The media gives Trump benefit of the doubt on abortion. He doesn’t deserve it

This was the week when the corporate media decided to mansplain Donald Trump to women and anyone else who might care about their reproductive rights.

“Don’t worry your pretty little heads about what he says,” we were told. “We’re going to tell you what he means.”

First, let’s tease out the most charitable take. The media always wants a ”story.” Thus, the thinking goes, Trump’s video statement this week describing his position on abortion must have been rooted in some political necessity. The Republican Party’s 2024 electoral hopes are obviously hemorrhaging on the issue of reproductive choice, so Trump must recognize his vulnerability on that issue, and must have felt it necessary to accommodate all of us by moderating his position. After all, it’s common for politicians to shape-shift on policy matters, even marginally. Those subtle changes in policy are eagerly picked up and parsed by the news media because they create conflict and drama that, in turn, provides a narrative for the press. 

But Trump is not a “normal” political candidate. For Trump, to acknowledge any shift or change on his abortion position would have gone against every ingrained aspect of his personality. It would be an admission, in effect, that he had miscalculated, or done something wrong. 

RELATED STORY: Trump's attempt to address abortion loses big—with everyone

So when Trump issued his scripted video—because he clearly couldn’t handle the intense discomfort of a live press conference—it was carefully crafted to acknowledge no error on his part. There was no sense he felt he’d miscalculated the impact of his long-asserted intent to overrule Roe v. Wade through his appointment of three virulently anti-abortion Supreme Court justices.

Instead, he bragged about it, spewing a bunch of ambiguous verbiage deliberately designed to say nothing else. For someone incapable of owning up to his mistakes, on abortion or anything else, it really couldn’t be otherwise.

But nearly all the mainstream media—Reuters, The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, NPR, and CBS—wanted that “story,” that sensible, rational narrative to present to their viewers. So what they all did—every one of them, in fact—was invent a story out of whole cloth: that this was evidence that Trump was actually behaving like a normal political human being and moderating, ever-so-slightly, his position on abortion.

In doing so, they did all Americans a grotesque disservice, because Trump didn’t change a thing about his position. It was the media that did that for him, as astutely pointed out by Media Matters’ Matt Gertz:

Former President Donald Trump’s strategy of ducking questions on abortion requires mainstream reporters to let him off the hook and leave pro-choice swing voters with the false impression that he is more moderate than he actually is. So far, it’s working.

Major news outlets are falsely claiming that Trump said abortion “should be left to the states” in a video announcement Monday on his Truth Social platform. In fact, Trump said only that abortion “will” be left to the states, a statement of law that does not address how he would respond if Congress passed a federal abortion ban or how regulators would treat abortion under a second Trump administration.

Gertz has the receipts. As he posted on the social platform X, the media complicity in distorting what Trump said was as repetitive as it was egregious:

The inaccurate claim that Trump said abortion "should be left to the states" is everywhere in mainstream coverage.

— Matthew Gertz (@MattGertz) April 8, 2024

This is not some minor quibble. What Gertz illustrates here is literally serial misinformation being spun by every recognized paladin of  “mainstream” news. And that misinformation was dutifully picked up and disseminated by subsidiary outlets to foster and spread a phony narrative that Trump has somehow moderated his position on abortion. He hasn’t.

By reporting in headline after headline that Trump said abortion “should”—rather than “will”—be left to the states, the media have created the impression that for Trump, the abortion issue is now settled, and implicitly, that he won’t take abortion restrictions further should he be elected again in 2024.

So, to the casual reader of these headlines, which is as far as many readers go, that means he’s abandoned his intent, expressed just last month, to establish a national abortion ban, and It means no effort to outlaw mifepristone through the FDA. However, as Kaili Joy Gray and Kos have both written on this site, that is not what Trump said at all.

Anyone in the mainstream news who has followed Trump over the past eight years should have known that he does not ever acknowledge his own misjudgments. He didn’t do it for his disastrous COVID-19 response. He never gave the slightest indication that he erred in the heinous conduct that led to either of his impeachments. 

So he wasn’t about to do it for an issue, such as abortion, for which he clearly has no personal sentiments. The problem here is that the media still continue to treat Trump as a normal politician, equivocating in a way that the media have come to expect. That conventional narrative may be a way to reassure themselves or their audience, but it’s false.  

Trump is fundamentally incapable of making such an admission. There has not been a single instance in Trump’s public career where he has admitted any error in judgment, let alone admitted it to the news media. His past actions can’t be questioned, and if they are questioned his response, invariably, is to become angry and dismissive. This peculiarity of Trump’s personality was entrenched by his mentor, Roy Cohn, one of the most malignant and ruthless political operatives of the 20th century. Cohn had a singular rule that he hammered regularly into his young protege: Never, ever admit mistakes.

Gertz observes that Trump’s statement was simply a reiteration of what the existing law on abortion actually is: nothing more, nothing less. The media ran with that and assumed that Trump was “limiting” himself by those statements. As Gertz points out, he did no such thing:

Trump did not say whether he would sign a federal abortion ban if Congress passed it. Nor did he say whether federal regulators under his administration would move to ban medication abortions or restrict sending them through the mail, or how he will vote on the abortion referendum in his home state of Florida, or whether he will continue to appoint judges who will further curtail abortion rights.

So the media narrative as implied—and literally spelled out in many headlines—was wholly false. Instead, what we got were headlines that had the pernicious effect of minimizing the threat Trump actually represents, and more importantly, misrepresenting what he does or does not intend to do on abortion.

Nor did the situation improve on the nightly news. Gertz followed up by examining Monday’s broadcasts for ABC’s “World News Tonight” and “Good Morning America,” NBC’s “Nightly News” and “Today Show,” and CBS’ “Evening News.” All of them reiterated that Trump said abortion “should” be left to the states. CBS’s broadcast put it in a chyron, while a reporter falsely intoned that Trump had “suggested today that the federal government should stay out of the abortion rights debate.”

Again, no such language appears anywhere in Trump’s video speech. As Gertz notes, ABC egregiously characterized Trump’s statements as a “reversal” of Trump’s prior statements regarding a national abortion ban. And, as Gertz observes, none of the networks addressed Trump’s ludicrous claim that Democrats support “infanticide.” 

Viewed in the most charitable light, this is a massive, disturbing failure on the part of nearly every major news outlet in this country. The damage will reverberate well into the campaign season as voters are now going to have to reconcile what they they were told by their feckless media, whose misleading headlines are typically the solitary source of their information, with what is actually at stake for voters as the 2024 election approaches.

But it’s also difficult to reconcile the glaringly collective aspect of this. As Gertz points out, Trump is someone who habitually, routinely lies, to the point where very little he says can be given any credulity at all. It’s difficult to fathom why nearly every major news outlet leapt to the same erroneous conclusion about what he said, and pushed it to their viewers and readers in the exact same fashion. MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow also pointed this out, while acknowledging her high regard for all of the sources involved. 

And now it’s even harder to argue with those who suggest that the media has normalized Trump and his pathologies, that its fixation on the horse race aspect of the 2024 election has clouded its own ability to distinguish facts from fiction.

That doesn’t mean we need to cynically reject everything the corporate-owned media decides to report about Trump, but it also doesn’t make us conspiracy theorists for calling out such blatant and obvious failures. Again, to reiterate a common phrase, despite eight long years of Roy Cohn’s protege living rent-free in our heads, none of this is normal. It’s not normal for the American public, and it should never, ever be normalized for those whose job it is to keep that public informed.

RELATED STORY: Rachel Maddow dissects pathetic media coverage of Trump's abortion video

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Why conservative attacks on Trump and his GOP sycophants are the most cutting

The op-ed sections of various traditional media outlets have provided ample opportunity over the past few years for Donald Trump’s many detractors to vent their contempt and frustration. This is an opportunity to call out not only Trump’s heinous behavior but also the behavior of those who continue to pledge their support to him, in spite of—or because of—his actions. Based on the sheer amount of impassioned invective alone, there’s little doubt that Trump has proven to be the most polarizing figure in our nation’s political history.  

Most of that criticism has come from the left side of the political aisle. Adam Serwer’s essay in The Atlantic, aptly titled ”The Cruelty Is the Point,” described the malicious Trump mentality and its attraction for Trump’s supporter base as well as could be imagined. Charles Blow of The New York Times certainly deserves accolades for his tireless efforts in the wake of the 2016 election to contextualize, among other things, Trump’s appeal in terms of racism. And though it’s not clear whether she’d identify as left-leaning, Jane Mayer’s investigative work produced what is undoubtedly some of the best journalism about Trump. Obviously this list omits a lot of stellar writers whose political sensibilities, one way or another, have combined to form a durable and thorough evisceration of Trump and Trumpism.

But a discrete line of attack from certain conservatives, many of whom have styled themselves “Never Trumpers,” has also emerged as particularly acute over the past eight years. The writings of The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin, The Atlantic’s David Frum and Tom Nichols, and certain pieces written by David French and even Robert Kagan have been unusually acute in conveying an almost-palpable indignation and outright disgust. And this is not just aimed at Trump but at their fellow conservatives who have so obsequiously debased themselves by adhering to him. 

Of course, liberals are outraged and disgusted by Trump as well. But there is a wounded betrayal infusing the critiques by these (some could be called “former”) conservatives that invigorates their rhetoric to levels that even the most ardent anti-Trump voices from the left can’t quite capture. Something that makes their feelings of disgust stand out with a peculiar, inscrutable resonance that liberals, by definition, lack to adequately express.

