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.

RELATED STORY: Police union endorses Trump despite his glorifying jailed Jan. 6 'hostages' who attacked officers

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

Campaign Action

Black Music Sunday: Valentine’s Day is around the corner. What’s your favorite love song?

It’s Super Bowl Sunday—which we have covered here at “Black Music Sunday” in the past—but with Valentine’s Day on Wednesday, we’re going to get into love song mode.

R&B and soul artists have been singing about love since the genre took hold in the 1940s, and they’re still going strong today. Usher headlining the 2024 Super Bowl halftime show is a testimony to that. He’s also paying tribute to R&B artists of the past.

But let’s not forget rocker Tracy Chapman, who got her flowers onstage at the Grammys last week for her duet with Luke Combs. “Fast Car” is a heartbreaking, visceral ballad, but Chapman has also written some powerful love songs.

With thousands of love songs to choose from, I won’t be able to include them all, so check out some past Valentine’s Day selections: In 2022, we featured Houston Person, Etta Jones, Etta James, Ben Webster, and Johnny Hartman with John Coltrane. And in 2021, Sarah Vaughn, Ella Fitzgerald, Arthur Prysock, Nat and Natalie Cole, Miles Davis, and Ben Webster sung their hearts out for us. 

Truthfully, I could probably write a music story every day and never scratch the surface of the plethora of songs about love.

”Black Music Sunday” is a weekly series highlighting all things Black music with nearly 200 stories covering performers, genres, history, and more, each featuring its own vibrant soundtrack. I hope you’ll find some familiar tunes and perhaps an introduction to something new.

Still thinking about Tracy Chapman, I have to play “Baby Can I Hold You.” Here’s a live version of the 1988 hit:


Sorry Is all that you can't say
Years gone by and still
Words don't come easily
Like sorry like sorry Forgive me Is all that you can't say
Years gone by and still
Words don't come easily
Like forgive me forgive me    
But you can say baby
Baby can I hold you tonight?
Maybe if I told you the right words
At the right time you'd be mine    
I love you Is all that you can't say
Years gone by and still
Words don't come easily
Like I love you
I love you    
But you can say baby
Baby can I hold you tonight?
Maybe if I told you the right words
Ooh, at the right time you'd be mine  
Baby can I hold you tonight?
Maybe if I told you the right words
At the right time you'd be mine
You'd be mine
You'd be mine

Here’s some (authorized) biographical background from the “About Tracy Chapman” site, written by Nigel Williamson in 2001:

Born and raised by her mother in Cleveland, Ohio, she began writing poetry and short stories at an early age. Tracy’s first instrument was a ukulele that her mother bought her at three years old because she recognized that she loved music, and was later stolen by the girl across the street from them. There wasn’t much money in the family but her mother saved money from the household food money to purchase it from a neighborhood store.

An academic scholarship sent her to high school in Connecticut, where she played at chapel services, Her mother bought her first guitar when she was away in boarding school when she started playing coffee house at school with a borrowed guitar. Later, the school chaplain Reverend Robert Tate organized a collection to buy her a new guitar. (He was thanked years later in the credits on her first album.)

At Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts, she studied anthropology and honed her musical skills on the Boston folk circuit, playing guitar and singing on the streets of Harvard Square and performing at local coffeehouses and the campus folk club. By 1987, she had signed to Elektra, a label with a proud singer-songwriter history dating back to the 1960s heyday of the genre. Her self-titled debut album, produced by David Kershenbaum, was released in early 1988 and its warm, passionate and heartfelt songs announced the arrival of a compelling talent. At the time, the record was a breath of fresh air. By the late 1980s, music was dominated by synths and drum machines and the simplicity and sincerity of Chapman’s approach was hugely refreshing. The songs themselves were full of sharp observation, deeply rooted in her personal experience of growing up poor in a working-class community in the inner city.

Journalist Sarah Smarsh wrote about one of those 1988 songs for Oxford American in 2022.

“For My Lover”

Tracy Chapman on the rewards of risk and love

Being in love is a state of madness that may compromise decision-making abilities. Sacrifices made for a romantic partner should, therefore, be examined.

In Tracy Chapman’s “For My Lover,” from her 1988 debut Tracy Chapman, the narrator acknowledges that others think she’s nuts and wonders whether the relationship is worth the losses and risks she has incurred: doing time in a Virginia jail, coming up with bail money, lying to authorities to cover for her love.

The chorus, though, returns to her conclusion: It’s the world, not her, that’s crazy. I believe her. When Chapman sings “you” over and over with her iconic contralto, it doesn’t sound like codependency. It sounds like ardent longing and frustrated adoration, conditions that plenty of good, sane, worthwhile partnerships will endure in hard times.

Those hard times echo in the instrumentation. Chapman’s guitar licks are simple and haunting, like something one might strum in a county cell where a small square of light streams from a high window with bars across it. Steel guitarist Ed Black pulls one note down the scale for a full measure, again and again, suggesting the long arc of justice bending down to find the forgotten. The end of the song contains a muffled harmonica, such as that you might hear through a wall.

