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What got me steamed up this week

Imagine a President Trump Who Owes Saudi Arabia $540 Million

Who’s going to pay Trump’s legal penalty?

Trump receiving the Order of Abdulaziz al-Saud medal
Trump received the Order of Abdulaziz Al Saud medal from Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud at the Saudi Royal Court in Riyadh in 2017.

Donald Trump is attempting to appeal and delay having to pay that whopping fine that New York Judge Arthur Engoron laid on him earlier this month in the Trump Organization fraud suit brought by state Attorney General Letitia James. As we’ve all heard, to do so, he has to secure a bond.

NBC News did some cipherin’ Wednesday and reported that he’ll need a bond of about $540 million. It is widely assumed he doesn’t have the liquid cash. He has some buildings, notably 40 Wall Street, but many experts are saying that the government doesn’t like to take real estate as collateral. “Whoever is going to bond [Trump] is committing that they’re going to make good on that judgment,” New York business attorney David Slarskey told NBC. “Who’s going to do that?”

Indeed. That is the question. And the possible answer is chilling, if we imagine Trump back in the White House next year.

In sum: He could borrow this money from just about anybody. Or not even borrow it. Someone might just give it to him. Incredibly, as Neal Katyal said on MSNBC Wednesday night, there is apparently no law that prohibits someone in Trump’s position from securing the collateral from anyone. It’s another one of those laws that I suppose no one ever even thought to write because the system has never encountered a Donald Trump before. But now it has.

“There are potential sanctions prohibitions and campaign finance prohibitions. And of course potential tax issues,” MSNBC analyst Andrew Weissmann told me via email Thursday. “But apart from those, a third party can give a gift or loan to post the federal or state bonds.”

Ponder with me the possible dangers here. Let’s imagine a roster of actors who might have the resources and motive to stake Trump to half a billion dollars, either as a loan or a gift. There’s Russia, first of all. Russia—and Vladimir Putin personally, because he’s apparently stolen so much over the years that he might be the world’s richest man—may be out of the question because of the sanctions. But of course, that’s just the law, which Trump spits at.

Imagine a President Trump in hock to Russia or Putin to the tune of a half-billion dollars. Sure, Trump is inclined to give Putin half of Eastern Europe anyway. But money like that would turn a mere ideological sentiment into ironclad fealty, since money means a lot more to Trump than ideas. Well, Poland, you didn’t exist from 1795 to 1918; you can get used to it again.

Or let’s say it came from Saudi Arabia. Remember, it was during this very trial that Trump bragged that the Saudis, or at least some individual Saudi, would willingly pay inflated prices for Trump properties. This was a justification he used for inflating the prices in the first place. Engoron wrote in his ruling: “He also seems to imply that the numbers cannot be inflated because he could find a ‘buyer from Saudi Arabia’ to pay any price he suggests.”

So imagine now that a “buyer” or buyers from the kingdom secretly put up Trump’s collateral. And then Trump won the election. The United States would do whatever Mohammed bin Salman wanted it to do. On the surface, Saudi Arabia is committed to its Vision 2030 plan that proclaims a desire to normalize relations with Iran (this has started) and move away from the current reliance on oil revenues and toward a knowledge economy. That’s all very nice. But conflict will arise in that region, as it always does, and when it does, Trump will serve the master who bailed him out of legal hot water.

Or suppose the Netanyahu government put up the dough. People are plenty critical of Joe Biden now, and rightly so, over the money we’re giving to Israel and the absence of conditions imposed on that money so that Israel can commit atrocities on a massive scale. But if you think it can’t get worse, think again. Trust hard-right Israeli Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, who said earlier this month: “Instead of giving us his full backing, Biden is busy with giving humanitarian aid and fuel, which goes to Hamas. If Trump was in power, the U.S. conduct would be completely different.”

Of course, Trump’s benefactor need not be a foreign nation. What if, as Weissman posited to Lawrence O’Donnell Thursday night, it was Elon Musk who ponied up the dough? Or Peter Thiel? Or a consortium of Texas oilmen? Or the Mafia? Obviously, Trump would willingly accept the money from any and all of those sources. How nice would that be, to have a president who hardly made a move without anticipating their reaction?

Lara Trump argues that rank-and-file Republicans will be perfectly happy for their donations to the Republican National Committee to go to paying Trump’s legal bills, and the Trump-era Republican Party is such a warped, freakish imitation of a normal political party, so smothered in cult-worship, that she’s probably right. But even so, rank-and-file Republicans can’t begin to cover more than a fraction of this.

The other hypothetical to consider here is of course that it’s entirely possible that Trump won’t pay at all. After all, as we know all too well, if there’s a law or rule to flout, Trump is there to flout it and dare the system to catch up with him. So this all might be moot, which speaks only to how brazenly lawless the man is.

But if he decides to post the bond, and if all this reporting is correct that he doesn’t have the money himself, he’s going to have to get it from someone. And whoever that someone is will claim a mighty stake on what remains of the mind of the man who might be the president of the United States.

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

How Jack Smith Became the Worst Part of Trump’s Historically Lousy Week

The former president’s legal woes have packed headlines, but the special counsel’s filing in the January 6 case has somehow flown under the radar.

Donald Trump exits New York State Supreme Court on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024.
Jeenah Moon/Getty Images
Donald Trump exits New York State Supreme Court on February 15.

The big headlines Friday morning concerned Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis and the combative testimony Thursday she offered concerning her affair with Nathan Wade. But that wasn’t the big story of the week on the Donald Trump legal front. In fact, it may have been about fifth.

What’s bigger? Let’s start with Judge Aileen Cannon’s decision to deny Trump’s attorneys’ bid to delay pretrial motions in the case she’s hearing, about Trump’s removal of classified documents from the White House. Cannon, you’ll recall, was appointed by Trump.  After the documents case landed so unserendipitously in her lap, she made a series of nakedly pro-Trump rulings; the 11th Circuit vacated one order of hers that would have helped Trump delay the proceedings. She also blocked federal investigators from examining the material seized by the FBI, a decision eviscerated by legal experts. So maybe she’s gotten the message that she’d better be a real judge, not a sycophant.

