John Eastman’s attorneys advised him not to testify in Georgia’s presidential election probe

The Fulton County, Georgia, district attorney’s office is demanding that John Eastman answer questions for the special grand jury investigating election tampering in the state in 2020. The former attorney for Donald Trump is pleading the Fifth.

According to USA TODAY, Eastman’s lawyers issued a statement stating that they had advised him to “assert attorney-client privilege and the constitutional right to remain silent where appropriate.”

“By all indications, the District Attorney’s Office has set itself on an unprecedented path of criminalizing controversial or disfavored legal theories, possibly in hopes that the federal government will follow its lead,” the statement reads. “Criminalization of unpopular legal theories is against every American tradition and would have ended the careers of John Adams, Ruth Ginsburg, Thurgood Marshall and many other now-celebrated American lawyers."

RELATED STORY: Lindsey Graham believes he’s above the law, tells judge that Georgia DA must explain her questioning

The attorney, infamously known for creating the bogus falsehood that Joe Biden didn’t actually win the election, is among such MAGA notables as former Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, and whiny Trump lapdog Sen. Lindsey Graham. All were called to testify in front of the Georgia grand jury and all have put up a fight—mostly to no avail.  

Eastman was behind the idea of sending a group of fake electors out into swing states in hopes of blocking the congressional certification of the 2020 election.

The New York Times reports that Eastman continued looking for election irregularities long after Trump was out of office. In one of a slew of previously uncovered emails, Eastman wrote, “A lot of us have now staked our reputations on the claims of election fraud, and this would be a way to gather proof… If we get proof of fraud on Jan. 5, it will likely also demonstrate the fraud on Nov. 3, thereby vindicating President Trump’s claims and serving as a strong bulwark against Senate impeachment trial.”

Kemp’s attorneys tried everything to save the incumbent governor from giving a sworn statement. But according to reporting from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Monday, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney refused to allow the governor to skirt his testimony but did allow him to push it off until after the Nov. 8 midterm elections.

Giuliani tried to play the “too sick to testify” card but was staunchly shut down by McBurney and appeared in Atlanta on Aug. 17 to give testimony.

Graham is doing everything he can to avoid testifying to the special grand jury in Georgia, including filing a brief on Aug. 24 that reasons that the subpoena to testify is invalid based on a rarely used section of the U.S. Constitution.

“The Constitution guarantees that a Senator ‘shall not be questioned’ about his protected ‘Speech or Debate’—and yet the District Attorney insists that Senator Graham must submit to questioning to ascertain whether he can be questioned or is immune from questioning. That makes no sense,” Graham’s motion reads.

Eastman also pleaded the Fifth in refusing to answer questions from the House committee investigating the Capitol attack on Jan. 6, per USA TODAY.

Wisconsin Republicans gave this investigator $676,000 in public funds to claim election was stolen

Some GOP officials never seem to know when to give up. Despite having absolutely no proof, cries that the election was stolen still seem to ring in the ears of Republicans. Despite legal experts noting that it was impossible, a Wisconsin judge has claimed that there are grounds for the state legislature to “decertify” the results of the 2020 election. The claim follows a review of the election demanded by Republicans, in which individuals in the state assembly hired Michael Gableman, a former state supreme court justice to investigate the election.

The 136-page interim report released Tuesday has received widespread bipartisan criticism and has been labeled unnecessary because not only was it poorly done but used $676,000 in public funds. During a presentation of the report Tuesday, Gableman said the state Legislature should “take a very hard look at the option of decertification of the 2020” presidential election. Moments before Gableman presented, Donald Trump encouraged supporters to listen in, BuzzFeed News reported.

Both Democrats and Republicans alike rejected the idea and called the move illegal.

“Still not legal under Wisconsin law,” Republican Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke tweeted. “Beyond that, it would have no practical impact b/c there is no Constitutional way to remove a sitting president other than through impeachment or incapacity. Fools errand. Focus on the future.”

I have ten months remaining in my last term. In my remaining time, I can guarantee that I will not be part of any effort, and will do everything possible to stop any effort, to put politicians in charge of deciding who wins or loses elections. 1/

— Jim Steineke 🇺🇦 (@jimsteineke) March 1, 2022

Not sure what kind of attorney Gableman was, because the report not only falsely claimed Biden’s win could be decertified, but also said that decertifying the election would not have any legal consequence.

“It would not, for example, change who the current president is,” the report said.

Of course, like other conservatives, Gableman also attempted to backtrack what he said and issued confusing contradictory statements.

When Democratic state Representative Jodi Emerson, asked him, "Are you saying we should decertify Wisconsin's votes from 2020?"

Gableman responded:

"I'm not saying it and I did not say it because it's not my place to say it. What is my place to say, and what I do believe, and what I do say, is there appears to me—without having the benefit of input from any substantive witness—there appears to me to be very significant grounds for such an action."

Others also dismissed the report, noting that a recount and investigations were conducted multiple times. According to the Associated Press, despite the recounts, multiple state and federal lawsuits, an audit by the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau, and a report by the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, it was found that Biden defeated Trump by a little under 21,000 votes in Wisconsin.

“There does not appear to be anything new in this report, although it is apparent that Michael Gableman is adopting the most fringe and extreme arguments presented by election deniers,” Attorney Jeffrey Mandell, who is representing the mayor of Green Bay in a lawsuit opposing a subpoena from Gableman, said. “This report, and Mr. Gableman’s presentation, is an embarrassment. This process needs to come to a quick end.”

An Associated Press review of Wisconsin and other battleground states also found far too little fraud to have tipped the election for Trump.

Of course, there are other controversies found in connection with the report. A review conducted by the Associated Press found that the report was paid for with $676,000 in taxpayer money. Additionally, it was due at the end of last year but delayed after mayors and state and local election officials filed multiple lawsuits to block subpoenas issued to them. During his presentation, Gableman said he had spent about $360,000 so far on the investigation and issued 90 subpoenas, but no one with information about how elections are run has spoken with him. 

During the presentation, Gableman not only criticized the process of voting in nursing homes but attacked the use of drop boxes. He recommended changes in voting procedures including shortening the early voting period and dismantling the bipartisan Wisconsin Elections Commission.

Overall Gableman said he hoped the report’s recommendations would be used by lawmakers to enact changes before the session ends next month.

Despite the lack of support for his findings, he even went as far as to suggest that his work continue, as he still has funds remaining in his budget. "I'm not in this for anything other than the truth,” he claimed.

According to CBS News, Gableman was appointed by Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos in June 2021. Gableman's appointment came a day after Trump issued a statement saying that Vos and other Wisconsin Republican leaders were "working hard to cover up election corruption."

"I'd like to thank the Office of Special Counsel for their tireless efforts in finding the truth," Vos said in a statement. "They've done a good job at showing there were issues in 2020, and the report is intended to help correct these processes for future elections."

