Republicans who keep a finger on reality are finding out their voters have gone off the deep end

It’s becoming much clearer why Republicans in Congress are so reluctant to acknowledge factual reality—such as the reality that Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election fairly, or that Donald Trump incited a mob that attacked Congress and ransacked the U.S. Capitol—and have doubled down on their embrace of anti-democratic disinformation that fueled the insurrection. If the Republicans dare admit any of it is real, they risk the insane wrath of the millions of GOP voters out there who have wholly swallowed all that false Trumpian propaganda.

That’s become especially self-evident among Republicans at the state and local levels throughout the country in the weeks since the Jan. 6 riot. As Hunter recently explained, the GOP at the ground level not only has fully embraced the conspiracist rot that Trump promoted after he lost, but it also has become even more openly extreme than it was before the election. Liz Cheney is now finding that out.

Whenever Republicans have made any gestures toward acknowledging either Biden’s win or Trump’s seditionist behavior, as The Guardian recently reported, voters at the state and local level have responded with outrage and threats.

“The evidence is overwhelming that local parties across the country, in blue states and red states, are radicalized and support extremely far outside the mainstream positions like, for example, ending our democratic experiment to install Donald Trump as president over the will of the people,” Tim Miller, former political director of Republican Voters Against Trump, told The Guardian.

“They believe in insane COVID denialism and QAnon and all these other conspiracies. It’s endemic, not just a couple of state parties. It’s the vast majority of state parties throughout the country.”

The list is long and worrisome:

  • Arizona: The state Republican Party reelected Kelli Ward last weekend. She’s a conspiracy-theory-promoting “Trump Republican” who unabashedly promoted the “election fraud” disinformation. Party officials also voted to censure Gov. Doug Ducey for certifying Trump’s loss in Arizona, along with Cindy McCain, the widow of Sen. John McCain, and former Sen. Jeff Flake, both for having supported Biden in the election.
  • Texas: The state Republican Party encouraged its members to follow them on Gab, the favorite social media platform of white nationalists, with a pro-QAnon conspiracy trope: “We Are the Storm.” Even after Biden’s inauguration, the party insisted that he had won fraudulently: “It took a global pandemic, a thoroughly corrupt media, and massive election irregularities for President Trump to be removed from office," the GOP said in a statement on its website.
  • Hawaii: The Hawaii Republican Party’s official account published a thread of tweets sympathizing with supporters of QAnon—dismissing the cult’s conspiracy theories that Democrats and media figures are secretly operating as global pedophilia ring, but arguing that adherents nonetheless were engaged in a form of patriotism. The same account also praised the “generally high quality” work of a Holocaust-denying YouTuber named Tarl Warwick, saying: “It is good to periodically step outside the ‘bubble’ of corporate commentators for additional perspective.” The party deleted and condemned the tweets; the communications official who posted them has resigned.
  • Oregon: The state’s Republican Party issued a lengthy statement stuffed full of conspiracy theories and disinformation condemning the 10 Republican members of Congress who voted to impeach Trump after the insurrection. It claimed “there is growing evidence that the violence at the Capitol was a ‘false flag’ operation designed to discredit President Trump and his supporters.” Some 23 Republican members of the state House repudiated the statement, noting that “there is no credible evidence to support false flag claims,” adding that such rumormongering had become a distraction.
  • Wyoming: State activists opened a campaign to “recall” Congressman Liz Cheney after she joined the Republicans voting to impeach Trump, and they have collected over 55,000 signatures. Ten county-level parties in the state voted to censure Cheney. A state senator named Anthony Bouchard announced a 2022 campaign against the congresswoman. The Wyoming Republican state party said "there has not been a time during our tenure when we have seen this type of an outcry from our fellow Republicans, with the anger and frustration being palpable in the comments we have received."
Matt Gaetz of Florida campaigns against his fellow Republican Congressman Liz Cheney in Wyoming.

Pro-Trump Congressman Matt Gaetz of Florida even traveled to Wyoming to lead a rally attacking Cheney. "We are in a battle for the soul of the Republican party, and I intend to win it,” Gaetz told the rally.

The sentiments in Wyoming were deep and widespread. A Gillette woman named Shelley Horn started the Cheney recall petition, and told CNN: “You just can't go, 'Oh well, I need to vote with my conscience.' No! Vote for what your people put you in there to do. You're a Republican, you're supposed to back your party regardless.”

