on the job. The now congressman worked as a college professor, conservative talk radio host and columnist. But it was his roles on behalf of several religious groups—as an attorney and spokesperson—that launched his political career. Johnson is married with four children. If he’s elected, Johnson will enter the speakership as a man with exceedingly modest means. Johnson has at least $280,000 in debt and no disclosed assets.

All of that could have been lifted from the guy’s Wikipedia page.

And it tells us nothing useful about who he actually is, politically. It makes him sound pretty bland and anodyne. Someone like Johnson benefits from this lack of knowledge and curiosity about the backbenchers. If you’re not out there saying outrageous things on a weekly basis like Lauren Boebert or Matt Gaetz, there’s some kind of assumption that you must be a normie.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Almost none of them are normies. Here’s a thought experiment. I’m just going to choose three GOP backbenchers at random by going to and clicking around. And we’ll learn together about them.

  1. Sam Graves, Missouri 6th district. Never heard of him. A quick Google reveals that he tweeted: “I stand with President Trump. Every legal vote must be counted in complete transparency.” And he, like Johnson, voted against seating Joe Biden. Lifetime CPAC vote rating: 83 percent.
  2. Russ Fulcher, Idaho 1st district. Never heard of him either. He also voted against seating Biden. He was a Ted Cruz delegate to the 2016 GOP convention. Lifetime CPAC rating: 94 percent.
  3. William Timmons, South Carolina, 4th district. Also never heard of him. Another election denier. He, like Fulcher, was one of 126 Republicans to sign an amicus brief in a lawsuit brought in Texas to stop the counting of votes in Pennsylvania. Lifetime CPAC rating: 92 percent.

I expect I could go on and on. The point I’m making here is that this is who the anonymous members of the House GOP conference are. They may toil in relative anonymity, but that doesn’t mean they’re very different from Marjorie Taylor Greene. They’re mostly like her, just with less of a talent for getting attention.

This circles us back to Johnson. Over these last two days, we have been learning things, and they paint an unnerving picture. Just watch the short clip in this tweet and follow the logic of these words: “You remember in the late ’60s we invented things, like no-fault divorce laws. We invented the sexual revolution. We invented radical feminism. We invented legalized abortion in 1973, where the state, the government, sanctions the killing of the unborn. I mean, we know that we’re living in a completely amoral society. And so people say, ‘How can a young person go into their schoolhouse and open fire on their classmates?’ Because we’ve taught a whole generation, a couple generations now of Americans, that there is no right and wrong.”

He also blamed abortion for the shortfall in the Social Security Trust Fund. Again, follow the logic: “Roe v. Wade gave constitutional cover to the elective killing of unborn children in America. You think about the implications of that on the economy; we’re all struggling here to cover the bases of Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid and all the rest. If we had all those able-bodied workers in the economy, we wouldn’t be going upside down and toppling over like this.”

Johnson is, interestingly, one of just three American politicians to sit on the advisory board of a British organization called the Alliance for Responsible Citizenship, or ARC, which claims to be striking blows in support of “our moral, cultural, economic and spiritual foundations to imagine a future where empowered citizens take responsibility and work together to bring flourishing and prosperity to their homes, communities, and beyond.”* The other U.S. pols on the board are far-right Utah Senator Mike Lee and Texas Representative Dan Crenshaw. As luck would have it, ARC is hosting a huge event next week at the O2 arena, sort of London’s equivalent of Madison Square Garden, starring, wait for it, Jordan Peterson. ARC was co-founded by Baroness Philippa Stroud, the former CEO of the Legatum Institute, which was the leading pro-Brexit think tank in Britain.

It tells me something about Johnson that, of all the hard-right politicians in the United States from which ARC had to choose, it selected Johnson (along with Lee and Crenshaw) as one who best represents its values. What it suggests is that Johnson, though unknown to you and me, has developed a profile over the years in right-wing circles worldwide that share his view that we inhabit “a completely amoral society.”

And this is what gave birth to the headline on this column. Jim Jordan is a hard-right warrior, a front-line infantryman eager to storm the Omaha Beach of the culture wars. Nothing about him screams theocrat. Johnson, however, is exactly that. He may not be speaker long enough to try to impose his eighteenth-century views on America in any meaningful way, but let’s make no mistake about who he is and how he—and so many other rank-and-file Republican members of the House—can carry around hard-right and anti-democratic views and never, ever be scrutinized for them.

* This article originally misstated the number of American politicians on the ARC advisory board.

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

Mr. President, Don’t Let Netanyahu Drag Us Into World War III

Biden’s Oval Office speech tried to connect Israel and Ukraine, but there are very important differences between the two countries’ predicaments.

Biden addressed the nation on the conflict between Israel and Gaza and the Russian invasion of Ukraine
Biden addressed the nation on the conflict between Israel and Gaza and the Russian invasion of Ukraine from the Oval Office on Thursday night.