A lonely Republican: Tom Rice says he regrets voting against Biden certification

South Carolina Republican Rep. Tom Rice said publicly Thursday that he now regrets voting against certifying President Joe Biden’s electoral victory this January, an important admission from a member of a party that has largely pledged unshakeable alliances with former President Donald Trump.

Rice made the admission to reporters at Politico. To be clear, the Republican legislator still maintains that he has reservations about the 2020 election outcome. He holds those reservations despite the fact that dozens upon dozens of courts found fraud claims to be baseless and despite the fact that Trump’s own former attorney general William Barr found no evidence of widespread fraud.

Trump’s remarks on the morning of Jan. 6 led to an insurrection at the Capitol. Multiple people died and hundreds of police officers were injured. Millions upon millions of dollars in damage were exacted.

On Wednesday, Rice said plainly that he “should have voted to certify because President Trump was responsible for the attack on the U.S. Capitol.”

Rice holds the odd distinction of being one of only 10 Republicans that voted in favor of impeaching Trump for incitement of insurrection. But he is the only Republican who did that and also voted against certifying Biden’s victory.

“In the wee hours of that disgraceful night, while waiting for the Capitol of our great country to be secured, I knew I should vote to certify. But because I had made a public announcement of my intent to object, I did not want to go back on my word. So yeah, I regret my vote to object,” Rice said on Dec. 22

Around this time last year, Rice signed his name alongside a bevy of House Republicans who filed an amicus brief, or a supporting statement, in effect, to the Supreme Court expressing reservations about the integrity of the 2020 election. 

I joined @RepMikeJohnson and several other House members in filing an amicus brief to the Supreme Court expressing my concerns with election integrity. pic.twitter.com/vdZJwoRAdz

— Congressman Tom Rice (@RepTomRice) December 11, 2020

By Jan. 4, Rice posted to Twitter and Facebook again. This time, though the apprehension was still there, there was a lingering doubt expressed as well. 

 “The vote to certify electoral votes is momentous, perhaps the most so of my entire tenure. I do not plan to commit to a position until the evidence is weighed and the debate concluded. I take my job seriously, and will consider it carefully,” he said. 

But in that same message two days before the insurrection, Rice went on to tout claims of election improprieties in multiple states including Wisconsin, Michigan, Georgia, and Pennsylvania.

Friends, I have heard from many of you across the political spectrum regarding the upcoming vote to certify the vote of the electoral college in the presidential election. (1/8)

— Congressman Tom Rice (@RepTomRice) January 4, 2021

During the siege, Rice posted a video from the House floor, noting that “’protesters’” were trying to break in as the chaplain prayed. The footage was shot moments before the legislators were evacuated.

The riot raged into the late afternoon but by 3:30 PM, Rice was safely at home while D.C., he said, was in “chaos.” Rice called on Trump to act. 

To all my friends back home, I am fine. Capitol Police evacuated us from the Capitol Building. DC is in chaos. This will accomplish nothing. Where is the President!? He must ask people to disperse and restore calm now.

— Congressman Tom Rice (@RepTomRice) January 6, 2021

On Jan. 13, Rice voted to impeach Trump for incitement of insurrection. 

I have backed this President through thick and thin for four years. I campaigned for him and voted for him twice. But, this utter failure is inexcusable.https://t.co/SCWylYEER0

— Congressman Tom Rice (@RepTomRice) January 13, 2021

“I’ve excused his [Trump’s] foibles because I love his policy. But this last week, in my mind, is inexcusable. The fact that he gathered up the crowd and fired them up, and whether his speech or manner to incitement I don’t know, I’m not a criminal lawyer. But I know this, I know that once the people were inside the Capitol ransacking the place and trying to make their way to the Senate floor and House floor and Vice President Pence was in there in the Senate chamber, President Trump was tweeting that Vice President Pence didn’t have the courage to do what was right, and just further angering the crowd… The President offered only very tepid requests for restraint…” Rice said on Jan. 14 after impeaching Trump. “I think it was a complete failure of leadership… I wish that they hadn’t brought the impeachment vote, I want calm now.…but I’m not gonna hide behind procedure here. If my vote is yes or no on whether he should be President, I think the actions of last week disqualify him.”

Two weeks later on Jan. 31, Rice shared his Republican bonafides on Facebook. According to a post just after 6 AM that day, Rice emphasized how he stood with the Republicans of South Carolina and helped raise some $2 million for the national party. He added:

“I personally witnessed the insurrection in the Capitol on Jan. 6. I saw the rioters who were demanding to hang Vice President Pence. I heard the gunshots and smelled the tear gas. I was on Capitol Hill when the Capitol Police were overrun and Officer [Brian] Sicknick gave his life at the hands of the mob, to honor the oath he took to defend the Constitution,” Rice wrote. “I saw as we all did, the President’s lack of leadership in not stopping the mob, his callous actions saying Mike Pence had no courage and his comments in the middle of the riot that ‘These are the things that happen when victory is viciously stripped from these great patriots… remember this day forever.” 

How’s this for a rallying cry? If we lose the midterms, Trump will run again and (could) steal 2024

I never thought a fascist takeover of the galaxy could ever be less entertaining than the one depicted in The Phantom Menace, but here we are. One major American political party remains tethered to reality, whereas the other is a barmy cult of personality that worships at the clay feet of the worst human being I’ve ever laid eyes on outside of the port-a-potty queue at the annual Chilton, Wisconsin, Beer Festival—which is a long story, but trust me. And the line to pee in the creek is even worse. I only wish I were kidding.

Being the guileless backwoods naif that I am, I figured Donald Trump would be forced to slink away after the sound beating he received in November from the guy he kept calling a senile loser. After all, when George W. Bush left the country in a smoldering heap after his eight years of misrule, Republicans scrambled away from him like Quint trying to escape the shark on the deck of the Orca at the end of Jaws

But Trump is different. For one thing, he doesn’t have the common decency to concede an election he lost—by a lot. For another, he’s somehow mesmerized a majority of Republicans into believing he’s their bumblefuck messiah, despite having surrendered the White House and his congressional majority during his truncated tenure—and despite having incited a deadly insurrection based on corrosive lies about the integrity of our elections.

So here we are. I fully expected Republicans to dip a diffident toe or two back into consensus reality after the big dopey Dr. Zaius cosplayer was 86’d from the White House, but it looks like they’re all-in on febrile fantasy. 

The Maricopa County audit, the conspicuous (and appalling) lack of enthusiasm among Republicans for a Jan. 6 commission, the rebuke of ultraconservative but anti-Big Lie Republican Liz Cheney, polls showing that a majority of Republicans still think the election was stolen from Trump—it’s all more than a little scary. I was already freaking out about 2024 and the possibility that Donald Trump would run again instead of vanishing forever under a pile of fast food detritus after removing a load-bearing McRib box.

Then MSNBC’s Mehdi Hasan welcomed Yale professor Timothy Snyder and Emory University professor Carol Anderson, both historians and experts on democracy, onto his UpFront show. He asked them a chilling hypothetical: What happens if Republicans hold Congress in 2024 and a Democrat wins the White House?