Give it a listen:

Chapman sang of going to jail for her lover, but Prince rocked the world with “I Would Die 4 U.” This rousing live performance, according to the Prince Vault, came during a Nov. 20, 1984 concert at Maryland’s Capital Center.

Goldies Parade has some interesting details of Prince’s beginnings.

A bemused Oprah Winfrey asked Prince in 1996 why he, a superstar, still chose to live in Minnesota “of all places”. He responded simply “I will always live in Minneapolis. It’s so cold it keeps the bad people out.” Minneapolis was Prince’s home town since birth and indeed remained his base throughout even during the height and length of his career that ultimately spanned four decades. The place greatly influenced Prince’s music. Lying at the far north of the US on its border with Canada, winters in the state of Minnesota indeed average lows of -14C. In the interwar period approximately 2 million blacks fled America’s southern states to seek refuge from racism in what witnessed the country’s largest internal migration in its history. They were headed north in search of tolerant society, and skilled and better paid work. A mere 4,646 made their way to Minneapolis by 1940, a figure doubtlessly low due to its uninviting winters.

Prince Rogers Nelson was born at the city’s Mount Sinai Hospital on 7th June 1958. His father, John Lewis Nelson (1916-2001) a pianist from Louisiana, named Prince after his band – New Orleans jazz outfit Prince Rogers Trio (incidentally a four-piece band). His wife and Prince’s mother, Mattie Della Shaw (1933-2002) was the band’s singer. John and Mattie married in 1956. and joined the exodus north. They headed to Minneapolis, a city that adjoined the state capital St Paul and together was known as The Twin Cities. Despite choosing to live in the city where the black community represented only 1 percent of the population, Minneapolis enjoyed a reputation for racial tolerance, owing to its particularly large Scandinavian community.

Prince’s website has wonderful notes and photos on his childhood and high school days.

Prince’s classmates at Central High School knew that he was a talented musician, and a dedicated one; halfway through sophomore year he had quit the basketball team and was dedicating every free moment to jamming in the music room. But he had an aversion to joining the school band or taking formal lessons — a fact that was noted in his first piece of press ever, a 1976 article in the student newspaper the Central High Pioneer: “He likes Central a great deal, because his music teachers let him work on his own.” Instead, Prince preferred to get most of his music education from their stereo, spending hours with André in the Anderson’s basement listening to rock and folk artists like Joni Mitchell, Maria Muldaur, and Carlos Santana on FM station KQRS, and exploring the rich history of R&B, soul, and funk via the black community radio station KUXL, an AM channel that was only broadcast to a small section of North Minneapolis.

At his January 2016 Piano and a Microphone show, Prince recalled his days listening to KUXL

From Grand Funk Railroad to Sly and the Family Stone, Jimi Hendrix to the Jackson 5, Prince listened eagerly and learned it all. Grand Central was starting to get booked not just at community centers in North Minneapolis but at high school proms and homecoming dances across South, and Prince knew that he would have to learn a wide variety of Top 40 hits to appeal to the white teenagers in all parts of the city.

I could write an entire story about Prince’s love songs. I won’t, but here’s a great review of them by Prince historian and YouTuber Eloy Lasanta, which was posted to his “Prince’s Friend” channel and produced for Valentine’s Day 2020.

From the YouTube video notes:

Songs discussed are: 1000 X’s & O’s, Adore, Baby,Betcha By Golly Wow, Call My Name,Forever In My Life, Friend Lover Sister Mother Wife, Future Baby Mama,Love Like Jazz, Most Beautiful Girl In the World, The One, Pink Cashmere, Savior, She Loves Me 4 Me, She’s Always in My Hair, Somewhere Here On Earth, Space (Universal Love Remix), and Walk In Sand.

“Forever in My Life” is Lasanta’s top pick. Here it is:

Since we’ve heard from the Prince, it’s time to bring on the Queen herself, Aretha Franklin. Her biography on the Academy of Achievement website covers the basics of her background.

Aretha Franklin was born in Memphis Tennessee, but at an early age, her family moved, first to Buffalo, New York, and finally to Detroit, Michigan, where she spent her formative years.  Although Aretha Franklin spent much of her adult life in New York and Los Angeles, she would always regard Detroit as her hometown and returned to the city for the last three decades of her life.

Aretha’s mother died when she was ten, and she was raised by her father, a Baptist minister.  For 33 years, Rev. C. L. Franklin was pastor of New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit.  Rev. Franklin was not only a popular pastor but an influential civil rights activist, in demand for speaking engagements around the country.  Several of his sermons were recorded and issued as phonograph records. Admirers called him the “man with the million-dollar voice.”  Notable figures from the civil rights movement were regular visitors to New Bethel Church and were welcome guests in the Franklin home.  The country’s premier gospel singers — Mahalia Jackson and Clara Ward — as well as secular jazz and blues musicians, also paid calls on Rev. Franklin, Aretha, and her brothers and sister.

Aretha’s father encouraged her to sing.  When she was very small, her father would stand her on a chair to be seen from the pews when she sang in church.  She learned to play piano by ear, although she resisted formal lessons, and by age ten, she could foresee a career as a gospel singer. In her teens, she joined the junior choir that traveled with her father on his speaking engagements.  While in California, the Franklins met the young Sam Cooke, lead singer with the gospel group the Soul Stirrers; they followed his career with interest as he left the Soul Stirrers to focus instead on secular pop music.  Sam Cooke’s success made a deep impression on young Aretha, who began to wonder if she too might pursue a music career outside of the church.