Trump supporter Taylor Haynes told CNN, "In my view, she's done in Wyoming." A poll commissioned by the Trump political operation purportedly showed the impeachment vote had hurt her popularity. “Liz Cheney's favorables there are only slightly worse than her father's shooting skills,” quipped Donald Trump Jr.

Other polls, however, supported the claim. A Jan. 27 McLaughlin poll that showed 70% of Wyoming voters believe the impeachment trial was unconstitutional; more than two-thirds disapprove of Cheney’s vote, and 63% say they are unlikely to vote for Cheney again.

Some longtime GOP figures defended her. Gale Geringer, a veteran Republican strategist, told CNN that Cheney showed "courage" in casting the Trump impeachment vote: "I don't underestimate the anger people are feeling right now. It's huge. And Liz Cheney has become the target of that anger, but I don't think she's really the cause of it. I think it's fear of what the Biden administration is going to do to Wyoming. We're petrified. Our entire economy, all of our jobs, our tax base has been threatened. And there's nothing we can do about Joe Biden for four years. But we can take that fear and anger out on Liz Cheney."

But Politico reporter Tara Palmieri tagged along with the CNN crew, and found it nearly impossible to find anyone in the state who wasn’t angry with their congresswoman. Her impression was that Cheney is in serious political trouble.

Honestly, it was hard to find anyone who would defend Cheney — and I really tried to talk to as many people as I could not at the rally. I stopped at a biker bar, a gun shop, a vape shop, a hardware store, a steakhouse, a diner, a dentist’s office and a pawn shop …

— At Harbor Freight Tools, when I uttered the name “Liz Cheney,” an employee behind the cash register hurled a threatening epithet. Then a beefy and tattooed supervisor, Torrey Price, 48, came over mad as hell. His mask hung below his nose when he told me, “I don’t think she spoke for Wyoming.”

Price never votes in primaries but said he will in August 2022 — to oust Cheney. He shared more of his thoughts: the election was stolen, the U.S. Capitol raid was staged, and the number of Covid deaths were grossly inflated. He and his colleague Joe agreed on all of these points, adding that they would not be getting the vaccine.

— At the Outlaw Saloon, I envied the way a recently vaccinated NYT reporter sauntered into the biker bar maskless, when earlier, a middle-aged DJ in a cowboy hat asked me for my credentials. Likely because there were only two masks in the bar — the one on my face and another on a table, with the words “political prisoner” printed in red. The guy who threw down that mask predicted the size of the rally against Cheney, telling me the night before, “I guarantee you there will be 600 people there.” I didn’t believe him.

— At the steakhouse, our comely waitress said “a lot of people are fired up” about Cheney. As a lifelong native of Wyoming, she said Cheney made a grave mistake by not representing the people of her state.

Palmieri concluded: “If there was any doubt this is still Trump’s Republican Party, my time in Cheyenne dispelled it.”

The push to embrace Trumpism is roiling other state Republican parties as well. In Wisconsin, where 15 Republican lawmakers signed a letter to Vice President Mike Pence the day before the Washington, D.C. riot urging him to postpone the certification, and two Republican congressmen from the state, Scott Fitzgerald and Tom Tiffany, objected to the electoral votes, the party is divided into two camps.

“The Republican Party right now is relatively divided, but it's not the traditional ideological divisions that used to be in place, as much as it’s between the sane and insane wings of the party,” RightWisconsin Editor James Wigderson told the Madison Capital Times. “I think that there’s a chance of a real fracture coming.”

Establishment Republicans such as former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, however, defended the Trumpists for their paranoia and embrace of partisan disinformation: “That is the perspective they have, that is the view that they have and it’s valid; you can’t say someone’s opinion of a subjective matter is invalid,” she said. “I mean, what gives us the right to judge someone’s opinion like that?”

In Michigan, where Republicans also embraced the “Stop the Steal” campaign prior to the insurrection, the impulse to maintain their embrace of Trumpism remains largely undiminished. The Allegan County Republican Party censured Congressman Fred Upton because he voted to impeach Trump.