Buckle in. This gets weird.

"If the Republican candidate is running on the Big Lie, if that's their issue in 2024...the Republican candidate who loses the election will indeed be appointed by Congress to be President of the United States," Prof @TimothyDSnyder tells me tonight. Wow.pic.twitter.com/Vaj4QL5Brx

— Mehdi Hasan (@mehdirhasan) May 25, 2021

Transcript!

HASAN: “Tim and Carol, I’m going to ask you both the exact same question I asked Norm Ornstein and Ruth Ben-Ghiat on the show last week. If the Republicans are in control of the House and Senate come 2024 and a Democrat wins the presidential election narrowly, do you believe a Republican Party in Congress will certify that Democratic candidate’s win in Congress? Yes or no? Tim.”

SNYDER: “I think if the Republican candidate is running on the Big Lie, if that’s their issue in ‘24 the way that it seems to be in ‘22, then the answer to your question is the Republican candidate who loses the election will indeed be appointed by Congress to be president of the United States.”

HASAN: “Wow. Carol?”

ANDERSON: “Given that we have Republicans now who refuse to back the Jan. 6 commission, which was about the overthrow of an election … a fair election, given that we have the refusal of the Republicans to go in on impeachment, and given that they’re doing all of this work to undermine democracy with voter suppression and taking over control of electoral certification, I see this as a dress rehearsal for 2024 where they will not certify.”

HASAN: “Wow. So that’s Norm, Ruth, Tim, Carol. Four experts on this show all have answered this question in a very, very depressing way, but it’s important that we have this discussion.”

Jaw ===> floor

These experts aren’t in the mold of modern-day Republican “experts.” Ornstein, a contributor to The Atlantic and The Washington Post, helped draft parts of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law. Ruth Ben-Ghiat is a professor of history at New York University who “writes frequently for CNN and other media outlets on threats to democracy around the world.”

None of them, as far as I know, makes a living selling mediocre pillows to donkey-brained dipshits. So that’s scary shit, indeed. But it could also be an opportunity. Why? Because Donald Trump is a coward.

Let me explain. 

In a recent Politico story on Republicans’ attitude toward a potential Trump 2024 run, Trump flunky and perduring magic toadstool hallucination Lindsey Graham said this: 

“It’s more likely than not that he does” run, Graham said. “How we do in 2022 will have a big effect on his viability. If we do well in 2022, it helps his cause. I want him to keep the option open.”

So there it is, from Hermey himself. Graham doesn’t explain why Trump’s viability as a candidate would be improved if Republicans take back Congress in 2022 and then build their momentum enough to hold onto it in 2024, but I will: It would make stealing the election a piece of cake. 

Trump is a loser. Full stop. He lost in 2020 and, if our elections are conducted in 2024 the way they always have been (i.e., with Congress’ certification of the results being taken as a mere formality), Trump would almost certainly flame out, assuming President Joe Biden isn’t handed some major crisis that he fails to get under control.

After all, Trump lost by 7 million votes last time, and that’s before he tried to shiv democracy with his stabby little Chucky doll hands. The guy’s poll numbers were underwater for all but a few days of his White House tenure. On the day he left office, his aggregate disapproval rating, according to FiveThirtyEight, was a whopping 57.9%. Sure, the guy would likely skate through the primary process and would almost certainly be the GOP nominee if he ran, but he’d likely be dead in the water in the general election. Who (beyond his death cult) would want him back?

Most of the country has moved on and never wants to lay eyes on this sodden heap of off-brand urinal cake ever again. But Republicans—who, let’s not forget, make up less than 30% of the population—can’t get enough of the guy. Fifty-three percent of these deludenoids still think Trump is the rightful president, FFS. 

And so there’s our opportunity. Participation in midterm elections is typically far less than that of presidential elections. Voter turnout was strong in 2018—particularly in the suburbs—as many Democrats, independents, and disaffected Republicans came out to rebuke Trump and his agenda. Trump was on the ballot in 2020, and 81 million people came out to toss his ass, swamping the MAGAs’ own enthusiastic turnout.

Without a doubt, Trump can be a motivating factor, whether he’s on the ballot or not.

So here’s our motivation—and our rallying cry—for 2022.

If we lose Congress in the midterm elections, Trump will almost certainly run again, seeing his opportunity to cheat and manipulate his way to victory regardless of the actual results. If we keep Congress, Trump may finally slink away, knowing that he’d have little to no chance of pulling off another upset.

Incumbency is a huge advantage in a presidential election, and Trump won’t have that this time. His only advantage would be the likelihood—dare I say the guarantee?—of Republican treachery. But that can’t happen if there aren’t enough treacherous GOPsters in Congress to pull off an election theft.

So if you want Trump to run again—to be a major part of your waking life again—by all means, skip the midterm elections. If you don’t, show the fuck up, and make sure your friends and neighbors do, too.

That’s a rallying cry for 2022 if I’ve ever heard one. If we win in 2022, which we must, Trump will likely bugger off—finally and forever. Because he knows he can’t win, and he’s nothing if not a coward. If we lose, well, that could be the end of democracy as we know it.

Let’s win. In the face of insurmountable odds, let’s make sure we win.  

The alternative is simply too awful to consider.

It made comedian Sarah Silverman say “THIS IS FUCKING BRILLIANT” and prompted author Stephen King to shout “Pulitzer Prize!!!” (on Twitter, that is). What is it? The viral letter that launched four hilarious Trump-trolling books. Get them all, including the finale, Goodbye, Asshat: 101 Farewell Letters to Donald Trump, at this link. Just $12.96 for the pack of 4! Or if you prefer a test drive, you can download the epilogue to Goodbye, Asshat for the low, low price of FREE.

Trump’s cult of personality is like nothing else in our country’s history

Donald Trump really likes Andrew Jackson. “I'm a fan. I'm a big fan,” he declared about the seventh president at a 2017 event commemorating Jackson’s 250th birthday. Trump added that Jackson’s portrait “hangs proudly” up on the wall in the Oval Office—a place it had not been seen for quite some time until he put it there. Two weeks after Election Day in 2016, Trump’s campaign manager and out-and-out white nationalist Steve Bannon likened his boss’s politics to “Jackson’s populism.” After President Obama had set in motion a plan to have Jackson replaced by Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill, The Man Who Lost An Election And Tried To Steal It nixed the effort, although President Biden has since revived it.

The tumultuous events surrounding Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney’s recent removal from the House Republican leadership provide an opportunity to compare and contrast Trump and Jackson in a very specific way—namely their influence on our system of political parties.

For better or worse—okay, in Trump’s case, there’s no question which one—both have had an overall impact on American politics exceeded by a very small number of presidents. Jackson cleaved his party in two on the basis of both ideology and support for his candidacy, while his latter-day counterpart turned his into a body defined by little other than personal loyalty to the leader—in other words, just another Trump Organization.