And aren’t we blessed that she did? 

Franklin demonstrates such intensity in “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You).” Music blogger altrockchick gives it a blunt review:

Aretha adheres tightly to the storyline in the bluesy title track (and her first top ten hit), “I Never Loved a Man (The Way That I Love You).” Her ability to convincingly oscillate from disgust at her man’s deplorable behavior to expression of irresistible attraction is so genuine and so real-life that it gives you the shivers. When she gives us that throaty whisper in the chorus, supported by a brief patch of harmony, you can visualize her lips getting closer to his and her nipples hardening. The way she comps herself on the piano is pretty impressive as well, especially in the second verse where she forces her piano to break through to the front of the sound field. The horns on this piece are particularly tight and supportive, but goddamn—when Aretha really gets into a song, she fucking owns it.

Have a listen. 

One of the things about Aretha that I admire so much? When she covers a song that was already a hit for other artists, she makes it her own. Consider “This Girl’s in Love With You,” written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, which started out as Herb Alpert’s “This Guy’s in Love with You.”

A shift of genders made it a hit for Dionne Warwick, but check out The Queen’s interpretation!

I’ll close out The Queen’s section with a song about how love makes you feel. It’s a performance that will make you feel the love and respect between an artist and a songwriter—in this case, Carole King. I can’t count the number of times I’ve watched this performance of “A Natural Woman” at the Kennedy Center.

As PBS “News Hour” notes

Singer-songwriter Carole King, 73, was one of the six honorees to receive 2015 Kennedy Center Honors in a year-end gala in the nation’s capital. Among the hundreds of compositions credited to her is 1967’s “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” a single co-written by King and made famous by soul singer Aretha Franklin.

Tuesday night, Franklin took the stage and sang what has become a staple for the Queen of Soul. From the moment Franklin appeared on stage in a floor-length fur coat, it was a master class in how to be a diva.

Franklin commanded the piano.

King gesticulated wildly in approval.

Not even a minute into the performance, the camera cut to President Obama wiping away a tear.

I’ll close today with one of the greatest R&B love songs of all time, according to a slew of makers of such lists. And this one has recently been posted to social media for a non-musical, political reason.

Democratic Rep. Al Green for Texas left the hospital on Tuesday, and arrived on the floor of the House to cast his ballot against the bogus Republican impeachment proceedings that were underway against Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

Congressman Al Green, D-Texas, was brought into the House Chamber in a wheelchair Tuesday afternoon, wearing hospital scrubs and socks, to cast his vote against impeaching Secretary Mayorkas, blocking the impeachment. HERO! “I was determined to cast the vote long before - I had… pic.twitter.com/2qTvOsGipo

— Leia🌻 (@TheSWPrincess) February 7, 2024

Democrats stuck together and were able to block the Republicans—for now. Unsurprisingly, there were a lot of social references to another Al Green and his 1972 major hit “Let’s Stay Together,” which is in the Grammy Hall of Fame.

Green, whose career has had ups and downs, is honored in The Arkansas Encyclopedia.

Al Green is one of Arkansas’s best-known singers, with a career that has ranged from rhythm and blues (R&B) to pop to gospel and a combination. Green’s distinctive falsetto singing style continues to thrill fans old and young, and he remains an active soul singer from an era that also produced Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, and Marvin Gaye.

Al Greene (he later dropped the last “e”) was born on April 13, 1946, in Forrest City (St. Francis County) and grew up in a large African American family that sang gospel music. When his sharecropper father moved the family to Grand Rapids, Michigan, Green was only nine but sang with his siblings in the Green Brothers. When he began listening to the non-gospel sounds of Jackie Wilson, Green’s father dismissed sixteen-year-old Green from the group.

Green was later recruited by a local band, the Creations, later renamed Al Green and the Soul Mates, and in 1967, they recorded a single, “Back Up Train,” which hit No. 5 on the R&B charts. After a couple of years of struggling, Green was in a Midland, Texas, club in 1969 when he met Willie Mitchell, a Memphis, Tennessee, bandleader and an executive with that city’s soul record label, Hi Records. Mitchell persuaded Green to move to Memphis and let Mitchell shape his career and sound.

Green’s first chart hit, “Tired of Being Alone,” reached No. 11 in 1971. It was followed at the end of that year by his only No. 1 hit, “Let’s Stay Together.” He had six other Top 10 hits, all released between 1972 and 1974.

Here he is live on “Soul Train” in 1973 singing “Love and Happiness.” I never missed an episode.

My final Green selection is both an album and its titular hit single, “I’m Still in Love with You.” I still sing this to my husband, and he sings it to me.

As a sidebar: Few of us will forget when then President Barack Obama was at the Apollo Theater in Harlem for a fundraising event in January 2012 and sang the opening line from “Let’s Stay Together.”

As I asked in the headline, what are your favorite love songs?  Join me in the comments for many, many more love songs, and please share your favorites. My husband and I will have the speakers on high. 