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This phenomenon is important because it provides a unique reminder of just how far the Republican Party has fallen. To fully comprehend it, though, it’s helpful to try to imagine ourselves experiencing the events of the past eight years from the same vantage point as these now-disaffected Republicans. 

This is the point where many will remind us that these same Republicans (some of them former die-hard neo-cons who led the cheerleading for George W. Bush’s disastrous Iraq War) are responsible for Trump’s ascension in the first place. That it also led to the descent of the GOP into its current putrescent, cadaverous state is the natural, inevitable outcome of their efforts. The only way to understand that is to imagine—as Democrats—what our reactions would be under similar circumstances. And putting it mildly, that is not easy.

First, you have to assume that for the better part of their waking political lives these folks—like Democrats—proceeded under the assumption that theirs was the “proper” course for the country, that their values were “good” values that ultimately portended a “good” result for the nation. They never, ever anticipated that someone possessed of such pervasive duplicity, outright fraudulence, and raw criminal mindset as Donald Trump could ever establish such complete, unquestionable domination of their party. They never anticipated that all of the racist dog-whistles their party relied upon for decades to muster their voters would suddenly be unleashed and openly normalized. They never foresaw that, facing the threat of demographic irrelevancy, their party and its leader would revert to openly embracing violent, murderous dictators and welcoming their meddling in our elections as an effort to preserve their political power. 

For Democrats to really appreciate the overwhelming degree of cognitive dissonance that clearly discomfits these “Never-Trumpers,” some analogies have to be drawn from an “alternate universe.” Imagine that instead of the morally upright, civic-minded fellow we all know, Barack Obama had spent the entirety of his life as a self-aggrandizing, misogynist blowhard with a long track record of corrupt business ventures, serial infidelity, and dependence on Russian financial largesse. Imagine him crudely projecting his own moral decrepitude on his opponent and eagerly allying himself with some of the most insidious and criminal personages in the country to attain the presidency. Imagine that instead of Michelle, Sasha, and Malia flanking him his offspring were the likes of Melania, Ivanka, Donald Jr., and Eric, for whom the only salient characteristics were grifting off their father’s existence. Imagine him eagerly and actively soliciting the assistance of our most ruthless strategic enemies to gain the presidency. 

Would Democrats enthusiastically elect such a person to represent them? Not very likely, but let’s just imagine they did. And in one of his first official acts as president, Obama proceeded to dispatch his openly racist underlings to implement a policy of child kidnapping toward undocumented immigrants and permanently separating them from their mothers and fathers. Imagine a long train of his own hand-picked officials resigning to write books decrying his absolute incompetence and sociopathic instability. Imagine him trying to condition military assistance to an erstwhile ally upon inventing political dirt on his presumed opponent in the next election. Meanwhile, imagine his fellow Democrats in Congress ignoring, then emulating his behavior. And they refused to criticize him and actively engaged themselves in performative, imitative acts, rubber-stamping his selection of political candidates. And all of those candidates invariably displayed the same corrupt tendencies before they went on to overwhelmingly lose in the next election.

Then imagine the world is stricken by the worst pandemic in a century, and rather than rallying to protect Americans, the Democratic president is more concerned with his own political viability. He and his closest advisers openly plan to leverage the pandemic against his political opposition, hiring quack physician advisers to ridicule the medical establishment and encourage the American people to eschew protecting themselves. All of this is being done, mind you, with the eager cooperation and praise of the Democratic Party and Democratic voters, many of whom begin to outdo themselves with public displays of obsequious sycophancy. During this interlude, nearly 1 million Americans die, a large number of those deaths stemming directly or indirectly from this president’s malevolent inaction.

Obviously at this point, any moral justification or excuses for such a hideous transformation affecting a political party would have long since evaporated. Which brings us back to reality, a reality that these “conservatives” appalled by Trump surely recognize: that Democrats would never, ever have allowed this to happen. Period.

But Republicans didn’t do that. In fact, they did the exact opposite, affirming and cementing their abandonment of all morality, all respect for the nation and its institutions, probably forever. Every action by Republicans since Trump lost in 2020 has revealed their party and almost all of its voters as swirling ever-downward in a nihilistic death spiral, from which there appears to be no return. Rather than acknowledge their gross, self-destructive miscalculation, they’ve simply doubled down like lemmings, eagerly chasing Trump as they rush toward the cliff’s edge.

And all during this time they’ve continuously excoriated—at times violently threatening—any Republican who refuses to go along with them. The storming of the Capitol by members of Trump’s voting base on Jan. 6 didn’t change their minds. Trump’s second impeachment didn’t change their minds. The serial lies about the election and Trump’s submergence beneath the weight of harsh criminal and civil liability didn’t change them, either.

The “Never-Trumpers” were, from the outset, operating under at least the assumption that their beliefs and goals were rooted in some semblance of civic responsibility, one which they—misguidedly or not—believed would serve the nation. Whether that belief was actually well-founded is or not is beside the point; the sad reality is that for them, there simply is no longer any place to go. As David French obliquely pointed out in his latest piece in The New York Times, their fellow Republicans really don’t want them. And Democrats don’t particularly need them, either. They have lost their tribe and realistically don’t seem to stand much chance of ever getting it back in their lifetimes. They could, of course, become Democrats (Jennifer Rubin said in 2020 she’s already one). That may just be a bridge too far for some of them, for whatever reasons.

But they still have a voice—an unusually strong one, because their acute sense of betrayal has put them in an uniquely shrewd position to bear witness to the self-destruction their party has wrought. Historically (in this country, at least), a political party must have some commonality of purpose, rooted in some actual benefit to the society that sustains it. When the whims of a single leader become the sole reason a party continues to exist, that party is no more than a cult, and when cults finally die they tend to collapse. This country has, however, never seen a political party abandon itself the way the modern Republican Party has abandoned itself to Trump, and there’s a chance that the cult will continue for some time even after Trump himself departs the stage.

But ultimately—maybe sooner, maybe later—it will implode. And after that happens, somebody (at least) has to be around to pick up the pieces, however ugly and painful a task that’s going to be.

RELATED STORY: Turns out the GOP does have a few ideas—and they're all terrible

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For Republicans, it’s now ‘Trump First, Putin Second, America Third’

From a domestic perspective, the Republican Party’s embarrassing failure to follow through on its Fox News-goaded attempt to impeach Homeland Security chief Alejandro Mayorkas proved to be a blessing. It was wholly performative theater, without any legitimacy. The party’s abrupt, equally embarrassing turnabout on immigration—an issue that Republicans had planned on wielding against Democrats going into 2024—was just more evidence of the GOP’s terminal dysfunction. 

As schadenfreude-y as it may have been for Democrats to watch as the Republicans immolated themselves on the altar of immigration, the rest of the world was far more concerned about how the U.S. would follow through on its prior strategic commitments to Ukraine and Israel. By Wednesday morning, aid packages to both nations were hopelessly consigned to the quicksand of GOP intransigence and finger-pointing. Since aid to those countries was tied—at Republicans’ insistence—to border legislation, the Republicans’ pathetic submission of their much-vaunted immigration concerns to Donald Trump’s electoral whims may have doomed the prospects of further aid to Ukraine and Israel for the remainder of the fiscal year.

(Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer is now crafting separate packages, without immigration reform included, but their likelihood of success appears murky.) 

From the perspective of our allies, however, what occurred this week is seen less as habitual Republican dysfunction and more as the total abandonment of American resolve. In a week’s time, we have proved ourselves, as Anne Applebaum presciently warned last month in The Atlantic, worse than an unreliable ally: We’ve become “a silly ally”—one that can no longer be taken seriously by the rest of the world.

Applebaum isn’t alone in that assessment. Tom Friedman’s Tuesday opinion piece in The New York Times, acidly titled “The G.O.P. Bumper Sticker: Trump First. Putin Second. America Third,” explains just how damaging and consequential the Republicans’ actions this week have been to the nation.

As Friedman wrote, even before the immigration and foreign aid bill collapsed under the weight of Republican cowardice:

There are hinges in history, and this is one of them. What Washington does — or does not do — this year to support its allies and secure our border will say so much about our approach to security and stability in this new post-post-Cold War era. Will America carry the red, white and blue flag into the future or just a white flag? Given the pessimistic talk coming out of the Capitol, it is looking more and more like the white flag, autographed by Donald Trump.

There is no serious doubt that House Republicans rejected the Senate’s painstakingly crafted immigration legislation, which satisfied nearly all prior GOP demands for border enforcement, at the behest of Donald Trump. Trump prefers to do nothing, effectively maintaining the status quo at the border for another full year so he can use it as a campaign talking point, assuming he's still eligible to hold public office

Fearing Trump's wrath, House Republicans swiftly pronounced the immigration and foreign aid package "dead on arrival" before most had even read it. Meanwhile, Republican senators began to quaver at the prospect of being primaried by Trump-chosen challengers for the audacity of trying to actually pass meaningful legislation. Faced with Trump’s continued vise-like grip on their party, upper chamber Republicans opted to jettison the legislation altogether. 

But, as Friedman observes, there’s another key player in the mix: Vladimir Putin. Putin is well-aware that Trump will abandon Ukraine—and likely NATO—the instant he returns to power. Friedman recognizes that Trump’s interests—and thus the interests of a supine Republican Party intent on enabling Trump’s dictatorial ambitions—now necessarily dovetail with Putin’s.