There are certainly strong parallels between the two—and that’s without even going into each one’s racism. (In addition to Jackson’s well-known and despicable anti-American Indian policies, he was also a virulent supporter of slavery who, as per historian Daniel Walker Howe, “expressed his loathing for the abolitionists vehemently, both in public and in private.”) In big picture terms, both were incredibly divisive personalities who defined an era—Jackson starting with his unsuccessful campaign of 1824 through 1837 when he left the White House after two terms, and Trump certainly since 2016—and who fundamentally transformed the party through which he became a national political figure.

In the 1824 presidential election, Jackson came in first in the Electoral College (and won the popular vote by about 10%), but could not garner an electoral majority as four different candidates won states. John Quincy Adams came in second, but won the support of the fourth place candidate, Henry Clay, and ultimately triumphed in the contingent election held in the House of Representatives. Adams, after being inaugurated, appointed Clay as his secretary of state—each of the last four presidents, including Adams, had served in that position. Jackson accused Adams and Clay of having conspired in a “corrupt bargain,” and slammed Clay in biblical terms: “The Judas of the West has closed the contract and will receive the thirty pieces of silver. His end will be the same.”

Trump, on the other hand, claimed even before the 2016 election that put him in the White House despite losing the popular vote that it would be “rigged.” More recently, he has been promulgating The Big Lie about the 2020 election ever since last November. However, although both men challenged their defeats, Trump’s claims differ from those of Jackson, in that the former and his supporters literally made up wild and crazy events relating to a supposedly fraudulent voting process. One other difference: only one of them incited an insurrection to prevent the actual winner from becoming president.

The election of 1824, and Jackson’s reaction afterward, led to a fundamental shift in our country’s partisan alignment. By 1820, the so-called First Party System—in which the Democratic-Republicans and Federalists competed for power—had basically come to an end with the demise of the latter. President James Monroe ran unopposed in 1820, as the Federalists failed to put up a candidate, and these years were known as The Era of Good Feelings. All four of the major candidates in 1824 were Democratic-Republicans. After that year’s controversial election, Andrew Jackson led his followers into a new organization, which became known as the Democratic Party.

Although Jackson’s personality mattered greatly in this endeavor, there were also ideological grounds on which the old Democratic-Republicans split. He embraced the basic approach held by traditionalists within the older party, namely the Jeffersonian concept of small government that favored agrarian interests. Given the whole Liz Cheney debacle—which we’ll get to, don’t you worry—a real ideological difference seems sort of quaint, no?

The Adams-Clay alliance organized itself not just in opposition to Jackson as a person, but around their shared vision of a more active government—especially at the federal level—that aided the growth of industry and trade. They supported federal tariffs to protect domestic industries, as well as the aggressive building of canals and roads along with the continuation of the National Bank and other measures to promote economic growth—all of which Jacksonian Democrats opposed. The opponents of Jackson were briefly known as the National Republicans and then, after 1832, the Whigs, and their plan was embodied in Clay’s “American System.”

The point here is that the pro-Jackson and anti-Jackson factions developed into different parties built around real policy differences—separate from Old Hickory himself—that defined the Second Party System. Likewise, the next major realignment in the U.S. occurred when the Whigs broke apart in the years after 1850, which created the Third Party System. That shift was motivated by ideology and policy as well. It occurred largely because anti-slavery Whigs refused to stay together with pro-slavery Southern Whigs in a single party, and left in large numbers after the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854. The anti-slavery forces came together in the new Republican Party.

We don’t yet know what the long-term impact of Donald Trump will be on our political parties and our democracy. Right now, however, there is clearly a divide—as seen in what happened with Liz Cheney. Whatever the final results of that divide turn out to be, recent events bear little resemblance to the divides either of the 1820s or the 1850s.

Rep. Cheney was drummed out of the Republican leadership for one reason, and one reason only: she continued to publicly rebuke Trump’s Big Lie—a lie that has now become a purity test for members of what can realistically be called the Trump Republican Party. There are no ideological or policy grounds that define or separate the pro- and anti-Trump factions among Republicans.

The fact that Cheney has been replaced as the House Republican Conference Chair by New York Rep. Elise Stefanik—whose voting record is significantly less supportive of Trump’s legislative agenda than Cheney’s—makes clear that this is in no way about policy. Cheney remains a hard-right conservative, as her remarks just before the vote on May 12 to remove her make clear: “After today, I will be leading the fight to restore our party and our nation to conservative principles, to defeating socialism.” Cheney may be toeing the fictitious party line about Joe Biden and socialism, but what matters here is that Stefanik supports The Big Lie, and that’s all that matters to the Party of Trump.

Elise Stefanik had a chance to avoid Four Pinocchios. All she had to do was admit she was wrong. instead she doubled down, even after we showed her false claim -- 140,000 suspect votes in Fulton County -- was based on a misreading of a Trump lawsuit. https://t.co/Ghu1XTBN7U

— Glenn Kessler (@GlennKesslerWP) May 7, 2021

Even when, at the last minute, Texas Rep. Chip Roy threw his ten-gallon hat into the ring to challenge Stefanik, it didn’t matter that he had voted for all the right conservative legislation and she hadn’t. Stefanik trounced him anyway: 134 votes to 46. Again, policy and ideology mattered not one iota. Only one issue did.

Key: Chip Roy, with a wildly conservative voting record, can't beat Elise Stefanik, with her comparatively moderate voting record because of one wrong vote. He didn't vote to overturn the 2020 election. IOW, core GOP ideology is The Big Lie. https://t.co/LvsDKsQ61W via @TPM

— Josh Marshall (@joshtpm) May 14, 2021

The twice-impeached former president made clear after Jan. 6 that he was going to demand absolute obedience not to any particular set of policies but instead to him as an individual. Republicans made their choice. They could either give it to him or he was going to take his ball and go home. Their decision was purely about what conservatives thought would help them win, nothing else.

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham—one of the most notorious flip-floppers on Trump’s fitness to serve—did tell the truth when he admitted why his party continues to bend the knee to the Orange Julius Caesar: “If you tried to run him out of the party, you'd take half the party with him." Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, one of the most prominent anti-Trump Republicans, summed up his feelings by comparing Trump to a North Korean dictator: "It just bothers me that you have to swear fealty to the Dear Leader or you get kicked out of the party."

To demonstrate the ideological hypocrisy of Cheney’s replacing even further, we now know that the House Republicans—whose conservatism supposedly requires them to reject such concepts as representation—mandated that a woman replace Cheney. As Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post commented, they are doing so “because the party—though it supposedly abhors identity politics—needs a skirt to hide behind as it jettisons a strong, independent-minded female colleague.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi put out a satirical ad from the House GOP leadership under the heading: “Help Wanted – Non-Threatening Female”

A few right-wing ideologues raised objections regarding this many-layered hypocrisy, but to no avail.