Happy Super Bowl Sunday … of love!

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.

Morning Digest: Wisconsin’s 2023 Supreme Court race may decide fate of abortion and gerrymandering

The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, Stephen Wolf, Daniel Donner, and Cara Zelaya, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, James Lambert, David Beard, and Arjun Jaikumar.

Subscribe to The Downballot, our weekly podcast

Leading Off

WI Supreme Court: With the conservative majority on the Wisconsin Supreme Court on the line in 2023—and with it the outcomes of future battles over fair elections and abortion rights—the contest to succeed retiring conservative Justice Patience Roggensack will likely be one of the most consequential elections in any state next year.

Wednesday was the campaign launch date for conservative Waukesha County Judge Jennifer Dorow, who recently finished presiding over the high-profile trial where Darrell Brooks was sentenced to life in prison for killing six people at last year’s Waukesha Christmas parade. Dorow joins a field that includes former Supreme Court Justice Daniel Kelly, who is also a conservative, and two liberal-aligned candidates, Dane County Judge Everett Mitchell and Milwaukee County Judge Janet Protasiewicz.

All candidates will compete on the same nonpartisan primary ballot on Feb. 21, and the top two contenders will advance to an April 4 general election alongside local elections throughout much of the state that day. Petitioning to get on the ballot starts on Dec. 1, and the filing deadline is Jan. 4.

Although Supreme Court candidates in Wisconsin don't have partisan labels on the ballot, the ideological fault lines have been clear in recent elections, which have looked very similar to partisan contests. One key difference this time, though, is that each side is fielding two candidates apiece, meaning either progressives or conservatives could snag both spots in the second round of voting.

To avoid such a lockout, both factions may try to consolidate around a single standard-bearer before the primary. One far-right billionaire is already signaling that he'll make his influence felt: Dick Uihlein, who along with his wife Elizabeth was the biggest GOP megadonor nationally in 2022, has indicated he'll spend millions backing Kelly.

The election will be pivotal, and abortion rights tops the list of reasons why. Most notably, the U.S. Supreme Court's reversal of Roe v. Wade earlier this year resurrected an 1849 Wisconsin law that makes it a felony to perform an abortion in almost all cases. Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul, who narrowly won re-election in November, has filed a suit seeking to have that 19th century law ruled unenforceable, a case that will likely wind up before the state Supreme Court.

The court has also been central in the battle against GOP voter suppression efforts. In 2020, Kelly was ousted by liberal Judge Jill Karofsky in an election at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic that was plagued by exceptionally long voting lines due to the closure of most polling places. The court's conservative majority exacerbated the problem by blocking an executive order by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers to delay the election, but Kelly nonetheless lost by a wide 55-45 margin. More recently, the conservative majority ruled in favor of a ban on absentee ballot drop boxes following their widespread adoption in the 2020 elections due to the pandemic.

In addition to restrictions on voting, the court is also critical to the fate of Republican gerrymandering efforts. Heading into the current round of redistricting, Wisconsin's state government was divided, with Evers facing a legislature that Republicans dominated in large part thanks to their previous gerrymanders. When the two parties predictably deadlocked over drawing new congressional and legislative maps, the courts stepped in and took over the process, ostensibly with the aim of drawing neutral lines.

However, in another ruling along ideological lines, the court's conservative majority made up its own requirement that any new maps make only the minimum changes possible when compared to the previous maps, solely to restore population equality. Justice Brian Hagedorn, the lone conservative who is occasionally a swing vote, later sided with his three liberal colleagues to adopt new districts proposed by Evers because they moved fewer residents than GOP proposals did. However, the least-change requirement meant that even the maps proposed by the Democratic governor still heavily favored Republicans compared to their statewide vote share, effectively locking in much of the impact of the prior decade's GOP gerrymanders in all but name.

Wisconsin once again saw the dramatic effects of this rigged redistricting in action this year: Although Evers beat his GOP foe 51-48 and Republican Sen. Ron Johnson turned back his Democratic challenger 50-49, Republicans gained a two-thirds supermajority in the state Senate and fell just two seats shy of one in the Assembly. While Democrats have next to no hope of winning majorities so long as these districts stand, a more independent-minded court could overturn these maps for violating state constitutional protections and order the adoption of fairer maps that more accurately reflect Wisconsin's status as a longtime swing state.

The Downballot

Why did Democrats do so surprisingly well in the midterms? It turns out they ran really good campaigns, as strategist Josh Wolf tells us on this week's episode of The Downballot. That means they defined their opponents aggressively, spent efficiently, and stayed the course despite endless second-guessing in the press. Wolf gives us an inside picture of how exactly these factors played out in the Arizona governor's race, one of the most important Democratic wins of the year. He also shines a light on an unsexy but crucial aspect of every campaign: how to manage a multi-million budget for an enterprise designed to spend down to zero by Election Day.

Co-hosts David Nir and David Beard, meanwhile, take a look at how turnout differed between Republicans and Democrats in 2022 (and why it's bad news for the GOP for 2024); why the Republican House majority is the most precarious it's been in a long time; how bonkers conspiracy theorists in a dark-red county in Arizona could flip two major races by refusing to certify their own votes; and a key special election coming up in Wisconsin that could allow Democrats to roll back the GOP's new supermajority in the state Senate.