After Ukraine inflicted a terrible defeat on the Russian Army — thanks to U.S. and NATO funding and weapons — without costing a single American soldier’s life, Putin now has to be licking his chops at the thought that we will walk away from Ukraine, leaving him surely counting the days until Kyiv’s missile stocks run out and he will own the skies. Then it’s bombs away.

This week, one of Putin’s primary assets, the propagandist and “useful idiot” Tucker Carlson, is purportedly being wined and dined in Moscow so he can provide cover for Republicans to gut Ukrainian aid. Carlson’s paywalled, one-on-one interview with Putin, and how it might enable the murderous dictator’s “outreach” to Republicans, is already the talk of Russian state television.

As reported Wednesday by The Washington Post’s Robyn Dixon and Natalia Abbakumova:

State television propagandist Vladimir Solovyov, one of the Kremlin’s anti-Western attack dogs, seemed to suggest that Carlson’s interview would torpedo any last hope for approval of new American military aid for Ukraine.

Solovyov said Carlson’s visit came “at the worst possible time for the West,” and he begged Carlson to join the Russian Union of Journalists, which Solovyov heads.

As Friedman points out, this eagerness of Republicans to betray American strategic interests in order to satisfy both Trump and Putin transforms America’s credibility with our allies into a mere afterthought.

If this is the future and our friends from Europe to the Middle East to Asia sense that we are going into hibernation, they will all start to cut deals — European allies with Putin, Arab allies with Iran, Asian allies with China. We won’t feel the change overnight, but, unless we pass this bill or something close to it, we will feel it over time.

America’s ability to assemble alliances against the probes of Russia, China and Iran will gradually be diminished. Our ability to sustain sanctions on pariah nations like North Korea will erode. The rules governing trade, banking and the sanctity of borders being violated by force — rules that America set, enforced and benefited from since World War II — will increasingly be set by others and by their interests.

The saddest fact is that no one should really be surprised by Republicans’ behavior. For a substantial segment of their caucus, their order of loyalty really is “Trump first, Putin second, America third.” Evidently they feel that the risk of betraying their own constituents on the immigration issue is well worth the effort and impact, if it means pleasing their two masters. And if they have so small a regard for their own constituents, there’s little doubt they feel even less toward the American republic writ large.

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In 2024, Trump voters are motivated by one thing above all: Revenge

Americans typically frame their politics as a contest between “right” and “wrong.” In our two-party system today, voters usually believe both they and their party are completely in the right, while those on the opposite side are completely wrong. And this belief persists even after one side concedes defeat: Yes, my party lost the election, but your party is still wrong.

There’s nothing unusual about this. Americans have generally viewed elections that way since the founding of the republic. One side is invariably left unhappy with the result, but they’ll invariably lick their wounds, galvanize behind a new candidate, and try again next time. There’s usually been no burning sense of resentment, no designs of revenge held against the voters who repudiated their decision the last time around. When Barack Obama beat John McCain in 2008, Democratic voters didn’t want “revenge” on McCain voters. That was just the way things were in those halcyon days.

Until Donald Trump, that is. Trump himself has been soundly and decisively dismissed by most Americans. He was repudiated by multiple impeachments that he richly deserved, and emphatically rejected by an electoral and popular majority of American voters in the 2020 election. Now, in 2024—amidst a swirling maelstrom of serious legal and criminal charges against him—Trump has made revenge the central focus of his campaign.  He’s still insisting to his supporters that his 2020 loss was fake (it wasn’t), and that they’ve been insidiously victimized by some type of amorphous, pervasive fraud and Democratic chicanery that essentially played them for fools. It’s a con that Trump started cultivating well before the 2020 election itself, that only went into overdrive after his failed coup of Jan. 6, 2021. 

As Tom Nichols, writing for The Atlantic, observes, the Republican electorate has swallowed Trump’s fiction and internalized it. Republicans have transformed Trump’s embarrassments into an insult against their own personal identities and belief systems. It’s an offense that demands and necessitates revenge against those fellow Americans who dared to insult them.  

RELATED STORY: A reelected Trump would mean living under the constant threat of modern-day Brownshirts

As Nichols observes:

These voters are not settling a political score. Rather, they want to get even with other Americans, their own neighbors, for a simmering (and likely unexpected) humiliation that many of them seem to have felt ever since swearing loyalty to Trump.

A lot of people, especially in the media, have a hard time accepting this simple truth. Millions of Americans, stung by the electoral rebukes of their fellow citizens, have become so resentful and detached from reality that they have plunged into a moral void, a vortex that disintegrates questions of politics or policies and replaces them with heroic fantasies of redeeming a supposedly fallen nation.

It’s terribly difficult and gut-wrenching to admit that one’s choices were wrong. For some people, it’s impossible. For voters who fatefully cast their lot with Trump (and have been subjected over and over to glaring examples of his unfitness), there is no way to save face but by “plunging into that moral void,” as Nichols puts it.

They have to ignore Trump’s 91 criminal charges and his wholesale moral bankruptcy. They have to invent preposterous stories about President Joe Biden and his family. They have to believe, Nichols points out, that violence may be the only path to get their way—and it’s all to salvage their own sorry egos from the unforgivable slight of being wrong. So, egged on by their media bubble and abjectly Trump-dependent political leaders, these voters invent horrors that don't exist, imagine dire threats that they'll never personally face, and conjure up enemies they'll never encounter. It's all, as Nichols seems to imply, a coping mechanism to internally justify their own bad choice.

He wants revenge, and so do his supporters.

But, Nichols asks, against whom are they seeking violence and revenge? Why, Democrats, of course. Those neighbors who had that Biden-Harris 2020 sign have left them seething for four years, as has the local election board that processed all those mail-in votes. As Nichols observes, “When people talk about ‘resorting to violence’ they are, by default, talking about violence against their fellow citizens, some of whom have already been threatened merely for working in their communities as election volunteers.”

Unlike in previous elections, the motivation of these Trump loyalists isn’t really about policy, and it’s not really about “the border” or trans kids. It’s about a sense of revenge that Trump has cynically, deliberately cultivated in them. So they can finally come out on top.

As Nichols writes:

Much like Trump himself, these voters are unable to accept what’s happened over the past several years. Trump, in so many ways, quickly made fools of them; his various inanities, failures, and possible crimes sent them scrambling for ever more bizarre rationalizations, defenses of the indefensible that separated them from family and friends. If in 2016 they suspected, rightly or wrongly, that many Americans looked down on them for any number of reasons, they now know with certainty that millions of people look down on them—not for who they are but for what they’ve supported so vocally.

Nichols—a conservative, adamant “never-Trumper”—gets it mostly right here about Trump’s base, but he omits an important fact: that “what they’ve supported so vocally” is in fact quite telling about “who they are.” Still, he effectively dispenses with all the time and pixels wasted by major media in trying to “understand”—via visits to homey small-town diners and such—Trump voters’ motivations, ostensibly in the vain hope “that more listening and more empathetic nodding would put things right in a few years.”

That time has mercifully passed. Assuming Nichols is right, then there’s precious little to be gained by trying to understand Trump voters or ascribe any rationality to them. Revenge is a raw human emotion, not something that can be dealt with through discourse or reason. As Nichols cogently explains, more than anything, Donald Trump’s loyal base wants revenge “on their fellow citizens” for their attacks, critiques, and disparagement of Donald Trump.

No doubt they’ll be sorely disappointed when they don’t get it.

Republicans’ betrayal of Ukraine is about one thing: Pleasing Donald Trump

The pathetic capitulation of the Republican Party to Donald Trump may turn out to be the singular political phenomenon of the 21st century, possibly eclipsing even the 9/11 terrorist attacks in sheer scope and impact—not just on American society, but ultimately the rest of the world. What began as simply crass political opportunism on the part of one of the major political parties has by now morphed into a movement that embraces something profoundly worse and far more damaging. This strain of reflexive strongman-worship now threatens to eradicate the American democracy experiment altogether, and could take the rest of the world’s free societies down with it. 

Clear warning signs were all visible at the outset, well before Trump descended his golden escalator to the oohs and aahs of a fawning, fascinated media: The GOP was a party inherently susceptible to authoritarianism and disdain for the egalitarian nature of democracy. It comprised a shrinking demographic of aggrieved white males and white evangelicals facing unfamiliar, threatening cultural shifts and engendering a groundswell of racism and misogyny, all waiting to be galvanized by the cynical machinations of a golden demagogue appearing at just the right moment to exploit them. 

Those factors certainly combined to create the phenomenon we are witnessing today. But as David Frum convincingly explains in a new essay for The Atlantic, what has pushed Republicans irrevocably over the edge is the same thing you see in any totalitarian dictatorship: an irresistible, mandated compulsion to demonstrate fealty, over and over again, to the Great Leader. 

The latest, most glaring example of this imperative can be seen in congressional Republicans’ refusal to provide continued military aid to Ukraine. As Frum observes, fear of Donald Trump’s disapproval coupled with the frantic desire to please him have completely transformed many Republicans’ attitudes about supporting Ukraine. These attitudes were directly cultivated by Trump, based on his own sycophantic relationship to Vladimir Putin. Over a period of just a few years, these attitudes were amplified by Trump himself and by pro-Putin mouthpieces on Fox News and other right-wing media.