Trump also was dealt a blow this week when Juan Merchan, the judge in the Stormy Daniels hush-money trial, dismissed another attempt at delay by Trump’s lawyers. That trial will start, as scheduled, on March 25.

And—no, it doesn’t stop!—another judge, Arthur Engoron, is supposed to hand down his decision in the penalty phase of the civil suit brought by the New York attorney general against the Trump Organization. AG Letitia James is seeking $370 million. There are reasons to think that that number may be on the low end of where Engoron will land.

But for my money, the worst part of Trump’s week came in the filing by special counsel Jack Smith to the Supreme Court in response to the Trump team’s request for a stay on that trial, which is the January 6 insurrection case. In a 40-page filing, Smith and his attorneys dismantled Trump’s arguments one by one. Smith had until February 20 to file this response, but he did it eight days early and he means business: “The charged crimes strike at the heart of our democracy.  A President’s alleged criminal scheme to overturn an election and thwart the peaceful transfer of power to his successor should be the last place to recognize a novel form of absolute immunity from federal criminal law.  Applicant seeks a stay to prevent proceedings in the district court from moving towards trial, which the district court had scheduled to begin on March 4, 2024, before applicant’s interlocutory appeal necessitated postponement of that date.  Applicant cannot show, as he must to merit a stay, a fair prospect of success in this Court.”

Why is this filing so important? Three reasons. First, Smith urges the Court to act quickly. He still wants the trial to start in March. If the Court agrees, picture it: Trump on trial in two separate courtrooms, on charges that strike precisely at the heart of the two biggest manifestations of his moral turpitude: In New York, as a private citizen, as a man, who treats women like garbage; in Washington, as a public, um, servant who mocks the Constitution and believes that no law applies to him. It will be perfect stereo spectacle for Americans to spend the spring observing.

Second, while it’s true that we’re dealing with a very politicized Supreme Court here, and it’s obvious that at least two justices (Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas) will rule for Trump on just about anything, Smith’s response makes a very strong set of arguments that should appeal to at least some of the Court’s conservative originalists. “The Framers,” Smith writes, “did not provide any explicit textual source of immunity to the President.”

And third: The Smith case is the most important of all, for the simple reason that inciting the January 6 insurrection is the worst thing Trump has done. Granted there is stiff competition for his most mortal sin. But egging on a crowd to overthrow the government and hang your own vice president still takes the cake. If Smith succeeds in convincing the Supremes to expedite this case and goes on to win a pre-election conviction, that ought to seal Trump’s fate. Some recent polls have shown that swing state swing voters would be highly disinclined to vote for Trump if convicted of a crime.

We’ve seen the conventional wisdom turning on this question in recent weeks. Last year, the standard media line was to say that all the indictments were helping Trump, which was true if you were talking only about Republican primary voters. But now the attention of the media and of pollsters is turning toward general election voters, and they see matters differently.

Every one of these cases is important because each one points to a grotesque deficiency of character that demonstrates why Trump should never be president again. But the insurrection case is the first among equals. A conviction in this case before November 5 really should be the end of the road for Trump. It all depends on the Supreme Court agreeing with Smith’s motion this week. He made as strong a case as could be made.

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

Dumb and Dumber: Mike Johnson Is Even Worse Than Kevin McCarthy

Abraham Lincoln, this is your party on dopamine.

House Speaker Mike Johnson
Kent Nishimura/The Washington Post/Getty
House Speaker Mike Johnson on Capitol Hill on Tuesday

Not long ago, a video surfaced of House Speaker Mike Johnson appearing before the National Association of Christian Lawmakers. He told a tale of how the Lord came to him in a series of visitations and “began to wake me up … in the middle of the night” to prepare him for a mighty role. The humble Johnson fancied himself an Aaron, Moses’s sidekick. But in time, in Johnson’s telling, the Lord made it clear to him that he was Moses, and He urged M.J. to be prepared, because “we’re coming to a Red Sea moment.”

Well, Moses, it looks like the Red Sea just crashed down on your head.

If this blockhead has the Lord’s blessing, I’d sure hate to see where he’d be without it. Just three and a half months into the speakership, he’s making Kevin McCarthy look like Cicero. It was just hilarious to see him have to announce on the Alejandro Mayorkas impeachment vote that the “ayes” were 214 and the “nays” were 216 and “the resolution is not adopted.” And minutes later, a stand-alone Israel aid bill failed, with 14 Republicans jumping the leaky Ship Johnson.

The week has been humiliating for Republicans on many fronts. Donald Trump had his preposterous immunity argument mercilessly shot down by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. Mitch McConnell was forced to pull an embarrassing about-face on the border bill, voting against a bill that he’d been promoting for weeks. Even Nikki Haley found a new way to shame herself, losing 2-to-1 in the Nevada primary to “none of these candidates.” Trump did seem to secure a coming win in the Fourteenth Amendment case, but that was largely expected, and it happened in spite of his lawyer’s awful performance.

These things aren’t accidents. They’re all part of the same pattern and are happening for the same reason.

Republicans today are consumed by this primal need for immediate gratification. They’re the party of the dopamine rush. Go read an article about the brain, and you’ll learn in five minutes that dopamine helps regulate pleasure, and pleasure is great, but too much dopamine leads to delusions, hallucinations, schizophrenia, psychosis. The entire party has a massive and collective mental disorder, a severe chemical imbalance in what remains of its collective brain, which explains why it kneels so slavishly before a psychotic man with the emotional regulation of a 5-year-old.

Like rutting ungulates, they are incapable of anything remotely resembling thought and respond only to the stimuli right in front of their noses. Deliberation, caution, calm reflection … these are the qualities that most of us have in more or less equal measure to the desire for gratification. These are the qualities that are most in harmony with the habits of democracy. To be small-d democratic is to deliberate; to think things through a little. This country’s Founders believed profoundly in this, which is why they built so many choke points into our democratic processes (too many, as it turns out). They wanted future generations to think stuff through.

But these people are stuck in the land of anti-thought. And because that’s where they live, it means that in many respects it’s where we all have to live, because that’s where a lot of our national debate plays out.

The border debate is a perfect example. There are a lot of problems with U.S. border policy. Undoubtedly some of them are the fault of Democrats. It’s reasonable that people should want more control over the border. But at the same time, it’s a complex problem, and any real solutions are complex too. Oklahoma Republican Senator James Lankford, to his credit, tried to acknowledge that reality. And what happened? He was brutally shut down. It was chiefly Donald Trump, but it wasn’t only Trump. One right-wing talk radio host threatened to “destroy” him.