New episodes of The Downballot come out every Thursday morning. You can subscribe on Apple Podcasts to make sure you never miss a show. You'll find a transcript of this week's episode right here by noon Eastern Time.

Georgia Runoff

GA-Sen: Senate Majority PAC's Georgia Honor affiliate is deploying another $5.8 million in advertising for the final week of the runoff, and its new spot opens with the narrator proclaiming, "Herschel Walker's violence has hurt so many people." The commercial then plays clips or quotes of both the Republican's ex-wife and son saying he'd threatened to kill them, before the narrator reminds viewers, "An ex-girlfriend says Walker used threats of violence to force her to have an abortion."

Meanwhile, another SMP affiliate, Majority Forward, has announced that it's spending $11 million on a get-out-the-vote effort in partnership with America Votes. Democratic incumbent Raphael Warnock is also airing a minute-long ad starring former President Barack Obama, who opens, "Serious times call for special leaders."


IN-Gov, IN-Sen: Politico's Adam Wren reported Wednesday that Sen. Mike Braun filed paperwork the previous day for a potential run to succeed his fellow Republican, termed-out Gov. Eric Holcomb. Braun, whose seat is also up in 2024, didn't quite commit to a bid to lead the Hoosier State, saying, "We'll talk to you down the road." Braun's chief of staff, though, sounded far more sure about his boss' plans, telling Wren, "Mike Braun has filed his paperwork to run for governor and will be making an official announcement of his candidacy very soon."

There's already plenty of talk about which Republicans could run to replace Braun in the Senate. A spokesperson for Rep. Jim Banks said last week, "He will strongly consider it if Sen. Braun runs for governor in 2024." Politico also reported back in September that fellow Rep. Victoria Spartz had told people she planned to campaign for an open seat.

It's rare for a first-term senator to leave after just one term, though Braun burned his bridges just after the election when he supported NRSC chair Rick Scott's failed effort to oust Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. It's also fairly unusual for members of the upper chamber to campaign for governor, where most states have term limits for their chief executives.

Indeed, the University of Minnesota's Eric Ostermeier last year found that just three sitting senators have been elected governor during the 21st century, with Kansas Republican Sam Brownback pulling this off most recently in 2010. Louisiana Republican David Vitter also tried this career switch in 2015, but the scandal-ridden senator lost to Democrat John Bel Edwards in a true upset.


NJ-07: NJ Spotlight News this week asked outgoing incumbent Tom Malinowski if he planned to seek another bout against Republican Rep.-elect Tom Kean Jr., to which the Democrat responded, "I'm going to stay very very interested in the fate of our district, New Jersey, and the fight for democracy in America. I haven't decided how I'm gonna do that, but I'm certainly not going anywhere." Kean unseated Malinowski 52-48 in a constituency that Biden won 51-47.  

VA-04: Several Democrats aren't ruling out running in the upcoming special election to succeed the late Rep. Donald McEachin, though they're understandably reluctant to say much this soon after the congressman's death. It also remains to be seen how Democrats will choose their nominee for this safely blue Richmond-based seat.  

Del. Lamont Bagby told 8News of McEachin, whom he's called a father or brother figure, "I think it's a little too soon to talk about it, but there is no secret I've always wanted to follow in my big brother's footsteps." Fellow Del. Jeff Bourne likewise relayed that he was still "trying to process the immense loss of such a wonderful father, husband and public servant."

State Sen. Jennifer McClellan, who succeeded McEachin in the legislature, responded, "We're mourning him right now and that is a conversation that probably will be had eventually but I'm not prepared to have it right now." A spokesperson for Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney also declared that a special election bid "is not on the Mayor's mind at all right now."

Finally, state Sen. Joe Morrissey, who has long been one of the most unreliable Democrats in the legislature in between two different stints as an independent, said, "It's way too premature for me to say yay or nay." Morrissey, though, sounded happy where he is as the key vote in Team Blue's 21-19 majority, adding, "I will say this. I love being in the [state] Senate. I love being able to do something substantive for Virginia, and I'm not so sure that being one of 435 members would allow me to be as effective."

Mayors and County Leaders

Denver, CO Mayor: State Rep. Alex Valdez this week became the latest candidate to enter the ever-expanding April 4 nonpartisan primary to succeed Mayor Michael Hancock, a fellow Democrat who cannot seek a fourth term. "The next mayor must be able to bring progressives and moderates together to solve challenges," said Valdez, who previously founded a solar energy company.

Valdez, like several other contenders in what's now a 22 person-field, would be the second Latino elected to lead Colorado's capital and largest city; the first was Federico Peña, who won the first of his two terms in 1983. Valdez would also be the Denver's first gay mayor, a distinction he'd share with fellow state Rep. Leslie Herod.


Philadelphia, PA District Attorney: The state Senate will begin its trial of Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, a leading criminal justice reformer whom the outgoing GOP majority in the state House voted to impeach two weeks ago, on Jan. 18, which is after the new legislature takes office. It would take 34 senators to hit the two-thirds majority needed to remove Krasner, and since Republicans will only control 28 of the 50 seats next year, they'd need at least six Democrats to side with them.