They are now so deeply embedded in the GOP that in the event Trump is reelected in 2024, this country will likely abandon not only Ukraine but also the European NATO allies with whom we have worked for 75 years to preserve peace not just in Europe, but at home.

It might be decades before we know the real reasons for Donald Trump’s slavish admiration of a dictator like Putin. The most benign explanation, perverse as it is, is that he is simply enamored with the idea of absolute power, wielded cruelly and ruthlessly. There may be a more prosaic and insidious reason involving Trump’s convoluted history of shady business dealings with Russia that have intersected and overlapped with the Russian dictator’s strategic goals. It’s also entirely possible—as has long been theorized—that Trump himself is compromised or somehow beholden to Putin, who certainly has the capacity, motivation, and wherewithal to engage in blackmail.

But at this point in time, the reason is far less relevant than the end result. Because Trump’s grip on the Republican base is so tight, Republicans feel compelled not only to align themselves with their orange-hued leader, but to act in accordance with his wishes. Failure to do so means banishment from the party at minimum, and risks incurring the violent wrath of his legions of fanatic supporters at worst.

It’s been made clear over the last month that this fealty now includes—and ultimately requires, if Trump is reelected—cutting off military aid to Ukraine, where a Russian victory would cement and accelerate Putin’s long-term goal of intimidating and infiltrating the remaining Western democracies on the European continent. It’s obvious to those countries—or it should be—that Trump and Putin’s logical endgame would ultimately result in America’s abandonment of NATO.

Frum, the former speechwriter for George W. Bush, may be most recognized for his pithy summary of his fellow conservatives' conditional relationship to democracy and its institutions. In a 2018 essay for The Atlantic, Frum took note of the marked drift towards authoritarianism by the Republican Party as it has evolved under Trump. He famously noted, "If conservatives become convinced that they cannot win democratically, they will not abandon conservatism. They will reject democracy." 

Whatever you may think of Frum’s background or his own past culpability as a cog in the GOP machine, his statement has been thoroughly vindicated. Republicans are in fact quite demonstrably abandoning democratic institutions. Voter suppression, election denialism, and the draconian autocratic plans of the Heritage Institute—known as ”Project 2025”—are all evidence of a deliberate strategy to reshape the United States into a far more authoritarian country, one where the right to vote is diluted or otherwise manipulated—all to satisfy right-wing policy imperatives driven by white and/or Christian nationalism.

In his most recent piece in The Atlantic, Frum destroys the notion that congressional Republicans’ refusal to provide continued military aid to Ukraine stems from anything other than an abject desire to please Trump. He dispenses with Republicans’ pathetic attempt to equate providing Ukraine aid to sealing the U.S.-Mexican border. Since comprehensive immigration reform is the very last thing Republicans are actually willing to discuss, Frum believes that this comparison really only indicates that they have zero interest in helping Ukraine in the first place. The fact that Republicans have treated such aid as “barter” is more telling in and of itself.

What Republicans’ refusal to aid Ukraine in its war with Russia does indicate, however, is the complete coopting of a substantial portion of the Republican Party to Trump’s (and by extension, Putin’s) views about Ukraine. Frum explains that from 2015 to 2017, in tandem with extensive Russian efforts to secure Trump’s election, Republicans effected a remarkable turnaround on their views towards Russia and its dictator, Putin.

Pre-Trump, Republicans expressed much more hawkish views on Russia than Democrats did. Russia invaded eastern Ukraine and annexed Crimea in spring 2014. In a Pew Research survey in March of that year, 58 percent of Republicans complained that President Barack Obama’s response was “not tough enough,” compared with just 22 percent of Democrats. After the annexation, Republicans were more than twice as likely as Democrats to describe Russia as “an adversary” of the United States: 42 percent to 19 percent. As for Putin personally, his rule was condemned by overwhelming majorities of both parties. Only about 20 percent of Democrats expressed confidence in Putin in a 2015 Pew survey, and 17 percent of Republicans.

Trump changed all that—with a lot of help from pro-Putin voices on Fox News and right-wing social media.

As Frum observes, the process began with gushing tributes about Putin’s “manly” rule emanating from frustrated figures of what was then called the “New Right,” such as Pat Buchanan. If it had ended there, Frum believes, the Republican Party could have salvaged itself from the true implications of its then-nascent embrace of the Russian dictator. But as Frum explains, Russian intelligence then went to work infiltrating the party and its allied organizations in the years prior to Trump’s election.

By the mid-2010s, groups such as the National Rifle Association were susceptible to infiltration by Russian-intelligence assets. High-profile conservatives accepted free trips and speaking fees from organizations linked to the Russian government pre-Trump. A lucrative online marketplace for pro-Moscow messages and conspiracy theories already existed. White nationalists had acclaimed Putin as a savior of Christian civilization for years before the Trump campaign began.

But, as Frum notes, the coup de grace that connected these sentiments to the electoral fortunes of the Republican Party was the appearance of Donald Trump, whose unabashed admiration for Putin, combined with is undisputed status as both president and GOP leader, “tangled the whole party in his pro-Russia ties.”

At this point the sheer magnitude of the GOP’s reversal began to manifest itself. 

Frum writes:

The urge to align with the party’s new pro-Russian leader reshaped attitudes among Republican Party loyalists. From 2015 to 2017, Republican opinion shifted markedly in a pro-Russia and pro-Putin direction. In 2017, more than a third of surveyed Republicans expressed favorable views of Putin. By 2019, [Tucker]Carlson—who had risen to the top place among Fox News hosts—was regularly promoting pro-Russian, anti-Ukrainian messages to his conservative audience. His success inspired imitators among many other conservative would-be media stars.

Once Trump attempted to extort Ukraine by denying the country needed military aid to defend themselves against Russia, conditioning such aid only if Ukraine agreed to open an “investigation” to publicize dirt Trump’s allies had invented about his presumed 2020 opponent, Joe Biden, Republicans found themselves in a quandary. How could they reconcile such objectively obvious treachery with their newfound embrace of Putin?

Frum contends it was done by embracing what he refers to as “undernews,” regurgitating innuendo and social media-churned rumors that are too ridiculous or far-fetched for even Fox News to broadcast with a straight face, but are well understood by the Republican base. In the case of Trump’s first impeachment, Frum believes the “undernews” was that Trump’s acts did not rise to the level of high crimes necessary for impeachment, because in the end Ukraine had received its weapons. Frum also recalls this “undernews” involved “an elaborate fantasy that Trump had been right to act as he did.”

In this invented world, Ukraine became the villain as part of a Biden-connected “global criminal enterprise,” and Trump acted heroically by trying to unmask it. Frum’s example provides valuable insight into not just the delusional world that many Republican voters actually occupy, but how the party exploits it.

Frum believes that continued fealty to Trump is the sole motivation behind newly elected House Speaker Mike Johnson’s refusal to allow additional aid to Ukraine. Even as Putin issues warnings and threats against Poland and the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania (all now members of NATO), Republicans remain beholden to the notion of (as Frum describes it): ” Ukraine=enemy of Trump; abandoning Ukraine=proof of loyalty to Trump.” He believes a majority of House Republicans actually still support aid for Ukraine, but the calendar is controlled by those in leadership like Johnson, whose only interest is catering to the deluded, so-called “undernews” faction. 

Thus it is not only Ukraine, but also our European allies—whose perception of Putin’s real aims is based not on delusional notions or political loyalties but the real, existential threat Putin represents to their societies—find themselves left out in the cold by a Republican Party that places more priority on appeasing the whims of an indicted fraudster and Putin sycophant than on standing up to its own established and assumed strategic commitments.

As Frum emphasizes, “If Republicans in Congress abandon Ukraine to Russian aggression, they do so to please Trump. Every other excuse is a fiction or a lie.“

It’s probably not possible to capture in words the magnitude of betrayal that would be felt not just by Ukrainians—who have no choice but to fight on—but by the entirety of Europe. That abandonment would remain a stain on the history of the U.S. for the rest of its existence.

The economic and strategic impact on this country’s standing in the world would be incalculable, with our ability to establish other alliances forever compromised. Seventy-five years of cooperation and trust could be wiped out by the actions of one corrupt, ignorant man and the treachery of his delusion-ridden political party.

All of which, of course, would suit Vladimir Putin just fine.

Coming soon: A sham impeachment, brought to you by Fox News

Twenty-seven years ago, Fox News made its first appearance on American television screens. In October 1996, it  would have seemed foolhardy to assume that this tacky corporate creature—an embarrassing facsimile of actual journalism, patently dedicated to serve as a mouthpiece for the Republican Party—would eventually metastasize into an impermeable, alternative universe for millions of Americans. Few would have guessed that within two decades we’d actually witness the core functions and operations of our government appropriated, coopted, and bastardized simply to promote that network's constant spigot of inflammatory lies and misinformation, even when the very lives of its own viewers were literally put at risk as a result.

That transformation reached its apotheosis during the COVID-19 pandemic, as Fox’s fountain of rank COVID denialism was duly parroted day after day, month after month, by elected Republicans. As the pandemic spread into the so-called “heartland” of America, the bacillus of Fox News proved itself as insidious as the virus itself, with its viewers absorbing and internalizing its preposterous science denial and anti-vaccination rhetoric. This doubtlessly led (as suggested by several studies conducted afterward) to the sickness and premature death of many Americans.  