Word is, congressional Republicans are pushing amnesty-shill Elise Stefanik because they want a WOMAN in leadership. Sh!t-for-brains Republicans: NO GOP WOMAN CARES ABOUT IDENTITY POLITICS!

— Ann Coulter (@AnnCoulter) May 12, 2021

Although Cheney has by far received the harshest punishment, the other nine House Republicans who voted to impeach the Insurrectionist-in-Chief for his crimes against our Constitution relating to the attempted coup of Jan. 6 have also been targeted by Trump partisans. They have faced censure votes and, in some cases, will likely draw primary opponents specifically running as more loyal to Trump.

Is the Republican Party going to split in two the way the Democratic-Republicans did after 1824 or the Whigs did after 1854? That’s not happening right now, although in the wake of the Cheney vote 150 prominent Republicans signed on to a “manifesto” titled “A call for American renewal.” The signatories include four former governors—ranging in ideology from tea party favorite Mark Sanford of South Carolina to centrist Bill Weld of Massachusetts—along with a former senator, 27 former House members, a former chair of the Republican National Committee, as well as some relatively high-ranking members of the Trump administration. Daily Kos’ Kerry Eleveld analyzed the statement in some depth here.

This group does not plan to form a new party yet, but rather, in the words of prominent Never Trumper George Conway, sees itself as “a coalition. …There is a need for people who have a conservative to moderate point-of-view and want to believe in the rule of law and … need a place to go and a place where they can organize and support candidates that are consistent with that." In other words, they are looking to create an organized anti-Trump faction within the Republican Party that can, eventually, take control of it. Good luck with that.

On a related note, a very recent study found that learning that Republicans were fighting amongst themselves over the legitimacy of Biden’s 2020 victory had a significant impact among those who identify with the Republican Party, but not strongly. The favorability rating of the party expressed by such so-called “weak Republicans” fell by approximately 6% compared to that of a control group who were not given information about intra-Republican squabbling, as well as compared to another group that had been told of strife between Republicans and Democrats. Those weak Republicans’ impression of the Democratic Party improved by about the same amount. That’s even better than if they had become interested in a third party, in terms of improving Democrats’ chances of winning elections.

Republican President Ulysses S. Grant, after the disputed 1876 election that would elect his successor, proclaimed: “No man worthy of the office of President should be willing to hold it … placed there by fraud. Either party can afford to be disappointed by the result, but the country cannot afford to have the result tainted by suspicion of illegal or false returns.” Today’s head of the Republican Party clearly disagrees.

Trump is creating more of a naked cult of personality even than Jackson did. This is not to suggest that Jackson is "better" in some way than Trump. Rather, the contrast is that Jackson's cult of personality was connected to policy differences and a substantive disagreement over a vision for the country, while Trump's is essentially divorced from ideology, and based at this point on little other than fealty to The Big Lie. Likewise, Anti-Trumpists range from true moderates like Hogan and Weld to archconservatives like Cheney and Sanford, and harbor significant political disagreements. 

What Trump has wrought since the election, and especially since Jan. 6, bears little resemblance to previous political realignments or really anything that’s happened before. This kind of purely personality-driven divide is unprecedented in our country’s history.

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)

Republicans aren’t turning away from Trump’s Big Lie, because confronting the truth is too painful

It’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) time, and Sen. Ted Cruz is knocking them dead—both metaphorically and literally—with jokes about how wearing a mask during a pandemic is “dumb.” But just because Cruz took time out to scoff at the pandemic, make fun of Bernie Sanders’ mittens, and throw in the requisite lies about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez doesn’t mean anyone at the “conservative” conference has taken their eye off the Big Lie. That’s still going strong.

As the Associated Press reports, Republican officials across the nation continue to spread divisiveness and encourage violence by pushing disinformation and conspiracies that mimic, or exceed, the claims that drove the deadly Jan. 6 insurgency. Meanwhile, the vaunted algorithms behind social media are driving the evolution of these conspiracies by selectively elevating the most outrageous—and most threatening—lies. Not only are Republicans failing to condemn the assault on the Capitol; in increasing numbers, they’re supporting it.

Just as anyone could (and many did) predict, the failure to exact any consequence on Republican leaders for their part in the attempted overthrow of the government is turning what happened on Jan. 6 from a one-time tragedy into a practice run.

Not only are state and county Republican officials endorsing the Big Lie about election fraud, many of them are explicitly supporting the violent assault on Jan. 6. At the same time, Republicans in leadership positions who have repudiated either the violence on Jan. 6 or Donald Trump’s lies that made that day possible are finding themselves “sanctioned” by county and state parties, smothered in death threats, and “othered” by a party they help to lead.

Meanwhile, on the eve of CPAC, Donald Trump provided direction to the party he controls about where things are going next. As Politico reports, Trump is assembling much of the same team who saw him through the 2016 election, with Corey Lewandowski to be placed in change of a super PAC aimed at expanding Trump’s “post-presidential political apparatus.”

Notice that this doesn’t seem to be a PAC that’s directly dedicated to the election of any particular candidate. Neither it is a PAC aimed at supporting some particular set of policies. This is a pool of money that will be used to one end: expanding the power and influence of Donald Trump. 

For anyone believing that Trump would quietly sit in his cart for endless rounds of cheating at golf while Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz were pushed into obscurity by a party deeply embarrassed over the end result of Trumpism … that’s not how this is going. Instead, Cruz is front and center at CPAC, Hawley is considered a top contender for the Republican nomination, and rank-and-file Republicans are increasingly ready to treat Jan. 6 like their very own Beer Hall Putsch.

The day after Trump’s second impeachment trial, Sen. Mitch McConnell stood up in the Senate to say this:

“Fellow Americans beat and bloodied our own police. They stormed the Senate floor. They tried to hunt down the Speaker of the House. They built a gallows and chanted about murdering the vice president.

They did this because they had been fed wild falsehoods by the most powerful man on Earth – because he was angry he'd lost an election.

Former President Trump's actions preceding the riot were a disgraceful dereliction of duty.”

On Thursday, McConnell said this when asked by Fox News’ Bret Baier whether McConnell would back Trump if he got the nomination.

“The nominee of the party? Absolutely.”

All of this may make it seem as if the question of where the Republican Party goes next has already been decided. Trump has won, McConnell has folded, and every opponent is on the run. However, that’s not quite the case.

Despite bringing out record numbers of Republican voters, Trump’s tactics of racism, misogyny, and plain old fascism also generated an even larger pushback. After his surprise win in 2016, the Republican Party under Trump failed to hold onto the House, failed to hold onto the White House, and failed to hold onto the Senate. His reprehensible statements and divisive actions have done what many thought impossible: getting young Americans to vote in great numbers. They’ve also taken what was one of the biggest Republican strongholds—the suburbs—and turned it into a new source of Democratic Party power.

As columnist Nancy LeTourneau points out, there’s a good reason that Republicans have been unable to capitalize on even record amounts of support: They simply ran out of ideas a long, long time ago. 