But it’s not just the border. It’s everything. The Mayorkas impeachment. I suppose there are many grounds from a conservative point of view on which to think he’s doing a lousy job. That’s fine. But a high crime or a misdemeanor? Ridiculous. That doesn’t matter, though. The mere word impeachment makes the mules rut, and there ends the discussion.

James Comer and Jim Jordan are another primo example. They just go on Fox and Newsmax and say shit. It’s not about facts or methodically building a case. It’s all about the dopamine rush of being on national television and saying titillating things that rile people up and get the checks rolling in. When they have to walk it back two days later, nobody cares. In fact, they’ve accomplished what they wanted to accomplish, which is to add to the general picture of murkiness surrounding Hunter Biden or whatever. And they walk out of that studio feeling eight miles high.

And that’s where our political debate takes place now. It used to be that dopamine-rush politics was occasional. Both sides did it on issues that clearly worked to their advantage, as Democrats still do. But with the GOP today, that’s all politics is. The immediate gratification of having scored a point, trolled a lib, won a little wedge of Fox airtime—and most of all pleased Donald Trump.

No one could succeed in this degraded and juvenile context. Not even Moses. I hope the Lord levels with Johnson soon.

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

Biden Should Call Trump a “Sick F**k” in Public. Real America Agrees.

It may be unpresidential, but Trump has redefined “unpresidential.”

Biden in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania
Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Biden in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania, last month

We learned this week, via Jonathan Lemire and some Politico colleagues, that Joe Biden uses salty language about Donald Trump in private. He’s a “sick fuck” and a “fucking asshole.” During his Valley Forge speech commemorating the January 6 insurrection, the president almost let it slip in public: “At his rally, he jokes about an intruder, whipped up by the Big Trump Lie, taking a hammer to Paul Pelosi’s skull. And he thinks that’s funny. He laughed about it. What a sick …”

The White House declined to comment for the record, but this was obviously put out there by administration sources just to test the reaction. Well, here’s mine: Biden should just go ahead and say it publicly. Not all the time of course. But once or twice. It won’t hurt. Most likely it will help. Might help a lot, in fact.

This is so for two basic reasons that people in politics sometimes forget about inside their pressure bubbles. The first is that it’s genuine. If it’s what he thinks, then he ought to just own it. People hear politicians calibrate their words every day (well, except Trump, but even he does it sometimes, notably with respect to a federal abortion ban). To hear someone just let it rip is refreshing.

Reason two? A hell of a lot of people agree. The ones who don’t are loud and enraged, and they command not one but three propaganda television networks (Fox, One America, Newsmax). But I’m betting that your average American—middle class, not very political, guided by conventional morals and values, not angry at either Taylor Swift or Travis Kelce—thinks Donald Trump is a sick fuck.

The success of such a play would depend on the evidence Biden would introduce to reinforce the label. It can’t be political. He led an insurrection? No. That’s partisan. He separated children from their parents and kept them in cold barracks with Mylar blankets? That’s plenty bad, but it’s still just politics.

The best evidence is above politics. Like Trump’s habit of insulting soldiers. Biden hit the right note in the Valley Forge speech: “[Trump] referred to those heroes, and I quote, as ‘suckers’ and ‘losers.’ He actually said that. How dare he say that. How dare he talk about my son and all like that. Look, I call them patriots and heroes. The only loser I see is Donald Trump.” (Biden believes son Beau’s brain cancer, the cause of his death, stemmed from his exposure to burn pits in Iraq during his service.)

The Paul Pelosi story is a pretty good piece of evidence too. Yes, the name Pelosi will set off the inevitable bells on both sides. But I doubt many swing voters think it’s OK to joke about taking a hammer to an 82-year-old man’s head. We might throw in what Trump said about John McCain back in 2015 (“I like heroes who weren’t captured”).

Trump, as we know, leads Biden narrowly in most polls (and in some state polls, not so narrowly). At the same time, large majorities agree that Trump is a lawless and reckless and just bad human being.

Here are some poll results from last summer, which are in line with a ton of other polls. Popularity—unfavorable, 60 to 38 percent. Does Trump think he’s above the law? Yes, 63 to 37. Do you support or oppose Trump’s indictments? Yes, 53 to 39. Do you think Trump has committed a crime? Yes, 62 to 32. And the most germane one here, is Trump fit for office? No, 58 to 42.

Why, you might ask, is a man with those numbers leading in polls? First of all, because Joe Biden is 80. If Biden were 75, he’d be six, seven points ahead, no question about it. And second, because those average swing voters have forgotten everything they didn’t like about Trump, while they see every day the things they don’t like about Biden—his age, and his inflation (although things are improving considerably on that front).

This campaign—and not panicking about January’s head-to-head polls—is going to be an exercise in reminding those voters of the things they hated about Trump. In some ways, Trump will do that work himself. He’s already doing it, defaming a woman he raped, misbehaving in courtrooms, getting convicted of more crimes (we hope), ranting against the legal system, the one venue where his bullshit doesn’t fly. By late October, a lot of people will have observed his campaign-season antics and be asking themselves whether they really want this moral baboon in their faces for another four years. (It occurs to me that’s an insult to baboons.)

But a lot of the work will have to be done by Biden and the Democrats. Trump’s lie to the American people about the seriousness of the coronavirus. His serial bragging about getting rid of Roe v. Wade. His love of Vladimir Putin. His increasing dementia, far worse than Biden’s. And his basic sociopathy and inhumanity. If driving home that last point home means Biden should use a rather unpresidential noun here and there, well, fuck it.

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

This Will Go Down as the Week the Trump Meltdown Began

Sometimes you can just feel the conventional wisdom changing.

Trump sneers
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The political conventional wisdom is hard to define sometimes. Usually it’s one of those things that’s just there, like your body temperature. You feel it but don’t notice it. And then, bam, you feel hot, you get the chills, and that’s the moment you know you’re getting sick. Something has shifted, and suddenly you notice this thing you rarely think about.