The saddest and most depressing aspect of all this, however, was that no one seemed surprised. By that time, Fox’s tentacles had already infiltrated nearly all of our nation’s institutions, transforming our entire political system with a malignancy that has proved impossible to eradicate. Even now, the remainder of our media seem unwilling to acknowledge the wholesale degradation Fox has inflicted on this nation, its discourse, its politics, and its institutions. 

During his entire tenure, Donald Trump huddled with and spoke through his willing vessels at Fox News; the Republican Congress has conducted pointless, wasteful political show trials based on Fox-driven fantasies; and even the conservative federal judiciary began to blatantly regurgitate Fox’s hyperbolic, fact-challenged talking points in its legal opinions. Yet, despite its corrosive influence, the media continues to treat Fox News as simply another legitimate player in the information ecosystem, something to be envied, even emulated, occasionally criticized, but never truly called to account. The first rule about Fox News for the rest of the media, it seems, is that you don’t talk about Fox News. 

Now it appears likely the American people are about to witness the consequences of that neglect, in the form of a wholly contrived, factually baseless presidential impeachment, with no purpose other than to satisfy Fox News’ hyperpartisan fever-dream agenda. It remains to be seen, what, if any, response the “reality-based” journalistic community is prepared to give to this coming travesty.

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As explained by Matt Gertz, writing for Media Matters, the carnival barkers thinly disguised as journalists on Fox News have been pushing for an impeachment of President Joe Biden since before he was even elected.

The right-wing propaganda network’s stars have long demanded a Biden impeachment as both retaliation and political cover for Donald Trump’s various impeachments and criminal indictments. Since those Fox commentators wield more power within the GOP than most of its putative leaders do, a Biden impeachment inquiry has seemed inevitable, with the only question being what they’d end up backfilling as its rationale. And somehow, they’ve settled on taking a shot with the Hunter Biden minutiae they’ve all spent years feverishly rehashing (but that no one can parse without a PhD in Sean Hannity Studies).

As Gertz reminds us, Fox News “personalities” such as Mark Levin were agitating for the impeachment of the “next Democratic president” long before Biden even secured the nomination. Levin knew he didn’t need to articulate an actual reason for this drastic action to his audience; the plain fact that Trump himself was about to be impeached for acting on Fox News’ unfounded assertions that Biden had somehow corruptly influenced the firing of a Ukrainian prosecutor was reason enough. Because Trump’s impeachment was literally the result of a phony narrative that Fox News itself (with the assistance of right-wing dark money groups) had promoted and pushed, it obviously struck far too close to home.

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As Gertz himself reported in 2019:

Fox’s role -- and particularly that of Sean Hannity, the network star who also privately advises the president -- was central to every phase of the story. The network was the source of the president’s long-held animus toward Ukraine, the vector of Giuliani’s disinformation campaign, a common former employer of some key figures and a unifying factor of others, and the fountainhead of arguments that Trump and his House Republican allies have used to try to minimize the scandal.

And the impeachment talk at Fox continued to snowball from that point, again, in nearly every circumstance, stemming directly from “reporting” that originated in Fox’s own fetid swamp of fact-challenged propaganda. Fox had relentlessly pushed the Hunter Biden story throughout the run-up to the 2020 election, in a failed effort to help Trump win. But even as November 2020 approached, their hosts were carefully “setting a predicate,” as Gertz puts it, in the event Trump lost. Lisa “Kennedy” Montgomery floated in late October the prospect of an immediate Biden impeachment over the amorphous Hunter rabbit hole the network had been hawking for months. As Gertz reports, these sentiments were echoed by Fox showboats Jeanine Pirro and Greg Gutfeld only days before the 2020 election, and reemphasized by Hannity in December 2020—as Trump was allegedly scheming with his cohorts to overturn the election well after it became obvious he’d lost.

In fact, Hannity came up with a remarkable quote (particularly the last sentence).

“What are you going to do if -- you know, all these people that impeached Trump, how do you not impeach if it's Joe Biden one day? How do you not do it? It's a foreign -- it's a family foreign crime syndicate. Got an email provided to the FBI pointing out that Hunter hadn't paid taxes on some of the Burisma payments and that's just the tip of the iceberg, with -- now they're talking about money laundering as well. You know, pretty amazing stuff, I've got to tell you. Amazing times we're looking -- living in. They all have an agenda. You know, the difference between us and them is we're just honest about who we are.”

After Republicans eked out a narrow House majority in 2022, Hannity once again bloviated about impeachment, setting the stage for his most ardent fan, Trump, to begin turning the screws on members of the newly (and narrowly) Republican-led House. As reported by Kristen Holmes and Eric Bradner, writing for CNN, the screws have turned harder as the criminal indictments began to pile up for Trump. 

Donald Trump has publicly and privately encouraged House Republicans’ push to impeach President Joe Biden ahead of their potential rematch in 2024, two sources close to the former president said.

Trump has kept close tabs on the matter, the sources said – including speaking by phone with New York Rep. Elise Stefanik, the House GOP conference chair, about the party’s impeachment strategy shortly after House Speaker Kevin McCarthy announced on Tuesday that he is calling on his committees to open a formal impeachment inquiry into Biden.

Gertz notices a pattern here:

The year that followed has been marked by three overlapping trends: repeated indictments of Trump on state and federal charges, fruitless congressional efforts to uncover damning evidence of Joe Biden’s involvement in his son’s businesses, and demands from Fox for Republicans to retaliate against Democrats for the former, including by turning the latter into fodder for impeachment.

Fox’s Jesse Watters weighed in on June 9, the day Trump was hit with 37 felony counts in the Southern District of Florida, saying that the Republicans should welcome the “distraction” of impeachment. And on Aug. 2, Watters probably revealed more about the Republicans’ nakedly political purposes than he realized.

“[W]ithout the impeachment, you have back-to-back-to-back-to-back Trump trials. The media’s not going to cover anything else. Biden’s going to hide and Trump is going to be criminalized on TV. But if Republicans time this right and follow the evidence where it leads, impeachment is going to run counter to the Trump trials next year.”

Or as Gertz sums it up: ”Rather than picking [a presidential candidate] who isn’t looking at four state and federal trials on scores of charges, they want to tear down his opponent by ginning up a scandal and hoping that the mainstream press fails to make clear what they’re doing.”

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The Republican Party’s impeachment efforts against Biden, egged on by Fox News, are without any legitimate basis. They are premised wholly upon a vendetta urged by Trump, who is facing actual, real criminal liability in several actual, real courts of law. The complete absence of any legal justification to pursue impeachment proceedings against this president has even been obliquely acknowledged by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy himself. In reality, what Republicans are pursuing—and what it seems that Americans are going to be forced to witness—is an impeachment by Fox News itself, fraudulently justified by the same lies and fact-free innuendo in which the network habitually traffics.

A network that didn’t consider it necessary to modulate its grievance-driven political rhetoric even when that rhetoric threatened to kill or sicken its own viewers obviously has no compunctions about subverting our constitutional system. Nor would it spare the slightest thought for the personal anguish it will inflict on Biden or his family, who have to watch as their (obviously troubled) son’s name is dragged through the mud by the Republican charlatans who will outdo themselves with pre-packaged, Fox-friendly soundbites. They know that’s what their base voters are conditioned to look for.

But the non-Fox-viewing American public doesn’t have to play along with this cheap and disgusting farce. They can be shown exactly what it is, if the rest of the media—the ones not in thrall to Rupert Lachlan Murdoch’s propaganda network—finally do their jobs. That means doing a lot more than “fact-checking” Republicans and their statements. Fox viewers will never, ever see those fact-checks (and if they did, they would disregard them). This impeachment will mostly be an exercise in Republicans preening for the cameras and making declarative speeches, which will be edited into tight soundbites and run alongside nothing but approving nods and supportive chatter from Fox’s talking heads. And while we can expect Democratic House members to do yeoman’s work exposing this travesty during the hearings themselves, none of their rebuttals will make Fox’s highlight reel.

“Fact-checking” is simply a cop-out. What the media should really do here is explain who is telling the lies, why the lies are being told, and what motivates the lies. Explain how each Republican is following a template laid down by the likes of Hannity and his ilk. Explain who pays for Hannity and his ilk to spread their manure, and where their true interests lie. Explain how every Republican lives in mortal fear of a primary challenger promoted by Trump. Explain how Trump’s situation has influenced this sham impeachment’s timing and presentation, the selection of witnesses, and the things those witnesses will say. Explain who’s not called as a witness by Republicans, and ask why.

Above all, the media must expose this travesty for what it is: a “distraction,” as Fox’s Watters so eloquently put it, from the “back-to-back-to-back-to-back” Trump trials, pending in real criminal courts, before real judges and real jurors, not a group of corrupted, political hacks terrified of getting on the wrong side of Donald Trump.

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Trump’s messy abortion switcheroo is latest proof he and Republicans are running scared

Donald Trump has done something remarkable over the past week: He’s actually remained focused on something. During Sunday’s “Meet The Press” debacle, he told his hapless interlocutor, Kristen Welker, that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis had made a “terrible mistake” in signing a six-week abortion ban. He also vaguely claimed that, if reelected in 2024, he’d be able to negotiate a “compromise” and impose some type of national abortion prohibition acceptable to everyone.