That's a tough task, though, especially since just one Democrat, Jimmy Dillon, sided with the GOP on Tuesday on a pair of votes setting the rules for the trial. Potentially complicating things further is the fact that Republican John Gordner resigned this week halfway through his term in order to become counsel to state Senate Interim President Pro Tempore Kim Ward.

Obama’s office slams GOP investigation into Ukraine, Joe Biden, in private letter from March

In a letter from March, the office of former president Barack Obama condemned a congressional investigation into former vice president and now presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden. You likely remember the Republicans’ incessant focus on Hunter Biden’s position at Burisma Holdings, a Ukrainian natural energy company. Trump and various Republican allies have alleged that there’s a scandal there, and alleged possible conflict of interest for Joe Biden, who was key on Ukraine policy at the time. And of course, Republicans had claimed this investigation had nothing to do with wanting to distract from Trump’s impeachment proceedings or the upcoming general election. 

In the private letter signed by Obama’s records representative and now available because the office released it to BuzzFeed News upon request, Obama’s office described it as an effort to "to shift the blame for Russian interference in the 2016 election to Ukraine” and said it was “without precedent." The letter, which was first obtained and reported on by BuzzFeed News, does not actually explicitly mention Biden by name, and does agree to release the requested presidential records.  

"The request for early release of presidential records in order to give credence to a Russian disinformation campaign--one that has already been thoroughly investigated by a bipartisan congressional committee--is without precedent," the letter, dated March 13 and sent to the National Archives and Records Administration (which maintains presidential records), says in part. 

As a quick review, Republican Sens. Chuck Grassley and Ron Johnson made the record request in November 2019. The two senators have effectively spearheaded the investigation into the Bidens and Ukraine, and have been doing so since last fall. Both wanted records on meetings between Ukrainian officials and the Obama administration from the National Archives. 

The letter from Obama’s office refers to former National Security Council analyst and Russia expert Fiona Hill’s now-viral opening testimony about the notion that it was Ukraine, not Russia, that had a misinformation effort in the 2016 election. She said it’s “a fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves.”

The Obama office relented and has allowed the records to be released "in the interest of countering the misinformation campaign underlying this request.” Former presidents (and technically, current presidents, though it’s no surprise that representatives for Trump wouldn’t do so) are allowed to review and use executive privileges on record requests thanks to a federal mandate. But neither Obama’s office nor Trump’s did so. Obama’s office released the records essentially to counter the message that is beneath the request.

The letter finishes: “We emphasize that abuse of the special access process strikes at the heart of presidential confidentiality interests and undermines the statutory framework and norms that govern access to presidential records.”

At the time of Trump’s impeachment trial in the Senate, Republicans went out of their way to distract from any perceived weakness and create an enemy—in this case, Hunter Biden and Ukraine. But it didn’t end there. For example, Sens. Grassley and Johnson have reportedly recently dug into Secret Service documents to see whether Joe and Hunter Biden ever overlapped on trips to Ukraine. It’s endless. Even now, as a global pandemic rages on and the United States continues to fumble public health crisis management, GOP senators continue to dig into the Burisma theories. 

When it comes to packing the federal courts, McConnell and Trump have no shame—and no principles

Focusing on the long-term—especially about matters of governmental and political process—isn’t exactly the easiest thing to do in the middle of a pandemic. However, Republicans never seem to think it’s the wrong time to push every button made available to them in their quest to gain as much power as possible. No matter what constitutional or historical norms they have to trample on, Donald Trump and his party are determined to create a conservative judiciary at the federal level that will endure for a quarter-century or more.

Let’s start, however, with what’s going on in 2020. Moscow Mitch—Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, that is—has been doing things the Founders likely never envisioned when they wrote our Constitution. He, along with allies, have been making calls to aging conservative jurists on the federal courts, reminding them that the clock is ticking—on Trump’s time in the White House, on the Republicans’ hold on the Senate, and, most appropriately given his embrace of the nickname “Grim Reaper,” on their very lives. McConnell has been urging them to all retire ASAP so that he and The Man Who Lost The Popular Vote can put as many young whipper-snappers as possible into lifetime seats on the federal bench, seats they’ll hold long past a Sasha Obama presidency.

Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer recently called McConnell out on this blatant manipulation of the process: “Senator McConnell knows he can’t achieve any of his extreme goals legislatively, so he continues to attempt to pull America to the far right by packing the courts.”

As The New York Times notes, some progressives have made statements urging justices to stay in their positions so that Trump can’t appoint their successors, but McConnell has achieved a new low by targeting individual judges and asking them to retire. This ask is a nasty one, on par with greedy heirs rooting for wealthy relatives to die sometime before 2010 came to an end ... just so they could dodge the temporarily-repealed estate tax.

McConnell here is repeating, in private, sentiments that members of his party such as Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Chuck Grassley publicly expressed in the run-up to the 2018 midterms: “If you are thinking about quitting this year, do it yesterday. If we have a Democrat Senate, you’re never going to get the kind of people that are strict constructionists.”