That’s how this week felt with regard to the conventional wisdom. A week ago, Donald Trump was the clear favorite to win in November, and of course he may yet—the polls are close and will remain so. But also, a week ago, Trump had a lot of wind in his sails coming off his smashing Iowa win, and Joe Biden was a doddering old man with a mixed-at-best economic record.

There was no huge sea change this week. But there’s also no question that those scripts started to flip, in two important ways.

First and most important, Trump is now the one doddering his way toward dementia. He has been for a while, but the Nikki-Nancy moment, and Nikki Haley’s subsequent attack on Trump, finally forced the media to make Trump’s mental state into a running narrative. The column I wrote Monday about this did monster traffic, which I note not to boast but by way of observing that the readership means that a lot of people were obviously thinking the same thing.

On Morning Joe, cable’s most influential show in setting the conventional wisdom, they’ve been just merciless about Trump’s addled brain. The Biden campaign put together a very funny ad mocking Trump. And over the rest of the week, Le Grand Orange (apologies, Rusty!) did not disappoint. There was that nutso social media binge against E. Jean Carroll—37 posts in two hours, Wednesday night. Then there was his ridiculous testimony at the Carroll defamation trial, where he was on the stand for three minutes and managed to defy the judge’s instructions twice. Then there was his absurd whining Thursday as he left the courtroom, repeating three times, “This is not America.” No, asshole, this is actually the best version of America. A courtroom is the one place where your lies and slander don’t fly.

Trump’s brain is turning into Jell-O before our eyes. No, not just Jell-O, but one of those ’60s Jell-O molds your mother (or grandmother) made, with cottage cheese and fruit and chunks of canned tuna and olives and a few mystery ingredients for good measure. And it’s not like there’s any chance he’s going to be pulling himself together. The pressure is building, and fast. This month, two judges, Lewis Kaplan in the Carroll case and Arthur Engoron in the fraud case, will announce the size of the damage awards they want Trump and his businesses to pay in those cases. Carroll seeks $10 million. New York Attorney General Letitia James seeks $370 million in the fraud case.

Neither judge seems especially seduced by Trump’s alleged charisma. So let’s say Kaplan socks him with $15 million and Engoron with, oh, $450 million. Hardly implausible. Both are supposed to happen within a matter of days.

Then there’s the campaign trail. Trump is going to win the GOP nomination, sure, but Haley has stepped up her attacks—apparently realizing that now that it’s a two-person race, the only chance she stands is to finally go after her opponent, especially now that he’s calling her “Birdbrain” and mocking her fashion choices. “I know that’s what he does when he is threatened, and he should feel threatened, without a doubt,” she told a South Carolina crowd.

Trump will dispatch Haley in the February 24 primary in that state—and then, possibly, he’ll turn right around and face Jack Smith’s prosecutors in a Washington courtroom the next week. The trial date is March 4, although that’s up in the air, pending the resolution of a pretrial motion. So Trump’s going to be winning primaries—that is, inside the hall of mirrors that is the Republican Party faithful—while out in the real world he’s going to be losing in court, and losing what’s left of his mind. Now that Trump’s mental condition is fair game, he’s just going to deteriorate even more—a self-reinforcing downward spiral into the quicksand of his cankered soul.

The second change, even more important albeit less fun to talk about, has to do with the reality—and the perceptions—of the economy. I won’t throw a bunch of numbers at you, but: gas prices down, Dow setting a new record above 38,000, and a great (not good—great) GDP report this week. More important still were those recent numbers showing that consumer confidence is up more over the last two months than during any two-month period since 1991. Think about that. Thirty-three years. In 1991, Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce were being potty-trained (though not together!), and Patrick Mahomes wasn’t born.

All this is why Punchbowl News, a reliable reflector of conventional wisdom, led its Friday morning newsletter with “Dems get ready to run on the economy.” Think they would have done that even a week ago?

And by the way, what is Trump’s reaction to this? To say he wants the economy to crash. He wants Americans to lose jobs and health care and houses and small businesses. If that’s not fodder for a 30-second ad, or about a dozen of them, Democratic operatives are more asleep than usual.

This is even more important than Trump’s personal meltdown because most people still vote on the economy. They form their views and reach their conclusions three to six months out from the election, which is the next few months. If these two new narratives—Trump is demented, and the economy is strong—settle into conventional wisdom, the way we talk about this election may be very different indeed by Memorial Day.

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

The Right-Wing Media Takeover Is Destroying America

The purchase of The Baltimore Sun is further proof that conservative billionaires understand the power of media control. Why don’t their liberal counterparts get it?


You have no doubt seen the incredibly depressing news about the incredibly depressing purchase of The Baltimore Sun by the incredibly depressing David Smith, chairman of Sinclair Broadcast Group, the right-wing media empire best known for gobbling up local television news operations and forcing local anchors to spout toxic Big Brother gibberish like this.

The Sun was once a great newspaper. I remember reading, once upon a time, that it had sprung more foreign correspondents into action across the planet than any American newspaper save The New York Times and The Washington Post. It had eight foreign bureaus at one point, all of which were shuttered by the Tribune Company by 2006. But the Sun’s real triumphs came in covering its gritty, organic city. And even well after its glory days, it still won Pulitzers—as recently as 2020, for taking down corrupt Mayor Catherine Pugh, who served a stretch in prison thanks to the paper.

Smith wasted no time in showing his cards during his first meeting with the staff Wednesday. He was asked about a comment he made to New York magazine back in 2018, when he said, “Print media is so left wing as to be meaningless dribble.” (“Dribble”? Let’s hope he won’t be on the copy desk.) Did he feel that way about the Sun specifically? “In many ways, yes,” Smith said, adding that he wants the paper to emulate the local Fox affiliate, which is owned … by Sinclair.