Facing predictable hand-wringing and consternation from his fellow Republicans, on Wednesday Trump did what he always does: He doubled down, telling an audience in Iowa that Republicans need to learn how to “properly talk about abortion,” and warning Republicans that they could lose the House majority “and perhaps the presidency itself” if they kept pushing more violent and draconian intrusions into people’s personal reproductive lives.

First, let’s be clear on one thing: As Adam Serwer concisely puts it in the title to his latest essay for The Atlantic, “Trump Is the Reason Women Can’t Get Abortions,” and, of course, that’s true for anyone who may become pregnant. 

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As Serwer writes:

The person most responsible for what might be the greatest assault on individual freedom since the mid-20th century is Donald Trump, who appointed fully one-third of the justices on the Supreme Court, hard-core right-wing ideologues who overturned Roe just as he promised they would.

If you cannot get an abortion, if you fear leaving your state to get an abortion, if you are afraid to text your loved ones or type abortion into a search bar, if you are scared to ask a friend or loved one to help you get an abortion, if you know someone coerced into remaining in an abusive relationship because they fear prosecution, if you cannot find an obstetrician in your state, if you have a relative who was left at the edge of death by doctors afraid to risk prosecution by violating an abortion ban—you have Donald Trump to thank.

Trump, of course, is not changing his tune on abortion because he’s actually had a change of heart. He is, in typical fashion, simply running a con, his dirty work having been accomplished. He may not have personally cared about abortion, but he knew what to say in 2016 to earn the votes of the white evangelicals who elect Republicans in this country, and he knew exactly what to do to please them once he attained the presidency. Most importantly, Trump realizes how much credit those religious voters grant him, how blindly devoted to him they are, and that they’ll never, ever vote for a Democrat, no matter what Trump says or does.

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So since those voters are already in his pocket, he’s searching for what he can say to try to neutralize the abortion issue among those who voted against him in 2020.

The short answer is “nothing,” and anyone who takes what Trump says seriously should rightly have their head examined. No one should even entertain the possibility of giving Trump any credibility—on any issue, but especially abortion. In that vein, Serwer’s article skewers the wholly predictable, knee-jerk reactions of the press to Trump’s statements. 

So let’s go beyond just gawking at Trump’s obviously cynical trial balloon, and instead look at what he’s really acknowledging: This issue is hurting him and Republicans, badly, and it’s not going to go away.

Republicans have been tying themselves into knots over the past few months trying to find a way out of the abortion trap they’ve caught themselves in. Some think there is a perfect number of weeks where punishing pregnant people feels okay; if they could just find it, an American public that overwhelmingly supports abortion rights will somehow be mollified and move on.

Others contend they can finesse the problem they’ve created with magical language: It’s not “pro-life” anymore, but “pro-birth control” or most recently, “pro-baby.” Or, as Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley suggests, politicians just “need to be specific” about what it is they mean when supporting laws imposing state controls and surveillance over pregnant patients’ choices. Does that mean prohibiting people from searching on the internet for information, punishing them for leaving the state to obtain an abortion, or inflicting criminal penalties on doctors, nurses and medical providers? Republicans just need to clarify the terms a little better, it seems.

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No one is fooled by this nonsense. When given the chance, Trump used his power in office to strip away a right in place for 49 years. Republicans in state legislatures around the country then followed up by turning on the tools of state control, and they’re manifestly intent on finishing what they’ve started. There’s no getting around that fact, even if the (overwhelmingly white and male) proponents of these laws remain oblivious to the horrific, real-world implications of what they’ve done. 

For Trump to even raise this issue—multiple times in a week—confirms that both he and the Republican Party are simply running scared. On a national level, those voter-rich, highly-educated, suburban enclaves that can spell the difference between a Democratic or a Republican Congress, a Democratic or Republican governor, or a Democratic or Republican president? Those districts are swiftly falling out of reach for Republicans, specifically because of the abortion issue. The GOP is losing young people as well, because (among other reasons), it’s younger people who tend to have unwanted pregnancies.

Below is an ad currently being run by Kentucky’s Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear.

KY Gov Andy Beshear’s new ad on abortion. Democrats, this is the way.

— Ron Filipkowski (@RonFilipkowski) September 20, 2023

And yet Republicans continue to double down. In Ohio, a right-wing state Supreme Court rubber-stamped pejorative forced-birth ballot language inserted by Republicans desperate to dissuade Ohioans from voting Yes on a November referendum enshrining reproductive freedom in the state’s constitution. In Wisconsin, Republicans in the state Legislature continue to threaten baseless impeachment proceedings against a newly elected state Supreme Court justice who won her seat largely because of her pro-choice positions. In Texas, a Trump-appointed federal district judge and his right-wing Court of Appeals issued rulings threatening to outlaw mifepristone (the “abortion pill”), sending the issue to the same Trump-riddled Supreme Court responsible for this situation in the first place.  

And all this time, the horror stories of patients who were denied abortions even when their life was at risk continue to mount. Obstetricians and gynecologists, fearing criminal prosecution, simply pack up and leave states like Idaho, leaving patients to fend for themselves. A new bill in Texas would block internet service providers from allowing sites that inform users about abortion, much like China blocks sites about democracy.

No “magic language” or “consensus ban” is going to solve these problems for Republicans, and nothing Trump says is going to help him on this issue in 2024, or “separate” him from other Republicans.

As Serwer emphasizes in his Atlantic article, what Trump and Republicans say means nothing; it’s what they’ve done—and continue to do—that matters.  

They were always in this together. And now they’re going to have to face the consequences. Together.

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Romney reveals what he really thinks about Trump, GOP senators, but it’s too little, too late

McKay Coppins, a journalist and staff writer at The Atlantic, is the author of a forthcoming biography about Utah Republican Sen. Mitt Romney. That book, “Romney: A Reckoning,” appears to dovetail quite well with the senator’s plans to retire, announced Wednesday. Also on Wednesday, Coppins published a piece in The Atlantic featuring some excerpts from his book. They are eye-opening, to say the least, not so much for what they reveal about Romney himself, but for their frank and brutal assessment of Romney’s Republican colleagues in the U.S. Senate, particularly their slavish fealty to Donald Trump.

According to Coppins, when he and Romney began to meet privately for the book in 2021, the senator had not advised any other senators that he’d begun working with a biographer, meeting most often at Romney’s Washington, D.C., residence. Coppins acknowledges that he didn’t expect the level of candor Romney exhibited towards him.

From acknowledging that a “very large” segment of the Republican party “really doesn’t believe in the Constitution,” to his frank accounts of other Republican senators’ true feelings about Donald Trump, Romney doesn’t appear to have held anything back from his biographer, often providing unedited texts, emails and documents for Coppins’ thorough perusal. Even though Romney had privately advised Coppins early on that he wasn’t going to seek reelection, Coppins came away with the impression that there was something “beyond his own political future” that accounted for his startling honesty.

That “something,” Coppins believes, was “not just about the decomposition of his own political party, but about the fate of the American project itself.”

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It appears that the greatest catalyst for Romney’s pessimism was the events of Jan. 6, 2021.

Coppins notes that Romney became noticeably preoccupied with world history and the fall of global empires after he witnessed the insurrection of Jan. 6. Romney concluded, in large part, that it was history repeating itself, noting that the rise of particularly oppressive tyrants inevitably preceded the dissolution of empires. According to Coppins, Romney said, “Authoritarianism is like a gargoyle lurking over the cathedral, ready to pounce.”

It’s clear that Romney sees Trump as that gargoyle. In one incident Romney shared, he reached out via text message to then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell after a concerning phone call.

“In case you have not heard this, I just got a call from Angus King, who said that he had spoken with a senior official at the Pentagon who reports that they are seeing very disturbing social media traffic regarding the protests planned on the 6th. There are calls to burn down your home, Mitch; to smuggle guns into DC, and to storm the Capitol. I hope that sufficient security plans are in place, but I am concerned that the instigator—the President—is the one who commands the reinforcements the DC and Capitol police might require.”

According to Romney, McConnell never responded.

A significant section of the book addresses the evolution of Romney’s own feelings toward Trump, which apparently rapidly descended into complete disgust, culminating in Romney writing a 2019 opinion piece in for The Washington Post excoriating Trump as unfit to lead the nation. He emphasizes to Coppins that this sentiment was and is shared by almost all of his Republican Senate colleagues.

Romney and Trump’s famous dinner after the 2016 election

From Coppins’ book:

“Almost without exception,” he told me, “they shared my view of the president.” In public, of course, they played their parts as Trump loyalists, often contorting themselves rhetorically to defend the president’s most indefensible behavior. But in private, they ridiculed his ignorance, rolled their eyes at his antics, and made incisive observations about his warped, toddler­ like psyche. Romney recalled one senior Republican senator frankly admitting, “He has none of the qualities you would want in a president, and all of the qualities you wouldn’t.”

According to Coppins’ account, when Romney would criticize Trump, his fellow GOP senators would “express solidarity” with him, sometimes saying they wish they had a constituency that would allow them to express their true feelings. As Coppins reports, Romney also described an incident where Trump attended a private meeting with Republican senators, who remained “respectful and attentive,” only to burst out laughing when Trump exited the room.

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Romney also quoted McConnell as calling Trump an “idiot,” and saying Romney was “lucky” he could say what he actually thought of Trump. According to Coppins, McConnell denied this conversation. Romney also confirmed what many of us have already assumed: His Republican colleagues were cynically dismissive of the (first) impeachment proceedings against Trump. 