For decades now, the central disagreement between Democrats and Republicans has been about the size and role of the federal government. When it comes to domestic politics, the GOP has promoted tax cuts in order to "starve the beast" and deregulation. In that way, Donald Trump fit right in with the classic Republican agenda. 

It could be argued that this was the one achievement of Trump’s whole term in the sense of being conservative in the classical sense. Trump’s tax cut for billionaires was exactly in the wheelhouse of the battle Republicans have been stoking against the programs of FDR’s New Deal for almost a century. Only Trump forgot the bathtub. As in, he gave the billionaires their billions, and went right on expanding the government—particularly in ways that he could use as a club to support his xenophobic agenda, such as granting ever more expansive reach to ICE, or that ultimate example of a modern folly, Trump’s wall along the southern border.

In fact, there’s a good argument to be made that Trump didn’t take over the Republican Party and empty out their last stock of “things to do,” because that store was already empty before he came in. Republicans were already running on the fumes of the things they were against—women, Blacks, gays, and immigrants. Their positive ideas were down to … down to … Surely there was one. Wasn’t there?

It was exactly this factor that allowed Trump to sail in. His willingness to set aside the reedy dog whistles and blow Trump-et blasts of hate really did seem like “speaking the truth” in a Republican Party that had been saying the same things. Only quietly.

So, when CNN reports that more than two dozen members of the House and Senate are unwilling to even admit that the election results were real, and that Joe Biden is the legitimate president of the United States, it should be shocking. But not surprising.

It’s not so much that Trump’s lies reveal him as the emperor who was duped into strutting around naked. It’s that the Republican Party has been without any real “new clothes” for so long, they’re willing to settle for Trump. He is, in their mind, better than fading away into the history book of parties that lost their reason for being. His lies, no matter how vile, energize a base of people, while the drivel coming out of the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute, and the Hoover Institution simply don’t.

As LeTourneau says plainly, “Republicans are rejecting democracy because they lost the battle of ideas.” They’ve lost that battle because they’re basically unarmed. Unarmed, that is, except for spreading hate and screaming “freedom” when what they mean is killing people for profit. However, despite appearances and the literal golden ass on worshipful display at CPAC, this doesn’t mean that the fight is over and that all Republicans will not file into line neatly behind Trump.

The number of Republicans who have been openly willing to defy Trump may seem small, and proposals like Mitt Romney’s child payments may seem like outliers, but these small numbers have outsized power. After all, how many times have Democrats mumbled the name “Joe Manchin” in the last month? Republicans already have that problem. Times five. 

Right now, Republicans seem willing to buy into the Big Lie about the election, even at the cost of potentially destroying the nation, because they have nothing else. They’re willing to burn it all down because they realize they’re out of alternatives.

But that willingness to follow Trump is far from a guarantee that their next election, or their next putsch, will be any more successful than the last.

Trump’s impeachment response includes Trump making outrageous claim of victory

On Tuesday, Donald Trump’s legal team made their official response to the article of impeachment delivered by House impeachment managers. Though it might easily have been misdirected since that response is actually written to the “Unites States Senate.” This follows earlier filings by Trump’s legal team to the “United States Districct Court,” the “Northern Distrcoit of Georgia,” and the “Eastern Distrct of Michigan.”

But while the opening words of Trump’s reply may generate a chuckle or an eye roll, it’s really the last section of that response that’s the most laughable. And the most infuriating. Because after providing three replies in which the argument focuses on the question of whether it is considered constitutional to impeach an executive once they’re out of office, the last answer that Trump provides goes directly back to square one by claiming that he never did anything wrong in the first place and that: “Insufficient evidence exists upon which a reasonable jurist could conclude that the 45th president’s statements were accurate or not, and he therefore denies that they were false.”

That’s right. A month after he drove a mob into a murderous rage, Trump isn’t just denying he incited their assault on the Capitol. He’s denying he lied.

In the early hours of Nov. 4, as it was becoming clear to everyone that Joe Biden was going to collect far more than the 270 electoral votes necessary to secure victory, Trump stepped in front of the cameras to complain.  In that appearance, Trump said: “We were getting ready to win this election. Frankly, we did win this election.”

That’s a lie. Had Trump constrained himself to no more than such generalized statements, he might still have generated a sense of righteous anger and disappointment among his supporters, but it’s unlikely that would have created the kind rage that led to Jan. 6. However, Trump didn’t hold himself to the just a generic claim of victory.

By Nov. 7, shortly after the Associated Press called the election for Biden, Trump was back on the air to make a statement that leveled the first of many specific charges. “The Biden campaign ... wants ballots counted even if they are fraudulent, manufactured, or cast by ineligible or deceased voters.” All of those charges would persist right up until Jan. 6, with Trump’s team eventually assigning numbers to each category—8,000 dead voters, 14,000 out-of-state voters, 10,000 late ballots—without ever explaining where they obtained these values.

Over the course of the following months, Trump added more specific charges. He claimed that there were fraudulent drop boxes in Wisconsin. That votes of Arizona Republicans had been thrown out. That boxes full of votes had been smuggled into Philadelphia. 

Trump was still making both his general claims and these very specific charges right up to the final “Stop the Steal” speech on the morning of Jan. 6. “... this year they rigged an election, they rigged it like they have never rigged an election before, and by the way, last night, they didn't do a bad job either, if you notice ... We will stop the steal! ... We won it by a landslide. This was no close election. ... There were over 205,000 more ballots counted in Pennsylvania. Now think of this, you had 205,000 more ballots than you had voters ... So in Pennsylvania, you had 205,000 more votes than you had voters, and it’s — the number is actually much greater than that now ... In Wisconsin, corrupt Democrat-run cities deployed more than 500 illegal unmanned, unsecured drop boxes, which collected a minimum of 91,000 unlawful votes. ... They have these lockboxes. And you know, they pick them up and they disappear for two days. People would say where’s that box? They’d disappeared. Nobody even knew where the hell it was. In addition, more than 170,000 absentee votes were counted in Wisconsin without a valid absentee ballot application. So they had a vote, but they had no application and that’s illegal in Wisconsin. Meaning, those votes were blatantly done in opposition to state law and they came 100 percent from Democrat areas such as Milwaukee and Madison. 100 percent.”

Would a “reasonable jurist” know these statements were lies? Of course they would. That’s easy to see since every single time these arguments went before a judge they were uniformly rejected. Not all of the Trump team’s 62 lawsuits came down to statements of fact. Some were tossed with statements that explicitly called out the lack of any real evidence behind Trump’s claims.

“One might expect that when seeking such a startling outcome, a plaintiff would come formidably armed with compelling legal arguments and factual proof of rampant corruption. That has not happened.” — U.S. District Court Judge Matthew Brann

There were months in which Trump’s team might have fleshed out their claims. Months in which they might have explained the source of all those numbers. They didn’t do that. Instead they added claims about a dead Venezuelan dictator and servers hidden in Germany. Dominion Voting Systems is suing Rudy Giuliani for $1.3 billion for running a “viral disinformation campaign.” Trump repeated all those same allegations in his rallies, right up to the end.