But this column isn’t about the Sun and Smith. In fact, I applaud Smith and Sinclair in one, and only one, respect. They get it. They understand how important media ownership is. They are hardly alone among right-wing megawealthy types. Of course there’s Rupert Murdoch, but there are more. There’s the late Reverend Sun Myung Moon, who, after he got rich from his Unification Church, sprouted media properties, most notably The Washington Times, still owned by the church’s News World Communications (once upon a quaint old time, it was shocking that the conservative newspaper in the nation’s capital was started by a cult). And Philip Anschutz, whose Clarity Media Group started the tabloid newspaper The Washington Examiner in 2005. These days, the list includes Elon Musk with X/Twitter, Peter Thiel and Senator J.D. Vance with Rumble (a right-wing YouTube alternative), Ye with his attempted purchase of the now-defunct Parler, and, of course, Donald Trump, with Truth Social. They all understand what Viktor Orbán told the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2022: “Have your own media.” Shows like Tucker Carlson’s old Fox show, the Hungarian strongman said, “should be broadcast day and night.”

I’ve been watching this develop for decades. The right-wing media was a thing long ago, but it was still easily drowned out by the mainstream media. If the mainstream media was a beach ball, the right-wing media was a table tennis ball.

Today? The mainstream media, with cuts like those endured by the Sun, is maybe a volleyball, and the right-wing media is a basketball—a little bigger. And it’s on its way to beach-ball-hood. The right-wing media is now the agenda-setting media in this country, and it’s only getting bigger and more influential every year.

And how have the country’s politically engaged liberal billionaires responded to this? By doing roughly nothing.

I’ve been in the trenches of this fight for many years. Back in the George W. Bush era, the late Rob Stein, a Democratic insider and good friend of mine, mapped for the first time the conservative infrastructure in a PowerPoint presentation that became such a hot ticket in Washington liberal circles that The New York Times Magazine did a story about it. He showed, from looking over conservative groups’ 990s (because they were mostly all nonprofits), how much was spent on policy development, how much on field operations, how much on youth training, and how much on media. I don’t remember the numbers, but the media figure was high.

Much of this spending was coordinated. Murdoch’s empire didn’t count, because his properties were for-profit, as was The Washington Times. But a lot of the nonprofit spending was directed by a handful of anointed movement leaders, and they made certain that a big chunk of money was spent on media.

I used to try to argue, whenever I was lucky enough to get the ear of one of our side’s rich people for five minutes, that we needed to build an avowedly liberal media infrastructure. I was told that they just weren’t that interested. They had other priorities. They were concerned with the issues. They weren’t prepared to lose all that money, and for what?

For what? Ask Viktor Orbán. He knows. Ask Rupert. Why has he held onto the New York Post? News Corp., the parent company, makes a profit. But the Post loses kajillions. Nobody knows how much, but here’s an estimate from 12 years ago that put the paper’s losses at $60 to $120 million a year.

So why does he keep it? Because it’s worth every penny. It gives him power. The Post’s editors know how to use its front page and its news pages to shape discourse. Where did last fall’s New York crime scare come from, the one that had Westchesterites convinced they dare not set foot in the city, and which elected all those Republican members of Congress? From the Post, that’s where.

I used to be told sometimes, “Yes, but we have The New York Times, The Washington Post …” Really? No, not really. Sure, they endorse Democrats mostly. And sure, much of their social and cultural coverage proceeds from liberal assumptions. They, and almost all of the mainstream media, will not write a story today suggesting, for example, that undocumented immigrants across America should be rounded up en masse and deported. This has been a hard-won reality forged by many activists and intellectuals over many years, and it is a good thing.

But it isn’t capital-P Politics. On capital-P Politics, The New York Times and The Washington Post often let liberals down. I was having these arguments, as I said, back when Dubya was president, and he and his vassals were ginning up their phony case for invading Iraq. Which newspaper published the infamous “aluminum tubes” story charging that Saddam Hussein was seeking material that could only be used in nuclear centrifuges? The Times, on its front page on a crucial Sunday in the fall of 2002, as Bush officials spent the day fanning out onto the political chat shows touting the article.

It was false. Eventually, the Times itself debunked the story—but in 2004, well after the war had started. And as for the Post, that liberal paper’s editorial page was one of the most important promoters of the Iraq invasion in all of American media. (Speaking of the unreliability of liberal media outlets at that time, it would be evasive of me not to mention The New Republic’s own fervent support of the war, but that wasn’t me; I was helming The American Prospect at the time, and we opposed it.)

I used to say to people: What we need is a full-throated liberal tabloid in Washington—a Washington version of the New York Post that would use its front pages and its news columns to promote embarrassing stories and scandals about Bush administration officials, evangelical grifters, and other prominent right-wingers. It would be agenda-setting. It would have some juicy gossip columns and a great sports section because a tabloid newspaper has to. And most of all, it would have done the vital work of connecting liberal values to a proletarian tabloid sensibility.

Everyone I mentioned this to laughed in my face, and maybe you are too. But Phil Anschutz didn’t laugh. He started a conservative tabloid right around the same time I was saying our side should start a liberal one. And what’s happened? I suppose he’s lost money, although I don’t really know. But The Washington Examiner is a respected property (it gave up on print in 2013, but that was fine; by then it was an established presence). I see its people on cable news, and it has produced some legit stars like Tim Alberta. It has influence, I assume its reporters have Hill press credentials, and I don’t see anybody laughing at it.

How different would today’s discourse be if someone had funded such a paper? I don’t want to overstate things, but it would be different, no question. Four years of tabloid “woods” (covers) smartly and riotously mocking Trump while he was president would absolutely have changed the way he was perceived and described by the rest of the media.

And now let’s return our thoughts to Sinclair. How different would things be out there in America if, 15 or 20 years ago, some rich liberal or consortium of liberals had had the wisdom to make a massive investment in local news? There were efforts along these lines, and sometimes they came to something. But they were small. What if, instead of right-wing Sinclair, some liberal company backed by a group of billionaires had bought up local TV stations or radio stations or newspapers all across the country?

Again, we can’t know, but we know this much: Support for Democrats has shriveled in rural America to near nonexistence, such that it is now next to impossible to imagine Democrats being elected to public office at nearly any level in about two-thirds of the country. It’s a tragedy. And it happened for one main reason: Right-wing media took over in these places and convinced people who live in them that liberals are all God-hating superwoke snowflakes who are nevertheless also capable of destroying civilization, and our side didn’t fight it. At all. If someone had formed a liberal Sinclair 20 years ago to gain reach into rural and small-town America, that story would be very different today.