“They didn’t want to hear from witnesses; they didn’t want to learn new facts; they didn’t want to hold a trial at all,” Romney told Coppins. Romney also claimed that McConnell warned that a “prolonged, polarizing Senate trial would force them to take tough votes that risked alienating their constituents,” something that McConnell felt would lead to a Democratic Senate majority. As Romney told it to Coppins, he was appalled that there was not even the slightest pretense of impartiality in Republicans’ strategy to handle Trump’s impeachment.

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Coppins report, quite honestly, paints a picture of a Romney desperate to actually do the right thing and approach the Trump impeachment as an impartial juror would, and as he felt his constitutional duty demanded—an approach which led Romney to conclude that Trump was guilty. Even so, he spoke to his 2012 running mate and former Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan on the phone, and Ryan apparently did his level best to convince Romney that he’d be killing his future political prospects by voting to convict Trump. According to Coppins, after Romney cast that vote—the lone “guilty” vote cast by a Republican senator in Trump’s first impeachment—he “would never feel comfortable at a Republican caucus lunch again.”

Coppins’ biography also examines Romney’s reaction to the Jan. 6 insurrection, describing in detail Romney’s reactions to the Capitol being attacked, even as he and his fellow senators were being evacuated.

At some point, Romney’s frustration and anger appears to boil over. As Coppins writes:

He turned to Josh Hawley, who was huddled with some of his right-wing colleagues, and started to yell. Later, Romney would struggle to recall the exact wording of his rebuke. Sometimes he’d remember shouting “You’re the reason this is happening!” Other times, it would be something more terse: “You did this.” At least one reporter in the chamber would recount seeing the senator throw up his hands in a fit of fury as he roared, “This is what you’ve gotten, guys!” Whatever the words, the sentiment was clear: This violence, this crisis, this assault on democracy—this is your fault.

Coppins confirms that Romney was aware of and disapproved of his GOP colleagues’ plan to reject electoral slates and thus perpetuate Trump’s hold on power. Late into the evening on Jan. 6, he had believed that the harrowing Trump-incited assault on his own colleagues’ safety would prompt them to abandon their plans. He was surprised when the unctuous Josh Hawley nevertheless stood up and delivered his speech supporting Trump’s position, a decision that Romney attributes to pure “political calculation.”

But one of the most telling passages excerpted by Coppins addresses not Trump’s first, but his second impeachment, and the refusal of Romney’s fellow Republicans to convict Trump for instigating the insurrection of Jan. 6.

According to Coppins’ account, Romney attributes this to his colleagues’ fear for their personal safety.

But after January 6, a new, more existential brand of cowardice had emerged. One Republican congressman confided to Romney that he wanted to vote for Trump’s second impeachment, but chose not to out of fear for his family’s safety. The congressman reasoned that Trump would be impeached by House Democrats with or without him—why put his wife and children at risk if it wouldn’t change the outcome? Later, during the Senate trial, Romney heard the same calculation while talking with a small group of Republican colleagues. When one senator, a member of leadership, said he was leaning toward voting to convict, the others urged him to reconsider. You can’t do that, Romney recalled someone saying. Think of your personal safety, said another. Think of your children. The senator eventually decided they were right.

Coppins emphasizes that Romney believes his colleagues’ fear was—and is—well-founded. Romney says he began to observe an increasingly “deranged” quality in Republican voters, even among his most loyal constituents back in Utah. As the 2022 election approached, Romney grew increasingly appalled by the MAGA fanaticism exhibited by his party’s senatorial candidates. He regarded J.D Vance of Ohio, whom, as Coppins writes, Romney felt “reinvented his whole persona overnight,” as particularly loathsome.

According to Coppins, “[w]hat Romney couldn’t stomach any longer was associating himself with people who cynically stoked distrust in democracy for selfish political reasons.”

By that point, according to Coppins, Romney had begun to gradually let his colleagues know that he wouldn’t be running again. He briefly toyed with the idea of making a third-party run for president in 2024, but abandoned it after concluding it would more than likely siphon votes from President Joe Biden and possibly lead to a Trump victory. Since then, he has had some discussions about forming a quasi-political party with like-minded “centrists” such as West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, with a view toward ultimately endorsing whichever party’s nominee—Democrat or Republican—aligns most closely with their own views.

Coppins suggests this idea is still in the “brainstorming” stage.

By taking himself out of the running, it appears Romney’s quest for political relevance may be quixotic. But Coppins’ piece in The Atlantic may be the closest thing to a fair assessment of what the modern Republican party actually thinks about Trump, and why it behaves in the sycophantic manner it does.

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Donald Trump is digging his own political grave with that mugshot

In his pre-recorded interview with Donald Trump, broadcast Wednesday evening via his Twitter (now “X’) platform to intentionally conflict with the GOP’s presidential debate, Tucker Carlson could barely contain himself. Over and over, he relentlessly questioned Trump about the prospect for violent action in response to Trump’s ever-increasing pile of indictments.   

As reported by Isaac Arnsdorf, writing for the Washington Post, even when it became clear that Trump (no doubt after being advised by his attorneys that any incendiary verbal outbursts were incompatible with his precarious position as as criminal defendant) was not actually taking the bait, Carlson still persisted.

“The next stage is violence,” Carlson said. “Are you worried they’re going to try to kill you? Why wouldn’t they try to kill you?

Trump did not directly answer. Carlson tried again later. “If you chart it out it’s an escalation,” Carlson said, recounting the two impeachments and four indictments against Trump. “So what’s next? They’re trying to put you in prison for the rest of your life, that’s not working. So don’t they have to kill you now?” Trump again avoided answering directly.

At the conclusion of the 46-minute interview, Carlson returned to the subject of potential violence. “Do you think we’re moving toward civil war?” he said. “Do you think it’s possible that there’s open conflict?”

“I don’t know,” Trump said.

But by Thursday evening, Trump’s coy (and decidedly out-of-character) reticence regarding violence had yielded to reality. The grim and threatening mugshot Trump presented when faced with the uncomfortable situation of being booked for criminal charges at Fulton County’s jail revealed an attitude in stark contrast with his prior restraint to Carlson’s crude goading.

Thanks to the unusually harsh warnings he has already received from Judge Chutkan in the federal indictment filed against him in Washington D.C.,  Trump knows by now that explicit appeals to violence — towards witnesses or otherwise —  can land him in serious trouble. But while an unthinking, honest and on-the-record answer to Carlson’s leading questions might have legitimately threatened Trump’s continued personal  freedom, a mugshot by definition is left to the eye of the beholder. The mugshot, unmistakably aimed solely at his voting base, served as the message Trump really wanted to send: That it’s OK for his supporters to become violent on his behalf, even if he wasn’t willing to risk his own skin by actively promoting such violence.

The problem that Trump faces, however — and the reason his strategy will backfire — is that far more Americans are repelled by actual violence than they are attracted to hypothetical, imagined violence. 

Because it is so unpredictable and disruptive, violence is the antithesis of the methodical, punctilious, institutional order of our criminal justice system. Consequently, Trump, whose mentality and worldview have been informed by exploiting the weaknesses of American institutions (including the judiciary) believes that constantly ginning up the threat of violence is his best chance to fracture (and ultimately) escape that system, with its tools now so formidably deployed against him. It’s unlikely, however, that Special Counsel Jack Smith or Fulton County District attorney Fani Willis are going to be swayed by a scary mugshot. Trump’s only purpose in staging such a provocative pose was to inflame his supporters (or possibly the jury pool), hoping that somehow, some way, they will save him from the criminal convictions he now faces.

Trump came to power in the first place because there was — and still is — is a large bloc of voters who respond favorably to his authoritarian, “strong-man” pretense. The reaction by one Trump supporter, interviewed for an article by Shane Goldmacher, writing for the New York Times, and explaining a Times/Siena college poll of Republican “likely voter” preferences, is typical:

“He might say mean things and make all the men cry because all the men are wearing your wife’s underpants and you can’t be a man anymore,” David Green, 69, a retail manager in Somersworth, N.H., said of Mr. Trump. “You got to be a little sissy and cry about everything. But at the end of the day, you want results. Donald Trump’s my guy. He’s proved it on a national level.”

It’s people like Mr. Green who Trump hopes to impress by that menacing mugshot, the ones who will identify with Trump’s faux air of obstinacy and strength, who see Trump as a reflection of their own resentments and prejudices. And with poll after poll showing Americans — particularly conservative Americans --  increasingly voicing their willingness to condone political violence, it’s understandable how Trump could believe that these attitudes could be harnessed for his benefit (for Trump, cultivating a perception that he finds violence acceptable is also key to his ability to fundraise, and he and others will be monetizing this image ad nauseum, but that is a separate issue).

But the “conventional wisdom” that Americans are willing to tolerate violence, even violence performed towards others of a different political persuasion, is demonstrably countered by those who place a higher value on tranquility and stability in their own lives. The country Trump and his supporters evidently envision is one in which roaming gangs of his supporters dominate the streets, imposing their will on a helpless populace: A world where law and order are effectively ignored. This type of world might well appeal to the keyboard commandos who populate right-wing social media, but as one study shows, while voters when polled markedly overstate their tolerance for ambiguously stated, generic political  violence, their actual reaction to specific, violent acts is quite different.