For anyone confused, “strict constructionists”—i.e., conservative judges who claim that all they do is look to the plain text of the Constitution when making their rulings—is really just a fancy term Republicans use in public to give a more objective veneer to their preferred judicial approach, which almost always—coincidentally, of course—comes down on the side of the powerful. In other words, characterizing conservative judges as strict constructionists sounds less political than saying that they are right-wing ideologues who vote just like Rush Limbaugh would—even though the latter is the truth.

Republicans are being quite systematic about this whole affair. Their efforts are supported by a private organization called the Article III Project, named after the part of the Constitution that establishes lifetime tenure for federal judges, subject to impeachment and removal if they fail to live up to the standard of “good behaviour” laid down therein. This group exists to “fight for the confirmation of President Trump’s judicial nominees.”

The helpful folks over at A3P—that’s their clever moniker—want to clear out as many existing judges as possible. They’ve identified 90 who were appointed by a previous Republican president and who, based on their age and how many years they’ve served, either qualify or will qualify by year’s end for something called senior status.

According to the court system’s rules, those who take senior status now rather than outright retire allow Trump to put another, younger conservative in their place just as if they had retired. But judges on senior status get to keep drawing their full salary, hire clerks, and hear a reduced caseload. If this sounds bananas to you, you’re not alone. In fact, it’s the best of both worlds for those senior judges and for Republican leaders who want to increase their imprint on the judiciary. Thanks to A3P’s work, McConnell has a long list of people to target and a very attractive offer to make them.

McConnell and Trump have made a great effort to, in the senator’s words, “leave no vacancy behind.” They have placed 51 judges onto the U.S. Court of Appeals in Trump’s first three years (and 191 federal judges overall, as well as two on the Supreme Court), compared to 55 in Barack Obama’s entire eight years in office, and 62 during George W. Bush’s presidency. Trump has now named more than one-quarter of all sitting U.S. Appeals Court justices.

A good chunk of those new appellate judges—more than one out of three—took a spot previously held by a Democratic-appointed justice, thus shifting the bench hard to the right. Particularly noteworthy is the contrast between the diversity of the judges Obama appointed—only 31% of whom were white men, compared to 67% for Trump. For reference, somewhere around 40-45% of lawyers are white males, and white males constitute around 30% of the overall U.S. population, according to census data.

The New York Times conducted an in-depth analysis earlier this month of these Trump judges and found that they differ “significantly” from those nominated by either Obama or G.W. Bush. Regarding their activities prior to being nominated by Trump, they had been “more openly engaged in causes important to Republicans, such as opposition to gay marriage and to government funding for abortion.” They were also more likely to have been political appointees and made political donations. Even more alarming has been their impact after taking up their new positions:

When ruling on cases, they have been notably more likely than other Republican appointees to disagree with peers selected by Democratic presidents, and more likely to agree with those Republican appointees, suggesting they are more consistently conservative. Among the dozen or so judges that most fit the pattern, The Times found, are three Mr. Trump has signaled were on his Supreme Court shortlist.

While the appellate courts favor consensus and disagreement remains relatively rare — there were 125 instances when a Trump appointee wrote the majority opinion or dissent in a split decision — the new judges have ruled on disputed cases across a range of contentious issues, including abortion, immigration, L.G.B.T. rights and lobbying requirements, the examination shows.

Sen. McConnell has long been clear about the level of importance he places on reshaping the federal judiciary. "There are over 1,200 executive branch appointments that come to us for confirmation, and among the most important—in fact, I would argue, the most important—confirmations we have are lifetime appointments to the judiciary," McConnell told NPR. "Obviously, this is my top priority."

McConnell’s success in placing conservative judges on the federal bench during Trump’s tenure is a direct result of his actions in the final two years of Obama’s presidency. After Republicans took control of the Senate in 2015, they basically just stopped approving his nominees. The Brookings Institution noted the “unprecedentedly miniscule number of confirmations” that were carried out in those two years under McConnell’s leadership. That’s why there were 103 open seats on the federal bench for Trump to fill when he was inaugurated.

Without question, the most important of those openings was on the Supreme Court. McConnell ensured that seat remained open for almost a full year after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia by denying a hearing, let alone a vote, to President Obama’s nominee, U.S. District Court Chief Justice Merrick Garland. Garland was a moderate about whom Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch had said in 2010: “I have no doubts that Garland would get a lot of (Senate) votes. And I will do my best to help him get them.” However, Hatch did not keep his word in 2016. Oh, and during the Supreme Court confirmation process for Brett Kavanaugh, he pretended like the Garland nomination never happened. That’s what you call a double back-flip worth of bullshit.

Additionally, Garland was 63 years old when Obama nominated him, so his age itself served as a kind of compromise when compared to, for example, the nomination of 43-year-old Clarence Thomas by George H.W. Bush to a lifetime seat on the highest court back in 1992.

The way McConnell and Co. abused the established process when they essentially ignored a presidential nomination to the Supreme Court also qualifies as unprecedented, despite widely debunked Republican protestations to the contrary. As The New York Times editorial board wrote shortly after the 2016 election, the seat in which Justice Neil Gorsuch now sits is a “stolen seat.” Encouraging a mass wave of retirements in order to give Trump an even more outsized imprint on the federal judiciary would, if it succeeds, represent another form of theft.