There has in recent years been an impressive growth of nonprofit media outlets, led nationally by ProPublica and laying down roots everywhere, from the aforementioned Baltimore, where the Baltimore Banner has sometimes been scooping the Sun, to my home state of West Virginia, where Pulitzer Prize–winner Ken Ward’s Mountain State Spotlight is doing terrific reporting. These outlets are welcome indeed. They do sharp and necessary reporting. But they’re nonprofits, which, under IRS rules, cannot be partisan. They have to be apolitical.

What we used to call “the progressive infrastructure” has grown in the two decades since Stein was showing his PowerPoint around town. Donors got together at Stein’s behest to create the Democracy Alliance. It helped seed the Center for American Progress, designed as liberalism’s answer to the Heritage Foundation. It helped grow groups like the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. On the media front, it funded Media Matters for America, the broad left’s leading media watchdog outfit.

But there is one job liberal benefactors have refused to take on (with a few exceptions, starting with the owner of this very magazine). The cost has been enormous. And by the way—this story isn’t over. By a long shot. I’m certain David Smith wants to buy more struggling newspapers and turn them into MAGA sheets. And there are surely mini-Sinclairs in formation. Prager University’s right-wing misinformation videos are gaining a foothold in some public schools. Right-wing outlets have zero interest in sharing the “media space” with the mainstream media. They want to crush it.

And I fear that they probably will. There’s a story in the Times today about three moguls who bought prominent media properties, most notably Bezos with the Post, and the many millions they are losing. That’s sad. But what did they expect? You don’t buy a newspaper expecting to make money. You buy a newspaper because you want influence. You are passionate, as Murdoch is, about pushing the country in a certain direction. You either learn to live with the losses or you find a way to cover them. To those who say it’s impossible, I point out that somehow, the rich men of the right have figured this out. And so Bezos, who has no discernible public passion, will probably tire of it all and sell someday—and maybe to David Smith, whose public passion is very discernible indeed. If you can’t imagine the Post as a right-wing rag, you’d better start smelling the coffee that’s been brewing for 20 years.

What will the result be 20 years from now? Will we be raising a generation of children in two-thirds of the country who believe that fossil fuels are great and trees cause pollution, that slavery wasn’t the cause of the Civil War, that tax cuts always raise revenue, and that the “Democrat” Party stole the 2020 election? Yes, we will. And it will happen because too many people on the liberal side refused to grasp what Murdoch, Anschutz, Smith, and Viktor Orbán see so clearly. Have your own media.

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

Why the Media Narrative on Donald Trump’s Legal Woes Is Wrong

Political pundits are ignoring the poll numbers on independent voters.

Trump at the closing arguments
Shannon Stapleton/Pool/Getty Images
Trump at the closing arguments in the Trump Organization civil fraud trial in New York City on Thursday

Sometime this month, New York Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron will decide how much Donald Trump should pay in penalties in the fraud case brought by New York State Attorney General Letitia James. Engoron has already ruled that Trump did commit fraud, so now it’s just a matter of the money. Engoron has been decidedly unimpressed by Trump’s lawyers’ arguments throughout the proceeding, so it seems reasonable to think Engoron will come close to, match, or maybe even exceed James’s request of $370 million.

According to Lisa Rubin of MSNBC, speaking on Morning Joe Friday morning, the very theatricality of Trump and his attorneys’ denials can be a factor in the judge’s determination—that is, if Engoron determines that Trump and his lawyers’ lies are egregiously flamboyant and obvious, that can help dictate the penalty amount. Rubin predicted that the amount would be “in the hundreds of millions” of dollars and that perhaps Engoron would drop the nuclear penalty on Trump and his family—barring them from doing business in New York again.

Meanwhile, as Engoron is deliberating, another trial is about to begin. The E. Jean Carroll defamation trial will open next Tuesday, the day after the Iowa caucuses. Last year, a jury found that Trump had lied about not sexually abusing Carroll years ago, and awarded her $5 million. Trump appealed. Last summer, the judge in the case clarified, amid intense media debate and speculation, that Trump did in fact “rape” Carroll.

Meanwhile, on the political front, Trump will win Monday’s Iowa caucuses. The following Tuesday, January 23, New Hampshirites will go to the polls. One poll that got a ton of attention showed Nikki Haley within seven points of Trump. She has some momentum, but in the polling averages, Trump still has a double-digit lead. And he’ll be coming off a massive win in Iowa. So let’s say for the moment that Trump wins New Hampshire handily too.

The media narrative with respect to the Trump lawsuits will be what it has been, except on steroids: Trump’s legal woes only help him. That’s true with respect to Republican voters. But there are a lot of reasons to think that that piece of conventional wisdom will be dead wrong when it comes to other voters.

First of all, New Hampshire may well prove this point. Independents can vote in New Hampshire primaries and have a history of being cranky and unpredictable. Now let’s assume that Trump doesn’t win the Granite State handily—he wins it narrowly or maybe even loses. If that happens, Haley will be succeeding on the strength of those independent voters. And that will constitute a big and important switch that’s worth paying attention to.

In 2016, independents made up 42 percent of the electorate in the state’s GOP primary, and Trump cleaned up among them: He got 36 percent of the independent vote, while his closest competitor, John Kasich, got 18 percent.

If Trump loses independents in New Hampshire to Haley—even if he still wins overall—that will be a big sign that the Trump show isn’t playing well beyond the MAGA base. We’d have to wait until the results to see what these voters say about why they didn’t vote for Trump. But it’s hardly a stretch to think that Trump’s legal problems have to be part of the story.

The media aren’t paying attention to this at all. Case in point: Last week, there was a Washington Post/University of Maryland poll that got a lot of attention. In its write-up, the Post highlighted the fact that three years after January 6, Republicans were if anything more loyal to Trump, not less. The rest of the media largely followed that lead, so the story of that poll became yet another “Trump can get away with anything” story.

But other results from the poll that got a lot less attention told a different story. The survey asked people if the Justice Department, in charging Trump for insurrection, was holding him accountable as it would anyone else or was targeting him unfairly. A comfortable majority, 57 percent, said he was being treated fairly. That’s the exact percentage of independents who said the same, compared to 90 percent of Democrats and 20 percent of Republicans.