In fact, as that research paper points out:

[E]ven though segments of the public may support violence or report that it is justified in the abstract, nearly all respondents still believe that perpetrators of well-defined instances of severe political violence should be criminally charged.

The plain fact is that voters have already weighed in — twice, actually  — on how they feel about the threats issued by Trump and his most virulent supporters. Further actions by Trump’s violent base won’t change that basic equation. That doesn’t mean there won’t be violence if and when Trump is convicted of anything. In fact, the record so far of “near misses” in this year alone confirms that there will most definitely be specific acts of violence from Trump supporters, some of whom will be influenced by this mugshot and Trump’s continued heedless antics on social media. Assuming the walls continue to close in on Trump, the tone of violent rhetoric from his backers can be expected to increase.

The record of the last two elections, however, suggests that this escalation won’t matter, and not simply because, as pointed out by research professor Christian Davenport in an interview conducted for an article by by NPR, “People will say a great number of things on a poll,” but never actually act on their professed beliefs.

Because Americans already have experience with Trump threatening their lives, and they’ve rendered their verdict multiple times. The abysmal and malevolent response by Trump and his Republican enablers to the COVID-19 pandemic was probably the singular factor in voters’ decision to reject Trump in 2020. Likewise, voters — Democrats and Independents alike — uniformly rejected those Republican candidates who modelled their own campaigns in 2022 on Trump’s election lies.  Those lies were inextricably associated with violence performed with breathtaking visibility, in an unprecedented, violent assault at our nation’s capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. For Trump, but more importantly for those who oppose Trump, his claims of a “stolen” election are now equated with raw violence from his supporters, and the majority of Americans clearly have expressed their reaction: They don’t appreciate it,  they don’t like it, and they don’t want it, no matter what Tucker Carlson may say.

It may be difficult for Republican voters to comprehend— ensconced as they are in their alternative universe silos of disinformation — but by any objective standards, the 2022 election should have been an electoral wipeout for Democrats. Adding to the historical recurrence of a president’s party losing control of Congress in a midterm election, inflation at the time was still at unprecedented levels. Gas prices were still high, if gradually coming down. Abortion rights were suddenly on the ballot, however, and Trumpian candidates were still peddling the same nonsense — including threats of violence. Then, as now, the Republican party was unable or unwilling  to separate itself from Trump.

There is no reason to expect that the political landscape will be much, if at all, different in a year from now, except Trump may have actually been convicted of some or all of the 91 felony counts currently pending against him. No white knight is going to come riding in to save the day for them. Abortion will still be a major factor. But for Republicans, it will be still be Trump, Trump, Trump, all the time, except this time saddled with the baggage of multiple criminal indictments and probably an even larger tally of violent and (literally) repulsive actions from his most rabid supporters. Those actions didn’t work to dissuade voters in 2020, they didn’t work in 2022, and they’re not going to work in 2024.

Next year, however, every time a violent act from some Trump-spouting psychopath occurs, Americans won’t need to search their memories for the reasons they voted the way they did in the prior two elections. This time, all Americans will have the benefit of a clear, distinct and unforgettable photograph in the back of their minds, when they are once again called on to vote. Trump evidently hopes Americans will be too scared or intimidated by his followers to re-elect president Biden. The record simply shows that they won’t.

Trump and Putin need each other more than ever. It’s a matter of survival for both

Last week, Donald Trump lost a critical motion to keep a grand jury in Georgia from hearing evidence about his efforts to strong-arm Georgia election officials into overturning the state’s 2020 election results. Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis also indicated that her office has developed evidence of what The Guardian characterizes as a “sprawling racketeering indictment” against Trump for those alleged criminal acts. At the same time, Trump confirmed that he has been designated as a target in Special Counsel Jack Smith’s grand jury investigation of Trump and his cohorts’ activities in instigating, among other things, the violent insurrection of Jan. 6, 2021. Coupled with his indictment last month on charges of mishandling, appropriating, and then lying about his possession of classified government documents, these recent developments put Trump in serious jeopardy of a potential—and perhaps quite lengthy—prison sentence.

The character and timing of these multiple prosecutions, all of which will likely be instituted or pending at least a year prior to the November 2024 election (for which Trump continues to be the presumptive Republican nominee), provide Trump with very few realistic options to legally avoid or escape them. They are weighty, serious, and by all appearances, not subject to any quick or summary dismissal. If Trump follows his usual pattern, however, he will make every conceivable attempt to delay the trials until after Jan. 20, 2025, which will afford him an opportunity to resume his occupancy of the White House and have at least the federal charges dismissed by a compliant, hand-picked Justice Department seeded by his own sycophantic appointees.

But before any of those efforts, he absolutely must get himself elected. For Trump, winning in 2024 is now quite literally an existential imperative.

Meanwhile, in Russia, Vladimir Putin is facing his own crisis. Like Trump’s, it is one of his own making. For Putin’s sake, getting Trump reelected is also something of an existential imperative.

These two need each other now, and they’ve never needed each other more desperately since their own survival is literally at stake.

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Putin’s war on Ukraine is going very badly, the Russian economy is being decimated, and his kleptocratic, authoritarian regime is starting to show obvious cracks. One reason is the sheer fierceness and bravery of the Ukrainians in defending their land, but Putin can’t do much about that one. The other factor, however, is the unexpected resilience of NATO and its successful, fairly unified strategy of heavily arming and advising the Ukrainian military forces. Absent some radical change of military fortunes on the battlefield in Russia’s favor, NATO is the one circumstance that Putin has the power to change in order to salvage his misguided war, and probably his regime as well.

Trump has already publicly provided Putin with implicit assurances that if he is reelected, Trump will disparage, defund, and ultimately seek disengagement from NATO, thus crippling that alliance. Part of Trump’s rationale for his pro-Putin and pro-Russia sentiments is doubtlessly payback for the assistance that Russian intelligence provided in helping Trump get elected in 2016. Should Putin again oblige Trump with the full power of Russia’s intelligence and disinformation apparatus in 2024, it is practically certain that Trump will do everything in his power to gratify his Russian patron, including abandoning Ukraine and NATO. Despite some recent Senate backlash, he appears to have a significant degree of support among like-minded members of the Republican Party. Without U.S. leadership propping up NATO, Russia stands a decent chance of reversing the war’s course, and Putin’s survival chances along with it. 

Despite the Republican Party’s best efforts to obfuscate or ridicule it through their own media outlets, the magnitude of Russia’s assistance to Trump in 2016 and the complicity of Trump’s campaign in soliciting and accepting that assistance is as unquestionable as it is damning. The treasonous implications of that relationship are, in fact, the reason why Trump so vigorously pushed his insistence that the Mueller investigation found “no collusion” between the Trump campaign and Russia, neatly sidestepping the fact that determining “collusion” (not a legal term) was never the subject of that investigation. It is also the reason why both Trump and his allies invariably followed the word “Russia” with the word “hoax” in their public statements to foster a reflexive reaction of disbelief in the minds of supporters.

In 2016, Trump’s campaign apparatus operated to solidify his Russian contacts through a network of go-betweens and intermediaries, such as then-campaign advisers Paul Manafort and George Papadopoulos, and various Russian private citizens with ties to Russia’s intelligence services. It is possible that Trump’s precarious legal position will prompt him to reestablish or reinvigorate those same ties, albeit with a brand new cast of characters for 2024, or at the very least establish some lines of communication with the Putin regime (assuming one is not already in existence). Or the understanding between Trump and Putin may, at this point, be implicit and no such contacts or conversations are even necessary.

Either way, the prospect of another such mutually beneficial collaboration is simply too attractive a proposition to ignore. For both Trump and Putin, the downside is negligible while the potential benefit is incalculable. Both will be able to reap the benefit of a gullible and credulous Republican voter base, one that has already demonstrated its susceptibility to external influence. Both will also have the advantage of a compliant right-wing media juggernaut already predisposed to regurgitate both pro-Russian and anti-Democratic propaganda.

But regardless of whatever “alternative universe” of facts with which Republicans sought to delude themselves and the American public about the interplay between the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence surrounding the 2016 election, this country’s intelligence agencies shouldn’t be operating under the same delusion. They should prepare themselves for an even greater onslaught of such interference in 2024 given that sordid history and the fact that the actual, real-life stakes right now for both Trump and Putin are literally unprecedented.

That preparation must extend beyond simply beefing up our existing capabilities to thwart actual, physical election interference, but should include a far more robust public accounting, where possible, of Russian (or any foreign) efforts to directly or indirectly benefit any political candidates in this country, through social media or otherwise. It is not necessary for the Trump 2024 campaign to be singled out, even though it makes the most sense that they would benefit from such meddling. But the simple fact is that Americans have an inherent right to know what hostile foreign influences are working to influence or sway the decisions of any political officials, party, or constituency.

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Trump’s return to the White House is no longer an aspirational goal for Putin, but an operational necessity: If he is to survive his Ukraine debacle, he has to find a way to weaken NATO. His only way to do that effectively within the limited time he has available is by getting Trump reelected. Likewise, despite Republican pronouncements to the contrary, Trump’s own path to reelection must now find a way to circumnavigate the existence of multiple messy indictments and two prior impeachments. He needs an assist that no one except Putin, with his vast and proven disinformation networks, can provide.

And that is simply too glaring a fact for any of us to ignore.  RELATED STORY: Remember how Putin helped Trump get elected? Republicans are trying to make you forget