Joe Biden gave an excellent and statesmanlike speech Thursday night. He laid out the big picture well, tying America’s fate to the world’s. He spoke sympathetically toward the Israelis who have suffered in the wake of Hamas’s butchery, as any American president would. But he also recognized the humanity of the Palestinian people, which not any American president would necessarily do. The best parts were the words aimed at Palestinian Americans and Arab Americans generally: “We can’t stand by and stand silent when this happens. We must without equivocation denounce antisemitism. We must also without equivocation denounce Islamophobia. And to all you hurting, those of you who are hurting, I want you to know I see you. You belong. And I want to say this to you: You’re all America. You’re all America.”

And yet, I’m a little bothered by one thing. Biden spoke repeatedly, as he has in recent days, of the defense of Israel and Ukraine as if they were the same thing. In one sense, for the moment, they are. Ukraine was the victim of an attack; Israel was the victim of an attack. The attackers in both cases hold values that democracies oppose and represent the forces of reaction.

However, there are some important differences. Ukraine did little to provoke Russia. Vladimir Putin’s puppet was toppled in a revolution because he stood athwart the will of the large majority of the people to establish closer ties with the West. That did not provide Putin with a legitimate reason to start meddling in Ukraine, but it did provide his pretext. More broadly, he insists the whole country is a fiction in the first place, and he’s been invading Ukraine in one way or another for nearly a decade. Israel, on the other hand, has been running a brutal occupation for 56 years and a blockade of Gaza for 16 years. No, I am of course not saying that this history means that Israel in any way “deserved” what happened on October 7. I am saying simply what I’m saying—that the background circumstances of the two conflicts are vastly different. 

Those background circumstances make the goals in each case very different. In Ukraine, the goal is simple and clear, if quite difficult to achieve: repel the authoritarian invader and help Ukraine maintain its independence with as much of its recognized land as possible. In Israel, the goal is … what? This is what people have been debating fiercely over recent days. Decapitate Hamas? OK. But that’s a really complicated thing to do, given the reality on the ground (all those tunnels). It’s a lot more complicated than pushing an invader back to the status quo borders.

And if Israel does decapitate Hamas, what comes next? It’s not like the people who replace Hamas are going to be peace-seeking small-d democrats who accept the existence of Israel. Is Israel to reoccupy Gaza? Nearly everyone agrees that that would be an utter disaster. But how does it not come to that, or something like that, if this war drags on and Israeli soldiers are on the ground in Gaza for some period of time?

This leads to a third difference between the two situations, which revolves around the risk involved for the United States. The risk for the United States in arming Ukraine is comparatively low. Yes, Putin is dangerous and not entirely predictable; if someday he’s really cornered, he could deploy a tactical nuke. But he’s probably hesitant to directly provoke the U.S. into confrontation. To do that, he’d have to invade a Baltic state—not impossible, but I suspect not likely. With a military as exposed as his has been, it seems doubtful that he wants war with the most sophisticated army in the world.

The war in Israel, though, could spread. That isn’t hard to imagine at all. Hezbollah is armed to the teeth and dedicated to Israel’s destruction. If there’s a long ground war in Gaza, how long is Hezbollah just going to sit there and watch? And if Hezbollah gets involved, that means Iran gets more directly involved. A U.S. Navy warship on Thursday intercepted three missiles from Yemen that appeared headed for Israel. If Israel is under attack from two (or three) sides and needs help, there is probably only one country in the world that will rise immediately to its defense. We sent those carriers over there for a reason.

Finally, there’s one more difference in the two cases: the leaders involved.

In Ukraine, we have a democrat who has risen to the historical occasion. If Ukraine somehow wins this war, there will be statues someday to Volodymyr Zelenskiy not just in Ukraine but across the world (unless the world is conquered by its darker forces, which is not alas impossible), emblazoned with his imperishable comment from the early days of the invasion: “I don’t need a ride. I need ammunition.”

In Israel … well, you know. We have a corrupt, extremist double-dealer who has spent the year trying to destroy one of the pillars of Israeli democracy so he can stay out of jail. If Benjamin Netanyahu is capable of that, then he’s capable of taking actions here that draw the U.S. deeper and deeper into this conflict, especially given his rising and rampant unpopularity in Israel right now.

It’s understandable why Biden, publicly and for now, pairs the two situations. But I hope that privately he and his top foreign policy officials are pushing Israel hard to keep this as brief and humane as possible and when it’s done start talking again about a peace process. Biden has been drawing on his decades of foreign policy experience. Alas, he’s going to have plenty more opportunities to do so.

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

Of Course We Can Condemn Israel—and Hamas. It’s Not Complicated.

Hamas’s attacks last weekend were obviously immoral. So is the Israeli occupation.

Palestinians evacuate following an Israeli airstrike on the Sousi mosque in Gaza City
MAHMUD HAMS/AFP via Getty Images
Palestinians evacuate following an Israeli airstrike on the Sousi mosque in Gaza City on October 9.