“Not a lot appears to be changing. We have former Ambassador Ron Weiser (expected to be the new Michigan GOP chair) and Meshawn Maddock (expected to be Weiser’s co-chair),” WKAR politics reporter Abigail Censky observed. “(Maddock) led ‘Stop the Steal’ efforts in the state and was a key part of the kind of infrastructure to overturn the state’s election results, which we know from bipartisan clerks and expert testimony was a fair and safe and secure election. It’s interesting to see that that’s kind of beyond reproach still, and that, that leadership is still going to go into place.”

And in Georgia, Republican Party officials are grimacing at the wounds being inflicted on their voter-appeal operations by the presence of QAnon-loving Congressman Majorie Taylor Greene in the state’s delegation, as well as in the media as her multiple conspiracist pronouncements—such as her approval of lynching House Speaker Nancy Pelosi—have come increasingly to light.

“If you have any common sense, you know she's an anchor on the party. She is weighing us down,” said Gabriel Sterling, a Georgia Republican election administrator who criticized the baseless election conspiracy theories espoused by Trump and his supporters.

“Some people are saying maybe Nancy Pelosi will throw her out” of Congress, Sterling said. “The Democrats would never throw her out. They want her to be the definition of what a Republican is. They’re gonna give her every opportunity to speak and be heard and look crazy — like what came out Wednesday, the Jewish space laser to start fires. I mean, I don't know how far down the rabbit hole you go.”

The unhinged behavior and conspiracism is widespread. The Oregon GOP’s statement was rife with conspiracy theories, including a passage explaining why they viewed the Jan. 6 insurrection as a false flag operation:

Whereas this false flag will support Joe Biden plans to introducing new domestic terrorism legislation likely placing more emphasis on themes from post-9/11 Patriot Act such as allowing those charged with terrorism to be automatically detained before trial, outlawing donations to government-designated terrorist groups, allowing electronic surveillance of suspected terrorists, letting the government use secret sources in those trials, and perhaps new provisions such as codifying putting conservatives on a secret no-fly list without recourse to due process and restricting free speech, similar to the Sedition Act of 1798, which criminalized making “false statements” critical of the Federal government.

The peculiar combination of self-righteousness, persecution complex, and projection endemic to extremist conspiracism was omnipresent. Shelley Horn, the Wyoming petitioner, blamed Cheney’s impeachment vote for dividing the nation: “It’s just sows more hate and division,” Horn told the Cowboy State Daily, “and people are tired of it. Our country can’t stand much more.”  

As Zack Beauchamp observed at Vox:

It’s obvious that some of the party’s national leaders, like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, don’t actually believe in these conspiracy theories. But for too long, the party has been comfortable letting their rank-and-file supporters believe them because it’s politically advantageous. Now, true believers are rising up and capturing the leadership of state parties and local activist groups — putting pressure on national politicians to conform to extreme ideas or risk a serious primary threat.

This makes the GOP’s post-Trump trajectory look even scarier. No one person or organization is in charge of the party, in a position to fix the root causes of its continuing turn toward extremism. Reforming the party requires a fight on multiple levels and in multiple arenas: reforms to the local and national party, transformations of both the party and adjacent institutions like Fox News.

This is what Barack Obama adroitly describes as America’s “epistemological crisis.” It will not stop happening as long as there are news organs that traffic in falsehoods as a profit model, and who devote 24 hours a day, seven days a week of broadcast time to using those lies to coach half of the nation on how and why to hate the other half—and politicians gleefully profiting from it as well.

The ‘wet laptop’ story absolutely is a scandal, but it has nothing to do with Joe Biden

An official in a foreign country stumbles on a briefcase left behind by his opposing number from another delegation. Sneaking a peak at the information inside, the official discovers that it contains not only the usual stacks of diplomatic reports, but secret information providing insight into an upcoming military operation. Immediately, the official rushes this information to his superiors who … have just fallen into one of the most timeworn traps of intelligence tradecraft. The “accidently” left-behind wallet, briefcase, or letter is an absolute classic of Soviet-era dezinformatsiya schemes.

In the argot of spies, a “cobbler” assembles a dezinformatsiya packet, accompanied by more truthful “litter” and “chicken feed” that makes it appear as if a deceptive document is real. If possible, the information is left where it’s handily accessible to the target of the dezinformatsiya campaign, but a special purpose “floater” may be used to pass the information along—often without that person understanding their role in the scheme. 