In other words: The Republican base, as is so often the case in these kinds of polls, is a total outlier that distorts the overall results. What does this tell us? I think it’s clear. As the primary “drama” winds down, and as the courtroom drama heats up—and both of these are likely to happen in early March—we’ll see the trials start to take more of a toll on Trump. If the Jack Smith insurrection trial proceeds as originally planned on March 4 (that’s now in abeyance pending resolution of a Trump appeal), Trump’s remaining and mathematically meaningless primary wins are going to get a lot less attention than what’s going on in that Washington courtroom.

Don’t buy the narrative that none of this hurts Trump. It will. He’s not being persecuted. He’s a scumbag who did lie about his property values, who did rape Carroll, who did lead an insurrection, who did take classified documents (he doesn’t dispute this—he just says he was allowed to do anything he pleased), and God knows what else. Republicans may not care. But I think real Americans do.

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

Americans Don’t Care About Democracy? Well, Democrats—Make Them Care

What Biden needs to tell American voters today—and every day until the election

Rebecca Noble/Getty Images
Biden speaking at the Tempe Center for the Arts in Arizona on September 28

President Biden will give what they’re billing as the first speech of his reelection campaign today, and in it, he will attack Donald Trump by name as a historic threat to democracy. An aide told The Washington Post that Biden “is going to be very straightforward on what happened, the truth of what happened, and the role that Trump played in that.”

The speech will arrive, as we approach the third anniversary of the insurrection, in about as bleak a context as we could imagine. Trump leads Biden in most head-to-head polls, albeit just by a point or two. And Republicans are apparently rallying to Trump. A Post poll released earlier this week had some gob-smacking findings showing that Republicans are far less concerned about January 6 than they were right after it happened, and they weren’t very bothered then.

We’re in a surreal hall of mirrors. Trump keeps suffering legal defeat after legal defeat. He’s being tossed off state ballots. His lawyer all but admits he led an insurrection. A new House report details nearly $8 million he made from foreign governments while serving as president. And for now, none of it matters.

This campaign will be about a lot of things, as all campaigns are. But the main question will come down to this and this alone: Will a majority or plurality of Americans use their vote—that is, employ the peaceful means of democracy’s most essential right—to put a violent fascist back in charge of this country?

That the answer isn’t a clear “no” is terrifying. But here’s the thing. Some would argue that the fact that the answer isn’t a clear “no” means that Biden and Democrats shouldn’t emphasize the issue because it’s not a clear winner. I say the opposite is the case. Emphasize the issue and make it a winner. If polls today show that not enough people care about democracy, don’t just follow the polls. Change the polls. Make them care.

Republicans understand this dynamic and have for years. The classic recent example is the Iraq War. After the 9/11 attacks, no one outside a handful of neoconservatives thought they justified waging war on Iraq. But over the course of 2002, the Bush White House changed public opinion. They did it largely through lies, but they did it. By the time the United States invaded Iraq, majorities supported it.

Trump has changed polls too. Pre-Trump Republicans believed a lot of bad things, and I’m certainly not sugar-coating that GOP—which, after all, laid down and gave itself over to Trump. But they did still believe in the general integrity of the American electoral system. No one was urging Mitt Romney to dispute the 2012 election results. Romney conceded on election night (or very early Wednesday morning, technically), and everyone moved on. But by 2016, Trump was saying that he would respect the results “if I win.” And that was all it took. The polls, at least among Republicans, changed and changed dramatically.

Democrats historically don’t do this. When the polls are on their side—as when, for example, George W. Bush tried to privatize Social Security in 2005—they’re as swashbuckling as Blackbeard. (That was one case where the GOP/right-wing media onslaught failed conspicuously to change the polls.) But when the polls aren’t on their side, they’re about as swashbuckling as Caspar Milquetoast.

If they want to make this democracy argument—and I think they’re right to do so—and if they want to win it—and they must—this habit has to change. They need to be mapping out a plan now that stage by stage will lay out an argument to voters (swing voters especially) that by Election Day will have them terrified at the prospect of Trump getting back into the White House. This can, and must, start with January 6. But then, by late spring say, and especially by the fall, the argument should be almost entirely about the future. Attack ad after attack ad simply need to take Trump’s own words, and the words of his people in leaks to media outlets, about how they’re going to impose authoritarianism in his second term. I would anticipate too that, by the fall, Trump will have said as much many times on the hustings, handing the Democrats fresh and irrefutable fodder.

Obviously there are other things the Democrats need to do. They are positioned to win millions of votes on the question of abortion rights. They have to press an economic argument the best they can, and as I wrote Monday, if some economic predictions are right, that could be less of a challenge than it seems like it will be today.

But there is a deep moral and ethical question at the center of this election unlike any other of my lifetime. Will Americans use the tools of democracy to hand their country to a democracy destroyer? They won’t if Democrats refuse to accept the “people don’t care about democracy” argument and make them care.

“Just Like the Ones I Used to Know...”

A Fighting Words quiz on several centuries’ worth of Christmas music.

GraphicaArtis/Getty Images

1. According to Billboard, this is the oldest English-language Christmas carol, dating back to the 1650s:

A. “Silent Night”

B. “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming”

C. “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen”

D. “The Holly and the Ivy”

Answer: C, “God Rest Ye Merry.” Read this article. I really like that song. And notice that no, it’s not “God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen.” One of the most important commas in all of commadom.

2. There is a theory these days holding that “O Come, All Ye Faithful” was written with secret political intent, as a rallying crying for what cause?

A. The Stuart Restoration of 1660

B. The attempted Stuart retaking of the throne in 1745 under “Bonnie Prince Charlie”

C. The consolidation of the Austrian Empire in 1804

D. Napoleon’s return from exile in Elba in 1815

Answer: B, the Bonnie Prince Charlie episode. So says Bennett Zon, the head of the Music Department at Durham University. What, you know better?

3. According to a 2015 tally by FiveThirtyEight, what is the most covered Christmas song of all time?

A. “Silent Night”

B. “White Christmas”

C. “Jingle Bells”

D. “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”

Answer: A, “Silent Night.” Followed by “White Christmas,” second, and “Jingle Bells,” third. “Have Yourself” was seventh.