The majority, probably even the vast majority, of what we call the left has denounced Hamas’s attacks on Israel and has no trouble holding in its collective head two ideas at the same time: that Israel’s blockade of Gaza is a complete moral horror, and that what Hamas did last weekend is its own moral horror and utterly without justification. But what to make of the defenses and even celebrations of Hamas’s attacks by a few leftists?

This isn’t hard or complicated. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez expressed it perfectly in her criticism of the Times Square rally last weekend where there was so much Hamas cheerleading: “The bigotry and callousness expressed in Times Square on Sunday were unacceptable and harmful in this devastating moment. It also did not speak for the thousands of New Yorkers who are capable of rejecting both Hamas’s horrifying attacks against innocent civilians as well as the grave injustices and violence Palestinians face under occupation.”

The people refusing to hold these two ideas in their heads—a number of Democratic Socialists of America leaders and members, some prominent academics, a couple left-wing Israeli groups, the Chicago Black Lives Matter chapter, and assorted campus leftists—are smart enough to do so. So why don’t they?

There are a lot of stated justifications—that the occupation is uniquely evil, that the Palestinians are so dispossessed that they are justified in meeting violence with violence, and so on. But I submit that behind the justifications sits one basic reason. These are people who reject universalism—the conviction that certain ideas and principles have a universal value that transcends nations, borders, bloodlines.

I understand where the position comes from historically. But it is insupportable both philosophically and practically, and the rejection of universalist principles will result—I would go so far as to say will always, unfailingly result—in movements that might triumph against their oppressor in the short term but in the long term become regimes that are reactionary, sanguinary, and enemies of progressive values. Is that really the side progressive people want to be on?

Hamas, in fact, is already all three of those things. Of course the main oppressor of the people of Gaza is Israel. But Hamas administers the area, and its record is grim. Elections have been promised and canceled (this is true of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank as well). Corruption is staggering. And as for free speech and women’s rights and LGBTQ rights, things are as retrograde as you’d expect. Start with this 2021 decision by a Hamas court holding that women cannot travel without a male guardian, then move to this damning Amnesty International report from last year.

People in the West who don’t understand all this, or who do understand it and choose to excuse it, are dishonoring the very principles that all progressive people are duty bound to defend. At best they’re being naïve. As Jamie Raskin put it to me Wednesday evening, referring to the Times Square rally: “Hamas would have gladly slaughtered everyone at that rally just like they slaughtered all of the progressive young people at the music concert in Israel.”

Short version of a long history: Originally it was the left, the idea of which was really born with the French Revolution, that promoted universalism. The argument that rights were universal served the left’s purposes well as long as conflicts were intranational (the French Revolution) or within a mutually understood or shared set of religious and civic traditions (the American Revolution).

But in the twentieth century, conflicts became international and inter-traditional. They gained a colonialist and, make no mistake, deeply racist overlay. Arguments arose from the Western left (Jean-Paul Sartre, notably) and from a new group of intellectuals from the developing world that universalism was a Western fiction, a bourgeois ruse; that we could not expect people who were not steeped in Western traditions, especially when living under a brutal and unyielding occupation (by an “enlightened” Western power, no less), to adhere to these values. The real-life Ho Chi Minh and the fictionalized Ali La Pointe became heroes to this left. The Palestinian resistance took shape during that same period, the mid-1960s, so the trip from there to the kinds of defenses of Hamas we’re seeing now is a fairly short one.

The Israeli occupation, particularly the premeditated and carefully thought-through cruelty of its Gaza manifestation, is without question the first-order offense here. Among the things it is an offense to, I would argue, is universalism. When Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant refers to Gaza Palestinians—all Gaza Palestinians, including children, including cancer patients who need to go to the hospital—as “human animals,” he is being as anti-universalist as a person can be. What Israel is apparently gearing up to do right now—on Thursday, it ominously warned Gazans in the north to relocate, and according to Haaretz, the number of Palestinian dead is already higher than the number of Israelis killed last weekend—is going to be hideous. And it’s worth remembering that lots of people in this country who are far more prominent than some DSA members are cheering on this violence.

Still, none of that permits us to say, under any circumstances, that the murder of babies and children is excusable. Never.

A line has crept into the discourse in the past week that violence “is never acceptable.” In truth, that just isn’t the case. The world often accepts and venerates violence. And sometimes it’s necessary. I’m quite glad that the Union Army chose violence after the Confederates fired on Fort Sumter, and that the world’s democracies decided that violence was the way to answer Hitler and Tojo.

There are different forms of violence. Violence against slaveholders or fascist dictators is one thing. Violence against babies is quite another. And sure, to decide which form of violence is acceptable and which is not constitutes sliding along the proverbial slippery slope. But it is exactly these distinctions that intellectuals and engaged activists are supposed to make, and if we can’t make them, we enter a deep moral abyss.

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

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.