Now, substitute “hard drive” for “briefcase” and “email” for “document.” Because that’s exactly what happened on Wednesday as the New York Post ran a story about a soggy computer left behind by a mysterious stranger at a Delaware repair shop. That computer was supposed to kick off a scandal about Hunter Biden. But what it really proves is that Rudy Giuliani and Rupert Murdoch are neck-deep in a scheme to spread disinformation to the American public.

That the story of this left behind computer ran in the New York Post on Wednesday isn’t the sign of a successful disinformation campaign—it’s a clear signal of its abject failure.

According to the story, the computer was dropped off at a repair shop in April 2019—as in over a year and a half ago. The computer was left apparently without signing any form or even providing a name. In fact, the shop owner declared that because he is legally blind, he could not identify the person who brought in the supposedly water-damaged computer. However, that shop owner eventually concluded that it was Hunter Biden’s computer because … there was a sticker from the Beau Biden Foundation on the computer.

This shop owner has been identified as 44-year-old John Paul “Mac” Isaac. Isaac is a vocal Trump supporter whose social media profile is full of not just statements about voting for Trump, but also  comments about Joe Biden. That includes mention of a “Biden bubble” that keeps Biden from being affected by bad news. His social media also shows that Isaac likes to wear kilts, but that seems beside the point. 

In any case, Isaac is a Trump supporter who has been open about his disdain for Biden and his belief that the media goes easy with stories about Biden. Then in spring of 2019, a computer lands in his lap with a Biden sticker attached. 

What happens next is massively unclear, because in interviews Wednesday afternoon, Isaac gave completely contradictory statements about his follow-up actions. What seems to be clear is that at some later point, Isaac hooked up the hard drive, read the emails, and watched a video that supposedly shows Hunter Biden having sex with a prostitute while smoking crack. Apparently Isaac could see that much.

At some point between April and December, Isaac contacted the FBI. Or at least, that appears to be the case since the Post included an image of a Dec. 9, 2019 grand jury subpoena—though since that subpoena has the name blacked out and the objects to be provided are obscured, it’s only their word that it is actually connected to this incident. However, before giving the laptop to the FBI, Isaac first made a copy of the hard drive which, like his original perusal through the emails and videos, is very likely to have been a violation of Delaware privacy laws. It’s also worth noting that nothing Isaac did appears to be related to actually fixing the damaged laptop. 

At some point Isaac talks to Giuliani and eventually gives him a copy of the hard drive. But what’s extremely confusing is the order of any of these events. Did Isaac talk to Giuliani before or after he spoke with the FBI? Was it Giuliani who told Isaac to take the computer to the FBI? Taking one step back, why did a Delaware computer repair store owner think to call Giuliani in the first place, and how did he get in touch with Giuliani?

However it happened, Isaac made the copy at some point before December 2019. According to a Daily Beast interview, Isaac “switched back and forth” between saying that he contacted the FBI and saying the FBI contacted him. He also claimed that the FBI asked him for help in accessing the drive, though he didn’t indicate that the drive was encrypted or protected in any way. 

There’s are several huge missing pieces in this story. For example, what did Isaac say to the FBI? “Hello, someone brought in a computer, and I think it belongs to Beau Biden.” If so, why would the FBI say anything other than, “Then give it back?” Why would Beau Biden dropping off a wet laptop cause the FBI to have any interest at all?

This, then, is the “official” story from the Post and Giuliani: A mysterious stranger drops off a laptop at a shop belonging to a legally blind Trump supporter who has said disparaging things about Biden. Nine months later, the FBI asks for that computer. Then 10 months after that, Giuliani hands over to the New York Post what he says is a copy of that computer’s hard drive. In between those dates, we have nothing. Well, nothing except for more Facebook statements from Isaac, who does devote some time to saying that Trump’s impeachment is a sham, but says nothing at all about Hunter Biden’s crack-smoking video that he found on a computer left at his store. And we have a lot of statements from Giuliani during this period, many of them essentially identical to what will eventually appear in the Post story.

So … let’s look at this from a different angle.