When Trump’s attorneys claim that a “rational jurist” could not know that Trump’s claims are false, what they actually mean is an ignorant jurist.  Someone who had been subjected to all these false claims and allowed to view none of the actual information. Like a Fox News viewer. Because a rational, informed juror would definitely be able to tell that Trump’s statements were not just lies, but lies created expressly for the purpose of generating confusion over facts that are otherwise very cut and dry.

But what be most surprising is that Trump isn’t just saying that someone making these statements might have been believed before Jan. 6, he’s still refusing to admit that they are false. This explicit inclusion in his reply makes everything Trump has said before and after Jan. 6 fair game. House impeachment managers should be much happier about that than Trump’s legal team.

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 amazing and terrifying fantasy world of the Fox News viewer

For some unfathomable reason, probably having something to do with “balance,” Google delivers Fox News headlines to my newsfeed. I saw the poisonous nature of this Republican propaganda network from its very inception, and I remember savaging some right-winger back in the late ‘90s who was trying to convince me that Fox’s token inclusion of the late Alan Colmes somehow made the network’s ridiculously skewed coverage “fair.” Like most people I choose to associate with, I avoid either watching or reading anything spewed on Fox News because it’s an unpleasant experience that leaves me feeling dirty and gross, during and afterward.

Invariably, I have run into situations where such exposure is impossible to avoid, like being compelled to walk down a smelly, urine-soaked alleyway in order to cross a city block. Over the years, these unpleasant encounters have occurred in bars, airports, and gyms, whenever the business opts to subject others to Fox News. Now Google has made the decision to subject me to the outlet—at least until I decide to modify my settings or preferences, I suppose.

Fox News thrives on instilling feelings of outrage and indignation in its viewers in order to confirm, reinforce, and amplify their existing biases, whether they’re biases against women, racial minorities, socially conscious liberals, or just Democrats in general. That’s how it makes money, as vividly explained by a former Fox News anchor: by keeping viewers “hooked” and in a state of near-constant agitation through a constant barrage of vaguely threatening misinformation about supposed nefarious deeds by select groups it targets. Most of its anchors and reporters are dimwitted, giggling monkeys chosen not for their journalistic abilities, but for their willingness to act as a permanent conduit for fear-mongering and outrage-churning. They don’t traffic in facts, but innuendo and selective omission. That’s why there are so few journalists on Fox whom the rest of the profession deems reputable or trustworthy. From the very start, it’s been a network made mostly of commentators posing as journalists, but possessing no credentials or pretense to journalistic bona fides.

Since Fox has now grudgingly been forced to acknowledge Joe Biden’s victory and no longer has an opportunity to glorify Donald Trump on a daily basis, it has reverted to its normal defensive crouch, best characterized as constant, picayune whining about everything that Democrats do. Every action by Biden or Democrats is somehow indicative of betrayal, or weakness, or something. 

As Matt Gertz, writing for Media Matters, notes, its coverage and fealty to the Trump administration provided record viewership for Fox News. With Trump now gone, or at least not as accessible as he once was, the network faces an inflection point as it determines how to proceed.

The network's executives would likely prefer to move on from Trump and pivot back to its Obama-era brand, becoming the “voice of opposition” to the incoming Biden administration. The network could focus its programming on smearing Biden officials, conjuring up Biden pseudo-scandals, stalling or blocking Democratic proposals, and bolstering anti-Biden political movements and Republican challengers. That was a unifying message for the right in 2009 that garnered huge ratings for the network. And Republican leaders would doubtless appreciate new Benghazis and “death panels” as cudgels to use against the incoming Democratic administration.

At the same time, Fox’s on-air talent will come under tremendous pressure to rebuild its once-record audience. The clearest path to that goal will be to give the recalcitrant Trumpist viewers what they want: more lies that Trump actually won, more unhinged conspiracy theories about Democrats, more paranoid fantasies about the left, and more apocalyptic culture war rage. That will incentivize the rest of the right-wing media to do the same, in hopes of either snagging guest appearances on the network or pulling away some of its market share.

I suppose all this was to be expected. But now that the 24/7 hagiography of Trump has gone by the wayside, we can also, during this time of transition, see a familiar profile reemerging—that of the “average” Fox News viewer—a profile which can be painstakingly assembled by reviewing how Fox News reports certain people and events.

Unsurprisingly, the typical Fox News viewer is white and male. Based on Fox's advertisers, he is over 60 years old and is very concerned about his Medicare supplemental insurance. He may consider trying to lose weight with Nutrisystem products, and fantasizes about going to a Sandals resort. He is thinking about transferring his old VHS tapes to a Legacybox, but only after he buys a LifeLock to protect his identity from scammers. Presumably he’ll first clear all these decisions with his Visiting Angels home health care aide.

Our Fox News viewer believes that the Black Lives Matter movement is as violent or more so than the Ku Klux Klan. He believes the only purpose of Planned Parenthood is to perform abortions, and many of these are “partial birth” abortions. He believes climate change and global warming are Democratic scams. He has a visceral fixation on Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez that he can’t seem to understand, because he knows from Fox News that there are millions of beautiful conservative women (many of them blonde) out there who would certainly find him attractive, if he could only meet one of them.

Our viewer believes the U.S. is under continual attack from an invasion of undocumented immigrants, and that a new caravan of Spanish-speaking drug dealers, rapists, and gang members is threatening our southern border as we speak. At the same time, he believes Democrats are plotting to outlaw the possession of firearms.

He believes the 2020 presidential election was stolen and fraudulent, even if he doesn’t know exactly how. He believes the COVID-19 pandemic is completely overblown, and is far less likely to take precautionary measures to protect himself and/or his family and others. He believes antifa is far more dangerous than the COVID-19 pandemic, and believes that the failure of mainstream media to cover “antifa riots” after Biden’s inauguration is proof of liberal bias. This, he reasons, is further proof that the riots on Jan. 6 in Washington, D.C., were provoked not by Trump’ own supporters, but by “antifa.”

The following are some more of our typical Fox News viewer’s beliefs, based on headlines from Fox’s website over the past two days:

Biden may be the new president in name, but the actual president is Susan Rice.

Biden’s campaign was bankrolled by millions in “dark money.” This is bad. Republicans would never do this.

Tulsi Gabbard holds noteworthy and important opinions about everything.

The most powerful people in the entire Democratic Party are the four “Squad” Congresswomen.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in particular wields enormous influence within the Democratic Party, such that her every utterance is noteworthy; she dictates the entire Democratic agenda.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is also a coward who is afraid of gun-carrying members of Congress.

Black people are mostly violent criminals, except for those who appear on Fox News as conservative commentators.

Antifa is … everywhere.

Hollywood stars are jumping ahead of everyone else to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

Biden’s cancellation of the Keystone pipeline is a job-killing political disaster that spells doom for the Democratic Party.