All of this—from the blocking of Garland to the personalized arm-twisting aimed at getting judges to give up their seats in the coming months before it’s too late—reflects a level of cynicism and rejection of principle that has defined the contemporary Republican Party going back to even before Trump took it over. Principles? To Republicans, those are for suckers, i.e. Democrats.

Our Constitution’s authors were, generally speaking, not naive. They didn’t trust easily—they created the Electoral College because they didn’t trust the people to directly elect our president. However, the Framers failed to anticipate how the rules they wrote into the Constitution might be abused. They likely did not imagine that the Senate’s charge to provide “advice and consent,” as laid out in Article II, Section 2, Clause 2 of the Constitution, would lead to the kind of treatment with which the nomination of Judge Garland was met. The Framers never planned for Mitch McConnell.

Because of what he has done, Democrats are faced with a choice if and when they retake the White House and the Senate. Do they act in kind, and similarly game the system? Or do they take the high road, which would allow Republicans to hold on to their ill-gotten gains in the judicial branch? Keep in minds they all too often use those gains to further tighten their grip on power through judicial rulings on, for example, matters like voting rights or gerrymandering.

There’s only one way out of that dilemma: namely, to fundamentally alter the process so that it could not be gamed so easily. We need to get rid of lifetime tenure for federal judges, from the Supreme Court right on down the line. There are many different proposals out there, most of which focus on term limits for the highest court, but McConnell’s most recent actions make clear that such limits are necessary at lower levels as well. I haven’t seen polling done on term limits for all federal judges, but Supreme Court term limits are quite popular, with Democrats, Republicans, and independents all expressing similar levels of support.

To be sure, it would not be easy to implement such changes, as they would require a constitutional amendment. Nevertheless, such changes are necessary because any process that is based on principles, for example the idea that life tenure for justices is necessary to ensure that they'll be independent and removed from politics, will be abused by Republicans who have no principles at all.

Our democratic system must be governed by processes that prevent abuse by the unprincipled. As I’ve written before, Republicans seem to be taking their cues from young adult fiction of all places, leaning on the values of Harry Potter’s nemesis, Lord Voldemort—derived from Friedrich Nietzsche, the German philosopher who has inspired everyone on the right from Hitler to today’s white nationalists (even if they all get him wrong, but that’s another story): “There is no good and evil, there is only power, and those too weak to seek it.”

Nancy LeTourneau at Washington Monthly wrote that McConnell’s recent “outreach” to aging Republican judges indicates that he is “running scared” because “he is aware that his party will soon be out of power.” I rarely hope that McConnell is right about anything.

This time, however, Moscow Mitch and I are completely on the same page.

Ian Reifowitz is the author of The Tribalization of Politics: How Rush Limbaugh's Race-Baiting Rhetoric on the Obama Presidency Paved the Way for Trump (Foreword by Markos Moulitsas)

Trump is using the pardon power to stroke his own ego, not advance mercy or justice

When Donald Trump suddenly gave pardons or commutations to 11 people on Tuesday, you only had to glance at several of the names to know that Trump was doing favors for people in his social circles—people like him. Now we’re getting more information on how Trump made his decisions and on his clemency plans going forward, and it’s all classic Trump.

Bernard Kerik, the corrupt former New York City police commissioner, got a call early Tuesday morning giving him just hours to get supporters to sign a letter backing a pardon. He worked the phones and got some prominent Republicans like Geraldo Rivera and Rep. Peter King to sign, and just before noon he got a personal call from Trump giving him the news. David Safavian, the former Bush administration official who called Kerik and told him to pull together the letter, also got a pardon for his role in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal. Safavian works at the American Conservative Union, which is headed by the husband of a Trump adviser.

Another of Trump’s corrupt-rich-white-guys-like-me pardons went to Paul Pogue, whose family has given $200,000 to Trump’s reelection effort and whose son and daughter-in-law hang out with Don Jr. And so on. Trump did grant clemency Tuesday to a few people who weren’t corrupt rich white guys—but even they had an inside connection in the form of Alice Johnson, the woman whose sentence Trump commuted in 2018 after lobbying by Kim Kardashian West.

Since Trump seems to enjoy giving clemency—favoring personal phone calls to people not expecting clemency so he can soak up the shock and gratitude—he’ll be doing more of this in the coming months. And he has no plans to revert to the traditional process where the Justice Department vets petitions. Instead the White House is doing the Trump White House thing and having pardons overseen by “essentially an informal task force of at least a half-dozen presidential allies.” OBVIOUSLY Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner is heavily involved, as is former Florida attorney general and impeachment defense team member Pam Bondi.

Mass incarceration remains out of control and it’s reasonable for presidents to use executive power to mitigate some of the harm while Congress drags its feet about making the degree of change that’s really needed. But that should look like what President Obama did, taking a hard look at excessive sentences and using an actual process to grant clemency to 1,715 people, the vast majority of them nonviolent drug offenders. Obama should have done more, because there was so much to be done, but he did do more than the 12 presidents before him—combined. Trump, instead, is treating the pardon power like another way to do personal favors and soak up the adoration he craves. It’s not about justice, it’s about Donald Trump’s ego.