Giuliani has spent over two years traveling back and forth to Ukraine, making promises that he had found red-hot information supporting Trump’s conspiracy theories about Hunter Biden. In the process, Giuliani has made numerous statements to the media—frequently in The New York Times—claiming that he has the “smoking gun” for Biden’s misdeeds. That included a letter supposedly showing that Biden had worked to protect Burisma holdings from investigation. Except that a few weeks later, a Ukrainian legislator admitted to making up the information to “curry favor with Trump and Giuliani.” The timeline of events showed that the story Giuliani was peddling was not even possible.

But at the same time Giuliani is waving letters in front of the media, someone is dropping off a computer at Isaac’s shop. Then nothing happens in April, or May, or June … nothing happens at all. Until for some reason Isaac decides to take a closer look at that computer. A reason like, perhaps, a phone call from someone who already knew what was on it. That someone might even suggest that Isaac contact the FBI, or they might contact the FBI and tell them to talk to Isaac, because the information now available has it both ways.

Even then, 10 months after the FBI has taken receipt of the laptop, nothing has happened. Christopher Wray is not on TV making an announcement about emails. The DOJ has not announced that it is opening an investigation. No one is talking about Hunter Biden’s laptop, dammit!

So with the clock ticking down to the election, Giuliani takes the hard drive straight to the one person he can trust to make a big deal about it: Rupert Murdoch. Murdoch then points a finger at a booker on Sean Hannity’s show, turning her into an instant editor for the paper he owns, the New York Post, and this brand spanking newly minted “journalist” then publishes Giuliani’s story.

That doesn’t make this an “October surprise.” This makes this an abject failure of a con job. Giuliani and Murdoch are absolutely not in the position they wanted to be at this point. In their ideal world, Emma-Jo Morris would be back in Hannity’s green room, booking Giuliani for his guest appearance to discuss the how The New York Times is running with the astounding breaking news that the FBI is looking into revelations from Hunter Biden’s laptop.

That did not happen. What happened instead was that Giuliani had to hand-carry the dezinformatsiya to Murdoch, and Murdoch had to get his mitts all over this mess to package it up for a multiday run on Fox and the Post. This is what is generally known as very, very, very bad tradecraft. 

This is a busted operation from a man whose whole Ukrainian adventure has been marked by:

What Rudy Giuliani and Rupert Murdoch have on their wrinkly fingers is a big ball of dirty tricks shading toward outright espionage, supported by Vladimir Putin.

Sorry, comrades, you’ve been caught.

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. 

Delusional Trump supporter denies coronavirus exists

Donald Trump’s handling of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, aka the coronavirus, has been terrible. Meanwhile, the Republican Party has lined up behind him to turn the whole affair into a partisan one. The Trump administration’s basic incompetence and the damage caused by GOP policies of cutting the CDC’s funding aside, the partisanship and rhetoric coming from the Republican Party have dire consequences. They include slowing down the process of getting emergency funding and dragging down the speed and efficacy of testing and diagnosing the true nature of the problem. But the biggest problem is the disinformation that results from turning medical experts’ fears into political footballs.

At a South Carolina rally last week, President Trump claimed that COVID-19 was a “hoax” being perpetrated by the Democratic Party. He analogized it with the impeachment probes and the Mueller investigations into his administration. Forget about the fact that, like COVID-19, the facts of Trump’s corruption are scientifically proven. Even if you believe Trump did nothing wrong and the Democratic Party is just trying to relitigate the 2016 election, COVID-19 is a virus that even world leaders have caught and are suffering from. But how dumb is the racist death cult following Donald Trump? 

CNN did a report on Trump’s misinformation and its consequences on the MAGA elite. The report included an interview from NBC where Trump supporters, possibly tailgating at some sporting event or waiting outside of a rally, told the reporter that COVID-19 isn’t worrying them because it isn’t real.

REPORTER: You don't believe coronavirus exists?

WOMAN: I don't.

REPORTER: So the two people who have been reported to have died from it in Washington state you don't trust that that's true?

WOMAN: I don't trust anything the democrats do or say.

The Centers for Disease Control already said in no uncertain terms that the coronavirus is not just real, it is in the United States. That means that this woman not only sticks to the most right-wing media outlets, she only pays attention to her television in the moments that Trump is talking.

The clip below made me wash my hands, and I haven’t even gone anywhere today.

YouTube Video