4. According to a 2021 YouGov poll, what do Americans think is the worst Christmas song of all time?

A. “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”

B. “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer”

C. “All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth”

D. “Santa Baby”

Answer: D, “Santa Baby.” It nosed out “Grandma” by one percentage point, so, within the margin of error. Still, it was liked overall by 68 percent–32 percent. Great trivia here: It was co-written by Phil Springer, who, first of all, is still alive (!) and second of all went on to write songs with Utah GOP Senator Orrin Hatch, who was something of a tunesmith. And there’s more politics to this: The co-composer was Joan Javits, the niece (I think) of longtime liberal Republican New York Senator Jacob Javits. And I don’t see what’s so bad about it. It’s a fine song.

5. And according to a 2021 ranking by, what is the best country Christmas song of all time?

A. “Jingle Bell Rock,” by Bobby Helms

B. “Blue Christmas,” by Elvis Presley

C. “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” by Brenda Lee

D. “Christmases When You Were Mine,” by Taylor Swift

Answer: C, “Rockin’ Around.” Great song, great guitar, pretty cool sax solo. Brenda Lee was 13 when she record this!

6. Which of these artists has never recorded a Christmas song?

A. Snoop Dogg

B. They Might Be Giants

C. Bee Gees

D. Foo Fighters

Answer: Surprisingly, C, Bee Gees. Look it up! Snoop appears to have done a number of holiday tunes. They Might Be Giants made a Christmas E.P. with five songs, and Foo Fighters recorded Chuck Berry’s classic “Run Rudolph Run,” also covered by Keith Richards and Dave Edmunds.

The Real Problem With Those College Presidents? Gross Incompetence.

Yes, Elise Stefanik set a trap. But the presidents of Harvard, Penn, and MIT didn’t have to walk right into it.

Harvard President Claudine Gay (L) and Penn President Liz Magill
Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images
Harvard President Claudine Gay (left) and Penn President Liz Magill testified before the House Education and Workforce Committee on Tuesday.

Almost everyone has been piling on that pitiful troika of elite university presidents after their congressional testimony on Tuesday. A few other folks, people I know and respect like Michelle Goldberg of The New York Times and Jay Michaelson of The Daily Beast, have added some valuable nuance, arguing that in context, the position the presidents were defending actually had merit.

I agree with the main points both made in their columns—in effect, that Republican Representative Elise Stefanik’s disingenuous grilling of the presidents, which conflated free speech with targeted harassment, set a trap that forced them to appear to equivocate about antisemitism. But I want to make a different point, one that is sharply critical of the presidents on different grounds. I was personally offended by their gross incompetence, and it wouldn’t bother me in the least if they were all fired simply for that reason (if any of them are forced out, of course, it won’t be because of that).

Here’s what I mean. As the president of Harvard, Penn, or MIT, you are by definition one of America’s leading representatives of the liberal values of inquiry, critical thinking, science, anti-superstition, and, yes, free speech. On your home turf, you are confronted from time to time, or maybe more frequently than that, with situations in which some of these values come into conflict with each other, and you have to make a difficult decision. The national media, especially the right-wing media, is monitoring every move you make, every syllable you utter.

You exist, that is, at the center of an ideological tornado. You know this, or should. And you show up to Capitol Hill so unspeakably ill prepared that you—and your coterie of almost-certainly overpaid handlers—haven’t prepped for exactly the line of questioning that Stefanik pressed upon you? Indefensible.

A memorable moment in a 1988 presidential debate helps explain the key error the trio made. CNN anchor Bernard Shaw opened the proceedings by asking Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis about his opposition to the death penalty. “If Kitty Dukakis were raped and murdered,” Shaw asked, “would you favor an irrevocable death penalty for the killer?”

Dukakis restated his opposition to the death penalty with all the ardor of someone reading the phone book (what’s a phone book, you ask? This). The next day, some commentators criticized Shaw for being a little blunt, but mostly people laid into Dukakis for not saying something like: “First of all, Bernie, how dare you talk that way, even hypothetically, about my wife? You should be ashamed. And second of all, if I got my hands on the guy, they wouldn’t need the death penalty.”

Cheap? Theatrical? Sure. But it isn’t insane for people to want to see leaders show a little emotion about emotional things.

These presidents made the Dukakis error. They showed no emotion about one of the most emotional topics in the history of the human race, antisemitism. Harvard’s Claudine Gay said the right words, twice; she said hateful antisemitic speech was “personally abhorrent to me.” But she spoke with all the passion of someone giving a passerby directions to Widener Library.

What she and the others needed to do was show a little passion. Passion would communicate that this actually matters to them in a deep way. And they could still make the point they went on to make. It isn’t complicated. They could have said: “Congresswoman, antisemitism repulses me. When I hear someone say ‘gas the Jews,’ or when I watched those people march with those Nazi-like torches in Charlottesville in 2017, I shake with rage. I will never tolerate that on my campus. And yet, Congresswoman, universities must foster debate and allow free speech, even offensive, disgusting speech. Maybe you don’t understand this. I notice that your civil liberties and free speech vote ratings are nothing to write home about.” Boom: from defense to offense.

I know a lot of liberals will scoff at this point, but it’s quite serious. For better or worse we live in an age of theater, and right-wingers are just really good at theater. We must deal with reality as it is. Countless Americans, likely the majority, are getting their news in sound bites that elide context and nuance—on Fox News, yes, but also in 15-second videos on social media. How do we think that testimony has been playing on TikTok over the last three days?

It should go without saying, but I’ll say it all the same, that I obviously hold no brief for Stefanik. She’s a conscienceless fascist who was once a fairly reasonable conservative but took a sip from the poisoned MAGA chalice in 2016, and her career has been one long brownshirt rally ever since.

But the awfulness of her public persona just reinforces my main point. We are at war in this country. On the one side are the values embodied by Stefanik and Donald Trump and Steve Bannon and the soulless evangelical leaders who know exactly who Trump is but have elevated him to savior status because he wants to eradicate “vermin” like you and me. On the other side are the values represented, however imperfectly, by (among other institutions) our universities, great and not so great.

And if you’re on the liberal side, and you decide to waltz into the lion’s den, you had damn well better be ready. You are charged with defending a way of thinking and living that is under ceaseless attack, and you have a responsibility to represent that way of thinking and living for the rest of us who believe in it but don’t have the opportunity to appear before Congress. These presidents let half a country down, and for that, they should be ashamed.

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