Biden and his son Hunter committed unspecified crimes in Ukraine that involved some sort of shady corporate deal and made the Bidens millions. This information is all contained on a laptop somewhere.

Democrats abused the National Guard during the inauguration.

Biden will kowtow to everything China wants.

China is a threat to us in space warfare.

Karl Rove is a sage voice on economic policy.

Glenn Greenwald says Democrats are the true fascists. Because he was once believed to be a liberal, he must be right.

Arms treaties with Russia are bad.

Joe Biden taking questions from pre-selected reporters is bad.

QAnon believers are being persecuted.

A sheriff in Cochise County, Arizona, noticed that “illegal” border crossings “spiked” after Biden won the Democratic primary.

Neera Tanden is bad and dangerous for some reason.

Pamela Anderson believes “Big Tech” seeks to control your brain.

Anthony Fauci is the highest-paid member of the federal government, and this is bad, because Fauci is bad.

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The common theme through all of these imaginary persecutions and insults contrived by Fox News is one of eternal victimhood, as former Fox anchor Tobin Smith observed in November 2019, writing in The New York Times about the network’s smear of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman after he testified during the first impeachment trial.

Weaponized and tribalized political video narratives in the hands of Fox News producers can become something like drug-abuse epidemics — keeping addicts of that conspiracy theory high and coming back for more.

Believing in conspiracy theories is a psychological construct for people to take back some semblance of control in their lives. It inflates their sense of importance. It makes them feel they have access to “special knowledge” that the rest of the world is “too blind,” “too dumb” or “too corrupt” to understand.

Fox viewers are taught, over and over, to believe they’re under constant assault and must therefore continue tuning in, for the good of themselves and the nation. It’s a cynical psychological scam that has paid huge dividends to the Murdoch family, and by warping the minds of tens of millions of Americans, very nearly wrecked our country in the process.

When history looks back at the events of Jan. 6, it will be simple to conclude that they occurred as a consequence of Donald Trump and his cult of personality. But without Fox News’ full-throated support, Trump’s entire presidency, let alone his baseless, endgame assertions of election fraud, would never have had enough oxygen to sustain itself.

Fox News, and everyone who works there, is every bit as culpable as he is.

Trump plotted to toss the acting attorney general, insert a stooge, and block the electoral count

Donald Trump driving a crowd into a violent attack on the Capitol may be the defining image that will remain in the minds of most Americans. But that assault on Jan. 6 wasn’t the only coup Trump planned. After his ridiculous legal ploys had all floundered; after his attempts to strong arm governors and secretaries of state had failed; after he had wined and dined state legislators in an attempt to prevent the certification of votes … Trump had another scheme.

The New York Times reports that Trump worked with Department of Justice lawyer Jeffrey Clark on a plan that would have removed acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, then Trump and Clark would use the DOJ to order Georgia legislators to reverse the outcome of the election in that state while blocking Congress from counting the Electoral College vote.

This plan was apparently only halted because of an accident of timing. And it shows once again how close Trump came to completely gutting American democracy.

It was absolutely clear that Trump was frustrated that former attorney general William Barr—who had done everything else to support Trump—refused to use the DOJ to support Trump's legal team in their baseless claims of election fraud. That doesn’t take speculation, because Trump said it openly. Barr refused to go along, telling reporters that the department had found no evidence of fraud. As a result, Barr stepped down in mid December and then Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen took on the acting AG role. 

As The New York Times reports, Trump immediately began to pressure Rosen to interfere in the few remaining steps before the Electoral College votes were counted. The day after Barr’s departure, Trump called Rosen to the White House. Trump pushed Rosen to announce that he was appointing special counsels to look into voter fraud, with one focusing on the unsupported claims—and outright lies—that Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell had been spreading about Dominion Voting Systems. And Trump called on Rosen to do what Barr had refused, file legal briefs in support of the lawsuits filed by Trump’s legal team.

When Rosen refused, Trump continued to press. He called Rosen repeatedly. He called him back to the White House and confronted him multiple times. Trump complained that the Justice Department was “not fighting hard enough for him” and pushed Rosen on why DOJ attorneys were not supporting the “evidence” being put forward by Giuliani and Powell.

But as Rosen continued to refuse, Trump went around him to work with Clark. According to the Times report, Clark told Trump that he agreed there had been fraud that affected the election results. Clark tried to pressure his bosses at the DOJ into holding a new conference to announce that it was “investigating serious accusations of election fraud.” But Rosen also refused to go along with Clark.

As Trump and Clark worked together, much of the attention was focused on Georgia, where Trump complained that the U.S. attorney in Atlanta, Byung Pak, was also not trying hard enough to defend Trump. In the conversation in which Trump attempted to threaten Georgia secretary of state Brad Raffensperger, he complained about Pak. DOJ officials warned Pak that Trump was “fixated” on forcing his office to go along with his plans.  That led to Pak’s resignation just a day before the Jan. 6 insurgency. 

As Trump was pushing on Raffensperger, Clark was continuing to try and force Rosen to act on Trump’s behalf. Clark drafted a letter falsely saying the DOJ was investigating voter fraud in Georgia and tried to get Rosen to send it to state legislators. Rosen again refused to go along with the scheme and on New Year’s Eve, Rosen and deputy attorney general Richard Donoghue met with Clark to tell him that his actions were wrong.

Rather than backing off, Clark went back to Trump. He met with Trump over the weekend, then came back to tell Rosen what they had decided. Trump and Clark concocted a plan in which Trump would replace Rosen with Clark. Clark would then use the DOJ in an effort to prevent Congress from counting the Electoral College results. Clark not only explained this plan to Rosen, but offered to allow Rosen to stay on as his deputy.

Rosen refused to go along and demanded a meeting with Trump. But what stopped Trump and Clark’s plan from moving forward was not some momentary lapse into reason or decency on Trump’s part. Instead, what happened was that, just as Rosen was preparing to meet with Trump, news broke that Raffensperger had recorded his conversation with Trump. Hearing Trump’s direct effort to force the Georgia secretary of state into “finding” votes, along with Trump’s threats over what would happen if Raffensperger failed to go along, apparently stiffened enough spines among the second tier officials at the DOJ that a whole group threatened to resign if Rosen was removed. The “Clark Plan” the group decided would “seriously harm the department, the government and the rule of law.”

That same evening, Rosen, Donoghue and Clark met at the White House with Trump, White House attorney Pat Cipollone, and other lawyers. Cippollone made it clear to Trump that pulling the trigger on the Clark Plan would not just generate chaos at the Justice Department, but result in a strong pushback from Congress, including investigations.

After nearly three hours of argument, Trump reluctantly backed away from firing Rosen and using the DOJ to smash open the election.

But it came that close. If the phone call with Georgia officials had not been released, if Rosen had not been able to rally the support of his deputies, if Trump had simply ignored Cippollone and ordered Clark to carry on … what would have happened next is anyone’s guess.

Is it too late to add additional charges to the impeachment?